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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President-elect Trump: It’s the Socioeconomics, Stupid!

“You have not converted a man, because you have silenced him.” –John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn

“What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here. Elmer Gantry shows up looking like Boris Johnson and just says whatever shit he can make up to convince the masses that this is their chance! To stick to ALL of them, all who wrecked their American Dream! And now The Outsider, Donald Trump, has arrived to clean house! You don’t have to agree with him! You don’t even have to like him! He is your personal Molotov cocktail to throw right into the center of the bastards who did this to you! SEND A MESSAGE! TRUMP IS YOUR MESSENGER!” –Michael Moore

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Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ

I did not vote for Lex Luthor Donald Trump. I did not vote for the Democratic nominee, either. No matter who won, I was bound to be disappointed. But the Republicans won, and the world could be so much worse. I realize the people who wanted or expected Hillary Clinton to become president are devastated by the stunning upset a woman whose rise, yet again, was deemed inevitable. President Obama (who also triumphed electorally over Clinton while getting fewer votes) went so far as to describe the prospect of a Trump election as “a personal insult” that would essentially repudiate his legacy.

His legacy is so repudiated by a country that still approves of him, at least in polls. But his voters were not #WithHer.

As hard as it may be for some to grasp or accept, white working-class voters reportedly hold—note the present tense—a more favorable impression of the black guy who’s leaving office than the white woman who used to work for him but failed in her bit to succeed him. That is a dynamic those blue-collar whites share, like Tom Hanks’s Doug on Black Jeopardy, with the black and Latino Americans who rejected John McCain and Mitt Romney but voted for Trump. Nate Cohn noted this development in The New York Times before the election, when even Trump’s campaign still believed he would lose:

On their own, Mr. Trump’s gains among [white voters without a college degree] have been enough to cancel out four years of favorable demographic shifts for Democrats among Hispanic and well-educated white voters.

He has even won supporters among some of the same white voters who backed Barack Obama in 2008. It suggests that Mr. Trump and Mr. Obama might have a little more in common than you might think—at least from a political standpoint.

Overall, however, Trump’s margin among white voters was almost identical to Mitt Romney’s in 2012. But notwithstanding iterative episodes and accusations of racism, sexism, or other types of bigotry, early reports indicate the president-elect won appreciably better margins among almost every key Democratic demographic than previous Republican candidates. Trump improved seven points on Romney’s showing with black voters, eight points on his showing with Latinos, and nine points with Asian-Americans. Perhaps most saliently, Trump did 11 points better among Latina women than Romney, outshining his increase among Latino men. Trump even managed to do slightly better among immigrants (i.e., naturalized citizens) than with Latinos or Asian-Americans overall.

It gets more interesting from there. College-educated whites were one of the few demographics to vote relatively less Republican for president in 2016 compared to 2012—largely, but not entirely, balancing out Trump’s gains among non-college whites. Trump actually performed better among college-educated minorities than minorities without college degrees—an inverse of the breakdown with whites. Among Latinos in the crucial swing state of Florida, Trump even outperformed against Clinton relative to congressional Republicans against Democratic opponents. He lost non-college Florida Latinos by 42 points but their college-educated peers by only 27. He won Cuban-American voters by five points. This relatively strong Latino showing was instrumental to Trump’s victory in the Sunshine State

The data would suggest that millions of nonwhite voters in the least white presidential electorate in American history presumably did not consider Trump or his campaign particularly bigoted, or they did and voted for him anyway. Similar analysis would apply to the vast heartland sea of blue-collar whites who, again, voted for Obama twice before opting for Trump this time around. Likewise, Millennials went more for Trump than Romney, and Clinton’s margin among women was virtually unchanged from Obama’s in 2012.

