The Root Cause of Campus Authoritarians

Saturday’s clash of Trump supporters in and New New Leftists in Berkeley, CA may be the latest headline.  While this Weimar-as-farce violence is to be condemned, the April 12 Wellesley News editorial defending restrictions of free speech on campus is ultimately more important.

In some ways, the student editorial is no different from past attempts to justify the New New Left authoritarianism growing at America’s colleges and universities.  It relies on at least two common yet bogus propositions.

The first is that whatever these Che wannabes deem to be “hate speech” is not free speech and thus not protected by the Constitution.  Even Politifact has figured out this is false.

The second, equally bogus proposition is that someone engaged in “hate speech,” however defined, somehow infringes on the rights of students in a manner justifying physical violence.  However, as infamous right-wing writer Adam Gopnik once put it in a conservative cesspool called The New Yorker:

It is not merely that an assault on an ideology is different from a threat made to a person; it is that it is the opposite of a threat made to a person.  The whole end of liberal civilization is to substitute the criticism of ideas for assaults on people.”

Gopnik was referring to the Islamist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the point is equally applicable here.  As many others have noted, it’s Orwellian for campus Maoists to claim they are creating “safe spaces” when said spaces are created by mob violence or the the threat thereof.

Yet, I noticed — albeit anecdotally via social media — there was much more progressive pushback against the criticism of this editorial than after the prior riot at UC Berkeley or the assault on author Charles Murray and battery of Professor Allison Stanger at Middlebury College.

It would be easy to attribute the difference in pushback on simple cowardice.  Many liberals know what the violence the New New Left promotes is not widely accepted and they are ashamed to be associated with it.  So a few may write against it, but many will simply close their mouths and look the other way, lest they be shunned or targeted by fellow travelers.

But I suspect that one of the reasons more progressives are touchy about the Wellesley editorial is something noticed by Patterico and Allahpundit — the abysmal quality of the student editors’ writing. “We have all said problematic claims?” Well, that phrase is certainly problematic.

And consider this sentence: “Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech.”  That sentence is garbled garbage that almost certainly denotes something close to the opposite of what the authors intended.  If you’re going to make an ridiculous claim, at least try to sound sophisticated.

The awful writing helps put a spotlight on the incoherent “thinking” undertaken by budding totalitarians in our nation’s supposedly elite institutions.  It also draws attention to how deep the rot is at these institutions.

As I’ve previously noted, much of this rot stems from prior successes in eliminating or minimizing Western Civilization in curricula.  The ideological conformity in American education deprives students of an appreciation of the West’s virtues, and left-leaning students of the ability to effectively critique the West’s vices (hence the need to suppress their opponents).

Unfortunately, this is just one particularly pernicious aspect of the overall dumbing down of American education.

So when the poorly-educated but self-righteous staff of the Wellesley News moons the world, progressives feel more obligated to defend what is effectively The Establishment.  The Federalist’s publisher, Ben Domenech, recently asked readers to “Consider The Possibility That We Are Led By Idiots.”  If there’s anything progressives want you to consider less than that, it’s the idea that so-called elite institutions are simply creating another generation of idiots to succeed them in “leadership.”

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Political Journalism and Political Science: Still a First Date

At Poynter, James Warren writes about last weekend’s meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, focusing on a panel titled, “The Media and the 2016 Election: A View from the Campaign Trail.”  While I appreciate the journalists who would show up to such a thing, if Warren’s report is any indication, even the journalists interested in political science still have a lot to learn from it.

Steve Peoples of the Associated Press suggested the 2016 election was leading him to question all of his assumptions, which is probably a good practice for most people in general.  But Warren reports that Peoples wondered what journalists would do if you cant trust the polling.

If this was Twitter, I’d be hashtagging that sentiment #facepalm and #headdesk for several reasons.

First, it is usually the case that post-election seminars feature journalists confessing that too much of election coverage is focused on the horse race.  Political scientists would tell you there’s good reason to be concerned about it:

“Patterson (1993; 2005) and others fear that the focus on the game over substance undermines the ability of citizens to learn from coverage and to reach informed decisions in elections or about policy debates. Capella and Jamieson (1997) argue that the strategy frame portrays candidates and elected officials as self-interested and poll driven opportunists, a portrayal that they show promotes cynicism and distrust among audiences. Farnsworth and Licther (2006) go so far as to suggest that horse race coverage in the primary elections results in a self-reinforcing bandwagon effect with positive horse race coverage improving a candidate’s standing in subsequent polls and negative horse-race coverage hurting a candidate’s poll standings.”

