Andrew Sullivan has a lengthy new article in New York Magazine. It’s terrifying. And it’s hard to dismiss.
For Democrats looking at the polls and anticipating a “wave” election if Trump is the GOP nominee, Sullivan’s article should be required reading–a cautionary tale, and a frighteningly hard-headed analysis of how, yes, it could happen here.
A few paragraphs will give you the general tenor of the article, but I really, really urge you to click through and read the whole thing.
Sullivan’s thesis is that America is ripe for tyranny.
In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when [Trump] is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself…..
He considers, at some length, the function of so-called “elites” in a constitutional democracy, the pluses and minuses of “direct democracy,” and the varying diagnoses of contemporary ills.
The evidence suggests that direct democracy, far from being throttled, is actually intensifying its grip on American politics….
Sullivan’s description of the role played by the media in the age of the Internet is particularly perceptive.
What the 21st century added to this picture, it’s now blindingly obvious, was media democracy — in a truly revolutionary form. If late-stage political democracy has taken two centuries to ripen, the media equivalent took around two decades, swiftly erasing almost any elite moderation or control of our democratic discourse. The process had its origins in partisan talk radio at the end of the past century. The rise of the internet — an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood — further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry — the cost of print and paper and distribution — crumbled….
The web’s algorithms all but removed any editorial judgment, and the effect soon had cable news abandoning even the pretense of asking “Is this relevant?” or “Do we really need to cover this live?” in the rush toward ratings bonanzas. In the end, all these categories were reduced to one thing: traffic, measured far more accurately than any other medium had ever done before.
And what mainly fuels this is precisely what the Founders feared about democratic culture: feeling, emotion, and narcissism, rather than reason, empiricism, and public-spiritedness. Online debates become personal, emotional, and irresolvable almost as soon as they begin. Godwin’s Law — it’s only a matter of time before a comments section brings up Hitler — is a reflection of the collapse of the reasoned deliberation the Founders saw as indispensable to a functioning republic.
Yes, occasional rational points still fly back and forth, but there are dramatically fewer elite arbiters to establish which of those points is actually true or valid or relevant. We have lost authoritative sources for even a common set of facts. And without such common empirical ground, the emotional component of politics becomes inflamed and reason retreats even further. The more emotive the candidate, the more supporters he or she will get.
Anyone who cares about America, and especially anyone who dismisses the very real threat posed by a Trump candidacy–the very real possibility that he could win– needs to read the entire essay.
38 thoughts on “Giving Voice to My Fears….”
Good grief that link took forever to get through. My take on this is that the middle class in this country has woken up and taken sides. There’s the ‘so-called conservatives’ that got everything they wanted and just want to be rich like Trump and the ‘liberals’ that see reality for what Trump represents; greed and power. Trump is a nightmare for the States and everyone in the world is watching. Trust me, I watch the world news from Europe and this election is talked about daily in every language that is available on my cable network.
This election is what you get when you lose the Fairness Doctrine, have Corporations with more power after the supreme court gave them that power and a 24/7 news media that wants more clicks, more eyes and more money for their never ending commercials. They are getting really rich but the middle class is left holding the crumbs. Reality tv has come to our elections in the form of Trump. What a gross revelation from the 21st Century.
Now Indiana is in the spotlight. Hurray for my home state. Ugh.
I share your fears
Seems like a frighteningly real possibility. Even if Clinton wins the general election, how would she lead the country afterwards?
I have said before and will say again – after years of fearing FOR my country, I now live in fear OF my country. Boehner and the Tea Party Congress held this entire country hostage, shut down the government and we are again in a state of siege. For years being thought a fool; Trump has now taken the reins and is running away with the entire election process by encouraging old hatreds to come to the surface and become active and has full support of the media. His rallies are often violent against those who have the guts to protest his campaign platform and tactics.
