Authoritarianism, Supreme Court Hysteria, and the Corrupting Partisan Frame

Those who fret over Trump not relinquishing power appear to be unaware of the plots to remove him from power (see The National Pulse for coverage)—not to mention dismissive of the strength of the republic to withstand the obstinance of a single man and his followers. I frankly don’t understand how anybody can be ignorant of either. I don’t think they are. Trump may not go quietly (is he ever quiet about anything?). But Trump will go. Maybe not this January. But the January four years from then.

I am fascinated but not surprised by how progressives feign unawareness that Democrats are blatant in their unwillingness to accept the 2020 election result if it doesn’t go their way. For those progressives who really are unaware, here’s Hillary Clinton on whether Joe Biden should concede the election if the Electoral College indicates his defeat.

Remember what Clinton said during the third presidential debate of 2016? Is she now running down our democracy and appalled at the words coming out of her mouth? Do we really believe she cares about the republic?

The threat to the American republic is not Donald Trump. It never has been. The threat to the republic is an establishment beholden to corporate power that is daily turning the Constitution and the Bill of Rights into dead letters. That threat is operationally embodied by the neoliberals and neoconservatives who command the Democratic Party. Their hyperbolic rhetoric over Trump betrays concern for the future of their project. It’s not Trump per se that gets them worked up (if is it, then they are exceedingly childish to fall prey to such trolling). It’s populist nationalism that terrifies them. It’s the potential reconstruction of the American ideal that keeps them frenzied.

I am a democratic-republican, but I do not operate in the Democratic-Republican frame. I belong to no church or party. My arguments are never partisan in this way. My choice of comrades are working class and creative entrepreneurial-minded Americans—the people who produce value in human affairs. My commitments are humanist, liberal, nationalist, populist, and secular (mind those small letters). I am a patriotic citizen of the United States and committed to the America ideal, which is very much on the ropes. I don’t worry about Trump. I worry about what happens when the establishment returns to full strength. I don’t know how long the republic can survive that.

I recently explained this in a popular post on Facebook. I wasn’t posting for likes. I was trying to help people understand my arguments, which they appear to have great difficulty doing. That’s because they operate in the Democrat-Republican partisan frame. There’s an election coming up and experience has taught me to prepare people for my arguments, to remind them of my approach to such matters, to try and save them from the freak-out. It’s obvious that they want to understand me as one thing or another. If I am not a Democrat, then I must be a Republican. The dumbest question I ever get goes something like this: “You’re not voting for Obama? So you’re voting for Romney?”

It often seems a futile exercise, I will confess. When people say to me, “Trump is your boy,” or to others, “Andy’s become a Republican,” they are telegraphing the message that they don’t get me. They suggest they don’t care to. That’s okay. I have people who care to get me. More importantly, they show me they cannot think outside of the frame they have been given. This disappoints me because I expect better of them. I care. Of course, they expect things of me, as well. But my politics are obvious in everything I say: I do not subscribe to the “big man” theory of history (Trump is a result not an oracle); I cannot switch parties I have never belonged to; I cannot leave a church of which I have never been a congregant; I cannot leave a faith I have never subscribed to; I don’t use words deceitfully; I strive never to use terms ignorantly or stupidly (if I screw up I admit it); I loathe ideology; I have made my choice of comrades; I am not a contrarian; I have a center of gravity; I don’t imbibe in moral panic.

The partisan frame has made its appearance in spades with the decision of Republicans to go ahead with the confirmation of Donald Trump’s pending supreme court pick in the wake of the death of liberal jurist and feminist hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg from a long battle with pancreatic cancer. That her death was approaching could be understood by anyone who understand the challenge this type of cancer presents. So could the consequences of her reluctance to not step down from the Court during the Obama presidency. Immediately upon her death, Democrats preemptively charged hypocrisy—while immediately accusing Republicans of not allowing Ginsburg to rest in any peace—over Mitch McConnell’s certain decision to proceed with a constitutional-prescribed process. They pretended as if what McConnell did as majority leader of the Senate when Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland came to that body—McConnell did not move the nomination forward—gives the minority party justification for upending the principles of a republican form of government. As if McConnell is their leader. No political party legitimately owns the American republic. McConnell’s maneuvering as leader in accord with his constitutional authority doesn’t obligate any sympathy for the fanaticism of Chuck Schumer and his ilk. Sorry, not sorry, I cannot even appreciate that point of view. The ghost of Ruth Bader Ginsburg carries no hereditary status beyond her imagined community. Dead justices don’t reserve seats on the Supreme Court. Those seats belong to the people.

