“The Drunken Silenus: On Gods, Goats, and the Cracks in Reality” by Morgan Meis

This is a strange little book. It begins with the author explaining that he was living in Antwerp, in Belgium, because his wife was working on a project there. He had nothing in particular to do, but after realizing that the 17th century, Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens had once lived in Antwerp, he decided to write a book about Rubens. It’s not a biography of Rubens though. It’s a series of brief meditations on the art of painting, ancient history, Greek mythology, Greek tragedy, hundreds of years of European history, especially Europe’s wars, and Rubens’s family, in particular the affair that Rubens’s father Jan had with Anne of Saxony, who was William of Orange’s wife, and how William of Orange and Rubens’s mother Maria reacted to the affair. There’s a lot about Friedrich Nietzsche, too. And other things.

The book’s central thread goes something like this. Silenus was a minor god in Greek mythology with a gift for prophecy. He was the very wise tutor and companion of Dionysus, the much more important god of the grape-harvest, wine, fertility, vegetation, insanity, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, festivity and theater. Silenus is best-known for something he once told King Midas (who was apparently a real person, but couldn’t turn anything into gold). Midas asked Silenus what is the most desirable thing for a human being. Silenus told him the best thing is not to have been born.  But if you have been born, the best thing is to die quickly.

Peter Paul Rubens’s father Jan was the legal advisor to Anne of Saxony. They had an affair, the affair was discovered and Anne’s husband William threw Jan in jail. Jan eventually got out, was forgiven by his wife Marie, but died a broken man. Their son Peter Paul grew up to become the most influential artist of the “Flemish Baroque” tradition. 

Around 1616, Rubens painted “The Drunken Silenus”. It shows Silenus stumbling along, surrounded by some of Dionysus’s retinue, which included nymphs and satyrs.

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A couple years later, Rubens painted “Two Satyrs”, two more of Dionysus’s pals.

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A lot of history went by. Millions died during the Thirty Years War. Hapsburgs and Bourbons went at it. The nations of Europe slowly assumed their current positions.

Then, in 1872, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche published The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. Wikipedia says:

Nietzsche found in classical Athenian tragedy an art form that transcended the pessimism and nihilism of a fundamentally meaningless world. The Greek spectators, by looking into the abyss of human suffering and affirming it, passionately and joyously affirmed the meaning of their own existence. . . .

. . . Nietzsche discusses the history of the tragic form and introduces an intellectual dichotomy between the Dionysian and the Apollonian (very loosely: reality as disordered  . . . versus reality as ordered). Nietzsche claims life always involves a struggle between these two elements, each battling for control over the existence of humanity.

Which brings us back to Silenus and Dionysus, the nymphs and satyrs, especially the satyrs. And goats. The author of The Drunken Silenus thinks Nietzsche valued the wild and crazy Dionysian approach to life more than the calm and collected Apollonian. I think the key chapter of The Drunken Silenus is “Is God a goat? What possibly could that possibly mean?” 

The way Nietzsche tells it, when Silenus finally reveals to Midas the greatest thing for man, that it is best for man never to have been born and second best for a man to die quickly, Silenus lets out a shrill laugh. Silenus laughs because in telling King Midas the best thing, he actually tells him the worst thing . . . 

Nietzsche thinks the ancient Greeks — the Greeks of the satyr plays and the songs in the forest, the Greeks who came before the classical period of Plato and the brilliant days of Greek rationalism — those Greeks were bold enough to make a health of their pessimism. . . .

The olden Greeks, the ancient Greeks, thinks Nietzsche, understood life under the principle of the goat, the young goat kicking and bucking in the woods. . . Even to ask the question of what is good or bad for a man is to lose touch with the primary intuition that God is a goat. That’s to say, God is not transcendent, imperturbable, untouchable, unknowable. God is none of those things. God, if God is the God of the world, has to have the characteristics of the goat, the randiness and unpredictability, even the stupidity of the goat. . . 

And so, the question of good and bad for man is canceled before it can be asked. It is preempted. The satyr would never think to ask that question. . . . Goats don’t ask questions like “what is the best thing for goats?” Goats just go out and express goatlieness [35-38].

