What if "Semi"-Fascist is the Right Amount?

President Biden apparently decided to call Republicans "semi-fascist" in a speech the other day. No less than CNN journalist Don Lemon questioned Biden's spokeswoman over what exactly that was supposed to mean. 
“What exactly is semi-fascism, Karine?" Lemon asked. 

During a fundraising event in Maryland, Biden told the crowd that America is under threat, blaming the GOP for supporting former president Trump’s MAGA movement, linking their ideology to “semi-fascism.”

“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy… it’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism,” Biden said. 

However no one, including Jean-Pierre, seemed to know exactly what Biden was trying to say by this comment, and frankly the president himself probably didn’t even know. 

“The American people have a choice in front of them and the president laid that out very clearly, very powerfully tonight," [she said.]
The problem is that the idea that gives "fascism" its name is one that no successful politics of any sort can do without: the idea that 'we' must 'come together' in order to be stronger than we would be separately. 
The term “fascist” derives from a Roman weapon, a weapon that was as much a symbol as anything else.  The fasces was a bundle of sticks tied together (often depicted with an ax-head attached).  The Romans could make perfectly good ax-handles.  They didn’t do it this way because they needed to do it.  They did it to make a point.  Each of the sticks making up the fasces was weak by itself.  Hit a man with it and it would break on him.  But if you tied the bundle together, the sticks became strong.  The Roman magistrate who punished with the fasces was making a point about Rome.  Its strength came from the unity of its citizens.  It was because they held together as Romans that they could impose a Roman order on the world.

The Founders of the United States of America adopted the fasces in a lot of our national symbols.  It is small wonder that they did so.  
The problem with fascists is not that the base idea is flawed, it is that they apply it in inappropriate ways. Instead of using it to unite the polity in defense against the outside world, they begin to deploy it internally to create a faction that can dominate everyone else in society. This usage of the power of unity is tyrannical or oligarchic rather than democratic or constitutional: and it unfairly eliminates the right of the excluded parts of the fascist society from having their interests defended or advanced. Healthy politics use the idea of the fasces to defend a space in the world in which they can exist in mutual peace. Fascist politics aims at creating a permanent subjugation within a society, or even in radical cases a complete elimination (as of Jews) from a society.

Earlier this week AVI posted a complaint against Republicans adopting a long-standing Democratic political rhetoric of "fighting for you" rather than "working for you." There is a parallel here: working to defend your class interests within society, while accepting that others have other interests that must be compromised with, is healthy politics; dividing the society to fight against and subjugate the hated other is not.

Now "semi-" as a modifier conventionally means "only partly" and technically means "half." If you are paid semi-monthly, it means every half of a month you get paid. The trucks we sometimes call "semis" are trucks that can be divided into two parts, truck and trailer. 

As mentioned, the base idea from which fascism gets its name is one that any successful politics needs. "Semi" might be the right amount of it. Some proportion is the right amount, because zero percent would lead you to an incoherent society that could not pull together, neither for any common interests nor for mutual defense. You could make an argument that half was the right proportion, or more, or less, but not that the idea should be rejected outright. 

In any case, this discussion provides the right hook for the following song, whose title and lyrics derive from a pun on the several ways in which "semi" is used by Americans.

"Semi-crazy" can be the right amount, too.

It's not bad advice

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who is running for re-election, suggested that all 5.4MM Republicans in her state should move to Florida. I rather wish they would, too.

Thin Years, Fat Sound

This is about Harlan County, a coal-mining community of infamous violence both union and corporate, cop and criminal. It’s a famous setting for country songs, but this band is set up like the Blues Brothers. They’ve got a big brass sound and an upbeat feel, and even gospel overtones. 

DAC talks about it in the opening to this other song. “Well grandpa, he lied a little bit.”

The Biden Laptop and 2020

Kruiser this morning reports on two other stories about the FBI's efforts to prevent the Hunter Biden laptop from influencing the 2020 election. In the first one, Senators including Ron Johnson have uncovered that the FBI outright refused to investigate the laptop itself before the election. One might be inclined to forgive that as a sort of reasonable or even praiseworthy deference by the secret police to the constitutional and democratic process: might, that is, if they had afterwards investigated it and prosecuted the obvious crimes it revealed. Instead they have of course buried it for years now.

