News & Politics

Paul Krugman: American Decency Is Making a Huge Comeback

There are signs of real hope in the response to the Parkland massacre.

Photo Credit: YouTube/Bloomberg

Hope for democracy is in short supply during the Trump administration. A surge in activism and civic engagement has offered a bright spot, but for every Women's March, there's a Neil Gorsuch appointed to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act has been saved, for now, but tax cuts for billionaires passed easily. Still, a broader shift may be coming, however slowly—what Paul Krugman refers to in his Tuesday column as "a powerful upwelling of decency." 

It began with women standing up against sexual harassment: "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." And Krugman believes it has continued in our response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida:

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 N.R.A. is starting to look like the political and business poison it should have been all along.

It's also happening in elections, where "hard-right politicians in usually reliable Republican districts keep being defeated thanks to surging activism by ordinary citizens"—results that have turned pundits' predictions on their heads. Political scientists call this phenomenon "regime cascade":

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.

The term helps explain events like the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, and the Arab Spring in 2011. It was also responsible for the growth of the alt-right in 2016. Still, Krugman finds the current trends encouraging. He believes that "the new political activism of outraged citizens (many of them women) 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." 

Plus, Krugman continues, the backlash to the Parkland students is extremely lame. Even the NRA itself has "given up on making any substantive case for their ideas in favor of rants about socialists trying to take away your freedom. It’s scary stuff, but it’s also kind of whiny; it’s what people sound like when they know they’re losing the argument."

It's hard to say whether this surge of decency will last, but he ends his piece on a hopeful note: "we’re seeing a real uprising here, and there’s every reason to hope that change is coming." 

Read the entire column here





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Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.