Noah Millman

Election End-Game — And Post-Season Predictions

I watched the final debate, and my impression was that Trump did fairly well when he got to be an angry critic of the bipartisan consensus, and did terribly when he had to advance any kind of proposition of his own. You might think this would mean that he’d do well ranting on his own television network — except that’s a space that is already pretty crowded, and not obviously growing. And I’m specifically not convinced Trump would know how to handle guests. Would congressional hopefuls really sign up to be contestants on Political Apprentice? I somehow doubt it. Anyway, potential investors in Trump TV should be appropriately skeptical.

The biggest headline from the debate, of course, was about Trump’s refusal to say that he’ll accept the results of an election he’s now extremely likely to lose. He’s now doubled down on that comment, to predictable outrage from anybody who still cares about American democracy. But in the end, I’m much less worried than commenters like Damon Linker that Trump will seriously undermine American democracy by refusing to concede. Rather, the bigger risk is that he will continue his destruction of the GOP. Because if Trump refuses to accept the election results, they will be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, they could try to humor his supporters, holding hearings on voter fraud, promising to impeach Hillary Clinton within 100 days, promising to reject any legislation she proposes, filibustering her choices for the Supreme Court, etc. But this plays into Trump’s hand, keeping him relevant and giving him the power to pronounce that whatever they are doing is ineffective and weak and that if he were in charge Hillary would already be in prison. Moreover, a Trumpified GOP is already hemorrhaging educated white voters. That process will only accelerate if the GOP continues its policy of appeasement, with potentially dire consequences for 2018 and beyond.

On the other hand, if the GOP leadership clearly accepts the results of the election, and offers (however disingenuously) to work with the new President, they will likely face an outraged revolt by multiple parts of their base — not only by core Trump voters, but also those ideological conservatives who object to Trump’s deviations or his character but who want to see the GOP stand on conservative principle. Opportunists like Ted Cruz will greedily seize the megaphone to decry the sellout by the leadership even as they take pains to distinguish themselves from Trump.

Just as in the primaries, the GOP leadership faces a two-front war. They will want to avoid that war, and to reconcile on almost any terms in the interest of battling the “real” enemy. But reconciliation is impossible without the mutual respect that allows for negotiation to form a coalition, something manifestly lacking at present.

The only way out is true institutional and ideological reform, something the GOP leadership has vigorously resisted now for three presidential cycles. Trump has made that process much harder, but he has also made it all the more necessary.

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Every Action Has An Equal Opposite Reaction

Sam Tannenhaus’s review of Mark Lilla’s book, The Shipwrecked Mind, which I hope to get around to reading before too long, ends on the following Godwinian note:

One of the strangest developments in the 2016 election has been the spectacle of West Coast Straussians who champion Trump—and lustily denounce his critics—in various forums, including the Claremont Review of Books, a well-written quarterly edited by Charles Kesler, and on Web sites like the Journal of American Greatness, billed as the “first scholarly journal of radical #Trumpism,” since reborn as the Web site American Greatness. Twenty or so Claremonsters are also among the more than a hundred “Scholars and Writers for America” who recently declared Trump “the candidate most likely to restore the promise of America.”

Imperfect though Trump may be, the argument goes, he has all the right enemies: Beltway insiders, academics, “social scientists, media pundits, and policy professionals,” as Clarence Thomas’s tutor John Marini wrote. These are Strauss’s relativists and nihilists, who have perpetrated “regime change” at home, destroying the republic, or trying to. Trump’s redemptive greatness begins in his fearless opposition to political correctness, “a serious and totalist politics, aspiring to open the equivalent of a vast reeducation camp for the millions of defective Americans,” Kesler says. It would seem that reactionaries, while they inhabit our world, are not really of it. “They believe that the only sane response to an apocalypse is to provoke another, in hopes of starting over,” Lilla writes. This, too, is a lesson of Weimar. With luck, we won’t have to learn it in real time.

This engendered a (to me) fascinating argument between some of my favorite intellectual sparring partners on Facebook (including TAC’s editor in chief, Daniel McCarthy), about whether there is any plausible connection between Trump and the American reactionary intellectual tradition which preceded him, and which Lilla traces in his book.

The case against such a connection is that nobody from what I guess you’d have to call the “mainstream” reactionary right was calling for somebody like Trump prior to his emergence. Trump’s “movement” arguably has limited ideological content beyond the glorification of Trump himself, and Trump himself is not only a low huckster but someone with neither knowledge of nor respect for America’s constitutional traditions, something you’d think a west coast Straussian would care rather a lot about. Finally, inasmuch as Trump represents the ascendancy of certain political ideas, those ideas are not the ideas of Harry Jaffa but rather those of Sam Francis. So “blaming” Jaffa (much less Strauss) for Trump seem ridiculous — and if some of Jaffa’s heirs are jumping on the Trump train, then they are just wrong.

All of which is both true and fair enough as far as it goes. But there’s still the problem of explaining why there have been any intellectual defenders of Donald Trump who aren’t coming from the world of the “alt-right.” It’s all well and good to say “these people are ignominiously betraying the intellectual tradition they claim to be upholding” — but one still needs to know why.

I think the likely answer should make someone who wants to defend that “mainstream” reactionary tradition just a little bit uncomfortable.

Apocalypticism has consequences. Reactionary thinkers may genuinely believe that the regime that America has been living under since 1965, or 1937, or 1913, or 1868 — or whatever date a particular reactionary prefers — is fundamentally corrupt, and that we need a radical return to first principles to save our civilization. But if you actually believe that, then it follows that when it comes time to choose a champion, it’s rational to pick not the person you agree with most or who has the character of someone you’d want to see in a leader, but the person most likely to destroy a corrupt system that is beyond reform.

You might, at one point, have convinced yourself that Ronald Reagan or New Gingrich or George W. Bush was someone different, someone who really would restore the Old Republic. But when you think about it, wasn’t that perhaps a purer example of self-delusion than supporting a guy like Trump? Because Trump really could destroy the Empire. And your own ideas imply that such destruction is a precondition to a successful re-founding.

To avoid that kind of logic, you have to have a deep resistance to apocalyptic thinking as such. You have to be reluctant to see civilization on the line in each and every election, to doubt whether it’s ever possible to identify in advance a fatal Rubicon which, once crossed, makes catastrophe inevitable. But if Lilla’s psychology is right, a reactionary can’t really do that.

And if, perhaps, you hadn’t already traveled that road prior to Trump’s emergence, then consider how Trump’s success might change your perspective on the matter. I remain convinced that a major part of the reason why Trump was able to achieve the success he has was his willingness to attack his own party and that party’s ideas in the fiercest, most uncompromising terms, ideas that had only grown more rigid as they proved less effective, both politically and in their empirical result. But in a sense, it doesn’t matter whether I’m right about the reason for his success or not — what matters is that the consequence of Trump’s primary victory makes it impossible to hold to a prior idea.

