French Politics: The Fruit of Welfare Statism

You have probably already been served a stack of hottakes on the French Presidential election taller than a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s.  Unlike most of those people, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the current state of French politics.  But I will note that it is yet another product of welfare statism.

As I have observed on several previous occasions, the prosperity that makes a nation think welfare statism is workable is such that the people see it as a replacement for the creation of human capital.  The resulting declining birth rates endanger the welfare state.  The political response is to import or encourage the inflow of human capital from other nations to make up the difference.

These problems are more acute in Europe than America because they got more socialist more quickly.  In addition, rightly or wrongly, they feel a greater moral responsibility regarding refugees (most likely due to their experiences in WWII).  Also, the nature of the largely lower-skilled Muslim immigration presented unanticipated risks.

Ironically, the supposed elites of Europe likely rationalized their immigration policies by looking to the United States.  “Look at how the Americans managed to assimilate waves of mass immigration,” they thought.  “If those bozos can do it, we advanced civilizations should be able to pull it off.  Sure, America has some racial problems, but they seem manageable enough.”

What Europe’s so-called elites did not realize is that immigration was always a tougher issue for Americans than we like to remember.  Moreover, while the much WASPier America of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries looked upon the Irish and southern Europeans as The Other, these immigrants were able to assimilate over the course of a couple of generations in large part because they were ultimately fairly similar outside of their Catholicism.

European Jews had their own problems migrating to and being welcomed America.  But the Jewish people historically expect this and have a wealth of experience and cultural tools for dealing with it.  And ultimately, the New Testament natives in America knew and respected the Old Testament as a common foundation.

What modern Europe did not notice, for all of their smarts, was that the earlier waves of immigrants to America largely did not convert to Protestantism.  To be sure, the descendants of Catholic and Jewish immigrants often became less devout or more secular, just like the descendants of the Protestants.  But there was never any mass conversion.

They further failed to notice that their robust welfare states, particularly their stultifying labor market regulations, would create barriers to the economic opportunities that would help Muslim immigrants assimilate into their new host countries.

This dynamic has been exacerbated as: (1) no elites fully comprehended the shocks of entering a post-industrial economy; (2) they did not anticipate that the end of the Cold War might erode the sorts of political consensus regarding issues like nationalism; and (3) Europe has taken in a large influx of refugees at the same time the developed world has been struggling to recover what was lost in the Great Recession.

In short, Europe, including France, has welcomed or accepted a large influx of immigration from Africa, a cohort further apart in race and religion from the native population than generally has been the case in America (even the Africans brought to America as slaves became Christian).  They have much more traditional nationalism than America, which was founded more on certain political ideals.  And the economic conditions in Europe if anything are causing new generations of the Muslim population there to become more devoted to Islam, not less, with all of the associated social friction (of which terrorism is only the most extreme expression).

These problems are born not only of welfare state mathematics and demographics.  They are also a product of the welfare state ideology that ostensibly meritocratic elites possess the knowledge, wisdom and foresight to manage national economies  — and if that means tuning out the voices of the proletariat, so be it.  The resulting populist eruptions can be seen in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Milton Friedman once famously opined that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.  He may not have fully understood how the latter creates a demand for the former.

The result is that the populace begins to have a love/hate relationship with the government, and the governing class in particular.  People demand a welfare state, but many of them do not like the methods politicians find necessary to provide it.

But don’t scoff at France, or Europe generally, too much for this.  We have a version of the same problem, albeit in a milder form.

Obligatory Note: This posting is based on my perception of what was and is, not what should be. Indeed, I wish this note wasn’t de facto obligatory.

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Is Politics Really Downstream From Culture?

The idea that politics is downstream from culture was popularized by Andrew Breitbart, though I’m old enough to vaguely recall others expressing this idea with less virality.  As an axiom, it obtained that virality because it does succinctly capture an important facet of political theory.  As you know, it has been quite influential, particularly among (but by no means limited to) the segment of the Right that is attracted to the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality and Alinskyite tactics — a faction that has been the focus of some of my recent posts.

Of course, as with most things, the reality is more complex, as an aside in a column by Mike Sabo in The Federalist recently reminded me.  Sabo wrote:

Contra Andrew Breitbart and most commentators on politics today, politics in its highest sense is not downstream from culture. ‘To know whether a culture is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, liberating or oppressive,’ Charles Kesler once remarked, ‘one has to be able to look at it from outside or above the culture.’ That is, in the founders’ view culture should conform to principles of political justice that are true for all men everywhere.”

I have two riffs based on this observation.

