Tag Archives: Trumpism

Moderation Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

I really loved the introduction to Eugene Robinson’s July 2d column.

Never-Trump Republicans and independents may be shocked to hear this, but the Democratic Party is likely to nominate a Democrat for president. That means they’re not going to nominate someone who thinks exactly like a Never-Trump Republican….

I, for one, have pretty much had it with the chorus of center-right voices braying that the Democrats are heading for certain doom — and the nation for four more years of President Donald Trump — if the party picks a nominee who actually embraces the party’s ideals. Elections are choices.

As Robinson notes, these Never Trumpers will have to decide whether to vote for the eventual nominee, “in the interest of ending our long national nightmare,” or “stick with a president who kowtows to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.” (To which I would add: And is manifestly unfit for any public office.)

A recent, more academic version of Robinson’s argument was made by Jeffrey Isaacs in Public Seminar. Isaacs notes that a number of conservatives have strongly opposed Trump, “distancing or even divorcing themselves from the Trumpist Republican Party” and promoting a centrist politics of “moderation.”

He then goes on to make a very important point:

While they are “against Trump,” and indeed sincere in their basic commitment to constitutional democracy, they do not go very far in their critique of Trumpism, laying too much responsibility at the feet of Trump himself, and not enough at the feet of a political-economic system in need of substantial reform, and even less at the feet of the Republican Party, and its long-term rightward shift, which has brought us to our current crisis.

Isaacs points to the punditry decrying Democrats’ supposed lurch to the left, and its insistence that only “moderation” will defeat Trump.

progressives do not need to be “schooled” about this by conservatives who have been cast adrift by Trumpist barbarism and are now seeking a politically safe harbor….

There is something very self-righteous, and indeed immoderate, about the way that some “Never Trump” conservatives have been writing about these challenges.

Isaacs particularly takes David Brooks to task for one of his recent, self-important columns.

What Brooks fails to note is that this polarization has a very long history and that, as most serious political analysts have long observed, it is a history of asymmetrical polarization. The Republican Party, in short, has moved much farther to the right than the Democratic Party has moved to the left… Trump is an exceptional and exceptionally terrible and dangerous President. But Trump became President by bending the Republican Party to his will, rather easily bringing its own deeply racist, sexist, and inegalitarian tendencies out into the open, and then exulting in and intensifying them. There is a clear line linking Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Palin, eight years of rather vicious anti-Obama obstructionism, and Trumpism. And conservative and neoconservative writers who often offered aid and comfort to these forces, working for Republican leaders and editing pro-Republican journals, thus played an important role in the rise of Trump, even as they quickly became horrified by the monster they had helped to create.

Isaacs emphasizes the reality that Republicans have moved much farther to the right than Democrats have moved left. (The reality is that–despite hysterical accusations from the GOP and Fox News– America doesn’t have an actual Left, at least not as Europeans define that term. We have at most a center-Left.)

Because the partisan polarization has been so markedly asymmetrical, and because the Republican move to the right has involved so many especially egregious assaults on democracy— from a deliberate political strategy of voting rights abridgment to immigration restriction to assaults on reproductive freedom to support for the militarization of policing to the gutting of environmental regulation and social citizenship — and because all of these things came together in a perfect storm to bring us Trumpism, a strong and passionate resistance has emerged on the left.

This resistance is an explicable reaction to the manifestly reactionary nature of Trumpism. It is a political mobilization that is necessary in order to defeat Trumpism, which will require not median-voter centrism but the energizing of activist campaigns across the country capable of contesting abridgements of voting rights and mobilizing millions of new voters. And it is an ethically exemplary form of democratic civic activism and political empowerment. This does not make it perfect or above criticism. Indeed, this resistance contains a multiplicity of tendencies and is characterized by sometimes serious divisions and debates. But it is a resistance nonetheless, and one fueled by broadly progressive impulses and commitments to greater political, social, and economic democracy.

You really need to read the whole thing.

Misogyny Over Racism?

In the January/February issue of the Atlantic, Peter Beinart attributes the global move to authoritarianism to misogyny.

After noting the current roster of bullies in power in various countries–he calls them ‘Trumpists’– and noting the very different political and economic environments of those countries, he points to the one threat they all share: women.

