Bloomberg and Sanders on Team Clinton

by Peter Augustine Lawler

Today (July 29) is Alexis de Tocqueville’s birthday.  His theory of comparative government is, more or less, things are usually getting and worse. He’s the mean between Obama, who said, thanks to me, things have been getting better and better, and Trump, who said that things have been getting worse and worse–although they can get great again, if you elect me. Last night, Hillary Clinton, in her own way, tried to take the Tocquevillian middle between Obama and Trump, presenting here self as the responsible moderate, a progressive Republican.

Michael Bloomberg, who distinguished himself as a hugely competent mayor of New York and as an eloquent, entrepreneurial, and technocratic billionaire, gave a most persuasive speech endorsing Hillary Clinton as infinitely preferable to the “con man” Trump. He gave the best case against Trump heard at the convention, and Bloomberg’s willingness to be a prime-time advocate of Clinton deserves to be big news.

Reiham Salam urges us to remember, however, that Bloomberg also endorsed Obama, although he thought Romney would probably be better at running the country.  Romney humored too much the meddlesome social conservatism that undermines personal responsibility and is bad for business. No sensible person should care about someone else’s reproductive or marriage choices, and religious liberty needs to be confined by our constitutional rights.

One reason Bloomberg can’t be confused with a libertarian, however, is that he has so many opinions — including many that generate public policies — about how other people should behave. Part of Bloomberg’s scheme for giving New York good government was various policies — such as outlawing huge sodas in movie theaters — that would “nudge” ordinary people in the direction of responsible behavior. His is one form of the way Puritanical America is playing itself out these days.  He’s hugely judgmental and prohibitionist when it comes to health and safety and rather intolerant of those who would put the soul before the body.  But he’s unconcerned with the issues that animated the original Puritans, most of which have a foundation in the Bible.

Well, that’s not quite fair: The original Puritans were all about the egalitarian effects of good government.  And so is Bloomberg. Government should also be effective at law and order and public education, both of which benefit us all. In those respects, Bloomberg is like the progressive Republicans of previous generations, those who were, in many ways, the secularized intellectual heirs of the original Puritans. That moderately progressive faith owed little to the Christians and even less to socialism. Can we say that the Democrats are morphing in the direction of Rockefeller Republicans?  

Bloomberg’s criticism of the Democrats is that they’re sometimes too hostile to business leaders and the facilitation of entrepreneurship in their taxing and spending policies. He might be right, despite the unprecedented economic leftism of the Democratic platform, that such criticisms don’t apply all that much to the Clintons or even President Obama. Certainly, on those issues,  Hillary Clinton (like her husband) is far more conservative than either Trump or Sanders and somewhat more conservative than Obama.

And Salam is right that, despite outliers such as the Koch brothers and the Wall Street Journal, that the Democrats are now the party of the rich and the sophisticated as such, and that the effectual truth of Trump is to accelerate the movement in that direction. Even the Kochs might end up voting Clinton this time.

The way the Democrats have of veiling that  inconvenient truth to the Sanders voters is to push unity against the horrific threat to civilized decency that is the person Trump.  No socialist could, of course, vote for a fascist, and Bernie is being true to himself by being on board to defeat Trump, even at the expense of allying with the loud and proud billionaire Bloomberg. 

But this might be a pretty unstable alliance. Certainly if Trump were a more credible character, he would pick up a lot more Sanders supporters. It stands to reason that Clinton’s ticket to a big win is being the only respectable candidate, but the polls aren’t so clear on that right now. It’s always the case that Trump definitely self-destructs . . . tomorrow.

It also might be true that Hillary Clinton will turn out to be a very effective president. As Ruy Teixeira writes in the WSJ, it could be her policies might work in producing “equitable growth” or saving capitalism from some of the inegalitarian effects of the present stage of the division of labor.  She is more prudently focused on growth than either Sanders or Trump, as is any progressive Republican. She will advance the competency and diversity agenda of the Wall Street/Silicon Valley crowd, while perhaps winning the consent or grudging acquiescence of lots of initially hostile ordinary folks in some Bloombergian manner. 

What about foreign policy?  There she’s a progressive Republican, more or less, too, which is why experts concerned with continuing responsible American leadership in the world — the neocons of old, for example — are getting aboard Team Clinton too.

I’m not saying this will happen, but I disagree with Carl Scott on the issue of whether she’s doomed or even likely to serve only one term. I mean by disagreement to be close to the opposite of good news.

It also might be very difficult for the Republicans to return to pre-Trumpian conservatism.  More on that soon.

Redefining Conservatism— Part 3

by Peter Augustine Lawler
Between individualism and collectivism

I don’t have much to say about the Democratic convention except: Michelle Obama was excellent (offering the best Democratic criticism of Trump I’ve heard). Bill Clinton’s narrative of lifelong love and respect for the girl he met was a touching piece of selective nostalgia (not a big criticism, that’s what old storytellers do). Bernie Sanders has been a class act. Lena Dunham managed to achieve unprecedented diversity and intensity in whining in just a few minutes. Paul Simon should have picked a tune that to sound good didn’t require Garfunkel. And the mainstream TV media — much more than the discredited DNC — is shamelessly embracing Hillary’s narrative of the significance of her nomination.

On Trump telling the Russians to hack up some more e-mails. Well, he was joking. But more evidence of still of an utter lack of impulse control.

Now, let me get tedious by continuing my examination of conservatism as it is now:

The more dominant Republican view on the social issues might be less liberal conservative or conservative liberal than democratic: The people, as Justice Scalia explained so eloquently, have a right to legislate morality in areas such as marriage and abortion. And it’s the pernicious form of individualism morphing into unfettered personal autonomy that threatens the people’s right to choose how to define marriage and protect life. This kind of individualism is enforced by the courts, through shameless judicial activism, and abetted by unprecedented bureaucratic intrusiveness encouraged by Democrats. Peter Thiel might be right that it’s a sham culture war if folks are obsessed over who uses what bathroom. But, for social conservatives, the war was escalated by federal bureaucrats obsessing about what’s going on in bathrooms in North Carolina.

