Sunday, October 17, 2021

How The GOP Became A Trumpian Cult Is Indeed A Mystery

Trumpism is, of course, less an idea or set of principles than it is a cult of personality and series of angry impulses. But even the ugliest movements have their pseudo-philosophers and their rationalizers.

Funny, I don't remember Bill Kristol being so upset when Newt Gingrich invited Rush Limbaugh to the Capitol building as an honored guest as the new Speaker began his first term of enacting his Contract on America.  And Limbaugh was as much of a huckster and a showman, and a racist at the heart of his own cult of personality, as Trump.  Yet Gingrich publicly gave Limbaugh credit for the victory the GOP attained that year.  Of course it wasn't long before Gingrich left Congress in disgrace, so there's more than one lesson from history here.

Mr. Kristol wasn't all that upset with  the hagiography of Ronald Reagan, either.  A man who has only lately fallen from attention (if not grace) in the GOP. (We'll come back to St. Ronnie in a minute.)

And what was the adulation of William F. Buckley if not a cult of personality?  The man never accomplished anything except to start the racist National Review, and yet he was upheld for decades as the very model of a modern (mossbacked, reactionary, proto-medieval) conservative (racist, too; that was always a key factor.  Nelson Rockefeller was not quite so openly racist, so he was a "liberal" Republican.  Well, until Attica.  Then he was just a Republican, again.).

Conservatism in America always meant racist.  What else were you trying to conserve after Truman integrated the Armed Forces, except the racist way of American life?

Frankly, anybody who doesn't connect this cult of personality all the way back to Goldwater ("Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!" was not exactly a nuanced policy statement.) is simply not serious about their complaints with the GOP now. 

And this where Claremont comes in: It is attempting to put a veneer of intellectual respectability on some of the darkest impulses of the right. It’s not at all surprising that Claremont was at the center of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

I can't tell if the "darkest impulses of the right" are too dark for Mr. Kristol, or just too public and impossible to explain away.  That "veneer of intellectual respectability" on those impulses summarizes Mr. Buckley's work quite nicely.  Honestly, none of what Mr. Kristol complains about sounds much different than what I heard in opposition to the civil rights movement and to Dr. King before he was killed and, no longer being a threat to the "natural" order, became a secular saint.  This quote could have been found in a time capsule buried in 1963, proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same:

“We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question! This is bigger than President Trump! It is the very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done! And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it does not deserve to be in the office! It is that simple!”

The very essense of our republican form of government was threatened by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  Thank goodness CJ Roberts (now the "moderate" on the court) showed us the error of our national ways with the evisceration of the VRA.  In the name of the Constitution, we cannot enable the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.  (There is evidence now that poor people were instrumental in tossing Trump out of office, which makes theses issues ones of class as well as race.  One source of political power is as upsetting as the other to the GOP; and always has been. America, of course, is not a class based society nor a race-based one.  And I am Marie of Romania.) Because, you know: reasons.

Mr. Kristol is concerned with the Claremont Institute, which he assures us "wasn't always like this:"

Through its various publications, fellowships and seminars, Claremont was once the center of what was known as the "West Coast Straussian" school of thought founded by scholar Harry Jaffa.

" 'West Coast Straussian' school of thought"? Speaking of a veneer of intellectual respectability.

But in recent years, Claremont has moved away from its intellectual roots. Its recent list of fellows includes some serious conservative thinkers, but also Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Ben Shapiro, radio host Mark Levin, and Trumpian activists like Charlie Kirk and Mollie Hemingway.

I recognize the change in style; but not in content.  Granted, this is ugly:

Claremont’s drift into racism or authoritarianism has similarly not been subtle.

As Field has noted, Claremont "knowingly provided cover to, and made common cause with, an alleged white supremacist named Darren J. Beattie." Beattie is a former White House staffer who had been fired for consorting with white supremacists. As the attack on the Capitol unfolded on Jan. 6, Beattie sent out a stream of tweets directed at various African Americans — including Sen. Tim Scott, S.C., and Kay Cole James, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation — telling them they now had to "learn their place" and 'take a knee to MAGA." 

Then again, Ronald Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi on August 3, 1980, talking about "state's rights" as he announced his campaign for the White House, wasn't all that subtle; nor all that far removed from Mr. Beattie.  Mr. Reagan never told blacks to "learn their place," but he did talk extensively about "welfare queens" driving up in Cadillacs to pick up their government checks.  He was a smooth liar long before Mr. Trump was recognized as one; yet no one thinks of Reagan as a racist.  He was too nice, donchaknow?

And granted, this sounds like the John Birch Society and the White Citizen's Council had a lovechild:

Earlier this year, Claremont’s online magazine, The American Mind, published a lengthy piece that declared that there was only one "authentic America" and that others who voted against Trump "do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people."
"It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens," wrote Glenn Ellmers, "these non-American Americans; but they are something else.'

 Pretty sure I heard similar responses to the VRA, back in the day.  I mean, it's not like the leopard can change his spots, can he?

The GOP spent half a century creating this Frankensteinian creature from stolen body parts.  One would think they'd have learned the lesson of Frankenstein, and at least accepted their responsibility.  Instead they are, embodying the struggle within Frankenstein in the latter half of the novel, divided over whether to destroy the creature (they can't, anymore than he could his), or to create a mate for it, inhuman and despised thing that it is.

And after they learn that lesson (or just read the novel), maybe we can get FoxNews to explain what happened when the Grinch stole Christmas.

I know, I know; I ask entirely too much.  Self-awareness and self-reflection are just not traits to be commonly expected.

1 comment:

  1. At some time as I recall, Reagan used the term "bucks" which may as well have been the "n" word.

    They had help from the Supreme Court and the ACLU who enabled them all along the way. Considering how long they had to see what the effects of those "free speech-press" rulings were, they had to have not been especially bothered with the results they were bringing about. I do think a lot of it had to do with the race of the "liberals" who were doing that, perhaps their gender, certainly their economic class did.