The 2008 and 2012 elections had much the same problem.  And 2016 was no different, with horse race coverage accounting for most of the reason a candidate like Donald Trump got mostly positive coverage.  Indeed, while Nate Silver is a data journalist rather than a political scientist, his analysis supports the bandwagon thesis: the media covered Trump well in excess of his poll standings, ultimately driving those standings higher despite bad favorability numbers.

In contrast, you can check Jack Shafer‘s 2008 hot take defending horse race coverage to see how much worse it sounds now than then (and it sounded bad then).

Second, while there was a small systematic error in the 2016 polling, Nate Silver explained before the election why his model showed a 28.6% chance of Trump winning and the reasons he gave pretty much explained in advance what happened.  And even if you don’t buy the precision of a model like Silver’s (and you probably should not), it was Sean Trende (who holds a poli sci degree) noting that a 25% chance was like flipping a coin and having it come up heads twice in a row — hardly shocking.

Instead, journalists and more conventional pundits tended to see 25% — or even 14% — as 0%, when in fact, sometimes unlikely results occur.  That does not wipe out the laws of probability.  The chances of rolling a six on one die are only 16.67%, but it still happens and when it does, it doesn’t mean the die is loaded or defective.

Third, polling isn’t the only thing political science has to offer journalism.  Political science could also offer a number of fundamental reasons — 2016 being an open seat election in a mediocre economy involving two poor candidates and a Democratic Party that had been losing white working class voters for decades — that helped account for Trump’s victory, all of which could have been considered and incorporated into journalists’ thinking well in advance of election day.

Molly Ball and Nia-Malika Henderson apparently commented on the sorry state of the Democratic Party.  Ball thought it was “hard to underestimate how screwed the Democrats are,” but noting their situation wasn’t hopeless, recalled that Barack Obama was a little-known state senator before the 2008 election.

I’m hoping Warren mischaracterized Ball, as this is almost entirely incorrect, and any good political scientist would have been able to correct her.

First, by the time of the 2008 cycle, Obama had been elected to the U.S. Senate and had been the highly-publicized and highly-lauded keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  Political scientists would identify such a person as a rising star, well positioned to compete in the “invisible primary” of party officials, donors and influencers that occurs before a single vote is cast.

And in fact, Obama proved to be a prodigious fundraiser from both Wall Streeters and small donors alike.  While it was certainly possible that he could have fizzled had he lost the Iowa caucuses, political scientists would have predicted he could mount a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton.

[Aside: The fundraising is usually crucial because of the cost of paid media.  In 2016, Donald Trump entered the race with high name-ID and a press willing to provide free media well in excess of his poll numbers.]

Second, as for the Democrats being screwed, Jay Cost (another political scientist by education, iirc) has observed that “[i]f the Republican party were a publicly traded company, January 20 would be the day to sell, sell, sell.  This may sound counterintuitive, but the verdict of history is clear, if not quite unanimous: The moment a party achieves total control of the government is the moment just before power begins to slip through its fingers.”

Finally, Ball apparently wants to know if there has been a lasting realignment of the parties, or whether 2016 was an anomaly.  Trende’s book, The Lost Majority, would tell you no such thing truly exists.  See also Jay Cost:

In addition, while the panel apparently noted that Hillary did well with college-educated whites, I have noted previously that Trump was outpolled by down-ticket GOPers in many races, often by appealing less to working-class whites and more to college-educated whites.  John Judis — a progenitor of the Emerging Democratic Majority theory — noted the GOP’s overall improvement with white voters, but particularly college-educated white voters, back in 2015.

The GOP having Trump as its public face might change those trends in time, even if it did not occur in 2016.  But a political scientist would tell you that’s where the analysis starts.

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Meet the New Boss…

…Same as the old boss.  But then, you’ve probably heard The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” many times already.  Pete Townshend’s power chords and sardonic lyrical commentary on revolution, perfectly paired with Roger Daltrey’s epic scream of frustration.  IIRC, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once offered a similar viewpoint, albeit without the groundbreaking sequenced synthesizer, the rolling thunder of Keith Moon on the throne, or the double threat of John Entwistle keeping the time and soloing throughout.

Although it’s really still too early for confident conclusions, the conventional wisdom now seems to be that the Trump administration carries the whiff of a failed revolution before reaching the arbitrary but much-hyped 100-day mark.