The first, shorter, riff is that this observation may shed some light on the lingering “nationalism vs. patriotism/exceptionalism” debate on the Right.  If you slot in “nationalism” for “culture” and “the founders’ view of political justice” for “patriotism,” that debate might advance further than it has to date.

The second, slightly longer riff has to do with a darker version of Sabo’s point that I thought I already wrote, but of course cannot seem to find now that I need it.

My darker version begins with the premise that the current political moment revolves to a significant degree around the creeping totalitarianism being popularized by the New New Left.  Quite beyond the Maoists on campus, there is the SJW critique of, well, everything (that’s what makes it totalitarian).   Sports events and highlights shows must be political.  Standup comedy must be political.  Comic books must be political.  Baking wedding cakes must be political.  Bathroom and locker room use must be political.  Etc., etc.

What this totalitarianism represents is the effort to subsume culture into politics.  It represents a reversal of Breitbart’s stream, or perhaps a crossing of streams Dr. Egon Spengler would advise against.

More seriously, it represents what has been called the Left’s “long march through the institutions.”  And that point leads me to note that the “politics is downstream from culture” discussion generally does not define “culture.”  Breitbart, and those running with his axiom, generally seem to mean popular culture, which is only one part of culture.

Basic sociology would suggest culture includes a number of institutions, usually including: family; education; religion; labor; government; media/art; and healthcare.

Long before the emergence of the New New Left, it is fairly easy to observe that — whether intentionally or instinctively — the Left’s agenda typically seeks to expand the government’s role at the expense of these other institutions (or failing that, to occupy and ideologically dominate said institutions).  But the stream can flow both directions within these other institutions.

An obvious example this week would be the House’s passage of legislation restructuring the health insurance market and Medicaid  — the second major piece of legislation in the past decade  affecting the institution of healthcare.  Yet healthcare is capable of affecting the culture and therefore politics, as the invention of The Pill affected the sexual revolution and the invention of the sonogram affected public attitudes about abortion.

I am not an expert on rivers and streams, but my experience is that they generally do not flow in different directions simultaneously.  So perhaps we need a better metaphor for the interaction of culture and politics, particularly while navigating today’s troubled political seas (ouch).

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The Right Isn’t Heartless, Just a Bit Clueless Sometimes

On Monday, I suggested that the establishment Right often debate certain political tactics without considering whether they serve a larger vision.  On Tuesday, I suggested that “conservatarians may have to consider the usefulness of more provocative activism, not only to defend and conserve those aspects of institutions and systems we revere, but also to expose where the budding totalitarians of the New New Left have already crashed Chesterton’s gates and (in some cases) burned them to the ground.”

On Wednesday, Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman took up a closely related topic, arguing “The Right Needs Better Storytellers.”  His springboard was late-night host Jimmy Kimmel’s emotional monologue concerning his newborn son’s congenital cardiac condition, which Kimmel used to laud Obamacare’s requirement that health insurers cover pre-existing conditions.

Rothman observed:

[Republicans] clearly do not know how to respond. The right’s most unapologetically caustic communicators were devoid of compassion for Kimmel’s circumstances. More empathetic conservatives shared the ABC host’s pain but criticized his judgment. Point, Democrats.

Republicans will always find it difficult to counter poignant and affecting storytelling with reasoned logic. That’s not to say logic is entirely ineffective. If stories move the needle of public opinion, and they often do, Republicans need to tell a better story. It’s not as though they lack for material.

Rothman then recounted the stories of people who suffered under Obamacare, before noting that the law’s architects tended to mislead people about the scope of the pre-existing conditions problem and that GOP reformers have better ideas for addressing it.

But Rothman concluded in part that “[a]ll that wonkish claptrap is difficult to relate to when the interlocutor is a new father like Kimmel, scared to death for the life of his newborn son.”

He is correct, in large part because the real political argument isn’t about pre-existing conditions per se, or whether the House passes a healthcare bill today.  Rather, it is the zillionth iteration of the “debate” that goes like this: “Republicans/Conservatives are heartless — The End.”

It’s not just those on the right attacking Kimmel personally that are walking into the trap.  When the real question under discussion is “Are Conservatives Heartless?,” coldly retreating to the data like Mr. Spock answers the question in the affirmative.

Fuming about this, as Rich Lowry does, won’t change a thing, as I’d bet he knows.  I don’t know whether Lowry was responsible for his headline, “The Phrase ‘Pre-Existing Conditions’ Leads to the Suspension of All Thought,” but I’ll note that politics is about making friends and influencing people.  Insults generally do not accomplish either goal, especially if the insult is accurate.