Getting back to Rubens, I suppose Rubens’s father and Anne of Saxony (who was also imprisoned by her husband) were the Dionysians. Rubens’s forgiving mother Marie was the Apollonian. And Rubens himself, the great artist, was a proto-Nietzsche:

When Rubens took to painting Silenus he wasn’t grabbing randomly at the bits of ancient mythology floating around in the intellectual breeze. Rubens had a whole program of satyrs and Dionysus and Silenus. . . Rubens was being very Nietzschean here, if we can be anachronistic — literally anachronistic, since it was . . . Rubens who came first and Rubens who first painted Silenus as a central figure within this story of Dionysus.

So that’s The Drunken Silenus. You might find it interesting, but I should mention that, even though it’s a short book, it’s repetitious. The author likes to repeat himself, often in the same paragraph. It also gets tedious near the end, as he starts getting more abstract and paradoxical, suggesting that life is death, and reality is unreal, that kind of thing (I’m not quoting here). It’s the kind of book that’s hard to put down until it’s easy.

Bye Bye, Bozo

From The Washington Post:

The Biden campaign has said that should [you know who] refuse to leave on Jan. 20, “the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House” . . . 

But weren’t the Founders obsessed with the encroaching nature of tyranny [e.g. presidents who won’t go away]? Didn’t they worry constantly about a president having too much power?

Most of them did, yes, though not all. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Alexander Hamilton floated the idea of presidents serving for life, but when put to a vote, the proposal failed 4-6.

The power that scared many founders the most was that of commander-in-chief.

Though not necessarily tied to an election loss, ”there was a lot of discussion of the possibility that a president with control of the Army might refuse to relinquish power,” said Michael McConnell, a constitutional law professor at Stanford . . .

At the Virginia ratifying convention, Patrick Henry said, “If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute! The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him; and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment to accomplish his design.”

Gouverneur Morris, who wrote the preamble to the Constitution, warned that if a president was limited to one term, he might “be unwilling to quit his exaltation … he will be in possession of the sword, a civil war will ensue, and the commander of the victorious army on which ever side, will be the despot of America.”

Perhaps most ominously, one prominent Pennsylvanian identifying himself only as “An Old Whig,” wrote about this in Anti-Federalist No. 70, and is worth quoting at length:

“Let us suppose this man to be a favorite with his army, and that they are unwilling to part with their beloved commander in chief … and we have only to suppose one thing more, that this man is without the virtue, the moderation and love of liberty which possessed the mind of our late general [Washington] – and this country will be involved at once in war and tyranny.

… We may also suppose, without trespassing upon the bounds of probability, that this man may not have the means of supporting, in private life, the dignity of his former station; that like Caesar, he may be at once ambitious and poor, and deeply involved in debt. Such a man would die a thousand deaths rather than sink from the heights of splendor and power, into obscurity and wretchedness.”

Some Founders who supported the Constitution still predicted that it wouldn’t stop a president from seizing power.

“The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Benjamin Franklin said, referring to Washington. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards. The executive will be always increasing here, as elsewhere, till it ends in a monarchy.”

So why didn’t the founders plan for this particular scenario, of a president simply denying that he had lost an election? Because they couldn’t even fathom it, [according to Jeffrey Engel, the director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University].

“They couldn’t fathom two things: a person who had become president who was so utterly lacking in classical virtue that they would deign or dare to put their own interests above the unity of the country. And the second thing is, I think they couldn’t fathom how any president who would so vividly display disdain for the unity of the country, and mock and undermine the legitimacy of American democracy, why that person [wouldn’t have] already been impeached and removed from office.”

Unquote.

But the Founders never imagined the Republican Party.

Anyway, it’s much more likely our president will have vacated the White House long before January 20th. He now spends most of his time watching TV, all alone, sulking. Next stop, Xanadu.

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How To Feel Smart in a Complicated World

From historian Yuval Noah Harari for The New York Times:

Conspiracy theories come in all shapes and sizes, but perhaps the most common form is the global cabal theory. A recent survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries asked respondents whether they believe there is “a single group of people who secretly control events and rule the world together.”

Thirty-seven percent of Americans replied that this is “definitely or probably true.” So did 45 percent of Italians, 55 percent of Spaniards and 78 percent of Nigerians.

Conspiracy theories, of course, weren’t invented by QAnon; they’ve been around for thousands of years. Some of them have even had a huge impact on history. Take Nazism, for example. We normally don’t think about Nazism as a conspiracy theory. Since it managed to take over an entire country and launch World War II, we usually consider Nazism an “ideology,” albeit an evil one.

