Against the Politics of Fear

This is a confession.

In the last few days, I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments asking me why I seem, in my Facebook posts and tweets, to downplay the threat of Trump. Why I resist the comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, why I emphasize the continuities between Trump and previous Republicans, why I insist on attending to the fractures and cleavages within his coalition.

Now, of course, nothing I say is meant to downplay the threat at all; it’s all designed to get us to see it more clearly (clearly, of course, by my lights), and while I don’t see my posts or tweets primarily or even secondarily as organizing tools, I’d like to think they give us some potential sense of leverage over the situation. But let me not get too fancy or fussy in my response; let me simply take this criticism head on.

There are a lot of academic, intellectual, and scholarly reasons I could cite for why I say what I say about Trump, and you probably know them all, and they’re all relevant and important. But there is, I recognize, something deeper going on for me. And that is that I am fundamentally allergic to the politics of fear. That term is complicated (I explore it a lot in my first book), so forgive the very truncated, simple version I’m about to give here.

The politics of fear doesn’t mean a politics that points to or invokes or even relies on threats, real or false. It doesn’t mean a politics that is emotive (what politics isn’t?) or paranoid. It means something quite different: a politics that is grounded on fear, that takes inspiration and meaning from fear, that sees in fear a wealth of experience and a layer of profundity that cannot be found in other experiences (experiences that are more humdrum, that are more indebted to Enlightenment principles of reason and progress, that put more emphasis on the amenability of politics and culture to intervention and change), a politics that sees in Trump the revelation of some deep truth about who we are, as political agents, as people, as a people.

I cannot tell you how much I loathe this kind of politics. At a very deep and personal level. I loathe its operatic-ness, the way it performs concern and care when all it really is about is narcissism and a desperate desire for a fix. I loathe its false sense of depth and profundity. I loathe its belligerent confidence that it, and only it, understands the true awfulness of the world. I loathe the sense of exhilaration and enthusiasm it derives from being in touch with this awfulness, the more onerous citizenship, to borrow a phrase from Susan Sontag, it constructs on the basis of this experience.

And so if I have a weakness or a blind spot—and I genuinely see how it can be a blind spot—it’s to political discussions and mobilizations that repeat this kind of politics, even when they come from the left. I say it’s a weakness or a blind spot because in the course of trying to avoid this kind of politics, I may wind up, inadvertently, giving the impression that something is not as dangerous as it is. I may wind up overstating its familiarity and intelligibility. While I still refuse to believe that pointing out the precedents for a current danger somehow diminishes that danger, I know my Burke well enough to know that when we pare back the exoticism, novelty, and strangeness of a thing, when we try to make it more proportionate to our understanding, it can have the accompanying effect (and affect) of making that thing seem less dangerous.

In any event, among the many reasons the election of Trump has so depressed me, why I’ve not commented much since the election and have mostly stayed off social media, is that it has given license to the politics of fear on the left. Particularly on social media. Once again, we have that sense that we are face to face with some deep, dark truth of the republic. Once again, we have that sense those of us who insist that the horribles of the world should not and cannot have the last word, are somehow naifs, with our silly faith in the Enlightenment, in politics, in the possibility that we can change these things, that politics can be about something else, something better. I find that sensibility deeply conservative (not in my sense of the word but in the more conventional sense), and I resist it with every fiber of my being.

I feel like how I imagine left-wing socialists in Europe must have felt in August 1914: having imagined—and readied themselves for the possibility—that the world was heading to a confrontation on their terms, they suddenly found themselves dragged back into what seemed like the most ancient of disputes. This is just not the kind of politics I believe in.

And while some will say, pfff, regardless of what you believe in, it’s the politics we have, I think their putative realism is as intoxicated with an ideal, a dream—the ideal that we traffic in dark and deep truths, that when the world is horrible, we suddenly know it for what it is—as mine is. More so. I want no part of it.

So while I won’t ever look away from what Trump is, I insist on looking upon him through the categories that I would look upon any other political formation. I insist on focusing on things like policy, law, institutions, coalitions, ideology, elites, and so on. (Matt Yglesias is quite good on this issue.) I insist on seeing in him the normal rules of politics and the established institutions of politics: it wasn’t the beating heart of darkness that sent him to the White House, after all; it was, in the most immediate and proximate sense of a cause, the fucking Electoral College.


  1. s.wallerstein December 11, 2016 at 8:17 am | #

    Good to see you blogging again.

  2. William Burns December 11, 2016 at 8:25 am | #

    Frankly, unified Republican control of all three branches of the federal government plus most of the states is scary enough already without mythologizing Trump.

  3. mark December 11, 2016 at 9:08 am | #

    “The US is nothing like the societies where we know what happens when politics falls apart, including Europe in the 1930s, which is often held up as a warning for what might be around the corner. Contemporary America is far more prosperous than other states where democracy has failed in the past, however unequally that prosperity is distributed. Its population is much older. Civil disorder tends to happen in societies where the median age is in the low twenties; in the US it is close to forty. Its young people are far better educated, or at least educated for much longer. Its levels of violence, though high by 21st-century European standards, are low by any historical measure. Its frustrations are those of a country where all this is true and yet still things are going badly wrong. These are First World problems. That doesn’t make them any less serious. It just makes it much harder to find historical precedents for what comes next” (David Runciman, LRB, 1 December 2016).

    “One fact that has to be assimilated by both Labour and the Democrats is this: when Bill and Hillary arrived in Washington in 1992 they had little money. Now, despite remaining notionally in public service throughout, they are worth many millions of dollars. Tony and Cherie Blair were not obscenely wealthy when they arrived in power in 1997. Today they are worth more than $75 million. Consider the working-class voters whom the Clintons or the Blairs exhorted to vote for them in the 1990s: they are probably worse off now than they were then. In effect the Clintons and Blairs surfed on their grievances and inequities, making themselves rich and leaving their voters in the dust. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, which is one reason the old politics is no longer working” (R.W. Johnson, LRB, 14 November 2016).

  4. John Merryman December 11, 2016 at 9:21 am | #

    We are led with hope, or herded with fear.
    The power of money is that it is quantified hope and there is a strong short term political advantage to loose money policies, but with long term problems, when the credit comes due.
    Why the Rothschilds and the Bank of England proved such a powerful force was that it insulated credit formation from political forces.
    Much as government functions as the central nervous system of a community, the financial system is its circulation system and so while they are both integral to the function of a society, they are still both, separate, foundational public utilities. Like the head and the heart.
    Monarchy proved to be the incubation stage of modern government and we are now in a similar place with the evolution of the economic circulation mechanism.
    We treat money as both medium of exchange and store of value, but in the body, the medium is blood, while the store is fat. Excess blood is even more dangerous than fat in the circulation system. So the government borrows off the excess and spends it wherever. Much of which will prove to have little actual return, so the wheels are starting to come off the train. Bombing other countries is a poor financial investment.
    With Clinton, there was the faintest illusion of not being controlled by the big money interests, but with Trump, there is no illusion. Either way, the future is disaster capitalism coming home to roost, as those “public/private partnerships” siphon ever more of the public commons into private hands.
    The eventual solution will be to make finance a public function.
    There was a time when banks issued their own money and were responsible for maintaining its value, but the way the Federal Reserve is set up, the public is responsible for the money, while the banks get most of the profits. As this is not a stable structure, when it blows up, we will either have to go back to a fully private financial system, or forward to a fully public system, similar to democratic government, with local, state, regional and national systems, serving the various needs and balancing one another.
    Otherwise, when the banks and those trillions of dollars of increasingly delusional quantified hope blow up for the final time, the polarity will flip and fear and the generals will rule. Even the bankers will regret that.

    • empty December 13, 2016 at 11:42 pm | #

      1. Welcome back Corey. You were missed.
      2. John, how do you make finance a public function?

  5. TL December 11, 2016 at 9:40 am | #

    I have been reading a lot on social media recently that radiates a powerful, consuming fear. But I don’t think that’s what you’re talking about. I think you’re talking about a Packer-like view that having a dreadful danger to oppose gives life meaning, rescues us from boredom. That is, indeed, a stupid point of view. There’s no good reason to wish for that.

    That said, I’m not reading much of the fear-as-vitality talk these days. The comparisons to nazis seem to come from a place of raw fear, rather than a sense of being in noble struggle. Possibly I’m reading in different places, more liberal than left. Perhaps you don’t want to call anyone out, but examples would be interesting.

    I have been thinking a lot about how much the intensity of that fear is clouding thinking, and how much it’s both natural (scary things are happening) and politically necessary (what protest movement is fueled by moderation?).