The Republicans typically add that religious liberty is under assault in our country today, and they pledge to fight against courts and bureaucrats who aim to undermine the authority of the church to teach what it thinks is true, and the authentic freedom people have to live in light of that truth. Freedom of religion is the freedom not of isolated conscience but the freedom to be a member of an organized body of thought and action that speaks authoritatively to its members.

It’s often said, and not without reason, that conservatives — including Republican leaders and public intellectuals — are inconsistent in being for individualism in one way and against it in another. That point is usually made most insistently by libertarians such as Charles Koch, who argues that we should always be for innovation across the board. The same method that fuels technological progress does the same for moral progress. That, of course, social conservatives do not think is true, and they’re more attuned to the relational costs that might accompany technological benefits. And they, even before Trumpism, could be suspicious of the motives of our cosmopolitan elites who populate both our parties.

Social conservatives are often for thinking of persons as free individuals when it comes to political and economic issues, and they criticize the Democrats for being “collectivists.” But when it comes to the “social issues,” they can readily be mistaken for “collectivists” themselves by libertarians. They deviate from pure individualism by being for attuning public policy to the needs of struggling families, accommodating the churches, and privileging American citizens over all the individuals of the world. They disagree with the libertarian premise that, even under the law, individuals can be recognized only as individuals — or as beings abstracted from their relational life. 

The libertarian — or, arguably, the purely classical liberal  — view is that the Constitution is silent on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation and so our law must be too. And so even a tax reform targeted at relieving parents is an unjust form of identity politics, just as are tax exemptions for churches. The social conservative, by contrast, doesn’t divide people into individualists (who are all about rights) and collectivists (who are all about willful majoritarianism). Genuine collectivism, like that of the socialists and the fascists, presupposes the absence of the intermediary associations that flourish between the pure individualism and the government that make life worthwhile.

Social conservatives such as Peter Spiliakos observe that the rise of Bernie Sanders and the popularity of socialism among young people can be explained by the atrophying of the safety nets — beginning with stable families — that shape lives that are some relational place between atomistic individualism and faceless collectivism. The indiscriminate progress of individualism — especially social liberalism — in our time generates security concerns that socialism promises to address in one way and Trump, with his fascism lite, in another.

Donald Trump, the Greater Evil

by Carl Eric Scott
The Conservative Response to the Trump-Crisis, Part 6

Conservatives still have an important choice to make about this election.  And even many who have opposed Trump up to this point feel uncertain about it.  Rightfully, many are thinking “Shouldn’t we vote for the lesser of two evils?”  

The problem is, too many of us are weighing the evils with only basic policy issues plus the Supreme Court in mind, and only in terms of the next few years.  That is not the full-range weighing of evils that the situation demands.

Last time (part five, below), I argued that an important aspect in trying to be comprehensive is taking the long-term development of the American Left into consideration.  That development would have a lot to do with younger liberals, and with whether enough of them could get drawn into efforts to reform today’s dominant patterns of leftism.  I posed this question:  Will our corrupt Democrat Party become more vulnerable to taking a serious, perhaps even Reform-prompting, hit in the near future if Trump wins, or if Hillary does?  We’ll be looking at a lot more questions this time, but that one does remain in the forefront of my mind.

2020

Even if a President Trump has some real policy successes, he is not going to wear well with the electorate as a whole, and especially with younger voters.  Week after week, his behavior will provide reinforcement of the idea that conservatism is a bitter, contempt-filled, and shamelessly amoral movement.  To some degree the charges of racism and misogyny will be a part of that, and to some degree legitimately.  Week after week, his behavior will energize what had otherwise promised to be, in the wake of the hopes stirred and then dashed by Obama, a remarkably demoralized, divided, and purposeless Left.

In such a situation, by 2020 the Democrats will likely put forward a candidate much more attractive than either Hillary or Bernie, and win decisively.  They will win even if President Trump stands aside for a new GOP candidate, and even if his presidency has by some further miracle not divided the GOP more thoroughly than his candidacy already has.  There is of course no possibility for Democratic Reform in that scenario, unless their 2020 nominee winds up being a genuine moderate, as opposed to the largely-fake one (outside economic issues) that Senator Kaine is.  And that is extremely unlikely. 

Or ignore my pet issue of Democratic Reform.  What I’m arguing is that four years of Trump practically hands the Democrats the presidency for another four, at least.  And since control of Congress will be more in play in 2018 and 2020, that also means the Democrats would be likely to win all three branches of government.  

Think about it:  the most important policy successes a President Trump might deliver, keeping SCOTUS from going full liberal and stopping the flood of illegal immigration, are by their very nature preventive.  That means that for earnest young liberals, such successes would mainly serve to spare them from seeing the full consequences of what they have in fact supported by voting Democrat.  They would not be successes felt by them or most Americans in the gut, and so they would continue to hate Donald Trump for being, well, himself. 

Four years of Hillary Clinton added onto eight of Obama, however, will almost certainly force younger Democrats to really face the deep sicknesses of contemporary progressivism and their own complicity in these.  They will not have “but Trump!” to excuse their participation in those sicknesses.

While President Clinton may step into office with a Democratic Senate, the Democrats are very unlikely to win the House, and cannot win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.  Unable to pass non-bipartisan laws, she will feel she is forced into continuing and likely expanding Obama’s democracy-damaging pattern of Regulatory Agency Governance, and his baldly anti-constitutional pattern of Executive Legislating.  Shockingly, she has already promised to do both. 

