A Tale of Two Bodies

It was a dickens of a time.

One body, the Senate, will be concluding the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch to be elevated to the Supreme Court.  By most all accounts a fitting conservative successor to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, this intelligent and good-humored man has thus far glided through his hearings without a single significant blow from the the Judiciary Committee Democrats.

The Dems’ main theme seems to be framing Gorsuch as an enemy of the little guy.  It’s inaccurate, and has backfired.  But it’s an attack that was doomed from the outset.  During the 2016 campaign, this Supreme Court vacancy was a major issue.  Hillary Clinton clearly announced that she would appoint a results-oriented activist.  Donald Trump promised he would select from a public list of distinguished jurists.  To paraphrase fmr. Pres. Obama, Trump won.

The Gorsuch nomination, once confirmed, will likely be one of Pres. Trump’s most consequential choices — and probably one of his best.

The other body, the House, is — or was — supposed to bring the America Health Care Act up for a floor vote.  It is — or was — a bill loved by few outside leadership and the White House.  As I write this, the White House is negotiating major last-minute changes with the conservative House Freedom Caucus in an effort to get to a majority, while losing at least one moderate, Rep. Charlie Dent.   The Congressional GOP seems set to replicate the unpopular manner in which the prior unpopular healthcare law was enacted, this time as farce.

I have little sympathy for the party’s lack of imagination.  As Santayana observed, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

So GOPers may be sticking their necks out.  One hopes this tale does not end with figurative decapitations, but such are often the result when vengeful populists are in the saddle.

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Reaping News

According to a new Harvard-Harris Poll, 59 percent of Republicans say they believe Pres. Trump’s claim that fmr. Pres. Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.  That claim has been rejected by FBI Dir. James Comey, as well as many GOP leaders in Congress.  Similarly, NSA Dir. Michael Rogers has rejected Trump’s claim that Obama asked British intelligence (GCHQ) to conduct surveillance on Trump.  Overall, 66 percent of registered voters reject the claim.

Trump and White House spox Sean Spicer relied on Fox News Channel pundit Judge Andrew Napolitano to justify their claim about GCHQ.  Napolitano had managed to mangle an already dubious claim by wacky CIA analyst-turned-blogger Larry Johnson on RT, the “news” channel funded by the Russian government.

The “news” side of Fox, including anchors Shepard Smith and Bret Baier, tried to distance itself from the ensuing international spat.  Napolitano was indefinitely suspended from FNC over the flap.  Cynics linked the suspension of Napolitano to the backlash the baseless claim could have on Fox News honcho Rupert Murdoch’s proposed deal to purchase Sky News in the UK.

The cynics are finding more ammo in yesterday’s editorial from the Murdoch-affiliated Wall Street Journal, which said of the wiretap claims that “the President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle” and warned that “he needs support beyond the Breitbart cheering section that will excuse anything. As he is learning with the health-care bill, Mr. Trump needs partners in his own party to pass his agenda. He also needs friends abroad who are willing to trust him when he asks for support, not least in a crisis.”

It’s hard to discount the cynics in light of prior reports that Murdoch was much involved in directing the tone of Fox’s Trump programming, both when it was tough and when it turned soft.  And reports that there have been tensions within the WSJ’s newsroom over its Trump coverage.

Indeed, it’s a little rich to see the WSJ condemning the “Breitbart cheering section” while ignoring Sean Hannity wildly shaking his pom-poms for Trump from Murdoch’s sidecar.

The WSJ is right to be concerned about Trump’s credibility.  One hopes conservative media might take the moment to consider how much they are linking theirs to his, and how it affects the public discourse.

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Frank Rich Lets His Freak Flag Fly, Maaan.

Maybe Frank Rich was just having one of those days and needed to take it out on Trump’s base.  Probably not.  But I am having one of those days and will work it out on Rich’s latest discharge, “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly.”

Rich seems to have concluded that Democrats may well be better off allowing Trump’s base to vote for policies that kill them, and worked backwards from there.

Seriously, Rich concludes that if Trump is unsuccessful: “Maybe… they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether.  Either way, the best course for Democrats may be to respect their right to choose.”

He considers any efforts by the Left to leave its bubble in an attempt to understand Trumpers to be “Hillbilly Chic,” which he deems “an inverted bookend to Radical Chic, the indelible rubric attached by Tom Wolfe in 1970 (in this magazine) to white elites in Manhattan then fawning over black militants.”

