Emperors undressed

The Rise of the Ungovernables

2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Francis Fukuyama’s seminal essay for the National Interest “The End of History?” Its central hypothesis was that we were witnessing “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” That looked plausible in 1989, particularly when the Berlin Wall fell just months after the essay’s release. Thirty years later—not so much.

To be fair to Fukuyama, he never suggested that the world had seen the end of geopolitical conflict or that democracies would experience no more of Macmillan’s “events.” Today, he continues to view liberal democracy as the best form of government, but he is less optimistic about its robustness. It’s hard to disagree with him. The Brexit chaos, the Trump presidency, the collapse of support for centrist parties across Europe, and the pervasive rise of populism and nationalism, all point to the growing fragility of liberal democracy.

Why is this happening now? The usual response is to blame it all on the politicians. Leaders like Orban and Trump are subverting the institutions at the heart of liberal democracy. Political parties like Alternative für Deutschland and the National Rally are promoting illiberal and xenophobic policies. If only we had better leaders, democracy would flourish—so goes the argument.

That last sentence is exactly the same excuse Socialists and Communists use for state failures in the Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, Cambodia, North Korea, et. al.. A majority of voters in this country agree with it, even as they are split on policy.

That last sentence describes the danger of the Imperial Presidency – something that connects Obama and Trump (they’re hardly alone, but it became an art form under their tender care).

That last sentence describes voters’ aspirations.  It explains Bernie Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, and Donald Trump.  Not that they all share policy ideas, but that a sufficient number of voters see them as saviors.  This is a terrible way to think about public employees.

The Obamaists and the Trumpists both revere the Man, not the Law.  Their Emperor’s ideas are fully clothed in their own narcissism.

Read the whole article, it presents some good ideas about cultural changes contributing to the problem and the related role of social media.

Areopagitica Lost

The current state of the country and the current state of political and intellectual conversation depresses me in a way that it never has before. You have to understand — I’m never happy with the state of the country — that’s the inevitable fate of holding an ideological position that rarely gets any traction — I’m a classical liberal who’d like government to be dramatically smaller than it is now…

Maybe it’s paranoia but it’s been a long time since I felt the thinness of the veneer of civilization and our vulnerability to a sequence of events that might threaten not just the policy positions I might favor but the very existence of the American experiment.

The main way I’ve been dealing with this feeling of despair is to stop paying close attention. I don’t know what depresses me more — the stupidities and dishonesty and tolerance of darkness that come out of the President’s mouth or the response from those that oppose him. Given that I don’t like the President, you’d think I find the response of his enemies inspiring or important. But the responses scare me too, the naked hatred of Trump or anyone who supports or likes him. And of course, it goes way beyond Trump and politics. The same level of vitriol and anger and unreason is happening on college campuses and at the dinner table when families gather to talk about the hot-button issues of the day. Everything seems magnified.

Read the whole thing, it’s very good. Russ Roberts: The World Turned Upside Down (and what to do about it)

I agree 100% with Roberts’ intro, it feels like he wrote for me. He doesn’t mention some things that cause my angst, why “it’s different this time,” but I think he’d agree with them.

I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I’m surprised at the durability of the vehement response to Donald Trump. I get that Progressives are angry and depressed, but it’s hard for me to imagine they’re more angry and depressed than I was at Barack Obama’s re-election. That was a very dark day and an excruciating 4 more years. You can examine this blog for my criticisms of Barack Obama, but you’ll find nothing like what we hear daily from CNN, MSNBC, or (?) ESPN, or from the hegemony of far left celebrity Twitterers.

I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed at the contrast in the treatment of Antifa with that of the tea party. When the tea party left one of its demonstration sites, the area was cleaner than when they arrived. No fires, little to no profanity, no smashed windows, no beaten Obama supporters. Still, the tea party people were vilified by the media and Democrats, including the charges of racism and Nazism they’ve raised lately to screaming rants. It’s not just free speech, but freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and petitioning for redress of grievances that is under attack – with the implicit support of the very press who wish to preserve their First Amendment right. Apparently, as the only remaining First Amendment right.

When Donald Trump appointee Betsy DeVos comes out in favor of due process, it’s a sexist apocalypse. When Trump rejects the Paris Climate Accord, “we’re all gonna die!” When he removes a few draconian regulations, we can see the Four Horses on the horizon. When Trump turns responsibility for Obama’s unconstitutional DACA executive order over to Congress, it’s Nazism, racism, white supremacism, patriarchal and traitorous. Dial it back people. But they can’t.

Back to Russ Roberts. Given the above, his prescription:

1-Don’t be part of the positive feedback problem. When someone yells at you on the internet or in an email or across the dinner table, turn the volume down rather than up. Don’t respond in kind to the troll. Stay calm. It’s not as much fun as yelling or humiliating your opponent with a clever insult, but it’s not worth it. It takes a toll on you and it’s bad for the state of debate. And you might actually change someone’s mind.

2-Be humble. Shakespeare had it right: There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy. You’re inevitably a cherry-picker, ignoring the facts and evidence that might challenge the certainty of your views. The world is a complex place. Truth is elusive. Don’t be so confident. You shouldn’t be.

3-Imagine the possibility not just that you are wrong, but that the person you disagree with could be right. Try to imagine the best version of their views and not the straw man your side is constantly portraying. Imagine that it is possible that there is some virtue on the other side. We are all human beings, flawed, a mix of good and bad.