Pres. Trump entered the White House vowing to drain the swamp of our nation’s capital.  In recent days, however,  Trump has decided that it’s worth bombing Syria over chemical attacks on civilians, Syrian strongman Assad must leave power at some point, Russia is not going to be our best bud, NATO is not obsolescent, China is not a currency manipulator, Fed Chair Janet Yellen may not be worth dumping, and the crony capitalism of the Ex-Im Bank is perfectly tolerable.

Also, there is the seeming decline of Stephen Bannon, Trump’s nominal senior counselor and wannabe nationalist philosopher.  He’s been removed from his perch at the NSC and losing internal battles to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.  He’s just some guy who works for Trump now.  Bannon’s post-government future is being imagined, if not expedited.

I could discuss the merits of these apparent flip-flops and policy shifts, as many will.  Some are quite welcome and defensible, from my perspective, e.g., China really isn’t a currency manipulator now (if it ever was) and dropping that kerfuffle in return for China’s help with North Korea (as seems likely) is a good trade, imho.

Instead, let’s look at the larger picture.  If the current trends hold — a somewhat risky assumption when the mercurial Trump is under discussion — the portrait that emerges is of an insurgent, outsider campaign suddenly giving way to a largely establishment GOP (perhaps even Wall Street Democrat-influenced) administration.

I could argue that this isn’t shocking, that Trump was historically a New York Democratic donor who opportunistically went RINO to capture a nomination from gullible folk who listen to talk radio or who mistook reality TV for reality and took the grossly excessive media coverage of his campaign as validation of its seriousness.

Rather than sip from a hearty mug of schadenfreude, however, I want to focus on the notion that Trump’s seeming quick-change act is a bad thing, even if I think I might like the policies better than those we would get from the Full Trump.

After all, in a representative Republic, people that voted for Trump ought to get what they voted for, even in the Menckenesque expression of the idea.  Similarly, all of those who supported or voted for other Republicans, particularly more establishment candidates, cannot help but feel they were cheated by the passions of the star-struck and the gullible.  Trumpists may not get much of what they want, while others will get their policies as executed by someone whom most thought lacked the experience or temperament for the job.

In many respects, it seems like the worst of both worlds.

To the degree that Trump’s rise and ultimate victory is a byproduct of Americans’ precipitous decline in trust of our institutions — especially political institutions — the “meet the new boss” dynamic will only fuel that distrust and potentially make our politics even more toxic in the future.  Trump fans may become more alienated and perhaps more radical, while his skeptics may get to see their ideas discredited by the incompetent execution of an amateur.

Americans who have been voting for change cycle after cycle for perhaps as long as 16-20 years may reach the Daltrey-esque primal scream moment.  I can’t say I would blame them much.

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When Kicking Your Friends is Bad Politics (Spoiler: Almost Always)

As I went about my Tuesday, I hadn’t been planning to write something critical of Pres. Trump or his media defenders.  That was before coming across The Wall Street Journal’s James Freeman, writing about Neil Gorsuch’s ascension to the Supreme Court.

Freeman writes: “[Monday] morning Neil Gorsuch became the 113th Justice of the Supreme Court, vindicating the decision of conservatives to vote for Donald Trump in 2016. This may signal the end of the Republican NeverTrump movement, which in its heyday attracted the support of literally dozens of think-tank scholars and columnists in a broad coalition that stretched from Washington, D.C. to as far away as Manhattan.”

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that one hasn’t seen much of the #NeverTrump hashtag since the election, when most pundits of that stripe decided to back Trump when he did the right things (like nominating Gorsuch) and criticize him when he missteps (like the botched rollout of the travel ban).

Instead, it is apparently necessary to review How You Got Gorsuch for those who may have recently been struck on the head by a large, blunt object.

Originally, candidate Trump suggested that he might appoint his sister, a pro-choice federal appeals judge, to the SCOTUS.  He later claimed he was joking about this, but he also suggested during a debate that judges sign bills.  It was fairly obvious that when it came to judicial nominations, Trump was as much a Know Nothing as he was on… well, most everything else.  And it was quite disturbing to NeverTrump types and others, especially following the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

So it was that in March 2016, Trump took the unusual step of promising to make public a list of potential SCOTUS nominees.  His campaign worked with the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to compile that list.  “Worked with” is also a fairly charitable description; the news story in the prior link used the word “outsourced.”

As Ilya Shapiro observed while this work was proceeding, FedSoc was a “hotbed” of NeverTrump sentiment.  FedSoc and Heritage represent precisely the think-tankers Freeman chose to gratuitously insult in the WSJ.  The quiet assistance of a small number of such key people, whose assistance was by no means guaranteed, came at a crucial time for the Trump campaign.

During the campaign, the NeverTrump crowd was routinely bashed by Trump fans for putting their principles above winning.  But without such people, it is unlikely the Trump campaign would have compiled and published such a list.  And without such people willing to give the campaign the benefit of their uncompromised, principled analysis, the list would likely have been ineffective.

Trump’s defenders would like to pretend that anyone with NeverTrump views, by definition, could not assist Trump.  It is also typical of the “binary choice” myth Trump’s defenders propagated that all NeverTrumpers necessarily wanted Hillary Clinton to win.  This ignores the entire history of politics producing otherwise unimaginable alliances, and ignores the role of NeverTrump types in pressuring Trump in the first instance to do something that would prove crucial to the victory of his own campaign.

Indeed, it was generally outlets like National Review, which had published a special “Against Trump” issue, that kept beating the drum for Trump to publish that list, right up to the very day he finally did it.

When Trump published that first list (Gorsuch would subsequently appear on a supplemental list), people across the political spectrum understood what it represented.

The Hill noted the list was a response to attacks from “true conservatives” like Ted Cruz that Trump could not be trusted to nominate conservative judges.  Even Gawker recognized the role played by FedSoc, adding that the list was an offering to a GOP faction led by Bill Kristol — one of the most visible NeverTrumpers at the time.

The list became a prime talking point for selling Trump to conservatives by people like radio talker Hugh Hewitt.  I mention Hewitt in particular because he is by his own admission a Party Man and as such previously advocated for the SCOTUS nomination of a mediocrity like Harriet Miers.

It was opposition from dissident conservatives (including not only future NeverTrumpers like Kristol, but also a number of future Trump supporters, ironically) that caused Miers to withdraw and Samuel Alito to become the nominee.  Anyone think that was the wrong move?  Bueller?

Then as now, those who want a SCOTUS more grounded in the text of the Constitution than the fashionable political causes of the day — and those who want to brag about nominees with this philosophy — ought to thank, not insult, those who work to identify such jurists, those who publicly agitate for their nomination, and those who work behind the scenes to ensure it happens.

OTOH, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the plan is to simply be a lackey for anything a nominally-GOP administration proposes.

But why make a big deal out of Freeman’s anti-historical cheap shot?  Aren’t I being a bit too touchy about this?

Well, I live in the world where Pres. Trump’s job approval ratings are trending badly for him.  I live in the world where Trump’s support is eroding even with core parts of his base.

I live in the world where insulting people likely to be allies in that Reagan 80 percent way is bad advocacy and bad politics, particularly when those being inaccurately insulted are largely responsible for someone like Gorsuch being nominated in the first instance.

I live in the world where the Trump administration still routinely embarrasses itself.  If and when they do so on a truly grand scale, people like Freeman may find they have reaped silences where there might have been tepid support, or criticism where there might have been silences.

And yet Trump and his media defenders can’t seem to give up attacking those from whom they probably need support, as we saw when the President and various of Murdoch’s minions decided to try to place all the blame for the failure of a bad and wildly unpopular healthcare bill on the conservative Freedom Caucus, rather than the House leaders who drafted it in secret or the President who backed it to the bitter end.

I have used harsher language here than I usually do precisely to demonstrate that snark is something which may please the writer and his friends, but is unlikely to win hearts and minds, which is generally the object of successful politics.

Kicking one’s supposed allies is a very Trumpian trait, but one not likely to serve Trump or his media defenders well in the medium-term.

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“Fake News” Checking and Fake “News Checking”

You may have read that Google plans to include “Fact Checks” of its news search results, much as Facebook has taken to doing with its news feeds.  And like Facebook, Google is farming out the job to so-called “fact-checkers” including Politifact, Snopes and the Washington Post.

The left-leaning biases of these organizations is well documented, but let’s briefly review them.  Politifact is essentially forced run lengthier explanations to justify the site’s disparate treatment of Left and Right, and treated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton quite differently, despite consistent polling showing most voters found them both dishonest and untrustworthy.

Most recently, Politifact retracted a 2014 article that found Obama Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s claim that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria to be “Mostly True.”  Politifact handed out that rating despite the fact that there were discrepancies in the accounting and some stockpile sites lacked even an agreement for inspection.   It turns out that the assurances of Democrat politicians and global bureaucrats are assertions, not facts.

