Tom Petty Liner Notes

Today, I have a piece on Tom Petty’s 12 greatest songs posted at The Federalist, the writing of which consumed yesterday’s blogging time.

Obviously, one of the main functions of compiling lists is that everyone has one, even if only mentally, so it’s unlikely you will agree. Indeed, I don’t know that I completely agree with myself, which is why I sneak another 9-12 songs into the column.

The big question whenever one writes a piece like this is how conventional to be versus how obscure.  In this case, once I realized that Petty’s music is almost always in the air, it might be more interesting to mostly revisit songs most of you know, just because they are so ubiquitous that we tend to take their greatness for granted.

That said, it turns out that 4 of the 12 do not appear on Petty’s greatest hits album, and 7 are not among the top ten most streamed at Spotify.  Again, it’s a form of tribute to Petty that you will probably have some passing acquaintance with all of them, with the possible exception of “King of the Hill,” which Petty co-wrote and on which he dueted with Roger McGuinn, a founder of the Byrds.  Then again, maybe some of you will be less familiar — looking at the Spotify streams suggests that perhaps Millennials are less familiar with Petty’s middle period.

I could have written more about each of these songs, and about Petty, but it’s amazing how quickly the word count escalates with 12 subjects.

For example, while the column alludes to how Petty related to his Southern roots, and to Americana, but there’s an unexplored subtext about how these things manifest in Petty’s music.  I briefly compare TP&H to Cheap Trick and “Refugee” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” but I could write an essay comparing and contrasting these artists.

After all, Petty, Springsteen and Cheap Trick may sand alone as 70s rockers who overtly draw upon the influence of their Sixties predecessors, particularly their American predecessors.  A band like Aerosmith was far more influenced by British blues-rockers like the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds.  Cheap Trick had the Midwestern sound, but was also clearly influenced by The Beatles, The Who, and The Move.

Petty and Springsteen incorporated more from this side of the Atlantic, yet still differ by their choices.

Springsteen started with the “New Dylan” hype, became a phenomenon echoing Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” and eventually worked his way back to Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie. When Bruce went British, he tended to favor second- and third-tier British invasion acts like the Searchers and Manfred Mann.

Petty was far more into the Byrds, as I note at The Fed, tho I left out the story McGuinn tells about hearing “American Girl” the first time and asking himself when he wrote it.  And some of Petty’s darker tracks have that air of the intro to the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”  Otherwise, the influences are usually subtler.  You can hear the Heartbreakers as a sonic cousin to The Band, the swampier side of Creedence Clearwater Revival or even Lynyrd Skynyrd, but not necessarily as a direct descendant to any of them, primarily because of Petty’s commitment to Sixties pop forms.

On this last point, while Petty is rightly thought of as more rock than pop, his love of the latter also informs his songwriting.  One of his hallmarks is economy.  At the Fed, I mention the directness of his lyrics, but you can also see economy in the songs as recorded.  The songs and the solos never wear out their welcome.

In contrast, other major rock acts of the 70s that we now think of a “classic rock” seemed to owe far less to the legacies of the Sixties.  It is difficult to imagine Journey or Boston playing a Petty song, and vice versa.

Petty made good albums, includinga couple of great ones.  But that lingering pop sensibility fostered an ethos drawn from the rock greats of making good albums with hit singles.  This, as much as anything, is why I didn’t mind favoring those hits in assessing his legacy.

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The GOP Fails at Healthcare Reform Because It’s the GOP

I have been writing about Pres. Trump’s dysfunctional relationship with a GOP Congress almost since the beginning.  When the House’s healthcare reform bill initially failed I assessed the blame on both sides.  It’s true that Trump has weakened his own presidency in ways not seen in modern times.

But the more I mull it, the more I think the GOP’s problem with healthcare (health insurance) reform rests well beyond Trump or Congress.  It’s really Rich Lowry‘s observation about the populists not taking themselves seriously, but broader.

Ramesh Ponnuru recently discussed seven reasons the GOP couldn’t kill Obamacare, and as usual, it’s worth it to RTWT.  But it really boils down to two fundamentals: people don’t like the disruption that comes with reform and the GOP has little interest in healthcare policy at any level.

Of course, if you’re old enough, you’ve been here before.  Back in 2010, HotAir’s Ed Morrissey argued that had a unified GOP government tackled healthcare reform at some point between 2001 and 2006, Obamacare might have been avoided.  Patrick Ruffini similarly argued that market-based reform of healthcare costs (instead of focusing on health insurance access), would have killed the issue for Democrats.

