Jimmy Kimmel, The Man Show, and Weinsteingate: Liner Notes

I have a column on Jimmy Kimmel’s interview with New York magazine up at The Federalist.  RTWT, but the basic thrust is that Kimmel is having to be very careful about injecting politics into his late-night show, because the Harvey Weinstein scandal is hot but maybe not a great topic for the co-creator and co-host of The Man Show.

The impetus for the piece came from The Fed’s publisher:

There’s some competition!  But the problems that arise from the collision of politics and culture are a subject I write about here often, and for The Fed from time to time.

Given that I wanted to quote Kimmel fully, the piece ran long and there are side questions I couldn’t get into.

For example, one of the issues Weinsteingate raises is the complicated relationship between powerful people and the press.  We now know that Weinstein used development deals to entangle gossip and entertainment reporters in his web.  But even without that level of craven influence, the entertainment press has a symbiotic relationship with celebrities, agents, studios, etc., with the former ultimately adopting a more cozy and compromised relationship with the latter than an adversarial relationship.

Kimmel’s interviewer appears to be navigating this issue in the interview.  The Man Show comes up, but it’s discussed very carefully.  Kimmel is even asked whether the show makes him cringe and he refuses to fully distance himself from it.  On Earth 2, that might be the headline, but not here.

I also could have written more about the implications of Kimmel’s seeming re-framing of The Man Show as ironic.  We might question Kimmel’s suggestion that he thought he was winking and that some didn’t get the concept — are we to believe that he thought the real audience here was progressive men who were savoring the satire?  I don’t think we are, but I wonder whether younger progressive men who unironically enjoyed the objectification of women were as much a core demo of The Man Show as the less politically enlightened.  These men didn’t have to be Weinstein, or Ted Kennedy, or Jenny’s boyfriend in Forrest Gump.  But they might complicate the answer Kimmel suggested.

Moreover, If Kimmel was aware that of and took advantage of the fact that the objectification supposedly worked for an audience non-ironically as well as ironically, what sort of judgment should we have of that now?  Conversely, if he was that culturally calculating then, why should his newfound progressive fans take his new, more woke image at face value today?

There’s one spot where I may have been unfair to Kimmel.  I may have misread his answer about the Oscars.  It could be read as saying he probably would address Weinsteingate but not joke about it.  This would be less traumatic for his victims, but… he’d still be bringing it up in front of them, so I’m still not sure that reasoning holds up either.

There’s also a correction: Kimmel launched The Man Show in 1999, not 1994.

Lastly, as I read the interview, there is the additional question in my mind as to what Kimmel (and perhaps the interviewer) think the net results of Weinsteingate will actually be — a question I wrote about previously.  Whatever Kimmel’s real thoughts about The Man Show or Weinstein might be, I wonder whether he’s a bit skeptical (for whatever reason) that much will come of the scandal.  There are certainly observers of Tinseltown like Richard Rushfield who think there may wind up being a lot more talk than action on the mysogyny and generally awful behavior by the powerful.  Kimmel may be one of them and may be hedging his bets, whatever he says now about losing an audience on the Right.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

The Doom Loop of Trumpism

Did you read Derek Thompson’s piece last week on The Doom Loop of Modern Liberalism?  The concept may have been even more neatly summarized by Ross Douthat: “low birth rates slow growth and create a pressing need for new immigrants, which in turn feeds xenophobia and leads to a decline in support for the welfare state, which leads to stratification, further discontent and an authoritarian turn, which presumably slows growth further, etc., etc., until liberalism goes kaput.”  RTWT times two: neither piece is very long.

As both are concerned with small-l liberal democracy and the broader tension between diversity and equality, it’s worth a brief moment to look at this phenomenon through the Trumpy end of the telescope.  While “doom loop” might be an exaggeration here, it’s mostly because it’s less a loop than a fog of cognitive dissonance.

Those who promote a more nationalist/populist flavor to American politics, particularly within the GOP, feed on the downsides — real and imagined — of immigration.  And some of those concerns are bound up in an antipathy for the welfare state.

But the scope of that antipathy is not universal.  The Trumpian distaste for welfare is informed by white identity politics.  They may not like TANF or food stamps.  They are far more forgiving of the explosion in Social Security Disability Insurance, in part because they’re more likely to know someone on SSDI and in part because it is branded as Social Security.

