Published at 09:11 on 28 September 2021
I will start by noting that this post, like many of my posts, is conservative-obsessed. There is a reason why I pay so much attention to anti-Trump conservatives. Several reasons, actually:
- As an anarchist, it is my duty to care about what others of different camps think, and try to understand their motives. It can make for good propaganda at times to wave it all off as “bourgeois garbage,” but it is the duty of the thinking revolutionary to go beyond mere propaganda. How can one hope to change the world if one does not understand it?
- Anti-Trump conservatives are particularly interesting to me. They are facing an ongoing and demonstrable falsification of their core and life-defining beliefs. There are basically two avenues for individuals faced with such a mental crisis: to retreat from reality (the typical response), or to retreat from their prior beliefs (the atypical one). What we have in anti-Trump conservatives is a self-selected set of individuals for whom honesty and principles take precedence over ego.
- The anti-fascist camp cannot prevail without anti-Trump conservatives. First, the numbers game: if it weren’t for such individuals, the suburbs would not have flipped to the Democrats, and Trump would have probably been reelected. No, their numbers aren’t great, but when two political camps are of roughly equal strength, one doesn’t need many votes to shift the balance of power. Second, anti-Trump conservatives offer hope for remedying the shortcomings of the Democrats; unlike most Democrats, most of them actually do know how to campaign and wield power effectively. A huge part of the reason for the Democratic Party’s historic underperformance is due to that party’s own political incompetence.
On that latter point, when Winston Churchill (another conservative) looked back on how the world got embroiled in World War II, he wrote: “…the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous…,” a summary of affairs eerily similar to the present moment.
Of course, the weakness is not all on one side. Such sentiments should not be a total surprise, however:
- Gerson is a conservative and like all conservatives fears sudden change.
- Gerson does have something of a valid point here: violence exerts terrible costs, and is only justified as a last resort. Moreover, premature or poorly-coordinated violent resistance is just like any premature or poorly-coordinated resistance: likely to fail, and fail badly. Witness how the assassination of Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath was used by the Nazis as a pretext for Kristallnacht.
More of interest to me than any of Gerson’s arguments is the general tenor of the Left’s reaction to them. When I click on the comments link and read the most liked ones, they are universally of the sentiment that pure nonviolence is likely to be a foolish strategy against the evils of fascism.
Now, this is largely my own sentiment, too, but I have been operating under the assumption that I am part of a tiny minority on this. What is interesting to me is that this assumption of mine is apparently incorrect.
This is something of a rambling and self-contradictory piece. In one place, Kagan excoriates the flaws of his own camp, flaws that led directly to Trumpist fascism:
It was no surprise that elected officials feared taking on the Trump movement and that Republican job seekers either kept silent about their views or made show-trial-like apologies for past criticism. Ambition is a powerful antidote to moral qualms. More revealing was the behavior of Republican elder statesmen, former secretaries of state in their 80s or 90s who had no further ambitions for high office and seemingly nothing to lose by speaking out. Despite their known abhorrence of everything Trump stood for, these old lions refused to criticize him. They were unwilling to come out against a Republican Party to which they had devoted their professional lives, even when the party was led by someone they detested. Whatever they thought about Trump, moreover, Republican elders disliked Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the Democrats more. Again, this is not so unusual. German conservatives accommodated Adolf Hitler in large part because they opposed the socialists more than they opposed the Nazis, who, after all, shared many of their basic prejudices [emphasis added]. As for conservative intellectuals, even those who had spent years arguing that Woodrow Wilson was a tyrant because he created the Federal Reserve and supported child labor laws seemed to have no concerns about whether Trump was a would-be despot. They not only came to Trump’s defense but fashioned political doctrines to justify his rule, filling in the wide gaps of his nonexistent ideology with an appeal to “conservative nationalism” and conservative populism. Perhaps American conservatism was never comfortable with the American experiment in liberal democracy, but certainly since Trump took over their party, many conservatives have revealed a hostility to core American beliefs.
Then later, he basically argues the contrary, pleading that conservatism should not be blamed for Trumpism:
It takes two, of course, to form a national unity coalition, and Democrats can make it harder or easier for anti-Trump Republicans to join. Some profess to see no distinction between the threat posed by Trump and the threat posed by the GOP. They prefer to use Trump as a weapon in the ongoing political battle, and not only as a way of discrediting and defeating today’s Republican Party but to paint all GOP policies for the past 30 years as nothing more than precursors to Trumpism. Although today’s Trump-controlled Republican Party does need to be fought and defeated, this kind of opportunistic partisanship and conspiracy-mongering, in addition to being bad history, is no cure for what ails the nation.
What this all means is that Kagan is still struggling to assimilate all the unpleasant facts that political reality has shoved into his face in recent years. But in other areas, he seems to be struggling quite less. The first nine paragraphs or so of that article constitute a very convincing argument that we are further along in the process of political decay and fascist ascendancy than many realize.
The Weakness of the Virtuous
Although there have been a few encouraging signs recently, such as the Democrats’ ability to use negative campaigning to drive a big turnout of their side in the California recall, the Democrats still seem awfully complacent about it all.
Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised (I sure hope I will be pleasantly surprised), but I just don’t perceive it as likely that the Democrats rise to the occasion enough to prevent a fascist takeover of Congress, the scuttling of the ongoing Congressional investigations of the January 6th coup attempt (which seem to be happening at an awfully slow and relaxed pace), and a fascist retaking of the White House in 2024.
And then all h-e-double-hockey-sticks breaks loose.