Frank Rich Lets His Freak Flag Fly, Maaan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Flight 93 Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Conservatives Still Sorting Themselves in the Trump Era

A brief recap of where the sorting among conservatives stands now, then some additional thoughts.

Tevi Troy does a fairly nice job in laying out the broad strokes.  There are the Ever Trumpers, including those who focus on criticizing Pres. Tump’s critics and those trying to build an intellectual infrastructure for Trumpism.  There are the Conservative Trump Critics, including those implacably opposed to the Trump presidency and those picking their battles over specific issues.  And there are the Safe Space Conservatives, the anti-anti-Trumpers who (for various reasons) focus on attacking or criticizing Trump’s opponents and critics, but seemingly reluctant to affirmatively defend Trump.

Jonathan V. Last proposed a largely similar framework, adding the possibility of anti-anti-anti-Trumpers.  Last argues that perhaps the media and the professional Left are not qualitatively different than they have been in the past and that “focusing on the excesses of the anti-Trump forces means focusing on a meta-issue rather than the primary issue.”

Charles C. W. Cooke took issue with JVL’s seeming limitation of anti-Trumpers to those like David Frum who are concerned about being or becoming a soft authoritarian.

Cooke’s point is well-taken, especially since — as David French, no Trump fan, has pointed out, Trump is so far less authoritarian than Pres. Obama on a number of fronts.

Yet I don’t know that Cooke is correct in describing himself as anti-Trump, either.  He has taken the position that he will criticize Trump when he’s wrong (from a conservative perspective), praise him when he’s right, and keep a tally of each.  This is why I tend to prefer Troy’s admittedly less felicitous “Conservative Trump Critics.”

Even within that category, there will be some friction, but I would reconcile Troy and Last by noting that one group is essentially implacably opposed to the Trump presidency not only because of Trump’s occasional rhetorical nods toward authoritarianism, but also out of broader concerns regarding his character, seeming indifference to corruption (or the appearance thereof), and so forth.

I understand those concerns, which is why I keep referring to the possible Clinton scenario taking hold among the GOP and the conservative movement.  The Clintons — and the norms they destroyed in our politics — opened the door for the Trump administration.  It is not irrational to recoil at the thought of which doors Trump may open for future administrations.

Yet I find myself more in the second group of critics with Cooke and John Podhoretz (Troy’s example).  Trump is the President.  I can root for him to make conservative decisions and criticize the progressive ones.  As a populist — and a narcissist — he may respond to public opinion.  The longer-term consequences of his election are largely baked into the cake now, though they may hinge somewhat on how successful he is.

That key question of success brings me to the anti-anti-Trumpers.  Although I write media criticism from time to time, I want to stay out of this camp.  Here’s why.

Trump will either succeed or fail.  If Trump is successful, the odds are that conservatism will find itself even more marginalized in the GOP and our politics generally.  If Trump fails, the odds are that he will have damaged the only political party that represents conservatives (despite not being all that conservative already), thereby marginalizing conservatism as a political force.

I’m not That Guy who thinks people should be forced to state their opinions on everything, even people who have less excuse to avoid an opinion than, say, Taylor Swift.  And I don’t expect anti-anti-Trumpers should care whether they disappoint me.

But maybe some of them have children, or nieces and nephews.  If anti-anti-Trumpers really believe conservatism will make a better future, I wonder what their explanation to those kids would be for having said little about Trump when he’s wrong.  Perhaps something about the lesser of two evils.  After all, it’s never too early for cynicism.

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