A friend on a long car trip took the opportunity of listening to conservative talk radio along the way. He reported: “Right-wing talk radio is using language that can’t get much more apocalyptic. It’s all about coups, and Mueller as a Soviet-style prosecutor, and the left wanting to destroy America, and off-the-charts rage at the media.” The ruling ideology of the Trump era, it seems, is not populism but catastrophism. Trump’s intellectual vanguard, though puny in number, makes up for it in hyperventilation. When Michael Anton dubbed the 2016 presidential contest “the Flight 93 election,” in which conservatives had to “charge the cockpit” or die, Donald Trump’s supporters did not dismiss it as the poorly written, racially tinged, half-baked, over-caffeinated effusions of an adolescent intellect. Instead, they took it as reporting from the culture war’s front lines.
In the run-up to the 2018 midterms, Civil War analogies abounded. Robert Curry of the Claremont Institute, for one, found them lacking in urgency. A Democratic victory, he predicted, would transform America “perhaps even more radically” than a Democratic victory against Abraham Lincoln in 1864. So, an even bigger deal than the failure of the 13th Amendment? Court philosopher Lou Dobbs has urged the president “to declare a national emergency, and simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country.” Of what would such sweeping consist? Well, you can’t have a revolution without breaking a few eggheads. The president of the United States himself argues that he is the victim of a plot by the “deep state” — a conspiracy he locates in any part of government that refuses to affirm and demonstrate loyalty to his person.
It is worth noting, first of all, that all these comparisons and conspiracies are utter rubbish — the work of people who monetize hysteria or benefit from ignorance and paranoia. The current investigations targeting the Trump administration are not partisan witch hunts. They are the natural result when a leader surrounds himself with crooks, cronies and con men. Trump’s inner circle — including, at various points, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — constitutes a sliminess hall of fame.
Nothing is more damaging to the Trump administration than the application of Occam’s razor. Those who employ full-time “fixers” generally have things to fix. Those who regard financial transparency as the violation of a legal “red line” generally have something they want to hide. Those who regularly hire hucksters are, well, you know. Another problem with apocalyptic language is that the comparisons don’t allow for limits. If we are really facing a coup against the Constitution, then why not use the military to impose Dobbs’s conservative police state? If we are really involved in a civil war of good against evil, why not seek unconditional surrender of the enemy? If we are really facing a subversive and sinister deep state, why not use the Marines, or the Secret Service, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement to clean out the subversion?
The problem, of course, is that of all these comparisons are absurd, dangerous, inappropriate metaphors, used by adults who should know better. What we have in this country are serious political disagreements, which can be decided only through political means. We are not really on a hijacked plane, or in a bloody civil war, or dealing with a coup, or hunting witches, or facing the apocalypse. If there is a danger that impressionable people might confuse vivid metaphors with reality, then there is one more risk that should be named. One of the easily led people consuming these deceptions sits in the Oval Office. Political commentators once speculated whether Henry Kissinger was manipulating President Richard M. Nixon.
Now we are left to wonder whether Trump is unduly influenced by the cast of “Fox & Friends.” The president is a Fox News addict, who sometimes prefers the views of ideological balloon figures to the testimony of government experts. We saw this problem lead to the longest partial government shutdown in history. At another point, it threatened the updated Patriot Act. And Trump seems to believe, against all evidence, that the situation on the southern border is a national emergency. It is a sad thing when a president manipulates the public. It is a sad and scary thing when the president is manipulated by people with a vested interest in cultivating crisis. The worst danger of civil war or subversion comparisons is that Trump might actually believe them. And act on them.
What is the endgame of embracing exclusionary policies that traffic in nativism, and xenophobia and also provide oxygen for toxic white nationalists? What does the endgame look like if the GOP continues to alienate women, young people, Hispanics, African-Americans, Muslims, Asian-Americans? What will allegiance to Trumpism mean for the GOP in 2024? 2032? 2040? What if the challenge facing conservatism is not simply winning the next election, but also winning the struggle of ideas? Of hearts and minds? Of winning over the next generation? And what if we replace the hammer of electoral politics with other instruments that measure things like character, morality, and ethics? After all, not everything turns on the next political cycle. What is the endgame of accepting mendacity, deception, and corruption as a routine part of our lives? What would that mean for our culture and our souls? Does anyone think that if those battles are not fought out now that we can wait for eight years and then simply clean up the mess then?
So the question now is whether we should continue looking the other way, as one conservative “thought leader” after another makes his or her peace with rationalization and defends the indefensible? Trump vs. Bernie Sanders may turn out to be a binary choice, but does also mean that we should not continue to police the borders of conservatism? Trende and other suggest that it is very bad form to stigmatize certain thinkers on the right. But shouldn’t there be a stigma attached to those who traffic in white nationalism? Or who write for publications that promote it? Or who use their platforms to offer excuses for the president’s character? Or who peddle conspiracy theories and hoaxes? Is conservatism really better off without a vigorous effort to maintain its intellectual hygiene in a time of rampant toxic swampiness? What is the endgame of ceding the debate to the grifters and trolls? (Trick question. The answer is CPAC.)
