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The (Debatable) Republican Imagination 2 of 4

September 21, 2015

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In this episode we’re looking for an understanding of what Republicans imagine life to be like (with regard to aspects that they address politically), by identifying and interpreting major stories and images that their candidates presented in their second nationally televised debate.

The idea is a psychological one: that the stories that we tell (not necessarily realizing that that is what we are doing), and the images that we elaborate within those stories, reveal basic patterns of our perception that mold our motivations and actions.

Via these stories and images, we tell other people who we are, and invite them to adopt our story as theirs.

On this page I focus on Foreign Affairs, about which I think the Republican pattern of imagination can be named “National Security.”

Perhaps the strongest applause of the evening came when Jeb Bush said of his brother, President George W. Bush, that “he kept us safe.”

I don’t think the applause was for W (or Jeb would be doing better in the polls).   I suspect that even most Republicans now understand that W did not keep America safe. (1) He and his national security team consciously dismissed the memorandum from outgoing President Clinton, informing them that Al Qaeda was planning an attack on the U. S.  (2) Immediately after the attack W launched a military operation in Afghanistan to defeat Al Qaeda, but then he shifted forces to Iraq, allowing Bin Laden to escape. The war in Iraq did not enhance American safety, nor did it achieve W’s objectives of securing American control of Iraqi oil and building political capital that he could use to privatize Social Security. [Ha, you note, of course, how I’ve told my version of that story!]

I think, rather, that the applause voiced support of the importance of keeping us safe, feeling secure. Safety and security appear to me to be major considerations for Republicans (who apparently feel seriously insecure). Thus, from the candidates:

The Story of American Weakness, and The Story of American Strength:

Carter was a wimp. But America was so strong under Reagan that he could force the Russians to tear down that wall. The first Bush applied and demonstrated that strength with a lightning swift, righteous war for freedom. But then the first Clinton sapped our military strength, and failed to protect us from terror. The second Bush struck like lightning again, shocking the recalcitrant Iraqi tyrant and inspiring awe in everyone who watched the bombing of Baghdad. He kept us safe. But now Obama, with his Nobel Prize for Peace, and the second Clinton, have turned us back into wimps.

But we have it in us to be very strong. We can wage wars again. We can build such a powerful military-corporate-media complex [sorry, my story again] that nobody will dare challenge us. It just takes management. And that’s leadership. That brings respect, and safety.

Image: Massed American Soldiers and Sailors.

The candidates (all but a couple of them) imagine themselves, as President, to be overwhelmingly powerful. In defense, their power keeps us safe and secure; on offense we work our will, anywhere; in either case, most importantly, we are in control.

It’s the will in excitation. It’s the dream of a warlike society, a warrior culture, that sees the world as a realm of competition, and wants to hold a monopoly of power.

It’s a mass of youthful energy, coordinated to act as one huge muscle, and roll across the land and sea, dedicated to a single purpose: crush and eliminate anything that gets in its way. Command such, and you are surely safe. It’s how to win friends and influence every other country, and even international corporations, into serving your interests.

An overwhelming number of heavily armed and coordinated warriors is always impressive. You want to have the biggest group on your side. Older Americans have seen that power, when the Germans overwhelmed the Poles and the French, when the Russians overwhelmed the Germans, and when the Chinese “human waves” overwhelmed the United Nations forces in Korea.

The Story of America’s (I shudder to say it) World Failure: This is the story of our current failure everywhere around the globe, with the result that nobody respects America anymore. Nobody. I won’t spend much time on this one, because I don’t think Republicans themselves believe it. They want to believe it, and they want everybody else to believe it; and it’s typical of the magical thinking of the ambitiously self-deluded to think that if they say something often enough it will come true. Ergo, they have said it so often that by now, surely, it is true. They enjoy telling it, as part of how right they always are. But the main thing is that they want, so much, for Obama to fail at everything, and they’ve worked so hard to make him fail, that they almost believe that he’s the universal failure. Makes sense to them. And they respect him so little that they easily project their disrespect.

Image: Nukes. This image used to be called “the atom bomb.” I actually remember when the USSR announced its first successful test of such a thing, breaking the US ability to defeat anyone who threatened us, and leading to a long period of severe feelings of insecurity and depression (many people genuinely felt that they did not have a future), culminating in the truly terrifying Cuban missile crisis.

Recently, nuclear weaponry hasn’t been such a potent political weapon in the Republican arsenal; then for a while after 9/11 it could be linked with terrorism, and now President Obama’s deal with Iran has brought the possibility of trying to scare people half to death with it again.

But I notice that the debaters didn’t a tell a story of nuclear holocaust, or nuclear winter, or a stand-off of mutually assured destruction; instead they spoke of something vaguely like an American defeat, and an existential threat to Israel, leading to the end of civilization—if Iran so much as possesses such a weapon. Thus, with Iran we again have a nation that is our mortal enemy.

But here the narrative splits. In one plotline, we elect a Republican who is a realist about how power operates (it’s us against the world), and who therefore applies overwhelming physical force. In the other plotline, we elect a Republican who is realistic about how power works (we sustain alliances) and who therefore out-smarts and out-organizes our adversaries.

Image: Aliens These people come from outer space (Mexico), live in the darkness and/or are tolerated by Americans, and wreck havoc and/or take away American jobs. But here again the narrative splits. In one plotline, we are mortally insecure at our very border; these inferior beings must be prevented from invading, or they will take away our country. We elect a Republican who will get that job done and we are safe again. [Update:  The tellers of this plotline have realized that Muslims (even those born in America) also come from outer space, because their views run counter to the Constitution.]  In the other plotline, not all of these people are inferior and threatening; indeed some of them can be helpful and can even become freedom-loving Americans. We elect a Republican who can figure out which ones are keepers.

[Page 3 focuses on domestic affairs, and then page 4 sums up my impression.  I try to explain this method of analysis and interpretation in “A Note on Method.”]

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