Of Course Campus Radicalism Matters

I am not a big fan of the claim that “if I’m getting flak, I must be over the target.”  It is often the case that people who take flak eminently deserve it.  But the apparent pushback trying to dismiss the problem of campus radicalism is the first kind of flak.

Noah Rothman argues that on one level, it does not matter whether campus radicalism is all that widespread, and that’s an alright argument at a more abstract level.  But Andrew Sullivan makes the stronger case about the way in which the trappings of campus radicalism, e.g., microaggressions and the like, have in fact seeped into the general society in ways that retard social progress, e.g., taking the justified moral panic of Weinsteingate and MeToo to places where it will erode popular support.  And it certainly seems that it has seeped in at the bullpen of the New York Times.  Or at Google, or any number of other large corporations.

Those interested in downplaying this are not always motivated by the desire to get about their agenda without debate.  But plenty of them are.

Sullivan’s headline writer goes too far (as headline writers often do) in claiming “We All Live On Campus Now.”  There is a large group of Americans who believe this to be true.  There is also a large group of Americans who, as the kids might say, do not want.  And some of the former would like to use the totalitarian methods tolerated on many campuses to silence the latter group.

The second group reacts against the tactics of the first group, though not always wisely.  The first group succeeded so well that there has been (as I have written) a shallowing of the conservatism in America. Or, to paraphrase Gabriel Rossman from yesterday, the de facto purging of conservatives from many faculties results in a vacuum of responsible conservative mentoring.  Those who invite Milo to campus also make their way into the real world (fortunately, those at UCLA reconsidered).

This is what happens when academia is corrupted from transmitting the accumulated wisdom of the Enlightenment to the inculcation of pre-Enlightenment tribalism and totalitarianism.

That roughly half of America would like to make the other half live on campus with them — and the backlash that generates — is a tidy summation of American society today.

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Our Useful Idiot Media

You may have noticed over this Olympic weekend that the establishment media gave a big thumbs-up to the North Korean propaganda effort led by Kim Jong Il’s sister and the gulag nation’s “cheer squad,” despite having warned of said propaganda effort earlier.  Much of the right, however, is misinterpreting this shameful episode of media misbehavior to Trump Derangement Syndrome.

In reality, the establishment media’s soft spot for leftist dictators and totalitarian states is a long tradition.  I’m old enough to remember Ted Turner creating the Goodwill Games because the U.S. had the gall to boycott the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (which in turn caused the Soviets to boycott the 1984 Olympics in L.A.).  Or when ABC, CNBC and various other outlets made Soviet apologist Vladmir Posner a mainstay.  Or the general tendency of the establishment media to ignore prominent Democrats in Congress cozying up various Soviet client (or fellow-traveling) regimes in Nicaragua, Grenada, and so forth.

And that’s just from the the 1980s.  The list stretches back through all of those in the media that thought Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs were victims.  And all the way back through the outright admiration expressed for the early Soviet Union, exemplified — but by no means limited to — the New York Times covering up the forced starvation of Ukraine.  It’s the media mythology about the state of healthcare or literacy in Cuba, continuing even after the fawning obituaries for Fidel Castro have run.

For righties, this may all stand out more when a Republican is president.  But it’s really no different when the media cheerfully allowed itself to serve as the Obama administration’s “echo chamber” for an Iran Deal that will do little to stop that theocracy’s nuclear ambitions while funneling truckloads of cash to Hezbollah.  And not much different from the media’s continuing sympathy for the corrupt terrorists running the Palestinian authorities over democratic Israel.

The media does not get these attitudes from the ether.  They got it from institutions of academia that have been corrupted and captured by the loony left.  Much of the supposed ruling class, having these vile attitudes normalized during their formative years, cannot help but fall back into the habit of swooning over thugs and mass-murderers who can muster even the barest veneer of the civilized world, betraying the civilized world in the process.

They cannot help themselves.  They cannot internalize the gap between North and South Korea any more than they could the gap between East and West Germany (except by blaming the West for it).

All of this was cemented in place well before Donald J. Trump appeared on the political stage.  The black humor to be mined here is that a swath of those offended by Trump’s emphasis on nationalism cannot help but serve as synchronized cheerleaders for North Korea during the Olympics, missing only the matching outfits of those forced to cheer out of fear for their lives, and those of their families.

