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Kevin Agonistes, Squeaker Of The House

Future Historians, Writing About How America Discarded Democracy To Embrace Fascism, Will Have To Remember Names Like Kirsten Welker, Kaitlan Collins, Tommy Tuberville & Matt Gaetz

There’s one over-arching political story for the last week or so-- and likely for the next week or two— how Kevin McCarthy is twisting in the wind trying to keep his conference together and keep the government from shutting down… and in the very dark context of Trump and his allies pulling in the exact opposite direction. Trump and co-conspirators like Matt Gaetz (who sees himself as Florida’s next governor), Don Bishop (who is running for North Carolina Attorney General), Matt Rosendale (who is running for the Montana Senate seat), Ralph Norman (who wants to challenge Lindsey Graham) and Marjorie Traitor Greene (who sees herself as a vice president or Secretary of State or senator) want chaos, disarray, bedlam… anarchy. “More than a dozen Republicans, mostly Donalds’ colleagues in the conservative Freedom Caucus, are publicly torching the spending plan he brokered. With just a four-seat majority, Speaker Kevin McCarthy can only afford to lose a handful of them given that he can’t count on Democratic votes— leaving the GOP bill effectively dead. But beneath the surface, things are even worse for McCarthy this time around. The faceplant by the two negotiators he’d empowered has exposed a full-on House Republican rebellion that’s officially underway. It’s bigger than a clash between the centrist and right wings of the party. The Freedom Caucus itself is divided, with many members swatting down a plan backed by their own leader. Many of those conservatives are now openly threatening to try to oust McCarthy if he relies on Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown, but they’re also withholding their support from the only Republican plan on paper.”

History is replete with authoritarians creating personality cults around themselves while stoking chaos and societal disarray to create anomie, the kind of normlessness we see in the a Republican Party today— a literal breakdown of traditional norms and values. As his hero Hitler did, Trump has consistently worked to undermine established political institutions, eroding public trust in them, weaken democratic processes, making its institutions appear ineffective and incapable of maintaining order. He has also deliberately sown divisions in society, both exploiting existing fault lines and creating new ones. By exacerbating social, ethnic, religious, and political tensions, Trump has created an atmosphere of conflict that increasingly “justifies” his intervention as a means to restore order.

If you here him and his acolytes talking about the dire economic condition, it isn’t related to the reality around us, but a bizarro version of an economic crisis that is certainly grotesquely unequal but that Trump and the Republican Party never did— nor would ever do— anything to change for the better. Exploiting economic instability and crises— or even a perception of economic crisis— can create an environment in which an authoritarian like Trump, promising stability and prosperity in exchange for unchecked power can look attractive to stupid people. Trump and his GOP allies are working to take advantage of economic suffering they have created to gain support. UAW president Shawn Fain yesterday: "Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers."

And no examination of Trump’s authoritarian tactics would be complete without a look at how he uses fear and insecurity as tools to rally support for the MAGA movement and help him consolidate power. He learned from Hiitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Putin, Gaddafi and Kim Jong-un how to present himself as the only solution to the threats facing America. Are perfectly ordinary politicians like Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Kevin McCarthy, Hakeem Jeffries, Mitch McConnell— currently being castrated by a small band of effective Senate neo-fascists— Tommy Tuberville, Ron Johnson, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz— up to responding? Were the Weimar Republic’s Friedrich Ebert, Phillipp Scheidemann, Paul von Hindenburg, Walther Rathenau, Hugo Hasse, Karl Liebknecht, Wilhelm Groener...?

It’s as though Trump had a how-to book he’s following now, from cult creation (loyalty, adoration, infallibility deification) and control over all supposedly credible information to vilification and demonization of opponents (and alternative sources of information). Speaking of an alternative source of information I’m sure Trump would love to silence, Tom Nichols noted today that we are sleepwalking through a national emergency, a threat from Trump’s increasingly violent cult.

