Character is Destiny

From Jonah Goldberg at National Review, The Last Straw  

I have always believed that the Trump presidency would end badly because I believe character is destiny. There is no reasonable or morally sound definition of good character that Donald Trump can meet. That’s why we learned nothing new about Donald Trump this week. He can’t change. Some good, decent, and smart people couldn’t or wouldn’t see this. But every day, more people see this. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is a collective phenomenon, but like all collective phenomena it’s made up of a multitude of individual realizations.

I do think it was idiotic to nominate Donald Trump as the GOP’s standard-bearer, but I do not think everyone who voted for him in the general election is an “idiot,” as Lewis suggests. Some of the smartest people I know voted for him, for defensible reasons. Krein and his fellow Trumpist intellectuals weren’t dumb, they were just wrong. And while I think the conservative movement would probably be in better shape if Hillary Clinton had won last November, I don’t think it’s nearly so obvious that America would be. But that is an entirely academic question at this point.

Class Cluelessness

A book review by Henry Oliner

Politics is little more than a marketplace of ideas.  Like the markets for products and services it is more complex and nuanced than it appears, and resistant to central control. Competition serves us well in both spheres.  You may be able to market a poor-quality product briefly, but the quality and ability to satisfy individual consumers needs will inevitably reign.

In White Working Class- Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America author Joan Williams attempts to explain to her fellow progressives why they lost the white working-class vote.  She gets to the heart of their alienation, but then falls far short in proposing a reconciliation. She focuses too much on the marketing and not enough on the product, the ideas.

The white working class are family and community centered as opposed to job and career centered and are thus less likely to relocate, she explains in Chapter 5, “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Just Move to Where the Jobs Are?”, she recommends that this difference be respected.

In the next chapter, “Why Doesn’t the Working Class Get With It and Go to College?” she states the reality that attending the lower level colleges does not provide the same gateway to success that the elite Ivey League offers. A significant percentage make no more than the average high school graduate and ends up with stifling debt. If they fail and drop out they have no improved job outcome, but the debt remains.  In other words, their decision reflects their reality, not their ignorance, and makes economic sense.

The rest of the book reflects on similar questions: “Why Does the Working Class Resent the Poor?”, “Why Does the Working Class Resent Professionals but Admire the Rich?”, “Why Don’t They Push Their Kids Harder to Succeed?” She offers a glimpse into reasonable answers to these questions, suggesting understanding to replace the contempt the left dispenses.

In Chapter 8 “Is the Working Class Just Racist?” she claims it is an issue with long roots, but Ms. Williams also acknowledges that it exits among the PME (Professional Manager Elite) as well. She does not explain why a significant subset of white working-class voters who supported Trump also voted for Obama. With the working class, in her judgment, racism is more blatant. It may be true, but I do not think it was a significant factor in Trump’s victory. She falls victim to a common statistical fallacy: because 90% of racists supported Trump does not mean that 90% of Trump’s supporters are racist.

Thomas Frank’s What The Matter With Kansas? (2005)  had the left pondering why the working class votes against their own self-interest, oblivious to the arrogance of their question.  Ms. Williams writes that it is insulting to suggest they are duped by big money. “Big money has been effective only because working class whites have been persuaded.”

Is there any difference between being duped by big money or slick talking? Does she not understand that supposing you know anyone else’s self-interest is the insult?  Suggesting that your values should be everybody’s without any readiness to understand others’ perspective is far more alienating than the means you choose to express it.

After revealing analysis to understand the reality of the white working class, Ms. Williams joins her fellow progressives to believe that the problem is only messaging.  If only the white working class knew about all the government benefits that are available to them they would vote differently.  They err in thinking that government benefits are only available to the poor. The only difference from Frank’s Kansas is that she lays the blame on the Democrats for not telling their story more persuasively.  Perhaps a feature length film version of The Life of Julia in full color with real actors, and more celebrities lecturing them would clarify their benefits and make them realize how good their lives actually are.

Ms. Williams does not question her own party’s ideology and thus does not consider that the working white class may have a problem with her progressive ideas.  They may not think in terms of ‘ideology’, but they may wonder where the money is supposed to come from to provide so many benefits to so many people.  Maybe it is not pride or ignorance that rejects such government largesse, but reason and practicality.

While they may take progressive successes such as civil rights for granted, they do not ignore progressivism’s failures. After 100 years of the growth of central government power and union activism, their local factories are closed and the debt has skyrocketed. Government benefits or a $15 an hour minimum wage is no substitute for the kinds of jobs that used to sustain a healthy middle class.