Rich displays no indication that he understands who Trump’s base really is, as opposed to the image portrayed Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash and J. D. Vance’s  Hillbilly Elegy, though it’s not clear from his rant that he’s read either of them.

But even if one takes the Trump base in fairly negative terms, it’s telling that Rich would compare Dems trying to understand (or condescend to) long-term unemployed, opiate addicted videogamers on Social Security disability benefits to liberal elites celebrating the Black Panthers, who were ultimately a murderous and totalitarian cult.

He also deems it a waste of time for Dems to chase these “unreachable voters.”  It’s a fairly bizarre claim to make in the face of data showing Trump won 209 counties Obama won twice and 194 counties Obama won once.  Some on the Left, such as David Leonhardt and Sean McElwee, try to downplay this demographic by looking only at 2012, instead of 2008 — the last open seat election, when Obama was still the man of Hope and Change, rather than a disappointment.

As NYT data-cruncher Nate Cohn noted after the election, millions of votes were at issue.  He also smartly observed that even Obama’s 2012 campaign worked hard to target the white working class.

To be sure, I doubt the Obama campaign thought they were going to do nearly as well with the WWC in 2012, but they understood the value of the effort.  Dems have been increasingly losing this bloc for decades, but candidates more competent than Hillary Clinton understood you couldn’t lose it too badly.

This was understood, in fact, by many of the same Dems who came up with the Emerging Democratic Majority theory to which Rich seems to subscribe, though it has been controversial among the propeller-heads for years, and has been doubted by one of its chief architects.

Even McElwee, in arguing that Obama-Trump voters may express high levels of racial resentment, is also inherently making the case that such resentment did not make Obama inaccessible to them.

Rich then manages to be schizophrenic on the state of the Democratic Party.  He notes that even a terrible candidate like Hillary (and he’s right that she was terrible) won the popular vote and narrowly lost states needed to win the the Electoral College.  But in the next paragraph, he reminds us that the party is a “wreck,” that “rules no branch of federal government, holds only 16 governorships, and controls only 14 state legislatures.”

He seems to believe that a party of Young Bernies of Color would be the answer here, but never gets around to making the argument for it.  After all, this column was not about thinking, it was about emoting.

Instead, we get the third act, in which Rich rehearses all the lame arguments about false consciousness popularized by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? and more recently rehashed in Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.  The latter managed to get called condescending even by the Washington Post, though I think the review at Forbes succinctly captures the problems in the book.

Rich, in his typically puerile partisanship, manages to display none of the nuance I’m sure he fancies himself to possess.  He wants to compare Trump’s base to Black Panthers.  He wants to be “free to loathe” them.  And if they brought about their own deaths, that would be just peachy for him.

It apparently does not occur to him that he’s displaying the sort of ignorance-leading-to-intolerance that he sees in the Rust Belt as viewed from a Manhattan office window.  Or that his mindless indulgence of his hatreds and stereotypes mirrors his indictment of them.

I wouldn’t say this is How We Got Trump.  But I would note that there’s a lot of wishful thinking involved in the theory the Dems will pick up more votes in swing states by moving further left than Obama.

Of course, it’s Frank Rich, so if I ever met him I wouldn’t even ask him about it from that angle.  What I’d really want to know is whether he thinks he’s being original here, or simply collecting a paycheck.

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The Insanely Low Stakes of Trump’s Steaks

Pres. Trump apparently likes his steaks extremely well done.  The punditry about this has been extreme, but not well done.  The commentary more resembles the fattiest tartare you’ve ever tasted.

First, there were the the mopes like Vanity Fair‘s Graydon Carter, the Washington Post‘s food critic, and the occasional random food blogger recoiling in horror from Trump’s vulgar taste, exacerbated by his use of ketchup.  It was of course suggested that Trump’s gauche dining habits were in some way a metaphor for his parochial and close-minded politics.

Then there were the conservatives.  Some of the movers and shakers in conservative media, the thinkers, even one of its most elegant writers appeared on some of the right’s most respected and influential platforms to defend Trump’s dietary habits, or at least to note that others would see it as an asset.

