Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
They Said It:
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II, 1840.
REVENGE OF THE VIOLENT, RACIST, IGNORANT HILLBILLIES, REDUX.
Nearly six years ago, in the closing days of the 2010 midterm election cycle, we warned Democrats that they had embarked on a dangerous, self-serving, self-insulating strategy that would cost them dearly. The electorate, we warned, was fed up – fed up with them, fed up with Republican elites, fed up with high-handed government, and especially fed up with the notion that any dissent from the status quo was, by definition, reactionary, racist, and just plain ignorant. In a piece entitled “Election 2010: Revenge of the Violent, Racist, Ignorant Hillbillies,” we put it this way:
Given the probability of a “wave election,” in which the Republicans will pick up more seats in the House than either party has picked up in more than half-a-century, the Democratic leaders – said inexperienced leftist ideologue and his allies – spent this past week stumping furiously and desperately, hoping to hit on a theme that just might have an impact on tomorrow’s vote. And, after much reflection, field-testing, and focus-grouping, they finally came up with an argument they seemed sure would carry the day. To wit:
“Hey, you! Voter! You’re stupid. Or Crazy. Now, vote for us!”
Sounds like a winner, eh?
Not that anyone should be surprised by this. After all, this has been the left’s go to argument for at least the last year-and-a-half. Americans are dumb. Tea Partiers are stupid. Voters are ungrateful. And anyone who opposes us or, worse yet, is having buyer’s remorse about giving us all of the levers of power in Washington is just plain cuckoonutso.
This theme is, we think, probably the most important and most overlooked factor in this election . . .
This election is not about policy. It is not about any specific decision that the president took or did not take. It’s not about any policy proposition that was shepherded through the Congress by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and translated into law. It is not about any of the traditional factors that are generally suspected to motivate voters to punish the majority party.
No, this election is about all of those policies cumulatively, and, more important, about the single common factor that binds them all together. This election is, in short, about the will of the people and the ruling party’s contempt for that will. As the sub-head on the pollster Scott Rasmussen’s final pre-election analysis put it: “Voters don’t want to be governed from the left, right or center. They want Washington to recognize that Americans want to govern themselves.”
We then proceeded to explain the genesis of our title, which was inspired by the following post made by the blogger/humorist/author Frank J. Fleming a couple of weeks earlier:
AMERICANS: “So, the economy is pretty bad and there’s high employment. You think you can do something about that?”
DEMOCRATS AND OBAMA: “We can spend a trillion dollars we don’t have on pork and stuff.”
AMERICANS: “No . . . that’s not what we want. We’d really like you not to do that.”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re stupid. We’re doing it anyway.”
AMERICANS: “That’s not going to help us get jobs!”
DEMOCRATS: “Sure it will; millions of them . . . though they may be invisible. You’ll have to trust us they exist. And guess what else we’ll do: We’ll create a giant new government program to take over health care.”
AMERICANS: “That has nothing to do with jobs!”
DEMOCRATS: “We don’t care about that anymore. We really want a giant new health care program. We’re sure you’ll love it.”
AMERICANS: “Don’t pass that bill. You hear me? Absolutely do not pass that bill.”
DEMOCRATS: “Believe me; you’ll love it. It has . . . well, I don’t know what exactly is in the bill, but we’re sure it’s great.”
AMERICANS: “Listen to me: DO. NOT. PASS. THAT. BILL.”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re not the boss of me! We’re doing it anyway!”
AMERICANS: “Look what you did! Now the economy is way worse, we’re even deeper in debt, and we have a bunch of new laws we don’t want!”
DEMOCRATS: “You’re racist.”
AMERICANS: “Wha . . . How is that racist?”
DEMOCRATS: “Now you’re getting violent! Stop being violent and racist, you ignorant hillbillies! And remember to vote Democrat in November.”
It’s been all downhill from there.
Over the course of the next four years, we discussed and re-discussed, and re-re-discussed these themes, most often placing them in the context of Angelo Codevilla’s broader Ruling Class vs. Country Class thesis. The Country Class had, we wrote (and re-wrote…and re-re-wrote…) had enough of being bullied and pushed around by a small, insular, and homogeneous crowd of coastal insiders, who thought that “normal” people were too dumb, too uneducated, and too closed-minded to handle the responsibilities of directing the world’s lone hyper-power. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people became a drag for our betters, and they made no effort to hide their annoyance. But then, neither did the Country Class. In the days before the 2014 midterm election, we penned another piece explaining what had then become the dominant theme in American politics. In “Dear Electorate: We Hate You. Dear Government: Right Back at Ya!,” we put it as follows:
Over the weekend, we watched with bemusement as Kentucky’s Senior Senator and the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell – who has been in the Senate for three decades now, who spent nearly two decades before that working in politics, and who is married to a former Secretary of Labor – made his final pitch to voters to send him (back) to the nation’s capital to take on those damnable “insiders.”