In today’s outrage culture it is easy to think that the media loathing Trump has produced some new low.  But the establishment media has had this in them ever since progressives decided our Constitution stood between us and Utopia; the collapse of Communism simply dried up opportunities to indulge themselves.

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Come Visit the Land That Fiscal Irresponsibility “Built”

When Katherine Miller wrote “Donald Trump has an unusual kind of power: He reveals weakness,” she wasn’t writing about the latest Congressional budget deal, but it fits easily within her next words, “This quality he extends to all things — people, traditions, movements.”

One thing Pres. Trump campaigned upon was a distinct lack of interest in fiscal responsibility.  And as I noted last May, “[i]t’s been plain for years that Republicans aren’t big on decreasing government spending outside foreign aid and welfare; but Trump made this inconvenient truth impossible to ignore.

So here we are.  And it’s an attitude not limited to Trump or Congress, or Republicans writ large.  From Rush Limbaugh to Ross Douthat, the national debt is lo longer a priority because we are not standing on a fiscal precipice.  Such is the allure of short-term thinking focused solely on federal finances.

Come to Illinois.  Visit the Land of Lincoln and witness its deadbeat government.  Come see a system so dysfunctional that after a lengthy budget deadlock, the chosen fix will likely make the problem worse.  A place where the next big idea is to borrow even more and bet on the stock market, just as interest rates start increasing again.

Illinois is merely the poster child for a six trillion dollar problem of unfunded liabilities for government pensions and retiree healthcare benefits.  And it’s not just deep blue states like IL, NJ, and CA near the top of the list.  It’s also red states like KY, MS, LA, SC, AL, OH and the Trumpy state of WV.

The federal government has more options than the states in dealing with unfunded liabilities.  They can inflate the currency, which worked sooo well to finance guns-and-butter policies in the 1970s.

But when the bill comes due for our ongoing federal binge-spending, expect voters to be every bit as intransigent as the government employees in these states have been — perhaps moreso, as the larger bloc will have more clout.  It’s also entirely possible that the unpopular policies adopted to fix problems with states and localities will operate as de facto political constraints on federal solutions.

Of course, the folks spending your money and your kids’ money and your grandkids’ money today will likely be long gone when that bill comes due, just as they are in Illinois.  And they’re just doing the current voter pool’s bidding.  It is an extravagant display of weakness by all involved.  The Trump era has merely made it difficult to avert the eyes.  But not impossible!

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The Asymmetry of Burning Moral Capital

The (predictable) tendency of folks on the right, including supposed evangelical leaders, to defend Pres. Trump not only on policy grounds, but personally, has engendered a fair amount of conversation as of late.  Noah Rothman has argued that this sort of thing is unique to Trump or the presidency.  I’m less sure.

It’s much more difficult for the left to burn its moral capital because it is much less fixed, as evidenced by their debate over whether they’re finally woke enough to condemn Bill Clinton’s behavior toward women.  As different waves of feminism crash on the progressive shore, the tide of public opinion shifts, but never definitively.

OTOH, the right’s moral capital is ostensibly more firmly rooted in timeless values, largely Judeo-Christian values.  To be sure, the right may adapt as they apply those principles to modern situations, but the principles themselves are supposed to be largely fixed.

Accordingly, it seems to me that when the right burns its moral capital, the damage is potentially more severe and long-lasting.

Not all of Trump’s supporters are willing to go the Full Mulligan.  Dennis Prager merely argues that personal character pales in comparison to policy wins.  Erick Erickson gives what should be the fairly obvious response from a religious perspective, as well as the obvious rebuttal to the “binary choice” argument that has no traction with those not already converted.  But I’d go back a little to also recommend Jonathan V. Last‘s piece on failed Senate candidate Roy Moore, which reminds us that in the vast majority of cases, the only person affected by your vote will be you.

I suppose I should thank Prager, however, to the extent he reminds everyone how weak the arguments for defending Trump are outside policy.

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Fake Nudes, Fake News, and the Destruction of Social Trust

Let’s follow up on yesterday’s high-minded discussion on our declining trust in institutions with a little on the cutting edge in internet pr0nography.

Here’s your voxsplainer:

The technology in question? A new tool, driven by machine learning, that lets users easily swap the faces of their favorite celebrities onto preexisting video images.