Specifically, movement conservatives can no longer plausibly claim, to themselves or to anyone, that they speak for the “real” American people. Either that people no longer exists, or it never existed.

So an adjustment is required. One possible adjustment would be towards a kind of deep pessimism, a hunkering down until the arrival of another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict. But another possibility is to come to see that what one always thought isn’t quite what one had thought one did. Perhaps you didn’t initially greet Trump as the long-awaited savior (for any of the manifold reasons you might have for rejecting him). But once he triumphed, you might ask yourself whether you missed something — not necessarily about him as a person, but about what this moment in history was offering. If you really believe that a radical refounding is needed, are you going to reject the most dramatic opportunity to achieve such change, even if it doesn’t look like what you thought you were waiting for? And reject it in favor of a perfect avatar of the status quo?

Ideas do have consequences — but consequences also have ideas, which, in turn, have their own consequences. For a “liberal conservative,” Trump’s triumph has merely forced a reevaluation of the two parties — which is why many of these people will be voting for Hillary Clinton on November 8th whatever they think of her personally and however difficult it will be for them to rest comfortably with their new bedfellows. But for the kinds of people Lilla is talking about, Trump represents a more fundamental challenge. For those who decided that the right response is an adjustment of the sort I describe above, what will be true from now on is that they made that adjustment, and decided that Trump was the bandwagon on which to jump.

And we’ll have to wait to see what ideas emerge as a consequence of that decision.

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Atoning For Trump

I had a Yom Kippur-themed column in The Week yesterday:

Richard III is described as the scourge of God, sent to cleanse England of everyone with a speck of civil blood on his or her hands, from the murder of Richard II down through the War of the Roses. He is able to thrive not merely because people are complacent or see a chance for advancement, but because his society had already suffered civil ruptures so deep that most if not all of his crimes had already been normalized before he achieved their apotheosis.

Similarly, the biblical understanding of the relationship between the Israelite monarchs and their people is not merely that it’s a bad idea to allow a bad man to become king. Rather, God allows bad kings precisely to punish the people for their transgressions.

This is not a modern, liberal idea. But it has a proper modern, liberal analogue, and that is to see the ascension of a demagogue like Trump not merely as due to our failure to take him seriously, or to condemn him vigorously enough, but of our failure to be fellow citizens together. It is our failure to see those civic bonds as more important than victory for the side we see as right that has, above all, made Trump’s rise possible.

It flatters us to say to ourselves that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, because it implicitly casts us as the good people, and our opponents as the evil. That is why no amount of moral condemnation will put an end to the Trump scourge. After all, The Deseret News was hardly the first newspaper to condemn Trump. Trump has managed the astonishing feat, after all, of being supported by essentially no national newspapers, most definitely including those that traditionally endorse Republicans. Similarly, he triumphed in the Republican primaries in spite of nearly universal opposition from the party leadership. He is being condemned and denounced daily, by leaders in both parties as well as by nonpartisan leaders. All of that only confirms to those who express their die-hard support that he must be on to something.

It may be more than enough to defeat him at the ballot box — Trump has never mustered sufficient support to win the general election, and he’s not likely to gain that support now. But defeat will do nothing to address the reasons why Trump was able to come so far in the first place.

I should probably have atoned for writing another Trump column.

But seriously: this isn’t going to be over when Trump loses the election. Trump will still be out there, actively promoting the myth that the election was stolen from him by some combination of a deck-stacking media, a back-stabbing party, and a vote-fraud-perpetrating opponent. The temptation will be powerful for Republicans to turn those very charges into the cornerstone of their recovery, and for the Democrats to dismiss the entire Trump phenomenon as evidence of “deplorability,” rather than for either to attempt to repair the civic bonds with the people who were so disgusted that they would cheer on their own destruction so long as the collapsing temple crushed their enemies with them.

And, equally, the temptation of those who lost with Trump — particularly the more sophisticated sort such as frequent this magazine — to despair of ever succeeding in changing the country’s direction, and nurture even more extreme fantasies. But the fact is, victory is impossible, and so is civic divorce. They may not like it, but the burden will be on them as well to imagine their way into actual future, which means imagining their way into civic reengagement with people who they are convinced hold them in contempt, rather than turning that contempt into a badge of perverse honor.

Trump is not a builder; he’s a destroyer. But he is our destroyer. We are all responsible for conjuring him up, and we all have to participate in the exorcism.

UPDATE: A commenter writes:

Trump is one of us. He and Clinton both [are] mirror reflections of our culture. And our humanity.

If we forget the ubiquity of that fact, then we are destined to be self-righteous and feign innocence.

What Trump has said and done we have all at least thought of at one time or another. No one can speak as an outside to the human race.

The Yom Kippur liturgy speaks to that, does it not?

That was pretty much the point of my column.

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A Russian Syllogism

There seems to be an impression out there that if you think Donald Trump would be a disastrous president, then you need to be freaked out about the Russians trying to get him elected. I don’t see why that is the case. Nor do I see why, if you think Hillary Clinton is overhyping the Russian threat, that means you should be sanguine about the fact that Donald Trump eagerly parrots the most simpleminded Russian propaganda.

It is possible to hold all of the following thoughts in one’s head at the same time:

  1. Russia is trying to influence the American election in an underhanded way in order to improve their geopolitical position, much as they are doing elsewhere in Western Europe.
  2. However:
    1. they are not actually very good at it;
    2. this is nothing new; the Russians have played these kinds of games since Czarist times;
    3. this is nothing unique to Russia; other great powers play these games regularly as well, most certainly including us;
    4. to the extent that it works at all, it’s because they are exploiting existing tensions, so focusing on those makes much more sense than focusing on them.
    5. All of which is reason enough not to freak out and overreact (though we certainly have every reason to be angry).
  3. Donald Trump is happy to play the part cast by Vladimir Putin because:
    1. he’s a fool who thinks everything he reads on the internet is true so he’s easy prey for conspiracy-mongers of all sorts; and/or
    2. he’s a nihilist who believes nothing is true so he parrots whatever Russia says that seems useful; and/or
    3. he is flattered by Putin and actually admires him in the manner of much of the alt-right; and/or
    4. he owes money to Russian oligarchs.
    5. All of which are reasons enough not to want Donald Trump to be President (assuming you needed more reasons).
  4. Hillary Clinton is happy to over-hype the Russian threat because:
    1. she’s a hawk who over-hypes threats generally; and/or
    2. she’s an American primacist and therefore ideologically can’t come to an accommodation with any other power about spheres of influence; and/or
    3. she wants to demoralize Republicans who take the more typical GOP line into not voting for Trump; and/or
    4. she is specifically paranoid about anybody spying on her.
    5. All of which are reasons enough to worry about the possibility of conflict with Russia under a Clinton administration, and for both left- and right-wing opponents of an aggressive foreign policy to continue to work to mobilize an anti-war coalition no matter who is president.