At the same time, of course, his opponent, the young and fresh-faced Allison Lundergan Grimes made her last gasp by having Hillary Clinton come to Lexington to make that very same pitch: ditch the outsiders! All of which is to say that we can’t tell you how excited we are about getting an early jump on the Hillary vs. Jeb presidential free-for-all. What says “death to the establishment!” better than a former Senator and Secretary of State and wife of a former president duking it out with a former governor, the grandson of a Senator, son of a president, and brother of another? In retrospect, we shoulda just made George Washington king and been done with it.
As it turns out, this is, in many ways, the theme of this election and the theme of American politics more generally. After more than twenty years of social upheaval, war, economic collapse and recovery, partisan waxing and waning, and geopolitical disarray, the American political ethos remains largely unchanged.
[T]he American system had, by the 1990s, become little more than a corporatist racket intended to benefit the rich and powerful, while placating the masses just enough to keep them contended. The fact that this has not changed – indeed, has become more pronounced in the twenty years –is troubling for any number of reasons. Today’s election results will, we imagine, be the last desperate attempt by said masses to regain control of their government and to avoid an otherwise unavoidable fate. . .
Throughout the campaign, and especially in its closing days, the ruling class and especially the ruling party have expressed their disdain, over and over again, for “the people.” Why is Mary Landrieu losing in Louisiana? Is it because she comes from a Louisiana political dynasty that has grown increasingly out of touch with most of the state? Is it because her party’s president unnecessarily and reflexively killed the state’s oil industry after the BP oil spill? Is it because she has moved from Louisiana to become a full time resident of Washington, D.C.? Well, to hear her tell it, it’s because her constituents suck; they’re racist and sexist. . . [As NBC reported]: “‘I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans,’ Landrieu told NBC News in an interview. ‘It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.’”
This is a pattern that has been repeated by Democrats over and over. . . . and over again throughout the campaign. Even when they tried to seem reconciliatory, the members of the ruling party just couldn’t help themselves. Yesterday, for example, Congressman James Clyburn (SC), congratulated the Republicans for turning the election into a referendum on President Obama and chastised his own party for failing to fight back. We should have “done a better job at messaging exactly what the president has done” Clyburn lamented. Seems innocuous enough, we suppose, until you think about what it means, that is “voters are stupid and can’t possibly know what to think, unless we explain it to them more effectively.” If left to their own devices, voters will be fooled every time. Americans, you see, are just dumb. They don’t get it and need to be walked through the process by their betters. . .
We ended that piece with a prediction: “The great race to 2016, which will begin tonight, will provide more than a few surprises. Most notably, we think, neither party will nominate its current presumed insider-frontrunner. A GOP sweep will signal significant dissatisfaction with the status quo and will, in turn, signal hard times ahead for both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.”
Well, we were half right. And in the middle of last summer, we explained why:
We’ll give Donald Trump this: he’s not stupid. He saw an opportunity and he took it. Anyone who has been paying even the slightest attention to American politics over the last decade or so has to have known that something like this – a populist revolution, of sorts – was coming. After four years of Bush, eight years of Clinton, and eight more years of Bush – all of which featured various Congressional henchmen exploiting the system for their own personal gain, from Dan Rostenkowski to Dennis Hastert; from Bob Ney to Jack Murtha – by 2008, the people of this country had had enough. In a very real and tangible way, Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was an early sign of the turmoil to come. On his way to the White House, Obama defeated two Washington fixtures, one a Senator and former First Lady, and the other a guy who’d been part of the military-political complex his entire life. The people wanted “change,” and they hoped Obama would provide it.
He didn’t, of course. And that merely served to stoke the populist fires even hotter. Then came the Tea Party. And Ron Paul. And Rand Paul. And Ted Cruz. And now a reality TV star/part-time real estate guy is leading one party’s primary race, while a self-described socialist who was largely unknown outside of his home state until about twenty minutes ago is drawing huge crowds and threatening to make the inevitable nominee in the other party evitable once again. The voters are mad. At Washington. And Donald Trump more than anyone symbolizes that anger.
