Token Dissonance

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


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It’s Not Racist To Want Respect

“I am interested in him for love of myself, and the reason for the precept is in nature itself, which inspires in me the desire of my well-being in whatever place I feel my existence.” –Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“We’re dying out here, and nobody cares about Kansas… I wanted to fly, once. Then I got too sick and nobody could afford to help me and Obamacare ironically made it even harder to get medical coverage and now I catch myself staring up at the sky with an envy you’ll never understand.” –GB ‘Doc’ Burford

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“Hillary Clinton can do this for you.” “What is, ‘Not a damn thing.'”

I watched the cold open for Saturday Night Live’s first post-election show almost on loop. Kate McKinnon’s rendition of Hallelujah is a moving tribute to the recently departed Leonard Cohen, but also a haunting ode simultaneously reflective of Hillary Clinton’s stunning political collapse and evocative of many millennials’ happy, golden college days. In that last capacity, it inspired some of the greatest sadness I’ve felt after the Election Day surprise, and for that moment I suspect I could appreciate the immense sorrow of decent, honest people who voted for Clinton and honestly believed, for whatever reasons, that she would have made a good president.

Going into this cycle, I wanted Hillary Clinton to be defeated, and I wanted Barack Obama’s legacy largely undone. I’m not sorry that such a result came about. But as much as I opposed them politically, I’m compelled to admit I didn’t want them to lose like this—humiliated and broken by a candidate of such marvelous deficiencies that his own voters acknowledged him unfit for the office. I didn’t want that for my friends, whom I dearly love, who invested their hopes and dreams in what they hoped was an election that would be a catalyst for a better world. Clinton and Obama deserved to lose, and their Democratic Party deserved to fall, but in a mildly less cruel world, the falling could have been a softer note of optimism and new hope reminiscent more of 2008 than 2000. But alas, here we are.

Having said all that, the blame for Clinton’s humiliating electoral college defeat ultimately falls squarely on her, her blame-shifting campaign, and the media-elite cabal that conspired with them in a toxic way of thinking. Contrary to early reports, the 2016 election featured high turnout and the largest number of votes cast in American history. Trump may have gotten fewer national votes than Clinton overall, but that’s a meaningless game that nobody was playing. (Just ask Barack Obama, circa June 2008.) Clinton and the Democrats lost because they failed to make the case for why they deserved win, and seemed to consider the need beneath them. And in truth, through all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, they did not deserve to win. Through all the condemnation of Trump’s hate-filled campaign and its reportedly bigoted aftermath, the Democrats ran one of bitterness, contempt, and overt disrespect. The toxic irony did not go unnoticed.

The high-octane nightmare fuel of 2016 propelled partisan rancor to a fever pitch, where the usual leftist accusations of bigotry against Republicans as such have reached new precipices of belligerence. As noted in my previous article about Trump’s winning appeal, his only substantial loss in support relative to previous Republican candidates was among college-educated whites. As Nate Silver’s team essentially confirms at FiveThirtyEight, Trump made election-winning gains among all nonwhites measured (if Trump had done as poorly as Romney with nonwhite voters, Clinton would be president-elect) and held roughly even among women because his gains with blue-collar women cancelled out losses with the college-educated.

Evidence that raw hatred of Trump was concentrated among (mostly liberal) affluent, urban whites extends beyond exit polls. According to Pew, white people are the only ethnic demographic of Clinton supporters where a large majority struggle even to respect Trump supporters, rising to a full two-thirds among college-educated whites. Most Clinton-backing blacks and Hispanics people have no such trouble acknowledging that people had defensible reasons for voting Trump—even though they plainly disagreed with those reasons.

There is something very revealing in this breakdown. Overwhelming majorities of Hispanic and especially black voters opted for Clinton, even if by election-swinging smaller margins than for the last two Republican presidential candidates. And yet, those same nonwhite Clinton supporters, whom we are told have the most to lose from a Trump presidency, seem uniquely able (or willing) to understand and respect the perspectives of those (mostly white) people who disagree. Most white people voted for Trump, but the large minority that didn’t largely live in different worlds. The bulk of white Trump voters are blue-collar, non-collegiate types who have long been infamously acceptable targets of mockery and condemnation from college-educated whites—a cloistered, coastal, classist lot that is famously given to such unironic nonsense as “intolerant of intolerance.”

