So Trump had the entertainer formerly known as Kanye West plus White supremacist/anti-Semite/Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes as dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago this week. Much hand-wringing and pearl-clutching ensued. I’m struggling to understand why anyone would find this remarkable, given that it’s Trump we’re talking about, but apparently some do.
By several accounts Fuentes had not been invited but was allowed in because he came with Ye. And Trump found Fuentes completely captivating. As Zack Stanton and Garrett Ross write at Politico, “The quickest way to DONALD TRUMP’s heart is flattery: Say nice things about him, and you’re in.” Trump’s advisers were aghast.
David M. Friedman, who served as his ambassador to Israel, publicly took Trump to task for consorting with the troublesome pair, tweeting that the former president was “better than this.”
No, he’s not. He’s not “better than this” at all. That’s exactly who he is, and who he has been all along.
Anyway, the more interesting read is at Talking Points Memo. Josh Marshall writes Elon Musk and the Narcissism/Radicalization Maelstrom. This post isn’t so much about Elon Musk as it is about Musk and Trump, both entitled narcissists, being pulled deeper and deeper by their own egos into a hard-Right alternative universe.
It’s clear that Donald Trump had dark political impulses and beliefs going back decades. He put his cards on the table clearly enough when he announced his presidential campaign with denunciations of Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. But the politics wasn’t as fleshed out ideologically or as clearly articulated as it would soon become. You could watch in his online interactions how his ego followed the praise and fawning. His narcissism pulled him toward the people who became his most loyal online devotees and they were routinely and unsurprisingly the most ardent white nationalists and far-right agitators. They showed up increasingly in his Twitter timeline. He started engaging with them and promoting them. The point isn’t that Trump was some kind of naif pulled into a radicalization spiral. He had all the building blocks. I doubt very much that in mid-2015 Trump had any real familiarity with the arcana of racist and radical right groups, their keywords or ideological touch-points. But they knew he was one of them, perhaps even more than he did. They pledged their undying devotion and his narcissism did the rest.
Elon Musk is on the same path. There are various theories purporting to explain Musk’s hard right turn: a childhood in apartheid South Africa, his connection with Peter Thiel, disappointments in his personal life. Whatever the truth of the matter, whatever right-leaning tendencies he may have had before a couple years ago appear to have been latent or unformed. Now the transformation is almost complete. He’s done with general “free speech” grievance and springing for alternative viewpoints. He’s routinely pushing all the far right storylines from woke groomers to great replacement.
I’ve paid little attention to Elon Musk until recently. There is copious testimony from many former employees that he is basically an entitled child with little understanding of how his cars and/or space ships work. Both he and Trump were men born into money who somehow gained reputations for being genius business people when in fact they are both a bit dim. More ego than brains. Josh Marshall continues,
Most of us know what it’s like to be caught up in the moment. In a moment of tense confrontation or ego injury it is natural, if unlovely, to pull tight to those who are there to defend you. Some of this is simply human nature. But with the likes of Musk and Trump it operates on a qualitatively different and more explosive level, the consequence of an innate narcissism, an ingrained sense of grievance and entitlement and the unique dynamics of social media. Their power and wealth also make their meltdowns vastly more consequential than yours or mine.
Right now the Republican party is being pulled further and further into Crazy Land because of Trump. More of them now are willing to come out and say that they need to cut ties with Trump. However, they’re still afraid of him. They also don’t have much else to offer. See Jennifer Rubin on this point. For example,
In yet another entry in the poor argument sweepstakes, former vice president Mike Pence went on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday to opine, “Candidates that were focused on the issues that people are facing today and solutions for tomorrow, focused on the future did quite well. But candidates that were focused on the past, candidates that were focused on re-litigating the 2020 election did not fare as well.”
Hmmm. Which prominent Republican laid out a rational anti-inflation policy or a jobs policy or anything of substance that might have a prayer of passage? It seems the party spent more time running away from the extreme agenda outlined by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, than explaining what it would do if elected.
The Republicans for too long have leaned on fear mongering and dirty politics to win elections, going back to the 1950s. They started out with McCarthyism and Red baiting, and then they learned to use racism and sexism and homophobia to keep the base marching to the voting booth. For a long time there were still “serious” Republicans who could write legislation and who had some understanding of policy issues, but now that group has mostly been replaced by Internet trolls. Even Jim Geraghty, a National Review guy who also writes for the Washington Post, has realized they’ve hit a wall.
Yes, the GOP underperformed in a lot of places this year, but the limits of “angertainment” were perhaps most vividly illustrated here, a rough lesson in the diminishing returns from an approach to governing that mistakes “owning the libs” for getting things done for constituents.
The razor-thin near-rejection of Boebert — from a district that Donald Trump won by eight percentage points in 2020, covering much of the western half of the state — demonstrates that Trump-esque style of turning the performative outrage up to 11 hit a hard ceiling among the electorate, repelling not just Democrats and independents but apparently a thin but decisive slice of Republicans. It likely isn’t a coincidence that the last good year for Colorado Republicans was the one before Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign.
Geraghty has realized that the cheapest and easiest way for a Republican politician to gain attention is to be controversial and crazy. The problem is that not enough of the voting public watches Fox News.
But now the GOP finds itself in something like a perfect storm. Too much of “the base” is seething with bigotry and grievance and really is just about owning the Libs. They have no discernible interest in policy other than knee-jerk opposition to whatever the Democrats are trying to do. They dismiss Republicans who aren’t as radical as they are as RINOs. And they alienate centrist and conventionally conservative voters.
It’s like riding a tiger. How do you get off without being eaten?
See also At Protests, Guns Are Doing the Talking. Gun-carrying at public demonstrations is becoming more and more common, but only among right-wingers.
A partisan divide — with Democrats largely eschewing firearms and Republicans embracing them — has warped civic discourse. Deploying the Second Amendment in service of the First has become a way to buttress a policy argument, a sort of silent, if intimidating, bullhorn.
“It’s disappointing we’ve gotten to that state in our country,” said Kevin Thompson, executive director of the Museum of Science & History in Memphis, Tenn., where armed protesters led to the cancellation of an L.G.B.T.Q. event in September. “What I saw was a group of folks who did not want to engage in any sort of dialogue and just wanted to impose their belief.”
A New York Times analysis of more than 700 armed demonstrations found that, at about 77 percent of them, people openly carrying guns represented right-wing views, such as opposition to L.G.B.T.Q. rights and abortion access, hostility to racial justice rallies and support for former President Donald J. Trump’s lie of winning the 2020 election.
They believe themselves to be right, but they won’t, or can’t, engage in dialog because they honestly have no arguments. And I don’t know where the nation will go from here.