One conservative doing it right (as usual) is Mary Katharine Ham, who has not only written about her awful Obamacare experiences, but also discussed them frequently on CNN.  From that chair,  she is not preaching to the choir, if the howling progressives that fill her Twitter mentions following such appearances are any indication.

I would also note that when I listened to a recent episode of The Federalist Radio Hour, it was sponsored by Think Freely Media, which seems to be based on the idea of advancing individual freedom and free enterprise through storytelling.  Since I write for The Federalist, I should add that’s not a plug of any kind. I have no idea whether they execute the idea effectively.  But at least they have a good idea.

As I previously wrote in a slightly different context:

I would urge people to abandon their reliance on narratives, but this would be as silly as people urging the abandonment of religion, or nationalism, or any number of things that are part of the human experience.  It would be profoundly unconservative to ignore human nature in that way.

“People love telling and hearing stories.  We love it in politics as an agent of influence.  We love it in media because we understand our attraction to drama.  We love it in life because stories help us understand and organize a complex and often chaotic world.” (Emphasis added.)

Conservatives generally pride themselves on their realism and their understanding of the fallen nature of mankind.  So perhaps when considering how to promote the right agenda and attack the wrong one, our tactics should account for people as we find them outside the insular world of political junkies — not always cool and rational, and not particularly fond of wonkery.

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No, the GOP is Not the Trump Party (Not Yet, Anyway).

I want to thank R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, for his New York Times op-ed “Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party.”

You really should RTWT, as it is an instant classic in the burgeoning genre of “Donald Trump is a Political Colossus” punditry.  As such, it is an excellent example to dissect.

Reno wrote of his fellow Reagan-era GOPers “We are, by now, the establishment — the senators, governors, think-tank presidents and columnists who, until Mr. Trump came along, got to define what “Republican” and “conservative” meant. My cohort simply cannot accept that Mr. Trump has taken away that coveted role and revolutionized not just our party, but also the very terms of the American political divide.”

He added, in some regally purple prose: “It is obvious to all but the most blinkered Republicans that with or without Mr. Trump, the Reagan era is over. The conservative-donor and think-tank consensus has been exploded. The next smart, ambitious young Republican politician with national aspirations will not adopt Ted Cruz’s strategy of trying to revive the rotting flesh of Reaganism. He will read out of Mr. Trump’s playbook, attacking globalism rather than big government. And he’ll win, because he’ll be talking about what worries voters.”

And at the risk of pushing the envelope on the fair use doctrine, these are perhaps the core grafs of the piece:

Most commentators struggle to explain Mr. Trump’s electoral success, because they assume he has no coherent political philosophy. This is myopic. As a public figure, Mr. Trump has articulated a consistent message that speaks to a fundamental political challenge facing the 21st-century West: We must affirm nationalism and fight globalism.

“This basic political message is dramatized by his populist rhetoric. At his campaign rallies he did not get cheers for denouncing government waste or championing tax cuts. His applause lines spoke of building a wall, deporting illegal immigrants, renegotiating trade deals and bringing back jobs. The America First, antiglobalist themes won him the election, not freedom-oriented, anti-government ones.”

Reno is correct about a few things.  The GOP has in many ways failed to adjust to its Reagan-era successes.  Winning the Cold War dissipated the basic Republican anti-Soviet foreign policy consensus.  Reagan-era tax reforms removed so many Americans from the tax rolls that marginal rate cuts are not the tangible benefit to middle-class workers that they were in the 1980s.  Further cuts also may fall on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve.

He is also correct that nationalism is currently a rising political force in America, as it has been elsewhere in the world.  Trump did not run on a freedom agenda.  Moreover, Trump’s rhetoric on issues like immigration and trade helped rally white working class voters — many of them former Obama voters — to his side, probably providing his margin of victory in the Rust Belt and the Upper Midwest.

At the risk of being dismissed as blinkered or myopic (easily proved by a glance through my prescription lenses), I submit that those correct observations do not lead inexorably to the conclusion that Trump has redefined conservatism or even the GOP, let alone “the very terms of the American political divide.”

As I have previously noted, there were a host of factors having little or nothing to do with nationalism that helped boost Trump to the White House.  It was an open seat election.  GDP growth was below two percent.  Pres. Obama’s foreign and natsec policies were empowering enemies like Iran and creating a Middle East vacuum that was filled by the Islamic State.

Battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan had been trending toward the GOP for years below the Presidential level, and had unified Republican state governments before the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton was an awful candidate.  She had and has all the charisma of a piece of plywood.  She did not appeal to the key demos of the so-called Emerging Democratic Majority in the way Obama did.  She managed to make septuagenarian socialist Bernie Sanders look exciting by comparison (his strength was an omen of her weakness, which she ignored).

