Two Democratic Parties: The pillage party and the freak-show party

Joe Biden belongs to the Pillage Party. And he does not have to negotiate with Republicans nearly as carefully as he must deal with the other Democratic Party: the Freakshow Party. The Freakshow Party has been on the progressive scene for a long time, and if the Pillage Party is The Grapes of Wrath, the Freakshow Party is Last Exit to Brooklyn. It’s the “Shout Your Abortion and Show Me Your Pronouns!” party. The three legs of that wobbly stool are the Jew-Hating Weirdo Left (Sharpton, Farrakhan, Omar, Occupy types, etc.), the Loopy White People Left (NPR, vegan bakeries, college towns — everywhere you see a Subaru covered in bumper stickers), and 2SLGTBQIA+ (which I really hope is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s email password). Its natural occupation is that of hall monitor…

They are vicious and petty, but they do not actually matter all that much. What they are is useful. Have you ever used a fan or a loud air conditioner to help you sleep in a noisy environment? The constant, regular, low drone isn’t enough to keep you awake, but it is enough to drown out the noises that might keep you up: a dripping faucet, a hotel elevator located a little too close to your room, raccoons on the roof of the cabin, whatever. That’s what the Kulturkampf stuff really is: noise, just enough to keep us from being awakened by the things going bump in the night. This is not to say that culture doesn’t matter — it does. In fact, it certainly matters more than any other single factor. But the outrage-of-the-day stuff on Twitter and talk radio doesn’t really touch or move the culture all that much. It’s just churn, white political noise. Partisan-outrage media on the left and partisan-outrage media on the right traffic in the same commodity: disgust. Disgust is the easiest way to produce emotional engagement, slightly edging out fear. But the so-called culture warriors who spend their days advertising new reasons for their audiences to hate people they already hate are — at best — self-deluding. They aren’t fighting any kind of culture war — in that war, they are not the soldiers but profiteers.

In the context of Texas, I have often said that I worry about Houston more than I worry about Austin. That’s another way of saying that I worry more about the Pillage Party than the Freakshow Party. Freakshow politics is, by its nature, less serious. Its interests are less enduring, its attention span is shorter, and its adolescent motives wear out pretty quickly. That is why you see so many Freakshow partisans graduate to the Pillage Party once they have secured real power. Bill Clinton spent about 10 minutes in the 1960s counterculture before he figured out what real power looks like.