In other words, endless videos in which the faces of porn stars have been replaced by celebrity faces — or rather, algorithmic approximations of celebrity faces that reside deep within the Uncanny Valley.

On [Reddit’s] r/deepfakes, eerie approximations of Emma Watson, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Natalie Portman, Kristen Bell, Daisy Ridley, Ariana Grande, and many others borrow the expressions, moves, sultry-eyed camera stares, and orgiastic glee of the porn stars upon whose faces they’ve been transplanted.”

When this story first started getting traction via VICE’s Motherboard, The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway observed:

Tomorrow’s fake nudes will power the day after tomorrow’s fake news.  Horrifying, but not necessarily surprising given pr0n’s role in fueling technologies from the VCR to internet streaming.

This latest phenomenon caused National Review’s Michael B. Dougherty to observe:

And thus does AI-driven pr0n bring us back around to my theme of the past couple of days.  Information age technologies contribute to the decline of our institutions.  Increasingly what remains are mere platforms for self-expression where “art” and artifice play upon humankind’s baser instincts (obvious in the case of pr0n, less so in the case of confirmation biases) and fuel the acceleration of a vicious cycle.

It may be that we as a society will get better at processing these sorts of phenomena.  Today’s TV-saturated public is far more sophisticated in its ability to process visual media.  This is why, for example, younger generations have so little use for black & white movies.

But it was always debatable whether a society that has become far more dependent on the image over the word was a net improvement.  When we used to have that argument, one side used to be able to say “seeing is believing.”  Going forward, that may be even less true than it was.

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The State of the Union Show

I had not planned on writing anything about the State of the Union speech, either before or after, because all of the takes have been taken.  But I realized I could take two takes and take them to another level.

For example, as Jay Cost and others have remarked on many occasions, the modern SOTU represents an inversion of its original Constitutional function and started becoming a hallmark of the imperial presidency under Wilson during the Progressive Era.  As many others have observed, the modern SOTU is now essentially a TV special starring the president, with members of Congress playing their supporting roles and with various guest stars.

But I now am considering these conventional points in light of this recent interview with Yuval Levin on the Federalist Radio Hour.  During the first segment of the interview, Levin and Ben Domenech discuss our dysfunctional Congress.

Levin argues that much of this dysfunction can be attributed to various “reforms” over the years that pointed in the direction of the legislature trying to act more like the executive — e.g., the consolidation of committees, the creation of and reliance upon agencies like CBO, etc.  He also suggests that Congress has overdone transparency to the point where members spend more time performing for and negotiating in the media than engaging in the proverbial sausage-making of legislation.

And Levin observes that a similar phenomenon has been occurring in other institutions, including the media and academia, transforming them from formative molds that help give shape to certain aspects of our associational lives into platforms for individuals to perform upon.  He believes that this transformation is part of what drives our loss of faith in these institutions.

In some cases, these dynamics seem linked; the more the legislature cedes power to the president, and the more legislative power is delegated to the leadership, the easier it becomes to spend time performing.  In other cases, the dynamic may be different; in academia, there is a ceding of power by officers to both bureaucracy and to students, but there is probably more at work there as well.

These points came to mind more readily after yesterday’s posting about Katherine Miller’s recent essay associating the decline of institutions with the inability of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. to serve the traditional roles fulfilled by institutions.  It may be that or declining institutions are being replaced with platforms which provide spaces where everyone performs, but which do not — and perhaps cannot — serve the formative roles Levin mentions.

Also, one of the points I made yesterday is that there is “little public discussion of the ways in which the information revolution was and is radically reshaping our society and its institutions as surely as the industrial revolution did,” relative to the importance of the revolution.

Here, I would note that the technological and societal changes that created the institutions of the 20th century, overlapping with the Progressive Era, tended to focus on the themes of centralization, continuity and conformity, e.g., the assembly line, central economic planning, unionized labor and long-term employment, public schools, etc.  The technological and societal changes being wrought by the information revolution tend in the opposite direction (something Walter Russell Mead has been examining for years).

Whatever else it may be, the State of the Union Show is an exhibit of all these phenomena.  It is simultaneously a relic and a window on our decline into a performance society.  And this is probably why people have become increasingly scornful of it.

