More Lessons In Patriotism From An American Border Town

 

Open Borders zealots and anti-immigration hawks could yet come to a pragmatic compromise that works for all, if only they stopped viewing the immigration debate as a zero-sum, existential war. This Texas town shows the potential fruits of such compromise.

One of the nicest things about having moved from Britain to the United States is the fact that I now live in a place where patriotism is not (yet) a dirty word. Going about daily life here, every day one is reminded in a handful of small but significant ways that people are proud of their country, and proud to be American. Not in an overt sense – rarely does the sentiment even have to be articulated – but more in the matter-of-fact way that certain rituals, symbols or expressions form part of the backdrop of daily life.

I have never been one to seek out tub-thumping, bombastic nationalism, and readily concede the dangers of moving too far in that direction. However, there is an equal and opposite effect moving in the opposite direction toward an overt hostility toward patriotism which is every bit as corrosive and harmful to society as unbridled nationalism. Britain is a chronic – perhaps even terminal – patient in this regard.

One of the main areas of pushback from the British Left whenever somebody dares to suggest that they might consider making their peace with patriotism rather than continually striving to publicly repudiate it is that the expression of love for one’s home country is somehow off-putting to or exclusionary of new (or old) immigrants. This, of course, is highly presumptuous and indeed offensive to many immigrants, who chose to make Britain their home precisely because they see and value those qualities in our country which our political and intellectual elites often scorn or overlook.

This is one of those occasions where Open Borders leftists are their own worst enemy. If they were at all savvy, they would realize that encouraging assimilation of new immigrants into their new home country is one of the most important means by which public opposition to immigration can be reduced in the long term. But so hell-bent are they on promoting supranationalism and eroding the nation state by any means possible that their own zealousness creates or exacerbates the very anti-immigration public pushback which now so upsets and confuses them.

Open Borders leftists and pragmatic conservatives in the UK might be able to find common ground around a policy of promoting a strong national identity and unapologetically affirming small-L liberal British values, and encouraging immigrants to embrace that identity in concert with their own. But with the progressive left so in thrall to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, many of their activists and leaders are unable to get beyond the “celebrating diversity” part to focus on the deeper attachments which must unite us if we are to avoid complete national disintegration.

Yet every day we see examples of immigrant and border communities doing this work – forging this melting pot – by necessity, in the absence of any leadership from above. Less so in Britain, but very much so here in the United States, the original melting pot.

Earlier this summer I wrote at length about my experiences spending my first 4th of July in Texas as a permanent resident of the United States. I remarked on how a heavily-Hispanic border town – one thrust unwillingly into the limelight as a result of the Trump administration’s child migrant detention policy, no less – seemed to effortlessly demonstrate the kind of simple, unifying patriotism which those on the far right claim to be impossible and those on the identity politics left view as a deeply undesirable concession to colonialism and white privilege.

And now the town of McAllen, Texas serves up another fine example of the way in which simple patriotic rituals help to unify people who hail from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

From ValleyCentral, the website of the local CBS affiliate:

McALLEN – A packed house filled the McAllen Memorial High School Gymnasium to watch a district match-up between the Mustangs and crosstown rivals McAllen High School on Sept. 18.

Fans roared as introductions were made for each player, but, when it was time to stand an honor the flag with the playing of the national anthem, nothing played. A few laughs and some awkward silence later, a small choir began to form in the far corner of the gymnasium. Soon enough, the entire gym was stressing their vocal chords in the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.

You need to watch the video to get the full effect – see the link above.

Again, this is a town not ten miles from the border with Mexico, a town which is heavily Hispanic, where many families have links to Mexico, Central or South America and where people take rightful pride in their cultural heritage – see the Mariachi singers in the video above, performing the Star Spangled Banner before another McAllen school sports game a few years ago. But it is also a town where these identities slot naturally and effortlessly into a greater, unifying American identity – E Pluribus Unum.

Before the naysayers retort that this is an alien culture and ritual which may work in America but which would never be suitable for Britain, it is worth remembering that a few decades ago it would not necessarily have been uncommon for the national anthem to be played at all manner of events, from village fairs to movie screenings to sports events besides the FA Cup Final.

This is not a call to return to some straight-laced, black-and-white conservative fantasy about the good old days – Britain has certainly developed and improved in countless ways since the days when BBC television shut down at midnight to a chorus of God Save the Queen, and by no means should we seek to wind the clock back, even if it were possible. But how much better still could Britain be if we had tried harder to hold on to some of these unifying symbols of shared identity at the same time as we welcomed new waves of immigrants to the country, with all the richness and diversity they rightly bring with them? How much more of a cohesive society at ease with itself might we now be?