  6. Ramesh December 11, 2016 at 10:33 am | #

    The blame is not so much the electoral college but HRC herself and her campaign. Hubris and canvassing the super wealthy instead of the plebes.

    • Bart December 11, 2016 at 11:30 am | #

      In the case of HRC’s loss, her failure has many fathers.

  7. jonnybutter December 11, 2016 at 11:09 am | #

    “we have that sense that we are face to face with some deep, dark truth of the republic. …[that] those of us who insist that the horribles of the world should not and cannot have the last word, are somehow naifs, with our silly faith in the Enlightenment, in politics, in the possibility that we can change these things, that politics can be about something else, something better. I find that sensibility deeply conservative…”

    So good to hear someone say this, and so well! If one (on the left) believes that there even is such a thing as a fundamental ‘deep dark truth’ about what an entire country is – or about what humanity itself immutably is, for that matter – then that person is rejecting the most basic Enlightenment values – pretty profoundly conservative! How ridiculously can we reify? Very, apparently.

    Everything is contingent, particularly in the long run. And the EC is Contingency Itself.

  8. xenon2 December 11, 2016 at 11:13 am | #

    Does it really matter?

  9. Roquentin December 11, 2016 at 11:51 am | #

    The liberal hysteria post-election is exactly that. To me, it primarily serves the necessary psychological task of avoiding a lot of soul-searching and tough questions about what the Democratic party actually is, the folly of the decision made by the elites to force Hillary on us, the fact that every major media outlet got the election shockingly wrong, the self-serving orgy of nonsense produced in the echo chambers of the “left” which blinded us not only to how shitty a candidate Hillary was but that the Democrats were botching the entire election with their self-assured arrogance. Nope, none of that’s the problem. It’s that Trump is literally Hitler. I’m old enough now to remember when “anyone but Bush” was a legit political slogan. I’m also old enough to see where that got us. It seems to me the Clinton crowd would like nothing more than an “anyone but Trump,” political front for similar reasons: so we can go on electing the same center-right neoliberal politicians we always have.

    I fully support your efforts to draw historical continuity between the GOP, Trump, and conservatism more generally. When so many people were posting “this isn’t the country I thought it was” right after the election, my only thought is “What are they smoking?” America is, was, and always will be a crazy, dysfunctional place. A country which started out as a slave state engaging in a slow motion genocide of Native Americans was never innocent, by any definition. Just where is this supposed “America” these people thought they knew?

    • Robert December 11, 2016 at 12:51 pm | #

      The “America” they knew was the 1950s when they were the children of Riley and Babs,Ozzie and Harriet,Ward and June, who put their kids through college on one income.
      When USA,Inc. accounted for 1/3 of global production and 1/3 were unionized.
      They liked Ike,the last decent POTUS.
      They had a Buick Roadmaster; they”Saw the USA in their Chevrolet”.
      Uncle Miltie sold millions of TVs.
      Elvis was shocking your aunt.
      Ed Sullivan had a “really great shoe.”
      Their Dad in the Corps and Mom As Rosie the Riveter beat the Japs and Nazis “cause God was on their side.
      Need I go on?
      Hard to avoid slavery and genocide,but
      American History was taught without comment.
      The Mexican War starred John Wayne,etc.,etc.,etc.

      • Roquentin December 11, 2016 at 5:39 pm | #

        I generally try to avoid categorizing people based on anything as large or vague as a generation, but sometimes I feel like Trump was one last present to us by the Baby Boomers on their way out the door. Your description of the mythological version of the 1950s really brought that out. In a twisted way, you could almost consider it our “inheritance.” That hit is below the belt, but to what else could they be referring when they say “Make America Great Again,” or even Hillary’s ridiculous “America Was Always Great,” which perpetuates the same mythology lock, stock, and barrel? On the other hand, they sure seem to like bashing millennials so I guess turnabouts are fair play.

        As old Marx once said:

        “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

        • LFC December 11, 2016 at 9:44 pm | #

          sometimes I feel like Trump was one last present to us by the Baby Boomers on their way out the door. Your description of the mythological version of the 1950s really brought that out.