But the more you examine global Trumpism, the more it challenges the story lines that dominate conversation in the United States. Ask commentators to explain the earthquake that has hit American politics since 2016, and they’ll likely say one of two things. First, that it’s a scream of rage from a working class made downwardly mobile by globalization. Second, that it’s a backlash by white Christians who fear losing power to immigrants and racial and religious minorities.

Yet these theories don’t travel well. Downward mobility? As Anne Applebaum pointed out in this magazinejust a few months ago, “Poland’s economy has been the most consistently successful in Europe over the past quarter century. Even after the global financial collapse in 2008, the country saw no recession.” In the years leading up to Duterte’s surprise 2016 victory, the Philippines experienced what the scholar Nicole Curato has called “phenomenal economic growth.” The racial-and-religious-backlash theory leaves a lot unexplained, too. Immigration played little role in Duterte’s ascent, or in Bolsonaro’s. Despite his history of anti-black comments, preelection polls showed Bolsonaro winning among black and mixed-race Brazilians. Racism has been even less central to Duterte’s appeal.

The problem with both American-born story lines is that authoritarian nationalism is rising in a diverse set of countries. Some are mired in recession; others are booming. Some are consumed by fears of immigration; others are not. But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

Beinart quotes Valerie M. Hudson, a political scientist at Texas A&M, who reminds us that  for most of human history, leaders and their male subjects agreed that men would be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women. Since this hierarchy mirrored that of the home, it seemed natural. As a result, Hudson says, men, and many women, have associated male dominance with political legitimacy. Women’s empowerment disrupts this order.

The article mines history to illustrate the ways revolutionaries have used “the specter of women’s power” to discredit the regime they sought to overthrow.

French revolutionaries made Marie Antoinette a symbol of the immorality of the ancien régime and that Iranian revolutionaries did the same to Princess Ashraf, the “unveiled and powerful” sister of the shah. After toppling the monarchy, the French revolutionaries banned women from holding senior teaching positions and inheriting property. Ayatollah Khamenei made it a crime for women to speak on the radio or appear unveiled in public….

When the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi replaced the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Morsi quickly announced that he would abolish the quota guaranteeing women’s seats in parliament, overturn a ban on female circumcision, and make it harder for women to divorce an abusive husband. After Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster, the first law that Libya’s new government repealed was the one banning polygamy.

Beinart draws a comparison to Trump, whose attitudes toward women were shared by supporters whose hatred of Hillary was blatantly–even exuberantly– sexist. The misogyny theory even explains Trump’s improbable support among Evangelicals.

Commentators sometimes describe Trump’s alliance with the Christian rightas incongruous given his libertine history. But whatever their differences when it comes to the proper behavior of men, Trump and his evangelical backers are united by a common desire to constrain the behavior of women.

The article is lengthy, and filled with concrete examples. It’s persuasive, and well worth reading in its entirety. Assuming the accuracy of the analysis, it’s hard to disagree with this observation near the end of the essay:

Over the long term, defeating the new authoritarians requires more than empowering women politically. It requires normalizing their empowerment so autocrats can’t turn women leaders and protesters into symbols of political perversity. And that requires confronting the underlying reason many men—and some women—view women’s political power as unnatural: because it subverts the hierarchy they see in the home.

It would seem that the personal really is the political; misogyny evidently begins at home.

Real-World Choices

I have never been a big fan of New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Sometimes I’ve agreed with him, sometimes not, but he generally comes across (to me, at least) as patronizing–someone who engages in the sort of “coastal elitist” hectoring that conservatives love to hate and the ideological “middle-of-the-roadism” that sets liberal teeth on edge.

In this column, however, he hits it out of the park.

Friedman makes an argument–vote straight Democratic in the upcoming midterm elections– that has often been made by Pete, one of the most thoughtful of this blog’s regular commenters. It is emphatically not an argument that Democrats are all “good guys” untainted by the moral and ethical deficiencies that permeate the GOP.

It is instead a (far more eloquent) restatement of what has become my own mantra, to wit: I don’t vote for the lesser of two evils. I vote for the person/party that is pandering to the people who are least dangerous.

To put that another way: I recognize that all politicians are beholden in some fashion to the interest groups that support them, so I’m going to evaluate the priorities of those interest groups and vote for the candidate who is beholden to the ones most closely aligned with what I believe to be the common good.

As Friedman puts it,

It is not a choice between the particular basket of policies offered by the candidates for House or Senate in your district or state — policies like gun control, right to choose, free trade or fiscal discipline. No, what this election is about is your first chance since 2016 to vote against Donald Trump.

