Paul Rosenberg

Author reveals how the 'hard right' — and the conflict within conservatism — led to the Trump calamity

Signs are increasing that Donald Trump is headed toward the devastating electoral loss that experts expected four years ago. But even if they're right this time, what does that tell us about what's ahead? And what if they're wrong yet again? Either way, Trumpism won't be going away on its own, nor will any of the other illiberal eruptions across the West and around the world, which have left conservatives as bewildered as anybody else.

With Election Day looming, you probably don't have time for a 500-page book to help make sense of how we got here. But when it comes to making sense of things afterward, when there's time for deeper reflection, Edmund Fawcett's new book, "Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition," plays a vital, invaluable role. This new book is a follow-up to Fawcett's 2014 book, "Liberalism: The Life of an Idea," and the contrast in the subtitles is telling. Fawcett is a British political journalist who spent 30 years at the Economist, including stints as chief correspondent in Washington, Paris and Berlin and as the magazine's European and literary editor.

The idea of liberalism he describes as "a search for an ethically acceptable order of human progress among civic equals without recourse to undue power." But fights, by their very nature, are a much messier matter, and all too often involve "undue power." Indeed, there's not just one fight involved within the conservative tradition, but a seemingly endless number. Still, there's one overarching battle between hardcore resisters of liberal modernity — those Fawcett calls the "hard right" — and those seeking accommodation, whom he calls "liberal conservatives."

Dealing with both politics and ideas in four countries — the U.S., Britain, Germany and France — Fawcett traces the story through four phases, from an initial period of "frontal resistance to liberal modernity" in the 19th century to the period since 1980 when the success of liberal conservatism, symbolized by the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher opened the door to the rise of the hard right, including the election of a certain American president. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Your book is titled "Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition" But as you lay it out, it's actually a multitude of fights, both internal and external. Let's start with the external fights against the modern world itself — the world of market and the Industrial Revolution — and the forces of liberalism and democracy. What was at stake in those fights?

What is it that conservatism is against, as it were? What did it think it was resisting in liberal modernity? That's a prime question. What conservatives reckon they're resisting has changed as modern liberal life has changed. So let's start with history. There's no conservatism before the early 19th century. It's essentially a political movement of old, established elites who were used to ruling and are now confronting an utterly new, unimagined condition of society, dominated by modern capitalism and great social fluidity, great social mobility and growing discredit of elites.

At the same time, very soon, pressures arise not just for liberal demands — freedom for citizens, economic liberty and cultural freedom from old kinds of tutorial government and moral interference — not just that, but conservatives very quickly (as do liberals) face demands from democracy that those liberal promises of modern life be extended to everybody, whoever they are. So that's the 19th-century challenge that conservatives faced. They're all different in different countries, each has its own particular history, but that is a common thread.

In the 20th century, and now, that contest has changed. Conservatives at the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century learned how to dominate this new condition of society. They were the defenders of property, defenders of the social order. What did that mean from, say, 1900 to 1950? That meant, above all, defending the capitalist order, putting food in the shops and wages in the pockets. But capitalism is this fantastic engine of great social change, turning everything upside down. So in our lifetime, conservatives have always faced two ways: They've been resisters of liberal modernity, of innovation, of moral change, but on the other hand they've been the great defenders of its driver, namely capitalist innovation. So this is a tension inside conservatism that runs right through it, and I think explains a great deal of where conservatives are today, fighting against each other.

The internal fights can be divided into three kinds that overlap or interpenetrate: There's the broadest fight between hard-right resisters and accommodators, narrow fights among specific factions at any one time, and medium-scope fights over how to define what conservatism is, how to order things. The resister/accommodator divide can be symbolized by the twin figures of Joseph de Maistre and Edmund Burke, each of them anti-modern, anti-Enlightenment and anti-rationalist, but in very different ways. How can we best understand them as illuminating the conservative tradition, at least in its origins and its primordial outlook?

If we could take the third sort first: In talking about all these things I think there is politics first, political decisions. Those always involve the government, voters and parties. To understand conservatism, you need to keep your eye on that. But at the same time, there are what you could call the thinkers of conservatism, people who pore over these rather subtle questions and ask "What is conservatism? Who is the true conservative?" Burke and Maistre were that second kind of person.

Take Burke as a good example. Burke actually was more or less ignored during the 19th century by most people calling themselves political conservatives. He was rediscovered, indeed sort of invented, at the end of the 19th century as a philosopher of conservatism, for a political movement that, successful though it was, didn't really have a philosophy. Indeed, the best it could do, if asked, was, "Well, we don't believe in ideas." One of the reasons conservatives have been able to say that — "We don't believe in ideas. We don't need a philosophy" — is that either they were the upper classes or they were the descendants of the upper classes, people whose job was to rule by their nature. They were used to ruling. They weren't used to having to explain why they should rule, or what they were ruling for.

So it took quite a long time to figure out that they needed political ideas, political philosophy, something called conservatism. And indeed Burke was a very, very late invention. There's an 1886 "History of Toryism" which barely mentions Burke. As for Maistre, he was much too crazy and outrageous. He was a brilliant writer, but he was much too angry in his opposition to modern life to make him a good intellectual flag-bearer for conservatives in democratic times.

To finish up on the topic of who is and who is not a conservative, it shows itself very strongly in the United States, where you have three strong traditions since the middle of the last century. You have the kind of modern Burkeans, people like Russell Kirk, who dug up his ghost and tried to reinvent him in an American context. That has always been rather a kind of hothouse conservatism that doesn't really fit into modern American life. And the other two were the economic liberals — the people who want the market and business to do whatever they want, on the theory that would make things work out best — and then there's a much more sort of moral thread, with the neoconservatives who were interested in the texture of social life, and I suppose you could throw in there the religious right with their moral concerns. So those were three or four very strong threads in American Intellectual conservatism, And they're still there.

Your book traces the history of conservatism across two centuries, divided into four periods, in the U.K., France, Germany and the U.S. The first you describe as "frontal resistance to liberal modernity," from 1830 to 1880, with chapters titled "A Right Without Authority," dealing with politics and "Turning Reason Against Liberalism," dealing with ideas. How do these two relate to one another?

The first is the political movement as I described it, of old elites, established powers, who suddenly find themselves under challenge from new contestants. You saw it in the United States with Whigs and Democrats, you saw that in Britain with Tories and Liberals, you saw it in Germany and France. The intellectual counterpart of that struggle was, on one side, people like Burke and Maistre, who said, as it were, "Tradition, belief, unreason, these will be the flags with which we will go forward into the future."

