The fact that I now follow David Frum on Twitter, little more than a year after writing an entire post of condescending sighing about one of his articles, has demanded a bit of reflection.
Granted, we live in a time of strange portents. Still, I wondered whether or not I was too unfair. Frum is now one of a small number of prominent Republican critics of the Trump presidency, and seems to be doing a fine job of it. Certainly I appreciate that. But does it suggest that I was unfair to judge him so harshly before, especially as it seems like only integrity can motivate his current defiance of partisanship?
I don’t know. I can’t really see much fault in my assessment of his November 2015 article. Re-reading my post, meanwhile, I find that I did characterize him as a consistent and sincere critic of party dogma, overall, and allowed that even the article in question began with an unusually thoughtful basic idea (for either major party).
So, perhaps I wasn’t entirely unfair; if it was still a bit unbalanced for my only mention of the man to be in so negative a context, I can correct that now. Though massively long, Frum’s recent essay “How to Build an Autocracy” is lucid, somewhat frightening and perhaps just a little bit inspiring.
From a practical standpoint, I was particularly interested by a conservative Republican’s version of the “resistance checklist” which has appeared so often from the left these past few months:
- Get into the habit of telephoning your senators and House member at their local offices, especially if you live in a red state.
- Press your senators to ensure that prosecutors and judges are chosen for their independence—and that their independence is protected.
- Support laws to require the Treasury to release presidential tax returns if the president fails to do so voluntarily.
- Urge new laws to clarify that the Emoluments Clause applies to the president’s immediate family, and that it refers not merely to direct gifts from governments but to payments from government-affiliated enterprises as well.
- Demand an independent investigation by qualified professionals of the role of foreign intelligence services in the 2016 election—and the contacts, if any, between those services and American citizens.
- Express your support and sympathy for journalists attacked by social-media trolls, especially women in journalism, so often the preferred targets.
- Honor civil servants who are fired or forced to resign because they defied improper orders.
- Keep close watch for signs of the rise of a culture of official impunity, in which friends and supporters of power-holders are allowed to flout rules that bind everyone else.
Read More →
Details aside, this is it exactly right now.
My experience of this year mostly lends itself to sorting into two, very different, categories: political, and other.
Except that politics isn’t really something separable from other areas of life, however much one may wish or believe that to be so.
Once again, I confront election results that are not only distasteful, but could very realistically make me a healthcare refugee in the foreseeable future. I’m self-employed, I have an expensive preexisting condition, I’m ineligible for Medicaid and a long way from Medicare (both of which will also come under fire anyway). If a Republican federal government junks the Affordable Care Act (and rules out substitutes which feature either redistribution or heavy-handed regulation, which are the only real ways to make private health insurers cover someone like me), I’ll have to look for other governments that might be more helpful. Which, right now, probably won’t include Ohio.
Meanwhile, even in my own life this year, “political” bled substantially into “other,” although this was admittedly voluntary to a great degree.
I really feel that, looking back, I actively “volunteered” for very few of the political activities in which I found myself immersed in 2016. But if I was recruited over and over, I rarely said “no,” and perhaps after a time that amounts to volunteering.
Oh, Lakewood politics, you’re crazy but maybe that makes us a match.
Read More →
I imagine that politics is nearly always a convoluted mess of fractal coalitions, and ruthless undercutting of enemies and “allies” alike. Perhaps it gets more noticeable as one gets older, though.
This week, I’ve been thinking about one or two more relatively bizarre examples. It may in part be a product of spending so much time immersed in the politics of #Brexit, and getting them conflated with American matters. But then plenty of participants on either side of the Atlantic have promoted the idea that there are common dynamics at work, so I suppose it’s fair game for me.
In any event I feel more and more like the establishment-left coalitions, both here and in the UK, are wielding certain topics as disciplinary cudgels as ruthlessly as any right-wing strategist has ever done. The Brexit debate has seen plentiful slime on all sides, certainly, but presuming that Remain is about to win [edit: oops!] I wonder if their success is partly achieved by more aggressively denigrating their opponents. It seems as though anyone who favored Leave, for any reason, was immediately condemned for being xenophobic, Islamophobic, “simply crazy” and indifferent to the poor.* Call me biased if you will, but I have a difficult time coming up with a comparable list for the other side; plenty of people for Leave have said vile things but I just haven’t perceived an equivalent unified execration of the people who favored Remain, themselves.
In any event, considering this got me thinking about how much of the American left uses similar tactics for policing dissent, and that led me to one particularly novel illustration. It seems like at present—having as they do all too many real examples to hand just like in Britain—liberal America’s elites and their followers readily charge opponents with Islamophobia and take for granted that this is simply indefensible. Personally I think it basically is, and I don’t feel like America’s left is actually being over-broad in applying the label, to date. What gets me, though, is that much of this same establishment-left will not tolerate criticism of the Israeli government. So if you suggest that (the predominantly Muslim) Palestinians are victims of abuse… the same coalition that regards Islamophobia as unequivocally unforgivable will unite against you, and warn darkly of antisemitism.
Read More →
Here we are again. Britain stands upon the brink of a wrenching political realignment, as I watch in fascination. Less than a year ago, it was Scotland voting on whether or not to quit the UK; in another two weeks the (still) whole country will vote on whether or not to quit the European Union.
