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Understanding the MAGA Political Project

Last night, Judge Aileen “Loose” Cannon took another step toward legal immortality by turning down the Department of Justice’s offer to act somewhat judicially and allow the government to proceed with its criminal investigation of her political patron (the one referred to by the actual president as “the last guy”). When she became a judge, she swore an oath to “administer justice without respect to persons … faithfully and impartially”, yet she announced in her ruling that “principles of equity” required her to consider “the position formerly held by Plaintiff”. In other words, Loose gave her patron everything he asked for because he’s a very special person.

Now, more senior judges will be forced to remind a human monster that equality before the law is still a thing nd he’s just another plaintiff. Which will make him very, very mad.

On that note, I’m going to step away from this blog for a while, but leave you with historian Thomas Zimmer’s thoughts on what Loose Cannon and her ilk are trying to accomplish:

[The MAGA movement’s] assault on democracy [is] animated not by nihilism, but by conviction – by the idea that America must forever remain a land where a traditional white Christian patriarchal order is upheld.

This isn’t just a matter of semantics. The idea that we are dealing with nihilists and opportunists underestimates or ignores the Right’s ideological vision for how U.S. society should be structured and the deliberate, systematic way in which the Right attempts to realize it.

I appreciate [Tom Nichols, writing for The Atlantic] pushing back against the narrative that MAGA Americans are simply motivated by economic anxiety, for which there is very little empirical basis; and he’s right to reject the idea the conflict could be solved by compromise or persuasion.

[MAGAs] are indeed not interested in debate, or a different perspective, or building bridges, or compromise. The only thing they would accept from “the Left” (which is everyone in the pro-democracy camp) is compliance, submission. There is no truce to be had.

But the key question is: Why is “normal” political deliberation not an option, why are [they] so clearly willing to tear constitutional government down? Nichols has a clear answer: Because they are “anti-American nihilists,” purely driven by anger and resentment.

Leaving it there, however, is a little bit like parachuting into an ongoing conflict, seeing people with torches and pitchforks in their hands, and simply concluding that “Ah well, I guess these guys just want to burn stuff down” …

All this resentment, anger, and lust for revenge is not aimless: It is directed against certain traditionally marginalized groups of people who are claiming equality and respect, and against the institutions that are supposedly doing their bidding to destroy “real America.”

Nichols himself rightfully diagnoses “fears about social status” as an animating force behind the [MAGA] project – and all the evidence we have points to the fact that those are racialized, gendered fears about the “wrong” kind of people getting ahead in America.

This is absolutely key: It’s not a coincidence that all this anger and resentment is targeting people who have traditionally not been allowed a seat at the table of power, right at the moment when they are threatening to claim their seat….

These numbers … are indicative of a very clear rightwing vision for the country: The supposed victimization of white Christians has to be reversed, their rightful status at the top needs to be restored.

Among [Republican] voters 90% say Christianity is under assault; 3/4 say bias toward whites equals bias toward minorities; 70% say immigrants are undermining US values & traditions; ~3/5 say white men the most persecuted group; ~3/5 say men are now punished for acting like men.

This is why the president was right to tie the “MAGA Republican” assault on the political system to the broader reactionary struggle to roll back the post-1960s civil rights regime in his “Soul of the Nation” speech in Philadelphia….

The “nihilism” interpretation falls short of explaining what it is that holds the American Right together – [the defeated president] and his disciples, the Republican establishment, rising white Christian nationalist extremists, the reactionary intellectual sphere, rightwing militant groups.

All of these different factions on the Right are ultimately united behind the same political project of fighting back against the “Un-American” leftist forces that are out to turn the country into something it must never become: an egalitarian, multiracial, pluralistic order….

Yes, they want to tear down and destroy, but only those institutions that are supposedly captured by this “Un-American” enemy within.

This is not at all an aberration from long-standing rightwing attitudes towards the state and civic institutions, which conservatives have only ever defended if they perceived them to be allies in the struggle to entrench traditional hierarchies. Whenever the government or the institutions acted as an engine of racial and social progress, conservatives saw it as the enemy. Conservative support for state authority and establishment institutions has always been contingent on them working to uphold reactionary rule….