And many smart conservatives shared those columns on social media, nodding their heads at the notion that lefties’ hysteria about Trump was largely a matter of aesthetics.

Yet righties found it scandalous that then-candidate Barack Obama passed up a the campaign ritual of a Philly Cheesesteak in 2007.  And notable that he was the sort who ate arugula…and kale.  It was a metaphor, you see, for his effete liberal sensibilities and politics.

Does the Trump/Obama comparison simply reflect the long-simmering populism of the GOP?  In a word, no.

Righties also had great fun with Bill Clinton’s appetites for fast food and… women with big hair.  They were a metaphor, you see, for the decadence and generally low class of the Democrats, not to mention the seeming grubbiness of the Clintons’ scandal-laden politics.  So inferior to the patrician Pres. George H. W. Bush.

Of course, the Democrats also have done this before Trump.  Ronald Reagan supposedly liked jellybeans — a childish indulgence that reflected a simpleton who once co-starred in a movie with a chimp.  Etc., etc.

This is what happens to people who never get out of the marinade of partisanship.  It’s what drives otherwise normal people to take insane conspiracy theories seriously.  It’s the sort of thing people will look back upon with mild embarrassment, should they ever bother to reflect.

The temptation will be to justify spending time on Trump’s steak by framing it as an example of anti-Trump hysteria.  But if you pass a man on a street corner wearing a sandwich board and ranting about the Freemasons, do you stop to loudly counter him to other passers-by?  No, you don’t.  And you know why you don’t.

The other temptation will be to denigrate the Left by supposing lefties’ objections to Trump are significantly aesthetic.  To be sure, many liberals preferred Trump to Cruz and Rubio during the primaries.

But he’s Pres. Trump now.  His picks for his Cabinet were significantly Republican and often conservative.  His Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, compares favorably to the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump and a GOP Congress are rolling back some regulations.  And while the House GOP’s AHCA strikes me as a lame effort to marginally roll back Obamacare, Democrats will see it as the wrong sort of wealth distribution.

Moreover, Dems clearly have opposition on the merits to some of the more uniquely Trumpian policies, such as the “extreme vetting” of refugees and the expansion of immigration enforcement (even though it falls short of some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric).

It’s pretty obvious that the Left’s opposition to Trump is not significantly driven by his tastes (or lack thereof).  Those tastes are just another target of opportunity for them.  But the people responding seriously to these trivial pursuits are not doing themselves or their audiences any favors.

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Trump’s Skinny Budget: Next Step in the GOP Death Spiral?

Possibly, though not in the way Democrats think, and the size of the step remains to be seen.

Pres. Trump presented his first-year “skinny budget” and it’s skinnier than the client roster at Trump Model Management.

So all we know so far is that Trump wants to shift $54 billion to DoD, DHS and Energy and cut that amount from the State Dept. domestic discretionary programs, including Education, EPA, NEA, NEH, NIH, LSC, LIHEAP, HUD CDBGs (which is where the Meals On Wheels kerfuffle is located) and still other combinations of letters of the alphabet.  I am probably fine with cuts of this sort, though I suspect the numbers are pretty arbitrary (pending an OMB review of agency and program effectiveness due in May).

The GOP Congress, however, is not fine with these proposals.  It simply won’t do, you see.  Very few “Harrumphs” in support of Trump.

From these accounts, it further appears there was little coordination between the White House and Congressional GOP leadership on the budget proposals.  Also, it seems that the White House is pushing back on Congressional suggestions of entitlement reform.

The lack of coordination has been a consistent theme in the short period this sideblog has been open (see here, here, and here, for examples).  Yet it’s probably more important when we have a heterodox President like Trump.

Trump’s pushback on entitlement reform bothers me as a fiscal conservative.  But Trump campaigned on leaving Social Security and Medicare alone.  And as a cynic, I must note that most rank-and-file Republicans aren’t serious about it either.

It is therefore entirely possible we will get another year of borrow-and-spend, big government Republicanism.  They can’t cut the big items because they’re big; they can’t cut the small stuff because it’s a drop in the bucket.  And this on top of healthcare reform proposal that seems to excite no one.  All coming in the first year, when the GOP should have maximum momentum.

Trump may blame Congress for rejecting his domestic cuts.  The true conservatives at the grassroots will seethe.  Much of talk radio (with and without video) will once again hand out the torches and pitchforks for a hearty round of “BURN IT DOWN!”

