The History of the Isolationist GOP, and other topics

  • David Brooks on the history of GOP isolationism;
  • Why Trump loves Putin; Biden is aging but Trump is dementing; accelerating dementia; “languages coming into our country”; a sample rant;
  • How critical thinking might have been applied to the IVF ruling, but wasn’t; how the IVF case raises the issue of theocracy; how one senator is worried that IVF will lead to chimeras;
  • A flash of light at conception?; misuse of the word “replacement”; Fox fearmongering despite actual data showing crime is down.

One major piece today, then another batch of short items from the fringe.


The G.O.P. over this past century. Paranoid, isolationist attitudes then, paranoid, isolationist attitudes now.

NY Times, David Brooks, 29 Feb 2024: The G.O.P. Returns to Its Bad Old Self [gift link, free to nonsubscribers]

Even from my fragmentary education in US history in high school (no single course, but a variety of optional 10-week courses on particular subjects; an experiment in non-traditional learning — back in 1971!), I understood that the US went through an isolationist period, with many people unwilling to intervene in World War I, or even World War II. But I didn’t realize it was driven by the same kind of mindset that is driving the current Republican party.

Brooks recalls Warren Buffett’s father, Howard Buffett,

a four-term Republican congressman from Nebraska. He seems to have been a very good father, but his political worldview was predicated on a deep pessimism. He was so convinced that federal spending was ruining the country that he bought a farm so that his family could feed itself while everyone else starved. He predicted that all government bonds would soon be worthless and bought his daughters gold jewelry so that they would have something of value after the dollar became worthless.

His pessimism manifested itself politically in several ways. First, an intense distrust of elites and a penchant for conspiratorial thinking. He believed that Franklin Roosevelt and George Marshall had secretly maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor in order to drag the United States into war. Second, intense isolationism. A nation on the road to ruin could not afford to be active internationally. Third, political rigidity. He refused to compromise or negotiate with the Democrats, who he thought were destroying the country. He was more willing to lose in Congress in order to make a point than to cut a deal.

Really sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s what Republicans are doing again today. [[ Broad issue: there is and will always be a conservative portion of any population, in any country, that will espouse similar policies. ]] Brooks says that that version of the Republican party ended in 1952, with Dwight Eisenhower (at which point Howard Buffett refused to endorse Eisenhower and joined the John Birch Society — an extreme right wing group familiar when I grew up, likely unknown to young people today).

Then Brooks (a conservative himself) claims that Ronald Reagan

transformed the G.O.P. from an anxious, inward-looking party into a confident, outward-facing one. He and his internationalist successors believed that the only way to prevent more world wars was to build a multilateral democratic world order. They had the confidence to believe America could lead such an order.

Well; I don’t know if all of us would agree. Anyway, his point is

It turns out that some political tendencies never really die; they just lie dormant for a few decades, waiting for the emotional mood to change. It’s conventional to say that Trump destroyed the postwar Republican establishment. That’s not quite right. The Tea Party’s extreme disgust with the course of American life was already flowing by 2009. The Pew Research Center detected a surge in American isolationism back in 2013. In 2004 only 8 percent of Republicans thought the United States’ power in world affairs was declining. By 2013, after Iraq and Afghanistan, 74 percent of Republicans thought American was in decline. By 2021, nearly a third of Republicans thought violence might be necessary to save America.

Which is to say: human nature does not change. Utopian visions are likely fantasies; they will always be undermined by the reactionaries that come with human nature. And history is a see-saw between progressive and regressive policies — though over the long term (as should be obvious to everyone) the progressives win the long run. Brooks’ piece ends:

People often say that history is a battle of ideas, but sometimes it is just a succession of moods. It was a culture of pessimism — Trump’s belief that we’re living in an era of “American carnage” — that restored the old G.O.P., not any set of arguments. America has a dazzling economy and dominant military strength. Military spending as a percentage of G.D.P. is dangerously close to its postwar low. But the Republicans apparently lack the self-confidence to believe they can improve the world, or the willpower to substantially try.

Now Mitch McConnell, a child of the Eisenhower-Reagan party, is stepping back. Nikki Haley is cruising toward defeat. Congress may pass a Ukraine aid package, but it will be mostly because of Democratic votes, not Republican ones. The postwar G.O.P. is heaving its last breaths.

Some of my friends believe that after Trump the showman is off the stage, the future of the G.O.P. will be up for grabs. I disagree. Today’s Republicanism has deep roots in American history. I suspect the post-Trump Republicans will be just as inward-looking, but drab and defeatist, without the Trumpian razzle dazzle. Howard Buffett would feel at home.


Other topics.


The Atlantic, Franklin Foer, 1 Mar 2024: The Real Reason Trump Loves Putin, subtitled “A new book explores the American right’s tendency to admire and want to emulate foreign dictators.”

Again, my take: the right doesn’t really believe in democracy; they believe in a tribal morality where males (now white, Christian males) are in charge and everyone else is subservient to them. The United States was a nice experiment, but its ideals of equality have given way to inescapable tribal (MAGA) morality.


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 23 Feb 2024: Dr. John Gartner on a tale of two brains: “Biden’s brain is aging. Trump’s brain is dementing”, subtitled “‘This is a fundamental breakdown in the ability to use language,’ the renowned mental health expert says of Trump”

And (more from the same interview, apparently)

Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 1 Mar 2024: “Like someone pulled the metaphorical plug”: Dr. John Gartner on Trump’s “accelerating dementia”, subtitled “‘Trump looks blank, stops in mid-sentence (or mid-word), his jaw goes a little slack'”

This will be a hoot if Trump actually gets re-elected. Then the whole world will see what only those at his rallies are seeing now.


