Just About Sums it Up

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Around the world, democracy looks more fragile than it has since the Cold War. But if it survives for now in America, future historians may well conclude that it was saved by the president’s Twitter compulsion. Had he preserved a dignified silence for a few consecutive months, he might have bled less support and inflicted more damage on U.S. institutions. Then again, a Donald Trump with impulse control would not be Donald Trump.

David Frum, America’s Slide Toward Autocracy

Fascisti

Given yesterday’s dramatic events, it is entirely understandable that the pundits in the reality-based world have worked themselves into a lather. I wish to commend two commentators to your attention.

Peter Beinart

Like so many others, including your humble scrivener, Mr. Beinart ponders the imponderable: why are so many Trumpistas sticking with him? In Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt, Beinart writes,

The answer may lie in how Trump and his supporters define corruption. In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.

Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense.  …

Why were Trump’s supporters so convinced that Clinton was the more corrupt candidate even as reporters uncovered far more damning evidence about Trump’s foundation than they did about Clinton’s? Likely because Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption. “When female politicians were described as power-seeking,” noted the Yale researchers Victoria Brescoll and Tyler Okimoto in a 2010 study, “participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust).”

David Frum

Writing today in The President Is a Crook, Frum begins by marveling at Republican tolerance for corruption (in the commonly understood sense of the term), but quickly turns to the point where the rubber meets the road:

Trump has apparently calculated that the cost of closing down Robert Mueller’s inquiry is greater than the cost of enduring it. That always looked a gamble against the odds. Now it looks a proven bad bet, and a bet that will only worsen over time.

Can Trump’s own affairs survive the scrutiny applied to Cohen’s and Manafort’s? Can his company’s? Can his family’s?

Before Trump entered politics, nobody ever bothered to look very hard into Trump’s affairs. Now they are looking. Trump imagined that holding the usual powers of the presidency would safeguard him. He has learned his mistake. …

Trump’s whole philosophy of life is of a kill-or-be-killed competition. It’s an old question: Is Trump an authoritarian, or a crook? The answer is shaping up. Trump must be an authoritarian precisely because he is a crook. The country can have the rule of law, or it can keep the Trump presidency. Facing that choice, who doubts what Trump’s answer, or the answer of his supporters, will be?

Aardvark’s Animadversions

For what it is worth, and that is probably not much, I share Frum’s surprise that Trump has not already provoked a constitutional crisis. And I share his prognostication that Trump WILL provoke a crisis, and that right soon.

And then we shall see how many among us are fascisti and how many are willing to protect the republic. I think it will be about 30 to 70.

And by the way, be sure to note Beinart’s point about gender. Lots ‘o ladies gonna decide they don’t want to live in a fascist country.

Don’t Let Your Lips Say Yes and Your Heart Say No

The Donald’s walkback has not been met with universal approbation:

The President’s attempt to reverse the damage—clearly the result of a panicked White House staff—only worsened the matter. Speaking from the White House Cabinet Room on Tuesday, Trump tried to take his listeners for fools as he explained that he had merely been misunderstood by the press. This was one of the most shameless walk-back attempts in the history of the American Presidency. Reading from prepared notes, which always lends to his delivery a hostage-like cadence, Trump tried to half-apologize to the American intelligence community for equating its analysis with that of Putin and the F.S.B. And, with that, the lights suddenly went out. The President sat in darkness. Even before the worldwide commentariat had a chance to voice its incredulity, the White House electrical system had called bullshit on Trump. Or was it a higher power?

Afterward, “some Republicans close to Trump”—that would of course be The Donald His Very Self—weighed in:

Some Republicans close to Trump and the White House said staffers should have backed him up more forcefully in the hours after the Putin summit, arguing that the prepared statement amounted to a public cave-in.

“Whoever in the White House advised him to make that statement today should not only be forcibly ejected, but be banned from politics for eternity,” said one of these Republicans, calling Trump’s prepared remarks “ridiculous.”

By contrast, David Frum keeps his focus on the big picture:

The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.

And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the European Union as a “foe,” threatening to break up NATO, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and continually refusing to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it all adds up to a political indictment, whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.

America is a very legalistic society, in which public discussion often deteriorates into lawyers arguing about whether any statutes have been violated. But confronting the country in the wake of Helsinki is this question: Can it afford to wait to ascertain why Trump has subordinated himself to Putin after the president has so abjectly demonstrated that he has subordinated himself? Robert Mueller is leading a legal process. The United States faces a national-security emergency.