In the second story, it turns out that the FBI actively suppressed the story by asking social media to censor reporting on it. You will recall that the New York Post broke the story, and suddenly had its Facebook and Twitter accounts suspended as well as reporters/editors who worked on it. This is not in any way describable as the secret police deferring to the constitutional and democratic process. The Constitution imagines in the 1st Amendment a free press as an essential component to the informed citizenry necessary to a free society. Elections are meant to be conducted by a citizenry that is engaged and informed, rather than one that is kept intentionally in the dark by the secret activities of a secret police (itself dubiously constitutional and rather anti-democratic as an institution, as a matter of fact).

Furthermore, the FBI appears to have done this by making false representations to the social media giants. They claimed that this story was Russian disinformation, when in fact it was a perfectly true story -- and they knew it was true, because they had the laptop in their possession. 

Kruiser titles his piece, "America Was a Better Place When the FBI Didn't Rig Elections." I suppose a careful critic would respond that these are small potatoes that can hardly have, by themselves, determined the outcome of the election. Indeed, there is quite a lot more that may have had a larger effect. Nevertheless, you get only partial credit for your election-swinging activities having only contributed to achieving the outcome they were designed to help create.

GAO takes IRS Seriously

A GAO study finds that much, much less money will be forthcoming from the IRS expansion than the agency claims. It arrived at this figure by assuming that the agency was telling the truth about not going after Americans who make less than $400,000.

The agency meanwhile is maintaining that they will bring in far more than predicted, while maintaining a historic level of audits.

Hard to Argue With That

The United States is bedeviled in part by the fact that its leadership lacks virtue, writes Barton Swain. Well, what he actually opens with is this:
It’s hard to contemplate American public life in the 21st century and not arrive at the unhappy conclusion that we are led by idiots.

He comes around to virtue after rehearsing some of the obvious debacles. 

The piece is called "The Case for an American Revolution in Morals," which is interesting to me because virtue ethics is often thought to be separate (or at least severable) from moral theory. A man can be courageous, moderate, self-disciplined, given to acts of public service, magnificence, even magnanimity without the moral structure that later thinkers added on about guilt, sin, grace, and so forth. 

Aquinas as much as Aristotle talked about the virtues, and found ways to link the Christian moral picture to the Greek ethical one: and they are certainly compatible for those who want both halves. Likewise, many a reverent Christian prays fervently for forgiveness for the sins he can't seem to avoid: failing in virtue does not keep him from justification through faith. Striving and failing is acknowledged to be part of the moral life, and even the pathetic sinner may be beloved of God; whereas failing at virtue is vice, and you can't be a virtuous man without in fact exercising the virtues (at least most of the time and to a greater or lesser degree).

Unfortunately the article is mostly behind a paywall, so many of you won't be able to read it. That is an irritating feature of the present moment; they seem to be cropping up everywhere.

Someone's Getting Fired

I want to know whose idea it was to pit Hillary Clinton versus Kim Kardashian on a legal quiz show, and how they got HRC to agree to do it. There was no upside to this idea; if it went as expected HRC would appear to be punching down at a 'famous for being famous' celebrity. If HRC lost, as in fact turned out to be the case, it could only be devastating to her image as the Smartest Woman in the World. 

"Cognitive decline is real," a friend said when we were discussing the affair. 

"Message to the Uncredentialed: 'Screw Em'"

Here is the NRO article referenced in the comments below.

Since there's a paywall, here is the relevant part to our discussion:

President Biden made clear today, this is a one-time deal, a lottery, a lightning strike. People who paid off their loans last week aren’t covered. People who will take out new loans after the policy has run its course aren’t covered.... This isn’t a reform. It’s not even pretending to be reform. It’s a contemptuous, abusive, unbelievably expensive shot in the dark...

It seems so arbitrary. Why does Biden not want to do the same thing for loans on trucks owned by plumbers? Why not for mortgages — which, given how heavily it subsidizes them, the federal government clearly thinks are worthwhile? Why not for credit cards or auto payments or mom-and-pop credit lines? The answer, I’m afraid to say, is disgustingly classist: Because Joe Biden and his party believe that college students are better than everyone else...

