Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The End of Boehner

Thomas Dumm
Amherst College
“Some in Congress and the White House hold out hope that Mr. Boehner’s departure and the election of a new speaker will break the fever among conservatives, who have been plotting his downfall for over a year, and grant his replacement a grace period . . . But more prevalent is a sense of dread that an already bitter and divisive political atmosphere is about to get even worse.” New York Times, Sunday, September 28, 2015. 
A recent poll of American voters asked respondents if they could imagine circumstances under which they could support a military coup in the United States. 43% of Republican respondents said yes, while only 32% said no. Overall, 29% of Americans could support a coup, while 41% could not. As frightening as this poll result is, it is embedded in a survey of attitudes toward major American institutions. In response to a question asking if the military wants what is best for the country, 70% said yes, while 12% said no. Asked if Congress wants what is best for the country, the numbers were practically the reverse: 12%, yes, 71%, no.
If the rise of Donald Trump is evidence of degraded fascism coming into the mainstream of American politics, then this poll is but another sign of how at least one major American political party is coming to be synonymous with the authoritarian impulse underlying this fascism. Let us think about what the resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House of Representatives means in this context.
John Boehner wanted the same policies enacted that his opponents within the “Freedom Caucus” – those far right members of Congress who mainly came into the House in the 2010 election – wanted. The difference is that these members believe that by failing to prevent bills on budget allocations and extension of debt from being passed without the amendments they insist upon, Boehner was betraying the cause of true conservatism. It appears that he quietly hoped that his resignation would at least protect those members of the GOP caucus who would still have supported him in a leadership vote, but also who, by publicly voting to retain him, would have risked a primary challenge from the far right in the next electoral cycle. 
What this means at the level of legislative tactics is that the faction that wants to shut down the government in the name of budgetary responsibility and the protection of fetuses, is doing so knowing that this move is but a barely disguised means for further marginalizing the increasingly non-white population of the United States, a minority which threatens to become a majority within the next decade. Destroying the remnants of the social safety net is by design a way to make those people suffer. For some of the members of the coalition imposing such suffering is an end in itself, what they perceive to be an appropriate punishment imposed on those who they believe are parasites. In that sense Planned Parenthood is but an example of the outsourcing of health services to a private entity: the real meat cleaver is to be major budget cuts that are to be taken exclusively from social welfare programs, which were demonized by Mitt Romney in 2012 as the government giving things to people, a sentiment echoed this past weekend by Jeb Bush. 
Posted by the Oklahoma Federation for Republican Women
In this way, because of its timeliness a tactic of political positioning morphs into the substance of policy. The austerity politics that have been a part and parcel of an explicit effort at neoliberal governance over the past thirty years now has a more brutal and blunt political effect. Here is where it is also necessary to ask whether and when conditions could develop which would contribute to a new reliance on “our most trusted institution,” because shutting down the government is a path toward creating the conditions of unrest that would serve as an excuse for the further repression of the poor, the marginalized and those who would dissent, both within and without the institutions of the media and academia. Black Lives Matter is currently being demonized as responsible for shootings of police throughout the country, even though there is no evidence that police shootings have been occurring at a rate any higher than before the rise of this new civil rights movement. A new group called Blue Lives Matter is growing rapidly, and Donald Trump himself has weighed in, not with the insipid response “All lives matter!” but by denouncing Black Lives Matter, and the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, as being a bunch of gang members, many of them, of course, illegal immigrants from Mexico and central America.
The price any new speaker of the House must pay in order to assume office will be to follow the script of the Freedom Caucus. Already threats of a similar fate to Boehner are being made in regard Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader who has behaved in a similar manner, looking in the end for a way to pass the legislation that would keep government running without the trauma of shutdown. 
    This leveraging of power by a minority has its historical precedents in the fracturing of the Second International shortly before the Russian Revolution, when the minority Bolsheviks outmaneuvered the majority Mensheviks at the Party Congress. 
Border Vigilantes, Arizona
   Perhaps a closer parallel would be the historical situation of the early 1930s in Germany, when the Nazi Party, damning the austerity policies of the Centre Party, which ruled through the emergency decrees of President von Hindenburg, succeeded in winning over the industrialists who held the balance of political power at the time. Hitler lost the 1932 election to Hindenburg. But by the end of 1933 his party became the only legal party after his ascent to the Chancellorship, at a moment when the German military, in its wisdom, decided that it needed to throw in its hand with the fascists, believing it could control them, because they, the military, were the most trusted and beloved institution in the country, you know, above politics. The Potsdam meeting of von Hindenburg and Hitler, a sign of the unity of military and political power, led to the establishment of the Reich by the end of that year, with Hitler, of course, as the Fuhrer. 
Fox News Analyst, Monica Crowley
 But the most relevant historical parallel may be the overthrow of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. After the austerity economics introduced into the Chilean economy by Chicago school economics in the late 1960s, Allende was the head of the socialist government elected to end this experiment in neo-liberal economics. In a US backed coup, Allende committed suicide and Pinochet established a dictatorship, presuming to rule in the name of the people, completely ignoring the electoral results, with the help of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon in order to impose this non-electoral will.
To invoke these historical examples is always to risk hyperbole, and so to risk dismissal. But at this point, that is a risk that must be run by those who want to resist the direction the politics of the United States is headed in. That every new iteration of fascism looks and sounds differently than prior iterations doesn’t mean that there is no reason to compare the past to present, and the present to the future.
Of course no one can predict the specific way in which democracy in the United States, already hollowed out and degraded by neoliberal governmentality – see Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos for the detailed indictment – might fall. But the way the current political cycle is being run, especially the race for the presidential nomination among the Republican candidates, gives rise to deep concerns. Whether engaging in bald-faced lies that while continually refuted are nonetheless repeatedly told without being called what they are, lies, by the press (see Carli Fiorina’s fictionalized version of beating hearts and brain harvesting by Planned Parenthood ghouls, an accusation cynically made simply to enlist extremists as supporters), or the continued argument for more austerity in the face of all evidence indicating its failure as a means of economic growth, or the continued demonization of undocumented immigrants as criminals when they are among the most law-abiding of residents in the country, the Republicans continue to be a mainstream presence in political discourse. These examples can be multiplied, and they all point toward a level of willful ignorance based in fear that lies at the heart of all fascist movements. The margin moves to the center, and only in retrospect do people wonder why such radically bad political actors were able to take power. It can happen here, and to a large extent it has already begun.
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