In his biographical trilogy on Lev Trotsky, Isaac Deutscher describes the meeting at which the revolutionaries split into two camps – Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. He describes Lenin lecturing the gathering, explaining to them how things will unfold. Trotsky is not only not impressed, he raies objections; he argues.
A break is called. They step outside for a smoke. Lenin says, look kid, I’ve got it under control; I’ve got it figured out.
Trotsky says: You’ve got it all wrong. If you substitute the party for the revolution and then substitute the leadership for the party inevitably a strong man will come from the right and with the backing of the military, substitute himself for everything and everyone.
Lenin did not agree.
I was thinking about this scene and Trump. And the republicans.
The republicans of course do not have a monopoly on the cult of personality. In the Myth of the Saviour, to consider one example, Jean Tulard examines Bonaparte but as a means to framing his discussion of May 1968 and De Gaulle.
It is a common, world-wide phenomenon and experience. The man on the white horse – the hero who can do no wrong and who will save us. Save us from them. From ourselves.
For the republicans of course the hero has been Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s diminishing mental faculties in conjunction with his narrow understanding of the world, of history, of right and wrong, his work as a snitch for the F.B.I. his limited acting ability, and his malleability all combined to make him both a blank screen upon which basic cartoon ideas could be projected and a semi-autonomous mannequin for whom basic dialogue and simplistic slogans made perfect sense.
Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall, works as the perfect reductio ad absurdum ad infinitum commercial slogan for the cognitively limited – for all those for whom complexity is synonymous with types of evil. The evil of elitism, the evil of relative moral states, the evil of anything that is not capitalism. It says, history is not a process, it is not complex, it is a matter of will and action.
As has been well documented the hand up Reagan’s ass, the script provided for him, worked to perfection with one notable misstep – when he and his handlers tried to appropriate Springsteen and Born in the U.S.A.
But, they recovered quickly and the media, content to give him a jaw shattering blow job, went right on providing cover.
The demographic triumph of Reagan was down to the so-called Archie Bunker democrats. Mostly White, mostly racist, mostly hostile to complexity and convinced that the world was a simple place in need of simple solutions, and still smouldering with contempt for the revolt and subsequent downfall of Nixon, (contempt for everything associated with it) they voted for the man who swore he would slay their enemies without realizing that he was a sock puppet and his friends were going to accelerate the whole sale destruction of everything they relied on to survive.
The reactionary, neo fascist theme song of the era is found in many places but consider the films – Rambo and Die Hard where you can hear people say: This time, maybe they’ll let us win…
The idea (such as it is) being of course that the loss in Vietnam was a betrayal. Because the loss can only be explained by betrayal, by cheating. And who is responsible? The elite. Them. Not us. Them.
Of course this is just the reheated American version of the fascists stab in the back that was used to justify why Germany lost the first war and had to redress everything in the next.
And so Reagan and Reaganism with its shallow, atavistic dog whistles and hypocrisies and easy answers and its lies and more lies and still more lies after that and it slowly draws a rope around the neck of the republican party. Worse still, for the party, the demographic tide changed. The irony being that their policies are in large part to blame for the party’s demise. Not that the democrats are blameless. They are, clearly complicit but still, the age of the all powerful White American male has passed and is passing.
To stave off the inevitable they have gerrymandered counties, raped the country, sold it out to their investors, cronies, enemies, and to themselves in stock and bonds and whatever instrument seems useful.
But at what cost?
They ginned up a corner of their base. They waved flags in their faces and sang anthems of hate and simplicity for them. They gave them FOX “News” and they spoke in code about their fears – about the Muslims, and the queers, and drugs and the negroes, and the Jews and the lazy Mexicans and when the code did not work, when the internet and social media became ubiquitous and made even a hint of subtlety useless, they began to say it all outright, without the slightest hint of restraint.
