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The Good Press - Issue #40: The Big Bet

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The Good Press

January 20 · Issue #40 · View online

A newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind


The Big Bet on “liberty and justice for all” can prevail if Americans keep up the fight for it. Even with a new administration, our freedom faces an existential threat from bad-faith actors doing their damnedest to undermine democracy as we know it.
That, and some sports!

Hello and welcome to another edition of The Good Press, a newsletter of observations about life, sports, and/or anything else that comes to mind.
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American democracy has been treading water (Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios)
American democracy has been treading water (Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios)
The Big Bet
It can be difficult to fully grasp the scope of the moment we’re in sometimes, what with the relentless assault on democratic norms over the last four years from the inside man in the Oval Office. That was by design, of course: blitz us with so much chaos that it makes our heads spin trying to keep up with it all. Attacking truth, gaslighting us with disinformation and dishonesty trying to make us believe what we saw, heard, and felt wasn’t real? That’s all over now.
It’s why today, January 20, 2021, is such a big day in American history.
The inauguration of a new president is always a big event, whether or not you’re a political junkie. But this time, it feels different. Because it is different.
The transition from 45 to 46 this afternoon represents America’s attempt to make a comeback from an alarming brush with fascist authoritarianism—the biggest threat to our democratic republic, our freedom—since the Civil War.
America’s Constitution is often referred to as a “great experiment,” because, among other reasons, representative democracies don’t exactly have a great track record throughout history compared to authoritarian dictatorships. In that sense, the American experiment is The Big Bet: an ambitious, aspiring declaration that this democracy will be the exception to the rule: the true representative democracy, powered by the people, with checks and balances to prevent the inevitability of autocracy that befell many other democracies.
This is something that historian and author Timothy Snyder has written and spoken about all too frequently on the news networks over the last few months. As an expert on tyranny and how democracies die, he has been one of the most prominent voices out there sounding the alarm bells on the fascistic flirtations that America has been dangerously dancing with.
Recently, Snyder wrote a poignant piece in the New York Times called, “The American Abyss,” which broke down the underlying issues plaguing American democracy beyond the corrupt, wannabe-dictator ex-president. The anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian wing of the Republican party goes well beyond the executive branch, and that presents a unique challenge that strains our Constitution and threatens the freedom that America has always aspired for.
The American Abyss | by Timothy Snyder for The New York Times The American Abyss | by Timothy Snyder for The New York Times
The Big Lie—the lie, based on no evidence, that the free and fair election was somehow illegitimate just because the 45th president lost—was easy to see coming. He’s about as subtle as getting grabbed by the you-know-where.
But the true threat to the long-term stability of American democracy is the weasely enablers who have gone along with the grift, the ones who repeated The Big Lie, even after the terrorist attack that the liars incited on Capitol Hill.
In a passage that I will unapologetically quote at length here, Snyder writes:
Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.
In this sense, the responsibility for [the 45th president]’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict [him] from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged [the 45th president]’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.
Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support [the 45th president]’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome.
Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now [he] could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.
Of course this did make a kind of sense: If the election really had been stolen, as senators and congressmen were themselves suggesting, then how could Congress be allowed to move forward? For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Afterward, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that had forced them to flee their chambers.
Post-truth is pre-fascism, and [the 45th president] has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of [the 45th president] — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.
In Other Words
To borrow an apocryphal phrase, America is a republic… if we can keep it.
The pressure now falls on the Biden administration to get us out of the abyss. That is an unenviable task that will be all that much harder if a big chunk of the Republican party is still harboring fascistic authoritarian fantasies. So the Biden administration will have to roll up their sleeves and get to work, and it seems they plan on starting with a bunch of immediate executive actions.
