Archive for July, 2021

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

The New York Times has an article today reminding us that America’s 250th birthday is coming up in five years, and that the battles over the narratives of America’s founding are certain to be fierce. On this 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, there’s not a lot to feel good about in regard to the state of the American nation IMO. If one has not yet seen it, please take 40 minutes to watch the NYT’s exceptional, gut-punching video investigation, “Inside the Capitol riot,” in which “The Times analyzed thousands of videos from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building to understand how it happened—and why.” We’ve all seen videos of the event but this one is on another level. To watch the enraged, fanaticized, and very determined lynch mob—and yes, it was a lynch mob—of regular, ordinary middle-aged American men—white of course, and with the vast majority indeed men—storming the Capitol is quite terrifying, reminding us once again that we came thisclose to catastrophe on that Wednesday in January, but also as the mob did not issue from a small minority of American society. This was the Republican Party base, constituting a good third of the American electorate. And the January 6th mob was not an American equivalent of the French Gilets Jaunes, of hard-working middle aged persons barely getting by, and whose rage was economically driven. As we know, the Republican/Trump base is, income-wise, solidly middle class—they are not les damnés de la terre—and the wellsprings of their rage are cultural insecurity and status anxiety, and whose target is not the political/economic ruling class (as it was for the Gilets Jaunes) but a good half of American society—of those Americans who form the base of the Democratic Party.

À propos, see the article in the American Political Science Review, “Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support,” by Lilliana Mason (Johns Hopkins University), Julie Wronski (University of Mississippi), and John V. Kane (NYU), published online on June 30, 2021.

The January 6th mob is the face of American fascism—and which may well come to power in 2022/24, in view of the anti-majoritarianism of the American electoral system, anti-democratic flaws—possibly fatal—in the institutional architecture of the US government as elaborated in the constitution, voter suppression laws being enacted at the state level, and the simple fact that the Republican Party itself—its elected officials and representatives—is increasingly resembling that January 6th mob. It is not totally out of the question that Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar could rise to leadership positions in the House of Representatives in the coming years. If such were to come to pass, I’m not sure what could be done about it.

Watching the NYT’s January 6th video and observing the reaction of the Congressional Republicans to it after the fact confirms, pour moi au moins, that the United States of America is not one nation and, for most of its history, has never been. To the Civil War it was two nations, the North and the South, which I wrote on in my post on the 1619 Project two years ago. There was an attempt to forge one nation after 1865 but with the failure of Reconstruction—and the effective posthumous victory of the South—that myth could only be sustained by the exclusion of the former slaves and their descendants, along with other persons of color, from the rights of citizenship, and thus the American nation. With the civil rights movement and consequent legislation of the 1960s, there was a serious effort to make America one nation but with the rise of the right wing of the Republican Party—of the party’s Southernization—and which culminated in Trump and January 6th, it has clearly not worked out. Defining a nation in the Renanian sense—of a generally shared national narrative and the will to live together—this simply does not obtain in the United States of America today. Personally speaking—and I know I speak for so many others on this—I feel no national affinity whatever with that part of America that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. And vice-versa. Not only do I find them alien but see them as the enemy. And vice-versa. But whereas I deeply fear the consequences—for the country, the world, and even myself—if they return to power, and with a vengeance, they have nothing to fear from the likes of me and the party I vote for. Nuance.

The always interesting Rick Perlstein has a cover story in the July 5th issue of New York magazine, “The Long Authoritarian History of the Capitol Riot,” in which he discusses the right-wing MAGA world cult of outsized motor vehicles, which are not merely means of transportation but expressions of virility and vehicular domination—and are transformed into weapons to intimidate (e.g. the practice of “rolling coal”) and even kill people. Money quote:

What Democrats have been slow to understand is that this is an insurgency against democracy with parliamentary and paramilitary wings. The parliamentary wing is represented by [Kevin] McCarthy and others who have voted to overturn a free and fair election as well as lawmakers who have passed or proposed laws in nine state legislatures since the 2020 election shielding drivers from liability if they plow vehicles into protesters. These abet the work of the paramilitary wing’s latest tactical innovation: vehicular assault. Everyone knows about the 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer who killed Heather Heyer by driving his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 — the incident was a national outrage. A near-identical event this past month — a white man accelerated his Jeep into a crowd protesting a police shooting in Minneapolis, killing a mother of two — received far less attention. A University of Chicago researcher tracked 72 such attacks, in 52 separate cities, in a six-week period in 2020 alone.

