The Thirty-Nine Steps

by John Quiggin on May 13, 2022

At the end of The Thirty-Nine Steps (the John Buchan novel that largely created the spy thriller genre), the hero is about to give the signal for arrest of a ring of German spies. But their pose as ordinary middle class Englishmen is so convincing that they persuade him to join them as a fourth for bridge. Fortunately, a sudden movement alerts him to their true identity and he comes to his senses, blowing his whistle to call in the waiting police.

I’m reminded of this whenever I look at the political scene in the United States. The Republicans have made it obvious that if the votes in the 2024 election go the wrong way for them, the result will be overturned and their candidate (most likely Trump) will be installed. If they win under the existing rules, they will change them to ensure that no Democrat is ever elected again. Yet everyone is pretending that the situation is normal, trying to work out whether (for example) Roe v Wade is a trump card, and if so, who holds it.

The obvious question is: who, if anyone, will blow the whistle? Unfortunately, if there ever was a moment to do it, that moment has passed. Perhaps Biden should have invoked the Insurrection Act immediately after taking office, and arrested Trump and the Republicans who voted to overturn the election. But that was never going to happen, and would have failed in any case.

Nothing is forever. That includes democratic governments and the autocracies that have so often replaced them, only to fail in their turn. At some point, the whistle will be blown, but that point could be a long way off.

Meanwhile, there’s time to take a few more tricks before the game is called off.

{ 61 comments }

1

Fake Dave 05.14.22 at 8:04 am

I think authoritarian takeover is a real risk, but I also don’t think even a well-organized coup is likely to succeed. There has always been a massive divide between the heat of right wing rhetoric and the actual willingness of their paymasters to shake up the system that keeps them in power. Trump may like a good tantrum, but he’s clearly not a cammo and molotov type himself. Most Republicans are like that. They may be planning for the collapse of society, but they’re waiting for someone else to do the dirty work. You’re not going to mount a revolution with a bunch of couch potato Fox News addicts and the small minority of actual militants are ten different kinds of crazy and mostly aren’t “plays well with others” types.

PThey don’t seem to have the popular support for a true uprising or the disciplined vanguard for acivil coup and minority rule. That just leaves force. The right wing capture of military units and police departments over recent years has been genuinely disturbing, but the US security establishment is vast and sprawling and riven by internal divisions. A serving president may be able to bend the Pentagon to his will (though Trump couldn’t), but our military lacks the strong tradition of charismatic “political” officers with sprawling personal fiefdoms that makes for an effective junta. The right (or some faction thereof) may well try to undermine the democratic transfer of power (as they have many times before), but that doesn’t mean they’ll succeed in ending democracy. It wouldn’t be the first time the will of voters was overruled, after all, but we tend to get our due in the end.

2

oldster 05.14.22 at 12:59 pm

“Meanwhile, there’s time to take a few more tricks before the game is called off.”
I don’t understand this comment. Who is going to be taking tricks ? Democrats or autocrats? What are the tricks? When is the game over?
I can tell that there’s some sort of metaphor from card games invoked here, but I cannot tell how it is applied, or to whom, or with what purport. It’s so elliptical that all of the verb-arguments (subjects, direct objects, indirect objects) have been elided, too.
Help?

3

J, not that one 05.14.22 at 3:05 pm

It’s unclear to me how we would know whether “everyone is pretending that the situation is normal.”

The police are a metaphor, would dropping the pretense involve deciding they must be outside waiting to intervene because we need them to be? Maybe the Devil will intercede with a miracle, I guess.

4

Thomas P 05.14.22 at 3:27 pm

There is a third option besides the system continuing to work as intended and an authoritarian leader taking over, and that is that the situation becomes so deadlocked that the federal government is incable of meeting even basic functions. In many ways this may be the worst outcome, since it could cause a collapse of the dollar and thus much of the world economy and states leaving (or trying to leave) the Union.

The Soviet Union is a good example of how fast and unexpectedly a seemingly stable system can just fall apart.

5

M Caswell 05.14.22 at 3:28 pm

The key to preserving the democracy is for the Democrats to loose fair and square. They seem to be on board for this plan.

6

nastywoman 05.14.22 at 4:03 pm

@’Help’

How about: ‘there’s time to take a few more tricks before the game is called off’- like today there was/is this:
StoneFredFlint
@homosapx on Twitter –
who ‘Replying to @pieceofpoetry2’ wrote:

‘I am happily awaiting Trump’s next run for office. Millions more will vote for him and your faction will wail gnash their teeth and completely destroy what’s left of civil society when you realize you weren’t able to rig this election’.

and I tweeted back:

‘Nah –
as we won over twenty thousand bucks with Trumps last defeat for our nonprofit helping Refugees –

So are you ready to bet again?’

7

Hidari 05.14.22 at 4:57 pm

‘The Republicans have made it obvious that if the votes in the 2024 election go the wrong way for them, the result will be overturned and their candidate (most likely Trump) will be installed. If they win under the existing rules, they will change them to ensure that no Democrat is ever elected again.’ (emphasis added).

Ah, is this the rarest of things in CT nowadays, an actual prediction? To be sure, there have been plenty of these over the last few years. But they have been normally so hedged with qualifiers (‘could’ ‘may’ ‘might’ ‘probably’ ‘possibly’ or even, in a particularly daring mood ‘almost certainly’), that they are rarely, if ever, in Popper’s word ‘unfalsifiable’.

Or to be more cynical, they normally obey the huckster’s basic rule: always give yourself an ‘out’. Heads I win, tails you lose.

