Libertarianism as Gateway Drug?

I wanted to address a recent article in The Daily Beast, written by their token conservative, Matt Lewis, and entitled “The Insidious Libertarian-to-Alt-Right Pipeline.”

Lewis’ thesis is that “a disproportionate number of today’s prominent alt-righters began as libertarians.” Lewis talked to various libertarians for the article, including The Cato Institute’s David Boaz, who told him, “People change ideologies all the time… Jason Kessler apparently was in Occupy Wall Street before he became an alt-right leader. The original neocons were leftists first. Hillary was a Goldwater Girl.” Boaz also said: “Some people may become libertarians because they’re angry… For a while, it’s enough to be angry at the government. But ultimately libertarianism is about peaceful cooperation―markets, civil society, global trade, peace―so it just isn’t angry enough for some people. Racial intolerance is a way to be angry at the whole world. And I think you hear that in some of the alt-right types.” Lewis also quoted Steve Horwitz of the Bleeding Heart Libertarians site, who points out: “The paleo-libertarian seed that Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Lew Rockwell planted in the 1990s has come to bear some really ugly fruit in the last couple of years as elements of the alt-right have made appearances in various libertarian organizations and venues”.

Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine, who was interviewed for this piece, nevertheless responded to it, saying “there is no “pipeline” between libertarianism and the alt-right. The alt-right—and Trumpism, too, to the extent that it has any coherence—is an explicit rejection of foundational libertarian beliefs in “free trade and free migration” along with experiments in living that make a mess of rigid categories that appeal to racists, sexists, protectionists, and other reactionaries. In that sense, the call by Hot Air‘s Taylor Millard for libertarians to purge white supremacists, anti-Semites, and living, breathing Nazis from our movement is misdirected since such people by definition are not libertarian.”

I personally think Gillespie protests too much, because there are clearly a lot of un-libertarian right-wingers who nevertheless identify themselves to the public as libertarians. But we do need to state why libertarianism itself is not the issue.

Broadly, part of the issue is that leftists aren’t the only ones who have the wrong idea about libertarianism. It is no longer worth recounting the number of people I’ve seen on social media yapping that “libertarians are just Republicans who like dope” as though that were an original or profound observation. Unfortunately I’m coming to think that liberals have lost the ability to come up with original observations on this subject or any other.

But certainly it’s true that many people have the wrong idea. It stands to reason if the libertarian virtue can be broadly defined as “freedom” or individualism. But that leads to a herding-cats problem where you have to get a bunch of declared individualists to get on the same page with something. In particular, it comes down to whether the virtue of freedom for oneself as an individual is an ethic that can be applied universally to other people. It’s insufficient for libertarianism to be reduced to “I don’t want the government telling ME what to do.” Because that attitude is something that everyone has at some point in life. The rich guy doesn’t want to pay taxes. The woman doesn’t want to be forced to carry a pregnancy. If libertarianism is going to expand beyond its current following, it should promote a broader and more challenging ethic. Such as: Do I want the government telling everyone else what to do?

And this is where we come to the issue of the Right having the wrong idea about libertarianism.

So much of leftist criticism of libertarianism comes down to a perception that rights (especially property rights) only apply to “me.” Unfortunately there are a lot of people who justify their bigotry on exactly those grounds. In the article, Lewis gives the example of Christopher Cantwell (aka ‘Crying Nazi‘ ). On his blog, Cantwell mentioned the influence of Lew Rockwell and Hans Hermann Hoppe, and from these concluded “that the libertine (sic) vision of a free society was quite distorted. The society we sought actually would provide far more order and control than [would] modern democratic governments. It would encourage more socially conservative behavior and less compulsory association. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, I was once again reminded of my naivety (sic).” Similarly the sudden fashion in Confederacy apologism actually has its roots in a perception that a government more oriented around the states than a central authority is more conducive to liberty, and these advocates point out, accurately, that the policy of Republican President Abraham Lincoln was a great leap in the promotion of a big nationalist government over one that recognized its limits and the sovereignty of states. (Which makes their current devotion to ‘small-government’ Republicans that much more odd.) As the phrase goes, before the Civil War, Americans would say “the United States are…” and afterward we said “The United States IS.”

