The Hubris of the Lemmings

Hubris

It ought to be clear to all by now that we have a deranged psychopath in the White House who is jawdroppingly unfit for the job and doing massive, possibly permanent damage to the United States of America. Right wingers (they have forfeited their claim to the term “conservatives”) may scoff and dismiss this assessment as partisan, or hysterical, but I suspect future historians will view it as objective reality, and those denying it now as either fools or accomplices or both.

Perhaps the most galling part of all this is the arrogance of those on the right who keep assuring us that they are clear-eyed and courageous enough to protect the country from the very leader they have foisted upon us. Acknowledging the dangers Trump poses with his hard-on for authoritarianism, contempt for the rule of law, and utter disregard for the truth, lots of Republicans have repeatedly said from the very earliest days of his rise: “If he goes too far, I’ll be the first to stand up and stop him.”

With all due respect: bull-shit.

SELF-FLATTERY: A PRIMER

Many of the Republicans who take this position aren’t all that crazy about Trump, but nonetheless condone him for various reasons. Those reasons don’t usually hold water when subjected to scrutiny, but that’s beside the point. They keep insisting that they will stand up if he crosses some imaginary line in the sand.

But if he hasn’t already done so, where could that line possibly be….and why should we believe them?

There’s no need to reiterate here the laundry list of horrors Donald Trump has perpetrated over the past seven months. (But if I were to do so, topping the list might be the day he eagerly presented top secret intel to the Russians on a silver platter. Or when he fired the FBI director in an effort to halt an inquiry that might implicate him, and then bragged to those same Russians about it. Or maybe when he defended the ”very fine people” in the neo-Nazi movement and suggested they were the victims in Charlottesville.) With each new outrage, the right’s self-flattery over their own patriotism and courage is further exposed for the charade it is. No tax cut, no Supreme Court justice, no repeal of healthcare (as if that’s an admirable aim) can justify Trump’s behavior. To say that it does beggars the argument. It is utilitarianism—or Machiavellianism—taken to its absurdist extreme: a willingness to tolerate every manner of horror for the sake of an ostensibly noble goal that in the end only renders the goal itself moot.

Even if one is an active supporter of Trumpian policies on immigration, global warming, foreign relations, trade, or other contentious issues, how can one overlook his troubling relationship with Russia except by utter ostrich-like denial, or in conjunction with that, his utterly un-American disregard for the rule of law when it comes to active obstruction of the investigation into that relationship?

Needless to say, if Hillary Clinton had done even a fraction of the things Trump has done—even a fraction!—Fox Nation would be out in the streets with torches and pitchforks howling for her guts on a stick. Hell, they were practically doing that over made-up shit like Benghazi, and the mere possibility of accidental compromise of classified information on an email server. It’s been said a lot, but please, just imagine if Hillary appointed wildly unqualified family members to top level advisory positions, refused to divest herself of businesses that were blatant conflicts of interest, shamelessly used the office of the presidency to enrich herself and her children, refused to release her tax returns, and then fired the FBI director to stop a criminal investigation of her actions. Which is only beginning to scratch the surface of the things Trump has done.

That Trump would recklessly flirt with nuclear war, for example, ought to give sober conservatives pause (ya think?), but I’ll leave that out of the discussion, given that many on the right actually like his insane saber-rattling over North Korea, as that sort of pseudo-tough guy act has a dick-hardening effect on certain Neanderthals among us. The same can be said of his policies on climate change, gun control, abortion, LGBTQ rights, crime, education, and on and on. But these are arguably partisan issues.

The simple rule of law is not.

I will even exempt Charlottesville, and Trump’s nodding and winking to neo-Nazis and Klansmen, allowing for some twisted rationalization of his shameless behavior there. But the obstruction of justice in which he has engaged is a fundamental subversion of our democracy, the kind of behavior that we all claim to abhor and that the GOP especially said it would never ever countenance. This is the very thing you said you would rise up and oppose, Republicans, should this tinhorn tyrant behave in that manner, as he gave every sign of doing throughout the campaign with his obvious predilection for despotism.

But you’re not doing that. What the hell will it take?

