Take Josh Hawley. Please.

I think we can say that Senator Josh “Mr. Entitled” Hawley doesn’t take criticism well.  Quint Forgey, The Hill:

Sen. Josh Hawley on Monday filed a counter-complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee against the seven Senate Democrats who had previously filed a complaint against him and Sen. Ted Cruz over the two Republicans’ objections to the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The idea that one Senator who disagrees with another Senator can therefore have that Senator punished, sanctioned, censured, or removed is utterly antithetical to our democracy and the very idea of open, lawful debate,” Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in a letter to the seven Democrats.

This isn’t so much about one senator disagreeing with another. It’s about one senator supporting the authoritarian takeover of the U.S. by overturning a lawful election. It’s also about one senator supporting a violent takeover of the Capitol building that might have gotten other senators killed.

It may be that Hawley assumed his challenge of the Electoral College votes was a harmless stunt that wouldn’t succeed. It may be that he didn’t realize how violent the attack on the Capitol would get. But stunts like that must not be allowed to become a standard part of our elections. Because eventually they will overturn an election. And the mob already got people killed.

Cristina Cabrera, Talking Points Memo:

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) invoked the ironclad “I know you are, but what am I?” defense on Monday with a formal demand for an ethics investigation into the Democratic senators who requested an investigation into his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

In a complaint to the Senate Committee on Ethics that was saturated with outrage and self-victimization, Hawley accused Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) of engaging in “improper conduct” by “knowingly submitting a frivolous complaint to accomplish impermissible partisan purposes.”

“The Senate cannot function if its neutral administrative processes are hijacked for bad-faith ends, but that is precisely what is occurring here,” wrote Hawley, who had voted to throw out electors from swing states that went to Joe Biden during what was supposed to be Congress’ procedural ratification of the election results.

Hawley also penned an irony-free letter to the Democrats complaining that their request was “utterly antithetical to our democracy.”

In his complaint, Hawley actually accused the Democratic senators of “Fabricating conspiracy theories to attack me for political purposes.”

Gee, imagine anybody fabricating conspiracy theories for political purposes.

Determined to make a fool of himself in public, Hawley also is complaining that free speech is being muzzled in America. Jonathan Chait:

Josh Hawley’s lifelong quest to the presidency was initially supposed to run through elite channels of conventional Republican advancement. During the last four years, the plan suddenly changed, and Hawley fashioned himself a Trumpian populist railing against his own class. Now the blueprint has changed once again. Hawley is casting himself as a dissident, a modern Mandela or Solzhenitsyn.

His manifesto has somehow been smuggled past the censors and published on the front page of the New York Post. Its headline decries “the muzzling of America,” presenting Hawley himself as the most prominent victim of a scourge threatening every American man, woman, and child.

Only in America could someone so oppressed by Big Brother get his complaints published on the front page of one of the top ten (by circulation) newspapers in the country.

Boiled down into plain English, Hawley’s “muzzling” consists of calls for resignation from some of his political opponents (and me; as a constituent I email him regularly explaining what I think of him); several of his donors have pledged to stop giving him money; and Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal, forcing him to take his manuscript to a another publisher. Solzhenitsyn should have had it so good.

Exactly which rights are being violated is a tad murky, but one of them is the infamous Right to Not Be Disagreed With that righties fervently believe is in the Constitution, somewhere. I’ve written about this before, such as here and here. See also Adam Serwer, Tribalism And Constitutional Rights, on this phenomenon.

There is also the deeply held belief in the right to a medium or venue of your choice. But, seriously, I have seen the First Amendment. That ain’t in there. There is no constitutional right to have your manuscript published by Simon & Schuster. There is no constitutional right to a Twitter account. There just isn’t. You can express your opinion freely, but if no one else wants to post or publish it, you may have to do it yourself. The First Amendment only restricts government from censoring you, not private publishing or social media companies.

But Hawley knows this good and well. He is not stupid. He has a fancy-shmancy law degree; he clerked for Chief Justice Roberts. He just thinks he is entitled to not suffer the consequences of his own bad actions.

See also:

Steve Benen, MSNBC, Already in a ditch, Josh Hawley finds a shovel, keeps digging

Is the GOP About to Implode?

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei at Axios that the GOP really could break apart.

The GOP is getting torn apart by a spreading revolt against party leaders for failing to stand up for former President Trump and punish his critics.

Why it matters: Republican leaders suffered a nightmarish two months in Washington. Outside the nation’s capital, it’s even worse.

Much of the party’s base — including conservative talk radio, TV and social media — are spoiling to fight for Trump in exile.

On top of that, Trump himself is threatening to literally split the party in two with the creation of a new MAGA Party or Patriot Party, The Washington Post reported.

Heh.

The Arizona Republican Party voted yesterday to censure three faces of the Republican establishment — Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake — and reelected state party chair Kelli Ward, a fierce Trumper.