It’s just that such a perception also ignores the central contradiction in upholding a state’s “right” to legalize slavery while also declaring that “all men are created equal.” In his blog, Cantwell also said ““People should be free to exercise complete control over their own person and property. If blacks are committing crimes, or Jews are spreading communism, discriminating against them is the right of any property owner. The fact that he may or may not miss out on good blacks or Jews is a risk he takes, and the merit of his decisions will be proven out by the market. Since a libertarian society would permit this, it seemed foolish that I should be compelled to support a democratic government policy which did not”. Again, the concept of “people” seems to specifically exclude blacks and Jews where Cantwell is concerned. But to uphold a value, especially in politics, is to say it applies outside oneself. By contrast, Ayn Rand once wrote:  “Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man cannot and must not violate the rights of another.  For instance: a man has the right to live, but he has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free, but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness, but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts defines the same right of another man, and serves as a guide to tell him what he may or may not do.” (emphasis added)

The danger (to both libertarianism and conservatism) is that disregard for ethics serves to undermine once-valid principles of individual liberty, and political concepts like “states’ rights” (which are at the core of the federal system of government but are undermined by racist arguments). Indeed, many of the “Big Government” expansions we have seen in the last one hundred years, such as the Civil Rights Act, gained support precisely because individual liberty (for blacks and other minorities) was being undermined by arguments ostensibly in defense of liberty (for whites who already held power). Rand opposed the Civil Rights Act for the same reason that Barry Goldwater did: it attempted to legislate not only states’ rights but voluntary association in places like restaurants. But this argument eventually became the basis for the “Southern Strategy” in which the Republican “Party of Lincoln” increasingly shifted its pitch to Southern states, including those that voted Barry Goldwater for President in 1964, even though he also opposed segregation. Which in turn made it that much easier for the Left spectrum to claim that Goldwater in particular and the Right in general were on board with racism. This is only one example of how apparent attachment to principle disregards the moral objective and allows the Left to shape the debate to the general public in ways that their own propaganda cannot achieve.

In any case a lot of right-wingers don’t even have Goldwater’s real (if problematic) level of principle. In Lewis’ article, he references another Bleeding Heart Libertarians blogger, Kevin Vallier, who writes: “So what’s wrong with us? What’s our problem?  My answer: the contrarian trap.

“Libertarianism is an unpopular view. And it takes particular personality types to be open to taking unpopular views. Some of these personality types are people who are open to new experience, love the world of ideas and have a disposition for independent thought. However, some of these personality types simply enjoy holding outrageous and provocative views, who like to argue and fight with others, who like insult and and shock. The contrarian is someone of the latter type. … The worst flaw in the contrarian trap is that it makes libertarians open to views that deserve to be unpopular and despised, including the thinly-veiled racism of the sort the Hans Hermann Hoppe trades in from time to time.”

And Gillespie told Lewis, “It’s ironic that some of these people start off calling themselves libertarian, but they are the antithesis of everything that the libertarian project stands for—which is cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, individualism vs. group identity, and libertarianism or autonomy versus authoritarianism”.

So basically you have a group of people who glommed onto the libertarian label without deep analysis for the sake of being contrarian and used it to promote a tribalist, illiberal and authoritarian politics totally at odds with what the term actually means.

You know, the same way they also call themselves “Christians.”

I need to return to my theory on “polarization” in American politics because this is important. Polarization in America doesn’t work the way people assume it does, where the Democrats become more extreme-Left and the Republicans become more extreme-Right. No. The way it’s turned out in practice is that the Republican Right has become more obsessed with ideological purity as attempts to get things done through the system are stymied not only by Democrats but by moderate “RINOs” and “cucks.” Not only does that mean that the “leftist” agenda of the Democratic Party is muddied by a bunch of center-to-right people who really don’t belong there but no longer have a home in the Republican Party either, it means that the “mainstream” Republican Party becomes more attractive to a certain group. People who are not merely contrarian but angry and intolerant, as Boaz implies. The libertarian movement is not what these people are looking for. Moreover, if being an unpopular third-party movement gives libertarians the freedom to endorse unpopular policies, we also have freedom in that we have no fear of losing votes that we don’t have in the first place. But what party has a chance of changing the laws, enforcing policy on undesirables, and is actively recruiting people with a desire to turn the government into an instrument of right-wing culture war? And what party needs those people to win elections on turnout when they will never appeal to a majority? The Republicans.

