Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

How ‘America First’ helps bring about the Chinese Century

China's Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad...

China’s Rambo: The piece in The New Yorker leads with the wild success of a new film, “Wolf Warrior II,” in which the Chinese hero flexes muscle abroad…

Last night, New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos was on Fresh Air, talking about his new piece in the magazine headlined “Making China Great Again.” The subhed of the piece is “As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.”

No kidding. All the way home as I listened, my reaction was essentially “Duh!” I mean, everything he was saying about the way Trump has damaged U.S. standing in the world — and elevated that of China and others who can’t wait to fill the vacuum — was obvious. Anyone would know that this would be what would happen as a result of his “America First” idiocy.

Except, abundant evidence exists that this is not obvious to everyone. So I thought I’d share. And I learned a lot of details about how the predictable has actually played out. It’s particularly interesting to hear him talking about how Chinese leadership has figured out where all Trump’s buttons are, and manipulated him to their advantage at every turn.

Here’s the basic thrust of the New Yorker piece:

China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one. Ever since the Second World War, the United States has advocated an international order based on a free press and judiciary, human rights, free trade, and protection of the environment. It planted those ideas in the rebuilding of Germany and Japan, and spread them with alliances around the world. In March, 1959, President Eisenhower argued that America’s authority could not rest on military power alone. “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress,” he said. “It is not the goal of the American people that the United States should be the richest nation in the graveyard of history.”

Under the banner of “America First,” President Trump is reducing U.S. commitments abroad. On his third day in office, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a twelve-nation trade deal designed by the United States as a counterweight to a rising China. To allies in Asia, the withdrawal damaged America’s credibility. “You won’t be able to see that overnight,” Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, told me, at an event in Washington. “It’s like when you draw a red line and then you don’t take it seriously. Was there pain? You didn’t see it, but I’m quite sure there’s an impact.”

In a speech to Communist Party officials last January 20th, Major General Jin Yinan, a strategist at China’s National Defense University, celebrated America’s pullout from the trade deal. “We are quiet about it,” he said. “We repeatedly state that Trump ‘harms China.’ We want to keep it that way. In fact, he has given China a huge gift. That is the American withdrawal from T.P.P.” Jin, whose remarks later circulated, told his audience, “As the U.S. retreats globally, China shows up.”

For years, China’s leaders predicted that a time would come—perhaps midway through this century—when it could project its own values abroad. In the age of “America First,” that time has come far sooner than expected….

This is something I’ve worried about for a long time. One of the first editorials I ever wrote for The State, probably in January 1994, was about the way China was quietly insinuating its way into positions of influence around the globe, including in our own Monroe Doctrine backyard — Latin America. But at least for the next 23 years, we had leaders who understood why this was a problem (as we had my whole life), and were taking steps to counter it — such as with the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia, of which TPP was a critical part.

I never dreamed that we’d have a president who on Day One (OK, Day Three) would just trash it all, and invite China to jump in with both feet. Trump was so eager to do this that he even took a moment out of his busy first-week schedule of loudly proclaiming that his inauguration crowd had been the biggest ever.

And why does it worry me (one or more of my relativist friends will ask)? I always feel a little absurd having to explain it, but I feel a lot better living in a world in which the global hegemon is the planet’s greatest liberal democracy than in one dominated by the oppressors in Beijing. So should all of you who like to exercise your freedom of expression here on this blog. It’s that simple. Or rather, it’s that, and my belief that the rest of the world is better off with the U.S. playing the role China wants to play.

I recommend you listen to the radio interview and read the piece in The New Yorker. Then let’s discuss…

Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?

la-et-st-syfy-developing-brave-new-world-as-series-20150505

Molly Worthen can’t even spell her own name, but she writes a pretty fair think piece.

I read this one in the NYT last month, and kept forgetting to share it with you. Today, with Roy Moore possibly being elected to the U.S. Senate, seems a good day to rectify that.

The piece gets a little dry toward the end, but I want to share with you this good part at the beginning:

Over the course of the week, as Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, faced more allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young women and teenagers, many evangelicals leapt to his defense.

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

It’s no secret that humans — religious and secular alike — often act on “less than logical” impulses. Social scientists have documented our tendency to reject reliable evidence if it challenges our beliefs. Hours of tearful victims’ testimony will not deter evangelicals who see Roy Moore as the latest Christian martyr persecuted by the liberal establishment. “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.” …

I’ve never been much of one for badmouthing Fox News, mainly because I haven’t seen it or other cable TV news programs enough to be confident in making firm judgments.

But there is definitely something out there motivating “evangelicals” to vote for people who seem to have little to nothing to do with Christianity, and I can’t see it being church.

Something is taking the place of the gospel in these people’s thought processes. Or perhaps I should say in their guts, grabbing and holding them on a “less than logical level.”

And there’s something about that ritual of constantly watching TV, night after night, year after year, and getting hit with the same messages hundreds and thousands of times.

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people hear the same statements over and over in the night until they accept the truth of such statements without thinking. Indeed, they become incapable of considering the possibility that such statements might be untrue:

repetitions

(Never mind that “Idiots!” bit. Bernard had something of an inferiority complex, not being respected as much as an Alpha normally would be.)

These repetitions may be even more powerful in terms of engendering aversion, even revulsion. How else does one explain Republicans who knew better voting for Trump or a write-in, because they absolutely could not bring themselves to vote for the only person in a position to stop him?

Or how do you explain good people in Alabama who see the problem with Roy Moore, but — like Sen. Shelby — simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the Democrat (again, the only person who might stop Moore from disgracing Alabama, the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate)?

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing line of thought: What good is an hour in church once a week compared to hours of indoctrination in another sort of faith, every night for years?

Samuelson will tell you the truths you don’t want to hear

Robert J. Samuelson — whom I don’t read as often as I should because of his tendency to write about money and other things one can measure with numbers — is not a guy to read at all if you want him to tell you things you want to hear.

Robert J. Samuelson

Robert J. Samuelson

Well, let me amend that: I think the things he has to say are fine, when I can cut through the numbers and read him. But based on voting patterns I’ve seen in recent years, he’s likely to give a lot of other folks apoplexy.

For instance… not satisfied merely to slice and dice the Republicans’ contemptible tax “reform” plan last month, he strode right past the nonsense to speak a home truth: “Americans aren’t taxed enough.

He didn’t mean it in absolute terms, of course. There is no perfect amount of taxation, and saying “this isn’t enough taxation” in a vacuum would be as idiotic as say, also in a vacuum, that “Americans are taxed too much.” And Samuelson is not an idiot.

No, he means that as long as America means to spend X amount — and there has been no credible effort to reduce the lion’s share of spending — it must have the common sense and maturity to pay X amount in taxes. And it’s been a very long time since we’ve done that.

As he put it:

The truth is that we can’t afford any tax reduction. We need higher, not lower, taxes. What we should be debating is the nature of new taxes (my choice: a carbon tax), how quickly (or slowly) they should be introduced and how much prudent spending cuts could shrink the magnitude of tax increases.