She will not improve the economy.  She will likely do nothing to reign in the excesses of BLM, the LGBT activists, and the campus protestors/administrators—nor would such heed her even if she did try.  She will have to deal with the overseas threats to international order, including those that bring terrorism to America, that Obama allowed to fester and grow, and while she will likely do a better job with these than Obama has or Trump would have, her better actions will usually have to be “no-win” ones if considered from a purely political calculus.   

And she still will be her imperious, unlikable, lying, corrupt, baggage-dragging, behind-the-scenes-bullying, and in public mush-speaking, self.  She will not wear well.  She will be categorically less shielded by the gender-card than Obama was by the race-card from intense criticism and scrutiny.  She will be married to the same wonderful husband Bill Clinton.  Her age is an additional disadvantage, and if she tries to strong-arm the Democrats into anointing some picked successor of hers after only serving four years, that will harm their 2020 chances all the more. 

Yes, one horrible price for these better 2020 prospects for the GOP is the damage she will do with her SCOTUS nominations.  Another fear is that she will really open the illegal-immigration floodgates in a way that will grant the Democrats a sure-fire presidential-election majority for a generation.  I suspect the latter fear is an exaggerated one, but I admit that I am no expert on either illegal immigration or voter-enrollment policy.  Tell me in the comments if you think the fear of this possibility ought to be regarded as decisive, and why.  

SCOTUS

With the Supreme Court, a President Clinton would get a justice to fill Scalia’s place, and the elderly liberal justices Ginsburg and Breyer would get two to three safe years in which to retire.  Then there is the possibility, albeit unlikely, that health issues could force one of the remaining three originalism-inclined justices to retire, particularly Thomas. 

The Court was already 5-4 liberal on abortion, LGBT, establishment clause, and capital punishment issues even with Scalia still on, and given his slot’s being filled by a liberal justice in Hillary’s first year, what additionally would happen is that the 5-4 “conservatives-plus-Kennedy block” on issues like those raised in Heller and Citizens United also falls to a liberal majority.  If the two elderly liberals both retire during her term to allow her to appoint younger replacements, and we might add the elderly Kennedy as a liberal-on-most-issues third, even conservative presidential victories in 2020 and 2024 probably couldn’t undo that liberal majority.

That is very bad.  Very.  Greater research into the more under-the-radar areas of jurisprudence would likely cause us to add another “very” to that.  However, there are some silver linings to take into consideration.

First, my sense is that the public is growing more resistant in general to SCOTUS overreach—the automatic respect older generations of both parties had for its decisions is fading every year—and a reversal of certain decisions, especially Heller, could generate resistance of a truly massive sort.  Especially with that ruling, there likely will be more hesitancy to overrule than most conservatives think. 

Second, while the GOP Senators will feel obliged to confirm Hillary’s Scalia-replacement nominee, those Senators could decide to withhold approval for any other of her picks, unless they are moderate in some way.  And if her election also regains the Senate for the Democrats—the likely outcome at present by a hair–, I think even she will hesitate before forcing something like a 52-48 confirmation vote.  So the incentive for her to nominate “moderates” will be there.   Scalia once rightly indicated that the very notion of a moderate judge is absurd, and Hillary will go for the faux-moderates, but still, we should not pooh-pooh what could be gained by cornering her into nominating some genuinely old-school liberal justice. There are actually many more of the old-school liberal types in the Democratic law establishment than in the liberal/progressive population at large.  Such an appointment could put off the most explosive progressive abuse of SCOTUS authority that is likely, namely, the curtailment of religious liberty guarantees, for another generation at least.  

Third, if the GOP holds the Senate, or takes it back in 2018, confirmation of nominees (after the initial one) could also be held hostage as a way of pressuring Hillary herself to stay within the constitutional lines.  “Oh, you’re saying you’re going to do Big Amnesty (DAPA) II?  Dear Colleague Letter VIII?  Executive Revision of Obamacare XIX?  Well, we don’t yet have the votes to impeach you—let alone to convict you–, Mrs. President, nor the votes to stop funding in key areas, but we do have the votes to withhold confirmation from all of your future SCOTUS nominees.  For your term, we are perfectly willing to live with a Court of eight, seven, or six justices.  Your choice.” 

Both of these last two scenarios of course assume that Trump’s candidacy doesn’t lose us the Senate decisively, but the main point is that they indicate ways in which her overreach could provoke resistance that diminishes the damage she can do in four years.  If the GOP can emerge from a 2016 defeat not too wracked by divisions, and having learned from the Trump-episode the necessity of having some backbone in Congress, she would have to keep 2018, judicial nominations, and even the possibility of an impeachment vote in the House, in mind every step of the way.  Since so much of the Republican electorate, and so much of the flexible (i.e., “Professionally Corrupt”) side of the Republican Establishment, have shown they are so alarmed about the future of our republic that they are willing to go the extreme of supporting Trump, conservatives ought to be able to predict and demand greater GOP openness to such aggressive moves to defend the Constitution.

And what does Trump gain us with SCOTUS?  I assume, which maybe I shouldn’t, that he keeps his word and returns conservatives to the 2006-2015 “Scalia-plus-three” status quo of being losers on most key issues but winners on a few.  Yes, if sometime during the first three years of his term Kennedy, Ginsburg, or Breyer were to retire or have a debilitating health-event a President Trump could even deliver an outright 5-4 originalist majority. But the odds strongly favor those justices being able to hold on for three years.  So again, at best our gain here is a merely preventive one, which will make it invisible to much of the electorate.  Things don’t get very bad, but the bad status quo remains.  Don’t get me wrong:  that is something.  But it is not something which can outweigh all other factors, one of which, after all, happens to be the factor of how SCOTUS might be altered after 2020 Democratic victories.

