July 24, 2018

Why Russiagate is not McCarthyism but Know Nothing-ism

Continuing a series on Russiagaters as Know Nothings...

I get the rhetorical strategy of comparing Russiagate to McCarthyism -- to accuse liberals of participating in the kind of witch hunt that they would be decrying in its original context. Or it's just the only example that comes to mind. But analytically, to see what's going on and where things are going, it's the wrong analogy.

McCarthyism, despite its namesake, was a Democrat program when they were the dominant party (New Deal), beginning with the first of the "Un-American Activities Committees" in the House -- the McCormack-Dickstein Committee in 1934. There were only two years during "McCarthyism" when the opposition GOP controlled the WH and Congress (1953-'54).

Know Nothing-ism was not just from the opposition party, but when it was out of power in the WH and Congress. It was powerless, not dominant. Russiagate comes from the opposition party when it's shut out of the WH and Congress, also powerless rather than dominant.

McCarthyism did not split the coalition of its practitioners -- New Deal Dems held together. Know Nothing-ism split the opposition to the Jacksonian Dems. Russiagate is splitting the opposition to the Reaganite GOP.

McCarthyism came from a period of falling partisan polarization and strengthening national unity. Policing the boundaries of the bipartisan, all-American system was a sign of national cohesion -- everyone pitching in to defend Us from Them.

Know Nothing-ism came from a period of soaring polarization and national fragmentation, and so does Russiagate. Both conspiracy theories are not trying to defend a strong cohesive nation, but to cast blame for what is very obviously a weakening and fragmenting nation. Right now, as in the 1850s, there is no unified cohesive "Us" to defend -- we're on the brink of civil war, secession, etc.

McCarthyism came before the disjunctive end-of-an-era phase of its period (pre-Carter, by a longshot). Anti-communism was one of the main goals of the dominant coalition -- to preempt a socialist revolution in America by giving workers more control over their workplaces, with labor unions, and a higher standard of living so they had nothing to complain about or be envious of.

Know Nothing-ism came during the disjunctive phase of its period (Pierce), and so does Russiagate (Trump). They do not represent achieving the goals set out by the dominant coalition, but desperate last-ditch efforts by (a faction of) the opposition. This compounds with the splitting of the opposition, to prolong the disjunctive phase, delay realignment, and lead to a bigger blow-up when the regimes finally change.

The disjunctive angle also explains the witch hunt nature of Know Nothing-ism and Russiagate, a quality that McCarthyism lacks (notwithstanding that play about it). The anthropology literature on witchcraft is clear: it is invoked to explain damaging events that appear to have no rational explanation. Simplifying: it's a way to blame "bad luck" on a more concrete and identifiable enemy.

Primitive people may know that a mosquito mechanistically causes human beings to fall ill after biting them. But why did this particular person, at this particular time, get bitten and fall ill? There must be a witch somewhere who had a grudge against the victim at the time, and those bad vibes drove the mosquito to bite the victim and make them sick. This witch is a specific individual, not a vague boogeyman, and it is the job of the witch doctor to figure out precisely which individual is to blame, and to cure them of their bad vibes, so the witch does not cause further harm to the victim (or others).

For McCarthyists, there was no catastrophe that had so shocked their brains, that they pointed to a witch to blame for their bad luck. The New Deal Dems had already defeated the fascists, one of the original enemies of the Un-American Activities Committees. And since the end of WWII, there were no incursions by the Soviets into a NATO sphere of influence. The Soviets didn't invade Hungary until 1956, and by that time McCarthyism was already dying. The near nuclear war of the Cuban Missile Crisis came in 1962, after McCarthyism was collapsing. The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 did not resuscitate McCarthyism, nor did the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

And of course, as a movement by the dominant party throughout a period when they almost always held power in the WH and Congress, McCarthyism was not trying to rationalize the practitioners' fall from political power, temporary or otherwise.

Rather than a witch hunt, McCarthyism was more of an over-zealous prosecution of a truly existing threat -- Soviet spies really were infiltrating the government and other institutions, including sensitive sectors where they could betray the nation. Harry Dexter White was a senior official at the Treasury Dept, and the Rosenbergs et al were sending nuclear and other military secrets from Los Alamos. Over-zealous prosecutions can only be carried out for decades by strong coalitions, rather than weak and ineffectual coalitions.

Know Nothing-ism, however, was not a decades-long prosecution by a strong coalition, but a fleeting moral panic by a weak coalition. And it came in response to catastrophic bad luck -- the 1852 election of the disjunctive Pierce saw the opposition party wiped out of all but a few states, and the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 gave them seemingly no hope for easing sectional tensions over slavery. The Whig party utterly collapsed.

