Douthat on White Identity Politics and Aardvark on Career Choices for Empty Suits

House Districts

For your reading convenience, I have reposted the chart from the immediately preceding post. Please have it in mind as you read Ross Douthat, A Defeat for White Identity: What the midterms tell us about racial backlash and economic populism. I suggest reading the whole thing, but here is a key passage:

[W]hite identity politics failed to hold Trump’s gains. Some of the biggest swings against the G.O.P. were among middle and lower-income Americans, not just among affluent suburbanites. The Upper Midwest swung back toward Democrats. And among whites without college degrees, Democrats improved on Hillary Clinton’s showing by eight percentage points — identical to their gains among college-educated whites.

This doesn’t mean that the racial fears Trump stoked didn’t bring some Republican voters to the polls. But it proves that white-identity politics isn’t simply destiny, that Democrats can reach wavering white-working class voters instead of writing them off, and that if Republicans want to hold them, then actual economic populism — with its potential pan-ethnic rather than racially polarizing appeal — is a better bet than what we’ve gotten too often from his White House.

Career Choices and Challenges for Empty Suits

As I said, read the whole thing while gazing back and forth at the chart. And think about this information from the standpoint of the Republican professional class.

Here are the conclusions I would draw: if I want to keep on being a professional politician with an (R) after my name, then my best bet is not to be a spokesbot for Richie Rich, because Richie Rich is coming to hate my brand, and the people who love my brand are coming to hate Richie Rich. (If you think that’s wrong, take a hard look at the chart.)

So, if my role in life is to represent those folks in the top two columns on the left, then I had better begin to advocate some real help for their economic issues to go along with my appeal to their ignorance and their racial animus.

BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, one of life’s fundamental truths is that Richie Rich pays better than Peter Pauper. So, if I want to keep on being a spokesbot for Richie Rich, maybe I want to give careful consideration to the opportune time to change the (R) my name to a (D).

If I treat my whoring-for-the-rich with a little finesse and subtlety, the Democrats will welcome me as a moderate, and the rich guys will see me as a useful tool. And being a well-paid tool for the rich is indeed the purpose for which God put me on earth.

But I had better find the right time to flip, before the voters flip me.

 

Two Simple Questions about Health Care

When Ross Douthat sucks his thumb over Roman Catholic theological controversies, my eyes glaze over. Aardvark ain’t got no dog in THAT fight.

Other days—and today, I think, was such a day—he’s worth a read. In a column headlined The Health Care Cul-de-Sac, Douthat urges both political parties to “step back and think about our national priorities”—and then, having thunk deep thoughts, to conclude that it is not a national priority to replace Obamacare, nor is it a national priority to enact a single payer health care system. He writes,

If Obamacare repeal is really dead for the year 2017, both left and right have a chance to shake their minds free of the health care debate and ask themselves: What are the biggest threats to the American Dream right now, to our unity and prosperity, our happiness and civic health?

I would suggest that there are two big answers, both of which played crucial roles in getting a carnival showman who promised to Make America Great Again elected president. First, an economic stagnation that we are only just now, eight years into an economic recovery, beginning to escape — a stagnation that has left median incomes roughly flat for almost a generation, encouraged populism on the left and right, and made every kind of polarization that much worse.

Second, a social crisis that the opioid epidemic has thrown into horrifying relief, but that was apparent in other indicators for a while — in the decline of marriage, rising suicide rates, an upward lurch in mortality for poorer whites, a historically low birthrate, a large-scale male abandonment of the work force, a dissolving trend in religious and civic life, a crisis of patriotism, belonging, trust.

Having laid this predicate, Douthat goes on,

Now a follow-up question: Is the best way to address either of these crises to spend the next five years constantly uprooting and replanting health insurance systems, and letting health care consume every hour of debate?

The First Question

We come now to Aardvark’s first question, and it goes to my progressive friends.

And the question is,

Doesn’t Douthat actually have a pretty good point about priorities?

