Wednesday, June 16

Re-Fighting The Battle Of The Teutoburg Forest

I hated saying it the first time, and I hate even more saying it again. The only reason I said it the first time, and the only reason I’m saying it again, is because I think that, for reasons of mental hygiene if nothing else, we progressives / leftists / liberals, i.e., those of us still possessed of a functioning prefrontal cortex, must remain firmly tethered to reality. Besides, in addition to personal hygiene, for the sake of the Nation we dare not follow the fascist-adjacent right, lemming-like, over the cliff of “alternative facts.”

So I will swallow the bitter pill and say it yet again:

(1) There will be no "blue wave" in November

We will more than likely see the usual scenario repeated whereby ... yes, to be sure ... the party holding the White House loses some seats in an off-year election. (Only twice since World War 2 has the party holding the White House gained seats in an off-year election.) But it will be nothing like the Republican equivalent of what 2010 was to Democrats under President Obama, i.e., a decisive defeat, verging on a blow-out. The Congress-in-waiting we wake up to on the morning of 7 November will be substantially the Congress of the evening of 5 November. Not identically, of course, but substantially. But even if November should be the Republicans' equivalent of 2010 for the Democrats ... that is ...

(2) ... even if the House should change hands, the Senate will not

Why is (2) important?

If you really need to ask that question, you have not been paying attention.  But never mind that. I’ll tell you anyway: (2) is important because, absent a 2/3 Senate majority to depose Trump, any impeachment or even an invocation of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment (hereafter TFA) will accomplish nothing. (Given the gravity of the issue, even a Democrat-controlled House might not muster the 2/3 majority requisite under TFA. After all, even after two years of Trump and his craven lickspittles, Democrats have not distinguished themselves with conspicuous displays of rigid spines. The last member of either House to display such just died.  In fact, we watched his funeral at the National Cathedral. And be it noted: he was a Republican. I must say, however, in the interest of fairness, Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has so far displayed remarkable integrity in recusing himself and in refusing to back down in the face of Trump's neolithic slobberings.) Absent the 2/3 majority in the Senate requisite to actually -- goddamit all -- doing something, any “blue wave” that gave control of the House to Democrats would merely dash itself against the impregnable sea-wall of Republican opposition in the Senate, and therefore only afford the Democratic Party in the House a stellar opportunity to practice public legislative masturbation: a harmless enough activity as long as you refuse to believe it actually ... you know ... accomplishes anything like … oh … say … deposing an illegitimate President and thereby preserving constitutional government in the American Republic.

Moreover, I think an unsuccessful impeachment attempt or an abortive invocation of TFA might well only result in a wounded Trump, like merely wounding a mother bear with a .22-caliber round.  We might then discover that what we have seen so far is only "Trump Lite," and that a wounded Trump would, like that mother bear, be even more vicious. I think it would even be unwise to rule out the possibility of a 21st-century version of the 1933 burning of the Reichstag, i.e., a manufactured crisis (e.g., an alleged attack across the DMZ by North Korea, a container ship allegedly holding a nuclear weapon docked in an American port, etc. ... especially in the evidence-free Trumpian universe of "alternative facts," the possibilities are endless) that would give Trump an excuse to grab more power, up to and including the suspension of civil liberties and the declaration of martial law, both of which well-housebroken Republicans would obediently come to heel and support. Wounded bears aside, I think Andrew Sullivan hit on the best analogy to the present situation in his 7 Sep 2018 Daily Intelligencer column:

We have a president holding liberal democracy hostage, empowered by a cult following. The goal is to get through this without killing any hostages, i.e., without irreparable breaches in our democratic system. Come at him too directly and you might provoke the very thing you are trying to avoid. Somehow, we have to get the nut job to put the gun down and let the hostages go, without giving in to any of his demands.

A task that would probably intimidate even NCIS: Los Angeles. For the old rule of regicide -- which, for the record, I intend strictly as metaphor -- still holds:  if you strike the King, strike to kill, not merely to wound.

One is reminded of Neville Chamberlain’s quasi-erotic fantasies about playing nice with Hitler concerning the Sudetenland at Munich in 1938. (Umm ... you do know about that, right? ... or have you, like too many on the left, written off the history of the West as merely a kabuki drama played out by dead, white, patriarchal European males?) The tragic difference, of course, is that Great Britain and her Empire had Winston Churchill waiting in the wings to administer a slap to the face to the pacifist and Oswald Mosley / British-fascist wing of Britons, bring them back to reality, and rescue them from Chamberlain’s dangerous folly. I say the difference is "tragic" -- for us -- because I see no analogous Churchillian figure on the left side of the American horizon to render the same service for us. Ideology and party be damned, Sen. McCain might well have played that role, but what Rudyard Kipling once called "the lords of Life and Death" are evidently in a foul mood these days.