At its core, the politics of “law and order” has always been a promise (and a threat) to mobilize all the tools available to the modern state to keep insubordinate groups in check and uphold a certain racial, social, and cultural order: traditional white Christian rule.

It is therefore not at all surprising that the January 6 insurrectionists were viciously attacking police officers while displaying the Thin Blue Line flag, or that this symbol is regularly displayed by those who embrace political violence against state authority in general.

The Thin Blue Line flag doesn’t say “We stand with the police” – it says “We stand with the police as long as they’re working to uphold the kind of ‘law and order’ that allows us to dominate with impunity while subduing those who dare to oppose our rule.”

… [It is crucial] to see how all of this is connected, all part of a multi-pronged, multi-level reactionary counter-mobilization that has a judicial arm, a political arm, an intellectual arm, and a paramilitary arm, all flanked by a massive, highly effective propaganda machine.

In this context, the supposedly mindless, nihilistic, anarchist raging has a specific role to play: to spread violent chaos and intimidation, in a direct assault on the foundations of democratic society. The MAGA raging is inherently political. Democracy depends on people feeling safe in the public square. If they don’t, because it’s ruled by intimidation and threats of violence, they won’t be able to participate as citizens. It’s what these extremists want: Rule and dominate through violence and harassment….

The “nihilism” approach completely isolates MAGA from the context and continuity of the long struggle over democracy and the fact that those who oppose it have often been willing to embrace violence, have often opted to tear the system down rather than accept defeat….

The fact that the Right in general is deliberately pursuing a reactionary political project, one that is animated by ideology and conviction rather than blind, nihilistic rage, makes the threat to American democracy more, not less acute.

The Russians Are Running Away

According to the Kiev Post, the stunning Ukrainian counteroffensive that began earlier this month has now reached the border with Russia near the town of Hoptivka. Let’s hope Ukraine can secure the thousands of square miles they’ve now recovered and eventually restore all of its national borders.

Untitled

Tonight, President Zelensky had a message for Russia:

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Ignore Their Cries of Indignation

When Joe Biden bluntly criticized the extremism of the MAGA mob, it encouraged others to speak plainly about the threat America faces. Two perceptive columnists had thoughts about the way others reacted to Biden’s speech. First, from Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

Republicans have had their feelings hurt. President Biden criticized them, and they’re just despondent over it. They’re insulted, offended, deeply wounded. The Umbrage Industrial Complex has mobilized its resources, and all must pay heed.

It has been a week since the president gave a speech on the danger posed by “MAGA Republicans” waging an extended assault on the foundations of American democracy. And the Republicans can’t stop talking about how mean it was of Biden to say those awful things.

His critique was perfectly true. But what has stood out in the days since is how effective Republicans have been in focusing attention on the supposed spiritual injury they suffered at his merciless hand:

  • “Joe Biden calls for political purges and law enforcement crackdowns on his political opponents, and state media cheer him on,” said Fox News’s Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, inventing something Biden didn’t actually say.
  • Biden is “the most condescending president of my lifetime,” said former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
  • “Angry man smears half of the people of the country he is supposed to lead & promised to unite,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
  • A Wall Street Journal columnist condemned the speech as an “attempt both to marginalize the opposition and to intimidate it into submission and silence,” claiming it contained an “implicit threat” that the powers of the federal government “may be deployed against disfavored beliefs.”
  • One well-known conservative author with 1.6 million followers on Facebook and 350,000 on Twitter tweeted, “I don’t think Hitler ever said anything about the Jews that was as straightforwardly evil as Biden said about me, as a [FPOTUS] supporter.” (He deleted the tweet.)

This transparently phony whining was then taken at face value by many in the press, on the unspoken assumption that the complaint itself is proof of Biden’s failure to treat his opponents — who regularly call him a senile communist attempting to destroy America — with the proper empathy and concern. Reporters keep asking the White House spokesperson about whether the speech was too unkind to Republicans, even though Biden took pains to avoid criticizing all of them, instead addressing just the most extreme ones.

Every article about this topic is apparently required to make reference to two old supposed insults to conservatives’ tender feelings. Did you know that 14 years ago, Barack Obama said that some people cling to guns and religion as a focus of their political identity when they lose hope that either party will help them economically? Of course. You’ve seen that quote repeated a million times as proof of Democratic unkindness.

