The Ever-Radicalizing Republicans
How do we fight back against left extremism if the alternative is worse?
I was a different person in the time before I realized that the only way to stop the far-Left was through radical use of state power to reorganize nearly every institution.
That’s a quote from a tweet that seems to me quite typical of one theme now resurgent on the right. That theme is that the only way to defeat left illiberalism is through right illiberalism. It was the single cohering thread at the recent National Conservatism Conference, as David Brooks reported. It’s where a lot of the intellectual excitement is. And in a country as ideologically and culturally diverse as this one, it’s a total dead end. It does nothing but intensify the mutual cycle of revenge and resentment that is cutting what’s left of the sinews of our liberal democracy.
It means using state governments to ban books, censor classrooms, and silence teachers, with overly broad laws that chill debate and free speech. In Kansas, more than two dozen suspect books have been taken out of school libraries for evaluation; in Texas, they’re reviewing up to 10,000 books for removal; in Virginia, a school board removed books from school libraries on the grounds of being “sexually explicit”:
Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned. ‘I think we should throw those books in a fire,’ Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to ‘see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.’
I think it’s a reasonable rule of thumb to say that politicians who favor book burnings are not going to save liberal democracy.
In Alabama, Samford University just de-platformed that wild-eyed radical, Jon Meacham, for being too far left. In Florida, state college professors were originally barred from giving testimony against voting restrictions by Governor DeSantis, a grotesque assault on academic freedom. Many of the laws banning the teaching of CRT are also far too broad, threatening to shut down any honest discussion of this country’s brutally racist past.
And Trump remains the critical figure at the rancid center of this reactionary, authoritarian tendency. The purge of Republicans who resisted his bid to overturn the election continues. One target is Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, who may well be primaried because he followed the rule of law during the 2020 election. Ditto for that state’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, for the exact same reason. The raft of “election integrity” measures passed in several states — Wisconsin is one of the worst — also show the GOP is not dedicated to respecting electoral results if the Democrats win. I don’t believe that requiring voter ID is so terrible; but I do think that keeping electoral processes as far away from partisan pressure is essential for a legitimate, functioning democracy. And I can’t believe I have to write that sentence.
Of the two most prominent GOP defenders of democratic norms, one, Liz Cheney, has just been disowned by the Wyoming GOP, and the other, Adam Kinzinger, is retiring. They were two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, and another, Anthony Gonzalez, is also bowing out because of the “toxic dynamics inside our own party.” Trump is now calling for the removal of the remaining eight. The wonderful Marvin Olasky has been ousted as the editor of World, a Christian news organization, for the same cult-loyalty test. Evangelicals in Texas are now chanting “Let’s Go Brandon!” in church services, as Christianism intensifies.
And we learn in a new book by Jon Karl that an extensive HR operation to scour even mild Republican dissenters was conducted by the Trump White House itself: “Some Trump aides privately compared the [Presidential Personnel Office] to the East German Stasi or even the Gestapo — always on the lookout for traitors within.”
Tribalism? Despite Trump’s plans for massive infrastructure spending, and the usually bipartisan nature of bridges and roads, there was an unhinged fury in the conservative intelligentsia at the handful of House Republicans who backed the Biden deal. They “betrayed the country,” according to Rachel Bovard. Philip Klein erupted: “Every Republican who voted for this monstrosity who is not retiring should be primaried and defeated.” Andrew McCarthy piled on with the “primaried” talk. Many of the House members who voted yes may have their committee assignments stripped; others have gotten death threats. As David Graham observed, “Support an attack on Congress? No problem. Vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill? You’ve betrayed your country.”
The rhetoric of some of the anti-woke leaders is also increasingly radical. Christopher Rufo tweeted: “It’s time to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers unions, and overturn the school boards.” A common theme is along the lines of “The anti-woke liberals are the very last people who should be expected to save us.”
And, look, I understand the impulse here. I’m as agonized as anyone over the woke over-reach, in every field of life, gutting the core principles of our system of government in favor of identitarian ressentiment. And yes, the fight was started by the far left’s capture of the media (see my next item below), corporate HR, and the entire education establishment. It’s maddening to see this ignored, denied, glossed over, or tolerated — especially by cowardly liberals, incapable of wresting free.
But the contempt for liberal discourse, the disdain for norms, the resilient cult-worship of a deranged tyrant, and the banning of books? The discrediting of fair elections, the deployment of violent rhetoric and imagery, the QAnon madness, the continued support for Trump’s self-evident insanity? No, no, and no, sir.
There is no way through illiberalism to a functioning democracy. Our society is too deeply diverse in every respect. And the fight back against wokery is slowly winning over public opinion, as the latest elections show. There are viable future Republicans who are not as nuts as Trump. And the only way to defeat the far left is by rallying the middle - which we cannot do if the GOP turns off the very independent, moderate suburban voters we need.