(In fairness, we don’t know whether time has affected their opinions about this.)

I was always of the view that the fear of disruption determined the GOP’s apathy.  Truly reforming the healthcare market would have been a far more serious disruption than Obamacare, touching the vast majority of people who were happy with their employer-provided insurance (effectively prepaid medical care programs) as well as those in the individual market.

The status quo is the small-c conservative impulse; the dawn of the Trump era demonstrates just how non-ideological and small-c conservative the GOP base is.  The arguments Democrats successfully used against the GOP bills this year would have been summoned on steroids against any truly ambitious, conservative proposal.  And once the GOP gave in to the progressive metrics for judging reform, the project was over.  I have zero confidence the “compassionate conservative” version of the GOP would have been more successful in 2001-06.

Moreover, the argument that passing reforms takes issues off the table has been shown to be false.  The big examples in 2010 were education and welfare.  George W. Bush passed a bipartisan education reform bill; it proved to be unpopular, even in many Republican-led states and the Obama administration helped water it down.  Welfare reform fared better until the Great Recession, at which point the Obama administration set about substantially weakening it and exploding the numbers of people taking food stamps and dropping out of the workforce to go on disability.

The notion that the Democrats, having sought government control of the health sector for decades upon decades, would have set aside their holy grail is belied by the Herculean effort they made to pass the then unpopular Obamacare in the face of predictions that premiums would skyrocket, the market would be destabilized, insurers would leave exchanges, etc. etc.

Lastly, as Tom Nichols notes, the GOP Congress is driven a base that wants Obamacare repeal, but cares so little about policy that it cannot evaluate the reforms the GOP Congress offers.  This is a big part of how you end up with bills with 18-20% approval.  Also, not caring about policy is a big part of How We Got Trump, who knows or cares so little about policy that he can’t shape or sell reform.  And so the vicious cycle continues.

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What Was the NFL Protest Flap About, Really?

I started the week asking why Pres. Trump would reignite a fading controversy over NFL players protesting during the National Anthem and end it with an answer of sorts.

People had all sorts of theories as to why Trump would do this that were more strategy-oriented, e.g., to distract from something else or to shore up support with his base.  Over the course of the week there was plenty of chatter about the substance, trying to answer the question of — regardless of any strategy — why Trump picked this controversy.   Given that it’s Trump, I would imagine skeins of themes not readily disentangled but understood instinctively.

Whatever Trump’s motive may have been, in surveying polls, we now can infer a bit about how the public perceived the kerfuffle.  A majority does not like the protests (though people don’t agree with Trump that players should be fired for protesting).

But the most interesting thing to me is that, according to a new YouGov poll:

Despite Trump’s best efforts to frame the protests as an attack on the flag, just 12 percent of the public believes that that’s their purpose. Forty-eight percent said the point was to protest police violence while 40 percent said they believed the point was to protest … Donald Trump. Even among Republicans, just 24 percent see the protests as motivated by a desire to protest the flag.”

The commentariat, especially on the Right, tended to think otherwise.  Instead, this was a case where Trump failed at re-framing an issue, despite prior success, perhaps because Trump was injecting himself into an old controversy.

The Left may look at this poll and conclude it is the result of apathy and racism, and there may be some of that.  I also wonder if it’s not simply the result of the police (and the military, usually linked to the National Anthem at NFL games) being two of the few trusted institutions left in America.

I wonder more than usual after watching The Vietnam War on PBS over the past two weeks.  The documentary runs through most of the milestones of the late Sixties, and when tragedies happen, the polling is often mentioned.  You are reminded that after the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention:

In a Gallup poll, 56% approved of the police response to anti-war protestors and 31% did not. In a Harris survey, 66% agreed that [Chicago Mayor] Daley was right in the way he used police against the demonstrators, against only 20% who disagreed.

After four students were killed and nine wounded by National Guardsmen during an anti-war protest at Kent State University in 1970:

A Gallup Poll *** revealed that 58% of the respondents believed the responsibility for the deaths lay with the demonstrators; only 11% blamed the National Guard.”

People tend to like the police and the military a lot more than they like protesters, even when the public eventually comes to agree with the protesters.  Support for the NFL players increased over the past year, though that may be a partisan artifact; Trump’s job approval also started trending in the wrong direction this week, after weeks of improvement.