The violent menace displayed at the Capitol riot, in Trump’s anti-immigrant fantasies, and in these vehicular attacks has been coded into conservative politics for a long time. In 2003, right-wingers won a demagogic campaign to recall California governor Gray Davis less than a year after his reelection. The campaign was driven by frantic claims on talk radio that Davis wanted to grant undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses. The candidate who won the election to replace him was best known for starring in films in which he clocked body counts in the dozens. He was also the first prominent civilian to bring the military-grade SUV known as the Hummer to American streets and, in 1992, had even persuaded its manufacturer to sell them on the mass market so anxious Americans could purchase vehicles that looked just like the ones the military used to patrol riot zones in Los Angeles that year. Arnold Schwarzenegger helped inaugurate the phenomenon of cars as bodily threats.

Rush Limbaugh was another conservative who loved big cars. He was downright reverential toward giant SUVs and their power to dominate the “little cracker boxes” liberals allegedly wanted all of us to drive in order to “make everybody equally at risk for injury on the road because it’s simply unfair.” He added, “There’s a bias against SUVs. They’re killers by virtue of their very existence.”

Pickup trucks, which used to have gently rounded corners and were advertised with communitarian images worthy of an Amish barn-raising, are now bulldozers with cliff faces at the front end that guarantee a child on a bicycle or a snowflake in a Prius can’t even be seen, let alone avoided; painted black with tinted windows and a “Punisher” decal on the back, it’s Trumpism with a ten-cylinder engine.

On the right-wing MAGA world cult of virility—common to all fascist movements, though which extends well beyond this in America—Jeet Heer, writing on the occasion of Donald Rumsfeld’s death, has a must-read post (July 3rd) on his Substack site, “The forgotten history of ‘Rumsfeld the Stud’: The consequences of the media, both mainstream and rightwing, praising Donald Rumsfeld as a sex god.”

An equally must-read piece is the well-known UC-Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong’s spot-on commentary in Project Syndicate (June 30th) on “MAGA Maoism.” The lede: “What could possess one of America’s two main political parties to transform itself into a cult of personality in which obsequiousness trumps merit? An examination of the Communist Party of China during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution suggests some striking parallels.”

For those wondering how a fascistic phenomenon can be compared to a communist one, this is one of those instances when the political extremes do indeed meet.

In the meantime, for those stateside, do enjoy your 4th of July.

UPDATE: On Paul Gosar, whose name I mentioned above, see the NYT article (July 5th), “Far-right extremist finds an ally in an Arizona congressman: Representative Paul Gosar’s association with the white nationalist Nick Fuentes is the most vivid example of the Republican Party’s growing acceptance of extremism.”

See likewise Thomas B. Edsall’s important guest essay (July 7th), “Trump’s cult of animosity shows no sign of letting up,” the subject of which is the “‘schadenfreude’ electorate — voters who take pleasure in making the opposition suffer — that continues to dominate the Republican Party, even in the aftermath of the Trump presidency.”

2nd UPDATE: A Washington Post op-ed to read (July 9th), by New School professor of history Federico Finchelstein: “Donald Trump has blurred the line between populism and fascism in a dangerous way.” The lede: “Populists traditionally abided by electoral results, while fascists scorned the will of the majority. Trump has changed that.”

3rd UPDATE: And this important piece in The Atlantic (July 9th), by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both of the government department at Harvard: “The biggest threat to democracy is the GOP stealing the next election: Unless and until the Republican Party recommits itself to playing by democratic rules of the game, American democracy will remain at risk.”

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