Jennifer Rubin on ‘Four ideas for surviving in the Trump era’

Jennifer Rubin’s a principled conservative, and her writing is both insightful and clear. Rubin’s blog and Twitter feed have been must reading for years (including her posts when she was blogging at Commentary; she’s now at the Washington Post).  In a time when it would be easy to speak lies to power, she’s remained honest.

The title of Rubin’s post is Four ideas for surviving in the Trump era (emphasis mine), but she’s writing not merely about surviving, but about prevailing.

She offers four points:

1.Right and left must end their sworn allegiance to economic determinism…We can reject Trump’s message of xenophobia, sexism and racism and the urge from populists to infantilize white, working-class voters as helpless victims. We are left, however, with an acute need to cultivate a sense of belonging — to nation, community and shared values….

2. Government likely won’t get better, so look elsewhere…. [Trump] presents us with the opportunity not only to rebalance power between the executive and legislative branches and between the federal and state governments, but between the public and private sector. The latter includes philanthropy, civil society and business. We all have looked too frequently to the government for fixes and mandates; now is the time to look to voluntary efforts, persuasion and advocacy aimed directly at business. (One silver lining to Trump’s election: An outpouring of donations and volunteer offers to charitable and public advocacy groups.)….

3. We need massive civic education. If we learned anything in the 2016 election, it is that a slick charismatic figure can trash the First Amendment, threaten all sorts of unconstitutional actions, incite violence and appeal to naked prejudice with nary a peep from the majority of voters. In fact, the more disrespectful of our democratic institutions and civil liberties Trump became, the louder they cheered….

4. The sane center has to be supported. If the left goes the way of democratic socialists and the right in the direction of European national front parties, we are going to need a coalition from center-left to center-right to support democratic norms and reasoned proposals for education, criminal justice and immigration reform….

There’s need for a grand coalition of which libertarians will be one part, and along the way we will have use of inspirational suggestions for opposition, tactical steps one can take (such as Rubin’s), a brief reference guide of renowned writings to which we can refer, and particular techniques to combat Trump’s ceaseless lying and his surrogates’ ceaseless sophistry.

Our success is not in doubt, and we have reason to agree with Rubin that “[w]ould it have been better to elect a prepared, stable and intellectually coherent president? Sure, but in the meantime, there is plenty of good work to be done.”

Anecdotes About Politics in a Small Town

I posted last week about how it’s mistaken to think that most leaders in a small town are direct, forthright (see Plain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders).

Here are two stories about how politics sometimes works in a small town.

At a candidates’ forum last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a few residents speaking about their candidacies for a local office. One of the questions for each candidate was what he or she thought of Act 10. (For new readers visiting from out-of state, first a welcome, and second an explanation that Act 10 is the provision of Wisconsin law by which, among other provisions, Wisconsin restricts the collective bargaining rights of most public workers.)

Act 10 has been controversial, and so there’s really no one in the state who doesn’t have an opinion, one way or the other. Among candidates for office – those who are actually thinking about politics – anyone should have a clear opinion, whether favorable or unfavorable. (I opposed Act 10 as I doubted it would save money, and more fundamentally because I believe that anyone, in any vocation, should be able to organize vigorously against government for any lawful reason. That, by the way, would be the traditional libertarian view. My opposition has been clear.)

As it turns out, the oldest of the three candidates, having been in local politics for decades, couldn’t give a straight answer. Instead, he ventured that he once supported Act 10, before the felt that perhaps it might have gone a bit too far, before his voice trailed off and he had nothing more to say on the matter.

All those decades in office, so eager to be a town notable, and on one of the biggest political topics of state politics – affecting every community in Wisconsin – nothing but an ambiguous, let’s-not-make-waves answer.

That’s a scene from small-town politics.

(An aside: After the forum, this same candidate saw me in the audience, noticed that I had a notebook, and walked over to speak to me. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, but he did point to the notebook and ask, “where are you from?” One could guess his meaning, but I decided to give an unexpected answer, so I told him the name of the street on which I live, to see how he would react. He showed no sign that I was teasing him, not the slightest sense of humor or irony, and instead replied, “No, I mean what paper are you from?”

I smiled, and told him that I wasn’t from a newspaper, but was merely taking notes. He politely reassured me that it was okay to take notes during a public candidates forum. For a moment I thought that I would thank him for his gracious reassurance, but I decided against it, as he might have taken that, too, as a literal reply.)