Lewis holds that libertarianism is an insidious pipeline to reactionary belief on the Right. The truth turns out to be more insidious: Reactionary thought has built a pipeline to mainstream conservatism.

Lewis concludes his piece by saying that libertarians need to focus on purging the white supremacists from the movement. And that is excellent advice. The problem is that given the much broader following and influence of (what was) mainstream conservatism, it is a lesson that applies much more strongly to conservatives and the Republican Party. And it’s not as though they were not once aware of this. When William F. Buckley sought to forge conservatism as a philosophy that was actually fit to challenge the dominant New Deal liberalism, he and his editors at National Review deliberately sought to frame the definitions of the conservative movement, including a purge of right-wingers like the extremist John Birch Society and the philosopher Ayn Rand (whose main sin was thinking that altruist Christianity was incompatible with capitalism). Eventually National Review came to oppose contemporary segregation – after Buckley had endorsed it.   So it’s not like conservatism was a philosophy where people were incapable of reason or unable to change their minds after review of facts. Indeed, that was the reputation for intellect that Buckley and his magazine had built- and it is the reputation that has since been trashed by Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes and the school that holds politics to be less about serious policy and more about stirring up grievances for profit.

What is the difference between that conservative movement and the contemporary one? One example may illustrate.

Austin Gillespie, who legally changed his name to Augustus Sol Invictus, a follower of Aleister Crowley’s Thelemite philosophy who was kicked out of the Ordo Templi Orientis, admits to animal sacrifice, and had run for US Senate in Florida last year as a Libertarian, causing the state party chairman to resign in protest, mainly over his (alleged) support for eugenics. After losing the Libertarian state primary (by 50 points), Invictus identified himself as a reactionary, and in July 13, 2017, changed his party registration to Republican to run as that party’s nominee in the 2018 Senate race.

So any liberals or conservatives who are concern-trolling on the bad influence of reactionaries on the libertarian movement, please consider that “Augustus Sol Invictus” had to change his party registration to Republican because the Libertarian Party didn’t want to be associated with radical fringe weirdos.

In any case the official Libertarian Party is already aware of the problem. In response to the Charlottesville riots, on August 15, National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict released the following statement: https://www.lp.org/libertarians-condemn-bigotry-irrational-repugnant/

“The Libertarian Party condemns bigotry as irrational and repugnant, and offers its condolences to the family of the woman killed in Charlottesville, Va.

There is no room for racists and bigots in the Libertarian Party. If there are white nationalists who — inappropriately — are members of the Libertarian Party, I ask them to submit their resignations today. We don’t want them to associate with the Libertarian Party, and we don’t want their money. I’m not expecting many resignations, because our membership already knows this well.

The Libertarian Party Platform states, “We condemn bigotry as irrational and repugnant. Government should neither deny nor abridge any individual’s human right based upon sex, wealth, ethnicity, creed, age, national origin, personal habits, political preference, or sexual orientation.”

The Libertarian Party is tolerant and accepting, supporting civil liberties, gay marriage, and freedom of religion for all, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists. The Libertarian Party supports open borders, civil liberties, racial diversity, and free trade — things that white nationalists abhor.”

Given the influence of libertarianism on the alt-right (or vice versa) Benedict’s warning is probably not enough. But it is unequivocal, and it is clear in stating that racists are not welcome in his Party. That is a lot more than the institutional Republican Party has dared to do.

Which implies that one party is more scared of losing racist votes than the other.

 

Here’s Another Idea

In my analyses of Donald Trump and the people who vote for him, I have said that part of the challenge for the post-Trump period is for lawmakers to create safeguards against the errors that led us to this point, and that may require more regulation, not less. For instance, I think there should be a maximum income rule so that if a presidential candidate or president makes more than (say) 1 million dollars a year, he is no longer eligible for free Secret Service protection and must either pay the government for personal services or buy them privately. An issue that’s come back into the news recently.

There are other issues we need to consider. Reviewing some of the news feeds this week where some of the Trump cult have revealed themselves to be just a little bit racist, it’s getting harder and harder for “conservatives” to ask the rest of us why the rest of us think they’re all racist. I was reminded of an earlier post where I said, among other things, that  Trump voters can’t all be racist, “Just as not everyone with lung cancer smoked cigarettes in their life, but things have gotten to where it’s a leading indicator.”