To put this slightly differently: Americans are under-taxed. We are under-taxed not in some principled and philosophical sense that there is an ideal level of taxation that we haven’t yet reached. We are under-taxed in a pragmatic and expedient way. For half a century, we haven’t covered our spending with revenue from taxes…

We resist the discipline of balancing the budget, which is inherently unpopular. It’s what Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute calls “take-away politics.” Some programs would be cut; some taxes would be raised. Americans like big government. They just don’t like paying for it….

But if you think that’ll make some people mad, consider his column today. But first, someone bring the smelling salts for Bud and Doug. The headline is, “Why we must raise defense spending.” An excerpt:

Politically, the vaunted military-industrial complex has been no match for the welfare state’s personal handouts. There has been a historic transformation. In the 1950s and 1960s, defense spending often accounted for half of the federal budget and equaled 8 to 10 percent of gross domestic product (the economy). In 2016, defense spending was 3 percent of GDP and 15 percent of the federal budget, according to the Office of Management and Budget. Meanwhile, welfare programs — called “human resources” by the OMB — accounted for 15 percent of GDP and 73 percent of federal spending….

The result is this:

Here is the assessment of Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense specialist at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute:

“The United States now fields a military that could not meet even the requirements of a benign Clinton-era world. The services have watched their relative overmatch and capacity decline in almost every domain of warfare . . . for nearly two decades. As rival nation-states have accelerated their force development, the Department of Defense has stalled out, creating a dangerous window of relative military advantage for potential foes. . . . While the United States continues to field the best military personnel in the world, policy makers have asked them to do too much with too little for too long.”…

So, to summarize, we’re not taxing enough for the spending we’re doing, and we’re not spending enough to adequately perform what was originally the government’s chief responsibility.

And before I get the cliche response — citing numbers showing how much more we spend than other nations is pretty pointless. We emerged from 1945 as the chief guarantor of a security order designed to stave off World War III. And the only nations that have shown any interest in taking that mantle of dominant military power off our hands have been the very last big countries a believer in liberal democracy would want to see do so.

Samuelson may write too much about numbers, but I have to hand it to him: He goes right where the number lead him, regardless of whose ox gets gored, on both the left and the right…

You say we NEED the slaves to work the fields? So much for philosophy…

The capacity of the human mind for rationalization is an amazing thing. The things we can talk ourselves into without breaking a sweat…

Seeing this sentence this morning in a story about honoring the slaves who built USC sent me off on a tangent: “Sancho and his wife Lucy became the property of Thomas Cooper, president from 1821 to 1833 of what was then South Carolina College, with Sancho becoming a well-known figure on campus.”

Thomas Cooper

Thomas Cooper

My wife’s mother was a Cooper. All the Coopers in living memory lived in West Tennessee, but I knew that if you followed the line back to the mid-19th century, some of the Coopers lived here in Richland County, SC. And a number of Coopers were named Thomas.

So I had often wondered whether there was a connection to the famous Thomas Cooper of USC, and this morning I decided to read up on him.

Apparently, there’s no connection, since the academic Cooper was originally from England — whereas my wife’s Cooper ancestors had been in America a couple of generations ahead of him. With such common first and last names, that’s hardly surprising.

But I found reading about the USC Cooper interesting. He was apparently quite the philosopher, friend to Thomas Jefferson and other leading lights of the time. But this bit from Wikipedia sort of blew me away:

He supported the institution of slavery, although he had strenuously opposed the slave trade. In the mid to late 1780s Cooper fought passionately against “that infamous and impolitic traffic”. He wrote that “negroes are men; susceptible of the same cultivation with ourselves”, claimed that “as Englishmen, the blood of the murdered African is upon us, and upon our children, and in some day of retribution he will feel it, who will not assist to wash off the stain”. But in America Cooper accepted slavery itself, as he doubted that “in South Carolina or Georgia…the rich lands could be cultivated without slave labour”….

Let me make sure I’m following you, Tom: The slave trade is “infamous.” People of African descent are just as human as whites and just as worthy, and all of us who fail to do something to remedy this injustice are deserving of “retribution.”

But hey, we need them to work the plantations, so never mind! That cotton’s not going to pick itself!

Wow. He was celebrated for his great intellect, and this is how he used it…

The politics of the court’s abandonment of Abbeville case

sc supreme court

I had thought Cindi Scoppe was out of the country — Wales, I think — but then she had a good column over the weekend explaining why the S.C. Supreme Court had dropped the 24-year-old Abbeville case that sought equity for those who attend some of our state’s poorest schools.

Not in terms of fine points of the law. Not in terms of the merits of the case. In terms of politics.

It was headlined “Why the SC Supreme Court washed its hands of poor students.” Here’s an excerpt:

Contrary to House Speaker Jay Lucas’ declaration that the order showed the court “is satisfied by the House’s transformative efforts to improve South Carolina’s education system,” the majority actually had nothing to say about how satisfied it was or was not with the Legislature’s efforts.

Contrary to House Speaker Jay Lucas’ declaration that the order showed the court “is satisfied by the House’s transformative efforts to improve South Carolina’s education system,” the majority actually had nothing to say about how satisfied it was or was not with the Legislature’s efforts….

Basically, lawmakers let their intentions be known in the way they screened prospective justices to replace Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones:

When legislators grilled would-be justices leading up to the retirement of Justices Toal and Pliecones, they made sure the candidates understood that the court is not in fact the co-equal branch of government that the constitution claims. So for the past two years, the school districts’ Abbeville victory has existed on paper but not in reality, reduced from a mandate to act to a requirement to file annual progress reports…

Mind you, Cindi’s not at all sure that there exists a constitutional mandate that the state ensure a good education to every student. Like me, she believes that as a matter of public policy, it’s insane (and yes, immoral, for those who think I’m ignoring that) not to:

The many South Carolinians who recognize that our state cannot progress as long as we leave behind so many children are understandably upset by the court’s ruling. But we never should have needed to rely on the court to tell the Legislature to do what anyone who cares about the future of our state would do. And ultimately, it is up to all of us to demand and insist and never stop demanding and insisting that our legislators make the changes to the laws and the enforcement of those laws and, yes, the funding that are necessary to ensure that all children in this state have the decent education that we all need them to have.

Note that last part: “that we all need them to have.” It’s fine if we want to provide equality of opportunity to poor kids, if that makes us feel good about ourselves. But our collective self-interest comes into play here.

We need an educated population. All of us need that. We cannot afford to have these broad swathes of our state where people simply lack the skills to hold down a good job and contribute to the state’s prosperity and general well-being. We need capable doctors and nurses and lawyers and paralegals and air-conditioning repair people and cooks and clerks and cops and factory workers and builders and thousands of other kinds of workers. We can’t afford to live in a place where there are large bunches of people without skills.

Universal education is not so much a kindness to individuals as a pragmatic goal for the whole community.

It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country of laws. But one less-wonderful side effect of that is people sometimes think there needs to be a law that makes people do the right thing. To some extent, the Abbeville case was predicated on that.

