Do Postmodernism and Critical Theory Explain America's Insanity? Part I

I discuss American politics, again, with my Great Old Pop

As I look at the United States right now, two things—above all—strike me as stunning. 

First, the Republican Party decided that this year, they simply wouldn’t publish a Party platform. The GOP has no written platform at all this year.

The GOP was founded in 1854 and has since, every four years, published a detailed, written platform—as have the Democrats. Traditionally, each national party has a platform-writing committee, composed of major party figures and representatives of interest groups closely linked with the party. Typically, the party platform describes the principles and strategies the Party proposes to apply to address the nation’s most pressing political issues and goals. The party platform is is made of planks, declarations upon each specific issue.

Party platforms and their planks are key elements of our electoral process. They give the candidates a clear political position upon which to campaign. They tell voters, explicitly, what the Party believes, which issues the Party thinks important, and how—if elected—they will address them.

Often there is fierce debate over platform elements, such as the kind we saw between the Green New Deal wing of the Democratic Party and the more pragmatic, business-oriented Biden wing of the Party. Platforms don’t formally bind elected officials to every aspect of the platform, but researchers have found that the platform does, indeed, strongly predict what the party will do in office.

The platforms are the product of immense democratic deliberation, from the grass roots up, and they represent the all the compromise, the give-and-take, the habits of mind, demanded by the discipline of self-governance.

This was the GOP platform in 1972. It was serious and substantive: The Table of Contents was, as expected, wide ranging, and each plank was a serious statement of policy principle. Take, for example, the statement treating Morality in Foreign Policy:

The goal of Republican foreign policy is the achievement of liberty under law and a just and lasting peace in the world. The principles by which we act to achieve peace and to protect the interests of the United States must merit the restored confidence of our people.

We recognize and commend that great beacon of human courage and morality, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for his compelling message that we must face the world with no illusions about the nature of tyranny. Ours will be a foreign policy that keeps this ever in mind.

Ours will be a foreign policy which recognizes that in international negotiations we must make no undue concessions; that in pursuing detente we must not grant unilateral favors with only the hope of getting future favors in return.

Agreements that are negotiated, such as the one signed in Helsinki, must not take from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day gaining it.

Finally, we are firmly committed to a foreign policy in which secret agreements, hidden from our people, will have no part.

Honestly, openly, and with firm conviction, we shall go forward as a united people to forge a lasting peace in the world based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law and guidance by the hand of God

Or consider, perhaps, the 1972 plank on the environment:

We take particular pride in the expanded use of the National Park system in recent years, and will provide for continued improvement of the national parks and historic sites.

We support establishment of a presidential panel, including representatives of environmental groups, industry, the scientific community and the public to assist in the development of national priorities on environmental and energy issues. This panel will hear and consider alternative policy recommendations set forth by all of the interested groups, and then develop solutions that represent the overall public interest on environmental and energy matters.

One of this nation’s greatest assets has been our abundant natural resources which have made possible our strong economic and strategic role in the world.

We still have a wealth of resources, but they are not of infinite quantity. We must recognize that our material blessings stem from what we grow in the soil, take from the sea, or extract from the ground. We have a responsibility to future generations to conserve our non-renewable natural resources. Consistent with our needs, conservation should remain our national policy.

The vast land holdings of the federal government—approximately one-third of our nation’s areas—are the lands from which much of our future production of minerals must come. Public lands must be maintained for multiple use management where such uses are compatible. Public land areas should not be closed to exploration for minerals or for mining without an overriding national interest.

We believe Americans want their resources developed properly, their environment kept clean and their recreational and scenic areas kept intact. We support appropriate measures to achieve these goals.

This year, the Democrat Platform topped the scales at 42,092-words, one of its longest. It contains detailed proposals for protecting Americans from the pandemic and recovering economically in its wake. It contains promises to build infrastructure, at long last:

We will repair, modernize, and expand our highways, roads, bridges, and airports, including by installing 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles, ensuring our passenger transportation systems are resilient to the impacts of climate change, and using safe, modern design approaches that allow drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others to safely share the road. We will launch our country’s second great railroad revolution by investing in high-speed rail and passenger and freight rail systems, and commit to public transportation as a public good, including ensuring transit jobs are good jobs. This railroad revolution will reduce pollution, connect workers to good union jobs, slash commute times, and spur investment in rural communities that will now be better linked to major metropolitan areas.