Here’s my second anecdote, from public ceremony, a few years ago. While introducing a guest speaker, a local politician stopped to ask how long that speaker had lived in the community, and the speaker replied that he had been in Whitewater for (if I recall) about thirty years or so.  On hearing this, the politician approvingly replied that he guessed the townies (a term I don’t use) must have thought that after so much time he was one of their own.

Now I’ve lived in Whitewater for many years, have been an American all my life, from a family that was American before there was an America (so to speak), but it would never have occur to me to think what others thought on the matter should ever matter to me.

To think otherwise is to be mired in an identity politics.  Identity politics is strong in a place like Whitewater, but such strength as that only leads to a weak economy of empty streets, empty stores, low-wage jobs, and deteriorating buildings.

If someone came here a lifetime, a year, or a day ago, my first thought would be the same: what does one believe, and how will one carry on in advancement of those beliefs?  What does one think, and what will one do?

The proper question isn’t where or when, but what.   Where should be about what, about those principles that uplift and improve.

The gap between successful and unsuccessful towns is measured in the distance between where and what, each additional inch of separation being a community loss.

Berlusconi’s Political Career as a Partial Analog for Trump’s

One reads much these days about how similar Trump and Silvio Berlusconi supposedly are. There’s something tempting about comparing Trump’s political situation to Silvio Berlusconi’s: both are businessmen, held no earlier office before winning a national election, are admirers of Putin, crude, anti-intellectual, and lecherous.

There’s reason to look at parallels between the two; one needn’t look at those parallels exclusively, or with high confidence.

In The Dangers of Anti-Trumpism, Cinzia Arruzza argues that “Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Italian prime minister shows how not to resist an authoritarian demagogue.”  She’s careful, however, about the strength and weakness of comparing the two:

Trump’s very resistible rise to power is, to a certain extent, more astonishing than Berlusconi’s more predictable first electoral victory. While Trump hijacked the Republican Party, running up against opposition from a large part of the Republican establishment and from the media, Berlusconi used his media empire to both control information and create a new political party, accordingly reshaping the political spectrum….

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience….

That seems right: that there is something to learn, but that something offers a limited, partial understanding.

(In any event, I’ve no confidence whatever that a move toward Arruzza’s suggestion of a “radical and credible alternative” [emphasis added] would be a sound alternative to Trump.  Arruzza contends that “it was thanks to the neoliberal and austerity policies carried out by the center-left in the subsequent six years [after Berlusconi was first ousted] that Berlusconi’s power was consolidated [in his return to office].

I’ll not question her sense of the Italian scene, and how a traditional approach only allowed Berlusconi to return to office.  It’s enough to observe that Trump is, simply put, a radical populist, and Americans will find nothing but hardship in replacing one radicalism with another.  Running away from constitutional and political norms in a different direction won’t make us stronger.)

So for us, of Berlusconi’s example, one can say that there are lessons, but only partial ones.

Stakeholder’s Just Another Word for Special Interest

local In a small town like Whitewater, there’s much emphasis on finding and listening to stakeholders. In fact, local policymaking is mostly stakeholder policymaking.

As stakeholders aren’t merely and exclusively residents, but are more often influential residents and local special interests (business groups, business people, etc.) there’s a double-counting of connected residents, as though one gets a vote as a resident and again as a resident business person, for example. Stakeholders are mostly longstanding incumbents. A stakeholder politics is like nepotism, with longstanding, cozy connections instead of blood ties.

Officials in Whitewater will complain about a same-ten-people problem, but stakeholder politics rests on the same ten people, not as problem, but as a cardinal feature.

The benefit to officials is that the same ten people are well-known, and unlikely to present surprises. The disadvantage is that the same ten people exercise authority under conditions of dirigisme and so of stagnation. Familiarity brings a price tag of insularity, stagnation, and relative decline. See, along these lines, The People in the Room.

To get a sense of how addled stakeholder politics is, consider an account of a meeting two years ago to find a new chancellor for UW-Whitewater. (See, from a local newspaper, UW-Whitewater chancellor session held.)   The story – written not by a reporter but a ‘correspondent’ with university ties – describes a search consultant’s question to the assembled town notables:

[Search Consultant] Kozloff stated, “We really want to get a sense from all the various stakeholders of what you’re looking for in this new leader.”