You want to force some of us on the center right to vote Democrat again? Keep it up.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. This week’s issue also includes: my long response to a long dissent from Jonathan V. Last over my criticism of the MSM; more dissents from readers on the same subject; my extensive chat with Dominic Cummings, the brilliant brain of Brexit; readers expressing their dislike of his former boss, Boris Johnson; four notable quotes from the news week; an Yglesias Award over the Rittenhouse case; a Hathos Alert from Milo Yiannopoulos full of grace; a moving Mental Health Break of a banjo-loving fox; ten items from substackers we enjoyed reading this week; a stirring view of an autumn in Pennsylvania; and, as always, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a re-subscriber:
Andrew, I found myself in so much disagreement with you over the last year that I didn’t re-up my sub when it expired. You kindly kept sending me the free version of the Weekly Dish, and as I thought more about it, I realized that eliminating smart discourse I happened to not to agree with is the whole fucking problem with the world today. I’ve long known that — and yet I still fell into the trap. So I re-subbed. No, I don’t want a thanks or a medal or a reply, but I do want to encourage you and Chris to keep doing what you do.
Another re-subber gets a bit more specific:
While demonizing political leaders has long been common (but not stalking them, as you detail in your “the personal is not political” piece), the extreme demonizing of Trump *voters* — almost half the population — is something that is widespread and REALLY dangerous. So your airing of the legitimate concerns of Trump voters here and here is something we really need more of. I don’t see how any news organization can call themselves centrist if positions such as pro-US industrial and trade policy, and pro enforcement of immigration laws, are seen as racist and beyond the pale — when in fact, those views are held by over half the voters, and are critical to the preservation of the best, most free, and least racist large country in the history of the planet.
I’ve long appreciated the (super good) non-subscriber posts arriving in my inbox. But your recent airing of many Trump voters’ valid critiques sealed the deal.
New On The Dishcast: Dominic Cummings
How to introduce Dominic Cummings? I’d say he has a decent claim to be one of the most influential figures in modern European history, whatever you think of him. He innovated Brexit, led the Leave campaign, then guided Boris Johnson into a stinking election victory in 2019. The two allies then fell out, Cummings quit — and he is now “having a think.” He almost never gives interviews — let alone chat for an hour and a half. So this is a bit of a Dish coup.
For two clips of our conversation — on the reasons he resigned as top aide at Number 10, and on what US politicians can learn from Brexit on immigration — head over to our YouTube page. Listen to the whole episode here. And be sure to sign up for the Dominic Cummings Substack.
Jonathan Last’s Weak, Lame Defense Of The MSM
The core thrust of Jonathan V. Last’s rebuttal of my column last week is that the mainstream media is so vast that nothing can really be said about its agenda, or ideological bent. JVL argues the MSM has seen no real changes in the last five years or so, nothing more egregious than in the past, and nothing to worry about. The collapse in the public’s faith in the media is therefore mainly a function of mass delusion fueled by right-wing propaganda, including critics like me.
I see the appeal of this argument — especially for journalists in legacy media, who lapped it up. And it has a kernel of truth to it: the MSM is indeed vast, and you can always find someone somewhere who got something right in that horizonless sea of linkage. But I was not cherry-picking. I was referring to legacy media — the networks, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, NYT, WaPo, LAT, and magazines, like The Atlantic, or NYMag — the media that Dems prefer. I’m omitting Fox, the WSJ, and “conservative” media.
In the wake of the Rittenhouse trial, I noted a pattern across major stories, especially since Trump arrived on the scene. The pattern was one where false narratives prevailed until a flood of facts made them impossible to be sustained, and where errors were not subsequently admitted. And it was a pattern in which errors were uniformly those that benefited the left.
The core example was the Rittenhouse case. JVL ignored that. Next was the Steele Dossier, which set legacy media reporting on a wild goose chase they are still reluctant to acknowledge. JVL ignored that too. He also ignored my account of how, in a leaked internal meeting transcript, the NYT’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, pledged to commit the NYT to the Russia story for two years (bad call), and then told staffers to double down on the “white supremacy” narrative for the next two years.
Eventually, JVL says I’m wrong about the media downplaying inflation. My point was not that they didn’t report on it (they had to), but that in almost every story they downplayed it or dismissed it as a non-issue. JVL cites two NYT pieces to rebut me. In the first, we’re told, “the Fed is not overly concerned about the price increases, viewing them as temporary and not the type of inflation that could spiral out of control.” In the second, the headline itself says: “Is Inflation About to Take Off? That’s the Wrong Question,” and in the article itself, we are told even more bluntly that, despite rising prices, “inflation itself is not showing up.” In August, for good measure, the NYT actually ran a piece called “179 Reasons You Probably Don’t Need To Worry About Inflation.” So the two MSM pieces JVL cites to rebut my point actually confirm it. What else has he got?
