Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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2016: The End of All Things

“Not everything is a god that failed.” –Tristyn K. Bloom

smod-sweet-meteor-of-death

“Drain the swamp! End bigotry, patriarchy, and oppression forever!”

As the votes keep rolling in from Donald Trump’s election, I wound up in an argument with a dear friend about slavery and the Electoral College. Like many of my intelligent and thoughtful liberal friends, this New York transplant has developed a deep frustration a number of established institutions and contemporary trends that underscore substantial partisan divisions in the ways different sets of Americans understand the world we share.

A lot of anti-Trump people from underprivileged backgrounds feel particularly exasperated at the insistence of an notion they consider an insult to injury. Namely, after suffering the indignity of a Trump electoral upset, they are now being pushed (by people like me) to empathize with the plight of voters within the coalition that won control of everything without them. Their irritation is probably quite similar to that of conservatives who chafed at the 2012 autopsy and the perceived defeatism and collaborationism that spawned it and a litany of harsher criticisms.

I hear them, and conservatives certainly ought to do better to reach out and engage the concerns of Blue America, as I hope we will. (I confess he’s not yet off to a great start.) But for today, perhaps the most pertinent takeaway from 2012 is that people really are going crazy, but the world is less crazy and hopeless than it seems to those in despair.

I’ve written extensively about how many Clinton voters—a clustered, urban coalition of educated whites and not-enough-minorities—were trapped in echo-chambered bubbles far removed from the vast expanse of Trump-voting America. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to look over my analysis of election demographics and deeper exploration of Trump voters’ motivations. But it’s not enough to understand what happened on Election Day and why. The project now is what happens next.

The most pressing first step is putting things back in proper perspective. Politics is fickle, and November 8 was just another election in a (hopefully) endless string of them. In 2012, Barack Obama’s reelection was like an echo to George W. Bush’s triumph eight years earlier. Both won a majority of the vote in a bitter contest against an ideologically flexible, charisma-deficient challenger on high-interest loan from the Massachusetts gentry. Each saw his respective party attain a 55-seat majority in the Senate amid rumors of permanent electoral dominance. Both majorities were embarassingly undone in the immediate next election.

While the Democratic minority will almost certainly lose seats in the Senate in 2018, they could very well take back the White House in 2020, by improving just a point or two on Clinton’s margin, and recapture the Senate in future elections. After all, it was only eight years ago that they won a supermajority. More immediately, President-elect Trump and the GOP Senate will have to negotiate and compromise with Senate Democrats to overcome the filibuster and get anything done. And there’s a lot that can be done or considered. But level heads are required.

It’s consoling to imagine Trump’s “losing” the popular vote, like Camelot’s own John F. Kennedy. Even in an election where nobody cared about or tried to win it, the popular vote could somehow indicate the limits of his electorally victorious appeal. It’s quite another to engage in revisionist history, like notoriously eccentric Yale law professor Akhil Amar (my alma mater doesn’t always send its best) and our friends at Vox, and pretend the Electoral College exists to protect slavery. Such nonsense does violence to history. In reality, the College was created with support across regions and interests for the same reason most constitutional protections exist—to protect against the ravages of direct democracy.

A popular vote for president was strongly opposed in the anti-slavery North, where delegates from multiple states described the idea as “radically vicious,” and “the great evil of cabal and corruption.” Consequently, that Massachusetts did not even put presidential candidates on the ballot in the post- and antebellum decades before 1880. Prior to that, Citizens in Massachusetts voted directly for Electoral College electors, who then voted for president, and it was up to the parties to ensure their voters elected the right people. Here’s an example from the famously contentious election of popular-vote-loser Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876:

1876-massachusetts-gop-voting-guide-for-potus-electors

Presidential and veep candidates are not voting options

While our leaders the American polity may be moderately less elitist today, the Electoral College remains, like our high bar for constitutional amendments, a measured check on the mercurial rapacity of direct democracy. Beyond encouraging candidates to build geographically diverse coalitions and allowing for quick, decisive victories, the system mitigates vulnerability to systemic fraud or claims of it. By contrast, a national popular would require uniform standards for voting—absentee, early, etc.—that would have to be federally centralized (a problem for conservatives), and uniformly rigorous voter ID requirements that are aggressively and meticulously enforced to the point where illegal immigrants and non-citizens would not be able to procure one (a probable nonstarter for progressives) to guard against fraud and unfairness.

