April 28, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

See through the GOP’s lies to the conscious authoritarian intent to injure the republic

The point is instability, chaos and, yes, feeling crazy.

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James Carville.

Forgive me for repeating myself. The right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, is so powerful it can bend political reality. The latest evidence comes from James Carville, whom I’d normally recommend ignoring with prejudice. The former adviser to Bill Clinton and cable-news talking head said recently the Democrats should put the kibosh on talking about “wokeness.” Normal people just don’t talk like that.1

Carville hasn’t been right about much in quite some time. (He thought United States Senator Michael Bennett should have been the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nominee.) Moreover, political rhetoric of any kind being used now by the left or the right is almost certainly going to mean zip by 2022, by which time about 22 billion news cycles will have churned.2 Swing voters who make the difference will be thinking about pretty anything other than the boutique anxieties of out-of-touch consultants.

Let’s not be complicit in the Republicans’ descent into hell.

James Carville is right about one thing, though. The right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, is making a fetish of “wokeness.” That fetish gets the attention of out-of-touch but still-influential consultants like Carville, who in turn urge the Democrats to act more like Republicans, even though the party has unified control of Washington. Importantly, “moderate” Democrats seem to agree.3 Behold the right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale! This is the power to bend political reality!

In fairness, I agree that normal people don’t talk about “wokeness.” In fairness, most normal people don’t care. If “wokeness” is the word Democratic Party insiders and social-justice activists prefer in talking about the struggle for freedom and equality, more power to them. But if we’re going to talk about what most normal people want from the Democrats, let’s not forget their bias for reason, peace and prosperity. Above all, the truth. James Carville, in urging the Democrats to make like Republicans, is defeating his purpose. To make like a Republican is to make everyone feel crazy.

I mean “crazy” in the sense Harry Frankfurt intended. In 2006’s On Truth, the moral philosopher described the ethical effect of lies. They are not just deceptions. They are not just duplicity. They are injuries. “Lies are designed to damage our grasp of reality,” he wrote. “So they are intended, in a very real sense, to make us crazy.” But more than that, they are authoritarian injuries. “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and to impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs,” Frankfurt wrote. “They are designed to prevent us from being in touch with what is really going on. In telling his lie, the liar tries to mislead us into believing that the facts are other than they actually are. He tries to impose his will on us.”4

Here’s the tip jar!

The right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, told normal people over the weekend the Biden administration planned to limit meat-eating as part of its policies to combat climate change policies. The news ping-ponged across the apparatus until esteemed members of the Republican Party at the state and national levels denounced the plan as tyrannical. Thing is, it was “completely imaginary,” wrote CNN’s peerless Daniel Dale. “1) The Daily Mail ran an article that dishonestly connected Biden’s climate plan with a not-at-all-about-Biden study. 2) Others on the right just ran with this.” In typically methodical and painstaking fashion, he laid out what happened, how and why. Dale’s job is chasing down serious public lies. Dale’s job is keeping him busy.

But fact-checking serious public lies won’t stop them. There are two reasons. One, the Republicans inhabit an almost purely fictional view of American politics. Two, neutral observers, like the Washington press corps and, to an extent, political consultants like James Carville, keep honoring that almost purely fictional view of American politics by taking it seriously. By honoring it by taking it seriously, the rest of us end up giving this almost purely fictional view of American politics enough leverage to bend reality and make everyone free crazy. It’s plausible to say the Democrats should emulate the Republicans in order to win the congressional elections. As plausible, however, is to say that emulating them will chase swing voters by making them all feel crazy.

How do we stop it? I think by seeing through the lie to what’s genuinely intended, which is to say, through the lie toward a conscious authoritarian intent to injure our democratic republic. Lying about the Biden administration’s “war on meat” is by itself silly, but in context, a grotesque attempt to dominate not only a gullible television audience but hard-nosed empiricists like Daniel Dale whose life is almost totally consumed by fact-checking, which in turn consumes the energies of many more of us, which consumes the attention spans of people who want to talk about something else.

