The half-life of batshit and other matters
a tactical political contemplation
In 1980, a married couple from Canada — Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder — pulled off a book grift with the publication of Michelle Remembers, an evidence-free account of Michelle’s abuse as a child at the hands of “Satanists,” memories which she claimed to have “recovered” with the help of her quack-psychiatrist husband. “Recovered memory” was a giant heap of pop-psych bullshit, but it took hold with such force that within a decade, tens of millions of people had come to believe not only in “recovered memory therapy,” but also in the growing threat of viral Satanism. The “Satanic Panic” lasted until the mid-90s, when the McMartin preschool case — which destroyed a perfectly respectable family — was exposed as a giant hoax that had pulled in phony Satanism experts, the media, and even law enforcement. Vestiges of this lunacy still linger, and of course, there have emerged a few “Satanists,” who are generally harmless, pathetic attention-seekers. Hey, if I could successfully start a rumor about a cult that worshiped armadillos, within weeks, some coterie of broken souls would through perverse mimesis start the first chapter.
There are still a substantial number of self-assured barkers out there who hold to the Satanic Panic — which was resurrected to some degree within the virtual cult of Q-Anon. But my point is that the Satanic Panic ended around 1995, making the half-life of this particular batshit idea around 15 years.
The whole Trump interlude — apart from his media resurrection via the January 6 hearings — was made possible by the batshit fraction within the Republican Party. Now I’m not saying the whole Trump-thang was synonymous with the most batshit fraction — it was a coalition, like all Presidential campaigns are. But it was and is a fragile coalition that eked out victories by slim margins generally, and without the batshit fraction, those victories — within and beyond the Republican party — could not have happened. This all took off in 2016, so if the Satanic panic metric for batshit half-life holds, the lunatic fringe will wither in about seven more years.
This is increasingly a problem for Republicans, even though they have already achieved substantial positional victories that allow them to win without majorities through gerrymandering and other dirty tricks of the dirty trade. They are not only faced with demographic shifts — like Texas turning purple as tech types abandon the Pacific Rim, or younger voters increasing their share against older voters who are dying off — their victories have been Pyrrhic. The stacked Supreme Court just struck down Roe — which although a “victory” for the absolutist “pro-lifers,” has flown in the face of a majority, including a goodly number of the libertarian-esque fraction within the Republican Party. Since the fall of Roe, general polling has shown the Democrats pulling back ahead of Republicans, even in the face of a vicious inflation of food and gas prices. The gun-nuttery of the dominant Republican batshit fraction is also being battered by bi-weekly reports of mass shootings; and this fraction can be counted on to say the absolute most tone-deaf and insensitive things imaginable in the wake of each shooting. Extreme weather events are daily raising the panic level about climate change (even as no one does a damn thing about it), undermining the climate denialism of the GOP.
Meanwhile, the batshit fraction has scored its own electoral victories with the likes of Matt Gaetz, Lauren Bobert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene (there is a longer list, buy it’s hard to find more embarrassing examples than a known serial sexual predator and two Congress people whose clueless narcissism can be counted upon for comedy relief every time they open their mouths in public).
The problem for Republicans, who are losing the demographic war with each passing day, is that any Republican who want to win a Republican Primary has to pander to batshit crazy ideas. I watched a recent Republican primary debate from Wyoming where the neoconservative Liz Cheney was faced off against four opponents . . . words are hard to find really. I’ve seldom seen any group of people more wholly committed to lunacy, lies, and random nonsense. This humiliating performance is being reproduced around the country in Republican circles in a kind of climactic inversion where the stupid rise to the top. Thank Donald Trump. He powered this fraction up in his megalomaniacal thirst for power and now — even as he himself fades — they’ve become hegemonic within the Party.
If my batshit half-life hypothesis holds, the GOP has about one and a half election cycles to go before terminal implosion.
But if batshit isn’t bad enough, the Democrats have their own problems. In fact, the Democratic establishment is directly responsible for a lot of people voting for Republicans as their only alternative.