          The demographic height of the Baby Boom (1946-1964) in the U.S. was the year 1957. Someone born in 1957 would have little to no direct memory of Eisenhower as pres. and relatively little direct memory of most of the other cultural artifacts listed by Robert in that comment (w the exception of e.g. the Ed Sullivan Show). So even in a broad-brush way you are focusing only on some of that ‘generation’, not all.

          On Trump: I don’t find debates about whether he’s actually a fascist etc. all that productive. His Cabinet choices to date suggest strongly that his admin will be a policy disaster and it that will directly hurt many people — but then, we pretty much knew that already. The display of his personal qualities (such as they are) since becoming Pres-elect has been, on the whole, the opposite of reassuring to anyone who opposed him.

          p.s. Clinton, for all her flaws, would have been much preferable on a range of important issues (energy, tax/fiscal, climate change, civil rights, women’s rights etc) and much less harmful to the vulnerable parts of the U.S. pop. (which is one of the main reasons I voted for her).

          • Roquentin December 12, 2016 at 10:32 am | #

            Even if the Baby Boomers were statistically born in 1957, that certainly doesn’t prevent them from idealizing the time of their parents or their supposedly idyllic childhood. That said, a portion of it probably is the last gasp of the WWII generation, mixed with younger people who bought that mythology. On the other hand, there’s no denying that Trump supporters skew older demographically, that’s mostly what motivated that comment.

            Trump resembles no politician more than Berlusconi. He’s the closest analogue in world political history, and while no particularly good for Italy, he was not a WWII sort of catastrophe.

            Regarding Clinton, I refuse to be browbeat by the Dems into supporting shitty candidates and politics. I want to see most of the Dems go down just slightly less than the GOP, honestly. I can’t remember a time in my life when the entirety of elected leadership seemed so useless.

          • Thomas Rossetti December 13, 2016 at 5:11 pm | #

            The rise of social disorder in America will be uniquely American. Trump is no Berlusconi, nor a thirties catastrophe such as Hitler. Trump is the leader of the lynch mob. “get him out of here” “lock her up”. It is Trumps native political talent. His modus is hatred. What have you got to lose? Incitement is his pull, the tug of interest. It is his appeal to the lurid pornography of political violence. Be prepared to be consumed. I think Corey Robin and his bloggers are far to blythe. The house of 4oo years of whatt has become democracy is burning down in a brutal conflagration! At least recognize that the portents are fucking dire. The madness will not cease. Already the instability has fractured damn near every sector of organized human endeavor. A lynch mob leader is way to cumbustible an entity and seriously things are at the point that democracy, non authoritarian politics will perish. And the left intellectuals of today, do not have the ukase of those failed leaders of the German left who could plead how were they to forsee the holocaust?

            This is post holocaust and price of hatred has been made manifest to all who study politics and history. What graveyard are you whistling by. I don’t see how any politics can get to the heart of the matter except through Hobbes. In these coming days I reccomend rereading Hobbes. Hobbes said when he was born, twins were born, himself and fear.

    • WLGR December 11, 2016 at 3:20 pm | #
    • glinka21 December 23, 2016 at 11:34 am | #

      To this I would only add that if you were a exceptionally poor candidate in an ineptly managed campaign for a group of people–the New Dems–who have spent 20 years inverting the former values of their party, then the best way to draw attention away from all of this would be to accuse your former opponent of a raft of ridiculous charges.

      Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is a long way from the kind of self-analysis that might ultimately lead to the championing of a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure.

  10. Carolyn December 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm | #

    Point taken.

  11. jonnybutter December 11, 2016 at 12:38 pm | #

    Mellisa Gira Grant has a penetrating, succinct review of a pertinent book called “Conflict is Not Abuse” here: Pathologizing Trump is Satisfying – and Dangerous.

  12. Thomas Rossetti December 11, 2016 at 12:45 pm | #

    So much for a liberal politics based on Hobbes. It was Hobbes who saw that fear was what made all men equal. The rest is commentary.

  13. Rich Puchalsky December 11, 2016 at 12:56 pm | #

    As Jews on the left, we’re both familiar with the politics of fear within the Jewish community. That’s what I thought about whenever I heard “I’m afraid for my family”. Jews have better reasons to take up the politics of fear than anyone else, but on the left, we’re expected not to in the face of actual bombings and military attacks on our relatives. I don’t think it’s too much to ask people from other backgrounds to do so as well.

    The politics of fear is also handy for sudden further rightwingization of the center left because it’s all against Trump.