Asked in 2016 if the Senate had an obligation to assess Garland’s qualifications, Ginsburg’s answer was very clear: “That’s their job. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year.” Ginsburg was a consistent and principled jurist. She put the Constitution before politics. As I have said elsewhere, I will have to hear a recording of her contradicting herself before I will believe she was a hypocrite. Ginsburg’s legacy aside, if the roles were reversed, Democrats would fill that seat in a heartbeat—or the party wouldn’t be worth supporting. Does anybody seriously believe Scalia’s dying request would or should be revered? Elections have consequences and Trump was elected in part, if the opportunity arose, to replace one or more Supreme Court justices. And a Republican majority in the Senate would be expected to do the same. The president is president all four years (if the other party fails to removed him from office or he dies or is assassinated or otherwise leaves). The president has the power under the Constitution to nominate a Supreme Court justice. The majority party in the Senate has the authority to bring that nominee before its body in its capacity to advise and consent. That’s what matters. That and this: the Supreme Court needs an odd number to break ties. We can anticipate some tie-breakers coming down the pike before Trump’s term is up.

The fact is that Democrats don’t want another conservative on the Court and they seem too sure of the outcome of the 2020 election. Especially if they can deadlock the Court. They believe, because they have said so, that another conservative on the court is the end of everything good in the world. Don’t progressives tell us to hold our noses and “vote Blue no matter who” at the very least for the sake of the Court? Of course, “Blue no matter who” is more than a strategy. It’s a religious attitude.

There’s the problem with partisan thinking organized around political party: it leaves the subject without the critical independence needed to evaluate objectively the facts before him. He becomes an object, a pawn, not an agent. If one operates with a clear set of interests and from principle, and a party that he has supported betrays those interests or abandons principal, or if it becomes apparent that the party has not operated with those interests in mind or from principle, or that it cannot operate with those interests in mind or from principle, and the partisan follows that party where it takes him, then he abandons interests and principal, sacrificing his agency and autonomy to interests and principle that are not his own. In so doing, he betrays himself and his comrades. In that scenario, the function of the party is as shepherd leading sheep to an undesirable end. The party whose agenda does not align with the interests of a class or classes of people is not for the sovereign person and his comrades a mechanism with which to realize interest and principal in action. Following the crowd often finds a person surrendering to his enemies, doing very bad things in the name of solidarity, or walking over the edge of a cliff.

The partisan frame in the United States corrupts everything. Even science. Matthew MacWilliams, a visiting research associate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and alleged expert on authoritarianism, illustrates this in an article published yesterday in Politico, “Trump Is an Authoritarian. So Are Millions of American,” in which he leverages alleged scientific research on authoritarianism to declare millions of Americans essentially fascists. The author’s claim to fame, according to his publisher (St. Martin’s Griffin) is that MacWilliams “was the first researcher to use survey research to establish a link between Trump’s core supporters and authoritarianism.” The blurb continues: “Early in the Republican nominating contest for president, he warned that Trump’s activation of American authoritarians would make his candidacy virtually unstoppable.” MacWilliams conceptual framework, one with pretensions to social psychology, appears to be inspired Daniel Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

MacWilliams writes in his Politico article that authoritarians “are more likely to . . . agree that the media is the enemy of the people rather than a valuable independent institution.” In what sense is the media independent? The media is a projection of corporate power. Its product is quite often propaganda in the service of this power. As the purveyor of the corporate life-way, the media represent the class enemy of the proletariat. The institution is elitist in character and its operatives routinely dismissive of the intellect and values of the ordinary citizens. MacWilliams, whose scholarly training is left in a publisher’s blurb at “award-winning practitioner of American politics” and “recognized expert” is insulting to those Americans Hillary Clinton called “deplorables.” Joe Biden calls them “bad people.” MacWilliams cannot simply allow Trump to stand in place of the people he loathes.