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are being hit with swift punishment, including brewing primary challenges, censure votes and public scoldings, the N.Y. Times reports (subscription).

Some House Republicans, egged on by right-wing media, are pushing an uphill fight to oust Cheney from her third-ranking leadership post. In Wyoming, she faces a long-shot primary challenge.

Allen and VandeHei think this will be the reality for Republicans until at least 2024 or “Trump fully exits the scene.” Hmm. And the anti-Trump establishment is “too weak, timid and divided to prevail right now,” they say.

Trump wants to create a MAGA party and primary Republicans who were insufficiently loyal to him.

In recent weeks, Trump has entertained the idea of creating a third party, called the Patriot Party, and instructed his aides to prepare election challenges to lawmakers who crossed him in the final weeks in office, including Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., according to people familiar with the plans.

Multiple people in Trump’s orbit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, say Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial. Trump advisers also say they plan to recruit opposing primary candidates and commission polling next week in districts of targeted lawmakers. Trump has more than $70 million in campaign cash banked to fund his political efforts, these people say.

He may lose interest in this project once the impeachment effort runs its course. However, it’s also possible other party extremists will get Trump’s endorsement to pick up the MAGA ball and run with it into 2022.

In the New York Times, Jeremy Peters writes that because of Trump there are three kinds of Republicans. First, there are the Never Trumpers who have taken a clear stand against Trump since 2016, if not earlier. Then there are the “New RINOs.” Basically, these are establishment Republican office holders who have championed hard-right policies for years but who would not cross the line of supporting Trump’s scheme to overturn the election. These also include the ten Republican House members who voted for the new article of impeachment. And finally, there are Trump Republicans, whose loyalty to Trump overrides their loyalty to the party.

The fight over the future of the Republican Party, Peters writes, is between the New RINOs and Trump Republicans. And this could get dicey. It seems to me that at the moment, momentum is with the Trump Republicans. The New RINOs are playing defense. The question is, will that change as time goes on? Especially if Trump and family find themselves facing financial and legal ruin, which is very possible, at least some of his followers may realize he’s not a demi-god after all. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I am more interested in how this crackup among Republicans might impact the Senate. The editorial board of the Financial Times:

The question is not whether the Republican party can turn over a new leaf; that is off the cards in the near future. It is how Mr Biden’s Democrats should handle an opposition that is vowing to obstruct most of his agenda. Mr Biden faces a dilemma. In his inaugural address on Wednesday, he promised to foster a climate of unity and healing. Yet he also vowed to “reject a culture in which the facts themselves are manipulated, even manufactured”. Since much of the Republican party remains yoked to conspiracy theory — including the ultimate lie that Mr Biden stole the 2020 election — it is hard to see how he can meet them halfway.

One, he can’t. They have to meet him at least halfway, if not three-fourths of the way, or no deal.

Mr Biden should still keep his bipartisan hand outstretched. Should it be spurned, he must level with the US people. Healing is only possible when all parties agree to the basic rules of democracy.

Communication, President Biden. When Republicans are blocking your agenda, go to the people and tell them so. Say “This is what I’m trying to do for you, but Republicans are blocking it.” Get that message out any way you can.

Regarding impeachment, IMO the Republican establishment would be better off in the long run if they convicted Trump and then barred him from holding elected office ever again. And by in the long run I mean four, six, eight or more years from now. They’d probably forfeit any chance to take back Congress in the 2022 midterms, but they might have a shot by 2024. But if the Trump Republicans maintain the upper hand, and keep it, I think it’s possible the GOP could split in two.

A conservative Republican named Krista Kafer writes for the Denver Post, “The question for me is whether I should stay or whether I should leave the Republican Party. I’ve decided that if the Trump influence fades away over the next year, I will stay to help rebuild; otherwise, I will have to find another political home.”

So there we are. The Republican Party is in big trouble. This could play out many different ways.

 

Stuff to Read

Ezra Klein, now writing for The New York Times, Democrats, Here’s How to Lose in 2022. And Deserve It. “Democrats cannot allow a wipeout in 2022 like they suffered in 2010,” Ezra writes.

Katie Benner, The New York Times, Trump and Justice Dept. Lawyer Said to Have Plotted to Oust Acting Attorney General. Lots of buzz around this today.

At Vox, an interview with Eric Foner, the leading scholar of Reconstruction, What Reconstruction teaches us about white nationalism today. Highly recommended.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, Donald Trump Is Out. Are We Ready to Talk About How He Got In? Also recommended.

In an earlier post I wrote that the Bidens had fired the White House Chief Usher for unknown reasons. That’s what CNN reported. It turns out that the Trumps fired him on their way out the door, also for unknown reasons.

Colin Kalmbacher, Law & Crime, Texas Supreme Court Silently Denies Alex Jones All Forms of Relief: Sandy Hook Families and Others Can Now Sue Conspiracy Theorist and InfoWars into the Ground. Heh.

