The New Appeasement

The crown prince of appeasement has always been Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who ushered the world into war in 1938. But the real heir apparent is Trump, whose exercises in appeasement have known no bounds.

You remember, for instance, his gift to Turkey and what he did to the Kurds? His constant sucking up to Russia? His “America First” is simply a recrudescence of the isolationism of the same name that was so strong in the United States in the 1930s. This came not only to bolster the appeasement of the British and French; it paralyzed them in the face of a total threat.

Appeasement usually means “pacifying an aggrieved country through negotiation in order to prevent war.” Now the president’s GOP colleagues have given it a new twist. They condone and foster his lies and fantasies about the election, giving him and his demented base virtually full support for a wealth of conspiracy theories and nutcase behavior.

Their present appeasement is not a new thing, however. It has been a part of Republican identity for many years. Currently it extends to the very beginning of Trump’s term with the GOP’s tacit support of his personal scams and their public damning of the facts contained in the Mueller report. You know the history.

Trump’s Republican enablers have now sold out their rights to govern. You know who they are; Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham lead the parade. One writer put it this way: “Trump’s GOP enablers act like those terrible parents you see in the grocery store trying to cajole their bratty kid throwing a tantrum in the checkout line with ever more absurd promises.” Except they don’t just cajole the behavior, they tolerate it.

Some 70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was valid, and only 10 percent of Republicans in Congress accept it as valid. And so the Congressional enablers continue to ratify their fantasies in the pursuit of electoral power. That’s all it’s about. Most of them know it’s a farce and that it can lead to the prospects of violence and lynching we have seen in Georgia and elsewhere. And still they persist.

In Arizona, the Gonzo Party “asked its followers if they are willing to die for the cause of overturning the presidential election results,  . . . and a handful of users replied they were indeed willing to give their lives to the cause.”

The only remedy I see for the madness is to strongly call out Trump and his goons for what they are. To be silent is to be complicit. Chamberlain at least taught us that.

A Nation of Nutcases

A Plague of Willful Ignorance

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

Flight from Reason: How America Lost Its Mind

Sometime in or around 1970 I encountered Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Daitch Shopwell supermarket around the corner from where I lived in New York. You couldn’t miss him—a big tall red-faced guy—someone who became important to me in my later political life. Mostly from his famous statement, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

That sentiment has always stuck with me, its relevance never more obvious than right now. Moynihan wrote a paper in 1965 called ”The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which talked about the social pathology and disintegration of Black families. He said, prophetically, ”The principal challenge of the next phase of the Negro revolution is to make certain that equality of results will now follow. If we do not, there will be no social peace in the United States for generations.”

Moynihan was a complex, sometimes fractious man who embodied the best traditions of American public life. His statement about opinions and facts comes home to me especially now when fully a third of Americans (according to Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland) believe in cockeyed conspiracy theories, unproven fantasies of all kinds, and distrust science and reason generally. Climate change is a hoax put forward by “a conspiracy of scientists, government and journalists.”

Paul Krugman recently talked about our partisan culture war in A Plague of Willful Ignorance. That war is expressed in the notion that wearing a mask has become a political symbol, an assault on individual liberty. Krugman finds that “there’s a longstanding anti-science, anti-expertise streak in American culture—the same streak that makes us uniquely unwilling to accept the reality of evolution or acknowledge the threat of climate change.” This used to be called anti-intellectualism.

The tradition goes back to the Know-Nothings of the 1850s and extends through H.L. Mencken’s prescient commentaries in the 1920s about the booboisie: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Thomas Patterson of Harvard’s Kennedy School pursues the tradition in a more sweeping vein with Flight from Reason: How America Lost Its Mind. The book explores the tribal politics of our time, tracking the unprecedented amount of false belief and misinformation that people continually embrace. From an excerpt:

Ironically, the misinformed think they’re highly informed. “Cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement” is how sociologist Todd Gitlin describes them. A study found, for example, that those who know the least about climate-change science are the ones who think they’re the best informed on the issue. Another study found that those who are the least knowledgeable about welfare benefits are the ones who claim to know the most about it.

The digital revolution in mass communications has made things worse. The need to cast blame outweighs the urge to discover the truth. There is so much misinformation abroad now that it has become institutionalized—and not just in the political parties. Patterson finds that TV hosts from Limbaugh to Maddow “traffic in outrage,” conveying the notion that they alone are the purveyors of truth.

Negotiation between the parties becomes fraught:

When Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree on the facts, they can negotiate their differences. It becomes harder when they can’t agree on the facts. As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once complained when negotiation over a bill broke down, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” Facts do not settle arguments, but they’re a necessary starting point. Recent debates on everything from foreign policy to climate change have fractured or sputtered because of factual disagreements.

But facts are facts, right? The kinds of disagreements about them that Patterson notes are usually bogus smokescreens for fixed opinions. Krugman had it right: “there’s a belligerent faction within our society that refuses to acknowledge inconvenient or uncomfortable facts, preferring to believe that experts are somehow conspiring against them.” The president is leading this parade.