Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The GOP Will Not Take the Fight to the Progressives

On the 6th of October 2018, Donald J Trump @realDonaldTrump on twitter tweeted the following:
You don’t hand matches to an arsonist, and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob. Democrats have become too EXTREME and TOO DANGEROUS to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law - not the rule of the mob. VOTE REPUBLICAN!
On the 7th of October, I published this in response on The Alternative Left on Facebook:
Well, okay there, Donald. I'll agree that the DNC are broken, the progressive establishment completely beholden to identity politics ideologues and are prone to frightening levels of self righteous and puritanical furor. 
But what of the GOP? Wasn't so long ago that the torch-and-pitchfork crowd were the Moral Majority and bible toting crowd, and I don't think they've abandoned so much as refined their presentation of that instinct. The fanatical SJWs may have overshadowed the flakier evangelicals in recent years, but the "Who Would Jesus Bomb" crowd and the Patriot Act people haven't gone away and have even just gained a seat on the Supreme Court. That is profoundly bad news. 
Moreover, the Republicans have always been ahead even of the corporate democrats as the party of the oligarchy. And that's no small feat. The GOP are very much the party of deregulating the banks and Wall Street, of union busting and trickle down economics, of the Military Industrial Complex and neocon petrodollar warfare. Make no mistake, the Democrats today aren't the postwar Labour Party or the pre 21st century Swedish Social Democrats by any stretch, but the GOP has consistantly led the way in terms of being moral populists in the streets and corrupt oligarchs and corporatists in the sheets, as it were. 
I share the Donald's concerns with the Democrats and the so called progressives, but I'm not fool enough to believe the GOP to be my allies, nor the allies of anyone who makes under $250K per year. 
Each day I see more evidence that the US needs a third party. A party of Labor.
On the 8th of October, Sargon of Akkad shared the Oct 7th Alternative Left post to his own Facebook page, with the following commentary:
Great points here. Trump is on the money, and the anti-secularist elements of the right will always be waiting in the wings. The main problem is that there is no force other than the GOP that can take the fight to the progressives. They are the only unified force that can actually take a stand by taking control of institutions.
Let me first of all say that I completely understand Sargon and countless other people's disillusionment with the Democrats and with progressive politics in general these days. The McResistance crowd, Portland Antifa, twitter feminists and social justice warriors more generally, among many others conduct themselves on a daily basis in ways that make it clear that narcissism and self absorption, not liberal or egalitarian idealism, are what's truly motivating them.

But let's step back and look at the bigger picture here. Is putting our support behind the right wing really the best answer to excesses of the current year cultural left?

When I saw this on Sargon's page, what I immediately thought about were countless online conversations that I had with progressives from about 2006 until the emergence of Gamergate and the beginnings of the real online backlash against the SJWs. Around 2014 or thereabouts.

The thrust of these conversations was always basically the same: I shared their despite for George W. Bush, the Religious Right and the G.O.P in general. But I also urged them - in vain, as always, to try to be mindful of what was truly despicable about the religious right and the conservatives more generally.

It wasn't that they were Christian. It was that they were dogmatic and self righteous, to a point where they became willfully blind to their own capacity for sin and wrongdoing. Exactly what Christ tried to warn his followers against. And these are also characteristics that ANY ideologically homogeneous moral community could cultivate, and that I was even then beginning to see emerge among progressives.

They didn't even really hate the Christianity, when you got right down to it. Because it was white, western and European, the Silicon Valley and Ivy League progressives singled out Christianity over and above all other religious traditions for criticism, but even then there was plenty of wiggle room. They didn't mind all that gospel stuff when MLK and the mid 20th century civil rights movement, or when the social gospel theorists who were basically the founders of the Canadian social democratic tradition were the ones doing it, though many of them did bristle at the notion that a lot of pre-postmodern progressivism was driven by essentially Christian ideals.

What they hated about the religious right was the "redneck" - poor, rural, white and uneducated. And not just because the white rural poor were (and still are) conservative. I saw little sneering hate and despite from the rainbow coalition types for Wall Street lobbyists and the military/industrial complex, and see less still of that today. What I saw out of progressives vis-a-vis the religious right was precisely the kind of condescending, high-handed snobbery you'd expect a classist or a racist to display towards someone considered inferior. Plenty of jokes and memes about backwoods hillbilly inbreeding, but much less about the corruption and abuses of power within the Churches.