But at its heart, Nazism was a global cabal theory based on this anti-Semitic lie: “A cabal of Jewish financiers secretly dominates the world and are plotting to destroy the Aryan race. They engineered the Bolshevik Revolution, run Western democracies, and control the media and the banks. Only Hitler has managed to see through all their nefarious tricks — and only he can stop them and save humanity.”

Understanding the common structure of such global cabal theories can explain both their attractiveness — and their inherent falsehood.

Global cabal theories argue that underneath the myriad events we see on the surface of the world lurks a single sinister group. The identity of this group may change: Some believe the world is secretly ruled by Freemasons, witches or Satanists; others think it’s aliens, reptilian lizard people or sundry other cliques.

But the basic structure remains the same: The group controls almost everything that happens, while simultaneously concealing this control.

Global cabal theories take particular delight in uniting opposites. Thus the Nazi conspiracy theory said that on the surface, communism and capitalism look like irreconcilable enemies, right? Wrong! That’s exactly what the Jewish cabal wants you to think! And you might think that the Bush family and the Clinton family are sworn rivals, but they’re just putting on a show — behind closed doors, they all go to the same Tupperware parties.

From these premises, a working theory of the world emerges. Events in the news are a cunningly designed smoke screen aimed at deceiving us, and the famous leaders that distract our attention are mere puppets in the hands of the real rulers.

Global cabal theories are able to attract large followings in part because they offer a single, straightforward explanation to countless complicated processes. Our lives are repeatedly rocked by wars, revolutions, crises and pandemics. But if I believe some kind of global cabal theory, I enjoy the comforting feeling that I do understand everything.

The war in Syria? I don’t need to study Middle Eastern history to comprehend what’s happening there. It’s part of the big conspiracy. The development of 5G technology? I don’t need to do any research on the physics of radio waves. It’s the conspiracy. The Covid-19 pandemic? It has nothing to do with ecosystems, bats and viruses. It’s obviously part of the conspiracy.

The skeleton key of global cabal theory unlocks all the world’s mysteries and offers me entree into an exclusive circle — the group of people who understand. It makes me smarter and wiser than the average person and even elevates me above the intellectual elite and the ruling class: professors, journalists, politicians. I see what they overlook — or what they try to conceal.

Global cabal theories suffer from the same basic flaw: They assume that history is very simple. The key premise of global cabal theories is that it is relatively easy to manipulate the world. A small group of people can understand, predict and control everything, from wars to technological revolutions to pandemics.

Particularly remarkable is this group’s ability to see 10 moves ahead on the global board game. When they release a virus somewhere, they can predict not only how it will spread through the world, but also how it will affect the global economy a year later. When they unleash a political revolution, they can control its course. When they start a war, they know how it will end.

But of course, the world is much more complicated. Consider the American invasion of Iraq, for example. In 2003, the world’s sole superpower invaded a medium-size Middle Eastern country, claiming it wanted to eliminate the country’s weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam Hussein’s regime. Some suspected that it also wouldn’t have minded the chance to gain hegemony over the region and dominate the vital Iraqi oil fields. In pursuit of its goals, the United States deployed the best army in the world and spent trillions of dollars.

Fast forward a few years, and what were the results of this tremendous effort? A complete debacle. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the country was plunged into chaos. The big winner of the war was actually Iran, which became the dominant power in the region.

So should we conclude that George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were actually undercover Iranian moles, executing a devilishly clever Iranian plot? Not at all. Instead, the conclusion is that it is incredibly difficult to predict and control human affairs.

You don’t need to invade a Middle Eastern country to learn this lesson. Whether you’ve served on a school board or local council, or merely tried to organize a surprise birthday party for your mom, you probably know how difficult it is to control humans. You make a plan, and it backfires. You try to keep something a secret, and the next day everybody is talking about it. You conspire with a trusted friend, and at the crucial moment he stabs you in the back.

Global cabal theories ask us to believe that while it is very difficult to predict and control the actions of 1,000 or even 100 humans, it is surprisingly easy to puppet master nearly eight billion.

There are, of course, many real conspiracies in the world. Individuals, corporations, organizations, churches, factions and governments are constantly hatching and pursuing various plots. But that is precisely what makes it so hard to predict and control the world in its entirety.

In the 1930s, the Soviet Union really was conspiring to ignite communist revolutions throughout the world; capitalist banks were employing all kinds of dodgy strategies; the Roosevelt administration was planning to re-engineer American society in the New Deal; and the Zionist movement pursued its plan to establish a homeland in Palestine. But these and countless other schemes often collided, and there wasn’t a single group of people running the whole show.