Indeed, the core Trump vote is not only forgiving, but outright protective of Social Security itself, as well as Medicare.  They are far more likely to claim that these big entitlement programs are not welfare at all, but earned benefits, even though current beneficiaries are getting far more than they paid in taxes at the expense of future generations.

The support of Trumpists — and many other Americans, tbh — to leave entitlements unreformed runs smack into the problem declining birthrates, which is why every few years there has been a debate over whether these programs are technically Ponzi schemes, which substitutes for a debate over their stability and solvency.  As the number of people at the bottom of the pyramid shrinks relative to those at the top, we have a problem.

That problem, in turn, creates a demand for immigrants.  Such is the case even in Japan.  The Japanese think they are merely encouraging temporary guest workers, which is what many European countries thought decades ago on this same path.  The results in Europe were that immigrants stayed; they probably will in Japan and as they do in America.

Politics are ultimately about priorities and trade-offs.  Trump supporters generally want to both reduce immigration and not reform entitlements, which are demands that will inevitably conflict.  The fact that Pres. Trump and many of his supporters don’t want to study policy enough to confront this conflict doesn’t make it disappear.  Their “loop” is one of anger — at policy-makers who are choosing to shore up their benefit streams at the expense of their cultural anxieties.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

The GOP Really Needs an Indictment

Following the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates by special counsel Robert Mueller on charges seemingly unrelated to the 2016 election or attempted Russian meddling therein, I think we can all agree that the Republicans certainly could use an indictment and that this moment is as good or better as any for one.

After all, the consensus is that the GOP is now the Party of Trump.  Yet Pres. Trump is at approx. 39% job approval (approx. 17 points underwater) after hitting new lows in both the Fox News and WSJ/NBC News polls.  He has flipped to underwater in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.  Only 65% of Republicans and 73% of Trump voters are sure they want him to run for re-election in 2020.  Democrats have a 10-point advantage on the generic Congressional ballot.

And there are the numbers after two quarters of solid economic growth.  In short, it is currently not a great political environment for the Party of Trump roughly a year out from the midterms.

This is why the Right — Trump sympathizers and skeptics alike — have been talking up the threat of impeachment should Democrats retake the House of Representatives.  It seems pretty clear that the GOP would like to use that impeachment threat to rally the grassroots and stave off the sort of losses that often occur in midterms, particularly when the party in power is saddled with a troubled presidency.

Just as then-candidate Trump needed that sense of a Flight 93-style crisis to boost his prospects, the Party of Trump needs that sense of existential threat to boost theirs.  Trump needed Hillary Clinton to personify the global elites that would destroy America; the Party of Trump needs Robert Mueller to personify the threat of impeachment.  Bill Clinton and the Democrats once needed a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy as the scapegoat for his impeachment problems; Trump and the Party of Trump need the special counsel to represent the shadowy Deep State cabal seeking to drown the president in the fetid establishment Swamp.

That threat seemed a lot more distant and amorphous without people getting indicted.  So the Party of Trump really needed an indictment.

My only concern on this front is that, even before the indictment was unsealed, Trump surrogates leapt at the notion that Mueller should be fired now.  The GOP really needs to keep the Saturday Night Massacre option in its back pocket, so that you can have a truly polarizing firestorm much closer to the midterms.  Trump exercising a modicum of self-control here is evidence of his skill at nine-dimensional chess.  It’s disappointing that some of his supporters haven’t appreciated his genius here.

Update: As I was hitting the “publish” button, Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadoupoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI on matters related to the Russia probe.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Moana Halloween Costume: Trick or Treat?

Something that only seems lighter for the pre-Halloween weekend.  I don’t plan on saying much that’s earth-shatteringly original here (I’m really selling this).  But sometimes simplicity beats originality.

Almost all of you have probably seen the column that ran at Redbook and Cosmopolitan warning white parents not to let their little girls dress as Disney’s CGI Polynesian princess, Moana, for Halloween.  Or at least seen the more mocking responses at places like Townhall.  Or the more serious dissections of cultural appropriation at places like Reason.

But to boil it down, the author is advocating raising race-conscious children.  A little white girl admires or loves Moana, but must be told she cannot want to dress like her because a lot of whites are racist.

