Monday Reads: A healthy dose of Republican “Know Nothingism” a Prologue to Farce or Tragedy?
Posted: February 17, 2020 Filed under: Afternoon Reads
A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
—James Madison, in a letter to W T Barry, Aug 4, 1822
Good Day Sky Dancers!
We’re deep in parade season down here in New Orleans which gives me a much needed escape from the reality of living in Trumpist America. I never quite know what to do with it, the Trump cult, and the surprised old Republicans who can’t believe all that race-baiting, gun fetishism, and radical religious right enabling they’ve done for their base has finally left the dreamland of ‘Give us your votes and we’ll talk a good story at you’ in trade for the cult of a mobster/monster that will do anything for money and attention.
Jennifer Rubin is an outspoken never-Trumper but fed the beast that now consumes the US Constitution when she thought it was simply tax cuts and lip service. Her op-ed today makes for interesting reading: “The descent of the GOP into authoritarian know-nothingism”.
I could have told you they were headed there back in the 1980s when I was in my 20s. But, anyway … she’s got its number now. I always thought Ronald Reagan was the smiley face version of ‘GOP authoritarian known knowthingism ‘ back then when Rubin was still thinking it was all fine and good. Trump talked about Mexicans as ‘criminals and rapists’ for his announcement while Reagan was all ‘welfare queens with Cadillacs.’ Come at me and tell me that you think both those sentiments don’t go at the same dark vision of the non-Anglo American. I can give you more quotes than that. We can talk policy. Anyway, more follows below.
It is not as if anti-intellectualism suddenly appeared with the election of President Trump. The habitual rejection of expertise on everything from climate change to the economic impact of immigration has been rampant in the Republican Party for some time. It is part and parcel of the invented victimization of mostly white, non-college-educated men who attribute their loss of prestige and status to “elites,” especially those in colleges and the media. Even right-wingers who should know better have felt compelled to pander to audiences that wear ignorance and anti-intellectualism as a badge of honor.
With Trump, the resort to lies, conspiracies and propaganda has become a matter of political survival for the ambitious right-wingers. Trump’s authoritarian contempt for truth sets the tone, forcing military hawks such as Cotton to remain mum when Trump dismisses traumatic brain injuries as “headaches” and former Cold Warriors such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to parrot Russian propaganda on Ukraine.
Their know-nothingism is sustained and hardened inside the right-wing media loop. Trump and his sycophants can repeat whatever falsehoods required to support Trump without fear of contradiction, let alone mockery, in the right-wing media world. It is only when Republicans venture out into legitimate media that refuses to play along with conspiracy theories that they run into trouble.
Trump has merged the know-nothingism of right-wing populism with a far more dangerous intellectual evolution from defense of limited-government conservatism, which was formerly at the heart of modern conservatism, to outright worship of authoritarianism. Now, far too many conservatives have reverence for executive power and reject constitutional government.
Attorney General William P. Barr and his cheerleaders from the Federalist Society embody this frightening development. Donald Ayer, former U.S. deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush, writes that Barr advocates “the need for a virtually autocratic executive who is not constrained by countervailing powers within our government under the constitutional system of checks and balances.” For Barr, limited government means limited checks on the president, the antithesis of the framers’ vision.
So, we’ve got Sen Tom Cotton spreading conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus. The entire party denies climate change and still believes wholesale tax cuts to the rich do something other than blow up the deficit and lead to problems with infrastructure and basic necessary services like dealing with the actual potential threat of the Coronavirus.
The only Republican news recently that I find really hard to believe that seems to be verifiably true is that Stephen Miller found a woman dumb enough to marry him and the spoils of the wedding went to a Trump hotel. See, there’s enough truth can be strange in that Party that you’d think they’d just thrive on that rather than baseless conspiracy theories. And he’s the embodiment of policy shaped by the vision of both Reagan’s ‘welfare queens’ and Trump’s ‘rapists and criminals’ that are still as odious as they day either were spoken.