There are 4 Trump yard signs on my street; in the yards of Catholic Republicans. The Republicans I understand – they will not and cannot change – but the support of Catholics baffles me. Is it in part due to Pope Francis and his 21st Century ideas and ideals being brought into the Catholic religion world-wide. He has spoken in support of Bernie Sanders; a Jew and outspoken Democratic Socialist. Whatever their reasons; they are putting themselves in jeopardy along with the rest of the country and are not aware of what they are doing.
I am getting ready to go vote; my polling place has moved after many years being in a Lutheran Church…is there a connection to the Trump support with Catholic backing? Will I have problems casting my vote for Bernie Sanders due to this move? More fear on my part; along with being afraid of the current political conditions in my country I fear being challenged when I go to cast my vote.
I read Andrew Sullivan’s piece, and in answer to his own question – he’s overreacting.
First of all, we’re far from Plato’s end-stage democracy. If you question this, review the Supreme Court’s Shelby Decision, gutting the enforcement provision of the ’65 Voting Rights Act, and then throw in some light reading on the many photo-ID laws blooming across the more crimson parts of our country.
While I’m pleased to see Sullivan’s reference to Sinclair Lewis’, It Can’t Happen Here, the reference belies a flaw in his argument about dictators. Unlike the rise of fascism, which found purchase during the devastating, worldwide economic disaster, which also coincided with the vacuum caused by the vanishing of several empires, today’s political angst is not coupled with either a great recession or depression. Trump rally-goers, for the most part, have jobs.
Lewis’ earlier, (and much better), novel, Main Street, is an apt primer on the mind of today’s GOP voter, at least those eclipsed by the Trump supporters, which brings me to my final rebuttal of Sullivan’s theme.
We’ve seen this before. Populism, not Plato, is the applicable historical lesson of the day. While Trump is the absurd manifestation of a creation owing its existence more to changes in media, than antiquity’s explanation of democracy’s ills, the populism of today also includes that represented by Bernie Sanders.
This latter form of populism is a familiar defense from – not evidence of – economic/social tyranny. As such, Andrew Sullivan’s entertaining article fails to make its case when all the factors – and all the historical comparisons – are examined.
Haven’t read the article yet, but I’m more inclined to side with Robinson and Acemoglu’s research in Why Nation’s Fail. They fail because they don’t allow all citizens to share in the political or economic systems.
Of course he’s correct in terms of possibilities.
Part of life’s learnings though is to consider possibilities against probabilities.
I think that we are facing trauma due to the natural and unavoidable end of an era. Cheap ubiquitous energy is over because we’ve entered the anthropocene. We know now that the future is not just determined by the laws of the universe but also the actions of mankind.
If we don’t let go of what’s now obsolete future generations will face extinction or at least massively difficult sudden, in terms of evolutionary time scales, adaptation.
We’ve never been here before and we don’t want to be here now. We are forced to confront ignorance in denial of reality. We don’t know if knowledge will triumph or not. That’s what leads to these dystopian prophesies and possibilities.
I personally believe knowledge will ultimately triumph because I’m optimistic by nature, proud of America and it always has before at least when all of the shooting is done.
I sure would feel better though having overwhelmingly probable odds in the face of the overwhelmingly disastrous consequences.
I grew up in a MAD world. Mutually Assured Destruction. We learned to cower under our school desks for protection from it. It was such a disastrous possibility that mankind, dumb as we are, found ways to avoid it.
But we didn’t. It’s still here. Both from the original cause and a new cause.
Our actions as well as the actions of others can lead to the mutual destruction of civilization as we know it and we simply are no longer equipped to return to the caves.
We have to act both individually and collectively and that is the hardest thing for humans to do.
Unfortunately, for those of us who will have to experience it, but fortunately for the democratic process, the next dozen years may/will be like teenage adolescence as we find our new center. In Trump, discouraged citizens have found a cheerleader. No matter that he is using this moment to simply prove his skill in the art of the deal and feeding his malignant ego. If it wasn’t about to impact my life, I could almost enjoy the political pain my Republican friends are about to reap from their recent past efforts at Citizens United, voter ID, and business-first protectionist legislation. And, this will not be a “wave” election for the Ds. The political frustration is bigger than we want to comfortably acknowledge, and will show up again in November.
