When a group of House Republicans staged a protest and barged into the secure rooms of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning, claiming that the testimony being collected there about possible criminality and abuse of power by President Trump constituted a “Soviet-style process” that “should not be allowed in the United States,” Americans were witnessing perhaps the clearest example yet of the GOP’s embrace of gonzo politics.
Until recently the gonzo style was confined to an edgy form of muckraking quasi-journalism. When it dealt with public figures, including those involved with politics, it invariably sought to make them the butt of a joke. But in the digital age, this has changed — and interestingly, the change has taken place almost exclusively on the right, where a gonzo style of politics has migrated from alt-right “news” websites to the political arena. It has since taken root and flourished in the richly fertilized soil of the Trump presidency.
To grasp what’s distinctive about the gonzo style of politics, we first need to clarify what it isn’t.
“Normal” politics involves politicians and other public figures articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good. It presumes that all of us share a reality of truth and facts and that it’s possible to determine the best way to order that common life. The partisan clashes we associate with normal politics emerge from the fact that different classes and factions within the polity disagree about the public good and what it demands and requires. This clash of views prompts citizens to make arguments and deploy rhetorical appeals in order to persuade the greatest possible number of people to join one side in the conflict against the others. The tacit expectation of normal politics is that this debate will be conducted in good faith.
President Trump is in serious trouble. He and his closest advisers have admitted to impeachable actions. Others have testified to statements and behavior that incriminate him further. That makes mounting a defense of him in terms of publicly accepted standards of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, extremely difficult if not impossible. Yet the president is demanding a defense regardless, and members of his party have volunteered to go along by play-acting indignation and spouting indisputable lies.
Damon Linker. The “gonzo” adjective is inspired and illuminating. I even think it could be said that Trump’s is a “gonzo Presidency.” You really need to read Linker’s full column.
The utter disregard for truth in favor of what will preserve or expand power is a true deathwork.
I am aware that the Democrats, too, are power-seekers (toward ends whose toxicity, as I view the world, prevents my becoming a Democrat, too), but that’s a given in politics. It is the GOP’s abandonment of the norms of normal politics (chiefly “articulating principles and proposing policies to advance a normative vision of the public good;” the GOP chiefly exists to tear down what Obama built — for reasons they can’t or won’t articulate in terms of the public good they’ll replace it with) that distinguishes it as deeply toxic.
Final thought. As I was preparing to post this, I noted my new footer/epilogue. It strikes me that this may be young progressives’ version of gonzo politics:
This is the competitive advantage of the young—that they can so readily assimilate the ever-expanding list of shibboleths and forbidden expressions. Mock horror is the next generation’s form of rent-seeking, and political correctness the younger players’ edge.
Abigail Shrier, Ken Fisher, Joe Biden and the Merciless Young. I deplore it, too, but I’m too pissed at the GOP, my former party, to assert or deny equivalency.
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