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Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

The Reactionary Politics of Resentment

How did the Republican Party get so extreme? Paul Krugman of The New York Times asks the question and offers an answer — or rather a historical parallel:

… The Republican turn toward extremism began during the 1990s. Many people have forgotten the political craziness of the Clinton years — the witch hunts and wild conspiracy theories (Hillary murdered Vince Foster!), the attempts to blackmail Bill Clinton into policy concessions by shutting down the government, and more. And all of this was happening during what were widely regarded as good years, with most Americans believing that the country was on the right track.

It’s a puzzle. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking for historical precursors — cases in which right-wing extremism rose even in the face of peace and prosperity. And I think I’ve found one: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

It’s important to realize that while this organization took the name of the post-Civil War group, it was actually a new movement — a white nationalist movement to be sure, but far more widely accepted, and less of a pure terrorist organization [than the 19th century Klan]. And it reached the height of its power — it effectively controlled several states — amid peace and an economic boom.

What was this new K.K.K. about? I’ve been reading Linda Gordon’s The Second Coming of the K.K.K.: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, which portrays a “politics of resentment” driven by the backlash of white, rural and small-town Americans against a changing nation. The K.K.K. hated immigrants and “urban elites”; it was characterized by “suspicion of science” and “a larger anti-intellectualism.” Sound familiar?

… Republican extremism clearly draws much of its energy from the same sources.

And because G.O.P. extremism is fed by resentment against the very things that, as I see it, truly make America great — our diversity, our tolerance for difference — it cannot be appeased or compromised with. It can only be defeated.

Adam Serwer of The Atlantic says overturning Roe v. Wade is “just the beginning of the Court’s mission to reshape all of American society according to conservative demands”, taking advantage of their office to address the resentments and supposed grievances of the Republican Party’s most dedicated supporters: 

Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson [announces] that when it comes to rights “not mentioned in the Constitution,” only those “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” are protected. If you’re asking yourself who decides which rights can be so described, you’re on the right track….

As the three Democratic-appointed justices note in their Dobbs dissent, more constitutional rights now are on the chopping block. “Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure,” the dissenters wrote. “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.” It seems to be the latter: In his concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas writes that precedents establishing access to contraception, legalizing same-sex marriage, and striking down anti-sodomy laws should be “reconsidered”….

The Supreme Court has become an institution whose primary role is to force a right-wing vision of American society on the rest of the country. The conservative majority …  takes whatever stances define right-wing cultural and political identity at a given moment and asserts them as essential aspects of American law since the founding, and therefore obligatory…. The dictates of the Constitution retrospectively shift with whatever Fox News happens to be furious about. Legal outcomes preferred by today’s American right conveniently turn out to be what the Founding Fathers wanted all along.

The 6–3 majority has removed any appetite for caution or restraint, and the justices’ lifetime appointments mean they will never have to face an angry electorate that could deprive them of their power. It has also rendered their approach to the law lazy, clumsy, and malicious…

Many of the Court’s recent decisions, even before Dobbs, have demonstrated this. In the case over the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employers, the conservative justices disregarded the explicit text of a federal statute allowing the government to set emergency regulations governing “toxic substances or agents” in the workplace, and employed soft anti-vax arguments that had only become prominent in conservative media since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. As part of its rationale, the majority wrote that “in its half century of existence,” the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “has never before adopted a broad public health regulation of this kind,” which is true, because during that period there had not been a global pandemic that killed more than 1 million Americans.

In their decision earlier this week overturning restrictions on concealed carry of firearms in New York, the right-wing justices ignored historical examples of firearm regulations in order to argue that any such regulations—not just those in New York—were presumptively unconstitutional. The decision was a significant escalation in the Court’s gun-rights jurisprudence from the 2008 Heller decision, which found an individual constitutional right to possess a firearm. In the most recent ruling, Thomas wrote that only those restrictions “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” are constitutional, but he did so ignoring, as the writer Saul Cornell points out, a centuries-long history of closely regulating arms in densely populated areas. That record is irrelevant. The restrictions deemed consistent with tradition will be whatever the current right-wing consensus happens to be.

Unquote.

Yesterday was more of the same. A federal judge had written a 157-page decision ordering Louisiana’s Republican legislature to change a proposed congressional map that she said violates what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, because, although Louisiana’s population is one-third Black, the map would insure that five out of six congressional districts elect Republicans. Her decision was upheld by an appeals court. Over the objections of the three Democrats on the Supreme Court, and without offering any explanation, the Republican majority overruled the judge and the appeals court. That means the map will be used for November’s elections. The Republican National Committee couldn’t have asked for more.

The Insurrection Was Only One Step in the Attempted Coup

The radical reactionaries on the Supreme Court didn’t get a chance to overturn the 2020 election, although given how five Republican justices handed the presidency to George Bush in 2000, they might have been willing. 

