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Cruel to be kind

George W. Bush and Ellen DeGeneres Hang Out at a Football Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas Fox NFL

I am his Highness’ Dog at Kew;

Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?
Epigram engraved on collar of a dog that Alexander Pope gave to Frederick, Prince of Wales

This is a post about elite solidarity and elite impunity, and the close connection between them. A few days ago, Ellen Degeneres got invited to hang out with George Bush in Jerry Jones’s luxury box at Jones’s billion-dollar stadium. She was so swept off her feet that she did a stand-up bit about it on her show, which you can watch here, with certain modifications:

Degeneres tried to get this video pulled, on the basis of a bogus copyright infringement claim — the parodic modification clearly falls within the fair use exception — and the Streisand effect then kicked in with a vengeance.

A whole bunch of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities have rushed to Ellen’s defense, since it’s obvious to them that if you can’t just let bygones be bygones over things like Bush destroying another country via a military invasion sold to the public on the basis of obvious lies, his institutionalization of torture as an official American policy, his catastrophically inept reaction to the drowning of a major American city etc., then things could get slightly uncomfortable for various elites in various social settings, and that would be UnAmerican:

Yes, that’s truly horrific David. On the other hand, I can think of some other things that were and are happening even as you were tweeting this out that might count as slightly more “horrific” than subjecting a celebrity friend of yours to social media criticism for fawning all over a bigger celebrity, who also happens to be a major war criminal.

Sarah Jones pretty much nails what’s going on here:

There’s almost no point to rebutting anything that Chris Cillizza writes. Whatever he says is inevitably dumb and wrong, and then I get angry while I think about how much money he gets to be dumb and wrong on a professional basis. But on this occasion, I’ll make an exception. The notion that DeGeneres’s friendship with Bush is antithetical to Trumpism fundamentally misconstrues the force that makes Trump possible. Trump isn’t a simple playground bully, he’s the president.Americans grant our commanders-in-chief extraordinary deference once they leave office. They become celebrities, members of an apolitical royal class. This tendency to separate former presidents from the actions of their office, as if they were merely actors in a stage play, or retired athletes from a rival team, contributes to the atmosphere of impunity that enabled Trump. If Trump’s critics want to make sure that his cruelties are sins the public and political class alike never tolerate again, our reflexive reverence for the presidency has to die.

DeGeneres isn’t a role model for civility. Her friendship with Bush simply embodies the grossest form of class solidarity. From a lofty enough vantage point, perhaps Bush’s misdeeds really look like minor partisan differences. Perhaps Iraq seems very far away, and so do the poor of New Orleans, when the stage of your show is the closest you get to anyone without power.

A question for Axelrod, Degenres, Cillizza, and the countless other power-worshiping courtiers of the ruling class: Does you celebration of the virtues of “civility” also apply to Donald Trump and his enablers? Or is it OK to treat them as pariahs after they’re no longer in official power?

I suspect, by the way, that the answer is that it’s going to be OK to treat Trump differently, because it may well prove very convenient to everyone to rehabilitate the Republican party by burning this particular witch.

If Trump is driven out of office before next November — which at the moment still seems very unlikely but suddenly no longer impossible — it will be precisely for this reason. Suppose next summer rolls around and it becomes blindingly obvious that Trump is going to get routed, and that he’s likely to take the Republican majority in the Senate with him. Under those circumstances, the fantastically powerful lust among the great and the good to get back to “normal” — to pretending that Trump is some sort of inexplicable aberration, and that we can all get back to enjoying our nachos in Jerry Jones’s box if we just rid ourselves of this turbulent parvenu — is going to be truly overwhelming. Can you imagine the day Trump is ejected from the sacred precincts of the White House, and civility returns to America? David Brooks will have to write his column with one hand.

In sum, the civility mongers aren’t merely wrong: they are the problem. Because the problem is our utterly corrupt ruling class, our sickening combination of old-fashioned plutocracy and new-media 24/7 celebrity worship, and our valorization of insanely immoral levels of social inequality as the natural and good order of the world. This is a world in which Donald Trump became president because that outcome was a predictable consequence — indeed a perfect reflection — of all that plutocracy and celebrity worship and inequality and constant corruption of the public sphere.

Getting rid of Donald Trump is an essential step in fighting that corruption, but it will actually be a step backward if it means having to pretend that Trump is primarily a cause, rather than a symptom of, our extreme decadence.

And nothing illustrates that decadence more clearly than the blindness of people like Degeneres, Axelrod, etc., who more than anything else just want to get back to “normal,” since “normal” had been working out so well for them personally, and more particularly for their masters.

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