[Aside: If one believes that characters like Moana are important role models to Americans of Asian-Pacific heritage, ask yourself how many films like this Disney will make once the identitarians have helped torch Disney’s merchandising operation.  The left doesn’t seem to ask, presumably happy to decry the evils of the capitalism that brought Moana to the big screen.]

That little girl will learn a lesson about race.  What a small child actually learns may vary.  Perhaps that the palette of Moana’s pixels are more important than the content of the character.  But if she becomes race-conscious, that will be fine with white nationalists, who think it primes whites to be “flipped” when they become tired of being at the bottom of the intersectionality regime based on nothing they ever did.

Identity politics leftists may tell themselves that won’t happen, when they aren’t condemning the white identity politics that helped elect Pres. Trump.  Incidentally, most of that impulse is strongest among older whites, but rather than let them slowly die off, the left is brilliantly hoping to perpetuate race-consciousness for generations to come.

Some will dismiss this kerfuffle du jour as trivial.  But the seeming triviality of the subject only underscores the depths of the totalitarian mindset at work here.  And totalitarianism almost always gets around to considering that your children are our children.

Given that no one really has the power to control the thoughts of everyone in America, imagine the level of coercion that will be required to enforce the behaviors of leftist identity politics, and what that society looks like.

When you’re imagining that society, recall that for most of this nation’s history, this country suffered — to various degrees in various places — under a regime of white identity politics or white supremacy.  We evolved away from this in large part because there was a trans-racial coalition that would take a black minister seriously when he invoked the creed espoused but unfulfilled by a white slaveholder.

What happens if America returns to a place where identity politics is prominent and that creed is effectively rejected by our supposed elites?  The identitarians are revolutionary; the results of revolutions are rarely pretty.

Bonus: For a non-Disneyfied take, watch Glenn Loury and John McWhorter discuss the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Will the Post-Trump GOP Be Nationalist and Populist?

This new Pew study I noted only in passing yesterday (because it dropped after the first draft of the post was written) suggests that nationalism and populism may be the new hotness in Pres. Trump’s GOP, but may struggle without him.

Based on surveys of more than 5,000 adults conducted over the summer, Pew sought to develop typographies for the Republican and Democratic coalitions.  The GOP side breaks down into: Core Conservatives (13% of adults/20% of the politically engaged); Country First Conservatives (6%/6%); Market Skeptic Republicans (12%/10%); and New Era Enterprisers (11%/9%).  RTWT, though the labels do a fair job of conveying the demographics.

The first notable finding concerns Trump’s approval rating among these groups: Core Conservatives (93%); Country Firsters (84%); Market Skeptics (66%); Enterprisers (63%).

The Core having a higher approval of Trump than the Country Firsters may seem counter-intuitive.  The study indicates that the Core favors U.S. involvement in the global economy much more than Country Firsters do (68% vs 39%).  Also, the Core is much less likely to think immigrants burden our economy than Country Firsters do (43% vs 76%).

The explanation likely can be found in the Country Firsters “are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups.”  Political scientists will tell you (as in this study) that partisanship (GOP and Dem alike) increases with education.

This is significant because the data from the 2016 election suggested that education was a key factor in determining support for Trump within the GOP.  I don’t want to suggest that the high Trump support from the Core is all about partisanship — after all, Trump is delivering on some conservative priorities.  But the Pew data suggests that it is probably Trump’s partisanship and his conservative achievements (rather than his more populist and nationalist positions on immigration and trade) which drive the 93% approval rating.

Even here, I don’t want to overstate this point; 43% of the Core thinks immigrants are a burden on the economy, while only 39% believe they strengthen the country with their hard work and talents.

However, it is fair to say that Trump aimed his campaign rhetoric more at the Country Firsters and Market Skeptics and a bit less at the Core than any of his rivals did.  Yet the Country Firsters approve less of Trump than the Core, while the Market Skeptics approve significantly less than even the Country Firsters.  The Skeptics’ lower level of support may be due to Trump’s regulatory rollback and his support for the more traditional tax and healthcare proposals coming from Congress, though they’re also more pro-immigrant than the Firsters. (The Enterprisers are business-friendly, but young, more diverse, and non-Trumpy.)