To argue, given the data, that Trump beat Clinton because his supporters are hateful bigots is to say, in effect, that racism attracts young, nonwhite, and pro-Obama voters, and that women are largely indifferent to sexism. The hard truth of the matter is, as Nate Silver notes, Hillary Clinton would have won the election had the electorate voted only two points less Republican than it did. But nonwhite Americans instead voted at least seven points more Republican, amounting to a four-point (at least) swing overall, and so we have President-elect Trump.

You might as well blame the “coalition  of the ascendant” for President Trump as ornery whites. Of course, analysts and politicos living in the simulation of a world imagined by insulated and contemptuous elites would never do that.

The available numbers paint a rather sobering picture for the Democrats. In 2012, Obama won voters who approved of his presidency by a larger margin than Clinton. Likewise, a few more Americans said their financial situation had improved in 2016 than in 2012, but Obama bested Clinton among those voters by 21 points. A plurality of 41 percent both years said their financial situation hadn’t changed. But those voters chose Obama by 18 points; this time, they broke evenly between Trump and Clinton. Even voters who wanted to maintain or expand Obamacare (more on that soon) shifted from Obama to Trump by nearly 12 points. These data help flesh out the electoral finding that many voters, particularly blue-collar whites, who believed in or identified with Obama decided that Trump was a better choice than this year’s Democratic slate. What that says about the Republican and Democratic parties will assuredly be the subject of ongoing debate. But there’s more.

Had Clinton performed as well among blue-collar whites as Obama in either of his elections, it would not have mattered that so many nonwhite voters chose Trump. But the divide between the more rural, less-educated, flyover America and the more coastal, urbane, gentrifying America is essentially becoming a sociopolitical wall. Dave Wasserman noted that Trump won 76 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel and only 22 percent of counties with a Whole Foods—a thoroughly predictable image of the profound electoral divergence between college-educated and blue-collar whites. It’s worth noting that this divergence has been growing steadily since 1992, but the margin spiked substantially between Obama and Clinton.

Perhaps one of the most revealing reasons so many voters chose Obama and Trump is the only of four qualities on which Trump bested Hillary: change. A large plurality of Americans voted for the candidate they determined could “bring needed change.” This meant Barack Obama in 2008, and most voters were willing to stick by him in 2012. But in 2016, “change” voters went for Trump by 69 points, notwithstanding that Clinton won handily on experience, judgment, and empathy. The large minority of voters who saw their lives worsen over the last four years backed Trump by 59 points. Voters agreed with Democrats that their nominee was better suited to the rigors of the presidency, whatever their views on the issues, but they rejected what she and the Democratic Party stood for as agents of a toxic status quo. And that made all the difference.

Much has been noted about the fact that Trump voters are wealthier, on the whole, than Clinton voters, and many people, especially on the Left, think this proves that Trumpism is just some noxious mix of racism and xenophobia, divorced from economic concerns. But the devil is in the details. We already know that Trump flipped the script on white support for Republicans—where previous candidates did better among more educated whites, Trump traded that position for huge margins among whites without college degrees. Obama won voters without college degrees by four points in 2012, while Trump won them by eight this time, for a 12-point rightward shift. (The opposite shift occurred with college graduates, though it was smaller.) That has socioeconomic implications for Trump and Clinton’s political coalitions.

Trump only won middle-income and wealthier households by just two points. By contrast, Romney’s margin was four times larger. This makes sense if you put together two aforementioned facts: Trump hemorrhaged (without entirely losing) traditional Republican strength among college-educated whites—the second-wealthiest demographic in the country—and actually did better among educated nonwhites (black, Latino, and Asian) than non-college minorities. (Perhaps educated nonwhites are beginning to converge, ever so slightly, with their white socioeconomic peers.)

Clinton won by 11 points among poorer voters, because nonwhites are disproportionately poor and vote disproportionately Democratic. But that margin is a full 11 points weaker than Obama’s performance against Romney. If you filter income by race, which the exit polls declined to show for whatever reason, available evidence strongly suggests that support for Trump among whites correlates mightily with income, even as the inverse is true for nonwhites.