Just back from voting; no problem at all, a great relief. I always go at about the same time; have never seen so many voters, lines of them. While I was voting, the Crestwood Village bus from Shadeland Avenue brought a long line of handicapped seniors to vote. Fingers crossed I will be glad I saw so many people there this morning;-)
I haven’t read the article yet but the very real fear of Trump actually winning escalates by the day; it is a very real possibility which we should fear. His support has unmasked the hatred, violence, bigotry, xenophobia and violence waiting to erupt in this country…maybe we should thank him for opening our eyes to those facts. Can it legally be done to bring impeachment proceedings against him if he should win…the grounds of moral turpitude and questionable financial transactions for decades? Just askin’
I read Sullivan’s article, and I also posted it to my Facebook page. I don’t think he’s overreacting, and, in the last few paragraphs of his article, he sums up my feelings exactly.
Anger is easy. Reason is hard. Too many people just like easy. Too few people defend reason.
Peggy reason is our only hope.
The designers of the Constitution had checks and balances in mind at the start. They also had rule by the elite. The vast majority people could not vote. The Electoral College (which should be eliminated) was one more control by the elite.
I understand each party can make up it’s rules. The idea of the Democratic Super Delegates runs counter to any notion of Representative Democracy. The author of this article seems very content with idea of rule by the elite, or establishment making the decisions. It is evident the wealthy oligarchy in this the USA is control.
We have been betrayed by the elites or establishments in both political parties. Eugene Debs made a good point:
“The Republican and Democratic parties are alike capitalist parties — differing only in being committed to different sets of capitalist interests — they have the same principles under varying colors, are equally corrupt and are one in their subservience to capital and their hostility to labor.”
People are once again beginning to understand this and there is frustration and anger in the air.
Don’t panic – yet. Trump is going to be nominated but will lose to Hillary in the fall, and it won’t be close. Don’t underestimate the fundamental understanding of America by its voters, and even though reading Sullivan’s essay is an eye-opener it is only one possible avenue out of this seeming mess. There are other avenues of escape. Let’s look for some perspective. For instance, FDR had a worse situation in 1933 – far worse.
Those now Trump voters will, I hope, get their eyes opened between now and November and understand that Trump is merely a rich ignoramus who is having a narcissistic fun ride that is about to end when he is called upon to come up with substantive policies that his braggadocio and arm waving tales of his exploits and how everybody but him is a crook etc. are not responsive to the issue(s). He is headed for a fall that his whining and bragging won’t cover.
I am an optimist both as to the future of the country and its coming electoral experience and already have the Senate in my pocket, and if the slaughter is as deep as I hope, even the gerrymandered House. If he will take the job, I think after the election Hillary should nominate Obama to the Supreme Court for the advice and consent of a Democratic Senate, after which we can re-read Sullivan’s piece and breathe much easier.
Louie, I think that your argument depends on your definition of “elite”.
If it is defined as those who are best informed then it’s business as usual.
If it’s defined as the most ruthless, or those born with a silver spoon, or those whose wealth came from obsolete businesses, or celebrity or many other kinds of exceptionalism, elitism is dysfunctional.
Mark Thomas makes a number of very good points. And as many grassroots leaders have noted over the course of our nation’s history, when confronted by public challenges that require us to take action as citizens then we must act individually and collectively to: learn, dialogue, organize, dialogue, act and keep up the dialogue. As we all know, by such means democracy works. That was true in the past and remains true in this age of social media and corporate controlled mass media.
Always been a huge Sully fan, partly because he despises the media as much as I do. I think he overstates the practical case for tyranny while being entirely right about the general environment in its favor.