“Americans,” wrote Nichols, “have become accustomed to so much in public life that they would have once found shocking. But many of these events are not only shameful; they are a warning, a kind of static energy filling the air just before a lightning strike. America is in a state of emergency, yet few of its citizens seem to realize it. For example, a single senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has been holding up hundreds of military promotions for months, endangering the national security of the United States. The acting chief of naval operations says it will take years for the Navy to recover from the damage. (Welcome news, no doubt, in Beijing.) Few people outside of America’s senior military leadership seem particularly concerned. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is going to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Why? Well, why not? Speaker Kevin McCarthy promised the extremists in his party that if they made him speaker, he would do what he was told. And so he has; the People’s House is now effectively being run by members such as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, fringe figures who in better times might never have been elected, and in a sensible House would have been relegated to the backbenches so far away from the rostrum that their seats would be in a different time zone. (And let us not even speak of Lauren Boebert.) Elsewhere, the governor of Florida and his vaccine-skeptic surgeon general are telling people under 65 not to get boosted against COVID. He apparently thinks that anti-science extremism will help him wrest the Republican presidential nomination away from Donald Trump, and so he is resorting to a deeply cynical ploy that could cost lives. And then there is Trump himself, the wellspring of all this chaos. In a country that understood the fragility of its own freedoms, we would see him for what he is: the leader of a dangerous cult who has admitted to his attempts to subvert American democracy.”

The GOP is not a normal political organization; the party withdrew into itself years ago and has now emerged from its rotting chrysalis as a nihilistic, seditionist movement in thrall to Trump. And Trump is not a normal candidate in any way: He regularly expresses his intention to continue his attacks on the American system and has made so many threats in so many different directions that we’ve lost track of them. Yet millions of Americans simply accept such behavior as Trump being Trump, much as they did in 2016.
Trump has shown his willingness to endanger anyone who gets in his way— as [Jack] Smith’s recent motion shows— and so we might at least expect the media to report on Trump not merely as a candidate but as if they were following the developments around a dangerous conspiracy or the ongoing trial of the leader of a major crime syndicate.
Instead, we have Kristen Welker inaugurating the reboot of Meet the Press by leaning forward with focused sincerity and asking Trump, “Tell me— Mr. President, tell me what you see when you look at your mug shot?” That wasn’t even the worst of it. Like Kaitlan Collins in her disastrous town hall with Trump on CNN this past spring, Welker lost control of the interview, because she, too, insisted on treating Trump like an ordinary political candidate instead of the seditious menace he’s become.
Many of my colleagues in the media have already dissected Welker’s failure, and I won’t pile on, because I agree with my friend Jonathan Last at The Bulwark, who wrote this morning, “I’m being hard on Kristen Welker, but this isn’t really about Kristen Welker. It’s about the mainstream broadcast media. All of them. In 2016 broadcast media was totally inadequate to the job of covering an aspiring authoritarian … Today— even after witnessing an insurrection— they still don’t seem to understand the situation and their complicity in it.”
Democrats and their liberal allies claim to be in full mobilization mode to stop Trump and defang his threat to the constitutional order. But are they? How much more hand-wringing will they do over Biden’s age, over whether he’s doing enough for climate change or to forgive student loans? Do we really need Biden to visit the UAW picket lines (as some have suggested)? How many more times will Trump’s opponents in the pro-democracy coalition internalize the right’s criticisms— about inflation, about spending, about gasoline— and respond to them as if Republicans care one whit about policy?
Yes, gas is expensive. So is food. These are real issues, and people deserve to hear how their government will assist them. The solution to these problems, however, is not to normalize an authoritarian and thus pretend that one party, dysfunctional as it can be, is the same as a reactionary, anti-constitutional, and sometimes violent movement.
We don’t have to live in panic. Americans need not walk around all day with their hair on fire, talking about nothing else but the gathering dangers. In times of crisis, whether World War II or 9/11, we married and divorced, we carped about prices, we partied, we took vacations. (Heck, I’m off to Las Vegas myself shortly.) We did all the things normal people do in the course of a normal life.
But we don’t have to live this way, either, with voters and institutions— and especially the media— pretending that all is well while charlatans, aspiring theocrats, and would-be authoritarians set fire to American democracy.

John Milton, a Cambridge alum, a leftie and one of the world’s greatest poets (Paradise Lost), was born in 1608 and lived for 65 years years. Mr Fulmer introduced me to him when I was 14. It didn’t take hold. Many years later., I was spending time in London, just off a Clash tour when Joe Strummer was in the hospital with hepatitis from all that spitting. For some reason I never understood, I was the only one he allowed in to visit. I visited every day. He reintroduced me to Milton when he was figuring out how to turn “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” into a warning about the British neo-Nazi revival, English Civil War. He thought I needed to have a better understanding of Milton to understand what he was getting at. I was up for it. And my old school pal, Sandy Pearlman, who eventually produced the song, was a big Milton fan and he was over the moon when I told him that Strummer was too.