But forget about whether the state constitution mandates a “minimally adequate education” or a “super-duper education.”

It’s just smart policy to do all we can to provide everyone with the chance to get educated. It’s that, and of course, it’s the right thing to do…

Respect noon! Do away with DST for good…

Rep. Norrell at Smith announcement last month.

Rep. Norrell at Smith announcement last month.

I’ve heard good things about Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell. She seems to be something of an up-and-comer in the S.C. House. She gave a nice speech at James Smith’s campaign kickoff last month.

But boy, has she taken a wrong turn on this one:

Aaargghh!

You see, she was responding to this:

Alan Clemmons

Rep. Alan Clemmons

I had meant to write when I first heard of Mr. Clemmons’ bill a couple of weeks back, to give him my full support. At least, for the idea. I’m not so crazy about the referendum part. Lawmakers should just bite the bullet themselves and end this unnatural abomination called DST. Every referendum on a nonconstitutional issue is a step toward direct democracy, and that of course would be worse than year-round DST.

But the basic idea of doing away with DST altogether? Good one. Hear, hear.

Mind you, I’m slightly more sympathetic to the cause of the DSTers since I started my thing of walking 10,000 steps a day. I had a nice routine going in which I’d do 5,000 on the elliptical trainer before work in the morning, then take care of what was left with a nice, long walk with my wife when I got home.

The end of DST ended that. (So I’ve replaced it with a walk downtown in the middle of the day. And my wife and I still walk together on weekends.) But there’s a bonus on the other end: I’m not getting up in the dark — or at least, it’s not quite as dark — to do my morning workout. And that counts for a lot.

Mostly, though, it’s the principle of the thing. Noon is when the sun it at it’s zenith, or these man-kept hours have no meaning, no point of reference in the natural world! It’s the midpoint of the day (or, if you’re a captain in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars — and you probably aren’t — the start of the day). And if your clock strikes 12 an hour before the sun is at his height, then your whole day is a lie.

It’s just wrong, don’t you see?

No, you probably don’t. Few do. But I will fight my rear-guard action as long as I can. And thanks for doing your bit for the cause, Rep. Clemmons. I may not always agree with you (on, say, bills such as this), but you chose the side of the good guys on this one…

Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

Today’s explanation for Trump: Idolatry

Smart people keep struggling to figure out and explain why other people would do such a dumb thing as make Donald Trump president of the United States of America.

Here’s an excerpt from David Brooks’ effort today, headlined, “When Politics Becomes Your Idol:”

When politics is used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness, it’s harder to win people over with policy or philosophical arguments. Everything is shaped on a deeper level, through the parables, fables and myths that our most fundamental groups use to define themselves.

For years, the meritocratic establishments in both parties told an implicit myth. The heroes of this myth were educated, morally enlightened global citizens who went to competitive colleges, got invited to things like the Clinton Global Initiative, and who have the brainpower to run society and who might just be a little better than other people, by virtue of their achievements.

Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

David Brooks

Donald Trump tells the opposite myth — about how those meritocrats are actually clueless idiots and full of drivel, and how virtue, wisdom and toughness is found in the regular people whom those folks look down upon.

Trump’s supporters follow him because he gets his facts wrong, but he gets his myths right. He tells the morality tale that works for them.

It should be said that people on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol. Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics….

Yep. A lot of that going around.

Brooks ends with a thought or two from the perspective of us moderate communitarians:

To be a moderate is to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we multiply and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that our politics probably can’t be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper communal bonds that politics rest on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

 

Has GOP found a gun restriction it might like?

Several news outlets, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, are leading with this story:

Top House Republicans said they will consider restricting “bump stocks,” the firearm accessory used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre, opening the door to heightened regulation in response to the tragedy.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) both said Thursday that lawmakers will consider further rules for the devices, which allow legal semiautomatic rifles to fire as rapidly as more heavily restricted automatic weapons.

“Clearly that’s something we need to look into,” Ryan said on MSNBC…

Before reading that this morning, I’d heard Tom Cole, a GOP congressman from Oklahoma saying similar things on the radio.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Image from website of Slide Fire, which sells bump stocks.

Insert joke about temperatures of 31 degrees Fahrenheit being reported in Hades.

A bipartisan move on limiting some way of making it easier to kill lots of people with firearms might feel like progress.

But will it help? I don’t know. Maybe.

An aside… I’m not entirely sure I understand how these “bump stocks” work. It sounds like they harness the recoil to cause the trigger to repeatedly press itself against the shooter’s finger. I think.

Or maybe it magically turns regular ammunition into “automatic rounds,” eh, Bryan?

Meanwhile, I’m puzzling on something that probably only interests me, being a guy who used to spend my days making news play decisions…

If you regularly read British publications (which I do, as I like to know what’s happening in the rest of the Western hemisphere and U.S. outlets don’t tell me), you know that they take a certain view of U.S. news. They have a morbid fascination with what they see as our utter insanity on guns.

Which is why I’m puzzled that, instead of leading with this remarkable bipartisan movement on guns, both the BBC and The Guardian are leading with reports that the Las Vegas shooter may have planned to escape and may have had help. Which is admittedly a strong news development, but still…

help

Kulturkampf distracts from things we can DO something about

Writing the Declaration: One thing that I think 'defines us' more than, say, arguments over sex.

Writing the Declaration: One thing that I think ‘defines us’ more than, say, arguments over sex.

Since I started reading The New York Times again on a daily basis (because they offered a better deal than The Wall Street Journal), I’ve been enjoying Ross Douthat‘s columns.

But I really have a beef with the lede (although not the overall thrust) of his piece today:

The secret of culture war is that it is often a good and necessary thing. People don’t
like culture wars when they’re on the losing side, and while they’re losing they often
complain about how cultural concerns are distractions from the “real” issues, usually
meaning something to do with the deficit or education or where to peg the Medicare
growth rate or which terrorist haven the United States should be bombing next.

But in the sweep of American history, it’s the battles over cultural norms and socalled
social issues — over race and religion, intoxicants and sex, speech and
censorship, immigration and assimilation — that for better or worse have often made
us who we are.

First I’ll deal with the second graf. With the possible exception of race, I don’t think that litany of social issues “made us who we are.” Take immigration, for instance. We can’t speak of what current battles over the subject have meant to the country, because the fighting is still going on. But we can look at battles that are over — such as the waves of nativism and anti-Catholicism that greeted the Irish and Italians who came here in the 19th and early-20th centuries.

Aside from revealing an ugly side to our national character that has once more come to the fore, I don’t think those battles over long-ago immigrants settled anything. Despite the opposition, those particular immigrants kept coming, and eventually (after two or three generations) were mostly accepted as fellow Americans.

Of course, those were European immigrants. The conversation gets more complicated when we’re talking about nonwhites. But what part of that defines us? Is it the shameful, racist Immigration Act of 1924, or the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which undid the 1924 legislation?

