The Current Nightmares

This is a nightmare. Things won’t get better. They’ll get worse:

The FBI has warned lawmakers that online QAnon conspiracy theorists may carry out more acts of violence as they move from serving as “digital soldiers” to taking action in the real world following the January 6 US Capitol attack.

This is frustration, and a sense that stuff on the internet isn’t really real, and anger at a betrayal:

The shift is fueled by a belief among some of the conspiracy’s more militant followers that they “can no longer ‘trust the plan” set forth by its mysterious standard-bearer, known simply as “Q,” according to an unclassified FBI threat assessment on QAnon sent to lawmakers last week, which was obtained by CNN.

But the report suggests the failure of QAnon predictions to materialize has not led to followers abandoning the conspiracy. Instead, there’s a belief that individuals need to take greater control of the direction of the movement than before.

This might lead followers to seek to harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition – instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred,” according to the assessment.

It seems that it’s time to kill the perverts:

Frequently described as a virtual cult, QAnon is a sprawling far-right conspiracy theory that promotes the absurd and false claim that former President Donald Trump has been locked in a battle against a shadowy cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles made up of prominent Democratic politicians and liberal celebrities.

Members of the violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6 had ties to QAnon, and the conspiracy theory has made its way from online message boards into the political mainstream in recent years.

And now it’s time to rid the world of every one of those Satan-worshipping pedophiles, who are also cannibals by the way, from Hillary Clinton to Lady Gaga to Tom Hanks. These QAnon are few, but to them, this is a real war now:

Titled “Adherence to QAnon Conspiracy Theory by Some Domestic Violent Extremists,” the public FBI threat assessment was provided at the request of Democratic New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, who earlier this year revealed that the FBI had provided lawmakers with version of the document in February that was designated “for official use only.”

“The participation of some domestic violent extremists (DVE) who are also self-identified QAnon adherents in the violent siege of the US Capitol on 6 January underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the unclassified FBI assessment obtained by CNN says.

“The FBI has arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents who participated in the 6 January violent unlawful entry of the Capitol. These individuals were charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building and obstruction of an official proceeding, according to court documents and press reporting based on court documentation, public statements, and social media posts,” it reads.

They are few. They are strange. But when they begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action, they become a nightmare, one more of those that the nation must face.

And there are other nightmares. Michael Gerson notes this:

The dreams of conservatives are currently troubled by “wokeness” and critical race theory. As with most nightmares, there is a grain of truth within such terrors.

For most people, wokeness involves being mindful of the cruel and oppressive portions of American history, being alert to persistent structural racism, and being determined to right past and present wrongs. This is the theory that attracted many people to street protests last summer.

But there is an academic version of critical race theory that goes a great deal further. In this variety of postmodernism, all power structures are rotted to the core by white supremacy. The ideals of democracy – pluralism, freedom, the rule of law, even reasoned debate itself – are myths or narratives serving the privileged. In this view, politics is no longer a contest of ideas. It is a fight for power, a zero-sum struggle between oppressor and oppressed. This type of wokeness involves seeing through the pretensions of a free society and favoring the oppressed in every instance.

But wait, don’t panic:

There is a difference between using critical race theory as a tool to understand unjust power structures and believing that every outworking of Western democratic theory is inherently unjust. There is a difference between examining the disturbing truths of American history and denying the existence of objective truth and the possibility of persuasion.

Kevin Drum explains that:

I don’t bother too much commenting about the “race” issues currently dominating our discourse since I don’t think the conservative position is offered in anything close to good faith. Maybe that’s a mistake, but I’m tired of fighting against fake outrage. Why bother when you know that whatever arguments you bring to bear are pointless?

But he makes those arguments anyway:

First, put aside all the nonsense about “critical race theory,” which is just a phrase that conservatives have picked up without knowing what it means. What is it they’re really upset about?