She was under FBI investigation for her secretive mishandling of classified information.  Her personal negatives would have been a record, but for Trump having marginally worse ratings.

Clinton was the nominee of a party which had been shedding white working class voters since 1992, but she chose to ignore the Upper Midwest after her nomination.

While Clinton was a terrible candidate for the Democrats, she was an excellent one for the GOP.  Trump’s supporters successfully pushed the argument that a Clinton victory would be the end of America As We Know It.

Remember when the pitch for Trump to typical Republicans was that Clinton winning would be like letting al-Qaeda crash an airliner into the White House or the Capital?  Or that voting for Trump was like taking some skeevy cancer cure in Mexico rather than accept certain death?  Pepperidge Farm remembers, and so do I.

Those pitches were not an argument for Trump’s economic nationalism.  They were an argument against the Apocalypse.  The would-be Horsewoman-in-Chief turned out to be too lazy and arrogant to bring it.

The “binary choice” sentiment is clearly seen in the exit polling.  The more people voted against the other candidate, the better Trump did.  He overwhelmingly beat Hillary among those who thought the most important candidate quality was “can bring needed change.”

The more important SCOTUS appointments were to voters, the better Trump did.

He also cleaned up with the majority that thought the fight against the Islamic State was going badly.  This latter figure is significant because more voters cared about terrorism than immigration (and both of these fell well behind the economy in general — an issue Trump lost, btw).

Meanwhile, Trump was outpolled by most GOP Senate candidates and the average GOP House candidate.  In key states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Trump won blue-collar areas, but tended to run behind his fellow Republican candidates in white middle-class suburbs that previously backed GOP presidential candidates.

To emphasize the point: The man claimed to have transformed American politics ran behind conventional Republicans appealing to conventional Republicans in most states and districts.

While some may think Trump is the New Hotness, every one of those Representatives and Senators who is more popular than Trump knows they are.  Perhaps this is why the Colossus seems to have such difficulty getting his own party to move his agenda — or any major legislation — through Congress.

Lest it go to the legislators’ heads, it must be added that it’s not too difficult to be more popular than Donald Trump these days.  The current job approval numbers for this towering, transformational nationalist are below those of every other President since Harry Truman.

Similarly, the polling numbers for Trump’s immigration policies are generally bad.  His signature border wall is opposed by a large margin (and roughly the same margin among independents).  What immigration hawks (including myself) would call an amnesty generally enjoys roughly 60 percent support.

According to Gallup, support for foreign trade is at record levels, crossing party lines.  In fairness, some of the shifts in earlier polling on trade appear to be driven by partisanship — but this only underscores that it may be premature to claim that any effect Trump has had will last.

Finally, Trump has already flip-flopped on a number of issues, including some related to NATO and China’s alleged currency manipulation.  The current bill to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year does not fund Trump’s wall or spending cuts for “sanctuary cities,” though the White House is declaring victory anyway.

The Transformer-In-Chief may wind up less nationalist than some of the commentariat believes.  So far, Trump voters seem less concerned about it than Trump’s would-be theoreticians.

Could Trump remake the GOP?  Sure.  A good politician forges and maintains an electoral majority, though note that historically, national parties tend to start bleeding support once they achieve a unified government.

It might also help if Trump becomes a successful President, but even that is no guarantee he will transform the Republican Party.  The examples of past heterodox Presidents like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are again instructive.

Jimmy was a failure; Bubba was in many ways a success (though much of this was due to the end of the Cold War and the start of the Internet Age).  But Bill Clinton did not transform his party into New Democrats for any significant length of time (in fact, Congressional Dems drifted leftward even during his tenure).

In sum, whether Trump will turn out to transform the GOP, let alone all of American politics, remains very much an open question. The Republican base could turn nationalist or, like the Democrats, continue to simply move further from the center on a traditional left/right axis.

If the first 100 days of the Trump administration are any indication, one could argue the supposed Colossus is equally likely to discredit economic nationalism in America as he is to make it a dominant movement.

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What Conservatives Might See in Provocateurs

In yesterday’s posting, I essentially asked in a roundabout way whether more traditional conservatives would be more comfortable with others using more aggressive or flamboyant tactics if they were tethered not to Pres. Trump, but to someone like Newt Gingrich.

The former Speaker was labeled a “bomb-thrower” as he ascended to power.  But his politics, if not always doctrinaire conservatism, tended to fall enough within the ballpark of Reaganism that the establishment Right did not see him as the sort of threat they (we?) suspect Trump represents.