Weighing the Evils

The other area in which a President Hillary would do a great deal of damage is in her appointments to federal agencies, particularly in her keeping many of Obama’s appointments on.  However, in a lesser-evils analysis this is nearly a wash, since there is little indication that Trump understands the need for sweeping firings of the Obama-era appointees and those they hired in turn, and for aggressive discipline applied to all of the bureaucratic ranks, or that he would have the political pull and skill to even partially accomplish these goals in the face of the intense opposition they would provoke.  Nor do we have reason to expect high standards of integrity and excellence for his own appointments. 

I’ve been conducting the weighing of evils in a manner that gives Trump more credit than he likely deserves.  I haven’t gone into the overall foreign policy approach of Trump, which is a very bad one so far as we can discern what it involves, nor into the de facto “liberal-tarian” dumping of social-conservative issues by Trump, which I of course bitterly oppose.  However, I know that there are significant numbers of conservatives who like his stances in those areas.  Nor have I gone into the fact that in his rhetoric, he is putting such high expectations upon what executive power can do that he seems nearly as likely as Hillary to take our government further into the anti-constitutional patterns of Executive Legislating and Regulatory Agency GovernanceI do not even look into his troubling statements with respect to freedom of press and punishment of critics/opponents.  Finally, I indulge in almost no consideration of and speculation upon Trump’s psychological make-up in this piece, other than stressing the obvious point that his personality is highly unlikely to wear well. 

Again, if he wins, all of his negatives are going to become the burden of the Republican party, assuming it can avoid the even worse fate of splitting in two.  But if Hillary wins, she is going to have to govern from within a very tight box of possibilities.  And while she may be turn out to be more effective at that than I expect, there are ample reasons to be hopeful for 2018 and 2020 with her in office.  

All in all, it ought to be clear that Trump’s presidency would be the greater evil than Hillary’s, and most of all from a conservative perspective.  This would be so even if he managed to avoid causing some major foreign-policy disaster due to his anger and tongue-control issues (minor disasters I simply expect), and if he managed to avoid provoking a massive split in the GOP.  Those are unknowns, but I honestly think it can be known as well as anything can be in politics that his becoming president would lead to huge conservative losses in 2018 and 2020.

I’ve gone on long enough, but read part four of this series below if you don’t understand that there is another fundamental question to consider here besides the “lesser of two evils” one.  That is the one about whether there is a “floor” of unethical behavior and shamelessness on the part of a candidate for major office below which no genuine conservative can support the candidate.

And to repeat something else I said there, while the “imagine yours is the deciding vote” scenario has limitations, it is ultimately appropriate to consider.  So I’ll wrap up by imagining what I would do in such a situation. 

I admit that if I actually thought Trump was the lesser evil, I would nonetheless regard him as well below the ethical minimum.  So with dismay, and some degree of uncertainty about my choice, I would still cast my vote against him.  

But I believe that we can know that Trump is not only below that ethical minimum, but that his being president instead of Hillary would be the greater evil by far.  So were it down to me—Trump or Clinton—I would choose her, and without hesitation.  Given the circumstances, her very awfulness can aide my nation in the long run.  His cannot.  

Ghostbusters and Star Trek Today

by Peter Augustine Lawler
Sequels in the theaters

Let me get the really controversial issues out of the way. I liked the new Ghostbusters movie about as much as the first one. In both cases, my bottom line: good-natured and sometimes fun but not funny enough. And the special effects just aren’t special enough.

No, I’m not offended that to learn that women can be scientists and ghostbusters just like men. And that they’re the ones most open and attuned to the presence of the paranormal. And that the main obstacles to their quest for the truth that can save a city is vain men — out-of-touch scientists and lyin’ politicians. I wasn’t even offended that the film’s main male character is a clueless, stupid, self-absorbed guy who was hired only for his good looks.  

Give the dearth of summertime competition, I recommend that you see the new Ghostbusters.

The new Star Trek I found boring. There is no new Trekkie ground broken. and what passes for philosophy and political theory is thinner than in the past. The characters are okay only if you viewed them through memories of their more fleshed-out predecessors. See it only if you are bound to see them all.

Well, we do see there’s no true nobility in choosing a world of struggle and honor over a peaceful world governed by contracts. Remaining on the march is the endless American quest to eliminate all real diversity from the cosmos. The captains leading that march still have fun, driven by struggle, honor, and close brushes with death. While Spock contemplates mortality in the wake of Ambassador Spock’s death, we hear that it’s fear of death that keeps us alive. And Spock does come more alive and becomes a more relational guy, thinking, for example, more of love of real woman and less of doing his duty to his Vulcan species. So it turns out that indefinite longevity would be more a curse than a blessing, because death breathes life into peaceful, contractual, high-tech societies. Thanks God the cosmos, so far, is full of mortals, at least in the biological sense.

I agree with Carl than Love and Friendship inferior to Whit Stillman’s great trilogy about the Urban Haute Bourgeoisie.  It’s about human nature displays itself in a world where women have to be more clever than men to get access to money, power, and sexual satisfaction. It’s something like Machiavelli’s La Mandragola​, even featuring a princess and her secretary. It features this curious kind of friendship, but not much love at all. And no one who’s all that lovable.

 As Titus and Carl have showed, there’s a lot more going on, but I have to begin at the beginning. And Stillman’s weakest is still endlessly amusing and instructive, 

So, in my view, the characters (like Machiavelli’s) are too close to caricatures and have too little likeable or personal about them. Well, that’s less true of  the men, for the most part.  

The characters in Metropolitan, Last Days of  Disco, and Barcelona touch your heart as wounded souls doing the best they can in a world in which they can’t rely on stable conventions or personal authority to guidedthem. There is something more authentic about being a marginal American miserable, to some extent, in the absence of God.