The Second Question

Here comes the second question, and it’s for you, Mr. Douthat. Ross, like many of your ilk, you speak of single payer health care systems as though only an insane person could even entertain the idea. In today’s column, for example, you refer, and I quote, to “outlandish single-payer expectations,” and you speak condescendingly of “single-payer dreams.”

So here’s the question:

We have all heard of “American exceptionalism.” But what, in your humble opinion, makes America so bloody exceptional that it is a pipe dream to have efficient socialized medicine in America, when all other advanced capitalist countries have some form of single payer systems?

In short, what is it about us that means we Americans can’t have nice things?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Blind Men of Hindostan Assess Trump

elephant

This was the day when the several blind men of Hindostan debated loud and long about whether the President of the United States is best compared to a petulant, immature child, to a raging bear, to a bull in a China shop, or to mad King Lear.

In the Noo Yak Times today Ross Douthat agreed with his colleague David Brooks that Donald Trump is behaving like a small child—and advocated for removal under the 25th Amendment:

There is, as my colleague David Brooks wrote Tuesday, a basic childishness to the man who now occupies the presidency. That is the simplest way of understanding what has come tumbling into light in the last few days: The presidency now has kinglike qualities, and we have a child upon the throne.

It is a child who blurts out classified information in order to impress distinguished visitors. It is a child who asks the head of the F.B.I. why the rules cannot be suspended for his friend and ally. It is a child who does not understand the obvious consequences of his more vindictive actions — like firing the very same man whom you had asked to potentially obstruct justice on your say-so. …

But a child … cannot really commit “high crimes and misdemeanors” in any usual meaning of the term. There will be more talk of impeachment now, more talk of a special prosecutor for the Russia business; well and good. But ultimately I do not believe that our president sufficiently understands the nature of the office that he holds, the nature of the legal constraints that are supposed to bind him, perhaps even the nature of normal human interactions, to be guilty of obstruction of justice in the Nixonian or even Clintonian sense of the phrase. I do not believe he is really capable of the behind-the-scenes conspiring that the darker Russia theories envision. And it is hard to betray an oath of office whose obligations you evince no sign of really understanding or respecting.

Which is not an argument for allowing him to occupy that office. It is an argument, instead, for using a constitutional mechanism more appropriate to this strange situation than impeachment: the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which allows for the removal of the president if the vice president and a majority of the cabinet informs the Congress that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and (should the president contest his own removal) a two-thirds vote by Congress confirms the cabinet’s judgment.

For reasons best known to herself, Douthat’s argument greatly upset Jennifer Rubin. “[W]e should not medicalize amoral, stupid and/or illegal behavior.” Rubin opined.

Aardvark’s response? Well, no we shouldn’t. But conversely, when someone is acting in a way best explained by postulating a serious mental illness, we are not obligated to attribute that behavior to evil impulse and  overlook the apparent mental illness.

Much of Ms. Rubin’s oeuvre strikes me as highly tendentious, even by the standards of political blogging. In this case, Aardvark hasn’t quite reverse engineered the tendentiousness. But, no doubt, all will become clear in time.

In another response to Douthat, Alexandra Petri argued that comparing Trump to a child, or to a bull in a china shop, is unfair to children and bulls:

The Trump presidency is the discovery that what you thought was a man in a bear suit is just a bear. Suddenly the fact that he wouldn’t play by the rules makes total sense. It wasn’t that he refused to, that he was playing a long game. It was that he was a wild animal who eats fish and climbs trees, and English words were totally unintelligible to him. In retrospect, you should have suspected that after he just straight-up ate a guy. But at the time everyone cheered. It was good TV. Also, he was your bear.

So you have spent 200 years building a fragile snow globe, and now you have given it to a bear. The animal doesn’t care. You cannot even explain to him what the thing is. To him, all your words are just sounds. He looks at you when you are making them and he looks away when you are finished. You can only hope the bear becomes bored and sets the snow globe down and wanders off looking for food.

(Again, this is an insult to bears, who have fewer places to live than Trump and do not do so at the taxpayer’s expense.)

Finally, writing in the Times, Anna North went for the King Lear analogy.

Nope.

Not King Lear. Not a bear. Not a bull. A child.