I added that some conservatives would still object to “bomb-throwing,” even if Trumpers were not in the dominant position of the GOP at the moment, and even if such tactics served a traditionally conservatarian vision, strategies, and projects.  I also wrote that I’d try to flesh out these ideas further, based on what I think the source of the remaining objections are.

Some of the objection to flamboyant political tactics may be aesthetic.  Conservatives, like everyone else, have grown up in a world where the Left (esp. the original New Left) has had a near-monopoly on provocative activism.  Who wants to act like those dirty hippies and commies, anyway?

Fair enough, although I wonder how much of the aesthetic objection is simply cultural habit at this point.  It may be that some Millennials have less of a problem with provocateurs not only because they are young, but also because they have not been programmed to associate it solely with the Left.

However, I suspect the larger objection is baked into conservatism itself.

What do conservatives do?  Well, many are into conserving things.  Especially those Burkean-types.  You know who you are.

In particular, conservatives are into the preservation of what they see as the virtues of various systems and institutions.  We tend to invoke G.K. Chesterton’s example of the fence:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.‘ “

Thus when we see someone on the Breitbart-inspired Right talking about #WAR, we reflexively recoil.  After all, politics is supposed to be the system that allows us to work out our political differences without war.  Talk of war is an admission of failure.

But what if we, as conservatives have failed — and not just failed, but failed on a massive scale?  What if we helped win the Cold War, but lost a hundred or a thousand other battles?  What if conservatives have been losing the political battle on the fiscal, social and cultural fronts for decades, perhaps a century?

This is certainly the pessimistic outlook that fuels nostalgia-soaked Trump supporters.  Taken to an extreme, such people become Neo-Reactionaries, who ostensibly see nothing left to preserve.  Virtually all of them are lying, either to themselves or to us, but that doesn’t mean the current political environment may nourish them.

What I am suggesting here, however, is that if conservatives are truly committed to saving institutions and systems — or what we see as the salutary aspects of them — we need to be honest about our historical record on this score, which is not terrific.  All too often, we have nobly shoveled against a flood and slowed it marginally.

Accordingly, if a Trump fan or a Young Alinsky is looking to target an institution like the University of California at Berkeley for some form of (non-violent) right-wing activism, the more stolid among us ought to take a moment for reflection.

As Chesterton suggested, we should consider and understand what a university is supposed to do.  We should ask ourselves — and everyone else: Is Berkeley doing any of those things in a satisfactory manner?  We should ask:  What does Berkeley actually do, and how much of it is it worth conserving?

I think I know how most conservatarians — and even some center-left types — would answer those questions.  If the answers are what I expect, then perhaps we should be thinking of issues like academic tenure differently than our knee-jerk conservative reflex might dictate.  Indeed, we might go well beyond tenure, and beyond the Berkeley campus.

In short, I am suggesting that — particularly in the current political climate  — conservatarians may have to consider the usefulness of more provocative activism, not only to defend and conserve those aspects of institutions and systems we revere, but also to expose where the budding totalitarians of the New New Left have already crashed Chesterton’s gates and (in some cases) burned them to the ground.

After all, if serious people leave political provocation to the shallow, the shallow and ultimately counter-productive will fill that vacuum.

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Vision, Strategies, Projects and Tactics, in the Trump and Post-Trump Era

In my additional notes about “Young Alinskys,” I wrote:

“Though I have not been a big fan of the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality,  the extended version of ‘Young Alinskys’ works a little harder at trying to understand the #WAR perspective as more than the ends justifying the means, and perhaps even challenge my priors in the process.  Just as Monday’s post was the foundation of this Federalist version, the new conclusion may serve as the springboard for my further thoughts here.”

In response, I have received feedback — indeed, some pushback — on the notion that more traditional conservatarians can learn anything from Trumpian tactics or the Breitbartian #WAR mentality.  In particular, I have more than once had people respond that to adopt Trumpian tactics is to become Trumpian in general, sooner or later.

I am not sure I entirely buy this anymore, though I did until quite recently.  In one of my first postings here, I wrote about Trump’s politics exhibiting a postmodernism more common on the Left.  I noted the difference, however, between pure postmodernism and its insertion into politics:

[P]olitical postmodernism isn’t really nihilistic.  Rather, it hypocritically pretends that truth and morality are relative, while seeking to impose a particular set of values by increasingly fanatical methods.”

I cannot imagine ever being for fanatical political methods, such as are being increasingly practiced by the New New Left and increasingly tolerated (or not denounced) by the Left in general.  But to the extent that Trumpian tactics stop short of fanatacism, the case that they should not be immediately dismissed by conservatarians might be found in the thinking of Newt Gingrich.

