The 1619 Project and American Myth

They say our people were born on the water; the tealed eternity of the Atlantic had separated them so completely from their home it was like nothing had ever existed before. These African men and women, from different nations, all shackled together in the hull of a ship, they were one people now, and although they tried to break our ancestors, to erase our identities, we forged a new culture of our own, giving birth to ourselves. It didn’t matter we were told by virtue of our bondage that we would never be American because it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all. (Quote from beginning of The 1619 Project, Hulu)

The title of the book version of the 1619 Project is The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. For a large, complex, and established nation, the United States does not have nearly enough origin stories–not enough origin stories for the hundreds of Native peoples, Mexican settlements in the Southwest, the Spanish founding of Florida, or Black Americans and the Middle Passage. For most of my nearly 69 years, the dominant origin story of the United States involves the Puritan/Pilgrim founding of Massachusetts, the Revolutionary Era (Declaration of Independence, Constitution), and immigrant assimilation from the 1840’s-1920’s. In this story, the U.S. had representative government from the beginning and gradually assimilated more populations into civil/political rights. In other words, America had noble origins and became more noble over time.

But that story is not longer credible even as an origin story for white Americans. Deeper attention to relations between the expanding American nation and Native, Hispanic, Black, LGBT, and dissident whites revealed patterns of exploitation, bigotry, and cruelty that could not be reconciled to the foundational myth of American progress. Whether it was colonization, the Revolutionary era, Jacksonian America, Reconstruction, the roaring 20’s, or the Civil Rights Era, the conduct of the dominant white leadership, settlers, and mobs strongly opposed to “universal” ideas of freedom and rights or any kind of progressive assimilation. There’s also a sense in which the foundational myth became irrelevant. The U.S. began a transition from a white dominated republic to more of a multicultural society and politics that can be seen from the Obama years and the anti-Trump politics of subsequent years. Given the extremely new coalescing of a multicultural, liberal mainstream, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is no multicultural mythology on the scale of “American Progress.”

The 1619 Project is many things and the Nicole Hannah-Jones introduction reads partly as a love letter to black people. In relation to American mythology, Hannah-Jones seeks to give black people and black history a much more prominent place in the American narrative. If a democratic Republic was established formally by the authors of the Declaration and Constitution, Hannah-Jones argues that black people have served as “perfecters” of democracy through a long history of slave rebellions, the abolition movement, Civil War military service, Reconstruction, resistance to segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. Likewise, in the course of pushing for their own rights to be recognized, black people also developed a civil rights language through other marginalized American populations could seek recognition as full citizens. From The 1619 Project:

Through centuries of Black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves–Black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

But the connection between Black civil rights and other rights struggles raises the possibility that America has been founded less on the extension of 18th century ideas of freedom for property owning white men and more on the striving of diverse populations for full recognition as citizens in opposition to the values and interests of most whites. Contrary to the conservative idea of a broad black, LGBT, and immigrant assimilation to Americanism, diverse groups may have adapted, assimilated, or re-articulated the ideals of American freedom to their own distinct (and changing) cultures. For Hannah-Jones, Africans from many nations, kingdoms, and peoples made themselves into a Black people “on the water” during the Middle Passage and the moral and political language developed by Black Americans (especially during the Civil Rights Era) became a language that could be re-articulated by a variety of other groups striving to be recognized as full citizens. In this sense, Black American culture and history is not only an important part of the American mythos but also has to be considered as one of the most important elements of the story of the United States as a multi-cultural and socially liberal society.

Rick Scott Out of Step, Killing Time on Fox

AP Manuel Baice Ceneta

“You’re Out of Touch”Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott is as out of touch a guy as one sees in politics. Neither MAGA nor insurrectionary, Scott’s not particularly connected to the religious right, not particularly embedded with the corporate sector, and completely on the outs with Establishment Republicans after challenging Mitch McConnell. Rumor has it that Scott wants to run for President but that puts Scott on the long list of Republicans who want to be President but have no chance because they have no popular base. Scott made a ton of money in the hospital sector, bought his way into Florida politics, and has served both as governor and senator. However, he’s still pretty much just a rich guy who bought his way into politics.

Rather like Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson who’s at least had the honesty to admit that “I don’t feel like my time here has been particularly successful.”

Back to the Future. What’s interesting about Rick Scott is that he’s like so many white conservatives in wanting to relitigate the New Deal and Great Society as well as ObamaCare and the Biden agenda. In the “11-Point Plan to Rescue America” Scott presented as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he proposed to raise taxes on 57% of Americans and kill Social Security and Medicare by subjecting them to reauthorization every five years. Needless to say, President Biden and the Democrats rejected the idea but GOP leader Mitch McConnell was just as emphatic: “We {Senate Republicans} will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people, and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.” Weakening or ending Social Security and Medicare are extremely unpopular ideas and just as unpopular now as when the George W. Bush proposed weakening Social Security in 2005 after his re-election. But Republicans like Rick Scott are just as determined to kill these popular social insurance plans as the religious right was to overturn Roe v Wade.