I know Milton would do a lot better than this— or would shoot me for even trying and could be spinning in his grave now when I try to rip him off and sub out a Biblical hero for the most ordinary boy to ever have sold sandwiches in Bakersfield.

Kevin Agonistes

In chambers high, where power's mantle cloaks,

A Speaker, tested, in tumultuous strokes.

Kevin, the name that echoes through the halls,

Now grapples with his fate as discord installs.

Conservative voices, a chorus strong,

Demand adherence, they've carried it along.

Once resolute, he led the party's cause,

But now, divisions within party walls.

The budget's brink, the shutdown's dire plea,

A test of wills, a political sea.

They question his resolve, his compromises,

In this grand theater, where discord rises.

Enter Gaetz, a firebrand of the right,

In this political drama, a beacon of light.

He points fingers, raises accusations high,

Forcing Kevin to look up to the sky.

"Ethics probe," Gaetz cries, a loud refrain,

In this turbulent chapter of political pain.

Mike Lawler, his words cut through the haze,

A voice within the party's tangled maze.

"It's a clown show," he says, unreserved,

As party unity seems to be unnerved.

His words reflect the chaos and the strife,

In this political narrative, called political life.

The Freedom Caucus, a force to reckon,

With McCarthy's leadership, they've set the beckon.

A motion to vacate, a threat proclaimed,

If the Speaker pushes, they're unashamed.

The battle rages, in this party's storm,

As Kevin seeks to transform and reform.

In this tale of struggle, where shadows wane,

The Speaker's quest for unity sustains.

The Capitol's chambers, a political mire,

As Kevin leads through trial by fire.

The Speaker's chair, a precarious throne,

In this tumultuous realm, where battles are sown.

As days grow long and nights darker still,

Kevin seeks a way, with steadfast will,

To mend the fractures, bridge the divide,

In this political struggle, where shadows reside.

A leader's ordeal, in a time of strife,

In the hallowed halls of political life.

Alas, no hope remains, for better leaders find,

In trials and tribulations of every kind,

The strength to rise, to face the storm,

To guide their party, to reform and transform.

In Kevin's struggle, expect the only the worst,

A story still unwritten, as history unfolds.


Sep 23, 2023

The history of Nazi Germany also has its share of Chamberlains, Quislings etc.

If the history of the american reich is ever written, they'll have the democrap party and all 80 million of its dumber than shit voters who elected slick willie in 1992 and obamanation in 2008.. and both of them a second time when we actually knew by then what they were... and followed orders to nom biden after he was considered a shitty joke in 6 (!) previous runs.

After FDR was elected in 1932, did the Democrats get slaughtered in 1934 the way your democraps did in 2010? Or did the Democrats and FDR, I dunno, *DO* good stuff?

Oh... sorry... history. That's schoolin' 'n shit.


Larry Piltz
Larry Piltz
Sep 22, 2023

Great post! Thanks! I'm remembering "Nixon Agonistes", a film documentary from back in the day. Your post and poem are a worthy successor, and would be a good guide toward creating a doc today, "The Incredible Sleaze of Trump Agonistes".BTW, I took an entire college English Lit course about Milton, from an old emeritus prof who revered J.M. He conveyed Milton's greatness very clearly. Amazing that Strummer did too and that you got to be a part of that.


Sep 20, 2023

Nice poem, truly... about the nazis. Where is the poem about everyone else and, especially, the hapless worthless feckless lying corrupt neoliberal FASCIST pussies they keep trying (more often in vain than not) to elect as a bulwark against the nazis? Don't seem to get that here except in the comments. wonder why.

"Tom Nichols noted today that we are sleepwalking through a national emergency, a threat from Trump’s increasingly violent cult."

We've been comatose through the gestation of our current emergency since 1980... if not 1968 when LBJ pussied out on defending the constitution. Trump is a straight-line consequence of all the evil that began then and has met with NO opposition (cuz we is comatose) ever since. …

Sep 23, 2023
Replying to

Yes, my faults are my own. But you need to work on being such a snowflake. Given the late-stage proto naziism we're in the middle of, I don't think snowflakes will be helpful. We need lions... not pussies!

And if you agree on the timeline... don't you think it's long past time that y'all change course and do something useful? just asking for a friend.


Sep 20, 2023

Dan Bishop is the North Carolina Congressman running for AG not Don Bishop.


Jesse Salisbury
Jesse Salisbury
Sep 20, 2023

WOW. -- impressive

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