Today, too, you are probably the target of many conspiracies. Your co-workers may be plotting to turn the boss against you. A big pharmaceutical corporation may be bribing your doctor to give you harmful opioids. Another big corporation may be pressuring politicians to block environmental regulations and allow it to pollute the air you breathe. Some tech giant may be busy hacking your private data. A political party may be gerrymandering election districts in your state. A foreign government may be trying to foment extremism in your country. These could all be real conspiracies, but they are not part of a single global plot.

Sometimes a corporation, a political party or a dictatorship does manage to gather a significant part of all the world’s power into its hands. But when such a thing happens, it’s almost impossible to keep it hush-hush. With great power comes great publicity. . . .

Unquote.

The QAnon conspiracy theory alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring and plotting against President Txxxx, who is fighting the cabal. People who believe this are like children. It’s obvious to anyone who’s done the research that shape-shifting reptilian aliens came to Earth, took on human form and now control the world.

People are so ignorant. It’s really pathetic.

The Pessimistic View May Be Realistic

A headline this morning in The Washington Post:

Trump uses power of presidency to try to overturn the election

Fintan O’Toole is an Irishman who teaches at Princeton. This is two-thirds of his article for The New York Review of Books:

At 2:23 AM on the morning after Election Day, Txxxx turned the key and locked American democracy into an undetermined, perhaps indeterminable, condition. When he declared an election that was still very much alive to be a dead thing, over and done with—“Frankly we did win this election”—he made the United States a liminal space in which a supposedly epic moment in its history both happened and did not happen.

Txxxx has long framed the immediate post-election period as a temporal no-man’s-land. Neither in his first nor in his second campaigns for the presidency did he ever commit himself clearly to accepting the result of the vote. Asked in the third presidential debate of 2016 whether he would do so, he replied, “What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense. Okay?” What is being suspended now is both the disbelief of his supporters in the possibility of his defeat and the very concept of a transition of power.

In this frame of mind, there can never be a result of the 2020 election. One thing we can be sure of is that for Txxxx and his followers there are not five stages of grief, leading from denial to acceptance. The furthest their sense of it can go is to the second stage, anger. Just as there is “long Covid,” there is long Txxxx. The staying power of his destructiveness lies in the way that disputed defeat suits him almost as much as victory. It vindicates the self-pity that he has encouraged among his supporters, the belief that everything is rigged against them, that the world is a plot to steal from them their natural due as Americans.

He has created for them a wide space to occupy, that great prairie of paranoia that stretches between what happened and what really happened. What really happened is what always occurs in every Txxxx story: he won big. Losing, for Txxxx, is not possible. It is a category of humanity that he calls in The Art of the Deal “life’s losers.” As he exclaimed to his fans at one of his final rallies in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after showing them a video of Joe Biden stammering, “The concept of losing to this guy!” When you define your opponent as a contemptible wretch, that thought is inconceivable.

Usually, at this point, we get the postmortem. But there is no body. The malignant presidency of Dxxxx Txxxx seems moribund, but also vigorously alive. . . . We have, after all, already witnessed the Good Friday and Easter Sunday of Donald Trump. In a grotesque parody of the Christian narrative, Trump presented his contraction of Covid-19 not as a consequence of his own narcissistic recklessness but as a Jesus-like self-sacrifice—he caught the virus on behalf of the people. Trump “died,” was in the “tomb” of Walter Reed hospital for three days and then rose again and appeared to many. This fable seems to have worked for his supporters, electrifying them with its evidence of their leader’s indefatigability. The deaths of others—230,000 victims of Covid-19 by election day—did not prompt a turn against the president who presided over them. His base acted, rather, as the foil for his miraculous, manic display of vivacity in the last days of the campaign.

During the pandemic, Txxxx defied death but did not acknowledge it; Biden acknowledged death but did not pretend to defy it. Txxxx’s demeanor and bluster sought to suggest that the US had barely been touched by the virus, Biden’s to show that he himself had been deeply touched by the suffering it had inflicted. These were physical contrasts—swagger versus caution, masked against unmasked. But they also played out as starkly different attitudes toward death and time. Txxxx, at his first rally after his resurrection, posed as an immortal (“I went through it. Now they say I’m immune. I feel so powerful.”)