And in case you’ve somehow forgotten, Hillary Clinton once said half of [FPOTUS] supporters were deplorable! These days, conservatives are proving that she was, if anything, too generous.

These are the very same people who worship [FPOTUS], who can’t open his mouth without slandering people in the most vicious of terms. Some of them argue for censorship in schools by saying that people among their opponents would be fine if students were molested by pedophiles. But their feelings, we’re told, have been hurt.

Persuading the media to amplify their griping and put Democrats on the defensive is only part of Republicans’ strategy. They know the double standard reporters have: They expect Republican leaders to be ferociously partisan, so take no particular note of it when they are; yet they demand that Democratic leaders be polite toward the other side’s voters, and scold them when they aren’t. When was the last time you heard a reporter ask whether Republicans were showing the proper empathy and respect toward Democratic voters?

What’s even more important for Republicans is that the whining unites all their party’s factions, from establishment plutocrats to QAnon conspiracists. The stance of victimhood is absolutely central to conservative identity at the moment — something everyone can agree on: We’re being censored, canceled! White men are the most oppressed class in America! You’re not allowed to be a Christian anymore! [FPOTUS] says he is “the most persecuted person in the history of our country”.

This has become the all-purpose answer to any argument conservatives don’t like: We’re the real victims here. It’s supposed to be a moral get-out-of-jail-free card, and it can be used to justify even the most repugnant behavior…. When you hear conservatives pretend to be insulted by the latest thing Biden or some other Democrat said, remember: You don’t have to give it any more respect than it deserves.

Next, from Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times:

Should Biden have used more conciliatory rhetoric? No. He was divisive — just as he was when he called MAGA Republicans “semi-fascist” the week before — but this is a moment that calls for a perfect contrast between the two parties. If [FPOTUS] is leading an assault on the institutions of American self-government and if that assault implicates much of the Republican Party, then there’s no way that Biden can make his defense of the constitutional order without dividing people.

What matters is the nature of the divide. To divide against a radical minority that would attack and undermine democratic self-government is to divide along the most inclusive lines possible. It is to do a version of what Franklin Roosevelt did when he condemned “organized money,” “economic royalists” and the “forces of selfishness and lust for power.” It’s also a version of what Abraham Lincoln did when, in his first inaugural address, he took aim at those who would subject the country to minority rule. “A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations … is the only true sovereign of a free people,” he said. “Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism.”

“You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government,” Lincoln added, “while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’ ”

The Republican Party Today and Yesterday

The laughingstock Republican judge in Florida who’s interfering with the criminal investigation of her semi-fascist cult leader announced today that she wasn’t interested in the opinion of seven Republicans (former prosecutors and government officials) who said she should mind her own business:

The federal judge who issued an unusual Labor Day ruling appointing a special master to review thousands of files seized from the 45th president’s Mar-a-Lago estate issued a brief order on Tuesday refusing to allow several onetime GOP officials from filing an amicus brief in opposition to the special master appointment….

In their proposed brief, the lawyers and [former New Jersey governor] Whitman argued that there was “no legal basis” to appoint a special master in the case and, even if there was, that [FPOTUS] had no basis to claim executive privilege over the documents seized from his residence by the FBI.

Law professor Harry Litman, a former prosecutor and Department of Justice official, had this reaction:

I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen a court reject a proposed amicus brief, especially from eminent amici like the former GOP prosecutors [that judge] Cannon just refused to hear from. That’s now several bizarre and non-judicial moves, starting with her first announcement of intent to grant a Special Master.

The young judge, who may occupy a seat on the federal bench for another 40 years, offered no explanation for why she wouldn’t even allow the amicus brief to be filed.

Going back in time 66 years, we find a very different Republican Party:

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Attend your union meetings???

