Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.
The reader of Mr. Stephen’s latest essay is framed by a grim diagnosis of America’s political present. Its rhetorical centerpiece is the use of the royal ‘we’.
We are also living through another era of democratic self-doubt. Low growth became the new normal for the better part of a decade. We fight wars we don’t know how to win and rue the consequences of action (Iraq) and inaction (Syria) alike. We inhabit a culture we despise and see no way of improving. Congress is paralyzed. The parties are broken. The president is a dolt.
Are ‘we’ living through an era of ‘democratic self-doubt’? or rather through an age of the complete corruption, of the two political parties that control that democratic process and its practice? The Republicans and New Democrats are defined by political opportunism, not to speak of kowtowing to the imperatives of the National Security State as sacrosanct!
Is the ‘low growth’ just the consequence of the codified, but utterly collapsed Neo-Liberal dogmas, that have dominated the politics/economics of the ‘West’ since the age of Thatcher/Reagan?
We fight wars we don’t know how to win and rue the consequences of action (Iraq) and inaction (Syria) alike. Should the reader look to the Neo-Conservative cabal, Mr. Stephens being one of its most vocal bellicose partisans , for the root cause of the wars we don’t know how to win? ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ of Samuel P. Huntington is the Neo-Conservative’s touchstone , that transmogrified itself into the ‘War on Terror‘ of Bush the Younger.
Do ‘we’ live in a culture we despise? Mr. Stephens, like his brethren who share the notion that we live in a condition of perpetual decadence, of our politics and an utterly absent morality. Mr. Stephens attacks the Liberal Despisers of his fundamentalism, both pseudo-religious and political, that is Neo-Conservatism. Leo Strauss mendacious attempt to re-write the history of ‘Western Philosophy’ provided the template for the Neo-Conservatives to proclaim their political/ethical exceptionalism as transformative. They are the prophets without honor, in their own time, whose vision will be redeemed in the future. This is a pseudo-religious vision!
Is Congress paralyzed? If the reader looks at the historical record of Republican obstructionism, or better yet, call it by its real name nihilism, from Clinton vs. Gingrich to McConnell/Ryan vs. Obama, the political picture is very clear! The Republican Party went from being in the thrall of the Know-Nothings, the Tea Party, to Trump and Trumpism of the present, at lightening political speed. While the New Democrats repudiated the New Deal, and became Neo-Liberal with Bill Clinton, and have yet to see that the way forward is a New Deal re-imagined, re-written for the 21st Century!
Is the President a ‘dolt‘? Mr. Stephens and his fellow travelers, across the political spectrum, must abase themselves by donning figurative sack cloth and ashes, as their penance for their political bankruptcy. As that will never happen, the reality of the continuous denial of responsibility for Trump and Trumpism is, and will remain, the Party Line of Mr. Stephens and his coterie of opinion makers.
I have focused my attention on this paragraph of Mr. Stephens latest essay, as it is foundational to the whole of his self-congratulatory exercise, in his role as political prophet. The Age of the Strong Man provides the backdrop for this episode of The Midwives of Trump: hysteria mongering is an American Tradition, dating from the Salem Witch Trials, and William Stoughton’s admittance of Spectral Evidence as proof of guilt!