Of course, Scott’s been walking back his Social Security and Medicare proposals ever since he made them and here he is walking them back again on Fox News yesterday.

Fox News

National Treasure. It’s important to remember that Social Security was signed into law on Aug. 13, 1835 and is almost a century old now. It’s a tradition, and a treasured tradition at that, but it’s a tradition with which conservatives have never identified and the extended existence and success of Social Security continues to bother, alienate, and anger them. In the case of Rick Scott from Florida, it bothers him so much that he was willing to lose his position in Senate GOP leadership over a sure political loser. Sure, Scott is still in the Senate and likely to win re-election in 2024. But he’s also a kind of dead man walking around to giving impromptu interviews to Fox News where he talks about another political non-starter–balancing the budget.

People under-estimate the extent to which the anger and alienation of white conservatives has grown over a century of expanding liberal and civil rights traditions.

When Lee Came Down From His Pedastal

Statue of Robert E. Lee being removed, Jack Gruber, USA Today

There was an interesting story in Monday’s Washington Post about the construction contractor who took down all the statues of Confederate generals that had stood on Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA since at least 1890. After the far right and Nazi Charlottesville demostrations of 2017 and the George Floyd demonstrations of 2020, the Democratic administraiton of Virginia governor Ralph Northem decided to take down the Confederate statues in Richmond and called black contractor Devon Henry about taking on the job after white contractors rejected inquiries with overtly racist responses. Henry was reluctant to involve his company in the project at first because of the explosive racial politics of removing Confederate monuments but was gradually convinced with the Stonewall Jackson being removed first, followed by 13 other monuments and ending with the dismantling and removal of the monument to the most prominent Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. As pioneering civil rights activist and newspaper editor John Mitchell, Jr. wrote in 1890 when the Lee statue was initially completed, “The Negro … put up the Lee monument … and should the time come, will be there to take it down.”

Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post

The removal of the Confederate statues is a much bigger deal for the understanding of American culture and history than has been acknowledged. The Jackson, Lee, and other statues not only loomed over Richmond as a representations of white domination over the black population and reminder of the white racial violence that kept that domination in place throughout the century segregation from 1877 to the Civil Rights acts of the 1960’s. Confederate statues also represented the national mythology of the Confederates as outstanding and broadly triumhant generals who only lost the Civil War because of the larger population and dynamic manufacturing economies of the North. When I was growing up in rural NY during the 1960’s, it was the Confederates who were the “cool” generals not the Union commanders, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson who were seen as “great” not Grant, Sherman, and Meade. The Civil War narrative was about how the Confederates “almost won” and how the the defeat of the Confederacy was the “tragedy of the South” rather than the victory of the Union. There was a sense in which the “American idea” was better represented by the daring and determination of the Confederates than what was seen as the blundering armies of the Union.

But the situation has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Even when Confederates aren’t derided as “traitors,” “losers,” and “bigots,” their cause is now seen almost exclusively in terms of advancing the “slave power” rather than “defending states rights” and other pro-Confederate excuses for secession. Far from being represented as quintessentially American, the Confederates are more often portrayed as the “other” to the ideal of a diverse, democratic nation that’s taken hold in mainstream culture since the 90’s. Lee’s reputation has especially suffered in light of the new stress on his failures at Gettysburg, arguments about Grant’s stratetic acumen, and revelations that Lee whipped his slaves. In many ways, Lee had already been taken down from his symbolic pedestal when the Richmond monument was removed by Devon Henry’s company.

But who’s rising as the Confederacy falls into slaveholding and treasonous otherness? That’s an interesting, important, and inevitable question. The Civil War Era was a crucial part of American history and it seems that the whole story of the Civil War Era would change given that the “Tragedy of the South” and valor of the Confederates are no longer part of the plot. If the Confederates are seen more as villains than tragic heroes of the Civil War, has anything risen to take their place as lynchpins of the Civil War part of the “American Story.” To a certain extent, the narrative void has been filled by a revaluation of Grant, Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass. The renewed stress on Grant’s strategic skills, his support for black troops in the Union Army, and post-Civil War role as Reconstruction president have not only increased Grant’s prestige but also served to make the the experiences and action of black people more central to the story of the Civil War era. That change can also be seen of Frederick Douglass’ increased prominence and condemnation of slavery in his 1852 Fourth of July speech is now a standard reference during observances of the 4th and there’s much more discussion of his abolitionist writings and Civil War activism as well as the figure he cut in American culture as the most photographed figure of his time. In many ways, the “story of black people”–black people leaving plantations, black soldiers, blacks in Confederate territory, black political figures like Douglass, the initial formation of black leadership, etc.– has emerged as the fulcrum the Civil War story without there being (at least to my knowledge) any general narrative of the Civil War period with black people at the center. With the decline of the Confederates from tragic heroes of the Civil War era to bigoted “other,” the story of the Civil War needs to be changed and the story of American black people needs to be portrayed as central to the Civil War dynamic.

