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Morons Rule

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

It is no secret that Donald Trump is cruel, amoral, unfit for the office he holds, and, despite his age, immature. He is also, as his former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, famously put it, “a fucking moron.”

Of course, this hasn’t stopped him from becoming the de facto leader of a following, essentially a cult, comprised of some forty percent or more of the voting public in the United States. There are a lot of morons out there.

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties are full of them. Because we live under a deeply entrenched, semi-established duopoly party system, and because the Republican Party has been beyond redemption since long before Trump came on the scene, non-morons who want to be politically effective become Democrats; that is where all “the points of light” now are. Thanks to the 2018 midterm elections, there are now more of them than there used to be, but not nearly enough for the Democratic Party not still to be a party of morons too.

The difference is that, within the Republican fold, the rot is unrelieved and goes all the way down, and then back up again; the GOP “side of the aisle” in the House and Senate positively reeks of it. The Democratic Party is less severely afflicted; it even has some clear spots and, unless it takes a sharp turn to the right of its constituents – unless it goes Bidenesque or Buttigiegian or Klobucharian or whatever — it is poised to gain more.

The problem with at least some Republicans is not that they are unaware of their Leader’s flaws; anyone paying attention who is not willfully blind, even dumbed down and misinformed Fox News watchers, cannot help but be aware. But they either don’t care or else, being deficient in self-respect or courage or both, they are afraid to rattle his cage.

The problem is especially acute on Capitol Hill, where it is well understood how any incoherent, barely literate Trump tweet could set his followers off.

It is not exactly Helter Skelter that they fear; after three years of Trumpian rule, our politics has not sunk quite that low yet. What they fear is a primary challenge from a Trump-backed candidate. The GOP has plenty of miscreants even more servile and base than they that Trump could tap to take their place.

Blame for this sorry state of affairs does not lie with the Donald alone; Republicans have been living beyond (or beneath?) the pale of decency for a long time. Indeed, Trump has actually improved the GOP in some respects.

Thus, he has been less lethal than his Republican predecessor. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Bush’s Vice President and éminence grise, are, so far, responsible for far more murder and mayhem than Trump. They also still have him beat for undermining geopolitical stability throughout the historically Muslim world, and for diminishing Americans’ basic rights and liberties.

That Bush is nowadays almost a hero in “moderate,” bipartisan circles is pathetic, but also indicative of the fact that Trump is worse not so much for what he has actually done, awful as so much of it has been, as for the malignancy he has caused to spread throughout the entirety of the body politic. The country’s immune system is still functioning tolerably well, but, after three years of attack, it is in a perilously weakened state.

And yet, the babblers and scribblers corporate media inflict upon us go on about how “bipartisanship,” cooperation “across the aisle,” is a political virtue right up there next to cleanliness and godliness.

Democrat don’t just peddle that snake oil; they also act on it. Thus, within days of impeaching Trump, they hand him legislative victories – on trade, for example – in exchange for a few important, but ultimately paltry, protections for workers thrown into the massively flawed US- Mexico-Canada Agreement, NAFTA 2.0, and into the latest National Defense Authorization Act.

This was Nancy Pelosi’s doing, and she, they tell us, is a supremely skillful and brilliant Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Maybe, she does have a point in pursuing impeachment on the Al Capone model – getting Trump for something comparatively trivial and not even all that bad, rather than for any of his zillions of very serious “high crimes and misdemeanors,” because the case is a slam dunk or, rather would be, if Republican Senators would honor their oaths and play by the rules.

The jury is out on that. It is out too on the wisdom of impeachment itself – especially inasmuch as no one really knows what an unhinged Trump might do with his back against the wall. I, for one, think that getting rid of Trump is worth the risk, though my confidence does sometimes falter when I reflect on how, even were the Senate to vote to remove him from office, and even were he to leave peacefully, his administration would remain in place, and Mike Pence would take his place.

