The author Thomas Cahill died recently, and I’ve been re-reading his 1995 book How the Irish Saved Civilization. If you haven’t read it, the book is about how Irish monks were copying and preserving the books of antiquity — Virgil, Plato, etc. — while the rest of Europe was dealing with the end of the Roman Empire and the early Dark Ages.
Cahill’s descriptions of the barbarians sacking the Roman Empire are kind of darkly fascinating. What’s striking is how long the Romans managed to not admit what was happening. I suppose a lot of historians have commented on this, but I haven’t seen it expressed so vividly before. Rome had been hollowing itself out with income inequality — seriously, the whole system was rigged to benefit the wealthy — and corruption for a very long time. And so it lost the ability to defend its borders against the barbarians. But even as Visigoths were sacking Roman villas, other Romans were using the chaos to snap up titles, or whatever they used for ownership records, to the sacked villas. As if titles were going to mean anything after there was no government any more.
President Biden’s remarks last night made me think of those clueless Romans. I appreciate what the President said. But I doubt most people understand the danger we’re in right now.
People who aren’t seriously plugged in to political news probably are just confused. They’re hearing conflicting stories about everything. They’ll believe whatever it is most of their friends and neighbors believe. But so much of it is lies.
In 2020, Donald Trump’s lies about voter fraud provided a fake pretext to overturn his presidential election loss. Now that has metastasized: Many Republicans in the MAGA vein are employing “big lies” on numerous fronts, but their purpose has taken a dark new turn: It’s as if all the lying is becoming an assertion of power in its own right, a kind of end in itself.
Then Sargent reviews all the lies being spread about the attack on Paul Pelosi.
Democrats have responded to all this with outrage, shaming and fact-checking. But that’s about as effective as shooting spitballs at a balloon.
This is partly because the falsehoods have spread wildly through a right-wing media ecosystem that has been constructed to be impervious to outside challenge, as Matt Gertz details at Media Matters.
But it’s also because the whole point of all the lying is to assert the power to manufacture an alternate story in the face of easily demonstrable facts and outraged condemnation — and, importantly, to assert that power unabashedly and defiantly.
I think this is exactly right. The political Right in the U.S., the MAGAs and most of the Republican Party, are engaging in one long collective temper tantrum against objective reality. The are demanding that the world shape itself as they want it shaped, so they can hang on to white supremacy and the vision of white American exceptionalism that goes with it. If they need to believe that public school students are using litter boxes if they identify as furries, as ridiculous as that is, then that’s what they’ll believe. Whatever it takes to stop social progress.
The whole Christian nationalism thing is just one layer of that. In the two-part post I wrote for Patheos (Part I and Part II) I argued that “political operatives and interest groups over more than a century have gained support for their right-wing causes by linking them to Christianity. And now we’ve reached a point at which many people associate Christianity with right-wing politics. The Christian nationalist movement is the fruit of that association. Its members sincerely believe that only right-wing self-identified Christians — who may or may not know the Beatitudes from a toaster — are entitled to govern the United States.”
Seriously, there’s been a striking change from the Reagan-era evangelicals, who at least still had some connection to some school of Christian doctrine or another, and the current crew, most of whom probably couldn’t pass a pop quiz on Jesus’ parables or define dispensationalism to save their lives.
So, yeah, the barbarians are here already.
On that cheerful note — In other news, you’ve probably heard that Kash Patel has been granted immunity so that he can be compelled to give testimony to a DoJ grand jury on the documents case. That’s a pretty good indication, I think, that they really do want to prosecute Trump. See also Ankush Khardori, The Secret Court Battle That Threatens Trump After Election Day: Prosecutors are obtaining potentially crucial testimony about January 6.