If we continue in our current state of zero-sum open warfare between the open borders brigade and the anti-immigration faction then we will fight to a stalemate and the worst of both worlds – a continuation of the status quo, with all its attendant corrosive effects on our political debate and societal cohesion.

But alternatively, if both sides were just to give a little – the progressive left to call a time out on their ceaseless efforts to undermine the nation state and denigrate patriotism, and the populist right to accept that it is neither feasible nor desirable to return to pre-2000s levels of net migration – then we could try to work toward a compromise. We could achieve what is perhaps the optimal scenario – a cohort of new arrivals into Britain who come with the intention of either becoming British citizens themselves or at least partaking meaningfully in our culture and civic life, rather than defiantly remaining, say, Spaniards in London or Pakistanis in Rotherham.

This might not be an insurmountable task, if only we had political leaders who actually dared to lead rather than pander and follow the most extreme elements of their activist bases. Absent such leadership, however, it is nothing more than wishful thinking.

 

McHi McAllen High School game - national anthem - Mariachi Oro

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RBG, Senate Judicial Confirmations And The ‘Good Old Days’

Ruth Bader Ginsburg at GW Law School

 

A bipartisan Senate confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees was only possible when politicians were idealistic enough to view the court as being above politics, and trust it to remain so

In her appearance yesterday at GW Law School, Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked to reflect on what had changed since she was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and her thoughts on the new landscape as Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh awaits confirmation by the Senate.

In her response, Justice Ginsburg lamented the sharp decline (if not extinction) of bipartisan cooperation and mutual trust between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives. Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96-3 when she was up for nomination, a tally that would be unheard of today, when political polarization often makes us think of each other more as enemies than fellow citizens. Still, Ginsburg expressed a desire to roll the clock back.

From the National Review:

In a Wednesday appearance at George Washington University Law School, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lamented the degree to which partisanship has infected the judicial-confirmation process, calling Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanuagh’s recent confirmation hearing a “highly partisan show.”

Contrasting Kavanaugh’s hearings last week with her own, which occurred in 1993, Ginsburg called the partisan grandstanding of Democrats “wrong” and expressed a desire to return a spirit of collegiality to the process.

“The way it was was right. The way it is is wrong,” Ginsburg said to applause. “The atmosphere in ’93 was truly bipartisan. The vote on my confirmation was 96 to three, even though I had spent about ten years of my life litigating cases under the auspices of the ACLU and I was on the ACLU board. . . . That’s the way it should be, instead of what it’s become, which is a highly partisan show. The Republicans move in lock step, so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was.”

This, together with virtually everything else the Justice said, was met with wild and fervent applause in the hall, and enthusiastic agreement online after the fact. And Ginsburg is certainly right – the American system of government can not work as it should when the Supreme Court becomes simply an extension of Congress, where partisan justices nakedly vote to advance a party political agenda and the Constitution is treated as little more than rhetorical clothing for their decisions.

Justice Ginsburg’s confirmation process reminds us that even as recently as 1993, the Senate was able to do the right thing – to confirm a qualified candidate for a position on the highest court in the land on the basis of her known competence and record, even though at least half of the senators voting to confirm her probably disagreed both with her politics and her judicial philosophy. Back then, senators still understood and acknowledged that the test for a Supreme Court candidate was not whether one agreed with their judicial philosophy, but rather whether or not the nominee’s philosophy and approach to the law was derived and applied in good faith. In Ginsburg’s case there was no doubt, and so many Republicans lined up to vote for a card-carrying ACLU member and avowed friend of abortion rights.

Fast-forward to 2018, and how different things look. Desperate to prevent outgoing President Barack Obama from making a third appointment to the court, Republicans created out of thin air a new pseudo-rule that presidents in their last year of office must refrain from making appointments and wait instead for their successor to take office. Thus, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented the senate from even considering the nomination of Obama nominee Merrick Garland, an eminently qualified candidate, allowing the newly-elected President Trump to nominate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the “stolen” seat.

Now, with President Trump in the White House in the prime (or perhaps nadir) of his first term, many Democrats are inventing another pseudo-rule that presidents whose political campaigns are under investigation for potential corruption and coordination with a foreign power  should not be allowed to fill an opening on the court.

Of course, even if both sides did not have their respective arguments to fall back on, most senators within each party would not vote to confirm a candidate seen as sympathetic to the other side, no matter how well qualified. The entire process has become a performance spectacle, where senators with absolutely no intention of voting for a nominee under any circumstance still wail and rend their garments about not being provided with the documents they have already admitted will not influence their negative decision.