And then it hit me that the analogy applies beyond that point.

When television became a true mass medium in the 1950s, tobacco companies were major sponsors of TV programs. But as evidence of the health effects of tobacco addiction mounted, it became easier and easier for the government to regulate not only cigarette advertisements on TV but other sponsorship activities by tobacco companies. By 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was signed by everybody’s favorite conservative, Richard Nixon, and cigarette advertising on both television and radio was banned. Advertising restrictions were expanded until at this point tobacco ads (for both smoked and smokeless tobacco) are banned in most media except print sources. More recently (2010) the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” prohibits tobacco companies from sponsoring music and sporting events, and even forbids advertising on T-shirts or other apparel.

It is questionable exactly how much government should protect us from our own stupidity, but this example certainly proves there is legal precedent for them to do so. Given the damage we have already seen the Trump Right inflict on the process of government, it is not a matter of abstract speculation as to whether their influence will be addressed in the future, let alone how. But the increasing regulation of the tobacco industry gives us some guidelines on how such action could proceed.

For one thing, since most people get their information from basic cable, social media and other Internet sources, the FCC can simply ban political advertisements on broadcast TV and radio, which are already regulated.  Of course, there would be cause to object on the grounds of free speech, especially from Republicans who are more reliant on TV advertising than Democrats. At that point both parties would have to admit just how often the FCC has used it’s regulatory mandate for transparently political purposes. But that’s a subject we can discuss at another time.

Another aspect of cigarette regulation is that as of 1965, each pack of cigarettes has the famous “Surgeon General’s Warning” on it. In 1981, the Federal Trade Commission reported in a study that despite the pervasiveness of this warning,  it had little effect on consumers’ smoking habits.  Thus after 1984, it was mandated that the warnings be more specific than the traditional “The Surgeon General has determined that smoking may be hazardous to your health.” These newer warnings include “Smoking Causes Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema and May Complicate Pregnancy.” Not fucking around.

Rather than a straight ban on advertising, a similar set of warnings could be mandated for any political advertisements (for instance, anytime Donald Trump or one of his shills appears on CNN). These warnings would have to be equally specific and relevant to the content of what is being sold to the public through mass media. For instance, whenever Trump says “We’re going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it” the screen would read:

“The Only People Paying for The Wall are American Taxpayers, Including Those Who Were Gullible Enough to Vote for a 4-Time Bankrupt New Jersey Casino Boss.”

Or the next time a political action committee advertises on TV for the Congressional agenda, the ad would include:

“The Last Republican Healthcare Bill Was Not Reviewed Even By Republicans And Would Have Made You Pay More Money For Less Coverage.”

And the next time someone draws a moral equivalence between General Lee and General Washington, equivocates on racism or supports that political agenda, the screen would read:

“WARNING: Supporting Racism In Government Can Cause Your Hometown To Be Bombed Into Rubble, Your Bridges Demolished, Your Food Supplies Raided, Your Women Raped and Your Families Relocated By Pissed-Off Soldiers From the Countries You Wanted to Destroy.”

I must admit, I hesitated before writing this piece. As a libertarian, I think that making this idea into a regulation with the force of law would be slightly nauseating. But at this point, that’s how I feel about the entire Republican Party. And in any case, we cannot suppress “hate” speech, political ideas or political parties simply because they offend the day’s transitory fashion of political correctness. By the same token, we should bring attention to offensive ideas so that they do not go unchallenged or tacitly encouraged. Think of this suggestion as an example of caveat emptor.

 

Are Nazis Bad?

The surreal part of living through the reign of King Donnie, First of His Name is that we have to ask ourselves civic questions that we really shouldn’t have to ask. Like: Can a president pardon himself for gross corruption involving Russian agents and criminals? And then in the wake of Charlottesville, there’s another question being asked that ought to be obvious: Are Nazis bad?

Well, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what you mean by “bad.”

The beautiful thing about the English language is that any given concept can be described with a number of words, and by the same token, several words can be interpreted in more than one way. As with “bad.” When we say Nazis are bad, does that mean that they are spiritually Evil? Yes.