Biden readies shifts in policy for his first days in office to signal dramatic change | Mike Allen, Axios
Anti-democratic forces will still try to play defense against the work of the federal government, but COVID-19 remains the common enemy that transcends political ideology. So many lives and livelihoods have been affected by this pandemic, and fortunately, serious help from D.C. is coming.
Biden’s COVID-19 Plan Is Maddeningly Obvious
There’s another Big Bet that the Biden administration and Democratic party are making (beyond beating back the flames of fascism, which will always play dirty). The Democratic party’s Big Bet is that they can restore faith and trust in the government’s ability to make Americans’ lives better and that they can govern the country steadily and well enough to inspire voters to endorse their platform again when the 2022 midterm elections roll around.
To do that, they’ll have to deliver meaningful results to reward the record number of voters who braved the pandemic and delivered such an emphatic endorsement of the capital-D Democratic platform that it gave the Dems slight (but significant) majorities in both houses of Congress. Voters will hold their elected officials to account at the voting booth in ‘22 and there won’t be much patience for how much political cleanup is required to govern properly.
So the pressure of restoring faith in everything America aspires to be, across the country and around the world, now falls on the shoulders of a capable presidential administration and still-divided Congress that will not have any excuses for failure. We, the people, need leadership in a time of crisis. It’s time for our elected officials to step up and show some because it’s overdue.
Parting Thoughts
Of course, if you’d prefer to take a timeout from politics after what’s gone on over the last four years, that is certainly understandable as well. That’s what sports are for! And two of my favorite teams made their Big Bets this week.
First, the Brooklyn Nets made a franchise-altering trade that will reverberate for the rest of this decade, acquiring another former NBA MVP in his prime in James Harden, who joins Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the Nets’ quest to win an NBA Championship for the first time in their franchise’s history.
Harden, who previously played with Durant earlier in their careers, was not cheap to acquire via trade. In addition to trading four of their current players, Brooklyn traded away full or partial control of their top draft pick rights for the next seven seasons. The full transaction is a mouthful, but what it boils down to is that the Nets are making a Big Bet on a top-heavy roster with three superstar players in a two- or three-year window, knowing that a championship or two will be worth the cost of doing business (through 2027).
The Brooklyn Nets Go All-In With James Harden, But The Move Has Its Risks | FiveThirtyEight
Shortly after Brooklyn went all-in, the New York Jets made their Big Bet in handing the coaching reigns to young, first-time head coach Robert Saleh. Saleh (pronounced SAHL-uh) turns 42 at the end of the month and was coordinating the San Francisco 49ers defense in the Super Bowl last year.
Leadership has been lacking in the Jets organization for a long time, but the talk around the league is that the Jets might finally have someone in Saleh who can right the ship and end their league-worst 10-year playoff drought.
Many well-regarded football coaches have seen their careers irreparably harmed by the time the Jets have chewed them up and spit them out, but I can’t remember the last time a coach with universal acclaim from his peers and his players chose to bet his reputation on the task of rebuilding the Jets.
Good luck to coach Saleh and the Jets. Hopefully, it’s a bet that pays off big.
Hopefully, today marks the start of the great American comeback from its modern-day rock-bottom. Hopefully, we can keep this great experiment going for another 240+ years so that those who come after us can enjoy the fruits of freedom. America is resilient, and with a renewed focus on liberty and justice for all, hopefully, America’s future will be brighter than ever.
It won’t be easy, and there won’t be overnight solutions. But like so many great things, it’ll be worth all that hard work to reap the well-earned rewards.
When you make your own Big Bets, you have to have conviction, ambition, and resolve to turn that gamble into a big payoff. You have to jump in with both feet and not be afraid to sink or swim, trusting your ability to get there. Sometimes, life requires bold moves. Be prepared to make your own Big Bets on yourself when you feel the opportunity is right to make the leap of faith.
Life is not without risk, as the perils of the pandemic frequently remind us. But I believe in America’s Big Bet. I believe in the power of the people. I believe in building something bold and beautiful to proudly share together and pass on to all the little ones so they can pass it on theirs someday, too.
Be bold. Be confident. Believe in yourself. Believe that The Good will prevail.
Till next time,
-Jon
Previously in The Good Press
The Good Press - Issue #39: Smile
The Good Press - Issue #38: A New Chapter
The Good Press - Issue #37: Resolve
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