Thomas Frank on anti-Trump authoritarians

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Thomas Frank, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, points out that the hard core Trump haters are just as authoritarian as President Trump himself.

I remember, back in the 1950s, that the conventional wisdom among college-educated liberals was that if you wanted to fight Communism, you had to understand and address the reasons why poor and down-trodden people saw Communism as an answer.

Those liberals also perceived that threats to liberty could come in many forms: not just fascism, but Communism; not just Communism, but the followers of Joe McCarthy and the Ku Klux Klan.

In the era of Donald Trump, establishment liberals lack this insight.  They do not look at the reasons why ordinary people might turn to someone like Donald Trump, and they fight dissent by trying to silence dissenters.

Here’s how Thomas Frank puts it—

….. Millions of ordinary Americans despise the well educated elite. Why?

Look at the opioid epidemic that raged through middle America in the years before 2016 — a gift of Big Pharma and the medical profession.

Look at the de-industrialization that afflicted the same geographic areas — a product of our brilliant free trade deals.

Look at the global financial crisis and the bailouts — the deeds of America’s greatest math and financial geniuses, who faced almost no consequences for their actions.

Look at the Iraq War — the toast of the foreign policy establishment.

Look at the incredible fact that American life expectancy was actually declining in the years before 2017 rather than increasing.

Trump did nothing to solve any of these problems.  But everyone knows they exist.

One side talks, lectures, scolds and instructs, and the other side — silent by definition these days — seethes with resentment.

Everyone knows this awful dynamic had a role in elevating the racist demagogue Trump to the presidency.  Everyone also knows this country is primed to explode.  [snip]

There are two possible ways of dealing with this situation.

On one hand, liberals can demand the obvious material actions that are necessary to heal this society. 

For starters we must reform America’s racist police forces and its racist criminal justice system.  But we must go much further. 

Americans have to be able to form unions again, and start businesses, and go to college without fear of crippling debt, and also to make a good living even if they didn’t go to college at all.  President Biden’s directive in July to begin enforcing antitrust laws again is a huge step in this direction.

The other alternative is to double down on what we might call liberal authoritarianism: to recoil in disgust at a country that doesn’t live up to our enlightened standards and dream up ways to require its people to accept authorized authority: to censor the utterances of these wicked Americans, to call down ostracism on them, to force them to accept our vision of the world.

Anti-Trump hysteria is often regarded as having been a progressive development, a rebirth of left politics, even.  But it was also, potentially, the path to liberal authoritarianism.

Four years of Trump hysteria have soured the liberals’ enchanted vision of the US.  America, they tell us again and again these days, is a fundamentally wicked land.  Economic reforms are a chump’s game.  What America requires now, they say, is discipline.

Longing for the dictatorship of the expertariat is just a slightly more vivid expression of the authoritarian tendencies that now, post-Trump, make up more and more of the liberal faith.

In fact, there is a real right-wing threat to democratic governance, but it doesn’t come mainly from Trump or right-wing populists.  It consists of changing the election system to discourage voting by racial minorities, low-wage workers, college students and other likely opponents of the Republican Party.

Greg Palast, a top-notch investigative reporter, has been on top of this issue for years.  But Democratic leaders are strangely apathetic about voting rights.

As for Trump himself, he really was a terrible president.  He was ignorant, short-sighted and blindly selfish, and it showed.  But his policies were largely continuations of G.W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s—tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for big business, forever wars, a hunger games economy and big brother government.  He was mostly attacked for things he didn’t do (Russiagate) or mattered little (his vulgarity).

The failed attempt to impeach Trump strengthened him.  It made him seem like a martyr.  So did the ban of Trump from social media.  So will attempts by Democrats to prosecute him.  Conceivably he could run again in 2024.  Conceivably he could win.

The only way forward for a Biden administration is to press for program that will leave a majority of Americans better off than they were before.  Do they have the will and the skill to do it?  Is it even politically possible?  There’s no way to know unless they try.


U.S. liberals’ hysteria outlives Trump by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.  The whole article is well worth reading.  Why are Thomas Frank’s articles no longer being published by American magazines and newspapers?

The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. Is Very Real and Has Nothing to Do With Trump by Glenn Greenwald.  [Added Later]

An Ugly War Among Leftist YouTubers Shows Common Toxic Pathologies Plaguing U.S. Politics by Glenn Greenwald.

The anatomy of digital censorship by Haydar Khan for The Scrum.

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3 Responses to “Thomas Frank on anti-Trump authoritarians”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    Biden is NOT a Liberal. Many of us on the left side of things are NOT Liberals. This articles smacks of “both-siderism” … wanting to blame Liberals for things that have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Liberals didn’t create the college debt situation, for instance. NEOLIBERALS did … but that’s not Liberals. & the corporations who have bought members of both parties … maybe that’s the real enemy here … not the “liberal elite” … not anyone else. Nobody EVER seems to talk about THEM.

    Liked by 2 people

    • philebersole Says:

      Overall, I agree with you.

      But political terminology is hard to get right. Many call themselves “liberals,” but have no interest in defending liberty. Many call themselves “conservatives,” but have no interest in conserving good things. I usually get around this by writing about “self-described liberals,” “self-described conservatives,” etc., but failed to do so in this case.

      I do think there are people in what Frank calls the “professional-managerial class” who enjoy high income based on their credentials and connections, and think of themselves as liberal and progressive, but focus on trying to change the thinking and behavior of unenlightened, low-status individuals while allowing militarists and oligarchs free rein.

      Of course there are many individual exceptions in the PMC class, including Frank himself.

      President Biden has said some good things, issued some good executive orders and made some good appointments. I would say he represents an improvement over Trump, Obama and G.W. Bush. But this may not be enough.

      All the real energy of his administration has gone into pursuing a new cold war against China and Russia, imposing the new “woke” ideas about race and gender and bailing out corporations and the financial markets.

      I think the USA is heading into an era when we will have to deal with real crises (pandemics, climate-related disasters, a breakdown of the global economy) and not just self-created crises arising from the natural of our dysfunctional political and economic system.

      Will there be a leader who can rise to the occasion? Will we the people be able to rise to the occasion? I hate to say flatly “no” because if you assume failure in advance, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Pfeiffer Says:

    “Racist demagogue” ??
    It might be adequate justification to censer, impeach and destroy him.
    Do you know that Trump horrified the Palm Beach elite when he allowed Jews and people of color to join Mara Lago—at a time when every other exclusive country club in the area excluded them?
    Sound racist to you?
    If you want credibility, do your research before smearing Trump or anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

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