A group of national security experts testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill about the rise of authoritarianism, warning lawmakers that countries such as China and Russia are seeking to gain power by undermining democratic systems. In a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen, Open Constitution Initiative co-founder Teng Biao and Center for a New American Security’s transatlantic security expert Andrea Kendall-Taylor said there are indicators popping up worldwide that suggest a growing return to dictators and despots. “Warning signs abound across the globe: the discarding of mainstream politicians, the emergence of leaders who seek to divide rather than unite, the purist of political victory at all costs and the invocation of national greatness by people who identify greatness only with themselves,” Albright told the committee in her opening remarks. “Tyranny is once again awakening from its slumber,” Rasmussen said in his opening remarks, echoing Albright.
The experts warned that authoritarianism is beginning to replace democracy, in countries such as Turkey, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Brazil and Egypt — as well as in China and Russia. “This is the most trying time for democracy since the 1930s when fascism spread across much of Europe,” said Kendall-Taylor. “If current trends persist, authoritarianism will soon become the most common way that democracies crumble and autocracies emerge,” she added. Albright also suggested some of President Trump’s actions may be weakening U.S. efforts to promote democratic values overseas. “For almost as long as I have been alive the world has been able to count on the United States to serve as the rock against which the forces of despots run aground and break apart. What concerns me is that we may no longer be able to make that claim. In my travels abroad, I hear the same questions all the time: If America has a leader who says the press always lies, how can Vladimir Putin be faulted for making the same claim,” said Albright.
This week, the House Intelligence Committee will hold its first open hearing under the new Democratic majority. When I took over as chairman of the committee in January, there was no shortage of topics that would be obvious candidates for the committee to focus on—China’s growing might, Russian interference in our election, Turkey’s drift, or countless other threats. Our first hearing will not be on any of those topics, but rather on an issue that may surpass them all in importance, and yet underlies each: the rise of authoritarianism and the threat to liberal democracy around the world. Ronald Reagan once called America the “shining city upon a hill.” Today, our light of freedom is shining less brightly. Across the globe, democracies are mired in an ugly brand of populism often directed against “the other,” and are displaying a troubling receptivity to autocracy as an alternative model of governance. If these trends continue, it will be a tragedy for humankind and a disaster for our national security. The fight for freedom and democracy has been a long and arduous one. The blood of millions was spilled in the 20th century for the cause of democratic governance and respect for fundamental human rights. Out of the ashes of two world wars and the grinding decades of the Cold War, America looked across the globe and saw a world that seemed to be slowly, but irreversibly, becoming freer and more democratic. The world, it appeared, might finally become “safe for democracy,” in the words of President Woodrow Wilson.
Our optimism was once again misplaced. The past decade has demonstrated that democratic change is not inevitable, but must be doggedly pursued by free societies. At present, democracies are backsliding the world over, with threats to the rule of law, freedom of the press, and independent civil society growing ever more severe. The unipolar moment of the 1990s has given way to an emboldened Russia headed by Vladimir Putin and an increasingly assertive China led by Xi Jinping, both bent on promoting their own brand of authoritarian rule through a combination of military might, cyber–informational warfare and theft, and the skillful use of economic leverage. In Caracas, Ankara, Budapest, Manila, Brasília, and elsewhere, strongmen have firmly grasped power. Rulers such as Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power through democratic means, but moved swiftly and brutally to centralize power and stamp out opposition. They have attacked the independent judiciary, the media, and the opposition political parties in their countries, waging campaigns of harassment, imprisonment, and violence. The Trump administration does not fully grasp the threat these trends portend to our national interest or what it means when treaty allies such as Hungary, Turkey, and the Philippines see their interests more closely aligned with those of our global adversaries in Moscow or Beijing than with those of the United States. There is no single cause for democratic retrenchment, but tectonic shifts in the global economy, the advent of the internet and new modes of communication, and the refugee crisis have helped fuel populist backlashes that empower autocratic rulers. These enormously disruptive societal changes—imagine the invention of the printing press and the Industrial Revolution taking place simultaneously—have tested the capacity of representative government, which by design moves with deliberation and trends toward moderation.
At last week’s national-security conference in Munich, our allies questioned America’s commitment to our transatlantic alliance and our ideals. We must respond, clearly and without equivocation, in defense of our values and our democratic allies. We must be clear-eyed about these threats and recognize that human progress is not an inevitability, but will have to be won anew by each generation. Our diplomats, military, and intelligence agencies must have the support and resources they need to help America lead the free world, and to anticipate and respond when Russia, China, and others seek to extend their reach and undermine democratic societies. In his resignation letter as secretary of defense, James Mattis defined the stakes, writing that it was “clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.” He also issued what, for the famously stolid Mattis, amounts to a cri de coeur, writing that “while the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” It is this call that Americans—Democrats and Republicans—must answer.