The answer, I think, is not discussions of slavery or racism per se, but discussions that implicitly or explicitly blame white people as a class for it. Now, you might wonder who else could be to blame for it, but put that snark aside. The fact remains that conservatives don’t want to be made to feel endlessly guilty about racism, and they don’t want schools to make their kids feel that way.

Given this reality, should the rest of us stop trying to make everyone feel guilty about past and present racism? Is guilt an effective motivator for change in the first place?

But even that was not the point:

The modern progressive argument about race mostly revolves around systemic racism, the idea that racism is less about individual bigotry than it is about racism embedded in our institutions. A good example of this is the redlining of neighborhoods in the middle part of the 20th century, which prevented Black homebuyers from getting loans to buy houses in good neighborhoods. This is the kind of thing we should focus on, not on raking individual people who display racist behavior.

That might end that particular nightmare, but Gerson offers another:

The nightmares of progressives are currently dominated by the growth of right-wing authoritarianism and fascism. In these fears, there is more than a grain of truth.

Large elements of the American populist right mythologize the nation’s past rather than face its failures. They dismiss real news as fake and embrace obvious propaganda. They are anti-intellectual to the point of denying lifesaving scientific truths. They fear diversity and target racial, ethnic and religious minorities for resentment. They cultivate a sense of victimhood by warning of arrogant elites and vast conspiracies. These are not isolated ailments; they are the textbook symptoms of a fascist political infection.

Perhaps, but Gerson has a warning here too:

Some on the left want to use these trends to discredit the entirety of modern conservatism. They contend that authoritarianism and fascism are the logical, necessary outgrowth of the political approach that emerged with the presidential nomination of Barry Goldwater. In this view, Goldwater is Richard M. Nixon, who is Ronald Reagan, who is Jack Kemp, who is George W. Bush, who is John McCain, who is Mitt Romney, who is Donald Trump.

This is a raving, slanderous absurdity. The existence of a principled, tolerant, constructive party of the right in American politics is not only a possibility; it is a crying need.

He would say that. He was George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter for the first five years, and a senior policy advisor, and a member of the White House Iraq Group. He’s defending his people, but he also sees what’s going on here:

In comparing the right’s fear of extreme critical race theory and the left’s fear of fascism, it is not really useful to ask which horror would be worse if implemented. Both ideologies are ultimately at war with liberal democracy – the pursuit of a common good, the practice of incremental reform, the cultivation of social trust and the acceptance of democratic outcomes.

But it is crucial to ask which nightmare is currently most likely to be implemented. And here there is no question.

Extreme wokeness – the enforcement of ideological sameness through intimidation, the illiberal silencing of competing voices, the canceling of human beings for relatively minor infractions, the forced, ritual renunciations of previous views – is a problem on some college campuses, in some newsrooms and within some corporate cultures. And I don’t want to minimize such excesses.

But seriously now. Only one of these nightmares has taken over a major political party, which is in the process of purging all dissent. Only one of these delusions is the governing vision of a former president who just might be president again. Only one of these developments has turned the backbones of the minority leader of the House, the minority leader of the Senate and almost every other Republican leader into gelatinous goo. Only one of these ideologies produced a crowd that sacked the U.S. Capitol and threatened violence against political leaders. Only one of these movements is working in state legislatures across the country to make electoral systems more vulnerable to manipulation and mob rule.

That’s the real nightmare here:

Right-wing authoritarianism is the force that could undo the American system. In a contest of nightmares, it is not even a contest.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman confirms that:

After the norm-shattering presidency of Donald J. Trump, the violence-inducing bombast over a stolen election, the pressuring of state vote counters, the Capitol riot and the flood of voter curtailment laws rapidly being enacted in Republican-run states, Washington has found itself in an anguished state.

Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter suppression efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of citizens, mainly people of color, in a cynical effort to grab power. Metal detectors sit outside the House chamber to prevent lawmakers – particularly Republicans who have boasted of their intention to carry guns everywhere – from bringing weaponry to the floor. Democrats regard their Republican colleagues with suspicion, believing that some of them collaborated with the rioters on Jan. 6.

