From “The Closer” to “Blame Game”: The Politics of Trumpcare Captured in 4 Words
This is pretty funny. In the past 24 hours, as tension ratcheted on the fate of the Trumpcare legislation, Google searches on the term “The Closer”, referencing Donald Trump’s alleged deal-closing prowess, steadily mounted until about 7:00 AM (EDT) this morning, then dipped before slowly rising again toward the 3:30 PM (EDT) deadline for ending debate and casting a vote. By 4:00 PM, searches on “The Closer” peaked again, while simultaneously searches on “Blame Game” began to pop. But what is really interesting is that precisely at 6:00 PM EDT searches on “Blame Game” surged passed “The Closer”, right on time for the start of nightly televised news.
Search interest in “The Closer” the the most recent 24 hours was strongest in Maine, South Dakota, Minnesota, Delaware, Maryland, George, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahama. Search interest in “Blame Game” was strongest in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, North Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois. Check it out for yourself!
Fake Intellectual Congressman Dave Brat’s Confused Rant on Nietzsche, Jesus, Hitler, Markets, and Obamacare
Maniacally right-wing Virginia congressman Dave Brat, who kneecapped (formerly maniacally right-wing) congressman Eric Cantor in 2014, intimates fake Republicans like Paul Ryan better remember the bloodthirsty Republican base will totally crush members of Congress who don’t entirely eviscerate Obamacare. Prior to his upset defeat of Cantor, Brat received a Masters in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a PhD in economics from American University, and subsequently worked as an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, where he taught classes on the morality of capitalism funded by financial octopus Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T). As this Politico interview indicates, Brat is one of those preening former professors who likes to remind everyone he was a professor and has a PhD. Which is usually a bad sign. Brat sees himself, like Donald Trump, as a direct channel to “the people”. And on their behalf he warns Paul Ryan and others who don’t know and respect “the people” as he does, that they better kowtow or face the same carnage that greeted Eric Cantor when he wandered from his flock. Which of course doesn’t prevent Dave Brat from talking down to the rest of us, who are presumably not “people”. Here’s an example of how Congressman Brat would apply his deep professorial knowledge to establishing the law of the land. In 2011, when he was still just world-renowned professor of morality and economics at Randolph-Macon, Brat published an essay that included this passage:
“Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the modern Christian Democratic man was spot-on,” he said. “Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. … Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily.”
When queried by the Politico reporter, Brat indicated (quite cheerfully, apparently) that, oh yes, he still had that sinking feeling.
“We’ve become weak, and our kids don’t know what human rights are anymore,” he said, expressing disgust at children being taught that every opinion is equal and valid. “In a classroom setting, you mention tyrants, like Hitler and other tyrants in history, and you say, ‘What if they oppose you? Are they welcome to their opinion? In this modern, secular society, where all opinions are equal, do you really believe all rights and all opinions are equal?’ And they say, ‘Well, I guess not.’ And I say, ‘Well, I guess you better study hard and pick a system that you like here, right?’”
Ah yes. Markets, Hitler, Jesus, Nietzsche. Obamacare. It all makes sense now. But here’s the problem. Brat’s confused moralizing and patronizing pedantry does nothing to help real people deal with real problems in the real world, which is presumably his real job. Brat’s Tea Party / Freedom Caucus obsession with “the base,” the true believers for whom politics is a search-and-destroy mission, is entirely at odds with this concept of the (pretty mundane but more noble) job of the legislator. Brat’s threats to impale deviants on the spears of “the base” subverts, undermines, and essentially destroys requirements of governing. In this sense, Brat’s weak impersonation of an intellectual mostly functions as a Trojan Horse to mask the importation into Congress of an incredibly divisive and self-defeating politics of gaslighting and agitation.
Bannon at the Vatican:
The Deconstruction of Steve Bannon (2)
In the summer of 2014, Steve Bannon delivered closing remarks to a conference on alleviating global poverty hosted by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute (DHI) in a small marble palace tucked deep within the Vatican. Bannon spoke via Skype from Los Angeles. This address came to the attention of the world in the days following the election in a Buzzfeed article entitled This is How Steve Bannon Sees the Entire World (you can listen to the unedited audio of the talk here).
There is both less and more than meets the eye in this Bannon speech. He is addressing DHI in his professional capacity as the Executive Chairman of Breitbart, and probably the most interesting insights emerge from Bannon’s assumption that Breitbart’s rising moment of nationalist, populist savagery conforms to the goals and worldview of an allegedly principled and philosophically pure Catholic lay organization with transnational aspirations. Let’s see how comfortably Bannon disports himself on this Bed of Procrustes (to invoke Nassim Nicholas Taleb, he of the Black Swan).
What is the Dignitatis Humanae Institute?