A similar sickness is evident across the Atlantic. President Trump has declared a state of emergency, provoked by a supposed crisis at the Mexican border, and he has deployed American troops on home soil. Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain who exemplifies many of the most frightening trends about the new strongman leaders around the world, has been steadily putting military personnel in key government positions. These are more explicit demonstrations of military muscle, but the sense that politics has become warlike has been brewing for a while. War metaphors (“culture war,” “social justice warrior”) accumulate steadily, each implying a breakdown of common political ground. One way to understand the upheavals of the past decade, manifest in political populism and the surge in talk about “post-truth” and “fake news,” is as the penetration of warlike mobilization and propaganda into our democracies.
The principle that military and civilian operations should remain separate has been a cornerstone of liberal politics since religious and civil wars tore through Europe in the mid-17th century. The modern division between the army and civil policing originates in late-17th-century England, when early forms of public administration came to treat (and finance) the two independently of each other. Since then, the rule of law has been distinguished from rule by force. However, there is an opposing vision of the modern state that also has a long history. According to this alternative ideal, the division between civil government and the military is a pacifist’s conceit that needs overcoming. And it’s not a coincidence that these days nationalists are especially keen to employ the rhetoric of warfare: The wars that fuel the nationalist imagination are not simply military affairs, going on far away between professional soldiers, but also mass mobilizations of politicians, civilians and infrastructure. Ever since the Napoleonic Wars witnessed conscription and the strategic mobilization of the economy, nationalists have looked to war to generate national solidarity and a sense of purpose.
There is another distinctive characteristic of military situations that civilian life often lacks: the promise of an instant response, without the delays that go with democratic argument or expert analysis. Warfare requires knowledge, of course, just not of the same variety that we are familiar with in times of peace. In civil society, the facts provided by economists, statisticians, reporters and academic scientists have a peace-building quality to the extent that they provide a common reality that can be agreed upon. The ideal of independent expertise, which cannot be swayed by money or power, has been crucial in allowing political opponents to nevertheless agree on certain basic features of reality. Facts remove questions of truth from the domain of politics. War demands a different, more paranoid system of expertise and knowledge, which looks at the world as an uncertain and hostile place, where nothing is fixed.
In situations of conflict, the most valuable attribute of knowledge is not that it generates public consensus but that it is up to the minute and aids rapid decision making. Meanwhile, the information shared with the public must be tailored to incite mass enthusiasm and animosity rather than objectivity. But there is something else going on. Because of technological changes of the past 30 years or so, initially in our financial system but subsequently in our media, political decision makers are increasingly short on time, having to react instantly to a constant flow of data. (If there is one feature of the military mind-set that we can all occasionally relate to, it’s that we don’t have very much time.) Many of the anxieties surrounding “post-truth” and “fake news” are really symptoms of a public sphere that moves too quickly, with too great a volume of information, to the point where we either trust our instincts or latch on to others’. There’s a reason Twitter invites users to “follow” one another, a metaphor that implies that amid a deluge of data, truth is ultimately determined by leadership.
Even if many Republicans have no problem these days labeling nearly all Democrats “socialists” based on the self-descriptions of a few in the party’s ranks, it’s obvious that no one should call out the entire GOP for the plotting of a fanatical would-be assassin. One can, however, ask all responsible Republicans to deplore right-wing fanaticism and to take the threat of homegrown white-nationalist terrorism as seriously as they do terrorism from abroad. It is entirely fair to imagine that the GOP (and, especially, the president) would have a lot more to say if Hasson had been, say, a Muslim. And it is important to examine the public statements of the president himself, his efforts to divide the country and his constant demonizing of all those who oppose him.
Let’s go back to Rockefeller’s words: Day after day, Trump truly is a hawker of hate, a purveyor of prejudice and a fabricator of fear. Prejudice and fear are at the heart of his invocation of national emergency powers to build his wall, an abuse of authority that ought to horrify all who proudly call themselves “constitutional conservatives.” The good news is that Republicans will soon have an opportunity to tell us who they are. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called a vote this week on a measure rejecting Trump’s emergency declaration. The House is virtually certain to pass it. The Senate, by law, will be required to take it up. It’s not too much to say that history will notice how many Republicans choose to separate themselves from Trump’s extremism.
And a continuation on that same topic, here is an article describing the next article: the-gop-is-a-cult-
And on he went. No evidence of an emergency doesn’t prevent him from insisting there is one. No presidential power grab is alarming enough to force him to defend his coequal branch of government. What a shabby performance. Republicans’ blather, evasion and lack of candor should remove any doubt that the party is now motivated by a single message: Defend whatever Trump says. A political party must be more than a cult. As currently constituted, the Republican Party no longer stands for constitutional democracy; as such, it should be banished from government.
GOP Behaving Badly
The conservative mindset has evolved into the mindless mindset. Inside the following links, not only has the new GOP been shown to basically be a cult, but they’re also inept, clueless & totally lacking in integrity:
And there are so many individual GOP politicians who prove to us on a daily basis that not only are they glad to join the cult of Trump, but they’re also knuckleheads. These links take us on a tour of the chief knuckleheads in Congress: