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Seth Cotlar @SethCotlar
, 18 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
1. Here's an alternate way to conceptualize the political spectrum from left to right (inspired by a conversation with @bcwaterhouse)
-Progressive liberal (Dems since FDR)
-Conservative liberal (where GOP was for much of post WWII era)
-Illiberals (where Trumpist GOP is headed)
2. Beginning with the Declaration of Independence's claim of fundamental human equality & reaffirmed by Lincoln's move to place the D of I at the center of the nation's self-conception during the Civil War, the US has always spoken a theoretically "liberal" political language.
3. By "liberal" I mean this--all people have equal standing before the law, all people have an equal right to participate in the process of forming the laws under which we live, all people have the right to live lives of dignity and self-determination.
4. The central fact of American history, however, is that this "liberal" political language has been layered over a fundamentally illiberal society--a slave society til 1865, a racist society ever since, a patriarchal society, a settler colonial society, a heteronormative society
5. I'll grant that when the white men of 1776 said "all men are created equal," they, for the most part, only meant literal "white men." [As an aside, this is why it's hard for me to understand how any 21st century person could call themselves an originalist.]
6. But here's the problem, those white men built a society where their livelihoods relied upon the expropriated land of Native Americans and the labor of women and non-white people, and those people had brains and mouths with which they contested those asymmetries of power.
7. Those illiberal power asymmetries stood in stark contrast to the liberal promise of equality articulated in the document which announced the nation's birth. That's why almost every US social movement has deployed the D of I in its rhetoric. MLK called it a "promissory note."
8. To a great extent, this push and pull between the promise of equality and the reality of inequality is the warp and woof of American history. It is the history of almost every social movement in American history--from abolition to labor to women's rights to gay rights.
9. The progressive liberal has said "move faster and do more." The conservative liberal has said "move slowly and do less. Remedying those inequalities might do more harm than good to society as a whole." The illiberal says, "I like those inequalities. They're natural. Keep 'em!"
10. Just speaking for myself here, but I had always assumed that the modern GOP was essentially a party of conservative liberals--folks who acknowledged the equal humanity of all but had authentic concerns about the potential danger of using state power 2 foster greater equality.
11. But under Trump, the illiberal elements of the GOP have become more apparent. Free press? Meh. Nation of immigrants? Meh. Concerns about racialized nature of law enforcement? Meh. Public education for all? Meh. All faiths respected equally? Meh. No one above the law? Meh.
12. In sum, Illiberalism has been a feature of American society and politics from the beginning. Trumpism didn't invent it. But both progressive and conservative liberals (despite many disagreements) have agreed with the basic premise that "liberal" equality is a goal.
13. Trumpism/Bannonism is a resurgence of a fundamentally illiberal, white, male, propertied, (and implicitly Christian) identity politics of exclusion that generations of Americans have struggled the name of a "liberal" political vision of inclusion and equality.
14. The "anti-PC" rhetoric at the heart of the MAGA brand is, at heart, an embrace of illiberalism.
"Trans men and women want me to acknowledge their humanity, but I say that's PC BS and I refuse to do it."
"BLM activists want me to value their lives equally. I say no." [cont'd]
15. Anti-PC MAGA says
"Undocumented people long resident in the US are asking me to recognize them as equal citizens. I say no, they're not deserving."
The Never Trumpers are arguably the vestigial, GOP conservative liberals who refuse to countenance MAGA illiberalism.
16. Clearly there are many complexities and qualifications I didn't include in this little Twitter thread. I can imagine mutually exclusive alternatives as well. But I offer this as a potentially useful heuristic for making sense of contemporary and future American politics.
17. If Trump is a departure from the "conservative liberalism" of the GOP, then that party is at a truly monumental tipping point, a point at which it might tip into something explicitly and assertively illiberal. In which case, Mount Rushmore will weep.
18. Should we be wishing for a GOP that returns to "conservative liberalism" and eschews illiberalism? Is that even an accurate depiction of where the GOP was (and where it could go), given how readily Trump has taken over the party? Time will tell.
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