Outside the Asylum
It cannot be denied, but by those who would dispute against the sun, that with America, and in America, a new era commences in human affairs. This era is distinguished by Free Representative Governments, by entire religious liberty, by improved systems of national intercourse, by a newly awakened, and an unconquerable spirit of free inquiry, and by a diffusion of knowledge through the community, such as has been before altogether unknown and unheard of. America, America, our country, fellow-citizens, our own dear and native land, is inseparably connected, fast bound up, in fortune and by fate, with these great interests. If they fall, we fall with them...
It’s been a long time since I criticized the Republicans. Basically, I feel that anyone who doesn’t realize what’s wrong with the Republican Party won’t be enlightened by me. It should have been plain to everybody several years ago that there were any number of dreadful things wrong with the Republicans, many of which were the kind of bridge-burning wrongs that take a person outside the assumptions of civil society. In order to NOT see these things, one must engage in denial, a denial that is unlikely to be broken by rational argument or moral exhortation: especially not argument or exhortation coming from a 52-year-old leftist.
We were helpless against the Republicans from 1980 on, partly because of their increasing control of the country’s media, partly because of their outsized influence on the country’s courts, and partly because we had no political vehicle through which to fight them---the Democrats being otherwise engaged. All these material political realities were in our way. But we were also unable to fight them because we couldn’t answer the question: Why should they care what I say?
Because it’s true was not an answer in their world. Most of them didn’t arrive at what they called “truth” the same way we arrived at what we called “truth.” They didn’t establish what is true via evidence, logic, and careful vetting of the speaker. That was the genius of neoconservatism; unlike conservative William F. Buckley, who crafted arguments which, right or wrong, obeyed the same discursive rules of the road as leftist Gore Vidal’s arguments, neoconservatives from Reagan to George W. Bush treated those rules, and the rationalist assumptions underlying them, with dismissive contempt.
The [George W. Bush] aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
Once dismissed, those rules and assumptions had no power. Reason, logic, evidence, the reliability of any given speaker—these things no longer mattered. Adhering to such rules meant that you were a loser before your point was even made. Beginning in the 1980s, the right wing did a hatchet job to destroy the credibility of, not one man, nor even a political party, but reason itself.
One might argue that, rather than dismissing the principles of reason, American society should rather have dismissed the men attempting to dismantle them. But to do that we would have needed concerted opposition, in politics and in media, to the cultural demolition being attempted. Both the Procrustean social engineering of the neoconservatives and a spirited opposition to it needed to be put on display before the public in a way that exceeded sporadic attempts by one or two journalists, or the League of Women Voters, or one Democratic senator, to fight back. Opposition needed to be organized, coherent, and indefatigable; in the best case, it would also have been bipartisan. Republican rationalists and old-style conservatives should have been fighting alongside their left-wing counterparts to quell the reactionary element in their party. Instead, they either remade themselves into neoconservatives or quietly faded away like party guests for whom the after-party debauchery is a little too much.
To give one rather embarrassing example of how liberals and leftists, as rationalists, were helpless before neoconservatism, I had a very stupid reaction when the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry began. I researched where these attacks were coming from. I discovered that only one man who was actually on Kerry’s Swift Boat was endorsing the attacks, while all the others agreed with Kerry’s version of events. Then I found out that that one man had recently received a fat government contract from the Bush administration.
I then dismissed those attacks as unimportant, assuming that, as soon as that fact came to light, everyone would see their invalidity just as I did. It’s not like it was hard to figure out. Nobody was more shocked than I was when the attacks gained massive traction and, to a large extent, were responsible for making the 2004 election close enough that the Republicans were able to expand their election fraud mechanism from the Deep South to the Rust Belt.
By the way—those bridge-burning antisocial wrongs I was talking about? Election fraud is a big one. In fact, it was a potpourri of nastiness, deftly combining the reinvigoration of pre-Civil Rights racist practices with a direct attack on the republic which finally and definitively disenfranchised voters of all races everywhere. When a man can repeatedly achieve the highest office via obvious election fraud, and it’s allowed to stand with no adverse consequences to the perpetrators, you’re no longer living in a system driven by the voting public, nor even much influenced by it.
Another embarrassing example of rationalist naivete: I believed, in 2000, that white people, and even white Republicans, would make this connection. It wasn’t difficult to calculate that the suppression of anyone’s vote threatened the efficacy of everyone’s vote, and that, therefore, an attack on one person’s voting rights—or one group’s voting rights—was an attack on all. This goes beyond Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous adage:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
While it’s true that authoritarians willing to suppress the rights of one group would probably be willing to suppress the rights of others, in the case of election fraud, you don’t even have to wait for the authoritarians to get around to specifically oppressing you. Screwing with anybody’s vote invalidates the vote total, which invalidates the whole vote in that election, which, if allowed to stand, undermines the power of the vote and any system which depends upon it.
