Our great death struggle

Don’t go anywhere near the New York Times OpEd page on the internet today if you think there absolutely, categorically, no relation between Donald Trump and domestic terrorism. Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Michelle Goldberg, David Leonhart, and Charles Blow all weigh in, and I thought only Blow blew it in the quotability category.

David Brooks is analytical. Do not dismiss all these shooters as “failsons”, pimple-faced denizens of their moms’ basements. They can have a pretty darned sophisticated worldview, akin to Jihadi terrorists, who also are trying to spark conflagration:

Many of today’s mass murderers write manifestoes. They are not killing only because they’ve been psychologically damaged by trauma. They’re not killing only because they are pathetically lonely and deeply pessimistic about their own lives. They are inspired to kill by a shared ideology, an ideology that they hope to spread through a wave of terror.

The clearest expression of that ideology was written by the man charged with a killing spree in Christchurch, New Zealand. His manifesto has been cited by other terrorists; the suspect in this weekend’s El Paso mass shooting cited it in his own manifesto.

It’s not entirely what you’d expect. At one point its author writes about his travels around the world: “Everywhere I travelled, barring a few small exceptions, I was treated wonderfully, often as a guest and even as a friend. The varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion, and I very much enjoyed nearly every moment I spent with them.”

The ideology he goes on to champion is highly racial, but it’s not classic xenophobia or white supremacy. It’s first feature is essentialism …

The second feature is separatism …

The third feature is racial Darwinism. Races are locked in a Darwinian struggle in which they try to out-reproduce their rivals. Currently, the black and brown races are stronger than the white race and are on the verge of obliterating it through invasion.

Immigrants, the Christchurch suspect wrote, come “from a culture with higher fertility rates, higher social trust and strong robust traditions that seek to occupy my peoples lands and ethnically replace my own people.”

If we allow them into our country, brown immigrants will overwhelm whites just as Europeans overwhelmed the Native Americans centuries ago. As the El Paso suspect put it, “The natives didn’t take the invasion of Europeans seriously, and now what’s left is just a shadow of what was.” Immigration is white replacement. Immigration is white genocide.

This is not an ideology that rises out of white self-confidence but rather white insecurity.

(Emphasis added)

Note the implied link: “Everywhere I travelled, barring a few small exceptions, I was treated wonderfully, often as a guest and even as a friend. The varied cultures of the world greeted me with warmth and compassion, and I very much enjoyed nearly every moment I spent with them.” And they could do so (damn them!) because they have cultural self-confidence — high fertility, high social trust and robust traditions — that we lack.

They’re not entirely wrong about our relative lack of confidence. Try to get a copy of the Manifesto and you’ll find that mere possession of it is criminal in, for instance, New Zealand.

Brooks’ counter — a hymn to pluralism — sounds just a little too much like whistling past the graveyard, but I’ll give him credit for this introduction to his hymn:

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It)

Michelle Goldberg is directly damning, and not just of Trump and Republicans:

A decade ago, Daryl Johnson, then a senior terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report about the growing danger of right-wing extremism in America. Citing economic dislocation, the election of the first African-American president and fury about immigration, he concluded that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

When the report leaked, conservative political figures sputtered with outrage, indignant that their ideology was being linked to terrorism. The report warned, correctly, that right-wing radicals would try to recruit disgruntled military veterans, which conservatives saw as a slur on the troops. Homeland Security, cowed, withdrew the document. In May 2009, Johnson’s unit, the domestic terrorism team, was disbanded, and he left government the following year.

This past weekend, … a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.

Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter …

It’s true that the Obama White House, giving in to Republican intimidation, didn’t do enough to combat violent white supremacy. But Trump rolled back even his predecessor’s modest efforts, while bringing the language of white nationalism into mainstream politics. His administration canceled Obama-era grants to groups working to counter racist extremism. Dave Gomez, a former F.B.I. supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases, told The Washington Post that the agency hasn’t been as aggressive as it might be against the racist right because of political concerns. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation for the F.B.I. agent or supervisor.”

(Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism) I had forgotten the Homeland Security débâcle.

David Leonhart turns the tables on a mostly-conservative trope:

[L]iberal America also has violent and deranged people, like the man who shot at Republican members of Congress playing softball in 2017. Some Democratic politicians have also occasionally lapsed into ugly, violent rhetoric and suggested they want to punch their political opponents.

But it’s folly to pretend that the problem is symmetrical. Mainstream conservative politicians use the rhetoric of physical violence much more often, starting with the current president of the United States. And right-wing extremists have a culture of violence unlike anything on the left. Its consequences are fatal, again and again.

Over the years, Republicans have sometimes called on Muslim leaders to ask themselves why their religion has produced a disproportionate share of the world’s terrorist attacks — and to do something about the situation. I’d urge those Republicans to take their own advice. Right-wing terrorism is killing far more Americans these days than Islamist terrorism.

(Conservatism Has a Violence Problem)

I thought Leonhart was a fitting ending, but as a reviewed this blog, I concluded that punchy and evocative (how else but by evocation does one write about nothingism — nihilism?) Ross Douthat needed to get the final penultimate word (reserving a final whimper for myself) because Douthat makes it clear why today’s Republican party cannot respond to Leonhart’s call:

There really is a dark psychic force generated by Trump’s political approach, which from its birther beginnings has consistently encouraged and fed on a fevered and paranoid form of right-wing politics, and dissolved quarantines around toxic and dehumanizing ideas. And the possibility that Trump’s zest for demonization can feed a demonic element in the wider culture is something the many religious people who voted for the president should be especially willing to consider.

But the connection between the president and the young men with guns extends beyond Trump’s race-baiting to encompass a more essential feature of his public self — which is not the rhetoric or ideology that he deploys, but the obvious moral vacuum, the profound spiritual black hole, that lies beneath his persona and career.

[T]his is what really links Trump to all these empty male killers, white nationalists and pornogrind singers alike. Like them he is a creature of our late-modern anti-culture, our internet-accelerated dissolution of normal human bonds. Like them he plainly believes in nothing but his ego, his vanity, his sense of spite and grievance, and the self he sees reflected in the mirror of television, mass media, online.

… It’s not as if you could carve away his race-baiting and discover a healthier populism instead, or analyze him the way you might analyze his more complex antecedents, a Richard Nixon or a Ross Perot. To analyze Trump is to discover only bottomless appetite and need, and to carve at him is like carving at an online troll: The only thing to discover is the void.

… [T]he dilemma that conservatives have to confront is that you can chase this cultural problem all the way down to its source in lonely egomania and alienated narcissism, and you’ll still find Donald Trump’s face staring back to you.

(The Nihilist in Chief)

The immediate Republican response to Leonhart should be denying Trump even the nomination for 2020 (maybe even joining the impeachment Democrats), but that’s not going to happen. The GOP has no Frodo willing to take on Saruman.

The struggle between pluralism and antipluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.

(Brooks, supra)

If I admit some ambivalence, so long as the antipluralism is rigorously nonviolent, both physically and rhetorically, will you think I’m a monster? Read Brooks’ hymn to pluralism (not quoted) and see if you find it completely satisfying.*

But why should the burden be on pluralism to justify itself? Any sudden swing to antipluralism would be, by virtue of the adjective “sudden,” an un-conservative and radical departure from the pluralism we’ve been aspiring to (and succeeding at to a degree). The conservative default is against fixing what isn’t broke, and fixing very carefully what may be.

I could probably go on tweaking this all day and all night, but I’m going to publish and then try to leave it alone.

* UPDATE: Damon Linker was as underwhelmed by Brooks’ hymn to pluralism as I was, but offers a via media between pluralism-as-overweaning-ideology and anti-pluralism-as-insurrection.

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