The GOP Is Nothing But a Group Psychosis Now

David Brooks has a sad. In his youth, he says, he fell in love with Edmund Burke conservatism. But what passes for “conservatism” these days is something else entirely.

What passes for “conservatism” now, however, is nearly the opposite of the Burkean conservatism I encountered then. Today, what passes for the worldview of “the right” is a set of resentful animosities, a partisan attachment to Donald Trump or Tucker Carlson, a sort of mental brutalism. The rich philosophical perspective that dazzled me then has been reduced to Fox News and voter suppression. …to be a conservative today, you have to oppose much of what the Republican Party has come to stand for.

Brooks goes into an analysis of the intellectual roots of what he considers “conservatism” to be, and it’s grand-sounding stuff. Little of this bears any resemblance to anything American conservatism has been in my lifetime, however, and I am ten years older than Brooks.

For example, Brooks wasn’t even born yet when that scion of conservative high-mindedness William F. Buckley wrote a book defending Joe McCarthy. A 1954 review of that book in the Harvard Crimson called Buckley out for bullshit, in so many words, but he never recanted. Going back to the bleeping McKinley Administration, conservatism in the U.S. has stood against civil rights and ordinary people and for the accumulation of great wealth for a favored elite. Conservatives were isolationists when the enemy was Hitler and hawks when the enemy was Ho Chi Minh.  While self-identified Liberals often fall short and make mistakes, through the years Conservativism has consistently been wrong about major issues, and self-bullshit is, apparently, the primordial nature of the  American conservative mind.

Brooks has never been the sharpest crayon in the box, of course.

I should add that he’s writing for The Atlantic these days as well as the New York Times. See also his essay The Terrifying Future of the American Right, published in The Atlantic about three weeks ago, in which he exhibits glimmers of insight into the bullshit being presented at a recent National Conservatism Conference. I doubt Brooks will ever perceive his own role in paving the road to that terrifying future, but he’s only 60. Maybe there’s time.

I liked this part:

In the NatCon worldview, the profiteers of surveillance capitalism see all and control all. Its workers, indoctrinated at elite universities, use “wokeness” to buy off the left and to create a subservient, atomized, defenseless labor pool. “Big Business is not our ally,” Marco Rubio argued. “They are eager culture warriors who use the language of wokeness to cover free-market capitalism.” The “entire phalanx of Big Business has gone hard left,” Cruz said. “We’ve seen Big Business, the Fortune 500, becoming the economic enforcers of the hard left. Name five Fortune 500 CEOs who are even remotely right of center.”

What can one say, but — WTF? What comes out in quotation after quotation is that “The Left” is utterly evil and out to destroy America.  Whatever American conservatism ever was, it is now pretty much a kind of group psychosis.

The thing is, once you’ve convinced yourself that your opponent is absolutely evil and out to destroy you, you have just given yourself a big permission slip to do whatever it takes to destroy them. And not metaphorically. We should be grateful for those conservatives like Brooks and Liz Cheney who aren’t going down that road, and we on the Left shouldn’t go down it, either. But seriously, nuts is nuts.

Philip Bump writes about the Right’s love affair with Vladimir Putin, and how Tucker Carlson is rationalizing an invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

In his telling, Putin is salivating over Ukraine because the Russian president simply “wants to keep his western border secure.” After all, Ukraine might join NATO, which Carlson describes as the United States “plan[ning] to control Ukraine no matter what.” Massing tens of thousands of troops at the border with Ukraine is simply Putin acting defensively, Carlson insists, akin to “how we would feel if Mexico and Canada became satellites of China.”

Do read all of Bump’s column; it’s jaw-dropping. You should be able to read it without a subscription firewall.

It hasn’t been that long, I don’t think, since Republicans were hammering President Barack Obama for being too soft on Putin’s aggressions toward Ukraine. Seriously, that was just seven years ago. Now many American conservatives have done a complete flipflop and are saying Putin is right to act against American aggression, or something.

