The O.J. Simpson Effect And Donald Trump’s Die-Hard Supporters

O.J. Simpson (C) and members of his defense team s

Examining the phenomenon of voters who will never reconsider their support for President Trump no matter what he does in office, Andrew Sullivan raises a valid comparison but misses the broader point

I broadly agree with Andrew Sullivan’s assessment of Donald Trump’s presidency thus far (i.e. that it has been a disaster characterised by one self-inflicted crisis after another), while Sullivan’s account of the last week also paints an accurate portrait of a man completely out of his depth:

The White House is barely functioning; legislation is completely stalled; next week’s trip abroad will have everyone watching from behind a couch; the FBI and CIA are reeling; there’s almost no one in the State Department; no presidential due diligence is applied to military actions; the president only reads memos when his name is mentioned in them; a not-too-smart and apparently mute 35-year-old son-in-law is supposed to solve every problem in the country and world; and the press secretary is hiding in the bushes. No one has any confidence that the president couldn’t throw us into a war or a constitutional crisis at a moment’s notice. Nothing this scary has happened in my lifetime.

Sullivan then goes on to ponder why it is that Trump’s devoted base shows no real sign of re-evaluating or revoking their support for the president, and comes up with an interesting analogy:

In some ways, I think the best analogy for Trump is O.J. Simpson. Even if we all know he’s guilty as sin, even if his own supporters see the flimflam behind the claptrap, even if the evidence is staring us in the face, he’ll never lose his core support. For 35 percent of the country, he’ll never be guiltier than the system he’s challenging. The best we can hope for is a Democratic House in 2018 and a grinding, grueling attempt to minimize the already enormous harm Trump has done in the meantime. We can pursue that outcome while hoping our cold civil war doesn’t get hot — because this is beginning to feel like the 1850s.

I was too young (and living in the wrong country) to really understand what was happening or the critical context during the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995, but I have just finished re-watching the excellent FX television dramatisation “The People vs O.J. Simpson” and the longform ESPN documentary “O.J.: Made in America” – and it seems clear to me that Andrew Sullivan is missing the key lesson from the OJ trial as it pertains to public policy.

Sullivan picks up on the obvious point – that O.J. Simpson was clearly guilty, and that even many of those who proclaimed his innocence actually knew, in their heart of hearts, that the man committed the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. So yes, if one wants to keep things superficial then we can join Sullivan in marvelling at the ability of foolish Trump supporters to similarly cast facts and reason aside, motivated by base emotion.

But the real lesson to be learned from the O.J. Simpson case is that no justice system (and by extension, no democracy) can function as it should when there is so much unresolved injustice – real or perceived – within the same system. The OJ murder case took place in the wake of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots, which themselves took place after years of institutionalised racism within the Los Angeles Police Department. The decision to acquit O.J. Simpson was far more payback for countless previous cases of denied justice than a fair verdict based on the evidence presented at trial. Now, one can rail endlessly against the jury and their decision-making process, but it will do nothing to prevent similar unjust verdicts potentially being reached again in future.

This should be particularly worrying for all of us at the present time, with the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics in such ascendancy. With many on the political Left actively seeking to fracture society into competing special interest groups arranged into an intersectional hierarchy of victimhood – a phenomenon which has now escaped the university campus and is beginning to infect the corporate world and other institutions – there has perhaps never been a time when so many have had things so good yet felt so persecuted and oppressed despite their good fortune (just look at any college campus protest).

How will the justice system continue to function in the world of Social Justice, when advancing the interest of one’s own narrowly-defined identity group may increasingly trump the universal need for justice? When even science is forced to bend the knee to progressive gender theory (see Bill Nye the Science Guy’s promotion of Otherkin and forced orgies) what hope can there be for rationality in anything?

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative – or at least he still nominally “identifies” as a conservative. And one characteristic of conservatives is that we generally seek to engage with human beings and the world as they are, rather than as we would like them to be. Unlike the Utopian Left (who have repeatedly flirted with communism, furiously ignoring the fact that such a system inevitably results in tyrannical dictatorship), the Right tend to understand that government and economic policy must work with human nature, not against it. That’s why the Right embraces capitalism – because capitalism harnesses our natural desire for success and monetary reward (the profit motive), and feeds that desire into a system which – to the extent that it is allowed to do its job unimpeded – creates far more prosperity and material abundance for far more people than any other economic system known to man.