Josh Hawley, Conservative Men, & Patriarchy

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley is an insurrectionist seeking to overturn American government and society in the name of white, patriarchal Christian theocracy. What the above picture shows is that Hawley supported the insurrectionists at the Trump rally on Jan. 6 while he was on his own way to the Capitol to vote against the legal transfer of power to Joe Biden. In December, Hawley indicated his commitment to U.S. regime change by responding to a question about the Jan. 6 Committee with a comment on the Committee’s work as “state propaganda” from an essentially illegitimate government. Still, there are some ways Hawley is different from other insurrectionists and right-wing subversives. Not unlike Nick Fuentes of the farther right, Sen. Hawley is honest about the minority status of conservatives in the U.S. characterizing conservatives as a “counter-culture” rather than following Trump in calling conservatives as “the people” in general. Where Trump and most of his supporters see MAGA as American society seeking to overcome the woke straightjacket being imposed by white liberals and minorities, Josh Hawley views himself as in opposition to “society.”

In his recent speech to Turning Point USA, Hawley indicated another barrier to re-establishing the white patriarchal regime he covets–the inadequacy of young conservative men. Hawley called for young men to “turn off the computer and log off the porn and go ask a real woman on a date. . . Young men. Why don’t you be the one to do the asking?” When he interviewed with Tucker Carlson about his speech, Hawley emphasized that “American society needs them. We need them to step up. We need them to get married and have children and be responsible husbands and fathers. This society is impoverished because too many young men are too despairing or too checked out on social media or porn to be doing what we need them to do as a country.” The “manosphere” of online male discourse on masculinity that can be found on dating sites where men engage in trolling women, PUA (Pick Up Artists), incel discourse, and misogynist celebrities like Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate is intensely hostile to women and either opposed to heterosexual dating altogether or opposed to any kind of gender equality. When Hawley used the term “men,” he primarily meant white, conservative, evangelical who participate in this kinds of anti-woman discourses. Conservative men either give up or turn against women for a variety of reasons but Hawley understands that patriarchy can’t be re-established in the United States if young white conservative men refuse the roles of husband, father, and social authority.

For Josh Hawley, the future of patriarchy depends on white conservative men being more interested in heterosexual dating.

From Nov 2016: Mad at Trump Voters

One of the more interesting sub-plots emerging from last November’s election is whether white progressives are ever going to talk to their Trump-voting relatives again. I may exaggerate a little, but there are reports from all over the country of progressives unfriending Trump supporters on facebook, changing holiday travel plans to avoid conservative relatives, and otherwise cutting themselves off from camaraderie with people on the right. In fact, I’ve done all these things myself. I don’t have any close friends who would have voted for Trump but I’ve unfriended some facebook friends and taken a break from others. I’ll be traveling past several conservative siblings on the way to Florida on Saturday but they’ll be lucky to get cards let alone visits.

There’s been a fair amount of surprise over the intensity of the anger over Trump’s election among white people on the left. I’ve seen that surprise from arguments on facebook, conservative writers for the National Review, and even some black commentators. I’m not sure why though. Donald Trump is a sex predator, peeping tom, and con man. He’s not just a racist, but he’s been flamboyantly racist towards blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims while his campaign single-handedly brought anti-Semitic hatred of Jews back into the public sphere. Trump’s also the kind of buffoon who bragged about how he would have dated Ivanka if she hadn’t been his daughter. Voting for Trump wasn’t just “deplorable,” it was despicable and any moral person—not just white progressives– would be obligated to reconsider their connections with Trump supporters.

Of course, this didn’t just didn’t happen overnight. The white population in the United States has been dividing into mutually hostile progressive and conservative tribes since the 1990’s at least. Just before the 2008 election, former Herald-Leader reporter Bill Bishop wrote in The Big Sort that white progressives and conservatives were beginning to move away from each other geographically and concentrate in politically similar neighborhoods and regions. If anything, the Obama years have accelerated that trend as more white progressives move to multicultural urban areas while rural conservatives sink ever deeper into evangelical churches, gun stockpiles, and nostalgia for the manufacturing economy and white-dominated politics of the 50’s. Commentators bemoan the increasing geographical and cultural distance between white progressives and conservatives and African-American writers, in particular, urge white progressives to stay in touch with their conservative contacts in the hope that some form of mutual understanding will develop in the future.