Or is it the wave of nativism that elected Donald Trump president? And how have we been defined? And how has that battle been constructive?

Personally, I’d say we were defined by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution — particularly the Bill of Rights — the Civil War, the 13th Amendment, the results of the Second World War and the Cold War.

That’s my beef with the second paragraph. But my real problem is with the first. To repeat:

People don’t like culture wars when they’re on the losing side, and while they’re losing they often complain about how cultural concerns are distractions from the “real” issues, usually
meaning something to do with the deficit or education or where to peg the Medicare
growth rate or which terrorist haven the United States should be bombing next….

I don’t like the Kulturkampf whether “my” side (to the extent I have one) is losing or not. And my problem with them is not that they distract from the “real issues” he describes, but that they distract from issues we can do something about.

Another way to put that is, issues on which we have a realistic chance of coming together and accomplishing something constructive for the country.

I find it easiest to explain this in terms of my experience on the editorial board. I had little interest in leading my team to address, say, abortion. Not that I didn’t regard such issues as significant — y’all know how strong my attitudes are on abortion. I just didn’t see an opportunity to do any good wading into those issues.

First, my fellow board members were all over the place on such issues. We would have to waste a lot of time internally arguing about such things and getting nowhere, except maybe for increasing acrimony on the team and damaging our ability to work together on other issues.

But far more importantly than that, I saw no possibility of anything we said on those subjects — even if we were able to agree — having a positive effect on the larger world. For pretty much all of my time on the editorial board, partisans brought up those issues for one purpose — to separate the sheep from the lambs. They were litmus tests to see which side you were on, ways of stirring up the base to give money in order to fund the battle against those other people who disagreed.

Over and over again, such issues have been used to push the American people apart, and keep them from agreeing on anything.

But I did see the possibility of saying something constructive, something that might contribute to a useful conversation, about our unworkable form of government in South Carolina, or whether to defund public schools through vouchers, or how to pay for needed road repairs, or other practical issues in the public sphere.

Now, someone is going to say, “Then why did you write so much about the Confederate flag?” Because in South Carolina, that was a significant issue that did define us. As long as it flew, we knew why it flew: So the majority (or rather the more extreme elements of the majority, the people GOP lawmakers live in fear of) could say to the minority, “We are the ones in control here, and the rest of you can go to hell.” A state that would pass its laws in a building with a statement like that flying on its lawn could not be expected to legislate in behalf of all its citizens. It was something we had to grow up, deal with and put behind us if we were to have any hope to move forward as a people.

It was something we needed to get out of the way so we could deal with other issues.

Anyway, the rest of Douthat’s column, in which he decried the kinds of culture wars that attract Trump’s attention, was fine…

‘The Vietnam War,’ Episode 4: ‘Resolve’

I’m a day behind here, but I want to have a post about each episode, so I’m posting this a day late, after I’ve already seen Episode 5. But here goes…

First, if there was an episode, of all those thus far, that was going to turn me into the Vietnam war protester that Bud would like me to be, it was this one. From start to finish, practically every point made, every interview, every video clip, added up to a powerful message that whether we should have been in Vietnam or not, what we were doing was not working. The Johnson administration was fooling itself as well as the American people, and each escalation added to the sense of desperation that the episode conveyed. These points were made again and again, eloquently.

A person watching that episode would naturally wonder, why did we continue to fight? Why didn’t the American people demand that we withdraw immediately? And my answer, as I expressed earlier in a comment, is that the concentrated way that these arguments are presented in the episode was NOT the way life was experienced at the time. First, if you were a stateside civilian, little of your average day was spent thinking about the war. And when it was, the antiwar message was a much smaller chunk of what we were taking in about the war — and no, that was NOT because the POTUS was a big, fat liar.

Most of the journalism we saw was NOT by David Halberstam or Morley Safer. We did not have the experience that this series affords of hearing at length from young men who went over enthusiastic about the mission and became disillusioned. (So far, every single young man we learn of in

I was just a kid at the time, which makes me unreliable, but I have no memory at all of the Fulbright hearings, much less of the calm, articulate, intellectual arguments of George F. Kennan and other witnesses arguing against our involvement.

In fact, if you were alive at the time, most of what you saw of the growing antiwar movement was people chanting such things as “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” I know that such “arguments” are persuasive to many people, but they turn me right off. Such approaches aim to engage the emotion and shut down rational faculties, and I’ve always held them in contempt.

Anyway, I was impressed by what Kennan had to say, because of who he was — or who the series told me he was. My ears perked up immediately when I heard that he was sort of the father of Cold War strategy of containment. I had heard his name, and I was familiar with the strategy, and I was eager to hear more.

As y’all know, I have frequently written here about Vietnam as an application of that policy of containment. So hearing that Kennan said Vietnam was a wrong-headed misapplication of the strategy really made an impression on me.

Bud thinks I should “just admit the hippies and draft dodgers were right,” which ain’t gonna happen. Nor is Muhammad Ali or Dr. Spock going to knock me over. Nor John Kerry. In fact, definitely not John Kerry. But if a guy like Kennan says something, I’m thinking as I watch this, I’m paying attention.

The next morning, seeking to know more, I googled Kennan. Wikipedia’s not the same as reading a serious book about him, and I stand ready to be corrected by someone with deeper knowledge, but it’s what I had time for so far. And I read this:

Soon after his concepts had become U.S. policy, Kennan began to criticize the foreign policies that he had seemingly helped begin. Subsequently, prior to the end of 1948, Kennan became confident that positive dialogue could commence with the Soviet government. His proposals were discounted by the Truman administration and Kennan’s influence was marginalized, particularly after Dean Acheson was appointed Secretary of State in 1949. Soon thereafter, U.S. Cold War strategy assumed a more assertive and militaristic quality, causing Kennan to lament about what he believed was an abrogation of his previous assessments….

In other words, Kennan wasn’t exactly what the series suggested. He had disowned the way the U.S. government applied his containment idea to the entire Cold War, starting LONG before we got involved in Vietnam.

Which puts his testimony in a very different light from what I heard Wednesday night. It’s not like he was a guy wedded to the overall strategy who had a specific problem with Vietnam; he was a guy who disowned the whole policy.

The way it was presented on the show was that here was Mr. Containment himself, and he was against our involvement in Vietnam. But apparently, that description was off.

Maybe that was acknowledged at some point when I got up to get a glass of water or something. But if it wasn’t, the omission bothers me. It’s one of the few flaws I’ve spotted in the series thus far, though, which testifies to the excellence we’ve come to associate with Burns and Novak.

One other small thing that speaks to something huge…

The episode told of how in the last year of his life, Martin Luther King struggled with whether he should take a stand against the war. And as we know, he eventually decided to do so.

I deeply respect his prayerful process of discernment, and was as always impressed by the rolling power of his eloquence in the speech the program showed a clip from.

But something jumped out at me. Like so many other opponents of our involvement, he called upon our leaders to “end the war.”

