Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

A funny thing is hap­pen­ing on the Amer­i­can scene: a pow­er­ful up­welling of de­cency. Sud­denly, it seems as if the worst lack all con­vic­tion, while the best are filled with a pas­sion­ate in­ten­sity. We don’t yet know whether this will trans­late into po­lit­i­cal change. But we may be in the midst of a trans­for­ma­tive mo­ment.

You can see the abrupt turn to­ward de­cency in the rise of the #MeToo move­ment; in a mat­ter of months ground that had seemed im­mov­able shifted, and pow­er­ful sex­ual preda­tors started fac­ing ca­reer-end­ing con­se­quences.

You can see it in the re­ac­tions to the Park­land school mas­sacre. For now, at least, the usual re­ac­tion to mass killings — a day or two of head­lines, then a sort of col­lec­tive shrug by the po­lit­i­cal class and a re­turn to its nor­mal obei­sance to the gun lobby — isn’t play­ing out. In­stead, the story is stay­ing at the top of the news, and as­so­ci­at­ing with the NRA is start­ing to look like the po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness poi­son it should have been all along.

This isn’t what any­one, cer­tainly not the po­lit­i­cal com­men­tariat, ex­pected.

Af­ter the 2016 elec­tion many in the news me­dia seemed all too ready to as­sume that Trump­ism rep­re­sented the real Amer­ica. There have been hun­dreds if not thou­sands of sto­ries about griz­zled Trump sup­port­ers sit­ting in din­ers, pur­port­edly show­ing the out-of-touch­ness of our cul­tural elite.

Even the huge anti-Trump demon­stra­tions just af­ter In­au­gu­ra­tion Day didn’t seem to move the con­ven­tional wis­dom. But those pink cat hats may have rep­re­sented the be­gin­ning of real so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change.

Po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists have a term and a the­ory for what we’re see­ing on #MeToo, guns and per­haps more: “regime change cas­cades.”

Here’s how it works: When peo­ple see the sta­tus quo as im­mov­able, they tend to be pas­sive even if they are them­selves dis­sat­is­fied. But once they see oth­ers vis­i­bly tak­ing a stand, they both gain more con­fi­dence in their dis­sent and be­come more will­ing to act on it — and by their ac­tions they may in­duce the same re­sponse in oth­ers, caus­ing a kind of chain re­ac­tion.

Now, noth­ing says that cas­cades have to be pos­i­tive ei­ther in their mo­ti­va­tions or in their re­sults. The pe­riod 2016-17 clearly rep­re­sented a sort of Alt-Right Spring in which white su­prem­a­cists and anti-Semites were em­bold­ened not just by Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion but by the ev­i­dence that there were more like-minded peo­ple than any­one re­al­ized, both in the U.S. and Europe.

I nev­er­the­less find the surge of in­dig­na­tion now build­ing in Amer­ica hugely en­cour­ag­ing. And yes, I think it’s all one surge. The #MeToo move­ment, the re­fusal to shrug off the Park­land mas­sacre, the new po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism of out­raged cit­i­zens all stem from a com­mon per­cep­tion: namely, that it’s not just about ide­ol­ogy, but that far too much power rests in the hands of men who are sim­ply bad peo­ple.

And Ex­hibit A for that propo­si­tion is, of course, the tweeter in chief him­self.

At the same time, what strikes me about the re­ac­tion to this grow­ing back­lash is not just its vile­ness, but its lame­ness. Trump’s re­sponse to Park­land — let’s arm teach­ers! — wasn’t just stupid, it was cow­ardly. Or con­sider how the Mis­souri GOP has re­sponded to the in­dict­ment of Gov. Eric Gre­it­ens, ac­cused of try­ing to black­mail his lover with nude pho­tos: by blam­ing … Ge­orge Soros.

Or con­sider the grow­ing wild­ness of speeches by right-wing lu­mi­nar­ies like Wayne LaPierre of the NRA. They’ve pretty much given up on mak­ing any sub­stan­tive case for their ideas in fa­vor of rants about so­cial­ists try­ing to take away your free­dom.

Again, there’s no guar­an­tee that the forces of de­cency will win. But we’re see­ing a real up­ris­ing here, and there’s every rea­son to hope that change is com­ing.

Paul Krug­man

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