February 20, 2022 Glenn Stewart
The philosopher, theologian, medical doctor and Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer disagreed with Descartes’ famous idiom, “Cogito ergo sum,” I think, therefore I am. That was too easy for Schweitzer. “If humans think at all, they must think something,” he wrote. Our most fundamental thought must be, Dr. Schweitzer surmised, “I will to live amongst others who also will to live.” Quite right. Our survival depends upon finding some basis by which we can co-exist—perhaps even thrive if possible—with millions of others. The most fundamental empathy; the very basis of Human Ethics, and our best chance for survival (Schweitzer was saying) is the knowledge that all Humans ‘will to live.’
Now that that’s settled…
I expect those who see the world differently from me to oppose my politics, that’s the way of the world, always has been. Of course we don’t get everything we want, that would be an irrational goal in a plural democracy of 300 million souls. Indeed, I expect opponents will cast my own views in a negative light; they’ll even misrepresent my views in order to stop my worldview ever becoming law. I expect all of that. That’s been going on for millennia…For millennia.
What’s new is an emboldened ‘neo-Right’ seemingly unwilling to merely oppose my view in the political arena. They now seem hell-bent upon eliminating my view from the discourse altogether. Though I’m certain that they themselves don’t fully understand the implications of their oddly self-destructive political views, what they’re doing is rejecting what Logicians and philosophers call “propositional logic,” which is the foundation of all successful societies. In propositional logic, ‘propositions’ are defined as statements that are either true or false, but not both. The American neo-Right however doesn’t see it that way…
We liberals still believe in debate and open political discourse, and we engage in debate knowing that some things remain true, even if inconvenient. We hope facts will help us, and so we set forth ‘propositions,’ i.e., “7 million American children go to bed hungry every night,” a fact by all known measures, and we Liberals then propose that the government might do something about it. But the current Right-wing leadership of the Republican caucus in Congress refuses even to discuss the matter.
Instead, the Republican-minority’s response is first to deny that what we’re saying is true, and then proceed to accuse us of nefarious intent. They tell their constituents, many of whom are desperately in need of help, that the Liberals are marching the Country toward socialism. They warn their voters that the relatively modest Democratic Party proposals for the poor, “may seem harmless enough, but don’t be fooled, the god-less Liberals’ are trying to lure you into a Soviet-style communism with free stuff”—Which, in the greatest grift of all time is always followed by the ‘Ask’—“We’re here to protect you,” they assure their followers, and “For a weekly donation of…” (Some Republicans don’t even bother trying to discredit the Liberals, they just recite the Party pledge-of-allegiance: “Trump is still president.”)
So it is, remarkably, the Republicans refuse to engage in intellectually honest debate with the only other major governing Party remaining, without which nothing can be accomplished for anyone. Who has power has become paramount for the neo-Right, and to that end even marginal agreement with the Left is verboten because it is seen as synonymous with ceding power, no matter the merits of the proposal.
The ‘new Right’ is aggressively and effectively pulling the levers of government, they are astutely working the system at every level from “Main Street to K-Street.” They’re fervently suppressing votes—Trump-appointed judge after Bush-appointed judge has said so. All the while they’re officially “censuring” their own Party members who disagree with their views, and for good measure they’re banning books with a fervor not seen since the 1950’s.
But their near-classically authoritarian measures extend far beyond all of that. They misuse the Judiciary to impose their will upon the majority in order to remove women’s most personal, bodily sovereignty; they’re fervently attempting to burn the roadmap of civilization by revising history to comport with their own agenda; and in an historic display of nihilism they insist that America, a majority-minority society, will cease to exist if not governed by White males of European descent. (The fact that it already does is for the Right an inconvenient, but ancillary part of the White-nationalist equation.)
They live in the world the way they want it; we live in the world the way it is. But they’ve brought their ‘world’ to each of us by way of their grip on power and their nearly indiscriminate hatred; they’ve managed to make it very personal. When the fictional Professor Harold Hill sang to unsuspecting Iowans his warning that disaster is at their door —“There’s trouble right here in River City,” he was singing our song.
How did it get this far?
It is fortunate at least that the neo-Right is so transparent, for it allows us to see, in an unhappy irony, that it is they who stir memories of Soviet-style governance, including surveillance cameras in the classroom in order to insure adherence to the Party-line. (After all, not just anyone was allowed to teach children in the Soviet Union, or in 1930’s Germany for that matter.) The Nazis and the Soviets may have had it right, they’re saying.
For decades scholars have debated how it is that entire populations have, time and again, walked willingly into the den of fascism only to find their world in ruins when they emerged. The letters and diaries from the 1930’s of ordinary Germans tell us that they were mostly ambivalent regarding Hitler’s plan for a new, racially-pure world order. While there is convincing evidence that the majority of German citizens were motivated by national humiliation and economic privation, fatally-large, powerful factions enthusiastically embraced the Fuhrer’s mission to consolidate the national community squarely behind his revision of universal moral principles.
We should be alert to the American neo-Right precisely because the German letters between family and friends from the 1930’s tend to justify and gloss over the rise of the Nazis’ murderous regime. In an ominous historical echo, rank & file Republicans overwhelmingly support their neo-Right Republican leaders, even when those leaders insist that the bloody insurrection of January 6, 2021 was “Legitimate political discourse.”