Of course, the Electoral College primarily exists as an homage to the primacy of states in our constitutional system—the sovereign states, after all, created the federal government and alone have the power to amend the Constitution. So it’s not surprising that short-sighted opposition of convenience to the College (which is a bipartisan “sore losers” phenomenon) would reach its logical extreme in a movement to abolish states and thus the federalist division of power that exists for them. As one right-side-of-history writer phrased it in The Washington Post: states are “a relic of the past.”

In a bit of equal and opposite lunacy,  secession is apparently cool again. Would-be rebels in California even managed to get “Calexit” (the California analogue to Brexit) trending on social media as they marched on Sacramento. Silicon Valley is even offering support for a referendum on rending the Union. Because, of course. (As any good Southerner will doubtlessly inform you, states can’t secede after Labor Day.)

But it doesn’t stop there. Reason managing editor Stephanie Slade astutely noted the Left’s pervasive insistence on making everything about racism or homophobia has really gone off the rails. This is happening even as the left-wing partisans at Vox are acknowledging that shouting, “Bigot!” at people is a marvelously poor way to combat bigotry.

Let’s take a deep breath.

I realize progressives and other anti-Trump partisans are tired of being told to calm down and just accept that President-elect Trump will become President Trump. I realize that many do sincerely think him a unique danger to the American project and the well-being of their peers. I’m not going to argue down every point or defend the wrongs affixed to Trump’s public record. I will, however, remind you to keep things in perspective.

A year ago, when we all knew more or less as much about Trump as we do now—i.e., every issue that arose thereafter was, as I’ve quoted before, hardly surprising but freshly disappointing—the future Trump antagonists didn’t think him so bad on the merits. In fact, as my friend River Tam noted recently, folks on the Left spend the last year and change telling us that Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Mike Pence were all no better (or worse!) than Trump.

For just a sampling, you can just read (for the the following URLs ranging from Salon and Vox to the Washington Post and CNBC.

Rubio:
http://www.vox.com/2016/2/20/11067932/rubio-worse-than-trump

http://www.cnbc.com/…/rubio-cruz-scarier-than-trump-investo…

Cruz:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/00a425fa-a360-11e5-9c4e-be…

http://www.salon.com/…/ted_cruz_is_worse_the_only_thing_sc…/

http://www.usatoday.com/…/cruz-trump-not-viable-c…/82718646/

Kasich:
http://www.salon.com/…/stop_mooning_over_john_kasich_hes_n…/

http://www.vh1.com/news/259050/cruz-kasich-trump-the-same/

Pence:
http://thehill.com/…/300052-warren-pence-no-better-than-tru…

https://www.thenation.com/…/trumps-vice-presidential-pick-…/

http://www.sacbee.com/…/…/erika-d-smith/article89702297.html

If even John Kasich, this cycle’s Jon Huntsman but with more sanctimony and less economic conservatism, is the same or worse than Trump, then our new reality-show commander-in-chief is hardly a unique threat to the Republic. The absurdity and hypocrisy of this blanket leftist hysteria against Republicans is not lost on more critical observers:

In February, Jonathan Chait, a writer for New York magazine and the author of a forthcoming book explaining how super-terrific Barack Obama’s presidency was, wrote a piece titled “Why liberals should support a Trump Republican nomination.” He listed three reasons: Trump would lose, Trump would wreak havoc on the GOP, and Trump would be better than the other Republican candidates.

“If he does win,” Chait wrote, “a Trump presidency would probably wind up doing less harm to the country than a Marco Rubio or a (Ted) Cruz presidency. It might even, possibly, do some good.”

The day after the election, Chait declared on Twitter “This is the worst thing that has happened in my life.”

Okay, then.

Shortly after the election, Slate’s Jamelle Bouie wrote a piece titled “There’s no such thing as a good Trump voter,” likening some 60 million Americans to a racist lynch mob. Last year, Bouie penned an article with the headline “Donald Trump is actually a moderate Republican.”

Of course, Chait and Bouie are not alone. Progressive figures such as Paul Krugman, Matt Yglesias, Robert Borosage, Amanda Marcotte, and Bill Maher all said during the primaries that Trump was less scary than, say, Rubio or Cruz. (See Warren Henry’s excellent survey in The Federalist for details.)