Maybe the lesson here is an old, conservative one: people don’t change much, and not quickly when they do.

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Does Anyone Win a Political Arms Race?

Having already written about political escalation, I’m under no illusion that the impulse is strong and rarely resisted (at least, not recently).  Yet a discussion I ran across on social media about the “but he FIGHTS!” mindset of #WAR Republicans raised the important, but generally overlooked question of “why”?

There is occasionally a concrete answer to that question.  For example, the GOP Senate blocking Pres. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, ultimately leading to the confirmation of Pres. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, by eliminating the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees, was both a gamble and a victory.

Whether the GOP comes to regret escalating the destruction of norms (mostly regarding the filibuster; Dems had preemptively announced their willingness to oppose lame duck SCOTUS nominations) in the medium- to long-term is another question.  Meanwhile, the defense of #WAR as a mindset generally is lacking.

The argument (or assertion, really) that is most often offered is that some sort of pain must be inflicted on the Left in order to make them see the error of their ways.  The example most often cited is the Independent Counsel law.  In the post-Watergate era, Democrats used the politics of scandals and pseudo-scandals to hound GOP administrations through this law until that same law was used to hound Bill Clinton, his administration, and his associates.  This caused Dems to relent and join with the GOP in junking the Independent Counsel statute.

The example illustrates the problems with the argument.  Republicans largely did not support the Clinton-era IC investigations on the ground that it was payback.  They supported the probes because they thought Clinton and his cronies were corrupt (as was often shown to be the case).  And Dems tend to think the same of GOP administrations.

Moreover, dumping the IC law was gratifying given the Constitutional issues involved, but it hardly ended the politicization of scandals and pseudo-scandals.  We still have special counsels, such as investigated the GWBush, Obama, and Trump administrations.  These counsels are more within the control of the executive, but anyone imagining the firestorm that would ensue if Pres. Trump fired the current special counsel understands the practical and political limits are only marginally looser than under the IC law.

In short, getting rid of the IC law was satisfying, but accomplished relatively little.  Yet the death of the IC law is cited as the premiere example to justify political escalation.  Meanwhile, the cycle of political escalation rolls on in a real-time proof that escalation rarely leads to better behavior by either side.

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The GOP Gets Less Strange, Moore Trumpy

Hoo boy!  I crack myself up with that title, which is totally original.  I laugh to keep from crying. Or laugh until I start crying.  Sometimes the crying is despair, sometimes amusement.  It’s tough to sort it out, tbqh.

Anyway, after last night’s runoff primary election in Alabama, the best-case scenario for the GOP — and by far the most likely one — is that the United States Senate will be blessed with the likes of… Roy Moore.

This is more a case of the incumbent, Luther Strange, losing because some suspect Alabama’s scandal-ridden governor appointed then-Attorney General Strange in hopes of (or, in the darkest gossip, in return for) light treatment.   Moore, once removed and once suspended from the bench by the state’s supreme court for not caring much about the law, had the backing of a core of social conservatives; the stink on Strange had others holding their noses while marking their ballots for Moore.  And these factors may have been compounded by a dislike for how Sen. Maj. Ldr. Mitch McConnell has been running things — or, to be more precise, not running them.

The irony is that, apart from making ridiculous comments for which his colleagues will be asked to answer by the Beltway media, Moore’s legacy would likely be blocking things rather than doing things.  For example, while Moore undoubtedly echoes fmr. Senator, now-AG Jeff Sessions in vociferously opposing illegal immigration, he revealed during the campaign he did not know what the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was.  Will he support a deal with Democrats Pres. Trump is trying to broker on the issue?  That we may have to ponder the answer helps explain why Trump was convinced to back the more reliable Strange.

Moore is the sort of guy who will claim that parts of Illinois and Indiana suffer under sharia law, at least until he’s called on it.  His career all points toward show horse, not work horse.  He is more likely to make it more difficult to move GOP legislation through the Senate.  There will probably be times when conservatives are glad of this, but he is an odd choice for voters angry at the Senate’s current sloth.

If Alabama Republicans think electing Moore will send a message to the Senate, consider that Senators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain almost certainly will not change their behavior or votes if Moore blows into town.  That is not about “the swamp.”  That is about America being a big place and the GOP being a big tent.

