CLAIRE BERLINSKI, PARIS
One of the United States’ two major political parties has replaced its quadrennial exercise in democratic decision making with a statement of the Führerprinzip. This represents a rejection of democratic procedures, norms, and principles. It also represents something more: the rejection of the written word.
As I look at the United States right now, two things strike me as stunning.
First, the Republican Party decided that this year, they simply wouldn’t publish a Party platform. The GOP has no written platform at all this year.
The GOP was founded in 1854 and has since, every four years, published a detailed, written platform—as have the Democrats. Traditionally, each national party has a platform-writing committee, composed of major party figures and representatives of interest groups closely linked with the party. Typically, the party platform describes the principles and strategies the Party proposes to apply to address the nation’s most pressing political issues and goals. The party platform is is made of planks, declarations upon each specific issue.
Party platforms and their planks are key elements of our electoral process. They give the candidates a clear political position upon which to campaign. They tell voters, explicitly, what the Party believes, which issues the Party thinks important, and how—if elected—they will address them.
Often there is fierce debate over platform elements, of the kind we saw between the Green New Deal wing of the Democratic Party and the more pragmatic, business-oriented Biden wing of the Party. Platforms don’t formally bind elected officials to every aspect of the platform, but researchers have found that the platform does, indeed, strongly predict what the party will do in office.
The platforms are the product of immense democratic deliberation, from the grass roots up, and they represent the all the compromise, the give-and-take, the habits of mind, demanded by the discipline of self-governance.
This was the GOP platform in 1972. It was serious and substantive: The Table of Contents was, as expected, wide-ranging, and each plank was a serious statement of policy principle. Take, for example, the statement treating Morality in Foreign Policy:
The goal of Republican foreign policy is the achievement of liberty under law and a just and lasting peace in the world. The principles by which we act to achieve peace and to protect the interests of the United States must merit the restored confidence of our people.
We recognize and commend that great beacon of human courage and morality, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for his compelling message that we must face the world with no illusions about the nature of tyranny. Ours will be a foreign policy that keeps this ever in mind.
Ours will be a foreign policy which recognizes that in international negotiations we must make no undue concessions; that in pursuing detente we must not grant unilateral favors with only the hope of getting future favors in return.
Agreements that are negotiated, such as the one signed in Helsinki, must not take from those who do not have freedom the hope of one day gaining it. …
We take particular pride in the expanded use of the National Park system in recent years, and will provide for continued improvement of the national parks and historic sites.
We support establishment of a presidential panel, including representatives of environmental groups, industry, the scientific community and the public to assist in the development of national priorities on environmental and energy issues. This panel will hear and consider alternative policy recommendations set forth by all of the interested groups, and then develop solutions that represent the overall public interest on environmental and energy matters. …
This year, the Democrat Platform topped the scales at 42,092-words, one of its longest. It contains detailed proposals for protecting Americans from the pandemic and recovering economically in its wake. It contains promises to build infrastructure, at long last:
We will repair, modernize, and expand our highways, roads, bridges, and airports, including by installing 500,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles, ensuring our passenger transportation systems are resilient to the impacts of climate change, and using safe, modern design approaches that allow drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others to safely share the road. We will launch our country’s second great railroad revolution by investing in high-speed rail and passenger and freight rail systems, and commit to public transportation as a public good, including ensuring transit jobs are good jobs. This railroad revolution will reduce pollution, connect workers to good union jobs, slash commute times, and spur investment in rural communities that will now be better linked to major metropolitan areas.
Democrats will invest to ensure passenger transportation, including public transit, is affordable to all and accessible to people with disabilities. We will help transform Amtrak from a laggard to a leader in passenger rail accessibility and ensure people with disabilities can receive compensation when disability equipment, like wheelchairs, are lost or damaged by transportation carriers.
It continues for many pages in this vein, containing some proposals I support, and others that I do not, but it is there: A platform, one I may study and consider, and it explains what precisely Democrats would do should I entrust them with my vote.