In the mid-Nineties, when Gingrich was ascendant, one of his many, many theories about political activities (or human activities generally; Newt’s thinking was never not grandiose) was to conceptualize them in terms of a vision, strategies, projects and tactics:

“The top of it was vision, and after you understood your vision of what you’re doing you designed strategies, and once you have your vision and strategies clear you designed projects which were the building blocks of your strategies, and inside the context of those projects you delegated dramatically an entrepreneurial model in which a project was a definable, delegatable achievement. … At the bottom of the model is tactics, what you do every day.”

This model is, as Gingrich noted, derived from military planning models.  When Gingrich succeeded — ascending in party leadership, attacking Democratic leadership, building a farm team of GOP candidates, creating and executing on the Contract with America — it was largely through the application of this model.  When he failed, it was usually at the level of projects or tactics (though such can be large failures) or due to his own failures of character.

We need not be as rigidly theoretical here.  But insofar as Trump skeptics and outright anti-Trumpers on the Right are concerned with Pres. Trump’s character flaws, the fact that this planning model was embraced and applied by the flawed Gingrich merely reinforces the point that the model exists apart from the character of those who employ it.

Moreover, the model reminds us that one of the other primary problems Trump skeptics and outright anti-Trump conservatives have is that Trump is not particularly conservative.  He is not seen as sharing our vision, except in a purely transactional sense.

Trump is seen by many as having little vision outside himself, though his national security team may be developing a foreign policy vision for him.  People like Stephen Bannon or the writers at American Affairs are trying to build an ideological infrastructure around a man who sees no need for one.

What the model therefore suggests is that the problem with Trumpian tactics is that they are in service of a politician, not a vision.

Indeed, I can argue that Speaker Paul Ryan operates from a broadly conservative vision and that the initial failure of the healthcare bill was: (1) one of tactics in trying to railroad AHCA through the house in a matter of weeks; (2) AHCA was a failed project in the sense that it had little in the way of a constituency; or (3) AHCA as a project did not adequately serve Ryan’s larger strategy.

Would skeptics and anti-Trumpers necessarily have objections to more aggressive or flamboyant tactics if Trumpers were not in the dominant position of the GOP at the moment?  Would they object to such tactics in service of the correct vision, strategies, and projects?

[BTW, that’s not just a dig at people who turned out to have less control over the GOP than they thought.  It’s pretty easy to look at the public opinion data and conclude that Trump himself is still not a very popular face of the party.]

FWIW, I tend to think that some conservatives would still object.  And that’s alright.  A political party or a movement broad enough to maintain sustained political power will necessarily be diverse and disagree over things below the vision level from time to time.

Yet that disagreement does not mean that there should be no place for happy #warriors in on the Right.  Rather, it means that tactics should be evaluated or debated in terms of whether they serve projects and strategies consistently in the service of the right vision.  It means that the sub-group that is a fan of #WAR should be willing to accept the discipline of a military planning model for their activism.

I’ll try to flesh out the general parameters for evaluating these tactics, based on what I think the source of the remaining objections are, in the near future — perhaps tomorrow.  Ooh, cliffhanger.

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The Irony of the Media Bubble

At Politico Magazine, Jack Shafer and Tucker Doherty observe that “The Media Bubble Is Worse Than You Think.”  With all due respect to them, not really.  More like “The Media Bubble is Worse Than The Authors Thought.”   But the irony at the heart of the piece and the reaction to it — particularly from journalists on social media — is telling.

I cannot help but note the schizophrenic tone of the piece.  On the one hand, it reads like a pitch to the journalists under discussion: “Look, I know you think conservatives are crazy, but this ‘media bubble’ is real; we have data and everything!”

OTOH, knowing that this piece would be read by conservative political junkies and journos, there is simultaneously the desperate plea that their study not be interpreted as an admission of liberal media bias: “Look, you right-wing kooks in flyover country are going to ‘seize’ or ‘pounce’ on this, but all we’re really saying is that the media biz is increasingly concentrated in the deep blue cities on the coasts, which can’t help but affect coverage.”

The main criticism from journalists on social media was that the article doesn’t offer solutions.  And the criticism is correct, though it doesn’t acknowledge that the authors aren’t interested in a solution.

Think I’m kidding?  In the penultimate graf: “It’s hard to imagine an industry willingly accommodating the places with less money, fewer people and less expertise, especially if they sense that niche has already been filled to capacity by Fox.”  And in the final graf: “The best medicine for journalistic myopia isn’t reeducation camps or a splurge of diversity hiring, though tiny doses of those two remedies wouldn’t hurt.”