The point here, as we said, is that anyone paying the slightest bit of attention has to have known something like this was coming. And before you go saying (or thinking), “Well, yeah, Steve and Mark, but that’s the UNITED STATES, not the entire Western world,” we’ll remind you that nearly two decades ago, we wrote that “The Euro, and the mess it represents, is going to be a social, economic and political catastrophe. Indeed, I think it is probable that the adoption of the Euro will be to 21st century Europe, what the killing of the Archduke Ferdinand was to 20th century Europe; i.e., that point in time when history will record that the unraveling began in earnest.”
Obviously, many – if not all – of you have read that bit before, since we include it in our “foreign policy” forecast piece every year, waiting for our prediction to become reality. What you haven’t seen and almost certainly do not remember (unless you happen to be one the very small handful of readers who wisely enjoys browsing through the archives on our site) is the following set of predictions with which we ended our Euro piece lo those many years ago. To wit:
During the next decade, Europeans will find that their “planners,” have done the following:
Exacerbated the racial and ethnic hatreds that have plagued Europe for centuries.
Exacerbated the class tensions that have plagued Europe for centuries.
Added layers of new and expensive bureaucratic bloat to the already-heavily burdened back of the European industrial base.
Intensified the antagonism and distrust that many Europeans already feel for their political leaders.
Increased the already rampant corruption in both the private and public sectors.
And most probably, prompted terrorist reactions by disgruntled nationalist organizations, which are certain to spring up in virtually every member country in response to the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness that is bound to result from having to deal with the new, more powerful, “big brother.”
Well . . . voi-flipping-la. Britain may have been smart enough to save itself from the heartbreak and financial disaster known as the euro, but it is still part of the institutional fabric that created that autocratic gem and is therefore still subject to most of the rest of the sheer lunacy it produces. All of the social and political consequences of the euro apply equally to the European Union more generally.
What this should tell you is that all of this utterly and completely predictable. Indeed, if two half-wits like us saw this coming, then anyone could have, anyone should have. The fact that our press, our president, their press, their prime minister, and all the rest didn’t see it coming, tells you just about all you need to know about the whole mess. More to the point, it tells you all you need to know about the whole mess going forward.
Writing from London in the wake of the Brexit vote, Glenn Greenwald – the lawyer-turned-journalist best known for publishing the information leaked by onetime NSA contractor Edward Snowden – argued that the vote was an indictment both of global institutions and of the West’s political and media establishments. Western institutions had failed repeatedly over the last twenty years, Greenwald argued. And when average citizens objected to these failures, society’s elites mocked, scorned, and ignored them, thereby ensuring that the citizens’ anger would grow and intensify, even as the institutions and their defenders continued to fail miserably. The aftermath of the vote, he concluded, served as proof positive of the establishments’ insularity and failure. To wit (emphasis in original):
Media reaction to the Brexit vote — filled with unreflective rage, condescension, and contempt toward those who voted wrong — perfectly illustrates the dynamics that caused all of this in the first place. Media elites, by virtue of their position, adore the status quo. It rewards them, vests them with prestige and position, welcomes them into exclusive circles, allows them to be close to (if not wield) great power while traveling their country and the world, provides them with a platform, and fills them with esteem and purpose. The same is true of academic elites, financial elites, and political elites. Elites love the status quo that has given them, and then protected, their elite position.
Because of how generally satisfied they are with their lot, they regard with affection and respect the internationalist institutions that safeguard the West’s prevailing order: the World Bank and IMF, NATO and the West’s military forces, the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, the EU. While they express some piecemeal criticisms of each, they literally cannot comprehend how anyone would be fundamentally disillusioned by and angry with these institutions, let alone want to break from them. They are far removed from the suffering that causes those anti-establishment sentiments. So they search and search in vain for some rationale that could explain something like Brexit — or the establishment-condemning movements on the right and left — and can find only one way to process it: These people are not motivated by any legitimate grievances or economic suffering, but instead they are just broken, ungrateful, immoral, hateful, racist, and ignorant.