Gleefully uncharitable critics would say that affluent white progressives are, as a group, snobby, insular, and self-righteously intolerant. That’s plainly a stretch for most. Still, even The Onion acknowledges a palpable lack of urban-progressive self-awareness in a perfectly mischievous post-election article titled, “DNC Aiming To Reconnect With Working-Class Americans With New ‘Hamilton’-Inspired Lena Dunham Web Series.” (That satire is likely based on a real-life collusion between Hamilton and the Clinton campaign on Broadway. Some things you can’t invent.) The aforementioned Saturday Night Live had this milder presentation of the same sentiment (notice the relative calm of the black characters vs. the hysteria of the whites):

This elite socioeconomic and political solipsism naturally metastasizes from and reinforces an urbane tribalism and its attendant echo chamber around What That Really Matters. The “conversations” college-educated whites (and the educated nonwhite progressives who live among them) endlessly congratulate themselves for “bravely” having are taken as the true and normative priorities of the polity as a whole. The conclusions and assumptions of these affluent cosmopolitans are taken as the logical and rational denouement of facts, logic, and empathy per se. The surface demographic diversity they systemically mistake for substantive understanding of vastly different walks of life is taken as a sign that their altruistic political preferences are honest-to-God (if they believe in Him) “empowerment” of the marginalized and downtrodden. Hollywood and New York-based media continuously reinforce these perceptions, as do the gentry Democrats of our segregated capital. Naturally, free of the daily cultural experiences, cues, and perspectives that underlie more conservative worldviews, these affluent, educated, urbane progressives struggle to grasp how good people could oppose them. But millions of good people do, and do so strongly.

One facet of this problem is, as Claremont Review of Books editor William Voegeli once put it, doing good for too many (affluent white) progressives is “more about the doing and the doer than it is about the good.” That is, whatever progressives “sense” is the right approach to social justice must be right, whatever the actual data, and anybody opposed to it (say, because the facts don’t line up) must therefore be an advocate of repression and villainy. It is not surprising that Trump voters, especially younger ones, have little trouble respecting Clinton supporters, because conservatives as a rule, especially younger ones, generally can understand progressive thinking and as such assume (or choose to believe) that progressives mean well. Hence the endless right-inflected jokes about “bleeding hearts,” “tree-hungers,” “Kumbaya liberals,” “strongly-worded letters,” and other remarks that convey a link between leftism and naivete or silliness. By contrast, leftists often assume conservatives are motivated by stupidity, bigotry, exploitation, or bad faith—often in combination—and as such are more likely to expel political dissenters from their social networks and discriminate against them in hiring.

Apropos, blue-collar white Trump voters disproportionately respect Clinton supporters, even though they know the feeling is not mutual, while their white-collar white non-peers overwhelmingly refuse to respond in kind. As a poor, disabled Kansan with three degrees put it in Medium:

Twitter’s response so far seems to be pretty much this: Trump winning is a big win for racists everywhere, this is all about racism, it’s a “whitelash” against Obama, what are we gonna tell our kids, I’m crying now, etc etc etc.

So that’s Narrative A, that racism has won and we’re all boned.[…]

It makes sense, then, that Narrative A is so popular among my liberal friends. It also makes sense that they’re so heartbroken at this election; they’ve spent so much time mocking, deriding, belittling… that when they lost… well, how would you feel? How would you feel losing so soundly, on every level of American government, to the people you’d been making fun of for so long?

So. Right away, just going with that Vox piece, I feel like a big part of the distress, and a big part of the reason people want this to be about racists, is because of how horrifying it would be to confront the truth that making fun of people you dislike makes you an asshole.

Easier to feel like you’ve been wronged, like you’ve been hurt, and kind of gloss over the people that you’ve been laughing at and mocking for so long who just thrashed you in an election.

Maybe, just maybe, you’re acting like the bully in a bad 80s teen movie who just lost and won’t stop crying about it. […]

Trump won because a bunch of desperate people nobody’s listening to decided to go for the guy who pretended to listen.

This is not to deny that plenty of Trump supporters behave horrifically (as do plenty of Clinton voters), nor to suggest that many (mostly white, affluent) progressives are dispositionally averse to substantive empathy and charity. Obviously, this is not true. To Trump’s credit, he has condemned violence and harassment in his name, and I hope any bad actors among his flock take that to heart. But it was always more likely that jilted Clinton supporters would be the ones rioting in the streets demanding a constitutional crisis to overthrow a duly elected government, if only because their coalition includes the self-described activists who have been rioting episodically for years. As Billy Cooper shadily tweeted, “Love trumping hate involves a lot more assault and arson than I anticipated.”