In short, the study implies that the two Trumpiest factions in the GOP coalition are less partisan than the Core, which is disproportionately engaged in politics.  Trump also may be constrained in his ability to try to bring what should be his key demos into greater engagement within the GOP.  He needs to retain support from the Core (although partisanship is a form of identity politics these days).  And he has to work or contend with a GOP Congress that is — for now, anyway — more like the Core.

These are some of the cross-currents within the GOP coalition that work against a makeover into a predominantly nationalist or populist party.  Once the dominant, compelling figure of Trump finally walks offstage to “You Can’t Always get What You Want,” his coalition may be difficult to maintain.  In addition, the actuarial tables might cause one to speculate that Country Firsters may be less of a factor four or eight years from now, while the immigrant-friendly, non-Trumpy Enterprisers may be more of one.

Nevertheless, given that the Core currently narrowly disfavors immigration, one can imagine (as I did yesterday) the establishment having to adjust a notch or two in the Trumpian direction on that issue…  unless Trump’s administration is judged a failure, which (as noted yesterday) cannot be ruled out.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Bride of Losing to the White Minstrel Show

Monday’s posting, which suggested that at some point, skeptics and critics of Pres. Trump will have to start critiquing him and his supporters less and working more on becoming a better alternative, drew a lot of traffic (for this out-of-the way blog).

They may be clicking less today, as I briefly want to address anyone who is firmly in the camp of believing that the GOP is the Party of Trump (whether one does so with joy or in despair).  I suppose this will sound far-fetched to some on the day after Sen. Jeff Flake decides to retire instead of facing Arizona’s GOP primary voters (not to mention its genelex voters).  That makes it more important to review some basics today.

It is almost certainly true in important senses that the GOP is now the Party of Trump.  He’s the President of the United States and historically this means he is also the leader of his party.  For now, people who echo him may benefit, while those who oppose him suffer.  What’s more, as the incumbent, he is currently the overwhelming favorite to be renominated in 2020.  And if I were forced to bet today, I might well favor him to win re-election, as incumbents often do.

But let’s not erase our memories or blind ourselves to other political realities.  Let’s not forget that Trump was the internally-weakest nominee in modern history.  Let’s not forget that if 77,744 votes had been less efficiently distributed in three states, we would be having the same debates about the GOP, but with the factions in very different positions of strength.  Let’s not blind ourselves to Trump’s manifest failure to date to expand his appeal beyond that very narrow coalition.

Whether the GOP becomes not only the Party of Trump but also a nationalist/populist party ultimately will depend very much on whether Trump’s presidency is considered successful.  It’s not too much more difficult than that.

If Trump is seen as Making America Great Again, he could win re-election in a landslide a la Reagan in ’84.  If he does that, nationalism and populism will likely become Republican lodestars for years to come.

OTOH, it does not take much imagination to hypothesize, for example, a scenario in which the economy goes sour in late 2019 or early 2020, the GOP is consumed with internal strife, and Trump loses.  In that scenario, Trump’s heterodox administration might become regarded by Republicans the way they thought of the George H. W. Bush administration, or how Democrats thought of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

[Note: I am not rooting for a recession.  I am merely noting how much the subject of the GOP’s future remains tied to known unknowns and unknown unknowns.]

Even if Trump wins re-election, there’s no guarantee his presidency ends with the sort of success needed to change the basic lean of the GOP.  Consider that by 2015, few viewed the GOP as the Party of George W. Bush because of that administration’s failures and events outside its control (which helped create the space for a Trump candidacy).

We also don’t know what will happen to the GOP down-ballot during a Trump administration (ironically, Flake’s retirement may save that seat).  If recent presidencies are any indication, it’s entirely possible that the party will lose seats, perhaps a significant number of seats.  Trump would take lumps for that as well, fairly or not (though he may not take them until he is out of office, in the manner the Democratic apparat has been quietly downgrading their assessment of Pres. Obama over the past year).

Further, we don’t really know what key parts of Trump’s current coalition will think of him by 2020 or 2024.  Even if you have a negative view or stereotype of core Trump supporters as people to whom Trump successfully pandered, consider that one likely scenario is that Trump does not solve their problems.  On Monday, I reminded Trump skeptics to think about policy for a post-industrial economy precisely because a wall and tariffs are unlikely to solve the problems of the white underclass, let alone the underclass as a whole.   Perhaps Trump can successfully blame others for that failure in 2020, maybe not, given his narrow coalition.