Does that mean that they are wrong and should not be allied with? Yes.

But does “bad” mean that Nazis are bad in the sense of being bad at their jobs, in the sense that they won’t do what they say they will, or that they are outright incompetent?

Let’s see.

Anybody who saw the original Star Trek will remember the episode where Captain Kirk went to look up John Gill, the history professor he studied under at the Academy, and found that the planet where Gill had gone to study had somehow turned into an analog of Nazi Germany. And when the Enterprise crew investigated, Kirk discovered to his horror that his professor was actually the Fuehrer of this Nazi regime. Once Kirk got to confront the professor, he asked why he would come up with such a horrible idea, and the old man said that Nazi Germany was the “most efficient state Earth ever knew.” And Spock concurred, saying: “Quite true, Captain. That tiny country, beaten, bankrupt, defeated; rose in a few years to stand only one step away from global domination.”

When the Nazis formed a parliamentary government in 1932, they spent the next two years consolidating power, especially after the death of the aged head of state Paul von Hindenburg. A primary goal of the Nazis, and of the establishment military who were not always on board with Hitler, was to re-arm the country so that it could become a major power again.

One major instrument in this program was a financial scheme based on a previous program of the Weimar Republic. Promissory notes were issued by the Society for Public Works through the Reichsbank and used for job creation and public building projects, similar to projects in both Fascist Italy and Franklin Roosevelt’s later New Deal. When the Nazis took over, this project was used by Economics Minister (and Reichsbank president) Hjalmar Schacht. As part of the public-works program, Schacht helped initiate the construction of the Autobahn network (which was expanded under post-Nazi governments) and also modified the promissory bills program, creating the limited liability company Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft or “MEFO” for short. Mefo bills served as notes of exchange convertible to Reichsmarks on demand. The MEFO company had no existence except as a balance sheet entity. In his postwar testimony at the Nuremberg trials, Schacht said that the device “enabled the Reichsbank to lend by a subterfuge to the Government what it normally or legally could not do”.

While Mefo bills did serve to address the government’s deficit problems, inherited from the Great Depression, it also served to allow the Nazi regime to fund re-armament programs, paying arms manufacturers with off-sheet funds that concealed a military buildup forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.

This government spending, as in Italy and the US, did help pull Germany out of the Depression, but the Mefo bills had interest that would eventually come due. Furthermore, in order to satisfy the regime’s demand for imported materials, Schacht supervised the “New Plan” that operated “by various measures suspending the service on Germany’s foreign indebtedness, by freezing other claims of foreigners on Germany, by a stringent system of export controls and by eliminating foreign travel and other unessential foreign expenditures.” These imports and domestic product were in turn directed by the Ministry of Economics with production quotas, in particular scarce war materials, in preparation for the eventual wartime economy.

In the Star Trek parallel, Kirk asked Spock why John Gill would use Nazi Germany as a political model knowing the results, and Spock answered “Perhaps Gill felt that such a state, run benignly, could accomplish its efficiency without sadism.” That turned out not to be the case; in the episode Gill was secretly neutralized and drugged by an unscrupulous lieutenant who used propaganda to incite his nation toward a genocidal war. In the case of the real Nazis, Hitler’s whole agenda was predicated on race war and conquest of Europe, and any beneficial changes were simply instrumental to creating a better war machine for that purpose. The economic miracle was based on a financial shell game whose bill was coming due and which could only be paid by looting nearby countries.

Which is why ultimately there is no distinction between the moral and the practical. If one seeks the quick and easy path to power by alliance with Evil, that means you cut corners and you make mistakes. The bad guys cut corners in that they dispense with bourgeois luxuries like “individual rights” and “rule of law.” But a leadership that holds itself to no higher standards than their own whim is prone to ignore information that goes against its dogma (like, don’t pick fights with the entire planet at once) and they suffer in the long run.

But one could argue that in the short run, Germans weren’t aware that things would turn out the way they did. When Hitler took over, Germany was still fairly screwed. And over six years, it became an industrially strong military power again. If Hitler had left off after saying the Sudetenland was “my last territorial demand” his regime might have survived. Because up to that point, evil as the Nazis were, they hadn’t made too many administrative mistakes.