They won’t be entirely wrong, either.  The GOP has far less excuse for timidity now that they control two branches of the federal government.  This cycle of frustration (less justified when Obama was President) gets an exhibit in the Hall of How We Got Trump.  Now we may get it again, even After We Got Trump.

Does anyone think that’s a way to ensure GOP turnout in 2018 against an energized Democratic base vote?  Of course, the economy may improve, either organically or with GOP help.  Or we may make progress against the Islamic State.  If these big things happen, perhaps the dysfunction of the GOP leadership in both branches won’t matter much.  But maybe it will matter.

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What the GOP Really Should Learn From Obamacare

At Vox, Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein purport to reveal “The Lessons of Obamacare.”  Were I reviewing these lessons in a full column for The Federalist, I would probably spend a fair amount of space to mocking the delusion and disingenuousness shot through the piece.

For example, do they expect anyone to buy that they had to do extensive reporting to “unearth” the lesson that the Democrats — from Pres. Obama on down — should not have lied about the trade-offs their proposal entailed?

Conservatives noted this lying about trade-offs  throughout the Obamacare debate; even the New York Times conceded in the straight news part of the paper that promises about keeping your plan and doctor “may not be literally true or enforceable.”  People like Klein clowned themselves pretending the law was a success even after it passed, but now want to pretend they learned a lesson.

Similarly, Kliff and Klein again spread the horse manure about the individual mandate being an idea with substantial GOP support.  Avik Roy has called Klein out by name for this silliness in the past, but it’s apparently far too comforting a myth for Voxers to drop.

But the important part of their article is not what the GOP should learn from Obamacare.  Rather, the key point is that the GOP should learn what Kliff and Klein (and I) believe Democrats will take as the lessons of Obamacare.

They voxplain: “For Democrats, those lessons are relatively straightforward. It is easy to imagine the next Democratic president passing a health care bill that does four things: expand Medicaid coverage up to 200 percent of poverty, boost subsidies in the exchanges, add a public option that can use Medicare or Medicaid’s pricing power, and let people above age 50 buy into Medicare. ”

As progressives, Kliff and Klein are required to conclude that the failure of big government was that it wasn’t big enough.  But politically, they are probably dead on.

After all, the House GOP bill doesn’t even fully reverse O-care.  Democrats (and some conservatives) see a GOP that is not ideologically committed to fundamental reform and even dumb enough to accept coverage stats — the only measure by which O-care succeeds — as a metric of GOP success.

Republicans are not entirely ditching O-care’s Medicaid expansion now.  They would be no more likely to remove people from Medicare.  Thus, the next Democratic strategy will center around a squeeze play that is simpler (indeed, one more in line with Obama’s claim to “build on what works”) and more difficult to reverse.

The GOP lost the war over O-care in part because they thought they were fighting the last war.  Instead, polarization made a larger Dem majority more unified, even willing to accept a bill that bought off the interest groups who helped torpedo Hillarycare in the 1990s.

The GOP — and conservatives — really ought to be looking at approaches that anticipate the next time the Dems control Congress and the White House.  That approach could be something radically more free-market than anything on the table now.  Or, given the that the GOP really isn’t all that conservative, it could be something more like Avik Roy’s plan, modeled on the universal coverage plans in Switzerland and Singapore.

It’s probably too late for the GOP to think that many moves ahead, rather than continue to fight the last war.  The GOP’s nickname as the Stupid Party is often well-earned.

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Donald Trump and the Future of Dystopia

In his most recent column, Jonah Goldberg writes about liberals’ fear of a Trumpist dystopia, making the point that short of hysteria, fear can be a useful thing, as can understanding others’ fears.  I have no issues with his main points, but have additional thoughts on his passing observation that dystopianism is nothing new and that “Hollywood has been running through practice scenarios of doom nonstop from its founding.”

Using the admittedly imperfect Wikipedia list of dystopian films (which arguably manages to be both under- and over-inclusive), a couple of things tend to leap out.

First, the genre really does not take off until the 1950s.  This makes sense.  The first half of the 20th century was just too dystopian in reality to turn dystopianism into entertainment.