The vast majority of his supporters of diverse demographics did not vote for Trump because they subscribe to or condone racism, sexism, homophobia, or whatever other aspersions are cast against them. They voted for him because the Democratic nominee excoriated them and refused even to ask for their votes, and the Democratic establishment is pretending policies like Obamacare is “working” while they are actually ruining people’s lives. They voted for him because he was the Republican, and she was the Democrat. They voted for him because they are concerned unchecked immigration might lead to European-style violence and societal chaos, among other ills, but Clinton’s party refuses to take this seriously. They voted for him because they want to arrest they cultural mayhem dominating college campuses before it can hurt them.

They voted for him because they have deep, legitimate, substantive concerns about the current and future challenges facing America, but smug people on TV want to talk about “locker room talk” while virtue-signaling people on social media insist ad nauseam that sexism and a “phony” email scandal are the only conceivable reasons Clinton was “not 50 points ahead.” They voted for him because Trump addressed many of their concerns, albeit crudely (a plus for some), while Clinton, her supporters, and the media (but I repeat myself) dismissed it all as racism or bigotry. They voted for him because the guy pretending to listen to you is probably better than the woman who doesn’t even bother.

That Trump would wreck the people who hate his voters like Miley Cyrus starting a war was the dripping icicle in the desert. As Clive Cook aptly describes the new reality, the deplorables struck back:

Apparently it takes more than four years of college to understand this: You don’t get people to see things your way by calling them idiots and racists, or sorting them into baskets of deplorables and pitiables (deserving of sympathy for their moral and intellectual failings). If you can’t manage genuine respect for the people whose votes you want, at least try to fake it.

However, forgive me if I go further. It really ought to be possible to manage some actual respect. The complaints that Trump is addressing deserve better than to be recast in caricature then dismissed with contempt. […]

Trump is a reckless loudmouth, often saying things that beg to be misunderstood — but consider the endlessly repeated “Mexicans are rapists” controversy. What his supporters understood Trump to mean was that illegal immigrants have committed crimes, including rapes; that those people shouldn’t have been in the U.S. in the first place; and that if the system had worked, the crimes wouldn’t have happened. In the universally-sanctioned retelling, this became “Trump calls Mexicans rapists.” Perfecting the device, Tim Kaine explicitly accused Trump of saying, “All Mexicans are rapists.”

This nonsense utterly failed as persuasion. It didn’t refute Trump. It was a patent refusal to engage, expressed for good measure as a slur against people who disagree.

For all this, Trump voters largely decided whom to vote for in the last weeks before the election, when he was arguably on his best behavior (i.e., by staying out of the news). This grappling with different options might be part of why they’re more likely to respect their Clinton-voting peers, who mostly made up their minds months ago. Among other things, it’s an odd claim that voters motivated to empower bigotry could not figure out which candidate was best for that cause until late October. It’s roughly as bizarre as the implication that Trump’s gains with nonwhites demonstrate America’s exceptional danger to nonwhites. (Unless, of course, one concedes that Obama’s America has been exceptionally inhospitable to “people of color.”) But in any case, Trump made an argument that his campaign was greater than the sum of his flaws, and Democrats refused to see how this could be appealing.

Trump and his campaign went to blue-collar communities, even in the core of the Democrats’ supposed “blue wall,” and treated them like they mattered. He talked a populist, Sanders-style game on trade policy that could be disastrous if he’s serious, but he took their concerns head on. He told them he felt their pain and offered the only set of solutions that responded directly their particular concerns. Hillary Clinton and Robby Mook’s Democratic operation, according to high-level Democratic insiders, refused to do this. Bill Clinton, “your standard redneck” export from the flyover states, tried anyway because he knew it was important, but as his wife and her supporters loved to remind us, he wasn’t on the ballot. And it wasn’t enough.

Democrats long enjoyed listing off the states that hadn’t gone Republican since President Reagan or the first Bush like a talisman to exorcise the specter of Republican relevance. But the inverse of that project is perhaps more instructive now. Bill Clinton won a two-pronged wall of states so dominant that it actually isolated thwarted GOP-voting states into three non-contiguous silos. This time, Democratic-voting states are clustered in isolated pockets more or less where one would expect them to be. The states Bill won twice that Hillary lost include: Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—with near misses in Maine and Minnesota. Bill also won Georgia and Florida once, each in different elections. Hillary lost both.