OTOH, if the disaffected Obama-Trump demographic doesn’t think they’re better off in 2020 or 2024, enough of them could defect or stay home to affect an election.  And then the GOP will enter a period of nursing second thoughts about the Trump presidency, similar to what the GOP and Democrats have done after every other presidential loss.

Lastly (for today), it seems as though many people believe Trump’s win must mark a sea change in the direction of the party because nationalism is a rising force in Europe.  And yet — for now, anyway — a number of more establishment European parties have held the nationalists at bay by moving a few degrees in that direction.  It’s certainly possible, particularly after a Trump administration, to imagine the GOP making a course correction on that issue that is more nationalist than the establishment might like, but less establishment than the nationalists like (particularly given where GOP opinion really is on many immigration issues).  It’s possible to do that without having it define the GOP.

As I’ve noted before, the more nationalist faction of the GOP does not have a commanding majority even of Trump’s coalition.  And a new Pew study also suggests that more traditional conservatives outnumber “country first conservatives” and “market skeptics” within the GOP.  The nominee that follows Trump — even if that’s VP Mike Pence — would likely have to assemble his or her own winning coalition (a lesson about coalitions Hillary Clinton failed to learn).

Despite what some of the recent headlines and columns might suggest, the GOP is not fated to become a Trumpish caricature of itself in the medium-term.  But it well might if skeptics and critics of nationalism and populism don’t show up in the arena.

Bonus:  After jotting this all down, I found a generally similar take from Patrick Ruffini.  So I feel less crazy.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Losing to The White Minstrel Show

Many of the higher-profile Trump skeptics I follow on social media were gushing over Kevin Williamson’s “The White Minstrel Show” this weekend.  It’s an exceedingly well-written indictment (RTWT) of whites adopting the values and behaviors of the underclass (of any color), as well as of politicians who exploit this troubling trend (including, but not limited to Pres. Trump).  The gushing, however, made me a little queasy.

Nine months into the Trump administration, I still get the impression that too many of my fellow Trump skeptics are not thinking enough about the fact that we lost to Trump and to the vulgarians who backed him.

Granted, being a Trump skeptic myself, I tend to believe the Trumpian “value” of “winning” at all costs isn’t really a value.  But I presume the skeptics would like to win, on their terms.  And yet I am still wondering what those terms are.

Williamson himself wrote:

Nine-tenths of all social criticism involving the problems of the American underclass consists of nice college graduates and policy professionals of many races and religions wondering aloud why they can’t be more like us, which is why so much social policy is oriented toward trying to get more poor people to go to college, irrespective of whether they want to do so or believe they would benefit from it.”

Fair enough.  But Williamson’s conclusion also seems to be that the underclass should be more like us (conservatives), minus the dubious educational recommendation.  Again, fair enough; the victim mentality is generally destructive.  And Williamson is further correct to note that as a political matter, many conservatives/Republicans have not cared about the other, external causes of poverty until it emerged as a political problem for whites.

So where does that leave us, as Americans, or conservatives, or Republicans (for those of you who still identify)?

Williamson isn’t obliged to offer an answer; he’s writing social commentary, with a bit of philosophy, and doing it well.  Moreover, he was writing an essay, not a book.  But many of those gushing over his acid analysis may have to offer answers if they ever want to regain their power and influence in public discourse generally and within the GOP specifically.

Trump’s talent for making everything about Trump makes the process of thinking about the Coming Apart problem (let alone the problems of the underclass as a whole) difficult.  I am likely as guilty as anyone in dwelling on the Trump kerfuffles du jour (tho given my profile, my guilt matters much less).

But for all of the complaining about Trump pandering to white victimhood (and more broadly to those who care about those who have succumbed to the mentality), Trump skeptics need to consider that — as a political matter, anyway — you can’t beat something with nothing.  Trump’s ascendancy doesn’t mean that skeptics should cave in and jump on the train; it means we should, at some point, with a spirit of humility, be complaining less and working harder to be a better alternative to Trump or Trumpism (to the extent it exists).

[Note: Work-related writing may preclude me from posting on Tuesday. We’ll see how it goes.]