Therefore, pity the poor Democrat whose best option, at this point, probably is just to do what the solemn and prayerful House Speaker wants. Republicans are more fortunate; they can take satisfaction in giving Democrats and others in the power structure a much-deserved middle finger.

***

If only Pelosi Democrats, and Democrats even more “moderate” than they, had a better cover story, one that doesn’t make morons of even those among them who should, and probably do, know better.

The term “moron” is barely a century old. It was a creature of the eugenics movement, once widely employed by psychologists, psychiatrists, judges, legislators, educators, and others, but deemed unscientific years ago; and also, politically incorrect, long before that expression came into common use. Nowadays, “moron” just means “very stupid,” but in a strictly derogatory, not clinically meaningful, way.

Over the years, the word has become almost interchangeable with, say, “jerk” or “asshole.” There is still, however, a vague, residual connection with extreme stupidity, just as there is with “imbecile” and “idiot.” In the heyday of the eugenics movement, those words had more precise, quasi-scientific meanings. All that is ancient history now. Therefore, when Tillerson called Trump a “moron,” he was probably not thinking about the president’s IQ, but only about what a piece of work he is, what an asshole.

Of course, Tillerson himself is no saint – as a longtime ExxonMobil executive, the sins of capitalism and environmental recklessness fall on his shoulders as much or more than they do on Trump’s. But Tillerson was a lot better at plying his trade than his former boss, and he is not morally and intellectually stunted the way that Trump is.

It is therefore fair to expect that his spontaneous reactions to provocations would fall within the normal human range, and that having been insulted and bullied one time too many by a good-for-nothing reality TV personality with a “very big and very stable” brain, it was only natural for him to want to hurl back a derogatory epithet or two.

Democrats are kinder and gentler than Republicans and are therefore not moronic in quite the same way. I do find, though, that when I see them or their propagandists on MSNBC or CNN or hear them on NPR or read their columns in The New York Times and Washington Post, I have no trouble empathizing with Tillerson’s lashing out at Donald Trump. Trump is more odious, but the emotion is the same.

I do feel, though, that, because I am using the same derogatory term to describe both Republicans and Democrats, that it is incumbent on me to explain what I have in mind. In my usage, Republicans are full spectrum morons; Democrats are morons in a more limited respect.

Inasmuch as we Americans and Westerners generally meddle in Russian affairs, and in the affairs of the several post-Soviet republics, far more extensively than they meddle in ours, I find Democratic Cold War revivalists who bring up Russian meddling every chance they get hypocritical enough to cause me want to do a lot more than hurl derogatory epithets their way. But however reprehensible their hypocrisy may be, they are not morons on that account.

Neither are they morons because many of them believe what is almost certainly false, and stupid to boot. I would put the idea that Joe Biden’s record qualifies him for much of anything, let alone for the highest office in the land, or that only a moderate can defeat Trump in 2020 in that category. I could go on for hours about how wrong-headed those beliefs are, but, inasmuch as they are not wildly implausible, there is nothing inherently moronic, in the sense I have in mind, in holding them.

Taking the word of the CIA and other intelligence agencies very often is moronic, but perhaps not in this case. A propensity for deception is, as it were, built into their DNA. They lie purposefully, not, like Trump, pathologically, but lie they do; and there is no reason to think their lying stopped long ago, and that they are all straight shooters now.

They say that they have incontrovertible evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election; perhaps they do. Inasmuch as hardly anyone, inside or outside “the intelligence community,” as it is euphemistically called, is gainsaying them, it is probably, at least as reasonable as not, to take them this time at their word.

What is moronic, though, is pushing the Russian meddling story as assiduously as they do without bothering to get their story straight as to why it matters – what harm it did or could do, and what point it would serve. In view of how dangerous the consequences of their machinations could become, “moronic” is, if anything, too kind a word for what they are up to.

For the Democratic narrative to seem even remotely plausible, the world would have had to begin in 2014, when Russia – or is it just their demonic leader, Vladimir Putin? – threw all pretenses aside and crossed over into the Dark Side.

