Friday, June 08, 2018


A New York Times editorial notes "the striking degree to which President Trump has transformed the Republican Party from a political organization into a cult of personality."
... Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican psyche is unusually powerful by historical standards, because it is about so much more than electoral dynamics. Through his demagogic command of the party’s base, he has emerged as the shameless, trash-talking, lib-owning fulcrum around which the entire enterprise revolves.

Forget the longstanding Republican orthodoxy about the wonders of free trade. If Mr. Trump says tariffs are the way to go, his base is good with that. Even Republican lawmakers who fear a trade war seem disinclined to push very hard to prevent one....

As for any misbehavior uncovered by the Russia inquiry, Republican voters are having none of it. If Mr. Trump says it’s all part of a deep state plot, that’s good enough for them.
The editorial notes that the Democratic Party clearly isn't a personality cult.
By contrast, Democrats show signs of taking a more pluralistic approach, fielding candidates who are willing and even eager to break with their national leaders — the House minority leader, Ms. Pelosi, in particular.
But on the op-ed page, David Brooks portrays progressives as in thrall to "wokeness," regardless of the facts:
A few weeks ago, I mentioned on “Meet the Press” that for all the horror of the recent school shootings, we shouldn’t be scaremongering. There’s much less gun violence over all in schools today than in the early 1990s. Four times as many students were killed per year back then than in recent years.

This comment elicited a lot of hatred on social media, of a very interesting kind. The general diagnosis was that I was doing something wrong by not maximizing the size of the problem. I was draining moral urgency and providing comfort to the status quo.

This mental habit is closely related to what we now call “wokeness.” In an older frame of mind, you try to perceive the size of a problem objectively, and then you propose a solution, which might either be radical or moderate, conservative or liberal. You were judged primarily by the nature of your proposal.

But ... [t]here is no measure or moderation to wokeness. It’s always good to be more woke. It’s always good to see injustice in maximalist terms. To point to any mitigating factors in the environment is to be na├»ve, childish, a co-opted part of the status quo.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is, in Brooks's view, irrationally woke on the subject of racism's persistence in America. And oh yeah, conservatives can fall into excesses of wokeness, too:
The modern right has its own trigger words (diversity, dialogue, social justice, community organizer), its own safe spaces (Fox News) and its own wokeness. Michael Anton’s essay “The Flight 93 Election” is only one example of the common apocalyptic view: Modern liberals are hate-filled nihilists who will destroy the nation if given power. Anybody who doesn’t understand this reality is not conservatively woke.
I'm with the Times ed board: I see much more of this sort of absolutism on the right, and, yes, the form it takes now is near-absolute loyalty to Trump. To the extent that I see it on the left, it's because problems really are alarming, with no remedy apparently available.

Brooks's figures on school shootings suggest a decline since the 1990s in one-on-one fatal shootings in schools. We seem to have found ways to reduce this and other forms of violence that were more common a generation ago, although we have much more to do. But we're stymied in trying to prevent future Parklands and Sandy Hooks, not to mention horrors like the Las Vegas massacre. Minimal steps we'd like to take in response are blocked by Republicans and the gun lobby. And it's no comfort to say that schools are, on balance, safe. Nuclear power, on average, is safe. But when it fails, you can have a Three Mile Island, or a Fukushima. That's where we are with school shootings.

And when there are near-daily videos of police brutality directed at black people in America, I think maximal pessimism on race in America is a reasonable stance. (And that's only one symptom of the problem.)

Conservative absolutism is far more often in response to imaginary or exaggerated threats. Obamacare will lead the end of freedom in America! MS-13 gangsters are hiding under every heartlander's bed! Voter fraud is rampant! Christianity is on the verge of being outlawed! Sharia law will soon replace the Constitution! All the guns will be eventually taken away if we pass any gun control law!

To the right, everything is Flight 93. Every decent person will suffer and die horribly if liberals and Democrats aren't stopped.

For decades, the right-wing media has worked its audience into an intolerable state of fear and rage -- and now we have a president who does the same thing. It's always war on the right, and when populations are successfully put on a war footing, of course they remain loyal to their side, no matter what it does.

The "conservatively woke" have been successfully manipulated. They believe nothing under liberal or Democratic control is tolerable -- everything is an existential crisis, with American civilization in the balance. Every liberal is Mao or Stalin. There's alarm on the left -- but Democratic voters may, if anything, underestimate the dangers we face. The average rank-and-file Democrat isn't a hair-on-fire alarmist, or a cultist.

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