The jury is still out but I have to hope that the following assessment from Tim Wu in Politico provides a little ray of light in all this madness:
We’ve learned something important about America’s resistance to an authoritarian takeover. Most republics, even the best of them, have struggled when confronted with a nationalist leader who shows up in bad economic times, blames everything on immigrants and foreigners, and promises to restore greatness. That’s the fate that befell, among others, the Roman, Spanish, German and Russian republics. Before Trump, it was widely thought that the written Constitution and its fabled “separation of powers” had spared the United States from a similar fate.
But over the past four years, we’ve watched constitutional checks repeatedly fail to control the president, trumped by party loyalty. Congress and the judiciary asserted limited control at best; even impeachment turned out to be just another party-line vote. What really mattered, in the end, was a different set of checks, upheld not by a document but by people: namely, the independence of federal prosecutors, the neutrality of the armed forces and the independence of the electoral system. He tried hard, but Trump ultimately couldn’t find a prosecutor to indict Joe Biden and his family. The armed forces declined to embrace Trump’s proposed occupation of liberal cities over the summer. And, finally, when it mattered, election officials, at a distance from the White House, conducted a fair vote.
In a manner that John Adams might have found satisfying, we have learned that internalized constitutional norms matter more than any external checks.
I’m not sure how many internalized constitutional norms will continue to exist among any member of the right who consumes the disinformation and propaganda on offer in their media stream. But maybe they aren’t all brainwashed yet.
That piece is from a Politico roundup of opinions on “What Trump showed us about America.” Unfortunately, most of the writers, from academia to culture to politics, and from both sides of aisle, agree on thing: everything that has happened is attributable to a failure of liberals, either to counter Trump by being more empathetic to his followers or refusing to accept that liberal elites are the reason for all the troubles in America and that the great populist horde finally rose up to put them in their place. If there’s one thing we can all agree upon, it seems, is that while Trump and his GOP collaborators are a problem it’s nothing to the disgusting, perfidious Democrats who really need to change everything about themselves lest the Republic implode.
Ok, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. There were thoughtful observations like the one by Tim Wu above. And some of the criticism of liberalism is right on the money. It is hardly perfect. But as I read through them I found myself getting angrier and angrier as I realized that instead of a united front to stop the fascist rise of the authoritarian right the left is probably going to revert to focusing on liberalism as the “real problem” and that is going to lead us right back to Trumpism (or whatever it evolves into — Cottonism? ) because we won’t be paying attention. And the right will exploit all the holes in our system that Trump has exposed.
So fuck this facile explanation for why the Republican Party has turned into a nihilistic, conspiracy addled bunch of unAmerican, authoritarian assholes. It is lazy, intellectual rot and we’ve heard it all before. Trump’s followers are not the poor and downtrodden of America. Those are Democrats. These Republicans are arrogant, middle class, white racists who drive around in monster trucks screaming “fuck your feelings” and worshipping the greatest con-man America has ever produced while praising Jesus as their savior in the same breath. There is nothing liberalism did to cause that except to refuse to live in the 19th century and declare themselves to be “avowedly with” the right wing in all their hatreds and resentments.
Yes, establishment Democrats, center-left elites, wine-moms and hipsters and whoever else you loathe on the left side of the dial are awful. Old baby boomer liberals like me are awful. Nobody is arguing otherwise. But they are not the cause of what’s happened on the right. What happened on the right is the result of a confluence of the long-term resentimmental strain in American life, a corrupt and power mad GOP establishment backed by big money and an unparalleled propaganda network that created an atmosphere allowing Donald Trump to rise to the apotheosis of American politics.
There is sickness everywhere in our politics and culture. But blaming the “liberal elites” for the current political atrocity is ridiculous.
Published with permission of Hullabaloo