national unity

Beware a National Unity Government

The date is January 20th, 2021, and Joe Biden is assuming the presidency. The demagogue Donald Trump has been defeated, the republic restored, and honor returned to the Oval Office. President Biden is unveiling a new legislative agenda for the 21st century. Several prominent Republicans who remained steadfast in their opposition to Trump have signed on in a generous spirit of bipartisanship. Highlights include:

  • Increased sanctions on the Russian Federation and open funding for Ukrainian separatists (including the ones who are definitely not Nazis) in their war for freedom against Russia, as well as supporting a new missile defense strategy in Eastern Europe (something forwarded by the Bush II administration).
  • A new House subcommittee aimed at investigating individuals with ties to Putin’s Russia, like Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders, and other subversive figures. It was, after all, these interlopers who allowed Donald Trump into the White House in the first place. Who was paying them? What were their motives?
  • A congressional motion to formally praise the CIA and FBI for “defending the republic” during the Trump regime. President Biden promises to keep Gina Haspel as head of the CIA, citing her “decades of honorable service defending against foreign, communist aggression.” Haspel goes on to address Congress on the need to continue support for the Saudi-led coalition’s bombings in Yemen. She praises the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the newly-minted Islamic Republic of Turkey as “valued partners in a grand alliance for democracy and against Islamist terror in the Middle East.”
  • A program similar to Simpson-Bowles aimed at greatly cutting “unsustainable” entitlements.

Finally, things will be back to normal.

If the above sounds hyperbolic, and admittedly a bit of a straw man, I concede that it is. But the concept of a “unity government” is not, necessarily. In case it wasn’t clear, the problem with the above is that it is a right-wing agenda: More law-and-order policies, more reverence for the blood-soaked intelligence community, more economic inequality, more intervention abroad. A reactionary policy slate disguised as the restoration of the republic.

In short, I worry that what many opponents of Donald Trump disagree with are not his counterproductive, war-mongering foreign policy, or his repression of civil rights at home, or his increasing reliance on shadow government by his rich friends. Rather, it is Trump himself, the crude, deeply prejudiced oaf, that angers centrist establishment types. He is “dishonoring the office”, he is “making a mockery of our government”, he is a Russian plant, or at least pro-Russian. I don’t deny any of this, except perhaps the extent to which Trump is directly taking orders from Vladimir Putin.

I do, however, question the wisdom of moderates and centrist liberals teaming up with the ostensibly anti-Trump right to stop Trump. Note, for instance, the liberal praise for Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) for using rhetorical flourishes to oppose Trump, like comparing the president to Stalin. But Flake’s past positions include voting to make the Patriot Act permanent, opposing equal rights for same-sex couples, and supporting the Iraq War. Or, take the example of Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who appeared on The Daily Show in 2016 to advocate voting for Clinton over Trump, comparing the choice to one between being shot or poisoned. Two years later, he’s having an “interesting” dinner with Trump, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin while congratulating Trump on his Iran policy and on selecting Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.

Welcome to #TheResistance, guys.

Yet some centrists seem devoted to the idea of teaming up with anti-Trump conservatives. Eric “Game Theory” Garland, frequent defender of Obama and Hillary Clinton against their leftist critics, wrote in the middle of his legendary 127-tweet long rant about Russian influence in December 2016:

And now, it’s December 11th. Trump says he don’t need no stinkin’ intel agencies. Russia (BWAHAHAHAHAAAA) blames Ukraine! LOLOLOLOLZZZ. A lot of Republicans stare into the middle distance, except for McCain and Graham who are NOT HAVING THIS SHIT. (I salute you, gentlemen.)

Not to mention Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, who wrote a “Statement of Principles of the #CoalitionOfAllDemocraticForces”. Wittes says in his 18-tweet manifesto, penned in November of 2017 that

We have grave disagreements about social issues, about important foreign policy questions, about tax policy… #IBelieve in putting them all aside…a temporary truce on all such questions, an agreement to maintain the status quo on major areas of policy dispute while Americans of good faith collectively band together to face a national emergency.”

In other words, inequality, imperialism, and other fundamental questions of our age pale in comparison to the big issue here: Stopping Trump. Literally everything else can wait.

Let’s not forget liberals’ increasing usage of Soviet symbols, like the woman in Colorado who paid for multiple billboard advertisements depicting the letters “GOP”, but inside of the “O” is a hammer-and-sickle. “Even Republicans have emailed me to say they are outraged at this administration and don’t want to belong to this party anymore,” she told USA Today. Which Republicans? It can’t be the “only 73 percent” of party members who still support the Trump administration. And I can’t help but suspect that the use of Soviet imagery is a subtle jab at the left, another attempt to tie the nascent socialist upswing in America to foreign despotism.

There is historical precedent for centrist “unity” governments who have, by one method or another, been co-opted by reactionary forces:

  • Abraham Lincoln, interestingly, did not run as a Republican in his 1864 reelection bid. The Republicans briefly renamed themselves the “National Union Party” in order to attract War Democrats, border state residents, and pro-slavery but pro-union voters. The party nominated moderate, pro-Southern Democrat Andrew Johnson as vice president. After Lincoln’s assassination, President Johnson worked tirelessly to reincorporate ex-CSA states into the Union. He clashed frequently with Radical Republicans like Thaddeus Stevens and resisted their attempts to provide civil rights and economic relief for African-Americans during Reconstruction. The “National Union” ended up as a gateway leading from compromise candidates like Andrew Johnson to reactionary “redeemer” governments which instituted Jim Crow after 1877.
  • Bill Clinton was elected as a “New Democrat” who would turn away from the disaster of Reaganomics, but infamously declared in 1996 that “the era of big government is over”. In practice this meant financial deregulation, slashing of the social safety net, the betrayal of organized labor and a reactionary crime bill that gave cops disturbing and undemocratic power over ordinary Americans. Clinton, to his credit, has kind of apologized for some of the above recently, but the damage was done: The Democratic Party had in practice functioned as Reagan-lite.
  • Perhaps the worst modern example of the phenomenon is Chancellor Paul Van Hindenburg’s 1932 campaign in Weimar Germany, which had the support of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD hoped that the election of Hindenburg would create a unity government to counter the growing Nazi threat. Hindenburg won, and subsequently invited Hitler to form a government. That’s not the only reason the Nazis came to power, of course, but the miscalculation of the SPD in that political moment was a crucial moment.

If we ever get a government to the left of Trump again (and that’s an “if” of cosmic proportions), be wary of the “unity” agenda the victorious coalition may attempt to implement. It could be the same Reagan-like reactionary policies we’ve seen for forty years, but articulated by people more honorable and eloquent than Donald Trump. Getting rid of Trump but keeping his agenda isn’t worth whatever phony, transient level of “national unity” that transaction produces. To hell with your honor. I want progress.