On the other hand, there were conservatives who I mention in the chapter you just described who said, "Not at all. We have to use reason, we have to use the lessons of the Enlightenment in a conservative and orderly cause." These were people like James Madison, an American example, and Friedrich Gentz, a German. You have here this opening conflict within conservative thought between the traditionalists and the romantics, on the one hand, and the rationalists on the other.

You write: "In the 1830s, the right's primary choice was either to resist or to compromise with liberal modernity. By the 1880s, it faced the further question of how far to accept democratic modernity." How did these two choices differ, in terms of what was at stake? What options existed, and how did the right respond?

Good question! Liberalism and democracy need to be distinguished. Liberalism, as it were, lays out the feast. Democracy draws up the guest list. Liberalism promises people — it doesn't always deliver, but it promises people a number of good things: protections from arbitrary power, social progress, civil rights. It promises many freedoms. Democracy is quite different. Democracy promises those things to everybody, whoever they are. And there's a big difference. You can have a club of very equal people, where there's no ranking, where everybody respects everybody else. But the club itself can be extremely exclusive. It sounds almost banal to stress the difference, but that is vital to understanding liberal democracy. Historically, by the end of the 19th century, both conservatives and liberals were facing a demand that the liberal promises of modern life be extended to every last person. When you think about this, that promise wasn't even delivered on paper until the middle of the 20th century, and in many respects is still not delivered successfully to everybody.

So, the second period you describe as "adaptation, compromise and catastrophe," that's from 1880 to 1945. In what sense was there adaptation and compromise? What are some illustrative examples?

If you take the period as a whole, and look at the main conservative parties in Europe and the United States over that period, all of them, broadly speaking, accepted a degree of the welfare state, accepted a degree of big government. They accepted the New Deal in the United States, and in Europe they accepted the welfare state. They accepted, in other words, a very tempered capitalism in which government played a large role in propping up capitalism when it got into trouble and propping up people when they got into trouble, with social safety nets and so on. That broad consensus, hard-fought and very spotty, was by and large the consensus that mainstream conservatives accepted by the middle of the 20th century. That was so with Eisenhower, with Nixon and even to a limited degree with Reagan.

So what do you mean by "catastrophe"?

In any story of the political right, one can't escape the disaster of the rise of fascism and Nazism. I'm not suggesting that conservatism was directly to blame for these things. That would be wrong. But the conservative classes found themselves in 1945, for a variety of reasons, at a zero point from which they had to reinvent themselves.

That leads right into the third period you describe as "political command and intellectual recovery," from the end of World War II to 1980. How did conservatism recover during that period?

In the 1945 to 1980 period on the right, in a funny way, politics stopped driving intellectuals and intellectuals came to drive politics. It's a fascinating period, intellectually, for the right in the United States. There were a number of intriguing thinkers. They were ignored at the time, but they were working away quietly for what became the Reagan revolution, both in terms of economic policy and, to a larger extent, in terms of social and ethical questions. They were broadly derided or ignored, but they came into their own in the 1980s, and they've been in the saddle ever since.

How did that compare with what was happening elsewhere?

There was a similar revival elsewhere, but it was slower, and it wasn't so well paid for. In the United States, there were many big philanthropic donors, right-wing think tanks that supported particular intellectuals like Richard Weaver or Friedrich Hayek. It was a big, very well executed campaign of intellectual renewal. It was less organized in Europe, but it existed there as well.

The fourth period you describe as "the contest for supremacy between liberal conservatism and the hard right," starting in 1980. Say a bit more about these two terms, both what they mean generally, and specifically in this time period.

It's difficult when writing about politics, for one has to be given at least five seconds to get the canoe into the water. All these labels are very slippery, particularly the labels "liberal conservatism" — that sounds like a contradiction in terms — and the term "hard right," which many conservatives particularly dislike because they feel it's a slander or a slur. But let's say "liberal conservatism," with all those provisos, is a good label for the kind of conservatism I was describing earlier, the kind of mainstream conservatism running from Eisenhower to Nixon and even to a certain extent some of the Reagan years.

That's an OK label for the kind of mainstream conservatism that I was describing, by and large, in government. However much they turned up the gas on the campaign trail, Eisenhower, Nixon and even Reagan were within a recognizable band. It was particularly liberal in economic matters, for the free market, very business-friendly, but also liberal to an extent in the social and ethical sense. Nixon wasn't a great moral or ethical campaigner. Reagan, I don't think, believed it himself personally. He threw bones to the moral right, but it wasn't his thing.

So that's liberal conservatism. It has a counterpart in Europe. The hard right, I think, is a different thing. It's what liberal conservatives are in retreat from. If you look at the present Republican Party, I would call that a hard-right party.

What is the hard right? Well, it combines two elements. It's a strange combination, on the one hand, of ultra-marketeers, who would let business do what it chooses and will do what business wants, but on the other hand of politicians speaking loudly for the forgotten man, for disaffected voters in the name of the people. The hard right is curiously for global free markets and at the same time one-nation populist. You see this odd combination across Europe and in the United States. Although there are local differences, that's the hard right.

Conservatives get quite upset when you say, "You conservatives have a fight on your hand between the liberal strain of conservatism and the hard right." Why? Because, particularly in Europe, in France and Germany, the hard right is associated with old neofascist parties but it is by no means any longer limited to those. Indeed, it's gone way beyond them. The National Rally, as it's now called in France, and the Alternative for Germany have both the elements I've mentioned: rowdy popular elements and a free-market elite element. One of the leaders of the German hard right worked, I think, for Goldman Sachs. That gives you an idea of the hard right as an elite and popular combination.

You see the same in the United States with the Republican Party. Partly because of his outsized personality, people have over-focused on Trump as if somehow he invented the hard right. He didn't at all. The hard right invented him. You could say the same thing about Boris Johnson, the Brexiteer in Britain. He didn't invent Brexit or UKIP [the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party] or the new Tory party. It chose him.

Here in America, Trump is presented as a figure who came out of nowhere. You show that he's part of a hard right that's been growing for decades, before gaining ground with his election and Brexit happening close together. How specifically would you explain him as a part of the hard right? What characteristics does he share that would make him a part of it? If you'd like, perhaps say something about how today's hard right echoes characteristics that have been there in the past.