Then again, before we entirely dismiss Alabama as lowercase strange, consider it as a microcosm for the Trump-era GOP.

Any number of pundits — from Ross Douthat to Dan McLaughlin — have generally expressed the idea that while today’s Left seeks to impose cultural solutions on political problems, the Trumpist Right seeks to impose political solutions on cultural problems.  This is close, but not quite right.

By choosing Trump — unable or unwilling to be fluent on policy — the GOP has chosen for the most part to rage about cultural problems but solve neither cultural or political problems (excepting perhaps judicial nominations and the administration’s welcome if temporary actions regarding campus kangaroo courts).  Moore will help keep the wheels of outrage turning, which is what at least a plurality of the GOP base wants right now.

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Trump, the NFL, and the Power of Re-Framing

Although I am still unsure what political benefit (if any) Pres. Trump derives from re-igniting the otherwise fading controversy of NFL players protesting race-related issues during the National Anthem, many will see it as an example of the power of a President to set the national conversation.

I am more interested in the episode as an example of the power of a President, especially this one, to re-frame those discussions.

A better example would be the aftermath of the tragic violence in Charlottesville following clashes between white nationalists and the antifa.  A story in which a white nationalist kills a young woman for political reasons would normally (and unfairly) be an opportunity for the establishment media (and the Left generally) to put the GOP on the defensive.  And various remarks on Charlottesville by Trump, e.g., that there were “some very fine people” protesting alongside the neo-Nazis and white nationalists, typically would have caused a meltdown for most Republicans.

Of course, Trump is not most Republicans.  And what he did was not even the “fighting” his supporters really love.

Rather, Trump re-framed the discussion (possibly encouraged by fmr. counselor Stephen Bannon) as one about the question of removing Confederate monuments — an issue on which he has the popular side of the argument.  This issue was the pretext for the white nationalists choosing Charlottesville as their rally stage, but everyone generally understood it to be pretextual…until Trump re-framed it as the main topic.

Once Trump re-framed the dispute, the Left reflexively took the bait.  In fact, they not only decided to focus on statues, but also went Full Iconoclast, moving from easier Confederate targets like Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest to Thomas Jefferson, just as Trump suggested they might.  The Left managed to go from attacking Trump’s indefensible comments to defending the unpopular side of a different issue, and even embracing the least popular version of the argument.

Similarly, by injecting himself into a mostly dormant debate about protests at NFL games, he was able to put both the league and the Left in the position of defending (or appearing to defend) the unpopular protests.  But more than that, he managed to muddle the message of his targets.  Going forward, will such protests be seen as pro-Black Lives Matter, anti-flag/anti-military, or anti-Trump?  My guess is that no one will be able to sort that out in a way that satisfies anyone involved.  And to the extent they are seen as anti-Trump, it tends to dilute the original intent of the protests.

Again, it’s not clear what Trump gets in this example.  Some have suggested it distracts from other stories, like the fact that the government response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has not been as good as the responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma (which doesn’t surprise me, given that Puerto Rico is an island).  You could make a case for this, but it seems as though this is something Trump does more from instinct than strategy (even if Bannon encouraged it after Charlottesville).  At least, it would explain why he wields this informal power so indiscriminately.

Update: The NYT suggests Trump went after the NFL because he thinks dealing with Democrats and backing Sen. Luther Strange could erode his standing with his base.  So to the extent Trump may have had a strategy, it’s not particularly good strategy.  Most of his voters have been cutting him slack, and someone who won a narrow Electoral College victory should be thinking about trying to expand his support, rather than catering to 25% of the voter pool.

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Trump vs Pro Athletes: Who Scores?

Since I last wrote, Pres. Trump decided to start a war of words — on and off Twitter — with NFL players protesting during the National Anthem, as well as various NBA players (resulting in the disinvitation of the champion Golden State Warriors to the White House).  As a result, the protests by a relative handful of football players erupted into a league-wide controversy, with teams generally expressing unity against Trump’s comments or opting out of the circus by staying off the field during the anthem.

Cui bono?

One reasonable take — as exemplified by this WSJ editorial — is that everyone loses when we Politicize All The Things.  That take will play well on the Right (myself included) and probably with the casual citizen (even many who are sympathetic on the underlying issue of police-involved shootings), but not with the Left’s culture warriors (obvsly).