Jonathan Turley (full disclosure: my current Torts professor) explains at greater length the problem with theatrics superseding substance:

[T]he Kavanaugh hearings left a troubling and damaging precedent for a process that already lacked substantive content. I have been a critic for years of the modern confirmation hearing, which is largely about senators rather than nominees. The hearings drained what little substance remained in the process. The unilateral denial of documents and theatrics of the opposition left the hearings as little more than a stunt by both parties.

In the absence of sincerity, everybody is now playing a role rather than speaking honestly about their motivations. Judicial nominees play a role (usually that of someone who has taken a vow of silence), senators play a role (amateur dramatics wannabes, mostly) and we all play a role, pretending that we want bipartisanship when really we would be quite happy to stuff the court full of likeminded souls and call it a day.

 

All of which led me to question why everybody applauded Justice Ginsburg as she called for a return to the bipartisanship of the early 1990s. The justice is absolutely right, but many of those applauding – particularly on the Left – seem not to have thought through the consequences of what it is that they are endorsing.

A return to 1990s, Ginsburg-era bipartisanship would see Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh confirmed by a margin nearly as large as the Notorious RBG’s 96-3 blowout. Why? Because while probably far from the greatest American legal mind alive today, Kavanaugh is eminently qualified for the role. His former classmates and professors at Yale Law School say so. His former law clerks say so. The American Bar Association, which is invited to rate all nominees and testify as to their suitability, rates him as highly qualified.

The only issue would therefore be his conservative politics, past service with the Bush administration and the seeming antipathy of his judicial philosophy to the reasoning behind Roe v. Wade. And by that standard, Democrats would have to swallow their bile and give the man their support. That’s what Republicans did when they voted for Justice Ginsburg, and unless their crocodile tears for the age of bipartisanship are a complete lie, then that’s what Democrats would have to do, in the spirit of consistency, for Brett Kavanaugh.

Some might argue that this is different, that Kavanaugh would be filling the “swing seat” recently occupied by retired Justice Anthony Kennedy and thus tilting the court in a more conservative direction, while Justice Ginsburg’s 1993 appointment merely preserved the pre-existing balance. But there was no asterisk by the word “bipartisan” when Justice Ginsburg uttered it and everybody cheered. She did not say “bipartisanship, except when the ideological alignment of the court is in question, at which point everyone should vote in as nakedly partisan a way as they see fit”. She called for a return to senate bipartisanship, period.

And true bipartisanship with regard to the Supreme Court means accepting the somewhat random nature of the court’s changing shape – that the ideological or philosophical leaning of the court will fluctuate depending on when individual justices retire and which party happens to hold the White House when they do so. True bipartisanship would entail Democrats voting for Brett Kavanaugh and more Republicans voting for the likes of Sonia Sotomayor (68-31) or Elena Kagan (63-37) without complaint, based on their status as qualified, competent candidates.

(We should avoid becoming misty-eyed about the past, though – Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court only after highly contentious hearings and a wafer-thin, decidedly partisan 52-48 vote).

If giving this bipartisan benefit of the doubt now seems impossible – if the idea of vesting many of our fundamental rights and privileges on nine unelected judges who may sometimes lean conservative – then rather than seeking to pack the court with our own ideological soulmates and protesting when the other side does the same, we should return to a system where the rights we consider to be fundamental are put out of daily political reach and enshrined in the Constitution, rather than being fortuitously discovered by “activist” courts or cruelly struck down by “reactionary” ones.

Democrats no doubt argue that in the case of this nomination, the stakes are so high as to justify any lengths of procedural opposition. But Republicans say the same thing when Democrats are in power. That’s what happens when we see each other not as fellow citizens with legitimate political differences but dangerous enemies who pose emotional and physical harm to one another.

I have only been a law student for a month, but even now I can see that the Common Law (and case law in particular), while an remarkable, complex and ever-changing creation, is the very last place you want to vest your most fundamental freedoms. Why? Because fundamental rights which only exist as judicial opinions are at daily risk of being reshaped, expanded, curtailed or reinterpreted by courts across the land. That’s why the right to free speech is properly enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, a safe place where it is much harder to “get at it”, rather than existing as a few throwaway lines in Smith v. Smith, where today’s prevailing attitudes could alter its meaning in about the same subtle way that an avalanche reconfigures a mountain slope.