Holly Brewer and Timothy Noah, Washington Monthly, Can Trump’s Pardons Be Reversed? Some interesting historical trivia.

Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, Biden Gave Trump’s Union Busters a Taste of Their Own Medicine. Heh.

That should keep you busy. Stay warm.

Dems United, GOP Divided?

What Chris Hayes says.

“Democrats are going to have to choose really soon: do they roll over for phony calls for unity that absolve the Republican Party for its trespasses against American democracy? Or, do they wield the rare power they have won through democratic means to repair democracy and people’s lives?” Well, you know where I come down on that.

At the center of the issue is one Mitch McConnell, who is refusing to negotiate in good faith on an organizing resolution that will determine how the 50-50 Senate will function. There’s a good background story explaining this issue at The Week. I’m not going to try to explain it here. See also Now In The Minority, McConnell Fights For Tools To Block Biden’s Bills by Andrew Solender at Forbes.

Mitch is in the middle of many issues these days. The new article of impeachment will go to the Senate on Monday morning. This means the trial must start on Tuesday barring some agreement to delay it. I assume the timing of this was agreed upon between Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. McConnell wanted to delay the trial to give Trump more time to prepare. Maybe the trial is to be used as a bargaining chip, somehow.

CNN reports that Republican insiders are lobbying Republican senators to impeach and convict Trump this time.

As the House prepares to send articles of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, CNN has learned that dozens of influential Republicans around Washington — including former top Trump administration officials — have been quietly lobbying GOP members of Congress to impeach and convict Donald Trump. The effort is not coordinated but reflects a wider battle inside the GOP between those loyal to Trump and those who want to sever ties and ensure he can never run for President again.

The lobbying started in the House after the January 6 attack on the Capitol and in the days leading up to impeachment. But it’s now more focused on Sen. Mitch McConnell, the powerful minority leader who has signaled he may support convicting Trump.

“Mitch said to me he wants Trump gone,” one Republican member of Congress told CNN. “It is in his political interest to have him gone. It is in the GOP interest to have him gone. The question is, do we get there?” …

… While the bar is high, some GOP sources think there is more of an appetite to punish the former President than is publicly apparent.

The Republican establishment wants Trump gone, I tell you. Not just gone; they want him ruined and neutered and exiled to Siberia, or maybe even Nebraska. They don’t want him continuing to influence elections. They don’t want him to run again in 2024. They especially don’t want him to start a third party, as he’s threatened to do. If he rots in jail the rest of his life, they’d be okay with that. As long as he’s gone. And if he’s convicted by the Senate, that solves their problem. They can stipulate that he never again hold public office in the U.S. So, it could happen. All Senate Democrats plus seventeen Senate Republicans, and he’s convicted.

There are plenty of Republican dimwits in Congress who aren’t getting the memos, but most of them are in the House.

Trump had yet to assemble a legal team, CNN says.

Democrats, including the Biden Administration, actually are more interested in moving ahead with the Biden agenda. I understand President Biden wants to get the trial over with asap. Deocratic senators want to be able to split the Senate’s time between the trial and other concerns. Republicans will fight them on that.

So there are bumps ahead. But Paul Waldman thinks the Republican Opposition Machine may not work as well any more.

That outrage machine works not only by getting conservatives worked up so that, for instance, they’ll turn out to vote in the midterm elections, but also by creating fear in Democrats, fear that alters those Democrats’ behavior. But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a time when Democrats were less afraid of Republicans.

Yes, there are plenty of moderate Democrats who advocate centrist solutions and worry about ticking off their constituents if they go too far to the left. But as a whole, Democrats now have a deeper understanding of the dynamics of Republican opposition than they used to. That includes Biden himself and those around him.

They’ve learned from the mistakes of the Obama years, including the way his administration and congressional Democrats negotiated with themselves and assumed that substantive concessions and good-faith bargaining could get Republicans to support legislation that would be of political benefit to a Democratic president.

The Biden team is not in the grip of that delusion. All indications are that they start from the assumption that Republican opposition will be total; they’re willing to take a shot at getting some Republican support for, say, a covid-19 relief package, but they won’t waste too much time chasing it.

Let’s hope so.

See also Waldman’s Want to understand the GOP’s problem? Look at its newly elected extremists. “What sells in today’s GOP is performative lib-owning,” Waldman writes. “The most ambitious Republicans, even those who are themselves quite smart and well-educated, see their path to success as pandering to the dumbest and most deluded people in their party.” This means Republicans aren’t likely to become sane or serious anytime soon. But I wonder how a party of grandstanding narcissists, each one dedicated to calling attention to himself by “owning the libs,” can actually function as any kind of party? Especially against a mostly unified Democratic party with a clear agenda?