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Which to Choose: Democracy or My Right-Wing Agenda?

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My advice to cartoonist Gerald Scarfe: don’t hold back, tell us what you really think.

In a review titled The Worst of the Worst, Michael Tomasky reviews Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury and David Frum’s Trumpocracy.

Please read the review. Please read the books.

At the end of his article Tomasky arrives at the point where the rubber meets the road. The right-wing agenda is very unpopular. If permitted to vote, a majority of the people will not vote for it. So you have a choice: either moderate your agenda and compromise for whatever you can get, or prevent people from voting. Tomasky writes,

Frum’s criticisms are not limited to Trump. He devotes several pages to an attack on recent Republican efforts to suppress the votes of Democratic-leaning constituencies, advancing the argument, which many conservatives are still loath to make, that Trump, far from being an aberration of modern Republicanism, is in fact its logical endpoint:

It was not out of the ether that Donald Trump confected his postelection claim that he lost the popular vote only because “millions” voted illegally. Such claims have been circulating in the Republican world for some time, based in some cases on purported statistical evidence. Beyond the evidence, however, was fear: fear that the time would soon come, and maybe already had come, when democracy would be turned against those who regarded themselves as its rightful winners and proper custodians.

Conservatives, he writes later, will never abandon conservatism. If the day comes when they conclude that their side can’t win elections democratically, “they will reject democracy.” Trumpocracy warns that the day of reckoning is upon us—that the liberal democracy that is our heritage “imposes limits and requires compromises,” and that Trumpism is its mortal enemy. As the lies mount, questions that once seemed overwrought can no longer be put to the side. We probably have three years of this—at least—to go.

The Faustian Bargain’s Effect on the Souls of Conscientious Conservatives: a Cri de Coeur

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David Frum, Conservatism Can’t Survive Donald Trump Intact

 In the spring of 2016, National Review published its “Against Trump” issue. Twenty-one prominent conservatives signed individual statements of opposition to Trump’s candidacy. Of those 21, only six continue to speak publicly against his actions. Almost as many have become passionate defenders of the Trump presidency …

As a survival strategy, this is viable enough in the short term. But let’s understand what is driving it.

The conservative intellectual world is whipsawed between distaste for President Trump and fear of its own audience. The conservative base has become ever more committed to Trump—and ever less tolerant of any deviation. Those conservative talkers most susceptible to market pressure—radio and TV hosts—have made the most-spectacular conversions and submissions: Mark Levin, Tucker Carlson. …

Researchers at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center have quantified how dramatically far-right media sources such as Breitbart News have overtaken and displaced traditional conservative outlets such as National Review. By tallying links, citations, and other indicators of influence, they found:

The center-left and the far right are the principal poles of the media landscape. The center of gravity of the overall landscape is the center-left. Partisan media sources on the left are integrated into this landscape and are of lesser importance than the major media outlets of the center-left. The center of attention and influence for conservative media is on the far right. The center-right is of minor importance and is the least represented portion of the media spectrum. …

It’s a paradox, but it’s true: Trump gains a huge measure of support within the conservative world precisely because of how guilty he looks. Trump supporters may insist, “There’s no there, there.” They sense—as we all sense—that in fact so many “there”s lurk beneath Trump’s White House that even the most maladroit digger is liable to find something terrible: If not collusion with Russia, then perhaps tax evasion. If not tax evasion, then maybe bank fraud. If not bank fraud, then sexual assault. Or all of them. …

The Trump presidency is a huge political fact. Donald Trump may not be the leader of American conservatism, but he is its most spectacular and vulnerable asset. The project of defending him against his coming political travails—or at least of assailing those who doubt and oppose him—is already changing what it means to be a conservative. The word conservative will of course continue in use. But its meaning is being rewritten each day by the actions of those who lay claim to the word. It is their commitment to Trump that etches Trumpism into them. And while Trump may indeed pass, that self-etching will not soon be effaced.

Aardvark’s Addendum

So let me get this. Most of the conservative intellectuals who aspire to respectability have gone Trumpian because they are scared shitless of the base: there’s not much of a market any more fore respectable conservative opinion.

Got it.

But what happens when more and more of the base walk away from Trump? Too much empty bullshit. Too much tax cutting for the wealthy. Too much destruction of the social safety net they depend on.

It’s already happening. It’s going to continue next year. Bigly.