J.D. Vance (R-Thiel)
Scott’s already noted that J.D. Vance is likely to be the next Senator from Ohio. So it would be a dereliction of duty if LGM failed to repeatedly remind everyone that, when it comes to terrible, Vance contains multitudes.
Jonathan Chait thinks J.D. Vance walks and talks an awful lot like an authoritarian demagogue, and finds plenty of a grist for that mill in a recent Vanity Fair article:
“So there’s this guy Curtis Yarvin, who has written about some of these things,” Vance said. Murphy chortled knowingly. “So one [option] is to basically accept that this entire thing is going to fall in on itself,” Vance went on. “And so the task of conservatives right now is to preserve as much as can be preserved,” waiting for the “inevitable collapse” of the current order.
He said he thought this was pessimistic. “I tend to think that we should seize the institutions of the left,” he said. “And turn them against the left. We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program.
“I think Trump is going to run again in 2024,” he said. “I think that what Trump should do, if I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people.”
“And when the courts stop you,” he went on, “stand before the country, and say—” he quoted Andrew Jackson, giving a challenge to the entire constitutional order—“the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”
I expect our readers are old enough to remember Poe’s Law, which Nathan Poe originally formulated as “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is [utterly] impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.” People soon generalized the rule, such that it now refers to the idea “that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, every parody of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied.”
Back in 2016, Vance was eerily prescient about… J.D. Vance in 2022.
I can’t really argue with the idea that in comparison to Hitler “Nixon wouldn’t be that bad.” Still, not “that bad” is an interesting way to describe the postwar president who, until Trump, did the most to subvert the American Constitutional order.
Regardless, what we might call the “Vance Corollary” to Poe’s Law goes something like “without a clear indicator of intent, it is impossible to tell whether a reactionary demagogue is a cynical asshole or an ideologically committed fascist.” In Vance’s own case, did he see a giant red pill in the sky with the words “ἐν τούτῳ νίκα,” and did he have a genuine conversion or, instead, interpret his vision as a call-to-grift?
Of course, when someone talks the way that Vance does, it doesn’t really matter.
“We are in a late republican period,” Vance said later, evoking the common New Right view of America as Rome awaiting its Caesar. “If we’re going to push back against it, we’re going to have to get pretty wild, and pretty far out there, and go in directions that a lot of conservatives right now are uncomfortable with.”
“Indeed,” Murphy said. “Among some of my circle, the phrase ‘extra-constitutional’ has come up quite a bit.”
I’d asked Vance to tell me, on the record, what he’d like liberal Americans who thought that what he was proposing was a fascist takeover of America to understand.
He spoke earnestly. “I think the cultural world you operate in is incredibly biased,” he said—against his movement and “the leaders of it, like me in particular.” He encouraged me to resist this tendency, which he thought was the product of a media machine leading us toward a soulless dystopia that none of us want to live in. “That impulse,” he said, “is fundamentally in service of something that is far worse than anything, in your wildest nightmares, than what you see here.”
Fascists, of course, have a long tradition of portraying authoritarianism and democide as necessary acts of self-defense – whether against the Left, Jews, blacks, Muslims, or some other “Enemy” putative intent on destroying their culture, identity, and masculinity.
Whether or not Vance believes what he’s selling, it’s true that even many ostensibly anti-Trump conservatives believe that the Woke Guard is only one more Democratic presidency away from imposing pronoun tyranny and plunging the U.S. into cancel-culture dystopia. This fear, not incidentally, provides a rationale for their continued support of the Party of Trump.
There are also worrying signs that GOP efforts to bring the FOX News universe – in which no daylight seperates the views of the most moderate Democrat and those of the median Oberlin sophomore – to the masses is working.
(As Paul has repeatedly pointed out, the modern reactionary movement fully embraces not only Schmitt’s understanding of politics – in the words of Lars Vinx, that “a state can only be legitimate if its legal boundaries embody a clear friend-enemy distinction” – but also Schmitt’s arguments about the state of exception – “If there is some person or institution, in a given polity, capable of bringing about a total suspension of the law and then to use extra-legal force to normalize the situation, then that person or institution is the sovereign in that polity…. Any legal order, Schmitt bluntly concludes, is based on a sovereign decision and not on a legal norm.”)
Vance’s embrace of the Trump-Carlson brand of fascism extends even to his answers to questions about Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, where he’s at least calculating enough to not offer an outright endorsement of twenty-first century genocidal imperialism.
Chait notes that, in the face of Republican officials – even those who privately despise Vance – gotta Republican:
However — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — the party is still supporting him as the nominee. There is no evidence it has even considered an alternative. Vance rival Matt Dolan (the least pro-Trump candidate in the race), retiring Establishmentarian Rob Portman — they have lined up behind Vance without hesitation. In case you still harbored the faintest hope that the party has some moral red line, its unquestioning affirmation of Vance ought to dispel it.