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

The Replacements: You Had To Be There

Something lighter for the weekend.  I listen to several podcasts regularly, including National Review’s Political Beats, on which co-hosts Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar bring in guests from politics/journalism to talk about their favorite bands.  So far, the selections have been fairly mainstream, but the most recent (with the Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway) featured The Replacements.

If the Replacements are a cult band, I would still have to count myself as a member.  They started out from the Twin Cities’ punk/hardcore scene in the early 80s, became critical darlings of indie rock (or “college rock” as it was known in the days of yore) as frontman Paul Westerberg became one of rock’s more talented songwriters, then collapsed a few years later (onstage in Chicago, to be precise).  The Trouser Press guide’s survey of the band’s oeuvre tells the basic story, but the podcast does an entertaining deep dive into their shaggy dog career.

As both the guide and the podcast note, the band imploded for a number of reasons — notably tension between Westerberg’s songwriting ambitions and the band’s harder-rocking sensibilities, as well as their tendency to willfully blow every opportunity they got in the business.  These form the basis of what Jeff calls his love/hate relationship with the band.

The Replacements (a/k/a the ‘Mats in their worse moments) were lovable losers who would test the limits of your love.  But for those old enough to have been there, it was easier to love our love/hate relationship.

At the outset, my impression is that Jeff in particular is not a fan of nihilism; nor am I, generally (nor is Walter Sobchak).  But the Sex Pistols and others ensured there was a place for it in punk music, a genre that was often intentionally opposed to what many viewed as the ossification of rock by the mid-70s.  The ‘Mats’ self-destructive behavior had many causes, but this punk ethos was a significant reason.

As the podcast underscores, however, as punk/hardcore bands go, the early Replacements were lyrically lighter and funnier than most.  This contrast between art and life was one of a number of dualities to be found in the band.

Indeed, while the podcast mentions and plays a bit of the band’s first single, “I’m In Trouble,” the acoustic, countrified b-side, “If Only You Were Lonely,” may be the earliest foreshadowing of the more heartfelt material Westerberg would master a few records later.  (Who cares what’s on the b-side of a record? I do.)

The tension between these two types of songs that made up the bulk of the band’s catalog  (though Jeff rightly notes the underrated Hootenanny was more diverse) causes Jeff to underrate the Let It Be LP, which Scot correctly notes would be a consensus top-two album for the band. (It’s either this or Jeff’s generally contrarian musical impulses).

One of the “you had to be there” aspects of Let It Be (which not only steals its title from the Beatles, but puts the Replacements on a roof for the album cover) is the band’s version of the early KISS tune, “Black Diamond.”  Jeff is not a fan (while acknowledging it’s better than the original); he’s also not keen on “Gary’s Got A Boner,” which so shamelessly steals from Ted Nugent that he gets a co-writing credit.

What the youngsters on the podcast don’t appreciate is how radical the band was in putting its stamp of approval on 70s schlock and even 70s Top 40 kitsch at a moment when “college rock” was so much more artsy and serious — and punk/hardcore was ideologically opposed to the era.  Including those selections on their “breakthrough” album, one with absolutely beguiling songs like the poppy “I Will Dare” and the achingly gorgeous “Unsatisfied,” single-handedly rehabbed entire genres for the In Crowd and influenced countless other indie bands (perhaps most notably Twin Cities contemporaries Soul Asylum).

At the time, no one else would have covered a song like “Heartbeat (It’s a Lovebeat)” from Tony DeFranco and the DeFranco Family; they would dare.  It was a recurring number for the Replacements on tour, with tutu-clad lead guitarist Bob Stinson getting pelted with coins and other objects from the crowd.  And the rhythm section — drummer Chris Mars and Bob’s younger brother Tommy on bass — would be laughing hysterically, as they might through takes on Vanity Fare’s “Hitchin’ A Ride,” or Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes.”

So when the podcast discusses the band’s uneven live performances, they also don’t appreciate that for Replacements fans, part of the excitement of buying a ticket was that it had an element of the the feel of a game show.  Would the Replacements show up… or the Mats?  (Or where on the spectrum would it be?)

Would they be tight, rocking a club to its foundation and dazzling on the increasingly emotional songs Westerberg was turning out?  Or had they been drinking all day and try to work their way through whatever songs they heard on the way to the gig?