With a conservative’s acceptance of human nature, Sullivan should therefore understand that when any given group of people find themselves on the receiving end of perceived injustice for long enough, reason tends to go out the window to a certain degree and people become susceptible to more emotional rather than rational arguments. That’s largely why the O.J. Simpson jury voted to acquit, despite the overwhelming evidence indicating that he was guilty. That’s partly (but not exclusively) why African Americans vote Democrat in such overwhelming numbers, despite the fact that successive Democratic administrations and Congresses have delivered mixed results for them at best. And just to acknowledge that “my own side” are equally vulnerable to this aspect of human nature, it is also partly why a majority of Britons – those with less formal education and those lacking the skills required to prosper in today’s globalised economy – voted against the political elite in favour of Brexit.

You can rail against this human nature all you want – and Andrew Sullivan, having identified that the “O.J. Simpson Factor” is in play appears willing simply to do that – but if you actually want to achieve a different outcome then it is necessary to acknowledge this aspect of human nature and work with it, rather than against it. And in the case of Donald Trump, this will necessarily involve America’s elites actually having to to atone for their manifold failures, which are responsible for giving us President Trump in the first place.

Editor of The American Conservative, Robert Merry, sums it up perfectly:

When a man as uncouth and reckless as Trump becomes president by running against the nation’s elites, it’s a strong signal that the elites are the problem. We’re talking here about the elites of both parties. Think of those who gave the country Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee—a woman who sought to avoid accountability as secretary of state by employing a private email server, contrary to propriety and good sense; who attached herself to a vast nonprofit “good works” institution that actually was a corrupt political machine designed to get the Clintons back into the White House while making them rich; who ran for president, and almost won, without addressing the fundamental problems of the nation and while denigrating large numbers of frustrated and beleaguered Americans as “deplorables.” The unseemliness in all this was out in plain sight for everyone to see, and yet Democratic elites blithely went about the task of awarding her the nomination, even to the point of employing underhanded techniques to thwart an upstart challenger who was connecting more effectively with Democratic voters.

At least Republican elites resisted the emergence of Trump for as long as they could. Some even attacked him vociferously. But, unlike in the Democratic Party, the Republican candidate who most effectively captured the underlying sentiment of GOP voters ended up with the nomination. The Republican elites had to give way. Why? Because Republican voters fundamentally favor vulgar, ill-mannered, tawdry politicians? No, because the elite-generated society of America had become so bad in their view that they turned to the man who most clamorously rebelled against it.

These two paragraphs alone do not really do Merry’s piece justice, and I encourage people to read the whole thing, together with Rod Dreher’s follow-up piece.

There seems to exist within the American political and media elite a belief that it will be possible to force Donald Trump from office, either through impeachment, 25th Amendment remedies or coerced resignation, and then simply resume governing in the style to which they are accustomed. This is ludicrous. Donald Trump’s supporters will not take the thwarting of their democratic choice lying down. Trump may be all but guaranteed to fail these people, even if he serves a full two terms as president, but for the Washington elite to effectively engineer a coup against Trump for mere incompetence (smoking gun evidence of direct Russian collusion is another matter, of course) would be to set the social fabric of America, already smouldering, on fire.

In order to put an end to civil unrest and prevent more miscarriages of justice like the O.J. Simpson verdict, the LAPD had to admit to some of their past failings and go through a fairly tortured process to ensure that bad practices and individuals were weeded out of the force. The Christopher Commission (formed in 1991 after the Rodney King beating, but whose effects had not fully taken hold by the time of the OJ murders) was a significant part of this process.

But right now, much of the American elite and political establishment believe that no similar process of atonement and change is necessary. They believe that because Trump is so bad, so unprecedented, that they can agitate for his removal and pick up running the country right where they left off without undergoing any kind of positive reform. And frankly, that notion is absurd.

If one wishes to ensure that the American people never again elect as president somebody with the character, temperament and personal history as Donald Trump, then one must tackle some of the root causes of Trump’s victory. And no, I don’t mean Russian hacking, though Russian influence may have played some as-yet unspecified part.

Rather, the political elite must finally show a degree of empathy for those people whose boats have been submerged rather than lifted by the rising tide of globalisation, and those who hold political, social and religious views which differ from progressive orthodoxy and suddenly find themselves ostracised and labelled “deplorable” as a result. But more than merely paying lip service to these issues, the Washington elite must devise tangible and realistic policies to help these struggling voter constituencies, and demonstrate a plausible commitment to following through with those policies. Only then – if the political elite are willing to take this harsh medicine – can some of the poison finally be drained from American politics.