Now, for the record, Greenwald is a leftist, through-and-through. The list of institutional failures he recounts is both suspect and self-serving. Moreover, the solutions he offers to the problems of contemporary Western civilization would not only be ineffective, but would all but certainly exacerbate those problems. All of that notwithstanding, he’s absolutely and inarguably right about the failure of the institutions, the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the social, political, and educational establishments, and the cravenness of the media elites. With respect to this last group, Greenwald confirms, in part, the explanation we arrived at just a few weeks ago regarding the incongruity of the NeverTrump movement among the conservative intelligentsia. Two weeks ago we suggested that the NeverTrumpers were concerned principally with maintaining their position as the right-thinking brain trust of the conservative movement. Greenwald also thinks – and argues persuasively – that these elites are scared to death of what happens if the status quo is disrupted.
Consider, for example, the case of David French, an attorney, a veteran, and a moderately well-known columnist for National Review. If that name – David French – sounds more familiar than his credentials suggest, it’s probably because he was, for a brief moment last month, the silver lining in the cloud that is the NeverTrumpers view of the world. Despite the fact that French works for the competition, Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, proposed running French for president under a third-party, “true” conservative, NeverTrump banner. French gave it some serious thought, but then politely declined. And this weekend, in response to the Brexit, he wrote a howler of a piece, in which he insisted that Brexit and Trump have nothing whatsoever to do with one another:
This may come as some surprise, but not everything that happens in the world is about Donald Trump. Not everything is even about America.
Sure, the hot takes are easy to write: Trump wants to limit immigration; Brexit supporters were concerned about immigration. The elites didn’t like Brexit; the elites don’t like Trump. Brexit was about patriotism and asserting national sovereignty over undemocratic multinational institutions; Trump extols national sovereignty and speaks of putting “America first.”
But these comparisons are so superficial that they’d apply to virtually any GOP nominee of the last 40 years. There is absolutely nothing new about Trump’s (current) restrictionist immigration stance or his (current) suspicion of international governance. Brexit had as much to do with Donald Trump as it had to do with Ted Cruz or — for that matter — Mitt Romney. There are certain very broad views that are widely-held on both sides of the Atlantic, but that’s where the comparison ends . . .
Trump’s casual support for British sovereignty is irrelevant to the merits of the Brexit vote. The British people made their decision based on a history and political reality that is unique to Britain. Trump or no Trump, Britain would have faced the same question and made the same choice.
That’s all well and good, we suppose. And it’s also true – as far as it goes. But here’s the catch: no one – at least no one with any sense or high-profile platform – has said any such thing. No one has said that Trump caused the Brits to leave the EU. No one has said that Trump influenced them. No one has said that Britain wouldn’t have faced a Brexit vote without Trump. All anyone has said – and correctly so – is that Trump and the Brexit vote spring from the same fonts of dissatisfaction. No one has said that Trump and the Tea Party are one and the same or that the former caused the latter. No one has said that Trump precipitated the wave elections of 2010 and 2014. And yet we all agree that these things are all related, that they all part of the same phenomenon, a popular rebellion against the corrupt and corrupting political and media establishments.
French derides those who compare Trump and Brexit as “superficial,” “vain,” and “hilarious,” but the fact of the matter is that he’s the one who looks silly. He has taken what amounts to a truism – i.e. the entire Western world and especially the Anglosphere is in rebellion against its corrupt elites – and turned it into (yet another) rant against Trump. At the risk of playing armchair psychologist here, it strikes us that French has Trump on the brain, that it’s all seems to be able to think about, which is to say that his primary concern isn’t trying to understand or explain the revolt of the masses, but to inflict as much damage to Trump as he possibly can. That’s . . . well . . . weird. And it smacks of fear.
Several years ago – when this whole rebellion started with the Tea Party – we concluded something about the populist insurgent spirit and about those who criticized it. The Tea Partiers, you may recall, used to talk a great deal about “taking their country back.” And in turn, their critics used to say that this was proof positive that the entire movement was racist, nativist, xenophobic, etc. After all, the critics insisted, who else could these people want to take their country back from but the black man in the Oval Office, and the Hispanics streaming across the border, and the ever-growing minority population that would strip the “tea baggers” of their majority status and their white privilege?
We doubted that very much. Indeed, we knew better. We knew that the Tea Partiers were upset about a great deal more than Barack Obama. Sure, Obama’s soft authoritarianism galvanized them, but they were every bit as unhappy with George W. Bush. And Hank Paulson. And the Bush-Paulson TARP boondoggle. They were every bit as angry with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and the RiNOs from Maine. They were every bit as ticked off with the lily white Kathleen Sebelius and the rest of the federal establishment. True, they were mad at the pointy-headed intellectuals and bureaucrats, but that didn’t make them George Wallace. It just made them normal, average, everyday people who were tired of other people trying to “rule” them, rather than simply to govern.