It is interesting that this was posted, under the poster’s real name, and with an easily checkable date and time. It will be interesting to come back and see, in 2024, 2025, just how these predictions worked out, and make inferences based on that on the weltanschauung from which these predictions were drawn, and, based on that, what it’s worth.

8

John Quiggin 05.14.22 at 8:39 pm

Oldster @2 All I meant was that politics as normal will continue for a while longer.

Hidari @7 “To be sure, there have been plenty of these over the last few years.” Can you point to some examples? I checked back to the beginning of the year, and the only posts making predictions are from me and on this same topic

9

nastywoman 05.15.22 at 2:13 am

@7+8
All of the predictions I made on CT –
and I made quite a few –
came
true…
and so –
let me repeat the one –
I made last about ‘trump’
(the Worlds New wWord for: Utmost Stupid)
Trump NEVER will be ‘President’ again – and is anybody here who would like to take this bet –
(for at least a bottle of Aperol?)

10

Hidari 05.15.22 at 6:45 am

‘There is a third option besides the system continuing to work as intended and an authoritarian leader taking over, and that is that the situation becomes so deadlocked that the federal government is incapable of meeting even basic functions. In many ways this may be the worst outcome, since it could cause a collapse of the dollar and thus much of the world economy and states leaving (or trying to leave) the Union.’

Or the best, depending on your point of view.

11

oldster 05.15.22 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for the explanation, John.
Back to your main point:
Fox News has been turning into Radio Rwanda before our eyes, and yesterday a young aspirant genocidaire in Buffalo, NY put Tucker Carlson’s words into action and slaughtered 10 people.
We have a problem with right-wing terrorism and its proponents in power, and part of the problem is the general reluctance to face the problem.

12

Mike jones 05.15.22 at 1:21 pm

Jq-

How would you rank the following factors that got the US to this point?
1- Excessive concentration of wealth, giving a few inndividuals/families outsized influence
2 – Gerrymandering of congressional districts, which by solidifying a districts hold by one party, has allowed extremists within the party to primary out more moderate voices
3- A rightward shift over the last 40 years of news media (fox, oan, newsmax), converting news reporting to”punditry as news” within the media

13

SamChevre 05.15.22 at 9:04 pm

I’ll register a related but mostly contrary prediction: no matter who wins the 2024 Presidential election, the bureaucracy and judiciary will remain sufficiently Democrat-leaning that none of the following will be achievable, regardless of popularity:
1) Getting immigration levels and sources back to historically normal levels (from 1920-1980)
2) Getting the proportion of children growing up with two parents in a stable relationship to increase significantly
3) Allowing freedom of association except at the very elite levels, even when money is involved in the relationship (I expect Skadden and Goldman to be able to choose their customers, but not local bakeries or local HOAs)
4) Normal middle-class housing to be widely available to single-income, two-parent families

14

Murray Reiss 05.15.22 at 11:28 pm

What an apt description of the Democratic Party at its persistent worse: the Republicans’ fourth at bridge.

15

TM 05.16.22 at 9:07 am

“Yet everyone is pretending that the situation is normal”

I would dispute that “everyone” does but certainly, too many of the important players (including in large part the mainstream media) more or less do. I strongly recommend the https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/ blog, much maligned around here but in its analysis of the rise of fascism in the US generally spot on. Which, I have to say with some bitterness, has not been the case here on CT. Some CT authors have as recently as 2021 downplayed and ridiculed the fascist threat and the rest have mostly stayed silent, with the honorable exception of JQ.

16

TM 05.16.22 at 9:13 am

JQ: “At some point, the whistle will be blown, but that point could be a long way off.”

The whistle has been blown. The question is, who could be the cops in this comparison and what could they do? It seems to me that the comparison is not really very helpful. The fate of American democracy isn’t decided by a small group of insiders. The real question is how much the American public cares about democracy and human rights. And the answers seems to be, not very much.

17

Fake Dave 05.16.22 at 10:46 am

@11

Predictions that depend on arbitrary interpretation of what is normal aren’t exactly falsifiable. Why does the era from the Red Scare to Operation Wetback get to set the standard? Do you have any idea how much higher immigration was in the 19th Century?

Your “predictions” amount to you bemoaning the fact that we don’t live in precisely the society you think we should and somehow it’s the Democrats fault. I don’t see it. How would a government even go about enforcing more stable two-parent households or whatever you’re defining as “freedom of association?” I’m not sure how many of us would appreciate whatever the “solutions” are supposed to be. Maybe that’s why you didn’t provide any.

18

TM 05.16.22 at 11:36 am

11: “the bureaucracy and judiciary will remain sufficiently Democrat-leaning”

In case anybody would like a nice overview over the political leaning of the US federal judiciary, you can find it here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_appointment_history_for_United_States_federal_courts

I don’t need to discuss SCOTUS but it’s interesting to know that at the Appeals level, currently 93 of 174 judges are Republican appointed, including a frightening 53 (30%) by Trump alone (many of them best described as open fascists).

Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that the whole comment is trollery in its purest form (off-topic and in factual terms completely nonsensical) and I hope nobody will be lured into helping the troll derail the thread. I do think the wikipedia page is worth pointing to though.

19

politicalfootball 05.16.22 at 1:10 pm

The obvious question is: who, if anyone, will blow the whistle?

This is the job of the media, and yeah, it ain’t gonna happen.

20

Mike Furlan 05.16.22 at 1:45 pm

“The obvious question is: who, if anyone, will blow the whistle?”

We should. From Snyder’s “Twenty Lessons on Fighting Tyranny.”

“13. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.”

The protests against the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade were only in the thousands. We need millions to march.

