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But You JUST SAID....
little minds don't understand expert wisdom, cont.
We must never allow X, because X is unspeakably evil and invariably impermissible; therefore, I propose that we do X.
For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking all week about the rhetoric of “our democracy,” and the way the defenders of “our democracy” have offered aggressive authority as the best medicine against the supposed illness of Trumpian authoritarianism. To offer just the easiest pre-Generalissimo-Merrick-Garland-jackboot-raiding-the-opposition-party example, Hillary Clinton has warned that unmoderated online discussion exposes people to attractively authoritarian rhetoric, so we need to put “guardrails” on our discourse, preventing authoritarianism by using the power of government to limit what people are allowed to read and write and say. Shut up, she explained, setting us free. The emerging WTF of the twenty-first century is how often the practice of domination is being clothed in the rhetoric of liberation, but let’s save that one for later.
Looking for rhetoric about authoritarianism and “our democracy,” I’ve been revisiting the deep thoughts of the history professor Timothy Snyder, the author of the 2017 thumbsucker “On Tyranny,” which drew on lessons about Hitler to help people prepare for the darkness of President Trump. I’ve written about Snyder’s dumb little pamphlet before, and I’m always struck by his silliness — his overwroughtness, his unbalanced generalizations from poor examples that he strands in a vacuum. But this week, dropping my fishing nets in the mainstream, I found this remarkable interview with Snyder at Business Insider:
Democracy may not survive a campaign: In a democracy, only people you like are allowed to run for office, so if people you don’t like are able to run for office, democracy is threatened. But this is just the warm-up, a little light stretching before the game. Then comes the absolutely extraordinary rhetorical maneuver of drawing a red line while leaping over it, and watch what an agile bullshitter this man is. You can start to get a fairly solid hint of it in a single paragraph that appears early on:
The problem with a failed coup, which is what January 6th, 2021, is, is that it is practice for a successful coup. So what we're looking at now is a kind of slow-motion practice for a repetition of all of that, but this time with the legal parts of it more fully prepared. What I'm afraid of is that now, in the shadow of a big lie — namely, that Trump actually won — the states are preparing the legal steps that will enable Trump to be installed as president the next time around.
See it yet? Snyder warns that Trump shamefully attempted a coup d’etat by questioning the legitimacy of the last presidential election; then Snyder immediately questions the legitimacy of the next presidential election, and (this is from later in the interview) not just if Trump wins:
I wouldn't want to say it's a good situation to have a whole cast of characters who want to come to power under the cover of a big lie, using non-democratic means. That's still not a good situation that we have a DeSantis or a Carlson or a Josh Hawley or possibly a Ted Cruz — that we have a whole list of people who'd be willing to come to power that way.
So questioning or contesting the outcome of an election is an assault on democracy — “a failed coup, which is what January 6th, 2021, is” — but if a Republican so-called “wins” the presidential election in 2024, we must question and contest the outcome of that election, because the apparent victory will obviously be illegitimate. If Trump, or “a Carlson or a Josh Hawley or possibly a Ted Cruz” have supposedly won, then the election cannot be legitimate, and the outcome must not be accepted: We must not allow the illegitimate fake-POTUS to be “installed.”
In a democracy, Democrats win elections; if Republicans win an election, we have lost our democracy, because obviously they will have cheated. Also, we must never forgive people who question the outcome of an election.
Timothy Snyder is as highly credentialed as a historian could possibly be: Ivy League grad, Oxford D.Phil, endowed chair at Yale. And he has no capacity at all to make a political argument that doesn’t blow itself up in immediately obvious ways.
The argument we’ve had here is about the degree to which the supposed elites of the American political class and their appendages in media and academia are either screwing it all up or putting on this show of factually unmoored and principle-free rhetoric as a degrading display — a way of showing you your powerlessness, like Justin Trudeau freezing bank accounts and then smugly gibbering nonsense when asked to explain it. It’s not hypocrisy, they’re just rubbing your face in it. I’m inclined to add Timothy Snyder as a point in the “dolts screwing it up” column, on account of obviousness. These people are not good at this.
He also misunderstands, or misrepresents, an endless stream of basic things. See, in the linked interview, his reference to Kyle Rittenhouse, or this gem about the constitutional role of the President of the United States: “So he has to be president, and he has to do the normal things that a president does, which is try to get laws passed.” Snyder thinks the role of the Article II authority is to be in charge of legislation.