Moreover, Trump’s history of left-leaning politics is arguably at least as great a concern for conservatives as for liberals—he’s already pushing massive infrastructure spending, because somebody has to show Bush and Obama how to make borrow-and-spend budget disasters great again. Democrats (backed by welfare-corporatists) may well end up aligning with Trump to fight conservative Republicans on such priorities, just as Republicans aided Obama in beating back progressive Democrats’ opposition to free trade.

One of the reasons the conservatives who opposed Trump seemed so quick to get over his upset win is that we simply had more time to mourn. Cruz and Kasich dropped out of the race a half-year ago. Other preferred candidates bowed out months earlier. Even the most stalwart opponent of Trump (and presumably Clinton) from the Right has had a long time to prepare for the disappointment that was inevitable with this election. Jonah Goldberg might have channeled the beating heart of movement conservatism when he said of the general election, “This ends in tears no matter what. Get over it.”

That was eight months ago.

Eight months from now, I expect many more heads will have cooled on the Left, as well. That’s not to say progressives (or conservatives) will or should forget the darkness that pulsed through Trump’s campaign appeal. That’s not to say that anybody should drop principled objections to the many concerning statements Trump made since bulldozing his way into the race last summer. Or blithely ignore disturbing characteristics of his advisers or policies. Compromise of your integrity is no more necessary to engage Trump than to engage any president or politician.

However, the cultish conviction that Trump can be denied normalizing is a shibboleth of denial. He won the election; he is going to be president. He is already normalized. That ship is out to sea. Accepting reality for what it is, Italian immigrant Luigi Zingales offered invaluable insight on engaging Trump through the parallel of Italy’s charismatic yet scandalous billionaire playboy former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

We saw this dynamic during the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was so focused on explaining how bad Mr. Trump was that she too often didn’t promote her own ideas, to make the positive case for voting for her. The news media was so intent on ridiculing Mr. Trump’s behavior that it ended up providing him with free advertising.[…]

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character. In different ways, both of them are seen as outsiders, not as members of what in Italy is defined as the political caste.

From here on out, the only way conservatives or progressives are going to do battle with whatever bad ideas will emerge from the Trump administration—and win support for good ideas from the people and in Washington—is to move beyond personality and identity politics to a contest on the merits of policy. The more that Trump is treated like an ordinary president who won an ordinary election through ordinary voters with ordinary interests, the easier it will be to bring his star back to Earth and subdue his nuttier proposals on the merits. By and large, conservatives in Washington and beyond the Beltway seem to have learned this lesson through months of preparation. Perhaps, at some point, our progressive friends will, too.

In the refreshingly measured words of a retired left-wing satirical pundit:

I don’t believe we are a fundamentally different country today than we were two weeks ago. The same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago. The same country that elected Donald Trump elected Barack Obama.

Every so often, even Jon Stewart is right. If not, then perhaps, as a former Democratic candidate for my congressional district in Virginia proclaimed in the wake of Trump’s election, the “Democratic Party deserves to die.” But America is not dying; we will survive the night.

This is not the end of all things. Just the end of another beginning.

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Ezra Klein and The Ones Who Stay in Omelas

“They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

"Necessary" evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

“Necessary” evils never looked more necessary than when they never hurt me.

Zero-tolerance policies in schools have a funny way of producing the kind of terrible results that are difficult to imagine any reasonable person intended when the policies were enacted. Just recently, honors student Atiya Haynes of Detroit found her promising academic career upended when a knife given to her by her grandfather for protection in a dangerous neighborhood was accidentally left in her purse. While this situation is certainly infuriating, it should hardly be surprising. Students from poorer or ethnic minority backgrounds have a long history of affliction from well-intentioned “zero tolerance” rules purportedly designed to help and protect them, though they are by no means the only victims.

When I was in high school nearly a decade ago, I almost fell victim to a zero-tolerance policy for a (not weapon-, drug-, or harm-related) mistake in which county policy would have required me to fail the relevant class that I actually wound up acing. (More ordinary repercussions for this genre of mistake usually escalate little further than detention.) Fortunately for me, my thoughtful teacher—well aware of the difference in consequences—kindly overlooked the classroom error in question, and I was able to remain an honor student, eventually go to Yale, and begin a promising, upwardly mobile professional life. Many other people from could-be-more-privileged backgrounds, especially those whose infractions involve things like accidental weapons or self-defense after being bullied, are not so lucky.

