Politics & Fantasy: Plato, Trump, Andrew Sullivan, and the Defence of the System

Often, on this blog, I write about ideologies, systems, and institutions and how the shifting of these powers make for interesting narratives. My arguments include the idea that the functionaries of a particular ideology, system, or institution will do whatever is in their power to defend it. The rise of Donald Trump, for good or for ill, is a fantastic example of this in real life.

Let us set aside how we ourselves, judge Mr Trump. It is enough to know that many people, some even in his own party, see him as a Demagogue. Many of the Elite in the GOP have spoken out about him with incredible vitriol, as have the media everywhere. 2016, one way or another, looks pretty much like the Donald Trump show up until now. Even far more serious events than US politics quickly drown in the maelstrom of Love/Hate for Trump.

Recently Trump shut out his opponents in the GOP, ending any chance that he would not represent the republican party in this year’s election. As the chances of stopping him dwindled many of those threatened by the changes he might bring to the party spoke out against him.

One of the best written of these pieces is Andrew Sullivan’s Democracies end when they are too democratic, written just before Trump won Indiana and his opponents bent their knees. It is a wonderful example of a functionary striding forth to do battle in defence of his particular ideology.

Andrew Sullivan is an excellent writer, one who emerged from the early days of political blogging to gain power and influence. His article begins with a breakdown of Plato’s criticism of Democracy from the Republic, namely that democracies can become lawless as their populations gain too much freedom and lead to the rise of a demagogic tyrant. In this piece the tyrant is Mr Trump, and it is because we have become too free that we have turned to him.

Mr Sullivan takes a small amount of blame for political pundits (himself) and even some for his beloved party and ideology. His writing is deep and passionate and convincing, at least until one comes to the meat of what he sees as the problem, the real reason that Mr Trump is ascendant, and the real people to blame for this potential tyranny; you see while Mr Sullivan’s article is a superb rhetorical piece it is nothing new. He blames everything on those damned liberals.

“This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.” Democracies end when they are too democratic, Andrew Sullivan, 1 May 2016.

This is an argument as audacious as it is facetious. Had he led with this paragraph, Mr Sullivan would be roundly mocked. But this comes after several thousand words, an invocation of a revered Greek philosopher, and plenty of seeming introspection where Mr Sullivan seems perilously close to taking responsibility himself.

It is a tried and true technique, and if you have not read conservative pundits writing about the rise of dictators and nationalists around the world, it might actually convince you that Mr Sullivan is sincere. Instead this functionary is offering a well-heeled defence of his chosen ideology hidden withing his lofty pontificating, deflecting the blame for Donald Trump away from those who chose him. (Which shows you what he thinks of the base that votes for the ideology that he supports, incidentally — by removing their agency, he reveals that he thinks of them them sheep. Never mind the fact that Mr Trump has positions that might be appealing to working class whites — like his stance on trade deals.)

“For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.” Democracies end when they are too democratic, Andrew Sullivan, 1 May 2016.

Mr Sullivan tries to obfuscate the filthy nugget of his argument in dense layers of reason and nods to philosophy and history, as if thick layers of artisanal bread will disguise the taste of the wet turd that resides within.

For some they might. As I wrote, it is a tried and true technique.

The argument itself is not exactly hard to take apart. Firstly, Plato’s republic is a complex work, with much reading between the lines required. If one were to take Plato at face value, then his preferred system of Government is a King, albeit one steeped in philosophy. I don’t think that either of these are amenable to modern circumstances. We call kings dictators these days and they tend to be notoriously unsuccessful, unless propped up by outside powers.

Secondly, the idea that the United States of America is too free is rather laughable when examined directly. Sure there are laws allowing gay marriage laws and we might elect a woman president right after a black man; but the incarceration rate of the US is the highest in the world, people can face enormous fines for stealing music and the image of a cartoon mouse invented in 1928 (an idea that would be baffling to Plato), not to mention all those regulations that conservative pundits keep telling us are stifling the economy. I doubt the citizens of Ferguson and Flint would agree with the idea that we are “too free”.

But then again, the usual suspects have been warning about the dangers of too much freedom since the Powell memo. Nixon dredged up the arguments to launch the War on Drugs,  which he then used to attack hippies and minorities after the victory of civil rights movement. TASTE THE FREEDOM!

Of course, political correctness can be odious. But despite constant outcry from right-wing pundits eager to warn us about the ever-present danger of university students”checking your privilege” is rarely  outside of campuses, political punditry, and the kind of boardroom scrums that produce faulty signs. Political correctness has been a constant back and forth since at least I was in university… 20 years ago. If you want to go that far back to blame someone for the rise of Donald Trump as demagogue, you may as well just go for blaming his parents. There’s nothing new there, either way.

The idea that Liberal Permissiveness has given rise to Mr Trump is feeble. The main branches of Demagoguery that launched Mr Trump this political season have been the idea of  building a wall to keep Mexicans out and forcibly deporting illegal immigrants. I don’t hear him screaming about gays getting married or even joining the current right wing rebellion against trans-gendered rights. Mr Trump does not really seem to care about who uses what bathroom. Ted Cruz, his main opponent was a far stronger Champion against so called liberal permissiveness, and even tried to attack Mr Trump on abortion, the bathroom thing, and so on. He went so far as to call Mr Trump a RINO (Republican In Name Only), because of his apparent lack of interest in the Culture Wars, the pinnacle of the GOPs counter-attack against those damn elitist liberals taking freedom too far.

If Mr Trump’s supporters are so angry about their enemies forcing these things down their throats then why did they not pick Mr Cruz who has a far more consistent pedigree of resisting and speaking out against gay marriage, abortion, feminism, and exceeds him in almost every other arena of the Culture Wars? It does not make sense, unless there is something else that draws them to Mr Trump.

I can only conclude that Mr Sullivan’s article is a smokescreen, an attempt to blame the revolt of the Republican Base on Liberals in an attempt to defend the ideology of the party elite should Mr Trump prove to be an unfit candidate.

Could it be that it is another form of permissiveness that draws people to Mr Trump? What about a group of people who constantly write and speak about the dangers of political correctness in a time when a standing President of the United States has been called a liar during an official speech. I wonder what the reaction would have been to a Democrat done the same thing to a Republican. What about the Representative who sent out a series of Christmas songs called “Barrack the Magic Negro”?

In fact, if the forces of Political Correctness are so overwhelmingly powerful, then how do we explain George Zimmerman seeking to sell the gun that he used to kill Trayvon Martin? If the PC police can’t stop that, then they are hardly the force that they are made out to be.

But that’s the point, isn’t it. While the permissiveness of Mr Sullivan’s chosen ideology has certainly empowered Mr Trump, they don’t want to take responsibility for him unless he is a success. After all, they could have easily spoken out against him when he was spouting on and on about President Obama being a secret Muslim, instead they gave him the freedom to air his views at their official events and a platform on Fox news which he used to build a massive audience which was loyal to him.

They let Mr Trump infiltrate the party, ignored him while he connected with their voters, and dismissed him when he showed his power early in the race; he clearly took advantage of Republican freedoms, for good or for ill.

This one’s on you and yours, Andrew.

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One comment on “Politics & Fantasy: Plato, Trump, Andrew Sullivan, and the Defence of the System

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