Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
They Said It:
But even more trenchant and telling was its [Sorel’s book] perception and statement of the fact that in this age of the masses, parliamentary discussion must prove entirely inadequate for the shaping of political decisions; that in its stead the masses would have in the future to be provided with mythical fictions, devised like primitive battle-cries, to release and activate political energies. This was in fact the crass and inflaming prophecy of the book: that popular myths or rather those proper for the masses would become the vehicle of political action; fables, insane visions, chimeras, which needed to have nothing to do with truth or reason or science in order to be creative, to determine the course of life and history, and thus to prove themselves dynamic realities.
Thomas Mann, Dr. Faustus, 1947.
NORMAL WILL BE “IN” THIS SEASON, REDUX.
We’re not sure if you realize this – much of the world doesn’t seem to, after all – but as we go to metaphorical-press today, Donald J. Trump has been the President of the United States for exactly 11 days. We know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. In most presidencies, the administration, the media, and the opposition sit back after the “first 100 days” and reflect on what has and hasn’t changed. Trump has served 1/9th of that usual term, and already the entire world has gone nuts. Moreover, we suspect that that is precisely the way he wants it.
When President Trump was inaugurated – 11 whole days ago! — the media focused on his “dark” and foreboding address. Over at MSNBC, both Chris Matthews and the ever-hysterical Rachel Maddow heard echoes of Hitler in the speech and freaked out accordingly. They abandoned their freakout in due time, though – which is to say in less than 24 hours – because by then there was something new to freak out about, the women’s march on Washington. They and the rest of their compatriots in the Democrat-media complex left the theme of dark inaugural addresses to focus on the largest mass event in the history of the world, counting the women marching in Washington and in satellite marches throughout the country and around the globe. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t freak out about that for long, since the size of the gathering prompted a question about the size of the crowd at the inauguration the previous day, which prompted an inquiry posed to the Trump administration about the crowd, the answer to which, in turn, prompted another mass freakout, this time about truth, justice, and “alternative facts.”
By midweek – the FIRST of the Trump presidency – everyone in the political realm had already moved on from the alternative facts kerfuffle, largely because they had no choice. First, President Trump issued an executive order on immigration, keeping a campaign promise. He insisted once again and his supporters’ delight he would build a wall and would make Mexico pay for it. As if this wasn’t bad enough, at some point, apparently, Trump’s talk of immigration reform made the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto unhappy and prompted him to cancel a meeting with the new American president. That, as you might have guessed, caused a freakout. By the time that freakout started, though, Trump had already moved on and was talking about voter fraud and was, in fact, ordering an investigation. The usual suspects were just preparing the freak out over this latest infamnia, when the President preempted them and issued an executive order calling for a three month ban on immigration and travel to the United States from seven countries with known terrorist connections. And what happened next? Well . . . sing it with us! . . . people freaked out.
Now, on the off chance you’re interested in joining the freakout over the immigration/travel ban, we’d suggest you hurry. This evening, President Trump will announce his nominee to replace the late, great Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. And as you likely understand by now, this announcement will prompt a brand new freakout, one that will last at least until noon tomorrow, when we will all have a new reason to protest, to cry and wail, to rend our garments, and to . . . freak out!
And thus will it go indefinitely. Freakout, freakout, freakout.
If you’re getting tired of reading the word “freakout” (or the two words “freak out,” depending on the usage), we hear ya. We feel your pain. We’re tired of typing it. But can you imagine how people who live in Washington, D.C. feel? Or those who live in Virginia and have to commute into the city every day? Or people in Madison, Wisconsin, Los Angeles, New York, Berkeley, Oakland, Austin, Chicago, or any of countless other protest-inclined cities? Can you imagine having to fly anywhere right now, having to deal with the protesters who think that airports are the cause of their problems and thus must be punished? We suppose we could ask the Trump supporter who was chased and then knocked unconscious by protesters at the airport in Portland on Sunday. Or maybe we could just infer that some people are getting pretty tired of the whole mess. Tired of the outrage, tired of the protests, tired of the freakouts, tired of living in a constant state of political anxiety, tired of politics shoved in their faces twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. AND IT’S ONLY DAY 11!
