As you may have noticed, this space isn't necessarily a place to fight or win substantial political arguments. I have no intention of telling you how to vote nor am I interested in how you vote. In the smoke filled discourse we choke on every day there isn't a place in the culture that doesn't wage these battles on an overtly superficial level. I don't think you could get me to do that here even at gunpoint.
Rather, bad arguments are my business here. If something looks structurally unsound or intellectually unintelligible- a shelter for good people to hide behind bad arguments- then it raises my hackles and you may end up reading about it here. This is a deconstruction of one particularly bad argument people have endlessly mounted again and again not because it is strong (it isn't) but because they are continuously attempting to build a castle around a house of sand.
A close friend recently asked me to subject myself to James Lindsay's podcast Biden Is Not the Room. I'll link to it here but what follows will amount to me saving you the trouble.
The podcast itself is a parade of bad arguments and straw men, thinly veiled emotional reasoning dressed up in a patina of intellectualism and a level of political prognostication somewhere between Jim Cramer and a shovel to the head.
It would be fruitless and far too intensive to knock down every straw man tangled in the weeds of Lindsay's arguments so I'll address the pillars of his arguments on why he has to vote for Trump.
Some of these points I'm making here were originally part of a longer piece entitled The Intellectual Defeatism of Trumpism. In the arguments that follow I will illustrate why that blog post never came together and what it says about the movement Lindsay has chosen to endorse.
On Involuntary Conservatism
Lindsay insists he is no Trump supporter- stop me if you've heard this one before- and his issues lie entirely with the far left and the avatar it has found in the Biden campaign. I am not here to insist on the either/or false dichotomy- I write this as someone who isn't part of the dichotomy himself- but the constant complaining about the excesses of the left while insisting you're not part of the right, that you have severe disagreements with Trump even if you rarely or never voice them, is almost a stereotype at this point.
If Lindsay plays into this dynamic at this point is still unknown to me- his Twitter persona lingering somewhere between Stephen King and J.K. Rowling levels of tactfulness- but his objections to Trump in this podcast ostensibly about remorsefully voting for the guy are low on content or specifics. For someone who seems to pride themselves on a certain level of intellectual seriousness as Lindsay does I was surprised he didn't locate in-depth, specific policy grievances in an administration he stresses he never would have supported if it were not for the excesses of the Democratic party.
On the Trumpist Right as an Alternative to the Victimhood on the Left
Turns out, this movement that a serious intellectual can support is so thoughtful they didn't even revise their platform from 2016. In the absence of this (or any real policy discussion) we are left with the words and actions of the leader of such a movement and his supporters.
Originally, I intended this as part of a much longer piece titled The Intellectual Defeatism of Trumpism but that's just the problem, isn't it? There can be no core system of beliefs to a cult of personality centered on the whims of a wildly inconsistent and undisciplined figure. While there are fixations (rather than principles), even these are sketchily defined and even more haphazardly applied.
As much as I can define it, beyond the bumper sticker theology and sloganizing, there isn't much in the way of positive ideological content to Trumpism (as is the case with movements centered around demagogues). Rather, it is an opposition belief system, a reactionary movement characterized so much more by what it stands against than what it actually stands for.
Much energy is spent by its adherents avoiding its hollow ideological core, overly reliant on a persecution narrative in which the holder of the highest office of the land is both the toughest, most successful president we've ever had while simultaneously being powerless and continuously taken advantage of by the forces aligned against him.
Similar to the Tea Party, the ideological forebears to the Trump movement, you never have to pause to consider whether the terms you're throwing around- communism, socialism, fascism, Maoism- are really as interchangeable as you use them so long as you're continuously preoccupied with fighting the good fight (no time for idle reflection when you're living in the apocalyptic moment).
That the Tea Party abandoned its ostensible limited government principles for the free market meddling of Trumpism (trade wars, farm subsidies, bullying companies in the private sector, etc.) reveals it as a fundamentally hollow movement best expressed as "limited government for thee but not for me."
