By Jack Canfora
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function”
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald*
First the good news: this is NOT a political post. In no way is it a political post; this simply isn’t the place for that. In a perfect world, there’d actually be no place for political posts, which would leave far more space for posts about why and how you should bring me foods I like. Maybe one day we’ll get there. Maybe one day.
But now, the bad news: this post is totally about politics. At least in the sense that it will discuss politicians, political parties, and specific political issue. So, I guess if you really want to stretch it, I could see how some people might jump to the snap conclusion (or snap and then jump, but that feels somehow less organic. What do I know? I’m not very good at either) that it might be a political post. Sorta. Ish.
But this is, as I think I quite forcefully asserted at this post’s outset (just scroll back to the top if you’ve forgotten) NOT A POLITCAL POST. It’s a post about something even worse: Politics’ even uglier and less well-behaved sibling, Tribalism.
First, a little background: Liz Cheney, a super conservative Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, has lost her committee seat, and essentially her chance at any political clout in the near future, because she refused to deny both demonstrable crimes and had a grating tendency to face reality. This isn’t an anti-conservative or GOP screed. In fact, even though I lean quite left in both thought and gait, I am here to mourn the loss of them both.Today is a great day for Democrats. It is also a terrible day for Democracy.
If you were to bring up 100 socio-political issues, my guess is Liz Cheney and I would disagree violently on 97 of them, only strongly disagree on one, and agree on two (one of them being LGBTQ rights). The other issue we agree on, and it’s not a small one, is the continuation of Madisonian Democracy, and the rule of law.
Liz Cheney represents, in terms of political policy, pretty much everything I’d spend a lifetime fighting against. But, as baffled and angered as I was by Trump’s electoral victory in 2016, it never occurred to me to attack the U.S. Capitol, maim and murder Capitol police officers, and erect a rudimentary gallows to hang the Vice President (although, in fairness, no one believes that I could even begin to figure out how to).
As her fellow Republicans cravenly defend the lie that Trump had the election stolen from him (despite the Trump led Justice Department finding no such evidence, none of Trump’s lawyers willing to officially make such a claim in court, the derisive dismissal of such claims from all judges, many whom Republican and Trump-appointed, and Trump lickspittle AG William Barr denying any evidence of election fraud), Liz Cheney has the temerity to say aloud that Trump lost the election.
Perhaps more upsetting (though no more threatening to the democratic norms America has prided itself on), she is unwilling to allow the Trump- fueled attack on the American Capitol, the literal center of American Democracy, to go unpunished. Many Republicans, some of whom were personally threatened with their actual deaths on January 6th, are willing to overlook that to keep their political careers alive. And they’re downright blithe about trading the lives of Democrats for their own political advancement.
They missed a chance – a critical opportunity that history is already damning them for – to do what they were elected to do: lead. The crystal ball of History’s View is often blurry at best. It has seldom been more hi-def than on the afternoon of January 6th, 2021.
Most of these Republicans will privately express disgust at Trump and his cult, including his biggest public GOP supporter (read:sycophant), Kevin McCarthy, who on January 7th, condemned Trump, only to later weasel his way out of his words with a brashness that would make Orwell weep or Kin Jung Un laugh. Or the other way around. Instead, MCarthy et al are bending, often without even waiting to be leaned on, to the violent whims and authoritarian nature of Trump’s cult of anti-Personality.
Let’s be clear: Trumpism has essentially nothing to do with Conservative philosophy (most of which I personally disagree with). I can find nothing of the tenets of Edmund Burke, or Kirk, let alone Ronald Reagan. “But tax cuts!” I can hear some people argue. True. But never, according to bedrock conservative principles, at the expense of soaring deficits. “Limited government!” I suppose, but not to libertarian extremes. Eisenhower received little flack from the Grand Old Party when he established the interstate highway system, and he also had the wisdom to enforce desegregated schools. And the Party of Lincoln (Oy. Please.) stood behind that ultimate Lefty Richard Nixon when he created the EPA, as well as signing the Clean Air and Water acts.
This iteration of the Republican Party has no values. I mean this quite literally. The 2016 GOP convention actually didn’t have an official platform. I believe that’s a first for any party, ever.
And for what? For whom? For a man (biologically speaking) who won the electoral college in 2016, despite losing the popular vote, and proceeded to lose the House, his re-election bid, (electorally and popularly), and then the Senate.
So, as a Democrat, Liz Cheney’s Hester Prynn moment from the GOP is great political capital. It gains Republicans no new votes, and likely loses them some. Certainly it makes it easier to paint them for what they are: cultists cynically catering to the lunatic fringe that has managed to seize the reins of their once mighty, principled party. Yes, principled. Just because the party largely embraced principles I didn’t doesn’t make them any less principled.
To my liberal friends: we need to listen to Fitzgerald (of course we should; we always should). We can dislike Liz Cheney’s politics, be appalled by her policies, and work to defeat her, but still respect her fidelity to her code. A code that overlaps, I hope, with all of ours. Adherence to history and fidelity of law.
The founders came up with the motto for America of “E Pluribus Unum.” “Out of Many, One.” (Not very catchy as mottos go, but more dignified than what might be voted in today: “Ask About Our Kick Ass Water Parks!”) “Out of Many, One “ represents the precise opposite of the rampant tribalism that’s afflicted much of not only America, but Europe as well.
This tribalism, currently running the GOP, but make no mistake, my left-leaning friends, finding equal purchase among sectors of the “Woke,” is the living heartbeat of anti-democratic values. Like her ethos or loathe it, to not admire what Liz Cheney has done is to slide into tribalism.
Which is why, as a lifelong Democrat, today is a sad one.
* Let’s be clear: I’m making no claims to having a first-class mind. Anyone who’s tried to watch me build anything from IKEA or wrap a birthday present will attest to that.
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