Another reasonable take — which surfaced on Twitter and which I forgot to bookmark — was that both Trump and the more militant faction of the BLM protesters both win.  Under this theory, polarizing figures benefit from the polarization and political energy generated thereby, leaving the center (broadly defined) as the losers.

A third reasonable take — and the one seemingly favored by many of my conservative friends and colleagues — is that Trump wins, bigly… no, yugely.  The theory is that Trump managed to wrap himself in the American flag and side with support for our military (one of the few institutions still trusted in these United States circa 2017).  Trump’s critics wind up defending a widely unpopular form of protest (and Politicization of All The Things) for the abstract principle of free speech (though the First Amendment does not apply to the workplace, for the most part).

There is a fourth take, in which things don’t work out so well for Trump.  I don’t know how reasonable it is (yet), but I’ll play Devil’s advocate here.

The “Trump wins big” theory seems to overlook that Trump was never been all that popular outside the GOP base, and remains unpopular to this day.  Quite a bit of Trump’s lousy job approval has probably been due to Trump’s constant dramas, many of which were self-created:

[Aside: Note the highest average search interest items in this chart are the healthcare bill, North Korea, and Afghanistan.  It’s almost as if people care more about the most important stuff.]

That said, Trump has staged a substantial rally in his job approval over the past month.  He’s still underwater by double-digits, but that’s much better than being 20 points underwater, as he was in mid-to late August.

The conventional wisdom is that much of the narrowing of the gap between approvers and disapprovers is related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  The Trump administration’s response was seen as competent (unlike — rightly or wrongly — the Bush administration’s response to Katrina).  Trump himself generally came off as compassionate and Presidential (despite the efforts of the media to fixate on the First Lady’s choice of shoes).  And the media’s saturation coverage of these storms meant that comparatively little attention was focused on other Trump stories.

As NBC News noted:

Trump’s improved numbers came in a time of relative social media calm for the president. Before this weekend’s public feud with professional football and basketball players, there had been a shift in recent news coverage that included a steady diet of reports on hurricane assistance and bipartisan overtures from the White House.

To that list we might add Trump’s actions and speeches regarding Afghanistan and North Korea, which — aside from calling Kim Jong Il “Rocket Man” — put the focus on Trump as Commander-In-Chief in a generally favorable light.

What happens after this weekend’s feud?  It’s possible that soft approvers — even those who might agree with Trump about the protests at NFL games — may view this as a return to the distracted Donald, the unpresidential President, the guy who is fixated on pleasing his base and not pivoting towards more bipartisanship.  Whether that impression takes hold again will probably depend on whether this latest beef was a blip occasioned by letting Trump out to free-associate at that campaign rally for Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama, or part of a renewed trend.

I would guess the media is already fielding polls on Trump’s latest kerfuffle.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if the results came back with 70-80% of Republicans approving of his comments, because that’s generally been the result for far more controversial Trump comments.  Partisanship is a helluva drug.  He may even score better with Independents in the short term.  The real question is whether a week or two later, people who aren’t political junkies start seeing Trump as the guy who dug himself into a hole instead of the guy climbing up.

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Of Course Conservative Journalism Can Survive Populism

Given that I started the week discussing how righty journalism kills conservatism, it’s fitting that I end it reviewing a related question posed by Conor Friedersdorf: “Can Conservative Journalism Survive Populism?”

The piece rambles quite a bit; I’ll focus on what seems to be Friedersorf’s main thesis:

Donald Trump’s rise to power put National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the sorts of journalists who work there in a distressing bind. Neither the president nor the #MAGA loyalists who staff his White House adhere to conservative principles. Yet many donors, subscribers, and readers who sustain their publications prefer Trump’s blustering, bombastic project, massively shifting the center of gravity on the right.

Tribalist populism is ascendant––and conservative publications no longer thereby benefit, in part because newer magazines and web sites are more closely aligned with it.”

For such a long piece, it’s remarkably long on assertion and short on data.  Let’s work backwards through the thesis.

Do readers who sustain the Old Guard prefer populist bombast?  The article refers to the Alexa rankings for Breitbart (58) vs National Review Online (1,129).  That looks like a chasm, but is it?  In the heat of the 2016 campaign, data from comScore suggested Breitbart had 18.2 million unique visitors in July, while National Review had 5 million.  That’s large, but not as large as those Alexa ratings may have suggested.

