Seditious stupidity.

To state the obvious, things have gotten pretty crazy in the US this election year. The GOP presidential campaign is a clown car driven by Donald Trump that has a trunk full of gun worshiping liars, opportunists, neophytes, xenophobes, war mongerers, ignoramuses and bigots (except, perhaps, Kasich). The GOP Senate majority are threatening to not even hold hearings on the replacement for the recently deceased and unlamented Antonin Scalia, he of the view that corporations are citizens and contraception is bad because sperm is precious. But to get a real sense of how bonkers the right side of the US political table has become one need go no further than this. I urge readers to peruse the comment thread and other posts on that site in order to get a full idea of the lunacy at play. My favourite comment from that particular thread is that Obama has removed US flags from the White House and replaced them with “Muslim Curtains” (presumably to match the prayer rugs he has installed), but there is much more in that vein. More recently I watched an interview with a white middle aged woman at a confederate flag rally in South Carolina the day before the GOP primary held there. Her answer as to why she was voting for Trump is mint: She is voting for him, she said, “because he is a self-made man and he says why I think.”  Ah, to be a fly on the wall at her dinner table conversations…the stupid must be very strong there.

Views such as those espoused by that woman and on that reactionary thread would be laughable except for the fact that a) about 15-20 percent of US citizens apparently hold them; and b) the GOP controls both chambers in Congress and believes that catering to the lunatic base can win them the presidential election. After all, as Trump himself has said in the past, Republican voters tend to be stupid so that is the party to affiliate with if one wants to hold elective office. The fear and paranoia of the stupid and deranged is palpable–and politically bankable.

The real trouble, though, is that not only is this voting minority stupid or crazy, but they are also seditious, as are their representatives in Congress.

Longer term readers may recall my writing in 2009 about the disloyal opposition in the US. The bottom line is that disloyal oppositions in democracies are those that focus on thwarting anything the government does in order to bring about its collapse. This is what happened to  Allende in Chile and if Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had his way, this would have been the fate of Obama during his first four years in office (McConnell famously said after Obama’s election that it was his duty to see that Obama become a one term president). From then until today, both Senate and House Republicans have engaged in a pattern of systematic “obstructionism” (as the Democrats quaintly call it) in an effort to stymie every policy initiative advanced by the White House. Fortunately, they have largely failed, although the cost in terms of political gridlock, brinkmanship and federal government closures has been high.

The stupid is also strong in the Republican National Committee, which got suckered into allowing Trump to run for president under the GOP banner even though he had only recently joined the party (in 2009) and had a history of non-conservative views on matters of social policy such as abortion (he was openly pro-choice until 2011). The RNC thought that it could bring Trump to heel and instead what they now have is a rogue candidate who has pulled the entire campaign into tea bagger land and who can win the nomination outright or force a brokered convention in which his ideas on matter of policy will become part of the nominee’s platform even if he is not that person. Worse yet, his candidacy could well irretrievably fracture the GOP into establishment and tea bagger camps, leading to either a split and emergence of a third rightwing party or the destruction of the GOP as a viable political organisation for years to come.

So not only are a significant minority of US voters patently stupid or crazy, but a fair bunch of the GOP representatives are as well if we accept that the definition of stupidity or insanity is doing the same unsuccessful or desperate thing over and over again. But there is something more sinister at play as well, and that is the seditious nature of the disloyal opposition mustered by the GOP, its media accomplices and the variegated assortment of nut cases who are the target of their appeals.

Broadly defined, sedition is any act that encourages rebellion or undermines the lawful authority of a State. That includes any action that foments discontent, disorder or which incites resistance, revolt or subversion against duly constituted authority or government. Although the concept is broad and has been the subject to a number of interpretations (the general rule being that it is more broadly defined in authoritarian states and more narrowly defined in democratic states), in the US sedition is  rather narrowly defined (as “seditious conspiracy’) and sits with treason and subversive actives in 18 US Code Chapter 115.

The reason why the actions of the rightwing disloyal media and GOP opposition are seditious is that they actively encourage resistance to the lawful authority of the Obama administration and federal agencies charged with enforcing laws under it, and actively conspire to undermine the Obama administration at every opportunity. This can range from acts such as the occupation of an Oregon national bird sanctuary by armed militiamen (covered explicitly in 18 US section 2384 on seditious conspiracy, which includes “by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof,” punishable by jail terms of 10-20 years), to refusing to hold Senate hearings on judicial nominees in a timely fashion as the Constitution prescribes.

