Thursday, September 08, 2022


At The Atlantic, Tom Nichols writes about President Biden's recent Philadelphia speech and accuses the MAGA movement of nihilism:
... Biden got one big thing right, and that one thing explains why Donald Trump and the MAGA World apologists are reacting with such fury. The president outed them as anti-American nihilists:
... MAGA Republicans have made their choice. They embrace anger. They thrive on chaos. They live not in the light of truth but in the shadow of lies.
This, as Biden pointed out, is what makes the MAGA movement so dangerous. It has no functional compass and no set of actual preferences beyond a generalized resentment, a basket of gripes and grudges against others who the Trumpists think are looking down upon them or living better lives than they are....

These citizens do not want a discussion or a compromise. They don’t even want to “win,” in any traditional political sense of that word. They want to vent anger over their lives—their personal problems, their haunted sense of inferiority, and their fears about social status—on other Americans, as vehemently as possible, even to the point of violence....

The MAGA movement isn’t interested in politics, or policies, or compromises. It is interested in destruction and seeing others made as miserable as its followers are. MAGA is a movement of people who seem to be, in so many ways, deeply and profoundly unhappy, and suffering from an emptiness and anger deep in their spirit.
But MAGA does have a "functional compass" and a "set of actual preferences": We get what we want and people who don't like us are owned. Elsewhere in the piece, Nichols says precisely this:
How do any of us, and especially the president, engage with such a movement, when every discussion includes the belief that the only legitimate outcomes are ones in which the MAGA choice wins?
Say what you will about "We should win 100% of the time," but it's a belief system. It's not nihilism -- it's infantilism. It's the belief system of a child in the back seat of a car throwing a temper tantrum.

A child throwing a temper tantrum wants what he wants now, and doesn't care about any other possible consequences -- you should pull the car over and attend to his needs right away. This is how spoiled children see the world. It's also how billionaires see the world, which is why MAGA and mainstream Republicanism work so well together. Billionaires don't care whether endless tax cuts for their class and increasing inequality and the dismantling of the regulatory state make the country unable to function for the rest of us -- they want what they want, and they assume their money will shield them from any negative societal consequences. The MAGAs think nothing bad will ever happen to their kind if they remake the world to their specifications -- they won't get slaughtered in a mass shooting, they won't get long COVID, they won't have a gay or trans child who's persecuted, they won't have an ectopic pregnancy the state considers suspicious.

And in the worst case, they prepare for doomsday. MAGA is full of doomsday preppers, but their prepping isn't nihilism or the result of being "deeply and profoundly unhappy." Whether they admit it to themselves or not, they want the apocalypse. They think they'll thrive in it -- and we won't. They want an America in which they're dominant and we're submissive, and they're convinced that a Mad Max world in which they have bunkers and we don't would be the ultimate in lib-owning.

And as Douglas Rushkoff recently wrote, billionaires are engaging in doomsday prep too, although their bunkers are much more luxe. You can say that their desire to drive the planet to an irreversible catastrophe is nihilism, but I see them as a class of spoiled brats who focus on nothing except always getting their way. And that's a belief system.

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