If we were being honest and sincere when we applauded Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s call for a return to bipartisanship last night, we need to hold ourselves to that higher standard at all times, not simply mourn its loss when the other side holds the reins of power. We need to do the harder work of engaging with our fellow citizens and convincing them that our ideas are superior, building enough of a national consensus that we can prevail with legislative (and where necessary, Constitutional) solutions rather than seeking to take judicial shortcuts around public opinion or political impasse.

Justice Ginsburg talked about “wav[ing] a magic wand” to return to the days of bipartisanship and a less politicized judiciary. But there is no magic solution, no one action that can be taken. The legitimacy of our legal system depends on the behavior of those who run it, supervise it and avail themselves of it. We could return to the days of Justice Ginsburg’s confirmation any time we want, but with a vacant seat on the court today, that would mean Democrats paying a price that they are unwilling to pay. And, to be fair, why should they be expected to pay that political price when the Republicans have proven to be such untrustworthy partners?

So we either take the leap of trust together, or things continue on as they are, becoming progressively worse as every judicial nomination and every Supreme Court decision becomes an existential battle. I fear that despite these rare, commendable calls for bipartisanship, we all know which way we are headed.

 

UPDATE – 14 September

In a commendable display of legal objectivity, prominent lawyer Lisa Blatt – who refers to herself as a “liberal feminist” – writes for Politico Magazine, urging Democrats to vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh despite their ideological disagreement with him.

Money quote:

I do not have a single litmus test for a nominee. My standard is whether the nominee is unquestionably well-qualified, brilliant, has integrity and is within the mainstream of legal thought. Kavanaugh easily meets those criteria. I have no insight into his views on Roe v. Wade—something extremely important to me as a liberal, female Democrat and mother of a teenage girl. But whatever he decides on Roe, I know it will be because he believes the Constitution requires that result.

It’s easy to forget that the 41 Republican senators who voted to confirm Ginsburg knew she was a solid vote in favor of Roe, but nonetheless voted for her because of her overwhelming qualifications. Just as a Democratic nominee with similar credentials and mainstream legal views deserves to be confirmed, so too does Kavanaugh—not because he will come out the way I want in each case or even most cases, but because he will do the job with dignity, intelligence, empathy and integrity.

If we had more people who think like Lisa Blatt serving in the US senate – or indeed within the judiciary – then we might not be languishing in the bitter, distrustful, polarized stalemate in which we find ourselves.

 

UPDATE 2 – 14 September

Trust the extremists over at Above the Law to take an entirely contrary view.

Notorious RBG - Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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MSNBC Goes To Flint, Learns Nothing

Flint Michigan - Chris Hayes - Michael Moore

 

The Establishment Left’s strangely non-diminishing sense of entitlement was on full display in Flint, Michigan

Today, Chris Hayes of MSNBC broadcast a special live town hall from Flint, Michigan, the place made famous by the poisoning of its water supply and the near-criminal incompetence of some of the people responsible for the public’s safety. Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore has also made the Flint story a personal cause of his, and today both he and Chris Hayes were together, live before a local audience, to talk about national politics viewed through the prism of this beleaguered town.

At one point in the panel discussion, Hayes introduced a number of local people who were non-voters; people who either did not vote at all in the 2016 general election or who voted for down-ballot candidates but refused to cast a vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president.

Almost to a person, these non-voters talked about the fact that despite having been Obama voters in 2008 and 2012, they could not bring themselves to vote in 2016 when the Democrats offered no “inspiring” candidate. One got the sense that many of them may have gladly voted for Bernie Sanders, had the Clinton and Democratic Party machines not unfairly muscled the Vermont senator out of the race, though this was not explicitly stated by anyone during the segment.

For the life of him, Chris Hayes simply could not understand this position. It did not compute. At one point, he told one of the non-voting interviewees that MSNBC viewers were likely “throwing things at their televisions” in reaction to what he was saying. Hayes interrogated each guest as to how they could possibly have abstained from voting for Hillary Clinton when a Republican governor had presided over the poisoning of their town’s water supply. He implied that their desire for an “inspirational” presidential candidate was childish and irrational, and that the obvious choice would have been to swallow any misgivings and vote for the Democratic Party presidential nominee.

This exchange highlighted as clearly as anything else the divide within the American Left – the establishment, coastal Left and the once solid-Democrat heartland left-behinds, if you will. The likes of Chris Hayes (and that mainstream brand of left-wing thinking for which he is a mouthpiece) simply cannot understand why a rational voter would spurn the boring, uninspiring technocrat put forward by the Democrats when the consequence of not voting was the election of Donald Trump. Despite having heard testimony from many people about the long-standing issues and decline facing the town – issues which ate away at the community throughout President Obama’s two terms – Hayes was seemingly unable to understand that another continuity technocrat offering more of the same was the last thing that this community wanted or needed.