But Andrew Sullivan doesn’t quite seem to have gotten to this point, still stuck in the phase of scratching his head wondering how Trump’s voter base can possibly be so stupid. This phase is unhelpful, and becomes actively damaging the longer it persists. Nobody behaves entirely rationally all the time, and the phenomenon is by no means restricted to Trump supporters – after all, there is no rationality to be found in that stubborn clique who persist in believing that Hillary Clinton was a wonderful presidential candidate, or those who feel that the European Union is an unquestionably beneficient organisation. We all have our blind spots.

But expecting the country to spurn Trump and accept a return to leadership by the same elites who have presided over such American carnage (yes) in forgotten and unloved parts of the country is to demand that those who have the least make all the accommodations and do all the sacrificing while those who tend to have more are asked to do nothing, give nothing and change nothing.

Donald Trump’s presidency is lurching toward failure, but thus far the dethroned American political elite have done nothing to rehabilitate their standing in the public’s eye; nor have most of them even acknowledged the need to do so.

OJ Simpson had a rock-solid core of support inside the jury room and outside the courtroom for a very clear, identifiable reason which had to be acknowledged and grudgingly tackled by the police and criminal justice system before the racial divide in Los Angeles could even begin to heal. The American political elite are deluding themselves if they believe that they can return to power, normality and stability without going through a similar reckoning of their own.

 

OJ Simpson verdict acquittal - Daily News headline

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No, Donald Trump Was Not Swept To Victory By Resurgent White Nationalism

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No, “nationalism” is not the same as “white nationalism” – and the American Left urgently needs to find a way of opposing populist, protectionist ideas without resorting to the nuclear option of accusing their adherents of being secretly racist

A lot is being written at the moment about the future presence of Steve Bannon as a key adviser in Donald Trump’s administration, and whether this represents a calamity on the scale of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or more closely resembles the Chicxulub Asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

We are constantly being told by hysterical news outlets and media commentators that Steve Bannon is a “white nationalist“, which would obviously be utterly appalling and terrible if it were true. But considering that many of the news outlets making the allegation are the same ones screeching loudest about the impact of “fake news” on the election, they seem remarkably unwilling to come forth with evidence of racist, white nationalist sentiments previously expressed by Bannon, and equally unwilling to report the many times when Bannon has disavowed such ideas.

At this point, I have to make the customary disclaimer before those who do not frequently read this blog rip me to shreds. No, I did not and do not support Donald Trump. I dislike Trump’s character as well as many (though not all) of his policies, and believe that he is temperamentally unsuited to lead America, to say nothing of setting an appalling example for younger Americans. Just so that’s clear.

But outlets like the Guardian have accused Bannon outright of being a white nationalist, while prestige outlets like CNN have sought to tar him with association, going up to the line of suggesting that Bannon will advocate for white nationalists.

But nationalism and white nationalism are not one and the same thing. People – including many in the media who should know better – seem more than happy to bolt the two words together, either to aid with the cadence of their sentences or as a deliberate way of smearing nationalism, but the two worldviews are quite different. Nationalism can be boiled down as a “country-first” mindset, prioritising the citizens of a country (no matter their race, gender or other characteristics) over those from outside the country. Such a worldview manifests itself through clear policies on immigration, illegal immigration and foreign policy. Meanwhile, white nationalism seeks to favour typically white protestant people in America over other races, and is manifested through discriminatory and divisive policies of racial segregation and persecution.

Clearly, the two are quite different, and hearing the media talk airily about “white nationalism” as a means of slandering the alt-right or nationalism in general is starting to become extremely tiresome. If people want to attack Steve Bannon’s actual ideas, they should feel free to do so. But lobbing baseless accusations of overt racism with the term “white nationalism” is cheating, a lazy attempt to excommunicate Bannon from respectable political debate without having to do the intellectual heavy-lifting of taking on his ideas. Which is reprehensible.

Gene Callahan puts it well in The American Conservative:

Perhaps, given my limited knowledge of him, Bannon really is, secretly, a “white nationalist,” despite his repeated public rejection of white nationalism. Perhaps he really is, secretly, a supporter of the racist elements of the alt-right, despite the fact that he has said he has “zero tolerance” for those elements. Perhaps he really is, secretly, anti-Semitic, despite his strong support for Israel (a support too strong, by my standards), and despite the character testimony provided for him by many Jews. But the evidence that Bannon holds these hidden views, as far as I have been able to examine it, is pathetic, and entirely inadequate to support such serious charges. No competent prosecutor would ever bring a case against a suspect based on such flimsy evidence.