Way back in the summer of 2000, as the Republicans and Democrats were preparing to do battle to see who would get to succeed our priapic President Bill Clinton, we suggested that the American people would vote to end the drama. After eight years of scandal, corruption, affairs, allegations of rape and untoward sexual advances; after eight years of lies, inability to recall facts, perjury, and the redefining of copulative verbs, we expected that the people had had enough. As much as they liked Bill and were entertained by his antics, they wanted their lives to return to normal. Indeed, in a piece titled “Normal Will be in This Fall,” we predicted a win for George W. Bush based precisely on that notion. Bush was normal; Gore was weird. Bush promised a fresh start; Gore promised more of the same. We put it this way:
We think, as they say in the fashion world, “normal is going to be ‘in’ this fall.” We think the America public has had it, for the time being at least, with “interesting,” if “interesting” means highly non-traditional views about marriage vows, business ethics, personal morals, and what have come to be known as “family values.” . . .
We are not saying here that we think the public will be looking for June and Ward Cleaver. This nation has long since passed that standard. We are not even saying that the public’s quest for the normal, should it actually occur, will last very long. We just believe that, after eight years of Bill and Hillary, a majority of Americans will lean toward normalcy.
If we are right about this, “W” should be helped by this trend . . . not so much because he and his family are vastly more conventional than Al and Tipper, but because the people he surrounds himself with are likely to be vastly more conventional than the people that have made up the Clinton-Gore administration for the past seven years.
We were right, of course. And even though the Gore campaign hit Bush with probably the most costly “October Surprise” since the original (i.e. Bush’s drunk-driving arrest), the American people still said “enough! Let us have our normal, non-political lives back!”
We are well aware that the situation todays isn’t exactly identical to the state of affairs seventeen years ago. It’s even possible that the differences between then and now outweigh the similarities. Nevertheless, we think that there is more than enough reason to believe that the people have had it up to their eyeballs with the politics of freaking out. They’re tired of protests. They’re tired of anger directed at others based exclusively on their choice of candidate last November. They’re tired of having their lives invaded by people who think that everything the new president does is cause for outrage. They’re tired of it all.
Both last weekend and again this weekend, we worked unsuccessfully for quite some time, trying to write a piece about the women’s march in Washington – and the satellite marches elsewhere. We believe the story – and the mass movement involved – is important for a couple of reasons.
First, we are fascinated by the fact that every “women’s” issue – every march, every protest, every editorial, every campaign strategy, every… everything – ends up being about abortion. We suppose that we should be grateful that we live in a country where “women’s rights” aren’t about the right to vote or the right to hold office or the right to go out in public unaccompanied by a male relative. We’ll file this under the under the heading “First World Problems.” Still, we find it strange that abortion so dominates the thinking and the activism of the Left-wing ruling class. Most of the country favors restrictions on abortion, and Millennials more so than Gen-Xers or Boomers. What this means is that the “women’s movement” continues to represent a small and dwindling faction of the country.
And that brings us to the second reason that we are so interested in the women’s march last weekend. Three million is a BIG number. And the fact that three million people worldwide (mostly women) and as many as a million in Washington alone turned out to protest Trump is a BIG deal. Yes, we know that the march wasn’t quite as “grassroots” as its organizers would have us believe. And yes, we know that one march does not a movement make. Still, we couldn’t help but wonder what comes next for the women-led anti-Trump resistance. Is there any chance, for example, that this resistance could develop into the long-awaited, much-anticipated Left-wing Tea Party movement?
Of course, many conservative commentators have wondered the same thing. And some have concluded that it just may be the hope that the Left has been waiting for. National Review’s Jim Geraghty, to name one, wrote the following:
Throughout the Obama presidency, the Democrats desperately yearned for their own version of the Tea Party. They envied the crowds, the passion, the visible signs of grassroots opposition, cropping up across the country. You only demonize something if it matters.
It now appears that as the Trump presidency dawns, angry liberals are building something akin to the Tea Party movement. It will look different, it will be geographically concentrated in different areas, and of course, it will get much more sympathetic media coverage. But it will be there, and it could be a big factor in 2018 midterms.
John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, took Geraghty’s concern one step further, positing that the women’s movement could well be a serious political force very quickly and that Republicans had better watch out:
This is where the follow-through on Saturday’s “women’s marches” will tell the tale. It would be a terrible mistake for conservatives, Republicans, and Trump supporters to pooh-pooh this mass event, which happened simultaneously in several cities and towns, with a gross turnout dwarfing any mass protest in American history. Dismissing three million people taking to the streets nationwide would be an act of willful blindness, and ascribing the march’s success to Soros money would be foolish.