It’s easy to blame Trump, but IMO Trump just brought out qualities that were already deeply embedded in American conservatism. The authoritarianism, the demagoguery, the tribalism, the lack of consistent principles, have been strong currents in the GOP for a very long time, at least since before David Brooks was born in 1961 (see: Joe McCarthy). There were still not-crazy Republicans then, and some who were really more interested in governing than in raw power by any means. But the old, relatively liberal Republicans like John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller are extinct now.

See also Adam Kinzinger: Republicans Are ‘Frigging Crazy’ by Jeffrey Goldberg.

19 thoughts on “The GOP Is Nothing But a Group Psychosis Now

  1. Brooks is beneath anyone's notice.  ("Because thou art neither hot nor cold…")  He is too much of a lightweight to even get stopped-clock credit.  He does not speak for, or to, anyone except himself.  He has spent a career channeling Lucky from Waiting for Godot, spouting pseudo-integrated quasi-language, from behind plate-glass six inches thick, mirrored on his side.  Stop citing him, except as an archetype of inanity.

  2. When he was reflecting on his post-college falling in love with Conservatism, I was waiting for Bobo to break out into Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were."  "? Misty water colored memories…"

    Yeah, maha, he don' remember conservatism the way you and I do.

    And you had to see Bobo on Schmoe' "Cuppa" show this morning.  I thought Schmoe's wife, Mike Can-I-Buy-A-Vowel, was going to have to separate those two conservative boys with a crowbar!


  3. "What comes out in quotation after quotation is that “The Left” is utterly evil and out to destroy America."  This is something that has come to bother me greatly.  I finally asked a couple of Republican friends if they thought that I was evil and out to destroy America?  They were very quiet for a very long time.  I asked if their quietness was evidence that they believe me to be evil?  They, then, started to reply vociferously, "Oh, no, we don't think that of you."  Yeah, right.  I let them off the hook; but won't the next time.  The Republican party is mean and cruel to every one who they perceive as their enemy.

    I am accused of being "woke"; but, to be honest, I don't have a clue of what "woke" means in this connotation.

    • Good for you for asking the question!  I don't have anyone I know that talks that way.  I've always wondered if the people saying those things really believe it when pressed on it. 

      The other thing I'd like to understand is when they call something "socialist" – what do they mean?  Do they even know?

  4. Since I'm first generation Ukrainian/Russian-American – I still have some family over there – and know the language and country pretty well, I thought I'd just add something that might help everyone understand why our modern conservatives love Putin and Russia so much.

    Yes, he's the manliest, manly Authoritarian man-leader in the world, according to our tRUMP-loving conservatives.

    So, there's that man-love thing there that conservatives never admit to.  But it's not limited to closeted love/lust.

    It also has a lot to do with religion.

    Putin may be evil, but he's no dope – like Dumb-n-old Chump.

    He's a keen student of international politics.  He sees that in Europe, and in America, there is a pull towards Authoritarianism.  Thugism.

    And with that Authoritarianism, there's also a pull towards Christianity.  Our conservatives and their Republican Party are largely controlled by "Christians:" Evangelical (I calls 'em Evilgenitals 😉 ) "Christians," and Dominionist Evangelical "Christians."

    America is, and hopefully remains, a largely secular country.

    So what Putin's been doing over the last 5-10 years, is branding Russia as the last bastion of White Christiananity/Christianhood.  The European versions of our Proud Boys are also deeply in love with Putin and Russia.

    The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC, in which I was baptised, and was an altar boy in) is as misogynist and LGBTQ phobic as any of our churches in America.  And Putin is the defacto head of the ROC.  He tells the church what to do.  And who, when, where, why, and how, too.

    It's that irresistible combination of White thuggish Authoritarianism and "Christianity" that has made Russia so alluring. 

    Not just for our thugs, but the other wannabe thugs the world over.