So is there an alternative hypothesis as to why Bannon has been attacked in this fashion? Well, let us imagine that there is a globalist elite that doesn’t really care at all about the American people. When the housing crisis hit in 2007, instead of bailing out low-income homeowners (many of whom were African-American and Hispanic) who had been duped into taking on adjustable-rate mortgages that only someone with a degree in finance could understand, they instead bailed out the bankers who had made such loans. Instead of worrying about the impact of massive immigration on the lives our our own most vulnerable citizens (many of whom are African-American and Hispanic), they celebrated such immigration, since, after all, it provided them with cheap gardeners and nannies and maids, and their factories with cheap assembly-line workers. Now imagine that they are threatened by the possible ascendancy into power of people who do actually believe that the American government should put the interest of American citizens, be they black or Hispanic or white or Asian, first in our government’s policies? I would imagine that this (entirely imagined on my part!) elite would embark on a relentless smear campaign against anyone expressing such “ethno-nationalist” concern for our own citizens on the part of our own government, so that they could continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.

Dear reader, please decide for yourself which hypothesis is most probable.

Read the whole thing if you have a few minutes to spare. This blog is certainly convinced that Callahan is right while the hysterical accusers are wrong. And note: one can still dislike Steve Bannon, his political views and what he stands for. There is just no plausible evidence that he is guilty of the accusations now being thrown his way, and therefore responsible media outlets should stop reproducing them without further evidence.

More importantly, we need to rescue the word “nationalism” from toxic association with white nationalism, which of course remains abhorrent. But nationalism itself is nothing more than a belief in the nation state. Nationalism (not white nationalism) helped to drive the vote for Brexit in the UK because people believed that the European Union is a poor guarantor of our rights and freedoms, more obsessed with building the secretive federal project than actually winning legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens or doing them any good. And so the British people decided that Britain should be run for the benefit of British citizens – all of us, no matter our colour or ethnicity – rather than as a colonial outpost of the Brussels project. And of course the leftist opposition to Brexit has been making shrill claims that the vote was motivated by racism ever since, even though no such evidence exists (and can only be hinted at if one makes the unsupportable claim that opposition to mass immigration is inherently racist).

We now see a similar tale unfold in America following Donald Trump’s election victory. Trump’s endlessly repeated intention to “Make America Great Again” and to put legal American citizens first may be simplistic and lacking in detail. It may even be counterproductive and morally wrong at times, especially if the threat to deport millions of otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants lured to America by a succession of permissive past regimes is actually carried out. But it is not inherently racist, unless one is willing to take the position that borders are inherently racist, and with them the very idea of the nation state. If this is actually the view of those who criticise Donald Trump and Steve Bannon the loudest, then they should have the courage to openly admit their intention to do away with borders and essentially abolish America. But of course they will not – their support would shrink rather dramatically were they to be so honest.

Steve Bannon call his worldview “economic nationalism”, as described by Peter Nicholas in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Bannon, in the interview, said he is animated by an economic populism that has the potential to create an enduring political realignment in the U.S.

“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist,” he told Mr. Wolff. “I’m an economic nationalist.

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—— over.” In a shot at Democrats’ close ties to Silicon Valley, he continued: “They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

Mr. Bannon offered a few hints about how Mr. Trump intends to govern. One focus will be a dramatic new public works building program that takes advantage of low interest rates – a project that Democrats have long favored.

“It’s everything related to jobs,” Mr. Bannon said. “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

One can disagree with parts (or all) of this message. This blog certainly disagrees with throwing fiscal conservatism out the window, frittering away federal money on dubious infrastructure projects and trying to resurrect dead industries in America where global comparative advantage has seen those industries move to other parts of the world.

But millions of Americans – enough to put Donald Trump in the White House – apparently did agree with this message of populist economic nationalism. And you can fisk it all you want, but you simply won’t find a shred of racism in it. That doesn’t mean that Donald Trump does not appeal to racists, or that he has not sometimes courted people with xenophobic beliefs – he has, and it is reprehensible. But still, this is different from Donald Trump’s policy platform and key advisers being openly racist – it is not, and they are not, bad though they are in other ways.

And at some point, the anti-Trump Left is going to have to stop resorting to the nuclear option of declaring people “racist” or “white nationalist” whenever they depart from the centre-left political consensus in America. Not only is it slanderous, it is making some people more fearful than they should be about the incoming administration.

As Scott Alexander put it so well recently:

Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.

Stop crying wolf. God forbid, one day we might have somebody who doesn’t give speeches about how diversity makes this country great and how he wants to fight for minorities, who doesn’t pose holding a rainbow flag and state that he proudly supports transgender people, who doesn’t outperform his party among minority voters, who wasn’t the leader of the Salute to Israel Parade, and who doesn’t offer minorities major cabinet positions. And we won’t be able to call that guy an “openly white supremacist Nazi homophobe”, because we already wasted all those terms this year.