Poisonous Populism: How (and How Not) to Deal with It

populism

Andrés Miguel Rondón, a Venezuelan economist, writes In Venezuela, we couldn’t stop Chávez. Don’t make the same mistakes we did. “The recipe for populism is universal,” he says:

Find a wound common to many, find someone to blame for it, and make up a good story to tell. Mix it all together. Tell the wounded you know how they feel. That you found the bad guys. Label them: the minorities, the politicians, the businessmen. Caricature them. As vermin, evil masterminds, haters and losers, you name it. Then paint yourself as the savior. Capture the people’s imagination. Forget about policies and plans, just enrapture them with a tale. One that starts with anger and ends in vengeance. A vengeance they can participate in.

That’s how it becomes a movement. There’s something soothing in all that anger. Populism is built on the irresistible allure of simplicity. The narcotic of the simple answer to an intractable question. The problem is now made simple.

The problem is you.

His counsel?

  1.  “Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. … What makes you the enemy? It’s very simple to a populist: If you’re not a victim, you’re a culprit.”
  2. Show no contempt. Leave “the theater of injured decency behind.”
  3. “A hissy fit is not a strategy.” Don’t try to force him out.
  4. Adopt a counterstrategy of proving “that you belong in the same tribe as them—that you are American in exactly the same way they are.” He continues,

Show concern, not contempt, for the wounds of those who brought him to power. By all means, be patient with democracy and struggle relentlessly to free yourself from the shackles of the caricature the populists have drawn of you.

It’s a tall order. But the alternative is worse. Trust me.

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat reacts to David Frum’s dystopian vision—and to everything else we have seen in the last two weeks, by presenting at some length a theatrical pageant of decency in which poisonous populism dooms itself through its lack of political skill, unpopularity, and the opposition of of the “deep state.”

So who’s right, Rondón or Frum? Will Trumpism fall of its own weight, or will the problem persist as long as we can’t get inside the heads of the Trumpistas?

 

 

 

 

Yes, There Will be Clusterfucks

canute

Ross Douthat—though far from Aardvark’s favorite pundit, even among conservative pundits—does ask the right questions this afternoon:

Will [Trump’s] rhetoric actually define the policy that gets made in the halls of Congress, where a more Reaganite conservatism still theoretically holds sway? Or will his words be a Buchananite patina on an agenda mostly written by supply-siders and Goldman Sachs appointees? Or will the conflict between the two tendencies simply make his administration less epochal than incoherent, less transformative than simply ineffective?

Trump believes in Winning Through Intimidation. That is his life strategy. Just as some people’s life strategy is being beautiful, some succeed by working harder than anyone else, and some succeed by mastering a professional discipline, Trump has enjoyed success by intimidation, bluster, and showmanship.

He told the Republicans today that he bloody well intends to intimidate them to a fare thee well, by exploiting their craven fear of the folks who have bought into Trump’s cult of personality.

There are limits to life strategies. Being beautiful doesn’t improve your SAT scores. And intimidation has its limits.

First, some people are more subject to intimidation that others, especially on some subjects. Who thinks that John McCain is going to be intimidated into loving Russia?

Second, while you can intimidate some people, some of the time, you can’t intimidate reality. You cannot, for example, intimidate the health care system into providing costless, generous universal coverage, nor can you intimidate away the robotic revolution in manufacturing.

Third, while there remain millions of cultists, some are already beginning to leave.

So, yes, there will be clusterfucks. As old Ross puts it,

Combine … brute political facts with Trump’s implausibly expansive promises, and a Carter scenario — gridlock, disappointment, collapse — seems like the most plausible way to bet. But on the evidence of this speech, Trump has no intention of playing it safe: He will either remake conservatism in his image, or see his presidency fail in the attempt.

***

Aardvark is grateful for his readers in Germany and the United States, welcomes new readers in China and South Africa, and continues to be a little concerned about the readers in Russia.

And by the way, the painting depicts King Canute, whose relation to the subject matter of the post will be apparent to anyone who knows the good king’s story.

It was, incidentally, a hard choice between Canute and Æthelred the Unready.

ethelred