The Last Year in Republican Politics: The Triumph of the Palinists

It’s best described by this synopsis of Republican efforts to make mail-in voting harder (boldface mine):

Two things conspired to dampen that Republican enthusiasm in recent years: Progressive-minded states began to adopt mail-in balloting as means of boosting overall voter turnout and better ensuring equality in voting opportunities, generating the predictable (indeed, unavoidable) Republican reflex of now seeing conspiracy in use of the thing they championed because now the wrong people were using it. There is no better way to convince a white conservative that a government program is corrupt or unnecessary than informing them that a nonwhite nonconservative is benefiting from it, and that is such a universal truth that Fox News was able to build a whole network around it.

But it was Donald Trump who flipped Republican lawmakers, in some cases overnight, on the subject. A narcissistic conspiracy crank and ignorant buffoon in all subjects, Trump began to see the promotion of mail-in balloting as an insult to him, personally, in that calls to vote by mail emphasized the dangers of the deadly pandemic that he also believed was being inflated solely to make him look bad. Because Trump is Trump, this almost immediately evolved into claims that mail-in voting was itself a conspiracy against him; as Trump slid in the polls and it began to look more improbable that he could step over half a million corpses to win a second term, Trump’s team began to overtly say that if they lost, they would blame it on “fraud” rather than acknowledge his loss.

A coping mechanism for a decompensating malignant narcissist in the throes of mental crisis thus became a new Republican Party core belief. No, no, it couldn’t possibly be that the Dear Leader’s incompetence through four years culminated in economic collapse and nationwide chaos. It must be a conspiracy by “urban” voters, globalists, immigrants, atheists, and every other enemy of white nationalist chaos. It turns out that if you get hundreds of Republican lawmakers to repeat the same white nationalist claims, enough of the Republican base will believe the claims to mount a genuine, if incompetent, insurrection.

Of course, one of the first practitioners of this lunacy–Trump v0.1–was Sarah Palin, who made grievance politics part and parcel of Republican Party politics (boldface added):

While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.” In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans… and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers… Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?

In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas)…

But that romanticism is at the heart of Palinism. It’s not a forward-looking utopianism, but a desire to return to a mythical, halcyon America that was Christian, low-tax, small government, and had less racial and ethnic discord (the latter is the most absurd, but, if you were white, there weren’t racial problems: you were white–no problems!). This vision has not existed for decades, if at all, but it is a predictable reaction to the loss of primus inter pares status of Christian whites; they are no longer the default setting

What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group. This isn’t ‘old-school’ identity politics–getting a fair share; even if we disagree about the amount of shares and methods, traditional identity politics are not marginalist. There is a disconcerting streak of marginalization of the Other (e.g., gays, religious minorities, racial minorities) that could easily veer into eliminationist rhetoric and violence; arguably, Palin came very close in the 2008 campaign. Had Palin or McCain wanted to, they could have incited their political rallies to violence; they were that angry.

The Republican rank-and-file was primed for this.

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  1. Pingback: Too Many Professional Democrats Don’t Appear to Understand What America Is Facing | Mike the Mad Biologist

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