Hillary Clinton has given her most detailed account yet of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, but said she will not join the "political slugfest" over the tragedy. In excerpts from her forthcoming memoir "Hard Choices," Clinton…
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Those words are at best rough approximations or terms of art, used to describe amorphous sets of phenomena that cannot easily be crammed into two opposing buckets. At worst — and given the political and cultural tendencies of the 21st century to this point, we should always go with "at worst" — they are dangerous oversimplifications, desperate attempts to make a murky situation where no one and nothing is what it seems to be fit into some borrowed or invented template from World War II or the Cold War or the American Revolution or God knows what else.
I've made a version of this argument before, on the basis that those words give both sides too much credit for internal coherence — "in both cases, what it says on the box is not exactly what's inside" — and also that their definitions have been stretched to the point of meaninglessness.
When we try to describe the intensely polarized partisan conflict in the United States and the renaissance of the authoritarian far right in Europe and the war in Ukraine as all being aspects of a global "democracy versus fascism" smackdown, I'm afraid we reveal that we don't know what the words mean, and that in fact they may not mean anything.
Consider, for instance, that almost everyone presents themselves as standing up for "democracy," as they claim to perceive it. Republicans who want to rig elections, nullify the popular vote or limit the franchise to people like them certainly do, and if we look at the troubled history of so-called democracy in America, we may be compelled to admit that they have a point.
In the recent midterm elections, it was rhetorically useful (and somewhat surprisingly so) for Democrats to define themselves as defending democracy against the kinda-sorta-fascists who seek to destroy it. To be clear, I'm at least partly sympathetic to this argument, but as is customary with the Democratic Party, it's an entirely negative case: Vote for us because we're not the mean, crazy Nazi bigots! We promise we will do something about worsening inequality and widespread corruption sometime very soon! But right now we need to hand-wave you on to the next election and the one after that, which will decide the future of our country!
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have sometimes used the word "democracy" to describe their semi-shared agenda, for heaven's sake, while making clear that what they mean by that is something quite different from the decadent, corrupt and declining "liberal democracy" of the West. If that sounds categorically preposterous to right-thinking people like you and me, it's nonetheless a highly effective troll, aimed directly at the uncomfortable fact that we don't know what the word means and have never been able to fulfill its hypothetical promises. The truth of the matter is painful: Our "system" unquestionably has more of the external markings of democracy than theirs does, but its internal functions are severely compromised.
On the other side of the ledger, pretty much no one wants to be called a fascist these days, with the possible exception of internet edgelords like Nick Fuentes, whose apparent function in the political economy is to make extreme-right Republicans like Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene seem almost normal by comparison. I'm not suggesting that Fuentes and his ilk aren't potentially or actually dangerous — Gosar and Greene certainly are — only that in the current global and American context overt neo-Nazis serve as chaos agents who cloud our perceptions, not as points of illumination.
Consider, for instance, that Putin has repeatedly justified the Russian invasion as a campaign to "denazify" Ukraine, a patently insincere claim that contains just enough granules of deep-down plausibility to be a little bit troubling. Of course the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish by ancestry, is not a "Nazi" regime, and the role played by far-right paramilitary groups in Ukraine's defense is relatively minor. But Ukraine is also a hilariously dreadful example of "democracy," plagued by profound institutional corruption and moving decisively backward on political freedoms, civil liberties and all the indicators of social democracy.
My own sense is that while there may be good reasons for people and governments in the West to support Ukraine against Russia — the conception of a nation-state, and the right of its people to autonomy and self-determination, are modern inventions, but ones for which most of us feel instinctive sympathy — it's distinctly unhelpful to call it a grand conflict between democracy and fascism, or to pretend that clarifies anything.
In a fascinating essay for New Left Review, Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko unpacks the "decolonization" of his country in the aftermath of a "deficient revolution" that overthrew the previous pro-Putin authoritarian regime but could "neither achieve the consolidation of liberal democracy nor eradicate corruption," while worsening "crime rates, social inequality and ethnic tensions."
"Paradoxically, despite the objective imperatives of the war," he writes, Zelenskyy's government has pushed through a wide range of neoliberal reforms, "proceeding with privatizations, lowering taxes, scrapping protective labour legislation and favouring 'transparent' international corporations over 'corrupt' domestic firms." The plans for "post-war reconstruction" offered at a conference in Switzerland last summer, Ishchenko continues, "did not read like a programme for building a stronger sovereign state but like a pitch to foreign investors for a start-up."