  14. Jon Johanning December 11, 2016 at 1:40 pm | #

    As a wise person once said, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

    • uh...clem December 11, 2016 at 4:13 pm | #

      @ Jon: I have that problem—only in reverse. “Optimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will”

  15. Marion D. Cohen December 11, 2016 at 4:42 pm | #

    I like the way he says “I loathe its belligerent confidence that it (fear-politics), and only it, understands the true awfulness of the world”. It’s as though the more fearful and pessimistic we are, the more politically correct we are.

    So it seems as though this “fearfulness” is, at least sometimes, not true fearfulness but an appearance or pretense of fearfulness. Yes, twe do need to be careful not to be too OPTIMISTIC, but being as PESSIMISTIC (and fearful) as possible isn’t the answer, either. (This is true in both political and personal life.)

    We don’t have to compare T. to Hitler in order to protest or revolt against him. He’s bad enough as he is.

    (Also, though, to be fair: some people truly do fear, and might even fear DEFENSIVELY (as though trying to beat him to the punch). Such people might not be PRETENDING to fear but, rather, TRYING to fear. Not very well-directed, either, indeed.

  16. Andy December 11, 2016 at 5:18 pm | #

    I’m not sure about the argument that Trump ought to be treated as a (regular) politician. He’s simply not. He’s spent the last 30+ years in the American limelight as a personification of the narcissism of the financial elite, and has prospered based on cultivating that image alone. The politics associated with that image are closest mirrored by the prosperity gospel – the more he looks successful, the more successful he becomes, regardless of any reality to the perceived success. His agenda isn’t that of anything other than continuing to build upon the development of his empty image. That is inherently dangerous, and very different from other politicians. He represents nothing other than unrestrained ego and greed, and those around him will be able to channel those impulses to whatever ends they see fit as long as they can convince him that they have his continued “winning” in mind.

    This extreme disconnect from any kind of real-world implication of action or behavior, and the focus purely on image, is exceptionally dangerous. His sense of self has become tied intimately to his image, and each time he is poked he reacts with verbal violence, as that is the primary form of violence with which he can lash out. This is not politics as usual. This is also not Hitler, as history doesn’t literally repeat. It is a clear historical echo of a similar zeitgeist. Fear or not, to treat him as a (regular) politician is to stick your head in the sand about the implications of his personality being armed with the incredible power of the United States presidency.

  17. Carolyn Doric December 11, 2016 at 5:53 pm | #

    The electoral college victory was a the result of large numbers of people voting with gleeful irrationally, and succeeding within a system deliberately corrupted by the “victor,”. If you mean to direct ire at hopelessness and nihilism – say so. Or, for those of us who do not draw on broad philosophical background, more specifics about what or who qualifies as operatic overreaction . Other than some youngsters in the anarchist camp, I don’t know anybody whose lives are so empty they ache for resistance to existential evil. It is interesting frthat venues such as the new Yorker are revisiting the roots and expressions of fascism. Even overstated, the possibilities of trumps narcissism, the alt-right at his shoulder, corporate oligarchs in cabinet positions, and the full reactionary force of the gop unleashed – well, I look for every historical & structural analysis I can find to understand our times, but it is an open question that enlightenment reason, except in favorable conditions, holdz back institutional entropy, let alone the irrationalities of. human greed, and ideology. But perhaps reason is the only method to reduce and repair the stresses that allow them to seep out the cracks. But what do I know? All I want to know right now is why.. And what do we do?

  18. union horse December 11, 2016 at 7:51 pm | #

    I for one am not afraid. I know what to expect. This gives me peace of mind and direction. The fightbacks I have done will need to be redone and more allies will be activated. The only real fighters we can count on are self-activated anyway. I expect more to wake up now.

    And I am not afraid of being stabbed in the back anymore. We can see what’s coming this time. That is a real advantage.

  19. rdp36 December 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm | #

    Good post, we are not under hyperinflation, we lack the history of Tsar’s and Prussian Kings, so I think we are just back under a more narcissistic George W. Bush for a while. At least I hope that is the case, regardless best to battle back as you say with rational policy and politics as nothing fundamental has changed. Lots of fear out there though.

  20. Bill Michtom December 11, 2016 at 9:28 pm | #
  21. Omega Centauri December 11, 2016 at 10:10 pm | #

    I don’t remember who said it, but “fear concentrates the mind”. Although unpleasant, it isn’t entirely dysfunctional.