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The Breakdown of Institutions and The Conservative Conundrum

If you haven’t read Katherine Miller’s “Donald Trump, #MeToo, Facebook, And The Breakdown Of Institutional Power,” stop cheating yourself.

One of the main themes in Miller’s essay is one familiar to regular readers here, i.e., that the election of Donald Trump is a symptom or product of the decline of American institutions.  I’ve written about this with respect to the GOP, the family and other institutions.  I’ve written about how the left’s long march through the institutions also contributed to a shallower conservative movement.

And I have walked up to — albeit from a different angle than Miller — to the conundrum of modern conservatism: what does a movement invested in significant part on the wisdom of preserving and strengthening civil society do when conservatives have so often failed that the institutions themselves have become corrupt?

As a bit of an aside, while Miller refers more than once to the sex abuse scandal plaguing USA Gymnastics, I would briefly mount my hobbyhorse to underscore that Larry Nassar is but one horrifying exhibit in the corruption and breakdown of our colleges and universities as institutions.

Conservatarians have long complained about academia’s increasing hostility to the notion that they have any responsibility for promoting a culture of free inquiry or the civilizational values undergirding that culture.  More recently, we have had to fight institutions that increasingly seem to reject notions of due process when adjudicating claims of sexual misconduct — a function outside their core mission and one to which they are not well suited.  And ever since the Penn State scandal (at least), we have been learning that when these institutions were not proudly ruining the lives of ordinary students whose crime was going on a drunken date, some of them were systemically ignoring and suppressing claims of sexual assault within their athletic programs in order to fundraise off the tribal nostalgia of wealthy alumni donors.

Miller sketches a holistic overview of this decline across institutions that includes the related issue (also addressed here on occasion) of institutions losing the ability to serve a gatekeeping function.  She smartly ties these problems to the architecture of the internet age (largely the inability of social media platforms as comprised to assume a gatekeeping function) in ways that go beyond the ways in which I have written about that relationship.

It continues to surprise me that there is so little public discussion of the ways in which the information revolution was and is radically reshaping our society and its institutions as surely as the industrial revolution did.  That sort of discussion is soooo early 2000s, even though it remains a subtext of so many other public debates.  If you think we do talk about this subject enough and with the gravity it deserves, ask yourself how in 2016, America’s major parties wound up fielding presidential candidates offering only a nostalgic rematch of Woodstock vs The Rat Pack.

The other reason to read Miller is her talent as a prose stylist.  She is the Politics Editor for BuzzFeed News, but talent as an editor does not necessarily translate to writing (and vice versa).  A quick search reveals her degree is in English (not Journalism) and it shows.  DDHQ’s Jeff Blehar referred to this latest essay as “depressingly lyrical,” which is an apt description and one which I suspect she will take (privately) as perhaps the highest complement.

There are secondary reasons to appreciate the essay that are more politically reductive and utilitarian… which is why I won’t mention them here.

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My Trump-Russia Theory (Which is Mine)

Regular readers know I try to follow Sean Connery’s advice when it comes to the Trump-Russia investigations and its satellite issues.  But I do have a speculative theory about those theories I can share.

To recap briefly: There is a group of people who believe Pres. Trump — or people associated with his campaign, really — colluded with the Russians in some fashion to boost his presidential campaign.  There is also a group of people who have come to believe that the investigation into this issue was really the result of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s campaign to politicize the intelligence community, and that Trump has been the target of a soft coup masterminded by people in these orbits, as well as by bureaucrats in the “deep state.”

The latter group is currently focused on declassifying a memorandum authored by Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intell Cmte that reportedly purports to summarize wrongdoing by FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and former FBI Director James Comey.  If — but more likely when — said memo is made public, folks in this second group, particularly within populist media, will escalate their call for heads to roll.

Meanwhile, stories are getting planted in the media about about White House Counsel Don McGahn threatening to quit rather than carry out Trump’s directive to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and FBI Director Christopher Wray threatening to resign after being pressured by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire McCabe.

In the grand tinfoil tradition of the conspiratorialist, I question the timing.  I would speculate that these stories are being shopped by people associated with the special counsel’s office — or with McGahn and Wray — to raise the specter that any attempt by Trump to remove people at DOJ or the FBI might result in the resignation of people like McGahn and Wray who cannot be easily characterized as partisans of the deep state.  These stories could be true or a bluff; it really doesn’t matter.