Were state media to promote this way of seeing recent world events, people would of course be skeptical. What a triumph for corporate America’s non-state, propaganda system that so many take it for gospel truth.

It is no wonder therefore that the inevitability of an adversarial relation with our old Cold War adversary is taken as a given in our national conversation. It takes time and effort to see through the purported rationale for thinking of it that way, and who has the time or wants to make the effort?

The Trump Party’s propaganda system is more outlandishly asinine, by many orders of magnitude. But its rival in the liberal cable channels and the quality press is no prize. Much like the disabling duopoly party system we live under, it encourages a race to the bottom. The duopoly problem doesn’t end at the voting booth.

To get a better purchase on what Cold War revivalism is all about, a less myopic perspective is indispensable. The new Cold War didn’t really begin in 2014; in key respects, it is a continuation of the one that supposedly ended in 1989, with Communism’s demise, and in 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart.

The key structuring event of the original Cold War, from the American side, was the formation and consolidation of what President Eisenhower warned against in 1961– the military-industrial complex.

Ike did more than his fair share to bring on what he warned against, and he waited to issue his warning until way too late. But credit where credit is due: he was the last American president whose world view was informed by a sense of history grander than the one shaped by the exigencies of the political-economic structures put in place at the end of World War II.

Naturally, the demise of the Soviet Union caused panic in the halls of power. There was plenty of triumphalist crowing; it was morale boosting and good for appearance sake. But the bitter fact was that without the Soviet enemy, the military-industrial complex lost its official, publicly defensible reason for being. Nearly the entire power structure depended on it, and it was gone.

The 1991 Bush41 War against Iraq helped for a while, and Bill Clinton had a gift for finding ways of keeping the public on board with ever expanding “defense” budgets that squander tax dollars that could otherwise be spent in socially useful ways. All it takes, he discovered, are briefly executed but highly lethal military adventures conducted from the air that don’t involve Americans getting killed.

But for how long could such shenanigans make do. And so, it was that if Osama Bin Laden had not existed, he would have had to be invented – which he more or less was.

Even so, the Global War on Terror that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched, and that Barack Obama continued in a different, but still murderous, guise was a pale substitute for the world the military-industrial complex once enjoyed. After a decade or so, it became clear that it just wasn’t good enough.

It did provide a justification for a perpetual war regime, and the terrorism it purported to counter did keep the public in constant fear, just as Communism once did. But it was like a police action in a bad neighborhood; there was no glory in it.

Moreover, people were beginning to catch on to the fact that the Bush-Obama-and now Trump wars were creating terrorists more than they were stifling terrorism by killing its perpetrators. It was the same as in black and brown communities at home, where the police are very often the cause of the troubles they purport to defend against.

Could this be how it would be for years to come: lots of seriously wounded American “warriors” – economic conscripts mostly — a small but constant stream of dead American bodies, and no victories to boast of except for the occasional assassination; all with no end in sight?

The Pentagon brass and the death merchants continued to flourish, but there was a growing awareness, even in their quarters, that the dreary and ignoble irrationality of it all was becoming increasingly unpopular and might therefore soon become unsustainable.

It had been different when the original Cold War was on. The Soviet Union was a worthy enemy, and there was China, another worthy enemy in the making, as well. The powers that be could hardly ask for better excuses for keeping the military-industrial complex flush with public monies, no matter how many unmet needs there might be in what we now call “the homeland.”

There were proxy wars, of course; and sometimes, as in Vietnam, the United States itself could get bogged down, at great human and financial cost, in them. But the prevailing view, in ruling circles, was that it was worth it; anything to keep the dominoes from falling in ways that might discomfit our masters of war and our captains of finance and industry.

At the time, no one thought of it as a Golden Age, but the pain associated with the Vietnam War has by now disappeared down the memory hole and the rage associated with it has largely dissipated. Seemingly, the only lesson learned is that we should take every opportunity we can to thank military personnel and veterans for their “service.”