In a way, he's a kind of gifted improviser. I don't think he has or has ever had a lot of aims or principles. In that, he rather resembles Boris Johnson in our country — gifted campaigners with a fantastic sort of canny popular touch. If you look for a consistency of aim or opinion, it's very hard to find. If you wanted a word for Trump, I think it would be opportunist. He saw a moment to move into politics, and he succeeded very well. But, the party he took over had been moving to the hard right for a long time without him.

One of the figures to whom the American hard right at the moment owes an enormous amount is Pat Buchanan. He was writing the kind of lines that Trump delivers back in the 1970s. If "Trump" were a movie, Trump would be the star, but Pat Buchanan would get the screenwriting credit.

To answer the other part of your question, the hard right does have historical precedent. There has always been in conservatism, as it has adapted, as it has become more liberal and mainstream, as it has appealed to more and more democratic voters — democratic with a small D — there's always been a resistant fringe of those who say, "We're compromising too much."

There's a quick caution needed here in that when talking about the hard right, it's very easy to be misheard and have people say, "Ah! Fawcett's out of his mind, the hard right isn't fascist." I'm not saying for a moment that the hard right is fascist. There are many, many ways in which a conservative can become less liberal or less democratic without becoming fascist. Fascism in the 1920s and '30s was something specific. It came out of a particular historical context in Europe, after a disastrous war in which Germany was defeated. History doesn't repeat in that way. Fascism is not the right parallel.

Nor indeed is populism quite the right label for the hard right. Populism in the American context meant something quite specific, it was a movement flanking progressivism at the end of the 19th century. It had wide working-class and farm support. Populism as it's kicked around nowadays is a very loose idea. In fact, populism in connection with the hard right is an elite phenomenon. The hard right is not the people fighting the elite. The hard right in the United States and Europe is one elite, namely the hard right, a very conservative elite, fighting another, a more liberal elite. Hence the subtitle of my book: "The Fight for a Tradition."

I guess you would say that's true in other countries as well?

Yes. As for early hard-right politicians, you have Pat Buchanan. In Britain, there was a politician who may not be known to Americans, but is very well-known in Britain, Enoch Powell. He was a Tory politician, a ferociously clever person who ran himself out of politics in the 1960s by racialist outbursts which discredited him. His contribution to Tory politics is a bit like Pat Buchanan's contribution to Republicanism in the United States. Powell's contribution was, first, anti-European — get Britain out of the European Union — and nationalistic, to go it alone and not count on foreign friends, not even on the United States. Secondly, it was hyper-liberal in the economic sense. This strange cocktail, you see, was present in Enoch Powell — that same cocktail that I earlier described as hard right.

In opposition to that, you talk several times about successful conservative leaders. In one place you say "Like [Benjamin] Disraeli, or Margaret Thatcher, Churchill seemed to resolve in one capacious personality the [Conservative] party's inner conflicts." There are several other places where you make comments like that about how successful political leaders of conservatism resolved tensions that, once they passed from the scene, seemed to spill out all over the place. Could you say something about the importance of such figures? I'd also like to ask about Reagan as one such figure, because after him came the unraveling, as you mentioned before.

Reagan belongs in that category of conservative politician. It includes Thatcher and Angela Merkel today, the chancellor of Germany. They managed to keep their parties together, although like every successful party, each has a tremendous internal dynamic and conflict. In order to keep your party together, you have to give something to each side, and arguably both Reagan and Thatcher gave much too much to the market liberals, those who say "Markets will solve everything; government is always the problem." We're still living, I think, both in Europe and the United States, with the limitations of that policy. You can say that they gave too much in terms of the cost to society. However, in party terms, they were quite successful in keeping their parties together. The split in conservatism, the rise of the hard right and the rout of the old liberal Republicans, didn't begin until after Reagan and Thatcher were gone.

So what problems opened the door to the hard right after Reagan and Thatcher?

There were three levels. There was a historic internal change in society and economy, connected with the collapse of old industries, the collapse of unions. If you look back to our society and economy in the 1960s and '70s, out of which Reagan and Thatcher came, it's almost unrecognizable. So that's one thing, a huge, huge change. Second, the end of the Cold War, in 1989 and 1990. That was a convenient, if dangerous, framework for thinking about the world and other countries. That's now gone. Those two changes together — huge social and economic change inside, great global change outside — have meant that an old framework of ideas in which conservative politicians argued with each other is gone, and needs replacing. Good as they were at keeping their parties together, neither Thatcher nor Reagan handed on any kind of replacement.

Into that vacuum has come the hard right. It's not a program, it's not a long-term solution to anything. It's actually intellectually incoherent. It promises global free markets on the one hand, and a kind of self-reliant, protective nation on the other. It doesn't add up. However, it's politically extremely appealing.

In your coda you discuss the choices facing conservatives. But in your preface, you write that your book "is written in comradely spirit with a question for the left: if we're so smart, how come we're not in charge?"

I hope we will die on the left, but I sometimes think also we will die of the left.

I don't expect a quick answer, because then why write the book? But I wonder if you might have a tentative answer to offer, that points to a direction for further discussion and inquiry?

What is the answer to the question, if the left is honest with itself? The answer is that we may have the answers, we may be the virtuous ones, but we have never, in 200 years, persuaded a majority of our fellow citizens that we are the way to go. That seems to me too deep a pattern for there not to be lessons drawn from that. What is the lesson? In essence, a boring, dull and unpopular lesson on the left: That is that we have to cooperate with liberal-minded right-wing people at the center of politics if we want to get into government and govern, as opposed to being the party of criticism or a movement of protest, however necessary and legitimate.

To throw in a further thought, the condition of the left is part of a larger explanation of the political hole that we're in. It's not just that on the right, a hard right is dominant at present, and liberal conservatives are dispirited and in retreat. On the left, there isn't a really persuasive, strong and responsible alternative.

That said, contingency plays a part of the mess we're in politically. Think of the three times the 21st century arrived: First 9/11, a horrendous event for which it would take decades for the consequences to work themselves out. Then the 2003 Iraq war, necessary or not, which broke the liberal Republicans and broke the center-minded Labour Party in Britain. And third, the crash of 2008, which more or less finished the idea that markets look after themselves. You had these three hammer-blows which were, in their way, contingencies. Neither party, neither the left or the right, has really digested any of that.

Finally, what's most important question I didn't ask? And what's the answer?

"Is the fight on the right going to go on after Nov. 3?" And do you know what the answer is?

From reading your book?

Not only. We are thinking in parallel here. I liked the piece you wrote, "It's not just about Trump." I completely agree. Of the fight on the right, you could say, "It's not even about Trump." So my answer to the question you didn't ask is, yes, the fight on the right will go on.