Michael Moore cut to the heart of the issue:

Why did people stay home knowing that the result was going to be possibly Donald J. Trump? That’s some serious anger at what the system has done to fail this city.

 

Like most people, I have my issues with Michael Moore. But credit where it is due – Moore was warning about the dangerous complacency of the Democrats and the visceral anger against the status quo in many communities at a time when establishment leftists were rolling out the grand coronation of Hillary Clinton, oblivious of (or unconcerned by) her utter lack of popularity among people who were sufficiently left-wing and non-racist to cast their prior votes for Barack Obama.

Nobody of any significance on the mainstream Left heeded Michael Moore’s warning to take the Donald Trump threat seriously before the election, and the past two years have been their reward. And even now, in the middle of a pilgrimage to a part of middle America which shrugged its shoulders and abandoned the Democratic Party in 2016, still the chief attitude is one of incredulity that people could have been so stupid / naive / selfish / childish / utopian (delete as applicable) as to demand a Democratic candidate in possession of a clear set of guiding principles and an understanding that globalization has been eating away at towns like Flint as surely as is their contaminated water.

Technocracy is not always a bad thing – at a time when regulations and systems of government are infinitely more complex through necessity, experts are needed to administer the system and keep the machinery of state running effectively. However, technocracy is not well-suited to navigating through periods of disruptive change or crisis. What works well when the economy is in steady-state and there are no significant changes afoot in society or industry does not work well when the economy is in difficulty or when huge realignments are taking place on the national and international level.

Conservative scaremongering about her supposed extreme socialism aside, Hillary Clinton was the quintessential technocratic candidate at a time when the people of Michigan and elsewhere needed a candidate who recognized that for them, the status quo was not something to celebrate and build upon; that the structural changes which had delivered nothing but good things for the likes of Chris Hayes and many of us “coastal elites” were not necessarily anything to celebrate in places like Flint.

More than one of the people interviewed on MSNBC who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election have themselves run for public office in the months since. There is no crisis of political engagement or motivation here. There was only a crisis of ignorance and arrogance among a party hierarchy which believed it could impose their preferred candidate and have people like the inhabitants of Flint, Michigan swallow their distaste and offer up their vote.

And after spending a day in Flint in the company of Michael Moore, I am not sure that Chris Hayes, his core audience or anyone within the Democratic Party leadership are any closer to grasping this essential fact.

 

Michael Moore - Chris Hayes - Flint

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Dispatch From Washington

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Nothing much to report here

I’m writing this from the desk in my study, where right now just four blocks away in the White House a president whose daily conduct raises legitimate questions about his fitness to govern is raging in helpless impotence. Why? Because some faux-patriot within his dumpster fire of an administration decided to hint to the New York Times about just how bad things have become – supposedly out of civic duty – yet lacked the courage to give the accusation real weight by putting his name to the anonymous OpEd. All this is just today’s drama; no doubt tomorrow there will be some new unprecedented scandal to bump this story down the news agenda.

These are interesting times to be living in Washington, D.C. I must admit that I have not yet gotten over the novelty of watching the bottom of the Washington monument appear in the background of a live TV broadcast, then looking out the window of my study and seeing the top of the same structure mere minutes away. In British terms, our new home is within close earshot of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. This means a constant stream of noisy motorcades carrying second-tier officials down the next road, and regular glimpses of Marine One as it ferries President Trump back and forth as he escapes the city to play golf.

It is strange to be living in the modern equivalent of Ancient Rome at the height of its power (or perhaps shortly into its terminal decline), the seat of government of what is effectively the most powerful empire in the world. Many of the buildings here are built in conscious acknowledgement of the torch that was passed from Ancient Greece to Rome, and so on through Britain to the New World. I find myself walking amid the classical architecture in this planned city and wondering what future historians or tourists will say as they pick over the ruins or buried past of this metropolis, many centuries in the future.

Highlights have to include the Lincoln Memorial. Abraham Lincoln has been a particular interest and inspiration of mine since I was a teenager, and since then I have devoured enough books on the 16th American president to comfortably fill a bookshelf. Standing inside that immense marble memorial and reading the inscription above Lincoln’s statue – “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever” – is a moving experience. Even when full of screaming children and selfie-happy tourists, there is a sense of power and dignity in that place. While there, it is also hard not to dwell on just how far we have fallen from that ideal in recent years.