The only logical conclusions we can begin to draw are as follows:

a) You’re in deep, deep denial.

b) You are shameless hypocrites who either don’t recognize or won’t acknowledge Trump’s unconscionable behavior, even though you were on a hair trigger for anything even remotely resembling it from Obama or Hillary.

or lastly,

c) Like Trump, you were lying.

TWO LITTLE HITLERS

An extreme example of this phenomenon is cartoonist Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” who was one of the first to predict Trump’s victory—and very early in the campaign too, at a time when almost everyone else still thought it an impossible joke. (Ah, good times.) To his credit, Adams accurately understood and articulated the emotional appeal of Trump, although he presented it in creepily sexualized, stridently hyper-macho language that evoked the self-described “alt-right.” (I think at this point we can all agree to retire that bloodless and deceptive euphemism in favor calling them what they are: white supremacist neo-fascists.)

At first Adams offered this assessment dispassionately, or so he said, pointedly insisting it was not an endorsement but a prediction. Later he dropped the charade and endorsed Trump full stop—twice in fact, having first endorsed Clinton, on the bizarre grounds that it was a prophylactic against being assassinated by her followers, then switching to Trump, then Gary Johnson, then back to Trump again. (Adams is also a vocal adherent of icky self-help strategies that he claims helped him become a multi-millionaire.) Since the election, he has consistently blogged in support of Trump.

Confronted with the question of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, Adams wrote this in October 2016:

If Trump gets elected, and he does anything that looks even slightly Hitler-ish in office, I will join the resistance movement and help kill him….That’s an easy promise to make, and I hope my fellow citizens would use their Second Amendment rights to rise up and help me kill any Hitler-type person who rose to the top job in this country, no matter who it is….If you are a Republican gun-owner, and you value the principles of the Constitution, I’m confident you would join me in the resistance movement and help kill any leader that exhibited genuine animosity toward people because of their genitalia, sexual preference, or skin pigmentation.

Thanks, Scott! Way to stump for an authoritarian would-be macho shithead, and then graciously offer an equally authoritarian would-be macho curative…..one that, PS, turned out to be all talk and no action. (Or maybe you don’t see defending Nazis as Hitler-ish.) Don’t make us send Garry Trudeau over to bitch-slap some sense into you.

TRIBALISM TRIUMPHANT

Is tribalism in America so extreme that Republicans are willing to tolerate all this behavior—and worse—from Donald J. Trump? Obviously, it is. Daily they somehow find a way to excuse each of his latest outrages. Even if one accepts those excuses, is not the cumulative effect deeply disturbing? If it is a mere smokescreen for the sake of cynical political opportunism we have hit a new low as a nation. (Not that that is working out very well for the right, legislatively speaking. The cowardice and ill-conceived opportunism of the GOP leadership is now looking more like a suicide pact.) If, conversely, they have truly come to believe their own bullshit, that is even scarier. Which is worse?

Trump’s willingness to obstruct justice and thwart the rule of law ought to outrage “small government” libertarian-leaning conservatives more than anyone. Yet it does not, at least not sufficiently for them to grow a spine and defy him. It is sickening that people who practically make a fetish of their devotion to the Constitution (as they interpret it) are so willing to condone—and even endorse—the most undemocratic, unconstitutional behavior imaginable. As reported in the Washington Post, a recent survey found that more than half of Republicans would support postponing the 2020 elections if Trump said so, presumably on the grounds of his cries of mythical voter fraud. (In this conspiracy theory, Hillary couldn’t scrape up 10,000 votes to win Michigan, but she could corral three million illegal aliens to cast ballots for her.)

Needless to say, this impulse for authoritarianism is precisely the kind of thing so-called “reasonable” Republicans assured us they would never let happen.

Of course, “reasonable Republican” is arguably an oxymoron at the moment, but there are plenty of rational conservatives who are appalled by Donald Trump as the standard bearer of their erstwhile party. In some ways, for obvious reasons, they are even more appalled than the left, and they should be. Many of these conservatives have stood up and announced their opposition. John Kasich, George Will, David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol…these have been among the most powerful voices fighting back against Trump precisely because of their conservative perspective and credentials. God bless them. (Jennifer Rubin in particular is making my heart palpitate like it did for Stevie Nicks circa 1977, when I was 14.) If America survives this terrible age and passes into something approaching normalcy again, we may yet again be at odds. But for now we are all allied against the common enemy.