Laissez-faire is a bad idea on its own, but when the ideology is extended to laissez-faire politics, you get exactly where we are now. The lowest common denominator yields the largest amount of confusion & chaos.
Unfortunately, you’re all out of touch with the real political reality of our times. At the moment (emphasizing moment), Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a “chance in hell” in defeating Donald Trump. Donald Trump has a 68% negative with voters, but Hillary Clinton in not that far behind with 58%. The Republican Party will eventually get their act together. They all think alike. On the other hand, we’re seeing a philosophical split in the Democratic Party. And it is only going to get worse.
Everything will be okay now, Andrew Sullivan has just figured it all out for us. Where has he been all these years?
“God help the United States of America”
I like the Rude Pundit’s take on this article much more.
Thanks for the article. “rude pundit” knows what he or she is talking about. He or she tells you where Andrew Sullivan has been all these years.
I see many here have fallen for the GOP promised dystopia. Of course it’s based on their one bit of honesty; we (the GOP) have fallen and we can’t get up.
Here’s the part that they can neither see nor admit to. We don’t need them. We got along fine without them for the past eight years, we’ll do fine for the next eight.
AgingLGrl: I agree. And after today, the link will be http://rudepundit.blogspot.ch/2016/05/dont-worry-andrew-sullivan-americans.html. And for those of you interested in, or hell bent on hating, the media, look for a copy of The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone (W.W. Norton & Co., originally published in 2011). Required reading.
Re: The Rude Pundit
After reading the entire Sullivan article and the entire Rude Pundit article, I’m inclined to lean toward the Rude Pundit’s take on our current situation.
As the Rude Pundit stated in response to Sullivan’s article, “Mother f-er, who got us into this situation? It was the f-ing insiders and the f-ing elites of each of the parties.”
For me, the keyword is ‘elite’, that nebulous group of people who evidently possess far greater education, far more insight, and far more clout than the remainder of us. Who exactly are these people, the elite?
That’s the good thing about words like “elites”, it can mean anybody you don’t like.
For me, the keyword is ‘elite’, that nebulous group of people who evidently possess far greater education, far more insight, and far more clout than the remainder of us. Who exactly are these people, the elite?
They don’t have greater education but they do have more insight and more clout. They’re not being deceived like you. They are master of deceit and have the clout to destroy their opposition. Based on Professor George Lakoff’s original projections, I would estimate they have committed over 10 billion dollars to their disinformation campaign since 1970.
All the elites conform to a system that was put in place in the late 60’s in Dallas. The three most important elites responsible for the new political paradigm were Gordon Mclendon, Bunker Hunt, and their front man Ambassador Robert Strauss. All three have passed away. The system they put in place and the fractals from it have spread throughout the U.S. and now through the ascendancy of Donald Trump it can wipe out any idea of a SOCIAL democracy.
You have to remember that members of the DuPont and Bush families were implicated in the attempted Fascist takeover of America in 1935. It was only prevented through the efforts of General Smedley Butler when he testified in front of a special congressional hearing.
From a financial standpoint the Koch Brothers are the most important elites. Up until now, the Bush family has been the most important political force in the coup d’ etat (by installments) which has been moving 2 steps forward and 1 step backward since 1980. The final step in a coup is when it goes public and that’s what Donald Trump has done. That’s what the Republican Party is up in arms over. It’s not the fascist rhetoric that’s being objected to. It’s the unintended pre-emptive move by Trump, without the cover of the Federal Government behind him.
Pete, I hear you when you wrote, “That’s the good thing about words like “elites”, it can mean anybody you don’t like.”
Elite is one of those terms, without definition, that is nebulous and open to interpretation.
neb-u-lous, adj 1. of, relating to , or resembling a nebula: NEBULAR 2. INDISTINCT, VAGUE.
There’s nothing nebulous about the “elite.” They control the media. Do you expect the major networks, PBS or The New York Times to discuss how the “elite” operates?