“Many of you have known Dick Telfer for a number of years,” Bellman said. “We’re also interested in characteristics, attributes, strengths and skills that Dick has displayed over the years … things that you felt were particularly positive in integrating and understanding what is important in the community.”

….Much of the discussion focused on characteristics of Telfer that the group believes would be essential in a new chancellor, including high energy, being approachable and a good listener, understanding that the university is one of the major economic anchors in the community, and being a visible and active member of community life.

[Whitewater City Manager] Clapper said he hoped that the new chancellor would, like Telfer, “think about not just what’s going on in the office — not just what’s going on on campus — but how those those are going to impact the community that surrounds it.”

If one read only the story, and believed it as written, one wouldn’t guess that Telfer was passed over as chancellor more than once, pushed state capitalist schemes in opposition to any evident understanding of economics or entrepreneurship, presided over a campus with a large number of sexual assaults, two of which led to federal complaints against the university, and would later find himself a defendant in a federal lawsuit from a coach who would claim defamation and that the coach’s firing was the result of reporting a sexual assault to the police.  (I’ve a link to a long list of posts describing Telfer’s disappointing career.)

It’s wholly possible that every stakeholder in the room that day believed everything that he or she said. Meaning, of course, that it’s wholly possible that every stakeholder in the room that day lacked the discernment and judgment expected of an ordinary person.

The truth of stakeholder politics is special interest politics, and the result of special interest politics is weak judgment that produces inferior results.

The Post-Truth Crowd

Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN political commentator and the political editor of Right Alerts, blithely declares that we’re in a post-truth era, where facts don’t exist apart from opinion:

“It is an idea of an opinion. On one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies but on the other half there are many people who say, no, it’s true….

One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts – they’re not really facts….

Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There are no such things, unfortunately, as facts.

So Mr Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth.”

One encounters this on Twitter frequently.  Consider the following exchange I had there recently:

Adams: Inner monologue replaces epistemology: Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally http://nyti.ms/2gvxNOi

Chutzpah (Deplorable) [his handle, not my description]: Quoting NYT defeats your purpose and makes it fiction. Journalists should prove #trump wrong not just yell falsehoods.

One sees three things here: (1) Chutzpah (Deplorable) believes that although Trump can assert what he wants, it’s not Trump’s burden of proof to confirm Trump’s own statements, (2) nothing in the New York Times can be right, and (3) it’s supposedly clever to defend Trump (whose most rabid Twitter followers include a cadre of anti-Semites) while using a Yiddish term and describing oneself as deplorable.

The big issue is that ‘Chutzpah (Deplorable)’ and his ilk (Russian trolls, nativists, etc.) think that those who assert have no obligation to prove their own contentions – it’s others who have to disprove them.  This is convenient, because by that standard if they spew twenty baseless claims per hour, they’ll tie up the discourse with no greater effort than the time it takes to make up stories.

This is an attempt to overturn millennia of reasoning by shifting the philosophical burden of proof.

Likewise, although the frequency of baseless claims during the national campaign seems new (and cumulatively vast), it’s not new at the local level, where many communities have listened to glad-handing excuse-makers for years, even as conditions decline.  See Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One.

Locally, it’s often a choice between whether one believes small-town officials & their sycophantic defenders or one’s own lying eyes.

A fact-free perspective is now a national problem, one that its defenders present as fact that there are no facts, the truth that there is no truth.

We’ll be years fighting this, but better to fight now for a few hard years, rather than many lost decades.

Saletan’s Faint Hope of Manipulating an Autocrat

Somewhere, there’s sure to be someone insisting that a hooligan who beat someone unconscious only did so from insecurity, envy, or bad toilet training.  That explanation should be of no comfort to a victim (should the victim even recover). The one thing of which one can be sure is that someone attacked another, causing severe injury.

In a similar way, William Saletan, writing at Slate, finds it reassuring to declare that Trump’s many whims and insecurities can be manipulated, in an essay entitled, Here’s how to manipulate Trump. On this reading, Trump’s a character defective man whose worst tendencies are manageable.

This is a false, silly reassurance: even if  Trump were easily manipulated, that task will only fall to a few schemers near him, not the tens of millions who will experience economic and personal loss as Trump tramples liberties and rejects sound policies.