Here Comes the Sun, We Hope

Wasn’t the inauguration lovely? I can’t say I’ve ever paid such close attention to a presidential inauguration before. The entire day — the speeches, the poem, the music, the ladies’ pretty coats, Bernie Sanders’s home-made mittens — exuded positive vibes of hope for a new day. It struck me how wholesome the entire presentation was. Even Lady Gaga was a wholesome version of Lady Gaga.

Nobody else is talking about this song, but I liked it.

And now, on to work. There is much to do.

For example, CNN tells us that the Trump vaccination plan didn’t exist.

… in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration’s Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.
“There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one source said.

Another big job is purging MAGA loyalists from key positions. This has begun. Michael Pack, who had turned the Voice of America into a propaganda outlet, was ordered to resign. Kathy Kraninger, who ran the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect the financial industry instead of consumers, is out and is to be replaced by Liz Warren protégé Rohit Chorpa. Peter Robb, the anti-union head of the National Labor Relations Board, refused to resign and was fired.

The chief usher of the White House, who was hired by Trump, also has been fired. I don’t know exactly why.

Michael Ellis, who was sworn in as the top lawyer of the National Security Agency on Tuesday, was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday. Ellis’s hiring is under investigation.

However, as of this writing the only Biden nominee to have been confirmed by the Senate is Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence. The Senate vote was 84 to 10. The Ten included The Usual Suspects: Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, James Risch of Idaho, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Braun of Indiana.

Meanwhile, there is a massive unemployment problem.

On the plus side, I take it the White House press corps is practically weeping with relief over the first competent press briefing in four years.

This is somewhat encouraging — see Democrats rebuff McConnell’s filibuster demands by Burgess Everett at Politico.

Senate Democrats are signaling they will reject an effort by Mitch McConnell to protect the legislative filibuster as part of a deal to run a 50-50 Senate, saying they have little interest in bowing to his demands just hours into their new Senate majority.

McConnell has publicly and privately pressed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work to keep the 60-vote threshold on most legislation as part of their power-sharing agreement. Democrats have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they’re about to govern.

It’s likely Dems don’t have the votes to eliminate the filibuster entirely.

We’ll see how that goes.

Tomorrow and After

Dave Granlund

(Background music for this post.)

I do not envy Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They’ve got a ton of crises all screaming at them for attention. So many critical issues need addressing yesterday. And they’ll be slammed for every effort that falls short of miraculous. Let us all hope they succeed.

But before new business, there is old business.

Trump began his administration with a speech still called “American Carnage.” And American carnage is what he, very literally, caused.

Trump didn’t actually call the U.S. a “dystopian hellhole,” but thanks to his maladministration, it’s a lot closer to being one now than it was in January 2017. And we need to face up to what has happened over the last four years. No more sweeping unpleasant truth under rugs; no “moving on” this time. We need to face this. Many need to be held accountable.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an essay at The Atlantic called Donald Trump Is Out. Are We Ready to Talk About How He Got In? It’s a good place to start. I recommend it. But I want to quote just a little bit of it for reference.

“The FBI does not talk in terms of terrorism committed by white people,” the journalist Spencer Ackerman wrote in the days after the January 6 riot at the Capitol. “Attempting to appear politically ecumenical, a recent bureaucratic overhaul during an accelerated period of domestic terrorism created the category of ‘racially motivated violent extremism.’” But only so ecumenical. “For all its hesitation over white terror,” Ackerman continued, “the FBI until at least 2018 maintained an investigative category about a nebulous and exponentially less deadly thing it called ‘Black Identity Extremism.’”

“When the gap between ideal and real becomes too wide,” Tuchman writes, “the system breaks down.” One hopes that this moment for America has arrived, that it can at last see that the sight of cops and a Confederate flag among the mob on January 6, the mockery of George Floyd and the politesse on display among some of the Capitol Police, are not a matter of chance.

Coates is writing about something bigger and deeper than just terrorism, but I think we need to start with white supremacist terrorism before we go on to the bigger and deeper things. As I keep saying, for too long we’ve put terrorism committed by whites in a separate category called “not terrorism” or “mental illness” or “aberration,” and let it go. And the problem of white supremacist terrorism just gets worse and worse, as we keep seeing. That’s got to stop. For that matter, allowing white men to skip the trials others are put through to succeed has to stop. See also Nancy LeTourneau, It’s the White Male Privilege, Stupid.

I am pleased to see that a leader of Oath Keepers has been arrested for conspiring to commit an offense, obstructing an official government proceeding, unlawful entry and disorderly conduct. Other Oath Keeper members have been arrested also. I understand the Oath Keepers are being charged with coming to DC with plans for capturing or killing legislators. This was not a spur-of-the-moment lark for them.

Also at The Atlantic, see Graham Wood, What to Do With Trumpists. Wood agrees that Trump, and anyone who took part of the January 6 insurrection, must face prosecution. However, there are millions of Trump voters who have not taken part in any insurrection or provocation, ever. What do we do with them? They can’t all be imprisoned or otherwise eradicated. “You cannot treat tens of millions this way,” Wood writes, “and that means we need to lure back many of the 74 million, including some whose brains have been pickled by exposure to QAnon and 8chan.”