The latter type of shows weren’t always musically satisfying, but could still be entertaining as all get out.  A set concluding with Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69,” Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and the roadies singing “If I Only Had a Brain” from The Wizard of Oz?  Yes please!  And no bootleg of the latter type records the fans gleefully overturning the band’s U-Haul trailer in retaliation (an occurrence common enough that the band usually waited on the load-out).

Of course, I saw some of the great sets also.  The Replacements celebrated their major-label debut — the wonderful and wonderfully named Tim — with a week-long hometown stand at the 7th Street Entry, a tiny club attached to the larger First Avenue (of Prince/Purple Rain fame).  Both shows I saw were incandescent, including the still-gestating “Can’t Hardly Wait,” which would go on to become their likely best-known song.

They played the First Ave stage to kick off the tour for their next (and last truly great) album, Pleased To Meet Me, with local treasure Slim Dunlap succeeding Bob on lead guitar; that was also a great night.  The Young Fresh Fellows opened and Political Beats fans should know the YFF was the sort of band that covered The Kinks’ “Picture Book.”

Occasionally, like Oz or Voldemort, the Replacements managed to be simultaneously great and terrible, such as their SNL appearance in which “Bastards of Young” manages to encapsulate most of the facets of the band in a few minutes, while also getting them banned from NBC for years for the profanity right before the solo.  During the inevitable reunion tour, Jimmy Fallon let them back on The Tonight Show to play the tremendous “Alex Chilton.

I mention these two songs last to make another point about The Replacements.  “Bastards” works like gangbusters as a teenage anthem, and a Gen X anthem — but it’s really about the band.  (“God, what a mess, on the ladder of success / Where you take one step and miss the whole first rung / Dreams unfulfilled, graduate unskilled / It beats pickin’ cotton and waitin’ to be forgotten.“)

“Alex Chilton” pays tribute to another cult rock figure (at 17, he was the lead singer for the Box Tops, but it was his fronting the cursed band Big Star in the early 70s that would influence R.E.M. and an entire generation of independent bands).  The lyrics are fantasy; the self-referential subtext is in the choice of subject. (“Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round / They sing ‘I’m in love. What’s that song? I’m in love with that song‘.”)

When the Replacements acted as they did on SNL, or made the kind of video they did for “Alex Chilton” (one of several which in no way endeared them to their label) they were not unaware of what they were doing.  People coming to the band now (as all should, tbqh) cannot fully appreciate the drama of their highwire act.  They tested the industry.  They tested their fans.  You had to be there.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Son of Marginalizing the Mainstream, Mainstreaming the Margins

To recap, briefly:  The center-left’s cultural marginalization of the center-right is a form of identity politics that fuels the current vicious cycle of race/gender-based identity politics and makes progressives and conservatives alike worse.  And identity politics are ultimately not interested in Enlightenment principles of individualism and reason; they are far more interested in the overthrow of systems based on those principles.  The marginalization is about the process; the identity politics are the subject and object of that process.

The process can also be viewed through a different lens.  The process is an example of the inherent problems raised when dominant or privileged institutions engage in gatekeeping.

In the days of yore, before technologies like cable, satellite and internet arrived on the scene, center-left institutions (particularly of journalism) were far stronger gatekeepers — and boy, did those outside the gates resent it!  Conservatives (whose opinions pre-Reagan were not even dominant within the GOP) were among the complainants — but so were far-left types like Noam Chomsky, and far-right types (who were even marginalized by conservative institutions like National Review).

The aforementioned technologies lowered the barriers to entry for the right in the marketplace of ideas.  It became much easier to create “conservative media” of national reach and influence on the radio, cable television, and the internet.  But the center-left jealously guarded the gatekeeping power it retained over the access to and staffing of their own forums.

There were at least two bad consequences to this marginalization.  First, it helped make “conservative media” more tribal and more angry, as noted on Tuesday (in the first link above).  Second, the creation of these parallel institutions created a set of parallel gatekeepers who — even when they were not intensifying the anger and tribalism — could otherwise influence the right without concern for any engagement from or with the supposed “mainstream.”