More significant to the question at issue, it appears that National Review had record traffic throughout the 2016 campaign.  It’s difficult to argue that Breitbart is killing NRO when the latter was drawing more readers than ever.  (BTW, both sites have seen traffic decline since, though apparently Breitbart’s decline was larger.)

What about subscribers?  An apples-to-apples comparison is impossible, as Breitbart doesn’t run a subscription service.  Friedersdorf quotes an “apparent” NR trustee pegging subscriptions at 121,000.  Assuming for the sake of argument this estimate is accurate, that would mark a significant decline from the audited circulation of approximately 140,000 reported for the first half of 2016.  Some of that decline is almost certainly attributable to unhappy Trump supporters.

OTOH, a couple of years prior, National Review had an audited circulation closer to 160,000.  So it is difficult to estimate how much of the recent decline is Trump-related, how much of it is the continuation of a trend, and how much is NR’s apparent pivot toward digital.

Indeed, NR’s apparent emphasis on digital brings us to donors.  This is really the most important category.  Opinion journals historically are not profit-making ventures.  National Review has been losing money since 1955.

Yet Friedersdorf refers to them only in passing, writing: “Clicks are also appealing to conservative donors who want to buy influence with their patronage, and don’t particularly care about the journalistic integrity of what they support. ”

If this is true, National Review has a good traffic story (noted above) to tell its donors.  Breitbart may have a larger audience, but I’m not sure why it should be assumed that large NR donors would suddenly decide to defund it in favor of Breitbart simply on the basis of traffic (and if they did, why they wouldn’t do so to push Breitbart in a less populist direction).

Circumstantially, NR has embarked on an ambitious and expensive redesign of NRO, which suggests the well isn’t running dry just yet.  And while I haven’t researched the sorts of arguments above as they might apply to The Weekly Standard, it appears that new EIC Stephen F. Hayes convinced owner Philip Anschutz, to increase his staff by a third.

You know what might kill conservative journalism?  Following Friedersdorf’s advice:

To survive, conservatism’s legacy publications need more confident advocates who take greater umbrage at the notion that they are useless avatars of establishment decadence, refute the most unfair attacks of their critics more forcefully, offer more incisive formulations of why what they do is valuable, and counterattack more aggressively against hucksters who are stealing their business with lies and manipulation.

Does anyone (other than Friedersdorf) think that the Old Guard touting themselves as part of the establishment would cause populists who read Breitbart, or people for whom “Deplorable” is a badge of honor, to flock to National Review or The Weekly Standard?  Anyone?  Bueller?

While Friedersdorf quotes TWS’s Mark Hemingway and the Washington Free Beacon’s Matthew Continetti at length in the article, it is almost as if Friedersdorf completely missed their common point that technology (esp. the internet) has largely eliminated the ability of Old Guard institutions to serve as intellectual gatekeepers.  And the people embracing populism were mostly not interested in the Old Guard from the outset.

Also, Friedersdorf seemingly overlooks that there is now an entire genre of populist columnists bashing former NeverTrumpers and the latter responding.  Furthermore, if Friedersdorf fears that donors are buying influence, would going out of one’s way to offend them make sense from the standpoint of ensuring an institution’s survival?

All of that said, I agree with Friedersdorf that traditional conservative media probably should pay more attention to Breitbart, at least those who profess to be media critics.  But even at that, only 11% of Trump voters regularly got election news from Breitbart and that was concentrated more among those who voted for him in the primaries.  In contrast, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source for election news (and fewer than 3% cited Breitbart as their main source).  That’s why I’m more interested in Fox.

[Note: This is the last post for this week, so that I can focus a little on some non-blog writing.  I should return Monday. Have a nice weekend.]

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Trump Looks For “Wins,” But Will They Last?

After writing up the “breaking news” for the Federalist of House Minority Ldr. Nancy Pelosi getting shouted down by extreme DREAMers, it occurred to me that the “agreement” among Pelosi, Pres. Trump, and Sen. Minority Ldr. Chuck Schumer to address illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids is an opportunity to jot down a point that’s been made about the Trump administration, but not really emphasized as it probably should be.

Even before the details of any DREAMer deal are negotiated, we know that the issue is, in the first instance, fundamentally about the contours of Presidential power and prosecutorial discretion.  The reason border hawks are already squawking is that any deal will at a minimum constrain that discretion in return for promises of future resources that may not materialize or may be mooted by the lax enforcement priorities of a future Democrat President.

