Tag Archives: GOP

The GOP Retreat From Empiricism

I am hardly the only person to observe that Trump’s election was a predictable consequence of the fact that, over a number of years, the GOP has morphed into something bearing very little resemblance to a rational, center-right political party.

Political pundits differ on when the changes began. Certainly, Nixon’s “Southern strategy” laid the groundwork for the GOP’s growing appeal to racial grievance. Stuart Stevens’ recent book It Was All A Lie detailed five decades of “hypocrisy and self-delusion” dating all the way back to the civil rights legislation of the early 1960s.

A recent article from Pressthink, a project of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU, reminded readers of the 2004 Ron Suskind article about the George W. Bush White House–the article that gave us the now-ubiquitous quote about the “reality-based community.” Suskind was writing about concerns voiced by so-called  “establishment” Republicans who were increasingly encountering what Suskind called  “a confusing development” within the Bush White House. Suddenly, asking for corroborating evidence, expressing doubts, or raising facts that didn’t fit an official narrative were considered disqualifying or disloyal acts for allies of the President.

Knowing what you know now, about candidate Trump, listen to these quotes from 2004…

* “He dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts.” —Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan and Bush-the-elder adviser.

* “In meetings, I’d ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!” —Christie Whitman, head of the EPA under Bush.

* “If you operate in a certain way — by saying this is how I want to justify what I’ve already decided to do, and I don’t care how you pull it off — you guarantee that you’ll get faulty, one-sided information.” —Paul O’Neill, Treasure Secretary under Bush.

* “Open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker.” —Suskind’s words.

* “A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush’s White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners.” —Suskind.

* “You’re outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don’t read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way [Bush] walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it’s good for us. Because you know what those folks don’t like? They don’t like you!” — Mark McKinnon, media adviser to Bush, explaining the political logic to Suskind.

That last quote, by Mark McKinnon, goes a long way toward explaining the root emotions of today’s Trump supporters, whose overriding need is apparently to “own the libs”–no matter what the cost to the country or their own prospects.

Suskind’s article was about the growing tensions within the Republican coalition. When he talked to Bruce Bartlett, Christie Whitman, Paul O’Neill and other loyal Republicans, they conveyed alarm over what he termed “the retreat from empiricism.”

It wasn’t only Republicans who were retreating from empiricism and reality–liberals had their anti-vaxxers  and people hysterically opposed to genetically modified foods–but they lacked the influence on their party that climate change deniers and birthers had in the GOP, and that asymmetry posed a “false equivalence” problem for journalists trying to be (excuse the phrase) fair and balanced.

Worse, fact-checking Trump had little effect, because he wasn’t trying to make reference to reality in what he said. He was trying to substitute “his” reality for the one depicted in news reports.

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

On November 3d, creating an alternate reality worked for 70 million Americans.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

A “Collective Psychotic Episode”

Tuesday’s post, published early by mistake. See you Wednesday morning.

I am (unhappily) persuaded that the thesis of an October 4th article for Salon is correct.

David Mascriotra’s opening line was “There is only one political party in the United States.” He went on to defend that observation

The first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump demonstrated with hideous clarity that the Democratic Party is currently running against not a conservative public policy agenda or a coherent philosophy of governance, but a collective psychotic episode, channeled through an authoritarian demagogue who is equally propelled and crippled by his own neuroses.Gore Vidal, one of America’s best chroniclers of empire, once provided instruction to a British interviewer expressing confusion over the radical hostility Republicans showed toward Barack Obama, and the former president’s inability to react with equal aggression: “Obama believes the Republican Party is a political party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Mascriotra doesn’t fall into the all-too-frequent mistake of centering his criticism on Trump and his gang that can’t shoot straight. His analysis focuses on the real problem–the fact that the Republican Party has  undergone a radical transformation from a genuine political party into a cult–or, as the quoted paragraph graphically puts it, a “mindset.” And a pretty ugly mindset, at that.

This analysis rejects the (weak) excuse that Republican office-holders don’t stand up to Trump because they are afraid of what the author calls the “bloodlust” of the Trump cult. Although there is undoubtedly some of that, he argues that–at least at the federal level– they share Trump’s hatred of democracy, and he shares statements from several of the “usual subjects”– Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and others–to prove his point.

Republican officeholders and voters “are glad to see him waging war on a system designed to give representation and power to a diverse group of citizens.”