Law school has started well. You must forgive me for the lack of blog posts over the last month; road-tripping half way across the country from Texas, establishing a new home in DC and going through law school induction took up all of my spare time, and even now I have thirty pages of Criminal Law reading which I should be tending to this evening. However, for my own mental health and diversion if nothing else, the blog will continue, albeit maybe somewhat more sporadically than before.

Being back on a university campus as someone with a record of speaking out forcefully against the excesses of identity politics has been interesting – I can confirm that all of the warnings I have been giving over the past few years were prescient and on point. There have been no stand-out incidents yet which lead me to believe that my institution is faring worse than any other, but it only takes one supposedly “controversial” speaker invite or student society activity to create havoc and endless protests, so we shall see how things develop. Halloween will likely be a good indicator, given recent controversies elsewhere and the growing conviction that “cultural appropriation” is a harmful, negative phenomenon. Today was the law student organization fair, and reflecting my semipartisan nature I added my email to the law school chapters of both the ACLU and the Federalist Society. I agree with neither organization entirely, but look forward to some interesting debates.

Adjusting to student life has been challenging, but frequently fun. Though I am a graduate student I am still on the generic university email list, so have been receiving helpful daily missives about how to do my laundry and accomplish other tasks now commonly known as “adulting”. On the flip side, there is nothing like living in close proximity to a bunch of eighteen-year-old undergraduates to make you feel your age, and there has been more than one occasion when I look from all these young whippersnappers with their lives ahead of them to myself and wonder momentarily what it is that I am doing, making this mid-life career course correction. Fortunately these moments never last long – I came here with a purpose, albeit a somewhat inchoate one, and many of my classmates have impressive and inspiring backgrounds.

Intellectually I feel like I am holding my own thus far, though the annoying habit of American law schools whereby the first real feedback only arrives in the form of all-or-nothing final exams in December means that I won’t really know precisely where I stand for awhile. Mostly it is just a relief to have made a start, after having done so much preparation and read so many conflicting pieces of advice about how to succeed at law school. There is a satisfaction when the reasoning behind some obscure rule or legal concept finally clicks into place – it is good to be learning again. Growing, hopefully.

We have some pretty eminent academics who teach here, people whom I knew and respected before the thought of going to law school even occurred to me. One Supreme Court justice teaches a constitutional law seminar here, and another is coming to speak next week. Mostly I am awed by a sense of vast new possibility – the law is not really one career, it is a gateway to a myriad of different sub-vocations, almost as different from one another as it is possible to be. And while I can pre-emptively rule out certain options – it is pretty safe to say that I will not be becoming a small-town lawyer or one of those personal injury kings with their face on a billboard above the freeway – the possibilities remain varied.

Anyhow, this will likely be the longest thing that I write for some time outside of law school. Necessity dictates that I will at last have to do what I have often threatened to do on this blog but never quite succeeded at, namely trying to adopt a “little and often” approach to commenting and reacting on stories of interest. At this point you all know what I think about the big issues anyway, and I can always link back to those longer-form pieces when necessary. Time constraints now mean that if I want to say anything at all – and keep the blog ticking over – I had better find a way to condense my opinions into a paragraph or two. It will be good practice; Lord knows that much of what I have written the past six years would have benefitted enormously from an editor’s red pen anyway, if not the shredder.

Finally, while it may be somewhat cheeky to mention this when I haven’t published anything new for a month, I am now technically an impoverished student once again and without a regular income, so any donations to the instant ramen noodle fund are most gratefully received.

 

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The Real Resistance

Protest Sign - Dump Trump Kill Brexit

The good aspects of this populist insurgency need saving from horrified (and increasingly organized) antidemocratic elites – but also from cynical and incompetent populist leaders who are squandering our last best hope of democratic renewal

I have struggled of late to bring myself to write much about politics. The temptation to offer the odd hot take on Twitter can never be fully avoided, but while I usually find myself with enough time to write only one of every five articles which pop into my mind, these past months I have struggled to generate more than a couple of vaguely original ideas or pieces of commentary in the space of a month.

The reason, I have come to realise, is that for all the furious words being written and opinions expressed, nothing much seems to be changing. Despite a political discourse which has rarely been more shrill, with unbridled hysteria on both sides and nearly every aspect of life being sucked into the black, inescapable vortex that is our ongoing culture war, neither side is making definitive progress. As at the Western Front in 1915, both sides have dug into hardened positions in anticipation of a long, drawn-out stalemate. Both sides double down on their dogma and rhetoric, both sides continue to defend or even embrace the worst elements of their own cause because the enemy does likewise with his; both dehumanise one another and suggest that what was once seen as sincere and legitimate political difference is now irrefutable evidence of moral turpitude.

