THE ENEMY OF MY FRIEND

Throwing the FBI under the bus – Amusingly, without any reference to the fact that during the election the FBI *twice* made public statements about investigating one campaign while granting the Senate Majority Leader's request to keep secret that the other campaign was also under investigation, and for something far worse – is nothing new for the American "conservative." While going after law enforcement may be a step further than they usually go (That subjective point is not worth trying to resolve, for what it's worth) it's just the latest in a trend that began decades ago when conservatism in the U.S. branched off from any meaningful historical definition of the term.

Watching the 1980 GOP convention with bemused horror, British conservative Henry Fairlie observed:

Just as Americans in general do not have the habits of deference, so the conservative in American does not have them either. Ultimately he does not defer even to the country's institutions. If one of these institutions, such as the Supreme Court, makes decisions he detests, he will defame that institution. He is as ready as is the common man to bypass the institutions he ought to defend (…)

Ungoverned and unfree and so in the end ungovernable; this is exactly what Ortega foretold in the coming of the common man; and it is what the conservative in America seems to have no resource to resist. No traditions to which to appeal; no habit of deference to authority; no patience with the bridle of institutions.

Europe shudders today, not so much at the three men who have merged this year as candidates, as at the political illiteracy of the popular voice which has chosen them, the American they most fear. The politicians will come and go, and do less good ad harm than is supposed, but what of the people who chose them?

The America which Europe fears is the America of the Reaganites. The America once of the Scopes trial; the America of prohibition; the America of ignorant isolationism. The America then of "better dead than red"; the America of McCarthyism; the America of the last fundamentalists of the 1950s. The America now of the new evangelicals; the America of the Moral Majority; the America of a now ignorant interventionism; the America which can see homosexuals as a conspiracy; feminists as a conspiracy; perhaps even women as a conspiracy. The America of fear. For it is fear that the ungoverned and the unfree are doomed to live. And there was this America in control at Detroit.

It is time that we reminded ourselves, and said aloud and more often, that it is from these people that nastiness comes. It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within.

The whole intellectual tradition of conservatism is rooted in defending the institutions of society. Those institutions will be imperfect and will produce outcomes you are likely to find inconvenient, unpleasant, or misguided at times. Yet the consequences of sowing distrust in these institutions are far too great to contemplate and certainly dwarf the short-term pain of, say, losing an election or enduring an unfavorable Supreme Court decision. Compare, for example, the chaos caused by the belief that everything the media reports is a lie to the consequences of one incorrect news report, subsequently corrected.

At some point the people who call themselves conservatives in the United States decided that absorbing short-term losses of any kind was unacceptable and the better strategy moving forward was to set everything on fire and reconstruct reality to their own preferences. I think that point was the rise to power within the House of Newt Gingrich, but as Fairlie suggests the seed was already germinating long previously.

The strategy has, for the most part, worked. That is why the problems we face as a society today seem so insurmountable. There is no one and nothing that cannot be undermined and discredited for short-term gain: the media, the courts, elections, Congress, the White House, public opinion itself, and even law enforcement (to which right-wing obsequiousness is legendary) can readily be thrown under the bus and shit upon. And institutions are being redefined as "trustworthy, but only when We control them" leads nowhere good. It is a paradigm shift that is likely to define politics in this country for the foreseeable future, and cause for the most primal kind of pessimism.

I'm not saying "Don't try," but instead that the kinds of things many people seem to believe will solve our current problems – electing some Democrats to the House, defeating Trump in 2020, etc. – are more likely to be incremental benefits. They will help, but are only one small step toward undoing the damage done in the first two decades of this century. I fully expect that in 2050 we will still be working to fix this mess, and struggling to control the historical narrative surrounding it to a new generation of 20-somethings who will live in a half-nutty world that seems utterly normal to them.