The Democrats banked on turning out high turnout in urban areas to overcome Trump’s appeal to rural voters. And Clinton did rack up huge margins in urban cores. Meanwhile, the rest of the country—the suburbs in red states, suburbs in purple states, suburbs in blue states, mid-sized cities, smaller cities, and, of course, rural areas—swung overwhelmingly beyond Clinton’s reach, relegating her supporters to impotent urban bubbles mostly near the coasts. It’s not difficult to appreciate how Trump and Clinton voters made entirely different electoral cost-benefit analyses through entirely different conversations about entirely different priorities.

As The Washington Post shows:

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The Washington Post

The 2016 cycle turned out to be a change election, and the Clinton campaign did not reflect that. Voters are deeply frustrated with a host of issues, from the escalating disaster of Obamacare to the cancerous spread of political correctness that assails the president of Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia for quoting the author of the Declaration of Independence and a Virginia precursor to the very First Amendment that guarantees the right of anti-Jefferson advocates to represent everything wrong with higher education. They are increasingly convinced—across race, income, and vast stretches of the country—that the reigning center-left establishment does not wish them well, so they pounded the table and voted for a man they distrust and many thought might be bigoted because, as progressive like to say in other circumstances, they had to do something.

And for those understandably hung up on the bigotry they saw permeating Trump’s campaign, I won’t argue down that point, as it’s both completely legitimate and much less pertinent than it seems (beyond reinforcing the obvious need to watch the Trump administration like a hawk). To highlight this truth and offer what I hope is an olive branch of insight, I’ll turn to an invaluable insight black Ole Miss trailblazer James Meredith taught us 27 years ago in going to work for Jesse Helms: if the bigot is the only one offering you a job, you take it.

In a progressive election postmortem for The American Interest, Artemis Seaford sums up well the reality of reckoning honestly and constructively with the cultural and socioeconomic divides of Trump’s America:

There is nothing prima facie objectionable with such a reaction. However, just below its surface lies the proposition that nearly half American voters have finally shown us their true bigoted, misogynist colors, and the implication that it is up to us, liberal savants, to show them why they are wrong. Going down this route means going about liberal “business as usual.” It means digging in our heels in the face of an external threat and doubling down on our positions, taking them even more for granted than before.

A more productive response would be to engage in thoughtful soul-searching about what we missed. This will require recognizing that tens of millions of Americans voted for Trump despite his bigotry, not because of it. Our demand that they simply put universal values above their own perceived self-interest was a step too far, and their refusal to comply does not automatically make them racists. But it does say something about the moment we live in that we have so far failed to put our finger on.

It’s a horrible situation for everybody when two fantastically repulsive candidates are the top-tier options in what has long been widely perceived as a binary system. But when wedged between, if you’ll indulge a rhetorical leave of charity, the Scylla of a corrosive progressive oligarchy that seeks to raze everything you value and the Charybdis of a uniquely unqualified boor whose grating treachery is your best hope of devouring those who would subdue you, there is no moral high ground. Might, as all good souls know, does not make right. But when no option is right, it’s not unreasonable to prefer to have might at least insecurely on your side than reliably against you.

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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.”


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And the Army’s Cold Glare

“You’re a talker. Listening to talkers makes me thirsty and hungry. Think I’ll take two chickens.” –The Hound

Hail to the Speech!

Hail to the Speech!

President Obama meandered into West Point the other day to tell the country, and all those families who just wanted to enjoy their proud cadets’ apolitical graduation, what the Obama Doctrine of foreign policy and national security was all about. One can only speculate as to how the pedantic conversations of jilted academics—fueled by straw and anodynes—managed to excrete into being the outline for such a speech.  But I won’t waste anybody’s time pondering the vaporous origins of something so inert as yet another Obama soliloquy.

For those interested in some of the broadly unimpressed reactions to Obama’s Occupy Commencement exercise, you can find several illuminating examples here, here, and here.

What is interesting to note, amid the bipartisan criticism of our Commander-in-Chief’s latest attempt to speak his manic progressive dreaming into reality, is the many ways in which Obama has confirmed the hapless inadequacy of the reigning strains liberalism to reckon cogently with the problems of a 21st Century world.

