Riding Out the New Normal

Music helps, and so does a good dinner with friends, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the human adventure these days. One’s faith in politics turns out to be a chimera. Religion offers nothing but the phantasm of hope. Reason is displaced by zeal, Aristotle by Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one tough customer but his views on the nature of man and society are coming back. He argued that “if society broke down and you had to live in what he called ‘a state of nature’, without laws or anyone with the power to back them up, you, like everyone else, would steal and murder when necessary.” Life without strong leadership would become in his words “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Well, our strong leaders have become brutish in their quest for power, totally failing their followers—Trump (the prime example), Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro—all truth deniers and narcissists, all failed leaders. One who clamors to join the group is Netanyahu, now pushing for open war with the Palestinians.

In the U.S. and elsewhere the political urge has taken on a Wagnerian quest for mythical power and the fantasies that enable it. Yet there is no Valhalla in sight. I keep hearing echoes of Germany in the early 1930s. For rank chauvinism, Trump’s apostles in the GOP lead the parade.

Stooges like McCarthy and howlers like M.T. Greene (whom AOC guardedly called “deeply unwell”) have created a new theater of the absurd. The only reason now to watch the nightly news is to see what kind of new delusion they have come up with. At the same time old neoliberal gods are being dethroned as, for instance, revelations appear about Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein. Melinda, at least, knew she had had it.

Finally, the human adventure itself could ultimately come off the rails through climate change inaction and denial. Everyone knows this and yet the paralysis continues. In the struggle to acknowledge the primacy of the ecosphere, our great leaders have inevitably come down on the side of the techno-industrial society, if you can call it that, though for years it’s been known that continued material growth will lead to disaster.

Hobbes could not have foreseen this exactly, but he knew that the

right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods such as the most desirable lands, spouses, etc. People will quite naturally fear that others may (citing the right of nature) invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Moreover, that minority of prideful or “vain-glorious” persons who take pleasure in exercising power over others will naturally elicit preemptive defensive responses from others. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one actually needs, and what respect one properly merits.

Eleven years ago William E. Rees (University of British Columbia) wrote these still pregnant words: “The modern world remains mired in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial seemingly dedicated to maintaining the status quo. We appear, in philosopher Martin Heidegger’s words, to be ‘in flight from thinking.’”

The philosophers, for all their ranting, won’t get us to return to reality. I don’t know what will.

Two Cheers for Liz Cheney

Let’s not get carried away with her comments, folks. She is Dick Cheney’s daughter, after all. Her voting record is almost 100 percent conservative. But it does take something to go against the grain of the Trump fantasists, 75 percent of whom still believe the election was stolen. For her pains she is probably going to get kicked out of her House leadership job.

Several of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump have been advised that if they keep their heads down, leaders like [Kevin] McCarthy will be more likely to help them with fundraising and campaigning. That probably explains why most of them have gone quiet in recent weeks.

Liz seems morally offended by Trump’s lies about January 6th and the stolen election, calling them “poison in the bloodstream of democracy.” Said one Cheney ally, she “feels an obligation to tell the truth” about Trump. Whereas her peers certainly do not. If Liz has future political ambitions, she is keeping them confidential.

It’s truly a battle of truth against lies, as Michael Gerson sees it. Formerly George W’s chief speechwriter and prominent neoconservative, Gerson has become a neo-Democrat in his writings for the Washington Post, and I enjoy reading his literate commentaries. For instance,

The GOP is increasingly defined not by its shared beliefs, but by its shared delusions. To be a loyal Republican, one must be either a sucker or a liar. And because this defining falsehood is so obviously and laughably false, we can safely assume that most Republican leaders who embrace it fall into the second category. Knowingly repeating a lie—an act of immorality—is now the evidence of Republican fidelity.

Peter Wehner, another abiding conservative, examines the crisis confronting his party and its descent into madness. Gripped by fear, Republicans became complicit in Trump’s corruptions. “The danger for the GOP is that those who hope to succeed Trump could lead the party into even more appalling places.”

Liz Cheney surely knows that, and she clearly realizes that Trump’s power over the party will be tested in next year’s elections. She and her few supporting colleagues will be in the battle of their political lives. Says Wehner,

Today Democrats enjoy a rare double-digit lead over Republicans in party favorable ratings, and a recent Gallup poll found the largest Democratic lead in party affiliation over Republicans in nearly a decade (49% compared to 40%).

This is Biden’s opportunity for winning through policy over fear. Despite the conventional wisdom, I would fight the odds by betting on him. The Republicans are setting themselves up to lose the House again.

A Sharp Dressed Man

Imposter that he is, Trump dressed like a Mafia Don. Biden is playing the long game and dresses like a president should. You can’t beat a navy blue pinstripe suit. I am reminded of the great ZZ Top tune from 1983, “Sharp Dressed Man,” and, not least, how power dressing used to count for something in public life. Mitch McConnell in his off-white suits doesn’t really get that.

Most of us are entirely worn out with the pandemic, the stimulus negotiations, the Greene affair, and the daily GOP turmoils. Republicans are thrashing around trying to patch up their broken party and keep in the game while Joe Biden is quietly upstaging them at every turn. Yesterday the House Dems voted to kick M.T. Greene off her committees, even while Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s top turkey, gave her a pass.

Before this, Joe coolly met for two hours with ten Republican senators and overshadowed them all, likely winning the stimulus battle. Maybe the pinstripe didn’t matter. But maybe subliminally it did.