Climate Change Denial as the Historical Consciousness of Trumpism: Lessons from Carl Schmitt

Of all the errors made today by liberals—I use the term broadly—our most fundamental has been our underestimation of Trumpism as a philosophical movement.

We have no trouble loathing Donald Trump the man. His temperament and political impulses are self-evidently those of an authoritarian, straight from the pages of Adorno or Hayek. Likewise, our criticism of his administration’s misguided policies has been ever at the ready.

.. Trumpism is well on the road to becoming a systematic program of ideas that will carefully refine its views through praxis and—allied with anti-liberal movements elsewhere in the world, especially in Russia—articulate a new, fundamental challenge to liberal thought for the twenty-first century.

.. History as

  • heritage and nostalgia—#MAGA. History as
  • reverence and fidelity—Straussianism and constitutional originalism. History as a
  • philosophy of action—embodied in the novels of Trump’s intellectual precursor, Newt Gingrich. History as
  • racial melancholy—Charlottesville. History as a resource of trans-historical Germanic mythology—the masculinist branches of the alt-right. History as
  • conspiracy—Infowars, #fakenews, and the “rigged” political system. History as
  • providence and decay—the implicit revival of Jacksonian-era romantic nationalism, with its narrative scaffolding of dwindling popular sovereignty.

.. Stephen Bannon’s philosophy of generational change, about which I’ve written elsewhere,

  • a toxic blend of Toynbee and Jung—history as
  • a cycle of apocalypse and renewal.

.. climate change denial grows logically from the core metaphysical commitments of contemporary populist nationalism in its confrontation with trans-Atlantic, cosmopolitan, individualist liberalism.

.. one might thus regard it as the distinctive form of anti-liberal historical thinking of our era.

.. it’s helpful to turn to the work of a thinker whose writings, it’s been suggested (and here), underwrite the movement’s “intellectual source code”: the German constitutional theorist Carl Schmitt (1888-1985).

.. On Schmitt’s view, liberal states are weak and vulnerable, subject to corrosion from within—through capture by private interest groups—and conquest from abroad.

.. a political community arises when its members coalesce around some aspect of their common existence. On this basis, they distinguish between their “friends” and “enemies,” the latter of whom they are ultimately prepared to fight and kill to defend their way of life.

.. A political community, that is, is created through an animating sense of common identity and existential threat

.. Schmitt believes that this pugilistic view of politics rings true as a conceptual matter, but he also regards drawing the friend-enemy distinction as a quasi-theological duty and part of what it means to be fully human.

.. Without the friend-enemy distinction, he argues, political life would vanish, and without it something essential to humanity would vanish

.. This gives Schmittianism, like the Bannon-affiliated elements of Trumpism, a family affinity to traditionalism in Russia

.. Enemies are regularly portrayed as ugly, for instance—a practice at which Trump personally excels.

.. But the object of a community’s political dissociation is made on the basis of criteria independent from judgments about good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or profit and loss.

.. the liberal effort to circumscribe national sovereignty within universalist legal and moral criteria increases the possibility of total war.

.. Trump acts in full accord with Schmitt in this respect by praising Vladimir Putin and embracing autocratic Russia as a potential friend while snubbing liberal nations of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

.. at the heart of Trump’s campaign was the promise to territorialize the friend-enemy distinction, namely to build a “great wall” along the border between the United States and Mexico

.. That spirit is one not simply of xenophobia or ethnocentrism, but also, and perhaps most of all, of shared laughter and good humor—a spirit, it’s essential for liberals to acknowledge, of warm community.

.. As Stephen Miller bracingly put the matter, in a statement nearly incomprehensible on liberal terms, “We’re going to build that wall, and we’re going to build it out of love.”

.. on Schmitt’s view, those nations that are strong enough to impose their own internal political homogeneity ought to ally with each other against nations and groups that undermine the territorialization of the friend-enemy distinction.

By this logic, it’s not Russia so much as violent Islamic extremism and cosmopolitan trans-Atlanticism that represent America’s true enemies—and, in fact, Russia can be an important ally against both.

.. Much like extreme conservative positions on gun control, climate change denial is based above all in anti-liberal metaphysical and identity commitments.