Moreover, when it was suggested that Muslims, as exemplified by Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Iran could be every bit as harsh and repressive as medieval Christianity or early 20th century fascism, or even that atheists were every bit as capable of ruthless and dogmatic persecution as the worst fundamentalists, as exemplified in Lenin's USSR or Mao's China, one would be universally met with disdain, contempt, a very fragile ego, lame grade school humor and pretentious pseudo-cleverness and smug derision from your average American progressive. And don't get me started on the futility of comparing the anti-sex puritanism of religious conservatives and radical feminists. Never mind greed, power, dogmatism, fanaticism and self righteousness. All of those things were things progressives were fine with, as long as the right people were doing them. The problems of the world began and ended with too much church attendance on part of red state America. Simple as that.

This mindset was really revealing to me. It was all the proof I needed even then that the left, such as it was, had lost its way.

We're all familiar with the pattern now, but a lot of people like us in the tail end of the Bush years were resistant to the notion that you're not genuinely liberal or progressive simply because you're against the religious right when you're also snobbish, classist, racist, sexist, puritanical and dogmatic in other ways. To defeat the Christian right only to replace it with a "progressive" version of the same thing would be a victory both hollow and short lived.

Now flip the political poles of everything I've just said, and apply it to what Sargon's said above. And he certainly isn't the only one. The shoe's on the other foot now. We won't defeat the SJWs by becoming another version of them, either by accepting a neoreactionary take on identity politics - alt right racial consciousness and/or manosphere ideas or an alternative form of moral reductionism, as with the libertarians. And we certainly won't do it by supporting the flagrant plutocrats of the US Republican Party.

Don't get me wrong: I completely understand why Sargon and others like him can't support the Democrats and the left of today. I get why much of Sargon's online work centers around anti-feminism and anti-Islamism. I'm not exactly giving them a free ride myself. I completely sympathize with the disgust Sargon and his fan base feel for the flagrant hypocrisy of the social activist types. That's why I count myself among that fan base, despite not exactly fitting in ideologically.

It's the same disgust I and many of these same leftist activists felt towards the hypocrisy of the religious right ten years ago.

The disagreement that I have with Sargon here is threefold:

  • One, the GOP and conservatives more generally won't form an effective opposition to excessive political correctness in the broader culture in any event. They haven't for a long, long time now, as I explain here.  They haven't reined in the excesses of Hollywood or postmodern academia yet, despite railing against them for decades. Why should I believe they're going to start now? Western conservatism has proven itself utterly incapable of waging an effective culture war. This is why the general arc of the progression of western civilization over the last few centuries has been in a liberal direction. Neoreaction is rooted entirely in this realization. The reasons for this are complex, but a lot of it has to do with unbridled capitalism tending to promote rather than suppress cosmopolitanism and globalism. 
  • Two, supporting the right wing simply means, in the long run, supporting a different brand of regressives. Sure, the gun nuts and Jesus freaks aren't rioting in the streets today the way antifa are, but do they belong any closer to power? Does the idiocy of your average online intersectional feminist now make Pat Robertson and his ilk reasonable by comparison and worthy of political support? It seems to me as though the smug, self righteous moralism of the SJWs is merely replaced by a macho swagger on part of libertarians, paleoconservatives and neoreactionaries that is otherwise every bit as condescending, arrogant and closed minded. It seems like only yesterday that the SJWs struck me and the skeptic community types as comparably high handed and dogmatic as the religious right. Must we go through that again?
  • Three, there's what Thomas Frank made abundantly clear to us in "What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America" - “The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.” 

My prediction is that Sargon and those who share his views - views I myself once held - are going to be disappointed. I say this with all due respect to Sargon. I think he still goes good work, for the most part. The problem is that the GOP aren't going to seriously challenge the regressive left. Instead, they'll exacerbate the social and economic conditions that give rise to the regressive left: increased social instability resulting from extreme inequality and employment insecurity. If anything, conservative oligarchs a-la Trump are instead going to push a lot of people ever further to the left - hopefully in a good way but I'm not optimistic.

The days of the GOP and the right wing having the kind of messaging that a Ronald Reagan or a Newt Gingrich did are long behind them. The rank and file of the one time Party of Ideas has now put a reality TV star with no prior political experience in the White House, and this really was preferable to the same old warmed over neocons the party establishment had on offer. That's why the alt-right and neoreaction arose in the first place. Because conservatism is morally and philosophically exhausted. They can no longer conceal the fact that they're all about economic and foreign policy favoring the super rich and that's all there is to it.

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