But these are the exceptions. The majority of Republicans continue to stand by Trump, despite it all. Yet these same lemmings continually declaim about their integrity and insist that they can be trusted to keep their monstrous champion within acceptable norms.

Even more disturbing than the WaPo poll about postponing the 2020 election, a recent Monmouth University poll found that 61% of those who currently approve of Trump’s performance in office said NOTHING would make them abandon him.

Let’s all take a moment and just let that sink in.

NOTHING he could do would make them turn on him. Wow.

That poll didn’t get into specifics, but presumably that would include jailing his political opponents, suspending the Constitution, or selling national security secrets to the Kremlin. Even if those respondents were thoughtlessly replying to a sloppily worded question, it is still astonishing.

If that is not blind allegiance, if that is not cult of personality-style fascism, if that is not Jonestown-grade Kool-Aid slurping, I don’t know what is.

EQUIVALENCE, TRUE AND FALSE

Some might object to the term “lemmings.” I keep hearing that the left needs to be more understanding of Trump supporters and sympathizers, that we should avoid being condescending or calling them names like ”stupid” and “racist,” that alienating those folks is part of what got Democrats in this mess in the first place and that we are all Americans and we have to reach across the aisle, etc etc. Fair enough. When Trump supporters cease being stupid and racist, I’ll stop calling them that. Until then, their willingness to swallow Donald J. Trump’s snake oil and support his unconscionable policies has earned them those titles.

But speaking of stupid, and in the interest of equal time, the left was stupid too, in not recognizing the threat Trump posed and in being cocky and over-confident. And I will concede that not all Trumpkins are stupid. Those who know what he’s peddling is snake oil and help him sell it—like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan—are not stupid but evil.

I suspect we’ve all seen the t-shirts and bumper stickers popular with Trump supporters, the ones that say: “Trump Won: Deal With It!” Rich advice from the same segment of the electorate that “dealt with it” so graciously when Barack Obama won (twice). From the moment Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee they were in a frothing fury, lynching him in effigy, calling for his impeachment (or worse) and generally doing everything they could to try to convince themselves that he was not a legitimate president. The most twisted—but lasting—manifestation of that wish was birtherism: not coincidentally, the very wellspring of Trump’s presidential campaign eight years later.

(Anticipating the inevitable objection from Fox Nation: As I’ve written before, it’s a canard that Russiagate is the progressive analog to birtherism, a grasping-at-straws fantasy that a hated president from the opposing side is illegitimate. When I see evidence that Malia met with tribal elders in Kenya to cover up her father’s true birthplace, I’ll concede the equivalence.)

And why should we just “deal with it”? Regardless of political orientation, where does it say we ought to salute and submissively accept a leader we think is bad for the country, democratically elected or not? I’m not defending the irrational foaming-at-the-mouth bile directed at Obama, or at any politician. Far from it. But I certainly don’t buy the dopey argument that we should just shut up and roll over for whatever a president says or does. That’s an attitude so obtuse that it doesn’t deserve the dignity of a rebuttal. More to the point, the right certainly didn’t feel that way (or behave accordingly) when we had a president they didn’t like. So their outrage and sanctimony now rings rather hollow.

I didn’t begrudge the right its unhappiness with Obama, even though I didn’t share it in the slightest. I did begrudge them the racism that was its underlying cause, and the willingness of the GOP leadership— less racist but more cynical—to cultivate and exploit that bigotry for partisan gain. And I did begrudge them the despicable lengths to which they went to undermine and oppose and obstruct Obama, a strategy that eventually went full Victor Frankenstein on the Republican leadership, resulting in Trump. But peaceful opposition within the system is the very heart of a democracy.

So when faced with a unique threat to democracy like Donald Trump, now is not the time for specious obeisance to bipartisanship. That kind of false equivalence—“Both candidates are equally bad!”—as propagated by the GOP, which benefited from such widespread cynicism, is part of what got us into this mess on November 8th. And we see that faux evenhandedness continuing with Trump’s even more insidious “on many sides” response to Charlottesville.