In the end, it’s not the voters’ fault that Democratic candidates failed to appeal to them. To paraphrase the campaign of Hillary’s politically unique husband: it really is the socioeconomics, stupid.

Wealthier voters, especially more affluent whites, moved strongly away from Trump, in keeping with the general revulsion toward him and his supporters from elites. But he won anyway, because poorer whites and minorities overall moved even more strongly toward him or just stayed home. While we were talking about misogynistic recordings and the umpteenth instance of racist ramblings, middle-Americans voters were agonizing over their families’ economic security, with little time or inclination to fret overmuch about iterative outrage that probably struck them as a sideshow.

Clinton’s infamous “deplorables” comment was so damning precisely because it viscerally captured everything Middle America—including, as noted above, plenty of blacks, Latinos, women, LGBT, and Asian-Americans—loathes about elites: the moralistic contempt, the smug liberalism, the social justice redlining in colleges and among media elites that seems almost tailored to mock and exclude them, the insidious beast of political correctness that hides behind a false flag of empathy. Conventional wisdom holds that electoral victories require voters be inspired to vote for something and not just against something else. (Just ask John Kerry.) Clinton, a poll-tested synecdoche of establishmentarian elitism, flipped the script; voters were more driven to oppose her than support Trump, and that proved enough.

As a former Bill Clinton adviser told the Huffington Post, “Hillary Clinton in many ways represents a world many people in this country would like to move on from.”

In that regard, this black woman probably speaks for millions of Trump supporters in her celebration of the election night results:

By contrast, the Donald is, as Michael Moore semi-presciently warned (tedious liberal straw men aside), the revenge of the underclass. His election is the fruit of seed of resentment planted around when Obamacare squandered and poisoned the considerable goodwill with which Democrats came to power eight tempestuous years ago.

Apropos, Trump’s triumph is a defeat for the people who dismiss Obamacare’s manifold losers and even insult them, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias does, with demands for a more financially crippling mandate. The plurality of voters who believe the ACA went too far broke for Trump by 70 points. Obamacare premium hikes were particularly large in the critical states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arizona, and Minnesota. To a somewhat lesser extent, rate hikes were also onerous in Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Clinton and Democratic Senate candidates underperformed in each of these states, ultimately losing almost all of them. (She eked by in Minnesota, but that was never supposed to be close.) Recalcitrant leftists are, even now, bemoaning the Republican victory as supposedly ruinous for the beneficiaries of Obamacare. But most Americans disapprove of Obamacare precisely because its benefits have been overstated and its considerable costs manifestly ruinous. This is, in the parlance of social justice, the lived experience of American voters, which underscores why Obamacare is unworthy of retention.

The illusory genius and belligerent condescension of progressive wonks and social justice warriors, of which Obamacare is but the easiest example, has put the Democratic Party in its weakest national position in generations. Not so long ago, Democrats mocked the GOP as a regional party. Now, nearly half the states are under unified Republican control, while one-third of the House Democratic minority in Congress hails from California, New York, or Massachusetts—three far-left enclaves that together account for only 20 percent of the national population. Meanwhile, in West Virginia—a state that went for her husband twice—Hillary won 53,000 fewer votes in the 2016 general election than she earned in the 2008 Democratic primary. This is a telling illustration of the Democrats’ post-Obama collapse in the Rust Belt. But the cataclysm extends far beyond that:

Progressives may have succeeded culturally and socially in shutting down various lines of thought or legitimate concerns about issues—from immigration to gun rights to campus sexual assault to energy policy to the toxic mythology of “cultural appropriation” to segregated “safe spaces” to the deplorable plight of blue-collar whites—as so many flavors of bigotry. But silencing or driving from polite society one’s detractors—or patronizing/insulting them with obnoxious celebrity leftism (thanks, famous actors!)—isn’t the same as convincing them. To the contrary, when Donald Trump came along and promised to upend the sententious, omnipresent repression of the silencers, the silenced proved willing and able to seize an opportunity, even though they dislike, distrust, and are otherwise concerned about that opportunity.