Snopes hires as fact-checkers alumni from various left-wing news sites like Raw Story.  And they are not very transparent when asked about their practices.  So it’s not surprising that the Snopes coverage of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal contained only a few fact checks, almost all of which reviewed claims other people made about it, rather than Clinton’s numerous and obvious false statements about it.  Even The Guardian managed to fact-check Hillary.

As for the Washington Post, consider that the WaPo discontinued fact-checking during the first two years of the Obama administration, when Democrats also held large majorities in Congress.  Fact-checking resumed at roughly the same time a GOP Congress regained control in 2011.  The Washington Post sees itself as speaking truth to power…unless it’s untrammeled Democrat power.

Indeed, the Washington Post recently exercised no editorial control when Dana Milbank published a column based on claims about judicial filibusters less accurate than claims which previously had been awarded two and three Pinocchios by the WaPo fact-checker.  This approach is fact-checking for thee, not me.

None of this is surprising because so-called “fact-checking” is not so much about establishing facts but imposing a particular Truth.  And it is not about being restrained by their own Truth as it is about imposing it upon the Other.

While I do not agree with BuzzFeed’s EIC Ben Smith on everything, he is certainly correct to note (as Charlie Sykes has) that left-leaning Big Media is desperate to try to retain the “gatekeeping” power they enjoyed in the pre-internet age.  They, with the help of complaining left-wingers, have managed to cajole some of the biggest players in the internet media cartel into helping them.

I suspect that trying to impose authority rather than earning it will merely perpetuate the cycle of distrust that has already brought the media to new lows.

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Do Trump Statements Come With an Expiration Date?

Many of you may be familiar with Jim Geraghty‘s Rule from 2008: “All statements from Barack Obama come with an expiration date. All of them.”

But what about statements from Donald Trump, in light of his seeming about-face on attacking Syria?

I ask because Philip Klein (a smart guy, particularly on healthcare policy) has an… interesting explanation of how to square Trump’s attack on Syria with his campaign rhetoric: “Though he didn’t try to convey any sort of coherent grand strategy, his own disjointed heterodox statements actually made people feel that on a gut level, he was basically where they were.”

Well, I’m old enough to have heard that theory before:  “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.”  That was Barack Obama, in the prologue to The Audacity of Hope.

And this is why the whole concept of “taking Trump seriously, but not literally” was such a transparent dodge by his supporters and apologists.  It was apparent to anyone who pays attention to any area of policy that candidate Trump had almost no knowledge of or facility with policy and was unable to even adequately describe his own policies on his own website.  It’s one of the reasons that most people thought he lacked the knowledge or temperament to be President during the campaign.

Now he’s President Trump and his team has asked his intelligence briefers to cut down on the number of words in the daily briefing book and use more graphics and pictures.  And it was pictures of child victims of the Assad regime that ostensibly prompted Trump to shift his position.

For now, it’s working.  Having fired Michael Flynn and removed Stephen Bannon from the NSC, Trump does seem to have mostly followed through on his promise to hire the best people when it comes to natsec, e.g., James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, and Nikki Haley.

Trump’s also getting good press for striking Syria, even from quarters who were afraid to publicly criticize Obama’s feckless foreign policy while he was in power.

Moreover, Trump voters are so deafened by the tribal drums that many don’t even notice his inconsistency.

But while Klein notes that the potential for problems if things escalate in Syria is still hypothetical, it’s not exactly unlikely either.  And even if Syria does not grow as a challenge for the U.S., there will inevitably be others.

When the going gets rougher, it’s entirely possible that Trump’s voters, not to mention the media, will focus more on the incoherent leadership at the top.

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This is TrumpTV

Remember when people were concerned that after Donald Trump lost the election, he would start up a “news” channel?  Good times.  Instead, Trump won and we have a surplus of Trump TV.

You might think I’m referring to the Fox News Channel.  Granted, the ostensibly straight news side of Fox doesn’t totally shill for the President (my family’s biggest Trump fan now prefers the even more Trump-friendly Fox Business Network).  But when FNC’s biggest star was again being accused of being a little too fresh with the womenfolk, not unlike Trump, his old milkshake buddy volunteered his support.

But I was also thinking of Jonathan Mahler’s NYT Magazine piece, “CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It.

The problem? “[A]n existential threat was looming. In a world where cable cutters were consuming their news in bite-size portions on their phones and streaming free video over the internet, how much longer would anyone be willing to pay for expensive cable packages? Real breaking-news events happened only every so often, and people lost interest in them quickly; more quickly than ever, in fact, now that there was so much else to distract them.”

