Tag Archives: GOP

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.

That Was The Party That Was

Norm Ornstein speaks to me. From his books (It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, with Thomas Mann, and One Nation After Trump, with E.J.  Dionne  and Thomas Mann) to his principled fight against gerrymandering,  I have admired both his intellect and his principles.

And in his recent essay in the Atlantic, he gave voice to my own political distress.

I have been immersed in national politics in Washington for five decades. Over my time here, as an academic, a congressional staffer, a think tanker, and a commentator and public figure, I have gotten to know and worked with a wide range of key actors in politics and policy. I have seen up close the changes in our politics and culture. Nothing has been more striking or significant than the transformation of the Republican Party, from a moderately conservative party to a very conservative party to something else entirely.

One sign of this change? A five-term Republican congressman from Colorado, elected in the Tea Party wave in 2010 and now a Trump loyalist, was recently defeated in a primary by a candidate who runs Shooters Grill, where servers are encouraged to carry firearms, and who has indulged the QAnon conspiracy theories and who is now endorsed, not repudiated, by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Another? The current buzz surrounding Tucker Carlson as the party’s hope in 2024—even as he takes sudden leave from his show to go fishing, after one of his writers was tied to racist and misogynistic posts on an internet message board.

Those of us of a. “certain age” would agree with Ornstein that “old-time” Republicans would be appalled by the party’s ethnic and anti-immigrant animus and deliberate efforts to stoke racial division. Although  the GOP has always had a rightwing, nativist fringe–just as the Democrats have always had a collectivist fringe– when I was Republican, they were, for the most part, consigned  to that fringe.

The party of Nixon, with all its pathologies, created the Environmental Protection Agency, proposed a health-care-reform plan as sweeping as the later Affordable Care Act, and considered offering Americans a guaranteed annual income on a par with Andrew Yang’s universal basic income. The party of Reagan, which tried to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and which slashed taxes in 1981, precipitating ballooning deficits, also cut deals with Democratic Representative Henry Waxman to bolster Medicare and Medicaid; championed bipartisan Social Security reform in 1983; and supported tax increases in 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 to offset the earlier cuts and reduce the deficits. The party responsible for Iran-Contra is also the party that championed democracy and moved in concert with Democrats to create the National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Institute of Peace, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.

Many of  the Republicans with whom Ornstein worked exemplified  “institutional patriotism,” which he defines as a concern for the integrity of Congress as an institution, and a commitment to checks and balances.

Unfortunately, they were unable to transfer those values to succeeding generations, or to overcome the regional shift in American party politics, the rise of manipulative leaders, and the growing influence of extremist tribal media.

Ornstein tells us what we all know: that whatever it is that has taken the place of that GOP “has thrown away its guiding values and embraced its darkest instincts.”

It has blown up long-standing norms in the Senate, creating divisions that outstrip anything I have seen before; done nothing about rank corruption in the White House and the Cabinet; accepted the politicization of the Justice Department and lies from the attorney general; avoided any meaningful oversight of misconduct; and failed to curb attacks on the independence of inspectors general.

The article goes into considerable detail about Ornstein’s political biography–the Senators and staff with whom he worked, and the ability that afforded him to see public servants up close, to evaluate their sincerity and integrity. I encourage  you to click through and read it in its entirety.

But the sentence that really resonated with me was the following:

Plenty of the Republicans I dealt with in the past were fierce partisans, including Dole and John Rhodes. But when pushed, they put country first.

When the sniveling sycophants beholden to the conspiracy theorists and bigots that make up today’s GOP “base” are pushed, they put their own prospects above country– and arguably even above the long-term best interests of their party.

 

Fear Itself

Paul Krugman’s column on August 24th really, really hit the proverbial nail on the head.  It was titled “QAnon is Trump’s Last, Best Chance,” and it homed in on the nature of the snake oil that Trump and the GOP are peddling.

Last week’s Democratic National Convention was mainly about decency — about portraying Joe Biden and his party as good people who will do their best to heal a nation afflicted by a pandemic and a depression. There were plenty of dire warnings about the threat of Trumpism; there was frank acknowledgment of the toll taken by disease and unemployment; but on the whole the message was surprisingly upbeat.

This week’s Republican National Convention, by contrast, however positive its official theme, is going to be QAnon all the way.

I don’t mean that there will be featured speeches claiming that Donald Trump is protecting us from an imaginary cabal of liberal pedophiles, although anything is possible. But it’s safe to predict that the next few days will be filled with QAnon-type warnings about terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist.

Think about that last line: terrible events that aren’t actually happening and evil conspiracies that don’t actually exist. Inculcating fear–of Black people, Jews, immigrants, socialists–has been a Republican staple since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” but until recently, it was only a portion of that strategy.