But maybe not:

Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some breezing over the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state voting law changes are to restore “integrity” to the process, even as they give credence to Mr. Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election.

They shrug off Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as the overheated language of politics as usual.

No, it’s not that:

For Democrats, the evidence of looming catastrophe mounts daily. Fourteen states, including politically competitive ones like Florida and Georgia, have enacted 22 laws to curtail early and mail-in ballots, limit polling places and empower partisans to police polling, then oversee the vote tally. Others are likely to follow, including Texas, with its huge share of House seats and electoral votes.

Because Republicans control the legislatures of many states where the 2020 census will force redistricting, the party is already in a strong position to erase the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House. Even moderate voting-law changes could bolster Republicans’ chances for the net gain of one vote they need to take back the Senate.

And in the nightmare outcome promulgated by some academics, Republicans have put themselves in a position to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election if the voting is close in swing states.

“Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations,” 188 scholars said in a statement expressing concern about the erosion of democracy.

This is as bad as it gets:

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who lectured on American politics at Bowdoin College before going to the Senate, put the moment in historical context. He called American democracy “a 240-year experiment that runs against the tide of human history,” and that tide usually leads from and back to authoritarianism.

He said he feared the empowerment of state legislatures to decide election results more than the troubling curtailments of the franchise.

“This is an incredibly dangerous moment, and I don’t think it’s being sufficiently realized as such,” he said.

In fact, it’s this bad:

Some other Republicans embrace the notion that they are trying to use their prerogatives as a minority party to safeguard their own power. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said the endeavor was the essence of America’s system of representative democracy, distinguishing it from direct democracy, where the majority rules and is free to trample the rights of the minority unimpeded.

“The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for,” Mr. Paul said. “The Jim Crow laws came out of democracy. That’s what you get when a majority ignores the rights of others.”

The idea of democracy and majority rule really is what goes against our history and what the country stands for? Really? Jonathan Chait has a few things to say about that:

One of the edifying side effects of the Trump era has been that, by making democracy the explicit subject of political debate, it has revealed the stark fact many influential conservatives do not believe in it. Mike Lee blurted out last fall that he opposes “rank democracy.”

And then there’s Rand Paul:

Paul is a bit of a crank, but here he is gesturing at a recognizable set of ideas that have long been articulated by conservative intellectuals. Importantly, these ideas are not identified solely with the most extreme or Trumpy conservatives. Indeed, they have frequently been articulated by conservatives who express deep personal animosity toward Donald Trump and his cultists.

The belief system Paul is endorsing contains a few related claims. First, the Founders explicitly and properly rejected majoritarianism. (Their favorite shorthand is “We’re a republic, not a democracy.”) Second, to the extent the current system has shortcomings, they reveal the ignorance of the majority and hence underscore the necessity of limiting democracy. Third, slavery and Jim Crow are the best historical examples of democracy run amok.

There’s a tradition of this:

The National Review has consistently advocated this worldview since its founding years, when it used these ideas to oppose civil-rights laws, and has persisted in using these ideas to argue for restrictions on the franchise. “Was ‘democracy’ good when it empowered slave owners and Jim Crow racists?” asked NR’s David Harsanyi. Majority rule “sounds like a wonderful thing… if you haven’t met the average American voter,” argued NR’s Kevin Williamson, rebutting the horrifying ideal of majority rule with the knock-down argument: “If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.”

It is important to understand that these conservatives have taken Trump’s election, and escalating threats to democracy, not as a challenge to their worldview but as confirmation of it.

And it’s nonsense:

The factual predicate for these beliefs is deeply confused. The Founders did reject “democracy,” but they understood the term to mean direct democracy, contrasting it with representative government, in which the people vote for elected officials who are accountable to them.