How to reduce the destructive political power of the Supreme Court — and save Democracy

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the nomination of a polar opposite replacement, only one response that makes any sense: Expand the Supreme Court. The only real question is by how much. There are other responses that can do some good — perhaps even more good. But without court expansion, the existing court can, and almost certainly will, strike them down.

Yes, some call it an extreme step. But there's a more extreme step: Simply ignore the court's decisions — as some Republicans argued in the 1850s, in response to the Dred Scott decision. More to the point, this is an extreme situation that demands extreme responses. As Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield tweeted on Sept. 21:

Some #SCOTUS facts:
  • 15 of the last 19 appointments were made by GOP Presidents. (16/20 if #Trump gets another.)
  • The last year a majority of the justices were Dem appointees: 1969. Meanwhile, the GOP won the popular vote in the presidential election once in 30 years (2004).

It's also been more than 20 years since Republicans represented a majority of voters in the Senate, making the condition of minority rule even more extreme. It's also self-reinforcing: As Greg Sargent notes, a 6-3 conservative majority could strike down a new version of HR 1, the pro-democracy reforms that House Democrats passed in 2019, including wildly popular nonpartisan redistricting commissions.

The same fate awaits virtually everything else Democrats have campaigned on, as The Nation's justice correspondent, Elie Mystal, argued last February in an article bluntly titled, "If We Don't Reform the Supreme Court, Nothing Else Will Matter":

Not a single significant policy or initiative proposed by the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination is likely to survive a Supreme Court review. Nothing on guns, nothing on climate, nothing on health care — nothing survives the conservative majority on today's court.

And that was seven months before Ginsburg's death. Now, as election law maven Richard L. Hasen puts it, "Trump's New Supreme Court Is Coming for the Next Dozen Elections." This threat to our democracy comes at a time when others around the world are increasingly turning to citizens' assemblies as a way to expand democracy beyond elite-defined partisan bounds, as I discussed last December. At least one new book lays out a plan for introducing direct democracy at the national level, starting with advisory referenda.

This wildly anti-democratic situation — although temporarily normalized by our myopic, dysfunctional elites — actually violates deeply entrenched bipartisan norms, as underscored by University of Washington political scientist Scott Lemieux:

American political elites have generally supported the strong form of judicial review that emerged in the late 19th century because the Supreme Court generally tracked with the constitutional views of the dominant political coalition. A Supreme Court representing an entrenched, unpopular minority faction that refuses to allow the popular majorities from the other party to effectively govern would be neither democratically legitimate nor politically stable.

What's more, Lemieux notes, previous violations of this norm "all led to constitutional crises that ended only when the court itself backed down," including Franklin D. Roosevelt's oft-misremembered confrontation, which put an end to the court striking down New Deal legislation, most notably the Social Security Act. Nor is there any "normal" way out through political victory, Lemieux warns: A 6-3 conservative majority "would be essentially impossible for Democrats to displace through ordinary means, irrespective of the results of future elections."

So what might seem in isolation like an extreme or unwarranted norm-breaking move by Democrats is actually the exact opposite: an act of restoration to the guiding shared norms that have predominated across better than two centuries. Continued violation of these shared norms will only intensify the erosion of trust that brought us Donald Trump in the first place, and which he has greatly intensified with the enthusiastic cooperation of Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell.

So expanding the Supreme Court is the only option. As I said earlier, the real question is by how much.

How many seats?

Adding six new seats to the court would compensate for McConnell's double theft, with a two-seat penalty for deterrence. It would reflect the reality that norms are not self-enforcing. As Henry Farrell explains at Crooked Timber, "norms don't just rely on the willingness of the relevant actors to adhere to them. They also rely on the willingness of actors to violate them under the right circumstances. If one side violates, then the other side has to be prepared to punish."

Indeed, the more nakedly one side pursues power as an end in itself, the more necessary it becomes to punish them, since they've proven themselves immune to anything else. Trump's lawlessness is Exhibit A in this regard, but it was his commitment to the GOP's judicial agenda that allowed him to win in the first place, and that has bound the party and its followers to him even now, in the midst of an horrific plague he's done far more to spread than to stop.

Adding just three seats would be a gift, creating a balanced 6-6 court that would necessarily rule more narrowly and less contentiously. Law professor Eric Segall, author of "Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices are Not Judges," made precisely this argument about the 4-4 court in 2016.

After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia that year, amid widespread expectation that Hillary Clinton would be elected president, Segall told me in an interview, he believed "this was a moment in time that we can get left and right at the table and constructively weaken the Supreme Court for both sides.

"If you give me 10 minutes with every member of Congress I could convince them," Segall said, "because they get more powerful as the court gets weaker, by definition." By the way, the court originally had an even number of justices — six. Nothing about the current arrangement is enshrined in the Constitution.

Then there's going big: Adding 10 seats could open to the door to a whole different world, with a structure similar to the federal circuit courts, as Elie Mystal argued in the Nation article mentioned above. Most cases would be heard by a three-judge panel, chosen at random. It would take a majority vote of such a panel for the full court to consider a case. This would also tend to reduce the court's power, and produce narrower, more moderate decisions that intrude less on democratic decision making, Mystal contended.

He also linked to a proposal from the group Fix the Court for a system of fixed 18-year terms staggered to ensure an even distribution of presidential appointments. After 18 years, judges would shift to senior status, a well-established circuit court practice. Some claim this would violate the Constitution. But it seems clear that the court itself could rule otherwise, and there are good reasons to think that it should. That idea has gained increasingly broad ideological support, but as Mystal acknowledges, the existing court would likely strike it down.

Again, that's why old-fashioned, blunt-force court-packing is the most viable option — at least initially. Pack it big enough — with 10 new justices, as Mystal suggests — and you could wind up with a new court that would then OK a term-limit system.

But whatever the number and however it's conceived, court expansion is an absolute necessity, as Mystal's prognosis makes clear. As he argued more recently: "Name me an inventive, nonpartisan solution to the current dilemma faced by Democrats, and I will show you a constitutional defect the conservative Supreme Court will use against it. The only exception is court expansion."

This doesn't mean other ideas shouldn't be considered — I think they should. But it's futile to pursue them without court expansion leading the way.

Imbalances and obstacles

There are two further imbalances we have to fight. First comes the decades' worth of asymmetrical "constitutional hardball" and even anti-democratic "constitutional beanball," which I've written about here before. As the above-cited Scott Lemieux recently noted, this began in the Nixon administration and has given Republicans a twofold benefit: "The court has been generally and increasingly conservative, and yet Republicans have both placed a higher priority on it and have had negative attitudes towards it."

