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.

Whitey on Mars: Elon Musk and the rise of Silicon Valley’s strange trickle-down science

Musk’s plan to colonise Mars is a sign of an older and recurring social problem. What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns? Musk wants to innovate and leave Earth, rather than to take care of it, or fix it, and stay. Like so many of his peers in the innovating and disrupting classes, Musk prefers to dwell in fantasy and science fiction, safely removed from the world of here and now. Musk is a utopian, in the original Greek meaning: ‘no place’. Repulsed by the world we all share, he dreams of a place that does not exist.

.. Before his death, King had turned his political activism toward the problems of economic inequality and poverty. Abernathy stayed with this focus, and continued to organise people around addressing economic issues for black and white Americans. In July 1969, with the Apollo 11 launch, Abernathy saw an opportunity to keep economic justice on the nation’s conscience. He announced a march to Cape Canaveral in Florida, the rocket launch site.

.. Abernathy told NASA officials, as one of them recalled: ‘The money for the space program should be spent to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, and house the shelterless.’

.. Abernathy’s insight about the priorities of a country that could send men into space while millions of Americans lacked medical care, shelter and food found a new voice in Gil Scott-Heron.

.. US adventures into outer space – white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships – captivated popular attention and support in ways that urban poverty did not. Americans continued to send their tax revenues to the heavens.

.. US adventures into outer space – white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships – captivated popular attention and support in ways that urban poverty did not. Americans continued to send their tax revenues to the heavens.

.. His parents divorced when he was young, leaving Musk to be raised by his abusive father. The boy developed the habit of detaching from reality and entering a dreamlike space of imagination. Later, he would envision new technologies in this state. As a child, he was known as a spaced-out nerd who corrected his peers’ mistakes. He was bullied. By his teen years, Musk fantasised about escaping South Africa for the US. After he graduated from high school in 1989, he followed through on these dreams, leaving behind his impoverished and racially divided country.

.. From his early days in business, Musk developed a reputation for harshness. He chastised one employee who missed a company event to be at the birth of his child: ‘You need to figure out where your priorities are. We’re changing the world and changing history, and you either commit or you don’t.’

.. Musk himself admits that, in his early years as a leader, he assumed that ‘other people will behave like you’. He grew frustrated when he realised that people didn’t behave like him. He lacked a natural ability to empathise with other people’s experiences and points of view.

.. For all its ideals and the great possibilities inherent in them, Tesla remains a company that makes toys for rich people.

.. Musk insists that humans in fact ‘need’ to go to Mars. The Mars mission, he argues, is the best way for humanity to become what he calls a ‘space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species’. This otherworldly venture, he says, is necessary to mitigate the ‘existential threat’ from artificial intelligence (AI) that might wipe out human life on Earth.

.. The idea that Google’s CEO Larry Page might create artificially intelligent robots that will destroy humanity reportedly keeps Musk up at night. ‘I’m really worried about this,’ Musk told his biographer. ‘He could produce something evil by accident.’

.. Musk estimates the cost of the Mars mission at around $10 billion per person. His goal is to reduce that cost to $200,000 per person. He said this would allow ‘almost anyone’ to save up and buy a trip to Mars.

.. For $1.5 billion, we could upgrade the lead-contaminated water infrastructure in Flint, Michigan; for $400 billion, we could repair the water infrastructure of the entire US. It’s jarring to think that one of the brightest minds of our age would rather fund 40 trips to Mars than keep children in his own country safe from poisoned water. It’s enough to make one wonder what led Musk to develop such contempt for the billions of humans who could never escape Earth.

.. ‘The idea that Mars will somehow save us from the decisions we’ve made is a false one.’ If we ‘truly believe in our ability to bend the hostile environments of Mars for human habitation, then we should be able to surmount the far easier task of preserving the habitability of the Earth.

.. In his September 2016 announcement, he declared that a fully self-sustaining civilisation on Mars would need around 1 million people. From Earth’s current population of 7.125 billion, the Musk Million would bring 0.014035087719298244 per cent of it to Mars.

.. If Musk prefers the planetary scale of action, he could lead people to preserve our single planetary resource, also known as Earth, the only planet we will probably ever have. Even on Musk’s own optimistic terms, his adolescent space fantasies will benefit only 0.014 per cent of humanity. He makes the politicians who serve the 1 per cent seem like communists.

.. Quite simply, why not address the existential problems facing our society and our fellow humans directly? We don’t need trickle-down science.

.. The moral detachment of the plan signifies a deeper pathology that afflicts our culture of innovation, and celebrates innovators such as Musk, who are all too eager to play with gadgets and leave their fellow humans behind.