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What It Comes Down To

Numerically, at least, and that is one kind of bottom line, Democrats only nominally held 50 Senate seats after the last elections. That was valuable, but overrated. It only would matter if Democrats held the kind of iron grip over their legislators that Republicans do. Trying to pass major legislation with only 50 Senators, with one of them being a person who has never been a vote you could count on, was always going to be difficult. And maybe it was impossible. 52 Senators would have done it, probably 51. But not 50, not if one of them has to be Manchin.

And what Manchin just did was far worse than simply saying from the outset that he would vote against the BBB bill. He would never see it that way, but he misled everybody, which of course is their fault as well. Biden, whose reputation was as a very effective legislator, misread him. The Democrats in the House who finally went along and voted for the straight infrastructure package because they thought they were guaranteed at least some decent form of the BBB, undoubtedly feel that they were misled by Biden, even though it is certain that it was not intentional. But Biden has known Manchin for decades, and he misread him, or in his optimism and eagerness, just hoped it would work out, but it did not.

So Manchin went along, met with people over the months, kept coming up with various objections, none of them really grounded in economic reality, since a vast majority of economists said that BBB would help the economy, and even help against inflation. And Manchin’s own constituents were for the bill, per polling. But he draws it out, and then just as the Senate’s holiday recess starts, he goes on Fox Propaganda Network, and announces that he just can’t vote for the bill, citing rising prices or whatever. I did not watch it.

So of course this looks like a major defeat for Biden and Democrats. No BBB, no Voting Rights, and maybe Manchin is ready to take the offer to become a Republican senator, and will go around telling everyone how much better that party is than Democrats. But even if he does not go that far, he could scarcely have done more damage.

Some are hoping that this is just more efforts by Manchin to get the bill “he wants.” But I doubt it. Manchin waited until the Senate was in recess, so he wouldn’t have to listen to any of his colleagues when he stuck the shiv in. If Manchin wanted to negotiate further, he could have done that, but he chooses not do. And worst of all, perhaps, his objections to the bill are inane, but who ever saw him as someone who was well grounded in economics? But of course he represents a state which voted 71-29% for Trump. He was never a reliable vote of the so-called fifty which we needed, which number we were all so legitimately excited about, when we pulled out those two Georgia runoff races.

I wish that I could think of some positive spin on this. Maybe I will after a few hours, and reading more comments. But right now, Manchin has blown up the most important piece of legislation the Democrats would have had going into midterms. Even worse, perhaps, he has virtually destroyed Biden’s reputation as someone who could bring together disparate elements of the party and get things done.

It is scarcely his fault, in that he never had enough votes to rely on anything, as hard as he and his advisors tried. There was never any way that he could strong-arm Manchin. He just had to count on his goodwill, and concern for the Democratic Party, and he obviously has not enough of either of these. At this point, he is bidding to go down in Republican legend, whether he likes that or not. Maybe his daughter’s Epi Pens will do a booming business. Republicans always have billions of dollars in influence, and for some people, they speak more than any other consideration.

We always needed 52 senators. Cunningham in North Carolina who probably lost because he sent suggestive text messages to a woman not his wife, and dropped six points in the polls. The people of Maine to not somehow return Susan Collins to the Senate. We Democrats appear to always need a buffer, which makes it harder to govern, when the other party only needs the filibuster and the willingness to do anything to “win.”

I know that the BBB wasn’t ideal, but I did really want the climate elements in the bill. I guess Manchin, still trying, or to act like he is trying, to save West Virginia’s coal industry, does not. Eventually the people of his state will realize how important those provisions would have been, but Manchin will be enjoying retirement by then.

The “solution” is to win more Senate seats. But this has made it more difficult, plus I do not see how we can hold the House, particularly without the BBB to run on, and with it very unlikely that any voting bill will pass. The ironic thing, if you want to use that tame a word, is that the people in the country who greatly favored what was in the bill, will get none of it, while the Republican billionaires whom they somehow keep voting for, will be jubilant. Bankers literally danced in the streets when FDR died.

Well, we will see what the upshot is. There is always something that can be done, even in these times. But it is a terrible shame that all this effort put in so far is going to be tossed out because one nominally Democratic senator would not listen to the economists, would not negotiate in good faith with his own colleagues in the Senate and House, and is so much of an egomaniac that he could not work something out with them.

The name Joe Manchin will likely go down in history, along with his now less visible compatriot Krysten Sinema, but our goal will have to be to keep this from being so. Just stay away from the news shows for a while, it will not be pretty. One wishes that the media would be more interested in what was in the bills, than in the “politics” of them. Well, there was some headline by someone in the Washington Post a few days ago, which said that passing the BBB Bill would be the final doom in a horrible year for Biden. So I guess whoever wrote that is happy for the Democrats now? It is doubtful, he or she will write something about how not passing the bill was awful for them.

The most important thing, of course, is what the bill would have accomplished. This is not a sports game, where we can enjoy the ups and downs, the coaches under pressure, the heroes, and the players who did not make the big plays when needed. This is about real life, and people and communities and the environment needing help. If that were the focus of the media, we would be a lot better off, though obviously that would not be enough in itself. One could actually blame all of this on the people of Maine, if one wanted to think about it that way. There is much blame to go around, if one takes a wider view.