Second, the biggest and most memorable films in the genre otherwise make a cultural impact during times where America is feeling a sense of disorder and malaise.  The “golden age” of dystopian cinema (if that’s not an oxymoron) stretches from 1968’s Planet of the Apes (and its sequels) through the pre-Morning-in-America 1980s, which gave us Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Escape From New York (and arguably Blade Runner).

In between, particularly in the early 1970s, Hollywood produces the classics of the genre, including The Omega Man and Soylent Green (both starring PotA‘s Charlton Heston), A Clockwork Orange, Silent Running, A Boy and His Dog, and cult fave Zardoz.  The crop from the mid-to-late-70s includes Logan’s Run, the brill remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and dystopian bloodsport like Death Race 2000 and Rollerball.

The mid-80s to mid 90s produces a steady stream of dystopian films — or dystopian-adjacent films — but not too many great ones, and not too many with impact in the popular culture.  Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brazil, They Live, Gattaca and Dark City are good, but lack the cultural footprint they should enjoy.  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is the weakest of the franchise.  Demolition Man and first two Terminator films are not, strictly speaking, dystopian in setting.  RoboCop may be the strongest popular dystopian film of the period.

Aside from The Matrix, the “silver age” of dystopian movies really comes in the post-9/11 period and coincides with not only those attacks, but the decline in institutions that follows the mismanagement of the war, the Great Recession, and the Not-So-Great Recovery.  It’s quite the deluge.

Minority Report comes early (and, like the Matrix series, was probably in the works before 9/11), but 2005 produces The Island and Serenity, 2006 produces Children of Men, Idiocracy, and V For Vendetta, and 2007 produces I Am Legend (a remake of The Omega Man).  Other 70’s dystopias, including Planet of the Apes, Death Race and Rollerball, get remade or reimagined (PotA well, the others not so much).

Nolan’s Batman films are set in a dystopian Gotham City, and Watchmen is squarely in the genre (depicting a more dystopian version of the 1970s, for that matter).  Wall-E brings dystopia for the whole family.  Then there are the big franchises: Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, and even The Purge produce multiple sequels.  Mad Max: Fury Road is hailed as a return to form.

And this is just dystopian movies.  One could also look at disaster films or paranoid political thrillers as examples of Hollywood projecting America’s sour and mistrustful moods onto the big screen during the 70s and the post-9/11 era.  It’s also notable that the current “golden age of television” was dominated ratings-wise by The Walking Dead.

If Hollywood’s output during the Nixon and GWBush administrations is any guide, we may expect Tinseltown to try to ride the dystopian trend further, perhaps with more timely and “woke” themes.  Whether they succeed will likely turn on the success of the economy, as the market for dystopia turns bearish as the market turns bullish.  In this regard, show business and the reality TV President have a shared future.

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The Less Said About Steve King

For a brief moment, I considered writing directly about Rep. Steve King’s comments on immigration and such, but the hog wrassling factor is simply too high.  Nevertheless, some of the punditry surrounding those comments lead me to a few observations about this constellation of topics.

Nationalism vs. Patriotism: In yesterday’s Commentary magazine podcast discussing King’s comments, Abe Greenwald called nationalism “patriotism on the cheap.”  I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it is a close companion point to my prior observation that the Left’s efforts to marginalize or purge Western Civilization at colleges and universities (and a similar effort to convert our already poor K-12 civics curriculum to left-wing activism) also made conservatism shallower.

Multiculturalism:  The rise of simple nationalism on the non-Left is thus at least partially attributable to the rise of multiculturalism on the Left, and especially with the New New Left.  Although the immigration debate is far too complex to be reduced to a single point, the axis of “assimilation vs. multiculturalism” is certainly key.

As a country, we ought to be able to reach a point between the melting pot and the salad bowl that’s a nice dish of gumbo; historically that’s where we have tended to meet.  America still tends to be pretty good at assimilation, though we still have notable issues even with the second generation of, for example, Muslim-Americans.

Unfortunately, are there things about the Left’s approach that tend to make compromise difficult, if not impossible.  Some of these are often discussed, such as the Left’s (premature at best) reliance on the Emerging Democratic Majority theory breeding the suspicion on the Right that the Left would like an amnesty for a generation or two of political benefit.  But today, let’s keep things at a higher altitude.