Rather than take on the victimhood narratives Trumpists correctly diagnose on the left they, like most reactionary movements, follow the rule of mirrors to become the thing they hate, only- and this is their innovation- with distinct caveats to highlight the alleged mistreatment of the most powerful man on the planet. This is fundamentally silly, ridiculous nonsense no intellectually serious person could even begin to indulge.
These critiques I'm making of the movement, if contested at all, would be reduced to name calling and whataboutism (a strange snowflakey strain where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are spoke of as if they are still in power) as these are the only fallbacks for a movement that steadfastly avoids contending with any serious critiques head on.
Once again: this is a victimhood narrative centered around the holder of the most powerful office in the world. If this is an alternative to similar narratives on the left, it is only because it is a further evolution. Where the left has actual policy positions and goals (some of which I dislike), the right currently only has this.
On the Excesses of the Left
James is a fan of that form of Too Online argument that favors fringe arguments by hilariously bad publications as serious representations of policy positions no presidential candidate has actually referenced or endorsed versus observing the sort of candidates the party he supports are actually nominating for office and the behavior of President "Retweets Are Not Opinions."
For James to suggest The New Republic is representative of the mainstream Democratic Party is to suggest James slept through the entire Democratic primary, only reads blue checkmark twitter, and had never previously heard of The New Republic prior to this moment. Just wait until James finds out how they wrote about Biden during the primary, if he considers TNR the mainstream and Biden to be of the far left.
So, according to James it is Biden who will rewrite the constitution based on some masturbatory political fanfiction no one affiliated with the Biden campaign has endorsed and checks this off as another reason to vote for Trump. Meanwhile, the guy James is prepared to endorse has already appointed theocrats with fascistic wet dreams to White House positions.
Does the Left get out of line? Of course. Does the Left police itself? Not as well as it should. But to pretend the party that nominated its least woke candidate is incapable of moderation, the same party whose institutions went after someone who wrote a book called In Defense of Looting is in any way equivalent to the national party that not only plays footsie with but endorses believers of a dangerous, antisemitic conspiracy theory is a form of Too Online Derangement Syndrome (TODs).
Wokepocalypse Now: Redux
The notion of Trump as a correcting force for the excesses of the far left- something he has only empowered and inflamed in his tenure- is a laughable claim considering his results thus far. That he employs this argument- particular to the fever swamps of the right- is way of James telling on himself. He argues, by some dint of magical realism, that these forces that Trump has only exacerbated and worsened will also somehow be miraculously cured by a second Trump term. That James doesn't even have an hypothesis for how this will come about in the broader culture is particularly revealing about the level of reasoning he is employing here. This is an argument so deluded, so chronically infantile it could only be made by someone who is already a dyed in the wool Trump supporter, an almost theological framing only available to those neck deep in the fever swamps of the right.
The moment you transform a politician into an avatar for your irrational hopes and dreams is the moment you've left adult reasoning behind in favor of something more craven and backwards.
Let us not ignore what indulging these swampy fever dreams in the short term may lead to in the long term:
The Democratic Party, to many people's surprise, produced a candidate that openly criticizes violent protesters, calls for looters to be arrested, and refuses to endorse defunding the police. This is a Democratic candidate who continuously outrages his left flank, such as with his recent consideration of Republicans for key cabinet positions. That he's emerged at a time when the Democratic Party is against most of these things says something about the will of the voters versus those who have a megaphone in the public sphere.
What lessons would the Democratic party take from a Biden loss? To lose to a President with historic high negatives in the midst of a mismanaged pandemic? It would send one message clear as day: moderation doesn't translate to votes.
This referendum would end in someone much further to the left and more in line with the blue checkmark twitter that turns Lindsay's dreams into nightmares running against.. Mike Pence? Who doesn't even get Trump fans excited? At that point you get an actual Democratic president who is the photographic negative of what so many people- James included- project onto Biden.
TL;DR Biden Is Not the Room: AOC 2024