The gamut between the two poles runs wide, as evidenced in the lunatic thread linked above, but the intention of those engaged in all of these acts of disloyal opposition are clearly seditious in nature. Add to that the regular interpretative abuse of the 2nd amendment by the NRA, gun manufacturers and gun fetishists, and the tilt towards armed defiance is near complete (and in some cases has been completed, as the Oregon standoff and conclusion demonstrates). No wonder that the federal government has moved carefully when dealing with armed rightwing groups since Waco and Ruby Ridge, less the seditious narrative become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For all the insanity now on display, the real craziness will begin after November’s election. If Hillary or The Bern wins, it is very possible that rightwing seditious speech will turn into actual seditious conspiracy, aided and abetted by conservative media and politicians. The threat of violence cannot be discounted. On the other hand, if Trump or Cruz win, there is the real possibility of protests, demonstrations and even riots in many areas in which those targeted and scapegoated by these candidates are located. They may not be the fully auto, full metal jacket resistance of the right-wingers, but these protests are bound to be (low level if wide scale) violent as well. So the real action will begin after the election, barring the possibility that Kasich or Rubio win the nomination and presidency (in which case most Democratic supporters are likely to adopt a “wait and see” attitude). My hunch is that things will get ugly come Inauguration Day.

Whatever the outcome I am glad for one thing: better than I watch events unfold from here rather than there.

12 thoughts on “Seditious stupidity.

  1. Ha Ha, Art. As it turns out I decided that Trump did not need my help and so did not change my voter registration and just voted absentee in the FL Democratic primary instead (the actual primary date is March 15 and I needed to send in my ballot by mail well in advance). I voted for Bernie instead, hoping that enough votes and delegates for him will force Hillary to move her policy platform to the left in order to keep Bernie’s voters (who will not vote for her otherwise).

  2. You may not have voted for Trump but it appears the numbers may be firming up for him anyway. In a race with Hillary he loses, but what of Bloomberg? Does MB come through the middle to win? Or will Trump steal a win over a split field?

  3. Bloomberg has no chance to win, which should keep him out of the race.

    Trump hasn’t won yet either. If Cruz pulls out after Super Tuesday (Wednesday) and it becomes a two horse race then I think Rubio has a good shot at winning nearly every state after that. Remember 50% of Republicans wont vote for Trump, so whether he wins or not comes down to what Cruz and Kasich do.

    I want Bernie to win, but I would give his odds at only 5% based on the fact Democrat primaries are never winner takes all, but instead proportional.

    However just looking at the shear advantage he has among under 50s it gives me hope that in 8 years time someone like him will be able to repeat the process but this time winning. Not having a rival like Hillary who has been building support for decades will help too.

  4. What bigoted worthless left wing crap.

    The reason you fear Trump so much is that whatever his shortcomings he represents an uprising of the people against the soft tyranny of the political class. (that’s you)

    The people are going to kick your commie arses back into the swamps you crawled out of.

    I much prefer Cruz to Trump myself, but it doesn’t matter too much as long as the nomenklatura get what is coming to them. That’s the Republican Party, The Democratic Party, the media and academia. A corrupt alliance of thieves, liars, cowards and traitors.

    Even if Trump fails this time, the momentum will build. Not only in the US but across the free world.

    Get your affairs in order, the people are coming after you, and you’ll get what is coming to you sooner or later. Your time in ascendancy is fast reaching its end.

    East Germany and the Soviet Union with all its fire power was brought down. The leaders stripped of power and jailed for their crimes. Truth eventually won out over the whole monolithic corrupt organisation.

    You would be tyrannical lot with your pathetic little psychops operation of the last fifty years will go the same way.

    Chickenshit commie frauds.

    (Corrected version)

  5. Thanks Red, for the nuanced critique and for keeping things fair and balanced over here.

  6. Thanks Pablo,just giving you a glimpse of the real world, that’s the one outside the heavily curtained and cloistered staff rooms of left wing academia.