That’s the way I see it, anyhow.

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Mike Pence’s Bridge to a Post-Trump GOP

I’m post-surgical, so not really up to a proper post, but did want to point to my latest column at The Week, which is kind of a follow-up or counterpoint to my last post here about the VP debate and just what Mike Pence was up to.

As a highly orthodox and thoroughly boring VP nominee, the sort of person who one can imagine being president but have a hard time picturing getting elected under his own power, his selection bares some resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s choice of George H. W. Bush in 1980. He represents almost perfectly the party that existed prior to Trump’s triumph. By accepting a spot on the ticket, then, Pence has positioned himself uniquely as someone who could attempt to bridge the gap between the conqueror and the conquered.

Tuesday’s VP debate was our first glimpse at how that gap might be bridged. But to see it clearly, we have to see past the smoke screen that Pence emitted for much of debate.

That smoke screen was a consistent effort to pretend that there was a clear thread of continuity between Trump and prior Republican history. Pence simply refused to acknowledge that Trump represented anything particularly new, except in personality terms. This has been described variously as a gaslighting of the American public, as a form of political performance art, and as possible further evidence of the strength of conservative epistemic closure.

But if you set aside the fact that Pence egregiously misrepresented Trump, and consider merely how he represented him, you can see the outlines of Pence’s bridge between Trumpism and the GOP. Here’s what it looks like.

Go there and read the rest to find out.

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Who Exactly Is Pence Trying To Gaslight?

Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote probably the best take on Mike Pence’s performance last night over at The Week:

Pence seemed to know that it would be a losing strategy to explain or defend the scores of zany, offensive, or discomfiting things Trump has said. So he just pretended to be Lindsey Graham’s veep candidate instead.

Months ago, Trump gave a foreign policy speech in which he praised the values of an “America First” foreign policy. Citing the disasters in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, Trump criticized the Bush Doctrine itself. “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a Western democracy,” he said.

Mike Pence ignored this. Instead, he went with what had become the normal Republican attack on Democratic foreign policy over the last five decades: that the Democrats are too weak. ISIS and other calamities in the Middle East were caused by a lack of American action, Pence implied. Or by the Democratic president withdrawing troops on the schedule set by a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq.

Pence laughed and shrugged when Kaine pointed out that Trump said NATO is obsolete. Pence then launched into a long discourse about Russian perfidy. He said that the solution to Russian expansionism in its near-abroad was sterner American leadership, and he even started talking about a military buildup. You’d have no clue that a few months ago, Trump had dismissed pessimists about America’s relations with Russia by saying, “Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon… Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”

It’s normal for members of a political party to project onto their party leader their own beliefs. Millions of Republicans are going to pull the lever for Trump this year because they believe a man who spent years defending even late-term abortions and most gun restrictions will faithfully defend pro-life causes and the Second Amendment. But it is not normal to watch a candidate’s running mate go through this exercise publicly.

It’s as if Pence was the designated survivor of the Republican primary, a man held away from the carnage Trump has inflicted on the Republican Party, its conventions, orthodoxies, and pieties. Party figures like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani embrace Trump as he is. Others, like Paul Ryan, try to demand more, and get nothing in return. Ted Cruz tried to shiv Trump at the convention, then feebly extracted a meaningless promise from him before endorsing him in September. Every strategy of blocking Trump, co-opting Trump, or parlaying with him as failed.

But in this debate, Pence did something that no one has tried before. He simply refused to acknowledge that there was any problem at all. You’ve heard lots of crazy things about Trump. But I’m here to do a job, and frankly, acknowledging the reality of his situation or ours can only get in my way. Pence made it seem as if Trump’s own words, when spoken by Tim Kaine, somehow discredited Tim Kaine. Mike Pence was a walking, talking memory hole.

That’s the best version of the take, but it’s hardly a unique take. Dougherty was joined in his overall assessment by Jamelle Bouie, Matt Yglesias, and Frank Bruni on the left, and by John Podhoretz on the right, among others. The clear consensus among the pundit class is that Mike Pence won the debate by not doing his job of defending the ticket, instead pretending he lived in an alternate reality in which Donald Trump never happened.

But why did he do it?

One possibility is that Pence isn’t thinking about 2016 but about 2020. Forced to choose between opposing his party’s choice and opposing his party’s principles, he’s chosen to pretend that there was no choice to make, so as not to alienate any faction. But if that’s the way he’s thinking, then what does that say about his views of the Republican electorate who chose Trump? After all, Pence is the kind of opponent Trump ate as a between-meal snack back when the primaries were going on. Why would he think the GOP electorate would want somebody like him next time if they wanted Trump this time? And if he thinks in 2020 the GOP will be looking for an anti-Trump, why did he accept the VP slot in the first place?

The best explanation, assuming he’s thinking about 2020, is that he thinks Trump’s loyalists will be thinking only about the appearance of loyalty, while the donor class and the pundit class will care about the substance of his positions. And that’s a rather contemptuous attitude to take towards the electorate, when you think about it.

Which is why I don’t think it’s quite correct.

An alternative possibility is that he is indeed thinking about 2016, and that the performance was aimed at people who are queasy about Trump. From this perspective, Pence isn’t gaslighting anybody — he’s speaking to people who badly want to be gaslit, conservatives who never supported Trump in the primaries and who are distraught by their choice in the general election.

These people want a choice they can believe in, and Pence gave them one — two, actually, depending on just how far down the rabbit hole they are willing to go. They can either believe in his fantasy version of Donald Trump, and choose not to listen to the real thing at all between now and election day, the better to preserve their innocence. Or they can believe that the real Donald Trump exists, but that he isn’t actually interested in being more than an entertaining figurehead, and that Mike Pence will make sure that the actual decisions made reflect orthodox conservative Republican priorities.

The latter in particular is a potent fantasy that more than one Republican leader has fallen prey to over the course of the past year. Maybe it’ll work on those stubborn Republican sheep who still won’t come back into the fold?

Or, maybe that performance wasn’t aimed at anyone. Maybe this is who Mike Pence is.

Pence always struck me as an real exemplar of the kind of faith-based “thinking” according to which what must be true is true. Therefore because the Republican Party stands for certain things then Donald Trump by definition stands for those things, too, and anything that doesn’t fit that picture must just be a misunderstanding.

That’s not an explanation to be casually discarded just because Pence is a guy who’s been around politics a while and has had his share of success in that game. There are plenty of people like that in politics — indeed, there are plenty of people like that in both parties. Donald Trump would never have happened in the first place if the GOP hadn’t gotten so good at that kind of “thinking with the church” that much of the leadership had forgotten how to do anything else.

