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Life inside the Republican cult


Winston shrank back upon the bed. Whatever he said, the swift answer crushed him like a bludgeon. And yet he knew, he KNEW, that he was in the right. The belief that nothing exists outside your own mind–surely there must be some way of demonstrating that it was false? Had it not been exposed long ago as a fallacy? There was even a name for it, which he had forgotten. A faint smile twitched the corners of O’Brien’s mouth as he looked down at him.

‘I told you, Winston,’ he said, ‘that metaphysics is not your strong point. The word you are trying to think of is solipsism. But you are mistaken. This is not solipsism. Collective solipsism, if you like. But that is a different thing: in fact, the opposite thing. All this is a digression,’ he added in a different tone. ‘The real power, the power we have to fight for night and day, is not power over things, but over men.’ He paused, and for a moment assumed again his air of a schoolmaster questioning a promising pupil: ‘How does one man assert his power over another, Winston?’

Winston thought. ‘By making him suffer,’ he said.

Craig Silverman is a long-time Denver talk radio figure, and former Denver district attorney. A reliably conservative Republican, Silverman for the last five years has hosted his own show on KNUS, a Salem Media Group station. (Salem, which produces a combination of far right-wing politics and Christian evangelical content, is an increasingly important part of the right wing media machine).

Yesterday morning, Silverman got fired in the middle of his live broadcast:

Silverman told the paper he was taken off the air for replaying a 2015 interview with Trump surrogate Roger Stone, who was found guilty on seven federal charges on Friday including witness tampering.

In the interview, Silverman told Stone that one of his biggest concerns with Trump was his connection to Roy Cohn, who assisted Joseph McCarthy in the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s and later served as Trump’s personal lawyer. The Colorado radio station promptly took Silverman off the air and removed the webpage for his show from their site.

(If you want to take a refreshing dip in the right wing fever swamp, check out the comments to the linked article.)

Although predictions, especially about the future, are always dangerous (while the best lack all conviction, the worst are apparently full of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which could always lead to a sudden change of circumstances), it seems likely that over the next few months the following things will happen:

(1) Trump will be impeached by the House on a straight party-line vote.

(2) The Senate will fail to remove him, after a nearly straight party-line vote on the articles of impeachment. (I expect Mitt Romney will vote to convict, along with at most two or three other GOP senators. But I wouldn’t be surprised if in the end it’s only Romney, although Susan Collins’s brow will surely become furrowed enough for John Wesley Powell to lead an expedition through it.)

At that point, it will become evident to anyone not watching the Home Shopping Network that the American political system is radically broken.

A straight party line vote in an impeachment proceeding in our two-party system can be interpreted in only two ways:

(1) Symmetrical partisanship has turned impeachment into a sham proceeding; and/or

(2) One party but not the other has been completely corrupted by partisan considerations.

If the question of whether the president should be impeached and removed is a difficult one on the merits, then one would expect that honest legislators of both parties would disagree as to how to vote on it.

If the question is an easy one, then you would expect honest legislators of both parties to be overwhelmingly in favor of removal. (If its obvious that the president shouldn’t be impeached, then of course honest legislators wouldn’t begin the proceeding in the first place).

What will not happen, in a healthy political system, is a straight party line vote on impeachment and removal.

So if and when Trump is impeached and then not removed by straight party line votes, Americans will have to interpret this development in one of three ways:

#1 The Democrat party attempted to remove Trump in a corrupt bid to reverse [sic] the results of the 2016 election.

#2 The Republican party is an authoritarian cult, led by Donald Trump.

#3 It’s all politics and partisan bickering, and as Jacques Derrida pointed out what is truth anyway, and hey is that a new Pottery Barn?

This Dave Roberts piece does an excellent job of explaining how the right wing media machine has been constructed to not only hammer home theory #1 to the faithful 24/7 with the volume perpetually cranked to 11, but, crucially, to create a kind of epistemic fog that tries to ensure that lots of independent “low information” voters at least cling to theory #3, if they can’t be converted to the cause:

Talk radio and the birth of Fox News in the 1990s were turning points. They eventually expanded to create an entire, complete-unto-itself conservative information universe. It was capable of cranking out stories and facts (or “facts”) in support of the conservative cause 24 hours a day, steadily shaping the worldview of their white suburban audience around a forever war with The Libs, who are always just on the verge of destroying America.

As I covered in more detail in this post (and this one), over time this led to a steady deterioration in fealty to norms, epistemological and otherwise, to the point that something like 30 percent of the country is now awash in a fantasia of conspiracy theories and just-so stories.

As journalist Alex Pareene wrote in a scathing 2017 piece, the propaganda machine that the right built to keep its base outraged grew out of control and swallowed the GOP. “They’re screwed,” Pareene wrote of conservatives, “because they and their predecessors engineered a perpetual misinformation machine, and then a bunch of people addicted to their product took over the government.”

Now everyone with any power on the right is deep in the bubble, right up to the president himself, who spends a considerable portion of his time watching and tweeting about Fox News. There are no more moderates or responsible Republicans behind the curtain, keeping an eye on the difference between tribal tall tales and reality. Fox natives are running the show, including the federal government. . . .

This is the story of American politics: a narrowly divided nation, with raw numbers on the side of the rising demographics in the left coalition but intensity and outsized political power on the side of the right coalition. Put in more practical terms, the right still has the votes and the cohesion to prevent a Senate impeachment conviction.

On the downslope of a fading, unpopular coalition is not a great place for Republicans to be. It doesn’t augur well for their post-2020 health as a party. But it is enough to get them through the next election, which is about as far ahead as they look these days.

All they need to do is to keep that close partisan split frozen in place. Above all, they need to ensure that nothing breaks through to the masses in the mushy middle, who are mostly disengaged from politics. They need to make sure no clear consensus forms, nothing that might find its way into pop culture, the way the entire nation eventually focused its attention on Nixon’s impeachment.

Exactly. And so far, it’s working.

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