Democrats will invest to ensure passenger transportation, including public transit, is affordable to all and accessible to people with disabilities. We will help transform Amtrak from a laggard to a leader in passenger rail accessibility and ensure people with disabilities can receive compensation when disability equipment, like wheelchairs, are lost or damaged by transportation carriers.

Democrats will upgrade our nation’s ports, lock and dam systems, and freight infrastructure to accommodate 21st century cargo, reduce air and water pollution, and create and maintain high-quality, good-paying jobs. We will increase demand for American-made ships by ensuring U.S. cargo is carried on ships flying our flag. We will make sure that every community in America has access to clean, reliable drinking water and safe wastewater systems in their homes, including by replacing dangerous lead pipes.

We will increase investment in innovative water technologies, including water use efficiency, water conservation, and water reuse and recycling, that reduce water waste and consumer bills.

We will modernize and green our public schools, and ensure they are accessible to students with disabilities. And Democrats will close the digital divide that deprives more than 20 million Americans of high-speed internet access by investing in broadband and 5G technology, including rural and municipal broadband, while ensuring those investments support good jobs and include strong protections for workers’ rights to organize, and restoring the FCC’s authority to take strong enforcement action against internet service providers who violate net neutrality principles.

Democrats support the creation of an infrastructure bank, a public bank that will leverage public and private resources to build infrastructure projects of national or regional significance, including in rail and transit, clean energy and water infrastructure, broadband, and affordable housing. Projects that receive assistance from the bank will be required to follow Buy America and Buy Clean provisions, pay Davis-Bacon prevailing wages, utilize project labor agreements, and ensure employers remain neutral in workers’ organizing efforts.

Democrats suggest a renewed emphasis on Federal ethics:

Democrats will establish a commission on federal ethics to aggressively enforce and strengthen federal ethics laws, including rules around personal financial disclosures for Executive Branch officials, and make campaign finance, financial disclosure, and lobbying disclosure filings easier for the public to access and understand. We support requiring all candidates for federal office, including presidential candidates, to publicly disclose at least 10 years of tax returns.

The American people deserve assurances that their elected officials and federal appointees work for them, not for special interests. Democrats will re-establish merit-based federal contracting decisions and prohibit political appointees, at the White House or in agency leadership, from interfering in grantmaking. We will restore and re-empower independent inspectors general across the federal government and work to strengthen whistleblower protections to fully protect federal employees from retaliation. And we will ban lobbying by foreign governments and significantly lower the threshold for having to register as a federal lobbyist in order to close loopholes that allow special interests to secretly influence policymaking in Congress and across the federal government.

It continues for many pages in this vein, containing some proposals I support, and others that I do not, but it is there: A platform, one I may study and consider, and it explains what precisely Democrats would do should I entrust them with my vote.

By contrast, this year, the Republican National Committee decided to forego the exercise. Instead of putting out a platform, it issue a single page:

WHEREAS, The Republican National Committee (RNC) has significantly scaled back the size and scope of the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte due to strict restrictions on gatherings and meetings, and out of concern for the safety of convention attendees and our hosts; 

WHEREAS, The RNC has unanimously voted to forego the Convention Committee on Platform, in appreciation of the fact that it did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement; 

WHEREAS, All platforms are snapshots of the historical contexts in which they are born, and parties abide by their policy priorities, rather than their political rhetoric; 

WHEREAS, The RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration; 

WHEREAS, The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020 and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration, rather than providing the public with unbiased reporting of facts; and 

WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it 

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda; 

RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention; 

RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration; and 

RESOLVED, That any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.

That is it. There is no platform. 

Obviously, nothing stopped the GOP from convening just as the Democrats did. The GOP has the same access to modern telecommunications. That they could not write a platform is a lie. 