Per above, the Tea Party didn’t exactly reach across the aisle during the Obama years, did it? I’m not advocating tit-for-tat out of sheer spite or payback. But you can’t win if you don’t understand the kind of battle you’re in, and submitting to some false sense of equanimity when dealing with fanatics is a recipe for continued defeat. It doesn’t pay to negotiate with terrorists.

By their nature liberals tend to want to make nice—one of the disadvantages the left has vis a vis conservatives, who are proudly antagonistic. The one complimentary thing I will say about right wingers is that they are tenacious and never shy to stand up for their beliefs, even when their beliefs are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they are in favor of us all holding hands and singing “Kum-ba-ya” when they’re out of power, and of everyone else shutting the fuck up when they’re in.

Sorry, but I won’t bring a hacky sack to a gunfight.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE CULTURE WAR, DADDY?

A friend of mine whom I’d characterize as centrist, and an opponent of Trump, nevertheless recently complained to me that CNN was not balanced enough, by which she meant that the right wing pundits CNN has on the air to defend Trump always “sound like idiots” when paired against Trump’s critics.

But that is anything but an indictment of CNN’s objectivity. It’s evidence that Trump cannot be rationally defended.

I do agree that this is the time for a serious re-assessment of who we are as a people, on several counts: chiefly, that we elected this ogre in the first place, and that we have become so polarized that we now cleave into two camps that see him so dramatically differently. But that does not mean that the two camps are equally in the right, or that an eventual rapprochement will arise out of some sort of meeting in the middle. There is something deeply wrong with the Republican Party and the conservative movement that I grew up in. Pretending otherwise will not fix the problem but only make it worse. Yes, the left needs to figure out why and how it lost its natural constituency. But the right needs to figure out why and how it became the party of pathological lies, demagoguery, and white power.

It would be one of the few positive outcomes of Trump’s presidency if we are able at last to break the grip of hyperpartisanship into which America has descended over the past decades and begin to have functional politics again in this country. But if so, it will not be out of some truce between rational politics on the one side and the madness that gave us Trumpism on the other.

As many have noted, Trump may be a sui generis monster, but he did not come out of nowhere. He is the logical extension of the morally and intellectually bankrupt direction in which the Republican Party has been willfully descending for many years. Trump is its apotheosis. For conservatives to accept and defend him as their leader, let alone the President of the United States, eagerly or grudgingly, represents not just a “Faustian bargain” in the words of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)—earning him a typically Trumpian temper tantrum on Twitter—but an unconditional surrender of their last shred of a claim on any integrity or principles whatsoever. Writing in the Washington Post, Paul Waldman summarized it nicely:

The devolution from that Republican Party to the one we see today took a couple of decades and had many sources, but its fullest expression was reached with the lifting up of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this contemptible buffoon who may have been literally the single worst prominent American they could have chosen to be their standard-bearer. I mean that seriously. Can you think of a single person who might have run for president who is more ignorant, more impulsive, more vindictive and more generally dangerous than Donald Trump?

Notwithstanding Russian interference and the anti-democratic institution of the Electoral College, we as a people have to take responsibility for having put this abomination into the Oval Office. I have no doubt that history will look back on this period as one of terrifying mass psychosis among the American public, and on Trump as the worst US president ever. In the words of Dr. Allen Frances, a professor emeritus at the Duke University med school: “We need to be looking in the mirror to see what’s wrong with us that would allow someone who is so unsuitable for the Presidency to rise to the highest and most dangerous office in the world.”

Perhaps the difficulty of accepting that is part of what is preventing some of our countrymen from recognizing—or admitting—the awfulness that is Trump. Those who, even now, after seven months of this chaotic and deeply alarming reign stubbornly refuse to acknowledge how horrific and dangerous this President is will have to answer for their own culpability in this self-inflicted wound, and for having abetted and stood by its instigator.

Conservatives: You say you are patriots? May I respectfully suggest you open your eyes and your minds and prove it.

********

THE KING’S NECKTIE will be on hiatus next week, returning after Labor Day, unless some crazy shit happens that I can’t keep quiet about.

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