.. Although scientists have a forty-year track record of accurately predicting rising global temperatures, climate change deniers insist that such findings are the product of self-serving business elites and cunning foreign economic competitors who stand to gain if America reduces carbon emissions.

This sociological critique of scientific knowledge is a position not of evidentiary skepticism but rather of radical epistemological relativism. Deniers essentially challenge the Enlightenment position that the past is subject to objective understanding and that the world is amenable to rational human control.

This lends the popular culture of climate change denial a palpable spirit of historical fatalism.

..  climate change denial is animated by a vision of the future that, at bottom, is that of neo-tribalism.

.. It is destabilizing the territorial boundaries of the world through rising sea levels, altering the very land from which, in Schmitt’s view, the nomos of a people originally grows

.. it is undermining the spatial boundaries that Schmitt deems essential to sovereignty by putting the export of negative externalities at the center of global concern

.. Deniers interpret climate history in a way that obscures the existence of a global political community

.. In doing so, they not only embrace what I’ve called “the rule of the clan” at the level of the modern state, they also reject sotto voce the liberal ideals of universalism and individualism.

.. Trumpism draws together for our own time the core ideals of politics and the state that Carl Schmitt placed at the center of his philosophical vision. These include

  1. an animating community spirit that combines pugilism with love,
  2. an existential embrace of the friend-enemy distinction,
  3. a conception of state sovereignty as inviolable,
  4. the need to territorialize and homogenize the political community, and the rejection of the liberalist international order

—all in the service of a unified, common people.

 

Trump Is Right about the NFL Protests 

GOP powerbrokers worry that inability to deliver while in full control of government will enrage the grassroots and depress turnout of a broader electorate that could wonder what’s the point of reelecting a Republican House and Senate.”

.. They hear us talk all day about our principles as if we’re going to solve the problems we have via some kind of discussion among gentlemen. Meanwhile, the liberal response is “You’re a Nazi, and you shouldn’t be allowed to have a job unless you agree with us.” We’re trying to win theoretical victories for our principles, but the Left is fighting to win in the real world — and they are coming out on top in the cultural wars with ease. The very fact that we’re even having this debate about the NFL (remember when sports was where you went to get away from politics?) tells you who’s winning.

.. You want to be a conservative and have run-of-the-mill political beliefs? Then you’d better work somewhere that’s friendly to conservatives, or you might end up like James Damore at Google, Brandon Eich at Mozilla, or even Curt Schilling at ESPN.

.. We may not want to fight a culture war, but the reality is that a culture war is being fought against people like us every day whether we like it or not, and the NFL has chosen to be part of that.

A lot of conservatives are tired of the double standard. They just want to watch an NFL game or a movie without having liberal politics slammed down their throat. They’re disgusted by the fact that they’re treated like dirt by corporations like the NFL, ESPN, Apple, and Starbucks while liberalism is openly embraced. Of course, from a pure business perspective, it’s almost hard to blame the companies. If conservatives are always going to defend these corporations and say, “Thank you, Sir; may I have another?” when they smack us around because of our principles, while liberals demand special treatment, it makes all the sense in the world for them to cater to liberals.

.. go take a look at the Facebook fan pages of NFL teams from Monday. Very few of these teams have ever experienced a backlash like this. If you care about an increasingly liberal culture that seems to be going haywire, their bad day because of Trump is a good thing.

.. Getting back to the job question, I’m glad Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have one, and I would love to see NFL players fired for kneeling, because liberals don’t care about our arguments or our principles. They only care about the possibility that they might be on the receiving end of the same treatment they give us. Let liberals start getting fired for their views and they may start having some second thoughts. If they don’t, we’re just evening the playing field, because they’re already firing conservatives for their views.

.. This is an issue that matters to an awful lot of Americans, not just because of the disrespect shown to our country, but also because it’s symbolic of how liberalism has been allowed to spread unchecked through our culture. If Trump’s rants and tweets get more Americans to do something about it, then he has done a good thing.

Right-Wing Books, Wrong Answers

Dinesh D’Souza’s “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” is a jujitsu exercise that argues that only Donald Trump’s G.O.P. can “denazify” a U.S.A. in thrall to liberal totalitarianism.

.. But the two books are also sometimes weirdly similar, making them respectable and disreputable embodiments of the same crisis in the right-wing mind.