As far as I am concerned, that’s the only choice on the ballot. It’s a choice between letting Trump retain control of all the key levers of political power for two more years, or not.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

If your answer is the former, then it can only happen by voting for the Democrat in your local House or Senate race.

The same issue of the Times that carried Friedman’s column reported on a study of the issues being raised thus far in 2018 by Republican contenders for the House and Senate. The overwhelming majority are emphasizing their antagonism to immigration and immigrants–a (slightly) less obvious way to appeal to what the media likes to characterize as “racial anxieties.”

Are there racist Democrats? Sure. But they belong to a multi-racial, multi-ethnic party. To exhibit such attitudes is likely to be the kiss of political death. Are there Democrats who are “in the pocket” of corporate interests? Again, yes. But there are degrees of corruption, and right now, most Democratic officeholders obey ethical constraints that their Republican counterparts cheerfully ignore.

Friedman (and Pete) are correct:

What we’ve learned since 2016 is that the worst Democrat on the ballot for the House or Senate is preferable to the best Republican, because the best Republicans have consistently refused to take a moral stand against Trump’s undermining of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Civil Service, the basic norms of our public life and the integrity of our elections.

Here’s the bottom line. Refusing to vote for Democratic candidates who fall short of ideal–opting to make the perfect the enemy of the good– is a vote for Trump and Trumpism. Pretending otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Another Perspective On How We Got Here

Yesterday, I noted the ubiquity of efforts to understand what happened to the Republican Party. Equally predictable are the efforts to understand how America could have elected Donald Trump–how a man so manifestly unfit for the Presidency (or really, life in polite company) could have garnered millions of votes. True, he lost the popular vote, but that doesn’t negate the fact that millions of people actually cast ballots for him–and that even in the face of the damage being caused by his impetuousness and ignorance,  many of them continue to support him.

Amanda Marcotte, who writes for Salon, is out with a book that attempts to answer that question. Her conclusions in Troll Nation won’t surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity, but her approach is worth considering, as Andrew O’Hehir’s review makes clear.

“Troll Nation” is not about the election of Donald Trump. Amanda and I have certain areas of cheerfully-expressed political disagreement, but I think we share the view that Trump was the culmination of a long process, or is the most visible symptom of a widespread infection. Amanda’s analysis is, as always, calm, sharp-witted and clearly focused on available evidence. American conservatives, she says, used to make rational arguments and used to present a positive social vision. Did those arguments make sense, in the end? Did that “Morning in America” vision of the Reagan years conceal a vibrant undercurrent of bigotry?

The answers to those questions — “no” and “yes,” respectively — led us to the current situation, when conservative politics has become almost entirely negative….Most Republicans gleefully embrace incoherent or self-destructive policies designed to punish or horrify people they dislike, whether that means feminists, immigrants, black people, campus “snowflakes,” members of the “liberal elite” or (above all) Hillary Clinton. I am not the world’s biggest fan of Hillary Clinton, as Amanda knows! But what the hell she ever did to all those people to make them despise her so much is entirely unclear..

As O’Hehir notes, the self-proclaimed conservatives of the GOP have morphed from the “supercilious, upper-crust conservatism “of William F. Buckley Jr., whom he accurately describes as the dictionary definition of an elitist, to the delusional ignorance of Alex Jones and the small-minded hatred of Charlottesville.

The basic premise of Marcotte’s book is that Trump is not an anomaly. Much as we might like to believe that we are living in a time that is a departure from the trajectory of American history, Marcotte sees Trump as the logical conclusion of an undercurrent in conservatism that’s been going on for decades — attitudes and resentments encouraged by talk radio, Fox News and their imitators that have “reconstructed” American conservatism. Today, rather than political opinions or policy positions, it’s all about hate and bigotry and who doesn’t belong–who isn’t a “real” American.

Plenty has been written about Fox News, talk radio and other media that ranges from spin to propaganda, and the extent to which those outlets are implicated in the twisted worldviews of their audience, but Marcotte shares an important insight that often gets overlooked:

I want to convey in this book, and I hope in this interview, that conservative audiences respond to this kind of media because they want to. I think we underestimate how much people are going to do what they want to do and believe what they want to believe.