Thus, by 2014, and even before that, a new Cold War, or the old one revived, was looking more and more like just what the doctor ordered.

The Clintons have never been good for much, but for getting Cold War juices flowing again, they were more than up for the task. They were what the times called for — Hillary was a Goldwater Girl who, it now seems, never quite outgrew that juvenile passion, while Bill, as president, knew Russia strictly as a basket case. He was not wrong. Its regression to capitalism had not gone well, especially with American and other Western “advisors” doing all they could to assure its integration into the American ambit.

In short, for the Clintons, Russian weakness was part of the natural order of things. They could therefore tolerate oligarchs and kleptocrats, but efforts by Russians to get Russia back on its feet and to restore a semblance of national pride made them wary.

Along with Obama, Hillary, in her State Department Madam Secretary days, was also responsible for empowering aggressive, self-righteous liberal imperialists – Wilsonians,” as they are nowadays called — who saw American world domination as an indispensable means for making the world safe for democracy and human rights; notwithstanding an abundance of evidence suggesting that it is more likely than not that just the opposite is the case.

And then there was the looming 2016 election. That Trump would win, or even that he would become the Republican nominee, was, to say the least, improbable. But, knowing herself a tad, Hillary must have realized, at some level, that it would be wise for her to keep a few excuses for failure on hand.

And so, it made sense for Democrats to lay the groundwork for blaming the Russians should she fail, and for making Vladimir Putin her nemesis and a danger to all that is good in the world.

For them, it was a no-brainer. For generations, opposition to Communism and therefore to Russia was in the American grain, and Putin is easy pickings for anyone looking for a Russian to vilify. And it seemed easy enough to dismiss the obviously relevant fact that there are no longer any systemic reasons why Americans and Russians cannot get along.

There were systemic reasons when the original Cold War was on; the Soviet Union’s political economic system was different from and incompatible with ours, and we wanted to bring the whole world over to our side. In theory, so did they.

There is a case to be made, however, that, for all practical purposes, the Soviets gave up on that ambition early on – if not once it became clear that the Bolshevik Revolution would not be repeated in Germany and elsewhere in eastern and central Europe, then certainly no later than by the end of the 1920s, as Stalin, consolidating his power, made building “socialism in one country” – specifically, in the Soviet Union — a strategic goal for Communists the world over.

Whatever Communists in the Soviet Union might have wanted Communists around the world to think, once the dust had cleared from the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war that then followed, Soviet elites were never much interested in world revolution. And whatever anti-Communists might have wanted people worldwide to believe, Soviet world domination was not their goal either. What they wanted was only what all nation states want; to defend themselves from the predations of other nation states.

The US and the USSR were allies during World War II; in effect, Nazi Germany brought them together. But they came out of the war in very different conditions. The war devastated the Soviet Union; it made the United States prosperous. The difference broke the wartime alliance apart, making what might be called “mutual assured hostility” a fact of life almost from the moment that peace was declared.

In the circumstances that then obtained, elites on both sides of “the iron curtain” needed credible enemies to keep their respective populations on board – on the Soviet side to withstand the perils of weakness, on the American side to keep military spending going at levels sufficient to avoid the reemergence of the potentially unsettling economic conditions that the war had alleviated.

After a decade or so, however, there was enough stability on both sides for talk of “peaceful coexistence,” to pick up. But because the power structures on both sides still had an interest in maintaining a high level of tension, real peace was never a genuine option. Just in case, however, our most adamant Cold Warriors dedicated themselves to making sure it would not come to pass.

Nowadays, their ideological descendants are back at it. again. Evidently, it doesn’t matter to them that there is nothing more to coexistence now than intra-capitalist rivalry.

To be sure, Russian capitalism today is less integrated into the American dominated global economic order than are the capitalist systems in place in Europe and Asia, where there are any number of countries with economies bigger than Russia’s. The Russian economy is big enough, however, even with crippling sanctions imposed by the United States and other Western countries for Cold War revivalists’ purposes.