Democrats, and the left generally, make the same mistake with today’s right -- please note: I said "today's right", i.e., not the right of William F. Buckley, William Rusher, Mary Ann Glendon, and James Burnham, all of sainted memory -- that Chamberlain made with Hitler:  Chamberlain argued his case from the standpoint of presuppositions and values firmly rooted in the European Enlightenment of the 18th century:  rationality, fairness, the give-and-take of negotiation, the criticality of empirical evidence, free speech, etc., etc. Hitler shared none of those presuppositions and values. Hitler was not a habitue of the salons and seminars frequented by, e.g., Condorcet, Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke, Hume, the Encyclopedists, et. al. He was a straight-up denizen of the Teutoburg Forest of the early first century CE who was, above all else, concerned to commemorate the Teutoburgers’ victory over the Roman legions by continuing to expand Teutonic hegemony. (Umm ... you do know about that, too ... right? ... ) There was nothing genteel about Hitler. He was all about brute power, the closest approach to Nietzsche's "blonde beast" ever to appear in physical form -- Nietzsche's Anti-Christ instantiated. He was notoriously flatulent. He loved Wagner, not Haydn. Neville Chamberlain did not understand this. Chamberlain did not understand that Hitler and the National Socialists had missed the European Enlightenment. To his immortal credit, Winston Churchill did. But then, Winston Churchill believed unapologetically in the objective superiority of Enlightenment-centric classical liberalism over the grunting, spittle-spraying crudities of authoritarianism.

Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

Similarly, today's progressives need a Churchill – preferably several such – on the left that, casting aside their endemic tendency to assume the best about their adversaries, understand about today’s American right what Churchill understood about the Nazis:  McConnell, Graham, etc. – in general, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee – do not give a flying shit about anything even remotely connected with liberal democracy, gender equality, constitutional government, due process, or, indeed, any of the Enlightenment principles enshrined in the Constitution they profess to revere even as they use that Document for toilet paper. Like the Germanic tribes fighting Varus's Romans 2000 years ago, they care about power, period – theirs and their party’s. Someone said the Kavanaugh hearings were a job interview for the position of Associate Justice. They were right. But it is equally true that, e.g., to Lindsay Graham, they were a job interview, also:  to be Jeff Sessions’ replacement.

That is why there will be no blue wave:  like Neville Chamberlain, we on the left insist on taking the knife of Enlightenment-era principled rationality to the gun fight of raw-power confrontation.  Seduced by the Siren song of postmodernist nihilism, too many on the left see the former, not as a means for the liberation of the human spirit, but as a vehicle for aggressions, both micro- and mega-, and as an excuse to perpetuate some form of slavery. So they insist on invading the Teutoburg Forest with the collected works of Rousseau instead of RPGs. That does not mean advocating for a lack of principle. On the contrary, principle is just the point. We do not have to channel McConnell on Merrick Garland. But we do have to learn to be just as coldly Machiavellian as they. We have been "harmless as doves" long enough. We need to learn to be "wise as serpents". And to bite and to sting like same. We can no longer play nice. It took Churchill to teach that lesson to Great Britain and her Empire.

Which leads me back to my original question:  who will be our Churchill?

James R. Cowles

PS -- If events should prove me wrong in my predictions, if there is a "blue wave" -- i.e., if the Romans win the latter-day Battle of the Teutoburg Forest -- please feel free to remind me of this endlessly. I assure you, I will be as ecstatic as everyone else!

PPS -- Those of you who are waiting for me to repeat Scott Kelly's apology for his admiration of Winston Churchill should by all means feel free to wait for my apology until Kanye West votes straight-Democrat and until Madonna is again a virgin. The left needs to learn that its demands for pristine perfection betray a juvenile shallowness of intellect, since they have evidently never learned the tragic truth about politics:  sometimes the Perfect is the mortal enemy of the Good -- and even of the Just Good Enough. Yet another reason there will be no "blue wave".

Image credits

Blue wave ... John Baer ... CC by SA 2.0
Neville Chamberlain ... Bassano Ltd ... Public domain
Winston Churchill ... Library of Congress ... Public domain
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest ... Otto Albert Koch, 1909 ... Public domain
Adolf Hitler ... Deutsche Bundesarchiv ... Public domain
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest ... Otto Albert Koch (1866-1920) ... Public domain

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