Michael Gerson Wants a Torturer, Not Someone Who Just Talks About It

Michael GersonI don’t think of myself as someone who scoffs at people. But it’s gotten pretty hard not to do a whole lot of scoffing at the Republican establishment as it grapples with the rise of Donald Trump. And that brings me to Michael Gerson’s column in The Washington Post last week, What Are Anti-Trump Republicans To Do? Here Are Four Options. It’s pathetic in so many ways, but the blunt stupidity is this: it doesn’t mention the one thing that the anti-Trump Republicans have consistently said they will do: support Trump. And we know Republicans: they will support Trump because it is axiomatic: anyone calling themselves a Republican is better than anyone calling themselves a Democrat.

But I was most taken with his idea of getting a representative of “civil rights Republicanism” to run as a third party candidate. Who are these rare creatures that make up so much of the Republican Party? You would think that if there were even a decent number of them, there would have been a presidential candidate to represent them. You know: like Bernie Sanders came into the Democratic nominating contest because there were a lot of liberal (and even socialist) Democrats? But not one person decided to go after this brand of Republican — probably because it is largely or completely a myth.

That’s not to say that Michael Gerson doesn’t have a candidate in mind. It’s the candidate that all Republicans keep in their back pockets to fight off the charge of racism and sexism: Condoleezza Rice. She’s black! She’s a woman! She’s a Republican! The Republican Party is therefore not a grand bastion of hatred and ignorance used in support of the rich and powerful. No, Condoleezza Rice proves that isn’t the case because, after all, she was a powerful member of a Republican administration that’s sole claim to (positive) fame is that the week after 9/11, George W Bush didn’t set up concentration camps for every American Muslim.

But most of the things that Trump has said that have so outraged the likes of Michael Gerson are a good deal less horrible than things Michael Gerson’s old boss and his mythic civil rights Republican Condoleezza Rice actually did.

Note that Michael Gerson was part of that very same civil rights loving administration. That’s the same administration that brought back systemic torture to our federal government. And what did Michael Gerson have to say about that? He said that an explicit ban on torture (which was a bi-partisan thing as recently as 1988 under Ronald Reagan) might be admirable, “But holding this view is not an option for those in government…” Because, you know, you can defeat the Nazis without torture, but not any old threat that comes along today that the Republican Party can demagogue!

Of course, Michael Gerson isn’t proposing himself as this civil rights Republican who will save us all. I’m all in favor of saints without being one. The problem is that Condoleezza Rice supports torture too. So it turns out, she’s just an African American woman who happens to be your typical Republican. As I recall, that includes being incompetent at both her jobs in the Bush White House, but that is a subject for another day.

I’ve picked torture because it is the most obvious example of the Republican Party’s lack of commitment to civil rights. It’s not that I’m unaware of what Michael Gerson is really getting at: he wants a Republican who will talk like civil rights were fixed in 1965. This is a game that people in the Republican establishment like to play. They like to pretend that they are high minded. They are all Edmund Burke in their minds. (Not that Burke was ultimately anything but an apologist for the power elite.)

But most of the things that Trump has said that have so outraged the likes of Michael Gerson are a good deal less horrible than things Michael Gerson’s old boss and his mythic civil rights Republican Condoleezza Rice actually did. As Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday in a brilliant article, Trump is gauche, but not in any categorical way worse than the Republican establishment (and much of the Democratic establishment too). I thought this was particularly apt:

What establishment mavens most resent is not what Trump is, does, or says, but what he reflects: the unmistakable, undeniable signs of late-stage imperial collapse, along with the resentments and hatreds they have long deliberately and self-servingly stoked but which are now raging out of their control.

Yes, Michael Gerson thinks it would be better to support people who actually ordered torture than to support a man who talks about it in such an open and vulgar manner. The truth is that the only thing that separates these supposed civil rights Republicans and the bigots who support Trump is style. It would seem that if the Republicans are to become the party of “civil rights,” all they have to do is send about half their voters to finishing school.

Morning Music: Tim Curry’s Read My Lips

Read My Lips - Tim CurryTim Curry’s debut album, Read My Lips, was an amazing thing. Produced by Bob Ezrin with the same crew that did Lou Reed’s Berlin and Alice Cooper’s greatest work, it has an amazing musical core. But over the years, I’ve come to see Berlin as a deeply disappointing album because much of the writing is weak and then there is Lou Reed’s voice, which I will call bad when I’m feeling charitable. But here we have Tim Curry singing. How it isn’t a classic or at least a huge hit, I can’t say.

Of course, I feel this way a lot. Great work isn’t ignored by accident; it is ignored because it is great. I feel the same way about Jules and the Polar Bears’ first album, Got No Breeding — interestingly released the same year. But that was the year of the Bee Gees and Saturday Night Fever. Don’t get me wrong. I think there is some incredibly great disco music. I just don’t think that the Bee Gees made any of it.

One thing that doubtless would have killed Read My Lips even if it were produced to sell was the variety of the material. How’s this for a collection of songwriters: Paul McCartney, Roy Wood, Irving Berlin, Joni Mitchell, and Bacharach & David. I’ll get to that last one tomorrow. Today, we’ll listen to a song I assume was written especially for Curry by Ezrin and his frequent collaborator Michael Kamen, “Sloe Gin.” For those not into the art of mixology, sloe gin is a sweet liqueur that is used to make the kind of drinks consumed by people who are “so fucking lonely” that they feel like they’re gonna die. The song itself feels gin soaked. And I love the false ending. I don’t remember that police siren at the end, so maybe someone created that or the song was re-released or something?

Anniversary Post: Copernicus Makes the Index of Forbidden Books!

Nicolaus CopernicusOn this day in 1616, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. But I put it that way because I’m suffering from heartburn and feeling very old today. (It is my little sister’s 51st birthday today!) Anyway, the book in question is Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, and it was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books.

As I’ve noted before, Copernicus had the right idea, but his theory was a mess. Since he assumed that the planets go around the sun in circles, his predictions weren’t good. It would take Johannes Kepler — who was working this all out just as Copernicus was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books — before we got a proper theory of the solar system.

I was thinking, though, that maybe it’s not wrong to withhold distressful information from people. To me, it is more a matter that the idea would never occur to me. That way of thinking is so foreign to me that I’ve never given it any real thought. Obviously, that’s mostly due to the time and place of my birth. But I know a lot of people who are always jumping to the conclusion less information is better. And I just find it bizarre.

Of course, it doesn’t appear that Copernicus’ book was banned because the Church was concerned that it was going to cause riots. It appears it was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books for the same reason that most government documents are classified: because it was embarrassing. It’s not like the Church had made countless reversals previously without everyone losing faith in the Church.

And note: this all happened over 70 years after the book was published. And the book was published after Copernicus died, because he was a careful man. And the Church didn’t care that much anyway. It was just that Galileo was making a lot of noise, and there are always people, as I said, keen to stop the flow of information.