  5. "Woke" means you understand and are critical of the near-genocide of native Americans. "Woke" means you understand and are critical of slavery – you know that Americans stole Texas from Mexico because Mexico was going to ban slavery and the American "heros" of the Alamo took Mexico up on an offer of free land which the white settlers needed slaves to develop. (I wonder how Texas teaches their origins.) "Woke means you are aware and disapprove of the license to kill which immunity gives racist cops (Unless they scream on camera, "I'm killing you because you're black.") "Woke" means you accept that how two adults express their commitment and love to each other in marriage is their business, regardless of gender. It means you are sympathetic to the agony of discovering your sexual role as an adolescent. And you support giving youngsters the space to figure out who they are without authority figures in judgment.  "Woke" means you understand and disapprove of a separate legal system that protects people if they are white, male, landowners – to use the definition of the voting citizen whom the founders empowered. You're embracing a view of equality that's blind to wealth, complexion, national origin, religion (or lack of same), and sexual orientation. "Woke" means you see women as equal persons with the right to control every aspect of their lives including their sexuality and reproduction. "Woke" means you are a threat to traditional value systems which embrace a racist, sexist, class system built on fables of justice and equality which bear little resemblance to the truth. 

    • I was addressing Bonnie's excellent question on WTF 'woke' means.

      Reading it over, there's a few bumps. If I left anything out, holler. The theme is worth a rewrite because "woke", which they toss out as an insult, points at the developed awareness and opposition to injustice which any person should be proud of developing.

      • Doug,

        I am an American Indian.  I am a member of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians in Tacoma, Washington.  Does it mean I understand the particular situation?  It is easy for American Indians to understand this issue.  If "woke" is referring to people who understand things by taking more than a superficial look at an issue to try to find solutions to the situation that work.  Why do people use it in such a disparaging way?  However, your last sentence above gives me the best information about this old word with a seemingly new definition.  Take care, Doug; you're one of my heroes.

  6. Forty-some years ago, I worked for a family named Wright, and decided that their name had poisoned every one of their personalities over many years of being called "right."  Of course they were all natural born republicans.

    Isn't it time we started calling them all the Wrongs?  That's just the personal viewpoint of a natural born left-handed female in a strange world.   

  7. An image of David Brooks always arises in my mind when I hear  the term "turd polisher."   I can't recall a time before trump when he disagreed with, and took on, even the most vile policies of "conservatives."   He always applied a thin veneer of civility and literary or historical references, as required to make what should be repugnant seem reasonable.  I have a friend who is in his mid-eighties, who reads Brooks regularly.  He's no fool, and he's still progressive, but, I think he sees Brooks as someone with whom he mostly disagrees, but, who presents a civil discourse.  I can barely stand to read Brooks, but, when I do, he just seems like a prat, who glosses over or falls back on a more refined version of the standard, bogus, talking points.

    In trying to understand a bit more about how we got where we are, I tend to overlay the bits and pieces of information and opinion that have come my way through my interests.  I suffer from the usual shortcomings of the autodidact.   But, sometimes the pieces seem to fit together.

    Sadly, I think you're on to something with "mass psychosis."  I've come across a few observations from "Interpretation of Schizophrenia" by Silvano Arietti,  Gustave Le Bon's "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind" and Joost Meerloo's "The Rape of the mind."  Many on the observations are pretty chilling, because they seem to describe our current situation so well, particularly in terms of what we see in MAGAs and Qanon followers.  To paraphrase Blackadder, "for them the Enlightment was something that happened to everybody else."  

    But, I have to make it clear, I have only read selected insights from those books, not the books themselves.  So, if you've read them, I'd appreciate added insight or correction.

    The schizophrenic “succeeds in 'putting things together' by devising a pathological way of seeing reality (which allows him) to explain his abnormal experiences.  The phenomenon is called “insight” because the patient finally sees meaning and relations in his experiences”

    — Silvano Arietti  “Interpretation of Schizophrenia”

    “The masses have never thirsted after truth.  They turn aside form evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them.  Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”

    — Gustave Le Bon   “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”

    “It is simple a question of reorganizing and manipulating collective feelings in the proper way.”