Regardless of the reason, Pence’s performance doesn’t bode well for the prospects of a post-Trump debate within the GOP.

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Post-Debate Analysis

I was privileged to be interviewed about Monday’s debate by Michael McLaren of Australian radio station 2gb yesterday. If you’re interested in what I had to say, you can listen here:

Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but I am always struck by how observers outside the U.S. have opinions about American politics that are at least as informed as people here. And I am similarly struck by how transnational so many of our ideological trends have come to be. In any event, I was struck by both once again during this interview.

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Speaking the People’s Language

This may shock my readers, but I have managed not to watch any of the debates yet in this political cycle. I don’t generally find them particularly edifying, and this cycle I knew that would be especially true.

I’ll be watching tonight, because I was invited to an event with post-show commentary including TAC‘s Scott McConnell. But I’m still not expected to learn anything important, or to enjoy the spectacle, because debates aren’t aimed at me, anymore than political ads or direct mail or any other campaign technique. I’m a high-information voter — and, rarer still, a relatively unmoored voter, ideologically-speaking, who is also relatively high-information. Literally nobody is trying to reach me. There aren’t enough of me to matter, and we take way too much time and energy to woo.

I say I’m relatively unmoored, but I’m not confused about what I’m hoping for in this election. I am firmly convinced that Trump would be an epically disastrous President, whereas Clinton will be somewhere between pretty bad and pretty good depending on circumstances. I want to see him lose — and lose badly. So I’ll be watching the debate in somewhat the same spirit as Clinton’s supporters, rooting for her to “win.”

But only somewhat. Some of her supporters seem to be hoping that she’ll unveil a new personality; others that she’ll “destroy” Donald Trump; others that she’ll find some new way of selling the basket of traditional Democratic remedies as a good fit for this election cycle’s problems. None of these things are going to happen. Clinton did need to re-introduce herself to the American people — indeed, I suggested how she might best do that — but that opportunity was largely missed, and in any event a new personality is not something that either candidate can actually deploy; they can only be the best version of themselves. Leading with the standard basket of Democratic Party goodies, meanwhile, is basically a gamble that a majority wants to stay the course we’ve been on, only with a less-popular and less-trusted captain helming the ship. I don’t think anyone in the Clinton camp feels entirely comfortable putting all their chips on that square.

As for “destroying” Trump: the problem Clinton has here is not merely that it’s easier said than done, but that the way her campaign has been trying to do this is by deeming Trump “unacceptable” — racist, sexist, xenophobic, bad for children and other living things. In other words: they are trying to convince people that they don’t really have a choice in this election. They have to vote for Clinton. But people really don’t like to be told that they don’t have a choice. Indeed, if they don’t really have a choice, why hold an election at all?

Which is, dismayingly, what a lot of alarmed observers are starting to wonder. Whether they blame the media or the GOP or the electorate itself, a rising chorus of commentators seems to be asking: if our electoral process produces a President Trump, isn’t that prima facie evidence that the process is broken in a fundamental way, and that democracy has gone too far?

Of course, there are alternatives to democracy. You can vest power in an economic oligarchy, or in a credentialed clerisy, or in a vanguard party bureaucracy. You can make the military guardians of the constitution — there are all kinds of options. But they all amount to rule by force or threat of force. Only democracy gives a clear mechanism for demonstrating to the people that the government they have is one they chose, and thereby move the threat of force a little further away from likelihood. That’s not worth giving up on petulantly or cavalierly.

To achieve that goal, any party in a democracy needs to be able to speak to the people as the people, and in a language the people understands. Not the language the party wants to use, or the language they are most comfortable with: the language the people understands.

That’s really the test for Hillary Clinton tonight. If she can’t do that, it doesn’t really matter why or whose fault it is. In a debate, the judge is always right — and the judge is the American electorate.

Trump won the Republican primaries fundamentally because the GOP leadership lost the ability to speak to its own voters. If he wins the general election, it’ll be because the Democratic party has similarly lost the ability to speak to the country as a whole. That is not the most important skill a party — or a President — needs in order to govern well. But it is the most important skill a party — and a President — needs in order to govern legitimately.

I really, really hope Hillary Clinton demonstrates that skill tonight.

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IP and Cultural Appropriation

My take on the Lionel Shriver flap is up at The Week:

A writer’s festival censored a writer last week for telling other writers that they should feel free to write whatever they want. It sounds like something from a right-wing fantasy site, but it actually happened.

In her speech to the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, Lionel Shriver took a strong stance against those who would censure, much less censor, writers and other creative people for the crime of “cultural appropriation.” In response, one writer of Egyptian and Sudanese descent stood up and left the room, the festival organized a conference to disavow her remarks, and an audience member reportedly shouted, “How dare you come to my country and offend our minorities?”

But Shriver’s major point in the speech really was inarguable. The primary task of the fiction writer is to think herself into other people’s heads — indeed, that’s the major reason to read fiction, to experience the inside of someone else’s head, which is why novel-reading boosts empathy. If writers are forbidden to do that for fear of treading on the hoofs of sacred cows, then both they and their readership will be deprived of precisely the capacity for empathy across difference that, one would think, the advocates of diversity would favor.

One of the major criticisms against Shriver is that when white authors write from the perspective of minorities, they take away opportunities from minorities who should be telling their own stories. But the only solution to the problems of inadequate representation is more representation, and there is zero chance of getting that by muzzling the voices that are being heard. If there’s a special place in hell for writers who silence other writers — and I believe there is — then the festival and at least one of its attendees have earned a toasty spot there.

Nonetheless, I have a question for Ms. Shriver. I agree heartily that the whole point of writing fiction is trying on new hats, new masks.

But what if the mask you want to wear is… Batman’s?

“Appropriation,” according to my handy on-line dictionary, means “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” And Ms. Shriver does an excellent job of pointing out the absurdity of this requirement when it comes to culture:

However are we fiction writers to seek “permission” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter 12, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

But Batman does have an owner. If you want to wear his mask, you had better have permission from Warner Bros. . . .

[I]t doesn’t matter whether Batman’s owners are lenient or strict at enforcing their rights; the point is that they have the absolute right to do so, according to our conception of intellectual property. Moreover, they have the right to lobby to have that legal monopoly repeatedly extended, in flagrant contravention of the purpose of copyright laws, and to have enforcement of those rights deepened and extended internationally.

That’s obviously in the interests of the largest producers of cultural “content” and their shareholders. But it’s not at all obvious that it’s good for the rank and file of writers, artists, musicians, or any of the other participants in culture — especially because it massively increases the returns to scale in cultural production, driving more and more capital to the same narrow set of cultural “products,” giving them a greater and greater share of our collective minds. And, not incidentally, taking over the space in which more marginal or traditional cultures might thrive.