Worse, of course, is the truth that an inner weakling who breaks another’s nose is still someone who broke another’s nose.  That he did these things from ignorance or disorder matters less than that one is covered in crimson.   The common person who suffers injury will not be able to manipulate anyone in power, shouldn’t have to do so, and would be a fool to think there’s consolation in the belief that he was injured only from another’s supposed emotional weakness.

Saletan can save his silly psychological analysis; the work of defending personal liberty will fall to those who resist transgressions without speculating about whether the transgressors are weak.

Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism

On Twitter, conservative @Evan_McMullin lists ten principles for political opposition under a Trump Administration. Libertarians would do well to embrace, and live each day, all ten. McMullin’s ten tweets began on December 4th at 12:08 PM and concluded at 12:12 PM.

(Points Six and Seven are especially important: it’s a grand coalition that we’ll need, and so we should and must embrace people of all walks of life in our common political endeavor. Libertarians have much to contribute through our resolute defense of free markets, individual liberty, and peace; we will find that we have much to gain in alliances and with the support of others, ideologically different from us, who yet share a commitment to a free society.)

Listed below are all ten of McMullin’s points, useful for reviewing often to assure one stays on the right path.

1. Read and learn the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Know that our basic rights are inalienable.

2. Identify and follow many credible sources of news. Be very well informed and learn to discern truth from untruth.

3. Watch every word, decision and action of Trump and his administration extremely closely, like we have never done before in America.

4. Be very vocal in every forum available to us when we observe Trump’s violations of our rights and our democracy. Write, speak, act.

5. Support journalists, artists, academics, clergy and others who speak truth and who inform, inspire and unite us.

6. Build bridges with Americans from the other side of the traditional political spectrum and with members of diverse American communities.

7. Defend others who may be threatened by Trump even if they don’t look, think or believe like us. An attack on one is an attack on all.

8. Organize online and in person with other Americans who understand the danger Trump poses and who are also willing to speak up.

9. Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.

10. And finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, have “malice toward none, with charity for all” and never ever lose hope!

Lindsey Graham and Jennifer Rubin are Right About Healthcare

There’s a difference between disliking – strongly – a federal intrusion into the marketplace like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the policy & politics of a replacement (if any).

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham outlines the policy problem with changes to the ACA:

“Once you say that everybody should be covered, can’t be denied coverage because they are sick – which most Americans would agree with that – you put yourself in a box. Insurance is about young people who are healthy buying insurance like you all to pay for me and him,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, pointing to the oldest reporter in the scrum. “If you don’t have to buy insurance until you get sick, most people won’t. That’s where the mandate becomes important.”

Graham added: “Somebody’s got to work through this problem. If we’re going to accept the proposition that you can never be denied coverage because you’ve been sick, then somebody’s got to create a system where people participate.”

The political problem is on conservative Jennifer Rubin’s mind:

If the GOP votes to end Obamacare with no concrete plan in place, it will freak out millions of people, the very working-class voters who chose President-elect Donald Trump, and hand the Democrats the perfect vehicle for regaining majorities. Indeed, it is remarkable that Hillary Clinton did not tell voters over and over again — in response to Trump’s “What do you have to lose?” argument — that one thing they risked losing was health care.

For many Republicans, the Republican House and Senate majorities’ failure to pass a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare was a never-ending source of frustration. In truth, that alternative, as a political matter, is rather difficult to achieve.

That doesn’t mean that the ACA shouldn’t be changed, or replaced. It means that for those who voted for repeal but also want key provisions of the law to continue, there’s either going to be a sacrifice of some of their desires or a lot of creative work to be done.  Promising an easy repeal and an acceptable replacement was easy only in the promising; there’s no legislative solution that won’t disappoint many.

For a look at some solutions (although ones that neither conservatives nor liberals may ever accept), see Replacing Obamacare: The Cato Institute on Health Care Reform (2012) and Cato’s more recent writings on the subject.

It has been easier to turn away from the marketplace for Democrats (2010) and Republicans (now) than it has been to find a legislative plan that won’t upset millions of people whose expectations are very high.