Hopes for Reform Democrats, Receding…

by Carl Eric Scott
The Conservative Response to the Trump-Crisis, Part 5

First off, my impression of the acceptance speech is somewhere between a “meh” and a “more okay than expected.” Peter’s thoughts below of course provide better analysis, particularly of Trump’s astute mention of his evangelical supporters.  I do remain grateful for the way Trump has shifted the illegal immigration conversation in the GOP—you can regard that as another kind of “virtue signaling” if you want, but it is so. 

Second, and especially for the type-four Trump supporters among pomocon’s readership, I want to call your attention to a successor blog to the defunct The Journal for American Greatness, which for some reason, likely a fear of job-loss in academic institutions, shut down their website about a month ago.  The new(all of ‘em?) non-anonymous crew give us some unconvincing blather about a GOP “priesthood,”  a good post on millenial-gen reaction to PC education, and an interesting statement of purposeAmerican Greatness is the new name.  In a spirit of rivalry and disagreement between genuine conservatives, I wish them the best sailing in the stormy waters ahead.  We’ll see if their project can be as detached from Trump’s fate as they insist.

Now in my last post I promised to get into the weighing of evils, and to show why a President Donald Trump would be a greater evil than a President Hillary Clinton.  But begging your indulgence, I have one more preliminary to set things up for that.  I need to get something off my chest, a long sigh for what could have been.

The Lost Opportunity

2016 should have been the year when ethics-concerned progressives, old-school liberals, and various other sorts of potentially moderate Democrats would have had to finally face up to the ever-mounting evidence of the despotic proclivity and moral corruption of the Democratic leadership class, and enough to cause them to really pause.  Due to this, and to the added personal character repulsiveness of Hillary Clinton, there was reason to hope many such Democrats would have been too demoralized to vote if faced with a normal Republican candidate (including Cruz).  Perhaps some would even have concluded that the only way to return the Democratic Party to basic decency would be to vote Republican for this election. 

But entertaining such a hopeful speculation is pointless now.  Regardless of what else emerges about Hillary or Obama, few longstanding Democrats given serious pause by the overall moral trajectory of today’s “progressivism” are going to refrain from casting their vote against Donald Trump.  It turns out that in terms of the vote-count, that might matter little, as Trump will likely win substantial numbers of votes from lower-class (and usually, white) Democrats switching over to him.  In terms of overall Democratic Party and cultural/corporate elite zeitgeist, however, it matters a lot.  

A statement last week from David French on the Black Lives Matters movement illustrates the trajectory that might have caused many folks in those circles to pause this year:

If the moderates can’t seize control — if they can’t dominate not just the narrative but the organizational apparatus itself — then Black Lives Matter will continue to be a destructive force in national life, incalculably aided by the support of millions who join with it in moments of crisis…

He’s saying that about BLM and its having captured the top activist-group spot for black protest.  With it, the evidence of “destructive force in national life” are undeniable and in our face:  racial-tensions, cop-killings, and crime rates increase. 

But what struck me is that French’s statement also applies, while involving less immediately destructive consequences, to a number of other key groups and institutions.   It applies to the leading LGBT interest groups.  It applies to a vast majority of faculty departments and nearly all administrative units in higher education.  It undoubtedly applies to the MSM.  And most of all, it applies to the Democratic Party.  In all of these groups and institutions, the moderates are routed.  They have either gone silent, or have left. 

And we’re using “moderate” here in an elementary sense, so that it merely means things like: “Don’t lie so much, don’t undermine the rule of law, and don’t regularly slander, intimidate, or make it difficult to hire/retain those who disagree with you (on the last of those, see Barney Frank’s recent shocking statement). Openly repudiate the hate-speech lies of persons like Sister Souljah or Harry Reid who claim to be on your side.”

There is growing dismay among conservatives (and a few moderate Dems like Bill Galston) about Democrat-voter radicalism with respect to economic policy.  I join that dismay, but I’d say that metric of radicalism is far less important than the one that measures the willingness to toss civility, ethics, and Constitution-obedience aside.  Would that America had a strongly democratic-socialist Bernie Sanders type who did not regularly demonize the conservative half of the citizenry or excuse those who do!   Or, to jump into another metric, would that America had a forceful advocate for hedonism, transhumanism, LGBT rights, and the (voluntary) abandonment of Biblical religion who nonetheless also stood up clearly for the liberties of orthodox believers and social conservatives and who played up his common (yet-pluralist) citizenship with them!

But America has very few such leaders today on its left-hand side, or even in its purported center.  It’s the radicals and the radically corrupt who are setting the tone.  2016 should have been an opportunity to fight against that.  The election should have provided sane Democrats a chance to rebuke their corrupt and wildly imprudent leaders in the only way they ever understand:  stark electoral defeat.  That and only that could have set the stage for a new movement of Reform Democrats.

There Will Always Be a Left

More than a year ago, as part of a series about whether America was entering “Late Republican Times,” I set out three short-term scenarios for political alignment.  Admittedly, the GOP becoming divided by a Trumpist movement did not factor into any of the predictions I made!  But I did say this about the need for Reform Democrats:

By “Reform” Democrats I essentially mean a reprise of the New Democrat movement of the 90s, this time accompanied by larger emphasis on civility and support for the Constitution.  The intellectual spirit of this reprise would involve a return to something akin to the open-mindedness that characterized The New Republic of the Peretz-era at its best.  The Reform would especially seek to strengthen Democratic expectations and procedures for disowning party members linked to various kinds of corruption or vile behavior.  The reason this prospect is so important, despite how unlikely it appears at present, is that we cannot maintain our republic indefinitely so long as the Democratic Party retains its competitiveness along with its present characteristic corruption-abetting, mendacity-expecting, demonization-demanding, and Constitution-flouting traits.  Out of a certain moral imperative, and out of a witness to the good traits of liberals I know, I continue to stubbornly disagree with several of our blogs’ commenters who say a Democratic return to self-moderation is impossible. 