Well, y’all know how I tend to react to that phrase. It is spoken by so many good, decent, kind, caring people who just want all the bloodshed to stop. It was spoken during that war, and later with regard to Iraq, and to this day about Afghanistan.

But it was not in our power to “end the war.” It was only in our power to get out of the way and let it proceed without us. This is not some small linguistic quibble. The difference between ending a war and pulling out to let the other combatants fight it out is a big as between night and day.

As we would see in 1975…

Kennan

A discussion Friday about lessons from Charlottesville

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Evan Nesterak obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Remember a couple of months back, when I moderated a forum for the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council about the Bull Street redevelopment project?

Well, tomorrow we’re going to have another one that may interest you. It starts at 11:30 a.m. at the offices of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce offices at 930 Richland St.

The topic is “Lessons from Charlottesville.” The idea is to have a discussion about the implications for our own community arising from the issues raised there.

We expect 30 or so people, including Tameika Isaac Devine from city council, J.T. McLawhorn from the Columbia Urban League, and Matt Kennell from the City-Center Partnership.

Bryan came to the Bull Street one, and I think he found the discussion interesting. I did, anyway.

Whether y’all can come or not, I’d like a little advice. I’ve thrown together a short list of questions to offer to the group. The questions are just ways to keep the discussion going as needed. These discussions don’t follow a formal structure, with questions followed by timed answers, or anything like that.

Here are the ones I have. Suggestions?

  1. Could what happened in Charlottesville happen here? If not, why not? And if so, what can we do to prevent it?
  2. Even if we are spared the violence we saw in Virginia, how should we here in the Midlands respond to the issues that confrontation laid bare?
  3. President Trump has been roundly criticized for his response to what happened. What would you like to hear elected leaders in South Carolina say regarding these issues?
  4. Being the capital of the first state to secede, we have more Confederate monuments here than in most places. What, if anything, should we do with them?
  5. Has anyone present had a change of attitude or perspective, something that you’d like to share, as a result of the re-emergence of these issues onto the nation’s front burner?

1024px-Lee_Park,_Charlottesville,_VA

Why doesn’t the political mainstream back the only commonsense approach to paying for healthcare?

single

The first time I wrote about single-payer, in a column at The State, my headline was “Can anyone (any viable candidate, that is) say ‘single-payer?’

That was 2007. As I said at the time:

CAN ANYONE among those with a chance of becoming president say “single-payer?” If not, forget about serious reform of the way we pay for health care.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be “single-payer.” Any other words will do, as long as the plan they describe is equally bold, practical, understandable, and goes as far in uprooting our current impractical, wasteful and insanely complex “system.”
And the operative word is “bold.” Why? Because unless we start the conversation there, all we might hope for is that a few more of the one out of seven Americans who don’t have insurance will be in the “system” with the rest of us — if that, after the inevitable watering-down by Congress. And that’s not “reform.” Actual reform would rescue all of us from a “system” that neither American workers nor American employers can afford to keep propping up.
But the operative word to describe the health care plans put forward by the major, viable candidates is “timid.”…

Which is what led us to “Obamacare,” an overly complex, timid approach that still leaves millions of Americans uncovered.

But when I wrote that, I knew we weren’t likely to do any better than that, because the only “name” Democrat willing to say “single-payer” was Dennis “The Menace” Kucinich.

And today, the charge is led by… Bernie Sanders. And even he wants to call it something other than single-payer — namely, “Medicare for All.”

The somewhat better news is that he has 15 senators with him this time (all Democrats, of course) — only 45 votes short of what it would take to get the proposal through the Senate before it went down in flames in the House, as it surely would.

Never mind that EVERY alternative advanced looks insanely over-complex and inefficient next to a system that simply covers everybody. No more worrying about making too much money, or too little money, or getting laid off and losing your medical coverage. Or sticking to a lousy job for the benefits, rather than going out and doing something bold and courageous that might help build our economy. No more of doctors having to employ people who spend all their time trying to navigate the bewildering array of different kinds of coverage their patients have.

And I’ve never heard a reason not to do this that didn’t sound idiotic. The most devastating argument opponents come up with is that you might have to wait for certain kinds of procedures. Which certainly beats waiting until you die if you don’t have coverage under the current non-system.

Other countries, including those most like our own — Britain and Canada — adopted this approach long, long ago. But in this country, we have this completely irrational resistance that makes it impossible even to have a calm conversation about what makes sense.

It’s time we got over that. And we may be making progress in that direction. But we have such a long, long way to go…

Graham should drop his healthcare proposal, support Alexander’s efforts

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

Graham pushing his proposal recently in Columbia.

I’ve already written dismissively of Lindsey Graham’s approach to healthcare “reform.”

Today, with it getting so much more attention, I share with you this view of it, headlined “New Trumpcare Deserves a Quick Death.” An excerpt:

On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators plan to release a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It comes from Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and they will market it as a bill that gives states the flexibility to create the system that they want.

But that’s deeply misleading. While it would theoretically give states more flexibility, the bill would mostly rob states of money to pay for health insurance — and millions of Americans would lose coverage as a result. Think of it this way: Every reader of this newsletter has the theoretical flexibility to buy a private jet.

Cassidy-Graham, as the bill is known, ends up looking remarkably similar to previous repeal attempts. It would likely result in 15 million Americans losing their insurance next year and more than 30 million losing it a decade from now (based on analyses of an early version of the bill, which was similar to previous Republican health bills). “The similarities are more striking than the differences,” Aviva AronDine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told me.

The same column hints at a far better way for our senior senator to direct his energies:

There is also good reason to hope that Cassidy-Graham dies quickly. Members of both parties — like Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican — now seem open to a bipartisan bill to fix some of Obamacare’s problems. A Senate committee held a hearing on the subject yesterday. But it was clear at the hearing that Republicans have a hard time talking publicly about bipartisan compromise so long as the fantasy of a beneficial repeal bill remains alive….

Indeed. Y’all know I’m a Lindsey Graham fan (most of the time), but I was a Lamar Alexander fan long before that. And this time, Lamar is clearly in the right of it. And what Graham is doing is actually an impediment to wise policy.

It amazes me that anyone from South Carolina could think that turning it all over to the states could be a good idea, given that our solons utterly refused a Medicaid expansion underwritten by the Feds simply because it was associated with “Obamacare.”

Lindsey should drop his bad idea like a hot potato and get behind Alexander’s effort. Or better yet, support Bernie Sanders’ single-payer approach. But somehow I’m thinking the Alexander option would be less of a strain for him.

It’s time to get past this “Repeal Obamacare” mania that afflicts Republicans, and get on to serious matters of governance…

David Brooks on the moderate perspective

Today, I’m glad Cindi Scoppe does something that I never did when I was choosing op-ed columns — run things several days or more after they were originally released.

As it happens, I missed this good piece by David Brooks five days ago, so I’m glad she ran it on today’s op-ed page.