U.S. military funding—and the percentage of military spending by the world’s generally American-friendly democracies—is significantly declining, and the Obama administration aims to reduce it further.  This compounding financial suppression of the Pentagon has led not only to closures of military facilities at home and around the world, and to the shrinking of our fighting ability to the lowest levels since World War II, but also to our disadvantage in the latest strategic arms race of the modern world—hypersonic weaponry.

While Obama bloviates about a “pivot to Asia,” the Chinese government is developing the fastest aircraft on Earth, with the Russians racing behind them in the most chilling upgrade on Cold War geopolitical games since the Kremlin’s invasion of [insert latest country]. While some of my liberal friends (and certain irresponsible libertarians) have reacted to this news with either indifference or befuddling glee, it should alarm anybody concerned with the overall trajectory of power, political systems, and broader norms in the decades to come.

A economically, militarily, and technologically ascendant China with the means to thwart U.S. missile defenses is the hallmark of a world increasingly subjugated to the hegemony of autocracy and regionalism, at the expense of the Western project of constitutional democracy and civil-rights republicanism. Such a world would see the influence of the U.S. usurped by hostile powers, with the concomitant realignment of global powers and priorities.

While the idea of a new arms race may seem understandably harrowing to some, it is essential that the U.S. get out and remain at the forefront of martial innovation. Not only has military technological advancements helped spur such civilian utilities as the Internet and GPS, but they also offer means to reduce the rapacious human costs of war. The much-maligned drone program, an inheritance from President Bush, has done wonders to reduce the scars of combat for American troops and cut down on the costs of waging relatively effective combats campaigns across the planet. (We lose profound less in striking a terrorist enclave remotely than deploying ground units to fight their way through vicious obstacles to the same objective.)

Granted, drone strikes are prone to mistakes and collateral damage, but nobody with even passing familiarity with guerilla conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan can argue the same isn’t true of ground troop deployments.

Engaging fully with the new technological frontier of military engagement in the modern world is, frankly, the most and only humane project the U.S. and allied nations can develop for American citizens and vulnerable people beyond our borders.


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The Probes of Castamere

“I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke, but I don’t want to get audited by the IRS. So forget that.” –Jay Leno

“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics?” –Former Speaker Newt Gingrich

What exactly is so paranoid about distrusting government?

In science, there are two distinct terms for the twin pillars of truth. First, there are the facts. They are those basic events, reactions, and relationships that are shown to have obtained in the past or to necessarily describe facets of our view of space-time. Second, there are the theories. Contrary to what many laypeople tend to think, a theory is not less than a fact. Rather, it is the underlying narrative that makes a portrait out of puzzle pieces in the dark. It is the hand that builds a complex, stable world from raw elements of chaos, such that sapience might be possible and reflection will have foundation.

So what are the facts?

We know the IRS has admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups from 2010 to 2012. We know the first public resignation derived from with this occurrence came from a man who was not in charge during the targeting and was due to retire in weeks anyway. We know the woman who actually held his job when it mattered has since been promoted to the IRS office overseeing Obamacare. We know that, among other things, Obamacare’s financial burden is a tax on our all houses if we are not compliant. We are told that we should trust that there will be nothing improper in all this.

We know the Department of Justice invaded the privacy of the Associated Press during a broad search for leaks in the government. We know at least two months of phone records were seized in an informational grab that may have caught over a hundred reporters in its web. We know the AP had cooperated with the administration but was not informed of this surveillance until well after it occurred.

We know the government subpoenaed the email and phone records of James Rosen, a reporter from Fox News—the same Fox News that, just a few years ago, the White House memorably attacked for its critical coverage—by naming him part of a criminal conspiracy for performing the normal newsgathering duties of a journalist. We know DOJ investigators also targeted Rosen’s parents and Fox News coworkers. We know the Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. We know there is supposed to be a free press in the United States of America. We are told that Obama administration, which apparently regrets nothing, will not prosecute journalists.

So what are the plausible theories?

We can launch into a conversation about how a culture of cultural division, political antagonism, moral condescension, and general incivility permeated like secondhand smoke from the president’s speeches down to subordinate bureaucrats whom he probably never even met, let alone knew existed. We can ruminate on shifts in overarching political and sociocultural narratives, as Alexander Burns and John F. Harris did last week in Politico:

“The narrative is personal. The uproars over alleged politicization of the IRS and far-reaching attempts to monitor journalists and their sources have not been linked directly to Obama. But it does not strain credulity to suggest that Obama’s well-known intolerance for leaks, and his regular condemnations of conservative dark-money groups, could have filtered down to subordinates.