FOLLOW THE LEADER
By contrast, this year, the Republican National Committee decided to forego the exercise. Instead of putting out a platform, it issue a single page:
WHEREAS, The Republican National Committee (RNC) has significantly scaled back the size and scope of the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte due to strict restrictions on gatherings and meetings, and out of concern for the safety of convention attendees and our hosts;
WHEREAS, The RNC has unanimously voted to forego the Convention Committee on Platform, in appreciation of the fact that it did not want a small contingent of delegates formulating a new platform without the breadth of perspectives within the ever-growing Republican movement;
WHEREAS, All platforms are snapshots of the historical contexts in which they are born, and parties abide by their policy priorities, rather than their political rhetoric;
WHEREAS, The RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party’s strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration;
WHEREAS, The media has outrageously misrepresented the implications of the RNC not adopting a new platform in 2020 and continues to engage in misleading advocacy for the failed policies of the Obama-Biden Administration, rather than providing the public with unbiased reporting of facts; and
WHEREAS, The RNC enthusiastically supports President Trump and continues to reject the policy positions of the Obama-Biden Administration, as well as those espoused by the Democratic National Committee today; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;
RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention;
RESOLVED, That the 2020 Republican National Convention calls on the media to engage in accurate and unbiased reporting, especially as it relates to the strong support of the RNC for President Trump and his Administration; and
RESOLVED, That any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.
That is it. There is no platform.
Obviously, nothing stopped the GOP from convening just as the Democrats did. The GOP has the same access to modern telecommunications. That they could not write a platform is a lie.
What can I say about this that’s not a cliché? The statement says:
- This is a lie.
- You know it’s a lie.
- Our platform is unanimous and unhesitating support for Donald Trump, whatever he says or does.
- The Party is Trump and Trump is America.
One of the United States’ two great, major political parties has replaced its great quadrennial exercise in democratic decision making with a statement of the Führerprinzip.
But this is unthinkable.
But it is real.
And yet somehow, it does not matter. No one cares.
It is so stunning in itself that you might overlook a secondary point. Don’t, because it’s somehow related; it is critical.
Not only does this represent a rejection of democratic procedures, norms, and principles, it represents a rejection of something else: the written word.
What makes this even more phantasmagorical is that a significant number of Americans now embrace the belief that cherishing the written word is a hallmark of “white culture.” Here’s the Smithsonian’s explanation:
This poster is the sort of thing that gives the Trump crowd spasms: Look what nonsense the Woke have wrought! They have dismissed the written tradition, proper spelling and grammar, as some kind of white affectation!
Yet even as they run their party on a heady fuel of grievance about Woke culture, frothing in indignation at the thought that black people are taught that reading and writing are “white values,” their own party cannot even write its own platform. Trump’s illiteracy has so completely permeated the party that reading and writing have become, for the GOP, aspirational.
That is the first stunning thing.
THE BALDFACED LIE
The second stunning thing is the publication of the final volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Upon its release, the Acting Chairman of the Committee, Marco Rubio, posted a video on Twitter:
“Without any hesitation,” he says evenly, the Committee “found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in our elections.”
I read the report. From beginning to end. What Rubio says is not true. It is a lie. The report says exactly the opposite.
Rubio offered two entirely opposed views at at once: In writing, in a report he signed, he claimed at length that Donald Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in our elections. Viva voce, he denied it.
Why was he so confident this contradiction would not disturb his viewers? Why did he believe he would get away with it?
He must think that only a tiny handful of Americans will read the report. He must think only a tiny handful of Americans can read the report. What’s more, he is probably right.
Of all efforts made to account for the Trump presidency, this one—our wholesale abandonment of written culture—strikes me as the one with the most explanatory power.
Modern democracies are the product of centuries of literacy. They run on a vastly complex operating system transmitted by and comprised of the written word.
What happens to such a society when the public no longer understands that software? When they no longer understand the language that brought their world into being?
Does it become a ghost ship? A world where the external forms are familiar, but where no one has a clue how the machinery works or why?
Claire Berlinski is the co-founder and editor of the Cosmopolitan Globalist.