I went on to discuss how this time around, if such a movement emerged, it would likely eschew moderation on economic issues.  But the point that matters most is the fact that some kind of Left will always be with us, so long as our nation remains a republic.  Some portion of our children, students, peers, co-workers, fellow worshippers, friends, and family members are going to fall for the main left-leaning arguments, and maybe for their whole lives.  And sure, we need a respectable Left to keep conservatives honest, to provide vigorous criticism of our programs and politicians.  Moreover, every citizen of any republic in fact has a “left ear” that should be kept open, as sometimes a policy initially dubbed “left-wing” turns out to be the correct one, i.e., the republic-conserving one.

So we cannot responsibly talk about our nation’s future whenever we talk in a way that suggests that all would be well if the Left were to simply disappear.  Or worse, that nothing can be well if it does not.

That really is how you are talking, my fellow conservative, if you are inclined to reject my focus upon a better Left, and to suggest that the liberals, leftists, and progressives can never Reform, never self-moderate, never return their parties and organizations to the saner stances the better of them held back in the 1990s, 1950s, etc.  You are denying the teaching of the great Harvey Mansfield in his essay “A Plea for Constitutional Conservatism” from 2007: 

[conservatives] …must see Left and Right not as enemies only but also as permanent tendencies that cannot be got rid of.  Conservatives will never kill the Left, for as long as we have a liberal regime the Left will always come back after every defeat.

A slightly tweaked version of that essay is available here. Mansfield’s argument sketches a specific theory of liberalism, as distinct from leftism, that we need not go into much here.  Suffice it to say that he sees conservatism as liberalism’s “little brother,” and one that is very necessarily its brother’s keeper:

“Conservatism” began to be heard as a political term only after the French Revolution when it was provoked by the manifest excesses of the Revolution into opposition.

Our liberal and leftist brothers are inclined to fall victim to the “manifest excesses” that their own characteristic imprudence fosters and enables.  That means, to speak in popular blog-parlance, that when the Left begins to “eat its own,” it really is up to us conservatives, as it has been the case since the advent of modern democracy, to rally the saner lefties against the present clique of cannibals taking charge, and then, to push them to more firmly commit themselves to oppose, by way of official statements and institutional features, the very cannibalistic dynamics that throw up such leaders. 

So no, we should not descend into glee at the savage spectacle of today’s progressive vanguard persecuting yesterday’s, and into statements about “passing the popcorn” and such.  Those are our fellow citizens!  And that is our democracy.  Therefore, grand political strategy for conservatives has got to look forward to ways in which it can help set the stage for a stiffening of the spine by the old-school liberals and for a rejuvenation of Reform Democrat ideas generally.

The Trump phenomenon postpones those strategic hopes for four more years.  Perhaps for a good deal longer, and especially if Trump manages to win. 

Yes, a Trump victory might stun Democrat movers and shakers to push for “Reform” along the lines of “be less obviously PC” and “talk more like Trump” and “be more like Bernie,” but two out of those three would make the Dems worse than they already are, and the ongoing spectacle of Trump’s bad behavior would allow them to avert their eyes from the mounting evidence of their own deepest failings.

The loss and indefinite postponement of an opportunity for Reform Democrats to emerge is the biggest factor in the way I calculate the lesser-of-two-evils argument that genuine conservatives are having among themselves about whether they can bring themselves to vote for Trump. 

The Young Ones

But let me introduce you to a young relative of mine before I really tackle that, which will have to wait for the next post.  Call her “M.”  She was raised as an evangelical Christian, and generally shows signs of remaining such.  Now in her later years of high school, she is becoming interested in politics.  Just as I was at her age, she is attracted to certain basic leftist narratives and conceptions of justice.  Could she have voted this year, she would have voted for Bernie Sanders.  And of course, as it goes without saying given what I have described, she detests Trump.

Well, what idealistic young person, and particularly one who ties that idealism to the example of Jesus, would not detest Trump?  Now I am aware there are millennia-gen evangelicals who support Trump.  But do note, I said “idealistic.”

So, M’s budding and quite healthy crusading instincts are being linked to, and are being shaped according the pattern of, an identification of conservatives with Trumpism. She is identifying conservatism with all that Donald Trump represents in terms of personal character and rhetorical style.  In M’s case, her adherence to Christianity will likely make her long-term allegiance to an unreformed Democratic Party impossible.  Eventually, she will see what the key leaders there are really about when it comes to religious liberty, personal morality, etc. 

But what about the millions of young persons like M, and particularly the increasing numbers of them without any anchor in Biblical religion?  The Trumpist phenomenon is at the least, denying them an opportunity to realize their duty to reform their grandparents’ largely failed and now brazenly corrupt pattern of progressivism, and to wrest its further development away from the noxious “social justice warrior” types among their peers.  And at the most, the Trumpist phenomenon is shaping their political allegiances for life.  Trump and 2016 will figure in their leftist demonology for decades to come.  Over and over again, future conservatives will be winning some argument with leftists, and the latter, with no good points left to trot out, will say, “But, but, yours was the party of Trump!”

With my ear open to the rock songs, I have heard the ambivalence about today’s Leftism among the young, and often coming from the very ones who most tend to culturally identify themselves with it.  Even if they are more open to socialist ideas and less open to traditional resistance to sexual “liberation,” they are not excited about Hillary, and not really so about Sanders himself.  And I further insist that the slightly more thoughtful among them are not exactly excited about the general prospect of “Moving to the Left.”  I think the truth, seldom displayed or admitted, is that the existing Left appears ugly to them.  They feel they should be on its side, but its bullying tendencies, and its unfair dominance of higher education, the MSM, social media, etc., are more a part of their daily lives than they were for previous generations.  They know better than older folks, for example, what it is to have to not make waves under an officially “nice” but essentially authoritarian style of PC instruction or administration.

