The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

The Barbarians Are Inside the Gates

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.

Greg Sargent wrote,

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.

14 thoughts on “The Barbarians Are Inside the Gates

  1. I'll note a worrisome trend in the realm of Christian nationalism, specifically: plenty of Republicans are asserting that the Constitution was divinely inspired, and hence, infallible, like the bible. 

    Were I a member of the Christian community, I'd mention that this takes an overwhelming amount of arrogance, to decide that God inspired something that He said nothing about. At least the Bible can be read as self-referentially declaring itself divinely inspired. (As a logician/philosopher, I can note that such self-reference literally can't be trusted, because it's what a truth teller, or an arrogant liar, would say. There is no reason to assume the author was, and must be, either of them.)

    • It's widely believed that the guys who wrote the Constitution based it on Christianity and intended the United States to be a Christian nation. The historical record says just the opposite. They deliberately created a secular government that wasn't allowed to declare any sort of state religion in order to avoid the conflicts of religious factionalism. And some of them were deists who didn't believe in the divinity of Christ. 

  2. I remember going to a lecture about the Pax Romana – 200 years of Roman peace, where Rome's wealthy were somehow incentivized to work together for the glory of Rome. Eventually, the incentives went in the other direction.  In its later days, the empire became too cumbersome to manage from Rome – nearly all the action was happening along the borders, communication was slow, and so four capitals were chosen (to distribute power. Constantine finished the job by setting up a new capital in Constantinople. By this time Rome was more or less a shell, and I suspect there were other reasons (bad sanitation?) besides administrative inefficiencies for abandoning it.

    I've been thinking about the female fascists, and how Borg-like they've evolved. Palin was version 1.0 but with her tendency toward word salad, soon lost favor. Marjorie Taylor Greene, version 2 is even more of a dope, but her loud, Rambo-like aggressiveness, does a better job at keeping the libs off balance, she makes Palin seem like a shrinking delicate flower.

    Version 3, Kari Lake is the deadliest yet. I read that she was a TV newscaster, and so she's comfortable and authoritative with the media, corrects Palin's problem by being articulate, and is well-known in Arizona. Her positions have shifted all over the place, she was originally a Democrat. She says she's Trump in a skirt, and when somebody says they're a power monster, a liar in a skirt, believe them.  It's clear to me she is all about power, and nothing more. She is scary, but I expect huge legal fireworks if/when she tries to stop counting votes at the close of Nov 8 (this one of her positions).

    The Republicans have heretofore been trying to shut down voting across space, Lake is now trying to stop it across time.

    Power is all about controlling other people by getting them to believe the reality you're selling them. Steve Jobs' famous Reality Distortion Field is a benign version of what Trump and his followers are trying to pull. My dopey boss at my last job, a very low-level political player, was playing the same game – anybody in management at a corporation is a player.

    Understand that for many Republicans it's about white nationalism, and stopping social progress, but for the ones who write the checks, the money people, it's all about getting more for themselves, and keeping the rabble down. Fascism works just fine for them, it's what they want.

  3. "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…"

    This was not my experience.  Only difference I see is these days is that they're saying the quiet parts out loud.  They've always been deplorable but now they're proud of it.  

    • No, there's a difference if you know what to look for. Most of the 1980s crowd were into Premillennialism, which is a theological system that goes back a long way but which was pretty fringe until recently.  So they said a lot of stuff that made no sense if you were a mainline Protestant or Catholic. But there was a system with some history, and they seemed to understand it. And they probably could explain the basic stuff, like the meaning of the Doctrine of Trinity and how their particular denomination understood communion and baptism. If you look at the people speaking most publicly about Christian nationalism today, it's rare if they have any kind of formal connection to any part of Christian theological tradition. I doubt they know anything at all about basic theology.

  4. Adam Serwer  still has the best observation: "The cruelty is the point."

    I'd like to add a couple of my own RepubliKKKLAN observations: "We'll do whatever we want whenever we want to whomever we want!  And YOU can't stop us!  Oh, and we're rubber, you're glue, and (blah, blah, blah…)!"

    "We don't want government power to govern the country.  We only want the power to govern YOU!"