Stop talking about dog whistles. The kabbalistic similarities between “dog-whistling” and “wolf-crying” are too obvious to ignore.

Stop writing articles breathlessly following everything the KKK says. Stop writing several times more articles about the KKK than there are actual Klansmen. Remember that thing where Trump started out as a random joke, and then the media covered him way more than any other candidate because he was so outrageous, and gave him what was essentially free advertising, and then he became President-elect of the United States? Is the lesson you learned from this experience that you need 24-7 coverage of the Ku Klux Klan?

[..] Stop turning everything into identity politics. The only thing the media has been able to do for the last five years is shout “IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS IDENTITY POLITICS!” at everything, and then when the right wing finally says “Um, i…den-tity….poli-tics?” you freak out and figure that the only way they could have possibly learned that phrase is from the KKK.

[..] Stop centering criticism of Donald Trump around this sort of stuff, and switch to literally anything else. Here is an incompetent thin-skinned ignorant boorish fraudulent omnihypocritical demagogue with no idea how to run a country, whose philosophy of governance basically boils down to “I’m going to win and not lose, details to be filled in later”, and all you can do is repeat, again and again, how he seems popular among weird Internet teenagers who post frog memes.

In the middle of an emotionally incontinent reality TV show host getting his hand on the nuclear button, your chief complaint is that in the middle of a few dozen denunciations of the KKK, he once delayed denouncing the KKK for an entire 24 hours before going back to denouncing it again. When a guy who says outright that he won’t respect elections unless he wins them does, somehow, win an election, the headlines are how he once said he didn’t like globalists which means he must be anti-Semitic.

Stop making people suicidal. Stop telling people they’re going to be killed. Stop terrifying children. Stop giving racism free advertising. Stop trying to convince Americans that all the other Americans hate them. Stop. Stop. Stop.

And to that we can add: Stop this tacit, corrosive insinuation that nationalism, wanting to put America and American citizens first, is somehow a negative trait in an American president. Stop trying to insinuate that those who want the American government to prioritise American workers are motivated by racism. Stop trying to sneakily undermine the nation state at every turn, or at least have the courage to stand up and proudly declare that you want to bring the era of the nation state to an end and effectively abolish America.

Stop stop stop.

But they will not stop. Making blanket accusations of racism and a “white nationalist” resurgence just feels so good when one is smarting from an unexpected electoral defeat. And it is far easier to cow people into silence by accusing them of racism than it is to deconstruct and oppose the incoming Trump administration’s protectionist, mercantilist ideas – let alone offer a more appealing alternative.

 

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RNC 2016: Republican National Convention – Night 2 Summary

Donald Trump - RNC - Republican National Convention - Cleveland - Nomination

Donald Trump is now the Republican Party’s official presidential nominee. And there is plenty of blame to go around.

The theme of Night 2 of the Republican Party convention was “Make America Work Again”. Not that you would have noticed any great difference from Night 1, titled “Make America Safe Again”.

The speeches were the same – long diatribes against Hillary Clinton’s criminality, endless unproductive hysteria about terrorism, creeping paranoia about Iran and constant assertions from speaker after speaker that President Obama’s America is a weak cuckold of a country, being fleeced left, right and centre by enemies and allies alike.

Chris Christie was the highlight of the evening. No matter how much the New Jersey governor may have debased himself since dropping out of the presidential race himself to become Donald Trump’s first and loudest establishment cheerleader, one cannot deny the effectiveness of his prosecutorial convention speech, calling out a litany of Hillary Clinton’s transgressions and inviting delegates to pronounce her guilty or not guilty of each charge (spoiler: the Republican delegates convicted Clinton on all counts).

But that was the prime time agenda, the face that the Republican Party actually wanted to show the country. Before the eyes of America fell on them, the GOP held its state roll-call and officially confirmed Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential nominee.

While some rejoice at the ascendance of a man touting such a populist, anti-establishment agenda – and I can identify with that impulse, in part – there is no denying that this is anything other than a profound defeat for American conservatism, an even lower low than that reached by the Bush-Cheney administration with their fiscal incontinence and calamitous decision to play at nation building in the Middle East.

