Republican DTs

Like you, I have watched in shocked disgust the ascendancy of one we shall call DT in the Republican Party’s primary elections. For some this means delirium tremens. You know what I mean. It has felt like the fascination of drivers slowing down to catch a glimpse of a terrible accident on the highway.

And, of course, the usual words rise to our lips: the classic demagogue, a playground bully, a five-year-old with a billion-dollar spoon in his mouth, and so on. Like insomniacs with a bad dream, we hope it will disappear in the morning fog by Thanksgiving Day.

But then, we begin to ponder not only what we can do to stop this bully from breaking more of our nation’s diplomatic and domestic furniture, but also why we have come to this abyss and what it means. Here are some of my thoughts. You can add your own.

First, it represents a further collapse of our public realm of civil argument, negotiation, and compromise for the sake of the common good. Instead of the common good we have nationalistic arrogance. Instead of the public welfare we have stark racism and xenophobia.

The core ‘republican’ values of public persuasion, mutual respect, and rational debate based on common and scientific knowledge are jettisoned. Even members of the Republican Party must question in what way they are any longer “republican.”

Much of our anger and anxiety revolves around the use of speech and the way it is mediated in our society. Politics is above all a world of speech, of rhetoric, as Aristotle and Cicero envisioned it. In its debasement, genuine politics becomes impossible. With DT we see speech’s utter debasement as a tool of humiliation, exclusion and irrational contradiction.

What is said today has little to do with what was said yesterday or will be said tomorrow. In a world of broken promises, promises themselves become meaningless. With the loss of promise comes cynicism, despair and reliance on the whims of The Great One from day to day.

Over the past weeks, the image of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown returns again and again to my mind. In Schulz’s famous cartoon, she always takes the football away just as Charlie Brown puts all his effort into kicking it…and landing in renewed despair flat on his back.

Lucy will not only remove the football again, but indeed, claim she was never holding it in the first place. It wasn’t even a football! This is the future for people who have suffered real economic loss as they run after DT’s show of vainglorious “Greatness.”

Just as DT has reached an almost certain victory over his Republican rivals, the country is riveted by the bizarre law hastily passed in my own state, North Carolina, to force (how?) people to use bathrooms according to the sex listed for them on their birth certificates. Would we all have to undergo strip searches to enter a public restroom?

Somehow, this captures, in a very strange way, the “exposure” to which DT’s rhetoric has subjected people, stripping away all the conventions of civility that protect public argument from our inner passions.

As Hannah Arendt claimed years ago, the public requires a realm of privacy, but even more it requires the exercise of self-discipline that does not reduce public concerns to private interests and the murky passions that haunt us all.

Many have been mesmerized by the outbursts of personal passions and chicanery  that have dominated our mercenary media. We now have the task of rebuilding, conversation by conversation, the public world that can rightly deal with the profound challenges to the welfare and existence of our societies and our very planet.

While the next six months will reduce our struggle to a political war to overcome the threat of the most ill-equipped presidential candidate in anyone’s memory, we also must continue to nurture the civil polities where people are actually trying to address the causes of our present DTs.

I see it in churches like my own where roundtable and circle conversations are taking place. I see it in town and city councils where people come together around specific problems affecting their common life. I see it in the few places in the mass media where civil discussion and debate is being led by thoughtful moderators. There are pockets of it everywhere.

Wherever you are, I hope you are nourishing and caring for these places of civility and common concern. It is from these seeds that we must replant our gardens after the elephants have passed on with their rampage.

7 thoughts on “Republican DTs”