21

politicalfootball 05.16.22 at 1:48 pm

Nothing is forever. That includes democratic governments and the autocracies that have so often replaced them, only to fail in their turn.

I think when you talk about US democracy, you are guilty here of the same sort of error that Sam@11 engages in when he describes the “historical norm” around immigration. That is to say, you are taking a limited period (1965 to 2000?) as being representative of American democracy, when in fact it was an aberration.

I’ll admit to being more acutely frightened by the current trend, but that’s at least in part because it’s me — an old white guy with a strong sense of entitlement — being disenfranchised this time. Also, Americans of my generation came of age with a foundational belief about how the arc of the moral universe bends. That belief is no longer available to me, and it has been a tough adjustment to make.

FakeDave@1 understands US democracy:

I think authoritarian takeover is a real risk, but I also don’t think even a well-organized coup is likely to succeed.

This doesn’t address JQ’s point at all, but Dave is nonetheless quite right when he says that a military coup or some organized violent overthrow of the government is unlikely. Implicit in Dave’s analysis is that a mere stolen election — or a system rigged to ensure that fair elections are impossible — is going to be widely understood as just being the way US democracy works. It’s not obvious to me that Dave is wrong about this.

22

MisterMr 05.16.22 at 3:36 pm

@SamChevre 11
“4) Normal middle-class housing to be widely available to single-income, two-parent families”

Depending on your definition of middle-class housing, normally the price of houses is a function of the money the buyers or the rentiers are willing to pay (because a big part of the value of the house is in its position, so they are in limited supply).

It follows that if most households are two-income, the price of houses will be proportional to the income of a two income household, thus leaving back one income households. The only way to have houses with lower prices/rents is to have poorer, one income households.

23

dave 05.16.22 at 4:30 pm

Why shouldn’t Biden do his own coup? Better a basically benevolent dictator than Trump.

24

Tm 05.16.22 at 7:40 pm

„The right wing fringe is now the right wing center, although the Sun will cool into a lightless cinder before either the mainstream media or the Democratic party’s leadership ever point this out to our so easily distracted populace.“

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2022/05/the-passing-of-the-white-race-2

25

Tm 05.16.22 at 8:14 pm

To be fair, it’s difficult for the Democrats to attack the Republicans as the fascist scum they are because the media would automatically turn against them if they did, for fear of being accused of „liberal bias“.

You might ask: why then aren’t the media turning against the Republicans when they attack Democrats as genocidal pedophiles? Because that would be „liberal bias“.

You might further ask: why do the (nonfascist) media care at all about bad faith accusations of „liberal bias“ given that they are and will be accused of „liberal bias“ anyway, no matter what they write? (Scratch head…) It might have something to do with some kind of braineating disease common among editors and publishers. Anybody having a better explanation?

It’s also important to remember that in America, the right of Nazis to disseminate murderous Nazi propaganda is as sacred as the right to carry murderous weapons. So there is really nothing anybody can do.

26

Blue Dot 05.16.22 at 9:06 pm

@15

The “freedom of association” thing is perfectly clear. The poster at 11 insists that he must have the right to ban black people from dining at his lunch counter or else he is being oppressed by a tyrannical government.

27

oldster 05.16.22 at 9:12 pm

“Why shouldn’t Biden do his own coup?”
Because Biden’s supporters — i.e. the majority of the country — do not want to be ruled by a dictator installed by a coup.
It’s the other part of the country — the Republican minority — who yearn to be ruled by a dictator, and thrill at the prospect of a coup.
Put differently: when the former guy tried it, the Democrats favored impeachment and conviction, while the Republicans banded together to defend their man rather than the country or the Constitution.
If Biden tried it, then the Republicans would favor impeachment and conviction, and the Democrats would band together to defend the country and Constitution rather than their man.
The parties are simply not symmetrical, and neither are their voters.

28

Robert Weston 05.16.22 at 10:29 pm

Part of the problem is that the Democratic Party is under tremendous pressure to be The Adult in The Room, to look over the old house, and to keep the lights on until the, you know, REAL Republican Party comes to its senses, gets over Trumpism, comes home and reverts to the mean: Bipartisanship, Senate comity, responsible stewardship, America needs a strong Republican Party, things like that. Let the Lincoln Project and Never-Trumpers do their work, if only they have more time, and all will go back to normal.

If, on the other hand, you argue the far-right is on its way in and democracy is on its way out, it becomes harder to make the case for: an alternative to left-wing government; and especially for the Indispensable Nation and for U.S. global hegemony.

Part of the problem is that powerful constituencies have a vested interest in believing bipartisanship is something other than an empty shell: The donor class and the foreign policy community. Also, socialization: If you’re part of the Beltway policy and editorial communities, it’s hard to accept the things you’ve been taught to revere all your life have become sad jokes at best; and that things were headed that way all along.

I mean, surely you can’t mean the Tea Party was motivated by racism rather than by a sincere belief the national debt is out of control and that limited, responsible government ought to live within its means, right?

29

John Quiggin 05.17.22 at 2:24 am

Thanks to the numbering problems on CT, which no one knows how to fix, most references to @11 above point to what is now @13/

30

J-D 05.17.22 at 3:46 am

Thanks to the numbering problems on CT, which no one knows how to fix, most references to @11 above point to what is now @13/

I find this as vexing as anybody does, but it seems a good opportunity to mention, for anybody who might be interested, that if you mouse over the number of a comment you can see that a permalink to that comment is available, and I can confirm from experience that this permalink is stable independently of changes to comment numbering.