Against such a backdrop, it’s not surprising that the final polls seem to have featured something of a Bradley-style effect, where some voters who intended to (and did) vote for Trump declined to say so to pollsters. In my own networks, I lost track of all the black, brown, LGBT, women, etc. voters who leaned toward Trump and kept quiet about it, in part because of escalating hypocrisy and opprobrium from the eternal soapbox of the “tolerant,” “empathetic” and “inclusive” who seem increasingly anything but. For a case in point:

laci-green-before-and-after-trump

There has been a proliferation across social networks of grieving Clinton supporters threatening to sever ties with anybody who backed Trump. This is exactly the wrong lesson to take from an election that upended your whole perspective on the country. If your response to the reality of people deeply disagreeing with you is to demand special privileges and retreat into a bubble—or, as the satirists of The Onion cogently put it, a “fanciful, wildly inaccurate mental picture of the country”—you’re likely to find the real world is not moved by those who refuse to engage it. Trump and his voters won the election without you (or me) and your echo chambers. You have no support to withhold and, without Trump-aligned friends, no way to influence a Trump presidential agenda that is not beholden to your approval.

As many of my friends—including a large combination of progressive and conservative opponents of Trump—pointedly observed, the obnoxious virtue-signalling and fanatical accusations about the supposed bigotry and “deplorable” character of Trump supporters is a large part of why a lot of people voted for Trump. In my own networks, countless Trump skeptics, many of them minorities, voiced this notion explicitly, and some even changed their votes accordingly. (To be honest, I thought about it.) That Trump improved on Mitt Romney’s showing with nonwhites and maintained his showing with women suggests the bipartisan elites’ (me included) preoccupation with incidents of bigotry and other ills in Trump’s campaign only managed to sway upper-income whites. To put it bluntly, nobody else—of any race or demographic—cared enough, except for those who were largely voting for Clinton anyway, and many went toward Trump.

This doesn’t mean that the nastiness of the 2016 campaign should be forgotten or swept under the rug. A lot of people, on the progressive Left and now-defunct #NeverTrump conservative Right, have many legitimate qualms with the president-elect. However, no amount of rioting protesting, recycled aspersions, or vituperative slanders against one’s political opponents is going to annul Trump’s ascent to the White House or GOP control of the entire federal government and thorough domination at every level below it. (Though such reactions are likely to speed the process of reconciliation between #NeverTrump and the #TrumpTrain.)

The election is over. The know-nothing hoi polloi have humbled their know-everything betters. Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States, and the policy priorities of GOP voters remain traditionally conservative, not trade- or immigration-obsessed. Through whatever pain and grief this historic upset must have caused them, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, and Minority Leader Pelosi, among other prominent Democrats, have all committed to accepting and working productively with President-elect Trump. Even the left-wing partisans of The Huffington Post have dropped their long-running anti-Trump editorial note in favor of a “clean slate” going forward.

I fully expect progressives to renege on any promise of comity ahead of the next cycle. Indeed, things that Democrats used to call “obstruction,” “treason,” and “terrorism” (like dissent, executive restraint, filibusters, opposition to an imperial presidency, etc.) will suddenly be patriotic again! but for now, their leaders are largely taking the mature, responsible step toward reconciliation, as opposed to vandalismextravagant whininganti-election violence against an electoral loss (remember when such behavior was a threat to the Republic and legitimacy of constitutional norms?), child abuse, or peddling sophistry against the established rules for national elections. The time for theatrical hyperbole and partisan absurdities—up to and including the unsubstantiated invention of a hate-crime wave in “Trump’s America”—is done.

