Monday, August 1, 2016

Boot on Ground

Image by Creekside, vintage 2006.
Bloodshed enthusiast Max Boot, late of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, perhaps best remembered for his 2005 remarks about how the torture practiced in Abu Ghraib was really no different from what our soldiers experience in basic training (maybe that's why they call it Max Boot Camp), is out with yet another of those Where-Did-We-Go-Wrong pieces expressing his shock and horror at what's happened to the formerly Grand Old Party, "How the 'Stupid Party' Created Donald Trump", in today's Times, blaming it on the anti-intellectual posing of figures like Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, and, yes, William F. Buckley, Jr.:
William F. Buckley Jr. famously said, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University.” 
....In a way, the joke’s on the Republican Party: After decades of masquerading as the “stupid party,” that’s what it has become. But if an unapologetic ignoramus wins the presidency, the consequences will be no laughing matter.
BooMan responds by reminding us, correctly, as he himself along with many others (me too!) has been saying since September, that the Republicans deliberately created a Racist Party, and the Stupidity was simply an inevitable consequence of that:
It wasn’t dabbling in stupidity that weakened the party to the point that it could be stolen from conservatives. It was dabbling in racism that did that.
A political movement that relied on polarizing the nation by race in order to survive without compromising or evolving their ideology wound up getting a racially polarized nation and losing their party and their power.
So, now, conservatives are actually offended the racism goes too far and is sincere, and the pretense to stupidity has become the reality.
But I think there's a lot more to it than that, which emerges from Boot's nostalgic tour of the Republican intellectuals of the good old days:
During the Reagan years, the G.O.P. briefly became known as the “party of ideas,” because it harvested so effectively the intellectual labor of conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and publications like The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Commentary.
Actually, when Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, as he recalled in his 1996 Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy, that "Of a sudden, the Republican Party has become a [not 'the'] party of ideas" (in the last pre-Reagan year, in an op-ed in the Times, July 7 1980), he was talking essentially about just one idea, a new approach to marketing the endless tax cut in the form of "a movement to turn Republicans into Populists, a party of the People arrayed against a Democratic Party of the State." And while he may have thought it was a very clever idea, he didn't think it was a good one from the moral standpoint, but pernicious and dishonest: when the Reagan administration began implementing it, he went around warning fellow Democrats that it was a conscious and deliberate trick, intended to create a fiscal crisis in order to force budget cuts, but nobody believed him until it was too late.
Scholarly policy makers like George P. Shultz, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Bill Bennett held prominent posts in the Reagan administration, a tradition that continued into the George W. Bush administration — amply stocked with the likes of Paul D. Wolfowitz, John J. Dilulio Jr. and Condoleezza Rice.
Shultz was certainly smart enough to know what was going on in the Iran-Contra intrigues and protested against it "vigorously", but subsequently told Congress that he hadn't known as much about it as he in fact did (independent counsel Lawrence Walsh didn't feel he could prosecute Shultz, as he could Caspar Weinberger, but he certainly thought Shultz was lying). Jeane Kirkpatrick's major intellectual contribution, the distinction between Communist and authoritarian dictatorships, claiming that the Communist ones were more stable than the authoritarian (i.e. rightwing) ones and therefore more dangerous, seems a little comical if we remember that ten years after she made it in 1979 they all began disappearing, whereas authoritarian ones are still with us in pretty large numbers. And so on. Paul Wolfowitz's undeniable intellectual ability is the reason Andrew Bacevich has characterized him, rightly I think, as the most culpable figure in the catastrophe of the Iraq War.

Those neoconservative figures, the intellectuals who directly inspired Boot himself in his career, represent a third strand in the Republican ascendancy; following the racism of the Southern strategy and the anti-statism of the tax protest movement (you could call that the Western strategy, deeply connected to resentment of federal land regulation), comes the authoritarian appeal to submit ourselves to the heroic outlaw figure who "creates his own reality", the Exceptional one to whom ordinary rules of decency don't apply (but who is at the same time a "faith-based" enforcer of patriarchal oppression against women and us beta males), the Superman in his stuffed codpiece, who doesn't really ask anything of us except our fear, of the imaginary enemies he's protecting us from and of his own violent whims.

They love to tell us that Trump isn't a "real conservative" on some doctrinal point—like, he doesn't seem to hate gay people (like Rudy Giuliani and David Koch), or he objects to some wars (like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul), although it's clearer and clearer that he only really objects to the ones Paul Manafort and his clients object to, or he says he might support closing some billionaire's tax loophole (George W. Bush kept trying to sell us that one too, and he was lying just the way Trump is), or he doesn't think much of NATO (who can forget Rumsfeld inveighing against "Old Europe"?). That isn't what it's about!

The real issue isn't that phony anti-intellectualism anyway, it's the work of those Republican intellectuals, all in the same Straussian bad faith, constructing rationalizations and panderings in one direction and another as whatever this year's "true conservatism" turns out to be, as a mask for the basic aim of keeping their own taxes low and their businesses unregulated. Because in the end that's all they really care about. And the ones like Boot hate Trump mostly because he's going to lose so badly, either before the election or after it, depending how unlucky we are, and discredit them all for a generation.

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