Republicans spent the first few nights of their convention warming the cockles of their Republican hearts: Obama wants to take away your guns and give them to ‘illegal aliens’ so they can shoot your children. Obama is trying to atone for America’s greatness by giving Iran nuclear weapons so they can destroy Israel. Hillary personally issued a ‘stand down’ order at Benghazi because she wanted to respect the cultural sensitivities of the terrorists.
I’m of course making stuff up. But so were they.
Still, none of what was said in those first nights was new. And it’s not as if that stuff was only introduced with the Trump campaign. Republican leaders have been dealing that ideological cocaine for decades. The only difference now is how many of them are actually high on their own supply. The really new and surprising stuff came on the last night of the convention. Before the man himself got up on stage to bring us all back to a comfortable level of fear and acrimony, the night’s speeches read like a progressive’s wish list: paid maternity leave, equal pay for women, holding corporations accountable for bad behavior. The list goes on.
People have been decrying the fascistic tendencies of the Trump campaign since its golden escalator rollout a year ago. But I’m not sure it truly hit me until I heard last night’s progressive themes. It’s quite possible that those speeches were just a cynical play for the Bernie Sanders vote. On the other hand, it might be that the Trump crowd actually wants those things. And, strangely enough, that thought scares me even more. It scares me because those are all things that are nearly impossible to get outside the workings of a civil society…or, variously, a big government. Sure you could expand the police state to root out undocumented workers and other undesirables, but you need regulations and bureaucracy to ensure something like paid family leave–you know, like the kind they have in that post-apocalyptic hellscape, Sweden.
But these people have lost all faith in the ability of civil society to make life better for them. It is not just that civil society is corrupt and ineffective at the moment; civil society is, for them, inherently rotten and weak. I’m happy to discuss radical alternatives like Autonomist Marxism, but I get the feeling the Trump crowd is not at present considering those alternatives. The only other alternative within the limits of their imagination is to get the things they want through the will of an individual.
In other words, we might have finally come to our Hobbes vs. Rousseau moment, and it goes way beyond the ballots people punch in this November’s election. It’s about a decision on our national ethos: YES WE CAN vs. YES YOU WILL. I know what I heard last night.