Trump As Republican Apocalypse
I am fond of the word “apocalypse,” which in common usage means “the end of the world,” but etymologically means “an unmasking.” For the Republican Party, Donald Trump is an apocalypse in both senses of the term.
It is plain that he is destroying the party establishment, and now he’s beating the hell out of the conservative media establishment. As Damon Linker writes, leading conservative figures have a peculiar habit of seeing themselves as outside the establishment, even though they have built a massive political, media, think-tank, and activist establishment of their own, and conservative Republicans have been at or near the helm of the federal government for many of the last 35 years. Here’s Linker:
By thinking of themselves as perennially outside the Republican power-structure, members of the counter-establishment conveniently exempt themselves from the need to admit and learn from their own mistakes. It’s always someone else’s fault. The Iraq War and its outcome may be the most egregious and disgraceful example of such shirking, but it’s not the only one.
Taking a stand against Trump is all well and good. But I’d have been more impressed by an honest effort to come clean: Yes, we’re the establishment; yes, we’ve made some massive mistakes and need to change course; but Trump is not the answer.
Instead, we’re left with the same old denial of responsibility.
Until that changes, the Republican establishment will remain vulnerable to the anti-establishment furies it unleashed so many years ago and has never ceased to encourage.
Read the whole thing. It’s very good, and tells the truth. It really is hard to overstate the degree to which people on the Right’s leadership class think of themselves as outsiders. The narrative is key to their sense of themselves and their mission. They really aren’t cynical about it (well, most of them aren’t). And they’re not entirely wrong when it comes to some establishments, like the academy. The point is that Republicans today thinking of themselves as counter-establishment, as if they were the first Reaganauts crossing the Beltway like the Sultan’s forces breaching the walls of Constantinople, has about it the moldy whiff of decrepitude and self-deceit, like Fidel Castro playing the eternal revolutionary.
Conor Friedersdorf has a great survey quoting Rush Limbaugh’s ridiculous pantomime, pretending to be an outsider to the GOP establishment, but effectively conceding that he’s at the very center of the thing. From Conor’s piece:
There is no one who rails against “the Republican establishment” more frequently than Rush Limbaugh. Every week he speaks about it on the radio with disdain. And he always does so while holding himself apart, as if he’s describing a rival tribe. “Now, as you will hear, I’m being blamed for Trump. Oh, yes. Does that surprise you? I am being blamed for Trump now,” he said earlier this week. “You know, the bottom line is, you know why there’s a Donald Trump? It’s very, very simple. It has nothing to do with me. The Republican Party, whatever you want to call it, Republican establishment, the ruling class, I don’t care what you want to call it, they are responsible for Donald Trump. They are responsible.”
Conor goes on to quote Limbaugh at length from his radio broadcast yesterday, bragging about how close he is and long has been to specific figures in the establishment — presidents, politicians, media moguls, businessmen — and how they have sought his counsel over the years. It’s incredible to read, the lack of self-awareness. Conor sums it up like this:
When Republicans control the White House, Rush Limbaugh gets invited to stay over and socialize with the president. He dined in the office of perhaps the most consequential Republican speaker of the House. One of his best friends runs the most powerful media organization on the right. Its highest-rated anchor attended his wedding. He knows multiple U.S. senators and most of the GOP presidential candidates every cycle.
But he thinks of himself as totally apart from “the establishment,” the “ruling class,” those other people who are responsible for the state of the Republican Party.
Yep. Here’s Limbaugh as late as last year, instructing Republican presidential candidates to reject the idea that the Iraq War was a failure. But of course, he bears no responsibility for any mistakes the GOP and its leadership made.
“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the Conservative Outsiders. The creatures outside looked from Outsider to Establishmentarian, and from Establishmentarian to Outsider, and from Outsider to Establishmentarian again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Verily, one would have to have a heart of stone not to take pleasure in this apocalypse. The problem is that, as every philosophical conservative knows, you have to be very suspicious of tearing a thing down, because you don’t know what’s going to take its place.