Short thoughts on the insurrection, 1/13

Citizen soldiers, Republican fear, grill-pilled socialists, and life after the Nazis

It’s hard to write about economics when goons are trying to overthrow your country. Events keep flooding in, and I keep having thoughts about them. Just one more week til inauguration, folks.

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The U.S. Military is the key

Over at the Washington Post, Dan Drezner asks if the GOP will turn into something like Hezbollah — a political party with a military wing.

A significant fraction of Trump supporters are comfortable transforming the GOP into an American Hezbollah — a political party that also has an armed wing to coerce other political actors through violence…

Politico anonymously quoted a GOP lawmaker who explained: “There’s a difference in our crazy people and their crazy people. Our crazy people have an excessive amount of arms. They have gun safes. They have grenades. They believe in the Second Amendment. They come here, and Trump’s made them think this is the Alamo.”

For years, much of the country has basically accepted the myth of an armed Right facing down a meek and disarmed Left. This isn’t true — first of all, because 20% of Democratic-voting households actually do own guns, and there are so many guns floating around in America that it’s not too hard for liberals to arm up if they so choose. But the real reason the U.S. isn’t Lebanon is that here, unlike there, the military is far far stronger than the militia. Hezbollah can overmatch the Lebanese Armed Forces, but no combination of right-wing militias could put even a small dent in the U.S. Military.

So it’s important to realize that the U.S. Military is firmly against the Trumpist insurrection:

See also:

In fact, even before Trump tried to overturn an election and foment insurrection, the U.S. Military was turning against him. Here’s a Military Times poll from August, following Trump’s failed attempt to get the military to act as riot cops during the George Floyd protests:

The pro-Biden lean was present among White servicemembers as well. And importantly, though officers and enlisted were both anti-Trump, officers were even more so:

So the U.S. Military, as an institution, will be against the Trumpist insurgents; there will be no Hezbollah-type situation here in America.

But the above poll does indicate that a significant minority of U.S. Military personnel are pro-Trump. Even if military opinion has shifted further against Trump since the coup attempt, there will still be a chunk who are sympathetic to the insurrectionists. In fact, the military is working to make sure that these sentiments don’t cause dissension in the ranks:

The [Joint Chiefs’] statement comes as the military has launched an effort to examine whether some in the ranks may be sympathetic to the aims and extremist beliefs being propagated by some Trump supporters…

"There is no place for extremism in the military and we will investigate each report individually and take appropriate action," the spokesperson said.

This is good, and reassuring. The U.S. is lucky that its military is a strong, resilient institution. It’s still highly unlikely that the military will split and fight itself, as in the Spanish Civil War.

But this episode should make American liberals think hard about their relationship to the U.S. Military. There has been a modest surge of anti-military sentiment on the political Left since the Iraq War; this is understandable, but it needs to go by the wayside.

Additionally, more young liberals should think about joining the military. The youth of America lean strongly to the left, but Republican voters are still more likely to enlist. That seems like a problem. Yes, military service is a burden. But the alternative — for the vast mass of Americans to rely on the esprit de corps of a warrior caste as the ultimate guarantor of their security and freedom — seems worse.

Clinging to insurrection for the illusion of safety

Several days after the coup attempt of 1/6, a poll finds that 35% of Republicans approve of the storming of the Capitol Building, and about 2/3 of Republicans think the insurrectionists at least “had a point”:

Why are so many Republicans still clinging to the insurrectionists, even after it has become obvious that they’re anti-American, a threat to democracy, and a threat to public order? The easy answer, of course — and one which many people will instinctively reach for — is “Republicans are just Nazis”, and that their desire to use violent force to prosecute a race war against nonwhite Americans simply outweighs anything else, etc. etc.

I don’t think this is the right answer. I think that while quite a few of the insurrectionists themselves are dedicated race-warriors, the vast majority of Republicans are not. Instead, I think Republicans who still support the insurrectionists — or who are still on the fence — are motivated not by hate but by fear.

To understand the mind of American conservatives, you have to understand the constant diet of fear that they consume every day. For decades, right-wing talk shows and Fox News have understood that they could get conservatives to tune in by constantly pumping up the fear — fear of a War on Christmas, fear of gay culture, fear of terrorism, fear of Black crime, fear fear fear. During the Trump Era, the chief bugaboos have been A) wokeness, B) immigration, and C) antifa.

To be a conservative in America is to exist in a constant state of having people trying to scare you.