And because they were liars, and not very good liars, and because they had not only soaked the economy in gasoline and dropped matches on it but had been caught running around with their underwear on their heads with empty cans of gas and empty boxes of matches in their hands – because they deliberately abandoned New Orleans, and lied about WMD and crashed the world economy and sent people you know off to other countries to die or get their legs and arms blown off, no one believed in their bullshit anymore and no one wanted to vote for them anymore.
So, they voted for their own.
The party wanted a revolution. They called it the Reagan Revolution. They substituted the party for the people who voted for them and then they substituted their mannequin for the party and then a man came from the right, not backed by the military but by a loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires…by the lazy media and by millions of people who may not – as Jon Stewart would have you believe – be bigots but had no trouble voting for a man who is.
And now there is a bureaucratic civil war being waged. Politics as always makes for strange bedfellows…the enemy of my enemy, etcetera.
The intelligence agencies are at war with the executive and the executive is at war with the legislative and they are all looking over their shoulders and keeping one eye on the nearest exist. Watch for attempted purges. Watch for attempted coups and counter coups. Watch for a war that bangs the drum of tribal patriotism and demands loyalty to the cult and silences all dissent. Watch for an incident overseas that hands the executive a reason to wage war and demand obedience.
He stumbles and sputters and meanders and rages and he is chaos and he is also without a doubt a demagogue and neo-fascist goon; a malignant troll surrounded by men and women who, each for their own ends, is committed to the destruction of The New Deal, the Great Society and ultimately the state as it has been defined since the 1930s and to the destruction of the liberal idea – that the state, has a role to play in combating unrestrained kapital and the Enlightenment ideal that justice is a natural condition and that the successful state, and successful rulers must by definition be in harmony with these truths or suffer naturally occurring consequences.
In a recent article, in which he could seemingly, barely stifle a contemptuous yawn, the otherwise intelligent David Bromwich, intoned from the lofty pages of the London Review of Books that it was laughable and in poor taste for the democrats, guilty of poor judgement, hypocrisy, mendacity and incompetence to pin their hopes on the possibility of impeachment.
Trump, he tells us, is most likely not going anywhere any time soon and, he finds it ironic if not scandalous or even chilling to think that anyone in their right mind would be relying on the intelligence agencies or the generals to remove Trump.
He’s right of course in that no one in their right mind – which by definition leaves out just about everyone – wants America to lurch into a no doubt about it Banana republic junta/dictatorship.
The pretense that we are not there already, one assumes, being preferable, Bromwich ends his somnambulant love letter to sense and sensibility by suggesting that maybe, if the democrats had any political savvy, if they had a hint of backbone, they might consider bringing up the environment as a wee cudgel with which to beat the republicans.
So, then, off to sleep you go.
There is what at first glance appears to be a mysterious and mystifying reluctance on the part of many people to call Trump exactly what he is – a man aspiring to dictatorial power not because he is ideologically committed to fascism in the manner of a Pinochet or a Franco who were true believers but rather, because it fits his particular type of insanity – a state that will not allow him to suffer public doubt, or any hint that his own superiority to everyone can or should or will be questioned.
But, a would-be fascist he is.
And around him, from nationalistic mind-fucker and man with a fetish for pastoral sadomasochistic dance routines, Steve Bannon, and Christian fascists Pence and Ryan with their Handmaids Tale erections, and of course Mitch Senator No Mcconnel the sly Southern fox who gets his rocks off dreaming of fields of grey marching in columns while the sun glints off of sharp bayonets – there is a cadre committed to using Trump for their own ends. And behind all of that of course the amoral machinery of Wall Street engaged in a vast international program of state sponsored terror and environmental genocide.
Bromwich says there is something silly in the fury being unleashed at Trump and he is partially right – that is he is right but for the wrong reasons. The critics are not wrong to be in a rage, but they are wrong to think that their rage and their chat show host sarcasm is going to get the job done.
And neither will elegant and thoughtful essays in The London Review of Books.
After their break, the men of the revolution went back inside and proceeded to commit suicide. It wasn’t all at once of course. These things take time.
In the gutter outside their cigarettes faded and thin tails of smoke rose into the air and vanished.