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The beautiful dream life of the centrist Democrat


Damon Linker advises his “fellow liberals” not to get all hysterical about a potential DeSantis presidency, because after all:

During his time as Florida’s chief executive, he has governed from the hard right, taking aggressive aim at voting rights, pursuing politicized prosecutionsrestricting what can be taught in public schools and universities, strong-arming private businesses, using refugees as human props to score political points and engaging in flagrant demagogy about vaccines. Before that, as a congressman, he supported cuts to Social Security and Medicare and voted for a bill that would have severely weakened Obamacare.

Wait a second . . . that sounds like some sort of authoritarian ethno-nationalist who would pursue nothing but the very worst reactionary policies in order to consolidate his own political power. I mean isn’t that terrible enough?

No it isn’t, because, um, what is the argument here?

But none of it makes Mr. DeSantis worse than Mr. Trump, who also did and sought to do bad things in office: the Muslim travel ban, forcibly separating migrants from their children, and much else.

Could the Trump era have been worse? Absolutely, and here liberals have a point when they suggest Mr. Trump’s ability to wreak havoc was limited by his ineptness. Based on what we’ve seen of Mr. DeSantis’s performance as governor of Florida, a DeSantis administration would likely display much greater discipline and competence than what the country endured under Mr. Trump.

Still not getting it Damon.

OK finally we get some sort of counter-argument:

So let’s stipulate that Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis would both try to do bad things in office. Mr. Trump still brings something distinctive and much more dangerous to the contest — or rather, several things. He’s flagrantly corrupt. He lies constantly. He’s impulsive and capricious. And he displays a lust for power combined with complete indifference to democratic laws and norms that constrain presidential power.

Note here the rhetorical copium that reduces the ongoing destruction of liberal democracy by a party now dedicated to eliminating it to doing “bad things in office,” as if we were taking about enacting suboptimal tax policies, rather than nuking the whole polity from fascist orbit.

The most striking aspect of this argument is that Ron DeSantis has always been a 100% Trumper, only now he wants the top spot in the cult. If you have always been an unambivalent Trump supporter, that means you’re more than completely OK with a president who “displays a lust for power combined with complete indifference to democratic laws and norms that constrain presidential power.” Right? So why would you be any different in that regard?

That DeSantis might not be as personally venal as Trump — this remains to be seen of course — is the least significant thing about either man. That Trump steals whatever he can get his hands on is the least dangerous thing about him: As Scott has noted many times, we would be better off if the Republican party was full of grifters rather than true believers. We know that Trump doesn’t believe any of his own bullshit; it’s always grifting all the way down with him. As for DeSantis, who knows, but does anybody want to argue we’d be better off with a sincere fascist, as opposed to somebody who puts on a fascist uniform because it looks good on reality TV?

Liberals have a long history of hyping fears of Republican presidential candidates, from Lyndon Johnson’s “daisy” ad (about Barry Goldwater and a potential threat of nuclear war) to sometimes hysterical warnings about various dire threats posed by John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

We heard similarly terrible things about Donald Trump in 2016 — but this time they were true. As with the story of the boy who cried wolf, a real wolf had finally arrived.

In other words, the real problem isn’t Donald Trump, personally, it’s Trumpism. Ron DeSantis is a Trumpist through and through — Linker’s whole argument admits this! — so the claim that he wouldn’t be any worse than Trump is, even if you hand-wave away the greater competency argument, totally beside the point. This ethno-nationalist authoritarian isn’t any worse than that ethno-nationalist authoritarian isn’t even an argument: It’s an admission that we’re slouching toward national catastrophe.

But of course a reasonable calm non-hysterical liberal like Linker is blind to the very implications of the argument he himself is making, because ultimately he rationalizes away everything that’s happening by pretending — in the face of all the evidence that he himself cites! — that the real problem is the personal character of Donald Trump, as opposed to the character of the movement that made Trump and his successors to that movement possible in the first place.

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