Jonathan Chait’s new explanation for the rise of Donald Trump – or for the failure of analysts to predict it – is appealingly simple:
Here’s the factor I think everybody missed: The Republican Party turns out to be filled with idiots. Far more of them than anybody expected.
Chait concedes that to say as much is “gauche,” but stands by the argument to the end:
As low as my estimation of the intelligence of the Republican electorate may be, I did not think enough of them would be dumb enough to buy his act. And, yes, I do believe that to watch Donald Trump and see a qualified and plausible president, you probably have some kind of mental shortcoming. As many fellow Republicans have pointed out, Donald Trump is a con man. What I failed to realize — and, I believe, what so many others failed to realize, though they have reasons not to say so — is just how easily so many Republicans are duped.
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As for Trumpism vs. Bushism, one will be no less dependent on “populist nationalism” than the other, to whatever extent it is also successful: In a mass electoralist national system under popular sovereignty, the winner will always be the truest national populist, by definition, if not necessarily the purest national populist according to some external or merely intellectual standard.
What remains, then, is Trumpism. Which is also, in its lurching, sometimes insightful, often wicked way, a theory of what kind of party the Republicans should become, and one that a plurality of Republicans have now actually voted to embrace.
“The Defeat of True Conservatism”
The Republican coalition as an effectively neo-conservative coalition was able to bind itself together, or bind citizens to its project as constituents, in opposition to perceived external threats – militarism, fascism, communism, Islamism – that were mirror reverses of its precepts. For conservatives under the most politically effective articulation of their premises, American Idea and American Identity could be conjoined, with whichever war at whatever temperature serving to fuse otherwise contradictory ingredients, while melting away the rough edges of unresolved disagreements and irresolvable frustrations. Though the articulation is most readily identifiable as Reaganism, Reaganism can itself be seen, and is perhaps best understood, as a re-capitulation from the right both of and integrally within an inherited framework. Similarly, Reagan’s loyal progressive and so-called liberal adversaries could not stray too far from the same premises without losing their ability to compete and therefore to govern on the national level.
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I have had an essay on American Grand Strategy – working title: “Pacific War: Strategy and the World-Historical State” – on the back feedburner for going on a couple of years now – and I still feel it needs better grounding or precautionary backgrounding, or perhaps fortification, vs. recent writings on the general subject. I find myself with the same self-skeptical position on a more recent addition to the In Progress pile, “Si Vis Bellum,” which began as a short response to a blog comment on the unreliability and misuse of the terms “militarism” and “interventionism,” but which in the writing and re-writing turned into another mini-magnum opus attacking some of the same targets in somewhat the same way.
I may yet join the two together. Or: Maybe that should be my strategy. Specifically: Though I would not seek nor even contemplate an engagement with all the the best and brightest thinking from a vast and heterogeneous defense, history, international relations, and political science governmental, academic, and volunteer army of armies built up and extended over generations, or centuries, or millennia, I feel that I should at least be conversant on the main questions as discussed in recent non-specialist works. To that end, I added three books to my reading list: I recently finished Barry Posen’s Restraint (2014, a “defining treatise”), am currently reading Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy (2015, “magisterial”), and I have Hal Brands’ What Good Is Grand Strategy? (2015, “simply one of the best and most useful books on grand strategy”) to get to next and last. Read more ›
When I asked whether the prospect of this same kind of far-reaching spin campaign being run by a different administration is something that scares him, he admitted that it does. “I mean, I’d prefer a sober, reasoned public debate, after which members of Congress reflect and take a vote,” he said, shrugging. “But that’s impossible.”
Source: The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru – The New York Times
Sorry I didn’t get back to you on this earlier, JR – although what I mainly have to say is that I think we handled the question about as well as we’re going to handle it on that other thread. My main point is that a remark about philosophers isn’t the same thing as a philosophical remark, and that considering it philosophically is different from considering it in terms of, say, intellectual history. Strauss took a certain position on philosophy v revelation or Athens v Jerusalem, and it’s a position both on the practice of philosophy and on the essence of philosophy or of the truth. The two positions within the one position are intimately connected and even mutually defining, but they are not the same: What philosophers are “paid” to do, or what the accepted uses of the role of “philosopher” are, and what philosophy is or should be, or what we could confidently state about what philosophy is or what is philosophy, might be very different things. As for what a philosopher can believe, Strauss’s position on the essence of philosophy amounts to a belief that it is a practice in denial of belief. A true philosopher cannot believe in God, and cannot believe in the absence of God, because a true philosopher questions all belief and so in effect questions belief itself. So, except for the sake of making a kind of sociological point or a point about common speech – in which the vagueness of the god concept is overlooked, as though everyone somehow knows what everyone else means by the word “God” – he might as well have said, “No philosopher believes,” and left it there: “Belief in God” would be a redundancy, properly speaking: The problem is a willingness to accept revelation at all as authoritative or possibly authoritative, as prior to and determinative for its own interpretations, which, to the extent they are philosophically serious interpretations, interpretations which philosophy would be capable of taking seriously, would be interrogations at least admitting the possibility of doubt, offered in the mode and from the standpoint of possible falsification, which for the true believer is unacceptable: blasphemy, poisoning the minds of the young, and so on.