Read the whole thing there — and comment on it here.

 Tagged , , , , , . 9 comments on Douthat’s Democratic Disaster Scenario

Following up on yesterday’s post about the state of the Presidential race, David Wasserman has run the numbers on how Trump could lose the popular vote while winning the electoral college — the very scenario that Ross Douthat fretted about:

Using a prototype of a demographic election calculator that FiveThirtyEight will be unveiling in the next few weeks, I decided to simulate a few election scenarios. Starting with 2012 results as a baseline and adjusting for demographic changes over the past four years, I tested what the map would look like if African-American turnout dipped, GOP support among college-educated whites and Latinos slightly declined, and noncollege whites rallied to Trump in large numbers.

More specifically, here are the conditions I used to set up a fairly plausible scenario that would scare the heck out of Democrats:

  1. Latino turnout rises from 48 percent in 2012 to 54 percent, and their support for Democrats increases from 71 percent to 74 percent.
  2. Asian/other turnout rises from 49 percent in 2012 to 54 percent, and their support for Democrats increases from 69 percent to 74 percent.
  3. African-Americans continue to give Democrats 93 percent of the vote, but their turnout falls from 66 percent to 60 percent.
  4. Among college-educated whites, turnout remains steady at 78 percent and Republicans’ share falls from 56 percent to 47 percent.
  5. Among whites without a college degree, turnout surges from 55 percent to 66 percent and Republicans’ share rises from 62 percent to 67 percent.

The result? Clinton would carry the popular vote by 1.5 percentage points. However, Trump would win the Electoral College with 280 votes by holding all 24 Romney states and flipping Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District from blue to red. And the real disparity between the electoral and popular votes could be larger, because this model doesn’t even factor in Trump’s Mormon problem.

I did a similar analysis using’s old demographic calculator back in May, and got somewhat different results, so I’m really curious to see how the new model differs. I doubt that it accounts for the likelihood that, for example, Clinton would get a bigger boost among college-educated whites in Pennsylvania than she does in Texas, which could make the difference in a state that could well decide the election. But it’s a worrying scenario regardless.

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Failures to Communicate

So, let me see if I have this right.

The sorts of people who show up for a Mitt Romney fundraiser want to hear that 47% of the country should be written off because they are not financially self-supporting for whatever reason. They can’t be reached, but simply have to be defeated and kept away from power.

The sorts of people who show up for a Hillary Clinton fundraiser want to hear that 50% of their opponent’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” because they are racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc. They can’t be reached, but simply have to be defeated and kept away from power.

The elite, intellectual supporters of Donald Trump include the kinds of “alt-right” neoreactionary types who believe that the only hope for our civilization is to make Elon Musk dictator. Needless to say, for them the only important thing is for their opponents to be defeated and for them to finally taste power.

Andrew Sullivan, centrist-liberal-conservative iconoclast, was so panicked about Trump’s populist threat to democracy, that he found new wisdom in Plato’s political ideas, and called for the deployment of any means necessary to stop him, because sometimes you have to destroy a democracy in order to save it.

Our own Rod Dreher, a religious right populist, has a forthcoming book calling on religious traditionalists to focus less on engaging with the world and more on protecting themselves and their children from the malign forces of the larger culture. The sorts of people who don’t hold to traditionalist views can no longer comprehend those views, and its important to make that incomprehension mutual.

Heck, last week a writer’s festival censored a writer for telling writers that they should feel free to write whatever they want.

I hesitate to give in to the counsel of despair, but it really does feel like we are all decreasingly interested in using words as anything but weapons.

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The State of the Race

I take a somewhat different view from Daniel Larison of the state of the race, much closer to Ross Douthat’s view.

Douthat’s main points are that if the polls continue to tighten, then Trump will be in a position to possibly win; that the most-likely scenario for polls continuing to tighten is for third-party candidates not to fade; and that Trump has a bit of an advantage in the electoral college in a very close outcome. I tend to agree with all of those points.

Larison takes issue with what he sees as Douthat’s implicit assumption that Trump will be able to mobilize voters that show up as supporters, particularly if they are disproportionately infrequent voters. It’s entirely fair to question whether these people will actually show up (since they usually don’t), but I’m not sure that a strong ground game (which Larison correctly points out Trump doesn’t have) actually makes as much of a difference for these voters specifically. The thing about a ground game is that it’s primarily about getting voters you’ve identified to the polls. If you don’t know who your voters are, because they’re historically disconnected from the political process, then that’s harder to organize around. If any plausible scenario for a Trump victory revolves around him generating enthusiasm among unlikely voters who likely aren’t on anybody’s list, then the ground game may not be Trump’s most important game — compared to whatever strategy does motivate these people to come out and vote for him.

Of course, you can still lose if you generate higher turnout among unlikely voters but also fail to deliver your more traditional voters, the sorts of people a good ground game is designed to bring out. So I still think it’s reasonable to assume that Trump’s poor ground game will cost him — just not necessarily for the reason Larison gives.

The rest of Douthat’s argument, though, strikes me as pretty solid. Nate Silver has been saying for some time that Trump may have a slight edge in the electoral college if the race is extremely close, for the very reasons Douthat highlights: Trump lags a typical Republican nominee in a bunch of red states more than he does in some of the traditional swing states. In other words, Trump’s vote is arguably more efficiently distributed than a typical Republican nominee’s.

That doesn’t mean that Trump is more likely to win than a typical Republican nominee. It means that if the election is close, then Trump has a bit more of an edge. But it could simultaneously be true that, with Trump on the ticket, it’s less-likely to be close in the first place.

Meanwhile, third-party candidates are very hard to model, both because there’s little history and because the history that we do have is highly idiosyncratic. (How much do George Wallace’s, John Anderson’s and Ross Perot’s campaigns really have in common?) Which means that many different scenarios are plausible once you make the assumption (as Douthat does) that Johnson and Stein don’t fade as the election gets closer. And one very plausible scenario could be that Johnson and Stein wind up hurting Clinton more in the swing states, while they hurt Trump more in the safe red states. And in the extreme case, yes, that could lead to the sort of scenario Douthat outlines at the end where Trump wins without a plurality in the popular vote.

In theory, it’s also plausible that the opposite could be true, and third-party nominees could hurt Trump more. Anderson initially looked like he was going to hurt Reagan, but wound up hurting Carter. This year, Stein could fade, and Johnson could become the vehicle for libertarians, Mormons and other folks who would never vote Clinton but don’t want to assent to Trump, and could thereby tip Nevada and New Hampshire to Clinton to win a race where she marginally loses the popular vote. Right now, though, it feels like Clinton hasn’t held on to the younger voters who went overwhelmingly for Obama, and hasn’t closed the deal with moderate Republican-leaning suburbanites who she needs to offset losses among working-class whites who are swinging Trumpward. Some of the former are going to Stein and some of both are going to Johnson.