Now, in the era of Trumpist insurrection, the chief threat that the fearmongers are hawking is that Republicans and conservatives will become a persecuted class in America:

Some Republicans will see this threatening warning and think “Ehh, that’s hysteria; let’s focus on the real threat of insurrection and then things will be back to normal.” But some will think “OMG it’s true…I’m going to be hunted and persecuted in my own country just because I’m a conservative…who can protect me from this terror?”

And for many, the only possible answer to the question of “Who can protect me from this terror?” will be “Trump, and the people who stormed the Capitol”. Having been told that the institutions of America are an existential threat to them, they will cling to the only force they feel might be capable of protecting them from that threat — the Trumpists. Distasteful as the Trumpists might be, many conservatives will feel that they have no other ally, no other protector, no other option.

The irony of this situation is that Trump and his fascist goons are no one’s ally and no one’s protector — instead, they are the main threat that American conservatives should be worried about. Political chaos, violence, and civil strife will be an absolute disaster for Republicans. Level-headed conservatives, including Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton, realize this, and have called for quick, harsh suppression of the insurrection.

But it’s very hard for even the strongest of us to be level-headed in a time like this. All the insurrectionists have to do to retain Republican support is to keep pumping up the threat, and keep presenting themselves as the only port in the storm. And some Republicans, tragically, will cling ever tighter to the very monster that is at their throats.

Sitting this one out

Jacobin magazine, the intellectual standard-bearer of the Bernie socialist movement, has published an article saying that the real threat isn’t Trumpism, but “neoliberalism”:

Though the article condemns Trump and his fascist goons, it expresses alarm that many businesses and business lobbies have chosen to condemn Trump, and argues that Biden is as much of threat in the long term:

Focusing exclusively on the specter of a fascist threat will only serve to enable a restoration of bipartisan neoliberal stability under Biden — exactly what created the conditions for the extreme right’s growth in the first place…Organizing and fighting…will mean not just defeating the Right, but also taking on Biden and the Democratic establishment, now poised to serve as the crucial vehicle for renewing the neoliberal consensus.

I don’t see this as indicative of any sort of “red-brown” alliance of leftists and rightists (there are a very small number of leftists who do seem to want that, but they’re a tiny fringe and generally not living in America). Instead, I see Jacobin’s attitude as basically “let’s sit this one out”. Liberals are overwhelmingly angry at Trump and directing all their fire toward him; like Mao letting Chiang Kai-Shek do the heavy lifting of fighting the Japanese in WW2, Jacobin-type leftists might see little reason to spend their own resources on fighting the libs’ battles for them. Why not sit back, fire up the grill, and watch the fireworks?

Of course, I expect the vast majority of leftists not to sit this one out. Most young lefty Americans care far more about going out and punching a Nazi than about flipping burgers and nattering about neoliberalism. The Jacobin people are ultimately going to make themselves less relevant to the Left by taking this blase attitude.

Everything’s better without Nazis

In general, I think Americans dramatically underrate how much better life will be without Nazis around.

And by “Nazis”, I do not mean Republicans, or conservatives, or Trump supporters, or people with racist attitudes in general. I specifically mean hardcore passionate white supremacists for whom white supremacist activism is a lifestyle. This is a relatively small fringe; most racists don’t make a lifestyle out of it.

But even though Nazis are a small fringe in America, they are a fractal fringe — they branch out and ramify and flow into any space that allows them. In the 1980s, a Nazi fringe tried to be part of the punk subculture. Punks responded by punching Nazis in the face and kicking them out of the subculture. In recent years, Nazis have tried to be part of the Black Metal subculture. Black Metal fans are responding by systematically excluding Nazis. Gamer culture has also tried to kick out infiltrating Nazis, with less success. And Nazis successfully infiltrated and destroyed 4chan.

The lesson is that Nazis will relentlessly infiltrate anywhere where the powers that be fail to expel them with extreme prejudice. They will infiltrate your web forum. They will infiltrate your blog comments. They will go anywhere where they are not forcibly expelled. And once they are allowed in a space, they will make it awful for everyone else in that space, like a single rat turd floating in your bowl of cereal.

The lesson the punks and metalheads learn is: Ban the Nazis, and things just get better. Yes, it can feel intolerant. But that’s the Paradox of Tolerance:

I suspect most people vastly underestimate how much better America as a whole will get when our current crop of Nazis finally gives up and goes away.

Another expert says no civil war

Over at his Substack, Razib Khan interviews Richard Hanania, a scholar who studies partisanship and ideology. Hanania still thinks civil war is unlikely in the U.S., echoing the verdict of Paul Staniland, whom I interviewed before the coup went down.

This is what life will be like after Trumpism is gone

We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?


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