We all know what “diverse group of citizens” means: brown and black people, women, gays, Jews and Muslims. It always comes back to what is increasingly impossible to ignore– the almost total capture of the GOP by white supremacists. To rank and file Republicans, “Making America great again” means recommitting the country to the rule and social dominance of white male Christians. As Mascriotra says, “there is no other reasonable conclusion to draw from the fact that between 80 and 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance in office.”

That conclusion –that the GOP is no longer a party, but a white supremacist cult– is also supported by the lack of anything resembling an agenda or a platform.

An American without health insurance, or who pays a high monthly premium for inadequate coverage, can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Working parents who cannot afford child care and have no disposable income after paying each month’s bills can expect nothing from the Republican Party. A young college graduate unable to qualify for a mortgage because he has tens of thousands of dollars in student debt can expect nothing from the Republican Party. Poor children suffering through hunger and struggling to learn basic skills in a dysfunctional school can expect nothing from the Republican Party.

Mascriotra quotes George Will for the proposition that the GOP has abandoned any former connection to a coherent, genuine conservatism. He concludes that Trump’s inability to debate Biden, evidenced by his descent into tantrum and invective, was largely because Republicans no longer have principles or programs to debate or defend.

Through their multi-decade commitment to shrinking government down so small that it can “drown in a bathtub,” to use the words of Grover Norquist, what was once a reasonably coherent pro-business conservative party has arrived at its logical endpoint — a fascist power grab under the guise of an incoherent personality cult.

The late Stanley Crouch warned Republicans of their trouble in the late 1990s, explaining to Charlie Rose that you “cannot assemble a group of lunatics” to follow you without eventually following them into lunacy.

Reminds me of the lyric from the song, “Bring in the clowns.”

Don’t bother–they’re here.

 

 

How We Got Here

In late August, Jonathan Chait authored an important essay in New York Magazine,arguing that the Republican Party must be saved from the Conservative Movement. As he admits, to modern ears, this sounds nuts: we all have been brainwashed into seeing “conservative” and “Republican” as different terms meaning pretty much the same thing.

That, however, is an ahistorical belief, and Chait reminds us that the GOP under, say, Eisenhower was a very different animal.

Chait characterizes the current divide among anti-Trump Republicans as an argument between those who just want Trump gone and those who have concluded that the whole party needs to be gone. He provides a memorable analogy for the latter group:

I have immense admiration for my colleagues at New York. Suppose, however, that we appointed an editor who lacked familiarity with terms like circulation and advertising, whose notes to writers were scrawled indecipherably in crayon, and who seemed more interested in filching office supplies than any other aspect of the job. And suppose the staff either actively defended this editor or deflected criticism by pointing to David Remnick’s various foibles.

Well, I would naturally conclude I had misjudged the place badly. And if this editor eventually left, I would be looking for work at a publication whose staff had not been trying to extend his term.

Chait’s point–with which it is hard to argue–is that it isn’t just Trump. but a party that wouldn’t “merely cooperate with but actually idolize” a grotesquely bigoted authoritarian. But rather than burning the party down, he advocates severing it from what passes for “conservatism” these days. As he quite accurately points out, the conservative movement was once a minority faction within the GOP that demanded an “apocalyptic confrontation that would roll back big government at home and communism abroad.”

Chait’s essay is long, but it’s worth reading in its entirety for its history of the radical/conservative takeover of the GOP. The results of that takeover can be seen in today’s party of Trumpists:

It would be an overstatement to paint Trump as representing nothing but the triumph of the conservative movement. In his personal defects, Trump is indeed sui generis. But the broad outlines of his agenda and his style do closely follow the trajectory of the American right: racism, authoritarianism, and disdain for expertise. The movement attracts disordered personalities like McCarthy, Sarah Palin, and Trump and paranoid cults like the John Birch Society and QAnon.

Above all, Trump follows the American right’s Manichaean approach to political conflict. Every new extension of government, however limited or necessary, is a secret plot to extend government control over every aspect of American life. Conservatives met both Clinton and Obama’s agenda with absolute hysteria, whipping themselves into a terror that rendered them unable to negotiate.

And in a particularly insightful observation, he notes that an inability to distinguish reasonable, well-designed government programs that address real market failures from Soviet-style oppression is a congenital defect in conservative thought. As he says, Trump is not even pretending to have a positive second-term program. His only goal is to stop the next Democratic administration because the next liberal program is always the one that will usher in the final triumph of socialism.

