Several times over the last few days, I’ve come across the phrase “do not call up that which you cannot put down.” Mostly, I saw it in reference to Cruz’s dalliance with Trump people, but it’s been used elsewhere. Here someone uses it with reference to Planned Parenhood’s lawsuit against the people that recorded descriptions of their more grisly practices:
“Do not call up that which ye cannot put down.” – First rule of magic. Also applies to pretrial discovery. https://t.co/GP7IwXX6RO
— Popehat (@Popehat) January 14, 2016
Cruz pandered to them in the hopes that Trump would collapse or withdraw and his followers would see Cruz as the next best thing. Good strategy, right? But now, Trump shows no sign of dropping out and with Cruz as his greatest rival, Trump is using the pulpit Cruz helped legitimize to call down damnation on his erstwhile ally.
The phrase comes from an H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and its use is a tribute to the triumph of nerd culture. Originally rendered in the story as “do not calle up That which you can not put downe,” it was found in the letters of an 18th-century alchemist and necromancer who had died years ago (or had he?) In more modern parlance, we might say: do not set loose any forces that you cannot later re-bind, if you need to.
In light of Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump today, it’s actually made me think of the whole right-wing populist movement as that which we have called up. We maybe didn’t recognize it at the time, but the McCain-Palin ticket of 2008 was a balance between establishment and insurgency. We didn’t use those terms, and we didn’t think of McCain as truly an establishment figure (he was a maverick, remember?) but that was the effect. The ticket faltered and Palin “went rogue.” But she only had a platform because the establishment forces called her up, hoping to capture the power of the youth and outsider energy she seemed to represent.
I must admit, I was among the ones who cheered at her calling up.
Palin had a fiery spirit that I thought, along with her record against corruption and crony capitalism in Alaska, would charge up the staid Republican party and win the elections. But, as James Fenimore Cooper wrote, fire is a powerful servant, but fearful master. McCain set loose that populism, but he could not contain it. It’s not what lost him the election–no V.P. could have saved him after the markets crashed–but I’m sure picking Palin is a decision he still regrets.
The spirit is loose among the Trumpkins. Populism has always been with us; it’s the dark mirror of democracy itself, mass participation, but for a malign purpose, often heedless of ideas or ideology. In the absence of a perfectly educated, successful, and virtuous populace, it will always exist. Palin didn’t invent populism, but she was its avatar for a time. Now she’s passed the torch Trump, who is even more powerful.
Populism was always going to erupt in an economy like this one, especially in the face of demographic changes that seem strange to some people, but there was no guarantee of it erupting on the right. There is the glamour of populism in the Sanders campaign, as well. But with Palin as his forerunner, Trump was better positioned to harness populism’s fell power. It will undo him eventually, too, but that it exists in the Republican party is down to all of us who cheered Governor Palin’s nomination in 2008.