Making the click-through worthwhile: a look at Trump’s would-be two-year agenda, a look at the elections still hanging in the balance, and a look at a book — or my review of that book, anyway.
Economic Populism in Name Only?
Readers of National Review will be familiar by now with a standard midterm diagnosis. The Republican party is hemorrhaging suburban voters, and it is struggling to retain its gains among midwestern whites. Trump has repelled voters in, say, the Philadelphia and Richmond suburbs, turning off those who once might have voted GOP and inspiring a number of women to vote Democratic. Meanwhile, the party has not managed to solidify the inroads Trump made in states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and most of Pennsylvania. To use Henry Olsen’s analysis, the modern GOP has deterred the RINOs while not doing enough to win over the TIGRs (or Trump Is Great Republicans).
Why? Some combination of Trump’s personality and a lack of policy imagination seems to be a reasonable explanation. RINOs are turned off by Trump’s personality and his culture-war fights, while TIGRs have material interests distinct from any allegiances they might have in the debates over NFL player protests and migrant caravans. If the GOP is going to keep its coalition a winning one, it will have to speak to those interests.
So there’s been a renewed call for a genuinely populist economic agenda in the wake of the midterms. There’s also been a simultaneous recognition that, legislatively speaking, nothing is likely to happen for the next two years. Instead of a grand bargain on a sweeping infrastructure bill or a dogged attempt to find some comprehensive solutions to the health-care system, we’re likely to get a series of House investigations into the petty wrongdoing of the Trump administration and escalatory counterpunches by the president. Insofar as anything happens on the policy front, it will come unilaterally. Executive actions will be the extent of policymaking for the next two years.
What Trump’s economic program might look like over the next two years is anyone’s guess. Trade will continue to be a focus, as will taking aim at low-hanging regulatory fruit. One idea: Take aim at Amazon and Google, push for antitrust action against tech companies, and force California to come out on the side of Capital. A rhetorical war against the behemoth company that cajoled midsize cities into jurisdictional competition for its HQ2 only to likely pick Washington, D.C., and New York City as its locations would probably play well for the president.
I suspect that advocates of a more populist economic agenda have more lasting and materially meaningful policies in mind, and business-friendly Republicans would protest were Trump to target Silicon Valley himself. But those in the GOP who plan on being around after Trump ought to start thinking about how they can keep the coalition he built. (Start with Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker, and his wage-subsidy, career-track, and labor-reform proposals.)
But the midterms aren’t quite over yet, with the results of races in Arizona, Georgia, and Florida still technically in doubt. But Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, now up in Arizona by 32,000 votes, looks poised to become Arizona’s next senator, while Republican Brian Kemp, up by 58,000 votes, will almost certainly be the next governor of Georgia. Both of these races have been dotted with implausible claims of malfeasance — from the people you would expect — although only one set of these claims has gotten sympathetic write-ups in the press. But the writing is on the wall for Martha McSally and Stacey Abrams.
Things in Florida are less clear, as Rick Scott’s and Ron DeSantis’s leads have shrunk to within the 0.5 percent margin within which a recount is required. There is plenty of drama in Broward County, which has a history of mishandling recounts. NR’s editors called on Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes to be fired over the weekend:
On Friday, a court in Broward County found that Snipes was guilty of violating both Florida’s public-records laws and the state’s constitution by failing to provide mandatory updates to the public, and it ordered the immediate release of the missing information. As that ruling was coming down, Snipes’s office was laying out more lawsuit bait. According to the Miami Herald, an election worker found bags of “uncounted early ballots” in the Broward County office — ballots whose provenance could not be established. Snipes, meanwhile, was busy mixing together rejected provisional ballots and accepted provisional ballots, processing them all together. . . .
Such behavior is by no means out of character. This year alone, Snipes has been reprimanded by the courts twice: once, in May, for illegally destroying ballots during the 2016 Democratic primary, in violation of both state and federal law; and again, in August, for illegally opening mail-in ballots in secret. How long, we wonder, does it take to establish a pattern?
One thought: The Trump administration was banking on McSally and Scott being part of a 54-seat majority in the Senate when it fired Jeff Sessions and appointed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, right? The closeness of these elections makes the timing of that decision all the more baffling, as James Hitchcock points out. First there’s the constitutional objection to Whitaker’s appointment — that “principal officers” require Senate confirmation, which is the position of conservative legal writers from George Conway to Jonathan Adler to John Yoo — and then there’s the issue of whether Trump will be able to get Whitaker confirmed to the position full-time if Republicans only hold a two-or three-seat majority.
It’s Not Self-Promotion If It’s Not Your Book
“Is it OK to be white?” [Yang] asked in a column in Tablet magazine last November. “The question is at once disingenuous, facetious, satirical, and self-parodic. It is also one of the consequential questions being posed in earnest by the moral and political vanguards of our time.” He was referring to a then-ongoing alt-right campaign, conceived online by those same disposessed male Internet denizens, to put up posters at universities and high schools that answered the question in the affirmative, and to the media furor that had followed. “The question invites the typical reader to resist its implications — to deny that the question is one that anyone would think to ask, or that people are asking. But people have thought to ask it, they are asking it. It is the sort of question that one doesn’t think to ask at all unless the answer is going to be no.”
Some 2,000 words later, after affirming that yes, it is okay to be white, Yang had covered a lot of ground. He explained the goal of the alt-right troll campaign (to invite “dissent that would delegitimize the dissenters”), pointed out the nature of the dissent (social-justice activists take whiteness and masculinity to be “forms of identity rooted in genocide, colonialism, and slavery that reproduce the violent conditions of their emergence everywhere they are treated as neutral”), and located its philosophical source (a shift from neutral liberalism to a post-structuralist Foucauldianism that has seeped into the academy, the media, and human-relations departments, and is coming to a screen near you). By the end of the column, Yang had managed to capture the essence of online social-justice activism in a single sentence: “This intricate system of racial casuistry, worthy of Jesuits, is a beguiling compound of insight, partial truths, circular reasoning, and dogmatism operating within a self-enclosed system of reference immunized against critique and optimized for virality.”
This trenchant essay appears toward the end of Yang’s debut book, The Souls of Yellow Folk. The title is an homage to W. E. B. Du Bois’s look at the souls of black folk at the start of the last century, and Yang’s volume is not really about the alt-right or digital political fights. It is a diffuse collection of previously published essays that coheres, albeit loosely, around the “centrality” of the Asian-American experience to contemporary American life. (Du Bois argued that the African-American experience was central to the larger national story, although later in life he lost that conviction and sadly dove into the murk of Stalinism and Afro-Liberation.) Yang is aware of the excesses of progressivism yet under no illusions about race’s continuing importance in the United States; his major observation is that Asian Americans, at once marginalized and successful, overlooked by whites yet rebuffed by other racial minorities, occupy a unique cultural space in our identity-obsessed country. Mostly, though, Yang’s book is a primer to the wider oeuvre of a perceptive writer with undeniably sharp insights into American life.