Identifying Semi-Fascism Again

I posted something a few days ago regarding Biden’s use of “semi-fascism” to describe what’s happening in the Republican Party. The author I quoted said some of the factors he listed should be given more weight than others. Being in thrall to a single leader is, for example, more important than making a fetish of the young. Here’s another take on “semi-fascism” from Brooklyn writer John Ganz:

“Semi-fascist” is actually used by scholars….In Stanley Payne’s A History of Fascism: 1914-1945, the author employs it several times and invests it with real content. In fact, semi-fascism was a common phenomenon because fascist movements had so much difficulty obtaining popular support and had to meld with conservative allies and existing institutions. In most places, fascist movements either failed or became a junior tendency in a broader political context:

Thus in the absence of a plurality of generically fascist regimes and systems, it is possible to refer only to a number of semifascist or would-be fascist regimes, while in turn distinguishing between the character and structure of each type and subtype both among themselves and in comparison with diverse kinds of conservative (or at least nonsocialist) nonfascist authoritarian regimes.

One of Payne’s primary examples of “semifascism” is Franco’s Spain: “That early Franquism contained a major component of fascism is undeniable, but it was so restricted within a right-wing, praetorian, Catholic, and semipluralist structure that the category ‘semifascist’ would probably be more accurate.” That is to say, in Franco’s Spain, hardcore fascists were part of a broad coalition of a more traditional authoritarian right and were subordinated to the role of junior partner and eventually swamped by the regime. You can also see similar processes take place in Legionary Romania, Horthy’s Hungary, Vichy France, and Salazar’s Portugal. Even Mussolini’s Italy had to make serious accommodations with conservative forces and kept aspects of the constitutional order in place at the beginning of the regime.

So, that’s regimes, but what about movements? Surely those must be more ideologically pure or clear-cut? Well, how would you characterize Action Française, Croix de Feu, or the Ku Klux Klan for that matter? The America First Committee contained Nazi sympathizers and others who were just sincerely anti-war. So, it was quite literally “semi-fascist.” Huey Long was not really a fascist, but he attracted a number of fascist followers, like Lawrence Dennis and Gerald L. K. Smith, because he looked close enough to them. They thought he could be turned into a more full-blown fascist, which was probably similar to the attitude of people like Bannon towards T____. Suffice it to say, there are many historical movements that anticipate fascist-style mobilization and themes, or copied some aspects of fascism while being more traditionally conservative in their desired outcome, or that excited and inspired fascists without fully delivering.

… As the highly-respected scholar Robert Paxton points out, fascism is less a coherent ideology than a set of “mobilizing passions:”

  • a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
  • the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether individual or universal, and the subordination of the individual
  • the belief that one’s group is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against its enemies, both internal and external;
  • dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
  • the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
  • the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s destiny;
  • the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason;
  • the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group’s success;
  • the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group’s prowess within a Darwinian struggle.

Now obviously some of these features apply more to T____ism than others, so “semi-fascism” seems to be right on the money.

The fact of the matter is this: T____ism at its core is a movement fixated on restoring national greatness through the charismatic leadership of a single providential individual who “alone can fix it.” It is obsessed with national decline and attacking internal enemies. Although more loosely organized and weaker than those of the classical fascisms, MAGA also has paramilitary formations that have tried to carry out this project to the point of attempting the overthrow an elected government. From the very beginning of his political ascent, he attracted the interest and enthusiasm of the extreme right. He was the kind of thing they’d been looking for for a long time. Perhaps now a disappointment, perhaps now a failure, but certainly a step in the right direction as far as they were concerned.

Biden was probably hedging: his aides were concerned if he said “fascism” it would be too strong. But he was landing on a pretty reasonable interpretation of the case….

Saying someone is fascist or semi-fascist does not make all their supporters to be goose-stepping stormtroopers or say they deserve to be in the dock at Nuremberg.

Many normal people, including conservatives and even former leftists, at one point or another supported Europe’s fascist regimes. They did so because one or another part of their appeals sounded good to them, or they did it as a protest vote against a system that wasn’t functioning well; many sensible and educated people thought of fascism as essentially technocratic solution to the ills of liberal democracy. Fascism was, at one time, and as I fear it is becoming again, attractive and persuasive, not just brutal and overwhelming. The problem was that it was not a solution to any of the crises that beset these democracies: it was a disastrous series of lies and delusions. And that is the reason to call this for what it is: to say, “Look, we’ve seen this before. It doesn’t end well….”

Unquote.

Biden will address the nation on television tonight concerning this ongoing threat to democracy. He might not use “semi-fascism” again but it’s clear what and who he’ll be talking about.

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