Indeed, as we watch the neo-Right in America moving openly toward ‘critical mass,’ looking back one cannot but wonder how we were not more astonished in the 1930s as the Nazis came to power.
Are there issues today that we neglect but which our grandchildren will think more problematic—perhaps the fact that undocumented immigrants test, but do not receive our empathy; that our prison population does not attract our attention; that we clutch our pearls at the notion of Climate Change; or that American children go hungry and homeless or fear being shot at school (with our ‘thoughts & prayers’)? These are not issues that compare in any way to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, but they are issues that may be examples of our own blindness. This is no time for democracy-loving Americans to assume that what’s going on is ‘business as usual,’ we should instead be on high-alert. The Nazis went after artists and writers early in their purge of the impertinent and impure, as such we’re not surprised it was a Poet, Emily Dickenson who, having watched in horror America’s long march toward Civil War, urged us “not to lose our sense of alarm, of dismay, of shock.”
Maybe the Founders had it all wrong…
A compromise that might allow the best of the Republic to continue functioning for most of us seems no longer satisfactory to the Republican Party. What that means cannot be overstated. Make no mistake: This latest incarnation of an age-old, demagogic, Right-wing cabal is dead-serious; don’t let the tiki-torches fool you. Nearly every torchbearer in Charlottesville also carried a gun. In the context of invective-laden diatribes against Liberals, they direct millions of their followers to “Lock & Load.” And they’ve added a new twist to the history of deteriorating democracies; they’re broadcasting their end-game for all to see in an age of media-technology never dreamt of by Nazis and Bolsheviks. In fact the neo-Right Republican Party is openly-declaring, in no uncertain terms, that those who oppose them will ultimately acquiesce at the point of a g—No, let’s use their euphemism—“A Second Amendment remedy.”
The mid twentieth-century, implied-self-sacrificial adage “Better dead than Red” is replaced with the sociopathic, “Better a dead Liberal than compromise with one.” Our (Liberal/Progressive) political opposition to their views is for the neo-Right an existential struggle for survival. To put it in Schweitzerian terms, they no longer recognize our mutual, fundamental ‘will to live.’
Indeed, one of our only two governing Parties talks openly of ‘burning it down.’ We are left only with our imagination to ponder what they intend to put in place of what the Framers crafted in 1787. Republican leaders variously provide insight into their thinking when they tell us that Israeli ‘space lasers’ corrupted our electronic voting machines; they allege that a continent-wide conspiracy of thousands of Left-wing civil servants (“The Deep State”) ‘rigged’ our last election at the precinct-level (except the ones won by Republicans); some accuse Democratic Party leaders of human trafficking and cannibalism. In short, the neo-Right seeks to convince their followers that after hundreds of years and thousands of elections, the Framers’ construct is no longer useful. “The Founding Fathers,” the Righties would have you know, “could not have imagined the evil [Liberals] of our time.”
So it is that any thought-experiment designed to test their brutally reductive thinking must begin with the following proposition: Maybe the Framers got it wrong.
After all, Madison was awfully young, Abigail Adams thought so, and Franklin was a womanizer; Washington was insufferably stiff & aloof (all who loved him agreed), and sure, Jefferson was smart, but, his arch-enemy Aaron Burr (who called him “Massa”) said, he had an “Unfortunate penchant for a woman of a dark hue”—And don’t forget that exasperating, high & mighty-Puritan Adams, nobody liked him…Perhaps Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ron Johnson, Donald and Ivanka Trump, and Rudy Giuliani know what’s best after all. In a hair-on-fire moment for our Country, my sardonic joke has become a very serious matter as millions of Americans are persuaded that maybe, just maybe the cagey, “Cancun” Ted Cruz and the dim-witted Don Junior will save us from the tyranny they claim the “Left” will rain-upon the Nation.
There is some solace in the fact that Trump’s allure to his Party is slowly fading, which it was bound to. But all is not well. While Trump was best known for calling his opponents names, his inspired-followers—Trump 2.0, call for their execution (“Hang Mike Pence!”). An even more virulent form of mindless lashing-out is taking the former carnival-barker-in-chief’s place.
The neo-Right, Trump’s offspring, threatens to take a match to our Republic in the name of saving it, or worse, “taking it back” (your guess is as good as mine as to what that means). The rest of us would do well to remember that our 235-year-old Constitution is in fact only fading-ink-on-hemp-paper, and highly vulnerable, as it were, to a hand holding a lighted-match. Here in the world the way it is, “Earth I” we Liberals call it, the Constitution governs when enough of us insist it does, and for no other reason. There is no law of Nature that says a democratic Constitution has to be the law of the land. The fact is, Human beings created it, and Humans can make it go away.
We can do something…
We can’t prevent the Right-wingers from painting themselves into a rhetorical corner that leaves them no way out, short of violence. They have, to this point, proven immune to reason and pleas of enlightened self-interest. But we can continue to remain alert and speak out about it, and for as long as possible, we can refuse to meet threats of violence with similar threats, or even actual violence. With persistent, rational, non-violent opposition we can hold them off, even if we (clearly) aren’t able to stop them altogether.
One thing is certain and offers our best hope—Those of us who only wish to live together in peace and with justice for all outnumber those who don’t. Our present dilemma is, in part, because the loudest-voices happen to be authoritarian—but they are not the majority of voices. The fact is, they are obsessed with ‘out-gunning’ us precisely because they know they do not outnumber us.
© 2022 Glenn Stewart