Question 1: Is the political and cultural bloc that makes up roughly half the electorate really a “niche”?  Question 2: If your answer to Question 1 is “yes,” do you think you’ll be convincing anyone that ideological bias is not a major source of the media bubble?

If you put almost any conservative in charge of hiring and firing the reporters and editors at a dozen of the top media outlets, you could very quickly make media coverage far more balanced and far less obsessed with the provincial concerns and phobias of cosmopolitan progressives.  But this is unthinkable to the authors.

Thus, they want to pretend that blowing the story of the 2016 election will be a sufficient lesson and an incentive to improve.  It won’t.

The secondary blowback from journalists was that the body of the study is sandwiched into the frame of that failed 2016 coverage.  Focusing on the frame, the response was to huff that everyone thought Trump was going to lose, including Trump, so more expeditions into swing states or hiring people outside their groupthink wouldn’t have helped.

That’s a fair point as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far, given the vast universe of other stories before, during and since the 2016 election where the groupthink was confined to progressives.

A more narrow and nuanced critique from the progressive side came from Jamison Foser, who attacked the premise that the focus of election coverage is to predict the result, instead of informing the electorate.  Unfortunately, he then descended into facile partisan claptrap about the Comey letter swinging the election, which I won’t bother to dignify here.

Foser’s good point at least focuses on the nature and function of journalism.  And it is at this juncture that the irony of the piece and its critiques emerge.

Strip away the election-based frame, which seems intended to bait people into reading what is really a piece of data journalism.  What you get is the story of a declining industry, one that suffered large job losses throughout the heartland, largely due to advances in technology.

That story could be a story about the steel industry, or coal mining, or meat packing.  But it’s about newspapers — and the remaining coastal elites don’t even see the parallels.

It’s worth noting that for many years, journalism was considered a blue-collar job, one that could be done by ink-stained wretches without the artificial barriers of credentialing.  It only became a gentrified, white-collar profession around the time people decided the job was more about being a paid left-leaning activist — “making the world a better place” in the post-Watergate argot.

What does it mean that the current cohort of supposed elite journalism is so detached from the stereotypical segment of Trump voters as to lack empathy, despite both groups having had to face — to one degree or another — the economic pressures of technological advances in their industries?

Many, including on the Right, will be tempted to conclude that it is a matter of aesthetics.  Much like the Bobos of David Brooks fame haughtily sneering at Pres. Trump’s preference for a well-done steak with ketchup, the theory will be that coastal, urban journalists cannot see the parallels with Trump voters because they view them as “deplorables,” perhaps even “irredeemables.”

Although some of them are, that theory seems insufficient.  The difference between those with a more globalist or nationalist viewpoint, and between those with a conservative viewpoint or progressive viewpoint, is both substantive and aesthetic, both economic and cultural.

Journalism, as a profession, has been captured by cosmopolitan progressives.  That the result is centralization in urban centers by a credentialed, so-called elite, believing they have the solution for a large and staggeringly diverse nation, was fairly predictable.  That the result is a dysfunctional, one-size-fits-all product was almost inevitable.

The distances between coastal journalists and inland voters are far more than geographic.  And they are so vast that journalists cannot even recognize that they shouldn’t be vast.  That’s ironic, in both the dictionary and Alanis Morissette sense.

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What’s the Matter with ESPN? (Plus Bonus Notes)

We’ll Forget About ESPN’s Woes Soon, But Not For Long” is my latest column at The Federalist.

Although it’s all new material, with a bit of a twist on some of the other commentary I’ve seen on the subject, it’s also informed by my writing here at WHRPT.  So here are a few bonus notes.

In recent days, I have been noticing the generational angle in various media/politics stories.

There has been the generational struggle in the Murdoch family regarding the direction of Fox News.  There also has been Bill O’Reilly’s appeal to Boomers — and what it may mean for a segment of Millennials.  I even briefly touched on why the generational appeal of Marine Le Pen is different from the generational appeal of Donald Trump.

Although my column on ESPN focuses more on how broader technological shifts affect the media and our consumption thereof, there is a generational component also, if only because younger people will generally tend to embrace those shifts more swiftly and deeply.

In a weird way, ESPN faces a different version of a dilemma faced by Fox News (and even the GOP): how does a large entity with an audience that includes many aging, cultural conservatives face a future that is more diverse and perhaps less conservative?

I tend to think that ESPN is misjudging the power of woke sports programming to attract Millennials and post-Millennials, in part because their media consumption habits are diverging from those of past generations in general.  Maybe Disney has data suggesting this is their least worst strategy; if they do, I haven’t heard about it.