All of this brings us to the ostensibly unrelated case of Vox’s Ezra Klein and his alarming, if not altogether surprising, willingness to retreat from liberalism in difficult situations—specifically, his support for California’s deeply problematic “affirmative consent” law. The commonality, it turns out, is the determination to condemn good people to bad consequences for the sake of achieving some greater good that might not actually obtain.

In Klein’s own words:

“SB 697, California’s ‘Yes Means Yes’ law, is a terrible bill. But it’s a necessary one… the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

[…]

The Yes Means Yes laws creates an equilibrium where too much counts as sexual assault. Bad as it is, that’s a necessary change.”

Pause for a moment to reflect on that line of thought.

Seriously, take a moment.

Read it again.

I’ll wait.

Ezra Klein’s willingness to embrace what is accurately described as illiberal persecution of the innocent for the sake of noble goals is precisely the kind of ethically disturbing consequentialism that underlies the kind of policies, like “zero tolerance,” that disproportionately afflict those already poor and disadvantaged. It’s all well and good—and altogether predictable—for the wealthy and well-connected to perennially wax sententious about “necessary” evils from which they seldom suffer much. The rest of us live in the real world of administrative self-interest, systemic incompetence, political cowardice necessity, police brutality, and limited influence on or recourse for wrongs against non-elites who are less well-off than Klein’s socioeconomically cocooned friends. For us real-world folks, legitimate concerns about fairness and injustice in an invidiously ill-conceived system are not idle abstractions to whitewash away in the pursuit of utopian dreams.

And make no mistake; it is vituperatively utopian to imagine that the crimes of an admittedly unfair system will be justified by some larger social good. Most insultingly, there is little evidence that sexual assaults will decrease—they certainly won’t be eliminated—as a result of this policy change, and Klein uncharacteristically presents no evidence to support this critical premise. (This omission is particularly curious given that many schools, like the University of California system, most of the Ivy League—including my alma mater—and a number of other institutions, already have such a standard and could presumably provide supportive data.) There is ample evidence, however, of colleges already expelling accused students for what would charitably (to the colleges) be considered dubious circumstances.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf well encapsulates the enormity of Klein’s moral decrepitude (emphasis in original):

“Extreme problems require extreme solutions. When wrongdoers are going unpunished, intrusive countermeasures are justified, even if they create new victims. Innocent-until-proven-guilty is nice in theory, but untenable in practice. The state should strike fear into innocents if it leads to fewer victims of violent crime.

Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.

These are the sorts of value judgments one expects from supporters of Stop and Frisk, ‘three strikes’ laws, the prison at Gitmo, and racial profiling to stop illegal immigration. They’re also the value judgments that Ezra Klein invokes in his endorsement of a California law requiring affirmative consent for sex on the state’s college campuses. As he puts it, ‘Ugly problems don’t always have pretty solutions.’

[…]

To understand California’s law as Klein does and to favor it anyway is appalling, if admirably forthright. It is akin to asserting that, to fight sexual assault, we must operate on the dark side. It is a declaration that liberal values aren’t adequate after all, using logic Klein rejects when it is applied to other policy areas.”

I cannot stress enough that Klein—like the left-leaning crowd inclined to take his opinions seriously in forming their own—rejects this very line of thinking when it is applied to almost anything they dislike else. The difference is perhaps explained by who Klein and company imagine the targets of this particular form of aggravated illiberalism to be—i.e., rich, white frat boys, rather than poorly represented minorities from poor neighborhoods—but whatever the case, the reasoning for accepting injustice remains hollow, given our purported national commitment to such concepts as fairness and civil rights. As Friedersdorf puts it:

“Long experience shows that drastic measures are best shunned when they violate liberal values, an insight that does not imply an insufficient commitment to reducing sexual assault on campus any more than opposition to Stop and Frisk means one doesn’t care about gun violence in New York City, or opposition to adopting a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ standard for terrorists would imply an underestimation of the problem terrorism poses or the devastation of its victims.”

Returning to the zero-tolerance comparison, Klein’s explicit admission—supported by evidence—that innocent people will be required to wallow in the filth of our social and cultural sins in order to build and sustain the Omelas of a world without campus rape begs us to ask: Who does Ezra Klein think will bear the brunt of these unjust prosecutions when ambiguous or nonverbal sexual enthusiasm is legally prescribed cause for expulsion?