President-elect Trump hasn’t done anything yet. Given his oleaginous approach to issues throughout the campaign, he almost certainly will ignore more than a few of his political promises, as all politicians do. The time will assuredly come to oppose and protest this or that proposal, from left or right, based on your political priorities. If Trump actually tries to discriminate against Muslims, start a trade war, dismantle NATO, or somehow impose white nationalism, take him to task (peacefully). And when he does or proposes good things, acknowledge, congratulate, and encourage him. (Even for a politician, Trump seems unusually susceptible to Pavlovian conditioning around his popularity.) But if his detractors instead cry havoc continuously over the mere fact of his presidency, they will hemorrhage legitimacy with an electorate that has already heard it all before and decided against them. Nobody benefits from that, except Trump and his already-winning coalition. His voters have apparently calculated that a Trump administration won’t be as awful as his critics have long inveighed. The easier people make it for them and others to affirm that calculation, the more successful Trump’s presidency will be, for better or worse.

America is still a shining beacon on a hill that empowers its citizenry to succeed freely and live safely. We are still the freest, most prosperous, most hopeful nation in the history of Earth. We remain that mighty superpower who, through the might of our valor and determination, defeated imperial fascism and saved the entire Old World of our forebears from a thousand years of darkness. Perhaps this glorious experiment will end, and the Dream will die as assuredly as all men must. But that is not today, nor will it come next January. If the presidency of Trump is enough to fell the Republic or irreparably corrode its vigorous constitution, then we were already at the end of all things, and this is the credits rolling. Otherwise, as President Obama and Secretary Clinton dutifully noted, we owe the president-elect an open mind, and we ought to work as hard as we can to ensure America is always great.


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The Con of Mephistopheles

“I am aware, in a way that many Americans whose families have been here longer are not, of how fragile a thing American exceptionalism is. Of how remarkable a moment in world history it was when this country was founded on principles of government and Constitution rather than a tribe. Like Ronald Reagan said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.’” –Inez Feltscher 

Long ago, a doomed priest desperately admonished the proud lords of Ilium: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. His words, like the cries of captive Cassandra, were all in vain. The Trojans took the horse as a sign of their enemies’ defeat and decided unanimously to let it stand inside their impenetrable walls as a monument to their greatness. So the glory that was Troy ended with a con that her people voted upon themselves.

It was neither the first nor the last time a people or individual fell grasping at poison in the guise of hope.

Donald Trump promises many things that he sums up in a mantra that is somehow simultaneously gleeful and indignant: Make America Great Again. Most Americans, even zealous fans of the incumbent administration, reasonably believe the country to be on the wrong track and, as that metaphor suggests, to desperately need a course correction. What is curious is the degree to which this national craving has evolved beyond content into a visceral campaign for The One who reassures, as forcefully and cryptically as modern electioneering will allow, “We can be safe still.”

There was a widespread myth, peddled by the likes of Trump and court eunuch Reek Chris Christie (R-Dreadfort), that the promising Marco Rubio was essentially the Republican version of Obama—young, charismatic, and light on substance. Ironically, Rubio’s painfully doomed campaign (of which, full disclosure, I was an enthusiastic supporter) was profoundly heavier on policy and lethally lighter on electioneering fundamentals, which is why he lost the GOP nomination despite seeming to have everything going for him. The actual paradigmatic heir to Obama ’08 is indeed neither of the freshman Senators with ethnic minority backgrounds—or either of the Democrats—but instead Donald J. Trump.

Barack Obama campaigned eight years ago on the revivalist fervor of “Hope and Change.” Endless words were spilled, from rival Democrats to perceptive journalists to incredulous Republicans, about the mercurial projections of a candidate who managed to seem and promise and all things to all people through precious little substance. The vitality and promise were above all the message, and in the backdrop of the failures and fear of the Bush era, this proved enough to upend the political order that was.

As a young Obama supporter said of the future president in December 2007, “He presents a hope for our country and that sets him apart. He’s not afraid to tell it how it is.”