It’s important to distinguish between the attempted coup and the January 6th insurrection. Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton advisor, explained the distinction on January 6, 2022, for The Guardian:

The insurrection was not the coup itself. It was staged as the coup was failing. The insurrection and the coup were distinct, but the insurrection emerged from the coup. It has been a common conceptual error to consider the insurrection alone to be the coup. The coup, however, was an elaborate plot developed over months to claim that the votes in the key swing states were fraudulent, for Mike Pence as the presiding officer of the joint session of the Congress to declare on that basis that the certification of the presidential election on the constitutionally mandated date could not be done, to force that day to pass into a twilight zone of irresolution, for House Republicans to hold the floor brandishing the endless claims of fraud, to move the decision to the safe harbor of the House of Representatives, voting by states, with a majority of 26 controlled by the Republican party, to deny both the popular vote and the electoral college vote to retain T____ in office, for protests to breakout at federal buildings, and for the president to invoke the Insurrection Act to impose law and order.

Presumably, any gesture to forestall the coup by the joint chiefs would be communicated at once to T____ from his agent, Kash Patel, a former aide to far-right representative Devin Nunes), sworn enemy of the “Deep State”, embedded as chief of staff to the acting secretary of defense, and presidential orders would be issued to countermand. The rally on 6 January – “will be wild”, T____ promised – was a last-ditch attempt to intimidate the vice-president with the threat of violence into fulfilling his indispensable role in the coup, to lend support to the Republicans objecting to certification, and to delay the proceedings into a constitutional no man’s land. …

The insurrection may also have been intended to provide a pretext for precipitating clashes with anti-T____ demonstrators, following the example of the street violence and multiple knife stabbings perpetrated in Washington by the neo-Nazi Proud Boys chanting “1776” on 12 December, and which would then be an excuse for invoking the Insurrection Act. In the criminal contempt citation of Meadows for his refusal to testify before the select committee investigating the US Capitol attack, the committee noted that Meadows sent an email the day before the assault to an unnamed individual “that the national guard would be present to ‘protect pro-T____ people’ and that many more would be available on standby”. From whom would “pro-T____ people” be protected?

In the midst of the attack, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, managed to reach a preoccupied T____, who was riveted viewing the unfolding chaos on television at the White House, closely monitoring whether the coup would finally succeed, taking phone calls from Jim Jordan and a host of collaborators, and fending off urgent pleas to call it off … T____’s first reply to McCarthy was to repeat “the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol”, according to the Republican representative Jaime Herrera Beutler.

McCarthy argued: “It’s not Antifa, it’s Maga. I know. I was there.” “Well, Kevin,” said T____, “I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” “Who the fuck do you think you are talking to?” McCarthy inquired in an uncharacteristic display of testosterone that soon was replaced with his regular order of servility …. The absence of antifa, and McCarthy’s refusal in the heat of the moment to lend credence to the phantom menace, may have condemned any false-flag thought of invoking the Insurrection Act. Meanwhile, the bayonet-ready national guard idly awaited orders for hours to quell the actual insurrection. …

The coup was hardly T____’s full-blown brainchild. It was packaged for him. It was adapted, enhanced and intensified from longstanding Republican strategies for voter suppression. The coup was a variation on the theme from a well-worn playbook. T____ eagerly grasped for the plan handed to him.

More than a year before the election of 2020, in August 2019, conservative operatives in closely connected rightwing organizations began preparing a strategy for disputing election results. A “Political Process Working Group” focused on “election law and ballot integrity” was launched by Lisa Nelson, the CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), heavily funded by the Koch brothers’ dark money syndicate, the Donors Trust. …

The investigative reporter Anne Nelson, in her book Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, describes the CNP as a nexus of “the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of western plutocrats and the strategy of rightwing Republican political operatives”.

A board member of the CNP, Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer at the center of a host of rightwing groups, assumed control over the Alec-originated project and moved it forward. Mitchell was instrumental in devising the blueprint for the coup. On 10 December 2020, 65 leading members of the CNP signed a succinct step-by-step summary of the completely elaborated plot that went little noticed except on the coup-friendly rightwing website Gateway Pundit:

The evidence overwhelmingly shows officials in key battleground states – as the result of a coordinated pressure campaign by Democrats and allied groups – violated the constitution, state and federal law in changing mail-in voting rules that resulted in unlawful and invalid certifications of Biden victories. There is no doubt President D____ J T____ is the lawful winner of the presidential election. Joe Biden is not president-elect. Accordingly, state legislatures in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada and Michigan should exercise their plenary power under the constitution and appoint clean slates of electors to the electoral college to support President T____. Similarly, both the House and Senate should accept only these clean electoral college slates and object to and reject any competing slates in favor of Vice-President Biden from these states. Conservative leaders and groups should begin mobilizing immediately to contact their state legislators, as well as their representatives in the House and Senate, to demand that clean slates of electors be appointed in the manner laid out in the US constitution.