When gun control laws get stricter, poor people and minority communities are disproportionately ruined by the prison-industrial complex. When zero-tolerance policies proliferate in schools, underprivileged people of color disproportionately find their dreams deferred by circumstances all but unfathomable to many a Vox reader. When students are consigned to a regime that encourages abuse, it would be odd to assume those same marginalized members of the so-called “coalition of the ascendant” will not find themselves disproportionately at risk of life-altering social and academic sanctions for allegedly not having procured and adhered to an explicitly detailed legal contract—which seems to be the only reliable way to meet the “affirmative consent” standard—governing every conceivable minutiae of sexual interaction.

Would it matter to Klein if men (or women) of underprivileged demographics are more likely to be accused of and rightly or wrongly punished (and punished more harshly) for—but not necessarily more likely to actually commit—sexual assault, which familiar disparity we see in other legal matters? Should it matter to his readers that he never even bothers to ask the question? (For the record, I do not know the answer to this, but it and many other good questions occurred to me because I prefer to seriously consider my neighbor before throwing him or her under the bus.) It should not be too much to ask those in Klein’s camp who these sacrificial lambs are likely to be—and not be—and what, if anything, we should think about that.

One of the things professional leftists prefer to elide, in the perpetual indignation of their dubious policy initiatives, is that the people who bear the costs of progressively intrusive policy disasters are the disadvantaged communities progressives purport to represent. And again, there is not even much (if any) evidence that California-style “affirmative consent” laws will improve campus sexual culture—a laudable and vital goal—any more than “zero tolerance” has improved the life of Atiya Haynes or countless kids like her. We owe it to victims of assault—and confused kids sincerely looking for guidance—to do better than this.

But at least we know one thing more clearly than before: when faced with prospect of thriving at the parasitic expense of those cursed with a lesser lot in life, Ezra Klein would not be among the ones who walk away from Omelas. I suppose, in the end, privilege is too comfortable and rewarding a perch for the progressives who get to enjoy it.


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The Golden Taxes

“Why would anybody in their right mind leave Dallas for Southern California? We’ve got the same weather without the liberals.” –Gigi Stopper, GCB

It’s hard out there for a baller.

As you may recall, California voters in the last election enacted a plan to raise taxes on their most successful neighbors. Top earners in the Golden State now owe more than half of their income to the government, effective retroactively, and more than half of all revenue in Sacramento will be supplied by less than 1% of residents who make 20% of income. Unsurprisingly, many of the wealthy are fleeing as swiftly and shamelessly as Nicholas Sarkozy from Socialist France.

Many in the “fair share” crowd who espouse Ted Strickland’s “economic patriotism” are predictably, scathingly maudlin over the fact that people have the temerity to pursue more economical happiness. Liberals even got a cautious quasi-apology from their latest high-profile tax-flight target, Phil Mickelson, for stating the obvious—people want to keep their money. But as many are noting, Mickelson has not recanted his intention to consider leaving California. He merely expressed regret for trying to encourage “change”. Funny, that.

As Ed Morrissey noted over at Hot Air:

“Well, I don’t think Mickelson was looking for sympathy. I think he was explaining that he doesn’t have to put up with Jerry Brown’s tax hikes to fund a massively dysfunctional state government, and that he’s not likely to do so.”

Meanwhile in my native Florida, California-expatriate Tiger Woods enjoys tax-free income. Elsewhere, in predictable blue-red splits, several states have considered “millionaire taxes”, while lawmakers elsewhere have announced plans to abolish income and corporate taxes. There are certainly many problems with our convoluted tax codes in America. But whatever your thoughts on the matter, one thing remains clear: the problem remains spending. Just as California has done little to prevent future budget woes, the federal chasm between revenue and spending endures primarily because of entitlements.

In wake of all this, President Obama’s inaugural address barely mentioned the top issues concerning most Americans: jobs (fewer of those than at Obama’s first inaugural), debt (a lot more of that), and economy. Instead, he triumphantly heralded a resurgent era of the welfare state in which none of the debt-driving programs—entitlements—would face any serious reforms to keep them solvent. Thus, the administration is doubling down on what Walter Russel Mead dubs the blue social model, which Presidents Reagan and Bill “Era of Big Government is Over” Clinton had previously rebuked en route to tax reform and balanced budgets. This comes even as well-to-do citizens get far more from entitlement programs than they paid in the first place.