…suffers from the fact that the center and the right have been more polite and civil than the left for decades – and see where that’s gotten us.

Donald Trump is crass, undisciplined and devoid of principle; but it is primarily the exquisite sensibilities of the intersectionality cadre who blame America for every evil that make his actual content inflammatory. They say they can identify “dog whistles” in Trump’s rhetoric, forgetting that it’s only the dog who can hear the whistle.

Is Trump complicit in this? Certainly. His comments on Mexican illegal immigrants are similar to this:

“You cannot go to a 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian Accent.”
“I mean you’ve got the first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and nice-looking guy.”
-Joe Biden

…but “that’s just Joe.” Still, Trump’s a piker compared to the rest of Democrat leadership:

“Republicans… [would] rather take pictures with black children than feed them.”
-Donna Brazile

“I’ll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”
-Lyndon Johnson

“[T]ypical white people,”
“clinging to their guns and religion.”
-Barack Obama

“basket of deplorables”
“You f*cking Jew b@stard.”
-Hillary Clinton

Those aren’t distant historical examples, which would be far worse (Woodrow Wilson, for example, the Progressives’ Progressive). Those aren’t dog whistles, they’re fog horns; but, on the left, nobody’s knickers got twisted. That rhetoric is how we got Trump.

As far as the hoi polloi are concerned, on one side of protest demonstrations we see a marginalized group promoting white supremacy, who have with very few exceptions been non-violent except in self defense. On the other, we see a larger group, promoting black supremacy, that uses violence regularly and indiscriminately. Criticizing the latter group either brings charges of being a “Nazi sympathizer” from mainstream Democrats, or silence, as classical liberals attempting to exercise freedom of speech are under physical attack at our nation’s universities; in collusion with university administrators and local governments who order police to “stand down.”

Which group is actually a threat to freedom? The group trying to use their right to free speech, or the group routinely using violence to shut down free speech?

I’m reminded of this passage from Alan Bloom’s (1987) The Closing of the American Mind: “I have seen young people, and older people too, who are good democratic liberals, lovers of peace and gentleness, struck dumb with admiration for individuals threatening or using the most terrible violence for the slightest and tawdriest of reasons. They have a sneaking suspicion that they are face to face with men of real commitment, which they themselves lack. And commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.

Bloom is writing about people avoiding the messy distractions of understanding their own ‘ideas,’ because “[C]commitment, not truth, is believed to be what counts.” Their rhetoric is excused by their commitment to no more than having unexamined good intentions.

Ronald Reagan had sub-human intelligence. Barry Goldwater was called a Nazi 50 years ago. The KKK is blamed on Republicans when, in fact, it was the action arm of the Democrats. Similarly, racial discrimination by the State: It was, in fact, outright eugenicists and open racists like Woodrow Wilson who reversed integration in the civil service. Even the far left editors at Vox admit this.

Culturally, we’re debating whether your biological sex is dispositive regarding bathroom facilities, while the left insists that any discussion of differences between men and women is absolutely not allowed. Facebook gave up when the number of “gender” choice check boxes available in your profile reached 58, but men and women are indistinguishable.

If you write a polite, scientifically factual memo questioning Google’s discriminatory hiring practices, you get fired. Meanwhile, Google downranks results from websites not fitting their political views.

Meanwhile, we waste blood and treasure half-heartedly defending poppy farmers in Afghanistan, because “homeland security,” while the territory you can visit in Europe is continually eroded by “no-go” zones and our courts plunk down on the side of unrestricted immigration.

And now I’m back to agreeing with the author’s intro, but you can’t remain silent in order to get along. That’s a complete oversimplification of Roberts’ advice, but it’s hard to remember that when some antifa thug is spraying spittle.

This is how you get more Trump. If that isn’t depressing, what is? Well, the thought of Hillary as President may be one thing.

Thank goodness…

…Hillary Clinton was not elected President.

She would have gleefully joined with Schumer and Pelosi to raise the debt ceiling in perpetuity; Obamacare would still be the law; there would be no border wall; she would have given Congress a deadline to “legalize DACA”; she would be blaming Republicans for her lack of leadership; she’d be threatening trade wars; the DOJ would still be defending the IRS that John Koskinen still heads; the FBI would be citing “lack of public interest” as an excuse not to release documents describing her disappeared emails; and the prospect for tax reform would be dim.

\sarc

Is this entirely fair to Trump? No. But it is what happens when you are philosophically unmoored, proudly ignorant of process, and making it up as you go along.

I hope the President’s temporary regulatory modifications and his judgeship appointments make up for his long-term, withering destruction of small government principles.

Gary Johnson for President.

To the Bernie Bros

Time to discover the Liberals Karl Popper and Eric Hoffer. You probably aren’t aware of these men, but you should consider their wisdom. You could even do an internet search.

Bernie Sanders’ ideas are not vaguely new. There’s a body of rational criticism you need to understand if you pretend to intellectual honesty.

“I remained a socialist for several years, even after my rejection of Marxism; and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”

― Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography – 1976

“The nineteenth century was naïve because it did not know the end of the story. It did not know what happens when dedicated idealists come to power; it did not know the intimate linkage between idealists and policemen, between being your brother’s keeper and being his jailkeeper.

It is disconcerting that present-day young who did not know Stalin and Hitler are displaying the old naïveté. After all that has happened they still do not know that you cannot build utopia without terror, and that before long terror is all that’s left.”

-Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath – 1974