Ghost Dancers - II
by Michael Brenner on 05 Feb 2022 1 Comment

Recently, we saw newly revealed pictures of Hitler in the mid-1920s standing before a mirror practicing his wild rhetorical gestures. By 1933-34, there was no need for practice. The gestures were Hitler. So, today, we see the deterioration in manner and speech in a Trump who progressively has become a caricature of his own twisted self. So, too, we see Ted Cruz – once sane if an ideological fanatic – degenerate into a scurrilous hate-monger who sparks insults, lies and accusations at random.


There is ample evidence that a peculiar form of American Fascism is now implanted in the body politic. The Trump phenomenon, to use a shorthand expression, is unprecedented in breadth and depth. It has penetrated the very marrow of our public institutions and political culture. The open question is how far it will spread, the strength of the antibodies it generates and the society’s capacity for regeneration. 


Can the Trumpian movement succeed? NO – in the sense that it’s not possible to summon back the past. YES – in the sense that it can inflict irreparable damage on our liberal democracy, it can hurt persons and institutions. In short, it can destroy both the America that is and the essence of the ‘original’ America that they presume to cherish and long for but never have understood or appreciated.  Already, the harm to our public institutions is so great – at the state as well as national level – that it is not hyperbolic to say that we are living in post-Constitutional America. 


Hence, a fanatical mass movement can only intensify and reach new heights of extremity. It can be suppressed – but it cannot moderate. Once it reaches a certain threshold its own momentum will propel it to a climax of one sort or another - invariably a destructive climax. In short, the Trumpites whose ecstasies supposedly embrace their version of the Great Spirit are in effect devotees of Kali’s danse macabre


There are three protagonists in this drama.  


One is the Americo-Fascist movement itself. The second is the traditional opposition by which we mean the Democratic Party. Sadly, there is little reason to place much faith in it. Sclerotic, poorly led, bereft of conviction, timid, unable to promote an alternative vision or narrative, it served in the 2020 Presidential election as little more than the lever you pulled if you wished to vote ‘NO” on what was more a referendum on Trump than a conventional presidential election. Moreover, its paralyzed lack of will casts it as easy prey that stirs the bloodlust of its voracious Republican predators. In 2022, it will be trounced.


The third, and probably critical element, are the Republican loyalists who have demonstrated an unbecoming readiness to accept their party’s (and the country’s) bondage to the Trumpites.  A few prominent names aside, the mass of Republican voters have shown that they are prepared, by all accounts, to remain loyal to the standard bearer and his claque. The survey data clearly support that conclusion. So, too, does the lock-step discipline of Congressional Republicans who resemble the old Communist Party delegates to the Supreme Soviet. Who they are - and why they have sold out so totally - are the great unanswered questions.


Functionally, this silent party majority forms a league of Franz von Papens. Amazingly, their obstinacy stiffens even though there is no threat – domestic or externally – to their dominating interests, even though their goonish shock troops act with intensifying atrocity. This stubborn party loyalty extends into the highest levels of the Republican Establishment - as exposed by the behavior of James Comey and Robert Mueller. The former broke all precedent, and legal integrity, by his totally unjustified empty October surprise on the eve of the 2016 election. The latter squandered all trust in his role as legal custodian by his dithering, restricted ‘investigation,’ his fudging of judgments, his ambivalent conclusions, and his passivity in allowing himself to be outrageously manipulated and traduced by William Barr for purely partisan purposes. 


The hard core Trumpites, spawn of the Tea Party (including the Christian Right), represent probably no more than 10-15% of the public. Let’s add most members of the upper crust (10% or so) whose financial self-interest overshadows all other considerations. Since their turnout exceeds that of any other socio-economic stratum, let’s make that around 12%. (Sub-total: 25%) Then there are the conglomerations of small government ideologues, those who distain support for the poor and indigent (a majority of whom happen to be people of color), the Right-to-Life single issue fanatics, the paranoid security obsessives. Together, they constitute about a third or somewhat more of the electorate, if we avoid double counting.[1]


They all are so loyal to the Republican Party and obsessed with what agitates them, that they will set aside good sense and the good of the Republic to subject the country to an obviously deranged, corrupt and lawless ego-maniac and his horde. To state it bluntly, they have little social conscience. Many are ambitious, many are grasping, many are selfish, and most important – like the ‘deplorables’ - they too lack the core self-esteem to act responsibly.


We must keep in mind a central feature in the picture that tinges everything having do with public life. That is the extent to which the collective American super-ego has shriveled. The implicit guidelines that shape and constrain behavior no longer exercise the influence that they did. We think and act in a quasi-nihilist environment. The absence of a generally recognized, logical order means that many of us inhabit a variety of make-believe worlds. All of us experience the resultant static – static that makes it difficult to think more-or-less clearly and to act more-or-less rationally. In this setting, the most disadvantaged commodity is the truth. For truth-telling means forcing ourselves to recognize that we are mistaking a hall of mirrors for reality. And those mirrors – if ever aligned – form an infinite regression to nowhere. 


Such is the aversion to truth that critical comment about some obvious falsity is taken as stunning blasphemy – by most, or an audacious act of courage – by a few. Who will be performing the GHOST DANCE a decade from now? 


It will not be the Trumpites. For their fate is all or nothing – now or never. They’ve rolled the dice. Yes, the movement will grow unabated. In fact, it may gather strength from a widespread belief that 2020 was rigged against him. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Congress, they will use their power to block the Biden administration at every turn – no holds barred. Even now, lacking formal majorities, they bend every sinew to buy-off or intimidate the one or two Democrats needed to neutralize that nominal majority – as they did under Obama. 


In any circumstances, the Trumpites will redouble their nation-wide guerrilla war. They are well-placed to do so. A large part of the federal judiciary already is prepared to do their bidding at the drop of a legal appeal. They have 4 or 5 propagandistic ‘news’ networks at their disposal along with an even denser network of talk-radio outlets. Funding is unlimited. They are highly organized at every level of government. In every one of these respects, their battle fleet vastly outguns the Democrats’ scattered flotilla. 


After unseating Trump, the Democrats enthusiastically launched into a celebratory jig. Joyful that the Republic has been saved, that democracy had triumphed, and that the country has rediscovered its good sense. Only slowly is it dawning on some that a demonstrable reconstitution of a decent liberal polity has not been achieved. Their only modest achievements are in the realm of ‘identity politics’ through executive action. 


As for the non-Trumpite Republicans, they smile contentedly secure in their financial status, looking on indifferently as the Democrats struggle to advance an agenda recognizable from its ‘moderate’ Republican ancestry, and complacent in the assurance that their daughters could always get an abortion in Canada.  In short – they don’t give a damn! 


Americans have been abandoned by their elites. 


There will be GHOST DANCERS. Scattered bands of downcast greybeards with faded memories and pale visions of what might have been – of what should have been. Their step will be slowed by age and their rueful knowledge that there is no Great Spirit to rescue them.  



[1] There has been no evidence of a dramatic shift in partisan preferences. There is much mythology about this. Conventional wisdom has it that the white working class has abandoned the Democratic Party and thrown in their lot with Trump. We should recall that Hillary in 2016 not only polled 3 million votes more than did Trump, but her percentage of the total was only a few points lower than Obama’s (48.2 vs 51.1%). That hardly constitutes a political sea change. The differential would have been half that had black voters turned out in the same numbers as they did for Obama. Moreover, the Democrats were handicapped by a maladroit candidate and an overall party leadership that was, and is, abject.



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