In American experience, ethnic and religious conflicts, with their threat of the submergence of whole systems of values, have plainly been the major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but elsewhere class conflicts have also mobilized such energies. The paranoid tendency is aroused by a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular political interest — perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of their demands — cannot make themselves felt in the political process. Feeling that they have no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception of the world of power as omnipotent, sinister, and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power — and this through distorting lenses — and have little chance to observe its actual machinery. L B Namier once said that “the crowning attainment of historical study” is to achieve “an intuitive sense of how things do not happen.” It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him. We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.
As I checked in every day at New York Magazine, I kept seeing that the top story was, “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny.” I figured it was just another story about Donald Trump, and frankly, so what? I really don’t like Trump, but I don’t see how he is really any different than the other people the Republicans had on offer for the presidency. But finally, I clicked over — probably more because of the Zohar Lazar’s Bernie Wrightson-esque illustration. What I found was an article by Andrew Sullivan with the actual title, Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic.
Oh brilliant! Now Andrew Sullivan comes back to explain to us that Donald Trump is the result of too much democracy. Oh, and he read The Republic in graduate school! And maybe read It Can’t Happen Here at some point too! Oh, what an erudite man, Sullivan is! But the almost 8,000 word essay is a mass of contradictions. In particular, there is too much democracy that is allowing the people to elect a man who will bring tyranny; and the people are angry because the elites haven’t been listening to them since the early 1990s. But what does any of that matter?! Andrew Sullivan is a perfect example of a Very Serious Person.
And it is in this capacity that I found the article most hilarious. He noted that, “The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.” Obviously, this doesn’t really go along with the “too much democracy,” but whatever. Andrew Sullivan thinks that the people want “compromise.” They aren’t upset about a lack of compromise. They are upset about things like NAFTA — a great example of compromise — and something that Sullivan has always been a big supporter of.
The idea of “compromise” for Very Serious Idiots like Andrew Sullivan is that it is a way for them to get their preferred conservative economic policies. His list of elite failure is “massive and increasing public debt,” “a disastrous war in the Middle East,” and allowing financial markets to crash the economy.
The first item is standard Very Serious Simpson-Bowles nonsense. If only we could get conservative Democrats and standard Republicans together, everything would be wonderful! Is Sullivan for raising taxes on the rich? Is he for raising the cap on Social Security? In general, no. Sullivan is a Thatcherite to the core; he hasn’t changed, it is just that the Democratic Party has moved to him.
We did get a disastrous war in the Middle Easy — one that was cheered on by Andrew Sullivan. And the fact that he thinks it was financial markets that crashed the economy rather than the bursting of an $8 trillion housing bubble is typical of the Very Serious People in that they all “know” what the others “know” which is usually wrong.
But let’s be clear of what’s actually going on with Trump. Nate Silver wrote a very interesting article yesterday, The Mythology Of Trump’s “Working Class” Support. It turns out that Trump voters are quite well to do — not as well to do as Kasich voters, but much more well to do than Clinton and Sanders voters. So Trump voters aren’t these poor working class people who are getting screwed; they are resentful whites who don’t like seeing their group identity lose its supremacy.
This is particularly interesting because in his own article, Andrew Sullivan pushes this same kind of white resentment. He used the phrase “white working class” five times. He only used the phrase “working class” without the white modifier once. And this is, after all, the guy who pushed Black People Are Stupider Than White People into the (Liberal!) mainstream.
After all those words, there really is nothing of value in Andrew Sullivan’s article. But it is funny that he seems so unaware of his own complicity in the false narrative he created.
Afterword: Andrew Sullivan on Bernie Sanders
Sullivan claims that Bernie Sanders’ core critique is that money in politics is destroying it. That is not his core critique. That is part of his core rhetoric. But his core critique is about economic inequality. Of course, Sullivan isn’t interested in that. He also refers to Sanders as “the demagogue of the left.” Sullivan should have put down The Republic in graduate school and picked up a dictionary. What a fool! So of course he’s taken Very Seriously.
On this day back in 1987, the Congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra affair started. I was back in college full time, but I was glued to the radio for it. To me, it was so obvious: Republican presidents abuse their power. There was Nixon and now there was Reagan. And I was right. We saw it moving forward. Not only was the George W Bush administration totally corrupt — it didn’t even wait until it was elected. They really are the fascists of our our time.
Of course, what I was wrong about was that it would matter. Nixon was unpopular with his party, so he was abandoned. Reagan was very popular with his party so even today they won’t admit to this treasonous behavior in the Iran-Contra affair. (Bush Sr was probably much more guilty, but we just don’t talk about that.) And when Reagan claimed that he didn’t remember, it wasn’t hard to believe him. But by far, the most shameful thing was the testimony of Oliver North. He should have been court-martialed and then died in jail. Instead, America — in what has become typical — supported him. It apparently doesn’t matter what you do as long as you defend it with sufficient belligerence. That is also how we got Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court for life.
Not to worry. It would only be 11 years later that Congress would finally get around to doing something about presidential malfeasance: Bill Clinton lied about a sexual liaison. Sure, it isn’t treason. But it was a Democrat. And that’s all that apparently matters. If the Republicans had the votes, they surely would have impeached Obama. And once they do have the votes, they will impeach whatever Democrat happens to be in the White House.
But back in 1987, the Congress tried — however feebly — to do something about actual presidential treason.