We concluded at that point that anyone who mocked the phrase “take back our country” or insisted that it was proof of the provincialism of the Tea Party movement was part of the problem. The people didn’t want to take back their country from Obama or the illegal immigrants or even the non-white population. They wanted to take back their country from the arrogant and self-satisfied elites, the political, educational, and media establishments. In short, they wanted to take back their country from anyone who would think that taking back their country was a bad thing. And thus any contemptuousness for taking the country back became a sort of shorthand for us, identifying those from whom the country should be taken back.
The same shorthand applies with respect to the Brexit. Anyone who thinks that the Brits are crazy or racist or stupid for wanting to take back their country from a collection of soft authoritarians who think that they should determine everything for everyone, right down to the proper shape a of a banana, is himself a part of the problem. Anyone who is angry that the Brits want to make their own laws and regulations governing the use of toasters, tea kettles, and hairdryers is someone from whom the Brits want – and should want – to take back their country.
Likewise, a conservative who thinks that Hillary Clinton would be a more suitable choice – temperamentally or policy-wise – than Donald Trump is part of the problem. Here’s a little test for the George Wills, the Bill Kristols, the Charles Krauthammers, and the David Frenchs of the world: if you find yourself doing anything, writing anything, or campaigning for anything that would ensure that Hillary Clinton becomes the President of these here United States, then you’re on the other side. You’re the ruling class. You’re someone from whom the people should take back their country.
Now, that’s not to say that Donald Trump would necessarily be a better president than Hillary. No one knows what kind of president Trump would be. Just like no one knows what will happen next for Great Britain – or even if it will remain Great Britain. What we do know, though, is that the status quo would be a disaster – whether that status quo involves going full-Peron and electing the corrupt wife of a corrupt former president, or sticking with a massive, sclerotic, corrupt, and destructive bureaucratic apparatus that cares for nothing other than its own power and status.
We also know that no matter what happens over the next few months, this revolution isn’t over. We’ve seen a lot of analysis over the last week suggesting that the Brexit is “just the beginning” and that there is a great deal more revolutionary populism to come. That’s half right. There is, indeed, a great deal more to come. But Brexit wasn’t the beginning. The Tea Party was the beginning, which means that the warning signs about the Brexit and its animating force have been omnipresent in Western civilization for a long, long time. Anyone who missed them has no one but himself to blame.
The fact of the matter is that there is something in all of these symptoms of popular rebellion – Trump, the Tea Party, the Brexit – that even the most astute analysts seem to have missed. This isn’t just about the corrupt elites or about the broken and anti-democratic institutions. Specifically, it is about the despotic nature of the bureaucratic state, or, as Tocqueville called it, the centralization of administration. When a government – or a quasi-governmental body – takes for itself the power to determine the minute details of life for every man, woman, and child in a nation, then that government becomes tyrannical. It becomes contemptuous of individuals, of individual rights, and of the ability of men to live free. It just so happens this is especially so if said government is a mere collection of bureaucrats and technocrats living across the Channel with no knowledge of and no interest in a nation’s customs, habits, and predilections.
It is no coincidence that the symptoms of centralized administrative tyranny have aggravated the populations most acutely in Britain and the United States. Tocqueville argued that the Americans were uniquely disposed to resisting centralized administration, but there can be little doubt that this disposition was, at least in part, inherited from the Mother Country. The Brits and their colonial offspring, especially the Americans, are unlike almost any other people in the world, in that their entire conception of liberty and “the good” in society is based on the notion of individuals being entirely sovereign over their own affairs. Both the EU and the massive American bureaucratic state threaten that notion. And both the Brexit and the American populist rebellion represent pushback against administrative centralization.
Regardless of what happens in this country in November, the centralization of administration will continue apace, maybe less under Trump, maybe not. In any case, the pushback will continue. Likewise, the pushback will continue in Britain until the country is entirely free of the overweening bureaucratic despots in Brussels. Brexit may not have been the beginning of this revolution, but it certainly won’t be the end of it either.
The Brits and the Americans are now fighting the same battle, and are mostly fighting it alone. The two nations shall, in Lincoln’s words, “nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.” But then, when has it ever been otherwise?