.. For Flake, as for many Republican critics of the current president, Goldwater-to-Reagan conservatism is the true faith that Trump has profaned, to which the right must return

.. His imagined G.O.P. would no longer need to “ascribe the absolute worst motives” to liberals, “traffic in outlandish conspiracy theories,” or otherwise engage in the kind of demagogy that informs, well, Dinesh D’Souza’s recent work.

.. But because D’Souza has become a hack, even his best material basically just rehashes Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” from 10 years ago, and because D’Souza has become a professional deceiver, what he adds are extraordinary elisions, sweeping calumnies and laughable leaps.

.. To pick just one example: It would be nonsense at any juncture to argue that because famed Indian-fighter Andrew Jackson was a Democrat and the Nazis admired the expulsion of the Indians, contemporary Democrats are basically Nazis. To make the argument during a Republican presidency that has explicitly laid claim to Andrew Jackson even as Democrats disavow Old Hickory is so bizarre that the term “big lie” might be usefully applied.

.. the senator and the demagogue both think that conservatives need to … cut social programs in order to cut taxes on the rich.

.. So long as they are not broken, the G.O.P. has two options. It can follow Flake’s lead and be a high-minded party of small-government principle, disavowing bigotry and paranoia — and it will lose elections

.. Or it can follow D’Souza’s lead (and Trump’s, now that his populist agenda seems all-but-dead) and wrap unpopular economic policies in wild attacks on liberalism. With this combination, the Republican Party can win elections, at least for now — not because most Americans can be persuaded that liberals are literally Nazis, but because liberalism’s intolerant and utopian tendencies make people fear the prospect of granting progressives political power to match their cultural hegemony.

Winning this way is a purely negative achievement for the right, a recipe for failed governance extending years ahead.

.. leaders and activists and donors to have an intellectual epiphany, and to realize that the way up from Trumpism requires rethinking the policieswhere Jeff Flake and Dinesh D’Souza find a strange sort of common ground.

Trump is Sarah Palin but better at it

Palin remains critical: to a faction of the Republican Party, and to understanding the emergence of Donald Trump and Trumpism — the ideology created by the president’s most ardent supporters, though not necessarily by the president himself.

.. From the moment Palin entered the national scene, the praise for her on the right was heavily tied to her image.

.. Kathleen Parker said of her initial interest in Palin: “She was the antithesis and nemesis of the hirsute, Birkenstock-wearing sisterhood — a refreshing feminist of a different order who personified the modern successful working mother.”

Nowhere in the piece were Palin’s conservative viewpoints referenced; her views on, say, health care or school choice, or even abortion, went unmentioned. Palin’s problem, in Parker’s view, wasn’t her beliefs but her tendency to ramble. What mattered about the governor was what she could reflect back to a hungry Republican base: an “attractive, earnest [and] confident” woman in a position of power.

.. Palin said what the base was thinking.

  • She accused Barack Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”
  • She praised those willing to “screw the political correctness.” She cheered the birther movement promoted by one Donald Trump.
  • As the keynote speaker at the first-ever National Tea Party Convention in February 2010, she taunted Democrats, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out?”

.. Palin was an avatar for how her supporters felt about themselves and the world they wanted to see, one they saw rapidly slipping away from them. Sure, she might be wrong, they seemed to say, but she’s like us. She is us.

.. her departure left an opening that was filled by Trump

.. Trump campaigned on the Palin model. In fact, he improved upon it. His identity was his trademark, rendering the constant shifts in policy goals and promises almost meaningless. His base saw in Trump what they wanted to see.

  • .. Some saw a fighter who would stand up for them,
  • others saw a vaunted truth-teller,
  • and a few, truth be told, likely saw a potential white-nationalist hero.

And he gave it to them: the image, the veneer, the blank slate upon which their deeply held dreams

..His fans weren’t dissuaded by
  • his past support for Democrats (including his 2016 opponent),
  • or his lies,
  • or his personal liberalism,
  • or his crudeness,
  • or his long history of mistreating small-business owners of the kind he claimed to champion,
because his fans weren’t voting for Trump. They were voting for what Trump meant to them personally.
.. his base will not leave him, because to abandon Trump would not be to abandon the current president but to leave behind deeply held beliefs of their own.
.. His popularity is cultural, not political, resilient to the notions of truth and fiction and to Trump’s own failures.