Tag Archives: Dishonesty

Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

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Compulsive Lying & the Republican Party

A Republican operative wrote a recent book about the party titled It Was All a Lie. I haven’t read the book, but that’s certainly an exemplary instance of “getting the headline right.”

Dishonesty almost seems like it’s an out-of-control compulsion for the Republican Party at this point, and this seems worth noting even if it may only be a footnote to the larger picture.

In the larger sense, the Republican Party committed itself to dishonesty decades ago, when a critical mass of influential figures decided that winning over majority support to their priorities was no longer a realistic prospect. David Frum has written that “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” As democracy existed and was rather broadly popular, however, Republicans’ agenda first obliged them to reject honesty about said agenda.

They did that, and have reached a point where they have rigged so many systems of power in their favor that they have done little except abuse power for a dozen years, without any evident corrective which could force them to stop. Yet they continue attempting to sustain frauds which are almost like trying to conceal something behind a plate-glass wall.

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