As we embark on a new Republican era, read through the best of n+1’s writing on the GOP, from 2004 to 2016:
What Weekly Standard writers prefer to do is allow those from elite backgrounds to pretend to speak like the philistine middle-class. From its birth in 1995, the magazine’s shtick was the replacement of politics with cultural politics as its real weapon. The brave ordinary man doesn’t need to share an income with them (and he doesn’t), a neighborhood, school, or a social class. He just has to share “ordinary guy” cultural affiliations—a politics of Mickey Mouse, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and, yes, admiration for a Yale-educated prep school debutante president who would look superb “with his crimson suit festooned with lush green trim, gold braid and buttons.”
W. is a tongue thruster. You see that little pink muscle flicker outwards between his pale lips frequently during a speech. W.’s tongue is the gremlin soul announcing its presence, the unformed, fetus-like, moist juvenility inside the mannequin.
Who’s to Blame? by Benjamin Kunkel
Most voters who went for Bush the other day did so in circumstances of adequate information and sufficient freedom. After all, these people have cable TV and radios and underfunded local libraries. The evidence, for example, that Iraq did not have WMDs and did not connive with Osama bin Laden must have filtered through to them—in which event their decision was to solace themselves with lies that even Dick Cheney, in the final days, didn’t bother to repeat.
Will Hitchens ever regain his balance? Near the end of his Bush endorsement, Hitchens defiantly assures us that “once you have done it”—abandoned cowardly and equivocating left-wing “isolationism” and made common cause with Republicans in their “willingness to risk a dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”—there is “no going back.” Well, it wouldn’t be easy. After heavy-handedly insulting so many political opponents, misrepresenting their positions and motives, and generally making an egregious ass of himself, it would require immense, almost inconceivable courage for Hitchens to acknowledge that he went too far; that his appreciation of the sources and dangers of Islamic terrorism was neither wholly accurate nor, to the extent it was accurate, exceptional; that he was mistaken about the purposes and likely effects of the strategy he associated himself with and preached so sulfurously; and that there is no honorable alternative to—no “relief” to be had from—the frustrations of always keeping the conventional wisdom at arm’s length and speaking up instead for principles that have as yet no powerful constituencies. But it would be right.
When I first joined the paper, Bob Bartley was in the late, hysterical stages of his obsession with Bill Clinton. Bob Bartley’s editorial page had printed enough editorials about Whitewater to fill 3,000 pages in six thick anthologies (now available on CD-ROM!). Bob Bartley was proud of these books, even though no one read them. He thought Whitewater was comparable to Watergate; he was hoping to bring down a president, like Woodward and Bernstein had, and win another Pulitzer Prize. But despite his 3,000 pages of editorials, Whitewater ultimately degenerated into an ontological squabble about whether fellatio is actually sex, and the president did not resign and was not forced from office, although Bob Bartley was adamant that he should have been, because Bob Bartley did not approve of extramarital fellatio. At least not for Democrats. When a reporter asked him whether he would’ve attacked Newt Gingrich or another prominent Republican faced with similar charges of sexual misconduct, Bob Bartley admitted that, “We would have defended them. That’s the way it is.”
In a polite New Yorker profile back in May, Breitbart had come across as a jovially savage, “just joshin’ you” provocateur, a Mexican-Jewish disciple of Camille Paglia. Calling himself “pro-miscegenation,” he compounded the confusion with some schizophrenic pronoun use: “There’s nothing in this country that is a worse accusation—in America, if you accuse somebody of racism, you have to disprove that.” He was sticking up for Rush Limbaugh, but now we know he was also articulating the right’s new strategy.
I have a picture of myself with Dr. James Dobson, taken at a prayer breakfast the morning after the 1990 March for Life in Washington DC. It was like meeting the apostle Paul, and I was nervous. I remember waiting in line to shake his hand, fumbling my hands between pockets and hips, longing to fold far enough inside myself that no one could see me. When it was my turn, Dr. Dobson twinkled his gray eyes at me and said, “Thank you for fighting for life.” In the picture he has his arm around me and we’re both smiling happily. I am wearing a peach-and-white-striped rugby shirt, my brown hair is permed and hot-rollered, and my face is carefully made up to look like the face of some suburban girl.
Big Baby behavior has coalesced with the new rhetorical style of the right — whining, entitlement, and victimization, a bad-faith aping of how the old regime understood the demands of anti-racism and the women’s movement — to give a mashed-carrots color to the politics of our era. Tantrums are in fashion. Are you ever at a loss now, flipping through the channels, to know what policies a TV commentator will advocate if he is boyish but old, thin-haired but incapable of growing a mustache, soft, truculent, khakied and floppy-collared, wide-eyed on a sugar rush and shouting for more candy? (In his case, the Pez will be prescription drugs and alcohol: there is a curious tie between Big Babies and abuse of painkillers.) Big Baby is easier to picture sitting than standing. Man-boobs shape his polo. Big Baby has wee little feet and appears on the cover of Cigar Aficionado. Big Baby issues insults, but only at a safe distance. You sense that, up close, he might smell like milk.