Mitchell was by then a T____ campaign legal adviser, with direct access to T____ and working on the Georgia challenge to the results.

When Fascists Get Together (Texas-Style)

Every time I hear Republicans talk about Democrats, it sounds like Superman’s Bizarro World, where Mafia wise guys are upstanding citizens and only the cops make money off extortion, theft, drugs and gambling.

Thus, the Texas Republican Party held a convention last week. To say the least, it wasn’t pretty. From the Texas Tribune:

Unquote.

The Tribune article didn’t mention that convention attendees also want a vote on leaving the union and a constitutional amendment that would create their own version of the Electoral College (that would allow a minority of voters spread around the state to overcome urban votes from Democrats). From the Houston Chronicle:

We urge the Texas Legislature to pass a bill in its next session requiring a referendum in the 2023 general election for the people of Texas to determine whether or not the State of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation.

The State Legislature shall cause to be enacted a State Constitutional Amendment creating an electoral college consisting of electors selected by the popular votes cast within each individual state senatorial district, who shall then elect all statewide office holders.

The Right Wing in a Few Words

Somebody on Twitter, Ethan Grey, who says he’s an ex-Republican, tried to summarize the basic “Republican message on everything of importance”:

1. They can tell people what to do.  2. You cannot tell them what to do.

You’ve watched the Republican Party champion the idea of “freedom” while you have also watched the same party openly assault various freedoms, like the freedom to vote, freedom to choose, freedom to marry who you want and so on.

If this has been a source of confusion, then your assessments of what Republicans mean by “freedom” were likely too generous. Here’s what they mean:

1. The freedom to tell people what to do.  2. Freedom from being told what to do.

When Republicans talk about valuing “freedom”, they’re speaking of it in the sense that only people like them should ultimately possess it.

He cites Covid-19 as a recent example:

We were told by experts in infectious diseases that to control the spread of the pandemic, we had to socially distance, mask, and get vaccinated. So, in a general sense, we were being told what to do. Guess who had a big problem with that.

All Republicans saw were certain people trying to tell them what to do, which was enough of a reason to insist that they would not be told what to do. Even though what they were told to do would save lives, including their own.

Another instance:

They claim to be for “small government”, but that really means government that tells them what to do should be as small as possible. But when [they see] an opportunity to tell people what to do, the government required for that tends to be large.

My favorite example of this is how Republicans hate government spending unless it’s for the “Defense” Department, which gets an enormous percentage of the federal budget and is the part of our government best positioned to forcefully tell other people (i.e. the rest of the world) what to do. But parts of the government that can tell Republicans what to do, like the Internal Revenue Service (pay your taxes) and the Environmental Protection Agency (stop polluting), should be starved of funds whenever possible (or abolished, like the Department of Education).

Maybe a Republican could complain about Democrats in the same way — we want to tell them what to do but we don’t want them telling us — but I’m hard-pressed to think of Democratic behavior that fits.

Anyway, Frank Wilhoit, a classical music composer, once tried to summarize conservatism too. This is sometimes called “Wilhoit’s Law”:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

It’s really the same point Mr. Grey made on Twitter. In fact, Grey offered his own, less elegantly stated, version of Wilhoit’s Law further down in his thread:

1. There are “right” human beings and there are “wrong” ones.  2. The “right” ones get to tell the “wrong” ones what to do.  3. The “wrong” ones do not tell the “right” ones what to do.

Thus, we have various ways to summarize what’s been called “the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican Party”. Take your pick.

Yeah, There’s a Name for It

We’re having a primary election today. The people I planned to vote for had no opposition, but I walked over and voted anyway. Voting is a ritual of democracy! (Plus our local election workers used to provide cookies.)

It was worth the trip. They have new, electronic, paper ballot machines. You put in a piece of paper, vote on the touchscreen, and then you look through a little window to see your votes printed on the paper. If it all looks ok, you press “cast your ballot” and the paper goes into a container. So there’s a paper trail if there’s a recount. Very cool. Every voter in the US should be able to use a machine like that. While voting still matters.

From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

“1776 motherfuckers.”

That’s what an associate texted to Enrique Tarrio, then the leader of the Proud Boys, just after members of the group stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In a new indictment that prosecutors filed against them, variations on that idea abound: Members refer to the insurrection as a glorious revival of 1776 again and again, with almost comic predictability.

… The way 1776 comes up in the indictment — combined with some surprising new details it reveals — should prompt a serious look at how far-right extremist groups genuinely think about the long struggle that they envision themselves waging.