31

nastywoman 05.17.22 at 7:22 am

and like ‘the numbering problems on CT’ – there is no one who knows how to fix the numbering problems of my homeland ‘the Beautiful United States of California’ as I spend the day today on the Beach on 15th Street on the Peninsula in Newport Beach and when the Fog moved in –
already at 16 Uhr –
I thought ‘June Bloom’ is somehow far too early – or in other words as ‘FIRST’ isn’t ‘FIRST’ anymore and before Mai could be June – so there is no way to even count –
back –
or forward? –
in any usual manner – where after ‘FIRST’ comes ‘SECOND’ as all of these comments here suggest some kind of ‘order’ which doesn’t exist in such a completely random system as the
American one.

So why all these so called ‘coherent’ comments for ‘Belgium which is such a beautiful City where ‘France isn’t France’ anymore?

https://youtu.be/BnzXMRkBjMY

Sooo let me predict –
that all of it –
everything –
will go it’s usual way –
with nothing ‘collapsing’ or all of these funny ideas of imminent disaster –
as Life will be still ‘a Beach’
(in the coming years)
as every American is ‘a Comedian’ –
and I say that – as somebody who just drove from Kansas City to Laguna Beach and then UP
to Balboa
to have
the BEST
FROZEN BANANA
of my Life
AGAIN!
(Capisce? says the Italian – who believes in Constant Improvisation)

32

Chetan Murthy 05.17.22 at 7:22 am

Hot damn, SamChevre did a great job there, didn’t he, folks? Let’s all give him a round of applause, shall we?

He wants to keep out the darkies (me included, checked the back of my hand, I definitely qualify) and the ones that’re here, he wants to be able to make sure they don’t live in his neighborhood, shop at his stores, work in ’em either. And I’m sure he wants to extend the same kindnesses to gender minorities, too.

Boy howdy, mighty white of him! [go look it up, it’s an archaism]

33

lurker 05.17.22 at 10:17 am

“How would a government even go about enforcing more stable two-parent households or whatever you’re defining as “freedom of association?”” (Fake Dave, 17)
It does not have to be something that works as advertized, as long as it is mean and nasty. Make divorces harder to get -> fewer divorces -> stable households of people being miserable together. Add kids to the happy family by banning abortions and making birth control inaccessible. To prevent the wrong sort of people from reproducing, there’s always sterilization.
The freedom to associate would selective, you would not be allowed to tell bigots to fuck off, that’s cancel culture.

34

nastywoman 05.17.22 at 1:39 pm

and if somebody asks:
‘What are you writing about Crazy Nastywoman’?
AS
(from the NYT)
‘The Buffalo Shooting Was Not a Random Act of Violence
Republican politicians, including some of the party’s top leaders, openly espouse versions of a white supremacist conspiracy theory holding that an orchestrated effort is underway to displace white Americans. A recently published poll found that almost half of Republicans believe that immigrants are being brought to the United States as part of such an effort.

On Saturday, a gunman who said he was motivated by a version of this “replacement theory” killed 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store, officials said. The suspect, identified as Payton S. Gendron, wrote in an online diatribe that he sought to kill Black people because he wanted to prevent white people from losing their rightful control of the country.

Mr. Gendron described himself as part of a movement. He said that he was inspired by similar attacks on other minority communities and that he hoped others would follow his example. The suspects in several mass killings in recent years, including the 2015 murder of nine Black worshipers at a church in Charleston, S.C.; the 2018 murder of 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh; the 2019 murder of 51 Muslim worshipers at a pair of mosques in New Zealand; and the 2019 murder of 23 people, many Latino, in El Paso also propounded versions of this racist worldview.

American life is punctuated by mass shootings that are routinely described as idiosyncratic. But these attacks are not random acts; they are part of the long American history of political violence perpetrated by white supremacists against Black people and other minority groups’.

AND –
‘Life NEVER can be a Beach’
in such a country
BUT it STILL is –
ON a Californian Beach
and even if one of my Best (just thirtiest years old) Friends has to watch it from the Wheel Chair LONG COVID has put her into.
Anthropological P
And sometimes I believe that: ‘von einer anthropologische Perspektive auf ein menschliches Charakteristikum gesehen’ –
in Amerika it’s (STILL) very much possible –
that a shooter goes to the Beach in the morning and in the afternoon he shoots some ‘other people’ he does not like.

35

politicalfootball 05.17.22 at 1:56 pm

I wanted to join in the admiration for Sam’s now-13. I found this bit of phony grievance particularly choice:

3) Allowing freedom of association except at the very elite levels, even when money is involved in the relationship (I expect Skadden and Goldman to be able to choose their customers, but not local bakeries or local HOAs)

The idea that Goldman or Skadden are free to discriminate against gays as customers is absurd, but the real icing on the cake, so to speak, is that the bigoted baker actually won in Masterpiece Cakeshop.

36

LFC 05.17.22 at 9:40 pm

TM @15

If you think that the best way to deal with the threat of authoritarianism and quasi-fascism in the U.S. (or anywhere else) is to adopt, as the predominant tone of discourse, a snide, sneering sarcasm and mockery, a complete disdain for anyone who disagrees with you on virtually anything, and a dogmatic conviction that certain people are in possession of The Truth and that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to The Truth (here, roughly as delineated by the boundaries set by certain politicians) is beyond the pale of rational exchange, then yes, LGM is the blog for you.

Snideness, snarkiness, and smugness definitely have their place in moderation, but as a steady diet, I find it pretty revolting.

Your mileage obvs. varies.