Plain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders

localThere’s a quaint – but false – notion that people in small towns are uncommonly plain-spoken, even blunt.  One sometimes sees examples of this in films or books, where residents are depicted as folksy straight-talkers (“shucks, I don’t cotton to no one abusing nobody,” etc.).  I’ve never heard anyone in Whitewater speak so colorfully, and I’ve doubts that anyone not on a Hollywood set actually speaks like this.

Most people – and certainly most leaders – in this small town don’t often speak bluntly and openly.  On the contrary, there’s bias against mentioning problems publicly, even if they stem from intentional, grievous misconduct.

Now, and in the years ahead, one can expect that a multi-ethic community such as this one will see heightened slurs and abuse, overuse of force against a few, and (much) official quiescence in the face of it. (Some will even encourage this, convinced that pressure is justified against others and feeling that it is cathartic for themselves.)

Early on, perhaps a few officials will try to stress the positive, hiding others’ wrongful conduct from view, on the theory that the worst of all this will go away.

It won’t.  Those who keep their heads down may later find that they’ve no longer the strength to lift them up again.  A difficult near-term for Whitewater is likely to get worse.  These actions will prove wrong in-and-of themselves, and secondarily will prove an effective retardant against discerning, prosperous newcomers. Such newcomers – much sought by local development officials – will go elsewhere.

No matter, sadly: most locally will carry on as they have been.

For communities choosing the quieter response, including this one, the die is cast.

Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One

localThere’s post-election consternation about the amount of bogus news sites on social media.  This concern pairs with the worry that fact-checking from major news organizations doesn’t work well when candidates simply lie and refuse either correction or apology.

This may be a recent national development – at least on this scale – but local news for small towns has been dishonest (mostly by omission), conflicted (so much so that sometimes the same people make and write the news), or simply mediocre (where cheerleading replaces analysis) for years.

(Obvious point: this is a site of commentary, not traditional news reporting. Always has been, always will be.  There’s a difference between the two;  I’ve never had a problem seeing as much.)

I’d describe the emergence of local fake (or low-quality) news like this: (1) local print publications wrote and reasoned poorly, (2) print began to decline, (3) advertisers grew anxious, (4) these same print publications and their imitators went online, (5) publications still wrote and reasoned poorly, (6) publishers also had trouble making money online, (7) so print had fewer advertisers than ever, (8) remaining readership skewed old and down-market, (9) publishers focused on keeping the low-quality readership that they had left, (10) producing weaker  analysis but stronger cheerleading to comfort aged, complacent, or undemanding readers, (11) local digital became a mere imitation of low-quality local print journalism, (12) the local level of self-deception and confusion became so great that local politicians styled themselves as newsmen, with notebooks and voice recorders, (13) community leaders pushed wasteful, counter-productive projects with no legacy-press criticism, (14) as conditions grew worse, community leaders demanded more cheerleading, facts-be-damned, and (15) here we are, with communities facing stagnation and relative decline.

[For a discussion of whether national publications handled the transition to digital properly, consider the exchange about whether investment in digital was a good idea between Jack Shafer (What If the Newspaper Industry Made a Colossal Mistake?) and  Steve Buttry (The newspaper industry’s colossal mistake was a defensive digital strategy).  I’m with Buttry.  The newspaper industry was & has been too cautious about digital, as he describes from his experience:

The few times I heard truly creative ideas for reporting news and generating revenue in the digital marketplace, they met with huge skepticism and open resistance. The newspaper industry settled for repurposing and extending editorial content in a marketplace that demanded and rewarded visionary new products.

(Emphasis mine.)]

Poor reasoning, dodgy data, heapings of the insistence that all is well (one’s lying eyes to the contrary) make up the local fake news that small towns have consumed for years.

If one is worried (rightly) that national politicians lie with impunity, it’s fair to say that the residents of small towns across America have experienced, and some have become inured to, political lies and deceptions for many years.  The national scene is experiencing, sadly, what’s been true locally a long time.

Libertarianism is Enough: Goodbye to the LP

There’s a saying that some libertarians are born and others are made (as a result, tragically, of experiencing misconduct at the hands of the state). Libertarianism of both origins, especially those of us from movement (old) libertarian families, has been around long before the Libertarian Party – the LP – was formed in late 1971. Needless to say, there have been liberty-centric political views long before the term libertarian became popular.

