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The Trump Spread

It seems that politically the bar for Trump is set very low.  Democrats feel he is inexperienced, incompetent, and of such poor character that success is unimaginable. They remain unable to imagine his victory without nefarious influences. This makes them ripe for the kind of conspiracy theories more commonly associated with the right.

Establishment Republicans fear his inexperience and pragmatic sacrifice of conservative principles whether on the economy or foreign affairs.  If he just avoids catastrophic failure, he would seem a political success based on the low expectation from the establishments of both parties.

Economically, on the other hand, the bar is set quite high. His victory surprised the market for the better, but the run up on top of the increase of the last several years may be a bit stretched.  The market seems to have assumed his success in achieving all his campaign promises. It also seems to assume that his potentially damaging trade policies either will not occur or will not have any serious repercussions.  Any disappointment may cause the market to swoon. It also assumes no dramatic events

Perhaps the market is simply delighted that the trend in friction costs has been arrested and that alone will have productive outcomes.

Politically we are expecting the worst; economically we are expecting the best. Both will likely be disappointed.

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Ad Hominem Politics

A gem from Kevin Williamson at National Review, Fake Hate Crimes:

The Left, particularly in the English-speaking world, has been in intellectual crisis since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Left’s last really big idea was Communism. (Bernie Sanders would say “socialism,” and the difference is not entirely trivial: Communism begins with a gun in your face, socialism ends with a gun in your face.) When Communism was discredited — not only by the failures of central planning alluded to earlier but also by its horrifying body count of some 100 million victims in the 20th century — the Left was left intellectually unmoored. It has come up with strategies — environmentalism, feminism, identity politics, “1 percent” resentment politics — but no big ideas. This is a problem, because conservatism’s big idea — the marriage of free enterprise to liberal political institutions — is doing pretty well almost everywhere it has been tried. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and countries around the world from Western Europe to Scandinavia to Singapore that have adopted, however partially and imperfectly, the universal truths embedded in Anglo-American liberalism are doing pretty well.

Venezuela isn’t.

The Left, for the moment, cannot seriously compete in the theater of ideas. So rather than play the ball, it’s play the man. Socialism failed, but there is some juice to be had from convincing people who are not especially intellectually engaged and who are led by their emotions more than by their intellect — which is to say, most people — that the people pushing ideas contrary to yours are racists and anti-Semites, that they hate women and homosexuals and Muslims and foreigners, that they could not possibly be correct on the policy questions, because they are moral monsters. This is the ad hominem fallacy elevated, if not quite to a creed, then to a general conception of politics. Hence the hoaxes and lies and nonsense.

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The Theft of Moral Authority

From Shelby Steele in the WSJ, The Exhaustion of American Liberalism

This was the circumstance in which innocence of America’s bigotries and dissociation from the American past became a currency of hardcore political power. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, good liberals both, pursued power by offering their candidacies as opportunities for Americans to document their innocence of the nation’s past. “I had to vote for Obama,” a rock-ribbed Republican said to me. “I couldn’t tell my grandson that I didn’t vote for the first black president.”

For this man liberalism was a moral vaccine that immunized him against stigmatization. For Mr. Obama it was raw political power in the real world, enough to lift him—unknown and untested—into the presidency. But for Mrs. Clinton, liberalism was not enough. The white guilt that lifted Mr. Obama did not carry her into office—even though her opponent was soundly stigmatized as an iconic racist and sexist.

Perhaps the Obama presidency was the culmination of the age of white guilt, so that this guiltiness has entered its denouement. There are so many public moments now in which liberalism’s old weapon of stigmatization shoots blanks—Elizabeth Warren in the Senate reading a 30-year-old letter by Coretta Scott King, hoping to stop Jeff Sessions’s appointment as attorney general. There it was with deadly predictability: a white liberal stealing moral authority from a black heroine in order to stigmatize a white male as racist. When Ms. Warren was finally told to sit, there was real mortification behind her glaring eyes.

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Passion and Conviction

From Noah Rothman at Commentary, The Age of Emotion and Unreason

On balance, the majority has a better story to tell than the minority who are on the losing end of pressures foreign trade and automation place on U.S. employers. But those who do not emerge better off as a result of these pressures have the more compelling story, and it is one that has captivated the imaginations of our influencers, media, and political leaders.

Because the policy prescriptions of the American nationalist movement are not tethered to much beyond the whimsy of the president, those who would anchor it down with intellectual foundations may one day find themselves the objects of resentment.

Before America’s intellectual class was fervidly crafting a policy rationale for the Trump movement, it was transfixed by the notion that America was a uniquely racist and discriminatory nation. This, too, was an idea advanced by those who stood to gain politically from the presumption that the United States was beholden to vestigial racial anxieties. In quantifiable terms, though, the U.S. is one of the least racially discriminatory nations on Earth. Nagging racial disparities in outcomes related to socioeconomic status, health, criminal justice, and residential integration persist. The refusal of most of the liberal political and intellectual class to balance the frustrating against the optimistic was as much deference to the loudest voice in the room as anything else.

From the “population bomb” to a fear of genetically-modified foods; from the myth that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes to the notion that minimum wage hikes help those who depend on it; and from many other falsities like these, the left perfected appeals to emotion over reason. The practice has yielded awful policy. As comedy programs sufficed for news coverage and political satirists “destroyed” their targets to wild applause, the intellectual left atrophied. Appeals to emotional satisfaction supplemented liberal disappointment in suboptimal policy outcomes, and the art of convincing argumentation deteriorated. Meanwhile, conservatives became convinced, all evidence to the contrary aside, that they had lost just about every political and cultural battle to their liberal opponents and that their best bet was to emulate them.

It is not without irony that the left might be convinced to reduce its dependency on emotionalism in government only after recoiling from seeing themselves reflected in Trump’s movement. But the fever won’t break soon. The incentives to incite and bait and troll and react reflexively are overwhelming. These instinctual responses to adversity are called lucid and weighty by those who know better. This is not an age of reason. It is a time when passion has been mistaken for conviction and authority. Unchecked, little good can come of it.

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Blaming the Victim


Writing about the attack with the detached analytical eye of a journalist, I was able to take the perspective that (I was fast learning) most news outlets wanted – that Israel was to blame for Palestinian violence. But when I learned that my friend’s friend was one of the victims, it changed my way of thinking. I felt horrible for having publicly glorified one of the murderers. The man who’d been murdered, Richard Lakin, was originally from New England, like me, and had taught English to Israeli and Palestinian children at a school in Jerusalem. He believed in making peace with the Palestinians and “never missed a peace rally,” according to his son.

By contrast, his killers ‒ who came from a middle-class neighborhood in East Jerusalem and were actually quite well-off relative to most Palestinians ‒ had been paid 20,000 shekels to storm the bus that morning with their cowardly guns. More than a year later, you can still see their faces plastered around East Jerusalem on posters hailing them as martyrs. (One of the attackers, Baha Aliyan, 22, was killed at the scene; the second, Bilal Ranem, 23, was captured alive.)

Being personally affected by the conflict caused me to question how forgiving I’d been of Palestinian violence previously. Liberals, human-rights groups and most of the media, though, continued to blame Israel for being attacked. Ban Ki-moon, for example, who at the time was the head of the United Nations, said in January 2016 ‒ as the streets of my neighborhood were stained with the blood of innocent Israeli civilians ‒ that it was “human nature to react to occupation.” In fact, there is no justification for killing someone, no matter what the political situation may or may not be, and Ban’s statement rankled me.