But I don’t see that happening. If the 2016 election has shown anything, it’s the power of bigotry and the lack of moral principles among the 45-46% of voters who supported Trump. In my opinion, white progressives would be better off if they left conservatives behind and became better friends and allies with the African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrant populations, feminist, and gay rights activists who are going to be the prime targets of the Trump administration and its supporters. Becoming more closely tied to minority friends and allies involves a number of issues for progressives whose lives have been as shaped by white privilege as any other white people. Progressives would do well to expand their personal allegiances, shared culture, and political alliances with other groups in the America’s democratic multicultural coalition while continuing to loosen their bonds with the white conservative world. That way there’s a chance that we can emerge as a better country after the dark days of the Trump administration.

Warnock’s Victory in Small Increments

John Bazemore/AP

Victory In Small Increments. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s win in the Dec. 6 run-off against GOP candidate Herschel Walker was a product of many small improvements. Warnock’s 2.8% victory margin (51.4% to 48.6%) was a small improvement over his 1 point margin (49.44 to 48.49%) over Walker in the November general election and an even smaller improvement from his 51.04 to 48.96 (1.08%) win over Loeffler in 2020. The election was still tight but Warnock made small improvements across the board. I watched election returns on MSNBC and Steve Kornacki’s reports showed Warnock gaining a little here and a little there over his 49.44% November result–a little bit in deep red rural counties, a little in Atlanta exurban counties like Forsyth, and a little more in Atlanta metro counties like DeKalb and Fulton where Warnock built up big leads from early voting and sustained them.

Democrats dream of a wave election that establishes them as the dominant party in U.S. Those waves have happened in 1800 (Jefferson Democrats), 1828 (Jacksonian Democrats), 1896 (Gilded Age Republicans), 1932 (New Deal Democrats), and 1984 (Reagan Republicans). Democrats want the same kind of political and cultural ascendancy Reagan Republicans had from 1984 through Obama’s first term. The cultural ascendancy is certainly there. The U.S. is a multicultural, socially liberal society but the GOP also recognizes the trend toward multicultural diversity and has wired the political system to favor rural white conservatives. As a result, elections are closer than they otherwise would be and Democrats have to make progress in small increments rather than big waves. Given that Sen. Warnock is the first black man elected as a Senator from Georgia, his election is a huge leap forward but Warnock victory was also a result of many tiny increments.

The Battered Republican Formula. The Republican formula in close elections used to be to stay close and then finish the campaign by pumping an enormous amount of money into attack ads that often focused on creating or taking advantage of small vulnerabilities like a Democrats being “a lapdog for Nancy Pelosi,” part of “the Democratic establishment,” a “latte drinking liberal elite,” or someone who “smoked pot in college.” Much of the Republican idea was to create an element of uncertainty or loathing in relation to Democratic candidates and guide soft Republicans and swing voters “home” to vote for the Republican candidate as more “normal” in the sense of being a safe, white, conservative man.

But almost all elements of the GOP formula have lost steam since 2016 and Democrats have accumulated a number of small to moderate advantages that helped the Warnock campaign as well as Democratic candidates more generally.

Early Voting. Early voting, online fundraising, culture war pushback, and constant GOP scandals have undermined every element of the GOP formula for success. Early voting means that a significant chunk of the vote has already been recorded by the time GOP campaigns do their last minute blitz. The Trump campaign teed up a last minute Hunter Biden laptop extravaganza in 2020, but Hunter news was largely ignored by the media and probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway because so much of the vote had already been submitted. A last minute voting blitz doesn’t count as much if 50% of voters have already voted.

Online Fundraising. GOP candidates can no longer count on big money advantages either. I’ve seen claims that the Warnock campaign had a 2-1 or 3-1 spending advantage over Herschel Walker and that Democratic PAC’s (Political Action Committees) outspent GOP PAC’s as well. Much of the improved Democratic fundraising is due to the superiority of ActBlue as an online fundraising apparatus compare to the Republican Party’s WinRed. Divisions among Republicans also hurt GOP fundraising as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis largely sat on almost $100 million in cash reserves leaving Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership PAC as the biggest source of GOP money. To the contrary, the Democrats have no such internal rivalry issues. Democrats don’t always have Warnock’s big advantage, but Republican candidates can no longer count on having piles of extra money for the last couple weeks of their campaigns.