    And finally: "Our 21st Century GOP's political policies will be based exclusively on producing the most libtard tears possible!"


    BTW:  Sorry I've been MIA recently.  Over the weekend I hope to explain (briefly, I promise!) why.

    You see, I almost died Tuesday of last week, and just got out of the hospital yesterday.

    I'd already mailed out my ballot before last week, so if I HAD died, my last thought wouldn't be, "WAIT!  OH SHIT!!  I FORGOT TO MAIL MY VOTE!!!"

    In the tapestry of multi-universes, I could never forgive myself for neglecting to vote this year.

    The horror…

    The horror…


    • OMG! You must resolve not to die before Trump is convicted of multiple felonies. It won't be that long.

      Speaking for myself, then I can die happy.

    • Gulag, good to hear you made it through your illness, take care you'll get better! I've had my health challenges recently as well, getting old aint for pu$$ies!

  5. I don't want to discount the importance of the midterms, but they are the pre-game show. Yes, the GOP will take the House and it will be a circus with government shutdowns and defaults. They will make a show of Hunter Biden and Dr. Fauci. (I think we'll hold the Senate, but we'll see about that.)

    The real show will be criminal charges against Trump in Georgia, and two separate federal charges in DC. First for the docs in MAL and the second for the J6 insurrection. I think Rudy is toast in GA and he'll flip on Trump completely, which means the inside story on Ukraine will break. Add in the civil case in NY, civil cases against Trump for the violence of J6. It's gonna be one trial after another. I don't rule out federal charges from IRS against Trump if he loses the NY civil trial or criminal charges in NY for taxes. The Trumpsters will freak as this builds. 

    The timing on this is so bad for Trump and the crowd of fascists I think Trump will call to violence. He's making the charges racial now – the NY and GA prosecutors are black women. And DeSantis will make a move against Trump in the primary. My prediction is that the nature of the movement will be in full display when blood flows in the streets and Trump calls it "understandable" because he's on trial. 

    Timing is everything in comedy and politics. This is going to bring out in the open all Trump's ugliest traits. The coverage will make the OJ Simpson trial look like a little-league game. A lot of people will be convinced by the facts – some in the GOP will try to get some distance. That's when it will hit the fan – the GOP establishment will try to establish a nonTrumpian identity and the cultists will be willing to break the party in two. (I know – I'm a broken record on this.)

    Look beyond the midterms – it's the two years following the midterms that will shape the future. A lot of it's gonna be ugly and painful. But the pendulum will swing the other way, maybe like it hasn't since FDR. At the risk of sounding ancient, "Keep the faith."

  6. Cahill's "Hinges of History" series was excellent reading.  At least, he got to 82, that's a pretty good spin.   

    I've been listening to some of Hannah Arendt's lectures and interviews.  Almost everything she says in disturbingly, hauntingly familiar.  There is a kind of power in dissecting and defining a destructive force, although it's not conducive to a sunny disposition. 

    Take care of yourself CUNDgulag this corner of the internet would miss you horribly.

  7. I was told some years ago by an old loudmouth coot that Rome fell because it got too liberal.  No supporting facts or references to any historian accompanying the outrageous claim, which was way out of his area of expertise, It was a sign.  Now that sort of stupidity has now been validated and is rampant.   Yes, the barbarians have been empowered.  They no longer see any need to police themselves of wacky notions.  As Carl Sagan so wisely said, outrageous claims require outrageous levels of supporting evidence.  That is a hell of a long ways from none which seems today's standard.

    Our future could definitely be in the balance.  Biden seems to have a genetic aversion to Blarney, but that claim too would require outrageous levels of supporting evidence.  So too many republicans show a genetic propensity for blarney in my experience, but more research is needed.   I'd say the notion merits a working hypothesis level of confidence.  Make them prove otherwise or admit to the character flaw.  

  8. "People who aren’t seriously plugged in to political news probably are just confused"

    That is true, though the tee-vee network that enables the magats gets the most eyeballs. The majority of cable tee-vee news viewers are being fed a steady diet of pro-Trump lies and propaganda. I've said it for decades that FAUX news is the greatest danger we have in this country, they justify the magats at every turn.


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