Over the next few months many people will “remember” they were never really into Trump that much after all. This process is already beginning; today Mitch McConnell himself said that the mob that stormed the Capitol had been “provoked by the president and other powerful people.” Maybe he’s moving gradually toward allowing Republican senators to convict Trump. We’ll see.

That leaves us with those stuck in hysteria — of QAnon conspiracies, that Biden stole the election, that antifa will burn down your town, etc. Wood suggests creating a culture of calmness. Everyone should crank the dial down several notches.  Sounds good, but I don’t see right-wing media following suit.

We need media reform. This includes social media and news media and all the media. How do we reform media without trampling on the First Amendment? I am not sure. There must be penalties for knowlingly publishing or broadcasting lies, or at least reckless disregard for the truth, to discourage people from doing it.

And this includes campaign advertising. I swear, if Republican candidates in these parts weren’t allowed to run ads that lied about their opponents, I’m not sure they’d know how to campaign at all. But I don’t want to give government censorship power. Possibly the answer is to make it easier to file civil lawsuits against such lies, including suits against television stations that run the ads. This would encourage stations to refuse to run ads that make claims that are uncorroborated.

See also Jennifer Rubin, Legitimate media must adjust to new political realities. This is not her only suggestion, but it’s perhaps the most important one:

The media must resist the fetish for moral equivalence that makes politics seem like merely a matter of policy preference. We know politics today is about something far more basic: Do you accept reality? Evenhandedness puts the deluded on the same level with the sensible. We should not say, for example, something along the lines of Biden believes the vaccination process is in shambles. Republicans do not. Better to be clear: According to factual criteria, the vaccination process is in shambles. Trump Party members who never recognized the severity of the disease and balked at mask-wearing despite its proven efficacy will not admit the process is in rotten shape. The short version is easier, simpler and headline-ready; it is also hugely misleading.

Hold Republicans accountable. Hold Trump and Trumpers accountable. Media reform. Anything else? There’s also what Democrats need to do, of course, and I want to get to that this week.

Also: Axios has been running a series of articles called Off the Rails that’s worth a look.

The F Word

Fascism is a much misused, and overused, word. On social media it is often used to mean “any political position with which I disagree.” It is sometimes used as a synonym for totalitarianism, even though all kinds of not-fascist governments can also be totalitarian.

Righties going back to the John Birch Society have tried to argue that fascism is socialism is communism, which is pathetically ignorant considering that fascism originated as a nationalistic backlash against socialism. And in 1930s Europe, rounding up and executing socialists was high on the fascist to-do list.

Yes, the Nazi party called itself the “national socialist” party, but that was just marketing. The Nazis were no more socialists than they were aardvarks. But you can always count on some semi-educated right-wing half-wit on social media to tell you (with relish) that Nazi stands for national SOCIALIST, you libtard. And, of course, you can no more tell them that Nazis weren’t socialists than you can teach a potato to sing. At least we all agree that totalitarianism is bad.

Has Trumpism morphed into a fascist movement? That’s been a debatable point until recently. Now, not so much.

Here is an article in The New Republic by Geoffrey Cain, dated June 3, 2019, headlined The Failure to Define Fascism Today. It provides some good background, pulled from scholarship, on what distinguishes fascism from other political movements. This bit was intriguing:

Yale emeritus historian Robert Paxton’s classic 1998 identification of the “five stages of fascism” argued that we should look to processes, not cosmetic features like flags and uniforms, to understand fascism. Fascism was marked first by conservatives seeking to seduce farmers and industrial workers into the resistance against left-wing unions. The movement then escalated into militants being deployed to city streets to enforce the fascist ideology, eventually leading to total control.

I have not read Paxton’s work, but there’s a summation of his major points here.

Roger Griffin, political science professor at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, zeroed in on a different defining feature of fascism in his 1991 book The Nature of Fascism: the fusion of “populist ultra-nationalism” with a “mythic core.” Fascists sought to return to the past, to strengthen the nation by resurrecting it. Fascist leaders everywhere convinced their early followers that their nation had descended from a glorious heritage, hijacked and destroyed by a corrupt elite. The fascists, the heroes, could strengthen themselves into what were called the “New Men,” channeling a mythical tradition of knight-like strength, protecting community and tradition, but often, paradoxically, through powerful, modern militaries.

If you’ve seen the recent footage of the January 6 riot from the New Yorker, you must recognize that box is pretty much checked.

Geoffrey Cain — writing in the summer of 2019 — said “Today, we have no true mass fascist movement: We lack paramilitary squads roaming the streets, and a communist uprising that supposedly merits destruction by a one-party fascist state.” Except that we do have paramilitary squads roaming the streets. Militias, anyone?