Culture War Pushback. Another thing that created a small disadvantage for Republicans was that Democratic pushback was effective and the Republican culture war energy of 2021 and early 2022 was almost entirely spent by the time voting began for the November mid-terms. Soon after Joe Biden was inaugurated, GOP think tankers generated a culture war campaign against “critical race theory” that then became a campaign against “wokeness” and then devolved into campaigns against “groomers” and finally drag events. However, none of those themes were a plus for Republican candidates outside the Florida governor’s race and Democratic pushback and the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade turned culture war issues into a plus for Democrats. Herschel Walker tried to make “pronouns” a theme in his campaign but his efforts were drowned out by his family terrorism, unrevealed children, and efforts to encourage pregnant girlfriends to get abortions.

GOP Scandals. Another development reducing the ability to GOP candidates to catch up during the last week is the waves of Republican scandals. Herschel Walker had a particularly bad case of the scandal bug during the last week of his campaign as another women accused him of being violent toward her. In fact, Republican candidates had to deal both with their own scandals and the scandals of the man who sponsored so many of their candidacies–Donald Trump. In the case of PA Senate candidate Mehmet Oz, he was burdened early in the campaign by his residence in New Jersey, continually by his association with quack medicine, and later by his involvement in killing puppies for medical reseach. Where new Walker scandals continued into the last week of the campaign, the Oz scandals hobbled him as he entered the last week of the campaign and limited his ability to overcome the financial advantage Fetterman had aaccumulated from online fundraising (I sent Fetterman $10 myself).

It wasn’t like Walker or Oz could escape the specter of all the criminal investigations involving their sponsor Donald Trump either. The summer and fall were loaded with news from the Jan. 6 committee about Trump’s illegal efforts to stop the confirmation of Biden’s election, the various frauds involved in the Trump organization, his removal of classified documents from the White House, and the libel trial about one of his alleged rapes. All of these Trump scandals and others not only weighed on Trump himself but on the ability of Trump endorsed candidates to overcome early leads by Democratic opponents.

Conclusion. Democrats want bigger wins but antagonism toward the cultural changes of the last 70 years runs deep among about 1/3 of the voting public while another 10% still supports GOP policies of tax cuts and deregulation even though Republicans put little emphasis on that. In other words, the Republicans have something like a 45% minimum vote on a national basis and something like a 48% minimum in a long-time conservative state like Georgia. The Dems have room for improvement and could conceivably get up to 53 or 54% of the national vote. After all, Trump didn’t reach 47% in either of his presidential campaigns. But for the Democrats to maximize their votes, they need to continually create little advantages of their own and cash in on the current disadvantages of the Republicans.

Is Trump in Control of His Own Domain?

The news on Saturday, Dec. 3 was that former president Trump called for “terminating” the Constitution and either re-installing him as President or holding a new election. It’s been known since before the Jan. 6 Insurrection that Trump was all for overturning the Constitution if that meant he could stay in office as President. Much of the outrage over Trump’s statement was a renewal of the outrage over Trump’s Jan. 6 coup attempt and the revelations in Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that he wanted to join the assault on the Capitol. Trump’s statement also fed into the anxiety over the threats to American democracy posed by the GOP right wing and a determination to prevent new attempts to overthrow the constitutional system

Donald Trump, Truth Social

But I also believe Trump’s outrageousness was designed to shore up his suddenly vulnerable position on the political right and that the defensive dimension of Trump’s gesture also needs to be understood. The weakness of Donald Trump’s post-midterm election position has been widely discussed. While Trump’s only significant GOP rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was winning re-election by almost 20 points, Trump recruits like Blake Masters (Arizona) and Mehmet Oz (Pennsylvania) were being defeated in races for the U.S. Senate while Herschel Walker faces a Tuesday runoff where his Democratic opponent Sen. Rafael Warnock is favored. Perhaps even worse, Trump-favored Ohio candidate J.D. Vance only won because Mitch McConnell injected tens of millions of dollars into his flagging campaign. After the mid-terms, the difficulty of Trump’s position was confirmed by polling showing DeSantis leading Trump for the first time among GOP primary voters.

But that wasn’t all.

Trump’s political vulnerability within the Republican Party was magnified by his pre-Thanksgiving lunch with anti-semitic rapper and 2024 presidential candidate Kanye West (who now goes by “Ye”) and podcasting America First fascist Nick Fuentes. According to veteran far right activist Milo Yiannopoulos, the inclusion of Fuentes in the lunch was designed to cause a scandal and thus make Trump miserable because of Trump’s disloyalty to far right fringe extremists in his political base.

And it worked.