Some of us have been both libertarians and members of the LP.  Now, however, after a contentious major-party election in which the LP did poorly, and more significantly after which libertarians now face an incoming administration that promises to increase vastly state intrusion into all parts of civil society, one may soundly contend that the Libertarian Party is of no use to libertarians.

I cannot imagine joining one of the two major parties, now or ever.  Still, there are votes to be cast, and we will have to choose from among the principal choices before us.  Those of us with views far older than the LP need no party membership to make our way in this country, or in traveling anywhere else in the world.

The recent obsessive pride with how long some people have been on this continent – so common among the radical populist right – is both wrong and futile: it’s wrong because the past confers not entitlement but obligation, and futile because most of this ilk are themselves relative newcomers by the measure of settlement on these shores.  They are fanatical, destructive, and obdurate.

When one recalls one’s past, it is in reply to those few nativists who believe that the past means only what they believe it means.   They are wrong, of course, but it is just as important to remember that they are not to be underestimated: they show delight and pleasure in the wrong.

Imagine, then, after an election in which the LP did poorly, and in which libertarians now face a long struggle against radical populist advocates of state power, the surprise in reading an invitation from Wes Benedict, executive director of the national LP, that

It is time to party…

You are invited to an end of the year

CELEBRATION!

2016 has been a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party!

Wes Benedict may go to hell, and celebrate there in the outer darkness for so long as he wishes.

Others of us, libertarians by birth or circumstance, inheritors of the freedom philosophy, have work to do: an authoritarianism has ruined one great political party, crippled another, and seeks to direct the lives of hundreds of millions across a continent.  Some of our fellow citizens will yield from ignorance, others from misplaced hope, and a few from selfish opportunity.

We’ve work, not celebration, ahead.  Our views, and not a party that so carelessly and indolently represents them, is all we need.

The National-Local Mix

localI’ve written at FREE WHITEWATER for over nine years, and I’ll be writing here for far longer to come.  A good friend asked me today if I’d given up on local coverage, and the easy answer is…not at all.  We’ve a small and beautiful city, well worth talking about and contending over.   A few quick remarks for longtime readers, and for some new readers who’ve come to FW since the election —

Plain Views.  I’ve written plainly before, and I’ll do the same now.  My views are libertarian, from a family that was liberty-oriented before the term libertarian became popular. (Dean Russell sometimes gets credit for boosting the word libertarian in 1955, but of course the ideas involved are far older.)  My family came here before the Revolution, and they and many others have held liberty-centric political views throughout their time on this continent, using other descriptions for their politics before libertarian took off in the second half of the twentieth century.

One could say less in the hope of pleasing more, but that’s likely futile.  I would happily decline an invitation to a gathering that favored acceptance over conviction (in the improbable & unwelcome event that anyone would send such an invitation to me).

The Limits of Local.  One of the themes of this site is that towns like ours accomplish the most when they embrace American and not local standards for politics & economics.  In fact, hyper-local standards in politics & economics are lesser standards, easy and comfortable for the myopic but inadequate for a competitive people.  There are a few websites or newspapers nearby that are hyper-local in focus.  That makes sense if one’s writing about a sewing club; it’s both sad and laughable as one’s way of considering political, economic, or fiscal policy.  If hyper-local politics were enough, then one might as well embrace a small village in authoritarian Russia as a small town in democratic America.

Putin’s not detestable because he speaks Russian; he’s detestable because he’s returned oppression to Russia.  The undeniable prettiness of particular Russian villages lessens Putin’s many sins, and Russia’s hardships, not in the slightest.

In same way, Whitewater is not beautiful simply because, so to speak, she’s beautiful; she’s beautiful because America is a free country of which Whitewater is one part.  Hyper-localism at the price of national standards reminds of nothing so much as Socrates’s remarks on the unexamined life.

Whitewater’s Near Term.  I’m an optimist about Whitewater’s longterm, but these next several years will prove difficult for this small, midwestern city.  Whitewater has significant poverty (especially child poverty), and limited growth.  Considering the principal possibilities of a drastic change of course now or a renaissance after continued decline, I’d guess we’ll prove an example of a city that chooses poorly, declines relatively, and rebounds only afterward.   (It needn’t have been this way, but too many mistakes have taken us past the point of a different course.)