The bottom line is, though, that whatever the “fucking morons” who lead the Democratic Party nowadays might think, this is hardly a cause for war, not even for a low-grade cold war. That was so twentieth century! After all, America’s place in today’s world is not relevantly like it was just before World War I or just after World War II or, for that matter, like it was when the Soviet Union expired.

The balance of power among nation states is different now, of course; but, of far greater importance is the undeniable fact that it has become more urgent than it used to be for all the nations of the world to come together to deal with the increasing likelihood of nuclear annihilation in a world in which so many countries of increasingly dubious stability – India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea — possess nuclear weapons, and in the face of devastating, anthropogenic climate change.

Needless to say, worldwide cooperation would be ideal. But if that is politically unfeasible, at the very least states ought not to infringe upon the sovereignty rights of other states through wars of aggression or their functional equivalents.

For states that are, like Russia, militarily or economically or even culturally more powerful than their neighbors, this would include keeping hands off their respective spheres of influence.

From the time of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has rigorously defended this principle for itself – witness its quasi-pathological obsession with Cuba over the past six decades – while violating it at will, first throughout Latin America, then in the Pacific and, wherever possible, in east Asia, and ultimately, with varying degrees of success, all over the world. It has violated it nowhere more than in the former Soviet republics.

Thus, from the moment that Russia’s recovery from Communism’s implosion got underway, the United States has sought to make Russia’s sphere of influence its own, even going so far as to encourage and superintend the several “color revolutions” that transformed former Soviet republics into forward bases for the American empire.

American machinations in Ukraine have been especially egregious. The facts have been out there from Day One, hidden in plain sight, but available for all to see.

However, anyone relying, say, on MSNBC or CNN for understanding what has been going on in Ukraine in recent years is going to come away with the impression that, aside from a little corruption and occasional acting out from fascists left over from earlier eras, all was well until the evil Putin decided to restore the Russian empire by taking back the Crimea and aiding Russian-speaking separatist movements in the country’s eastern regions.

Inasmuch as my aim here is not exactly to correct the stupidities of the mainstream narrative by looking at the situation in a less myopic way, this is not the place to recount enough of the larger story to set the events Cold War revivalists appeal to in perspective.

My aim is only to justify the contention that Democrats are morons too; that their stupidities are every bit as flagrant, and, if anything, even more pernicious than the ones that led Tillerson to call it like it is on his soon to become former boss, the Commander-in-Chief.

How can it not bother the Cold War revivalists in the Democratic Party fold, or their corporate media propagandists, or people who innocently take their words to heart, that they cannot even offer a plausible account of what that ace bogeyman Putin is up to or, more generally, of what Russia wants.

They could, of course, say that, as a Trump soulmate, Putin wants to Make Russia Great Again. There is plenty of truth in that.

But, in both theory and practice, Putin, the man not the caricature, is more of a De Gaulle than a Stalin or even a Trump. His instincts are illiberal and authoritarian, but he wants to be a leader of a modern, democratic state, not an “oriental despot.” And, in the aftermath of an historic defeat, he wants to restore grandeur for the sake of national self-respect, not for his own personal aggrandizement.

The only other remotely plausible story line is of a piece with the one that George W. Bush told when he addressed both houses of Congress after 9/11. They did it, the second worst president in modern times claimed, “because they hate our democracy.”

Even back then, that was hard to repeat with a straight face. By now Bush’s explanation is universally ridiculed, even by the many legislators “from both sides of the aisle” who, like Joe Biden, were fine with it in 2001.

Biden and the others at least have the excuse that, spurred on by New York Times and Washington Post columnists, they fell for the Bush-Cheney lies about weapons of mass destruction. Democrats now have no excuse at all.

This is why it is hard not to think of them the way that, for more general reasons, Tillerson thought about Trump, and hard not to call them out. “Fucking morons”; in their case, as in Trump’s, that is way too kind.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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