There Were “Nazis” Before the Nazis and They Were American.

While we’re on the topic of the alt-right: I’ve been fairly critical of calls to simply call them Nazis or neo-Nazis. As writers in the anti-fascist movement and I have argued, the fact that most of them don’t actually espouse Nazi ideology should be of relevance to our efforts to understand and put out accurate information about the movement for a number of reasons. One underacknowleged reason is that the kneejerk “Nazi” charge blinds us to the ways in which the ideas animating the alt-right are firmly rooted in American history. Virulent racism and eugenics, as should be painfully, stupidly obvious to us, are not foreign imports from Nazi Germany. In fact, Adolf Hitler is known to have been influenced by American eugenicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Madison Grant, author of an incredibly influential work of scientific racism called The Passing of the Great Race. “Hitler quoted liberally from Grant in his speeches,” the Times‘ Timothy Ryback wrote in 2011, “and is said to have sent him a letter describing The Passing of the Great Race as “my bible.”

Last week at Marginal Revolution,  Alex Tabarrok shed light on another important American eugenicist—Richard T. Ely, co-founder of the American Economic Association

Ely … wanted more government ownership of the commanding heights, more regulation of economic life and more militarism and service to the state. Ely didn’t just reject laissez-faire in economics he rejected laissez-faire in all areas of social life.

For example, after explaining why the benevolence of modern society might lead to a decline in the fitness of the race, he argued, don’t worry, we have a solution:

“….the regulation of marriage, which is proposed, and which is being pushed forward by physicians and thoughtful people, — by people who are the farthest removed from any possible designation as cranks, — looks beyond the prevention of the marriage of paupers and feeble-minded.”

“[T]here are classes in every modern community composed of those who are virtually children,” Ely wrote in 1898, “and who require paternal and fostering care, the aim of which should be the highest development of which they are capable. We may instance the negroes, who are for the most part grownup children, and should be treated as such.” Tabarrok goes on to point out that this racism was central to the AEA’s early work:

One early and influential publication of the AEA, for example, was Frederick Hoffman’s Race Traits of the American Negro which after presenting reams of statistics (Hoffman was later a president of the American Statistical Society) concluded with these recommendations:

“…Intercourse with the white race must absolutely cease and race purity must be insisted upon in marriage as well as outside of it. Together with a higher morality will come a greater degree of economic efficiency, and the predominating trait of the white race, the virtue of thrift, will follow as a natural consequence of the mastery by the colored race of its own conditions of life…

“…All the facts prove that education, philanthropy and religion have failed to develop a higher appreciation of the stern and uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race. The conclusion is warranted that it is merely a question of time when the actual downward course, that is, a decrease in the population, will take place. In the meantime, however, the presence of the colored population is a serious hindrance to the economic progress of the white race.”

The whole post is worth a read. As too few are aware, the country wasn’t merely drunk on eugenicist thought at the time. Sterilization was enthusiastically supported public policy across most of the country through WWII. The alt-right isn’t some kind of dark, new Nazi revolution. It’s an all-American revival.

The Average American Hasn’t A Clue What the Alt-Right Is.

From Pew today:

A majority (54%) of U.S. adults say they have heard “nothing at all” about the “alt-right” movement and another 28% have heard only “a little” about it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Just 17% say they have heard “a lot” about the movement.

Liberal Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely than other Democrats to have heard about the movement. Two-thirds of liberal Democrats (66%) have heard a lot or a little about it, compared with fewer than half of conservative or moderate Democrats (39%) and just four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners overall (40%).

Pew’s survey goes on to say that a little over a third of Americans who’ve actually heard of the alt-right associate the label with white supremacy or white nationalism, with an additional 17 percent of Americans associating the alt-right with racism more generally. So much for euphemization. “Democrats (47%) are nearly three times as likely as Republicans (17%) to say the movement stands for “white supremacy” or “white nationalism,” Pew’s John Gramlich writes. “Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to associate the movement with “racism” or “prejudice” (18% of Democrats, 10% of Republicans).”

The Democrats Should Obviously Ram Through Merrick Garland. So They Probably Won’t.

Over at Crooks and Liars, Karoli Kunis has a post about the last shot Democrats will have to land Merrick Garland on the Court:

David Waldman (KagroX on Twitter) has outlined how they can confirm Judge Merrick Garland on January 3rd for the few minutes that they will be the majority in the Senate. Waldman is a long-standing expert on Senate procedure and political plays. He was one of the first to call for passage of the ACA via reconciliation in the Senate after Scott Brown was elected.

Here it is, in a nutshell.

On January 3, 2017, Democrats will hold the majority in the Senate for a few minutes, until the newly-elected Senators are sworn in. Biden could convene the Senate in those few minutes and call for a vote. The majority could then suspend the rules and vote in Merrick Garland.

The key here is that VP Biden would have to be willing to convene the Senate and recognize Senator Dick Durbin instead of Mitch McConnell. Durbin moves to re-nominate Garland, and Senate Democrats then vote to confirm him. They will have a quorum for those few minutes.

It’s bold. Garland would be confirmed by 34 Democrats and no Republicans. It will certainly enrage Republicans, but they’re already enraged and full of hubris about how they’re going to screw Democrats anyway, so what do they really have to lose?

It would be a both highly dramatic and highly necessary move. Leaving without appointing Garland would guarantee Trump and the Republican Party at least one (and maybe two, possibly three) nominations if the Republican Party eliminates the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Which they likely will—they’re entirely willing to pull moves like this to achieve their objectives; their willingness to subvert norms is the very reason why Garland has been hung out to dry for months while the Court has been deadlocked. Pushing Garland through is the right move. It’s the responsible move. And it probably will not be done.

A Reality Show President Was Inevitable.

Alex Ross had a piece at The New Yorker yesterday about Donald Trump as the ultimate vindication of the Frankfurt School’s social critics:

As Stuart Jeffries points out in his recent book “Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School,” the ongoing international crisis of capitalism and liberal democracy has prompted a resurgence of interest in the body of work known as critical theory. The combination of economic inequality and pop-cultural frivolity is precisely the scenario Adorno and others had in mind: mass distraction masking élite domination. Two years ago, in an essay on the persistence of the Frankfurt School, I wrote, “If Adorno were to look upon the cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, he might take grim satisfaction in seeing his fondest fears realized.”

I spoke too soon. His moment of vindication is arriving now. With the election of Donald Trump, the latent threat of American authoritarianism is on the verge of being realized, its characteristics already mapped by latter-day sociologists who have updated Adorno’s “F-scale” for fascist tendencies.

The most incredible thing about this moment is indeed how ludicrously “on the nose” it is, as Ross writes. Trump’s election is an event that would be over the top in all but the very preachiest satires or dystopian works on the deadness of American cultural life and the political questions it obscures (Infinite Jest, perhaps the preachiest of them all, notably includes a Trumpesque celebrity president of the “Organization of North American Nations”).

Minima Moralia‘s been on my reading list for an embarrassingly long time, so I can’t claim full command of Adorno’s ideas. But it seems that many of the insights of the Frankfurt School have become, or perhaps always were, commonsensical, broadly accessible, and, at this point, clichéd notions about the nature of popular culture and how it interacts with political power—everyone who’s ever griped about the American “sheeple” or muttered about “bread and circuses” seems, I think, to grasp the basics of what Adorno had to say. I suspect that many of Trump’s own voters share that cynicism and would acknowledge themselves, if pressed, that Trump is the product of a hollow and narcotizing mass culture. But they voted for him anyway. And the rest of us have spent decades helplessly watching that culture metastasize.