Rather, I suspect ESPN’s management has bought into the theory that the totalitarian view of the New New Left is the future, in which case everything will be viewed through a political lens.  If the original New Left is any example, the New New Left may well ascend to control the Democratic Party and influence the culture, but only after tempering their views following years in the electoral wilderness.

Lastly, the column makes a little joke about Mel Kiper Jr., though in fact I admire him quite a bit.  Kiper was obsessed with college football players and the NFL draft, but the coverage of his beat was bad-to-nonexistent.  He got in his car, started a newsletter, and is overwhelmingly responsible for building an entire sub-genre of sports journalism.  It is a quintessentially American story, and yet another example of supply-side economics.


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Young Alinskys (Extended Dance Remix)

Today, The Federalist is running “How Millennials’ Experience With Boomers’ Broken Institutions Affects The Right,” which you can think of as the extended dance remix of Monday’s WHRPT, “Cultural Conservatism and Young Alinskys.”

Or:  If you end up liking it less than the original, you can think of it as a “Special Edition.” I blame George Lucas, as I do for most things.

When I started WHRPT, I noted that part of the point was to workshop pieces, themes and ideas for publication, so I guess I can hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner here.  But you you should read the extended edition, and not just as an exercise in considering the differences in style between a blog post for you hardcore folks and a column for a broader audience (though you could do that also).

I have added a couple of things to the original, beyond a couple of additional supporting links.  For example, I additionally tie in a connection between the original post and my hobby-horse about he ESPNization of politics and political media.

But more significant, I made a few small changes in the first part of the column to set up a new concluding section further considering the tension between traditional conservative ideology — and its traditional tactics — and the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality of Trump/Alinsky/Breitbart school.

The Federalist’s new headline suggests that part grabbed the editors.

Though I have not been a big fan of the “But he FIGHTS!” mentality,  the extended version of “Young Alinskys” works a little harder at trying to understand the #WAR perspective as more than the ends justifying the means, and perhaps even challenge my priors in the process.  Just as Monday’s post was the foundation of this Federalist version, the new conclusion may serve as the springboard for my further thoughts here.

At a bare minimum, it’s a good thing to keep examining my priors, which was another reason to establish this blog in the first place.


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Le Pen and Trump: Crossing the Streams

Yesterday, I was working on a column for a change.  So this post will truly be more like a blog post, recalling that brevity is the soul of wit (in someone else’s hands, maybe).

Ever since Marine Le Pen made the second round of runoffs for the French presidency — and beforehand, tbh — people have been discussing her similarities to and differences from Pres. Trump.  Here are the similarities and differences I find most interesting.

First, and foremost:

I suppose it’s possible that widespread voter apathy, especially from the far left, could still bring Le Pen within striking distance of a victory.  OTOH, Le Pen draws a fair amount of support from former communists, so it’s not clear to me that apathetic Mélenchon voters back Le Pen into the presidency by inaction.

This aspect also seems significant in a race against Macron, who isn’t great, but has that outsider vibe that seems in vogue (even moreso than Le Pen, whose family has been a fixture in French politics for years now).  Indeed, it’s further possible that Trump’s victory fuels the current anti-Le Pen vote to some degree.

Second, and secondmost:

Having just written about the generational politics of Trump, I was struck by the contrast.  But consider that the G.I. and Boomer generations that tend to like Trump and O’Reilly here are entirely different from this cohort in French history.  Their political experiences of WWII and the immediate post-war period are nothing like the triumphalism inculcated in Americans of the same age, no matter how arrogant the French can be.

Conversely, the political coming of age for French Millennials has been, if anything, worse than for American Millennials.  The French youth unemployment rate is roughly 25%, as opposed to 10% in the U.S.  And it’s younger Muslims who are most hardcore their faith and its relationship with the French government.

This is significant not only for this election, but future ones.  If the inexperienced Macron wins and takes that victory as a license to ignore or ridicule the economic and cultural concerns of Le Pen voters, French politics could turn more toxic in a few short years.

Lastly, and thirdmost:

Marine Le Pen has benefited greatly from a hostile press.  Given the American establishment media’s desire to draw parallels between Le Pen and Trump, this one is curiously not discussed much.

After the election, a professor of Italian heritage compared Trump to Silvio Berlusconi.  He wasn’t the first to do this (I recall Ben Domenech doing it when he wasn’t likening Trump to the Joker or Bane).  The professor argued that the opposition would be more effective focusing on issues over personalities.  But even the generally anti-Trump media is addicted to those sweet, sweet ratings that accompany the circus.  Sad!

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