It’s GOP primary election day in Alabama. Michael Scherer of the Washington Post spent some time recently with Judge Roy Moore, who will likely win today’s GOP primary vote, making him an easy favorite to win the US Senate race in November. This is key:
That attitude could foreshadow a new level of disruption in the U.S. Senate, where individual members still have significant powers to upend proceedings and slow down legislation. Many of his supporters are counting on it.
“Watch if he doesn’t do exactly what he says he will do,” says Dean Young, a longtime Moore friend and adviser, who helped coax him into the Senate race. “They can kick him off every committee. They can blackball him. It won’t matter if it’s one man against 99 in the Senate. We all know Judge Moore will be that one man.”
You should read the piece, which is surprisingly fair to Moore, and in which his personal background (aside from his political views) comes off as quite impressive. This NPR story explains why even though Donald Trump (yugely popular in Alabama) is backing Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, Trump’s base is behind the bomb-throwing populist Judge Moore. It does seem like Dean Young has put his finger on why so many conservative Alabamians are rallying to Roy Moore’s side. It’s why those same people voted for Trump. Trump simply isn’t in touch with his own base on the Moore vs. Strange runoff.
David Brooks has a smart column out today identifying Donald Trump as “the Abbie Hoffman of the Right.” You youngsters won’t know this, but Hoffman was a significant figure of the late 1960s, a left-wing provocateur who was, as Brooks says, “a master of political theater.” He was a leader of the Yippies, who were once described as “Groucho Marxists.” Hoffman and his cohorts
never attracted majority support for their antics, but they didn’t have to. All they had to do was provoke, offend the crew-cut crowd, generate outrage and set off a cycle that ripped apart the cultural consensus.
They sensed how weak the establishment was, and worked hard to bring it down. Brooks points out that Hillary Clinton is one of the more mainstream liberal Baby Boomers who came to power in the wake of the demolition that Hoffman et alia carried out. And not just liberals, but all Boomers who became part of the new meritocratic establishment — including, says Brooks, people like him and reader of The New York Times. But:
This establishment, too, has had its failures. It created an economy that benefits itself and leaves everybody else out. It led America into war in Iraq and sent the working class off to fight it. It has developed its own brand of cultural snobbery. Its media, film and music industries make members of the working class feel invisible and disrespected.
So in 2016, members of the outraged working class elected their own Abbie Hoffman as president. Trump is not good at much, but he is wickedly good at sticking his thumb in the eye of the educated elites. He doesn’t have to build a new culture, or even attract a majority. He just has to tear down the old one.
And that’s the way to understand Trump, according to Brooks. He’s not about principles. He’s about destruction:
He continually goes after racial matters in part because he’s a bigot but also in part because multiculturalism is the theology of the educated class and it’s the leverage point he can most effectively use to isolate the educated class from everyone else.
He is so destructive because his enemies help him. He ramps up the aggression. His enemies ramp it up more, to preserve their own dignity. But the ensuing cultural violence only serves Trump’s long-term destructive purpose. America is seeing nearly as much cultural conflict as it did in the late 1960s. It’s quite possible that after four years of this Trump will have effectively destroyed the prevailing culture. The reign of the meritocratic establishment will be just as over as the reign of the Protestant establishment now is.
Read the whole thing. If you need reminding why so many conservatives are pleased that Donald Trump is tearing the GOP to shreds, let me point you to Tucker Carlson’s great January 2016 “pigs at the trough” piece. The establishment Trump is tearing apart has it coming. But that’s some rough justice, for sure.
Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s Vietnam War documentary makes vivid why so many Americans were fed up with the US establishment by the time the late 1960s rolled around. Watching it, I experienced the strange sensation of loathing both that establishment and the hippie students who protested against it. I suppose I felt so strongly about the latter because I know from history what came next, what they brought forth to replace the corrupt establishment they displaced. In that light, I see no reason at all to believe that what’s going to emerge out of the post-Trump rubble is going to be any better. It’ll just be a different kind of bad.
And it’ll probably be worse, for a couple of reasons. One, there’s the lack of ideals today. Abbie Hoffman and his troublemaking crowd did not have to have ideals, but they helped pave the way for more establishment New Left liberals who did. Those ideals were often mistaken, but at least they had a vision for where they thought the country should go. I don’t see that among today’s insurgents. The revolution they’re leading could go any way.
Second, America is a different place than it was in Abbie Hoffman’s time. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that despite the intense conflicts of the late Sixties and early Seventies, there was, deep down, a social fabric that more or less held together. We have been living out over the past forty to fifty years a slow-motion fraying of that already stressed social fabric. Last weekend, law professor John Inazu spoke at a Christian gathering I attended. From my report on his talk:
Finally, Inazu said it’s important for Christians to be establishing relationships with people we don’t necessarily agree with on what constitutes the common good. But it’s not clear that this can be done — this, because we have lost a shared sense of transcendence, which we still had in the recent past, with the idea of civic religion.
“I’m looking for the common vocabulary and framework that holds the ‘us’ together,” he said.
“We are left with a fairly urgent question of what fills that void [left by the loss of civic religion],” he said. “What makes us the people united? Can we name the common good in this country with any particularity beyond the need to build roads?”
I was just a little kid then, but I’d say that despite the vicious conflicts of the late Sixties and early Seventies, most Americans then wouldn’t have had too much difficulty identifying what holds “the ‘us'” together, or at least they wouldn’t have doubted that there was such a thing. And today?
Something to think about, in the spirit of David Brooks’s identification of multiculturalism as “the theology of the educated class”: when the Left — activists, members of the liberal establishment, and educated fellow travelers — tears down monuments, they are calling forth an equal emotional reaction from their opposites. Donald Trump is the wrecking ball that the anti-establishment Deplorables™ are using to knock liberal establishment monuments (so to speak) off their own pedestals.
And more (Moore?) to the point: it’s not Donald Trump as much as it’s Donald Trumpism, as we will see in today’s Alabama GOP runoff, in which Trump’s favored candidate is going to get his clock cleaned by a guy who is more Trumpian.
Who would have imagined that the 2017 version of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin would turn out to be two Republicans in their 70s, one a billionaire Manhattan real estate mogul, the other a pugilistic Alabama fundagelical jurist? Strange days indeed.
(Gang, I’m going to be out most of the day doing things at John Brown University. I’ll check in to approve comments when I can.)