Ironically, during at least part of this period (before the race/gender flavors of identity politics really gained momentum) liberals tended to agree in other contexts that “problematic” political speech should be met with counter-speech, rather than censorship.  The theory was (and is) that suppressing speech only drove it somewhere with a lower profile, where it would thrive as “forbidden knowledge.”  Yet in journalism (and academia, and showbiz), the center-left’s attempt to maintain overly strict gatekeeping in the face of new technologies had a similar effect, ultimately empowering their bêtes noires and fueling the polarization of our political discourse.

Of course, these sorts of institutions cannot avoid line-drawing and gatekeeping.  Inclusion and exclusion are yin and yang.  But institutions involved in the exploration of ideas, or in the attempt to establish the common factual foundation for public debate, usually ought to be able to distinguish “hate speech” from “heresy speech,” for example.

The failures of center-left institutions in their gatekeeping functions helped lead to this current political moment.  It’s a moment in which a president and a political party can theorize that the center-left media is to the Trump coalition what the Soviet Union was to the Reagan coalition — an Evil Empire that glues its foes together.  It’s a moment where campuses may exchange one set of speech restrictions for another under threat of state action.

It’s a moment when institutions ought to realize that their gates are keeping them under siege more than keeping the barbarians at bay.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Bride of Marginalizing the Mainstream, Mainstreaming the Margins

Yesterday, I argued that the center-left’s cultural marginalization of the center-right is a form of identity politics that fuels the current vicious cycle of race/gender-based identity politics and makes progressives and conservatives alike worse.  Having called it a “retrograde exercise,” I want to expand on the point to examine where the vicious cycle leads.

Here’s a small passage from Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism — a book that is not about identity politics, but which cannot avoid the topic in a number of instances:

Inherent to the Enlightenment is the idea that all mankind could be reasoned with. The philosophes argued that men were all over the world, each blessed with the faculty of reason. It was the European right which believed that mankind was broken up into groups, classes, sects, races, nationalities, and other gradations in the great chain of being. The reactionary de Maistre railed against the notion that there were any ‘universal rights of man.’ In his most famous statement on the subject he declared, ‘Now, there is no such thing as “man” in this world. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, and so on. I even know, thanks to Montesquieu, that one can be Persian. But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him. If he exists, I don’t know about it.’

De Maistre meant that we are all prisoners of our racial and ethnic identities. (He didn’t mention gender, but that would go without saying.) Indeed, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between today’s identity politics and the identity politics of the fascist past. As one fascist sympathizer put it in the 1930s, ‘Our understanding struggles to go beyond the fatal error of believing in the equality of all human beings and tries to recognize the diversity of peoples and races.’ How many college campuses hear that kind of rhetoric every day?

*** Indeed, the case for Enlightenment principles of individualism and reason itself is deemed anti-minority. Richard Delgado, a founder of critical race theory, writes: “If you’re black or Mexican, you should flee Enlightenment based democracies like mad, assuming you have any choice.

Today, there are neo-reactionaries on the right who reject the Enlightenment and seek a “Dark Enlightenment.”  They have no use for democratic republicanism, preferring a return to monarchy or the adoption of some form of corporate governance.  They are open about what they want.  They have virtually no purchase in mainstream politics (though Stephen Bannon’s comments on obscure Italian philosopher Julius Evola raised eyebrows in part because Evola is an influence on the neo-reactionaries).

Conversely, if you’re a writer immersed in identity politics who merely implies that the most likely way America’s race issues get solved is violent revolution, you can remain not only mainstreamed by the center-left, but also celebrated.  The New York Times may publish an op-ed noting that such identity politics are similar to those of the alt-right… but how many NYT readers have an epiphany based on a single column?  How many reflexively dismiss it due to confirmation bias?

That America’s center-left doesn’t notice this problem is a manifestation of the dynamic Megan McArdle described in the 2010 column I linked yesterday:

It’s obviously no surprise that the lunatic BS of our own side doesn’t strike us nearly as forcefully as the absolutely appallingly unforgiveable wingnuttery of the opposition.”

Insofar as the center-left dominates America’s cultural institutions, their blind spot drives the vicious cycle of anger and hostility I mentioned yesterday.  Equally significant, the center-left (and some of the center-right) remain blind to where the path of this retrograde cycle leads if we don’t seek an exit.

PS: Consider sharing this post with the buttons below, as well as following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading and sharing.