For Donald Trump is anything but a conservative. He has no respect for the United States Constitution, or for individual liberty – precious things to which the old Republican Party would at least pay lip service. He is an authoritarian, ideologically rootless wannabe strongman who actively scorns policy and loudly insists that all of America’s problems can be solved by simply deciding to start “winning” again. Rather than engage his brain and think about education policy or immigration, or globalisation and free trade, Trump merely promises to hire “the best people” to get the job done.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Trump apparently offered to make Ohio governor John Kasich the “most powerful” vice president in America’s history:

One day this past May, Donald Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., reached out to a senior adviser to Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who left the presidential race just a few weeks before. As a candidate, Kasich declared in March that Trump was “really not prepared to be president of the United States,” and the following month he took the highly unusual step of coordinating with his rival Senator Ted Cruz in an effort to deny Trump the nomination. But according to the Kasich adviser (who spoke only under the condition that he not be named), Donald Jr. wanted to make him an offer nonetheless: Did he have any interest in being the most powerful vice president in history?

When Kasich’s adviser asked how this would be the case, Donald Jr. explained that his father’s vice president would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy.

Then what, the adviser asked, would Trump be in charge of?

“Making America great again” was the casual reply.

In other words, Donald Trump cares so little about actually governing that he was willing to outsource both domestic and foreign policy – that is, the entire US presidency, bar the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey – to his VP, someone who would deal with all of the boring stuff while Trump jetted around insulting foreign heads of state and acting as America’s global brand ambassador.

This – this – is the depth to which the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk.

But how? Daniel Larison’s painful evisceration of the rotten Republican Party says it best:

Like Rod Dreher, I see Trump’s success as proof that “the people who run [the GOP] and the institutions surrounding it failed.” They not only failed in their immediate task of preventing the nomination of a candidate that party leaders loathed, but failed repeatedly over at least the last fifteen years to govern well or even to represent the interests and concerns of most Republican voters.

Had the Bush administration not presided over multiple disasters, most of them of their own making, there would have been no opening or occasion for the repudiation of the party’s leaders that we have seen this year. Had the party served the interests of most of its voters instead of catering to the preferences of their donors and corporations, there would have been much less support for someone like Trump. Party leaders spent decades conning Republican voters with promises they knew they wouldn’t or couldn’t fulfill, and then were shocked when most of those voters turned against them. Trump is millions of Republican voters’ judgment against a party that failed them, and the fact that Trump is thoroughly unqualified for the office he seeks makes that judgment all the more damning.

While as Tucker Carlson pointed out back in January (h/t Dreher):

In the case of Trump, though, the GOP shares the blame, and not just because his fellow Republicans misdirected their ad buys or waited so long to criticize him. Trump is in part a reaction to the intellectual corruption of the Republican Party. That ought to be obvious to his critics, yet somehow it isn’t.

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents “an existential threat to conservatism.”

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

It turns out the GOP wasn’t simply out of touch with its voters; the party had no idea who its voters were or what they believed. For decades, party leaders and intellectuals imagined that most Republicans were broadly libertarian on economics and basically neoconservative on foreign policy. That may sound absurd now, after Trump has attacked nearly the entire Republican catechism (he savaged the Iraq War and hedge fund managers in the same debate) and been greatly rewarded for it, but that was the assumption the GOP brain trust operated under. They had no way of knowing otherwise. The only Republicans they talked to read the Wall Street Journal too.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

This blog agrees: Donald Trump is the fault of every single American conservative who has been in government since the turn of the millennium. It is hard to think of any other political party which so thoroughly alienated its own base through a deliberate campaign of ignoring their interests and showering them with contempt since… since centrist Labour was blown apart by the Jeremy Corbyn revolution in Britain.

The GOP’s corrupt leadership and willingness to con their own voters (particularly by exploiting wedge social issues to little effect while pursuing the same old failed economic policies) is the reason why the Republican base turned en masse against establishment conservatism, preferring even an authoritarian strongman like Trump to another moment of their sanctimonious, self-serving rule.

This is happening. There will be no white knight to swoop in and save the day, snatching the nomination away from Donald Trump. The Republican Party have already bestowed their blessing and their nomination. And everybody who shares the same stage in Cleveland – even the good ones, like Paul Ryan – are now tainted by association with him.

And when the Republican Party is picking through the wreckage on Wednesday 9th November, there will be plenty of blame to go around.

 

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American Conservatives For Brexit

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Daniel Larison joins the ranks:

Personally, I am hoping that the Remain campaign loses. The EU is famously lacking in democratic accountability. If the only way to hold its institutions and leaders in check is by the threat of leaving, at some point one or more of its members has to make good on the threat to leave. Whatever the short-term economic disruption of withdrawing from the EU may be (and I assume there will be some), the case for leaving has always been a political one concerned with the ability of the governed to hold their government to account for what it does. British voters can’t fully do that right now as part of the EU. The Remain campaign has had to resort to constant fear-mongering because it cannot make a positive case for staying a part of a dysfunctional transnational organization for which almost no one feels any real loyalty or affection, and so it has to conjure up nightmare scenarios to frighten voters to their side.

