Long-time Republican apologist, columnist George Will, became a “never Trumper” when he became sickened by the state of the Republican Party, a condition he must concede that he contributed, under Donald Trump. The rot predates Donald Trump.
I have never had much use For George Will’s opinions, but in his last two opinions he has been sounding the alarm of modern Republican authoritarianism, to which people ought to pay attention, because he traffics in their circles and it explains what we have been witnessing from the Trump administration in response to the protests over the police murder of George Floyd.
George Will recently opined, When American conservatism becomes un-American (excerpts):
From Harvard Law School comes the latest conservative flirtation with authoritarianism. Professor Adrian Vermeule, a 2016 Catholic convert, is an “integralist” who regrets his academic specialty, the Constitution, and rejects the separation of church and state. His much-discussed recent Atlantic essay advocating a government that judges “the quality and moral worth of public speech” is unimportant as a practical political manifesto, but it is symptomatic of some conservatives’ fevers, despairs and temptations.
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Vermeule’s “common-good constitutionalism” is Christian authoritarianism — muscular paternalism, with government enforcing social solidarity for religious reasons. This is the Constitution minus the Framers’ purpose: a regime respectful of individuals’ diverse notions of the life worth living. Such respect is, he says, “abominable.”
Vermeule would jettison “libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology.” And: “Libertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights will also have to go, insofar as they bar the state from enforcing duties of community and solidarity in the use and distribution of resources.” Who will define these duties? Integralists will, because they have an answer to this perennial puzzle: If the people are corrupt, how do you persuade them to accept the yoke of virtue-enforcers? The answer: Forget persuasion. Hierarchies must employ coercion.
Common-good constitutionalism’s “main aim,” Vermeule says, is not to “minimize the abuse of power” but “to ensure that the ruler has the power needed to rule well.” Such constitutionalism “does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy” because the “law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits,” wielded “if necessary even against the subjects’ own perceptions of what is best for them.” Besides, those perceptions are not really the subjects’, because under Vermeule’s regime the law will impose perceptions.
He thinks the Constitution, read imaginatively, will permit the transformation of the nation into a confessional state that punishes blasphemy and other departures from state-defined and state-enforced solidarity. His medieval aspiration rests on a non sequitur: All legal systems affirm certain value, therefore it is permissible to enforce orthodoxies.
Vermeule is not the only American conservative feeling the allure of tyranny. [S]ome self-styled conservatives today turn their lonely eyes to Viktor Orban, destroyer of Hungary’s democracy. The prime minister’s American enthusiasts probably are unfazed by his seizing upon covid-19 as an excuse for taking the short step from the ethno-nationalist authoritarianism to which he gives the oxymoronic title “illiberal democracy,” to dictatorship.
In 2009, Orban said, “We have only to win once, but then properly.” And in 2013, he said: “In a crisis, you don’t need governance by institutions.” Elected to a third term in 2018, he has extended direct or indirect control over courts (the Constitutional Court has been enlarged and packed) and the media, replacing a semblance of intragovernmental checks and balances with what he calls the “system of national cooperation.” During the covid-19 crisis he will govern by decree, elections will be suspended and he will decide when the crisis ends — supposedly June 20.
Explaining his hostility to immigration, Orban says Hungarians “do not want to be mixed. . . . We want to be how we became eleven hundred years ago here in the Carpathian Basin.” Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes, authors of “The Light that Failed,” dryly marvel that Orban “remembers so vividly what it was like to be Hungarian eleven centuries ago.” Nostalgia functioning as political philosophy — Vermeule’s nostalgia seems to be for the 14th century — is usually romanticism untethered from information.
In November, Patrick Deneen, the University of Notre Dame professor whose 2018 book “Why Liberalism Failed” explained his hope for a post-liberal American future, had a cordial meeting with Orban in Budapest. The Hungarian surely sympathizes with Deneen’s root-and-branch rejection of classical liberalism, which Deneen disdains because it portrays “humans as rights-bearing individuals” who can “fashion and pursue for themselves their own version of the good life.” One name for what Deneen denounces is: the American project. He, Vermeule and some others on the Orban-admiring American right believe that political individualism — the enabling, protection and celebration of individual autonomy — is a misery-making mistake: Autonomous individuals are deracinated, unhappy and without virtue.
The moral of this story is not that there is theocracy in our future. Rather, it is that American conservatism, when severed from the Enlightenment and its finest result, the American Founding, becomes spectacularly unreasonable and literally un-American.
Do you know who is a big fan of these far-right Catholic theologists, who I would argue are heretics to the true Catholic faith? Attorney General William “Coverup” Barr. William Barr Is Neck-Deep in Extremist Catholic Institutions.
On Monday when Donald Trump invoked the Insurrection Act to use the U.S. military to occupy American cities and to “dominate the streets,” it is important to note that he got this idea from his Attorney General William Barr.