The narrative is ideological. For five years, this president has been making the case that a growing and activist government has good intentions and can carry these intentions out with competence. Conservatives have warned that government is dangerous, and even good intentions get bungled in the execution. In different ways, the IRS uproar, the Justice Department leak investigations, the Benghazi tragedy and the misleading attempts to explain it, and the growing problems with implementation of health care reform all bolster the conservative worldview.

In Obama’s case, the narrative emerging from this tumultuous week goes something like this: None of these messes would have happened under a president less obsessed with politics, less insulated within his own White House and less trusting of government as an institution.”

We can also isolate individual scandals—say, the IRS shenanigans—and point out how Obama has proven to be *gasp* as bad as his predecessors. Of course, there is the notable distinction that it was President Obama, not Presidents Nixon through Bush, who extended to the notoriously unsavory tax bureaucracy the powers of overseeing our healthcare decisions.

Any of those topics would allow for thousands upon thousands of words of commentary, so I will choose to make some simple observations about the future. To start with the obvious: it is difficult to fathom that the Left will be able to credibly dismiss concerns about abusive government for the foreseeable future. That is, the effects of this shift in public perspective on Obama and the intrusion of government will cast a long shadow.

As a pertinent example, consider healthcare reform. The cost of implementing Obamacare is already running as much as 10 times over budget and average healthcare premiums for ordinary Americans have risen—counter to Democratic promises—since the law passed. It is already shady enough that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is hitting up private companies for Obamacare donations. Add to that story the fact that the same IRS bureaucrat who oversaw the discriminatory targeting of the administration’s political enemies will now have a hand in every American’s pocketbook and doctor’s office, and discomfort with “reform” pulsates viscerally across the political spectrum.

A majority of Americans may like Barack Obama personally, and reporters at NPR and The New York Times may still be inclined to shield his administration from the full weight of due criticism. To be sure, there is no hard proof of direct involvement from the president in the rank malfeasance of the IRS or DOJ. But lasting narrative and policy success is not a house built merely on a foundation of pleasant sentiments. More paramount is the expectation of knowledge, control, and competence. In other words, what President Obama will need to push full implementation of and support for Obamacare and the rest of his agenda are credibility and trust. Yet, from drone strikes that killed an innocent American child—beyond presidential control, of course—to balancing the budget, a narrative of competence and control is precisely what the president now lacks.

This kind of miasmic distrust—of the federal government in particular, and this administration in particular—is precisely the kind of debilitating breech of credibility that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cited as the ultimate reason for the failure of his bill to expand government control of gun sales. Before Manchin-Toomey failed despite a majority vote, along with three Republican-led attempts at sensible gun reform, conservatives detailed various ways in which the law would allow the federal government to bypass the supposed ban on registration and state governments to  harass law-abiding travelers.

Back then, proponents of the bill shrugged off these criticisms as, among other things, anti-government paranoia. Now, what credible reason can be given to assure the American people that their government will not abuse its power over guns as it has elsewhere? Even staunch supporters of President Obama must seriously wonder if he would even know if such abuses were to occur. After all, his administration’s perpetual defense against misconduct is ignorance and distance from its own internal affairs.

President Obama may emerge from this feast of scandals and media rejection in better shape than the unfortunate victims of the George R.R. Martin’s haunting tune, “The Rains of Castamere.” But there is blood of broken trust in the shifting waters of Washington, and its corruption will not be cleansed by the tired breath of an outraged speech. 


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When Idols Fall

“Keep the faith with cynicism. Cut the opposition down!” –Largely Unclear

Is God in the rain…or just awkward photo ops?

In wake of the multiple scandals roiling the federal government, there have been bipartisan denunciations of heinous government actions and broad support for thorough investigations to flesh out the full extent of wrongdoing and determine means to prevent recurring malfeasance. Yet against this sober-minded harmony, a chorus of voices on the Left fringe, including in the media, is aligning to deflect narratives they rightfully interpret as ruinous to the Obama administration. Presumably, all that effort invested in promoting, electing, and defending Mr. Hope & Change™ has left them too far gone to embrace an honest assessment of a broken world with painful circumstances now.

Among these deflections is the rather odd refrain that Republicans are somehow responsible for the sins of Eric Holder’s Justice Department. (To be fair, this is a liberal step up from prevaricating on or avoiding the question of whether the DOJ was wrong to begin with.) E.J. Dionne Jr. sums up the essence of this subterfuge rather succinctly in The Washington Post:

“Isn’t it odd that many Republicans who demanded a thorough investigation a year ago are now condemning the Justice Department for doing what they asked for?”