And we have a phantom communist uprising. How many Democratic candidates in the November election, including Joe Biden, were labeled “socialist” or “communist” by Republicans? I lost count. It may not matter that there is no looming, or even vaguely distant, threat of a real communist takeover of America. If mobs are organizing in the belief that there is such a threat, it’s the same thing, I say. So let’s check those boxes, too.

And did you know that some of the January 6 rioters were waving the flag of the now defunct South Vietnam? This is considered an expression of opposition to communism.

But now the afore-mentioned Robert Paxton himself has written a piece called I’ve Hesitated to Call Donald Trump a Fascist. Until Now.

Paxton begins the article by explaining why he hadn’t considered Trump to be a fascist leader, even though Trump exhibited many chilling similarities to Hitler and Mussolini on their way up. But then he wrote,

Trump’s incitement of the invasion of the Capitol on January 6, 2020 removes my objection to the fascist label. His open encouragement of civic violence to overturn an election crosses a red line. The label now seems not just acceptable but necessary.

This is the guy who wrote the classic book on fascism.

Writing at Vox, Dylan Matthews talked to another academic authority on fascism.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at NYU and author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Presenttold me in October that she preferred the term “authoritarian” to “fascist” in describing Trump. This past week, though, Ben-Ghiat took to Twitter to draw parallels between the Capitol siege and Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, and between Republicans now turning on Trump to Italian fascists who voted Mussolini out of power in 1943, not to reinstate democracy but to save fascism.

Something else to consider — Hitler famously consolidated power in Germany through the Nazification of the police. Law enforcement increasingly acted in the interests of Nazi authority, not upholding law or protecting people. At the same time, Nazi paramilitary groups like the SS were deputized to act as auxiliaries to the police. Here it hasn’t yet been made official, but this summer, way too often, police responding to unrest surrounding protests treated white militia as allies. See, for example, Why police encouraged a teenager with a gun to patrol Kenosha’s streets by Zack Beauchamp at Vox.

And today the Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is vetting the 25,000 National Guard troops currently deployed to Washington, DC, because it fears “an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.”

How did it come to this? And the answer is that the hard Right in America has been moving us in this direction for a very long time. And too many of us have for many years had our brains pickled in neo-fascist propaganda generated by the likes of Fox News and Rush Laimbaugh. This is not going to go away any time soon.

But if we are clear that Trumpism is a fascist movement that would, if left unchecked, end democracy in America, then we are better prepared to deal with it.

See also Paul Krugman, Appeasement Got Us Where We Are and Olivia Nuzzi, Senior Trump Official: We Were Wrong, He’s a ‘Fascist.’

Republicans at a Crossroads

In yesterday’s post I postulated that the Republican establishment would cut itself loose from Trump. But David Atkins at Washington Monthly disagrees.

By any normal political calculation, Trumpism should be a spent force.

But normal political calculations no longer apply to the Republican Party, because the Republican Party does not operate by traditional political incentives. The GOP is continuing on a pathway to radicalization that began as far back as Newt Gingrich, if not Ronald Reagan and even Richard Nixon.

Trumpism is merely a stepping stone on that journey that began with dependence on the Southern Strategy to smash the FDR coalition and win white supremacist support, and continued via an unholy alliance with conservative infotainment from AM radio hosts to Fox News to Breitbart. The GOP also depends for continued power on efficient geographic distribution in gerrymandered districts and rural states that maximize white evangelical power. All of these factors ensured that the GOP would continue marching rightward with increasingly devastating consequences.

And he could be right. It might be that it’s just too late to go back to a Republican Party that isn’t crazy, that had room for people like Nelson Rockefeller as well as Barry Goldwater. Too many of the GOP in Congress are too young to remember when the primary responsbility of a Republican legislator was not investigating Hillary Clinton.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska has an article at The Atlantic called QAnon Is Destroying the GOP From Within. And he is right, I think. Sasse has voted with Trump about 85 percent of the time, and as a candidate he received endorsements from the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Patriots, and Ted Cruz, so Sasse is firmly right of center. But he’s smart enough to know it’s time to get off the crazy train, because it’s heading for a cliff.

Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about. …

…If the GOP is to have a future outside the fever dreams of internet trolls, we have to call out falsehoods and conspiracy theories unequivocally. We have to repudiate people who peddle those lies.

We also have to show a healthier path forward. The frustrations that caused so many people to turn in desperate directions for a political voice are not going away when Trump leaves the White House for Mar-a-Lago, because deception and demagoguery are the inevitable consequences of a politics that is profoundly, systemically dysfunctional.

He called out one Representative as an example of what not to do:

The newly elected Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. She once ranted that “there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles out, and I think we have the president to do it.” During her campaign, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had a choice: disavow her campaign and potentially lose a Republican seat, or welcome her into his caucus and try to keep a lid on her ludicrous ideas. McCarthy failed the leadership test and sat on the sidelines. Now in Congress, Greene isn’t going to just back McCarthy as leader and stay quiet. She’s already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president. She’ll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party.