So this is the bed we lie in, America. Until we’re willing to make tough decisions to rein in entitlement spending, our expenditures will rise and our revenue will stagnate. In response, liberal administrations will push tax hikes, as they have from California to Maryland to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and ever growing government will depend on an ever shrinking group of earners. Contrary to what many on the Left like to believe, those earners can always leave. Many already have. Other successful American job-creators, like Mark Zuckerberg and Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, are voting Republican with their wallets, despite the chagrin of Democrats.

You can berate them for greed, callousness, and lack of “patriotism” all you want, but at the end of the day, they’ll still be taking their wealth and jobs to friendlier climes.

And we’ll still have our debts to fix.


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These Convenient Machines

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him… We have many monsters to destroy.” –George Seferis

See your world in the palm of your Instagram.

The gods hiccupped yesterday. That is to say, Gmail and Facebook each went down for many users for several minutes or so. Predictably, everybody panicked (read: flocked to Twitter) and mocked each other’s panic, and some contemplated becoming, if only briefly, preternaturally productive.

If Harry Potter ever lost his wand, he would be left as unutterably alien to his own world as a quadriplegic quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. So many simple but essential tasks once taken for granted would suddenly be impossible. If there had ever been a time when J.K. Rowling’s wizards got along magically without their enchanted twigs, the knowledge of such a feat would be as lost on Harry as wilderness survival in a world without Wi-Fi or functioning smartphones is on most Americans.

Convenience is a tricky beast. As a group, we are technologically defined by our desire to do everything with nothing in no time at all. From DVR to YouTube, our attention spans shrink to minute intervals. In iPods and smartphones, erstwhile communal hotspots collapse into digital singularity. Through Xbox or social networks, we find our companionship online. As the latest devices emerge on the market, we are already bored with gadgets that would be magical to dead giants whose wars mutilated continents and disrupted civilizations.

The more our lives are functionally consolidated into ever fewer and smaller tools, the more susceptible our world becomes to more targeted disruption. Would it have been imaginable a couple decades ago that glitches in the product of a few institutions could stymie half the world in an instant? Yet now, in the twilight of 2012, Google links my email, internet browser, search habits, contacts, calendar, video watching, and innumerable accounts for websites not already linked to my Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Take out three companies, and my world stops. Take away my smartphone, and I couldn’t even find my way around the metro area I’ve lived in for years. I would go on about my laptop, but it would already be useless without our Silicon Valley overlords, and my body is fighting symptoms of withdrawal just thinking about all this. Excuse me while I watch some YouTube videos and check my Facebook feed to soothe that creeping anxiety…

All right, that’s much better.

It’s perhaps fitting that the latest instance of fiscal consolidation should occur around the engines of the cloud. Five weeks ago, voters in California opted to raise taxes on top earners in the state in order to resolve a spiraling budget crisis. The preliminary numbers are ostensibly favorable, and Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is heartily encouraging President Obama to follow through with such a plan at the national level. But if the gods are in the cloud, the devils are, as ever, in the details.

As Walter Russell Mead observes:

“There are two essential developments to note here. First, California will rely on a tiny group of people to erase $5 billion in debt. From now on, more than half of all the government operations will be funded by less than 1 percent of the state’s residents, who account for less than 20 percent of the state’s total income.

Second, the state economy is doing well at the moment relative to the rest of the country, but it is still losing jobs and skilled workers to lower-tax economies in Nevada, Texas, and the Southeast.

This tax-funded surplus will allow the state to momentarily ignore the underlying problems that drive the deficit. But the problem of the escalating costs of pensions and public services and the blue social model has not been resolved and will only worsen with time.”

For the federal government, the top 10% of households already accounts for more than 70% of income taxes and over half of all revenue. Since the recession, the federal tax burden has fallen on all but the top quintile. As taxes increasingly become the provenance of a shrinking base, our entitled deficit grows unchecked. How massively unsustainable must our system of taxes and borrowing get before we decide to rethink our asphyxiating choices? What happens when the next shock comes and the few key pillars of wealth cannot hold? What happens when the model fails?

Consolidation—like the convenience it breeds—is a tricky beast, indeed.