The centrality of executive power is what interests me here.

Trump supporters tend to hew to a particular form of argument, particularly when questioning why skeptical conservative pundits have not boarded the Trump train.  They point to a selection of the administration’s conservative accomplishments to date, and often contrast it with the failure of the GOP Congress to deliver a healthcare bill to Trump’s desk.  All entirely fair points, as far as they go.

But how far do they go?  It’s fine to point, for example, to regulatory rollback or the rescission of Obama-era executive orders as Trump achievements.  But in many (tho not all) cases, these reversals are as ephemeral as the “wins” Obama supporters were claiming when he was governing by executive fiat.  What Pres. Obama did by phone and pen can be undone by Trump, but a fair amount of it can be re-done by someone else.

OTOH, legislative action is more difficult to undo, given our constitutional system of checks and balances.  For Republicans (and occasionally conservatives) to win more lasting victories, the focus should be on Congress while it remains controlled by the GOP.

Trump supporters would like to blame all Congressional dysfunction — both within its chambers and its relations with the White House — on GOP leadership.  Any fair-minded analysis should place much of the blame there.

But to anyone not sipping the Kool-Aid, it also should be apparent that Trump must shoulder his share of the blame, chiefly stemming from his inability or disinterested when it comes to any level of detail in policy-making.  I wish this were not the case, and that the GOP Congress could suddenly shake off a century of progressive brainwashing and embrace its proper constitutional role without relying on any President to set its agenda.  But that’s not the world in which we live.  It’s not even the Shazaam timeline.

Perhaps Trump will show more interest in the details of a DREAMer deal, given that immigration is likely his signature issues.  And perhaps, given how badly Trump’s business was affected by the 1986 tax reform, he might show some interest in the issue now.

But hoping a 70-year-old who has become immensely powerful while not caring about policy will suddenly change seems as unlikely as Congress changing, perhaps more so.  That’s a big reason why the skeptics will remain skeptical and the Trump victories are likely to be less than they should be.

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Don’t Get Drunk on Emmys Schadenfreude

When the news came out that the ratings for the Emmy Awards were probably an all-time low, there was the predictable schadenfreude from conservatives over the seeming failure of yet another politicized Hollywood awards show.  But there’s good reason for the Right to not drink too deeply from that cup of confirmation bias.

The Emmys, like other awards, is essentially an industry trade show.  The Emmys show, like other awards telecasts, is essentially a marketing exercise.  Quite apart from politics, the problem all such shows face is that they increasingly represent an attempt to mass market niche products.

The information revolution technology — satellite, cable, internet — that provides an explosion of choices for audiences has fundamentally fragmented and reshaped media consumption habits.  As a corollary, this revolution necessarily reshapes the the calculations of media producers.  As I’ve written about ESPN, whose crown jewels remain generally mass-market offerings, media companies are forced to chase a broader, younger and more diverse audience, and to do so on the budgets afforded by intense competition within a glut of content.

How do media producers gain attention in the attention economy?  Sheer quality helps.  The deep pockets of companies trying to grab as much of the new real estate as possible help (see, e.g., Netflix, Amazon).  But what also helps is controversy, and that often means politics.  And given the politics of most of Hollywood, it’s more likely to be progressive politics.

As much as my fellow conservatives may not want to admit it, those choices aren’t necessarily crazy in a media environment where audience size expectations are so much lower (or, in the case of some streaming services, of much less relevance in general).

That said, it seems to me there’s a niche to be filled with counter-programming, though Hollywood may lack the talent base for it. (I’ve long thought that people like the Kochs and Mercers should be investing in film school programs and scholarships.)

I would also note that Fox News Channel is generally the biggest thing on cable in part because it is counter-programming.  On the third hand, I have also noted that (contra conservative gloating) CNN is generally doing better than it has in many years, and MSNBC’s ratings have skyrocketed in the Trump era.

But I digress, a little.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who have decided to avoid Hollywood awards shows because of politics did so years ago.  The tune-out factor may increase on the margins, which is interesting, but probably not significant in this media environment.  If the point is to promote The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, or John Oliver on HBO, they already know that their target demo isn’t Trump supporters.

So politics in the aggregate likely affects the ratings of awards shows — and other programs, though not to the extent conservatives like to believe.  Assigning too much import to the political factor only distorts conservative perceptions of the so-called culture war and inclines them to believe they’re winning more than they are.

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