Some of those who believe in the deep state coup undoubtedly have speculated similarly.  But I think many in that group see these stories as a sign of panic by swamp creatures, rather than the threat the leakers intend them to be.

The two different groups are operating from fundamentally different assumptions about what Trump’s election means for a wide variety of American political norms.  The collusion folks think Trump is a highly unpopular and vulnerable figure who can ultimately be tamed by traditional political forces; the deep state coup folks do not.

As a result, you have these two groups fueling a potentially large political collision in the near-future because the members of each group believe they will be the ultimate beneficiaries of that collision.  And the odds escalate further when you consider that each group not only believes that it is correctly assessing today’s political climate, but also has grown to feel righteous in their position.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course.  But at least I’m considering that I could be wrong about all of this.

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The Media Even Blows the Spin Cycle

It’s a washing machine pun.  I crack myself up.  Surprisingly, this is not about the kids eating Tide pods.

What’s McArdle’s theory?

There’s something to that, but I have an alternate theory inspired by McArdle’s past writing.

Media coverage of the Trump tariffs focused on solar panels because that’s something that seems a lot sexier to journalists who live in the bubble of Hillary Clinton voters.  Washing machines just aren’t as sexy, not even the environmentally-friendly ones.  The cost of washing machines remain more of a concern to folks in Trump country.

A media generally opposed to Trump might have used the washing machine angle to subtly undermine Trumponomics with Trump supporters.  But that would require thinking about those people on a level that goes beyond making the occasional field trip to stereotypical downscale towns in flyover country.  It would require having enough folks in newsrooms who would instinctively realize washing machines might be more politically salient than solar panels.

Of course, it’s a bit of a Catch-22.  If you had a critical mass of those people in newsrooms, they might be less bent on their political agenda in the first place.  But their insularity hobbles them even on their own terms.

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Justice Kennedy is a Mortal. And That’s Okay.

I presume that by the time you read this, others will have responded to Michael B. Dougherty’s “Anthony Kennedy Can’t Be Allowed to Die,” which argues that America actually needs a swingy Supreme Court because “if the Court soon consolidates to the left or the right, partisans on the losing end of that bargain will swiftly lose faith in democracy itself.”

At the outset, I’ll note that I consider Dougherty to be a smart and honest pundit; I’ve linked to his work on several occasions over the past year and my dealings with him have always been good.  Moreover, he advertised his posting on Kennedy as “potentially odd or embarrassing thoughts,” so he was aware his piece was going to provoke people.  For the reasons that follow, I think it’s provocative without lapsing into a “hot take.”

Accordingly, I won’t dwell on the obvious responses he’s likely to get, starting with the basic idea that an official appointed to essentially lifetime tenure is the guardian of American democracy, particularly someone whom Dougherty himself criticizes for once claiming that it was his duty to “impose order on a disordered reality.”  Or the fact that by largely saving the poorly reasoned, poorly written and anti-democratic Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and authoring the poorly written and poorly reasoned majority opinion in Obergefell (regardless of whether one supports the outcomes in either case), Kennedy is the Justice currently least qualified to safeguard the republic, let alone democracy.

If there is anyone in public office who helped contribute to political moment in which Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, defends Pres. Trump’s alleged affair with an adult video actress because social conservatives are getting outcomes they like, it’s Anthony Kennedy.  “But Gorsuch!” is largely the child of Kennedy, the Justice who for many represents the very bad turn America took when the Democrats succeeded in smearing the jurist first nominated for the seat, Robert Bork.

I’ll let others hash over those details to make a more basic point.

During the 2016 campaign, Jonah Goldberg used to respond to the apocalyptic arguments of Trump supporters by observing that if America was one election away from destruction, it was already too late.  The same principle applies here, though Dougherty lacks the hysteria of Michael Anton (indeed, MBD recognizes the Court has overstepped its role in our constitutional system).

If the health of the republic rests on the shoulders of Anthony Kennedy, we are already where Dougherty fears we will be (and probably have been since classical liberals bought the argument that progressivism was saving capitalism from communist revolutionaries).  And no one would be happier about being anointed indispensable than Kennedy.

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