Sunday, June 25, 2017

Was It The Lobotomizing Of Conservative Intellectualism That Guaranteed The Rise Of Trumpy-The-Clown?


The end of the GOP?

Friday, writing for The Atlantic, former Bush staffer David Frum noted the “mounting evidence” that Putin inflicted Trump on us by putting him into the White House and asked a poignant question for all Americans: What Happens When A Presidency Loses Its Legitimacy?. For many millions of Americans, perhaps most Americans, that’s already happened. Frum points to a n”thick cloud of discredit over the Trump presidency” that grows darker by the day and reminded his readers that, unaware he was being taped, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted his his members that Trump is on Putin’s payroll.
It’s not seriously disputed by anyone in a position of authority in the U.S. government-- apart from the president himself-- that Donald Trump holds his high office in considerable part because a foreign spy agency helped place him there. So now what?

…The U.S. government is already osmotically working around the presidency, a process enabled by the president’s visible distaste for the work of governance. The National Security Council staff is increasingly a double-headed institution, a zone of struggle between Kushner-Flynn-Bannon types on one side, and a growing staff of capable, experienced, and Russia-skeptical functionaries on the other. The Senate has voted 97-2 to restrict the president’s authority to relax Russia sanctions. It seems the president has been persuaded to take himself out of the chain of command in the escalating military operations in Afghanistan. National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster recently assured the nation that Trump could not have done much harm when he blabbed a vital secret to the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office, precisely because the president was not briefed on crucial “sources and methods” information.

In their way, these workarounds are almost as dangerous to the American system of government as the Trump presidency itself. They tend to reduce the president to the status of an absentee emperor while promoting his subordinates into shoguns who exercise power in his name. Maybe that is the least-bad practicable solution to the unprecedented threat of a presidency-under-suspicion. But what a terrible price for the failure of so many American institutions-- not least the voters!-- to protect the country in 2016 from Russia’s attack on its election and its democracy.
I don’t think he was responding to Frum yesterday, but Bruce Bartlett, another former Republican staffer-- this one for Reagan and then Bush’s father-- wrote in Politico that he only endorsed Trump-- and voted for him in the primary-- last year because he “thought he would lose to Hillary Clinton, disastrously, and that his defeat would cleanse the Republican Party of the extremism and nuttiness that drove me out of it. I had hoped that post-2016, what remained of the moderate wing of the GOP would reassert itself as it did after the Goldwater debacle in 1964, and exorcise the crazies.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, the crazies are in running the GOP asylum.
Almost everything that has happened since November 8 has been the inverse of what I’d imagined. Trump didn’t lose; he won. The Republican Party isn’t undergoing some sort of reckoning over what it believes; his branch of the Republican Party has taken control. Most troubling, perhaps, is that rather than reassert themselves, the moderate Republicans have almost all rolled over entirely.

Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives-- who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role-- have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.

…Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years). In power, Republicans decided they didn’t need any more research or analysis; they had their agenda, and just needed to get it enacted. Only a Democratic president stood in their way, and so 100 percent of Republicans’ efforts went into attempting to oust or weaken Bill Clinton and, when that failed, elect a Republican president who would do nothing but sign into law bills passed by the GOP Congress.

…Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog. Conservative magazines like National Review, which once boasted world-class intellectuals such as James Burnham and Russell Kirk among its columnists, jumped on the bandwagon, dumbing itself down to appeal to the common man, who is deemed to be the font of all wisdom. (For example, the magazine abandoned the ecumenical approach to immigration of Reagan, who granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants in 1986, to a rigid anti-immigrant policy largely indistinguishable from the one Trump ran on.)

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare-- something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years-- there was nothing. Not just no legislation-- no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip-- a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only the wings of a windmill.”

…Having so badly miscalled the 2016 election, I’m not going out on a limb here and predicting a 1974-style defeat for GOP members of Congress next year, and I am fully aware that Democrats are always capable of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. But the preconditions are falling into place for a political transformation between 2018 and 2020 that could result in the type of defeat that I think is necessary for my old party and the conservative movement to rebuild themselves from the ground up.

Ideally, I’d like to see an intellectual revival on the right such as we saw after the Goldwater defeat and the Watergate debacle. Freed from the stultifying strictures and kowtowing to know-nothing Trumpian populists-- perhaps building on new outlets and institutions that celebrate intellectual rigor and reject shallow sound bites-- a few conservative thinkers can plow a path toward sane, responsible conservative governance, just as people like Irving Kristol and Jack Kemp did during the Carter years. (Some conservative thinkers, such as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, speculate that Mitt Romney may emerge as the leader of a sane, modern, technocratic wing of an intellectually revitalized GOP.) If a leader doesn’t emerge, moderate Republicans-- many of whom did not and will not support Trump-- could be lost to the Democratic Party for good.
God forbid! Although the Rahm Emanuels, Steny Hoyers, Chuck Schumers, Joe Crowleys, Cheri Bustoses and Wasserman Schultzes-- that whole Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- would gladly welcome them into the hierarchy of the party, they Democratic Party brand is tarnished enough without taking in the conservative dregs of an increasingly fascist GOP.

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At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the question in the title, well, kind of. But that lobotomy was/is coincident with the total corruption of the democraps.
And BOTH started in the '80s with the rise of that guy's hero (who would, today, be a left wing democrap), saint ron of Alzheimer's.
Honesty in politics? Nope. Reagan had started showing signs of and had started treatment for Alzheimer's by '83 or so, yet nobody was told and his party allowed him to run again in '84. From '83 until he went home in complete oblivion in '89, we had president nancy for most matters and the cabinet, NSC and congress ran other things. They dosed and propped him up for the occasional speech, but he probably didn't know he was alive after '85ish.