Now, dissatisfaction with the Obama era has brought an illusion of clarity to what is to be Hoped for and how things are to Change: America is in decline, and it must be Made Great Again. As before, the promise—which includes that reverberating echo of transcendent political vitality Obama so yearned to represent—is the message. But the Trump song is for those who believe the cultural, social, and economic trends of the day have left them behind while the Obama coalition of spoiled special interests seems poised to inherit the Earth.

Put another way, the hardened Trumpists, like the Obamaniacs of old, are bound to their candidate by a visceral sense of aspiration that transcends policy positions and blatant hypocrisy to the point of rejecting that entire category of ideological criticism. (See: Scandal-addict Ann Coulter, starved for the diminishing return of her next degrading media hit, going pro-abortion for Trump.) That such flagrant indifference to a candidate’s ignorance and hostility to truth seems impossible to square with praising the candidate for being unafraid “to tell it like it is” is a feature, not a bug.

When loyalty to an office-seeker transcends issue substance into the ream of cultural appeal and aspiration, what some might call a cult of personality, blatant contradictions cease to be liabilities and instead bolster rather than undermine the candidate’s credibility through the desultory mythology of “authenticity.” The supporters’ aspirational devotion evolves into an amaranthine barrier of unfalsifiable intertia that does not allow for new information to trigger apostasy.

Consider this characteristic description of Obama’s support in April 2008:

Obama is unusual, however. He attracts supporters who not only disagree with his stated positions but assume he does too. They project their own views onto him and figure he is just saying what other, less discerning voters want to hear. So when Obama’s chief economic adviser supposedly told a Canadian official that, contrary to campaign rhetoric, the candidate didn’t want to revise NAFTA, reporters found the story credible. After all, nobody that thoughtful and sophisticated could really oppose free trade.

Compare this to the appreciably broad amalgam of contemporary Trump supporters who are proving impervious to fact-based attack ads, as in the people who are happy to discriminate against innocent Muslims and cast aspersions against Mexican immigrants but get outraged when a private landlord in Colorado opts to deny them the respect they wish to deny others. Or the following example of a guy who denounces globalism and jobs going overseas only to hand-wave the subject away upon learning that Trump sends jobs overseas:

That Trump shares his supporters’ knack for what could charitably be called inconsistency, or more accurately described as incoherence, surprises nobody anymore. Still, it’s worth noting that he did just give a speech at AIPAC where he vowed to somehow reject the Iran deal:

“My number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

And enforce it:

“We must enforce the terms of the previous deal to hold Iran totally accountable, and we will enforce it like you’ve never seen a contract enforced, people—believe me.”

Trump’s strong positions doubtlessly followed extensive consultation with his top foreign policy adviser. In any case, as the New Yorker himself stated publicly, he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and [he] wouldn’t lose any voters.” His supporters agree:

“There’s nothing short of Trump shooting my daughter in the street and my grandchildren — there is nothing and nobody that’s going to dissuade me from voting for Trump.”

Insofar as Trumpism is the monstrous heir—or, at least, reductio ad absurdum—to Obamamania, even the Obamaniacal Chris Matthews seemed less, well, maniacal with his infamous leg thrills. That said, Trump has enjoyed servile media promotion, most shamefully captured in Breitbart’s descent into a Trumpist MSNBC, and so the new mania spreads as the old one did. This time, however, a lot more of the “mainstream” sees the farce for what it is.

Beyond the flip-flopping and stultifying mix of arrogance and ignorance, the weakness and dangerous opportunism of Trump’s policy scheme, where it approaches coherence, has been spelled out elsewhere, so I’ll refer those in need of a handy refresher to Eugene Volokh’s detailed summary:

Trump openly advocates massacring innocent civilians. He wants to use bogus lawsuits and FCC censorship to suppress the speech of his critics, and recently pined for the “old days” when his supporters would have been allowed to beat protestors to the point where they “have to carried out on a stretcher.” He has lobbied for the government to condemn a widow’s home so he could use it to build a casino parking lot. He has utter contempt for constitutional property rights, and other constitutional limitations on government power. He wants to deport millions of people to lives of Third World poverty and oppression,including hundreds of thousands of children born in the United States, who have never known any other home. And he would engage in massive discrimination on the basis of religion.