Multiculturalism and Transnational Progressivism:  Multiculturalism, and the New New Left’s adoption of intersectionality as a functional religion, are closely related to the Left’s overarching vision of transnational progressivism.  Although I am not a fan of comparing the Brexit vote and the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan of “Stronger Together” was an obvious lift of the Remain campaign’s “Stronger in Britain” slogan.

This school of politics is built on a contradiction.*  On one hand, it seeks to present a Utopian vision of unity that spans all demographics.  On the other hand, it is a politics built around conflicts based on the fundamental racial, sexual, religious, generational and cultural elements of people’s identities.

This contradiction is probably reconciled only through totalitarian means (thus the appeal of intersectionality), which is why many rebel against it.

Accordingly, the Utopian facade is maintained primarily by making the campaigns for this vision largely empty.  In the Brexit fight, the Remain campaign asked people to be solely focused on economic factors.  Hillary Clinton ran a largely policy-free campaign on television after going months without facing the media.

Say what you will about nationalism, it taps into powerful cultural and emotional wellsprings that are naturally intended to unify one group against all others.   In contrast, the emotions tapped by left-wing identity politics are specific to each demographic, and each demographic is atomized by intersectionality.

Thus, while transnational progressives still hold the levers of power in many places, they may have difficulty fending off the nationalist appeal over the medium term.  Indeed, as noted, transnational progressivism and multiculturalism are built on the types of conflict which invite and fuel nationalist politics.

In their post-election angst, American progressives who previously disdained concepts like the separation of powers and federalism as the old, dysfunctional ideas of dead white males seem to be giving these concepts a second look.  If they were being more than situational, they might find in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution a patriotic and universalist vision that may be more competitive with nationalism.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen, because progressivism ultimately requires unlimited government power.  And progressives are more likely to attempt to coopt the nationalists’ white identity politics than reject their own.

*[This contradiction is not the only one between progressivism and multiculturalism, but it’s the one most relevant here.]

Update: Vox’s Zack Beauchamp — who created the infamous Gaza bridge — wrote today about the ineffectiveness of economic appeals as a response to rightist nationalism.  Strange days indeed.

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Andrew Sullivan, Intersectionality, and Donald Trump

While considering the violent mob of students that attacked author Charles Murray and Prof. Allison Stanger at Middlebury College, Andrew Sullivan asks “Is Intersectionality a Religion?”  His answer is “almost,” noting that the New New Left essentially demands conversion, puritanically controls controls language and the terms of discourse, and seeks to ban heresy.  For this, he got a lot of positive comment across the political spectrum, and I’m not sure why.

I mean, he’s correct, but the theory isn’t new to Sullivan.  As Frank Bruni notes, both John McWhorter and Jonathan Haidt have made much the same argument.

Nor is this sort of thinking new for Sullivan.  He previously referred to dismissed Mozilla exec Brendan Eich as a heretic while condemning his persecutors.  And he has in theory been good on religious liberty legislation.  I suppose Sullivan holding the same position for this long a time is notable, but c’mon.

What interests me about the piece is how it fits into his latest return to writing, which was occasioned by the ascent of then-candidate Donald Trump.

Sullivan’s initial longform piece for New York magazine begins by analyzing a passage in Plato’s Republic.  Sullivan writes that “the longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become.  Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread.  Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like ‘a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues’.”

He continues: “As the authority of elites fades, as Establishment values cede to popular ones… when elites are despised and full license is established to do ‘whatever one wants,’ you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy.”  And it is at this point, Plato and Sullivan claim, that a tyrant can seize the moment.  You know who Sullivan casts in that role.

The problem with Sullivan’s thesis is that the erosion of authority and promotion of license in America is not entirely due to too much democracy, is it?

The erosion of authority can occur, for example, when elite colleges decide to stop requiring students to learn about the virtues of Western civilization.  It can occur when Pres. Obama decides to simply stop enforcing the law for broad classes of people on subjects including immigration and healthcare.  And it can occur when people come to believe we are ruled by judicial fiat, symbolized in the cases of Roe v. Wade (which made abortion a constitutional right) and Obergefell v. Hodges (which did the same for same-sex marriage).

Sullivan is of course best-known as one of America’s foremost advocates for same-sex marriage.  As such, he reveled in the Obergefell decision, much as he had earlier when other courts reached the same result.

