Eve of the Election: From Seattle, From Seoul

Two notes about the current state of American politics, from readers on different sides of the Pacific. First, from a reader in Washington state who has been involved in Democratic politics for years:

>>In Nov 1980...all the Northern Democrats in the Senate lost (or almost all), so 1980 was in Senate terms a repeat of 1946 (the election that gave rise to the persistent but mistaken notion that the seniority system automatically favored Southerners)....  This election feels like 1994, 1980, and 1946 all rolled into one.

-- I don't know if Patty Murray will lose. If so, it is a damn shame - in some ways more of a damn shame than when Magnuson lost [in 1980], since the Dems also lost the majority then (and he would have suffered in the minority). Among Senators I have known, which is not a huge number but not negligible either, she is one of the very best human beings I've encountered. And she has what I consider very well-grounded values, judgment, etc., which I for one certainly did not expect when she was a 42-year old kindergarten teacher and first term state legislator. I would guess there are many other worthies who will lose, too. I still cling to the hope the Democrats will do at least slightly better than predicted, because of flaws in the polling system(s) that have become more pronounced - and some of them intentional - in the past two years.... 

-- The impact of money, including corporate money, on this year's races is simply astounding. Did you see the NY Times chart on outside funds spent by group and state/CD? Something this profound is impossible to describe in words, but the chart sure makes a visible impact that is suggestive of the problem/crisis/disaster/catastrophe of money in politics today, abetted by Supreme Court.

-- The impact of idiocy, ignorance, and self-indulgent self-aggrandizing free-floating rage (or is it racism?) in the Fox-frenzied populace. This is truly depressing, and deeply. Very hard to reverse in two years, and very hard to trust one's fellow citizens if it CAN be reversed in two years. It also destroys (for me) both the notion of general progress in society and the specific conception of politics and policy with which I was raised (and which I was taught), namely that people have legitimate interests that differ but that can be recognized as such and reconciled through rational discourse and compromise, etc. Those notions: gone. Consequence of those notions being gone: genuine depression, amply justified.

-- Mail-in ballots are bad for Dems. Why don't we realize this? And WA now has almost no actual physical polling places.

-- Meanwhile there are terrorists out there who are fully focused on harming us, even as we are focused on other things, too - and even as we tell ourselves that it would be a mistake for us to focus as single-mindedly on terrorists in any event (at least as a whole society). In a win-win situation for terrorists, do the terrorists always win? And why did the Anarchists finally stop - was it because they succeeded in bringing on World War I, which was enough killing for anyone?<<

After the jump, thoughts in a similar vein from an American in Korea. __
A reader writes in response to this item, about the knock-off of the "Chinese Professor" ad:

>>I sent it to all my red blooded American friends and said, "Here's what the Chinese think of you; you're not feared, you're not admired, you're a laughing stock." The angry reactions are just priceless because, deep down, most of them know it's true. Sure, this is a parody show, but most of them are incapable of taking the time to figure this out.

Tomorrow's election is going to be a collective exercise in denying America's deep seated structural problems.

I for one am despairing. America will not come to grip with its problems and wants to double down on previous bad choices. It's similar to when religious fundamentalists keep a society shackled and later come to the conclusion that the reason they're failing is that they weren't sufficiently orthodox.

I'm quickly losing faith in America. I am currently in Korea on a business trip and was discussing politics with some Korean and Japanese colleagues. The consensus position is that America is a dying empire and they need to start planning for the day (very shortly) when it all falls apart for us and we find ourselves in a position similar to Britain in the 60s/70s or Russia in the 90s (we've already got oligarchs and a deeply corrupt government fully dedicating to aiding them).

I moved to Washington, DC 10 years ago a young graduate student who deeply believed in this country and looked forward to a career serving her in government (at one point, I had even been offered a position as a foreign service officer with State, but after waiting 18 months for a security clearance, I took another job). Flash forward today and I'm so despondent and cynical, I've lost complete faith in the country and am preparing to disengage from politics and public service entirely because I know see serving the American people as Sisyphean task of epic proportions.

It's incredibly sad and perhaps I'll snap out of it, but time I'm not so sure. I'm way more cynical of American Conservatism now than at any point during the Bush Administration and that's really saying something.

In the meantime, as America enjoys its collapse, I'll be busy learning Chinese so at least my family and I have an economic future.<<

Structurally my view on America is optimistic; perhaps knowing that, the writer added a PS soon afterwards: "I'm not entirely sure whether this is merely a rant and I'll eventually snap out of it.... As tough as things are now, it's nothing compared to what people must have felt/thought circa 1938 - we're not sending the army to violently crush starving veterans down on the Mall and the world is not about ready to tear itself apart."

For the moment the point is: be sure to vote.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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