Both sides feel that they are losing an existential fight; both feel under attack and in retreat. On a superficial level, the progressive left (and here I use the term to describe those who broadly hold socially liberal, secular, intersectional, economically redistributive and de facto open borders political views) have more cause to be alarmed – after all, they have to deal with what they see as the “twin disasters” of Donald Trump in the United States and Brexit in the United Kingdom, as well as rising populism throughout Europe and much of the world.

However, as someone who fits into neither the populist or elitist category but perhaps has greater sympathy for the former, I see only danger, risk and oncoming ruin for the populists. My gnawing fear is that an increasingly inept Trump administration which fails to deliver on even his more decent campaign promises and a botched Brexit leading to economic damage and future ongoing “vassal state” status within an unreformed European regulatory ecosystem may come to represent the dismal high water mark of populist achievement. Such has been establishment shock at the political success of the populists, such is their determination to wrest back control and such is their domination of the main levers of influence and power (media, business and culture) that it is those gathered under the banner of unaccountable supranational and technocratic government who now march with a spring in their step, and those who believe in the nation state, democracy and self-determination who find ourselves endlessly on the defensive.

All of which might not be so bad if the temporarily-displaced elites had learned anything meaningful from their electoral rebukes, engaged in some introspection and returned chastened and humble, with a newfound willingness to consult and be guided by the people they lead rather than continuing to implement their own highly Utopian vision of the future with no consultation or consent. But of course there has been no such introspection, and there is precious little humility to be found among those who lost control of the political narrative in 2016.

President Trump is bad, but the people whose self-serving incompetence in government gave us President Trump in the first place are still very much present, unrepentant and with their credibility intact. Brexit negotiations may be lurching toward disaster, but the people whose uninspired leadership and scant regard for democracy helped give us Brexit in the first place soldier on with reputations intact, peddling the myth that everything was fine before the EU referendum came along, and that Brexit can be thwarted with no adverse societal consequences.

If the people who believe they are morally and intellectually better than Donald Trump voters and Brexiteers want to win, they need to do more than stand laughing or indignant at the sidelines as the worst elements of these camps drive their populist train off the rails; they need to actively come up with something more attractive; a unifying, compelling national vision which amounts to something more than just rolling the clock back to the day before the EU referendum or US presidential election. But instead we see little other than smug self-satisfaction and blind hatred of (or contempt for) those who took the populist side, born of the delusion that populist incompetence in government somehow discredits their basic cause, and that political elites can therefore press on with their own discredited and failed agenda without incurring any negative consequences.

But the populists are by no means innocent. It is very easy to strike a trendy rhetorical pose against unloved ideas and institutions, but much harder to grapple with cold hard reality and propose policy changes which respect democratic input while also standing a chance of lasting success in the real world. One of the hardest things in recent months has been witnessing thinkers, writers and organisations I once broadly respected choosing the path of least resistance, playing to their respective galleries and choosing outraged purity over sullying themselves with necessary compromise.

Thus we see this year’s Orwell Prize for journalism awarded to someone who sniffs out and extrapolates wrongdoing in the EU referendum Leave campaign to the delight of her establishment audience, but shows zero curiosity about malfeasance in the Remain campaign (or the relative impact of each). And thus we are subjected to otherwise-compelling contrarians like Brendan O’Neill of Spiked magazine actively harming the cause of Brexit by ignoring all nuance when it comes to the trade and regulatory relationships under discussion, turning the most momentous issue to face Britain in decades into just another facet of the culture war.

It must be easy to write when possessed of great certainty that one is indisputably morally superior and on the “right” side of history (or at least that one’s actions and side will be recorded as being on the right side of history). I often envy the leftist, identity politics-soaked social justice warriors and their enablers within the political class for possessing such fervor. It is much harder to write day after day when one fears that one’s side will ultimately lose, and that one will be remembered as a cranky obstacle to glorious progress at best, and as something akin to a Jim Crow segregationist at worst. Every tweet or blog post them becomes not a small brick in the foundation of some glorious building for which one can claim partial credit, but rather just another nail in the coffin of one’s own future reputation and ultimate legacy.