Now, the once-Grand-old-Party has nothing else.

As Krugman points out, the messaging employed by this administration has focused on efforts to panic Americans over nonexistent threats.

If you get your information from administration officials or Fox News, you probably believe that millions of undocumented immigrants cast fraudulent votes, even though actual voter fraud hardly ever happens; that Black Lives Matter protests, which with some exceptions have been remarkably nonviolent, have turned major cities into smoking ruins; and more.

It has been a constant barrage of Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts.”

Krugman says that much of this focus on imaginary threats is a defense mechanism from people who have no clue how to do policy, or to cope with real threats.

Covid-19, of course, has been the. all-too-visible example of that inability. In the face of massive American deaths, Trump has offered quack remedies (drink bleach!), and little else other than blaming China. and denying the severity and extent of the pandemic.

Trump, in other words, can’t devise policies that respond to the nation’s actual needs, nor is he willing to listen to those who can. He won’t even try. And at some level both he and those around him seem aware of his basic inadequacy for the job of being president.

What he and they can do, however, is conjure up imaginary threats that play into his supporters’ prejudices, coupled with conspiracy theories that resonate with their fear and envy of know-it-all “elites.” QAnon is only the most ludicrous example of this genre, all of which portrays Trump as the hero defending us from invisible evil.

If all of this sounds crazy, that’s because it is. And it’s almost certainly not a political tactic that can win over a majority of American voters.

Trump’s base is terrified. They are afraid most of all of demographic change, of losing their white, Christian, masculine privilege, but they are also deeply uncomfortable with the increasing ambiguities of modern life. They  want desperately to “return” to a world that never was.

Real-world policies–the kind that would appear in a party platform, or be embraced by competent grownups–can’t soothe those fears. The Republican Party has retreated to the only thing it has left: fantasy.

So they are ramping up the fear and telling us “those people” are to blame.

I Was Wrong

During the Democratic primary–as regular readers of this blog will remember–I was pretty adamant about America’s need for generational change. I was convinced that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were simply too old to tackle the monumental task of rescuing the nation (or what is left of it in the wake of the train wreck that is the Trump administration). I thought that a restoration of hope, of possibility, required a younger, more energetic, more “woke” set of actors.

What I failed to take into account was the immense importance of competence borne of experience, especially at a juncture as perilous as the one we approach.You would think that–as an old woman myself–I would have recognized the value of lessons learned over a lifetime, many of them the hard way.

The Democrats have a truly impressive “bench” of very smart, very idealistic young people: Mayor Pete, AOC, a number of others. But they will still be smart (and hopefully, still idealistic) 4 or 8 or 12 years from now, and the experience they will have gained in those years will deepen their understanding of the political process and sharpen the skills it takes to negotiate the convoluted structures of governance.

The (virtual) Democratic Convention reminded me that Joe Biden–who was also a smart and idealistic youngster “back in the day”– offers America fifty years of successful public sector experience. Unlike the reality-show buffoon who currently occupies the Oval Office, he knows what it like to do the hard, grunt work of governing. He knows what it is like to encounter new facts and perspectives that make you recognize and admit that you’ve been on the wrong side of  a policy issue. His deep experience with foreign leaders has allowed him to forge relationships that will be critical to re-establishing America’s reputation abroad (younger people simply haven’t had the time to establish those relationships, and President Obama drew heavily on them during his first term in office.)

His relationships with others in government, on both sides of the political aisle, have established his reputation as a person who can be trusted to keep his word, honor a commitment, and “tell it like it is.” That reputation simply cannot be established overnight; it requires time.

There’s another relationship that has been established over the years–Biden’s relationship with the American public. He’s a known quantity, which is why the efforts of the Crazy Guy In Chief to define him have fallen flat. GOP spin doctors may be able to paint AOC as some sort of communist (after all, she wants rich people to pay taxes! and she wants to save the environment!), but Joe Biden has already defined himself in the years that he has been a public figure.

These are assets that only come with experience.And time.

I still favor a generational shift, probably sooner than later, but I failed to appreciate the value and importance of Biden’s self-described status as a “transitional figure.” Assuming (as sane people must) a Democratic victory in November and a successful (probably ugly) transition of power, Joe Biden will bring extensive knowledge of government and how it does– and doesn’t– work to the monumental effort of repairing the damage.

If we are very lucky, if we give him the tools to work with by electing a sufficient number of thoughtful, non-lunatic people to the House and Senate, the government he hands over to a younger generation will be recognizably American again.

So,  mea culpa. And think about Joe Biden, a competent and empathetic adult, as you watch the GOP convention nominate– and genuflect to– the child-sociopath who currently occupies the Oval Office.