Some Republicans are still celebrating Trump’s election. If they knew the history of the French Revolution they wouldn’t be. As tumultuous as the Trump transition has been, it’s going to get much worse. Believe it or not, this really is a honeymoon phase. All the norm breaking and vileness of the Trump presidency will soon be turned on the Republican Party. Trump doesn’t have any other choice if he wants to keep his base with him. Though 18th century France couldn’t be more different from the contemporary United States (debatable), the gyrations of the French Revolution provide an interesting model for what this might look like.
This video owes everything to Mike Duncan and his incredible “Revolutions” podcast. Duncan is working his way through significant revolutions of the modern era. So far he’s covered the English Civil War, and the American, French, and Hatian Revolutions. He’s currently working his way through the Latin American revolutions of the early 19th century. They come out in mostly weekly, breezy, fun and digestible half hour segments. I admire a project that goes on for years like this. He’s working his way towards his beloved Russian Revolution, though I would be surprised if he got there before the 2020s.
Duncan’s work came to my attention about a year and a half ago through his old podcast The History Of Rome. That too was a seriously ambitious project. Over 5 years or so, and 179 episodes, he covered Rome’s history from the founding of the city in the 700s BC (supposedly) to the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD. I had had the idea that turned into my TEDx talk before finding the History of Rome, but I never would have had the confidence to speak on ancient history, even as an amateur, without this podcast. It’s great stuff. If I can steer you his way, I’ll be doing you a favor, and doing just a bit to re-pay Duncan for his work.
Swimming in history is a great thing. I’m constantly reading it, and thanks to Duncan, I hear about it every day at the gym too. What I try to do with my channel is convey that sense of history, and inject a bit of it into our discussions of politics and current events. Outside of a few issue areas (FATCA, Criminal Justice), I don’t know that much more about politics than your average Washington, DC journalist or academic. But I know a ton more about history, and I think that’s what makes my channel worth watching. Even if the audience finds the comparisons I draw ridiculous (I occasionally do too), the hope is that it’ll get people thinking in new and different ways. One of the things that makes this the best job I’ve ever had is the way that events, my reading, and my somewhat improvisational approach to the weekly topics point me in directions I would not have expected. For example, I now have enough videos on French history to make a playlist. That’s weird.
Video Transcript after the jump…
I have been hearing from a lot of smug Republicans lately. Very few of them actually like Trump, but they’re warming up to the idea. Many of Trump’s nominees seem sane, and some even seem competent. With a president and two houses of congress under Republican control, it looks like some key parts of their party platform might be enacted. So everything’s coming up GOP! The rampaging performance of the US stock market since Trump’s election is a good indication of this confidence. I think this confidence is a mistake. And to show why, I’m going to talk about the French Revolution, Obviously.
Now as a good reactionary, I’ve always viewed the French Revolution as a bloody mess. Thousands of people Guillotined in Paris under the Reign of Terror, Tens of thousands murdered and starved to death out in the countryside and millions killed in the decades of the Napoleonic wars. But the horror didn’t start immediately. In fact it took years. The Reign of Terror didn’t start off until 1793, almost a full four years after things kicked off in 1789. There were whole generations of leaders that rose and fell before things got really bad. When I look at today’s Republicans I can’t help but think of one of the first groups of those leaders, the Society of 1789.
Now I don’t think we’re likely to see blood in the streets in the United States under a Trump administration, but bear with me. The parallels are pretty striking. The Society of 1789 was made up of what were called “liberal nobles”. They were rich and powerful, but they saw themselves as rebels against the values of the corrupt ruling class they were very much a part of. That’s the way the Republicans see themselves too. The liberal nobles worked for years to bring down the former government. Finally in 1789, through an alliance with the unpredictable forces of the Paris streets they took power. By 1790 these figures were solidly in charge. The most famous of these guys was probably the Marquis De Lafayette, a French hero of the American revolution.
They got to implement their set of limited government policies. Unsurprisingly, these policies didn’t satisfy the hungry Paris mobs that had brought them to power. When 1791 opened the Society of 1789 was still in charge. By 1792 most of them were exiles. By 1793, those who stayed in France were dead. The Society of 1789 thought it didn’t matter who they worked with . They were sure their ideas were so good that everything would work out great, even if their partners shattered every civilized norm imaginable. Sound familiar? It cost them their dreams, and in many cases it cost them their lives.
I don’t doubt the physical survival of Republican Congressional leaders like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. But I do doubt their political survival. Trump was not elected on a Conventional Republican platform. The tax and benefit cuts that Ryan and Company are gleefully implementing are not what Trump’s base is about. This conflict between Trump and the Republicans is already causing problems. James Mattis, the most distinguished of the appointees, is already fighting with Trump’s people, and the inauguration hasn’t even happened yet. Trump’s base is going to be very unhappy very soon. And Trump will have nobody to blame but the Republicans themselves. I made a video some time ago claiming that the Republican Party as we know it is dead. I stand by that. Get ready for some fireworks.
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