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.