Notes on the Grippe

Being an accounting of the recent and continuing pandemic and its various circumstances, from the perspective of an inhabitant of the regions lately called the Lost Quarter. Dates unknown.

Day Two Hundred Ninety Eight

Gotterdammerung

I somewhat facetiously refer to the United States as the Grand Old Empire, for it is an empire in both scope and deed and has been from its very revolutionary beginnings. Manifest destiny, that expansionist desire, is written in the fabric of all its history. And though its politicians and proclaimants love to declare that it is the oldest and greatest democracy in the world, it has always been more empire than democracy. 250 years of history but only for about 50 or so has every adult been allowed to vote and the elections somewhat free and fair.

I mention this, not out of any smugness, after all the Greater Dominions are cut from the same colonial cloth. The Lost Quarter exists in the aftermath of the Eastern Dominions imperial ambitions and the franchise wasn’t extended fully to Those Who Went Away until well into the 1960s. We tell ourselves stories of our past that are half-truths at best, as any empire must to justify the wrongs it has done.

What happened last week in those United States as their legislative assemblies sought to certify the latest election was shocking, but not surprising. It has felt inevitable since their vain and cruel and incompetent president was elected four years ago. He would never accept defeat, he would never transfer power peacefully. That is who he is and what he has always been.

Last week, led by he and his enablers, a mob attacked the legislative assemblies, overwhelming security forces and sending politicians fleeing. Security forces were slow footed and undermanned in their response and there are increasing suggestions both were the result of deliberate actions by the president’s courtiers. It seems clear this was an autogolpe attempt and though it has failed, at least for the moment, it has shattered any remaining illusions about what the United States is, a hollowed out democracy on the verge of falling.

It was a gotterdammerung, the sunset of all that America was and thought itself to be. Exceptional no longer. There will be more violence after this, more attempts to subvert elections and ignore the democratic will. Justifications will be found for rule by mob. Too many of those in the president’s party have shown themselves to be supportive of just such a program – a majority in one house voted against certifying the election. Ambition and power are all that matter.

Yet so many, whether politicians or journalists or citizens seem oblivious to the dangers. They argue semantics over whether this was a true autogolpe attempt, dismiss the rioters as incompetents (which they undoubtedly were), and cite the failure of the attempt to stop the certification as a sign of the strength of the institutions and safeguards. I wonder if at the end of the Roman Republic the senators were the same, telling glorious tales of the republic and its democracy, proclaiming it the natural state of their nation, and doing nothing to stop the slide into empire.

Those who led this attempt to subvert the democratic order will have to punished severely or there will be more attempts. The next time they will have learned from the failures of last week. They may not be successful, but they will further weaken already fragile institutions, and eventually they will be successful.  

Perhaps they will find their Augustus and maintain their hegemony, but that seems unlikely. Their influence in the world has been slipping away these last four years and it will not easily be restored. The order that was constructed after the end of the great wars of the last century seems at an end. Even once we conquer the grippe reborn we shall be entering a new age of uncertainty. Those of us in places of no consequence like the Quarter will have to learn to ride the stormy waves.

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