These authoritarians, MacWilliams writes, “are also more likely to think . . . that those who disagree with them are a threat to our country.” But this is a sentiment frequently expressed by progressives, the alleged defenders of democracy. Indeed, this article is an instantiation of authoritarian sentiment. Are not progressives constantly decrying conservatives and especially Trump an existential threats to America—a country progressives often condemn as irredeemably racist? Its undemocratic character reason to proceed undemocratically? After all, it’s progressives who, when not promoting riots, rationalize them—even lie about them. MacWilliams himself characterizes violent insurrection, still ongoing, as “peaceful protest.” Just last night in Seattle peaceful protestors beat a police officer about the head with a baseball bat. In Louisville, Kentucky, Larynzo D. Johnson, shot two police officers attempting to disperse a mob at Brook Street and Broadway who had set fires and damaged property. I could generate a very long list of this sort of violence going back for months. Moreover, MacWilliams ignores that fact that it’s the progressives who are pushing corporatism, globalism, and technocracy. Perhaps that’s because he cannot see it. The walls of his frame are blocking his view.

Here are several examples of propaganda from MacWilliams’ article: “[Trump] has sent paramilitary forces from the Department of Homeland Security to quell nonviolent protests, looked the other way when a foreign power interferes in American elections, . . . spent an election year casting doubt on the very basis of our democracy, the electoral system, rather than working to protect it—all without eroding his main base of support.” Trump sent law enforcement officers to protect federal personnel and property from violent insurrectionists. MacWilliams uses the term “paramilitary” to conjure fascist imagery. This is shameful. Russiagate was a hoax, perpetrated by that “valuable and independent institution” in cahoots with the Democratic Party and the deep state. Why did they push Russiagate? To undermine a democratically-elected president. Readers should reflect on the fact that it’s progressives who are casting doubt on our electoral system. They recognize that Democrats have so frightened the people with doom and gloom over COVID-19 (its authoritarian lockdowns and all the rest of it) that the people are scared to go to the polls to vote. Democrats are pushing to forego the secret ballot. And they’re winning. They intend to contest the election all the way to end, hoping Nancy Pelosi can fix it. (Again, see The National Pulse.)

MacWilliams and the progressive rank-and-file live in a partisan dreamworld. “American authoritarians fear diversity,” the expert on authoritarianism writes. “They are more fearful of people of other races, and agree with the statement that ‘sometimes other groups must be kept in their place.’” We hear this type of thinking from progressives all the time, do we not? We are told: White peoples are oppressors. Blacks can’t step outside without fearing white violence. White people should “stay in their lane.” Men should stay in their lane, too. Recall Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii, telling men to “shut up” and watch the Democrats besmirch the reputation of Brett Kavanaugh. Hirono said, “I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.” Men do not do the right thing, according to Hirono. Not this or that man. Men. And then a perfect illustration of faith-based thinking: “Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed. They need to be believed.” Rarely should you not beware when a person tells you, “You need to believe me.” Cancel culture, censorship, deplatforming—progressives have little tolerance for diversity of opinion. The culture that prevails in our institutions is such that the heterodox are terrified to say what they think. They fear being smeared with the progressive slime of political correctness.