What can I say about this that’s not a cliché? The statement says:

1. This is a lie. 

2. You know it’s a lie. 

3. Our platform is unanimous and unhesitating support for Donald Trump, whatever he says or does. 

4. The Party is Trump and Trump is America.

One of the United States’ two great, major political parties has replaced its great quadrennial exercise in democratic decision making with a statement of the Führerprinzip. 

But this is unthinkable.

But it is real.

And yet somehow, it does not matter. No one cares.

It is so stunning in itself that you might overlook a secondary point. Don’t, because it’s somehow related; it is critical.

Not only does this represent a rejection of democratic procedures, norms, and principles, it represents a rejection of something else: the written word. 

And what makes this even more phantasmagorical is that a significant number of Americans now embrace the belief that cherishing the written word is a hallmark of “white culture.” Here’s the Smithsonian’s explanation:

This poster is the sort of thing that gives the Trump crowd spasms: Look what nonsense the woke have wrought! They have dismissed the written tradition, proper spelling and grammar, as some kind of “white!” affectation!

Yet even as they run their party on a heady fuel of grievance about “woke” culture, frothing in indignation at the thought that black people are taught that reading and writing are “white values,” their own party cannot even write its own platform. Trump’s illiteracy has so completely permeated the party that reading and writing have become, for the GOP, aspirational.

That is the first stunning thing.

The second stunning thing is the publication of the final volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Upon its release, the Acting Chairman of the Committee, Marco Rubio, posted this video on Twitter:

Twitter avatar for @marcorubioMarco Rubio @marcorubio
Final volume of Senate Intelligence bipartisan & thorough investigation into Russian 2016 efforts is now public… We found no evidence of “collusion” But we did find troubling actions by the FBI, particularly their willingness to rely on “Steele Dossier” Image

“Without any hesitation,” he says evenly, the Committee “found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in our elections.”

I read the report. From beginning to end.

What Rubio says is not true. It is a lie.

The report says exactly the opposite.

I was shocked out of my wits. It is one thing strongly to suspect that this happened. It is another to see it in writing, with the imprimatur of the United States Senate. And it is still more astonishing to hear Marco Rubio say that the report did not say what it plainly said. I had always thought Marco Rubio a sincere and well-informed man. But he lied to my face, plain as day, about the content of the report.

Why? Why was he so confident it would not matter? Clearly, he thinks—and he is not wrong—that only a tiny handful of Americans will read it, indeed, are even able to read it. Even so, I asked myself, why did he and his fellow GOP Senators reveal these details? The very Senators who voted to acquit Donald Trump in the Senate surely cannot think it serves them well to publish what amounts to a detailed confession of their own failure to perform their constitutional duties, can they?

How can this be understood? I’ve come to suspect it must be understood as a tool of humiliation. They published it utterly to demoralize a particular segment of the population—the part that still reads. The part that can still be scandalized by what they read. They published it to say, “We will lie to your face, and you will know it. But you are in the minority, and no one will care. The President can traduce you with Russia. We can lie about this to you in every detail. But it will not matter.”

Facts will not matter. 

Two plus two equals five. 

It has become a cliché to say that the lies of the Trump Administration represent the ultimate triumph of critical theory. Michiko Kakutani draws a straight line from academia to Trump’s rise.

So does Daniel Dennett: “I think what the postmodernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts. You’d have people going around saying: ‘Well, you’re part of that crowd who still believe in facts.’”  

Is critical theory truly responsible for this? How does critical theory or “cultural Marxism,” whatever that is, figure in all this?

Now, I am not sure that it does at all. I see the influence of old-school fascism in the ideas surrounding him. And the ravening about “cosmopolitan elites” and “enemies of the people” is Stalinist, of course. Then there are the partisans of Q—marrying the old fashioned anti-Semitic pamphleteers to a uniquely American obsession with Satanic child-molesters. But postmodernism? Cultural relativism?

My father, however, thinks there is connection.

And so, to understand whether the roots of Trump may be found in 20th century philosophy, I asked my Great Old Pop what he makes of all of this.

I will publish his response tomorrow.

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