    I also think history is contingent on chance events far more than we would like to think. Trump in my opinion is a kind of idiot savant. He really knows how to get a certain sort of class/culture/mindset to strongly identify him as one of them. Part of that process was his ability to take resentments to a kind of absurd extreme, which makes him seen to these people as a sort of unedited personal truthiness. And these people feel let down by clever elites, who in their opinion use reason and education not to solve problems, but to benefit at their expense. So we are left with a situation, where he uniquely seems to be able to operate well outside of the bounds that we thought constrained our social/political/legal organization. So we clearly are in a bit of an unprecedented situation.

    Security types are aghast. He doesn’t share their concerns about traditional enemies, such as Russia. Couldn’t be bother with presentations of potential nation threats etc. This isn’t Bush on steroids, or Reagan on steroids, its something far less predictable.

    • Glenn December 14, 2016 at 12:49 pm | #

      Trump is different only because he campaigned demonstrating unpredictability instead of demonstrating unpredictable indifference to law only after taking office, as his predecessors did.

      The difference is in the indifference of people of both parties who have no problem with indifference to law and other norms as long as it is their chosen party that demonstrates that indifference.

  22. S A Kaplan December 11, 2016 at 11:40 pm | #

    And yet every post on here exemplifies remarkable cognitive dissonance and in fact completely delegitimatizes their inaccurate valuation of their target. Henceforth, a sad attemp at cheaply elevating their ego at another’s expense.

    • Carolyn Doric December 12, 2016 at 6:41 pm | #

      Every post? Cons are more united (so far) in hatred of The Other, while the left disowns it’s own. Calling out ego is as vague, and as silencing as labeling people Suppressive Persons. Nothing is less helpful than vague criticisms, implying others don’t deserve to hear what they don’t know. But that is exactly what dialogue is for. Perhaps offensive posts simply reflect differing perspectives. If that’s ego, it’s universal. The psycho-spiritual value against which we are presumably measured, egolessness….well, like holiness, most of us have to take such possibilities on faith, but surely those who reach those trans-human heights – don’t need to claim it, or use it.

  23. wtimberman December 12, 2016 at 9:44 am | #

    The Russians are responsible! Comey is responsible! Trump is the Fifth Horseman of the Big A!

    Spare me. The task remains what it always has been. It doesn’t much matter if you’re a Child of the Enlightenment or a Buddhist, the task remains what it always has been, and we are all expendable in its service — something to remember when we’re feeling histrionic.

    • bystander December 13, 2016 at 9:29 pm | #

      Amen, WT. Amen.

    • Roquentin December 15, 2016 at 12:06 am | #

      I swear, watching this campaign against “fake news,” which is 90% a war on anyone who isn’t one of the big corporate media outlets, has been every bit as frightening as Trump. It was a match made in heaven, newspapers and TV stations who were losing viewership and $$$ to the web and butthurt Democrats furious that they’d lost the ability to 100% control the narrative via propaganda. And they have liberals *cheering* for it. My God, is this what it comes down to?

      The Democrats have gone off of the deep end, and it’s getting to the point where I’m having a hard time telling who is worse. If they really are dumb enough to try and reverse the election via the Electoral College, which amounts to moving the goalposts because they don’t like the result, it’ll be them who sound the death bell of our political system rather than the supposedly “fascist” Trump. I can’t tell if all this Russia stuff (which I don’t trust the veracity of) is a prelude to a soft coup or not.

      As a result of recent events, I’ve lost the last shred of respect I had left for the Democrats.

      • Some guy December 20, 2016 at 10:03 am | #

        Concern Troll’s concern duly noted.

  24. Robert December 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm | #

    Let me warn again.
    If Congress passes an equivalent to the Enabling Act,granting the POTUS extra-constitutional powers in the event of an emergency(9/11,Gulf of Tonkin,bomb in Wall Street) fear will be justified.
    Closed borders, internment of undesirables, internet unplugged, etc.
    Be on the next bus to Mexico.

    • Glenn December 15, 2016 at 12:20 pm | #

      Unplugged internet didn’t work in Egypt. It brought people to the streets to find out what was happening.

      A better plan would be to stream continuous pornography to keep people fixed before their screens.