Because of the slow Thanksgiving news weekend, Trump’s dinner with Ye and Fuentes was the main story in the news for seven or eight days afterwards and was only fully displaced by last Thursday’s appearance of Ye and Fuentes on the Infowars broadcast of extreme right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (himself fresh off losing a $1B libel suit by Sandy Hook parents). Ye talked about how much he loves Nazis, how Nazis are cool, and continued his anti-semitic attacks while brandishing a net and a Yahoo to ridicule former and soon to be Prime Minister again Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Ye was mainstreaming a form of Nazi propaganda which Jewish people in the United States saw as threatening even larger-scale domestic terrorism against them in the near future. Ye and Fuentes were posing a challenge to the Trump right as well. Part of what charmed white conservatives about Trump in 2015 and 2016 was Trump’s willingness to say and do anything, his giddy transgressions of longstanding norms, and eagerness to break taboos. But now it was Ye breaking the taboos against open anti-semitism, ridiculing Trump ally Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jewish name, and bragging that Yiannopoulos, Fuentes, and he had punked Trump about the Mar-a-Lago lunch. Days later, Fuentes launched an attack on Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Green for her adultery, (pending) divorce, and status as a “girl boss.” The lunch with Trump and the InfoWars incident had given Ye and Fuentes enough media status that they could attack Trump and conservative Trump supporters like Greene from a still further right position. Where Trump made portentous demeaning gestures about blacks, women, and immigrants, Fuentes made his commitment to male and white supremacy open and forthright.

What Trump sought by his Truth Social post about terminating the Constitution was to reassert his pre-eminence as the dominant figure on the American right. DeSantis might have success fighting “wokeness” in Florida but it was Trump who had the “guts” to “terminate” the Constitution. Nick Fuentes might have called for a “dictatorship” but Trump was the political heavyweight who could make that a real possibility. Trump occupies what anthropologist Victor Turner called a “liminal position” in the politics of the American right. During his first presidential campaign, Trump single-handedly defined a discourse around himself in terms of dominance, but the multicultural and liberal opposition grew stronger during his administration and Trump lost re-election despite the powers of incumbency. As a result, Trump’s current claims to dominance are so shadowed by failure that he’s now facing competing claims on the right and Trump announcing that the Constitution should be terminated should be seen as a re-assertion of his pre-eminence.

A Picture of American Power

It’s Also American Power. How is this line of Russian tanks that have been destroyed a picture of “American” power? Certainly the counter-offensive in Southern Ukraine that allowed the Ukrainians to retake Kherson puts an exclamation point on the courage, effectiveness, and brilliance of the Ukrainians in combatting the Russian invasion.

And that’s certainly the case.

At the same time, Ukrainian prowess also serves as a real time demonstration of American global pre-eminence. Russia remains a threat because of its nuclear stockpile, but it’s now clear that Russia isn’t strong enough to count as a primary or even a secondary rival to the U.S. The Ukraine invasion bogged down within a couple weeks as it became apparent that the Russians had a bad plan, bad tanks, and a poor command and control set up as well as unmotivated, untrained conscript troops. After 9 months, the Russian air wing still doesn’t have control of Ukrainian air space and the Russian navy has not been able to impose itself from the Black Sea. To the contrary, U.S. weapons, communications and political leadership have all been demonstrated to be top notch and are far superior to anything Russia has to offer. Before the Ukraine invasion, American military superiority was questioned after more than 30 years of being essentially unchallenged. But it’s been proven yet again that the U.S. military far outstrips its rivals in almost every way.

The Troubles. But if American military pre-eminence is more striking than ever, the U.S. is also an troubled, unstable, and potentially very dangerous country. America is a nation of unrivalled wealth and power with severe problems and the 45,000 annual gun deaths, raging opioid epidemic, decreasing life spans among the majority white population, and increasing wealth disparities have been getting worse. The military may be superior, but investment has fallen behind in almost all non-military sectors of American society and U.S. transportation, education, and health care do not compare well to other advanced industrial countries. Perhaps worse, the refusal to invest in these areas is now baked into the American political cake and there’s very little in the way of proposals for solutions or political will to change the situation.

Chronic Instability. American government and society have also become unstable during the seven years since Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015. On Jan. 6, 2021, the United States came very close to having its government and constitutional system overthrown as a result of the MAGA assault on the Capitol. If MAGA insurrectionaries had caught Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and other Representatives and Senators, they would have carried out a massacre and kept Donald Trump in office as an authoritarian dictator. Insurrectionary pressure kept up throughout 2021 and early 2022 as Republicans placed more voting restrictions on Democratic constituencies, overturned the abortion rights guaranteed by the Roe v Wade decision and ran candidates eager to overturn future elections while also developing a new language of “groomers” and “pedos” to accuse LGBT’s, teachers, doctors, and Democrats more generally of conspiracy to sexualize and seduce young children. However, the most insurrectionary initiative of post-Jan. 6 Republicans was to refuse vaccinations against Covid. By refusing vaccination, rural Republicans in particular showed that they are willing to sacrifice their lives to refuse cooperation with a Democratic administration AND the large multicultural, socially liberal majority in American society.

