American Futures (Ken Taylor Memorial Episode)

Sunday, December 31, 2023

What Is It

When Ken Taylor passed away, he was working on a manuscript titled Farewell to the Republic We Once Dreamed of. Was Ken right to think the American experiment is on the verge of collapse? Are we heading for authoritarian rule, a national divorce, or even a civil war? Or could better days be on the horizon? In Ken’s honor, Josh and Ray devote their end-of-year special to probing the future of the American republic with Barbara Walter from UC San Diego, Tamsin Shaw from New York University, and Rob Reich from Stanford University.

This episode was made possible by contributors to the Ken Taylor Memorial Fund.



Josh Landy  
Where is America headed as a nation?

Ray Briggs  
Are we on the brink of tyranny? A national divorce? A civil war?

Josh Landy  
What can we do to bring about some brighter days?

Comments (4)

Daniel's picture


Sunday, December 31, 2023 -- 6:11 AM

If there's a craft of life,

If there's a craft of life, speaking about parts of life and not the whole thing, it has to include the capacity and willingness to recognize serendipity. It's no secret that North American democracy, as it's been understood by its participants, is in some pretty serious trouble. But it's my opinion that democracies suffer from being too untroubled, because they're not machines and need exercise in a way analogous to living organisms. The bi-partisan system of political representation, for example, is or has become highly inflexible and thus irresponsive to public sector concerns.

To provide an example of these concerns, one could take current executive action, taken independently of the legislative branch of government, to provide military and economic assistance to two other nation-state organizations against the will of the public on which its electoral legitimacy is based. As this aid is a gift from the American taxpayer which is spent on things it doesn't want, it's de facto the act of a tyrant and as such spells trouble for democratic control over state behavior. The response of organized labor to this however is effective. If major labor unions in the U.S., e.g. the United Auto Workers, United Electrical Workers, the American Postal Workers Union, the big health care unions and others, are united in compelling a conditioning of aid by international humanitarian standards for any state or national organization which applies for it, as they are doing, then a general rule of tyrant-stimulus of democratic power is instantiated with some sufficiency.

The executive action referred to was used to override a faction of one party's effort to place restrictions on how the funds are used by one of the two aid recipients. And because the two aid recipients are tied together in the same proposed aid package, this effort to condition aid on fiscal grounds is joined together with that on humanitarian grounds. Traditionally divided for purposes of political expediency in electoral contexts, they are joined together here in the service of a shared aim. As such a third party constituency, excluded from the two existing major ones, is given clear expression. On one side international labor is divided by industry-category and not national stipulation. On the other side objections to non-earmarked spending derives from budgetary concerns in strictly national contexts. Can one detect in this an unlikely marriage between protectionist libertarianism and international labor? If so, the brittle two party, bi-partisan system, forcing onto the public a "lesser-evil" voting model, would be replaced by a tripartite or tri-partisan system, humbling executive power and rekindling democratic life in the stolid plutocracy of North American governance.

-For Ken, in Memorandum.

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sminsuk's picture


Sunday, December 31, 2023 -- 12:03 PM

This was a fascinating and

This was a fascinating and terrifying episode. But the most terrifying aspect was actually Rob Reich's optimistic take - because it was so out of touch and unconvincing. This was exactly the "oh, you're overreacting" attitude highlighted in one of the earlier segments of the show. In its list of big "ifs", the first one, Biden winning in 2024, is looking less and less likely, unless he drastically turns around and stops alienating his own base. (And even if he wins, it's not that simple, with an insurrectionary opposition that has now had its dry run and worked the bugs out of its tactics. We need more than a mere electoral victory. I'm at a loss to figure out what would actually fill that need, or to find any reason at all for optimism.)

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Daniel's picture


Saturday, January 6, 2024 -- 10:42 PM

That covers a wide spectrum

That covers a wide spectrum which is claimed to remain undetected. Reich's position as expressed in the broadcast is not probabilistic, but dispositional. This means it's not a prediction, but a readiness for something should it occur and need some suppliable assistance. The simple fact of your identification above of some of the most salient aspects of the current political crisis in the U.S., for example, constitutes a venue for collaboration with others with regards to the problems the appearances of which are described as intractable. And I concur with your claim of electoral insufficiency. But the trick is to bring up a countervailing force to political leadership, and that can only come from organized labor. If limited within the boundaries of domestic national considerations, however, such organization is equally insufficient, on account of the fact that it remains structurally tied to the practice of candidate-endorsement. Only where labor is organized at the international level therefore can the need which you mention in the last sentence above be supplied.

The other two professors, identifying political violence, as a delegated reaction of a dominant group or class, to electoral losses (Walter), and election of autocrats who must be reelected for the sake of appearances (Shaw), seem to express roughly similar remedies, which have to do with wide educated awareness of the problems. Walter's suggestion of greater regulation of some of the current means of information-transmission for purposes of mitigating arbitrary social division-generation and Shaw's admonition that it's irrational to be sanguine about a full democratic regress in the United States, as it's much closer today than previously, both emerge from the contexts of individual awareness and its consequences. So how does one make the transition from individual awareness to collective action? I agree with the author above that the correct tactic isn't political. In my view political activity is similar to building-maintenance rather than structural constructiveness. The more rational view is that change for the better, and therefore prohibition of totalitarian rule in the U.S. and by extension elsewhere, occurs first in the workplace and only afterwards is followed by custodial action in the the ballot box. Does that sound about right?

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lenkalee266's picture


Wednesday, March 6, 2024 -- 11:29 PM

This essay is excellent and

This essay is excellent and really helpful. I've been silently practicing this slope, and I'm becoming better at it! Enjoy yourself, work harder, and develop your impressiveness

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