Finally, the electoral college needle that Trump needs to thread isn’t nearly as narrow as Larison suggests, because the swing states tend to swing together. Yes, it’s true that Clinton has a larger electoral college base (states where the projected margin has been larger than the national margin). But arguably so did John Kerry in 2004: Bush won only 254 electoral votes by a margin at least equal to his national margin of 2.4%, while Kerry won 237 electoral votes by at least 2.4% in an election where he lost the national vote by that margin.

But all that means is that a large Clinton victory is more likely than a large Trump victory. If Clinton wins every state where she has at least a 40% chance of victory according to Nate Silver, she’d win 348 electoral votes. If Trump won all the same states, he’d be at 266 — just shy of a majority, needing New Hampshire to put him over the top. If those states were all independent contests, than a sweep like that would be vanishingly unlikely. But they aren’t — a victory in Ohio means a victory in Florida is more likely as well. Which is why Trump has a real shot at victory — about 1 shot in 3 according to Silver.

I still would bet on Trump to lose — and I think his odds are worse than 1-in-3 to win. But that’s because of my personal read on him as a candidate, and Clinton as a candidate. I think the numbers are somewhat cyclical, so Clinton’s last big boost has been followed by a drop; I think Trump is going to be poorly served by the debates; and I think the window for events to significantly transform the campaign in Trump’s direction is closing fast. By the numbers, though, he’s totally got a shot.

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What Is to Be Done About Aleppo?

My latest column at The Week is about Gary Johnson’s appalling ignorance:

I didn’t even know that Aleppo was a place — I thought it was an acronym. Which is pretty embarrassing — at least TheNew York Times knew Aleppo was a city, even if they weren’t sure which one. But, as I learned in about five minutes from Wikipedia after I left the studio, Aleppo is in fact the site of a crucial conflict between the Syrian government and a variety of rebel groups. The four-year struggle has destroyed much of this ancient city, and resulted in more than 25,000 fatalities in the city and the surrounding province through the beginning of this year.

So, now that I know what and where Aleppo is, what would I do about it as president?

I don’t know. Do you?

Hillary Clinton certainly doesn’t. She was a strong advocate of intervening in the Syrian civil war from its earliest days, just as she was one of the strongest supporters of George W. Bush’s war in Iraq and of President Obama’s war in Libya, which she called “smart power at its best.” Those countries are now, along with Syria, hotbeds of ISIS activity. She has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone in Syria, at the risk of war with Russia, even though a no-fly zone would be ineffective at protecting civilians.

Donald Trump certainly doesn’t. His plan is to let Russia defeat ISIS. But Russia never had any interest in defeating ISIS, but instead focused on shoring up Bashar al-Assad in his battle against other rebel groups — the groups active in cities like Aleppo. In other words, Trump’s plan to save Aleppo is to let Russia help Assad destroy Aleppo.

So I really don’t know what to do about Aleppo. And in that ignorance, I’ve got good company.

But the real question is: Should I know what to do about Aleppo? Should you?

Read the whole thing there. And then watch this.

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Free Speech Is For Jokers

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Rod Dreher asks, apropos of this clown:

Let me put it like this: if some alt-right joker played Pokemon Go at the Auschwitz site just to get a rise out of people, how would you feel about Polish authorities jailing him?

If some alt-right joker did that, I’d expect him to be evicted from the site, and have no other sanction applied. If he refused to leave, I could understand him being forcibly removed, even arrested for creating a disturbance or some other misdemeanor if his resistance was serious enough. In terms of legal sanction, I’d expect at worst that he’d be assessed a fine. Anything more severe strikes me as clearly excessive. And even those sanctions are only appropriate because free speech is not a license to disrupt, and I’m assuming that the hypothetical alt-right joker was being actively disruptive. If he’s minding his own business, then even eviction sounds excessive.

When the American Nazi Party marched through Skokie, they were entirely within their rights. Those Westboro Baptist jerks who brandish signs saying “God Hates Fags?” That’s protected speech, provided they are not directly harassing individual people. Ditto for anti-abortion protestors waving graphic images of dismembered fetuses; if they don’t disrupt access or harass individual people, they are wholly within their rights. Ditto for cartoons depicting the founding prophet of Islam as a pedophile, or Ronald Reagan as a zombie cannibal, or Hillary Clinton being raped.

Of course, Russia is not obliged to be absolutist about free speech; few countries are. But that’s the way free speech works: the test cases are jokers, clowns and jerks, and if you don’t pass the test when your personal god is being blasphemed against, then you don’t really believe in free speech.

UPDATE: So, based on the comments, the main objection to the above is that playing Pokemon Go isn’t speech, but action. Granted: playing Pokemon Go in a sacred space (whether a church or a Holocaust memorial) is not a statement of any kind; it’s just being rude. The appropriate thing to do with somebody rude is to ask them politely to stop being rude. How would I feel about jailing somebody for rudeness? I would feel like the jailers were completely out to lunch. My bottom line remains: what we’re talking about is laws against blasphemy, and I’m categorically against blasphemy laws.

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The Last of the Sensitive New Age Jewish Guys

Gene Wilder was something special.

I don’t just mean his extraordinary comic talent. He had that, of course, but the pool of talent is always being refreshed and renewed. And I don’t even mean that he was such a mensch — which he was as well. Believe it or not, there are nice guys born every minute, and not all of them are suckers.

But Wilder had a very distinctive persona, one that I valued enormously, and which I fear has passed from the scene for good.

Wilder was part of a wave of Jewish screen actors in the late 1960s and 1970s who made “Jewish leading man” a thing. Of course there had been plenty of Jewish leading men in Hollywood before this, from Kirk Douglas to Paul Newman to Tony Curtis. But they didn’t “play” their Jewishness as part of their persona. And there were Jewish leading men who did “play” their Jewishness — you can go back to Groucho Marx for examples.

But Gene Wilder, along with guys like Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman, Elliott Gould and others of their generation, did something new by being as unambiguously Jewish as they were, with all the quirks and foibles that came along with that, while simultaneously being leading men. Not sneaking or insinuating or conning their way into the position: just being there. Their moves were recognizably Jewish, but they were legitimate moves. You could see why they would work.

Wilder, though, had different moves than most of the others. While Hoffman and Allen and the rest were working the “smart is sexy” angle, Wilder’s thing was: sensitive is sexy.