At bottom, conservatives are driven by a "restoration fantasy" of a world that never existed, and the Supreme Court is their way of getting there. Some sign onto a 19th-century fantasy of utterly unregulated capitalism, some to a Christian nationalist fantasy of America as a biblical nation — or, more radically, to a Christian Reconstructionist fantasy chillingly similar to "The Handmaid's Tale." In the legal arena there are the dual fantasies of "textualism" and "originalism," which is now incoherently collapsing into a bewildering array of forms — "Originalism is a 'They' not an 'It,'" as Segall describes.

What unites all these contradictory worldviews is a rejection of science, progress, facts and America's increasingly diverse, actually existing majority. The Supreme Court is all they have left. Without it, all is lost in their paranoid worldview. Liberals have never taken such a desperate, extremist view — at least not since the 1850s, when there were good, credible reasons to do so.

The second imbalance is that while Democratic voters have finally woken up — Lemieux points to midterm polling, along with the mountains of cash raised in the wake of Ginsburg's death — Democratic elites have not. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others have repeatedly refused to discuss expanding the court, despite the obvious deterrent power such a threat could carry. (Joe Biden has not ruled it out, as Kamala Harris made clear in her recent debate with Mike Pence — but he isn't talking about it openly either.) Democrats' self-defeating, one-step-at-a-time focus is the exact opposite of the long-term strategy Republicans have pursued for decades. The elites' narrow focus has a long-term demobilizing effect, which has suited the Democrats' corporate wing just fine. But that simply can't be sustained any longer, in the post-Parkland, Climate Strike, Black Lives Matter, COVID-19 world that now confronts the threats Mystal cites.

If Democrats don't act to expand the court if and they take power in January, they will be signing their own death warrants. As Mystal tweeted:

Expanding the court upon victory is going to be the HEIGHT of the Dems political power to do this. The illegitimate process to install ACB will be fresh.
Also, it's the height of the reform argument. Trump broke the court just like he broke everything else. LET'S FIX IT.

One major obstacle to overcome is the misguided notion that democratic norms are self-reinforcing. Another is confusion over what those norms really are and how they work. As Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber points out, the perception of FDR's court-packing as a dangerous, norm-breaking effort that failed — as it's presented, for example, in "How Democracies Die" — is incomplete, at best. Something more fundamental was going on. In the face of Roosevelt's threat, the court stopped striking down popular legislation, including the Social Security Act: "One norm that had been pretty systematically trashed – judicial respect for what citizens and their democratically elected representatives actually wanted – was only preserved through Roosevelt's credible threat to upset another norm."

Segall sees that as a valuable precedent. "This Court needs to be scared into humility," he told me. "FDR did it and it worked, like, for 30 years."

Weakening the Supreme Court

"As a general policy matter, I'm in favor of anything that weakens the court and makes it less partisan and less political," Segall said when I asked about Mystal's idea to have small groups of justices sit in panels, potentially reviewing each other's decisions. The lack of review makes the court into a political body, he argues in "Supreme Myths," so having most decisions made by smaller panels, while it would not end that problem, would surely diminish it.

But there's be a hitch. "I am not 100% sure that's as clearly constitutional as some other proposals," Segall warned, "because Article III [of the Constitution] says that the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court. One. So, I don't know."

On the other hand, we've had generations of experience with circuit courts structured precisely as Mystal describes, and no one thinks twice about calling them "courts." While the existing conservative majority might well strike down such an innovation, an expanded court could be expected to lean the other way — another argument for moving quickly. Once you have 19 justices sitting there, the shear impracticality of them all hearing every single case and debating it in such a large forum casts the question in a very different light.

Segall describes another de-escalating, depolarizing path. "Kent Greenfield at Boston College [quoted above] is about to have an op-ed in the New York Times saying that Congress should create a specialized constitutional court, like Europe has, to resolve constitutional questions," he said. "Then Congress can use its jurisdiction under Article III to deprive the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction over that court."

Jurisdiction-stripping is an idea that's gotten significant traction on the right in recent years. But it's grounded in text, as Segall notes, since the Constitution says Congress has the authority to restrict or limit the Supreme Court's jurisdiction. To me, the most appealing use of jurisdiction-stripping would be to protect voting rights. John Roberts' delusional ruling striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act utterly disregarded the 15th Amendment's specific authorization that "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." It would be perfectly reasonable for Congress to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act again, this time citing this specific text, along with that of Article III.

Pitfalls of weakening the court

Mystal is skeptical, to put it mildly. "I'm not a huge fan of the various 'jurisdiction stripping' proposals, for a couple of reasons," he told me. "That's exactly the kind of thing Republicans will do to take away minority rights. Remember, as a Black person the thing I fear most is not Republicans or Democrats. It's white majorities trying to kill me. I like the court as a theoretical check against such majoritarian tyranny."

Of course, the Court's record in that regard isn't exactly awe-inspiring, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor recounts for the New Yorker. The 8-1 gutting of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, less than a generation after the passage of the Civil War amendments undergirding it is just one of the less-remembered examples Taylor cites.

But there's a broader problem as well. "I don't have a whole lot of confidence that the Supreme Court will rule that their jurisdiction has been stripped," Mystal said. "More to the point, I fear that they will rule that jurisdiction-stripping is OK on issues where Republicans are already winning, but suddenly rule that the Dems cannot strip jurisdiction on something they actually want to overturn."

In fact, he specifically thinks my idea won't work: "We're not going to have Congress say, 'People can vote and the Supreme Court can't say no,' and then have the Supreme Court just say, 'Oh well, I guess people can vote,'" he said. "The court has already largely ignored the 15th Amendment. They'll ignore jurisdiction stripping too to stop black people from voting."

Finally, as Mystal noted, this doesn't really help with state law, "which is a lot of law and a lot of the most horrible law." He offered a speculative case in which the court rules 6-3 to uphold a new Alabama law restricting abortion "to the first three hours of pregnancy out of wedlock, or whatever." It doesn't officially overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, but effectively outlaws abortion — and jurisdiction-stripping doesn't help. "If your court reform doesn't deal with awful state laws in the South," Mystal said, "then your court reform doesn't really work."

On the other hand, Segall clearly opposed the more extreme move of simply ignoring the court's decisions, as recently advanced by Ryan Cooper and Jamelle Bouie. "If we're going to live in a country that follows the rule of law, I think we have to follow the court's decisions, unless we decide to be a parliamentary system and not a republic anymore," Segall said.

Which is not to say the principle of judicial review has always been respected, or even claimed. Cooper correctly notes that "The weird thing about judicial 'originalism' is that the explicit principle of judicial review is nowhere to be found in the Constitution." (That doesn't bother Segall, given his critique of originalism.) Cooper goes on to say:

Actual judicial review was a product of a cynical power grab from Chief Justice John Marshall, who simply asserted out of nothing in Marbury vs. Madison that the court could overturn legislation — but did it in a way to benefit incoming president Thomas Jefferson politically, so as to neutralize his objection to the principle.

This accurately captures the political nature of that decision, as well as of the Supreme Court more generally. But there's more to the story. "Just because the Supreme Court rules on something doesn't always mean whatever it says goes," Segall told me. "For example, in 1962-63, they end prayer in public schools, but the reality is that in the South there's still prayer in the schools." The INS v. Chadha decision of 1983 supposedly ended the practice of legislative vetoes, but Congress and the president both still use them. And then there's the case of Brown v. Board of Education. As Segall notes, 10 years after Brown, schools in the the South were almost entirely re-segregated. "So I think we already know how we can undo court decisions. It's been done before."

These court-ignoring examples all tilt right. And the counter to them tilted to the left, Segall explained: "It wasn't until 1958 and Cooper vs Aaron" — which denied Arkansas school authorities the right to delay desegregation — "that the Court basically said, 'We're supreme, you have to follow us,' as opposed to 'We decide cases, and let the chips fall where they may.'"

So the historical record doesn't look good. Questioning the court's legitimacy on moral grounds is one thing, but this "solution" seems more treacherous than the problem it's meant to solve.

A troubled record

The examples Segall cites echo the longer historical record laid out by Taylor, which highlights just how poorly protected Black people, women and other disempowered groups have almost always been. "The insistence that the Supreme Court is not a political body is a principle of high folly in American politics," Taylor notes, adding that "as the branch of government that is least accountable to the American public, the Supreme Court has tended, for most of its history, toward a fundamental conservatism, siding with tradition over more expansive visions of human rights."

Along with the familiar 19t-century examples of Dred Scott and Plessy, Taylor cites the "Civil Rights cases" (mentioned above), and, turning to the court's most clearly progressive era, she elucidates how fragile and contingent the achievements anchored in the Brown decision actually are. She notes both the national security argument the Truman administration made against segregation ("Racial discrimination furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills," its amicus brief warned), and the rapid backsliding of the court itself:

The Brown decision was a public indicator of progress, but its decree was quickly undermined when, the following year, the Court prescribed that school desegregation be undertaken with "all deliberate speed." Without a directive that the ruling should take effect immediately, the South was provided legal cover to drag its feet, as the racist "massive resistance" to school integration began to take hold. ...
Even when the Court has ruled in ways that appear to be in the interest of minorities or socially and economically marginalized populations, its decisions can be ephemeral, susceptible to partisan shifts, while creating the dangerous illusion of permanence.

This ephemeral status "reduces rights to privileges," Taylor argues. Rather than depending on the Supreme Court, she suggests, "It is through acts of solidarity and struggle that we have been able to secure our rights and liberties." Taylor concludes by saying, "It is long overdue to end the Court's undemocratic role in U.S. society," but without offering any specific suggestions about how to do this. The expansions of democracy I have mentioned in passing—citizens' assemblies, direct democracy through referenda and initiatives — point to one important facet of what can be done. But the Court's existing power must also be reined in. That's what's front and center now.

A fight for peace?

Elie Mystal's approach is notable for combining a fighting spirit with a long-term willingness to depoliticize the court. In February, he argued that adding 10 justices would give Democrats "the political leverage to make the Republicans an offer they couldn't refuse," by compelling them to agree to a larger judicial reform package (including an ethics panel for the Supreme Court), in exchange for a promise that "the 10 new justices could be evenly split" between nominees of both parties. Does that sound like a contradiction? Maybe not.

"I want to fight like hell to win control of the court so that a Democratic run court can be depoliticized," he said. "I know that sounds like a tension, but I can square the circle. Basically the legal arguments between conservatives and liberals on the court and in the law do not break down so cleanly on Republican v. Democrat lines. "That's what makes the law so cool and interesting. But we rarely get to have those debates, because Republicans choose judges based on one thing: the judge's willingness to overturn precedent if it conflicts with the Republican political agenda. That's pretty much it."

That's largely happened because the Federalist Society has taken over the business of selecting Republican judicial nominees, combined with the long-term influence of the Christian right, as described in books like "The Power Worshippers" and "Building God's Kingdom," with results tallied and reflected on here.

"The kind of judge who believes that you can just throw away the 50 years of settled precedent codified in Roe v .Wade, because you personally think abortion is immoral, is also a nutty, extremist judge who believes all other sorts of crazy things," Mystal explained. "You get a whole raft of radical judicial ideology by trying to litmus-test everything around abortion. It's how you get judges who also think the 15th Amendment is just a suggestion, but the Second Amendment is the word of God. It's how you get judges who are constantly waging ideological battles instead of ruling on the specific cases and controversies before them."

Ironically, there was a time when conservatives made just that kind of argument — but it was riddled with bad faith. Mystal would have us focus on what's legitimate. "The goal of depoliticizing the courts is to get more people who are looking at the specific facts of the case, as opposed to always tacking to their ideologies," he said.

"If you want to look at cases, then having a 'diverse' set of backgrounds and experiences and opinions is actually good. There are case-by-case 'conservative' points of view that I actually agree with," Mystal noted. "I don't mind having 'conservatives' on the Court, I mind having intellectually dishonest Federalist Society extremists on the court who are only there to strike down a couple of opinions conservatives hate and carry on an ideology war at all other times."

Mystal concluded with a crucial caveat: "Where I differ from, say, Barack Obama ... is that you have to win the war first before you de-escalate. Conservatives play to win, and Democrats must too. We can have peace, after we win."

Democrats desperately need to heed that call to arms. But they also something more than the fervent desire of their base for a big win. They need an argument. That's where Segall's final point on court-packing comes in.

"In 2020, an institution of life-tenured lawyers second-guessing social, political and educational issues — any kind of issues — based on imprecise text and contested history is a broken institution," he said. "That has to be the Democrats' argument. If they vote to expand the Supreme Court, he concluded, "We're not making it stronger to be more Democratic or more liberal. … We're packing it to make it weaker."

Scholar explains how the conservative movement transmits 'sanitized versions of white supremacist ideology'

As the longest sustained period of racial justice protests in American history segues into the heat of election season, dark shadows have appeared, from the vigilante killing of protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin — and widespread conservative defenses of the teenage accused murderer — to ludicrous charges against protesters, including "terrorism," to the Trump administration's crackdown on federal antiracism training, calling it "anti-American," and Attorney General Bill Barr's call for protesters to be charged with sedition.

So much for the notions that Donald Trump has no ideology, or, for that matter, that getting rid of him will make America great again. In July of 2016, I wrote about why such views were myopic: "Trump advances core paleoconservative positions," researcher Bruce Wilson told me, including "rebuilding infrastructure, protective tariffs, securing borders and stopping immigration, neutralizing designated internal enemies and isolationism."

Trump's record as president has been surprisingly consistent for such an erratic figure, with his purely rhetorical support for infrastructure as the most notable exception. And therein lies a key to the current moment: With infrastructure removed from the equation — the most broadly popular position Trump's ever embraced — the remaining white nationalism stands out in stark relief, highlighted in the frenzied push toward violent confrontation around the election, and beyond.

Dr. James Scaminaci III has just published a report about the long historical genesis of this recent push for Political Research Associates, "Battle With Bullets: Advancing a Vision of Civil War." Scaminaci has a PhD in sociology from Stanford and has worked as a civilian intelligence analyst with expertise on the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, and organized crime. So the spread of social chaos, internecine violence and associated enabling ideologies is a subject he's familiar with.

Scaminaci traces the roots of culture-war and race-war narratives as far back as the Haitian revolution of the early 19th century. He observes that Steve Bannon nurtured those carefully at Breitbart News and they have played a key role in radicalizing Trump's base over the past five years, to the point where some of his supporters are visibly preparing themselves for violence. Some parts of this story have been relatively well covered, but Scaminaci provides a much more integrated and historically extensive account of how we reached our present state. I reached out to him recently for an interview by email to discuss some of his key insights and how they provide us with a much clearer picture of the forces pushing America toward civil war. The following has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

In your article, you write: "Over the last several years, a narrative around the threat of civil war — and more specifically, a racial civil war — has been growing on the Right." You observe that this comes in different versions and has deep historical roots, dating back to the colonial era. Before getting into the details, why is it important to recognize this history and learn about it?

I wanted to convey that what we are seeing now on the right wing has a long history, a history that is either overlooked or ignored. Jill Lepore and other scholars looking at the right have noted that modern day "patriots" cast themselves as lineal descendants of the founding fathers and the American Revolution — that they are revolutionaries against the existing "tyrannical" federal government. But that history is drenched in violence and blood against Black and indigenous peoples. That context cannot be omitted. And the idea that whites are under existential threat from Black folks also needs to be put into historical context.

Second, the right-wing idea that the federal government is "tyrannical" is largely the product of white supremacist politicians, both Republican and Democratic, and intellectuals like William F. Buckley. This was the idea that post-World War II federal support for civil rights was federal overreach, was unconstitutional, and that it upset allegedly harmonious race relations in the South and eventually in the North.

According to white supremacists, the existential threat to white people in the Jim Crow South came from Black folks, whether children or adults, even touching anything that could be shared with whites. A schoolbook touched by a Black child became a Black textbook. Blacks and whites could not share drinking fountains or sit in the same seats on a bus.

What I wanted to portray in "Battle With Bullets" is that whites have long viewed any expression of nonviolent Black agency as an existential threat to themselves that required whites to resort to a brutal, genocidal racial civil war. One can understand the palpable fear of a slave revolt before 1861. But white supremacists have claimed that registering to vote, voting, moving into a white neighborhood after a history of redlining, moving into managerial or foreman positions in the workplace, or being cast as heroes or superheroes are existential threats.

You write that "The most dangerous versions of that [civil war] narrative come from leaders with paramilitary forces, while other appeals seem intended to generate a heightened sense of crisis." Can you give an example of each and then help us understand how the two are related?

Roger Stone is a political operative who has graduated from ratfucking political operations into calling for a civil war or violence or martial law. He is an ideological chaos agent. He can help set the narrative mood for the right wing. As Chip Berlet has written, elites know how to write the score for scripted violence. Somehow, the gunmen always know who to kill. In a similar category are the numerous Christian right leaders who broadcast the same civil war message to their Christian nationalist supporters and followers. I also quoted [Dallas megachurch pastor] Robert Jeffress in the article.

David Neiwert owns the beat on tracking the transmission of fringe ideas to the conservative mainstream. Even a decade before Trump, the ideological lines were blurring.

In 2008, Michael Savage, a right-wing radio host, said, "[T]he white person is being erased from America's future. ... There is a racial element to the immigration invasion." Then Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly claimed, "So now, it's becoming a race war." The Center for American Progress went on to note that O'Reilly claimed that immigration reformers "hate America ... because it's run primarily by white, Christian men" and were seeking "to change the complexion...of America."

That is no different from Jean Raspail's theme in "The Camp of the Saints" or the narrative at The Social Contract, a white nationalist journal which published Raspail's novel. Or Glenn Beck on Fox News in February 2009, airing his racial civil war scenario within one month of the first Black president taking office. Or a variety of Christian Right leaders during the Obama years calling for or suggesting a racial civil war is coming, including Tony Perkins, Larry Klayman and Rick Joyner.

In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted the "symbiotic dance" between white supremacist groups and John Tanton's hardline anti-immigration movement, as well as the sharing of conspiracy narratives between white supremacists and the "patriot" militia movement.

The conservative movement, both the political and religious wings, transmit sanitized versions of white supremacist ideology. The latter is premised on preparing for, if not instigating, a racial civil war in America.

John Jackson, a scholar who covers "scientific" racism, in a recent article titled, "Going Full Nazi,"asked the question: "[W]hat is the point of drawing a line between the 'mainstream' and the 'alt' right? Perhaps there is no useful distinction to be made." The angry white guys with guns are dangerous because they have weapons of war. But the dividing line between them and the "Fourth Generation Warfare" chaos agents creating a crisis of legitimacy is increasingly blurred.

You write that this rhetoric is rooted in a narrative adapted from the 1973 French novel you just mentioned, "The Camp of the Saints." Can you explain its basic narrative?

The novel has seven key ideas that its critics and proponents have noted. One, mass migration is an invasion. Two, immigrants and refugees are invaders. Three, the invaders will eventually destroy Western culture and replace Western populations. Four, the West's political elites do not have the moral strength to defend the West. Five, the invaders must be physically removed and/or violently repelled. Six, there is a difference between the "real country" and "real citizens" and the "legal country" and "legal citizens." Seven, multiracial, multiethnic or multi-confessional societies are not only unstable but undesirable, and lead to the "balkanization" of societies — a view also imported from Serbian genocidal propaganda into the American and global right.

The main variations within this "Camp of the Saints" worldview are whether the political elites lack moral strength to resist the invasions ("Great Replacement"), enact immoral policies which weaken Western societies to invasion ("demographic winter") or actively collaborate with the governments of the invading migrants to facilitate the invasion (as in John Tanton's network). The other variation distinguishes the neo-Nazis from all the other segments: whether or not the Jews are responsible for the destruction of their societies ("white genocide").

You note that for both France and the United States, the historical roots of this narrative go back to the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. In the U.S. this has produced the "white genocide theory" and in France the "great replacement" theory. What distinguishes them and what draws them together?

The "white genocide" theory is premised on the fear of a Black slave revolt against the white slave-owning society. The "great replacement" theory is based on the fear of massive nonwhite immigration coupled with lower white birth rates leading to a "replacement" of the white population with a nonwhite population, and the transformation of the culture.

White supremacists use the more palatable, more sanitized "great replacement" theory interchangeably and conflate them. But they have different causal mechanisms.

On the other hand, the neo-Nazis and other proponents of the "white genocide" narrative consider any action by Black people to improve themselves, to gain access to privileged white spheres of social action or to more equitably redistribute power and status as an existential threat. "Great replacement" proponents do not share this outlook. Nor do "great replacement" proponents, in general, blame Jews for what they consider to be massive immigration.

You write, "It would be a mistake to see these various 'White Replacement' narratives as isolated from mainstream conservative thought in Europe or America." How has their influence spread through terrorist acts?

In the right-wing information sphere, ideas swirl around, mix, recombine and mutate over time to fit changing circumstances. Raspail's "Camp of the Saints" is foundational to this narrative or worldview. Raspail directly influenced the emergence and popularity of the "great replacement" theory, which is the catchall theory cited by white terrorists.

But Bat Ye'or's conception of the problem — that European elites conspire with Arab elites to produce both subservience to Islam and the "great replacement" — directly influenced the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who was motivated to provoke a decades-long civil war to stop the formation of what Ye'or called "Eurabia." Breivik, as well as the "great replacement" narrative, have inspired numerous white terrorist acts around the globe.

Returning to the American context, How did Steve Bannon and Breitbart spread their influence?

Bannon's principal contribution was to use Breitbart News to mix white supremacist ideology into the Republican Party and the Christian Right, and to heavily promote Raspail's "Camp of the Saints." In 2015 and 2016, Breitbart was the largest driver of ideological influence on the right.

How has this spread through the Trump administration?

The "Camp of the Saints" worldview largely shapes Stephen Miller's approach to immigration issues. Raspail's bottom line was that "the barbarians had to be repelled" either by violence or cruelty or both. Trump's immigration policy has been cruel, and as Adam Serwer noted, "cruelty is the point."

You also call attention to the Christian right's specific variant called "demographic winter," and argue that this has played a central role in evangelical support for Trump and his wall. What should people know about that?

The term "demographic winter" appears to have come from Don Feder, communications director of the World Congress of Families [a far-right, anti-LGBT Christian group]. He is the most prominent WCF official linked to the Tanton anti-immigration network and was apparently influenced by Bat Ye'or's "Eurabia" ideas, which circulate widely in conservative and right-wing Jewish circles.

In November 2005, Feder's view of Muslims in France reflected the worldview of Raspail and other "Eurabia" writers. Feder blamed the French riots of that year on "demographic winter," "lax immigration policies" and "brain-dead multiculturalism." Where "demographic winter" differs from Raspail, the "great replacement" and the Eurabia narratives is that liberal elite support for women's reproductive freedom and gay marriage are the principal culprits, in addition to massive Muslim immigration.

What resonates with conservative Christians and Christian nationalists is the idea that Christian (Western) civilization is under threat from nonwhite immigration, Christians are being persecuted in the West and around the world, and only a strong, authoritarian leader building a wall can save them.

Survey data supports my contention that white evangelical Protestants have a "Camp of the Saints" worldview: Seventy-eight percent favor strict limits on "legal immigration," 76% favor "building a [border] wall," 69% support a "temporary" Muslim ban and, 54% favor "preventing refugees from coming into the United States," according to October 2019 PRRI data.

The last section of your article deals with the emergence of the "Boogaloo boys" during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. How can we better understand them in terms of the longer history you've laid out? What lessons need to be learned?

The first lesson to be learned is that Donald Trump and local elected Republican officials, especially the so-called "constitutional sheriffs," have a much closer relationship to the armed wing of the Christian right. Bruce Wilson and David Neiwert have been tracking that.

The second lesson is that Trump is openly orchestrating armed demonstrations of force against Democratic Party governors and mayors.

The third lesson is that it is very easy to take off your camouflage fatigues and put on a Hawaiian shirt and pretend you just got concerned — but not before you spent around $2,000 on a rifle, tactical gear and ammunition. Journalists should stop being so credulous.

The last lesson is that claims that the "patriot" militia support Black Lives Matter protests are preposterous. The BLM protests are not simply about wrongful deaths at the hands of law enforcement — something a majority of whites can see and empathize with.

BLM is calling for reckoning, a "Third Reconstruction" of America — politically, economically and culturally — in the context of a deliberate confrontation with that racist, violent history. Even at the intellectual level of the "Never Trumpers," those potentially most sympathetic to BLM, there is a blindness or an inability to confront that larger American history and the smaller Republican Party history regarding racism. To think that "angry white men with guns" have thought it through is absurd.

What's the most important question I haven't asked? And what's the answer?

I do not know the answer to the question: "Why do scholars and journalists not consider the religious basis of America's long-term crisis of legitimacy in terms of politics and science?" But I would suggest that scholars and journalists have glommed on to the least important of Richard Hofstadter's explanations, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," and ignored his more trenchant analysis in "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," which focuses on the epistemological disruption caused by fundamentalist Protestantism. They also ignore Marty Lipset's and Earl Raab's use of the concept of monism in describing the right wing in "The Politics of Unreason." Those old guys were on to something.

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