Farmers understand innately that you must plant in the fall to reap in the spring. Wealth must be produced before it is distributed. These simple ideologies are still a part of their world even if they are not taught at elite universities.

The elites’ failure is not the messaging they deliver, but the messaging they believe.

The Fruits of Identity Politics

from the editors of The Wall Street Journal, The Poison of Identity Politics

A politics fixated on indelible differences will inevitably lead to resentments that extremists can exploit in ugly ways on the right and left. The extremists were on the right in Charlottesville, but there have been examples on the left in Berkeley, Oakland and numerous college campuses. When Democratic politicians can’t even say “all lives matter” without being denounced as bigots, American politics has a problem.

Mr. Trump didn’t create this identity obsession even if as a candidate he did try to exploit it. He is more symptom than cause, though as President he now has a particular obligation to renounce it. So do other politicians. Yet the only mission of nearly every Democrat we observed on the weekend was to use the “white supremacist” cudgel against Mr. Trump—as if that is the end of the story.

It isn’t, and it won’t be unless we confront this underlying politics of division. Not long ago we were rereading Justice Clarence Thomas’s prophetic opinion in Holder v. Hall, a 1994 Supreme Court ruling on dividing voting districts by race.

“As a practical political matter,” he wrote, “our drive to segregate political districts by race can only serve to deepen racial divisions by destroying any need for voters or candidates to build bridges between racial groups or to form voting coalitions.” Writ large, Justice Thomas was warning that identity politics can destroy democratic trust and consent.


related- Robespierre’s Warning

If you don’t really recall what the Reign of Terror was about, during the French Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety was formed to govern without any of the old-fashioned constraints of government. The Committee was established on 6 April; by mid-July, Marat was assassinated, and Danton, one of the original leaders of the Revolution, was removed from the Committee. By the end of the month, Maximilien Robespierre was added to the Committee. During the Reign of Terror, tens of thousands were executed, died in prison, or died by suicide.

This is what happens when these movements get out of hand. So, everyone who is thinking “heads on spikes” are a good idea? Remember that in 1793 Robespierre was taking the heads of his political opposition; in 1794, he lost his own.

Losing Their Critical Advantage

Mark Lilla writes a great analysis of the rise of identity politics in the Wall Street Journal,  The Liberal Crackup

All that began to change when the New Left shattered in the 1970s, in no small part due to identity issues. Blacks complained that white movement leaders were racist, feminists complained that they were sexist, and lesbians complained that straight feminists were homophobic. The main enemies were no longer capitalism and the military-industrial complex; they were fellow movement members who were not, as we would say today, sufficiently “woke.”

It was then that less radical liberal and progressive activists also began redirecting their energies away from party politics and toward a wide range of single-issue social movements. The forces at work in healthy party politics are centripetal; they encourage factions and interests to come together to work out common goals and strategies. They oblige everyone to think, or at least to speak, about the common good.

In movement politics, the forces are all centrifugal, encouraging splits into smaller and smaller factions obsessed with single issues and practicing rituals of ideological one-upmanship. Symbols take on outsize significance, especially in identity-based movements.

The results of this shift are now plain to see. The classic Democratic goal of bringing people from different backgrounds together for a single common project has given way to a pseudo-politics of self-regard and increasingly narrow and exclusionary self-definition. And what keeps this approach to politics alive is that it is cultivated in the colleges and universities where liberal elites are formed. Here again, we must look to the history of the New Left to understand how this happened.


The Republicans were weakened by their litany of litmus tests.  The pro life crowd, the school prayer crowd, or the gun rights advocates would be intolerant of any variation from the orthodox position on THEIR issue. The Democrats were unified and won elections even with less than 50% of the vote.

Now the Democrats have fractured themselves and lost what was a critical advantage.

The Quicksand of Optimism

from the WSJ and William Galston,  What Would Madison Do About the Budget?

When it comes to government, I am a die-hard Madisonian. The chief intellectual architect of our constitutional order knew that public officials would always be torn between self-interest and concern for the common good. And he knew that in times of conflict, reason would often give way to passion. Political institutions, he concluded, should not be built on the quicksand of optimism about human nature. Instead, they should accept human beings as they are and channel the mixed motives of public officials toward promoting the public good.

James Madison also understood that nothing wrought by human beings can be perfect, let alone timeless. When circumstances change in unexpected ways, our institutions must change as well—or risk conducting the people’s business far less effectively. So it was that the man who originally opposed adding a Bill of Rights to the Constitution ended up as its author. So it is that we the people have amended our Constitution 27 times.