Similarly, it would be wrong to assume those crowds even heard a single word of Madonna’s curses or cared one whit about the fight between the “check your privilege” activists and the offended/cowed Brooklynite feminists over whose march it was. It was no one’s march. It was everyone’s march. And it worked, I believe, for one reason: It had a simple message. That message: We don’t like Trump and his behavior toward women.
This is where one possible analogy to the Tea Party protests of 2009 and 2010 might hold . . . If Democrats can use the Women’s as a comparable accelerant to recruit candidates, particularly for the House, who have real connections to the Republican districts in which they are running and can frame their bids as a means of stopping Trump from working his will with an all-Republican Congress, they might really have something here.
On the one hand, we don’t doubt that Podhoretz is right. If the “women’s march” organizers are smart, they can turn this into a serious movement. On the other hand, we think Podhoretz is wrong about what the rest of nation did or did not hear about the marchers and their messages. Madonna’s nutty comments about blowing up the White House featured prominently in much of the media coverage. Likewise Ashley Judd’s vile accusations of rape and incest against the President. Indeed, the lunacy – the fundamental unseriousness of many of the marchers – was front and center in the reports about the crusade.
Why do we think that the abortion angle matters here? Largely because, as we noted above, most people – most men, most women, most Millennials – think that abortion “rights” should be curtailed. And by extension, that means that they also believe that those who stomp their feet, scream and shout, and dress up like vaginas to insist that women have the right to abortion anytime any place are on the . . . uhhh . . . political fringe.
And that’s the kicker: right now, the organizers and participants of the women’s march are ALL on the political fringe. They do not represent “the people.” They do not represent the silenced voice looking for a champion. They represent themselves and no one else. Podhoretz concludes that turning the march into a movement “requires seriousness of purpose, calm, and focus.” We hate to be the bearers of bad news here, but it strikes us that a million women walking around with pink “pussy” hats on their heads are unlikely to convince the majority of American voters that they are endowed with “seriousness of purpose, calm, and focus.” Call it a hunch.
We suspect that many of those protesting the President, as well as many of those writing about those protesting the President don’t have the foggiest idea what the American people actually think. If they did, of course, then President Hillary would currently be figuring out how to raise taxes and expand Obamacare. To hear the media tell the story – mainstream, alternative, and conservative – President Trump’s executive order is the dumbest, most vile, most un-American thing any president has done since FDR locked the Japanese in internment camps. But do the people agree? The pollster Scott Rasmussen doesn’t think so:
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 57% of “Likely U.S. Voters” favor a temporary ban on refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen until the federal government approves its ability to screen out potential terrorists form coming here. Thirty-three percent (33%) are opposed, while 10% are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)
Similarly, 56% favor a temporary block on visas prohibiting residents of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States until the government approves its ability to screen for likely terrorists. Thirty-two percent (32%) oppose this temporary ban, and 11% are undecided.
For the record, none of this should be taken as “three cheers” for Trump’s immigration/travel ban or the means by which it was implemented. For what it is worth, we have problems with the way this has been handled. Including green card holders in the initial order was a major unforced error. Likewise, if you’re going to ban Islamists and potential terrorists, it might be wise to start with country that provided 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, Saudi Arabia. In for a dime, in for a dollar, we say. Moreover, we don’t agree with the die-hard Trumpers that the chaotic rollout of the program is somehow proof of Trump’s genius, i.e., that he rolled the damned thing out so cluelessly on purpose because he wanted to provoke his opponents. That’s cult of personality territory. We think he simply screwed up.
Still, that’s not to say that the President didn’t know there would be protests and that those protests might play into his hands. He almost certainly did. How could he not? If you asked the man what he’s doing and why he’s rolling out so many controversial and divisive policies so quickly, he would most likely tell you that he’s just keeping the promises he made to the American people. But that’s clearly not the whole story. He knows good and well that the American people are tired of the constant chaos and the constant wailing and gnashing of teeth. Moreover, he knows as well that he has the best chances of anyone to capitalize on this exhaustion and use it to his advantage. He and he alone can deliver normalcy. Of course, his intent is more or less immaterial, since the effect of the policies is the same either way.
