Acton Institute Powerblog

Nixon, Trump and American myths

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Free weekly Acton Newsletter

Two and a half years after the left created the farce – spread across the country by the established media and by resentful politicians such as the late Senator John McCain – that President Donald J. Trump had colluded with Vladimir Putin’s Russian government, the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller and a team full of Democratic Party’s supporters concluded that the president is innocent. Since 2015, President Trump has been describing the established media and its reporters as “fake news”, and “fake news” they are.

From the outset, it was evident that President Trump was the victim of a well-crafted coup attempt coordinated by the left and what he has called the deep state – the omnipotent bureaucracy free from any legal or democratic control.

James Comey, Susan Rice, James Clapper, John Brennan, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had either abused the power they possessed or simply acted illegally to secure the defeat of Trump or, in the event of his victory, to ensure that he would not govern and, failing that, he could be overthrown. That was the Trump-Russian collusion case’s essence.

Nevertheless, what I think deserves analysis is not the investigation itself, but the reason why conservatives in Congress did not act to defeat this coup. Why, over more than two years, have conservatives and Republicans marched into a trap without an institutional reaction being adopted? It is true that the GOP establishment has a grudge towards Trump, but I believe there is something more.

In his 1973 inaugural address, Richard Nixon pledged an America First foreign policy and to destroy the bureaucratic power that from Washington still controls the United States. Less than two years later he would be overthrown by the same deep state he had decided to fight against. The justification for throwing Nixon under the bus was an alleged crime of spying on political enemies and obstructing justice, something that John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Franklin Roosevelt had done on a much larger scale with the applause from the media. The truth was that Nixon was a threat to the status quo.

Conservatism always rises as a distrustful political movement toward social changes and concentration of power. To the extent that they want to preserve a particular social arrangement, conservatives struggle with revolutionaries who invariably are power-seeking. Surprisingly, American conservatives are naive about the nature of power.

The dynamics of power or more precisely as the material distribution of power functions is perhaps the most critical variable for understanding political reality. Morality matters are of little importance in determining who will triumph or perish at the end of a political dispute.

Bertrand de Jouvenel, Gaetano Mosca, Robert Michels, and Vilfredo Pareto are fundamental thinkers to read if you want to understand how the distribution of power in society takes place. Except for De Jouvenel, the three others are illustrious unknown in conservative circles. And even De Jouvenel, who had practically all of his work translated into English, has never been dignified with the importance he deserves.

My experience living in the United States for the last three years has allowed me to grasp an essential feature of American society that I had not been able to do while I was living in Brazil: The American people, in general, firmly believe in the goodness of their society. This, of course, is not based on a rational experience, but on a myth.

Every society has myths that function as glue, as agents of social cohesion, and, ultimately, as some sort of existential justification. In fact, everyone who is part of a society shares the central myths of that society.

However, this does not make the myths true. On the contrary, the more myths spread through political life without the proper channels of interpretation, the more irrationality takes the place of rationality in public debate, and the more difficult it is to understand the dynamics of power. It is the ability to see beyond the myth that substantiates the existence of political elites. These groups manage to confer rationality to mythopoetic experiences, transforming irrational feelings into an exercise of power and control.

The myth of the goodness of American society, an unfolding of the idea of American exceptionalism, is deeply linked to the Protestant character of American political genesis. In the new continent, the Protestants relived the mythology of the chosen people of the Old Testament and, consequently, they embraced the idea that they were constructing a New Jerusalem.

Underneath all American political tradition is the image of a New Jerusalem that must be built to fulfill the apocalyptic prophecy of the Book of Revelations.

The rise of the new left resulted in the first fissure of the mythical universe that governs the imagination of most Americans. On the one hand, thinkers such as historian Gabriel Kolko and sociologist C. Wright Mills began to point out the role that the dynamics of power, especially the power elite, have in shaping the policies adopted by the United States. On the other hand, the left began to abandon its claim towards the traditional myth and embraced the politics of identity and the politically correct ideology.

Refusing to look beyond the realm of myth, the American right not only avoided contradicting the idea of good society but came to read this myth in a very literal way. Implicit goodness has been converted into effective goodness, which is to say that if American society is effectively good, then there must be some form of effective evil with which the good society must contrast. When the myth comes to occupy the center of political life, then the result is alienation.

This inability to transcend the mythical experience’s moorings explains why so many conservatives feel uncomfortable about Trump’s obvious moral weakness, in spite of Trump being the most conservative American president in modern times. Many of them say that Trump is not o role model. They are right, but who cares? Trump was not elected to be their father or the father of their kids, but to fight the cultural left, break the deep sate’s power, control illegal migration and to build a conservative Judicial branch. That is what a conservative should care. Trump’s moral flaws are only a problem if you believe that the government should be subject to some sort of religious cult.

By not being able to transcend the mythopoetic experience and convert a world view into political action, the only thing American conservatives have been collecting are defeats. No Republican or conservative president has been able to reverse the trend in which this country has been since the New Deal. The cogs of power continue to be largely ignored by conservatives who, once in power, prefer to work with the bureaucracies rather than break the backbone of the managerial state.

The main lesson to be drawn from Trump’s and Nixon’s administrations is that those who do not understand the dynamics of power and how control is exercised will be devoured by the monster that hides behind every myth the elites use to justify their command. As long as American conservatives fail to understand that power can only be restrained by power, the deep state and the left will continue to sabotage anyone who can threaten their power even marginally.

photo credit: WikiCommons

Enjoy the article?

Click below to view our latest and most popular posts!

Read More

Silvio Simonetti Silvio Simonetti is a Brazilian lawyer, graduated in international affairs from the Bush School at Texas A & M University. He is currently a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Silvio loves history and the Catholic Church.

Comments