How can anybody be ignorant of the obvious that it’s progressives who routinely express support for the suppression of speech across social media? Those who argue for suppression of speech they don’t like on the grounds that “speech is violence”? Who attempt to compel speech by claiming “silence is violence”? Progressives portray peaceful marches organized by conservatives (which rarely happen) as fascist rallies, then applaud disruption of them and even terrorist violence perpetrated in “defense of the community.” Progressives complain bitterly that not enough attention is paid to the handful of actual white supremacists who cause mischief from time to time while denying the mass leftwing uprising on America’s streets with comical news items that recall a hilarious scene from Leslie Nielsen’s Naked Gun. Administrators put employees and students through struggle sessions in organizations private and public to change their attitudes—self-appointed thought reformers. I look at the tasks others obligate me to and only see their origins in progressive politics and policy. I would say that even our employee unions are more interested in carrying out the progressive agenda than in representing the labor interests of their members, except that I can now see that as a feature not a bug. I am, after all, a part of the technocratic corps.

Progressives are profoundly illiberal. They are reflexively and deeply intolerant of other opinions. Imagine if right-wingers mobbed Democratic politicians, marched on their homes, occupied neighborhoods, beat people in the streets, burned down and looted businesses. It would of course only be more hysteria by degree; imaginary fascism is enough to work up progressives. But what I just imagined on the political right describes the actual behavior of the political left in protests MacWilliams characterizes as “peaceful.” Today’s left is authoritarian and regressive. Denying that suggests a mental disorder. Indeed, MacWilliams article is a master class in projection. But Doublethink is not crazy in any clinical sense. It’s what can happen with partisan faming.

I wouldn’t want to be guilty of MacWilliam’s offense. The research presented in the article is absurd and I know what it is up to. The studies cited are designed as self-sealing exercises that assume as given that those who support Trump are more likely to be authoritarian. It is argument by definition. It pushes out a perception. The concepts are operationalized in an ideological direction. This is scientism, fake science the object of which is to disguise partisan propaganda as objective knowledge. The work attempts to depoliticize opinion by portraying it as the fruit of scientific labors. These labors work to pathologize conservative values, to locate them “objectively” outside the bounds of normal discourse via a “neutral” and “rational” framework. This type of work is representative of the technocratic impulse. It’s the social logic of the administrative state. Those who do not conform are not merely disagreeable; they are in need of an intervention.

One might think that over the last several decades we have seen a major shift in the interest matrix the major political parties of the United States represent. We certainly see a very different Republican Party today that we saw under the Bush/Cheney administration (effectively continued under Obama/Biden). However, to the extent that the Democrats ever represented working people (for me, that they have never done so became apparent during reconsideration of fact patterns), they are now fully agents of transnational corporate power. Whatever one believed the Democratic Party was before, it is perfectly obvious that it no longer represents the interests of my choice of comrades (see above) or the principles of my country. It follows from this that, beyond my general commitment to objectivity of thought in light of interests and principle (which allowed me to reach these conclusions), I would be a sheep to be shepherded if I framed my thinking in terms of contemporary partisan politics. 

(That I should not say this because some will find it offensive is a desire that I should govern my speech according to the offensive sentiments of others. What was it that Christopher Hitchens said about the shepherd and his flock? The shepherd is not really sheep’s friend whatever his kind words and tender loving care. He is kind to sheep because his intent is to feast on, fleece, or fuck them.)

I will close with a montage of Democratic hypocrisy put together by the GOP. I have to share Republican Party propaganda because the establishment media is only interested in exploiting Republican action in 2016 to leave the Supreme Court understaffed, when, to reiterate, their status as majority party justifies their control of the agenda then and now. But the hypocrisy on the center-left is blatant and massive. In 2016, Democrats cited the Constitution and said the process must go forward. At the time it looked like they were defending the traditions of the republic. Their rhetoric was bold and patriotic. Now we see that they have no interest in that. They’re going back on everything they said and cynically citing Republicans as their authority. If Democrats have any authority, can we rely on it? Check it out:

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

2 thoughts on “Authoritarianism, Supreme Court Hysteria, and the Corrupting Partisan Frame”

  1. Although this post has provided some answer to my previous question on another post, I’d still like your response. And I’d also like to ‘clarify’ that I was not comparing you (or anyone else) to Hitler, I was using an exaggerated ‘example’ of how people can be deceived because only time reveals the truth.

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