The solution?  Donald J. Trump, Bringer of Ratings.  And after the election, “[w]hat [CNN Worldwide president Jeff] Zucker is creating now is a new kind of must-see TV — produced almost entirely in CNN’s studios — an unending loop of dramatic moments, conflicts and confrontations.”  Sound like anyone we know?

As Mahler notes, while at NBC, Zucker “helped usher in the age of reality TV, first with the gross-out show ‘Fear Factor’ and then with ‘The Apprentice’,” which of course starred Trump.

Zucker has brought that sensibility to CNN: “As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are ‘characters in a drama,’ members of CNN’s extended ensemble cast.  ‘Everybody says, “Oh, I can’t believe you have Jeffrey Lord or Kayleigh McEnany,” but you know what?’ Zucker told me with some satisfaction.  ‘They know who Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany are.'”

Indeed, a recurring theme in Mahler’s longread is that “[i]t’s a symbiotic relationship that could only thrive in the world of television, where the borders between news and entertainment, and even fantasy and reality, have grown increasingly murky.”

For example, Mahler further notes that “Zucker is a big sports fan and from the early days of the campaign had spoken at editorial meetings about wanting to incorporate elements of ESPN’s programming into CNN’s election coverage.  ‘The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way,’ he told me.  Toward that end, the network built ‘pregame’ sets outside debate halls with excited crowds in the background and created a temporary rooftop studio for the final weeks of the campaign with sweeping views of the White House and the Washington Monument.”

I have written at length about the ESPNization of political media and was inspired to do so by one of those pregame sets.  It’s a decline decades in the making, driven by economics as well as technology.  But the escalation is very much TrumpTV.

The relationship between Trump and Zucker may have soured for the moment, but you can easily imagine the make-up call in which one of them says, right out of the TV/movie cliche book: “You know, we’re not so different, you and I…”

While CNN may have been one of the worst offenders during the primaries, also recall CBS CEO Les Moonves from this period: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”  And post-election, BuzzFeed’s EIC Ben Smith has said “(Trump) has singlehandedly…postponed the collapse of a fair share of legacy media in an interesting way,” though this ignores that sites like his have reaped the clicks as well.

The surface politics of these outlets may oppose Trump, but now more than ever they share his ideology of enriching and empowering themselves by inflaming controversies and increasingly adopting his tabloid standards.  It’s all about the audience share.  In this regard, they all are — like Sean Hannity — Great Americans.

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“Oh, He’ll Change After We Get Married.”

To be fair, men make the same error and both sexes make it in relationships before marriage.  But only some have made this mistake regarding the Presidency.

You see it from the lefty L.A. Times Editorial Board in the kick-off to their remarkably pompous series on “Our Dishonest President.

The Board thunders: “The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a catastrophe’ … Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.”

Why?  Why on Earth did you think that?  You’re likely wrong that the people around him aren’t acting as a check on his worst instincts.  But you observed the life and campaign of 70-year-old Donald J. Trump and know that any hope he would suddenly transform was pure wishcraft.

The same malady persists among some righties, like author Brad Thor:

During the campaign, Thor argued for Trump by comparing him to a drug being offered out of a crappy clinic in Mexico, one that’s the subject of lawsuits over its side effects.

How does that scenario typically work out?  I’m thinking “side effects.”

Had the passengers wrested control of Flight 93 from the terrorists, what were the odds that amateurs would have made a smooth-as-silk landing?

If people had argued that conservatives should vote for Hillary Clinton because she might pivot to her original Goldwater Girl persona as President, or at least not pocket the silverware, the laughter would have been deafening.

Ross Douthat admits that his proposal — that Trump create a think tank inside the White House “to brief the president regularly on how Trumpist premises should shape any given legislative deal” — is an implausible idea.  (Douthat fails to notice that Trumpism has little constituency in Congress.)

Although I suspect some staff turnover is inevitable (as it seemingly is with every Presidency), Douthat recognizes the root of the implausibility of his idea is in Trump’s character — his inability to evaluate arguments, accept advice, or even convincingly project the notion that the administration is about more than his glorification and narcissism.

I can blame Trump for that, and often do.  But I also don’t care to excuse those — Left or Right — who now want to pretend that we should expect much better than this.  The parties could have and should have done better.  Primary voters could have and should have done better.  In that respect, I can’t blame Trump any more than I blame the scorpion or the tiger.