Fascinating, fascinating. Twitter hashtag #Brexit has become a substantial part of what gets me through the day lately.
I’m not sure what to add, beyond that. One of the things which has struck me is a limited parallel with the civil war inside the Democratic Party. In that context, just as in both British referendums, it seems like the biggest question for me is (or would be) essentially the same. Is trying to reform an existing political institution from within a more promising path to larger societal reforms, or is being part of that institution more of an obstacle?
I don’t think that there is a universal answer. But I’m coming around to think that in the case of the European Union, the existing institution is more of an obstacle.
Full disclosure, I don’t have a vote here, shouldn’t have a vote here, and have not done the fuller research I would regard as necessary if I were voting. (Twitter is for entertainment, everyone knows that, right?) But based on the arguments I have read for and against, I feel increasingly confident that when it comes to the European Union, tearing it down and starting over looks like a more promising route.
Read More →
Bill Curry has touched on some themes I’ve been trying to express a time or two, and I am glad to see it.
We once left tactical thinking to politicians. Then issue advocates began hiring pollsters. Now voters are getting into the act. The effect is to turn the marketplace of ideas into a casino. It’s hard enough figuring out if a candidate represents your values without having to speculate about his appeal to others. You don’t go to a store to buy what you think someone else wants, yet primary voters do. One reason for all the tactical thinking is the paralysis of government; if you think nothing will get done, you focus less on policy. Polarization’s another; if you hate their party more than you love yours, what matters is picking a winner. The biggest culprit is the media.
Following politics on TV you learn nothing beyond the horse race. Pundits specialize in predicting the recent past.
The entire article is here.
I can’t suppose that I will give up prediction, or even political prediction, entirely. One has to act upon some kind of concept of the circumstances around us, and how they may change or not change in future. I should, though, at the least be more cautious.
To adapt a line from the master, “if it should ever strike you that I am getting a little overconfident in my powers… kindly whisper ‘JEB‘ in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you.”
* Or is it? Hardly the moment for me to make such a sweeping prediction, is it?
Recently I wrote up a post about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and the Overton window, but I have since decided to throw it all out. In a way, further reflection has convinced me that the whole Overton window concept may not even be useful any longer, as my earlier post was in fact implying, even if I hadn’t realized it. At this point I think a single “window” of what’s possible in American politics, at the national level, is not even accurate as a simplified model. It feels like a relevant update would now involve something out of a nightmarish video game, with multiple holes opening, closing, changing size, etc., simultaneously without any reference to one another.
Obviously Republican America has ceased giving any heed to any universal idea of what’s practical, or of anything else. I mean, what is there to say? The latest word from those pundits still attempting to make meaningful observations is that the GOP establishment is, now, preparing to embrace Donald Trump for president because they find him less offensively deranged than his leading rival. I’m not even sure what part of that sentence it would make sense to emphasize; it’s all surreal.
In the meantime, some kind of much more modest but still dumbfounding suspension of reason seems to be creeping through Democratic America. I’m certainly not unbiased, but here’s what I’m seeing. A growing number of putative liberal voices are
Read More →
Browsing through Andrei Codrescu’s wonderful New Orleans, Mon Amour last night, I was reminded of some comments about Crescent City politics. New Orleans, Codrescu observed, features a
…peculiar mix of backwardness and upside-down priorities… matched only by an even more peculiar mix of bravado and hype. The highly vocal locals imagine that they can weather anything if only nobody bothers them to take part in the political process. Years of corruption and neglect have made cynics of them all. And lord knows that voodoo isn’t going to save us.
Yet, what we might call “rugged defeatism” seems, appropriately for voodoo country, to have a zombie-like inertia. Minus the literal voodoo, meanwhile, the same attitude seems to run equally deep in northeast Ohio.
Hearing the negativity in Lakewood about prospects for thwarting liquidation of the city’s hospital, I’ve begun to recognize a new, darker side to the seemingly defiant point of view summed up in this minor local icon:
Seen on t-shirts, etc.
Read More →
I wrote this post months ago, but it’s now actually 2016—the 2016 presidential election is only 10 months away—so I’ll finally give up my conscientious objection to obsessing over presidential politics for this cycle.
I’m also going to address “strategic voting,” another object of distaste. Specifically, I want to address other prospective Democratic Party primary voters, many of whom will be voting before I do.
For those who actually want to see Hillary Clinton president, there may not be much I can say. If you really want, in the words of Conor Friedersdorf, “a Patriot Act-supporting, mass-surveillance-enabling hawk who opposed gay marriage throughout the years when it mattered most, still favors the death penalty, and would re-enter the White House having cozied up particularly close to Big Finance,” then we may just be too far apart for meaningful discussion.
Perhaps I’ll try anyway, later, but for now I want to address those who are less eager for such a candidacy, but worry about “electability.” Particularly when it comes to the leading alternative, Bernie Sanders. I know from anecdotal experience as well as independent reports that a number of fellow Democrats worry, in spite of their personal preferences, that he would be too “fringe” for the general electorate and that it would be better to settle for the “safe choice” of Hillary Clinton. For these persons, a couple of reminders.
n.b. I happen to favor Mr. Sanders’s campaign, myself, so I’m not simply speculating on “the political strategy machinations” or concern-trolling.
Read More →