Salon, Igor Derysh, 1 Mar 2024: “Conjured out of thin air”: CNN calls out bizarre Trump lie about “people who don’t speak languages”, subtitled “‘We have languages coming into our country. We have nobody that even speaks those languages,’ Trump ranted”


USA Today, 1 Mar 2024: Want to know how weird Donald Trump is? Just read this transcript., subtitled “Voters should be fully aware of how much worse and how much more bizarre former President Donald Trump has gotten after losing an election and living with the pressure of myriad legal issues.”

Too often, the things Trump says in rallies and in campaign videos gets truncated into short clips or quick quotes. That sanitizes the rambling nuttiness of his drawn-out, self-obsessed, always-aggrieved soliloquies.

Here, in all its oddness, is Trump’s full response to this grave and important issue:

“The radical left Democrats are at it again. They’re constantly making up stories about me because their candidate is a mental and physical basket case. There’s never been anything like it. He’s also the worst president in the history of our country. He went on a very poorly rated show last night, and he talked about Donald Trump and his wife, I don’t know the name of my wife.”

The link goes to a page on Truth Social, where I do not have an account. Note, yet again, how obsessed he is with ratings.



Only Sky, Jonathan MS Pearce, 1 Mar 2024: IVF ruling: When courts skip critical thinking

The recent IVF ruling shows scant regard for some rudimentary philosophizing we can do. The Justice needs some critical thinking lessons.

I’ve always noticed that the law, unlike science, is bound by precedent — even from hundreds of years ago! — and thus unable to change its mind, so to speak, based on evidence.

The writer present three scenarios about burning buildings with embryos inside, discusses them. Then he makes a key point that I keep repeating here: the world is not black and white, but conservatives want to make it that way.

What these thought experiments seek to show is that equating an embryo to a human being or a child is fraught with philosophical issues. The obvious point is that there is no like-for-like equivalence. As with many things in philosophy, there is a continuum of change here. From separate egg and sperm to fertilized egg, from embryo to fetus, from birthed baby to infant, from toddler to child, from adolescent to adult, from pensioner to comatose centenarian, there are differences of category that are delineated by somewhat arbitrary lines for reasons of practical value. Human beings love to categorize, but in order to categorize, we need distinct categories. Yet, these categories don’t exist out there in the ether. Rather, we have to invent those categories ourselves. And we don’t always agree on the demarcation or the criteria for such a line being drawn.

Unfortunately, humans don’t particularly like it when there are no clear-cut objective answers for questions that they have or problems that they come across. And so, all too simplistically, we often lump different entities into the same category because grey areas are too complicated, or we don’t have time to sit down and philosophize.

The item at that link is interesting too. He concludes this article:

Part of the reason we have courts is to arbitrate on these difficult matters. But when those courts are filled with people with such strong ideological biases that they cannot think critically, then we arrive at points like this. One could argue that the decision to let theological ideology underwrite jurisprudence is to forsake the application of critical thinking.

This is, of course, consistent with all my previous remarks about how conservatives, and the religious, are beholden to ideology, and resist critical thinking. They know what they know.


NY Times, Linda Greenhouse guess essay, 29 Feb 2024: Let’s Thank the Alabama Supreme Court

I never thought I’d be grateful to the Alabama Supreme Court for anything, but now I am. With its decision deeming frozen embryos to be children under state law, that all-Republican court has done the impossible. It has awakened the American public, finally, to the peril of the theocratic future toward which the country has been hurtling.


Mediaite, 29 Feb 2024: Senator Sounds Alarm on Threat of ‘Human-Animal Chimeras’ in Blocking Bill Designed to Protect IVF Treatment

So, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), IVF has been around for years and years. Where are all the chimera you’re suddenly so worried about?


More ignorant wackos

Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist, 29 Feb 2024: GOP lawmaker pushes anti-abortion propaganda bill with scientific, antisemitic lies, subtitled “Among other things, WV State Sen. Mike Azinger falsely claimed there’s a ‘flash of light’ at conception thanks to God”

A lawmaker from West Virginia called evolution a “quickly dying theory,” claimed that there’s a “flash of light” the moment sperm meets egg which amounts to a sign from God, and insisted that all Jews believe life begins at the moment of conception.

No it isn’t; no there isn’t; no they don’t. The article does explain where he got the idea about the flash of light.


Joe.My.God, 1 Mar 2024: Charlie Kirk: Democrats Are Replacing “Rural Whites”

I thought it was immigrants who were replacing whites in America? And no, New York and San Francisco are not falling apart.

“The great replacement strategy, which is well underway every single day in our southern border, is a strategy to replace white rural America with something different.”

Is he (and the others who claim this) literate? “Replaced”? Who’s being replaced? He makes it sound like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where one day a white family is living next door, and the next, they’ve been replaced by immigrants from Venezuela. Or worse, Democrats!


On a related note,

Media Matters, 29 Feb 2024: Fox News’ attempt to manufacture a Biden crime crisis runs into a problem: Violent crime is down, subtitled “A case study in how Fox uses anecdote-based fearmongering to undermine actual crime data”

Yet again: reality conflicts with right-wing ideology.

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