Tuesday, October 3, 2017


From "Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment", Marvel 1990, via Bleeding Cool.
David F. Brooks opens up like a classic monster movie, where the Orange Swamp Thing that had been ravaging the countryside has made his way into the metropolis and crunches up and down its avenues as girls in attractive déshabille scream by—crushing buildings underfoot and sweeping airplanes out of the sky with his careless hand: all the best guys bring out their best guns, one at a time, but to no avail ("The Philosophical Assault on Trumpism"):

Establishment Republicans have tried five ways to defeat or control Donald Trump, and they have all failed. Jeb Bush tried to outlast Trump, and let him destroy himself. That failed. Marco Rubio and others tried to denounce Trump by attacking his character. That failed. Reince Priebus tried to co-opt Trump to make him a more normal Republican. That failed.
Paul Ryan tried to use Trump; Congress would pass Republican legislation and Trump would just sign it. That failed. Mitch McConnell tried to outmaneuver Trump and Trumpism by containing his power and reach. In the Senate race in Alabama last week and everywhere else, that has failed.
I think there are some missing elements in that picture, like J.E.B.! and Little Marco were pretty busy trying to destroy each other, while the Wisconsin lads were working fairly closely together with the Majority Leader on what counts as a single project, not three different ones. If I were making this movie, I'd start off—after the requisite shot of the massive orange head lifting out of the mud, early morning light, and blinking—in a busy open-plan office, guys in shirtsleeves and rep ties rushing by the desks, with Reince and Ryan in hot conversation on some huge urban demolition plan that will net them billions of dollars but so destructive to human life that the authorities won't sign off on it, so that afterwards, when the Thing is ravaging the city, you see the two of them look at each other with a shock of realization: If we could just guide this creature somehow, like dangling a carrot in front of a mule, we could get our job done! They'd never be able to stop us! And old Uncle Mitch, beaming at the lads, giving them the go-ahead with the slightest of nods.

But then of course Brooks isn't making that movie, is he? He isn't concerned about the toll in human life and property damage. To Brooks, the problem with the Thing is that he's making the Republicans look bad:

As a result, the Republican Party is becoming a party permanently associated with bigotry. It is becoming the party that can’t govern. And as a bonus, Trumpish recklessness could slide us into a war with North Korea that could leave millions dead.
Oh, right, making the Republican Party look bad and possibly nuclear war, that would be a double whammy.

I need not dwell on the fact that the Republican association with bigotry became permanent the day (in 1980) it adopted the old Dixiecrat program of "states' rights", or that its inability to govern, if you happened to miss the Iraq War, Katrina, and the 2008 financial crisis, should have been clear after they won the 2010 elections and slid into that paralyzed state we thought was pure obstruction while Obama was president, but now turns out to have been persistent vegetative coma in which they can't even do the things they presumably want to do.

What Brooks does have in mind is pretty strange in its own right, though: as prefigured in his title, it's a sixth category of weapons, the metaphysical!

The only way to beat Trump is to beat him philosophically. Right now the populists have a story to tell the country about what’s gone wrong. It’s a coherent story, which they tell with great conviction. The regular Republicans have no story, no conviction and no argument. They just hem and haw and get run over.
Some new more cerebral superhero needs to show up in a Doctor Strange cape and with a quiverful of bolts of narrativium, and the final duel can begin!

The Trump story is that good honest Americans are being screwed by aliens.
Come on, you've got a better story than that?

Not really. In fact he seems to have brought John Fitzgerald Kennedy to save the Republicans, and I'm not sure that's going to do the trick:

Somebody is going to have to arise to point out that this is a deeply wrong and un-American story. The whole point of America is that we are not a tribe. We are a universal nation, founded on universal principles, attracting talented people from across the globe, active across the world on behalf of all people who seek democracy and dignity.
The core American idea is not the fortress, it’s the frontier.
And Abraham Lincoln, of course, the most radical president in United States history, but thinned out with bothsiderism like a cup of tea blanched with zero-percent milk:

The original Republicans were not for or against government, they were for government that sparked mobility; they were against government that enervated ambition. These Americans heavily invested in schools at a time when other nations were investing heavily in welfare states. These Americans built railroads and roads to increase mobility. They tore down social, racial and legal barriers to give poor boys and girls an open field and a fair chance.
Etc., there's no need to struggle through the whole thing except to point out that the original Republicans were for big government, the strongest possible central government overriding the parochial interests of the state establishments, and today's Republicans have been against this Lincolnian agenda since Donald Trump was a flashy-dressing draft dodger and David F. Brooks was a cub scout. If he ever was a cub scout.

David Brooks is against this agenda himself when it comes to the social safety net (in health care, unemployment benefits, and retirement security) that is needed to allow the ambitions free flight. He thinks we can't afford it, not something that would have struck Lincoln, whose party invented the first income tax, as a really pertinent objection.

As always, it's the bad faith that's the problem. What conservatives really want, whatever party banner they may be fighting under, is security in their own power positions against the demands of the majority. To win elections, though, they're compelled to make up a story that conflicts with that. At the most basic economic level, they talk about growth but work to keep the growth rate lower than the rate of return on capital; in the airiest philosophical sphere, they rhapsodize about freedom while mobilizing police occupations where poor people live and depriving those populations of adequate education to keep the rabble unfree. They need a false story to retain power in a democracy, and it always falls apart in the end.

I don't think Trump's story really works either; his true fans, even the dumbest, know it's bullshit. What they like is the license to be nasty, intolerant, racist, cheap, and mean, the ability to stop pretending they care or that politics is about the commonwealth; and the rest of the Republicans go along because, embarrassing though it may be, they may get what they want.

If Brooks and the Republicans want to prove me wrong on that, there's a seventh weapon out there custom-made for a non-super hero to take the Orange Swamp Thing out, and it's called impeachment. You don't have to wait for the Mueller report—there's plenty of adequate stuff right here, in failure to faithfully execute the laws (in health care, environmental regulation, ensuring voter rights...) and in corruption (in the Old Post Office lease, which still makes me just insane, and the nepotism hire of his daughter and son-in-law, and in the not illegal but high-misdemeanor failure to get rid of the vast conflicts of interest...). Republicans don't need to hurl magical narrativium bolts to free themselves from Trump if that's what they want to do.

Driftglass tries to pull a little more serious out of the piece, but it ain't easy.

No comments:

Post a Comment