And this is where the comparison to the modern day comes in. And even now, I generally find direct comparisons of Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump overheated. Although there was that one time in June 1941 when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and then six months later said, “nobody told me that conquering Russia would be so complicated.”

Part of the problem in comparison is that as racist as America is, it was always more liberal and multiracial than Prussianized Germany, and thus the would-be Nazis of our time are still a product of the generally liberal culture they are doing their utmost to destroy. What do you call a Nazi with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs? A STUPID Nazi. What do you call a Nazi who sees his Leader with a Slavic wife, Jewish in-laws, and connections to Goldman-Sachs, and still thinks that guy is the savior of his race? A REALLY stupid Nazi.

One thing that ex-President Steve Bannon  got right is when he gave that interview to The American Prospect  and told their reporter that his focus more than foreign policy or even racism was what he called economic nationalism- the use of various devices and protectionist policies to strengthen the economy versus other nations like China. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Given how many Americans either actively support “alt-right” racism or just don’t care, the real danger of Trump’s election was there was a chance that Trump could have done just as well as Hitler – if in fact he had done just as well as Hitler. Most Germans didn’t really care about (or hate) Jews as much as they cared about getting their jobs and their country’s prestige back. The comparison of the Trump Administration to the Nazi regime would hold up better if the Leader of the movement had even Adolf Hitler’s level of emotional maturity and common sense.

Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Donald Trump, contrary to the apologist view of Nazism, is not efficient, but certainly is sadistic. The key is that the Nazis had enough regard for their own program that they could plan it out in advance with short notice and then implement it over a period of years. The Republican Party outside Trump may not be fascistic, but they did have both social and economic agendas that they had years to plan in advance anticipating a Republican president. As we have seen, they did not use that time wisely, and had no plan to replace Obamacare or enact the rest of the agenda. Their tax reform plans are probably more fleshed out than their healthcare plans, but given how much of them were based on a transfer of tax liabilities from the upper percentile to put the costs of healthcare on most customers’ deductibles, it’s doubtful that the “fiscal conservatives” will amount to much. And those guys in Congress are the serious and experienced politicians. As opposed to Mister “I’m Not A Billionaire, But I Play One On TV.”

It would take a while to go over exactly how much Donald Trump has failed his own program, assuming that he has one. So rather than print out every fuckup and self-inflicted wound that Trump has performed in just the last four weeks… just watch this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eRNCGR6pUg

Again, Bannon had at least the inkling of an idea to enact a useful “nationalist” policy with potential, but the real value is in the execution. It is generally considered that Steve Bannon was the architect of the Administration’s early “travel ban” on citizens of seven Muslim countries, but that order was unvetted, not examined by legal counsel, and so haphazardly put together that it was quickly shut down by lawyers and courts. And Bannon was the brains of the outfit. Trump’s blanket ban on transgender persons in the military seemed to have no backing other than a Twitter post, and the day afterward the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that the policy on who may serve will not change until the White House sends new rules and the Secretary of Defense issues new guidelines. In other words, “we are not enforcing this tweet until it is backed up by something legally coherent.” This is of a pattern with Trump being so mercurial, acting on the spur of the moment rather than any long-term plan, that it is easy for his maneuvers to get checked by rivals within the system – who actually know how the system works, and who fear that his bull-in-a-china-shop behavior will wreck the structure on which they all depend. It’s that much worse when the “smart” people in the White House and in the Republican Party are supposed to be on board with the reactionary plan and they fight amongst themselves. If Trump has one thing in common with Hitler, it’s his possibly deliberate method of controlling his underlings by pitting them against each other for his favor. The difference is that Hitler’s underlings were mostly loyal to both him and the ideology, and (at least in the short term) were competent.

It’s horrible enough that anybody could endorse Nazism when it works. What’s truly pathetic about the Trump Right is that they’re bad at being Nazis. If you put these schmucks in charge of invading Poland on September 1, 1939, the Polish Army would have hit Berlin by the 4th.