Dignitatis Humanae Institute (you can call it the Human Dignity Institute if you want) is a quirky lay Catholic NGO with ties to the European Parliament and the Vatican, based in Rome, and headed by Benjamin Harnwell, a converted Catholic and formerly active member of the British Conservative Party who identifies with the Austrian-Libertarian school of economics associated with Mises and Hayek. The DHI website profligately features a photo of Bannon informing us that “Harnwell’s the smartest guy in Rome. He’s always a tough guy – he comes across as a monk, but he’s actually a very tough guy.” Indeed (and weirdly), we can see some of that toughness, and a sense of the deeper political currents driving the DHI agenda, in a recent post from the Institute about “subversive external influences” in Macedonian civil society of “stateless meddler” and “cultural imperialist” George Soros (also republished in pro-Russian news agency, Eurasia Review – the doubling down on Soros conspiracy theories is much in the news these days).
Canon law fiduciary and flame-throwing Cardinal (and Pope Francis nemesis) Raymond Leo Burke serves as President of the DHI’s Advisory Board, and by way of promoting this relationship the DHI website shares with us Cardinal Burke’s long keynote before the First Annual Rome-Life Forum in May 2013. Salient themes of this speech for exposing the deeper structure of the Steve Bannon worldview include: 1) reverence for the divine essence within each human life (and human life only), as mediated by Jesus Christ (and Jesus Christ only); 2) disdain for rampant secularization (and dechristianization) in the world, characterized by spiritual emptiness, moral relativism, material hedonism (rule of the flesh), and a culture of death; and 3) evangelization of the “gospel of life” based on the “natural moral law.”
The bulk of Cardinal Burke’s speech/sermon concerns Natural Law, as the expression through which reason can comprehend, accept, and fulfill the responsibility to love, serve, defend, and promote human life, in Christ. To this pre-Enlightenment pillar of Catholic legal traditionalism we will later return. For now, it may suffice to note this distillation of Catholic traditional beliefs contains many profound and beautiful insights regarding our flawed, fallen, imperfect existence as human creatures, most specifically the oft-stated command and commitment to serve the least among us. But as we might expect, much of this language is also coded to capture a deeper, more hidden, and darker agenda which exploits the fraught intersection between human sexuality and human conception.
The Deconstruction of Steve Bannon (1)
We can now assess the content and quality of the White House seep, the not-quite-movement conservatism upon which Donald Trump has risen to power, like a toad upon a geyser. This capacity to assess is a good thing, perhaps the only way we have, at least in the short term, to steer clear of emotional chaos activated by extrusions of Donald Trump’s fevered mind – incessant social media chatter, tabloid focus on personalities, shattered boundaries between personal and professional, a looming collective, paranoid psychosis.
I don’t personally know Steve Bannon or any of the other various satraps and factotums and acolytes who accompany this political movement and whose ideas now drive policy at many levels of government. But I do know that if we fear Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate and in most state governments, we need to focus less on who these people are as individuals (a major preoccupation for the click-driven media and an incredible waste of time for the rest of us) and more on what they want to do.
The Republican Party did not magically seize power. Trump’s election is only the latest – if most surreal – chapter of a slow-motion political creep on to land of a hyper-conservative Republican sea monster. Those scared shitless by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Charles Koch, Robert Mercer, Peter Thiel, et. al. would do well to avert their gazes from the daily media squalls – in other words to stop reacting – and instead reclaim the initiative (and the future), with plans, roadmaps, and strategies that attend to the larger ideas, themes, and forces that shape our reality and determine our destiny. As citizens, we simply have to be more clear about our jobs, and our goals.
For me, the starting point is actually that, on many topics, these strange Tea Party people are almost right. They get just close enough. This is their genius. And their pathology. So it’s really important that we appreciate the meaning of their words, many of which are coded (or at least shibboleths for the initiated), and separate from those words that which is worth harvesting from that which is over-wrought, over-ripe, and toxic. Let’s break it down.
What follows is, by design and by necessity, an impressionistic rendering of the ideological landscape of American movement conservatism. There is nothing tidy or organized or logical or structured about this political movement. Journalists speak of the movement’s “intellectual source code,” and that is an apt and clever phrase, but as source code goes, it is bug-ridden and messy, potted with security holes, loaded with traps and loops. Given the mess, there is no real way to traverse or map this landscape of ideas without approaching it, and imagining it, as a whole that is far less than the sum of its parts. But the parts themselves – fragments and shards of ideas and impulses – are each in their own way fascinating and revealing and deserving of scrutiny on their own terms. We begin with Steve Bannon, Dark Enlightenment Sith Lord whose ideas and influence provide the single most coherent philosophical basis for considering the benighted path on which we now travel.