  7. Pablo. You have referred to this term before.
    I utterly disagree with you. Have you heard of the first amendment. Of course you have. What people write in a Facebook thread is entirely their business in a free state. The utter insipidness of American universities is a symptom of the danger of that kind of wrong headed thinking.
    Conflating the Oregon militia with the lawful acts of elected members is repellent. To suggest that using the full power of the law in accordance with their rights as elected members of the legislature is seditious is utter nonsense and I would expect better from you.
    Even Lincoln referred to the tree of liberty needing to be refreshed from the blood of patriots. That speaks to a long history of people understanding America is of the people for the people. Not of the liberal ruling elite for the liberal ruling elite.
    Personally I think it is that kind of patronising attitude from the left towards the vast bulk of normal and right wing people that has made people like trump popular. Orban in Hungary gets similar stick from left wing media but has put his country in a vastly better position by telling the establishment where to go. I find it hilarious that he built a wall and had all the liberal west against him. Six months and a million refugees later they are all closing borders and building walls.
    Clinton has lied and lied and lied. As Secretary of State she used a personal email server then lied about it. Seriously wtf
    Trump is funding his own campaign and will not be beholden personally. Good on him.
    I caught a clip of trump on one of the town halls. When he is not being portrayed by simplistic clips he is a lot more credible.
    I don’t count myself as a trump supporter but I am sure any comments will be of the omg you must be so stupid you said something in support of trump. No. there are nuances.

  8. I think it’s fair to say that the current round of the electoral cycle in the US is a rather colourful one.

    Personally while I wouldn’t vote for Trump (or Clinton) it’s easy to see why people are attracted to his campaign. There is a visceral level of anger among voters in the US, and in other countries as well, with establishment politics and by backing what they see as an outsider to a corrupt system they give their support to candidates which are not from the establishment. Both Trump and Sanders fall easily into this category.

    While I could not say that the US in in the throes of a democratic crisis I would say that the established order of politics in the US is in serious flux, and the reasons for that are many and varied but one that sticks out is that old chestnut of the system not working.

    It’s not just an issue in the US, but when congressional shutdowns, gerrymandering, obscene cash flows into the government from corporations and the slow decline of voter participation and democratic participation combine, the tipping point comes when the weight of the established order to preserve their (and their clients) interests is greater than that of the general population you have the perfect recipe for the situation you have now.

    It’s not quite Weimar Germany and Trump doesn’t have a manifesto for world domination that I know of but by giving voice to what sections of the populace in the US does actually think, unfettered by PC constraints (something I am also not to fond of), he has become a lightning rod for a whole section of discontent in the US.

    In much the same way that Obama tapped into discontent with the eight years of the Bush presidency to win him the 2008 election, much to the horror of Hillary Clinton who had to cool her presidential ambitions for two presidential terms, Trump is the magic man this time round, tapping into discontent with Obama (imagined or not), discontent with the economy, the declining US empire and the perceived impotence of the US in world affairs and every other gripe that can be voiced.

    How he will be in office is entirely irrelevant at this point and much like W from 2000 to 2008 it will probably matter even less to those who vote for Trump if he does run for president.

    The problem for the US is that with a binary electoral system there are no options for such discontent. The republican party was already fraying at the edge with the tea party elements but Trump may be the death knell of the GOP as he sends a clear message that anyone with enough money and a willingness to tap into the dark side of the American dream can make a run at the top job and all that comes with it.

    In NZ, MMP has provided options for discontent and so while we do get fractious issues (TTPA anyone?) the ability of a man of money to come in and take over one of the two main parties and run it for his and his friends benefit would never happen.

    Oh wait, John Key.

  9. Democracy generates argument because in a democracy political success depends on the ability to convert others to a one’s own point of view. Thus rhetoric becomes important, and the masters of rhetoric become the masters of democratic states.
    Democracy is a “winner takes all” system, and only once every three, four or five years do politicians and the public have the chance to sort winners from losers. The outcome of these infrequent opportunities to maintain the status quo on the one hand or to effect change on the other depends largely if not entirely on the oratorical skills of the parties to the contest.
    That may become a sore point for those who are not themselves intuitive or accomplished orators. In frustration, they allege that those who succumb to the rhetoric of their opponents of are either stupid or naive. The frustration is genuine. But the premise is mistaken. To say that half of the population, more or less, are stupid and naive, is merely to state the problem of democracy in a manner that is not particularly conducive to a solution.
    If it is any consolation, President Trump would not be the same as candidate Trump, any more than President Sanders would be the same as candidate Sanders. As they are drawn closer into the system of power, those from the farthest reaches of the political galaxy tend to move into ever closer orbits of the political centre.
    True fascists are a different proposition because they bring with them their own political mass in the form of a militia, para-military, or regular forces. Every fascist leader has a military background and a military approach. Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Tojo, Pinochet… Thus they are able to capture the state instead of being captured by it. I do not know of any exceptions. Trump has no military background of any significance and no militia of his own. He may be right-wing, he is certainly populist, but he does not have what it takes to become a true fascist fuhrer or duce.
    It all goes to confirm my own conviction that our sometimes reviled tribal system is innately better than representative democracy. We do not have to suffer the injustice and indignity of a “winner takes all” system. Therefore we are not motivated to denigrate those of different opinion, nor roused to undue fear of those who might seek power over us, regardless of whether their chosen weapons be rifles or rhetoric.