  1. Dear Bill,
    thank you so much for your insights into this disgusting phenomenon. The disturbing thing for me as a German is that for the first time in 70 years after WWII do we have a nationalistic racist ressentiment-laden movement that gained 12-15 % in state elections in West Germany (Baden-Württemberg and Rheinland-Pfalz) and 25% (!) in East Germany (Sachsen-Anhalt), a party called “Alternative for Germany”. It started with a demonstration movement in Dresden called Pegida (=European Patriots against the Islamization of the Occident) and wanted to get out of the Euro b ack to the Deutsche Mark, but really picked up speed through the influx of refugees since last September. That flood broke the dams, and what had been under the carpet because of being politically incorrect suddenly became politically possible to voice (“it must be possible to speak the truth, must it not?”). This movement is especially strong where the number of foreigners and migrants is extremely low (in the East), it is growing out of the authoritarian past (“a dictatorship can never overcome the legacy of a dictatorship” said an East German pastor and former Minister of the Interior of Saxony), out of an educational dictatorship where antifascism was the ideological glue (supposedly). Since the nationalsocialist past was never really analyzed and worked through and transformed into a new democratic constitutional order, it became a momre and more empty slogan because many aspects of the Nazi dictatorship were just transferred to the Communist dictatorship. And people now dare to come out with what they really think. They feel not appreciated enoug in the new dispensation. They feel they should be better off and should be taken care of better by the state. They are afriad of falling behind even more when the refugees are welcomed and being supported by the authorities and the the many volunteer grass roots activists (a wonderful experience of civil action on the local level).
    I wonder what the role of the social media will be in fighting this nationalistic reactionary movement. A few days agao the most serious elder statesmen-like Vice chairman of the AfD,Alexander Gauland, said: “The people like our football/soccer star Boateng, but they do not want to have him live next to them as their neighbor”. Jerome Boateng has a German mother and a Ghanain father, and he is a Christian, not a Moslem. This remark raised a storm of angry reactions from the fans (in two weeks the European Championship starts with Boateng being most important in our team), and Gauland tried to insinuate that he did not really use the name of Boateng,
    but the journalists did. This kind of racism may have been in the hearts of many, but until recently nobody dared to say this in public who wanted to be politically or publicly successful.
    Do we have a return of fascism/national socialism? The SPIEGEL has an article on DT and his success which I did not read yet, but the heading is shockingly relevant: “The rule of the mob. Fascism comes to the USA.”
    Is that saying too much?
    In Germany, especially East Germany, we have had a large increase in violent attacks on refugee homes, helpers and public institutions dealing with the refugee issue.
    The move to the right in Europe is certainly disconcerting, but none is more diconcerting than the DT candidacy, because of the global significance of the USA and the amazing apparent inability of the groups and individuals that are humiliated and insulted by DT to forge a strong movement against him. Why do we not mention Donald Trumpf’s (German origin!) name? Is he Voldemort?
    Well, let’s use our superior intellectual and spiritual energy to fight him and them. As Jabulane Ngwenya from South Africa who lived in my pastor’s home in 1978 in Bad Homburg used to say with a smile: “We are not fighting flesh and blood, but the powers of darkness.”
    More power to you, Bill, and all of us in this fight. May the Spirit of Pentecost renew us and make us a community ouf of many cultures, languages and orientations!
    Gerd Decke

  2. Thanks, so much, Tim. We really haven’t come to terms with the political-structural changes that are necessary in the face of this media complex and its methods. The printing press enhanced the function of the educated assembly. Clearly, the primary and election system needs fixing. And caucuses are not enough as they are presently constituted. Here’s where I’m scratching my head, at least at the state and national level.

  3. Powerfully and clearly said, Bill. I see two facets that facilitate the DT phenomenon. One is his reality tv status. His political life is truly one of reality tv. It strikes deeply at the hearts and yearnings of many, but who succumb to the assumption that it does not have to be actually real; tv reality is just fine and acceptably meaningful. The second is that corporate media feed hungrily and competitively on this reality scripting. DT is an enormous child of the media, in spite of his criticism of it (note how he turned on Fox!) and they still coddle him! I always wondered how Hitler could have grown to such power until I realized how much the German corporate interests went along with his rise, effecting a conspiracy of a kind. So these are powerful forces afoot, and I agree with your position that it is in local (face to face, yes?) organizations and relationships that must be the ground of sanity, and lest I say, reality.

  4. Could not agree more, John. I am sharing this widely. The spirit of Christianity is (or ought to be) a spirit of continual repentance, which is why I appreciate restraining tit-for-tat Trump-bashing or trying to find an alternative, “Democratic” messiah, in favour of asking “how did we become the kind of people where this could have happened?” Indeed, that was the question the TRC in SA and my country of Canada put before its citizens. It’s the right (but most difficult) question.

  5. Thanks for your comments on this, Jyoti. Actually, I have advocated more of a “federal republic,” because of the problems you point out. Then, we have to address the problem of making our publics more democratic and also truly public, rather than a vote-getting form of warfare, which we have in our present situation. The kind of communal demagoguery that has so afflicted India has its own form in my country. We need each other’s insights for that.

  6. I have been recalling your plea that the “Our Father” prayer of Jesus should be rendered today as “May your democratic republic come !” Whether it is the Democratic Republic of Germany, or now the Republican party in the USA, one wonders, as you have remarked, what this word “Republican” means in our present world. Surely not what the Greeks imagined, I would think. Even the word “democratic” has been spoiled for us. Was it someone who said that a “democracy” can become the rule of the masses who often have no real understanding of what is Justice, but only think of what serves the interest of the majority. Certainly in India, this term “democracy” leaves much to be desired, and only seems to mean that those with the most money, and power over social media, get to grab the power. DT is quite popular among the “Indian middle class” (as was Maggy Thatcher), mainly because he is against those who represent the “minorities”

  7. A great and insightful piece, Bill. Deserves and demands wide readership and reflection. John

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