According to Adorno, in psychoanalysis only the exaggerations are true. If you wished to characterize the Democrats and the Republicans in terms of true exaggerations, you might say that the Republicans have become the Party of Psychosis while the Democrats have become the Party of Neurosis. The Republicans are psychotic because they have lost contact with reality, and orient their behavior not toward realities but toward fantasies. The Democrats are neurotic because they are aim-inhibited, as an old-fashioned shrink might say: their anxieties, hang-ups, and insecurities mean that they can’t attain satisfaction, since in a basic way they won’t even allow themselves to know what they want.
Over My Dead Body by Mark Greif
I now think God has simply withdrawn from us. There is some spirit working through the Republican Party, that of the tempter. We used to call the spirit Karl Rove and we were wrong to do so. He too was an instrument, and was cast aside. It seemed the abuses and madnesses of the last two elections and two administrations had burned up all the sulfur at last. But this requisitioning of Sarah Palin from the frozen wastes, this theology that sidelines a sane political man to introduce the symbolism of sacrifice, reawakening an underlying cult of death . . . This is the old W.-era touch.
Why Don’t Republicans Write Fiction? by Benjamin Nugent
I couldn’t find them. Among the editors, writers, and agents I surveyed, an unsurprising consensus emerged: the number of well-known American literary writers who are even rumored to be politically conservative is very, very small. One book editor told me he knew several Republican novelists, but refused to disclose their names. He agreed to forward my email, so they could contact me if they wished, but none of them did.
The first originalist martyr was Robert H. Bork, the arch-conservative judge nominated by Ronald Reagan a year after Scalia’s ascent and rejected by the Senate in a dramatic standoff — an episode that left us bork as a verb. Bork, who called himself an atheist when he was nominated and rejected, converted to Catholicism only after this original borking. Anthony Kennedy, who took his place, is also Catholic, but has upheld Roe v. Wade, to the bitter disappointment of antiabortion Catholics. Bork’s conversion was a bittersweet victory: “With Bork on the court, Roe might have been overturned,” one conservative Catholic activist suggested. “But on the court Bork might not have found God and the Church.” In law, as in life, the shepherd sometimes abandons “the ninety-nine sheep to find the single lost one.”
Trump and the Republicans by Daniel Schlozman
Figures on the right, variously close to the Republican Party proper, have toiled in these vineyards for decades. In a 1975 book Pat Buchanan, fresh from the Nixon White House, warned Republicans against any attempts to guarantee representation at conventions for “blacks, Chicanos, Indians, and feminists. It would be difficult to imagine four voting blocs less receptive to the Republican Party philosophy.” Better to focus on “Northern Irish and Italians and Southern Protestants.” There we have the Trump voters in a nutshell.
Good TV by Dayna Tortorici
Laura Ingraham referred to some Democratic Party policy as “a bad joke, like skinny jeans on a man, or a man-bun”—not her best, but a nice swipe at the hipster beta male—and occasionally resorted to direct address, pointing at the camera like an evil pop-star hoping to collapse the distance between the proverbial and literal you. At one point, she narrowed her eyes, hunched her shoulders, and squinted up toward the press box to dramatize the media’s Olympian attitude toward the people below. “Do your job!” she shouted, as if scolding a dog. Donald, she said, was doing it better, daring to “tell us the hard truth about what happened to our country.” Ingraham demonstrated impressive stage presence and bodily control until closing, accidentally, with a Nazi salute.
A Wedding From Hell by Dayna Tortorici
Then came the crown jewel herself, Ivanka, her entry announced by the opening bars of “Here Comes the Sun.” In pearl earrings and a pink pastel dress, her straight blonde hair parted neatly down the middle, she looked, oddly, like Jennifer Lawrence at cotillion. “My fellow millennials,” she said with a smile, and a gentle, off-screen wind-machine stirred the layers framing her face. Ivanka did not belong to one party or another, she said—she simply voted the issues, supporting the candidate who best represented her interests. This year, that candidate was daddy.
In Port Richmond, where some churches still hold mass in Polish, we walk up and down Aramingo Avenue, which divides the neighborhood like a wall: white people on one side, black and brown people on the other. A nervous woman passes us in the crosswalk wearing an oversize hoodie advertising the Achieving Independence Center — a halfway house. Pumpkins and dirty couch cushions sag on the porches. Some doors advertise that the occupants are busy watching the Eagles: PLEASE DON’T DISTURB. Through the windows, we catch families gathered around the TV, quietly scrolling on their phones. Farther up, toward Tioga: Fraternal Order of Police stickers, WE SUPPORT THE POLICE signs. Outside one house, a large American flag flies with a difference — among the red stripes, there’s a thin blue one.
Thursday in Selma, North Carolina by Astra Taylor
When the speeches began, things shifted. Two teenagers in the audience—two of six people of color I saw in the crowd of over 10,000, none of them black—registered some discontent as Trump took the stage. Whatever they said wasn’t loud, dramatic, or disruptive enough for me to hear or see from fifteen feet away, but it was enough to transform the immediate crowd into a mob. The kids were violently attacked by a group of guys, and onlookers swarmed to join in or cheer from the sidelines. The man next to me gloated about how “the Mexicans” got beat, and his wife smiled approvingly.
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