. . . Biden’s whole bearing, on the other hand, spoke of vulnerability and mortality. This dichotomy may have been accidental but is also highly expressive of a deeper divergence: autocracy (as it imagines itself) is forever; democracy’s outcomes are always temporary. This is where the election has ended up, as a clash between Txxxx’s immunity to its results and Biden’s fragile appeal to democratic decency.

It is impossible not to think, in this in-between moment, of Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists . . . in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born. . . .” Something is dying, but we do not yet know what. Is it the basic idea of majority rule or is it the most coherent attempt to destroy that idea since the secession of the Confederacy? Something is trying to be born, but we cannot yet say what it is either. Is it an American version of the “managed democracy” or “electoral autocracy” that is the most rapidly expanding political form around the world? Or is it a radically renewed republic that can finally deal with the unfinished business of its history? The old is in a state of suspended animation; the new stands at a threshold it cannot yet cross.

In 1974 upon his inauguration as president, just half an hour after the resignation of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford declared, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” [He] suggested that Nixon’s departure had left the country in a good place: “Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men.” With its institutions intact, the US could quickly return to its natural condition of mutual benevolence: “Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate” . . . .”

But long national nightmares do not end in real life as they do in Oz. Dxxxx Txxxx himself crawled out of Nixon’s political grave, more lawless, more shameless, more openly unhinged. And he will not lie down. Joe Biden, like Ford before him, hoped to arrive in the Oval Office, not just as a healer, but as an exorcist, driving out the evil spirits of suspicion and hate. For many of those who voted for him, the end of the Txxxx regime, like the banishing of Nixon, would prove that, after all, “our Constitution works.” There could be a great sigh of relief: the system has corrected itself. That was not really true in 1974 and it is emphatically false now. . . .

The American republic has come close to being overthrown by a discontented multimillionaire. Biden failed to say with sufficient force that America needed . . . to wake up to the urgent meaning of that threat. . . .

Its core appeal is necromantic. It promised to make a buried world rise again: coal mines would reopen in West Virginia, lost car plants would return to Detroit. Good, secure, unionized muscle jobs would come back. The unquestionable privilege of being white and male and native would be restored. Txxxx did not manage to do any of this, of course. But, in a sense, that very failure keeps the promise pure, unadulterated by the complexities of reality. We have seen in Txxxx’s triumph in Ohio and very strong performance in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that it still has great purchase on the imagination of millions. . . .

Txxxx, in 2016, was the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” with the twist that rather than blurting out that the monarch was walking around naked, he shouted out the truth that, as a force capable of winning presidential elections, the Republican Party was extinct. He held its cadaver up before his baying crowds. And he presented himself as its sweet (or rather extremely sour) hereafter. Whatever else the 2020 election shows, it proves that he was right.

Txxxxism now is the GOP’s death warmed over. Like a political remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it has fully assimilated the outward appearances and forms of the dead Republican Party to a new body, a duplicate that looks the same but that has in fact been hollowed out. Txxxx’s White House speech on election night made explicit that what has been excised in this process is the most basic assumption of electoral democracy: that the majority wins and the minority, however, disappointed, accepts the legitimacy of its victory and its right to govern.

This invasion is thrilling for Republicans because it is also a kind of liberation. As the agonized tone of the 2013 autopsy report [commissioned by the party’s leadership] makes clear, the transformations of gender, class, race, and ethnicity necessary for them to be reborn as the voice of a genuine national majority, even if they had been possible, would have been extremely painful. Txxxx’s delivery of the death certificate freed the GOP from this torment. There was nothing to revive. What Txxxx stumbled on was that the solution to the party’s chronic inability to win a majority of voters in presidential elections was to stop trying and instead to embrace and enforce minority rule. This possibility is built into the American system. The electoral college, the massive imbalance in representation in the Senate, the ability to gerrymander congressional districts, voter suppression, and the politicization of the Supreme Court—these methods for imposing on the majority the will of the minority have always been available. Txxxx transformed them from tactical tools to permanent, strategic necessities.

As we are now seeing, the difference for a democracy is existential. A tactic of maneuvering to hold power against the wishes of the majority of voters is contingent, opportunistic, reactive. It is innately time-limited. It will advance when it can and retreat when it must. But when the tactic becomes the strategy, there can be no retreat. A program of consolidating the means by which a minority can gain and retain power must try to institutionalize itself, to become so embedded that it can withstand the majority’s anger. To do that, it must not merely evade the consequences of losing the popular vote in this or that election. It must, insofar as it can, make those elections irrelevant.