One final thought on President Trump and his intentions with respect to this chaos before we close: Regular readers know that we have been fascinated over the last several months with the musings of Scott Adams on the subject of Donald Trump and his “persuasive” powers. Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, is a trained hypnotist and “persuader” and has long argued that the President’s actions and motives fit the “persuader filter” perfectly. In a post on the immigration/travel ban, Adams suggested that President Trump is indeed using the chaos to his advantage, just not in the way that most people believe. Specifically, he wrote:
If Trump is a Master Persuader, as I have been telling you for over a year, he just solved his biggest problem with immigration and you didn’t notice. The biggest problem is that his supporters on the right want more immigration control than he can (or should) deliver while his many critics on the left want far less. Normally when you negotiate there is only one party on the other side. But in this case, Trump is negotiating two extremes in two different directions. It’s the toughest possible situation. Best case scenario is that 40% of the country want you dead when it’s all over. Not good.
So what does a President Trump do when he is in an impossible situation? . . .
[The persuasion] filter says Trump always opens with an extreme first offer so he has room to negotiate to the middle. The temporary ban fits that model perfectly . . .
The Persuasion Filter says Trump is negotiating with his critics on the extreme right at the same time as he is negotiating with his critics on the left. He needed one “opening offer” that would set up both sides for the next level of persuasion. And he found it. You just saw it.
The left sees Trump’s executive orders on immigration as pure Hitler behavior. That gives him plenty of room to negotiate to the middle. The initial orders are too broad, and clearly target too many of the wrong people. As he fixes those special cases he will be moving away from the Hitler model toward the middle. And people are more influenced by the DIRECTION of things than the absolute position of things. As long as he is moving away from the Hitler analogy, people will chill out, even if they think he was too close to that position before. Direction matters . . .
But what about Trump’s critics on the far right who want more extreme immigration? Trump needs to negotiate with them too. And he is. He did that by showing them that his temporary offer was so extreme that people took to the streets. The system (America) is actively trying to eject Trump like some sort of cancer cell. And the worse it gets, with protests and whatnot, the more leverage Trump has to tell his far right supporters that he has gone as far as the country will let him go. He needed that. The protests are working in his favor. He couldn’t negotiate with the extreme right without them.
Whether he knows it or not, what Adams is describing here is more than just a negotiating tactic; it is a tried and true political strategy employed brilliantly and to universal acclaim by Bill Clinton. We knew it as “triangulation.” Dick Morris, Bill Clinton’s longtime political adviser described the tactic as “taking the best from the right and from the left and discarding the rest,” but there was more to it than that. The whole point of triangulation was to set up both one’s opponents and one’s allies as extremists and to make yourself appear rational, reasonable, and conciliatory by staking out a position between the extremes. This political strategy saved Clinton’s presidency after the Hillarycare debacle and after the stunning 1994 midterm elections. This strategy made such landmark policies as welfare reform possible. Indeed, this strategy allowed one of the most contemptable, dishonest, and treacherous politicians in a generation to leave office as a beloved and admired “rogue.”
As we’ve said before, we think it’s unwise for anyone to assume that Adams knows exactly what Donald Trump is doing. Adams has his own agenda and his own biases, and they don’t necessarily produce objective analysis. At the same time, Adams has been right about Trump far more than he’s been wrong and far more than most other “professional” political prognosticators have been.
If Adams is right about President Trump’s intentions here, we will know it soon enough, although neither his opponents nor his allies will have a clue that they’ve been manipulated. Moreover, if Adams is right, then Trump is a far more talented political operator than anyone previously suspected. If he can pull this off, then there’s virtually nothing he can’t do, and we should expect EIGHT years of effective persuasion and effective governance.
Now, if we’re right as well; if our belief that the American people desperately want normalcy is also accurate, then the Trumpian revolution may be much more expansive than even Trump’s most ardent supporters could have hoped. The American political community has been in a constant state of upheaval and open, divisive conflict since the fall of 2000, when George W. Bush won the presidency in an unusual and highly controversial manner. This state of anxiety was, of course, exacerbated by the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and has grown ever more extreme and uncomfortable in the decade-and-a-half since. It would be supremely ironic, to say the very least, if Donald Trump turned out to be the man who alleviates some of this division and conflict. It would not, however, be entirely unforeseen.
You read it here first: normal will be “in” this spring and summer and only Donald Trump seems to have figured that out.
Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE 68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.