In other words, according to the unsullied liberal defenders of the White House, the Republican Party—by pressuring Obama to properly secure sensitive information—is the real force behind the covert, internal decisions of a Democratic administration to undermine freedom of the press. If you’re already confused as to how this claim could possibly hold water, I have a confession: this impish attempt at political legerdemain will never make more sense that it does now.

Across the scandal-verse, the usual suspects of MSNBC are scurrying to shield the president from the escalating probability of disaster (to borrow from the Architect) that is the IRS fiasco. As Joe Concha reports over at Mediaite:

“I do not believe what the IRS was reported to have been doing is an outrage. I believe that the IRS agents in this case did nothing wrong. Let me say it again, you won’t hear it anywhere else: the IRS agents did nothing wrong. They were simply trying to enforce the law as the IRS has understood it since 1959.” – Lawrence O’Donnell on the IRS.

“Conservatives still want to change the subject to the fake, ginned up scandal they’ve been pushing month after month.” – Chris Hayes on Benghazi.

“So now they’re (Republicans are) viewing an actual real world abuse of power scandal (the IRS Scandal), not as its own outrage, but as a means of supporting their preexisting witch hunt on Benghazi, which they really struggled to turn into a scandal in large part because they themselves cannot seem to settle on what the scandal even is. It’s a cover-up. Just don’t ask what’s being covered up…” – Hayes on the IRS Scandal being used for political gain for Republicans on…Benghazi.

“Does this mean that the IRS is hereby forever neutered from doing what is, after all, the very important work of making sure that political fundraising groups are not making a laughingstock of the rules that are supposed to limit what they do? Will we ever really have an IRS doing that important work again, giving how badly they screwed up trying to do it over these past couple of years?” –Rachel Maddow on the IRS Scandal and its potential ramifications for the agency.

Add to this Chris Matthews bloviating about how the innate racism of criticizing Obama is somehow to blame for the federal government misbehaving. (Curiously, Matthews has offered his own criticisms of the administration—for reasons that presumably don’t include racism.) The indomitable Melissa Harris-Perry topped it all off just minutes ago (with a spirited assist from Alex Witt) by reading into the late unpleasantness a GOP plot to depress the vote by inciting blanket disgust with government.

Of course, the risibly petty last stand of the Lean Forward campaign came after The New York Times sank to infamous new lows of self-parody by running the headline (on page A11): “IRS Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On.” You would be forgiven for thinking our national “paper of record” should be more interested in the IRS asking organizations to detail the content of their members’ prayers than in taking backhanded swipes at a political party it dislikes. Did I mention that the same IRS official—Sarah Hall—who oversaw tax-exempt organizations at the time when her unit targeted tea party groups now runs the IRS office responsible for overseeing Obamacare? I wonder if anybody will find that tidbit problematic.

Many in the media are in a rather odd place having to brutally criticize the administration of a president they have so long supported and identified with. Some pundits, columnists, and institutions are taking it all admirably in stride, as it seems the president never properly learned how to build and sustain political goodwill—a mistake that may haunt him from now on.

Others are reverberating through MSNBC and progressive echo chambers—a sadly amusing reminder that loyalties bite as fiercely as they were held, and champions fall with as much energy as they were praised. However long any of these scandals last, we would all we wise to brace ourselves for what will likely be several long lame-duck years contorted in frothy progressive fury at the perpetual injustices of a world too cruel to ever allow Barack Obama to be the great savior the Left campaigned campaigns for him to be.

As a wounded messiah wilts before the alien glare of ineluctable inquisition, and his agitated fans thrash about with in obstreperous indignation, let us all take this moment to consult the Gospel according to Flaubert:

“Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.”

And all taxpaying American patriots said, Amen.


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The Faith Americana

“But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –1 Peter 2:9

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s…” –Matthew 22:21

What better signs can you think of for violent extremism and political knavery?