This is the most important thing to understand about the postmortem Republican Party. The logic is not that a permanently minority party may move toward authoritarianism but that it must. Holding power against the wishes of most citizens is an innately despotic act. . . . When Txxxx said on Fox & Friends at the end of March that Democrats want “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” he was openly redefining the meaning of the vote. Voting, in this formulation, is something to be “agreed to”—or not—by Txxxx himself. Democracy is no longer rooted in the consent of the governed, but in the contingent permission of the indispensable leader.

In all the noise of the 2020 election, it was easy to miss the signal that was not being sent. The incumbent president made no effort even to go through the motions of presenting a future open to deliberation by citizens. He had no policy agenda for a second term—the GOP merely readopted its platform from 2016, without even bothering to delete its multiple attacks on “the current president.” Why? Because arguments about policy are the vestiges of a notion that Txxxx has killed off: the idea that an election is a contest for the support, or at least the consent, of a majority of voters. Such arguments implicitly concede the possibility that there is another, equally legitimate choice. That is precisely what the posthumous Republican Party cannot and does not accept.

This refusal is shaped by a functioning redefinition of “we, the people.” When Txxxx spoke on election night about “a fraud on the American public,” he meant that the “public” consists only of his voters. . . .

This is the election behind the election—the GOP’s decision to imaginatively dissolve the American majority and elect another. This has been done in two ways, coarsely and a little more subtly. The coarse method is to simply deny that the majority exists. This is what Txxxx did on election night and the probability is that his supporters believe it to be true. After the 2016 election, he obliterated the majority by claiming that “in addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” A plurality of his voters actually believed that there was no “if” about it. A Politico/Morning Consult poll of Txxxx voters in July 2017 found that 49 percent believed that he really did win the popular vote. Now, in 2020, it is not just that the majority does not count, it is that it is actively criminal, engaged as it is in a vast conspiracy to steal his victory.

This could be written off as the usual despotic delusion were it not buttressed by the slightly subtler method of choosing another “people.” The method is to shift between two implicitly contradictory meanings of the same word: elect. Without a capital E, it indicates what is supposed to happen in a democracy—all citizens can vote and whoever wins the most votes is the president. Capitalize the initial letter and it signifies the righteous, those chosen by God for salvation. . . .He himself generally does this in a secular form: the typical populist slippage from “the people” to “the real people.” Before he ran for president, when Txxxx tweeted about “Patriots,” it was almost always in relation to the football team. After 2015, it was almost always about the “great American patriots” who attend his rallies. The anti-Txxxx majority is neither great, nor patriotic, nor in fact American.

This exclusion overlaps with a religious version promulgated most notably by the attorney general, William Barr, according to whom religious belief is the entire foundation of the American political community, so those who are not religious (in a very narrow sense) cannot properly belong in the polity.

In effect, of course, the secular and religious versions overlap and support each other. The majority, deficient in both patriotism and sanctity, is unworthy. If it seems to have won, that can only be because, being outside the polity, it has subverted the real polity by fraud. To deny its validity is both patriotic and righteous. Voter suppression, gerrymandering, and the use of the Supreme Court to hand electoral victories to the Republicans are no longer dirty tricks. They are patriotic imperatives. They are not last resorts but first principles.

The great comfort of this mentality is that, when the majority can be conjured out of existence, so can the whole idea of defeat. The old norm, whereby the beaten party retreats into a period of reflection and considers why it lost, is gone. The only possible response to Biden’s apparent victory is that of Satan in John Milton’s Paradise Lost:

All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And courage never to submit or yield . . .

If [Note: when] Txxxx is eventually removed from the Oval Office, the study of revenge and immortal hate, not sober self-criticism, will be the response in Txxxxworld. There will be no chastening, just a further injection of resentment and conspiracy-mongering.

This is zombie politics—the life-after-death of a former conservative party. And as Gothic stories tell us, it is very hard to kill the undead. One half of a two-party system has passed over into a post-democratic state. This reality has to be recognized, and a crucial aspect of that recognition is to accept that the claim Ford could make in 1974—“Our Constitution works”—no longer applies. After the long national nightmare of Watergate, America could rub its eyes and awaken to a renewed confidence in its system of checks and balances.

