There's an entire industry based of pumping out columns blaming "both sides" for the state of America's descent in fascism. David Brooks, Chris Cillizza, David Brooks, Joe Scarborough, David Fucking Brooks, and, at least until Trump, Thomas Friedman. All of them make a very fine living selling a lie that both the left and the right are the cause of our woes and if "both sides" would just work together, everything would be just peachy.
But in an astonishing column, Thomas Friedman apparently had a stroke and said, "Fuck it!" and spoke that most forbidden of taboos within the media elite: The Full Truth.
Friedman has been calling for a "centrist" third party for so long that it's become a running joke among more serious people. Because let's be honest, anyone claiming that the Democratic Party isn't a center-left party isn't a serious person. And in classic Friedman style, his column, The American Civil War, Part II, does start off commenting on how "both sides" can no longer even tolerate being in the presence of the other; attacking each other on social media or saying out loud that they hope people from the other party won't show up to social functions.
But then this happens:
This also feels worse than the divisions over Vietnam and civil rights because there were three huge forces holding us together back then that are missing today: a growing middle class, the Cold War and a sane Republican Party.
With no hint of complaint about the Dems, Friedman continues.
The end of the Cold War has meant that no foreign enemy cements us together anymore, save for a brief period after 9/11. And the G.O.P. has lost its way.
Since Trump, Friedman has been openly critical of the GOP but the basis entire schtick still trended towards "both sides are to blame, oh, if only a centrist party would arise and save us!" This is the well-worn path he and his cohort of "the view from nowhere" columnists have pioneered that make the millionaires and billionaires in Manhattan very happy. These rich folks are trying very hard to ignore the disaster unfolding outside of their penthouses and their role in creating it. Friedman is paid a lot of money to tell them comforting lies about how it's not their fault.
By speaking the truth about the GOP's descent into madness, Friedman is violating the terms of his employment. And he violates it with a vengeance.
And not only have we lost the buffers and cushions we once had, but a generation of leaders has come along, led by Donald Trump, who have made fueling our divisions their business model.
In essence, we’ve moved from “partisanship,” which still allowed for political compromises in the end, “to tribalism,” which does not, explained political scientist Norman Ornstein, co-author, with Thomas Mann, of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.” In a tribal world it’s rule or die, compromise is a sin, enemies must be crushed and power must be held at all costs.
I'll be honest, when he got to "tribalism", I rolled my eyes because that's usually the cue for whoever is talking to go on about how both sides are being tribal blablabla. It's possible that Friedman, his hand trembling over the keyboard, was tempted to swim back to safer waters. He's been critical of the GOP, but he went all in this week by going beyond the usual "this all started when Trump came down the escalator" nonsense:
It would be easy to blame both sides equally for this shift, noted Ornstein, but it is just not true. After the end of the Cold War, he said, “tribal politics were introduced by Newt Gingrich when he came to Congress 40 years ago,” and then perfected by Mitch McConnell during the Barack Obama presidency, when McConnell declared his intention to use his G.O.P. Senate caucus to make Obama fail as a strategy for getting Republicans back in power.
They did this even though that meant scuttling Obama’s health care plan, which was based on Republican ideas, and even though that meant scuttling long-held G.O.P. principles — like fiscal discipline, a strong Atlantic alliance, distrust of Russian intentions and a balanced approach to immigration — to attract Trump’s base.
As far as I can tell, this is the first time Thomas "both sides" Friedman accurately described how American politics broke and who broke them without a shred of both siderism. Not that the Democrats are perfect saints but Republicans have worked for decades to turn politics into a blood sport and it started with the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That entire episode was the trial run of the politics of personal destruction that would culminate with the election of a fascist white nationalist and Friedman didn't sugarcoat it at all.
This is important to make note of because the entire point of Friedman's "centrist party" thing is to say that both parties are too extreme. But he's finally admitting that only one party is so off the rails insane that they're a danger to the country and that they did it on purpose. Even more astonishing, Friedman, at least temporarily, abandons his call for that mythical third party:
When I look at all the people today who are propelling their political careers and fattening their wallets by dividing us, I cannot help but wonder: Do these people go home at night to some offshore island where none of this matters? Do these people really think their kids aren’t going to pay for the venom they sell and spread? Don’t worry, I know the answer: They aren’t thinking and they aren’t going to stop it.
What stops it? When a majority of Americans, who are still center-left and center-right, come together and vote only for lawmakers who have the courage to demand a stop to it — now, right now, not just when they’re leaving office or on their death beds.
If you're not paying attention, that might come across as his usual plea for that centrist party. But it's not. At all. He's begging the center to vote Republican extremists out of office; in essence, to take over the GOP instead of trying to form his long dreamed of third party. Yes, it's still a variation of his usual, "The center will save us!" but Friedman continues to acknowledge that the GOP is broken and that the Democratic Party, and the left in general, is not even remotely the problem here. The Republican Party is an existential threat to American democracy and when even Thomas Friedman is willing to admit that in such stark and uncompromising terms, we've reached a point where the GOP has to be destroyed in order to save the country.