The United States has become chronically unstable because of the relations between the three layers of the right-wing ecosystem. For the sprawling sphere of conservative/fascist activism, the main question is whether they’re willing to violently overthrow American government and society to bring American society back to the patriarchy and white supremacy of the White American Republic, i.e., “take back our country.” For the insurrectionaries who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the answer to that question is an obvious “yes” and the same is the case for Christian dominionists, election conspiracists, gun absolutists, and the wide variety of anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and anti-feminist fascists who are active in Republican politics and right-wing activism. For other activist conservative groups like CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) and Tucker Carlson of Fox News, the U.S.does not need a violent takeover and the right can establish a Hungarian style authoritarian regime if MAGAs could win couple more national elections. Whether it’s through violence or Hungarian style authoritarianism, most GOP activists seem committed to overthrowing the democratic political system in the U.S.

The larger layer of Republican voters and top layer of GOP elites and officeholders are much more attached to American political institutions and much more ambivalent about the idea of overthrowing democracy or returning to 1950’s style segregation and patriarchy. At present, that bottom and top attachment to traditional political institutions keeps GOP activists somewhat in check. However, it’s easy to imagine insurrectionist fervor boiling over again and the United States will be an unstable country as long as conservative activists are itching for new opportunities to overthrow the Constitutional system.

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The Crisis of Western Civilization?

I don’t know whether right-wing talk radio guy Jesse Kelly is punitive, authoritarian, or a Trump/DeSantis fascist. Maybe he’s all three. But Kelly’s certainly worked up about the attack on the Berlin airport by the climate group “Last Generation.” Perhaps Kelly was already wound up about the attacks by climate activists on Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring” and seems to view the “communist hordes as on the march. Kelly’s eagerness to punish is standard American white conservatism and much of the reason why the U.S. hands out such long prison sentences. But Kelly’s also concerned with “Western Civilization” as a social and political entity and is highly suspicious of the ability of “Western Civilization” to defend itself against the “Last Generation” and other “climate communists.”

But what is “Western Civilization?” Therein lies a problem. The idea of Western Civilization with which I grew up was part Ancient Greece and ancient Israel coming together in the Roman Empire, part civilization being “lost” during the “Dark Ages” and then re-emerging during the Renaissance (or was it the Late Middle Ages?) to form the Western Civilization with all the accomplishments in art, science, and philosophy along with the global political and military power that were created initially by colonization. For U.S. conservatives, America is the high point of Western Civilization because it had a Constitution that assumed human equality and protected rights to freedom of speech, the press, political assembly, and religion. U.S. conservatives are especially proud of the active role of Christianity in American society and consider the United States as particularly blessed by the Christian God of the West.

It doesn’t take much effort to punch holes in the whole narrative of Western Civilization and most historians don’t bother with the concept. How the flag of Western Civilization ended up being carried by Great Britain and the United States is one of history’s mysteries. In fact, the culture of the Ancient Greeks played out in Constantinople rather than Rome and it was the Romans who ended Athenian democracy with Rome’s sack of Athens in 86 bce. Then there’s the inconsistency in the treatment of various countries. Spain was seen as part of “the West” for colonization but not for subsequent colonial rule let alone the Inquisition. Italy was also dropped from the West a couple times with the Fall of Rome and then the end of the Renaissance before reappearing at the end of WWII. The story of Western Civilization seems to be identified with Protestantism because France gets short shrift compared to England and Great Britain.

What’s striking about conservatives and Western Civilization is that American conservatives like Jesse Kelly identify strongly with Western Civilization train but are also profoundly ambivalent about the “progressive” elements that developed in Western Europe and the U.S. after the American Revolution and might be more accurately considered as “out” of the story of Western Civilization (to the extent there is one). Two of the main points are extending principles of equality beyond white men and the inclusion of Western Civilization into what’s shaping up as a global culture. The first is when societies in Western Europe and North America extended the idea of freedom and rights from white men to women, racial minorities, and sexual minorities. Within American conservatism, there is considerable pressure to roll back both the recognition of black people, Jews, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and LGBT people as full human beings and the gains made by all these groups over the last 60 years. The pressure has been particularly intense on transsexuals and other LGBT folks but has made life more difficult for marginalized people in general. Recent mass shootings of black people in Buffalo, Hispanics in El Paso, Jews in Pittsburgh, and a gay club in Colorado Springs represent just the surface of the right-wing rage at people enjoying rights against traditional bigotries. In this sense, American conservatives have revolted at the universal rights of Western Civilization becoming any more universal than they were during the 1770’s and refused to accept Western Civilization as it developed through the first two decades of the 21st century.