But the Txxxx presidency has been no nightmare. It has been daylight delinquency, its transgressions of democratic values on lurid display in all their corruption and cruelty and deadly incompetence. There may be much we do not yet know, but what is known (and in most cases openly flaunted) is more than enough . . . There can be no awakening because the Republicans did not sleep through all of this. They saw it all and let it happen. In electoral terms, moreover, it turns out that they were broadly right. There was no revulsion among the party base. The faithful not only witnessed his behavior, they heard Txxxx say, repeatedly, that he would not accept the result of the vote. They embraced that authoritarianism with renewed enthusiasm. The assault on democracy now has a genuine, highly engaged, democratic movement behind it.

. . . But Biden, by contrast, is explicitly transitory. In April he said: “I view myself as a transition candidate.”

His reasons did not need to be stated. . . . It is not just that a Biden presidency would, presumably, accept the limits placed on the office by constitutional propriety and common decency. It is that it is limited by the remorseless effects of time on the body.

Yet in this very temporal constraint, there is a danger. The idea of a transitional presidency implies a drawing of breath, a period of calm after the Txxxxian tempest, America as a giant field hospital devoted to the binding of wounds. This would be a reprise of Ford’s emollient speech in 1974: our self-correcting system has worked its magic and now we may all love one another again. Biden’s entire political persona has been shaping itself toward such a moment. But it cannot be. Txxxx will not allow it, and the whole structure of permanent minority rule that he has brought to the fore works against it. Biden must continue to fight Txxxx and, if and when he takes power, he must dismantle that structure, piece by piece.

The historic question that must be addressed is: Who is the aberration? Biden and perhaps most of his voters believe that the answer could not be more obvious. It is Txxxx. But this has been shown to be the wrong answer. The dominant power in the land, the undead Republican Party, has made majority rule aberrant, a notion that transgresses the new norms it has created. From the perspective of this system, it is Biden, and his criminal voters, who are the deviant ones. This is the irony: Txxxx, the purest of political opportunists, driven only by his own instincts and interests, has entrenched an anti-democratic culture that, unless it is uprooted, will thrive in the long term. It is there in his court appointments, in his creation of a solid minority of at least 45 percent animated by resentment and revenge, but above all in his unabashed demonstration of the relatively unbounded possibilities of an American autocracy. As a devout Catholic, Joe Biden believes in the afterlife. But he needs to confront an afterlife that is not in the next world but in this one—the long posterity of Dxxxx Txxxx.

Unquote.

Or maybe that’s too pessimistic. Maybe America will finally tame the virus, the economy will rebound, the Democrats will add seats in Congress, changes will be made in support of majority rule and the 2024 presidential election will be relatively sane. Otto von Bismarck was no dope and he once supposedly said: “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America”. We shall see.

Don’t Worry — They’re Merely Attempting a Coup

Well, technically speaking, it wouldn’t be a coup unless Joe Biden was already president. One dictionary says a coup is a sudden alteration or overthrow of an existing government, usually by force. Another says a coup is a sudden illegal, often violent, taking of government power, especially by the military. So unless some powerful group, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is able to replace Biden after January 20th, we’re not looking at a coup.

Instead, what President Txxxx and his Republican co-conspirators are trying to do is steal the election. Of course, we’re beyond that kind of thing now. But an historian at the Smithsonian Institution explains that, back in the 19th century, stealing elections was almost routine. There were two methods:

Although most elections were (relatively) clean, “majority manufacturers” in teeming Northern cities, racially tense Southern districts and new Western settlements laid out two paths for stealing elections — steal the cast or steal the count.

“Stealing the cast” meant interfering with the vote up front. You bribed people to vote your way or got gangs of your supporters to vote illegally. You intimidated legal voters with threats of violence or somehow stopped them from getting to the polls.

“Stealing the cast” on Election Day was a lot of work, much of it illegal and confrontational. “Stealing the count” was easier. It required quietly turning power into more power, using local officials to swing state elections with national consequences. 

Destroying ballots was a preferred method. However, in one case, in Mississippi in 1880, somebody put a powerful laxative in the Republican poll workers’ dinner, allowing Democrats to add fraudulent ballots while the Republicans were indisposed.

In the 1876 election, while the Democrats decisively won the popular vote, Republican-controlled [election committees] in disputed states used fraud, bribery and the U.S. Army to steal the count. In Louisiana, they disqualified whole parishes, throwing out one in 10 votes statewide, 85 percent of them for Democrats.

That’s what the Republicans are trying to do in 2020: steal the cast. They’re putting pressure on local officials to disqualify legal ballots or replace Democratic electors (the Electoral College voters) with Republicans. From The Washington Post:

President Txxxx has invited the leaders of Michigan’s Republican-controlled state legislature to meet him in Washington on Friday, . . . as the president and his allies continue an extraordinary campaign to overturn the results of an election he lost.