A man who advocates such things must not be elected president of the most powerful nation in the world, and he must not be allowed to become the nominee of a major party. Blocking him is far more important than ensuring the victory of any one other candidate that we might happen to prefer. The differences between the other viable candidates are modest compared to the evil represented by Trump. Trump many not really believe or want to act on some rhetoric. But it would be dangerous to take that chance. Even if it is all an act, a triumphant Trump might well be conclude that the script that got him in the White House will also help him stay there and consolidate his power.

To that latter point, about the common refrain among the many reasonable and thoughtful people who support Trump and assume he cannot mean the worst of his words, my friend Michael Estève, a young Republican city councilman in Maryland, adds:

So, after conversations with a handful of Trump supporters, it basically boils down to (for some) a bet that Trump isn’t serious, doesn’t mean most of what he says, and is just using the media to mobilize an enthusiastic base and troll the establishment. And that may very well be the case. But is it *really* worth the risk that he does, in fact, want to open libel laws to target the press? Bring back torture worse than waterboarding, inspired by “the middle ages”? Kill the families and friends of suspected terrorists in violation of international law? Build a wall, which, I assume, will be paid for with import tariffs on a country with less than 1.5 trillion dollars of GDP? Allow Social Security and Medicare to continue to crowd out federal spending without even modest reforms? And, more importantly, introduce religious tests to immigration, law enforcement, and surveillance? I get liking a successful troll, but the gamble that he’s self-aware and benign is fairly high-stakes given the potential harm to innocent people.

But set aside, for a moment, the matter of Trump’s disqualifying contempt for the brave troops in our American military, weakness on policy, and establishment-style propensity to lie to his supporters with pathological abandon. Even if you’re well aware of the many good reasons Trump’s campaign is terrible and inclined to support him anyway to achieve nihilistic catharsis in burning down the world, consider the preliminary smoke signals from the Trump phenomenon’s early embers.

In the heartland, white high school students chanted “Build a wall” at a basketball game against a school with mostly lower-income American kids of Hispanic heritage. They held up a poster of Trump as they did so. This event echoes a crowd of adult Trump supporters chanting “USA” as they assaulted nonviolent Latino protesters at a Trump rally. Trump encouraged them. Even among white Republicans, Trumpism inspires the kind of existential terror that seems more suited to the Middle East or Soviet-era Eastern bloc than 21st-century America.

This is insane. Trump is running nakedly as the kind of lawless, unprincipled autocrat that his supporters and opponents alike find damning in Obama. But again, he promises greatness, strength, and Putin-style “leadership,” so all sort of people who really should know better are willing to dance with the Donald for the small price of everything they claimed to value in the idea of America and basic decency.

Jon Gabriel’s lamentation of the Trump campaign captures well the Mephistophelean choice the would-be strongman of the United States has offered to the polity, which too many are willing to accept:

The Strong Man on the white horse will save us — not through Congress, the courts, or the Constitution, but merely by willing it. And the price is cheap: All we have to do is admit that the American Experiment is dead. Our Founding Fathers were wrong about that individual liberty nonsense and we should bow to our new king. America will be so great your head will spin.

In reflecting on the barbarisms of the French Revolution—a campaign to make that country so great the heads were literally spinning—conservative thinker Edmund Burke timelessly inveighed:

But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever… It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.

