Friday, June 09, 2023


In 1982, the libertarian economist Milton Friedman wrote this:
Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.
Last month, Cory Doctorow explained how this approach helped shift the country to the right:
Friedman had one project: to roll back the widespread postwar prosperity produced by wildly popular programs like the New Deal and the Great Society....

Friedman’s paymasters ... demanded a theory of change that explained how the gains of working people could be stripped away....

Friedman had a tried-and-true answer to these skeptical queries: someday, there will come a crisis. When the crisis comes, people will look for answers. The answers they choose will be those “ideas lying around” that have been promoted by the status quo’s loudest critics.
The "ideas that were lying around" began to be useful during the energy crises of the 1970s.
... to people reeling in crisis, Friedman insisted that the missing oil was somehow the product of unionization, pollution controls, women’s lib, and the civil rights movement. Though this was transparent nonsense, akin to blaming witches for a crop failure, the crisis was so dislocating, and Friedman’s ideas had been lying around for so long, that they moved swiftly to the center.
The result: the neoliberalism of the Jimmy Carter era, followed by the drastic changes that started in Ronald Reagan's presidency, from which the American middle class still hasn't recovered.

In the present era, Republicans and the right-wing media have routinized the practice of ensuring that there are ideas "lying around." Right now, as news breaks of his impending indictment, Donald Trump is trying to use one particular idea that he and fellow Republicans have had "lying around" for a while.

The idea is: We must stop the weaponization of government.

This is a much bigger idea than I, Donald Trump, the world's most innocent man, am the victim of a witch hunt. This idea encompasses the zombie lie that the Biden Justice Department targeted right-wing parents as "domestic terrorists" if they spoke up at school board meetings (DoJ was concerned only about threats of violence), as well as the notion that January 6 prisoners are suffering politcal persecution (while alleged FBI provocateurs who were at the Capitol remain free), and the belief that DoJ has gone easy on Hillary Clinton and "the Biden crime family."

The "weaponization of government" idea hasn't spread beyond the right, but it has the potential to drive base turnout even if Trump is convicted or drops out of the race, which is why so many Trump rivals, including Ron DeSantis, are invoking the weaponization narrative. DeSantis on Twitter:
We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation.

Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?
Republicans want "weaponization" to be what the Dobbs decision has been to Democrats -- an outrage that drives turnout. One difference, of course, is that the Dobbs decision actually was an outrage. The "weaponization" idea is nonsense, but it can be useful to the GOP even if Trump is forced out of the race. The next Republican president can use it to genuinely politicize the Justice Department, as Ron DeSantis has promised to do. There isn't much limit to what a GOP president could do under those circumstances, especially with a rubber-stamp Congress and Supreme Court.

Republicans have invented a crisis of weaponization. Trump is using the idea to win the 2024 primaries, and he and his rivals are using it to try to win the general election. We have to turn out to ensure they don't succeed.


UPDATE: In The New York Times, Luke Broadwater misreads the GOP reaction to Trump's indictment.
Top House Republicans intensified their attacks on President Biden and the Justice Department on Friday after the federal indictment of former President Donald J. Trump, suggesting falsely that Mr. Biden, not a grand jury made up of American citizens, had charged him with crimes as part of a political vendetta.

It was the latest instance of top-ranking Republicans in Congress closing ranks behind the former president and helping to spread unfounded accusations against the government.

... House Republican leaders have closely aligned themselves with Mr. Trump for years, and are under more intense pressure than ever from their right flank to defend him....
House Republicans may feel they're under pressure to defend Trump, but they're echoing this talking point because they expect it to help them win elections next year. Kevin McCarthy agreed to the formation of a committee on weaponization because he knows that stirring up outrage increases voter loyalty within his party. It's not hard to understand.

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