Our fascist times?

forlorn bridge

How could it get worse. A president found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors by the US House of Representatives let off the hook by a Senate more willing to look after their own future than the present and future of the country they are supposed to serve.

In my piece last summer for the Los Angeles Review of Books, “The Public Sphere in Dark Times,” I argued that thanks to the robust role of the informal public sphere even Trump could not turn this country into a dictatorship. The events of this past week are put these ideas to the test.

In that piece I distinguish three realms of the public sphere: 1) the formal one of elected bodies, 2) the elite one of leading news media and “opinion leaders,” and 3) the informal one of the street, social media, informal conversations that radiate and connect with each other all over the country and around the world. I argue that all three realms intersect and bounce around and test each others’ ideas.

At this point in time, the formal realm of the public sphere is deeply divided, but enought of it has gained power to legally, if not in any other respect, exonerate Trump. The elite opinion realm is also divided but for the most part highly critical of trump. The informal public sphere, at least as far as Twitter shows, also really critical. The rest of the public sphere, slumbering away in the hinterlands, a sleeping polar bear of apathy? It’s hard to say. Will the informal realms of the public sphere be able to hold the more formal and conservative ones accountable?

My theory is not a crystal ball. Time will tell.

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