Of course, Republicans were preparing to impeach Hillary Clinton before the election she didn’t win, so pre-emptive impeachment isn’t new with them.

Also note that Rep. Greene appears to have no stand on issues other than “to stop gun control, open borders, the Green New Deal, and socialism.” And she also wants the Affordable Care Act to die. If she is actually for anything, other than guns, I can’t say what that might be even after checking out her website. In this, she exemplifies the problem the Republican Party faces. In a November profile of Greene in New York magazine, Zak Cheney-Rice wrote of Greene’s campaign positions, “The exact ways in which this kitchen-sink slurry of right-wing pathologies was meant to congeal into a coherent theory of governing was never very clear.”

In fact, the Republican Party has no coherent theory of governing any more. All it knows how to do is stop the Democrats from governing. But this isn’t new, either; Richard Hofstadter was writing about this phenomenon roughly sixty years ago, saying things like

The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.

And

Writing in 1954, at the peak of the McCarthyist period, I suggested that the American right wing could best be understood not as a neo-fascist movement girding itself for the conquest of power but as a persistent and effective minority whose main threat was in its power to create “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

What Hofstadter got wrong is that the American right wing really did become a neo-fascist movement that really did seize considerable power by taking over the Republican Party. But otherwise he had them pegged. They’ve created a political climate in which effective governing is near impossible, as our disasterous approach to the pandemic has shown us. The rest of the world has looked on with astonishment as Americans face hunger and eviction without help from our allegedly powerful government that can’t pass a relief package without the say-so of one Mitch McConnell, who has no interest in the rational pursuit of well-being and safety.

Going back to Sasse, I see that he hasn’t completely come over to the light — for example, at one point he wrote “Already on Twitter, a conservative position as long-standing as opposition to abortion has been recast as “domestic terrorism.” Senator, mere opposition to legal abortion is not terrorism, but bombing abortion clinics, stalking and harassing women, and murdering physicians certainly is. And so is rhetoric that incites others to do those things, and most of you Republicans are guilty of that. And the problem with the GOP is bigger, and older, than QAnon. But on the whole Sasse’s essay is worth reading, and I think he gets more right than wrong.

And if Repubicans are going to take their party back from Trumpers and QAnon, the first thing they have to do is to make it clear that Joe Biden fairly won the election. No more trying to take a middle position between truth and falsehood, or to stand silently by while Trump and his cult screams “stop the steal.” There was no steal. Most Republicans in the Senate know that, I believe, even if they won’t say it. What House Republicans know I cannot say.

And then Republicans need to stop winning elections by lies and dog whistles, not to mention gerrymandering and voter suppression. They need a coherent theory of government that applies to the real world.

In his essay on “Goldwater and Pseudo-Conservative Politics” from 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote,

The difference between conservatism as a set of doctrines whose validity is established by polemics, and conservatism as a set of rules whose validity is to be established by their usability in government, is not a difference in nuance, but of fundamental substance.

Put another way, the distinction is between holding conservative values that guide one’s opinions and conservatism as a set of dogmas that must be “believed in” and followed loyally whether they work or not. And, of course, our Republican Party has been all polemics since Reagan. The polemics are what Paul Krugman calls “zombie ideas,” or “ideas that should have been killed by evidence, but just keep lurching along.” Supply-side economics is a prime example.

This brings us back to the crossroads. Can the Republican Party become a political party again and not a pseudo-conservative cult? And if you look at it that way, I have to say, probably not. They’ve been a pseudo-conservative cult for too long. There are none left in office who remember a Republican party that was anything but a pseudo-conservative cult, I don’t believe. But there are some who will try, and I hope they succeed.

The Twilight of the Trump

Although we’re going to be living with his zombie supporters for awhile, all signs point to Trump being a washed-up has-been once the clock strikes noon on January 20.

For example, see Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin at the New York Times, Post Trump, Republicans Are Headed for a Bitter Internal Showdown. The Republican establishment wants to be rid of Trump. Trump supporters want to be rid of the Republican establishment.

As President Trump prepares to leave office with his party in disarray, Republican leaders including Senator Mitch McConnell are maneuvering to thwart his grip on the G.O.P. in future elections, while forces aligned with Mr. Trump are looking to punish Republican lawmakers and governors who have broken with him.

The bitter infighting underscores the deep divisions Mr. Trump has created in the G.O.P. and all but ensures that the next campaign will represent a pivotal test of the party’s direction, with a series of clashes looming in the months ahead.

The friction is already escalating in several key swing states in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s incitement of the mob that attacked the Capitol last week. They include Arizona, where Trump-aligned activists are seeking to censure the Republican governor they deem insufficiently loyal to the president, and Georgia, where a hard-right faction wants to defeat the current governor in a primary election.