  25. Jonathan Siegel December 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm | #

    The part of me that was trained (long ago in the dark ages of the 1970s) as a political scientist completely agrees with this. The part of me that relies on the ACA for health insurance is very fearful–enough so that I do not sleep well at night and haven’t since the election. That’s not the fear Corey is talking about of course. But I think that some of the people who are writing about ‘fear’ in his sense are simply going operatic and really mean to focus on these more mundane issues. It is the inability to avoid arias that is the problem in other words.

  26. stevenjohnson December 15, 2016 at 9:28 am | #

    The notion that Trump’s victory demands an attack on the left for fear mongering displays I think the same kind of judgment that saw this election as possibly resulting in a party realignment as Trump took the Republicans down to defeat. In fact, it really wasn’t all that hard to see the relative likelihood of Trump winning the Electoral College. At this point, the insistence on attacking the left functions as a validation of Trump as the victor, even though he wasn’t. What’s not clear is whether the motive is visceral rejection of the popular vote validation of the post-New Deal liberalism of Clinton? Or whether the motive is some notion that tagging Clinton with the loser label facilitates the Sanders?

    On the general subject of fear mongering, the campaign against Clinton as the biggest liar in an election with Donald Trump as a candidate has been the earliest, most consistent, most prominent example. Not only is that a continuation of the culture wars panic mongering from the Clinton presidency, but the common thread in the Benghazi, server and Clinton Foundation “scandals” has been the fear of treason. When the media elites (including even their own small blogosphere elites) accept this in good coin, of course the Clinton campaign would try to pay Trump back with Russian hacking charges. Seeing this as somehow a novelty instead, really is more about a double standard than anything else. The semi-official backing after the election by a lame duck trying to fix policy doesn’t really change that.

    Trump is not unprecedented of course, Richard Nixon being the closest predecessor. It’s not clear to me when people decided that Watergate was an undemocratic exercise of media power. If anything the bizarre proposition Nixon was a liberal president is the propaganda. Nixon was a villain by any standard except that of those who agree the defeat of Communism is the sine qua non. Trump however is unprecedented in that his regime is already close to being as close to the direct rule of capital and the military as you can get while preserving the constitutional facade.

    • uh...clem December 15, 2016 at 2:24 pm | #

      Then shouldn’t this “system” be better called a type of “friendly fascism”, as Bertram Gross called it over 35 years ago?

  27. Roquentin December 21, 2016 at 3:00 pm | #

    I know this post is old, but I’ve finally calmed down enough about the election and can think about this theoretically instead of in terms of emotional ranting. It was several days ago I realized that Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition was very relevant to this argument for continuity you are making.

    What I mean in this, is that straight from the beginning Deleuze argues that “repetition is not regularity” and spends a sizable part of what most consider his magnum opus trying to dissuade the reader from this definition of repetition. He eventually goes on to argue that repetition itself produces difference (different instances of a particular thing), as well as this idea of base repetition obscures a much deeper phenomena. Each additional repetition in a series creates differences, changes the thing somehow. He spends time talking about how he refuses to recognize the distinction between essential and inessential changes during repetition (Sort of like merely changing the position of three tennis balls or perhaps the color. There’s no hard and fast rule for what is and isn’t essential.)

    To bring it all back home, this is the sort of repetition at work in the series which you are calling “conservatism.” The question isn’t if Trump is an exact replica of Reagan or Nixon, because of course he isn’t, it’s a matter of what factors create the continuity of conservative from one historical moment to the next. As far as conservatism can be considered a coherently conceptualized historical movement, there have to be any number of logical factors which undergird this continuity and coherence from one moment of the repetition to the next.

  28. Carl Weetabix December 21, 2016 at 10:31 pm | #

    The optimism I most lost from this election was not by watching the right who, surprise, surprise, once again elected the batshit insane. It was by watching the left, my left, go full David Brock. Which is to say, outside of policy, behave in every way what I always hated about the politics of the right. We had labelling (sexist!), red baiting, political collusion, disassembling (I’m not going to comment on those true emails because they came from the Russians), and massive self delusion (she’s not a hawkish, plutocratic, neoliberal, she’s a loving grandmother)(you sexist!).

    Make the mistake of not towing the line in Salon or DailyKos comment sections, and the mob would come out in a way that would make any Republican blog (or the Yahoo! comment section) proud. Granted they used fewer caps, had better grammar, and didn’t tend to threaten you physically.