The second point concerns Western Civilization and a developing global culture. Overlap was inevitable. Spain, Great Britain, and France had global empires from the 16th through the 20th centuries and U.S. and European institutions have dominated politics and the global economy since WWII. The globalizing impulse was understood first as the “civilizing mission” and then “Americanization” but few anticipated the iconic status of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, the global impact of American movies, jazz and hip hop, or the spread of anime, K-Pop, and voodoo to the United States and Western Europe. There was even less anticipation of the decline of Christianity in Europe and the United States and the openness of Western societies to both “non-Western” religious practices, holidays, and immigrants.

Conservatives reject all of this and much more. They passionately reject Western Civilization as it’s developed in the United States and Western Europe and they just as passionately reject the thickening links between mainstream American culture and other globalizing cultures. Jesse Kelly insults American, Western and global culture by calling it communism but the depth of white conservative rejection is expressed by the extent that conspiracy theories, gun culture, and the religious right have developed into a counter-culture that embraces traditional patriarchy, white supremacy, and male predominance, rejects science, and embraces violence as one of the good and necessary things in life in the manner of Southern plantation owners.

Trump and What Musk Needs to Do

Jamie Squire/Getty Images;Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Getting down to basics. When Elon Musk unbanned Donald Trump from Twitter, he offered Trump an extremely valuable in kind donation to Trump’s 2024 primary battle against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. It’s a big deal. DeSantis won big in the Nov. 8 mid-terms beating his Democratic rival Charlie Crist by almost 20% and leading Florida Republicans to a thorough beatdown of Democratic candidates in the Sunshine State. Given that Trump-backed candidates (outside J.D. Vance) mostly lost their races, DeSantis has been looking like a winner while Trump is beginning to look more like a has-been, and is now trailing DeSantis in polling for the 2024 GOP nomination. With Musk unbanning Trump from Twitter, Trump now has access to a giant Twitter platform that also commands attention from the mainstream news media and would multiply his ability to dominate media coverage and get his thoughts and image out before the Republican base.

But Trump has already announced that he won’t go back to twitter and there are complications that Musk will have to deal with if he actually wants Trump back. The main complication is that Trump’s return could be a big financial boost for Musk as the owner of the twitter platform. If Trump resumed his previous twitter activity, that would increase traffic on the platform, possibly attract advertising from conservative and Christian businesses, and help Musk in his efforts to convert twitter “users” to twitter “subscribers.” By inviting Trump back, Musk isn’t just supporting “free speech” and undoing the “injustice” of Trump’s original ban. He’s trying to stabilize his investment in twitter, make twitter more profitable, and enhance his own wealth and reputation.

And Trump hates that.

Part of Trump lore is his distaste of other people making money off the Trump name and Musk profiting from Trump’s prolific tweeting would likely be an unwelcome prospect.

Other things may be eating at Trump as well.

When Musk initially made the twitter deal on April 25, he promised to immediately revoke the ban on Trump but failed to do so. Musk completed the twitter takeover on Oct. 27 but didn’t revoke Trump’s ban for more than 3 weeks on Nov. 19. Even then, Musk only revoked the ban after a b.s. online poll (and I’m sure Trump had stronger words than that).

No respect for Trump.

Moreover, Musk has never supported Trump politically. He supported HILLARY! over Trump in 2016 and resigned from a couple government boards over Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty. Of course, Musk would eventually withdraw from the Democratic Party over California covid restrictions, but still supported Andrew Yang during the Democratic primaries

In other words, he wasn’t supporting Trump.

Trump likes people who are “nice,” views people not supporting Trump as not being “nice,” and hates being nice to people who aren’t nice to him.

Elon Musk has never been “nice” to Trump.

Queried about who he would support in the 2024 GOP primary now that hes a ‘Republican,

Musk puckishly replied “DeSantis.

Trump doesn’t like puckish people. They’re “wise guys.”

And he doesn’t like people supporting DeSantis for President. People who support DeSantis aren’t being nice to him.

Remembering the likelihood of Musk benefitting from Trump being on Twitter, what does Musk do? I would suggest several things–

Send Trump an engraved invitation. He’ll like that

A couple testimonials to Trump’s contributions to Making American Great Again. Be sure to use the slogan.

A telephone call with an apology for not unbanning Trump sooner.

Also a BIG contribution to Trump’s PAC.

But that might not get it done.

It’s worth remembering that Donald Trump has a huge sociopath’s ego.

So, if Musk wants Trump on twitter, he might have to endorse Trump’s candidacy for president in 2024as well as admit that he was wrong about Trump in the past.

Getting on his knees and begging to Trump might also help.