It appears, at least according to Jen Psaki, whom I greatly trust, that Manchin had been invited by Biden to submit his own proposal for BBB some time ago, and he wrote it out in detail, and Psaki said that it was very similar to the framework for Biden’s bill. So that would seem to mean two things: 1) Manchin acted in bad faith, and misled every Democrat in the House and Senate. 2) There is something else going on. McConnell mentioned Manchin the other day, plus Manchin went on Fox to deliver his statement. I would guess that a deal has been made for Manchin to move to the Republican Party, give McConnell back the Majority Leader seat, and completely stymie any possible bill that Biden and Democrats might propose, since as usual, McConnell will never let it come to the floor as long as he remains in that position. Or maybe, since Manchin has run it out thus far, he will just wait until the Republicans take the Senate, or even if not, and then go over to that side. Same effect, and it is stealthier

We all remember in “Chinatown,” Jake Gittes asking Noah Cross if he were worth, say, ten million dollars. “Oh, my, yes,” Cross answers. Gittes then asks incredulously, “How much money do you need?” “The future, ‘Mr. Gits,’ the future,” Cross says. A brilliant encapsulation of a type of person we simply cannot understand, because his moral sense is so absolutely different from ours. Manchin doesn’t even have Cross’s dreadful excuse of wanting to own all the land in Los Angeles. Manchin just wants more money right now; and it seems, though I still will hope that I am wrong, that he has sold out all his fellow Democrats, including the President, to get it. His own constituents don’t want him to do it, but he answers to another group of people.

folie à deux

I had never heard of this term until about this time in 2013 when I was told about two Swedish sisters who had a shared delusion. Ursula and Sabina Eriksson were twins who were traveling in England when a bizarre set of circumstances demonstrated that they were sharing delusions. Their erratic, paranoid behavior got them thrown off a bus and initiated a series of self destructive actions. First Ursula, then Sabina, ran into the path of oncoming vehicles on a highway. Ursula was severely injured and Sabina was temporarily knocked out. Sabina was taken to a police station after checking out of the hospital. She was released to the general public and wandered around looking for her sister before she was taken in by a kindly stranger who she attacked and killed. Then she jumped 40 ft from an overpass to an access road before she was taken into custody.

It was subsequently determined that the sisters suffered from Folie a deux, the madness of two, or shared delusion disorder (SDD). SDD usually consists of an inducer and a vulnerable target. The inducer has the initial delusion and through isolation and intense messaging causes the target to also believe the delusion.

There are famous cases of Folie a deux in history. But the disorder can also manifest in groups of people as well and is called Folie a plusiers. The Salem witch trials might be an example. These incidents have more recently been called “mass hysteria”. But there may be other Folie a plusiers involving an inducer suffering from delusions that he or she passes to vulnerable targets.

Cult leaders are examples of this, like Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, even Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church. His successor, Brigham Young might be said to have induced the Mountain Meadows Massacre by convincing mormon followers that a wagon train passing through Utah territory was dangerous and possibly part of a conspiracy by the federal government as part of a campaign against Mormons. The Mormons who killed 140 innocent men, women and children were convinced that those people threatened their very lives.

There are quieter instances as well. Some quasi mainstream religions are full of these people. They believe in a higher purpose, like dominionisn or millienialism. They are righteous and powerful in their beliefs and are convinced strongly that the only righteous way of living is by imposing their religious values on the state. They sow distrust of outsiders. They isolate their members by preventing them from reaching out to others. They shun those who disagree. And they are as relentless in their pursuit of power as some political leaders.

One of the most memorable books of my childhood, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, demonstrates how SDD works. In this book, Meg the protagonist, is tasked with rescuing her father and little brother from It, a malevolent being inducing a mass delusion of conformity and obedience. Her father stumbled into the power of It accidentally and spent years in a cell holding out against It’s power.

It’s delusion is described as an omnipresent wave, a rhythmic pulse. It presents the rescuers with the things they want the most and the relentlessness of that pulse induces each individual to give in, to let go, to surrender to It’s will until all fathers go to work the same way, all women dress the same and call the children in for lunch at the right time and all children play on the sidewalk and bounce a ball exactly in time to the rhythm of It’s will. Children who bounce irregularly undergo an Orwellian re-education. Anyway, read the book, you’ll get an idea of how mass delusion works.

The book’s climax is when Meg and her companions manage to rescue her father but her little brother becomes enthralled with It and gets left behind. Meg is physically and mentally exhausted by the effort to free her father and takes awhile to heal. But because she is the one who knows her brother better than anyone, and has a history shared only by the two of them, she is sent back with her love for her brother as her only weapon to release him from It’s powers.

I just started thinking about A Wrinkle in Time yesterday when I remembered the Folie a deux. It made me wonder if it is possible to rescue a person from a delusion. When it comes to a delusion of whole populations, it may just need to burn itself out. There will always be non-conformists who may become unpopular people who resist the pulse. The deluded may need to run out of fuel, either themselves or their victims, before the stranglehold on them is released. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether we are now faced with such a scenario. Mass delusions seem to be particularly destructive to the followers who are in danger of killing themselves or others while they’re in the grip of the delusion.

As for more personal self delusions, the vulnerable individual enmeshed in the shared delusion needs to be receptive to the rescuer’s attempts. They have to be able to hear the rescuer through the pulse of the inducer’s constant messaging. They have to be willing to consider their own safety. This is difficult. The rescuer just needs to be there when the fever dream breaks.