Tag Archives: New Republic

Too Weird To Win?

The problem with living in a bubble…

One benefits of a truly mass media is that it exposes its audience to the larger popular culture. Today, it’s easy to occupy an information bubble occupied by people who share your particular  beliefs.

A few days ago, I shared some of the positions of the New Right’s “intellectuals.” Those positions weren’t just extreme; as a recent essay from The New Republic characterized them, they were also weird. The essay argued that when these people run for office, they tend to be too weird to win elections. (Herschel Walker was a different kind of weird, but the observation still holds.)

The right is getting weirder. That might begin to cost Republicans elections in years to come and undermine their own appeals to American patriotism in a way policy extremism alone could not. American voters see the political parties as equally extreme in policy, ignoring evidence that Republicans have moved right much faster than Democrats have moved left. However, a party fixated on genital sunning, seed oils, Catholic integralism, European aristocracy, and occultism can alienate voters not because of its positions but because of how it presents them—and itself. Among the right’s intellectual avant garde and media elites, there is a growing adoption of habits, aesthetics, and views that are not only out of step with America’s but are deliberately cultivated in opposition to a national majority that the new right holds in contempt.

This is a different—though parallel—phenomenon from the often raucous, conspiratorial personality cult that surrounds Donald Trump and his devoted base. This new turn has predominantly manifested among the upper-class and college-educated right wing. Indeed, as Democratic strategist David Shor noted, as those with college degrees become more left leaning, the remaining conservatives have gotten “really very weird.” In this well-off cohort, there exists a mirror of the excesses often attributed to the college-educated left, fairly or unfairly: an aversion to mainstream values and an extreme militancy.

This segment of the Right has evidently abandoned American exceptionalism, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Their “disgust with equitable citizenship, personal liberty, and democratic self-governance” are common threads running through their pronouncements.

These New Right thinkers consider America’s philosophical foundations not just mistaken, but immoral; they express “a new fascination with medieval Catholicism and imported European extremisms.” According to the essay, this faction of the Right

has shed its American and conservative roots and seeks a radical shift—a national “refounding.” Indeed, leading right-wing intellectuals like John Daniel Davidson have said that “the conservative project has failed” and that people like them constitute the educated vanguard of a “revolutionary moment.”

Whatever else one might say about this rejection of Americana–whatever other danger these people may pose to civic peace–  this is not a politically salable approach. Research confirms that nine out of 10 Americans believe being “truly American” involves respecting “American political institutions and laws.”

Americans consistently affirm that liberty, equality, and progress—the core values of republicanism and the Enlightenment—are ones they try to live by. While the content and meaning of those values have always been contested terrain, opposing them is a nonstarter.

In the midterms, candidates embracing these positions did not do well, even in states where an R next to one’s name virtually guarantees a win.

John Gibbs, a Republican nominee for a Michigan swing seat, founded a think tank that argued for overturning the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The country, he said, had “suffered” from women’s suffrage. He narrowly lost his bid. Blake Masters and J.D. Vance—two Republican candidates for Senate funded in part by tech billionaire and new-right linchpin Peter Thiel—have embraced new-right ideas and actively courted the “weird right.” Vance has questioned whether women should leave violent marriages; Masters has praised domestic terrorist Theodore Kaczynski’s infamous manifesto, argued against legal access to contraception, and openly said that democracy is a smokescreen for the masses “stealing certain kinds of goods and redistributing them as they see fit.” (Americans on balance like democracy; legal contraception is almost universally popular; and Kaczynski’s unpopularity is so widely assumed that pollsters rarely ask about him.) Masters, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost his bid to unseat Mark Kelly, and Vance badly underperformed in his blood-red home state.

The claims that characterize this slice of the body politic are increasingly bizarre: the essay points to assertions that meat substitutes will turn men into women. (One Texas Representative has declared that a man who eats cultured meat, “will turn into a SOCIALIST DEMOCRAT.”)

At the base of all this is misogyny. (Perhaps these guys all  have small winkies…)The New Right wants American women to be subservient to men and dependent upon male breadwinners.

Sorry, weirdos, but that horse has left the barn…



Speaking Of Power…

The New Republic has a new podcast, titled “How to Save a Country” devoted to ideas about a “new political vision and a new economic vision for the United States.”

A recent introduction began “It’s that time of year, a chill is in the air. Halloween candies hit all the grocery store aisles, and perhaps scariest of all …the Supreme Court is back in session.”

As Michael Tomasky noted,

We could see the last vestiges of affirmative action overturned. We could see a decision that gives state legislatures the power to essentially overturn federal election results. And we might see a more definitive conclusion of the right of business owners to refuse to serve gay customers. You know, the wedding cake question.

The interviewee on this particular episode was Amy Kapczynski, who co-directs both Yale’s Global Health Justice Partnership and its Law and Political Economy Project. She also clerked for both Sandra Day O’Connor and Stephen Breyer–experience that prompted one of the first questions: what was it like to work at the Supreme Court?

Gosh, there’s lots to say about what it’s like at the Supreme Court. It’s the kind of building that when school kids come into it, they often ask whether it’s a church. It’s a very intimidating place. It’s a very intense place to work. It’s a very small and intimate place. I can think of no government agency that has anything like the amount of power that it has with so few people working for it, and it’s a place about which I would say there’s a lot of secrecy. So some of that has been drawn back a little bit recently as we started to see both the leaks of the Supreme Court and also, I think, with more public attention, people realizing how much power the court has and how a concerted majority that’s really not afraid of public reaction can use that power.

I think one of the things that I was fascinated by as a young person going to law school and then working at the Supreme Court, is how people in power think about the power that they hold. And clearly, I think one thing that we’re seeing about the Supreme Court now is that you have a slim majority that’s very, very conservative and that’s very eager to use the power that they have to advance a vision of America that doesn’t look a whole lot like America today. It’s part of the reason they talk so much about 1789.

Kapczynski says we should be prepared for a lot of bad 6–3 decisions (several of which the podcast participants discussed) and that progressives need to think carefully about what we can do and how we can react. She points out that the Supreme Court is not the only body that can interpret the Constitution, and that the view that all Constitutional interpretation must occur there is a relatively modern phenomenon.

There’s a long history that we can look back to where there have been fights about the court, where the court has overreached, and where there have been ways that the public and our political branches have responded that have curbed the court’s power.

And sometimes it happens because the amount of public outcry actually causes those individual people sitting there and reading their newspapers to think, “Well, gosh, maybe we are overstepping, and maybe we’re really going to face the loss of our legitimacy or changing of our composition if we don’t pull back.”

Given the breathtaking arrogance and intellectual dishonesty of Justice Alito and the equally arrogant indifference to ethics displayed by Thomas, I’m dubious that the worst actors on today’s Court will recognize  and dial back their outsized contributions to the Court’s diminished legitimacy…although one can hope.

Kapczynski shares more concrete suggestions for curtailing our rogue Court, and those suggestions bring us back to the issue of power–how it is exercised, and by whom. It also brings us back to the importance of civic education/literacy.

So there are lots of options. All of them require lots of power, right? You need really strong majorities and committed majorities in Washington, so not just the presidency but a stronger majority than we have in Congress and the Senate and so forth to really take those kinds of things forward. And you do need a party and a base that’s more educated about why this is important, that understands the structural power at stake and cares about that.

If those considerable hurdles can be surmounted, Congress can look into the pros and cons of adding justices, imposing term limits and/or restricting areas of jurisdiction.

If Republicans control Congress after the Midterms, of course, none of that will happen.