37

TM 05.18.22 at 2:29 pm

@LFC You are normally a serious and respectful commenter, for that reason I will respond even though your comment @36 (attacking my comment @15) doesn’t offer any substantial critique and doesn’t even state what it is that it objects to. My comment reads in part: “Some CT authors have as recently as 2021 downplayed and ridiculed the fascist threat and the rest have mostly stayed silent, with the honorable exception of JQ.” Your presenting this remark as “sneering sarcasm and mockery” is puzzling. There is nothing sarcastic in there (although I’ll add there is nothing wrong with sarcasm, and whether mockery is justified depends on what is being mocked). So if you wish to engage in any substantive way with my comments, I’ll be glad to respond, otherwise I’ll ask you to kindly leave me alone.

38

TM 05.18.22 at 2:54 pm

Everybody here is surely aware of the news that the GOP’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee is an open fascist who has already stated that he would not have certified Biden’s 2020 victory, and with 100% certainty he will not under any circumstances certify any Democratic election victory ever should he become governor (the PA governor does essentially have the power to decide who won the election).

The democratic institutions of the US (or what passes as such) are so seriously dysfunctional that a fascist takeover can easily happen by “legal” means. All it takes are control of a handful of political and judicial offices, which the fascists are close to having achieved. There is some confusion around this. Some have argued that as long as the fascists are using/abusing US constitutional mechanisms to their advantage, they are really constitutionalists and not fascists. It’s a weak argument, since even the Nazis came to power by “legal” constitutional means, and likewise did more recent authoritarians, including Putin and Erdogan. I mention this also wit hrespect to the discussion about “a military coup or some organized violent overthrow of the government”. I think this is beside the point but it’s also important to keep in mind the substantial level of violence that the US does already experience, much of which is politically motivated, from police violence to school massacres to fascist militia activity and terrorism.

39

TM 05.18.22 at 9:51 pm

LFC: On rereading, I realize I somehow missed that you are attacking not me but LGM. My mistake (furthered by the overly aggressive tone of your comment). LGM does frequently employ sarcasm and mockery and in my view they are making very good use of these stylistic devices. I disagree with your other charges (dogmaticism, really?)

The reason why I mentioned them in the first place was JQs assertion that “Yet everyone is pretending that the situation is normal”. LGM are among the few who have rung the alarm bells early on, have warned against normalizing Trumpism, have consistently been right about the threat of authoritarianism and right wing extremism in the US, in huge contrast to most other liberal voices (including CT). Doesn’t that deserve some credit? However if you disagree with that assessment, then probably it’s more the substance than the style of LGM that you object to. But complaining about the style is an easy way to dismiss the substance without argument.

40

J-D 05.18.22 at 11:26 pm

@LFC You are normally a serious and respectful commenter, for that reason I will respond even though your comment @36 (attacking my comment @15) doesn’t offer any substantial critique and doesn’t even state what it is that it objects to.

Your puzzlement at LFC’s meaning was something I shared. I think I had to read LFC’s comment more than once–maybe even more than twice–before I thought I understood it. Then I remembered something I’d read about sentence structure. There’s a Wikipedia article I found interesting on this subject, which mentions in particular a historical change in style:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodic_sentence
Anyway, if you’re not as interested as I am in issues of linguistic style and don’t want to be bothered with the background, go back to LFC’s comment and reread just the first sentence of it, but this time read it with the last seven words of it moved to the beginning to be the first seven words.

41

LFC 05.19.22 at 12:06 am

TM
You misunderstand. Possibly my fault for awkward sentence construction.

You had praised the blog Lawyers Guns & Money. My comment about sarcasm, mockery etc. refers to what I take to be the predominant — not exclusive, to be sure — tone at that blog, esp. in one or two of its front-page posters in particular. My remark was not intended as a characterization of your own tone. Sorry if that was not clear.

42

nastywoman 05.19.22 at 12:29 am

@
‘The democratic institutions of the US (or what passes as such) are so seriously dysfunctional that a fascist takeover can easily happen by “legal” means’.

NEVER! –

As how often do I have to point to the fact that the democratic institutions of the US
(or what passes as such) are so un-seriously dysfunctional – or why can we say:
‘chaotic-comically-confused’ –
that a SERIOUS Fascist takeover can’t easily happen by ‘serious legal means’ –
as there are actually NO ‘serious’ legal means in the US –
(besides the terrifying ways ‘legal means’ don’t work for ‘the little (coloured-minority) people)
AS everything else and ‘HUUUGE POLITICAL’ is just ‘PLAYING’ or ‘CLOWNING’ –
(in a sometimes completely randomly terrifying way)
It’s like – sitting in a US Movie Theatre and some dudes in front of you are constantly babbling and/or constantly commenting what’s happening on the Screen – and you think –
if I would be in Europe right now I would tell the dudes to be quiet – BUT in TEH Homeland –
NOOOO –
as you never would know –
if one of the dudes would get so insulted –
(that somebody dares to tell him to shut up) –
that HE would pull out some machine-gun and mow everybody in your row down –
completely randomly –
AND
unpredictably –
‘PLAYING’ –
like the Crazy Pennsylvania-GOP-Dude – who just PLAYS some ‘Fascist’ –
(as Trump did’) –
BUT is not actually ‘a serious Fascist’ –
as by tomorrow he might be the stereotypical Reactionary US Clown –
(like Trump)
again –
who invites you to dinner –
if you are blond – and have blue eyes –
AND
THEN
He might joke and say: You really look like the perfect German Nazi…
or was that… rap – tooo confusing?
(but I was in Compton today – and I listened to a lot of RAP)

43

Orange Watch 05.19.22 at 2:13 am

TM@37

It’s a bit damning that LFC’s comment made very clear what they objected to (your endorsement of LGM as a serious and reliable analyst of the modern rise of American fascism), yet you quoted only the 2nd part of your comment that was unrelated to what LFC addressed, and acting as though your quoted comment was reflective of all you’d said there – or even that it was unrelated to what LFC had commented on. This is disingenuous. LFC made abundantly clear their comments referred to your (unsubstantiated) endorsement of LGM, and the description characterized why LFC did not agree that LGM is a serious or useful resource.