Of course even more pathetic than the weekend Nazis of the alt-right are the sensible cloth-coat Republicans who must now realize that their boy has enhanced their reputation the way Hitler enhanced German nationalism. I mean, if you sold your soul to the Devil for luxury and power, and you actually got it, you might tell yourself you got some short term benefit for your damnation. But if you sold your soul to kill Obamacare and build a wall on Mexico and your Devil turned out to be a whiny little punk who had to beg Mexico to pay for his idea, and then bullied more experienced Senators on Obamacare and ended up with that whole thing blowing up in his face- what have you gained? Now you’re eternally damned AND you look like a tool. That’s gotta sting.

Charlottesville

What’s the difference between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump? One is a spoiled megalomaniac who wants to destroy America. The other is Kim Jong-un.

I posted that on Facebook a few days ago. Even then I didn’t know how right I was.

Overnight, white nationalists led by Richard Spencer marched with tiki torches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. There they confronted anti-racist protestors near a statue of Thomas Jefferson, chanting “Blood and Soil“.  “Former” Klansman David Duke identified this movement with the vote for Donald Trump, saying “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

Today, August 12, the “Unite the Right” rally converged near Emancipation Park, formerly named for General Robert E. Lee and the Lee equestrian statue in the park. The Governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency before the rally could reach the park, with authorities using tear gas and chemical spray to break up protests between the white nationalists and counter-protestors. At one point a Dodge Challenger with no license plates drove into a crowd of protestors, crunching into the rear of another vehicle, before backing up (into other witnesses) and leaving the scene. At least 35 people have been injured by various causes.

A 32-year old woman has since died from the vehicle attack. As I write this, there are reports of a State Police helicopter in the area crashing and killing two occupants.

Supposedly the city’s decision to remove the Lee statue was the reason for the rally. I agree with many on the Right that we shouldn’t be using political correctness (or rather, fashionable opinion) to erase history. Unasked is the question of what history is really being erased.

The Lee equestrian statue was commissioned in 1919 and fully completed in 1924. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, only five years after the Civil War. In his postwar career, the former Confederate general had his citizenship revoked for his actions. In 1865 he was made the president of Washington College in Virginia. Before the war he had actually opposed secession but became a Confederate to defend his state of Virginia. At the time of the surrender, he opposed a postwar guerrilla campaign, saying “far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.” Lee was always against giving black men the vote but as the head of Washington College expelled students for attacks on local black men, and toward the end of his life, helped establish state schools for blacks.

Both during and after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee was admired even in the North, because whatever his opinions on race, he was at least a gentleman of honor. Which the people who act in his name today are not.

Assume, for the sake of argument (because I know some people are making this argument) that the driver turns out to be an “Antifa” leftist hitting people just to smear the Right. How would it make the Left look good if that turned out to be the case? Wouldn’t that just turn people against their tactics? So consider that in the far more likely event that the assailant is one of your guys, how does that make you look? Does it reflect well on you at all that innocent blood is on your hands? You’re not trying to unite the country. In your own terms, you are trying to mobilize a Racial Holy War. But what you don’t get is that you are convincing more and more of the country, many of whom (like me), are technically in “your” demographic, that YOU are the enemy.

See, I was setting up to post a post-election opinion on the recurring subject of whether Hillary Clinton was more to blame for the 2016 election than third-party voters. But both Jill Stein and Gary Johnson ran for President in 2012 and the psychology that made Donald Trump president in 2016 did not help Mitt Romney. Goodness knows that in 2012 there were enough right-wing racists speaking against Barack Obama, but they were not enough to win an election. This is not the fault of Gary Johnson. It is not the fault of Jill Stein. (OK, maybe a tiny bit Jill Stein.)  It is not even the fault of people who stayed home, and it is certainly not the fault of people who voted for Clinton.

You people who voted for Donald Trump?

This is on YOU.

That woman’s blood is on your hands. This is what you wanted and this is what you got.

In his grudging statement against violence today, Donald Trump, who had previously told a gathering of New York police officers “don’t be too nice” when apprehending suspects, said “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”

But there were a double-digit number of people in the Republican Party running for president in 2016, and all of them would have been offensive to the Left. It was quite likely that one of them could have gotten elected anyway, due to either Clinton hate or a general fatigue with the incumbent party, and they most likely would enact policies that would offend liberals and even moderates. None of them except Trump started their campaign by saying that Mexicans “aren’t sending (us) their best … they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists”.

None of them except Trump would ally with a self-described Leninist like Steve Bannon.