And right now, I think the chances of defeat for conservatives, traditionalists, democrats and nation state defenders are very high indeed. In Britain, the UK government’s mishandling of Brexit and the atrophy of our self-governance capability may yet vindicate every hysterical warning about the folly of leaving the European Union’s unwanted, antidemocratic political-union-by-stealth. In the United States, President Donald Trump’s impulsive, often proudly ignorant or counterproductive policies and bigoted rhetoric tarnish the valid causes he supports (like greater immigration control) by mere association, rendering them toxic, while the reputations of some truly awful people are laundered thanks to their cynically ostentatious opposition to Trump.

In all of this, the media is firmly planted on one side, unable to report objectively on issues of concern to so-called populists by virtue of having so few reporters and editors drawn from the relevant social and demographic circles. And virtually every element of our culture, from classical and pop music to television and even corporate culture, are marching to the beat of divisive, intersectional identity politics with its avant garde gender theory and disdain for those institutions which are the bedrock of a stable society. In such circumstances it is small comfort to be right when one’s own side stands on the verge of total defeat.

And yet it is not in my nature to bow down before these forces and declare “I, for one, welcome our new antidemocratic, technocratic, authoritarian and coercive SJW overlords”. I don’t welcome them. Even if things go as badly as in my most pessimistic moments I fear they may, I believe it is still important to stand up and argue in the public square, register dissent, bear witness to what is happening and force the progressive side to defend their ideas on logic and merit rather than wallow endlessly in their feelings.

Conservatives and true liberal democrats, people who believe in government of the people and the right to freedom of speech and thought, should be under no illusion at this time – we are losing the decisive battle. A few standout conservative podcasts, YouTubers and bloggers are no match when the other side has a vice-like grip on the entire culture and is snarlingly intolerant of the slightest dissent to the extent that they willingly throw their own leaders and figureheads under the bus for thoughtcrime infractions.

I hope that this defeat can be reversed, but doing so will require millions of people who currently sit at home quietly shaking their heads at what our political elites and culture-makers are doing but otherwise raising no public objection to stand up and be counted – and quite likely incur social or economic cost – which they have not been called upon to do before.

I have just started reading “The Benedict Option“, a book by an American Christian conservative blogger I much admire, Rod Dreher. The book is a warning to Christians (particularly aimed at but by no means limited to traditionalists) that the demands of their faith and those of our culture and “polite society” are drifting decisively and definitively apart, and that the time may soon come when faithful Christians are forced to choose between practising their faith according to their conscience and maintaining their current social and economic standing.

I see a similar fork in the road coming the way of all conservatives and moderates, religious or not – indeed, anyone who is not a staunchly progressive social justice warrior or otherwise happy to accede to that particular worldview. Already we see businesses and charities seeking to adopt progressive positions on social issues as corporate policy, mandating speech and behavior which would force employees and volunteers to violate their own beliefs or else face disciplinary action. Already we see censorious activist mobs seek to dictate where private companies advertise or sell their product. And already, dissenters are paying the price when they stand up and refuse to go along with these coercive demands.

In a few weeks I shall matriculate at law school in Washington, D.C., where I will spend the next three years earning my law degree. Being on an American university campus, it would be infinitely easier – professionally, socially and otherwise – for me to simply delete my blog and Twitter account, and pretend to anyone who asks (and it will certainly come up; already I have had to give notice of my “preferred pronouns”) that I hold the standard suite of progressive leftist political views which are almost de rigeur for students and within the legal profession. But that would be a lie, and I will not do so. Will professing my religious and political beliefs cost me potential friendships and career opportunities? I would be naive if I thought otherwise. Will I find my own free speech threatened or stifled at times? Quite possibly – I have spent three years documenting on this blog what happens to free speech advocates and identity politics heretics on American college campuses, and it is often not pretty. But so be it.

And so even if it brings less joy than it once did, I will keep writing, speaking and standing up for both the expression and validity of traditional, time-proven values and honest political opinions which were considered perfectly mainstream just a few years ago, but which are even now being recast as fundamentally hateful and ignorant by zealots who would reshape the world with their uniquely totalitarian conception of tolerance.

We all have a duty to take a stand, and this is what I shall do, from my own very marginal and unscrutinized place in history. I encourage others to undertake a brief personal inventory and consider whether there is more that you could do at this juncture with your own time, talents and resources. Because right now, we are losing the war. Worse still, some of the gravest long-term threats we face come from the supposed leaders of our cause, and too few of us are willing to admit this painful truth.

Help is not going to come from outside; we go to battle with who and what we have at hand. Unlike the people who melt down over a presidential tweet or democratic referendum, or who cynically downplay their own immense power and privilege to cast themselves as latter-day victims, it is we who are engaged in the real resistance of our time.

The Resistance - Clenched fist protest - US flag

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