“The Texas Lawsuit and the Age of Dreampolitik”

The NYT’s Ross Douhat:

When it comes to Donald Trump’s efforts to claim victory in the 2020 presidential election, there are two Republican Parties. One G.O.P. has behaved entirely normally, certifying elections, rejecting frivolous claims and conspiratorial lawsuits, declining to indulge the conceit that state legislatures might substitute their votes for the electoral outcome.

The other G.O.P. is acting like a bunch of saboteurs: insisting that the election was stolen, implying that the normal party’s officials are potentially complicit and championing all manner of outlandish claims and strategies — culminating in the lawsuit led by the attorney general of Texas that sought to have the Supreme Court essentially nullify the election results in the major swing states….

This postelection division of the Republican Party extends and deepens an important trend in American politics: The cultivation of a kind of “dreampolitik” (to steal a word from Joan Didion), a politics of partisan fantasy that so far manages to coexist with normal politics, feeding gridlock and stalemate and sometimes protest but not yet the kind of crisis anticipated by references to Weimar Germany and our Civil War.

The cultivation is a bipartisan affair. When conservatives defend their fight to overturn the election as an answer to the way Democrats reacted to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, they are correct in the sense that most of their arguments and proposed tactics have antecedents on the liberal side. The attempts to scrutinize swing-state data for anomalies that prove the fix was in recapitulate similar attempts by early #Resistance pioneers. The state-legislature fantasy is an answer to the “Hamilton elector” fantasy, in which faithless electors were going to deny Trump the White House. The widespread Republican belief in voter fraud is akin to the widespread Democratic belief that Russian hacking changed vote totals….

But it’s reasonable to wonder how long this can go on — whether dreampolitik and realpolitik can continue permanently on separate tracks, brushing up against each other from time to time without a serious collision, or whether eventually the dreamworld narratives will force a crisis in the real one.

One possibility, which I explored in my recent book, is that political fantasy can actually be a substitute for radical action in the real world. There are ways in which the internet, especially, seems to contain and redirect the same extremism it nurtures — pushing it into memes and hashtags and social-media wars rather than actual revolutions, giving us Diamond and Silk tweeting about a military coup rather than the thing itself….

The Texas lawsuit didn’t torch any city blocks, but all those congressional signatures on the amicus brief did make it feel like something more than just another meme. The crucial question it raises is whether people can be fed on fantasies forever — or whether once enough politicians have endorsed dreampolitik, the pressure to make the dream into reality will inexorably build.

The last month of 2020 won’t resolve that question. But we can look forward, in the next decade if not sooner, to discovering whether my confidence in the separation of political fantasy and political reality was the greatest fantasy of all.

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