Anyone who attempted to do so wouldn’t last five minutes at any of those institutions.
I concur with the shock and trepidation expressed about Trump, for somewhat different reasons, I fear the other 4 still in the games as much or more. With the exception of the wealth, the rap on Trump could easily apply to Sanders. And while Hillary’s expressed ideology may appeal to you, I have no confidence she will do anything she says she will do. With most of you, the hope is that she will. For the most part, I hope she doesn’t. The concern is that she might do anything. Please wake up and be as vigilant about the other candidates as you are with Trump.
The Chinese have a saying that crisis is a dangerous opportunity. The dwindling middle class has felt an increasing sense of financial crisis for 40 years and is ripe for a demagogue who makes nationalistic appeals to that frustration and fear.
Trump has indicated again today that he is erratic and lacking in self-control and judgment. It defies explanation that he relies on the National Inquirer – and ADMITS it – for his source of information. But some people are so desperate for the promise of a better future that they’ll dismiss the erratic in hopes the unrealistic promises somehow will come true.
Ken, maybe you’ll be the one to fill me in on factual stuff that would hold up in a trial for instance demonstrating significant errors in judgement or malfeasance or duplicity on Hillary’s part.
I keep asking friends who have reached the same conclusion that you have about her and have yet to hear anything but they don’t like her.
But some people are so desperate for the promise of a better future that they’ll dismiss the erratic in hopes the unrealistic promises somehow will come true.
I agree. But maybe MANY, MANY would be better than SOME.
Late to the party,but this riposte to Sullivan from Anis Shivani via Naked Capitalism is much more articulate and historically enlightening than the one offered by the Rude Pundit . I couldn’t help but share it with others.
Just a brief excerpt from the Anis Shivani article:
Now this panic alert, designed to get us in line behind Hillary, is raised by the man who ended The New Republic as we knew it (which then went on to end and then end again), promoting racist and imperialist dogma during his reign at the magazine in the 1990s, and then, with his finger in the wind (which to him and that other arch-hypocrite Hitchens meant being like George Orwell), turned into one of the biggest shills for the war on terror, the Iraq war, the whole works, all the while denouncing the fifth column within our ranks. This so-called journalist, who has no record of liberal consistency, who keeps shifting to whoever holds moral power at any given moment, is scaring us about the mortal threat that is Trump.
Bill Moyers comments…Absolutely superb and on point!
Ooops,It’s Mike Logfren from Bill Moyers.com.
Like his fellow conservative David Brooks, Sullivan yearns for “elite mediation,” a polite term for letting our social betters from the Ivy League run the show. But how did that work out? The 1953 overthrow of Iran’s government by the CIA’s Yalies led to an inexorable chain of events culminating in a smoking debris field in lower Manhattan. The Dulles brothers of Dillon, Read & Co. staged a coup against the first democratic government in Guatemala for the greater glory of United Fruit’s shareholders; in the repression that followed, hecatombs of corpses sparked a destabilization throughout Central America climaxing in the mass immigration to the United States that is the heart and soul of the Trump backlash. The best and the brightest, of course, engineered us into the quicksand of Vietnam, a disaster of almost Hegelian perfection.
For all of his occasional apostasy against the new Republican orthodoxy by being an openly gay conservative, Sullivan still has just enough emotional attachment to a patrician, largely imaginary version of “classic” conservatism as to want to protect his ideological mirage from contamination by the Trump craze. He favors some fantasy version of the conservatism espoused by his idol, the British political scientist Michael Oakeshott. It is his delusion that there now exists a conservatism purged of its reactionary impulses that can function as an anti-ideology rather than the ideology it actually is. Contemporary conservatism, with its harping on tradition and values, is an elaborate evasion of the fundamental political question all societies face: Who gets what, and on which terms? When Abraham Lincoln spoke of “the mystic chords of memory,” he did not mean the dead hand of custom, but rather a steady confidence in popular government derived from the inalienable rights of the governed.
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