In it, he says some wise and true things about political moderates. After noting that some of us reject the notion that warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left, he explains the views of those of us who have had enough of political warriors:

Moderates do not see politics as warfare. Instead, national politics is a voyage with a fractious fleet. Wisdom is finding the right formation of ships for each specific circumstance so the whole assembly can ride the waves forward for another day. Moderation is not an ideology; it’s a way of coping with the complexity of the world. Moderates tend to embrace certain ideas:Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth. Sometimes immigration restrictions should be loosened to bring in new people and new dynamism; sometimes they should be tightened to ensure national cohesion. Leadership is about determining which viewpoint is more needed at that moment. Politics is a dynamic unfolding, not a debate that can ever be settled once and for all….

Creativity is syncretistic. Voyagers don’t just pull their ideas from the center of the ideological spectrum. They believe creativity happens when you merge galaxies of belief that seem at first blush incompatible. They might combine left-wing ideas about labor unions with right-wing ideas about local community to come up with a new conception of labor law. Because they are syncretistic, they are careful to spend time in opposing camps, always opening lines of communication. The wise moderate can hold two or more opposing ideas together in her mind at the same time….

Truth before justice. All political movements must face inconvenient facts — thoughts and data that seem to aid their foes. If you try to suppress those facts, by banning a speaker or firing an employee, then you are putting the goals of your cause, no matter how noble, above the search for truth. This is the path to fanaticism, and it always backfires in the end.

Beware the danger of a single identity. Before they brutalize politics, warriors brutalize themselves. Instead of living out several identities — Latina/lesbian/gunowning/Christian
— that pull in different directions, they turn themselves into monads. They prioritize one identity, one narrative and one comforting distortion….

But you should go read the whole thing

Postwar consensus about U.S. role under fire from all directions

He believed in it, and so do I.

He believed in it, and so do I.

On a previous thread, we were having yet another discussion of “American exceptionalism.” Never mind where it started. At some point I said this and Doug said this and I said this and then Phillip weighed in.

And I answered Phillip at sufficient length that I thought it should be a separate post, so here goes:

Seeing as it’s Phillip and I have the greatest respect for him, I’m not going to send my seconds to confer with his seconds over his having called me a liar. Which is the only way I know to take “a feat of semantic gymnastics designed to make yourself feel more virtuous about your viewpoint.”

I’ll just say: Actually, no. There are no gymnastics involved when you’re saying exactly what you mean, and I’m saying exactly what I mean. As I suggested, there are people who DO think that way — the “superiority over” way. As I also said, people who dislike the phrase “American exceptionalism” — generally post-Vietnam liberals (as opposed to pre-Vietnam liberals, who saw things as I do) — like to paint the rest of us with that same brush, as a way of dismissing our views. As though we were a bunch of Steve Bannons or something.

But that’s not the main point I wish to argue. The larger point is that this assertion is completely wrong: “‘Responsibility’ in this case is self-assigned, that is, the United States arrogates for itself this ‘responsibility’ globally.”

Not at all. Through various security and other diplomatic arrangements, other liberal democracies have looked to the United States for leadership and support in many ways since 1945. This is most obvious through NATO, but through other arrangements as well.

Again, I refer y’all to the start of that Foreign Affairs piece:

In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order.

The founders of the order embraced cooperation with like-minded powers, rejecting isolationism and casting themselves as player-managers of an ever-expanding team. They bailed out the United Kingdom, liberated France, rehabilitated Germany and Japan, bound themselves to Canada and Mexico, and more. And for seven decades, the allies were fruitful, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

And we know who that king is.

But it’s not just about him. If you go back to that thread where this discussion initiated, you’ll see that Doug enthusiastically applauded the comment from Phillip with which I argued. You may not think of those guys as being two peas in a pod, politically. And you certainly wouldn’t identify Phillip with Trump. Well, that brings me to my next point.

A startling array of people coming from many places on the political spectrum simply don’t believe in the postwar consensus that formed under FDR and Truman.

For a generation, that consensus stayed strong and almost unchallenged, with Democrats and Republicans differing mainly over how best to fulfill that role. Then things started breaking up over Vietnam, but the basic assumption that this country had obligations in the world continued, with variations in emphasis, through the Obama administration.

Now, it’s really under siege.

I mentioned Steve Bannon earlier. He, of course, doesn’t believe in our international obligations in part because he believes the U.S. is inherently superior. He’s sort of like those Chinese emperors who, with China positioned at least as well as Portugal and Spain to become a global trading and naval power, suddenly closed their country off to the world, under the theory that China was the center of the universe and superior to all other nations, so why have dealings with them?

Then there are the post-Vietnam liberals to whom I referred, and I hope Phillip doesn’t mind if I put him roughly in that category — I stand ready to be corrected if I’m being presumptuous. I hate to be labeled, so I hesitate to do it to my friends.

Then there are the libertarians like Doug and the Pauls, Ron and Rand. They hate the idea of the United States having a military for anything much beyond patrolling the border with Mexico. (No, wait — that last part took me back to Bannon.)

Then there are the socialists, the Bernie Sanders types, who in opposition to the libertarians WANT a big state, but they only want it to exist to shower blessings on the populace domestically. They get impatient at the very idea of talking foreign affairs. This is in some ways like the post-Vietnam liberals, only much more so.

Then there are the ideological extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, sharing some characteristics with the Bannon types and some with the libertarians. They can’t see over the edges of the narrow boxes they build around themselves, much less see beyond our borders.

The all have their motivations. One group just wants the U.S. to strut, out of the world’s reach. Another wants America to be humble. Another wants it to be small. Another wants it to be inward-looking, solipsistic. Another can’t see anything past the next GOP primary.

There’s no room in any of their views for a United States that would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Anyway, that thing that JFK said there? That’s American exceptionalism.

Here’s what I mean by my essential Tory sensibility

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I’m a conservative guy, on a fundamental level. I sometimes refer to my “Tory sensibility,” and I may be using the words incorrectly, not being a Brit, but at least I know what I mean. And in response to a comment by Doug back here, I tried to explain to others what I mean. And it got long enough that I decided it should be a separate post, because, you know, why waste all that typing?

When I say “conservative,” I mean it in a conservative sense, a traditional sense. No, I’m not trying to claim intellectual descent from Edmund Burke, because frankly I’ve never read Burke. In fact, the whole Burke thing confuses me: How could he be the father of conservatism, and be a Whig?

No, I’m more self-taught in this regard. And, quite frankly, even though I tend to pride myself on thinking things through rationally, this is a gut thing. (That’s what liberals think all conservatism is, don’t they — viscera over mind?) And in fact, it may not be self-taught as much as it relates to things I learned when I was so young I don’t remember learning them, things as basic as how you ought to treat other people (short version: with respect) and such.

And this gut thing of mine causes me to feel disgust at so many who insist that they are “conservative,” when they are institution-destroying radicals. I tried getting at this in early 2008, in a column headlined “Give me that old-time conservatism.” (That link was to The State‘s version, which I was pleased and surprised to find still up. Here’s the blog version, which includes links.)