This kind of dominance is ideal for a party that has not only run out of ideas, but is hostile toward the idea of ideas. Ideas and a commitment to seeing them through require recognizing the legitimacy of those of a political opposition, which is impossible. Ideas and a commitment to seeing them through demand grounding in facts that the other side can debate with equal veracity. The Republican don’t want that, because the Republicans can’t win that way. So they have constructed a right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, in order to skip factual debate. With it, they can foment enough instability, chaos and, yes, insanity to create a desire among normal people for a strongman to come and fix things.5 They are, as Harry Frankfurt intimated, setting the groundwork for a fuhrer-king “to impose his will on us.” The last thing the Democrats should be is complicit in the Republicans’ descent to hell.

John Stoehr

1

See Sean Illing’s interview with James Carville at Vox.

2

For more, see Jonathan Bernstein’s latest.

3

For instance, United States Senator Joe Manchin.

4

I discuss Harry Frankfurt more here.

5

Familiar, no?

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

7 Comments

  1. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    Sorry to have gone so quiet, John. Of course, what you’ve described is also known as “spin.” Normally we attribute spin to representatives of the government trying to shape public opinion. But spinning can be done by anyone. And it can take the form of outright lies, hyperbolic claims, bathetic assertions, and even paranoiac mutterings (or shouting if you’re Tucker Carlson). James Carville is himself a spinmeister–and his complaint is its own form of spin on behalf of the long-dead Third Way. (Spin category: hyperbole.)

    The real irony is some folks spin–or just lie–in order to achieve ends, even ends they think proper and moral. Carville is no Republican: he doesn’t spin because he’s a straight-up grifter or authoritarian. He is a true believer in an old-style “moderate Democrat.” The problem with Carville is not that he is intellectually dishonest. He is spinning [i.e., exaggerating] “wokeness” for in defense of his team of Chris Coonses and Joe Manchins–whom he thinks are somehow the the future of the Democrats. And the problem with that is once more he just has things plain wrong. Chris Coonses and Joe Manchins and James Carvilles keep reading the tea leaves badly.

    Carville’s real gripe is that “wokeness” or “cancel culture” gives the Fox Newsies and OANs of this world ammunition. But seriously, right-wingers don’t need either of those quasi-phenomena to dog whistle voters. They’ll take anything available, or literally make it up (which they already do!). Carville’s gripe is misplaced energy. Even if everyone acted oh-so-proper, does he think all that dog-whistling would somehow stop? He should know better and put his efforts where they can do more good. I’d suggest raising serious money for on-the-ground development of the Texas Democratic Party instead of bad punditry.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

      A small point here, Bennett. We are talking about more than spin. We’re talking about deliberate efforts to sabotage a collective understanding of shared reality.

  2. Thornton Prayer on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    I’ve been saying two things recently to family and friends – that authoritarians and fascists exist only to eff things up and to eff YOU over. The Confederates destroyed the South while trying to enslave others while the Nazis smashed Germany while trying to exterminate “undesirables”. The COVID disasters in India, Brazil, and the U.S. under you know who provide modern day confirmation of their nihilism, racism, and incompetence from downplaying the pandemic while it (initially) killed those they hated. Agreeing with them just leads to more death and destruction and is frankly a form of civic and personal suicide.

    It’s no accident that destruction of truth and reality is central to the authoritarian playbook. To smash reality opens the devil’s playground for them to destroy democracy and impose cruelty and death on those they hate. Let’s not get sucked into their garbage like Carville and instead re-focus our energies to crush these fascists.

    Never forget – GOP Delenda Est!

  3. jibal jibal on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    The word “woke” originated with Blacks warning other Blacks about white violence. The demonization of the term has racist undertones. And I live in a liberal town that is 1/3 Latinx with a Latina mayor … grassroots progressives here use the term plenty. James Carville is a privileged white guy living in a gated community and has no idea what “normal” people are like, so he invents this nonsense about language that came out of the progressive community coming from the “faculty lounge”. He doesn’t even grasp the meaning and reality of “communities of color”–which I suppose is why Chuck Todd asked Premila Jayapal what she thought of his idiotic ramblings as if he were someone worth caring about.