For starters, they’ve been repeatedly exposed as a pack of corporate sycophants, liars, and hypocrites; but what differentiates Democratic sycophants, liars, and hypocrites from Republican sycophants, liars, and hypocrites is that the Democrats are enclosed in some kind of magic bubble where the fact that most people know they are sycophants, liars, and hypocrites doesn’t penetrate.
Like Republicans, they have a minority base of true believers who are so adept at self-delusion and so insulated from reality by their own self-assurance that they cherry-pick reality to sustain their magical thinking without being aware of it. And like Republicans, they have a fraction that has staked their virtual lives on culture war horseshit.
Just as Republicans depend, beyond the culture warriors and true believers, on the batshit fraction, Democrats are utterly dependent on the fraction of quasi-realists who are so terrified of Republicans (black voters especially) that they’ve made a semi-permanent tactical alliance with warts-and-all Democrats out of a pretty justifiable sense of self-defense.
Like the batshits on the right, these self-defending tacticians in the center also have a half-life, though I haven’t found as interesting a comparison as I did with Satanic Panic, so I can’t speculate what that half-life might be.
I do know that Democrats — in their self-referential, technocratic, stage managed bubble — have overplayed their hand with the tactical center, because they are now hemorrhaging support from African Americans and Southwestern Latinos (who are alienated from arrogant neoliberal culture warriors in the Party).
The only thing the Democrats have proved they can still do is defeat most incursions from the center-left social democrats who might be able to rescue their political fortunes. Even at that, they are slowly losing ground.
The same Democrats who cry foul at Republican voter suppression tactics, for example, were silent when the North Carolina Democratic Party employed (probably illegal) voter suppression tactics against the Green Party — that is, calling ballot access petition signatories while posing as Green party representatives and trying to convince them to remove their signatures . . . totally true, and they got caught, because they are fucking idiots. I have no particular affection for the Green Party — they are just another in-fighting self-destructive leftist faction — but they should be as entitled as anyone else to pursue perfectly legal measures to get on the ballot. The Democrats also employed a host of dirty tricks against the Sanders campaigns in 2016 and 2020.
And yes, Hunter Biden is a venal crooked coke-twit and his Daddy is a senile old opportunist who led the attacks on Anita Hill and carries water for Wall Street. And hey, does anyone remember Schumer, Pelosi, and friends kneeling with their Kente cloths? You really really cannot make this shit up! They are as transparently manipulative as their R-counterparts are bolted to batshit. The reason Republicans can so effectively denounce Democrats is because Democrats consistently give them great big sticks to administer the beatings.
All the foregoing is to say . . . maybe it’s time candidates started running as independents. And I don’t mean a bunch of DSAers or ISO veterans doing that blunderous opportunistic infiltration thing they try sometimes. We don’t need “leftists” and “rightists” running as independents. We need actual independents! Where I live, Republicans prevail in Congress as culture warriors, but most people are losing economic ground and getting sick. We’re stuck with demagogic Republicans, but if an independent showed up who wanted universal health care, some economic safety nets, and was willing to say that male and female are biological categories, then held forth against abortion, that person would stand a chance. (No, I’m not for the criminalization of abortion! . . . but I’d vote for that independent!) And it would be a vast (and tactical) improvement.
The problem, of course, is money. To wit, the “wealth primary.” If a candidate can’t get his or her hands on at least $50,000 in campaign money and employ a sharp tactical campaign manager, the game is lost before it starts. Anyone who has clever ideas about how to raise that money, speak up. Social democrats, like Sanders and his mini-me’s, raised buckets of cash for primaries they lost (and occasionally won) that would have been sufficient to run a campaign in the generals as an independent . . . if they could have convinced people to let loose of the skirts of the parties. Another rub.
I said in a recent post that the ruling class — which is carrying us all over the cliff with it — has us locked in from so many different angles that we may well be terminally trapped. But politics still matters, so there’s not that much to lose in trying something different.
Any form of independence may be better than none. The world is burning. And it does appear that, like many other forms of institutional stability, the two American political parties are dissolving into what the acerbic Nietzschean Mencken would have called “rib-rocking buffonery.”