Many have enjoyed the James & Deborah Fallows American Futures series on thriving small towns, and it’s disappointing to write that Whitewater’s near future probably will not be like that of those growing towns; there’s much that’s disconcerting about surveying a city – however naturally pretty – that’s a cautionary tale of what not to do.  Disconcerting, but not hard – the hardship of the wrong course will not fall on someone writing about our city, but on the many vulnerable people within it.

The future will write the history of the present; with few exceptions, it will be unkind to the last generation of local policymakers.

Logo.  When I write about local topics, I’ll add the logo that appears in the upper-left corner of this post.

The Mix of National and Local.  Most people in our city, or any other, are naturally sharp.  It’s a libertarian teaching – because it is true and always has been – that the overwhelming number of people are capable and clever (and so need less governmental meddling than they receive).  People who voted for one major party candidate or another are not worse for doing so.  It’s impossible that Americans were fundamentally good until a few weeks ago.

Voting for Clinton or Trump did not make the average person better or worse.  I don’t write this to ingratiate – that wouldn’t be my way, one can guess – but because saying so is consistent with what I have always believed about people.  (In any event, if someone who voted his or her conscience needs reassurance now, he or she should think more carefully.)

Trump is a fundamentally different candidate from those who have come before him.  Not grasping this would be obtuse.  Writing only about sewing circles or local clubs or a single local meeting while ignoring Trump’s vast power as president – and what it will bring about – would be odd.

Someone in Tuscany, circa 1925, had more to write about than the countryside.

One may think otherwise, of course.  It’s simply unrealistic to expect a libertarian to think otherwise (at least if the term is to have any meaning).

I’m not worried about posting both national and local topics, as though some nationally-focused posts will detract from local coverage.  The local die has been cast.  Describing near term local events is now careful narration more than advocacy.  There’s much to say, and in detail, but for local policymakers in this town there’s little room to move.  Perhaps the shifts they can make in the near future will still help those in need.

These will prove, I think, challenging times for those both near and far.

Trump’s Surrogates Know Exactly What the Alt-Right Is

A few days ago, during a panel discussion, New York Times columnist Charles Blow and Trump surrogate former Congressman Jack Kingston clashed over the racism of Trump’s alt-right supporters.  Kingston claimed not to know what the term alt-right meant, and Blow scolded Kingston for Kingston’s professed ignorance.  (Their exchange begins after 6:30 on the video.)

As a rhetorical matter, Blow’s response (‘your deficiencies of understanding are not my problem’) works well; but one should be plain that Kingston, a longtime politician with close ties to the Trump team, surely knows what alt-right means.

Kingston’s either a liar or an ignoramus to profess ignorance of the alt-right.  Breitbart Media, of which incoming Trump strategist Steve Bannon is CEO, published a guide to the alt-right in March (see, An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right).

The so-called guide begins as an exoneration of the alt-right from charges of racism, but quickly elides into praise for white nationalists, racial supremacists, and their publications.   The whole purpose of the guide is to acquaint traditional Americans with an ideological future under the alt-right: “[a] specter is haunting the dinner parties, fundraisers and think-tanks of the Establishment: the specter of the “alternative right.” Young, creative and eager to commit secular heresies, they have become public enemy number one to beltway conservatives — more hated, even, than Democrats or loopy progressives.”

The authors (Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulis) aim to shock conventional sensibilities; they aim to awe a traditional audience.

One will excuse me if, upon considering all this, I don’t find myself shocked or awed, let alone haunted: the last century was filled with false theories of racial supremacy, and this new clique pulls from those ideas, while pulling any number of obscure theorists to power.  (In any event, the play on Marx’s famous lines from the Communist Manifesto doesn’t shock, either: a theorist whose entire work went to the dustbin presents no insurmountable threat.)

This is how Trump surrogates will begin: denying connections while simultaneously appointing a few alt-rightists (like Bannon) to high posts. In six months there’ll be no denying – there’ll be celebrating by the same ilk while they simultaneously welcome more into the government.

Forget the Tactical (For Now)

This year hasn’t been a great one for polling, data operations, or vaunted GOTV efforts.  If it had been so, then Hillary Clinton would now be president-elect.  So much conventional tactical analysis (much of which I accepted) has proved erroneous.

