In the 14th day of the federal shutdown and the media, traditional and new, with honorable exceptions, have done a terrible job of explaining things to the American people. It's a football game: The Republicans have fumbled and the Democrats would retake the House. Wait, the Republicans just did a quarterback sneak and are back on top...
False equivalency abounds: "Both side are to blame." Or it is the soccer mom explanation: They need to grow up and play well together.
It is none of these things.
We are in the midst of a constitutional crisis, the worst since the eve of the Civil War.
The Republicans in the House of Representatives shut down the government to force President Obama to defund the Affordable Care Act. This, even though defunding Obamacare was the centerpiece of wealthy Republican Willard Milton "Mitt" Romney's presidential campaign in 2012 — and he lost. Republicans also lost seats in the Senate. The ACA was also upheld by the Supreme Court.
A minority in the House, in very white tea party districts, representing 18 percent of the American population, have stopped funding for the government of 100 percent of the American population. So far, they are getting away with it.
This is a replay of the Civil War and the Jim Crow era. These districts are mostly in the Old Confederacy, along with some states in the Great Plains and intermountain West. It is the New Confederacy. Although whites will benefit most from Obamacare, this minority and its tea party backers, lavishly supported by money from the Kochs and other quiet coup plutocrats, has convinced itself that the black president is going to give away another taxpayer-supported gift to people of color.
It is the most powerful attempt yet to repeal not just the New Deal (Social Security) and the Great Society (Medicare), but even the Nixon administration (the Environmental Protection Agency, etc.). So strong is the national dysfunction that the president has already surrendered to a devastating austerity regime. But it is not enough. He's black, you know.
And a "socialist." If the past five years have been socialism, where is my free universal health care, free university education, high-speed trains and paid month's vacation? If this is socialism, why have the big banks gotten bigger and industries even more consolidated and uncompetitive, booking record profits while millions of Americans can't get work?
This is a nation divided. Just as on the eve of the Civil War, regionalism has trumped nationalism. Only this time, the divisions are not necessarily along state lines. Separate the Puget Sound region from Washington state and you have Idaho. Reliably red Arizona is quite blue in the heart of Phoenix.
It is no accident that Mr. Obama made sure that "the troops" didn't feel the pain of the shutdown. If they did, some disgruntled commanders might be willing to back a secessionist New Confederacy out of Fort Hood or Fort Benning. Others might stick with the new Union. We are closer to a warlord nation than you might think, with nuclear weapons.
This is a nation of ignoramuses. The average American watches 35 hours of television a week and doesn't read newspapers. Too many get their only news from Fox or talk radio. They go on diatribes about "the Founders," knowing nothing about them, what they wrote or thought, or the relevance of 18th century political thought to the 21st century. They proudly don't know history. It has, after all, a liberal bias.
As a result of the crisis, President Obama was forced to cancel his trip to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, the only head of state/government to do so. This left Chinese President Xi Jinping to give the keynote address and our allies to wonder what is wrong with the United States.
Meanwhile, we are hurtling toward a default, the first in American history. The consequences will be catastrophic. Even Wall Street and big business get it — but they no longer have control over the extremists they bankrolled.
Yet those consequences will be mild compared to the basic: This constitutional crisis. Where a minority will not accept the validity of elections, will not bow to majority rule.
For now, the effects of the shutdown have been muted. National Parks are closed. The tea party can crash the World War II memorial to "help" the "greatest generation." Poor people are being hurt, but this isn't news, isn't a concern in this "Christian nation." The Military Industrial Complex, along with the fossil fuel magnates and other government-dependent corporate whores and grifters have been able to do workarounds.
This is unsustainable, as is the entire edifice. The tea party dupes, many on Social Security and Medicare, keep raving about the debt, about what we're "leaving future generations." Yet they are not concerned about leaving their "kids" (baby goats?) a planet devastated by climate change or a looted economy where high unemployment and record inequality are the new normal.
They were strangely silent about debt when George W. Bush was leading the nation into two wars, unpaid tax cuts for the rich, the Big Pharma giveaway of Medicare D, a continuation of deindustrialization or the deregulation and greed (and thanks, Bill Clinton, too) that caused the worst economic crash since the Great Depression.
Since this column was originally written, a "deal" as emerged to avoid default. It solves little but the immediate emergency, but all the dysfunction and threats to democracy remain.
Behind all the noise of our distractions, we are living the worst crisis of American history since 1861. That is what this is. I can't see how it ends well.