Will conservatism's collapse lead to President Pence?

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In the Age of Trump, conservatism has gone from Edmund Burke to Mr Burns, writes Salon; other writers have made similar observations. Andrew O'Hehir asks, for example, should we blame Friedrich Hayek?

One way to understand what we are witnessing, amid the national humiliation of Donald Trump's presidency, is to see it as the total collapse of conservative ideology.

"That might seem like a strange claim," he admits, but he backs it up:

As a political force, American conservative movement has been morally and philosophically bankrupt for decades, which is one of the big reasons we are where we are right now. Largely in the interest of preserving their own power and empowering a massive money-grab by the class they represent, Republicans have cobbled together cynical coalitions by trying to appease multiple constituencies with competing and often contradictory interests: Libertarians, the Christian right, the post-industrial white working class, finance capital and the billionaire caste. Those groups have literally nothing in common beyond a shared antipathy for ... well, for something that cannot be precisely defined. They don't like the idea of post-1960s Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberal bicoastal cosmopolitanism, that much is for sure. But the specific things they hate about it are not the same, and the goals they seek are mutually incompatible and largely unachievable.

O'Hehir names Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton as "titans the modern conservative movement likes to cite as forebears," and notes that they "would be horrified by the limited, narrow-minded and intellectually inflexible nature of so-called conservative thought in the 21st century:"

How those guys would make sense of the fact that supposedly intelligent people who claim to share their lineage have hitched their wagons to the idiocy, mendacity and delusional thinking of the would-be autocrat in the White House -- an implausible caricature of the stupefied mob democracy Burke and Hamilton hated and feared -- I can't begin to imagine.

He then delves into Margaret Thatcher's admiration for Frederick Hayek's book The Constitution of Liberty:

He begins the book by advancing the narrowest possible conception of liberty: an absence of coercion. He rejects such notions as political freedom, universal rights, human equality and the distribution of wealth, all of which, by restricting the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful, intrude on the absolute freedom from coercion he demands.

Democracy, by contrast, "is not an ultimate or absolute value". In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take.

Hayek, writes O'Hehir, "justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth:"

He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

The ultra rich are "scouts", "experimenting with new styles of living", who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. The progress of society depends on the liberty of these "independents" to gain as much money as they want and spend it how they wish. All that is good and useful, therefore, arises from inequality. There should be no connection between merit and reward, no distinction made between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge.

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: "the idle rich", who don't have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing "fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs". Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but "aimless display", they are in fact acting as society's vanguard.

Trump, O'Hehir continues, "is the perfect representation of Hayek's 'independent':"

the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want.

While contemplating this situation, I note how Zizek proposed that Trump's darkness would lead to a revolution. Conor Lynch discusses Slavoj Žižek's pronouncement if he were American, that he would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton -- not because Trump was the lesser evil, but precisely because he was the greater evil.

The Slovenian intellectual's hope was that the election of a vulgar, right-wing extremist like Trump would "be a kind of big awakening" that would trigger "new political processes" in America. In other words, with a reactionary demagogue as transparently abhorrent and dangerous as Trump in the White House, a popular movement on the left would emerge to challenge not only Trump's reactionary populism, but the neoliberal status quo that had long prevailed in Washington. Clinton, argued Žižek, stood for an "absolute inertia" that would stifle a populist movement on the left, and while there was great danger in a Trump presidency, there was also great danger in electing Clinton -- especially in the long run.

In the long run, I would argue, we're all dead--and perhaps in the short run, too, if Trump's destructiveness in office matches his business bankruptcies. I do agree with Zizek's snark that "I'm just afraid that Hillary stands for this absolute inertia," but JFC! When it's a contest between Clinton's competence and the nightmare that is Trump's administration, choosing the more volatile option strikes me as juvenile bomb-throwing of the worst sort: destruction for its own sake. As Lynch observes:

Though we are just one month into Trump's term, his presidency has already surpassed all recent predecessors in scandal and controversy, and the dysfunction is palpable. At times it is hard to imagine how the United States can survive another 47 weeks of this unhinged and extremist administration. [..]

With a historically low approval rating, Trump is already the most unpopular president in modern history, and his party is now the "establishment." That means the Democrats will have the perfect opportunity to lead a popular and successful resistance in 2018 and 2020 if they can adopt a compelling populist message of their own.

...and they won't have to lie in order to do so.

Meanwhile, Samuel Warde hopes that President Pence won't be a complete disaster after Trump's impeachment:

Professor Ronald L. Feinman, Ph.D., of Florida Atlantic University predicts that "Trump is on his way to second or third shortest presidency in American history" in an article published on the History News Network earlier this week.

"According to Feinman's analysis," writes Warde:

[I]t seems likely that Donald Trump will be leaving the Presidency at some point, likely between the 31 days of William Henry Harrison in 1841 (dying of pneumonia) and the 199 days of James A. Garfield in 1881 (dying of an assassin's bullet after 79 days of terrible suffering and medical malpractice). At the most, it certainly seems likely, even if dragged out, that Trump will not last 16 months and 5 days, as occurred with Zachary Taylor in 1850 (dying of a digestive ailment). The Pence Presidency seems inevitable.

It's a frightening possibility, but it might be the least-worst option.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on February 19, 2017 6:09 PM.

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