Source: American Creation: Sully is Back
[T]hese days American self-government is indistinguishable from self-incrimination. Our domestic policy is a nest of rent-seeking corruption, our social insurance system is an act of theft against posterity. And our foreign policy, described fairly, resembles the last weeks of a bloodthirsty crime family, led to its bitter end by demented octogenarians.
Source: Michael Brendan Dougherty: Trump vs. Clinton is a verdict on America
A self-serving moral judgment is always implicit in any political judgment, for the simple reason that a politics without morality would be the physics of randomly colliding human atoms, of no meaning to anyone, or not authentically political at all.
Ramesh Ponnuru (in “Hate Trump Voters? You’ve Got a Problem. “) attempts to draw a simultaneously moral and political distinction:
Living in a democracy often means thinking that millions of our fellow citizens are making a big mistake, and saying so. That doesn’t have to mean considering them our moral inferiors. To the extent my fellow anti-Trump conservatives are adopting that mindset, they are making a depressing political season even more so.
I think I understand what Ponnuru wants to encourage – forgiveness, empathy, balance, wise strategy, among other things – but on the central question I believe that he is wrong: Thinking that our fellow citizens are “making a big mistake” does and must mean considering them our moral inferiors, in relation to the particular matter if not others, and, when I say so, I cannot help but also imply or confirm that I believe that in this way, on this question, Ponnuru is my “moral inferior.”
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Posted in Politics
Tagged with: NeverTrump
(Note: See “Output-Buffering and Extensible WordPress Plug-Ins” for an update to the below that substantially revises my conclusions.)
I asked the following question at Stackoverflow today: “PHP output buffering: When/whether to use for different kinds of real existing sites and applications?”
So far, I’ve gotten one answer tending to confirm my general inclination not to use it for the kinds of scripts in which I’m interested.
The following is the full text of my “question”:
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“Demopathy” is a term used previously, as far as I can tell from a Google search, by a few anti-democratic (and highly illiberal) polemicists of seemingly no great note. I find it expressive for a larger tendency that interferes with the Republican Party’s ability to handle the Trump challenge, and to govern its own affairs and argue its own case consistently and coherently, yet at the same time may justify the existence of the Party as a vehicle for a conservative understanding of the American system.
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Dan seems to be arguing that the process – in all of its heterogeneous glory – may be thoroughly legitimate, but still remain vulnerable to abuse and misuse, including by a known demagogue who plays upon a common type of incapacitating civic ignorance that he himself seems to share to a large degree – not only with his supporters, but with a large number, perhaps the majority, perhaps the overwhelming majority, of observers.
To the majority, if the majority insists upon equating its ignorantly simplistic and parochial concept of democracy with the democratic concept as understood throughout Western and specifically American history, with all of the virtues but few to none of the defects of the latter concept attached to the former one, then all of us will be obligated to join in, in other words compelled by majority decision of that same type in favor of compulsory majority decision of that same type, and so on, as illimitedly regressively as required until minority opposition is exhausted.
So, we seem to have – or our polity or pseudo-polity in this period appears to be constituted as – an ignorocracy: rule by an ignorant majority ignorantly insisting on its own peculiarly ignorant concept, resulting in a system among whose defining characteristics is the imperviousness to criticism of the ignorocrats’ own self-serving but mostly sincere self-concept.
Comment replying to “Art Deco” at: The Republican Nomination and the Language of Popular Democracy | Ordinary Times
Writing after an extended exchange of views on Twitter, Justin Tiehan (@jttiehan) – professor of philosophy and notorious curator of the Tweet-list of (ca. 80?) explanations for the rise of Donald Trump – summarized his position as follows (Twitter handles removed):
To clarify my version of the argument, 1. Most agree it’s morally permissible to kill baby Hitler.
2. Heckling raises fewer moral concerns than baby killing.
3. Most should agree heckling is morally justified in some cases.
4. Most should agree that liberalism, in issuing blanket prohibition against heckling, is in error.
The discussion between Professor Tiehan and myself had begun in relation to a blog post entitled “There’s no good argument for the liberal prohibition of heckling,” by Carl Bejier. My initial question to Tiehan, who had referred to “more than a grain of truth” in one of Bejier’s explanations for that “liberal prohibition,” was to ask for a definition of “heckling.” I then also requested a definition of “liberalism” or “modern liberalism” as we were to understand Bejier was using the terms.