Whatever the result is on June 23, the U.S. should aim to maintain good relations with the U.K. If Britain votes to leave, the U.S. should do what it can within reason to help make the transition easier, and we should do so in recognition that our relationship with the U.K. is a long, well-established, and close one that long predates the EU.

As fair and eloquent a case as you will hear. Though Larison’s expectation of some short-term economic disruption needn’t come true – particularly if we follow the Flexcit model and leave to an interim EFTA/EEA position, maintaining our access to the single market – he is right that the real argument is a democratic one. The crux of the matter is that British voters have no practical way of holding EU leaders to account that is not at least twenty steps removed, relying on other people doing other things. That is no democracy – despite the desperate attempts of some EU apologists to claim that the various elections to EU institutions make the EU a beacon of good governance.

Larison is right too that the United States should and will maintain good relations with Britain after Brexit. For while regained British independence from the EU may thwart the State Department’s dream of having just one telephone number to dial when they want to call Europe, in every important respect – military power, willingness to commit military forces, foreign direct investment, defence cooperation, security cooperation, academic and trade cooperation, cultural affinity – Britain is America’s closest and strongest ally, and in ways which have absolutely nothing to do with our membership of the European Union.

Remainers and EU apologists love to paint Britain as a puny and insignificant nation whose clout only comes about through our membership of international bodies (most of which have existed for little more than half a century, rather undermining the claim), but the special relationship between Britain and the United States is a partnership between two consequential countries which have and will continue to shape world events well into the future – at least if both countries can finally rediscover their national confidence.

And in this fight to make Britain a consequential player in the world again rather than a timid vassal of euro-parochialism, it is good to have the support of Daniel Larison and The American Conservative.

 

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The Age Of Trump: As The Republican Party Goes To Its Armageddon

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To understand why the Republican Party are on course to lose their third consecutive presidential election, one must look much further back in time than the rise of Donald Trump

It gives no satisfaction to watch any storied political party hurl itself into oblivion – even the US Republican Party, which has frequently infuriated true conservatives with its sanctimonious and hypocritical habit of screeching about the dangers of encroaching socialism under Democratic administrations while themselves consistently cranking up the size and role of the state at every opportunity.

But while it now seems almost certain that the Republicans have thrown away any chance of reclaiming the White House, imploding in a foul-mouthed torrent of bluster and recrimination more worthy of Jerry Springer than a presidential primary campaign, it is worth looking back and asking how the GOP finds itself in this position, and exactly when the seeds of destruction were sown.

I have been reading widely on this, focusing less on the crowing and virtue-signalling Left, and far more on those thoughtful and introspective voices on the Right who are often appalled by the rise of Donald Trump in particular, but often sympathetic to the anti-establishment fervour which fuels his candidacy.

And if I have to pick just one excerpt from one piece to explain the predicament in which the Republican Party currently finds itself, I would encourage my readers to read “I was wrong about Donald Trump” by Daniel McCarthy over at The American Conservative.

In his piece, McCarthy concludes:

Trump succeeds because of more than outsize personality, of course. He attracts some support from everyone who thinks that Conservatism, Inc. and the GOP establishment are self-serving frauds—everyone who feels betrayed by the party and its ideological publicists. Working-class whites know that the Republican Party isn’t their party. Christian conservatives who in the past have supported Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson also know that the GOP won’t deliver for them. Moderates have been steadily alienated from the GOP by movement conservatives, yet hard-right immigration opponents feel marginalized by the party as well. Paleoconservatives and antiwar conservatives have been excommunicated on more than one occasion by the same establishment that’s now losing control to Trump. They can only applaud what Trump’s doing, even if Trump himself is no Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul.

Conservative Republicans™ somehow maneuvered themselves into a position of being too hardline for moderates and non-ideologues, but not hardline or ideological enough for the right. Trump, on the other hand, appeals both to the hard right and to voters whose economic interests would, in decades past, have classed them as moderates of the center-left—lunch-pail voters.

What’s even more remarkable is that movement conservatives, who have been given plenty of warning, ever since 2006, that their formula is exhausted, keep doing the same thing over and over again: they’ll dodge right, in a way that right-wingers find unsatisfactory but that moderates find appalling; then they’ll weave back to the center, in a way that doesn’t fool centrists and only angers the right. Immigration—which was another of George W. Bush’s stumbling blocks, lest we forget—has been the issue that symbolized movement-conservative Republicanism’s futility most poignantly. It’s not even clear that most GOP voters agree with Trump’s rhetorical hard-line on immigration—they just like it better than the two-faced talk of the average Republican politician.

