Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

The Winter of Our Discontent

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Wouldn’t it be great if choices in life were completely obvious? If you were presented with clear, highly differentiated alternatives that were so obvious that the right choice might as well be marked with a big neon arrow?

That rarely happens. Sometimes you have to choose between unclear or even unattractive alternatives. The 2016 presidential election is such a situation.

It is always good, in such situations, to seek to expand your option space. The two-item menu is usually presented by people who have their own agendas, which warrant a healthy skepticism.

It is in this light that I want to consider some recent articles that offer to tell us what we must do.

The Clinton Partisans

First, a pair of pieces from the New York Times.

That first debate seems to have helped Hillary Clinton move ahead of Donald Trump in the polls. However, I know that many of you are asking yourselves:Why is this even a question?
— Gail Collins, “How Could Anyone Vote for Trump?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/01/opinion/how-could-anyone-vote-for-trump.html), 30 Sep 2016.

I will take up the question of how anyone could vote for Trump later on. However, have no illusions that Collins has written a reflective article examining legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction with Hillary Clinton. There simply aren’t any. Collins is an intellectual bully. Not only are people who want to vote for Trump morally defective; so are people who want to vote for Gary Johnson, since he failed her geography test.

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.
— Charles Blow, “The Folly of the Protest Vote” (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/the-folly-of-the-protest-vote.html), 22 Sep 2016.

But if the candidate’s shortcomings are not relevant, what are we voting on? Is it possible that the Trumpkins have a point? Oops, was that my outside voice?

The context of Charles Blow’s remarks are racial issues, so he already has a starting point in identity politics. Blow has staked out his ground rather clearly:

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who last week was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that in its questionnaire to candidates claims: “Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a ‘militarized’ enemy and it is time to attack that enemy.” The questionnaire goes further: “There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers, and no one has come to our defense.” This, of course, is cop fantasy, but this group is the nation’s largest police union, representing some 330,000 officers.

Really? Cop fantasy? The Dallas police shootings were on 7 July. The Baton Rouge police shootings were on 17 July. Even the New York Times covered them. Is Blow really not aware?

Or is this the standard identity politics song, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen? Nobody has suffered injustice the way my group has suffered injustice. And, yes, I’ll say it: poor people generally, and Blacks in particular, suffer injustice at the hands of some police, courts and municipalities. But Blow wants to overcome collective treatment of individuals who are black by collective treatment of individuals who are police. Good luck with that.

And, yes, Charles, thanks for reminding me:

There is another truth: That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).

Which is another reason not to want to vote for Hillary Clinton.

I will also discuss the question of equivalency between Trump and Clinton further on. But there is one more point to be made about the progressives and their following:

His convention was called “one of the worst ever.” Chris Matthews deemed him “dangerous” and “scary,” Ellen DeGeneres said “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared.” His opponent ran an ad against him portraying him as uniquely dangerous for women. “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman,” said a woman in the ad.

He was frequently called a “bully,” “anti-immigrant,” “racist,” “stupid,” and “unfit” to be president.

I’m referring, obviously, to the terrifying Mitt Romney.
— Karol Markowicz, “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible” (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/08/05/how-paul-krugman-made-donald-trump-possible.html), The Daily Beast, 5 Aug 2016.

Progressives have demonstrated that they can intimidate moderate opponents by calling them extremists. Having done so, they have helped cleared the way for genuine extremists who really are the threats that progressives like to holler about. Are you happy now?

The Trump Following

I am going to consider one of the more unique opinion pieces in support of Donald Trump.

A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances. To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic.
— Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election” (http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/), Claremont Review of Books, 5 Sept 2016.

Yeah, I have rather ordinary conservative ears, and that sure sounds histrionic to me. It also sounds fairly representative of the argument I have heard from various Trumpkins. Let’s examine.

The argument in this article is founded on some rather substantial assertions. What interested me is the fact that the author progressed from these assertions in a very logical manner to his conclusion. The assertions are:

  • Nativism: the author objects foursquare to immigration, and maintains that Tom Tancredo got it right on immigration. I don’t accept nativism, so we’re off to a bad start.
  • Opposition to Free Trade: it is clear that the transition to free trade has been very badly managed, splitting the risk from the reward and dumping the former on those who are least able to manage it. Nevertheless, if you fully costed any practical program of reversing globalization, would you have any substantial political support for that? Yeah, I know — you can say that about almost any political program. And I am going to.
  • Opposition to Military Adventurism: clearly the neoconservative program of nation-building has been a failure in any honest assessment. We were supposedly in Afghanistan to prevent the spread of radical terror groups; now we have radical terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa. That worked well, didn’t it?

However, the author goes further.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer— [Matthew] Continetti’s, [Ross] Douthat’s,  [Reihan] Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.
Ibid, italics in original.

This is a charge that we have to take seriously. Conservatism cannot keep on the genteel, self-satisfied path that it has been on. It has to, in the words of the article, “consider anything really different.” But Donald Trump is not just anything.

One of the Journal of American Greatness’s deeper arguments was that only in a corrupt republic, in corrupt times, could a Trump rise. It is therefore puzzling that those most horrified by Trump are the least willing to consider the possibility that the republic is dying. That possibility, apparently, seems to them so preposterous that no refutation is necessary.

