“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.’”

— THOMAS PAINE
March 2022

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One puzzling aspect of our world today is how normal working people can celebrate and adore the lying grifter from Queens. The Access Hollywood tape might have broken that connection a few years ago, but that did not happen. Disclosures about his business, his lies and his abject amorality might have done it, but no. And his pursuit of a plan to overthrow a national election and to unleash a criminal attack on the Capitol is water rolling off a duck’s back, at least thus far

Why?

Maybe this mystery will remain forever but consider this hypothesis. Outside of journalists, elected officials and the remora fish of K Street, most Americans care very little about politics or the world. They are romanced before elections, then forgotten. Their choices are made just before voting, and mainly according to whether they like the feel and look of a candidate. Some vote for a woman because she is, others don’t because she is. But one thing voters do care about is how they think a candidate might directly affect their lives. Will they earn more, will retirement be more secure, will their children do better in their lives? Will foreigners crowd them or their kids out? Will they have good health care?

Growing inequality is aggravating, and being lectured or condescended to by elite, wealthy business types is infuriating. Add to this mix social media, globalization, and the outflow of jobs in manufacturing, as well as an environmental movement looking to save the planet at the expense of the fossil fuel industries, and you have grist for Rupert Murdoch’s mill. Throughout history, disaffected people have been recruited by autocrats. The autocrat is a magnet, will promise anything, and successful autocrats read the tea leaves very well. Thomas Paine wrote “Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.” Also, “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

This witches brew is America today. Rasputin Bannon and Roy Cohn’s most successful acolyte have openly vowed to break down all barriers to declare an electoral victory. One can only imagine their plan for 2022 and 2024. And where are freedom loving, God fearing Americans while all this goes on?

The confluence of the pandemic, an economy dominated by financial liquidators, and dithering politicians has led ordinary people to lose confidence in many things that historically held them up. This raises another concern grounded not in policy but in passion. People don’t feel good. Vietnam was a bunch of lies, as were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan has had nothing to do with anything American apart from opioids, indeed we supported and cheered when native Afghans stomped on the Russian bear. Religion is in decline, and abortion is a searing issue.

Robert Kagan captured this national mood in a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post:

Trump is different, which is one reason the political system has struggled to understand, much less contain, him. The American liberal worldview tends to search for material and economic explanations for everything, and no doubt a good number of Trump supporters have grounds to complain about their lot in life. But their bond with Trump has little to do with economics or other material concerns. They believe the U.S. government and society have been captured by socialists, minority groups and sexual deviants. They see the Republican Party establishment as corrupt and weak — “losers,” to use Trump’s word, unable to challenge the reigning liberal hegemony. They view Trump as strong and defiant, willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech and the “Mitch McConnell Republicans.” His charismatic leadership has given millions of Americans a feeling of purpose and empowerment, a new sense of identity. While Trump’s critics see him as too narcissistic to be any kind of leader, his supporters admire his unapologetic, militant selfishness. Unlike establishment Republicans, Trump speaks without embarrassment on behalf of an aggrieved segment of Americans, not exclusively White, who feel they have been taking it on the chin for too long. And that is all he needs to do….

But the most important thing Trump delivers is himself. His egomania is part of his appeal. In his professed victimization by the media and the “elites,” his followers see their own victimization. That is why attacks on Trump by the elites only strengthen his bond with his followers. That is why millions of Trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: When Trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic. One Trump supporter didn’t go to the hospital after developing covid-19 symptoms because he didn’t want to contribute to the liberal case against Trump. “I’m not going to add to the numbers,” he told a reporter.

Thomas Paine foresaw something like this and said, “The greatest tyrannies are always perpetuated in the name of the noblest causes.”

While this is going on, complacency returns. A bipartisan January 6 commission was declined by Republicans, and most of the Republican caucus refused to serve on the House’s investigating committee. It’s extraordinary but true that Trump’s hold on the Republican base is so strong that centrist Republicans are hiding. This needs to end. It is simply true that everything we value in government and our society is at stake. Trump cannot any longer be just a joke, and he won’t stop. After all, he’s enjoying the most success he’s ever had.

Consider the “wisdom” of Adolf Hitler, nearly 100 years ago:

Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong.

By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.

Hate is more lasting than dislike.

If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

It is not truth that matters, but victory.

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.

Strength lies not in defence but in attack. Struggle is the father of all things.

The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of flowing passion, but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.

The leader of genius must have the ability to make different opponents appear as if they belonged to one category.

The victor will never be asked if he told the truth

What good fortune for governments that the people do not think.

Who says I am not under the special protection of God?

On February 6 the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, the party of Goldwater and Rehnquist, the party of McCain and Romney, the party of Reagan and Buckley, indeed the centrist, conservative voice of the people, blew its own brains out by embracing the 1/6 riot as normal politics. It’s often said that if history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. What can any of us ordinary citizens do about it? In part, the Republican party may be turning away from its worst, with some of its elected leaders condemning the January 6 insurrection and disowning the RNC’s embrace of the 1/6 riot as normal discourse. But the rest of us need to act, there being far too many terrible people still in a position to do harm. Thomas Paine recognized this 250 years ago. “Our greatest enemies, the ones we must fight most often, are within.”

We need leaders who understand and will proclaim what legitimate political discourse looks like. A party that will rid itself of liars and pretenders. Rid itself of those who hold truth in no respect, for whom the exercise of power is everything.

The country needs to create a new alternative to the two major parties. I say this as a lifelong Democrat who wants to see a political force emerge that is not wonderful material for a Bill Maher parody.

Possible?

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