    “Menticide is an old crime against the human mind and spirit, but, systematized anew.  It is an organized system of psychological intervention and judicial perversion through which a (ruling class) can imprint (their) own opportunistic thoughts upon the minds of those (they) plan to use and destroy.”

    “Totalitarianism is man’s escape from the fearful realities of life into the virtual womb of the leader’s.  The individual’s actions are directed from this womb -from the inner sanctum … man need no longer assume responsibility for his own life.  The order and logic of the prenatal world reign.  There is peace and silence, the peace of utter submission.”

    -Joost Meerloo  “The Rape of the Mind:”




    • Or to quote Paul Simon from the song "The Boxer"…

      "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

      • I was thinking about those lyrics and, 

        "Living is easy with eyes closed

        Misunderstanding all you see…"

    •  He always applied a thin veneer of civility and literary or historical references, as required to make what should be repugnant seem reasonable.

      So, the natural heir to George Will and William F Buckley then, who always cloaked their authoritarian, racist views in that same veneer of gentility and pseudo-intellectualism.

  8. Brooks goes into an analysis of the intellectual roots of what he considers “conservatism” to be, and it’s grand-sounding stuff. Little of this bears any resemblance to anything American conservatism has been in my lifetime, however, and I am ten years older than Brooks.

    I've got an easy test for any Republican, who decries the direction of the Republican Party now, and speaks as i it is some strange change that occurred recently.

    Did they get up, and loudly state that Terri Schiavo's rights had been fully protected, and *no one* wants her to die – but the courts found she clearly and convincingly made statements that she didn't want medical treatment just for life extension?

    No? They bear full responsibility for the state of the party today. When every loudmouth rightwinger was loudly and oh, so, *cheerfully* asking why Democrats and Liberals want "this poor, helpless, unprotected woman to DIE HORRIBLY!!!!" any honest broker must call out the vicious, hateful, slander. (Now, these are *not* my rules – they're part of the definition of "honest broker" (in information/commentary, in this case).)

    There is *no* line from "aiding and abetting an disinformation campaign that paints your enemies (that should be "rivals") as cruel killers, and January 6th. They're the same; Trump is just more honest with his hate. (Please note how incredibly horrifying it is, to be able to say Trump is more honest than anyone, in any circumstance!)

    If you supported lies that, if true, *should* make people consider violence (like "they're trying to murder a helpless woman" or "they've stolen the election, and everyone knows it!"), you are a member in good standing of the Trump Ground Laying Team; the people who got the people so *ready* for a Rush Limbaugh hate-a-like to become the leader and standard bearer of the Republican Party.

  9. The authoritarianism, the demagoguery, the tribalism, the lack of consistent principles, have been strong currents in the GOP for a very long time, at least since before David Brooks was born in 1961 (see: Joe McCarthy).

    Conservatives have been yeah-butting straight-up dictatorships since the mid-1970s, and that's just in my personal experience. "Yeah, but have you ever noticed how clean the streets are in Singapore?"

  10. A political party gone psycho?  That idea is a little psycho itself. Psycho is not typically a group characteristic but a mental pathology of an individual that goes beyond neurotic, an irrational fear or other less debilitating mental conditions.  A group (at least a mentally healthy group) would reject ideas and tenets, and the group members who espoused them, at least in theory.  So why do powerful figures in the Republican Party fail to reject Tucker Carlson?

    Margret Hoover has now a PBS show entitled Firing Line based a bit on the original William S. Buckly version of the show.  Her guest last night was Christ Christie who has written a book about Trump and the Party's mental health aberrations such as obsessions with bizarre conspiracy theories and falsehood masquerading as facts.  Christie, when pressed by Hoover with clips of Carlson gone full psycho, failed repeatedly to throw Carlson under the bus.  

    As the party's undisputed heavyweight, if he can't do it, who can?


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