    Don’t get me wrong, I had no problem with a considered vote for Hillary, heck I did in the general, just we didn’t sound much different than the people we’re supposedly better than.

    So, if there was one loss for me, it was finally and completely the idea that there is “exceptionalism” on my side.

    It was a stupid and dangerous illusion anyway, so it’s good to see it go. In the end we’re all self-deluded assholes, we just vote for different teams.

  29. Some guy December 24, 2016 at 7:54 am | #
  30. Anon December 26, 2016 at 2:55 pm | #

    Of course you’re not afraid or overly concerned. Because you’re a white American male and you’ll be just fine. You’ve got nothing to be afraid of and you know it. And you’re lack of empathy is typical and indicative of what is in store for the rest of us.

    • Marion D. Cohen December 27, 2016 at 10:22 am | #

      Corey Robin is NOT thinking only of himself (as an individual).

  31. D December 27, 2016 at 7:42 am | #

    Bingo, well said.

  32. union horse December 27, 2016 at 10:09 pm | #

    And I would suggest, the economy of fear exists without cost. We all must find the heart to correctly value reliable channels and label them.

    Look for the opportunities when the door opens a little, you will find friends already there.

  33. b. January 24, 2017 at 11:28 am | #

    FWIW, a wonker like Yglesias is just running the mirror con: that Enlightenment is not in the acknowledgement that we are fallible and that no “truth” can ever be “proven”, and that we have to develop methods and institutions to transcend our own cognitive limitations, but that politics is ultimately a domain of logicking our way to inevitable conclusions. That said, I am in awe of your definition of the politics of fear, and your characterization of “putative realism” is a perfect illustration why somebody like JM Greer, for all his interesting observations, strikes me as somebody who does not reason “in good faith”. Personally, I go with Shaw to reply to both extremist positions: all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

    However, we part way on the “fucking electoral college”. Institutions, procedures and other “plumbing” of an open society are certainly of extreme importance. But, pace Brecht, you do democracy with the people you have, not the people you wish for, and if “None Of The Above” or “No To Imcumbents” are not recognized as a reasonable response to unacceptable choices, then no institution will withstand our individual and collective folly.

    • b. January 24, 2017 at 11:29 am | #

      That said, it would serve us well to abandon the worship of the mythical Founders and instead continuously learn from their fallacies and the flaws in their constructs. But the Electoral College is hardly the binding constraint here. If we are to put faith in the enlightened self-interest of the more-or-less “rational” voter – even in the commons-sense – the processes that limit our choice of candidates, and the (lack of) processes by which the electorate can reject and demand other choices are quite possibly the most important.

      Democracy as a process is an engineering problem, starting with the rules of how votes are counted, and in its current implementations it is, obviously, not an evolutionary stable system. In this, I take a page from Rupert Riedl’s concept of life – the very biology of our bodies and brains – being by necessity a “hypothetical realist”: We can set aside the discussion of whether or not democracy is ethically or spiritually the “right” answer to our needs as long as we are – pace Churchill – convinced that it is the solution most likely to aid our survival. It is not matter of priority whether a given system is just if its properties precipitates its own extinction. But then, does it really matter how we organize ourselves if, on average and on either side of the “divide”, we find neither willingness to recognize our own limitations and corruptions, nor a commitment to make a sustained, life-long effort to overcome these.

      It is common sense to fear inbred wealth and power, and that alone would have been sufficient to reject either choice in the last election. If we cannot even find consensus on that, there is very little left to work with.

  34. Thomas Rossetti January 25, 2017 at 10:32 pm | #

    Dan Rather tonight referred to the strange twilight mood of the past week in America. The question on many minds is; is democracy a suicide pact? Not even really democracy but say constitutional oligarchy. A noir mood of fatalism as humanity waits for the next shoe to drop. Dread of the coming smash up of decency. If the state becomes the enemy to the very existence of your life, as Hobbes would ask, what do you owe to its leader? To its constituted disorder? This is why I said in my earlier post that I think it is time to read Hobbes, read him hard. Short, nasty, and brutish. This country’s very founders took up arms against an insane king. Donald Trump is prima facie the leader of a lynch mob become the legal head of the constituted government of the United Sates. Wrap your head around that reality and tell me you don’t feel a fear you have never even dreamed in your worst nightmare.

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