Has America Become Weak and Sniveling?

Kevin Drum

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One of the things the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted is the American public’s unwillingness these days to see a fight through. Consider:

  • After only a few weeks of lockdowns, Americans seem barely willing to continue fighting COVID-19.
  • After the financial crash, Americans were willing to support only a half-baked stimulus, and for less than a year, before they panicked over the national debt and supported it no longer.
  • Americans gave up on the Iraq War very quickly after not winning an instant victory. By 2004 even supporters had gotten tired of it.

All of these things have a political valence to them. Conservatives fought the stimulus from the beginning and lockdowns within a few weeks. Liberals mostly opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. This obviously makes it way harder to demand sacrifices from the public for a long period.

This is hardly unique to Americans and hardly unique to politically volatile topics. Still, it’s hard not to think that it’s getting worse—both because Americans are too comfortable and partisan polarity has become so pervasive. It took many years for people to get tired of, for example, World War II, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. Probably not coincidentally, all three had broad bipartisan support among the mainstream.

Asking for sacrifice is always hard, but you’d think that something like a deadly pandemic would finally be enough to do it. Surely for a few months at least. But after it was inexplicably turned into a partisan affair, half the country started to turn against it despite overwhelming evidence from around the world about what needed to be done.

It’s hard to think of anything less inherently partisan than a pandemic. It’s also hard to think of anything better suited to a purely expert response. And yet experts are mostly used as props by the White House and the response has become almost comically partisan.

Is there anything left that would bring liberals and conservatives together to demand some kind of sacrifice from the American public? And even if that happened, would the public respond? I’m starting to wonder.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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