So–what should a successful reconstituted, post-Trump party look like? Chait points to the sort of  “pragmatic center-right thinking being developed at the Niskanen Center and by some of the wonks at the American Enterprise Institute and a handful of other places” and he would jettison the conservative dogma that forbids any consideration of new taxes, spending, or regulation.

It will take more than one defeat for the party to abandon what its cadres have been trained to see as the only possible path. But the Republican Party will never stop being a danger to American democracy until it can see the problem clearly. The task is not to save conservatism from Trump. It is to save the Republican Party from conservatism.

Really, read the whole article.

 

QAnon: Nazism Repackaged?

I haven’t written about the QAnon conspiracy, because it has seemed so ludicrous. Remember the deranged believer who traveled to a DC pizza parlor to rescue children being held in the basement–only to discover that not only weren’t there any children, there wasn’t even a basement…?

Most rational Americans dismissed both the shooter and the conspiracy that motivated him as elements of a small wacko fringe.

Still, a growing number of reports suggest a troubling growth of the cult, and I read somewhere that  at least 80 self-identified adherents had run for Congress in GOP primaries. (At least two emerged victorious–one for Congress in Georgia, one for Senate in Delaware.) And in a recent poll, 33% of Republicans responded that they believed QAnon was “mostly true,” while another 23% said they believed it was “partly true.”

If–like me–you’ve been vague on the disturbing beliefs and origin of the conspiracy, a recent article from Salon provides details:

QAnon, known for their outrageous conspiracy theories, believe that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by an international ring of pedophiles and Satanists and that President Donald Trump was put in power to battle them. And Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and an expert on the history of anti-Semitism, believes that there are parallels between QAnon’s outrageous views and the views that Nazis promoted in Germany during the 1930s.

Describing QAnon’s views in an article published by Just Security on September 9, Stanton writes, “A secret cabal is taking over the world. They kidnap children, slaughter and eat them to gain power from their blood. They control high positions in government, banks, international finance, the news media and the church. They want to disarm the police. They promote homosexuality and pedophilia. They plan to mongrelize the white race so it will lose its essential power. Does this conspiracy theory sound familiar? It is. The same narrative has been repackaged by QAnon.”

The parallels are certainly frightening. The anti-Semitic 1902 pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” is apparently central to both. Stanton points out that QAnon’s ideology is a “rebranded version” of that pamphlet, and that its membership has grown especially rapidly in Germany. (Others have connected QAnon to the Fundamentalist Christian belief that before Jesus returns, believers will be “raptured” to heaven and will  avoid the “tribulation”–a period in which the Antichrist will attempt to rule via a “one world government” and force people to adopt the “mark of the beast.”) 

Drilling down: QAnon members core belief is that a secret, Satan-worshiping cabal is taking over the world. They believe that the members of that cabal kidnap white children– just white children– and keep them in secret prisons (like the one presumably located in the pizza parlor’s nonexistent basement) that are run by pedophiles. They also believe that the “cabal” slaughters and eats children to gain power from the “essence” in their blood. It’s here that we can clearly see the parallels with the blood libel charges against Jews, who presumably needed the blood of white Christian children for our matzoh. (These are clearly people who have never eaten matzoh, which is utterly devoid of moisture of any sort…)

This mythical cabal controlled the American presidency under Clinton and Obama, and it lurks in a ‘Deep State’ financed by Jews, especially George Soros and the Jews who “control the media.” Its members want to disarm citizens and defund the police, to promote abortions and homosexuality, and especially to open borders and allow brown illegal aliens to invade America and mongrelize the white race.

The racism embedded in all this is hard to miss. It’s also hard to believe that people who actually believe any of this are sufficiently competent to tie their shoes in the morning, let alone function otherwise.

Yet we are told that this “movement” has grown by the millions.

Like Donald Trump, who appears to be a fan of QAnon because it worships him, and like the Nazis before them, the followers of QAnon seem bent on revenge and retribution for mythical offenses. They babble endlessly about “The Storm” that is coming, by which they appear to mean a coup followed by a bloodbath. That, too, is reminiscent of Nazi style. Maybe they should just call themselves Storm Troopers.

