Searching for the Coherent Philosophy behind Trumpism
Andrew Sullivan takes the writers and thinkers who were most enthusiastic about Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency seriously, and the result is a portrait that is surprisingly sympathetic in places, but undeniably critical in parts.
As with most things in life, the question is where you draw the line. Here’s a really key line: What separates “we’re not assimilating new immigrants as fast and as well as we should” from “I don’t want immigrants”?
Neo-reactionary unease with mass immigration is exacerbated by what they see as the administrative state’s shift from belief in a “melting pot” model in which all immigrants assimilate to a common American culture to the multicultural model, where the government, business, and society recognize different languages and celebrate ethnic diversity over national unity. [National Security Council staffer Michael] Anton notes that America is now “a country in which Al Gore mistranslates e pluribus unum as ‘Out of one, many’ and in his error is actually more accurate to the spirit of our times.” The problems of ethnic division are further compounded by the view growing among the elites that America itself is at root a racist white construction, and that “assimilation” is therefore an inherently bigoted idea.
The U.S. takes in 1 million legal immigrants per year, more legal immigrants than any other country in the world, and some contend more legal immigrants than the rest of the world combined. (It’s probably not quite that high, probably about one-third of the rest of the world’s total, but that’s still pretty darn high.) From this figure, we can pretty much dismiss anyone claiming that America is a “xenophobic” country or doesn’t welcome immigrants. Someone making that assertion wants to argue feelings instead of numbers because they don’t like doing math.
If we reduced that rate of legal immigration from 1 million per year to 800,000, or 750,000, or 500,000… is that xenophobic? “Anti-immigrant”? Nick Gillespie and the guys at Reason love to label any support for reducing any legal immigration by any amount as being “anti-immigrant.” (Gillespie supports open borders. That’s not a knee-jerk sneer or exaggeration, that’s his actual position.)
Again, a lot of these debates come down to where you draw the line. Back during the big NR debate about nationalism, Rich and Ramesh wrote, “The country’s founding ideals, history, and institutions barely enter into [Trump’s] worldview… The elements of American nationalism that Trump scants are moderating influences on it” — and I thought, “that’s a pretty big deal!” That element could very well be the dividing line between a force that is constructive and a force that is destructive.
It’s worth noting that some corners of the “Trump intellectual class” — for lack of a better term — sound completely off their rockers, and fundamentally at odds with American values and traditions:
Curtis Yarvin takes Kesler’s and Anton’s dismay at modern America to new and dizzying heights — and reactionism to its logical conclusion. A geeky computer programmer in his 40s, he writes a reactionary blog, Unqualified Reservations, under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug and has earned a cult following among the alt-right. His magnum opus — “An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives” — is an alternately chilling and entertaining assault on almost everything educated Westerners hold to be self-evidently true. His critique of our present is not that we need a correction to return us to traditional notions of national culture and to unseat the administrative state and its elites; it is that we need to take the whole idea of human “progress” itself and throw it in the trash can. Things didn’t start going wrong in the 1960s or under the Progressives. Yarvin believes that the Western mind became corrupted during the Enlightenment itself. The very idea of democracy, allied with reason and constitutionalism, is bunk: “Washington has failed. The Constitution has failed. Democracy has failed.” His golden era: the age of monarchs. (“It is hard not to imagine that world as happier, wealthier, freer, more civilized, and more pleasant.”) His solution: “It is time for restoration, for national salvation, for a full reboot. We need a new government, a clean slate, a fresh hand which is smart, strong and fair.”
Go back to monarchy?!? Sir, our Founding Fathers would like a word with you.
The Father of our country says you’re grounded.
Only the Presidency Keeps a Presidential Narrative Viable
Lee Smith looks back and analyzes how the Obama administration sold the Iran deal, and how those arguments — such as, “if you don’t support a deal that frees up billions for a regime that threatens war, then you’re a warmonger” — are collapsing with their departure from office:
There are no winners in war, only losers. The most arduous nuclear inspection regime in history involves letting Iran inspect its own nuclear sites. Funding a state at war won’t fill its war chest. Rewarding a state sponsor of terror for its activities makes that state less likely to sponsor terror. Deterrence doesn’t work.
The logic at work in some of the more popular arguments made by Obama aides and their validators in the press wasn’t dialectical or paradoxical; e.g., if you want peace, prepare for war. It was Gladwellian—what’s really true is the opposite of whatever you think is true. Of course, that’s not journalism, it’s just marketing, or, in contemporary journalism-speak, Voxsplaining, after the popular liberal website Vox, which devoted itself in its entirety to counter-intuitive self-branded “hot takes” designed to showcase the wisdom of whatever the current Obama administration policy was.
Chatting with a group of conservative bloggers who are particularly focused on Israel policy recently, we came to the same conclusion as Smith: The reason the Iran deal worked was because Obama won in 2012 and the GOP congress had few options to stop an agreement that didn’t need to be ratified by the Senate. The deal was never popular; most polling indicated great skepticism and wariness.
Why does the inverted wisdom of the echo chamber now strike readers as transparently mendacious and silly? Because policymaking is not quite the same as advertising and PR. The Obama administration sold the Iran deal not because of its copywriting talents and facility in framing and manipulating “connectors” and “mavens” but because it controlled the White House. The president of the United States is the single most powerful person in the world. Almost everything he decides to push against, especially in the area of foreign policy, is an open door.
The slogans that the Obama echo chamber used to sell the Iran Deal sound weird now because Obama is no longer in the White House. So what does it mean that “everybody knows” that the deal to rid Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons didn’t actually rid him of his chemical weapons, which he uses with regularity to murder civilians, including patients in hospitals?
That’s not a paradox, it’s not a Gladwellism, and there is nothing clever about it. What the slogan means now is that they lied, and made America complicit in Assad’s war crimes. It’s no surprise that admission doesn’t sound clever, and that it makes people angry.
Trump and the Congressional GOP Are Doing Something: Repealing Regulations
Can the Congressional Review Act be exciting? I tried.
The CRA allows Congress to review and repeal any government regulation within 60 congressional working days of its issuance. Due to recesses, weekends, and holidays, 60 working days generally translates into six calendar months or more. For rules issued with less than 60 working days left in the current Congress, the 60-day review clock starts over in the next Congress. Moreover, once a regulation is repealed, the agency cannot enact any “substantially similar” rule without approval from Congress. In the closing months of the Obama administration, federal agencies enacted a slew of red tape before the new cabinet secretaries arrived. The GOP Congress and Trump are now going through those rules and weeding out ones they find unacceptable.
In the final months of the Obama administration, federal agencies unveiled new rules requiring federal contractors to report worker complaints that are unverified and still being litigated; a rule barring states from denying federal money to institutions that perform abortions; a rule that could bar 4 or 5 million people who need assistance from the Social Security Administration from purchasing guns; an unfunded mandate requiring schools to evaluate and assess their teacher preparation programs; new restrictions on land use that pleased environmentalists, and new restrictions on hunting in Alaska. All of those are now off the books because of the GOP Congress and Trump.
Repealing regulations isn’t the most glamorous work in the world, but necessary and important. Conservatives ought to give both Trump administration and the congressional GOP credit for this.