What returns me to the subject was that call from Jack Van Loan last night, and some of the comments from my blog friends. Doug wrote:

There are more and more players this season who are sitting for the anthem. Marshawn Lynch is probably the most visible right now. To me, it’s a relatively harmless (and probably useless) way for a person to express his displeasure with the events of the day. The best course would be to ignore them if you disagree rather than try to vilify them….

I responded more or less as follows…

It’s outrageous. It’s completely uncivilized behavior. I don’t care what your issue is, you don’t do something that amounts to a general “F___ You!” to the entire nation over that one issue. (OK, I did something inconsistent with my own sensibilities there — chalk it up to my strong feelings on the issue, and my wish to engage the interest of moderns.)

(To elaborate on that point, Doug responded facetiously to my reply by saying “I must have missed Rosa Parks’ pamphlet: ‘Top Ten Reasons I Should Sit In The Front of the Bus’.” Which offered me a perfect opportunity to explain further: What Rosa Parks did was moderate, measured, proportional and to the point. She’d had enough of being disrespected, so she didn’t move. What the football player did was as different from that as night from the day. He flipped off the whole country in order to make an unrelated point. And if you think it is relevant and proportional to the point — if you think the whole country is rotten (which is what disrespecting the flag says) because on rare occasions (proportionally) a cop engages in violence that may or may not be based in his own personal racial attitudes — then you’re not thinking clearly. It’s a matter of focus, a matter of specificity, a matter of clarity.)

This is where my essential, bedrock conservatism comes into play. Real conservatism, not the nihilistic garbage that so many loudly proclaim these days.

I don’t ask much from people in the way of acting civilized. I just expect them not to go out of their way to do things that amount to a slap in the face to their fellow citizens, things that flip off our essential institutions.

I don’t ask you to go to my church. But I expect some respect toward that fundamental institution, toward all such fundamental institutions. If I were an atheist, I’d be a devout one. When someone said a prayer in my presence, I’d respectfully bow my head and be silent until they were done. Because to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the person and his beliefs. It’s like when I was in Thailand, and this lady who had hosted and fed us for two days in her home invited us to kneel beside her at the little Buddhist altar in her home to pray for our safety on the rest of our journey (or so my daughter explained, this being all in Thai), I gladly knelt and bowed my head. If I’d known the Thai for “amen,” I’d have thrown one in. When in Rome.

I feel the same way about other institutions of our civilization (and whatever civilization I’m visiting) — the government, our courts, public schools, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, the military, the national anthem, the flag, and yes, motherhood, the girl next door and apple pie (even though I am allergic to apple pie, so that it benefits me on no way). And I expect a modicum of respect for these things from my fellow citizens. They don’t have to exert themselves; they just need to not go out of their way to insult these things.

And when they do, forgive me if I don’t pay attention to the issue they’re trying to dramatize. If you want to advocate an issue, use your words — don’t use unfocused gestures of insult toward the whole society. That is childish, and I would add, barbaric — senselessly destructive. And I’m not going to hear you.

Use your words.

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version). Welcome home, George Bailey!

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version here). Welcome home, George Bailey!

Cindi gets the Wilson-Quinn memo issue just right

Cindi got it exactly right in this column:

Here’s an excerpt from the column:

So Mr. Wilson was not asking for advice from a target of the investigation, which would have been a resign or be removed from office sort of infraction. And worse.Wilson cropped

What he was doing — what no prosecutor should do — was consulting his political adviser about a criminal case. Mr. Wilson points out that he was not asking how to prosecute a case. He says his concern was to get through the exchange with “a cordial relationship” with Mr. Pascoe intact; and indeed, Mr. Quinn suggested removing some snark and making the letter more diplomatic. (In the end, Mr. Wilson called Mr. Pascoe rather than sending a letter.)

But the underlying topic was still a criminal matter.

Pretend that Mr. Wilson’s consultant had been named John Smith or Jane Jones or anything other than Richard Quinn. Pretend that his political consultant had never met Richard Quinn or Rick Quinn or Jim Merrill. Pretend that Alan Wilson was the only South Carolinian his political consultant had ever heard of. It still would have been inappropriate for Mr. Wilson to consult him. It simply is not acceptable for a prosecutor to seek political advice about anything involving his job as a prosecutor….

The point here is that the memo was sent at a time when there was little or no reason to suspect that Quinn would at some time be a central figure in the investigation. So all that stuff from the Democrats about how Wilson should resign or be fired is off-base.

But it is improper for a prosecutor to seek political advice on how he’s dealing with a criminal investigation. The fact that all elected AGs most likely do it is no excuse.

So, if and when Wilson faces re-election to his post, and voters are tallying the pros and cons as to whether to vote for him, this should go in the “con” column. And that’s about it.

Graham’s healthcare plan: I’m just not seeing it

Graham pushing his healthcare plan in Columbia today.

Graham pushing his healthcare plan in Columbia today.

Y’all know I tend to be a fan of Lindsey Graham, but sometimes I just can’t go along.

The healthcare plan he’s touting is one of those times.

Yeah, I appreciate that he’s been dismissive of what other Republicans have been putting up in their desperation to be able to say they “repealed Obamacare.” And I like that he says “federalism” a lot in advocating for it. And that it’s really, really different from anything the GOP leadership in Washington has come up with yet.

But that’s about it.

Basically, he wants to turn it all over to the states: Have the feds give the states block grants, and let the states decide for themselves what kind of system they want. His plan for getting it through an Obamacare-repeal-weary Senate is to enlist governors to help him push it — he says our own Henry McMaster likes it.

There are a couple things about it that bug me. First, the whole idea of having 50 little systems instead of one big one. To my mind, that throws away one of the greatest advantages of having a governmental system — a gigantic national system that includes everybody (which you’d have if you had real mandates with teeth) gives you economies of scale, and the mother of all bargaining positions when it comes to negotiating costs down.

I asked the senator about that at a press availability he had at his Columbia office today. He replied that costs have risen dramatically in the Medicare and Medicaid systems, so my principle doesn’t work.

This was a general availability for working press, so I didn’t do what I would have done in an editorial board meeting: argue with him. I didn’t say, How do you know costs wouldn’t have risen much higher with 50 separate systems? Nor did I say, if there’s any reform that might lower costs or slow increases, wouldn’t it be easier to implement nationally than in 50 different systems?

And I didn’t get into the essential unfairness of forcing Americans to leave their homes and move to another state if their state doesn’t provide the health benefits they need.

Which seems a scenario South Carolinians would likely face. I ask you, what sort of system do you think we’re likely to get in a state that said “no” to Medicaid expansion — to a deal under which the feds would have covered the whole additional cost for the first three years, and 90 percent of it thereafter? How savvy was that? Do you want the same elected leaders who turned that down designing a system?

I may have voted for John Kasich last year (partly because the decision he made to expand Medicaid), and would do so again given the same primary choice, but I wouldn’t want to have to move to Ohio to get decent coverage. Would you?