Some of its former members felt such a shock that extraordinary forces must have been at work -- it had to have been the ultra-powerful Pope and his Vatican cabal, who were brainwashing the hordes of Catholic immigrants in the US. How else do you explain how the Jacksonian Democrats keep winning outside the Deep South, where their long-term victory is rational, owing to plantation agriculture and military expansionism?

They can't keep winning Pennsylvania and the Midwest -- and in 1852, the whole Mid-Atlantic and parts of New England -- where there's no slavery. Unless, that is, some beyond-rational force is at work, possessing the minds of voters in those places. It must be the Pope mind-controlling the Catholic immigrants!

The exact same catastrophic defeat accounts for Russiagate. How long can Americans keep voting for the fucking Reagan party already? And worst of all, in 2016 Trump won over a wide swath of supposedly safe "blue wall" states in the Rust Belt -- INCONCEIVABLE. Or rather -- THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

Every time the Resistards heard about how some state or some county "hasn't voted Republican since 1972," they did not explain that rationally by Trump's massive shift on the campaign trail from the Reaganite orthodoxy. Rather, that freakishly large of a historical deviation only proved the need to appeal to beyond-rational forces.

It must have been Putin and the Kremlin "hacking the election," or sowing dissent by boosting anti-status quo figures like Trump and Bernie with their Twitter bots, to damage Hillary. How else could the Rust Belt have fallen? Just like in 1852, the shell-shocked opposition could totally understand how the dominant party won the Deep South -- but the Great Lakes? Too unbelievable -- some powerful external force must have caused that to happen.

Let's see, most of those blue states that Trump flipped had voted for Bernie in the primary (except Pennsylvania), so clearly Bernie is to blame. But he's too bumbling and powerless to cause so large of a NOT-NORMAL deviation by himself. Aha, he was the unwitting dupe or witting agent of Putin, who was keen to promote extremist figures who damaged the status quo Democrats, bla bla bla.

Bernie's blame is only partial, and he can atone for his sins by rebuking Putin when commanded by the Democrat priesthood, as he has since the hysteria began. He was only possessed by the Devil, and can regain our trust by submitting to an exorcism. The full blame lies with the Devil himself -- Putin. It is Moscow, not Burlington, that we must douse in holy napalm water in order for Saint Hillary to claim her rightful place on the throne.

This level of deep, shattered psychosis among what is supposed to be the responsible elite of the opposition party, portends further shipwrecks ahead. Just like the Know Nothings, who were the elite of the opposition party (their third party spoiler candidate in 1856 was a former president), yet who devolved into desperate paranoia to rationalize their stunning defeat. That is not the faction among the opposition party who will successfully realign the party and lead it to victory, not just as the odd stint that the opposition enjoys in the WH, but becoming the new dominant party that sets the big-picture agenda for the next 40 years.

Just like the sane faction of the opposition in the 1850s -- the abolitionist Republicans -- today's sane opposition to the Reaganites must pursue highly popular extremism rather than the widely rejected status quo-ism of the crazy opposition faction.


  1. "This level of deep, shattered psychosis among what is supposed to be the responsible elite of the opposition party, portends further shipwrecks ahead. Just like the Know Nothings, who were the elite of the opposition party (their third party spoiler candidate in 1856 was a former president)..."

    How we see them, these abusive narcissists:

    Hilarious, but this documentary-style video captures something very serious: Donald Trump might literally be the world's greatest troll, going back years, and it's no accident that such a man was elected president.
    The establishment and the media spewed propaganda and we're "full of shit," the narrator intones, and had grown aggressively serious, key word, aggressive.

  2. McCarthyism didn't blame extremism on "both sides," unlike Russiagate blaming Bernie and Trump together for creating chaos, and unlike the Know Nothings' blaming abolitionists and secessionists together for creating chaos.

    The HUAC did focus on fascists for a few years at the beginning (1934-'37), but quickly dropped that and focused exclusively on communists. Ditto the popular climate -- there was a Red Scare, without an accompanying Brownshirt Scare.

    McCarthyists thus did not act as radical centrists, but as hardliners targeting one side only. It was the Know Nothings who were the radical centrists of their day.

    Relevant because: "Undaunted Democratic Centrists Ready to Fight Trump and Bernie at Same Time".