In 1976, Reagan repeatedly invoked his own female bête noire as he barnstormed the country in a doomed bid to primary President Gerald Ford. There’s a woman in Chicago, Reagan told voters, who “used eighty names, thirty addresses, fifteen telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four non-existent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare.” And she wasn’t the only one. Reagan bemoaned a welfare system infested with fraud, although he kept returning to the woman in Chicago. She wore a fur coat. She drove a Cadillac. She paid for T-bone steaks with food stamps. He didn’t refer to her by name but by a sobriquet—one he didn’t invent, but which he repeated so often it metastasized into an ugly stereotype: She was the welfare queen.
We cannot be a more perfect union until the racist tropes of Trump and his Republican cronies are removed from the American political lexicon.
“Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes”
—Benjamin Franklin in a letter written in November 1789, to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Le Roy,
So, another Trumpist “conspiracy” theory is how great the economy is doing. I shall point to the bar chart above to show you that Trump’s economy is quite average. It comes via Axios and statistics easily found at a FED or Department of Labor near you.
Why it matters: GDP is the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success. And it’s especially relevant since Trump is running for re-election on his economic record.
Between the lines: Economists dispute how much credit presidents can take for a booming or sagging economy under their watch. There are factors that can boost or reduce growth outside of their policies.
Where it stands: Unlike other presidents, Trump inherited a steady economy that’s since entered the longest stretch of growth in history. Interest rates remain low. Growth picked up in the wake of the 2017 tax cuts, but now the pace has moderated.
What he’s saying: “Our economy is the best it has ever been,” Trump said earlier this month in his State of the Union speech.
But some aspects of the Trump economy, like wage growth and business investment, pale in comparison to other periods.
While solid, “this is not a gangbusters economy,” Nathan Sheets, who’s held roles at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, tells Axios.
There have been periods with “high growth, low inflation, rapid productivity, and the gains from growth were being broadly shared across society. That was gangbusters,” says Sheets.
By the numbers: Last year the economy grew at 2.3%, after year-over-year accelerations in 2017 and 2018 — marking he slowest annual growth rate since Trump took office. Growth under Trump has yet to hit his oft-promised 3% mark annually.
Economists say the effects of the tax are wearing off. Businesses were too unnerved by the trade war to spend money on new factories or equipment — a key driver of growth.
Yes, but: If history is any guide, an incumbent president isn’t going to have a great shot at re-election if the economy tips into a recession under their watch.
The press needs to really speak out on our average economy and all its underlying problems like farm bankruptcies and more loss of manufacturing and export related jobs and industry.
“For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.”
—George Washington, in an address to the officers of the army on March 15, 1783
So, the Editors of New York Magazine ponder this dreadful thought “11 Months From Today. A second term for Trump seems more possible than ever. But what would it look like?” which I seem to wonder myself given that Bernie, Biden and Bloomberg seem to sucking in all the breathable fresh air these days and returning it to us toxic. So, what 19 alternative realities does Jonathan Chait and his panel of experts imagine? They all sound horrible and you may read them. This one is my for sure takeaway.
In the past four years, I saw people in my clinical practice experiencing a level of anxiety specific to the political climate that we really hadn’t seen before. It’s why I started writing about “Trump anxiety disorder.” The American Psychological Association does a “Stress in America” survey, and the 2019 one had 62 percent of American adults citing the current political climate as a source of stress, which has gone up since Trump took office. It’s not unlike a child living in a home that’s chaotic; we don’t have faith in the leaders we have historically put trust in, and that’s creating a lot of trauma. If Trump does get reelected, we’ll see a spike in this feeling of fear like we haven’t seen before. People will have to come to terms with the prospect of another four years of trying to keep up the fight. We can feel anxious for only so long, because anxiety is exhausting, and eventually that fatigue could transform into depression and leave us feeling really helpless. All of that could lead to more civil unrest or unhealthy behaviors such as drinking and emotional eating — people trying to deal with the stress in any way they can.
—Dr. Jennifer Panning
We may still have a hint of a Republic. Can we keep it? Or will the Democratic party hand it to Republicans to strangle this year?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?