I took a trip down to Charlottesville a few weeks ago to spend time with friends on the picturesque grounds of the University of Virginia. Though a Yale man, I tend to find myself easily at home in a world historically referred to as the “Harvard of the South.” (We will ignore any wisecracks from Duke, Vanderbilt, or Chapel Hill affiliates in the audience.) In an academic sense, Wahoos are not terribly dissimilar from Yalies or peers at other top schools in places like the People’s Republic of Unhappy Hours, Michael Bloomberg’s Animal Urban Farm, or that turnpike Chris Christie governs (I’m told there’s a Garden State around there somewhere). Politically, there are plenty of liberals, progressives, and Democrats, as can be found in abundance at most schools, even in places like South Carolina.

Culturally, though, something is a bit different in Charlottesville. It’s often hard to put a finger on exactly, but you know you’re not in New Haven, Cambridge, or the Big Apple of Billionaire Paternalism for reasons distinct from questions of size or walkability. Yes, you’re more likely to hear country music, but the town is surrounded by the rural South. Yes, the campus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but much of that dignity proves elusive amid the ebb and flow of inebriated masses. Yes, people drive everywhere, but so do most Americans living outside a few select megacities in the Frost Belt or D.C. So what, you might wonder, are we talking about?

It comes down to little things, really.

I remember going to weekly meetings, years ago, for an avowedly conservative organization at Yale. Among other things, this organization made a point of prominently featuring the American and British flags, while waxing passionate about the virtues of Western civilization and its literary canon. Yet for all that admirable passion, I could not help but notice that they placed the American flag on the viewer’s right. The group’s leaders did not grasp the problem.

At Virginia, I have seen flags in windows, on walls, atop polls, and every way else imaginable. Never once have I seen a single one anywhere in violation of U.S. code. I’m sure such a sin must exist somewhere down there, but the hypothetical invalid would be drowned out by a student body that displays a near preternatural understanding of proper flag etiquette.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a bar full of people break out into patriotic songs at the end of a Friday night out. I sought after a reason from the Wahoo compatriots of my friend Edward, and they responded, with patronizing grins, “This is America.” It reminded me of that time I was driving through the richly forested hills of Prince William County with my friend Marcus from Connecticut, and the national anthem halted programming on the radio at high noon. Bemused, Marcus had inquired of me the occasion for such an event. Back then, I shrugged off the Nutmegger’s question, as Edward and the Virginians later would mine, with a simple reply. “This is America.” What more reason do we ever need for such things?

It is stories like these that come to mind when I reflect on the disturbing fact that the IRS actively abused its power to target conservative groups with “Patriot” in their names or constitutionalism as their purpose or that simply formed to make “America a better place to live.” However one feels about the Tea Party or conservative activists, there is indeed something culturally sick about the notion that identifying with and promoting the Constitution or embracing the will to patriotism reliably demarcates political opposition. Leaving aside the matter of political ethics, what does it say about us when certain elements reflexively impugn the legitimacy of wide swaths of people simply because they seem to love America too much?

Of course, those who were skeptical of Barack Obama from the beginning might remember his infamous “clinging to their guns and religion” remarks and draw a line through the Department of Homeland Security adumbrating peril in “Rightwing Extremism” to the administration’s early hostility to critical reporting from Fox News and reach a natural conclusion that a tone hostile to conservatism was set in a top-down rejection of Americana and its general unsuitability for the ideas and values of Northeastern coffee shops.

Hardly anybody would struggle to imagine Presidents Reagan or Bush, Congressmen Ryan or Cantor, or a generic movement conservative being visibly moved by the flutter of a flag or the sight of a servicemember in uniform. How naturally, one must ask, does such an image come of President Obama or Nancy Pelosi or any other prominent progressives? Today, it would strike many people as odd or disingenuous were avowed liberals like Terry McAuliffe to swell up at the mere thought of American greatness, but is anyone truly surprised—favorably or pejoratively—that a Virginia Republican would pour out a libation of tears in reflecting on America’s ongoing promise to defend freedom? To be sure, the image is not a wholly partisan one—Democrats Joe Manchin, Zell Miller, or Frances Underwood certainly fit the type—but there seems a widening rift of that nature.

There are many questions of politics, law, and general malfeasance to ponder in wake of all these scandals that may or may not derail what is left of the president’s second-term agenda. But when the media storms settle, cultural divides and questions of discordant perspectives will remain. Why is it that we have become an America where one side—or region or disposition—of politics is known to see zealous love of country as a sacred virtue, and the other is expected to scoff at and distrust what it sees as an incubator of rabid violence?

The IRS scandal merely confirms this narrative of paranoid division. Whatever staying power the story has will derive largely from the fact that the chasm has now been yawning at us for years. And it has finally found a voice.