After the Republic

Pondering the Israel-Lebanon conflict in 2006, neoconservative armchair general John Podhoretz wondered if the tactical mistake Americans made in Iraq “was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything?” 

“Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between the ages of 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of the sectarian violence now?” he asked.

Of course, it never occurred to Podhoretz that our biggest mistake was to set foot in Iraq at all, that America should have remained, as much as yet possible, a republic not an empire.

The problem with empires is that they all eventually come home. The logical conclusion of empire is that the instruments of force and fraud used to subdue and pacify foreign populations are applied to citizens. 

“When this nightmare is over, we need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It would erase Trump’s lies,” former labor secretary Robert Reich huffed, “comfort those who have been harmed by his hatefulness, and name every official, politician, executive, and media mogul whose greed and cowardice enabled this catastrophe.” 

“The most humane and reasonable way to deal with all these people,” MSNBC host Chris Hayes wrote of Trump supporters, “if we survive this, is some kind of truth and reconciliation commission.” Archneoconservative Bill Kristol responded with a contemptuous quip: “How about truth and no reconciliation?”

“Michael Anton is the Robert Brasillach of our times and deserves the same fate,” Nils Gilman tweeted. Brasillach was a French author and journalist executed for “intellectual crimes” during World War II. In other words, Gilman, the vice president of programs at the left-wing Berggruen Institute, thinks it’s fair to incite the execution of political opponents for their intellectual crimes. Predictably, Gilman also advocates a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission, something South Africa used to confront the legacy of Apartheid in a way that enabled restorative justice.”

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s court “conservative,” insists Republicans entertaining the investigation of electoral fraud “should never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into ‘polite’ society. We have a list.” It’s not enough, she said, for Joe Biden to overtake Donald Trump as president, but Trump’s “enablers have to lose. We have to collectively burn down the Republican Party. We have to level them. Because if there are survivors . . . they will do it again.” 

Unhinged psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee fondly retold a story she claims a reporter whose grandparents were refugees from Nazi Germany related to her “I cannot help but remember a conversation I had with my grandfather,” she wrote, “about the firebombing of Dresden, whether he thought the Allies should be reproached for targeting civilians . . . .” The moral of the story, according to Lee: “He said—I remember this well—that it was a necessity, because nothing short of the sight of SEEING THEIR CITIES LEVELED would have broken the spell. The German public, he said, was not open to reason. They could not be persuaded to abandon Hitler.”

“No seriously . . . how *do* you deprogram 75 million people? Where do you start? Fox? Facebook?” asked David Atkins, an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from California. “We have to start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan. Or the failures of Reconstruction in the South.”

“Republicanism is no longer a political problem,” tweeted Jerry Saltz, senior art critic of New York magazine. “Republicanism is a social problem. It must be treated in the same way coronavirus is treated: it has to be isolated and snuffed-out by repressing it in about 70% of the general population.” Saltz assures “the ‘ism’ not the people,” but bombs and bullets have never discriminated between people and the “-isms” they hold. (Saltz subsequently deleted the tweets.)

It should be clear by now that as far as the establishment and its ideological deputies are concerned, every single American who voted for Trump in either election is to them what Sunni men were to Podhoretz. “Democracy-building,” once the main item on the foreign policy menu, will now become domestic policy priority number one as it is shoved down Americans’ throats. The establishment and its proxies now claim just cause for their efforts to consolidate control over democratic institutions, courts, law enforcement apparatuses, and information flow. 

Regardless of Trump’s competency or his fidelity to the mandate, 2016 was a referendum against American empire at home and abroad. The illusion of republicanism was tenable until a mass of Americans decided it wasn’t. Now the mask is off, the contradictions of empire will be resolved. 

Regardless of what comes of the fraud investigations in the aftermath of the presidential election, it is true enough that a mass of Americans feel that they are no longer in control of their national destiny, that their voices either don’t matter or are suppressed by the powers that be. The democratic processes and institutions of this country have become so Byzantine that they are no longer democratic at all and require experts—a technically trained class of priests—to discern the omens and auguries of managerial democracy as they have done around the globe. 

It matters just as much whether fraud actually happened as it does that people believe the system is illegitimate, which is something we might be overlooking. “Faith” in the system has eroded. Establishmentarians, whether they identify as liberal or conservative, tacitly acknowledge this every time they propose illiberal means supposedly to conserve liberal institutions. They do not believe that liberal democracy is enough, that it is possible or desirable to keep the apparatuses of the state neutral.

Millions of Americans find themselves in the shoes of Sherman McCoy, the protagonist of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. Deprived of his freedom, his wealth, his status, his children, his wife, his mistress, his friends, his social standing, his dignity, McCoy at last sheds the skin of a wimpy yuppy and bears his teeth. 

“They don’t alter that dog’s personality with dog biscuits or pills,” McCoy says of his transformation. “They chain it up, and they beat it, and they bait it, and they taunt it, and they beat it some more, until it turns and bares its fangs and is ready for the final fight every time it hears a sound. . . . The dog doesn’t cling to the notion that he’s a fabulous house pet in some terrific dog show, the way the man does. The dog gets the idea. The dog knows when it’s time to turn into an animal and fight.”

The ruling class knows that whether Trump succeeds or fails to overturn the course of this election is irrelevant to the seeds that have been planted in the psyche of these Americans.

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About Pedro Gonzalez

Pedro Gonzalez is associate editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He publishes the weekly Contra newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @emeriticus.

Photo: New York Historical Society/Getty Images

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