Trump has a plethora of weaknesses, as general election polls amply demonstrate. But just look what he’s up against within the Republican Party: that’s why he’s winning.

I have yet to see the rise of Donald Trump explained as thoughtfully and succinctly as it is in the first three paragraphs quoted above. Sure, McCarthy’s piece does not tackle every aspect of the situation – whole books can and will be written about the causal factors of this huge anti-establishment backlash, which is far bigger than any one political party – but it does explain why the current GOP was so badly positioned to withstand a populist insurgency like Trump’s.

Much like the British Labour Party has become a fractious and increasingly unworkable coalition of idealistic left-wingers, pragmatic centrists and (let’s be frank) soulless political shapeshifters, and much as the historic splits in the Conservative Party are re-emerging following a vacillating 2016 Budget and the party leadership’s betrayal of the activist base on the coming EU referendum, so the Republican Party’s big tent of Reaganites, neo-cons, Evangelicals and social conservatives is collapsing – for those reasons outlined above by McCarthy.

Read the collected output of Rod Dreher too, and this piece by David Brooks, which looks to the future which could yet follow 2016’s rock bottom:

Trump is prompting what Thomas Kuhn, in his theory of scientific revolutions, called a model crisis.

According to Kuhn, intellectual progress is not steady and gradual. It’s marked by sudden paradigm shifts. There’s a period of normal science when everybody embraces a paradigm that seems to be working. Then there’s a period of model drift: As years go by, anomalies accumulate and the model begins to seem creaky and flawed.

Then there’s a model crisis, when the whole thing collapses. Attempts to patch up the model fail. Everybody is in anguish, but nobody knows what to do.

That’s where the Republican Party is right now. Everybody talks about being so depressed about Trump. But Republicans are passive and psychologically defeated. That’s because their conscious and unconscious mental frameworks have just stopped working. Trump has a monopoly on audacity, while everyone else is immobile.

[..] At that point the G.O.P. will enter what Kuhn called the revolution phase. During these moments you get a proliferation of competing approaches, a willingness to try anything. People ask different questions, speak a different language, congregate around a new paradigm that is incommensurate with the last.

That’s where the G.O.P. is heading. So this is a moment of anticipation. The great question is not, Should I vote for Hillary or sit out this campaign? The great question is, How do I prepare now for the post-Trump era?

As Brooks says (perhaps a little naively), this is not necessarily all bad news for conservatives. If we are honest, we have to admit that conservative policies in America and Britain are no longer perfectly calibrated to the challenges of the day as they were in Thatcher and Reagan’s time.

That is not to say that the Left are any better; Lord knows they aren’t. But it does mean we should acknowledge certain facts – like the fact that we still have a stubbornly large permanent underclass, and that for all the irreplaceable benefits of globalisation, there are still those who miss out – and seize the initiative by proposing radical conservative policy solutions to the great challenges of the new century.

In Britain, David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government – or the Ted Heath tribute act, as this blog has taken to calling them – seem to think that One Nation Conservatism means stealing as many of Labour’s left-wing ideas as possible. And in America, Donald Trump’s brand of populist pseudo-conservatism doesn’t believe in One Nation at all, unapologetically carving the country up into winners and losers.

Neither is the correct approach. And as Cameronism and Trumpism run their respective courses, this blog will continue providing commentary and offering suggestions for an alternative conservatism, in Britain and America.

 

Postscript: This blog has decreased its focus on US politics in the past few years, primarily because I have been London based and fully occupied writing about British political issues. But Semi-Partisan Politics will begin to cover the American presidential election with a little more frequency going forward, partly because I have always remained a close follower of American politics – often more so than the household name journalists dispatched to the States by their newspapers and now portentously reporting back to us as self styled “experts”.

Having lived in America helps – particularly having lived in the American Midwest, not just the coastal enclaves of New York and Washington, D.C. familiar to most British journalists who write about America during election season. And the fact that I am married to a Hillary Clinton-supporting Hispanic Texan helps too. When I write about American politics, I know whereof I speak.

But I am also covering the presidential race because as a conservatarian with one foot firmly planted on either side of the Atlantic (and a heart divided equally between Britain and America), I believe that in my own small way I can bring a perspective to the left/right, authoritarian/libertarian debate that is often missed by those whose thinking and writing is rooted firmly in just one country’s specific conservative tradition.

To borrow an overwrought phrase from the dystopian world of Identity Politics, consider this my contribution to an “intersectional” perspective on conservatism.

They’ll absolutely hate me for that.

 

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