Think about the sequence at the bar early in “Stir Crazy.” In his conversation with Richard Pryor, it’s clear that he’s slept with multiple women at the bar; he’s a “player.” But there’s not only nothing braggadocious about the way he talks about the women he’s known; he reminisces specifically about their qualities of soul. This ingenuousness, and this interest in the hearts of people he only knows casually, clearly has a great deal to do with how he’s gotten to know them intimately so easily. It’s what gets him into danger, both at the bar and, later, in prison. But it’s also the way he gets himself out of danger. He leads something of a charmed life, because he’s fundamentally innocent, but an innocent possessed of the usual human share of lust and fear.

“Innocence” is not a quality I associate with his knowing compatriots. But it’s what made Wilder’s victories in his films so compelling. He wasn’t a yearning, striving, hungry Duddy Kravitz type. He didn’t expect the world to hurt him — he was surprised when it wanted to hurt him, over and over again. And then he was delighted when it didn’t.

That innocence, and that sensitivity, is a quality Wilder brought to virtually all his roles, from Leo Bloom in “The Producers” to Avram in “The Frisco Kid.” And with it came a profound sadness, because the world just isn’t as sensitive as he is, a sadness manifest from “Willy Wonka” to “Blazing Saddles” to his performances as the Fox in “The Little Prince” and as the Mock Turtle in a television version of “Alice in Wonderland.” But it was a sadness, not a whiny hurt. Wilder wasn’t a man child looking for a mother to soothe him, of the kind we have plenty of these days. He was a man, with a man’s desires and a man’s knowledge of the world, but with a child’s heart.

It’s a rare quality in any person, at any time, and a precious one for that reason. In whom, among our leading men, does it live now?


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The Evolution of a Joke Campaign

My new column up at The Week traces the evolution of the Trump campaign. It’s always been a joke. But the nature of the joke has changed over time.

First, Trump was a Shakespearean fool:

A year ago, I asked the question: Why not Trump? It was a funny question for me to ask, I wrote, as I had “barely ever thought about [Trump] over the past 30 years, and never seriously,” and that “Trump’s greatest weakness as a candidate has always been the utter ridiculousness of the proposition.”

But the 2016 election desperately needed Trump. Before his entry, it looked likely that in the end former President Bill Clinton’s wife would face off against former President George W. Bush’s brother. The election would have been pure trench warfare, with both candidates aiming to vindicate their party’s preexisting positions, and avoid any reckoning with the ways in which they have failed. Trump changed all that. Suddenly, what was going to be a slog turned into a circus.

This wasn’t the dispiriting clown car of 2012 in which candidate after delusional candidate did their pandering little tap-dance before the cane pulled them off into the wings. Trump was different. From the moment he descended his golden escalator, Trump dominated the stage — not merely because he was entertaining, but because he exposed the folly of his betters. As Jan Kott said of the Fool in King Lear, Trump also “does not follow any ideology. He rejects all appearances, of law, justice, moral order. He sees brute force, cruelty, and lust. He has no illusions and does not seek consolation in the existence of natural or supernatural order, which provides for the punishment of evil and the reward of good.”

It felt like America needed to hear from a fool like that. From foreign policy to trade to immigration, Trump punctured the comfortable Washington consensus that everybody knew was right even though anybody could see it wasn’t working.

Then, Trump won the nomination, and became the Lord of Misrule:

He treated New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie like a glorified manservant, because everybody likes having a fat guy around. After selecting Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, he leaked to the press that he doubted his own decision, and publicly stated that he chose Pence mainly for reasons of party unity. Then he put on a thoroughly embarrassing convention seemingly designed to repel anyone who wasn’t already a loyalist.

There was something wickedly funny about this, watching those who had conspicuously failed to muster the will to rescue their party from this travesty wrestling with their consciences over just what it would take to cause them to abandon ship. And there was something especially delightful in watching them realize that they had sold their birthright for a mess of potage that wouldn’t even be served.

Then, as his standing in the polls dropped, the joke got darker:

Trump has long trafficked in conspiracy theories, some unfortunately common among a distrustful populace, some tailored to partisan hysteria, some simply bizarre. But increasingly, Trump has prepared his supporters to believe that a conspiracy is afoot against him specifically — and, hence, against them. Warning repeatedly that the upcoming election will likely be stolen, Trump has protected his own psyche and public image against loss at the price of threatening the legitimacy of the democratic process itself. . . .

Add into the mix Trump’s gleeful introduction of some of the most unsavory elements into our political culture, and a new picture emerged, not of Trump the entertainer, but of Trump as The Joker, an agent of pure, uncontrollable chaos.

And now?

Go read the whole thing there for the punch line.

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Why The Clinton Foundation Is Gross

The Clinton Foundation is back in the news because of the possibility that donors got special access to the Secretary of State, which has always struck me as the least-interesting argument for why the foundation is a problem. If a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire wants to get a meeting with somebody high up in Washington because he’s got a favor he needs done, he’s going to figure out a way to get the meeting. And if the favor is innocuous, or somewhat nocuous but unlikely to be noticed, he’s going to get the favor done. Anybody who thinks otherwise, or that there is any meaningful difference between the parties on this score, is dreaming.

No, the Clinton Foundation has been called a shakedown racket because it wasn’t trading access for donations — it was going to people who were already going to get access, and asking them to pay a toll for it.

Is that a problem? Well, that depends on how you feel about a former President and a hopeful future President creating an organization with their name on it, hobnobbing with the rich and famous all over the world on the organization’s dime, having the organization hire their relatives and long-time aides — and having the organization be a charity.

That, when I think about it, is what sticks in my craw. If the Clinton Foundation were Clinton Associates, a Washington consultancy that advised global solutionizers on how to optimize their solutionizing, and they hired a bunch of relatives and long-time aides, traveled all over the place optimizing the hell out of everybody’s solutionizing, and made it understood that it would be a good idea to hire them for at least some of your solutionizing needs if you plan on doing lots of business in Washington, that would be . . . pretty much par for the course.

But because it’s a charity, and because what Bill, Hillary and Chelsea do for that charity looks precious little like what Jimmy Carter does for Habitat for Humanity, it just makes me feel a little disgusted.

Is that reasonable? I’m not sure. There’s something disturbing about concluding that I’d be less upset if it were a for-profit venture blatantly trading on the Clintons’ access. Wouldn’t I rather they at least put their vanity in the service of a worthy cause? Am I unaware that the game in big-time philanthropy is all about figuring out how to shake down super-rich people for big donations? What’s my problem?

But reasonable or not, it’s how I feel. There’s something just plain gross about oleaginous self-branding on this scale. It’s almost . . . Trumpian.

Of course, if it were the Trump Foundation, they wouldn’t actually raise any money, or make any grants at all. But still.


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Flood The Zone?