I didn’t think it was that hard to figure out. I didn’t even have to reason it out; I felt it like a punch in the gut.
This is the reason I have no patience for Republicans who claim to be anti-authoritarian, unless they’re under forty. (Those under forty should probably study this history; by all means, don’t take my word for any of this. But don’t take your party leadership’s word for it either.) But it’s also one of the many reasons why I have no patience with the so-called “centrist” Democrats: the Bidens and Clintons and Schumers of the world. These are the people who refused to fight. They not only stood by while reactionary authoritarianism swept over this country and reformed it in its fascist, anti-rationalist image; they took the party that should have provided opposition and transformed it into an accession machine. Redefining resignation as pragmatism and defeatism as savvy, they traded on the demoralization of Democrats (both politicians and voters) after the Reagan blitzkrieg to convince them to give up the party’s historical adherence to certain moral principles and political ideas. They knew—perhaps had taken the lesson from European history—that if you defeat people often enough, persistently enough, and brutally enough, they will trade anything for a win, up to and including their souls.
Some think that the Clintons were actually Republican moles sent to destroy the Democratic party from within. In truth, the question of whether they were or not would only matter to a (rationalist) historian, because they were effectively indistinguishable from such operatives in both method and result. In other words, if Republican moles had infiltrated the Democratic party with an eye toward its destruction, they couldn’t have done a better job than the Clintons and their fellow “New Democrats.”
I get angry when I hear right-wingers (over 40) complain about governmental tyranny and authoritarian political ideology, and really furious when it’s right-wingers over 60 doing the same, because they should have been marching with me in the eighties against Reagan's tyranny: against the War on Terror's slick and sleazy older brother, The War on Drugs, with its civil forfeiture and mandatory drug testing and militarization of the police; against unnecessary imperialistic foreign adventures in places like Afghanistan, Libya and Iran (or El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama) which squandered our national treasure on, among other things, dirty cocaine deals and death squads, and left a Bin Laden legacy which ended up blowing up in our faces. Instead, they got on their knees to Reagan because he enabled them to rub liberals’ faces in the dirt. He gave them all the go-team-partisan schadenfreude they could swallow, conducting the populist side of the nation’s politics with all the wisdom and gravitas of a pledge-night kegger.
If the Republicans of the 80s and 90s had stuck to principle, and put the republic first, it's likely that Bill and Hillary Clinton and their "centrist" friends would never have attained their ascendancy over the Democratic party. It's wildly ironic that the same Republicans who hate Bill and Hillary like poison don't realize that the Clintons held them, the"center-right" Reagan-loving public, like a bludgeon over the heads of better people than they were, intimidating them into following Clintonian politics and policy into the wreckage of the 21st century. Without the savage loyalty of the American right to the Reagan counterrevolution, it's highly unlikely that there would have been a President Bill Clinton at the head of a successful network of corrupt New Democrats, and thus, highly unlikely that we would have an out-of-control financial sector recklessly destroying the economies it (largely) controls, producing disaster after disaster while Democratic and Republican administrations alike pour trillions of dollars in bailouts into their failed business practices. Without the crappy Overton-window maneuvers of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations, which made increasingly irrational, cruel and wasteful behavior the norm, and objecting to such things grounds for automatic disdain, we could never have had a George W. Bush administration; indeed, the cowardice of Democratic senators, Joe Biden included, is directly responsible for the fact that we ever had a George W. Bush administration. Who knows how many wrongs in our history would never have happened if America had refused to be propagandized, told Reagan and his CIA friends where to shove it, and stood on our principles? When tyranny came calling, the right wing of the 1980s gallantly left the Left to fight alone, helpfully throwing spitballs and epithets at us from the sidelines.
But my anger at the Republicans pales before the gut-wrenching irony of having people like Chuck Schumer, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and their adherents tell me that I’m not fighting fascists hard enough, and might perhaps be a fascist myself. The savvy pragmatists who spent the last thirty years telling me I needed to give up my idealistic desire for a more just world because that’s just silly are now the shining examples of social justice leadership, marching against fascism and racism to protect the republic. Yet they have been dealing with fascists and racists, protecting fascists and racists, and trading on the deleterious effects of fascist and racist behavior for their own personal gain for more than a generation. In fact, one might almost say they’ve wrapped their arms around them.
Do you see why they need to discredit reason?