Teri Kanefield @Teri_Kanefield Author, lawyer (UC Berkeley) My threads are here: terikanefield-blog.com/ NBC News Opinion contributor Impeachment notes: impeachment-trump.com/ Jun. 19, 2019 4 min read

(Thread) The Paranoid Style in American Politics

The latest outrage is Hope Hicks refusing to answer Congressional questions based on an entirely-made up “legal” principle of immunity or privilege.

I’m hearing a lot of frustration and blame . . .

1/ I'm hearing: "It’s Nancy Pelosi’s fault for not impeaching the president,: and "it’s the Democrats fault because they can’t figure out how to get anything done."

One theory is that we are in the grip of something new and terrifying that has never before happened:

2/ . . .the rise of an American autocrat.

Another theory is that what we’re witnessing has deep roots in American history, and has been building for years.

Historian Richard Hofstadter, in his classic 1964 work offered an eerily accurate description of 2019 politics.

3/ See:  https://archive.org/details/paranoidstyleina00hofs/page/44 

Hofstadter conducted a thorough review of American politics from before the founding of the nation through McCarthyism and noticed a pattern among a small impassioned minority on the fringes of the political spectrum.

4/ He called their behavior the “paranoid style” in politics.

Those embracing the paranoid style of politics believe that unseen satanic forces are trying to destroy something larger in which they belong.

5/ As I was writing this — as if on cue — Right Wing Watch reported people claiming America is a satanic nation, the Democrats are unAmerican, and if Trump loses in 2020, there will be violence because it will be time to break up the United States 👇

6/ According to Hofstadter, the “something larger" to which they belong is generally phrased as “the American way of life.”

They “feel dispossessed” and that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind."

7/ They are "determined to repossess it and prevent the final act of subversion.”

They therefore adopt extreme measures. They will stop at nothing to prevent what they see as an impending calamity.

This is what Harvard Prof. Levitsky calls "hardball tactics."

8/ These apocalyptic warnings arouse passion and militancy: The evil enemy must be destroyed—and the fight must go beyond the ordinary “give and take” of politics.

In other words, hardball tactics, even if it means ignoring norms and laws.

9/ In 1992, Newt Gingrich captured this frustration—and call to militancy—when he said Republican must resort to any means necessary.

For more on how the GOP morphed from a conservative to an anti-democratic authoritarian party, see👇 

10/ “Any means necessary” naturally leads to the kind of obstruction of justice and general cheating and lawbreaking we’re seeing now— and the odd spectacle of a major political party shielding a lawbreaking and lying president.

11/ (As an aside, Hofstadter points out that the paranoid style exists on the far left as well as the far right.)

This raises the question: Where do we go from here? How do we neutralize the threat to democracy posed by those with authoritarian leanings?

12/ Keep in mind that those with a paranoid style (on the left and right) exert power beyond their numbers. This makes sense given their militancy and willingness to break rules, and the general appeal of demagogues.

This raises the question: Where do we go from here?

13/ How do we neutralize the threat to democracy posed by those with authoritarian leanings?

Harv. Professor Levitsky and Columbia law prof Pozen suggest anti-hardball tactics. If you missed the thread, see 👇

14/ It's easy to see, given the paranoid style, that trying to fight fire with fire is likely to burn down the place. Put another way (or maybe to extend the metaphor) when you're sitting on a powder keg, it's better not to do anything inflammatory.

15/ Again, Prof. Levitsky makes the argument for avoiding hardball better than I can:

What happens next? Most likely, the Democrats take the issue to the courts, and they’ll win.

This week demonstrated that the courts are not caving in to Trump.

16/ Gamble v. U.S. didn’t come out the way many people expected, and the Supreme Court delivered a win to the Democrats in Virginia.
In the best of times, Democracy is slow, grinding work.

16/ Levitsky and Ziblatt discuss the slow grinding work of democracy in their book👇 It’s easy to lose patience with the process, but democracy is worth a little patience.

We’ll get there, but not as quickly as people want.


To clarify:

Part of the democratic process is to make your voice heard. Last weekend I marched for impeachment and gave a speech at the Santa Barbara rally.

If you want impeachment, say so loud and clear.

I'm also saying, don't . . .

. . . lose faith in the democratic process if things take longer than we wish—and some things people are demanding as a way to speed up the process may be allowable, but perhaps too inflammatory, so not necessarily advisable.

All my threads are blog posts. You can view this one here:  https://terikanefield-blog.com/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/ 

You can follow @Teri_Kanefield.


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