There has been an uptick of fascination with the 60s counter-culture, yes, but what that probably reflects is a yearning for the days when that kind of radicalism—which significantly, initially had a strong drop-out-of-politics bent—seemed pure, innocent, and yet to be sullied by subsequent personal histories, consequences, and corruptions.  As for the actual existing Left, its leadership cannot but be identified with a set of boomers, and to a lesser extent with a set of the most obnoxious tech-types from their own generation and mine (X), who together hold all the career positions and real-estate that millenials typically find themselves excluded from. 

Conclusion

All of this shows that the Left was uniquely vulnerable this year to being hit hard.  And in way that could have really counted for the long-term.

Alas.

But ask yourself:  will our corrupt Left become more vulnerable to taking a serious, Reform-prompting hit over the next decade, if Trump wins, or if Hillary does? Am I wrong to assume that a Trump victory cannot itself provoke Democratic Reform? 

This overall question is particularly key in our evils-weighing of 2016, since in the long run it will have a significant impact upon whether republican government will survive in an America of still-united states.

UPDATE:  Chris Buskirk at American Greatness has written an eloquent reply to my mention of them, including an important clarification about the extent of their Trump-support.

We Saw Two Views of Trumpism Last Night

by Peter Augustine Lawler

First off, the weakest part of the Republican convention last night was Trump’s speech. It was too long, shouted, short on wit and range, and both made America seem much more unsafe than it really is and exaggerated beyond belief how much safer he alone (apparently) could make it. If I thought he could defeat ISIS fast, I might vote for him.

The stock Democratic criticism that it was a dark, dystopian vision is an exaggeration. But it was too close to nothing but anger.

My favorite parts of the speech were Trump’s bragging about how many votes he got. It really is true that nobody should forget that.  AND Trump wondering with a smile whether he really deserved the support of all those Evangelicals. That was almost humility. (He also explained that his promise to aggressively defend religious liberty is why the Evangelicals are with him, not because they share all the same values.)

The other almost-funny moment was the playing of the Stones’ ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want” during the post-speech reveries. The music at Trump rallies is chosen with care, including “Sympathy for the Devil.” And I’m not certain Trump wasn’t mocking, just a bit, those who were sucked in by his big promises for presidential leadership, bigger than any ever offered by any Democrat.

For my part, I wish Trump had just spoken his mind unscripted. It would have been much easier on the ears, more like a Trump rally. The speech was very short on policy specifics anyway.

Anyway, there was something somewhat authentic about the speech: Trump has decided he really does have a message that’s kind of evolved into being over the months. My take: It’s not, for the most part, an attractive one to a majority of voters. It’s not one “inclusive” enough to lead anywhere close to victory.

There’s another way of viewing the evening as a whole, as Andrew Votipka e-mailed me this morning. There’s a somewhat different take on what the Trump coalition might include.

First, Reince Priebus offered an exceedingly lame version of the traditional Republican message. It was laughable to those in the know, but it was there for those who still believe that baloney.

Then CEO Tom Barrack gave an engaging tribute to the can-do virtues of obnoxious rich guys, even with their “New York values,” with wives or partners or whatever.

Then Peter Thiel, the gay, philosophic, transhumanist Silicon Valley billionaire, explained that government should take a more active and confident role in facilitating the techno-development throughout our country to turn around our economic and military decline. It’s genuinely alarming, after all, that those in charge of our nuclear weapons still use floppy disks. He took a shot at “the fake culture war,” remarking that Americans used to worry about defeating Communism and are now concerned with who uses what bathrooms. That would seem to be a shot at the religious Right, but only if we forget who started the bathroom war. Without pretending to agree with the whole Republican platform (and Trump doesn’t either), Thiel said that on the important stuff  ’the builder” Trump is right that making American great again is about working again for an unprecedented future.  And Thiel was loud and proud about both being gay and being an American. The Silicon Valley guys who see the truth about how liberal political correctness impedes genuine American progress that benefits us all can find a place in the Trump coalition.

And there was Ivanka Trump. She said her “blue-collar billionaire father learned about genuine meritocracy on the construction site, where those with talent and virtue flourish and those who fake it can’t last for long. He applied that insight in all areas of business, a ethnicity-, gender- and color-blind employer who only cares about how capable you are and how hard you work. The conservative criticism of her speech is that she sounded like a New York, feminist, liberal. Well, maybe, but an old-fashioned one who also isn’t seduced by affirmative action, political correctness, or any other impediment to seeing people for who they are. And Ivanka, a mother with three kids, admits it’s easier for he than mostr to both be a mom and a productive member of the workforce. Shouldn’t that opportunity be available to all American moms?

Notice, please, that Thiel and Ivanka had very pro-American speeches.

So I was hoping Trump had found some way of incorporating all this into his speech, allowing his evening of inclusiveness to expand the Trumpian vision and his coalition. I still would never vote for him, but we might have learned more about what a coherent Trumpism could be.

Leonard Cohen’s Prophecies

by Titus Techera
Here’s how in his song ‘The Future’ he tries to showcase our confused freedom.

Prophets, all things considered, would rather not tell us what the future holds. It’s never good, for one thing. Prophets worth listening to are therefore ignored, but they prophesy anyway, compelled by something that cannot be embarrassed by public indifference. Their countrymen do themselves no honor in ignoring them, but if people paid attention, would there be any need for prophecy? We’re stuck with each other, we and our prophets, even if it takes time to make sense of each other. Here’s Leonard Cohen’s prophecy of 1992. It’s worth revisiting, because it gave us an ironic prophet with a bleeding heart, a man adequate to our confused times. He feels our pain well enough to impersonate us and knows where we look to for hope and for a future.

Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life —
it’s lonely here, there’s no one left to torture!
Give me absolute control over every living soul
and lie beside me, baby, that’s an order!

To judge by prophecy, the road to wisdom starts in anger. Certainly, American freedom often begins in anger. People don’t like what’s going on and they want something done about it. That’s called having rights, which beats having nothing at all. It’s an American thing to do, demanding one’s rights, so the first stanza is nothing but demands. One is about being alone, the other about togetherness. They show the dividedness of modern man. Anyone that demanding ends up defined by imaginations of the future.

The being who really has to live with these imaginations and demands is described by a combination of unbearable loneliness and barely disguised tyranny. The two conditions go together. We want to get what we think we want because we’re desperate about getting anything at all. Whatever’s worth having is unavailable. Instead, we think we could have control. That’s no kind of future at all, because it suggests a terrible fear of any change. What’s worth having is a secret life and someone to love. That’s some kind of freedom from the imperatives of the times. Without that, we have no idea who we really are and what we’re really worth except who we’ll turn out to be — hence the lonely man’s obsession with the future.

Keep reading this post . . .

How to Decide Whether to Vote for Trump Now

by Carl Eric Scott
The Conservative Response to the Trump-Crisis, Part 4

Last week the Rules Committee for the Republican Convention killed the last miniscule chance to stop Trump from becoming the nominee, and without even the grace to agree to concessions to the Trump-opposing conservatives with respect to the 2020 primaries.  Thanks, Priebus and company

(Now Mr. Priebus, I agree with what our Pete said below, that this was probably the best your kind could do given their own untrustworthiness with an alternative pick.  So don’t start telling yourself, or us, that it was an instance of a principled stand for democratic say.  The illegal immigration issue is Exhibit A for why y’al aren’t exactly known for such stands.)

But back to my fellow conservatives.  Now that we know with finality that questions like “Is Trump Republican?” and “Can He Possibly Win?” and “Which Candidate Instead of Him?” are no longer relevant, we can more clearly consider the question being asked by many genuine conservatives these days:  How should we vote in this presidential election? 

I’ve decided to show up to cast votes for other offices, but to refrain from voting for anyone for president.  I can, however, have some respect for the indecision of many others on this, given that there’s been a lot of publicity given to slogan-istic substitutes for and careless stabs at reasoning about this.  But let’s try some real reasoning. 

There is one pretty minor question, and two major ones that should frame our discussion.

The minor question is whether the act of voting for neither Hillary nor Trump by a conservative is actually and only a de facto vote for Hillary.  I think the answer is strictly speaking no, for reasons I can explain if requested, and which to some degree will become plain in what follows.   But nothing decisive rides on this question.  For everyone should admit that the imaginative exercise of considering one’s vote as if it would wind up being the deciding one is a perfectly natural and fair one to talk about given the pending choice.

The first major question is:  Which candidate is the lesser evil?  Those who love Trump for who he is and those who believe in Trump for being “our bastard” are already behind him.  The only conservative votes he has left to gain are among those who regard him as a very bad choice to begin with.  But obviously, if it can be shown that while he would be an evil to America, he will be a much lesser one than Hillary, that seems to demand that all conservatives should vote for him.

A second major question, however, remains in play also.  It is this:  Is there is a floor of unethical behavior and shamelessness on the part of a candidate for major office below which no genuine conservative can support the candidate?   I went into this argument more fully in “Never Trump Fundamentals.”  (As indicated there, due exception to the rule implicit in this question is made for in situations of absolute emergency.)

So the burden on the conservatives who want their fellows to now resolve to vote for Trump is two-fold.

First, they have to show us that Trump is the lesser evil.  And they have to show us this in the spirit of comprehensive evil-weighing, which means not just mentioning one or two factors like SCOTUS and terror attacks, but seeking to weigh all the most relevant areas of policy and likelihood, and with near-future events like the elections of 2018 and 2020 also factored in. 

Second, they have to show us either that Trump is not below the floor of minimal ethical acceptability, which I think is nearly impossible, or they have to show us why a finding that he is below it ought to itself get balanced against the lesser-evil judgment. 

It’s a very demanding double-burden.  But you shouldn’t chalk the difficulty up to any cleverness of mine—rather, it simply reflects the fundamental choice situation.

My guess is that those conservatives who remain troubled about their vote are so because they have a) accepted that Trump is the lesser evil (by relying upon an incomplete weighing of the lesser-of-two-evils question, as I will show soon), and yet b) still take what I call the “ethical-floor argument” seriously.  So to them, Hillary Clinton is the greater evil by far, and yet, something like her recent ad about the effect upon our children of electing a man as ethically shameless as Trump makes a truly legitimate point—and that is only one such point among many in the overall argument about his being ethically unacceptable. 

What I say to such conservatives is that they are obliged to consider how they balance their estimation of the significance of the “ethical floor” argument about Trump with their judgment that he is the lesser evil.  It is a basic error to assume that the lesser-of-two-evils argument decides everything.  For the lesser evil might still be more evil than a responsible democratic citizen can accept in a presidential candidate.  And it is not a meaningless act to stand up for that principle.  If enough conservative voters refrain from voting for either presidential candidate, that will be reported, and it will have some effect.  Moreover, God sees, and at the very least our conscience sees, what we do even if no-one else takes much note of it.  Again, if someone can explain why the lesser-evil judgment ought to outweigh the principle of ethical unacceptability in this situation, I am prepared to seriously consider their argument. 

But what I also say is that such wrestling with the logic involved in ethical choice is unnecessary, because we can know as well as we can know anything about the political future, that four years of Trump as president would be a substantially greater evil than four years of Hillary.  I’ll spell that out soon.