  4. John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    Interestingly – this is the first time I somewhat disagree with you John. People like Axelrod and Carville win elections. Until Carville showed up the Dems won exactly once nationally between 1968 and 1992. ONCE – and that was barely. Carville broke the national GOP stranglehold in 1992. Since Carville Dems have lost the popular vote once. BC (The 25 years Before Carville Dems had 2 elections where they won 1 state each.) And Axelrod oversaw a seemingly impossible task by getting a black American with an odd name elected President. He did this with a keen sense of the middle and by pushing his client to it.

    The Democrats should have defeated the GOP in 2020 going away and the fact is we barely won. This is because of nonsense like “defund the police” and other woke foolishness. The unified government is entirely dependent on both elderly Vermont Senators NOT having a health crisis…either one of them exits – and Moscow Mitch takes the Senate reigns again.(No, the GOP Gov of Vermont will not appoint a Democrat) – After the catastrophe of Trump, Democrats barely won. Why? A few reasons but one is certainly moronic messaging from the Left.

    Overall I agree with your take about the fascists intent to destroy. It matters that we see it, unpack it and point it out. But in terms of day to day politics numbskulls like Rashida Tlaib keep feeding the Right Wing machine EXACTLY what it wants – and it does harm. Rule one: Ya gotta win.

    We don’t need to fact check everything. That is a kneejerk liberal/progressive response. We need to make CONSERVATISM AND LYING SYNONYMOUS. Which would not be hard to do. Make conservatism toxic. They’ve negatively branded wokeness – we can easily brand conservatives as liars and frauds. Instead everyone on the Left reacts and “resists”, and “goes high” believing if only we tweet the facts somehow we’ll win the day. “Reacting” and “resisting” – i.e. forever playing defense in a game in which offense wins 90% of the time – is a progressive addiction and a disaster for democracy.

    Carville is correct. Ya gotta win first and “wokeness” is errant nonsense that’s doing massive harm to Biden’s emerging – and astonishingly progressive – brand.

    50-70 percent of politics in a democracy is perception. All winning candidates know this. All leaders know this. Biden is proving to be masterful at it in the most surprising ways.

    • jibal jibal on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

      “This is because of nonsense like “defund the police” and other woke foolishness.”

      This is counterfactual nonsense … those played no role in how people voted. And Biden won by 7 million, which is a lot more than “barely”. You’re completely ignoring the GOP’s small state advantage via the Electoral college, the Senate, and the cap on House members.

      There’s a lot wrong in your comment, but the worst is stuff like “numbskulls like Rashida Tlaib” … she is smarter than you and a far better human being. And the same is true generally of “the Left” that numbskulls like you attack. I won’t respond further … you aren’t worth it and there’s only so much rolling around in the mud with pigs that I can tolerate.

      • John Smart on July 30, 2021 at 11:52 pm

        No idea who you are but I do know men like James Clyburn and James Carville know more and win elections. They agree with me. As do many others. Of course there is unfair conservative advantages. I know that, you know that, we all know that. Want to solve them? Stop being tactically stupid and win more.

        DEMOCRATS LOST 13 SEATS IN THE HOUSE in a year in which they ought to have added 10. And the Senate is barely Democratic mostly because the former guy’s severe mental illness gifted us Georgia in the last few weeks of the year. This is not inspiring. And their are a few reasons for this weak showing – but one certainly is the abject political stupidity of phrases like “Defund The Police”

        But let me take this moment to add another problem the “Know-it-all” Left has: Constantly blaming the overarching, systemic problems for not being smarter with day to day tactics and getting wins. Many on the Left have an addiction to clucking about the seemingly intractable while being politically dumb day to day – where small wins can add up. Politics in a democracy is the art of the possible, not a seminar at Bennington.

        I’ve been around and involved in center-left politics for decades now. I honestly believe this addiction to stating the problem instead of figuring out how to win more and solving the problem is because many on the Left LOVE talking about the problem as a way of showing how smart we are. I’m guilty of this….then you get older and realize the same 30 year old (usually white) progressive know-it-alls (in slightly different clothes) are jawing about the same problem as 30 years ago – and little or nothing has been solved. Whereas conservatives just want to win. So they do. And they impose. And do damage.

        Meanwhile we make up slogans.

        Example from the Aughts: Occupy and the Tea Party emerged at the same time.

        Occupy added “1percenter” to the language.

        The tea party took the House, the Senate, the WH, then the Courts.

        One side knows how to win.

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