If you want a more substasative explanation of why some of us strongly disagree w/your appraisal of LGM, it’s because it’s not a serious blog outside of a few narrow areas, and RW extremism definitely is not one of those. LGM functions as a news aggragator that includes an editorial framing of the news it features. Its posting model is high-volume, low-effort posts, where most reader engagement is subjective interaction among an established community via superficial comments rather than any sort of in-depth interaction with the contents of a given post. It is not a useful source of new information, and the front-pager analysis on this particular topic is shallow armchair-QB analysis cast through a very narrow (and politicaly motivated) lens. Very frequently, front-pager analysis is as sparse as “the author of the article I’m excerpting and linking gets this exactly right” – when this tendency is coupled with its commentariat, the overall effect is a blog more concerned with promulgating orthodoxy than disseminating information.

There are a good number of serious online analyses that have been and continue to be made about America’s creeping fascism, but LGM’s riffing on the liberal/progressive portion of the PMC’s zeitgeist is not that. Historically, David Neiwart’s Orcinus blog, now more-or-less migrated to DKos, was a good example. Characteristically, it made watching these trends its full focus, rather than only paying attention to them when politically expedient, and more damningly still, made the effort to understand how and why these trends were occurring rather than engaging in lazy, dismissive mockery of their instigators. Compared to actual professional RW extremism researchers, LGM is frothy clickbait that provides a comfortably-distorted, shallow view of where we’re coming from in this regard, and likewise where we’re going. They’re definitely not providing spot-on analysis that anyone should be relying on, let alone seriously citing as such to others as a reliable source.

44

LFC 05.19.22 at 3:50 am

I’d like to make clear (and I trust this will be my last comment on this topic) that on the infrequent occasions when I visit LGM, there are sometimes pretty good posts showing reflection etc. by the author (Dan Nexon’s recent one, for instance, falls into this category). What I object to is what I called the predominant tone of the blog, for reasons I’ve already given. (This is a subjective reaction, of course, and views will differ.)

45

TM 05.19.22 at 8:02 am

OW 43: I’m well aware that many LGM posts consist mainly of content from other sources. In academic speak, most posts are not original work, and don’t pretend to be. I don’t understand why that is a criticism. Many readers find these posts interesting and those who don’t, well they don’t have to read them. It’s a blog and not a replacement either of academic in depth work or original news reporting.

I don’t want to take this LGM topic further, our host might be already be annoyed ;-) But I’ll repeat, and this is relevant in the context of JQ’s post, that LGM deserves credit for their timely warnings of the rise of fascism in the US, warnings that many leftists and liberals have disregarded, with disastrous consequences.

46

Orange Watch 05.19.22 at 12:18 pm

TM@39:
LGM are among the few who have rung the alarm bells early on, have warned against normalizing Trumpism, have consistently been right about the threat of authoritarianism and right wing extremism in the US

This line really gets me. No, they aren’t. They are VERY late to the game, and only started sounding the alarm once it became politically expedient. They were in the same crowd who crowed about RW irrelevance and coming collapse prior to the 2016 election. I’ve been following these trends since the early aughts, and I followed LGM for much of the same time. They’ve only very recently deigned to notice what more serious observers have vainly decried (and been ignored by “serious” instituionalists, a group which LGM can be included in – for all their iconoclast, they remain VERY wedded to the hierarchy they support & benefit from) for decades.

Robert Weston@28 describes the general tone that LGM adheres to, and you yourself have shown your own susceptibility to it with your assertions that rusing fascism is based on policy outcomes rather than structural changes. There have been – and continue to be – deep and significant internal (centralizing) shifts in how political power is exercised in the US, but institutionalists continue to assert that these aren’t as significant as “the wrong people” being allowed to use them. A wise technocrat weilding the power of the imperial presidency, or an unchecked SCOTUS full of sober liberal justices is not just acceptable, but desirable. The Great Unwashed are too crude, ignorant, and uncivilized to govern themselves, after all. What is happening in the US is not existing structures being bent to fascistic ends, it’s existing structures being hollowed out by eliminating long-standing, informal norm-based limits on power and not replacing them. There have been shifts and re-alignments in the past, but there were also efforts among the elites to create informal rules that ensured some degree of power-sharing. With the replacement of patronage and regional party systems by our current nation-wide ideological model, however, there’s less incentive (and enthusiasm) for co-existance, and as a result both major parties have shifted increasingly towards a zero-sum mode of politics. Power centralized under Republicans is not being re-distributed by Democrats when they retake offices, even if they are not accelerating its consolidation nearly as much as the GOP. The GOP is working hard to reduce democratic institutions to a rhetorical framing overlaying a fundemtally changed political structure. This is not a matter of achieving fasistic outcomes within a democratic framework as you suggested above. This is restructuring the US legal and political system into a fascistic system. Norms have already been abandoned, but we are now seeing the reinterpretation of laws as being mere norms, and the institutionalist response has been to call for those laws to be rephrased so as to defeat the current fascistic rationales for framing them as non-binding. This will not work, and all you need to see to know that is to read a handful of SCOTUS decisions. politicalfootball@21‘s analysis is more useful than your own@38. You’re making the mistake of confusing theoretical frameworks used to easily describe existing structures with independent entities possessed of objective characteristics not subject to interpretation. American fascism will not arise from “abusing US constitutional mechanisms”, it will consolidate its power however it can and use the US Constitution as a post hoc rhetorical justification for whatever it has done. Our system of government has and continues to change, for the worse. We don’t benefit from institutionalists wedded to the old power structures treating rhetorical devices as reality.