When the Insurrection Act was last invoked in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, the move was requested by California Gov. Pete Wilson, not invoked solely by President George H.W. Bush. Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, was Bush’s attorney general the last time the act was invoked, and he led the Justice Department’s response to the King beating. Trump says he will deploy military if state officials can’t contain protest violence.
The bizarre scene of Trump standing in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, waiving around a Bible in his hand, might properly be explained as him waiving the starter’s flag to Christian Nationalists and White Nationalists who comprise his political base for their long anticipated civil war on American democracy. It gives context to this comment that confused reporters:
“I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”
He means white people’s Second Amendment rights, which supersede black Americans’ First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly and to petition government, i.e., peaceful protests. It was gun provocateurs behind all those anti-government “patriot” (sic) militias who recently engaged in anti-democratic intimidation of state legislatures over coronavirus lockdown orders. Next time, they may actually use those weapons if Trump gives them the signal. See, Pro-gun activists using Facebook groups to push anti-quarantine protests.
George Will warns today, Trump must be removed. So must his congressional enablers. (excerpts):
Presidents, exploiting modern communications technologies and abetted today by journalists preening as the “resistance” — like members of the French Resistance 1940-1944, minus the bravery — can set the tone of American society, which is regrettably soft wax on which presidents leave their marks. The president’s provocations — his coarsening of public discourse that lowers the threshold for acting out by people as mentally crippled as he — do not excuse the violent few. They must be punished. He must be removed.
Social causation is difficult to demonstrate, particularly between one person’s words and other persons’ deeds. However: The person voters hired in 2016 to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” stood on July 28, 2017, in front of uniformed police and urged them “please don’t be too nice” when handling suspected offenders. His hope was fulfilled for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on Minneapolis pavement.
What Daniel Patrick Moynihan termed “defining deviancy down” now defines American politics. In 2016, voters were presented an unprecedentedly unpalatable choice: Never had both major parties offered nominees with higher disapproval than approval numbers. Voters chose what they wagered would be the lesser blight. Now, however, they have watched him govern for 40 months and more than 40 percent — slightly less than the percentage that voted for him — approve of his sordid conduct.
Presidents seeking reelection bask in chants of “Four more years!” This year, however, most Americans — perhaps because they are, as the president predicted, weary from all the winning — might flinch: Four more years of this? The taste of ashes, metaphorical and now literal, dampens enthusiasm.
The nation’s downward spiral into acrimony and sporadic anarchy has had many causes much larger than the small man who is the great exacerbator of them. Most of the causes predate his presidency, and most will survive its January terminus. The measures necessary for restoration of national equilibrium are many and will be protracted far beyond his removal. One such measure must be the removal of those in Congress who, unlike the sycophantic mediocrities who cosset him in the White House, will not disappear “magically,” as Eric Trump said the coronavirus would. Voters must dispatch his congressional enablers, especially the senators who still gambol around his ankles with a canine hunger for petting.
In life’s unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for . . . what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world’s most risible deliberative body.
A political party’s primary function is to bestow its imprimatur on candidates, thereby proclaiming: This is who we are. In 2016, the Republican Party gave its principal nomination to a vulgarian and then toiled to elect him. And to stock Congress with invertebrates whose unswerving abjectness has enabled his institutional vandalism, who have voiced no serious objections to his Niagara of lies, and whom T.S. Eliot anticipated:
We are the hollow men . . .
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass . . .
Those who think our unhinged president’s recent mania about a murder two decades ago [his Joe Scarborough slander] that never happened represents his moral nadir have missed the lesson of his life: There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come. Which implicates national security: Abroad, anti-Americanism sleeps lightly when it sleeps at all, and it is wide-awake as decent people judge our nation’s health by the character of those to whom power is entrusted. Watching, too, are indecent people in Beijing and Moscow.
Will’s choice of T.S. Elliot’s “The Hollow Men” is an interesting choice, because it is the last stanza of the poem which is best remembered and most often quoted:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
The U.S. Senate is not going to impeach Donald Trump because the Hollow Men of the Party of Trump are all amoral authoritarians just like him. They are only concerned with the control of power over the lives of other people. They are the “Integralists” in Professor Adrian Vermeule’s anti-democratic authoritarian screed.
George Will’s advice to “throw them all out of office in November” is fine in a functioning democracy. But these undemocratic un-American GOP authoritarians have already gutted our democratic institutions and are now threatening to occupy American cities by use of force of the U.S. military, possibly supplemented by their own right-wing “patriot” (sic) militias. Democracy has to survive until election day.
If there is an election day, and the voters throw these GOP authoritarians out office, will they leave peaceably, honoring the American democratic tradition of peaceful transition? Or will they refuse to leave, asserting the election was “rigged” and a “fraud”? (we already know that Donald Trump will do this).
And who will make him leave?