Txxxx’s campaign has suffered defeats in courtrooms across the country in its efforts to allege irregularities with the ballot-counting process, and has failed to muster any evidence of the widespread fraud that the president continues to claim tainted the 2020 election.

Txxxx lost Michigan by a wide margin: At present, he trails President-Elect Joe Biden in the state by 157,000 votes. Earlier this week, the state’s Republican Senate majority leader said an effort to have legislators throw out election results was “not going to happen.”

But the president now appears to be using the full weight of his office to challenge the election results, as he and his allies reach out personally to state and local officials in an intensifying effort to halt the certification of the vote in key battleground states.

In an incendiary news conference in Washington, Rudolph W. Giuliani, . . . who is now serving as Txxxx’s lead attorney, made baseless claims that Biden had orchestrated a national conspiracy to rig the vote.

Txxxx’s team appear to be increasingly focused on Michigan as a place where Republican officials — on the state’s Board of Canvassers and in the legislature — might be persuaded to overturn the results.

Earlier this week, Txxxx called a member of Wayne County’s Board of Canvassers after a contentious meeting in which she first refused, and then agreed, to certify election results from the state’s largest county. She subsequently released an affidavit seeking to “rescind” her vote for certification — a move that the secretary of state’s office said was impossible.

Legal experts condemned the president’s actions, saying he was trying to use the power of his office to alter the vote.

“To bring the weight of the White House and the presidency onto an individual county canvassing board commissioner about what to do with certification is an incredible assault on the democratic process,” said Richard H. Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University. . . .

Joanna Lydgate, the national director of the Voter Protection Program, said . . . “the president’s unpatriotic behavior is reaching new heights with summoning state legislative officials to the White House,” she said. “But the legislature has no role in certification, as its leaders have already publicly admitted. This raises serious legal and ethical concerns about the president’s conduct — but it will not alter the outcome of the election.”

Despite that, Txxxx and his allies have spent the last week making baseless allegations of fraud in lawsuits, news conferences and tweets — seemingly probing to find a judge or an elected official who would accept them.

At the news conference in Washington on Thursday, Giuliani claimed without evidence that the campaign could roll back Biden’s wins in multiple states, including Michigan.

“It changes the result of the election in Michigan if you take out Wayne County,” he said. Wayne County includes Detroit, the state’s heavily Democratic, majority-Black largest city.

It’s yet another case of Trump Projection: accuse your opponents of the nefarious behavior you’re doing yourself. I’m totally convinced he won’t succeed, but the participation or silence of leading Republicans means they’d accept a competent attempt to steal a future election, especially if it’s closer than this one (the 2000 election with its “Brooks Brothers riot” and Supreme Court intervention already suggested that).

As for today, Chris Krebs, the election security official who was fired after he said it was a fair election, says Giuliani’s “press conference was the most dangerous 1 hour 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest”. 

Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America adds this:

President Txxxx, Fox News, and other pro-Txxxx propaganda outlets created an impermeable information bubble for the Republican base. Within that bubble, it is canon that the 2020 election was ripe with voter fraud and that Txxxx actually won if you only count the “legal votes”. 

It is very easy to imagine a . . . purge of Republican [politicians] who don’t play ball with what really looks like a coup attempt [Note: not technically speaking!] in plain sight, based on mass invalidation of ballots and elections. And very hard for me to imagine the [Republican Party] walking back from this edge and becoming a party with any appreciation for basic precepts of democracy.

And it all begins with the right-wing information bubble. If you don’t spend time there, understand that right now it is a constant stream of conspiracy theories and bullshit that the election was stolen. Vanishingly few exceptions, and those will be marginalized.

Finally, a report from Reuters:

A senior Txxxx campaign official told Reuters its plan is to cast enough doubt on vote-counting in big, Democratic cities that Republican lawmakers will have little choice but to intercede.

The campaign is betting that many of those lawmakers, who come from districts Txxxx won, will face a backlash from voters if they refuse to act. The campaign believes the longer they can drag this out, the more they will have an opportunity to persuade lawmakers to intervene . . . 

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll published this week suggested the Txxxx campaign had succeeded in stirring doubt — however unfounded — about the presidential election. The survey found about half of Republicans think [Dear Leader] “rightfully won” the election he lost.