Some other topics Graham covered at the presser:

  • Charlottesville. He said Trump missed a big opportunity Saturday to “jump on hate with both feet.” He said the white supremacists think they have an ally in the president, and “Donald Trump’s job is to persuade them that he is not their friend.” He gives Trump credit for saying good things Monday, but that must be followed by action. The administration needs to “come down like a hammer” on hate groups. He wants to see Sessions prosecuting what happened aggressively. “Don’t let these people drag us back into the darkness.”
  • The abandonment of SCANA and Santee Cooper’s nuclear project. Setting aside the fact that what he said may now be out of date, I liked what he said. He said if these two plants and the one in Georgia all fail, “that’s the end of the nuclear renaissance.” And that’s bad news for anyone who cares about global warming or energy independence. He points to France as a country that wisely gets most of its power from nuclear, and notes with satisfaction that at 50 percent, South Carolina already gets a higher proportion of its power from that source than any other state. He doesn’t want to see us, or the nation as a whole, lose that advantage, and asks, “What has happened to our industrial base that we can’t do big things anymore?”
  • “I don’t think war is imminent with North Korea.” But he does worry about the future if Kim is not stopped. He worries less, though, about a direct attack on the United States — he thinks Kim’s generals can restrain him — and more about a future when Kim has the H bomb, and is in a position to sell it to others who may use it. And he puts the onus on North Korea’s big neighbor, saying “China is 100 percent responsible for North Korea.” Without Chinese support, he said, there is no Kim regime.

Identity politics is not the way forward for America

You ever see a Latin American Casta painting? They were used in colonial times to help everyone keep straight in their minds the rigid caste system based meticulously on various shades of racial heritage.

You ever see a Latin American Casta painting? They were used in colonial times to help everyone keep straight in their minds the rigid caste system in the Spanish colonies, based meticulously on various shades of racial heritage.

That would seem to be obvious, wouldn’t it, when we’re speaking of the white supremacists who demonstrated in Charlottesville?

But I mean it more broadly. This comes to mind because of a piece I read in the NYT Saturday, before the violence that led to three deaths.

The column, by Frank Bruni, wasn’t about Charlottesville. At least, he didn’t mention it. It was the sort of piece that steps back from the news and asks where we’re headed. It was headlined “I’m a White Man. Hear Me Out.” As a guy who’s been concerned about the Left’s obsession with Identity Politics for some years now, I was immediately drawn to that headline. And it was a good piece. It began:

I’m a white man, so you should listen to absolutely nothing I say, at least on matters of social justice. I have no standing. No way to relate. My color and gender nullify me, and it gets worse: I grew up in the suburbs. Dad made six figures. We had a backyard pool. From the 10th through 12th grades, I attended private school. So the only proper way for me to check my privilege is to realize that it blinds me to others’ struggles and should gag me during discussions about the right responses to them.

But wait. I’m gay. And I mean gay from a different, darker day. In that pool and at that school, I sometimes quaked inside, fearful of what my future held. Back then — the 1970s — gay stereotypes went unchallenged, gay jokes drew hearty laughter and exponentially more Americans were closeted than out. We conducted our lives in whispers. Then AIDS spread, and we wore scarlet letters as we marched into the public square to plead with President Ronald Reagan for help. Our rallying cry, “silence = death,” defined marginalization as well as any words could.

So where does that leave me? Who does that make me? Oppressor or oppressed? Villain or victim? And does my legitimacy hinge on the answer?

To listen to some of the guardians of purity on the left, yes…

Of course, being a thoughtful sort, he disagrees with that assessment. He goes on to explain why, and pretty persuasively, I think. But then, I didn’t need persuading.

I urge you to read the whole column.

I like his ending, so I will share it and hope the NYT regards it as fair use:

… At the beginning of this column I shared the sorts of personal details that register most strongly with those Americans who tuck each of us into some hierarchy of blessedness and affliction. So you know some important things about me, but not the most important ones: how I responded to the random challenges on my path, who I met along the way, what I learned from them, the degree of curiosity I mustered and the values that I honed as a result.

Those construct my character, and shape my voice, to be embraced or dismissed on its own merits. My gayness no more redeems me than my whiteness disqualifies me. And neither, I hope, defines me.

Bruni seemed to expect to get some criticism for his column. That’s something that all opinion columnists expect. His one beef was his concern that too much of it would be of this variety. Shut up, white man. You have nothing of value to contribute.

He had a cautionary example before him: The reaction to a piece written right after the election by Mark Lilla, described by Wikipedia as “a self-described liberal,” was of just that sort — criticism rooted in his white-manness, not in the quality of his arguments.

That essay in November was somewhat optimistically headlined “The End of Identity Liberalism.” What he is describing is something that has by no means ended. But he suggests that its time as a viable strategy for winning elections is past, if there ever was such a time.

Lilla, like Bruni, made good arguments. (Again, I was part of the choir on this, so maybe reaching me wasn’t a major accomplishment.) It’s a longer piece, in which Lilla introduces his theme this way:

But how should this diversity shape our politics? The standard liberal answer for
nearly a generation now has been that we should become aware of and “celebrate”
our differences. Which is a splendid principle of moral pedagogy — but disastrous as
a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age. In recent years American
liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual
identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a
unifying force capable of governing.

One of the many lessons of the recent presidential election campaign and its
repugnant outcome is that the age of identity liberalism must be brought to an end.
Hillary Clinton was at her best and most uplifting when she spoke about American
interests in world affairs and how they relate to our understanding of democracy.
But when it came to life at home, she tended on the campaign trail to lose that large
vision and slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to AfricanAmerican,
Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop. This was a strategic
mistake. If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all
of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded. Which, as the data
show, was exactly what happened with the white working class and those with strong religious convictions. Fully two-thirds of white voters without college degrees voted
for Donald Trump, as did over 80 percent of white evangelicals…

And here’s the kind of future toward which Lilla urges liberals:

We need a post-identity liberalism, and it should draw from the past successes
of pre-identity liberalism. Such a liberalism would concentrate on widening its base
by appealing to Americans as Americans and emphasizing the issues that affect a
vast majority of them. It would speak to the nation as a nation of citizens who are in
this together and must help one another. As for narrower issues that are highly
charged symbolically and can drive potential allies away, especially those touching
on sexuality and religion, such a liberalism would work quietly, sensitively and with
a proper sense of scale. (To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, America is sick and tired of
hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.)

Teachers committed to such a liberalism would refocus attention on their main
political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their
system of government and the major forces and events in our history. A post-identity
liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. A postidentity
liberal press would begin educating itself about parts of the country that
have been ignored, and about what matters there, especially religion. And it would
take seriously its responsibility to educate Americans about the major forces shaping
world politics, especially their historical dimension…

Amen to that. And I would likewise say “amen” to a “post-identity conservatism.” Personally, I don’t care where it comes from on the ideological spectrum, because I don’t believe in the ideological spectrum, which I see as just another way that short-sighted people seek to divide us.

The liberal, conservative or (oh, consummation devoutly to be wished!) independent who compelling invokes what we have in common as Americans, and builds a vision for our future on it, has my vote.