Electricians, store managers, deli workers, landscapers, waitresses, mechanics, entrepreneurs? Screw ’em. Sure, college graduates make more money than non-graduates, and their unemployment rate is lower, too. But non-graduates don’t have access to the president, so they don’t matter. 

It really is arbitrary and, well, stupid. If you went to college as an undergraduate on a merit-based scholarship that covered your costs because you worked hard to keep your grades up, you won't be eligible for the $20,000 that went to those who borrowed and got a Pell Grant. If you were a frat boy who spent the four years drinking up your student loans, you likely will. 

The major reform that cuts rates for loan repayment only affects undergraduate loans, though grad school loans tend to be much higher. The 'public service' thing we talked about yesterday: 'our kids' work at nonprofits, 'their kids' don't. There's no justification for that program that isn't tribal.

But Did They Use Whips?

 NY Post: "Video shows migrants attacking, taunting Border Patrol agents."

Since We're Doing "Stupid" Today

Here's someone else who has no idea how the world works.
Now that Rep. Liz Cheney has lost her primary to a Trumpist Republican in Wyoming, it’s time for President Biden to consider appointing her to his cabinet. Political tensions have risen to new levels since the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago. Bringing a Republican into the administration would cool partisan temperatures and unite the country in support of the rule of law.

There can't be anyone outside the NYC/DC corridor who thinks this would plausibly 'cool partisan temperatures.' 

A Dumb Decision

I generally don't like to use terms like "dumb" or "stupid" in political discussions; mostly it's used to avoid engaging with the argument. This argument student loans is one I understand, though, and this is just stupid.

The way student loans work in America since the Obama administration is that the Federal Government 'owns' the debt, and it allows you to pay it off according to an income-based formula that is meant to determine what you can afford. You pay a percentage of your income in other words, not anything like what it would take to pay off the debt on the 20 year timeline; after 20 years, the government will write the rest of it off. If you work for a 'public service' like the Federal government itself, or any government or nonprofit, it's 10 years.

So a $10,000 forgiveness does nothing. Since you're already not paying off the interest -- you're paying much less than it would take to clear the debt -- the $10,000 is going to come right back over time anyway. Yet you won't have to pay it off, not before this decision and not after. In 20 years -- 240 monthly payments -- you can walk away from it, or only 120 if you work for an approved industry.

If you really want to help borrowers, either forgive the whole thing or else let for-profit employees off after 10 years too. (It's their employer that is for-profit or nonprofit, after all: there's no moral difference in the employees.) If you want the money, you have to change the payment schedule to a level that many people simply can't afford; then you still won't get the money, but you will at least get to seize whatever they have. If you want just more money, eliminate the nonprofit distinction the other way and make those employees pay for 20 years instead of 10.

What's going on here doesn't make any actual sense at all. It's not clear who they're hoping to impress: hopefully the people who went to college to incur the debt have enough math to see this is a bunch of bull.

There's A Chance She Has A Point

Language warning, but there's an issue here that she's correctly identifying. 

"We're Subverting Existing Paradigms"

The Life of a Soldier

A Roman payslip shows that hand-to-mouth soldiers with payday loans are not all that new.

A Sailor Ain't a Sailor


Originally an acapella shanty by Tom Lewis and his Polish mates.

Another from the same band, which at first may seem a geographically challenged tune, but it works.

"Chivalry is Actually a Good Thing"

A young feminist writes on the sexual revolution. Not everything she says is right, but she has an interesting and valuable perspective. (For example, keeping rapists in prison does not reduce the incidence of rape: it just transfers the victimhood of rape to other prisoners. It turns out rapists aren't particular about their victims, they just like victimizing.)

There's no more important physical fact about a person than his or her sex. The attempts to get around this lead to misery. So, perhaps, have many attempts to account for it; one can go wrong in either direction. I still think, though, that the Western Medieval construction of chivalric love marks the high point of relations between the sexes. There was a time -- albeit only in a small place, and only probably among the social elite -- when male strength was willfully in the service of female beauty, female beauty honored and treasured male strength, and love was coupled with mutual respect.