My colleague Rod Dreher has truly been doing God’s work helping his Louisiana neighbors in their hour of acute need. He’s also been scathingly furious at the media for their apparent lack of interest in either the disaster or the response.

My latest column at The Week has the temerity to suggest that this rage may, itself, be a product of mis-placed media values:

The flooding around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy, but it’s barely made the front page, overshadowed by the Olympics and Donald Trump’s latest antics. Nor have the political leaders of either party seen fit to speak about the disaster. President Obama remains on vacation, and both major party nominees for president have largely ignored Louisiana’s plight.

The silence has been so deafening that it itself has become the story, with an increasing number of think pieces, ranging from angry to ruminative, asking why we aren’t talking more about the floods. The floods aren’t news, but our indifference is.

But what does the indifference signify? Not that the disaster is actually being ignored by those who can make a difference, that’s for sure. South Louisiana’s residents have actually done a spectacular job of responding to the crisis. The “little platoons” have deployed themselves, just as Edmund Burke said they would. As well, national organizations like the Red Cross and federal agencies like FEMA have mobilized promptly, and have promised the resources necessary to respond and recover. The “system,” so far, is working.

Read the whole thing there.

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A Tale Of Two States

From the beginning of the campaign, we’ve been hearing that Pennsylvania is the key state (you might even say the “keystone” state) to Trump’s strategy for victory, because his unorthodox positions on trade and immigration could pull in disaffected blue collar white voters who feel both parties have abandoned them. And, also from the beginning of the campaign, Republicans have fretted about Trump’s racially-divisive rhetoric being a potential problem for the GOP in states like Florida with large and growing non-white and Hispanic population.

So it’s probably worth noting that Trump is consistently underperforming his national numbers in polls of Pennsylvania, and that he’s consistently outperforming his national numbers in Florida.

Trump is also outperforming his national numbers in heavily-Hispanic swing state Nevada, while underperforming in largely white and frequently cranky New Hampshire. States like Georgia, which should be very safe for a Republican, or North Carolina, that should only be competitive in a 2008-style blow-out, are actually looking about as good for Clinton as Florida is. Meanwhile, states like Arizona remain close even as the national numbers have moved strongly in Clinton’s favor.

What do I conclude from the above?

Tentatively, I conclude the following.

First, polarization cuts both ways. Alabama and Mississippi have very large minority populations. They also have very racially-polarized voting. If you’ve got a white majority, even if it’s a relatively narrow one, and you can mobilize that majority to vote as a bloc, then you can win even if the other bloc votes in a similarly solidaristic manner. Arizona, Nevada and Florida all have narrowing white, non-Hispanic majorities — but they are still majorities, at least for now.

Second, achieving that kind of polarization is more plausible when there is a real divergence of interests between the groups. Arizona, Nevada and Florida are all states with large numbers of recent Hispanic immigrants — but also with large white retiree populations. There’s a generational divide that lines up with an ethnic/racial divide, which may drive economic competition between groups that are relative strangers to each other.

That may explain why Trump is doing relatively better with these particular swing states. But why is he doing worse in places like Pennsylvania?

Well, one possibility is that for all his rhetoric, Trump actually has very little to offer on the economic front. His Detroit speech, for example, was mostly a rehash of very standard and longstanding Republican boilerplate. Relatedly, his emphasis on racial and cultural issues may reinforce the impression that he doesn’t have any actual answers to manufacturing decline. But most important, Trump may be losing white-collar whites at a rate that more than offsets any gains he’s making among blue-collar voters.

This may also explain Clinton’s relatively strong performance in states like North Carolina and Georgia. Prosperous, Republican-leaning suburbanites in these states, a contingent that includes many internal migrants from states like New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio, may not be looking to overthrow the establishment, because the establishment is working for them.

Trump is following a version of the “Sailer strategy,” and what he may be proving is that the strategy only works when white voters view their situation as highly precarious and see racial and ethnic solidarity as a compelling response. And while that may be true in certain states, it just isn’t true on a national basis. Instead, a strategy of mobilizing blue collar whites who feel left behind threatens to undermine the position of more successful communities, driving them to the other party.

That’s probably a good thing for the country, overall. But it’s a bad thing for the constituency Trump is speaking to, who need a tribune who could actually get them a seat at the policymaking table, and not just drive them to further marginalization.

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Clinton’s Next Move

Meanwhile, I’ve got my own column at The Week, about how Clinton should capitalize on Trump’s horrible no good very bad week:

Hillary Clinton has had a good week.

She concluded a successful convention that united the Democratic Party and positioned her as the presidential candidate who believes in America’s future. In its wake, her opponent has gone into full meltdown mode, attacking a Gold Star family and, in response to widespread outrage, doubling down on his attacks. Worse still, at least from a partisan Republican’s perspective, he’s threatened to withhold his support from Republican officeholders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) who have been critical of some of his more outrageous outbursts. And as his standing in the polls has fallen, he’s begun encouraging his supporters to view any loss as the illegitimate result of a rigged election.

The panic has gotten bad enough that there is talk of mass defections from the Republican leadership. All of which no doubt has the Clinton campaign ecstatic. If she can win over a good number of relatively sane Republicans, surely she’ll win in a landslide.

I’m not so sure. And even if I were sure that it would work, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.

First of all, it’s not clear how many head of cattle those big-hatted Republican leaders are actually driving. Remember, in the Republican primaries, 70 percent of the vote went to the two candidates deemed least acceptable to the Republican leadership. For all we know, Reince Preibus himself could endorse Clinton and it wouldn’t move the needle.

Second, Clinton still needs to turn out her own voters. Let’s say she actually could get the endorsement of Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Jeb Bush. How would Democrats who favored Bernie Sanders during the primaries feel about that? Is she so sure that the gains she made on the Republican side would outweigh the losses she’d face from her own base?

Third, Trump’s entire campaign strategy has been running against a rigged system — and against the leadership of both parties. Bipartisan support for Hillary Clinton only reinforces the narrative that got Trump the nomination. Is she so sure that wouldn’t help him in the general election as well?

Fortunately, Clinton doesn’t need to win over Republican leaders. A Mitt Romney endorsement of Gary Johnson would be worth far more than any prominent Republican defections to Clinton herself. Clinton does need to reach out to college-educated whites — whom she has a good shot at being the first Democrat to win in 60 years. But doing so doesn’t require her to pinch policy ideas from Paul Ryan. It’s enough that she portray herself as steady, mainstream, and non-radical.

Clinton is already doing that, and her vice presidential pick reinforced that message. But the other thing Clinton needs to do is limit her losses among white voters without a college education — Trump’s base. That effort would be set back badly by an overt pitch for elite Republican votes — because these are the very people who voted in record numbers to repudiate the Republican leadership. So what can she do to limit her losses in this crucial demographic segment?

Read the whole thing there if you want to know what I think.

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