Sunday, May 1, 2016

The real neo-monarchist

Still dead. Image lifted from an openly fascist website (in Spanish).

Stung, no doubt, by the shrieks of derisive laughter that greeted his essay on why our political thinkers should pay more attention to the thinking of neo-reactionaries (not the racism, of course, just the good parts), Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, has now issued his "Well, liberals are the real neo-reactionaries anyway" piece. Or liberals are the real neo-monarchists at least. Or "the center-left and center-right rather than the ideological extremes" in "a kind of moderate-middle enthusiasm for crown government, as a means of escape from congressional dysfunction and endless right-left war". Or those identical-twin princes Barack Obama and George W. Bush:

Executive-branch Caesarism has been raised to new heights by the last two presidents, and important parts of the country have responded by upping the ante, and — like ancient Israelites in the Book of Samuel — basically clamoring for a king.
Naturally we are already familiar with Ross's theory of the extra-imperial presidency as represented by George W.'s proclivity for conquering large countries in the Orient, and Barack Obama's insistence on his prerogative in setting priorities when he can't deport all 11 million undocumented alien residents at once, instead of deporting them at random as Congress plainly intended, and in giving a break to bosses with more than 50 but fewer than 100 employees, allowing them to put off insuring their employees for a year (anybody remember that terrifying instance of presidential tyranny?).

Actually the Hebrews in I Samuel 8 (there are two books of Samuel, Ross, not just one, maybe you and Mr. Trump would like to discuss that) did not want a king as a response to executive-branch Caesarism. It could have been judicial-branch Caesarism, I guess, since the book that precedes First Samuel is Judges, and indeed Samuel is regarded as the last Judge; the reason the people of Israel gave for wanting a king was first that his sons Joel and Abijah, who had succeeded him as judges, took bribes and perverted justice, and besides everybody else has one:

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”
Samuel warned the elders that any king would end up charging a flat tax of 10% in kind on all their production, to give to his officers and courtiers, and draft their sons into the military and "take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers," among other things, but the elders wouldn't listen.

What the "important parts" of the US are demanding, in contrast, is a variety of different kinds of monarchical entities, depending on which parts they are. For instance

Donald Trump is clearly running to be an American caudillo, not the president of a constitutional republic, and his entire campaign is a cult of personality in the style of (the pro-Trump) Vladimir Putin.
Though I don't think it's quite normal to get the caudillo job by running in an election (maybe it's different for North American ones). And I don't think his campaign style is that much like Vladimir Vladimirovich's either. Talk about presidential! How many rallies have you seen VVP addressing? His idea of campaigning is holding a four-hour televised press conference in which he displays something like expertise (or a parody of expertise) on every imaginable subject, looking ineffably serious all the while, while the personality-cult stuff, the bare-chested photographs (I guarantee you we will never be shown a bare-chested photograph of Trump, which is something to be grateful for) and the songs (or a girl group singing "I want a man like Donald", which I'm kind of sad about). Trump is as unqualified to be Putin as he is to be US president—fact! Possibly even more, since he's almost qualified to be Reagan, who was sort of president. But Reagan was a lot better at reading his lines with expression.

(VVP may be "pro-Trump", as Ross excitedly reveals in his parenthesis, but I'll bet he isn't working too hard to get the Donald elected. Though I'm sure he'd enjoy negotiating with such an ardent exponent of the Art of the Deal, with such precepts as
"I rarely go out, because mostly, it's a waste of time." (Page 7)
 "A decision has been made to go into production on two Cadillac-body limousines using my name. The Trump Golden Series will be the most opulent stretch limousine made." (Page 362)
VVP could learn so much from this man!)

And then there are the non-Trumpian centrists:

The alleged wise men of the center keep imagining that the problem with Trumpism is just its vulgarity and race-baiting, and that a benevolent technocrat could step in and lead the country out of gridlock and polarization, into the broad, sunlit uplands of reform.... the dream lives on, most recently in the former Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei’s Wall Street Journal op-ed urging the formation of an “Innovation Party,” to be led by our Facebook-Google overlords and our best military minds.
But it's not clear that Ross has read VandeHei's article, which actually calls not so much for a benevolent technocrat as a "Trump with impulse control and better spelling", a candidate who
would write a very specific agenda in normal, conversational language, not whatever nonsensical language today’s political class was taught to speak. He or she would engage voters daily on social media, with fun and flare.
And hire Michael Bloomberg as secretary of the treasury, "Exploit the fear factor.... with very muscular language," and take Congress
outside of the D.C. bubble by holding months-long sessions in different sections of Normal America.
Well, so that may not be a very important part of the United States. What about

a portion (the richer portion, in particular) of the #neverTrump movement, which in casting about for a political savior fastened on the retired Marine Corps general James Mattis. Sure, Mattis has neither political experience nor stated positions on any issues, but if you’re going to have a caudillo, why not one with an actual uniform?
The billionaire backers of  General "Mad Dog" Mattis recognizing they would be unlikely to win any primary delegates but hoping they would confuse the voters enough to drive the election into the House of Representatives, which would certainly be amenable to putting an entirely nonpartisan figure in the White House because strategists John Noonan and Rick Wilson believe
Trump’s “fake-macho act falls apart” before a bona fide American hero like Mattis. The general’s overall bearing “immediately blows a hole into the central narrative of Trump: his toughness,” they argue in a memo obtained by The Daily Beast. “[A]nd the drama of watching it fall apart under fire would be amazing television.”
Although, alas, General Mattis turned out not to be interested in blowing holes in narratives and declined the offer.

All in all, then, the enthusiasts for kingship that Ross wants to tell us about other than the Trump voters (40 to 50% of Republican primary voters, whatever that means) are Jim VandeHei and a secret cabal of billionaires, none of whom have a viable or even an interested candidate (VandeHei suggested Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in spite of the fact that Zuckerberg is only 31 and hence unqualified). I would submit that these ten or a dozen persons are not "important parts of the country" and the argument that any of them are in any useful sense monarchists is completely unfounded. Even though their ideas are incredibly silly too.

And I don't see in the end where Trump counts as a king-figure either, or a caudillo; he'd like maybe to be a Kingfish, who takes all the power his popular mandate can endow him with but is very explicitly anti-monarchist: Huey Long's slogan was exactly, "Every man a king, but no one wears a crown." Not that Trump has the talent or compassion or even the attention span to be a Huey Long. Should he ever come to be elected, he might end up kingly in the other sense of one of those weak rulers who lets the ministers do all the work while he's busy in show business or on the golf course.

Meanwhile, of course, there is one candidate with a substantial following who has literally been anointed into the sacred monarchy, sure as Samuel anointed Saul after the Hebrews begged him for a king; that would be the candidate Ross Douthat described in March as:
The ideological zealot, the politician-as-activist, the unbending embodiment of True Conservatism. He’s the scourge of Obamacare, the bane of the G.O.P. establishment, the evangelical moralist with a flat-tax plan and a Reagan quote for every occasion. If Trump has dynamited Republican orthodoxy and tapped out nasty tweets from the rubble, Cruz has kept pace by promising to rebuild that same orthodoxy stronger than before.... in the drama of this insane campaign, he has actually earned his position, and if his doggedness wins the Republican nomination on the second ballot it will be one of the most fascinating triumphs in recent political history.
I do declare, Monsignor, the real neo-monarchist is you!

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