None of those campaigns would have responded to a Russian offer of Clinton campaign dirt with the three words: “I love it.” None of those campaigns would have coordinated a meeting with Russian agents with the help of Paul Manafort. None of them would have hired Paul Manafort as a campaign manager after what he did in Ukraine.

None of those potential presidents would have “gotten tough” on immigration with a crackdown on legal immigrants that was immediately thrown out by courts.

And while most of the other Republicans could have started a blanket ban on transgender people in the military, none of them would have used Twitter to do so, in such a brain-dead manner that it offended even Orrin Hatch.

But more important: None of those people would have gotten Trump’s level of support, and for those very reasons. When you saw the pathological liar with the circus peanut tan make shit up on camera, you said, “Finally, someone who’s authentic!” When it was pretty damn clear he didn’t have a plan to replace Obamacare, or build the Wall, you didn’t care. When he said John McCain wasn’t a hero just because he was tortured by the communist Vietnamese (at the same time Trump was dodging the draft), you agreed. And when he was caught on tape saying “grab ’em by the pussy, you can do whatever you want”, you didn’t disavow your hero. You cheered.

Remember, this event in Charlottesville came in the wake of a press conference where Trump actually praised Vladimir Putin for cutting Moscow embassy staff, on the grounds that we needed to reduce our payroll anyway.  After a certain point, the enemy doesn’t even bother to hide what they really are anymore.

The question is what the rest of us are going to do about it.

 

REVIEW – Spider-Man: Homecoming

My friends and I finally got to see Spider-Man: Homecoming this weekend, and I think it’s testimony to the word of mouth on this film that the theater was still packed on a Saturday morning a month after the premiere.

While much of it has been spoiled by now, this movie is basically about the teenage Peter Parker and his largely unsuccessful attempts to be a “real” superhero with the aid of the fancy high-tech costume Tony Stark gave him to use in Captain America: Civil War.  In the process he is also trying to negotiate his life as a high-schooler and get to his school’s homecoming dance.  But in his patrols, Spider-Man encounters an organization using technology captured from the Chitauri aliens in the first Avengers movie, and is forced to deal with their leader (Michael Keaton), who was the head of a salvage company that got removed from the Chitauri cleanup by a government contractor owned by none other than Tony Stark.  In this way there’s a certain symmetry between the hero and main villain, in that they’re both talented engineers, but operating on a small scale compared to Stark and other major movers, and they’re both end-users of someone else’s advanced technology.  Eventually Peter is forced to deal with this fact and take stock of his own resources.

I really liked this movie, but as Marvel movies go, it didn’t have the same impact on me as the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies.  My friends and I discussed this and came to the conclusion that the pacing was a bit… rushed.  There was just so much action going on it was a bit much to keep track of.

Even so, the human elements of the movie are where it worked.  Peter (Tom Holland) is given a strong supporting cast in best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), potential love interest Liz (Laura Harrier) and not-quite-love-interest “MJ” (Zendaya), characters who intentionally don’t resemble their inspirations from the original Marvel comics.  Keaton’s villain is in some ways sympathetic, and unlike some other comicbook movies, the solution doesn’t necessarily lie in killing him.

And while Sony/Columbia Pictures still owns the movie rights to Spider-Man, Homecoming is for all purposes a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, with the principals from the Iron Man movies appearing along with a running gag featuring Captain America.   Holland is apparently signed for a six-movie deal that includes not only two more solo movies but three other movies where he will do more crossover appearances.  Which would be great.  Even in his short appearance in Civil War, it was clear that the new team got Spider-Man in the way that Patty Jenkins got Wonder Woman, whereas the previous Sony movies were each incomplete in their own way.  The Tobey Maguire movies were great at conveying Peter’s earnest heroism but not Spider-Man’s wit, while the Andrew Garfield movies were pretty much the opposite.  (Plus, any comicbook movie that ends with the superhero fighting Paul Giamatti is by definition anti-cimax.)

In comparison, Tom Holland is the total package, with the physique to portray Spider-Man’s look and powers and the skills to portray all sides of his personality.  Plus, he’s young-looking enough to where he could be convincing as a teenage superhero for most of that movie deal.  Given what I’ve seen so far, Marvel will probably have no problem making Holland the star for their next phase of movies.