Saturday, January 27, 2018


In The New York Times, Bret Stephens reviews the many conspiracy theories pro-Trump Republicans believe and notes something odd about the paranoia:
None of this would have surprised [Richard] Hofstadter, whose essay ["The Paranoid Style in American Politics"] traces the history of American paranoia from the Bavarian Illuminati and the Masons to New Dealers and Communists in the State Department....

Then again, Hofstadter might have been surprised to find that the party of conspiracy is also the party of government. The paranoid style, he noted, was typically a function of powerlessness. “Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed.”

Today, Republicans control every branch of government, and nearly every aspect of the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller, a Republican, was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Republican, and a Trump appointee. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, supposedly accuses the F.B.I. of anti-Trump perfidies in a secret four-page memo, but he won’t share the memo with the director of the F.B.I. — who’s also a Trump appointee.

Even paranoids, it turns out, have friends.
But the Trump cult -- which is the bulk of the Republican Party -- doesn't really believe it's in power. The movement right rarely does. When George W. Bush had sky-high approval ratings and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, the right endlessly scoured the horizon looking for traitorous entertainers, college professors, and news executives, all of whom were believed to have the power to bring the entire GOP edifice tumbling down. (Bush ultimately managed that all by himself, with help from loyalists in his administration. They accomplished this not by undermining the Bush agenda, buty by implementing it. Their decisions in Iraq and financial oversight did them more harm than anything uttered by the Dixie Chicks.)

The Trumpers fear the same enemies, but they don't even trust fellow Republicans -- everyone's a RINO, including, at times, Trump himself. (I'm sure you noticed Breitbart referring to Trump as "Amnesty Don" this week, after the administration proposed a path to citizenship for Dreamers.) Everyone who's not a Republican is a member of the all-powerful "Deep State" (which somehow wasn't powerful enough to get Hillary Clinton elected), and anyone who is a Republican is potentially suspect. But why? Why this level of paranoia?

One reason is that Republicans succeeded electorally beyond their wildest dreams between 2010 and 2016 -- but they know their policy proposals, especially the economic ones, aren't good for ordinary citizens. So they're in the habit of maintaining voter loyalty by stoking fear: Elect Democrats and they'll take all your guns, unleash an "urban" crime spree that will spread to your exurb, empower terrorists who'll kill you in your beds, and drastically raise your taxes before you die that violent death. But Republicans run most of the country now. There's only one possible conclusion: Some of the enemies must be within. The paranoia has to escalate.

In addition, Republicans don't run everything. They don't control the cities or the coasts. The GOP has overwhelming power, but why doesn't it have absolute power? There must be a conspiracy!

Matt Yglesias says:

But Trump has to make noise, rail at enemies, and express paranoid suspicions on a daily basis. His base is conditioned to expect that after decades of GOP and right-media denunciations of the threatening lefty hordes and, now, the saboteurs disguised as Republicans.

Republicans rely on paranoia when they're in power because stoking paranoia is how they gained power. It's simple.

No comments: