Sunday, November 27, 2016

Republicans and the Americans for Democratic Action

Mark Tushnet

As many readers probably know, Sandy Levinson received an anti-Semitic postcard from Great Britain, and as I've reported I've received a fair number of anti-Semitic e-mails in response to my post on "taking a hard line." (I haven't been to my office since Sandy received his postcard, so I don't know if I got one as well, but I've had an uptick of hate e-mails since the "target list" of liberal professors was released a week or so ago.) Mostly, as Sandy says, this goes with the territory -- although I do have a perhaps unattractive reaction of Schadenfreude that it turns that, though describing my "taking a hard line" post as saying that I wanted to treat Christians like Nazis was a misrepresentation, there are a not insignificant number of people who describe themselves as Christians who are, you know, Nazis (or neo-Nazis, or proto-fascists). The journalist Josh Marshall has usefully described what's happened in the wake of the Trump campaign as "the great disinhibition." Understood in that way, the question of whether Trump or Bannon is personally a racist or anti-Semite is largely irrelevant. The disinhibition they've let loose seems quite real.

It occurred to me that there was something of a historical analogy worth thinking about. Right now it appears as though proto-fascists have a non-trivial amount of influence in leading circles in the Republican party. In the late 1940s some Democrats were concerned that Stalinists were coming to have a non-trivial amount of influence on the Democratic party. (The parallel isn't exact; the vehicle for Stalinist influence would have been Henry Wallace, but he was dumped by the Democrats in 1944 rather than nominated by them for the presidency in 1948.) In response, leading Democrats organized the Americans for Democratic Action as a vehicle for organizing opposition within and outside the party to Stalinist influence. My sense/recollection is that the ADA was pretty successful. I wonder whether something similar will occur now -- the creation of a formal organized counter, associated with the Republican party, to the great disinhibition. At present, all one sees are assertions that somehow "the Republican establishment" will manage to get some control back, re-imposing the inhibitions that have been unleashed. I wonder whether that can be sufficient; liberals in the 1940s didn't think it would be. I also wonder whether times and institutions have changed so much that something like the ADA couldn't be successful under contemporary circumstances. But, it's early days, and, as the Derek Jacobi character says in "Dead Again," I, for one, am very interested to see what's going to happen next.

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