In short, groups such as these generally are driven by a dangerous vision of popular sovereignty. It essentially holds that the will of the truly authentic “people,” a flexible category they get to define, is being suppressed, requiring periodic “resets” of the system, including via violent, extralegal means.

Such groups aren’t going away anytime soon. We should understand what drives them.

The new indictment that a grand jury returned on Monday against Tarrio and four other Proud Boys is for “seditious conspiracy.” This requires prosecutors to prove that at least two people conspired to use force to overthrow the U.S. government or subvert the execution of U.S. law.

To build this case, prosecutors have sought to present extensive evidence that the Proud Boys fully intended to use force to subvert governmental authority and relevant laws concerning the transfer of presidential power. This included arming themselves with paramilitary gear and discussing violent disruptions online in advance…. The indictment alleges that they attacked police officers, breached police lines with violence, and helped coordinate the storming of the Capitol in real time.

What’s more, in the indictment prosecutors disclose highly revealing text exchanges between Tarrio — who was not present that day — and another member later on Jan. 6. The exchanges appear to refer back to a document Tarrio possessed called “1776 returns,” which reportedly contains a detailed scheme to attack government buildings.

Those text exchanges compare Jan. 6 to both 1776 and the attack on “the Winter Palace,” which helped lead to the Russian Revolution. This seeming reference back to that document perhaps suggests they viewed Jan. 6 as the successful execution of a premeditated plan….

In this context, while all the 1776-oriented talk might seem like posturing, it points to something real and enduring on the far right.

It isn’t easy to pin down the Proud Boys, who tend to define themselves as defenders of Western civilization. Tarrio’s views appear pretty convoluted. In a 2021 interview, he admitted that the 2020 election had not been stolen from former president Donald Trump,… yet he openly celebrated the “fear” that members of Congress felt of “the people,” and helped mobilize Proud Boys to mass around the Capitol that day.

So how to make sense of that, as well as the broader tangle of ideologies on the far right?

helpful framework comes from Joseph Lowndes, a scholar of the right wing at the University of Oregon. As Lowndes notes, a longtime strain in American political culture treats procedural democracy as itself deeply suspect, as subverting a more authentic subterranean popular will.

For such ideologues, what constitutes “the people” is itself redefined by spasmodic revolutionary acts, including violence. The people’s sovereignty, and with it the defining lines of the republic, are also effectively redrawn, or even rebirthed, by such outbursts of energy and militant action.

In this vision, Lowndes told me, the “people” and the “essence of the republic” are “made new again through acts of violent cleansing.” He noted that in this imagining, the “people” are something of a “fiction,” one that is essentially created out of the violent “act.”

“This regeneration through violence is going to be with us for a long time,” Lowndes said, “because it is fundamental to the right-wing political imagination.”

Lurking behind all the 1776 cosplay, then, is a tangle of very real radical and extreme ideologies…. They aren’t going away.

Unquote.

Journalist John Ganz sums up the current situation in response to a New York Times article by a “National Review fellow”, Nate Hochman:

Since he’s fond of Marxist categories, I’d like to introduce Hochman to another one: totality. This refers to the notion that we have to analyze a social and political situation in its entirety, and that failing to do so will give us a false or incomplete picture. While he is more frank than most, Hochman doesn’t want to look at the Right in its totality. While he seems comfortable with the portions of the right that, despite being demagogic and repressive, remain within the bounds of legal and civic behavior, like the anti-trans and anti-Critical Race Theory campaigns, he doesn’t really want to talk about January 6th, or the stolen election myth, great replacement, or the cultish worship of T____, or the Proud Boys, who now have a significant presence in [the] Miami-Dade Republican party….

But these things are as much, if not more, emblematic of the modern Republican party as young Mr. Hochman in his blazer over there at The National Review….

So now let’s recapitulate the totality of the political situation, with the help of Mr. Hochman’s fine essay. He wants to say this new right is essentially a secular [non-religious] party of the aggrieved, [a coalition that feels] the national substance has been undermined by a group of cosmopolitan elites, who have infiltrated all the institutions of power. That believes immigrants threaten to replace the traditional ethnic make up of the country. That borrows conceptions and tactics from the socialist tradition but retools them for counter-revolutionary ends. That is animated by myths of national decline and renewal. That instrumentalizes racial anxieties. That brings together dissatisfied and alienated members of the intelligentsia with the conservative families of the old bourgeoisie and futurist magnates of industry. That looks to a providential figure like T___ for leadership. That has street fighting and militia cadres. That has even attempted an illegal putsch to give their leader absolute power.

If only there was historical precedent and even a neat little word for all that.

Unquote.

Well, here’s a hint. The precedent is Nazi Germany and the neat little word is “FASCISM”.

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