The republic has been in trouble for at least 80 years, since FDR figured out how to implement an effective permanent vote-buying political establishment. You are not going to turn it around in one election, even if you find a Solon to run the country. Which I assure you Donald Trump is not.

Recall the earlier article by Markowicz.

It’s absurd to assume that any of this would stop or slow—would do anything other than massively intensify—in a Hillary administration. It’s even more ridiculous to expect that hitherto useless conservative opposition would suddenly become effective. For two generations at least, the Left has been calling everyone to their right Nazis. This trend has accelerated exponentially in the last few years, helped along by some on the Right who really do seem to merit—and even relish—the label. There is nothing the modern conservative fears more than being called “racist,” so alt-right pocket Nazis are manna from heaven for the Left. But also wholly unnecessary: sauce for the goose. The Left was calling us Nazis long before any pro-Trumpers tweeted Holocaust denial memes. And how does one deal with a Nazi—that is, with an enemy one is convinced intends your destruction? You don’t compromise with him or leave him alone. You crush him.

So it would seem the author wants us to become the extreme, ignorant yahoos the progressives have always claimed we are. But if we did so, would we not already be defeated?

Supporting Donald Trump to turn back progressivism is like using a flamethrower to get termites out of your house. Yes, you will get rid of the termites. You will also get rid of the house.

False Equivalence

Let me now return to the issue of an equivalence between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. No, there is none.

Hillary Clinton promises sunshine and kitten whiskers for everyone. Her behavior is self-seeking, but can be understood rationally. Her behavior is, within limits, predictable.

Every interaction is both an exchange of semantic information and a dance of social positioning, even those, as in science or academia, that strive to be purely the former.

To all appearances, Trump is engaged solely in the latter form of communication, and only in a narrow way: He treats all social interactions as zero-sum games establishing dominance and submission. In every interaction, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, be with Trump or against him.
— David Roberts, “The Question of What Donald Trump “Really Believes” Has No Answer” (http://www.vox.com/2016/9/29/13086236/trump-beliefs-category-error), 29 Sept 2016.

Donald Trump says anything at any time. It is a semantic game to take an utterance of his and try to work backward to impute its purpose. Publius Decius Mus is fooling himself by thinking that Trump has any commitment to advance his or any other agenda other than Trump’s own self-aggrandizement. The entire concept of lying has no meaning for Trump. Reality is just a genre of television. Truth is whatever is convenient this minute.

If you want a businessman to vote for, Gary Johnson is a businessman. Trump is a real estate speculator, an economic rent-seeker and a reality TV star.

Nevertheless, it is damning with faint praise to say that Hillary Clinton is not as bad as Donald Trump. Even with no equivalence between the two, Clinton offers to take the country in a direction that I, for one, do not want to go. I don’t owe my vote to Trump to prevent the election of Clinton, but neither do I owe my vote to Clinton to prevent the election of Trump.

None of the Above

This election, for short-term purposes, is already down the drain. However, pursuant to the points made by Publius Decius Mus, the republic is in trouble and the country is going in the wrong direction. What makes it a wrong direction, rather than just a direction some of us dislike?

I maintain that, as the herald of this site asserts, ideas have consequences. My reading of history tells me that some choices lead to greatness and other choices lead to destruction. I have previously articulated how I know that a day of reckoning must come. The Trump candidacy is only the beginning of what we have to look forward to as the progressive fixation on negative-sum distribution plays itself out and the public square becomes increasingly nasty. It’s baked into the cake now. Decades in the making, it is too late for one enlightened chief executive to avoid, even if such were to be found.

I am most interested in the long game. Do we as conservatives want to alienate voters who we could reach and offer an alternative to progressive dependency, such as Hispanics, in the name of a misguided nativism? I think not. Do we want to risk the nation on Donald Trump, who provides no reason to expect any commitment to conservative principles or Constitutional process? I think not.

Someone on the Sunday shows observed that Donald Trump failed to make any mention in the first debate of the Supreme Court. There is a reason for this: He doesn’t care. He would blow off the court and Congress.

Donald Trump is a one-trick pony. All he knows how to do is negotiate. He negotiates things that should rightfully be non-negotiable, like his contractual commitments to his vendors. He would negotiate the American commitment to NATO and to South Korea. He negotiates what we as citizens have a right to know about the guiding principles of a presidential candidate. I see no evidence that, if elected, he would consider Constitutional law as non-negotiable.

As of this writing, several newspapers have endorsed Gary Johnson, most notably the Chicago Tribune and the Detroit News. The USA Today gave Trump an anti-endorsement, calling him “unfit for the presidency.”

The majority isn’t silent; the government is deaf.
— Unknown

Act well your part, there all honor lies.
— Alexander Pope

If you are repelled by the progressive agenda, this is not the time to cave in to fears and weakness by endorsing a candidate who seeks to exploit fears and weakness. We know that those who do not vote will be labeled as apathetic and cowardly; Gail Collins has already warned us of this. Find someone else with whom to make common cause and do so.

 

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Written by srojak

October 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm

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