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Should Trump, facing unfavorable and deteriorating political prospects, seek to humiliate himself leading a fractured Republican Party to an “epic” defeat in November? Should he prefer to “do all he could to destroy Cruz and the GOP” – turning himself into a hated loser and maker of losers? How would either alternative profit him – or preserve and burnish his all-important brand – at all?
Rich Lowry is convinced that Trump, whether he loses at the RNC or in the Fall, is going to destroy the Republican Party in the process:
Events can always intervene, and Hillary Clinton certainly has her own weaknesses, but every objective indicator is that nominating Trump would mean a divided Republican party loses in the fall, perhaps badly, maybe even epically.
Probably the most favorable non-Trump scenario is that Ted Cruz beats him on a second ballot at a convention and has enough anti-establishment credibility to take the edge off the inevitable revolt of the Trump forces. But surely Trump would do all he could to destroy Cruz and the GOP in retribution for denying him the nomination.
As for that last part, however, what makes Lowry so “sure”? Though Trump has campaigned in a political suicide vest, threatening to take as many people with him as possible when he finally trips the trigger, why exactly should we believe the threat?
Maybe Lowry, after the events of the last year or so, is just primed to expect the worst… Read more ›
Posted in notes
Tagged with: NeverTrump
Polls with Cruz surging, Trump flat at best, are reinforcing a general sense – once a hope, now an expectation – that Wisconsin next week will be Trump’s electoral Stalingrad. As I put it on Twitter a few days ago:
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Posted in Politics
Tagged with: Cruz
It is perfectly normal, and beyond that it is natural and altogether archetypical, for human communities in times of crisis to look for and seek to rally behind a commanding figure. The American electoral process is in many ways already the institutionalization of crisis even in the normal course of events, and this year, with one of the two major parties struggling to fight off a hostile takeover by a crypto-fascist and his movement, has had more of that character than usual.
About retired Marine General James Mattis I know little beyond the rough biographical outlines as provided in a recent Daily Beast column by John Noonan – “This Man Can Save Us From Trump – and Clinton” – promoting his potential presidential candidacy and comparing him to Eisenhower.
The first part, the part about knowing relatively little about him, is how I do know at least that the Eisenhower comparison is way off, since, at the time that “Ike” was nominated by the Republican Party, he was one of the most famous men in America. In the latter regard he somewhat resembled a certain Donald Trump, except that he earned his fame by commanding the combined armies of a victorious globe-spanning alliance, not by hosting a television show or placing his name on gaudy buildings. Perhaps Mattis should be better known than he is, but he is known presently only to a relative few. If he has a catchy one-syllable nickname, I do not know it. Unlike Eisenhower, a candidate or nominee Mattis, or his backers, would have to seek recognition.
I do not doubt that that task could be achieved, virtually overnight if need be, but until we know what he would stand for politically, and with whom, we cannot hope to understand the shape or potential of his candidacy. Read more ›
Wikipedia/Public Domain Image
Speaking of the Pledge, did Ted Cruz just cancel it?
Amid the furor, Cruz appeared to soften Friday on his pledge to support Trump if he’s the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.
“I don’t make a habit out of supporting people who attack my wife and attack my family,” Cruz said.
He might need to write it in block letters and pastels, several times, to get Democrats to stop trolling him on the point, now a point d’honneur. For unclear reasons, despite the opportunity to seize the headlines while standing up to the “GOPe,” neither Cruz nor Kasich nor any of the past candidates has chosen to seize upon whichever latest ample pretext – unless Cruz now finally has done so.
Meanwhile, at least one of Trump’s habitually highly incorrect endorsers is signaling second thoughts. More to come?
Public Domain image from Wikipedia
Posted in Politics
Tagged with: Cruz
The political problem for American conservatives in this era seems to me more complex, but at the same time less intractable, than a simple juxtaposition of the visible (or “envisionable”) vs. the unseen.
My mostly-former colleague Dan Scotto develops a thesis on conservatism and “the unseen” that I think may be too coherent, or explain too suspiciously much, to be fully credible.
The debater’s “presumption of the status quo” is the classical conservative presumption, and adherence to it lends justification to the frequently heard claim that authentic conservatism is non- or anti-ideological, or pragmatic and utilitarian rather than idealistic and intellectual, especially in the American tradition: We care less, so the theory goes, whether the results fit any enunciated theory than that we actually prefer them over apparent alternatives. The argument was crucial to Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982), one of the best and arguably most influential intellectual cases for American non-intellectualism. Long-time readers at this site may recognize the contradiction or implicit paradox as typical and in multiple senses systematic: As a defense of Americanism as an anti-ideological ideology, especially during the period of competition with communism, Novak’s argument was that democratic capitalism concretely delivered the goods, whether in the form of victory in war or a very tangibly higher standard of living even for the poor, than real existing alternatives, even if, from certain perspectives, those alternatives might look better “on paper” or “in the abstract.”
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