4 reasons to believe America may be in better political shape than we think



“Everyone who thinks at all has noticed that our language is practically useless for describing anything that goes on inside the brain.”
– George Orwell

In his final column (June 17), The New York Times’s departing long-time columnist Frank Bruni described his vocation as follows: swimming with “the snide tide”. It’s a good phrase.

So too Mr Bruni’s subsequent observation. Secure in the knowledge that he is off to the world of academia, Mr Bruni confessed to worrying “about the degree to which I and other journalists — opinion writers, especially — have contributed to the dynamics we decry: the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all. I worry, too, about how frequently we shove ambivalence and ambiguity aside”.

Mr Bruni makes an excellent point, one that he probably should’ve gone public with much earlier in his 10-year stint as a columnist.

No matter. Let’s take forward the point he makes and consider if America really is in as much of a political hole as columnists suggest.

Four recent developments have given me hope that the United States is slowly but surely doing some good and important things for its own health and well-being. They are as follows:

** The Supreme Court rejected a Trump-backed challenge by 17 Republican-led states to the Affordable Care Act, which gives millions of low-income Americans access to medical insurance. Despite the court’s conservative tilt, its nine justices ruled 7-2 to sustain the law, which is popularly dubbed Obamacare. This was the third case seeking to dismantle Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform to reach the Supreme Court. Each time, it’s been sustained by a growing majority of judges.

** In a historic bipartisan move, the House of Representatives has voted to repeal a nearly two-decade-old war powers measure given to the US president after the 9/11 attacks. It’s a sign that lawmakers are conscious of the need to restrain the executive and, in the words of Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, prevent “military adventurism”. The 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, was used by President George W. Bush to invade Iraq and President Donald Trump as a partial justification for an airstrike against Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. A bill to repeal the AUMF is being sponsored in the Senate by  Democrat Tim Kaine with help from Republican Todd Young of Indiana and four other Republican senators.

** The Senate has passed rare bipartisan legislation aimed at countering China’s growing influence by investing more than $200 billion in American technology, science and research. The US Innovation and Competition Act aims to confront China on multiple fronts. It still needs to pass the House. I’m not sure that entrenched hostility to China is necessarily a good thing. But it’s encouraging that there is some attempt at least to come together and invest something in America.

** Finally, moderates triumphed in both the Democratic and Republican primaries in Virginia and New Jersey — the only two states with gubernatorial elections this year. It says something that Jack Ciattarelli defeated Hirsh Singh and Phil Rizzo, both of whom invoked Donald Trump in their effort to win the Republican vote. Mr Ciattarelli won on the strength of his support among many in the party establishment.

In Virginia, former governor Terry McAuliffe easily won the Democratic nomination with backing from much of the state’s Democratic establishment. His victory suggests that the state’s Democrats favour a moderate establishment politician over a more progressive newcomer. That said, Mr McAuliffe’s brand of moderate politics is on the appropriate side of progressive.

What’s especially interesting is that the slow but steady adoption of all of the above is seemingly imperceptible to (most columnists, as well as) Donald Trump and his supporters. Don’t get me wrong. It’s possible an authoritarian mass movement is gathering pace – in plain sight. But it’s also possible that the authoritarian movement is not really mass at all. And that other, more wholesome change is underway, unseen by (columnists, as well as) the Trumpian brigade whose attention is more engaged by flash and bang.