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Tucker Carlson’s Dangerous Game

Having written about Sean Hannity on Monday, I am loath to return so quickly to the well of Fox News Channel, but Tucker Carlson is playing a dangerous game.  I refer to this:

You can view a longer version of the clip, which makes clear that the “monitoring” to which he refers is really the alleged “unmasking” of individuals connected to the Donald Trump transition and campaign in intelligence reports, allegedly by former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice. (Why Fox would take Carlson slightly out of context on Twitter is anyone’s guess.)

However, the materials Carlson refers to were, as far as anyone knows, “incidental collection,” i.e., instances in which a foreign person or agent properly targeted for surveillance speaks to a U.S. person.  Indeed, when House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes initially made the unmasking claim public, he stated that “on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

Conflating the collection of surveillance intelligence (including incidental collection) with the subsequent analysis or dissemination of that material, as Carlson does here, misleads people into thinking the intelligence was collected improperly.

This is not hypothetical.  I have had people interpret and defend Carlson’s remarks as suggesting that Obama had intelligence agencies target foreign persons or agents in order to monitor the conversations of Trump and his team.

There is a term — or euphemism — for this charge: “reverse-targeting.”  It’s illegal.  There is currently no evidence that reverse-targeting occurred in this case.  Indeed, Nunes was specifically asked whether this material could be the result of reverse-targeting and he replied that didn’t know.

In the past, Edward Snowden has claimed that many DNI analysts at NSA engaged in reverse-targeting.  OTOH, Edward Snowden is a Russian stooge hiding from justice and thus unlikely to say much that does not advance the interests of his handlers.

In addition, Sen. Rand Paul, while doubting that Trump was targeted for surveillance, suggested that he might have been the subject of a “backdoor search,” which is not reverse-targeting, but a different form of improper usage of properly collected surveillance of foreign persons or agents.

At that time, Paul claimed that Pres. Obama had been the subject of such improper searches 1,227 times, which turns out to be a misleading reference to the number of times Obama was mentioned by others (in unmasked but obviously identifiable form) in communications.

Paul has also accused Susan Rice of having conducted the “backdoor searches” without any evidence to back his claim.  And when he got called on it, he tap-danced.

These days, cases of reverse-targeting are rare, generally inadvertent, and reported pursuant to current law.  (Such was not always necessarily the case.)  These reports also address the implementation of “minimization” (masking) procedures.

This lack of evidence of improper surveillance of Trump & Co., incidentally, is why people arguing that Obama spied on Trump resort to listing the Obama’s other bad acts involving surveillance.

In general, evidence of prior bad acts is not good evidence that the person or group involved committed a particular current bad act.  I could explain why this is generally true in law, but let’s skip right to an example politics and the court of public opinion.

I have previously noted that partisan Democrats once pursued nutty investigations of whether George H. W. Bush flew in an SR-71 Blackbird jet to Paris to interfere with the Iranian hostage negotiations, and whether he was involved in drug-running with the Contras in Nicaragua.  Those allegations are made no less nutty by the fact that there was an actual Iran-Contra scandal when George H. W. Bush was Vice-President.  And they are no less nutty because he used to run the CIA.

In the current climate, my favorite part of the “bad acts” argument is the Right’s strange new concern that the CIA allegedly spied on Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who were investigating the CIA’s handling of the torture issue during the Bush Administration.  The GOP — and most conservatives — were uninterested in this story at the time because they thought Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s investigation was a political witch hunt.  But now the Obama administration is to be blamed for defending the CIA’s attempt to fend it off on their own system.  OK.

So why is any of this a big deal?  After all, isn’t this whole subject murky and confusing?  There are at least two answers to this question.

First, at the crass political level, conflating issues of surveillance with issues of analysis or usage merely gives Democrats and the establishment media license to do the same in order to distract from the accusation that Rice engaged in improper unmasking, which is potentially quite serious (for what it’s worth, which isn’t much, Rice denies the accusation, though her general lack of credibility is not proof of culpability).

As David French notes, we really don’t know enough yet to be forming solid opinions on whether Rice acted improperly.  My quibble with French’s piece is that he uses Russia as an example and the materials at issue here ostensibly did not involve Russia. (John Schindler provides a hypothetical intelligence report that’s much simpler and likely more pertinent to the current controversy.)

Second, on a more serious level, note the point raised early on by Andrew McCarthy in considering the mere possibility of reverse-targeting.  He observed that the pre-9/11 “wall” between law enforcement and intelligence investigators made it difficult to share information and thus effectively investigate or prevent terror attacks.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board —a bipartisan panel in the executive branch that reviews the executive branch’s surveillance actions and also monitors civil liberty concerns — has found the sort of post-9/11 electronic surveillance at issue here “makes a substantial contribution to the government’s efforts to learn about the membership, goals, and activities of international terrorist organizations, and to prevent acts of terrorism from coming to fruition.”

