The German philosopher Carl Schmitt observed that politics is about the friend – enemy distinction, played out in public. Everyone has people they call friends and people they think of as adversaries or enemies. This only becomes political when others outside these relations are called upon to pick sides. Politics is about groups of people opposing one another in public and forcing others to pick sides. The winner is the one whose group dominates the others.
The thing is, it is never easy to know your friends in politics, but the only way to survive is to know your enemies. Those would be the groups whose very existence depends upon your demise. Friendships are transactional as they are situational. When your interests align with those of another faction, you are friends while you have some common interest. When conditions change, the friendship ends. Enemies are always enemies because who they are the negation of you.
This is why conservatism has never amounted to much in America. They insist that politics do not exist and instead public policy is decided by factual accuracy and the best ideas to solve problems. While the people we insist on calling the Left run around playing politics, the conservatives spend their days making impressive charts and graphs explaining why they are right. Occasionally they win an election, only to be outclassed by their opponents once in office.
You saw this clearly with Trump. Despite all of his faults, and he has many, he is a guy who completely believes the civic nationalist creed. He is the living embodiment of those School House Rock civics lessons. When he won in 2016, he just assumed everyone would have to respect the will of the people. After all, this is how our system is supposed to work. Instead, he was routed by the schemers, conmen and deviants that dominate Washington politics.
We are seeing the other side of this with the neocons. They do not care for Ron DeSantis, but they can work with him. He was a reliable vote for their warmongering when he was in the House. He has the endorsement of the House of Bush, so even though he opposes their domestic agenda, they can work with him on their larger plan to blow up the world. More important, he can be useful in undermining support for Trump in the coming Republican primary.
In other words, they do not necessarily see him as a friend, but he is not an enemy and because they share his current enemy, they can quietly work with him towards the goal of toppling Trump. The trouble is DeSantis has a very thin skin, so he could not resist taking cheap shots at Trump with regards to the indictment business. He also flip-flopped on his Ukraine statements, probably fearing that he may have jeopardized his support from the Kagan cult.
As an aside, Russia, the war in Ukraine and the subject of peace is becoming a central issue for the Republican base. This is a carry over from the Bush years when the party lied about the Iraq invasion. Since then the party base has become increasingly skeptical about foreign policy. Republican voters also tend to be practical, so they question spending hundreds of billions on foreigners when the country seems to be falling apart from decades of neglect.
In the 2016 election, the litmus test issues were immigration and trade. Trump went one way and the field went the other. It was a strange thing to see when logic said the field, or some of it, would be smart to follow Trump. We are now seeing the same thing with foreign policy issues. Opposing the neocons is a good vote getter, but bad for making friends in the regime, so the field, including DeSantis, is racing to sound like Lady Bugs Graham, while Trump sounds like Pat Buchanan.
Putting that aside, the friend enemy distinction sounds simple in the abstract, but in practice it is very difficult. Most people make the fatal mistake of looking for friends, rather than identifying their enemies. Note that conservatives have said for years that you should vote for someone not against them. This is part of the conditioning to keep their voters from focusing on the enemy. It is a clever trick that has allowed them to profit from finking on their voters.
Politics, at its most basic, turns on accurately identifying the enemy. Friends may turn out to be unreliable or stupid, but the enemy is always the enemy. The surest way to identify your enemies is to look for those who demand that you place your interests second to those of some alien group of political actors. For example, the people telling you that Ukraine should come before your kid’s school or that you must impoverish yourself in the name of climate change. Those people are your enemy.
For dissidents, and a growing number of Americans, the system itself is the enemy because it is based on denying you any benefits from the system. In fact, the system has evolved to harm the bulk of the population. That means you participating in it profits the forces that are committed to your destruction. In this regard, the Ron versus Don charade being put on by the mass media is another way for the enemy to lure decent people into supporting their own demise.
In the end, the simplicity of the Carl Schmitt formulation is the place to start when looking upon the looming election circus. First identify your enemies, then look for anyone that promises to harm them. The goal of politics is always to harm the enemy and profit your cause. If the enemy is not obvious, then the process itself is the enemy and you are best served being an amused observer. Not participating is the most political of actions, because it declares the process the enemy.
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