47

nastywoman 05.19.22 at 3:02 pm

and that somebody who calls her-or himself –
‘Orange Watch’
writes such…. such a lot of… of ‘funny stuff’ about a basically pretty reasonable –
and serious LGM –
Which NOT at all ‘via superficial comments rather than any sort of in-depth interaction with the contents of a given post’ and a useful source of new information, and the front-pager analysis on this particular topic is NOT shallow armchair-QB analysis cast through
a very narrow (and politicaly motivated) lens’ and ‘very frequently, front-pager analysis is NOT as sparse as the author of the article I’m excerpting and linking gets this exactly right” when this tendency is coupled with its commentariat, the overall effect is a blog NOT more concerned with promulgating orthodoxy than disseminating information’ –
AT ALL –
proves that a majority of Right-Wing (American) Idiots really believe that Belgium
IS a beautiful city.

Or in other words:
NONSENSE RULES!

48

nastywoman 05.19.22 at 3:15 pm

@NONSENSE RULES

OR:
3. “I think that has a lot to do with what’s going on in Ukraine. You look at inflation. You look at all of the different things that are happening so bad for our country. The border. Who could forget the border? Millions of people, not two million or one million, like they say.”
This is unedited. He actually said these six sentences one right after another.
4. “Many of these people come from prisons. They’re being let out.”

AND
that happens ALL the time – if you drive through America and talk to strangers – that they finally sing ‘Hotel California’ for you –

YOU just HAVE to ask them…

49

JimV 05.19.22 at 4:32 pm

LGM in my personal assessment rarely rises to the level of a JQ post, and attempts a bit too much comedy for my taste, but I do learn more things first there than at any other blog or TV news show, due to the rapid posting. I find about one of every four or five posts there interesting, which provides two or three good reads a day. EOMV (everyone’s mileage varies).

If memory serves, apart from one poster, things were much calmer in tone there prior to Trump. (I was calmer then too.)

Sample favorite post: Erik Loomis Visits the Grave of John Brown.

50

Tm 05.20.22 at 1:31 pm

OW: „They are VERY late to the game, and only started sounding the alarm once it became politically expedient. They were in the same crowd who crowed about RW irrelevance and coming collapse prior to the 2016 election.“ (References backing up this claim: none)

I haven’t been a longtime reader of LGM but your account is not consistent with the record I am familiar with. E. g.:

TRUMP COULD EASILY WIN
„Even an extremist racist unstable candidate like Donald Trump is going to win 45 percent of the vote. It’s going to be a fight to finish, perhaps not only for this election but for the future of the republic given Trump’s complete disdain for democratic norms. All hands on deck.“
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2016/07/trump-could-easily-win

That was more prescient than 95% of the commentariat at the time. Do I have to remind you of the debates here on CT during 2016, full of delusional pseudoleftist nihilism?
There are still in 2022, as JQ points out, plenty of liberals (but by no means „everyone“) „pretending that the situation is normal“. Your charge of political expediency also makes no sense whatsoever. A lot of LGMs famous „ snide, sneering sarcasm and mockery“ is directed at fellow members of the legal profession. Say what you want but these aren’t opportunists.

Slightly off topic but everybody really needs to read Timothy Snyder (no sneering sarcasm, promised!):
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/19/opinion/russia-fascism-ukraine-putin.html

51

Orange Watch 05.20.22 at 4:14 pm

TM@45:

This comment is at odds with your prior comment. You characterized their content WRT rising fascism as analysis. Analysis is original work, not lit surveys, and certainly not one-off, content-free links to anothers’ work. They are aggragators, not analysts. Note this applies less to Loomis and Farley, more to Campos, and most of all to Lemieux – and of those, Lemieux is the highest-volume poster and the one most responsible for the overall editorial tone of the blog as reflected in its comment section.

Compare their tone and depth to e.g. Digby. I’ll skip a lengthy breakdown b/c my comments are running far too long and getting to the bounds of topicality, but they’ve sounded alarms for as long as LGM – probably longer, given Tom Sullivan’s work there. They do so with less internecine editorializing. They have a constructive rather than passively critical (and again, internecine) analytic perspective. If I was recommending a broad liberal Demicrat news aggragator to follow on RW American extremism, I’d certainly recommend them before LGM even if they lack a snarky cool-kids dopamine hit for their readers.

52

Hidari 05.21.22 at 6:38 am

Of all the academic P.T. Barnum types who jumped on the lucrative Russiagate Train and the even more lucrative (what should we say? Trumpler? Trumpolini?) Train, Snyder is, without doubt, the most irritating, the most politically reprehensible, and the one who most assiduously ignored the virtues of academia (at its best) for the vices of what was, (and is) essentially, a branch of showbiz.

But he will be quickly forgotten.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/09/timothy-snyders-lies/

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/08/timothy-snyder-black-earth-bloodlands-holocaust-soviets-nazis

53

John Quiggin 05.22.22 at 3:08 am

@Hidari Nothing more, please. I don’t have the time to deal with anti-anti-Trumpists particularly the ultra-left variety. I had thought better of you than this.

54

anynameleft 05.23.22 at 1:22 am

a point that has been made is that the right is not organized enough to assume goverance/ rule after a “coup”.
Besides the old adage that revolutionaries do not make successful governments one must consider that the apperent nihilism of the right would not be aiming at creating a structure of goverance just the destruction of existing instititions.
Just as Russian Febuary revolution led to the October revolultion and the French revolution led to Napeleon what, if anything, would follow a right led destruction of the american experiment is, argueably, unknown.

