Musing about law, books, and politics

Creating Pain and Destruction

Jim asks if all the Sen. Lindsay Graham noise about the FISA warrants and arresting the Trump Russia investigators is a concern or a grand distraction.

Answer: It’s a concern. It arises from a reactionary desire to destroy.

Consider a few of the Trump-FOX-GOP policies:

  • Warm the globe
  • Repeal the ACA
  • Destroy the environment for corporate profit
  • Jail those who investigated Trump Russia
  • Manufacture a border crisis / take steps to make the border crisis worse

Notice that each of those policies:

  • Deliberately inflicts pain on people
  • Causes massive destruction
  • Puts money into the pockets of would-be oligarchs
  • All the above.

There’s a method to the madness, best understood in the context of reactionary politics.

Reactionism is a “forceful desire to return to the past.” (Definition from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/pops.12540 )

Underlying reactionism is “anger, fear, nostalgic hope, betrayal, and perceived injustice.”

The word “again” in “Make America Great Again” signals reactionist politics.

Make America Great Again means take us back to the days when (white) men had much “personal liberty.”

  • They could grab women
  • They could grab land (the frontier!)
  • Before regulatory agencies they could manipulate markets, fix prices, launder money, and pollute rivers.

To return to the “good old days” they have to dismantle all the regulations and regulatory agencies that prevent (white) men from grabbing whatever they want.

The FISA attacks can be seen as an attempt to dismantle the FBI as an independent agency and bring it under the control of Donald Trump.

The GOP is lying about the FISA warrant. Asha Rangappa has tirelessly called out the lies. Comey called the lies “dumb.”

Why are Sen. Lindsey Graham and pals lying?

Because the lies are destructive. I wrote about why Trump supporters pretend to believe his lies in this Slate article.

Trump supporters argue that the lies point out an important truth, and they care about the deeper truth.

The lie—“the warrant was illegal”—points to a deeper truth: The existence of the FBI is a threat to their “individual liberty.”

They think the Trump campaign should have been able to do what ever it wanted. How dare the government regulate them? Let’s go back to the good old days before pesky government agencies!

What we call legal surveilling with a warrant, they call “spying.”

If you want back in time when (white) men were “free” you can dismantle the government with its alphabet soup of agencies slowly or bring in a wrecking ball.

A wrecking ball (Trump) is more efficient.

(Much of the nostalgia is for a mythic era, but that’s another post)

Now consider how much human pain is inflicted by policies like repealing the ACA and polluting water. Timothy Snyder calls it Sadopopulism.

SadoPopulism explains how oligarchs—those who seek both power and wealth—seize power and stay in power.

SadoPopulism comes from Russia. It was perfected by Putin and is now being used by America’s far right wing, brought to you by people like Steve Bannon.

Sadopopulism is simple: Enact policies that cause pain, turn the pain into anger, and direct the anger against “enemies.”

For example, create a border crisis and then direct the rage against “those” people who are coming to take what belongs to “real” Americans.

Meanwhile the would-be oligarchs are enriching themselves through tax cuts and policies that allow them to pollute rivers for profit.

See how the cycle works? Soon polluted rivers or global warming will create more pain, which can be turned to anger.

A leader like Obama tried to make life better for average Americans. Would-be oligarchs can’t do that. If they do, others can rise and challenge their power.

You might say, “In trying to create an oligarchy, they’re not trying to take us backward! We’ve never had oligarchy before! They’re a criminal enterprise taking us someplace entirely new and scary.”

Ding. Ding. Ding. Wrong.

We’ve had two oligarchies in the U.S. so far.

The first oligarchy was slavery, when wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy slaveowners.

Because of the advantages in the electoral college and the 3/5 rule, those who were pro-slavery held disproportionate power and wealth in America.

Thus the majority of our early presidents were pro-slavery. By the time of Dred Scott, the Supreme Court was stuffed with pro-slavery justices.

The Civil War ended slavery, but soon came the rise of robber barons and a second oligarchy. For more, see:

The New Deal got us out of the age of robber barons. We are now experiencing our third slide into oligarchy.

GOP policies have created today’s income inequality, which is approaching what we had in the 1920s:

OK, so, how do we get out of this third oligarchy?

FDR taught us how.

Basically there are two ways to respond to the current reactionist politics of destruction and sadism.

  • Fight fire with fire, or
  • Work to stabilize our institutions while we remove the reactionaries from power through legal means.

Guess which I think is best?

Democracy is grinding work.

Checks and balances slow the pace.

Due process takes time.

Autocrats aren’t hampered by any of that, so they can move quickly.

The ability of autocrats to move quickly explains their appeal.

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