Trump is a consequence of the radicalization of the right led by saint ron the clueless' handlers, gingrich, frum and a host of others who recognized that THEIR voters were all sub sentient morons who shared 3 traits: Greed, Hate and Fear. They played on those, assimilated churches and dumbed down their communications.

The Rs will never go away as long as those 62 million racist, terrified white fucktards exist and vote. If they tried to re-intellectualize, they'd lose their base. So they have to keep getting dumber, more greedy and hateful of more and more "others" to keep them animated. Civil war is more likely than the Rs changing course.

But Trump is also a consequence of the catastrophic failure of the now utterly corrupt, feckless and hapless democraps. Since saint ron could still think a little on his own, the democraps have refused to remedy any and all republican overreach, treason, crimes and fraud (so they could use these themselves if it amused them to do so. see: 2016 primaries).

The 2 greed parties have the system rigged to forbid other parties; idiot voters on the left refuse to punish the democraps for their fidelity to the money and war; and even if someone (Bernie) gets close to breaking the greed duopoly, they can employ fraud. And Bernie certainly took THAT well, refusing to take his faux-democrat "movement" off-book -- he turtled, as all democraps seem to do.

With all this and nothing even nudging anything toward progress, the drumpfsterfire became inevitable. After? Probably much, much worse.

At 12:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Bernie

I wish he hadn't give that $100,000 to the corrupt Democrats. All they have done is shit on him for most of the last two years, then have him parade around with their chief clown Perez to show how he wears it well. Is the new legal trouble tied to this in some way?

I don't understand what Bernie is up to. There are times I think he's doing something brilliant for the future, and then he puts money he should be using right now on the horse which kicked him in the mouth.

I know Bernie is trying. No other member of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate really is, besides a little effort from Liz Warren on her new book tour. But why do I think about the organ grinder's monkey now?

At 4:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conservatism and intellectual in the same sentence?

I refer you to JK Galbraith: "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness"

John Puma

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JP, that quote *was* intellectual conservatism. It's a complete sentence, uses polysyllabics and conveys an actual thought.

Today's level of intellectualism is more like: "me white hate 'them' fuck yourself want all money ever terrorist you gonna eat that?!!! and: Beer!!!

WRT Bernie:
He's on a national tour talking about drumpfdeath. Who's paying for this tour anyway? And why is he willing to do this?
At this point, even considering his turtling last fall, he's doing far more damage as he gives credence to the democraps as the only "alternative", which, of course, they are not.
Bernie certainly knows that MFA is DOA if the democraps win the house and/or the senate. Yet he is touring the nation trying to dredge up voters who will be desperate to defeat/overturn drumpfdeath... But to what end? **NOT** MFA. That much is certain.

I said it before and it is more crystal clear today. Bernie is a big part of the problem and is NOT part of any solution. I think he must know this. So... why???

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Glenn Wiech said...

The right is only this radical because Democrats are incapable of making them pay a price for their craziness. This isn't about Trump, but rather the other Republican loonies who have been allowed to run wild without opposition for decades. The chickens are coming home to roost as the feckless Democrats, who had many golden opportunities to prove their worth over the last decade, whine weakly at the overreach of the mean mean Republicans. Their inability to win on policy, or even promote policy, and do it with conviction is the epitaph to this country and it sinks into the right wing abyss.

No worries though. Democrats will unearth a golden centrist in the mold of Macron or Trudeau that'll surely save us this time. And then they'll lose in a landslide as the weak tea centrism they've sold out to crumbles pathetically. Always a day late and dollar short to address the huge issues in this country, they want us to believe that offering crumbs to the starving is the best we can expect. Welcome to the 1880s America! You've earned it!

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glenn, the reasons are many. The R party recognized 50 years ago that they needed the stupid and evil to vote for them or THEY would go poof. They assimilated churches, appealed to hatreds, demonized people trying to help other people, women, children, the poor and the elderly who were not rich.

They also recognized that they needed to suppress voting of everyone else, since up until about 2000, there weren't enough of the sub-sentient and hatred voters to win anything on their own nationally.

You are correct. Trump isn't the catalyst. He's a symptom... a consequence of the 50-year disease. Except for his certain affirmation, he's really irrelevant in the deathcare debate. This is all the teabaggers and the corrupt Rs agreeing on how many and how fast to kill.

And, yes, a big portion of the blame goes to the corrupt, feckless democrap pussies who listen to lobbyists and ignore how many/how fast will they kill people... until now.

But... I always have to return to this: We voters elected every single one of these worthless motherfuckers... most of them many, many times.

Did we punish Ds or Clinton for GLBA, CFMA, NAFTA, GATT, WTO, telecom dereg, welfare? Did we punish them even after these caused 2008? Did we punish democraps for refusing to impeach, prosecute torture, prosecute bank fraud, drone murder, refusing to provide a PO for folks that insurance either ignores or rapes?

No. voters never punished any democrap for any evil. Sex, yes. but not evil.

It all comes back on us/US. And we cannot bear the weight.

Even now, DWT and most here still think the democraps will be the answer... if only we dig deep and support just a few good people to march in and take the entire party over.

How did American ever get so fucking stupid?

At 1:59 PM, Blogger samuel glover said...

So you're going to open the 10 millionth iteration of "those mean Republicans are stupid, too" with this:

former Bush staffer David Frum noted the “mounting evidence” that Putin inflicted Trump on us by putting him into the White House and asked a poignant question for all Americans

You think it somehow makes your case to not only quote -- approvingly! -- professional liar David Frum, but to cite him when he's stoking up this season's lunatic Russia hysteria. And you think your site is supposed to be the vanguard of some new, capable Democratic coalition. Gawd.....

Looks like we can count on Dems to keep on stupidly barking at shadows and chasing their tails for the indefinite future.


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