Blaming the propagandists and conspiracy theorists lets their audiences off the hook–it assumes a lack of moral agency. The people who parrot “Fox and Friends” choose their news, and they choose not to balance it with other perspectives. For whatever reason–impelled by whatever inadequacies and resentments–they choose to indulge in confirmation bias rather than resisting it.

It’s co-dependency.

Without their willingness to suspend critical thinking–their desperate need to believe in their own racial and/or religious and/or gender superiority, the Rush Limbaughs and Fox News blonds and purveyors of Pizza conspiracies would be out of business.

Who Do You Debate?

In a recent column in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg raised a thorny but important issue: should liberal publications engage in affirmative action for conservatives?

The impetus for the question was a decision by The Atlantic to hire a conservative writer whose opinions would seem to place him outside the bounds of civil discourse.

The progressive objection to Williamson lies in the demeaning ways he’s written about poor people, black people, women, and trans people. He described an African-American boy in East St. Louis sticking out his elbows in “the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.” Defiantly using male pronouns in a piece about the trans actress Laverne Cox, Williamson wrote, “Regardless of the question of whether he has had his genitals amputated, Cox is not a woman, but an effigy of a woman.” Feminism, he wrote, is a “collection of appetites wriggling queasily together like a bag of snakes.” He tweeted that women who have abortions should be hanged, later clarifying that while he has doubts about the death penalty, “I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide.”

The decision to bring a “conservative voice” in-house is understandable–even commendable. After all, progressives insist that dialogue is good, that minds must be open, that all ideas deserve to be considered. The term “liberal” once denoted open-mindedness and the willingness to engage people with whom one disagreed. But Goldberg’s question goes to the heart of our current political dilemma:

[Atlantic’s] hiring has set off the latest uproar over which conservatives belong in the opinion sections of elite mainstream publications, including, of course, The New York Times. These controversies are, naturally, of particular interest to people who write for opinion sections, and so receive disproportionate media coverage. But there’s a broader significance to these recurring fights, because they’re about how we decide which views are acceptable at a time of collapsing mainstream consensus. The intellectual implosion of the Republican Party, it turns out, creates challenges for liberals as well as conservatives, because suddenly it’s not clear which views a person who aspires to fair-mindedness needs to grapple with.

This issue isn’t limited to publications. Universities are constantly being criticized because a preponderance of faculty–especially at more rigorous institutions–lean left. The accusation is that conservative scholars are subjected to discrimination.

The reality is considerably different–academics are pathetically eager to demonstrate even-handedness, and most of us who participate in search committees would be deliriously happy to discover that a highly qualified candidate was politically conservative.  (In some schools, like business, that does happen.) But search committees look first and foremost for evidence of sound scholarship–and in many fields, the candidates with the impressive resumes tend to be liberal.

Just as the university isn’t going to hire a science professor who insists the earth is flat or evolution is a myth, a reputable opinion journal is courting disaster by failing to distinguish between a philosophical conservative and a purveyor of conspiracy theories and/or racial resentments. These days, it’s hard to find a conservative who hasn’t been co-opted by Trumpism.

As Goldberg notes, it used to be that in order to understand national politics, you had to understand certain conservative ideas.

Trump put an end to that. The field of ideas has gone from being the ground on which politics are fought to a side in politics, which is why it’s so difficult to find serious intellectual Trump defenders. Trump has resentments and interests, but not ideology; he governs more as a postmodern warlord than a traditional party leader. Few things signal the irrelevance of ideas to his presidency like the appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser. Bolton’s relentless advocacy of regime change contradicts the isolationism Trump touted during the campaign. Trump called the Iraq war a “disaster”; Bolton is one of few who continue to defend it. Yet Bolton’s appointment isn’t discordant, because he and Trump are both belligerent bullies, and in this administration stylistic similarities matter more than policy details.

Inasmuch as there are ideas bound up with Trumpism, they are considered too disreputable for most mainstream publications. An opinion section that truly captured the currents of thought shaping our politics today might include Alex Jones, the conspiracy-mad Sandy Hook truther; the white nationalist Richard Spencer; and CliffsNotes fascist Steve Bannon.

The problem is, liberals need to engage with genuine conservatism. Just as the absence of a reputable Republican Party allows Democrats to become fragmented and intellectually lazy, liberal ideas need to be sharpened (and sometimes defeated) by contrary insights.

Giving a platform to people based upon their self-identification rather than their ability to articulate and defend a genuinely conservative point of view does conservatives–not to mention Americans– no favor.