We’ll have to see how that plays out. But the money is going to stay with the establishment, which also has more hands on the levers of government. The Trumpers have guns, flags, and pickup trucks. I think the Trump takeover of the Republican party will eventually fizzle away.

Trump himself is going to have bigger things to worry about than politics. See Jonathan Chait, Trump Is on the Verge of Losing Everything.

One crisis, though the most opaque, concerns Trump’s business. Many of his sources of income are drying up, either owing to the coronavirus pandemic or, more often, his toxic public image. The Washington Post has toted up the setbacks facing the Trump Organization, which include cancellations of partnerships with New York City government, three banks, the PGA Championship, and a real-estate firm that handled many of his leasing agreements. Meanwhile, he faces the closure of many of his hotels. And he is staring down two defamation lawsuits. Oh, and Trump has to repay, over the next four years, more than $300?million in outstanding loans he personally guaranteed. …

… If this were still 2015, Trump could fall back on his tried-and-true income generators: money laundering and tax fraud. The problem is that his business model relied on chronically lax enforcement of those financial crimes. And now he is under investigation by two different prosecutors in New York State for what appear to be black-letter violations of tax law. At minimum, these probes will make it impossible for him to stay afloat by stealing more money. At maximum, he faces the serious risk of millions of dollars in fines or a criminal prosecution that could send him to prison.

He’s talked about starting a media company, but that takes work, and it’s hardly a guaranteed money maker. And then there is the real possibility of criminal conviction.

The assumption until now has always been that Trump wouldn’t really be convicted of crimes or sentenced to prison, despite the fairly clear evidence of his criminality. American ex-presidents don’t go to jail; they go on book tours.

That supposition wasn’t wrong, exactly. It rested on the understanding of a broad norm of legal deference to powerful public officials and an understanding of the dangers of criminalizing political disagreement. But what has happened to Trump in the weeks since the election, and especially since the insurrection, is that he has been stripped of his elite impunity. The displays of renunciation by corporate donors and Republican officials, even if they lack concrete authority, have sent a clear message about Donald Trump’s place in American society.

Indeed, the Republican establishment would probably support — tacitly, of course — throwing Trump in jail. It would shut him up and get him out of their hair.

At noon on January 20, Trump will be in desperate shape. His business is floundering, his partners are fleeing, his loans are delinquent, prosecutors will be coming after him, and the legal impunity he enjoyed through his office will be gone. He will be walking naked into a cold and friendless world. What appeared to be a brilliant strategy for escaping consequences was merely a tactic for putting them off. The bill is coming due.

Heh.

The real question is what will happen to the QAnon Cult? I think cult followers are more likely to somehow fold a ruined and jailed Trump into their evolving mythology than to give it up. But David Atkins thinks the cult can’t survive without Trump.

The QAnon conspiracy theory contains many elements that have long pervaded far-right beliefs: Satanic panicanti-Semitic blood-libelIlluminati control, a new Great Awakening, and similar notions. But what makes QAnon unique–beyond its distribution via the modern message board and social media technologies–is its focus on a single man: President Donald Trump. In Q world, Trump is the Messiah, the God-Emperor, the infallible 5-D chessmaster who knows all and can do no wrong. For them, he is standing in the way of a fallen world dominated by child-sacrificing Satanist communist cannibals addicted to adrenochrome, the one person who will bring about a new world order in which all debts are wiped cleanfree energy is released. The Cabal that has been holding humanity back is exposed and executed in secret military tribunals.

But all of this depends on Trump’s remaining president. In some sects of QAnon, it is believed that enough Americans must be “red-pilled” to create society anew once the shock of “the Storm”–in which their enemies are destroyed–has arrived, fulfilling the function of Q. In others, Trump is so totally in control that they are all simply “watching a movie”–the more dramatic, the better–depicting a historic transition unseen (in their worldview) since the time of Jesus.

QAnon is thus not just a conspiracy-theory cult like many in the history of the American right, but a cult of personality and a cult of power. Cults of power are closely associated with the worst authoritarian regimes globally and require significant cognitive gymnastics. The Great Leader is indomitable and infallible but also beset by insidious enemies both within and without. As Umberto Eco famously wrote of fascist ideologies, “The enemy is both strong and weak. By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.” So it is with Trump: simultaneously, the smartest and strongest saint ever give up his billionaire lifestyle to save the world but also opposed by the greatest forces in evil in human history.

Prophetic cults tend to survive when their prophecies are proved wrong, such as if the world doesn’t end or the Messiah doesn’t arrive on schedule . The prophecies are simply adjusted. But cults of power tend to evaporate when the leader falls, Atkins writes.

But Atkins also quotes a QAnon expert who thinks that the cult can survive without Trump. They’ll still believe in the Satanic forces stuff, just not in Trump. Without a singular focus on one person, however, I question if they will remain a political force. Some other God-Emperor would have to step into his place, and I can’t think of anyone who could pull that off.

David Horsey, Seattle Times