To be sure, we should be concerned about the potential for abuse of these surveillance programs.  But we should be very careful that any reforms we make address actual abuses of civil liberties, not imagined ones, before deciding to risk losing the value these programs provide.

Carlson, and Paul for that matter, thus potentially do the public a great disservice by conflating surveillance with analysis/unmasking (and dissemination and leaking) to advance their partisan or ideological agendas.  A misinformed public may be persuaded to demand reforms of the law that not only do not address the potential problem seen so far in this controversy, but also cures that may be worse than the disease.

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Gorsuch Will Live. Norm Will Die.

For months, there’s been plenty of talk about candidate and Pres. Trump destroying various political and cultural norms.  Fair enough.  Most of this talk, however, comes from Democrats (or the Left broadly), who are in the process of upending a political norm themselves.

The nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court was favorably voted out of the Senate Judiciary Cmte yesterday on a party-line vote.  It seems likely that the Democrats will filibuster his nomination when it reaches the Senate floor, which in turn will likely cause Senate Republicans to change the rules to eliminate the filibuster for SCOTUS nominations and to confirm Gorsuch by majority vote.

The GOP will be entirely justified in changing the rule.  Gorsuch is eminently qualified for the position.  No credible complaint has been lodged against his ethics.  His record is overwhelmingly in the majority of the panels on which he has served for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  His opinions are generally well-founded and lively in language.

In contrast, the Democrats’ opposition has been an incoherent mess.  Much of it has been an improper, results-oriented attack on his decisions, continuing the losing claim of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that courts should decide cases based on identity politics.

OTOH, when they aren’t painting him as an extremist, they’re conceding he’s really pretty mainstream, but cannot be confirmed after the way the GOP refused to hold hearings on Pres. Obama’s election-year SCOTUS nomination of Merrick Garland (an approach previously endorsed by Dems like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer).

Further, Dems are supposedly alarmed that Gorsuch might reconsider precedents like Chevron v. NRDC, or even Roe v. Wade, which Democrats have taken to calling a “super-precedent” (a term as imaginary as a unicorn).  But they are also alarmed that he would be unwilling to reconsider precedents they don’t like, such as Citizens United v. FEC.  Again, a completely political, results-oriented approach that itself departs from the historic norm for judicial nominations.

Ending the filibuster for SCOTUS picks is the next step after Senate Democrats ended the filibuster for judicial nominations to lower courts.  Republicans had blocked a number of Pres. Obama’s judicial nominees, but it must be noted that this was in part a response to the Democrats’ filibuster of prior GOP nominees like Miguel Estrada, a highly-qualified  jurist blocked more than once for no other reason than Dems’ fear he eventually would be appointed to the SCOTUS.

The GOP was also responding to the attempted filibuster of Samuel Alito’s SCOTUS confirmation.  While unsuccessful, the Alito filibuster was supported by Senate Democratic leadership and by then-Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and John Kerry, to name a few.

Indeed, it could be said the Democrats have been attacking the norms for judicial nominations since at least the Reagan-era nomination of Robert Bork, an episode so egregious that the man’s name became a verb signifying a political smear.  Even after the Borking, Republicans attempted to adhere to the traditional norm of supporting well-qualified SCOTUS nominees despite philosophical disagreements, as can be seen by the near-unanimous vote for Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  The GOP got nothing for their consistency.

In this sense, the GOP tried to maintain the norm of confirming well-qualified jurists; the Dems are trying to destroy the remnant of that norm after decades of effort.

And in a way, none of this should surprise anyone much, as Democrats are by nature not particularly fond of norms  — at least not those they are establishing and imposing.  Progressivism is at its heart a philosophy that is not fond of Constitutional norms, as Woodrow Wilson made plain before and during his Presidency.  And in general, they are not disposed to ask why a fence exists before removing it.

Of course, some societal norms are worth junking.  Jim Crow is one obvious example, though progressive Democrats will crow much more about their role in ending it than their prior interest in eugenics (some of which still turns up in the unguarded thoughts of abortion advocates).  Fewer are interested in examining less obvious examples.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that in politics, people’s concern about norms is usually as situational as their position on any other question.  It would be far better if those purporting to be concerned about norms were willing to have an adult conversation about why certain fences might exist, regardless of which partisan tribe holds a temporary majority.  But that norm appears to have been knocked down long ago.

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