In a very raw sense, these are the stakes, even as Europe today is but a castellated shadow of her former majesty. There is nothing ennobled by the illusory “strength” of Donald Trump, not his spectacular business failures, Trump University victims, exploited illegal foreign labor, targets of racial discrimination, right-wing enablers, or legion of trusting voters who enable his threats to take by violence what he cannot win legitimately at the ballot box. Everything Trump touches he degrades, including the goals, aspirations, and energy of the voters who comprise the Trump coalition.

It’s not even true that Trump cannot, as he and his supporters oft repeat, “be bought.” Trump’s most prominent business ventures are funded by the same moneyed special interests that “buy” other politicians, including notorious liberal mega-donor George Soros. That’s the same George Soros who bankrolls candidates and causes—like open borders and bringing Syrian refugees into the United States, which Trump also supported—that are supposedly anathema to Trump supporters.

But of course, as noted earlier, Trump loyalists necessarily apathetic to matters of principle or values will not care. Political candidates taking $160 million dollars from special interests only matters when non-Trump politicians do it. Case in point:

Whether or not you see heavy-handed notes of unabashed fascism, murderous nihilism, or other forms of authoritarianism in Trump’s explicit comments, or subscribe to #NeverTrump, the would-be strongman’s beguiling rise undercuts the legitimacy of and ability to resolve the very grievances he seeks to embody. To highlight just a few critical notes the Trump campaign cedes irrevocably to its opponents, left and right, as helpfully compiled by a known enemy of the GOP establishment: the cult of personality and lawlessness that has enabled Obama (as mentioned above, Trump runs on such fuel); the corrupt worldview that produced the escalating disaster of Obamacare (Trump endorses it); political corruption (Trump profits from and promises more of it); nasty, identity-politicking, and election-losing portrayals of the American Right (Trump’s campaign is the apotheosis of them all); grotesque mistreatment of our troops and veterans (also touched on above); and, perhaps most saliently, weakness and betrayal from GOP elites (if God is the embodiment of love, Trump is treachery incarnate).

If you care about any of those issues, Trump is your gleeful, cantankerous enemy who will destroy everything you love along with some—though not all—of the things you hate. Because that is the essential truth that Trump, like Mephistopheles, hopes his supporters, like Faust, won’t think too much about: The only way he could break and burn the system is to immolate and consume the hope and anger of his supporters until only dust and haunted votes remain.

For conservatives, the only viable option left to defeat Trump—a candidate so odious he would lose to either Democrat for president in deepest of deep-red Utah—and put our best foot forward against the not-indicted Clinton machine in November is to unite in support of the candidacy of Ted Cruz. In case it need be said, John Kasich has no viable path to the White House, or even the GOP nomination. Frankly, even if he did, the governor’s economic record in Ohio is atrocious. Kasich has the worst fiscal record of any of the supermajority of the nation’s Republican governors, including the absolute worst record on spending of any governor of any party in any state.  That’s setting aside whatever he meant by a “Department of Judeo-Christian Affairs” and his contemptuous end-run around his own legislature to expand the protean quagmire that is Obamacare.

I can understand why many folks—particularly more centrist or establishment-leaning Republicans and voters reasonably concerned about what Cruz’s election would mean for gay people—want to support Kasich, and I respect those sentiments. But John Kasich has no path to the White House and is more likely to enable Donald Trump than stop him. By contrast, Ted Cruz has a viable path to both the nomination—through toppling Trump—and the presidency. It is perfectly reasonable to hold Cruz to task for legitimate points of concern and disagreement, and I expect all of us to do that. And may we all, including Cruz, emerge the better for it.

Ultimately, the Senator from Texas is the best shot we have to point the Republican Party and the American Republic toward the right direction. He may well fail in July or fall in November, but at least with him conservatives can unite in the embrace of a broad set of principles we mostly agree with (or at least recognize), rather than despair between the Scylla of Hillary and the Charybdis of Trump in November. With Cruz, we will take the nomination and the White House, or we will come back on our shields, having fallen for a cause we know and believe to be resolutely superior than everything else on the table.

When the fall is all there is, it matters.”