The Jussie Smollett hoax. JVL actually believes the media was skeptical from the get-go — more skeptical than even Donald Trump who said, in the wake of the coverage, that the assault was “horrible” and “it doesn’t get worse.” So skeptical, in fact, that more than two weeks after the hoax, ABC News’ Robin Roberts sat down for the first MSM interview with Smollett, fawned all over him, and let him elaborate even further. She later explained why: “I’m a black gay woman; he’s a black gay man. He’s saying that there’s a hate crime, so if I’m too hard, then my LGBT community is going to say, ‘You don’t believe a brother.’ If I’m too light on him, it’s like, ‘Oh, because you are in the community, you’re giving him a pass.’”
But you remember the chronology too. The media’s early credulity toward Smollett was so well-known it became the source of a hilarious Dave Chappelle bit! (See the video above.) And no one at ABC News ever copped to the bad journalism. In fact, a GMA staffer argued, “There’s not really a spirit of regret about the Jussie interview. No one feels that Robin got duped. Taken advantage of, yes, but not duped.” So my argument that the MSM gets things wrong for ideological reasons and then fails to be properly accountable for it is actually perfectly illustrated in the pieces JVL picks.
I could do this all day, but you get the idea.
The Rolling Stone story. JVL says the MSM debunked it. In fact, it was one lone freelancer, Richard Bradley, who first questioned the story’s veracity on his own blog six days after the story first appeared, and was vilified and mocked with headlines like, “‘Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?’ Asks Idiot.” (To her credit, that writer apologized.) It was Reason, a libertarian alternative to the MSM, that wrote the first article querying the story two weeks after it was published. Erik Wemple wrote the first MSM piece for the WaPo. (Wemple, like Nick Miroff at the WaPo, is one of those MSM journalists we still trust, because he’s shown he’s an honest broker, most recently with his sterling work on the Russia narrative. Does Wemple disprove MSM narrative-making — because he’s in the MSM? I’d say he’s an exception that proves the rule.)
Let’s note the other stories I cited: Russian bounties on US soldiers; the dismissal of the lab leak theory; the death of Officer Sicknick; the “seasonal” surge of migrants at the southern border in 2021; the false Wi-Spa trans story; the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story as Russian disinformation. JVL does not even try to rebut any of them. He simply asserts that media errors are not new. Of course they are not. What’s new is the frequency of them, and that every single one favors one tribe.
The next part of JVL’s piece is a kitchen sink of ad hominems, as if I hadn’t declared and linked to my own fallibility upfront in my column. Then he accuses me of criticizing the MSM solely because of sour grapes because I was fired by NYMag for not being woke enough. Please. I’m way better off now than I was at NYMag. I’m just struck by how distorted the MSM has become — and, according to polls, I’m not alone.
I might suggest in response that JVL and his colleagues at The Bulwark have an incentive to support the most left-slanted of media because they all seem to work for MSNBC, have chucked what conservative principles they once had, are funded by leftist foundations, including Pierre Omidyar’s, and are now propagandists for the Democrats. Their latest is a fellatial book review and podcast with … Adam Schiff!
I can do this all day as well, you see?
Here’s some more evidence. In Eric Kaufmann’s recent study for the Manhattan Institute, he shows how a switch flipped in the media around 2015 — as terms and language from from CRT took over. A 2020 report from Tablet — “How the Media Led the Great Racial Awakening”— shows when the CRT capture began:
A more extensive study this year comes from researchers David Rozado, Musa Al-Gharbi, and Jamin Halberstadt. Check it out:
“Who led the way?” asks a close reader of the study. “NYT journalists increased their usage of ‘white supremacy’ by 4,196% [and] WaPo journalists by 5,913%.” This was an ideological narrative imposed by the elites.
And where’s the accountability? Have Rachel Maddow or Ben Smith expressed any regret for promoting the Steele Dossier? Will The Intercept cop to their incessant coverage of it? Will Jon Chait, who claimed Trump may have been a Russian asset since the 1980s, and wrote that the dossier was looking “more and more real”? Will Michelle Goldberg, who hyped the pee tape? Will Brian Beutler? Will Nicole Wallace, on the story of Russian bounties? At Buzzfeed News, where Ben Smith first published the dossier, they still haven’t even mentioned the word “Danchenko.”
For more dissents on this issue, which were many, check out our podcast page, where readers and I hash it all out.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a three-month sub if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for the last week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today.
See you next Friday.