Sunday, April 21, 2019

Scapegoating the Collective

Update: Welcome Cowpokes from Mike's--Thanks Batocchio!

Via The Root.

Well hello, it's Chris Buskirk of the ultranationalist blog "American Greatness" (who's increasingly getting normalized on NPR's Morning Edition in the slot of representative conservative as they cast around more and more for Trump supporter journalists who sound as if they're educated) showing up on Good Friday on the New York Times op-ed page (last time was Guy Fawkes Day) with a piece denouncing the way
members of America’s ruling class, especially those in the media, the academy and government, have operated on one central, unquestioned assumption: orange man bad. This stifling orthodoxy led to a blind, counterfactual faith in the theory that Mr. Trump had somehow colluded with “the Russians” (never well defined) to win the election.
Actually it was the word "collusion" that was never well defined (which is why William Barr quoted Trump's use of it, "There was no collusion," at the press appearance Thursday morning, because it's not meaningful enough to count as an outright lie and he knew Trump would enjoy seeing it on his TV). "The Russians" is pretty simply defined as the government of federation president Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the military intelligence service GRU, the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, and a handful of supportive billionaire boyars dependent on Putin, with names like Prigozhin, Agalarov, and Deripaska, and the "faith" was that the Russian perceptions and the Trump campaign expectations, as the Mueller team would eventually summarize them—

the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts (vol.1 pp. 1-2)
—were probably related in some way, even though the investigators said they hadn't been able to establish (to use Mueller's precise word) exactly how. Haven't seen a good reason to change my mind about that yet, either.

I expect we'll be talking a lot about that in the near future, but for now I just want to follow up on Buskirk bringing the philosophical anthropologist René Girard, of all people, into his argument:
why is it not enough to simply acknowledge that you dislike Mr. Trump and disagree with his policies? What psychological purpose does adding the fiction of a conspiracy serve?
The French philosopher and literary critic René Girard held that such scapegoating and ritual sacrifice is an essential part of group identity and solidarity. That seems to apply here. Mr. Trump ran against American elites and their insular culture. Their response was to load onto him all of the sins they see in American society and attempt to sacrifice him to appease their gods.
This—appearing in the paper, as I was saying, on Good Friday—looks an awful lot like an equation between the martyred figures of Trump and Jesus, on the one side, and the occult conspiracies of "the elites" and "the Jews" on the other, as they used to be understood in the wicked old theology of Christian anti-Semitism. Especially since the scapegoating of Jesus is Girard's central example (representing the historical origin-point of the understanding that a scapegoat can be innocent), and Girard's angry refusal to recognize the possibility of anti-Semitism in the Gospels is a serious weakness in his argument, and even possibly dangerous, at least according to some scholars:

Buskirk goes on to scapegoat the (as it happens Jewish-born) Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff in fairly violent terms:
The problem is that the Mueller investigation, as Mr. Barr explained [i.e., not as Mr. Mueller wrote], “did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those schemes.”
Mr. Schiff must know this. He must have known it for a long time. But he has persisted in slandering innocent people for personal political gain. His selfishness has led to a level of civil discord and political acrimony not seen since the late 1960s. That is what I call immoral, unethical, unpatriotic and yes, corrupt.
followed by 12 more names of the "elite" from Maxine Waters to Jeff Zucker grouped as
those who knew it was false all along, but promoted it for money, power, prestige or dopamine hits from Twitter high-fives [and] the journalists who had a responsibility to dig into this story rather than just repeating what they hoped was true and what the story’s promoters were telling them.... 
Defining a collectivity of the guilty, the unpatriotic, power-mad, and money-grubbing proponents of a big lie, high priests and the mobs that follow him in this sacred season, who have hounded his innocent (well, except in the matters of adultery, self-dealing, money laundering, tax evasion, and fraud, and a few other matters) idol Big Donald almost but not quite to the ultimate sacrifice. I think Buskirk knows exactly what he's doing. I don't know what that essay was doing in The Times (he's inoculated somewhat by his NPR presence, and that high-class reference to a French philosopher) but it's regrettable.

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