Don’t out-Trump Trump, the politics of fear and what Simon Cowell gets right

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.

FROM THE LEFT

From “Kristi Noem Is the Latest Republican to Learn You Can’t Out-Trump Donald Trump,” by Chris Lehmann in The Nation at tinyurl.com/33h488nd.

The context, from the author: The South Dakota governor’s attempt at mimicking the former president’s obstreperous public image has fallen disastrously flat.

The excerpt: In the sober light of her squalid book tour … all of (Gov. Kristi) Noem’s frenetic positioning as a Trump mascot seems like just the latest installment in a prime directive for national GOP figures: Impersonate the Trumpian model for seizing political power at your own peril. The course that Noem followed to the front rank of the GOP talent roster was quite well worn, after all — it was the same playbook that Ron DeSantis followed in his comically doomed 2024 presidential run. Florida Gov. DeSantis, too, peddled himself as a more competent, wonkier apostle of the MAGA gospel at the state level — right down to the same demagogic resistance to COVID lockdowns. For good measure, he threw in McCarthyite campaigns against critical race theory and materials in both Florida curricula and advanced placement courses that engaged with the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and latter-day brands of racial oppression and exclusion. He exulted on the stump that he’d made Florida into “the place woke goes to die.”

From “The New Propaganda War,” by Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic at tinyurl.com/yrtcvuh9.

The context, from the author: Autocrats in China, Russia, and elsewhere are now making common cause with MAGA Republicans to discredit liberalism and freedom around the world.

The excerpt: Fear, cynicism, nihilism and apathy, coupled with disgust and disdain for democracy: This is the formula that modern autocrats, with some variations, sell to their citizens and to foreigners, all with the aim of destroying what they call “American hegemony.”

From “Distorting the Gospel,” by Teresa Delgado in Commonweal at tinyurl.com/f2phbyc8.

The context, from the author: (I had) an experience I have come to understand as a “call” when I was a little girl. A precocious child, I began reciting parts of the missalette and forcing my sisters to “play church” with me as the priest. Ritz crackers and apple juice stood in for the bread and wine. We did this often until my father told me I shouldn’t pretend to be a priest because I would never have that chance in real life.

The excerpt: I have come to see that the structure of the Catholic Church — with its exclusively male leadership — is connected to its relationship with peoples and lands as a colonizing entity that must be decolonized. For this reason, I’m less interested now than I was in graduate school in the question of women’s ordination on its own. Now, I want to explore the connection between sexual and institutional violence against women and colonial violence against lands and peoples. I believe both derive from an unequal power structure of subject over object, upheld by a hierarchy that maintains the status quo.

FROM THE RIGHT

From “Simon Cowell Is onto Something,” by Sarah Schutte in The National Review at tinyurl.com/yfa3zae9.

The context, from the author: Watching “America’s Got Talent” or its international namesakes is often just an exercise in second-hand embarrassment. Uncomfortable, cringy, or just plain bad acts are continually shot down by the judges, some of whom are nicer about the rejection than others. One judge who isn’t nice, and has become known for his brutal assessments of competitors the world over, particularly from his stint on the early seasons of “American Idol,” is Simon Cowell.

The excerpt: I nearly always side with Cowell, and I often understand his seemingly grouchy manner and penchant for (almost) never giving standing ovations. In a world that is so quick to pat everyone on the head and make them “feel good” about whatever trifle they may have “accomplished,” Cowell is a beacon of hope for the truly talented.

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From “The Politics of Fear Itself,” by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic at tinyurl.com/4dzxpkt2.

The context, from the author: Fear is not what’s driving Americans to support former President Donald Trump — it is, instead, how many justify their support.

The excerpt: For many Trump supporters, then, fear is not so much the cause of their support for the former president as a justification for it. They use fear to rationalize their backing for Trump. They have a burning need to promote catastrophism, even if it requires cognitive distortion, spreading falsehoods and peddling conspiracy theories. But why? What’s driving their ongoing, deepening fealty to Trump?

From “No Easter Truce in Ukraine,” by Helen Andrews in The American Conservative at tinyurl.com/zjaps8tv.

The context, from the author: If the two sides of this war can’t find enough common ground to agree to a ceasefire for the holiest day in the Orthodox calendar, celebrating Christ’s resurrection, then negotiations for a more durable end to the war must be far off indeed.

The excerpt: We could easily see a decisive Russian military victory this summer or a Donald Trump electoral victory in November — or both. If so, the hot phase of this war may be finished by the time Pascha comes around next year. If not, then let us pray the two sides will be more willing to pause the fighting for Holy Week a year hence.


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