Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Curate's Egg


Right Reverend Host: "I'm afraid you've got a bad Egg, Mr Jones!"; The Curate: "Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!" "True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 9 November 1895, via Wikipedia.

Jordan in comments yesterday insisting that, even though Bret Stephens must have been wrong about what happened in the 2016 primary campaign, something did after all happen, and it was important:

that the 2016 Republican primaries were a fundamentally transformative moment in American Conservatism, like the Counter-Reformation, with Trump as Martin Luther -- suddenly, the conflict between scripture and practice wasn't tenable any more, and the voters rebelled (for real, unlike the fake, astroturf "rebellion" of the Tea Party period, but borrowing the same frameworks), followed by the politicians, who were dragged hopelessly along until they awakened to the possibilities that the Trump movement had opened and became true-believers (like Goebbels and other Third Reich figures).

I'm not so crazy about the Reformation analogy, with its implication that Trump had an idea (let alone 95 of them). I've used the Hitler analogy, of course, with a different emphasis, thinking about the surprise the German conservatives got when the idiot to whom they'd offered the chancellorship turned out not to be controllable. 

Meaning not somebody like Goebbels, an academic and failed author who was a committed Nazi before he was a politician, but the grand aristocrats trying to dominate the Weimar Republic at the time, Franz von Papen and Field Marshal von Hindenburg, who hoped Hitler's evident stupidity would enable them to dominate him as he provided the majority they needed to stave off the leftist threat to their power. There are certainly people like that in our current mess—hi, Senator McConnell, hi, Leonard Leo—but it's not even clear that they were wrong at this point, as Trump, far from expelling them from power and ruling himself, has obediently done what they asked him to do, and the same goes for the rest of his management, the anti-immigration forces, the tax cutters, the woman-haters, the environmental despoilers, and so forth. If they have a complaint about Trump, it's that it looks like he's losing and all their efforts could be wasted. They can control him, as far as their particular agendas go. What they can't control is his self-defeating misbehavior. They wish, if anything, that Trump were a more effective autocrat, not that he has dictatorial tendencies.

I think if I'm looking for a "tipping point" for what happened to the conservative movement it's going to be around there, where that deal was made. Bret Stephens, pinning it on Rush Limbaugh and his slavish response to the sliming of John McCain, is chasing squirrels—that was a moment of high and dreadful cringe for people like him and their conservative pieties, and I guess for all of us but what I'm interested in is the moment when aristocrats like Bret Stephens, representatives of the actual ruling class, surrendered themselves to Trump as their best hope of retaining political power through the vote, like 26 February 2016, when New Jersey governor Chris Christie formally endorsed him a couple of months after

denying Trump’s ability to command the nation’s military. “We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief. Showmanship is fun, but it’s not the type of leadership that will truly change America,” Christie said on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire. “If we’re going to turn our frustration and anger with the D.C. insiders and the politicians of yesterday and the carnival barkers of today into something that will actually change Americans’ lives, then we must elect someone who has been tested, someone with proven experience.”

Rush was an awful aesthetic embarrassment. But Christie acknowledged that a respectable candidate wasn't likely to be able to win the nomination and Republicans' only choice with a hope of winning was the carnival barker. 

"The single most important thing for the Republican Party is to nominate the person who gives us the best chance to beat Hillary Clinton. I can guarantee that the one person Hillary and Bill Clinton don't want to see on that stage come next September is Donald Trump. ... He is rewriting the playbook of American politics because he is providing strong leadership that is not dependent upon the status quo. The best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November is undoubtedly Donald Trump." (Via Ballotpedia)

And of course in the hope of being vice president and able to control his big dumb friend (unlike the other candidates, he knew Trump fairly well personally). As the first major Republican figure (alongside Paul LePage of Maine) to endorse Trump (Californian Duncan Hunter and New York's Chris Collins, both of whom started their prison sentences last month, oddly enough, endorsed on the 24th—Senator Jeff Sessions didn't sign on until the 28th), he began the party establishment's gradual embrace of Trumpery and more or less conducted it.

Christie is more than a bit of a thug himself, as you'll remember if you watched him screaming at reporters and strong-arming New Jersey Democrats throughout his tenure, and thus represents a kind of transition point between the Burke-loving exquisiteness of Mr. Bret Stephens and the crudity of our president, signaling the party's gradual thuggification spreading outward from the clowns of the House Freedom Caucus keeping us crazy during the Obama administration to such classy fellows as Senators Lindsey Graham and Charles Grassley, and it's also thuggery that marks the Trump circle and its associations (the line of descent from Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn to Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, the devolution of Rudolph Giuliani from respectable though fascist mayor to Michael Cohen–style shyster with his peculiar colleagues Lev and Igor and Ukrainian connections, the friendship with casino crooks like Adelson and Wynn and real estate crooks like Kushners, Roths, and LeFraks and of course Agalarovs and Mammadovs, and so forth), Italian mob, Russian mob, Chinese mob, police unions, Republican mob, and the Emperor with his own long history of grift and fraud.

There's your tipping point, Chris Christie inviting the conservative movement to mob up for victory, and the conservative movement accepting the invitation. While intellectuals at the Manhattan Institute and the Heritage Foundation and so forth continued their discussions and paid no attention to these silly scandals, and "social conservative" and "libertarian" voters cherished the attention being paid to their single issues.

Perhaps it's because their expectations are so low, these meek adherents of authority, like the curate invited to tea with the bishop, that they looked at Trump and said, "Oh, no, my lord, I assure you, parts of him are excellent!" But I'm pretty sure their number has gotten a lot smaller over the past year, and even Covid survivor Chris Christie isn't feeling the love the way he used to, though he won't allow that to affect his vote. 

Have a happy Election Day.

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