One reason for QAnon’s explosive growth may be that–according to the FBI– promulgating QAnon has become a project of the Russian intelligence services, which have their internet armies spreading it online. So far, at least, Republican leaders have refused to denounce it, essentially acquiescing to its ongoing influence in the marginally less insane cult that is today’s GOP (although, as more outlets have been reporting on the conspiracy’s influence within the Republican Party, Talking Points Memo reports Pence did drop his planned attendance at a Montana fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters.) 

Welcome to loony-tunes land. If it weren’t so potentially dangerous, it would be hysterically funny….

 

The Election In Black And White

Today is Labor Day in an election year. It’s a time in the election cycle when media sources are filled with punditry– advice to Joe Biden and the Democrats, “analysis”  of Trump and the GOP, and a variety  of theories about political strategies that work and don’t.

I’ve come to a depressing conclusion: the November election is about one thing  and  one  thing only. The results–and the margin of victory– will tell us  whether  America is finally ready to address the virulent racism that has  infected both our personal  attitudes  and our governing institutions, and say “enough.”

The headline from a September article  in The Intelligencer is on point:“Many GOP Voters Value America’s Whiteness More Than Its Democracy.”

The article began with what is by now a  depressingly familiar litany of Trump’s assaults on democracy and the rule of law. The author dutifully noted that these assaults, and Trump’s  failure  to even  pretend to honor longtime  democratic norms–have “scandalized a significant minority of Republican elites.” Then came the obvious observation that the chaos and incompetence of the administration has not dampened the enthusiasm of  what is now the rank-and-file of the GOP.

One explanation for Republican indifference to such deeds is that Republicans aren’t aware of them: Fox News’s programming and Facebook’s algorithm have simply kept red America blissfully ignorant of the commander-in-chief’s most tyrannical moods…

But a new paper from Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels suggests an alternative hypothesis: Many Republican voters value “keeping America great” more than they value democracy — and, by “keeping America great,” such voters typically mean “keeping America’s power structure white.”

Bartels is a widely-respected political scientist. His study was an effort to understand  popular indifference to democracy on the American right. His  conclusion was that “ethnic antagonism” predicted that indifference. In other words, racial animosity overwhelmed any concern Trump supporters might harbor about the governance of the country–and that popular support for authoritarianism within the GOP isn’t motivated by concerns over conservative Christianity’s declining influence over public life but rather with the dominance of the white race.

I don’t think I ever appreciated just how ugly and pervasive America’s racial animus has been, or the  degree  to  which it was embedded in the laws of the  land. I’ve been reading The  Color of the  Law, a recent book that sets out the history of laws requiring  racial segregation  in  housing. Those laws were immensely more widespread and draconian than I had ever  known–they went well beyond FHA and VA refusal to insure mortgages in neighborhoods that allowed Black people to live there. Restrictive covenants and legally-enforced redlining lasted far longer  than most of  us untouched  by them would  have  supposed.

Reading about the blatant bigotry that created America’s ghettos–and the mob violence (not-so-tacitly approved by police) that often erupted when Blacks purchased homes in white neighborhoods– reminded me of David Cole’s  eye-opening 1999 book, No Equal Justice, which I read several years ago. Cole documented the multiple ways in which the justice system doesn’t just fail to live up to the promise of equality, but actively requires double standards to operate–allowing the privileged to enjoy constitutional protections from police power without incurring the costs of extending those protections to minorities and the poor.

It’s bad enough that the America I actually inhabit turns out to be so different from the  country I thought I lived in, but on November 3d, we will find out how many of our fellow citizens are white supremicists who agree with Donald Trump that anti-racist training is “UnAmerican.”

The last paragraph  of the linked  article really says it  all.

When democracy came to America, it was wrapped in white skin and carrying a burning cross. In the early 19th century, the same state constitutional conventions that gave the vote to propertyless white men disenfranchised free Blacks. For the bulk of our republic’s history, racial hierarchy took precedence over democracy. Across the past half century, the U.S. has shed its official caste system, and almost all white Americans have made peace with sharing this polity with people of other phenotypes. But forfeiting de jure supremacy is one thing; handing over de facto ownership of America’s mainstream politics, culture, and history is quite another. And as legal immigration diversifies America’s electorate while the nation’s unpaid debts to its Black population accrue interest and spur unrest, democracy has begun to seek more radical concessions from those who retain an attachment to white identity. A majority of light-skinned Americans may value their republic more than their (tacit) racial dominance. But sometimes, minorities rule.