55

TM 05.23.22 at 10:33 am

OW: I said that many LGM posts contain little or no original work but, a fair number do offer in depth analysis (in blog format, so not the same as a long essay or academic paper) and I would add that even the shorter pieces are informed by good analysis. The important thing for me is that the blog has been generally right both in factual and in analytical terms. I really don’t wish to take this discussion further.

I don’t know Digby, maybe it’s a good blog, thanks for the suggestion. Having a brief look at it, the first blogs I see are very similar to LGM – excerpts from other news sources with brief commentary. Which is fine with me but I don’t care for your trash-talking LGM.

Re 52: Daniel Lazare, according to wikipedia, “studeerde Engelse literatuur en is een autodidact in geschiedenis” (English wikipedia has no entry; “geschiedenis” means History). Jacobin published his screed calling historian Timothy Snyder a liar because Snyder talks about Stalin’s as well as Hitler’s crimes in his book “Bloodlands”. Amateur historian Lazare’s position is in line with that of Putin, who, while having not the slightest sympathy for socialism, made telling the truth about Stalinism a criminal offense. Little surprise then that Lazare’s position on Ukraine consists of utter disdain for democracy and tolerance for imperialist aggression of the right kind: “2014 saw a quantum leap, when US-backed protestors toppled a Russian-leaning president in Ukraine, causing Putin to retaliate by seizing the Crimea peninsula”. A reminder of what irresponsible misinformation parts of the left have been fed these past years with respect to Russia.

56

MFB 05.24.22 at 7:28 am

To summarise the original post (since others have made the same summary in comments I presume it is not just my interpretation):

“We claim that our political opponents, who are evil, are plotting a coup in order to impose evil. We must therefore mount a coup in order to establish a permanent regime of goodness”.

Unless I’m much mistaken, this was the basic idea behind the Enabling Act which that nice Mr. Hitler signed in 1933. And many would certainly argue that the German Communist Party posed a threat to niceness and decency, a more substantive one, in fact, than the US Republican Party does.

American liberalism seems to have come a long, long way since the days of the New Deal, and I’m not sure that I appreciate its accomplishments.

57

lurker 05.24.22 at 9:54 am

“And many would certainly argue that the German Communist Party posed a threat to niceness and decency, a more substantive one, in fact, than the US Republican Party does.” (MFB, 56)
‘Many’ = apologists for Nazi enablers and Nazis. The German Communists were in no position to threaten ‘niceness and decency’, they were hopelessly outgunned by the forces of order, and everyone knew this. The German non-Nazi right joined forces with the Nazis to destroy the Weimar Republic because they hated liberal democracy, not because they feared Communism.
“American liberalism seems to have come a long, long way since the days of the New Deal, and I’m not sure that I appreciate its accomplishments.” (MFB, 56)
American conservatism, on the other hand, is recognizably the same it was when they called FDR a Communist.
You can argue that people like the Birchers used to be lunatic fringe, but they were always there and now they are in control.

58

TM 05.24.22 at 10:56 am

“They aren’t particularly subtle about it. You need only read Ginni’s emails and Clarence’s opinions to see exactly how the 2024 coup attempt will go down because it’s identical to the 2020 coup attempt: If a Democrat prevails, red state officials will question the legitimacy of the results, giving state legislatures an opportunity to throw them out and declare the Republican to be the real winner. …
The question remaining isn’t whether it’ll happen; the question is whether it’ll succeed. The Thomases tried this approach in 2020, but like Trump’s other allies, they developed their strategy a bit too late and didn’t buff out the crackpot edges until recently. But this time they’re putting in the work with plenty of time to spare.”

“The question isn’t whether the 2024 presidential election is going to be stolen; it’s what we’re going to collectively do about it when it is stolen.”
https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/05/ginni-and-clarence-thomas-steal-2024-election-coup.html
https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2022/05/which-side-are-you-on-2

59

JimV 05.24.22 at 2:07 pm

I saw no call for a preemptive coup in the OP. I saw a need for an Edward R. Murrow or a Walter Cronkite to speak up and distinguish right from wrong. Also a need for a Federal Justice Department to do its duty, and for State Attorneys General to do theirs. Was it a coup when McCarthy was censured, or when Cronkite said the Vietnam War was a mistake, or when Agnew was convicted and Nixon was forced to resign?

60

Shirley0401 05.24.22 at 5:59 pm

Thomas P @ 4

There is a third option besides the system continuing to work as intended and an authoritarian leader taking over, and that is that the situation becomes so deadlocked that the federal government is incable of meeting even basic functions. In many ways this may be the worst outcome, since it could cause a collapse of the dollar and thus much of the world economy and states leaving (or trying to leave) the Union.

I’ve noticed a lot of people claiming the collapse of the US as a Major World Power would necessarily be a bad thing, but I’m not so sure I think it’s true that would inevitably be the case. Provided the states on each coast stick together and play nice, they’d account for a handful of significant economies and remain important centers of innovation, expertise, and production. If the US ceased to be something close to a cultural hegemon, it’s hard to imagine how that would be a bad thing. A world with the US as arguably the dominant power of the past 50 years is better off in many ways than it was 50 years ago, but we’re also seeing increasing political instability across the world, in addition to hurtling towards climate catastrophe, and I’m far from confident we all (in a global sense) wouldn’t be better off without the US in its current position.

61

John Quiggin 05.24.22 at 7:06 pm

Nothing more from you either, MFB. You’re permanently banned.

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