It is also true that they created a system that was not democratic. In part this was because they did not consider Americans like Black people, women, and non-landowners as deserving of the franchise. On top of this, they were forced to grudgingly accept compromises of the one-man, one-vote principle in order to round up enough votes for the Constitution; thus the “Three-Fifths Compromise” (granting extra weight in Congress to slaveholders) and the existence of the Senate.

But that’s old news:

Since the 18th century, the system has evolved in a substantially more democratic direction: The franchise has been extended to non-landowners, women, and Black people and senators are now elected by voters rather than state legislatures, among other pro-democratic reforms. To justify democratic backsliding by citing the Founders is to use an argument that proves far too much: Restoring our original founding principles would support disenfranchising the overwhelming majority of the electorate, after all.

And there’s this:

Even more absurd is the notion that “Jim Crow laws came out of democracy.” Southern states attempted to establish democratic systems after the Civil War, but these governments were destroyed by violent insurrection. Jim Crow laws were not the product of democracy; they were the product of its violent overthrow.

But that’s a minor matter:

The most insidious aspect of the Lee-Paul right-wing belief system is its circularity. The more openly the far right threatens democracy, the more it proves democracy is dangerous, and the more necessary it is to strengthen the right’s claim to minority rule. In a healthy polity, all parties would simply accept the value of democracy and views like this would be disqualifying and scandalous. We’ve reached a point, however, when a Senator can openly attack democracy and it’s just more partisan rhetoric.

That’s the nightmare now, and Philip Bump adds this:

One of the most important lessons for Americans to take from the 2020 presidential election is the extent to which the will of voters is subject to revision. There are always checks on the power of the electorate, of course, including judicial review of measures passed by legislatures or directly by the people. The past year, though, has shown how elected officials, generally overt partisans, can similarly redirect the will of voters.

An underrecognized example comes from Missouri. Last year, voters in the state approved an expansion of Medicaid eligibility by a six-point margin, with 82,000 more votes in support of the measure. The Republican-led legislature, though, simply declined to fund the proposal. Last month, Gov. Mike Parson (R) withdrew his framework for the expansion.

That decision probably will end up in court, but it’s instructive: Legislators disagreed with the majority of voters, so they stymied them.

There were no such complaints about the results in Missouri when Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden by nearly half a million votes there in November. Instead, such objections played out more forcefully elsewhere with Republican legislators and officials across the country trying earnestly to reject results in places that had preferred Biden, at times by fairly narrow margins.

That’s where we are now. Things have changed:

It was an interesting evolution since 2016, when Trump’s popular-vote loss was waved away because of his victory in the electoral college vote. That victory was presented as a triumph of an equalizing system, a demonstration of How the System Was Meant to Work, leveling out the power of more populous states.

When Trump also lost the electoral vote four years later, the importance of the electoral college was revised somewhat. Now, instead of simply being a way to balance power, the electoral college was presented as a sort of fail-safe point at which state legislatures were empowered – if not mandated – to review how the public had voted. Despite the complete absence of any credible suggestion of rampant voter fraud, such claims were the predicate for those efforts to move electors from the political left to the political right. The electoral college gave Republicans a way to try to shift the results, an opportunity they embraced and, in fact, cast as some sort of solemn duty.

And one thing led to another:

This effort culminated on Jan. 6, both in the illegal effort to physically block Congress from counting the cast electoral votes and in efforts by Congress to somehow force states to reconsider their decisions. More than half of the Republican caucus in the House joined more than half a dozen Republican senators to try to block the results in several states, even after a violent mob overran the Capitol.

In the months since, a number of states with Republican-led legislatures have passed efforts to make it easier in the future to reject the results of elections.

That’s about limiting the involvement of the public in decision-making, which is what Rand Paul actually said:

Paul’s argument that democracy “goes against our history” is dubious, to put it generously. It’s an effort to give primacy to the check on power instead of the power itself. But because the Republican Party is increasingly feeling frustrated by the voters’ expressed will, it’s becoming more useful to argue that the will of the voters was never what the United States was about, really.

So, welcome to that nightmare. That’s the scariest one.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to The Current Nightmares

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