  3. Another spin on this:

    McCarthyism was about defending a new order (post-war New Deal America). Putin-phobia/Kremlin-phobia on the other hand is clearly about prolonging an era that's way past it's sell by date (neo-liberal "triangulation" America). McCarthy's New Deal America was informed by but not slavishly indebted to 1900-1930, whereas Hillary's intended vision of America was largely copied and pasted from 1980-2010.

    Brashly propping up a failed (in the eyes of many modern voters) ideology and era is what poisons the mood and prevents needed progress from being made. And that's exactly how a civil war can be started.

  4. Thinking about it the no nothings were spot on regarding immigration for the most part and I suspect well aware of the problems the cheap labor crowd brought by allowing slavery in this country in the first place.

    As for McCarthy, he was an erratic man but as his core correct. However only actual martial law and public mass execution of known or suspected Reds would have solved the problems. This would have meant elimination of huge chunks of the elite and if even that could have been managed by some military cabal, after WWW2 the US people would not have gone for it

    On top of that the issues caused by automation would not have gone away and we'd have ended up free of Communists but also extremely 3rd world

    As for the current situation, the US is terribly fragile right now and with an aging population and a decrepit elite anything that forces a course change causes a freak out.

    Its pathetic that such a mild almost tepid reformer as President Trump would provoke this reaction by trolling basically but prosperity makes people soft and weak and the elite have done very well for many decades at the expense of the working people

    I guess the best they thought they could do is peel away enough of President Trump's support with baseless charges of collusion and immorality (c.f Stormy Weathers) to get rid of him

    Its unlikely to work well though, most of the actual Right who supports the President for good or ill knows that Russia is not an enemy, could be an ally in fact and that President Trump has higher moral standards than most rich people.

    Longer term we as nation are going to have to deal with the issue of workers incomes. If we don't we will get Communists under the guide of Democratic Socialists or worse

    That inability to move past an exploitation economy to a more distributive model is crippling the US in the longer term.

    The perfect example, we can no longer make tritium for nuclear triggers and our supply will be gone in 15 years. Its has a 12 year half life as well so we are not that far off from no loner being a nuclear power at all

    On top of that so much of our infrastructure and so many civic institutions are worthless and our inability to have a functional state means they can't recover very well.

    Where I live Southern California, the level of idiocy and incompetence here is astonishing to the degree some from Idiocracy the movie would be going "Duh, you are kinda dumb" and be right

  5. The Know Nothings were not anti-immigration, but anti-Pope. And neither of those was their main message or electoral appeal anyway -- it was radical centrism, condemning extremists "on both sides" (abolitionists and secessionists), preserving the status quo when the time was ripe for realignment.

    As the Know Nothings fell apart, they morphed into the Constitutional Union party, whose platform was simply anti-secession and neutral on slavery (AKA in favor of the status quo, pro-slavery). Immigration and the Pope were gone from their minds.

    The view of the Pope as puppet master of the Catholic immigrants was only useful for a brief while, as they tried to explain the fragmentation of the nation and the continued success of the dominant Democrat party in free states outside the South.

    Once war between the states was imminent, they dropped the pretense that the Pope was behind our domestic strife. The Know Nothings admitted that it was pro- vs. anti-slavery factions within the US itself.

    The Southern KN's took the pro-slavery side and joined the Democrats after the Civil War broke out, while the Northern KN's had already joined the anti-slavery Republicans.

    If they had been so obsessed over immigration, they wouldn't have dropped it like a hat. They were just using it to explain their electoral wipe-out, and primarily to blame a foreign leader meddling in our politics, rather than the immigrants and their effects themselves.

    It's important to see how these groups behaved in their own world, rather than latch onto a single similarity to groups today and project everything else about anti-immigration groups onto them in the past.

    The Know Nothings were not like the paleocons or immigration restrictionists of today -- they were the Russiagaters of the time.

  6. The singular thing that bothers me most about Russiagate is this:

    It's the "elites" trying to steal power away from the working stiffs in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan.

    The FBI, Intel, the MSM... they put so much stock into their Machiavellian machinations and really do believe they change outcomes.

    I don't think so*.

    But it's the educated neoliberal that bothers me the most. THIS IS NOT NORMAL! They're so used to the world catering to them, nary a word about the blue collar worker. He doesn't exist.

    *I once saw a TrueCon journo stipulate that perhaps a Berniac did leak emails to WikiLeaks in order to help Trump win.
    I thought this was such a profound misunderstanding of both why whistleblowers do what they do and that it is electorally impactful. Myself and most of the people I knew did what we did because we believed in exposing corruption and getting the truth out. If I had a magic wand and could raise people's wages, well that would impact an election, but, ha ha, whistleblowing affecting elections? I don't think so.


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