Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cantor's Loss and Weimar America

Last night's defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor, the biggest primary upset since... well, look at this list and the answer is pretty much EVER - is finally enough to shake me out of my writer's block.

More than BLOCK, really. More of a paralysis, as I've stared at blank screens and tried to formulate a thought longer than 140 characters. Lots of thoughts, mostly about the personal cost and impact of the just-past primary, but none I've felt like sharing in public.

My pet theory has long been and remains: The chunk of the Republican base that uses "Rule Of Law" as a codeword, like "State's Rights" used to be a codeword, wants nothing less than mass deportation. They seek a monocultural America that never was, a de-Hispanicized nation where no one is allowed to habla Espanol in front of them in the Wal-Mart line.

In an alternate, non- winner take all political culture, we'd have a nationalist party. Look to the recent elections to the European Union parliament, where the UK Independence Party and its equivalents in other countries scored big gains. (Also note that UKIP is un-represented in the UK Parliament, which is winner take all single member district as opposed to the proportional system used for the EU Parliament.)

Of course, the most important Parliament story of the week: the Mothership at the Smithsonian.

I'm nervous about going too far down this road because of Godwin's Law and all that. I'll just quote David Brat himself, the patron saint of Some Dudes everywhere, the David who knocked off the Goliath last night:
"Capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality. Read Nietzsche. Nietzsche's diagnosis of the weak modern Christian democratic man was spot on. Jesus was a great man. Jesus said he was the Son of God. Jesus made things happen. Jesus had faith. Jesus actually made people better. Then came the Christians. What happened? What went wrong? We appear to be a bit passive. Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily."
This... doesn't sound entirely disapproving. And a little ominous from the guy who beat the last Jewish Republican in Congress. Especially when you throw in some of Brat's writings on the "Protestant ethic."

Granted, virtually none of the Virginia 7th CD voters had read any of these obscure academic papers.  But as I look at the American political system today I'm more than a little reminded of late-era Weimar Germany.

Back up a minute, we don't have the armed Stormtroopers and their Communist counterparts the Rotfront warring in the streets. But we're verging on the "negative majority" that the Reichstag saw in the final free elections, when a polarized majority of Nazis and Communists opposed the system itself, and a coalition of the pro-democracy parties of the middle was numerically impossible.

In February, Politico's Raymond Smith wrote that the "Tea Party" - I've never liked that term, especially capitalized, as it implies more structure and organization than actually exists - the "tea party" contains the seeds of its own destruction. There's no end game. And he offers, or borrows, an excellent analysis.
This kind of counter-establishment movement is common enough that comparative politics has a term for it: the “anti-system party”—a group that seeks to obstruct and delegitimize the entire political system in which the government functions. As explained by Giovanni Sartori, the Italian political scientist who coined the term in 1976, an anti-system is driven not by “an opposition on issues” but “an opposition of principle.”

“An anti-system party would not change—if it could—the government but the very system of government,” Sartori wrote. “[A]n anti-system opposition abides by a belief system that does not share the values of the political order within which it operates.”

Sartori had foremost in mind the various communist parties active in Western Europe during the Cold War, but the concept has been applied to movements as varied as right-wing nationalists, radical libertarians and ethnic separatists all across the world.

Without adopting the phrase itself, the Tea Party in both words and deeds has positioned itself as America’s newest anti-system party. Claiming the mantle of patriotism, Tea Partiers say they love the United States while hating the U.S. government—its practices, its rules and especially its procedures for achieving compromise and consensus.
Anti-system. I'll just note that None Of The Above won the Democratic primary for governor of Nevada last night.

The successes of the near end of the far right are a rejection of American pluralism. Given the demographic shifts that are too far along to change, it's a long run losing game. But based on last night's Virginia result and based on our pendulum electoral cycle - to the left in leap years, to the right in off years - we have several rough elections ahead.

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