  10. Geoff:

    I do not want to be pedantic or nitpick too much with regard to your comment, but I have written extensively about authoritarianism and democracy as part of my former academic career and continue to so so now in a more applied setting. With that in mind, two quick observations.

    First, you cannot conflate interwar European fascism with late 20th century military bureaucratic authoritarians like Pinochet. The former are a specific regime type that emerged out of the depression that combined a state capitalist heavy industrialisation project with inclusionary-mobilizational state corporatist forms of interest group representation under one party domination led by charismatic leadership that used elections as a vehicle for political power and war-making as a nation-building project. It was specific to the weak links of the imperialist chain at that time.

    The latter were a specific response to the need to “deepen” import substitution industrialisation in the face of popular uprisings and a political move to the Left in later-developing capitalist countries, something that required de-mobilizational and exclusionary state corporatist forms of interest group suppression in order to impose a market-driven economic model after years of state capitalism.

    European fascism emerged outside of the State and gained control over it using electoral means. Military bureaucratic authoritarianism emerged from within the State (the armed forces) and used coups as the means of gaining power. The social coalitions underpinning the two regime types were quite different as well. That is why it galls me when vulgar Lefties talk about “fascists” or refer to the likes of Key as “fascist.” They simply betray their ignorance when doing so.

    As for democracy. Should you care to review the KP archives categorised under the term democracy you will see that I have written at length on this subject here. But for brevity’s sake let me say that democracy is not just about winner and losers and rhetorical or discursive means of achieving power. Democracy is procedural (i.e. a means of selecting incumbents of political decision making positions) and substantive, which involves the way in which institutions and society behave based on notions of fairness, equality, transparency, merit, etc.

    In fact, democracy is about achieving mutual second best outcomes given that no one group can get everything it wants all of the time. The need to avoid zero-sum polarisation is what drives democratic political rationales. Moreover, in democracy, losers of elections accept defeat because they are guaranteed the right to compete again at institutionally guaranteed intervals, and winners accept that their mandates are chronologically finite and that their tenures will be contested at regular intervals, with the results binding for the next sequence. This not only forces most major political actors to moderate their policy positions in search of wider electoral appeal, but also promotes an interest in compromise and concession amongst political competitors in government (evident, for example, in parliamentary coalitions on specific issues).

    Getting back to the point of the post, the language used by many on the political right has moved from that of a loyal opposition that subscribes to the principles outlined above to that of disloyal seditionists who do not care or do not understand that the narrative they are now attempting to write undermines the constitutional foundations that they purportedly are keen to defend.

  11. All fascist movements have their own particular characteristics and strictly speaking the only true fascists were the original Italian followers of Mussolini. But distinctions are often more useful than generalisations, and I am happy to accept your distinction between fascism and military bureaucratic authoritarianism (even if it is a mouthful).

    I think we would both agree that neither Donald Trump nor John Key are fascist by any sensible definition of the term.

    You say that “democracy is substantive, which involves the way in which institutions and society behave based on notions of fairness, equality, transparency, merit, etc” which makes the important point that the health of a democracy depends on these values. But are they intrinsic to democracy? Happily they have been more or less closely associated with western democracy from its foundations, but they may well be lost or discarded while the procedural aspects of democracy remain in place (at least for the time being). I believe that the same applies to capitalism – while tied to the full moral schema of protestant Christianity it functions well enought, but it is not inextricably bound to that moral schema, and therein lies the danger.

    You say that regular elections force “most major political actors to moderate their policy positions in search of wider electoral appeal, but also promotes an interest in compromise and concession amongst political competitors in government”. There are, as you allow, exceptions, chiefly being those who think that within their term of office they can permanently change the political and economic landscape. The fourth Labour government pretty well succeeded in doing that.

    As for the language of right wing extremism – yes, it concerns me, but not unduly.

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