The dissenting opinions in Obergefell highlight how undemocratic the decision is — and how short it is on legal authority.  The subsequent death of one of those dissenters — Justice Antonin Scalia — made the composition and activism of the Supreme Court a chief selling point for traditional Republicans and conservatives (especially evangelicals and Catholics) to hold their noses and vote for Trump, a man whose picture appears nowhere near the dictionary definition of “pious.”

In the run-up to this decision, people like Rod Dreher warned of the McCarthyism that would follow in the wake of a decision like Obergefell.  Sullivan dismissed these warnings as whining — “the hysteria and self-pity among those who, for centuries, enjoyed widespread endorsement for the horrible mistreatment of gay people.”

And yet for all his years of demonizing social conservatives as “Christianists,” who’s the one looking naive when leftist social media mobs and fanatical bureaucrats put Christians out of business for not wanting to participate in same-sex marriages?  Or when President Obama tried to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for birth control?  Or when academics are battered in parking lots?

It turns out the real religious threat comes from the New New Left — as Sullivan seems to be the last to discover.

While Sullivan will note that he has deplored the oppression and violence of the New New Left, also note that he finds the GOP and conservatives “loony” for holding the same position on same-sex marriage Barack Obama held less than a decade prior.  He apparently doesn’t realize how short a drive it is from that dismissal to the home of “check your privilege.”  Or from blaming the current generation of social conservatives for centuries of mistreatment to the idea of original sin.  Having missed the last slippery slope, I expect him to miss this one also.

By his own Platonic argument, Sullivan was a significant actor in creating the kind of country in which Donald Trump can become President.  Indeed, by Sullivan’s standards for causation — under which Sarah Palin could be blamed for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — he deserves a portrait in the Hall of How We Got Trump.  No wonder he started writing again: it’s penance.

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The Flight 93 Presidency

Remember “The Flight 93 Election“?  This was the (in)famous essay in which “Publius Decius Mus” (now ensconced in Pres. Trump’s NSC) essentially posited the 2016 vote was between Trump and The Death of America.

What people tend to forget about the essay is that (like most of its genre) it was far more an attack on conservatives than an argument for Trump.  Publius mostly contended that if conservatives were sincere in their concerns, they must believe that America is headed off a cliff, and their failure to embrace Trump as the only viable alternative to the End Times revealed their insincerity and their lack of faith in their own philosophy.

Well, the GOP stormed the cockpit and put Trump in the pilot’s chair.  One of his first major acts as Pilot-in-Chief is throwing his weight behind the House GOP’s draft American Healthcare Act, also known as “please don’t call it Trumpcare, even though we’re calling it terrific.”

Even if it’s unfair to call it Obamacare 2.0 (there are, for example, some things to like in the Medicaid reform piece of the bill), Trumpcare is the legislation of pale pastels, not bold colors.  It does not even restore the pre-Obamacare status quo, which already had too much government distortion of the healthcare sector.

Trumpcare is nowhere near a proposal that reforms the healthcare and insurance industries in the way Republicans and conservatives have been arguing for years (even if they also argued about the details).  I also seriously doubt that “phase three” of the GOP healthcare agenda will significantly advance those goals, even if they manage to get it through the Senate.

Trumpcare is a classic case of the conservative critique of the Congressional GOP.  For years, the GOP has declared Obamacare a major step toward the death of the Republic (not an unfair point), but now has underdelived again, breeding more of the mistrust and cynicism that fueled Trump’s ascent to the White House.

The difference this time is that Trump is fully supporting this miquetoast mish-mosh.  Given his past statements that “[w]e’re going to have insurance for everybody” and “the government’s gonna pay for it,” that’s not surprising.

Trump’s endorsement of marginal tinkering, however, does put the lie to the so-called argument of Publius and those echoing his attacks.  For the Ever Trumpers, it appears that as the ground rushes upward toward the plane, pulling up five or ten degrees is perfectly acceptable, so long as Trump is in the pilot’s chair.

In fact, it’s worse than that.  Trump reportedly told leaders of conservative groups that if Trumpcare fails, his strategy will be to allow Obamacare to fail and let Democrats take the blame.  He’s apparently considered letting the plane crash, to the extent that he can get some political gain out of it.

The Ever Trumpers won’t object, because their apocalyptic pose is every bit as phony as their postmodern nihilism.  Flight 93 passengers they ain’t.

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