That article, it seems to me, offers crucial guidance in understanding the true nature of the increasingly perilous U.S. proxy war in Ukraine, which may, unhappily, be more about defending a particular set of global economic interests than about anything as grand and vague as "democracy." It also may lead us toward a recognition that the left-wing and right-wing critics of that war — an unwieldy "Halloween coalition" of peace advocates and America First isolationists — make a number of important points that should not be ignored, even as that lures too many of them (as I see it) into an unacceptable moral compromise with tyranny.
But that might be too much to chew on this weekend. I'll return for now to the premise I began with: The overloaded blimps labeled as "democracy" and "fascism," which float above our flattened cultural landscape unmoored to anything real, are meant to be reassuring (at least to those of us who say we're in favor of the former) but in fact are precisely the opposite. We project our hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies onto them, but more than anything our anxieties. We don't know what they mean, we don't know which one is "winning" and, somewhere deep down, we're not quite sure which one we really want.
'Like a domestic violence situation': Former Rep. concerned about Lindsey Graham's Trump relationship
In a discussion about Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin suggested that he might be stuck in some kind of hostage situation for Donald Trump world.
"I don't know if it's just me, but does Graham look like he's being held hostage there?" the host asked after rolling footage of one of the recent Trump events. "Should we say, hey, Lindsey, blink twice if you need help? This is the same Lindsey Graham who repeatedly disavowed Trump both before he was elected, and after the Jan. 6th insurrection."
"Count me out," Graham proclaimed on the Senate floor after the Jan. 6 attack.
Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) noted that she remembers the times that Graham was brave enough to stand against Trump and each time he returned.
"I remember watching very clearly on Jan. 6," Hill recalled. "I was — finally, this is the moment that he's done. It's just not. It feels like a domestic violence situation. I don't know what to say, except that he really, it's pretty pathetic is what it boils down."
Strategist Basil Smikle said that Graham knows which side his bread is buttered.
"That's what's intriguing to me, that he would come out so strong, so early," he said. "When the rest of the party is struggling, not that much, but trying to figure out how to keep a distance from Donald Trump, they may want to align with the policies. And separate themselves from the man, as difficult as that might be. I'm surprised [Graham's] not taking a bit of a step back, but in my view, we are gonna have Ron DeSantis perhaps leading his own, towards his own path nomination, with his own brand of a culture war, and his own brand of draining the swamp, which might include people like Lindsey Graham."
Lindsey Graham www.youtube.com
NBC News reported this week that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is shooting for the shortlist for Donald Trump's vice presidential nominee in 2024. Trump hasn't yet won the 2024 nomination, but there are already conversations about who will be the new Mike Pence. It was confirmed by Steve Bannon.
Writing for the Daily Beast, conservative Matt Lewis explained that Greene is never going to be the one he chooses.
“The amazing thing about the concept of Marjorie Taylor Greene being Donald Trump’s vice president is that you would actually have someone who would make you worried that Donald Trump might have a heart attack,” Lewis quoted conservative Jonah Goldberg on his The Dispatch podcast. “I mean, all of a sudden, you’re telling Trump, ‘Be careful going down those stairs!’”
"Put yourself in his twisted frame of mind. Trump’s selfish criteria will dictate doing a) what makes him look good, b) what makes him happy, and c) what will help him win," wrote Lewis, noting that Pence won't make the "mistake" of choosing someone like Pence who helps balance the ticket.
He explained that in Trump's eyes, Greene is "low rent." Despite his claims of being for the common man, the golden toilet owner is a wealthy snob.
"Second, does Trump want Greene to inherit the family silver? Whoever he selects as his running mate would, to some extent, inherit his mantle. This is true because of Trump’s age and because, even if he wins, he could only (legally) serve one term. He doesn’t want a successor," wrote Lewis.
The third piece harkens back to the firing of Steve Bannon. When Bannon ended up on the cover of TIME magazine and began touting his own success in winning Trump the election, he was fired fairly quickly thereafter.
"Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Trump said in a statement at the time.
So, if Trump can't trust normal Republicans ad far-right celebrity Republicans, he's left with a desperate need for an incredibly boring, far-right official desperate to do whatever Trump tells him.
He closed by saying that it doesn't really matter who Trump picks because in the end, the Greene "ticket" has already "won." But, there's always Lindsey Graham.