There’s no gain, and much harm, in focusing on the tactical now.  Even if one were to overcome the deficiencies of previous analyses,  tactical considerations matter little at the moment, and won’t matter much in the next two years or so.  Where one places the chairs, how one sets the table, and whether someone wins an upcoming state or local election (as a supposed portent of something) is mere banality.

One reads that Trump’s transition team is filled with backbiting and disorder.  Yes, of course: did one expect otherwise?  His claims to competency were a confidence game, and what one sees now is like a an imitation of a mafia family’s squabbles.  (Not an actual mafia family, perhaps, but more like the kind one would see on B-grade television show or film.)

The fitting critique of Trump, apart from upcoming elections or single events, is a substantive, principled, ideological one.  Before one builds a house, there are blueprints to draw, and materials to ponder and collect.  We’ve years of critique and rumination ahead, and deep rumination is more than a consideration of which cog fits where in the Trump wheel.

It’s the grinding and direction of the wheel that matters.  Trump’s rise to federal power is not an abomination because of small matters of style, or even larger ones of self-promotion; Trump’s an abomination because he’s a mediocrity, a liar, and a bigot (in order of moral severity, from least to worst failings).

In fact, that’s probably the easiest way to describe him, a description the Ancients would have understood well from their own observations of human nature, without need to consider an unconscious mind or complicated psychoanalysis: mediocrity, liar, bigot.

Such a man can, and will, do much damage, but his early fumbling will scarcely be the half of it.

Of Course Most #NeverTrumpers Will Capitulate

Thousands who (admirably) devoted themselves to the #NeverTrump movement have already (sadly) begun to second-guess their opposition now that Trump’s heading to federal power. Ben Terris nicely describes the impulse – the natural reaction to yield to power – in Welcome to NeverTrump Grief, Stage 3: GOP skeptics bargain with Trump — and themselves.

One can be libertarian and yet admire – easily and truly – those conservatives who opposed Trump.

And yet, and yet – within a week or so, most of the formerly committed #NeverTrumpers have become #WantToKeepMyNewspaperColumnAndRadioGigPleaseForgetWhatISaid. One should not be surprised that capitulation took a mere week: politics has a social aspect, many of its practitioners are socially needy, and these same practitioners will do whatever they must to stay close to power, or at least close to a nice table, a nice party, and a nice private club.

Here’s Erick Erickson, formerly a #NeverTrump leader, seven days after the election:

Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit who served as an outspoken critic of Trump from the right, is pushing back against what he sees as a lot of “crying wolf” about the president-elect. So he says he’s giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. Even about controversial decisions such as hiring Bannon.

“If Obama got [Valerie] Jarrett, Trump can have Bannon,” he wrote for the Resurgent. “And when the alt-right goes marching through Washington or people start trying to round up Jews because of it, then we can raise the issue and provide shelter to those in need. But there is no guarantee that will happen.”

It’s hard to overstate how craven this is: Erickson doesn’t have a guarantee (to his satisfaction) that the alt-right won’t round up Jews, and if they were to do so, then Erickson promises he will be sure to “raise the issue.”  Perhaps he’ll send them a cautionary memo.

If the difference between peace and a pogrom depends on the lack of a guarantee of a pogrom, it’s an uncertain peace. A man walking down the street would like more than the lack of a guarantee that he’ll get attacked (“you’re good, buddy, ’cause there’s no formal assurance that you’ll be shot”).

Be not surprised: most people will initially rationalize – and thereafter accept and even celebrate – myriad transgressions and impositions. Yesterday’s abnormality will become tomorrow’s normality.

Weeks will become months, and months years, before we will see the collapse of this way. The coming period will mean loss for many, with lives disagreeably altered or wholly ruined. For those so injured, these months and years will seem an eternity.

What, though, of those who are by nature unyielding? Weeks, months, and years will effect no alternation in their opposition, in either intensity or duration.

We will carry on, waiting patiently until others, some returning and many new, in numbers exceeding our hopes, join us in a common cause. 

‘Critics Say So’

Is Stephen Bannon, newly-appointed chief strategist to Donald Trump, a racist.  A headline to a story on that subject comes with a limitation: critics say so. (See, Is Trump’s new chief strategist a racist? Critics say so.)

There’s the weakness of a legacy press: big money, high self-regard, but a small appetite for declaring definitely the character of a person’s views on a well-considered topic.

Is it so hard for a powerful paper to give readers an up-front answer?  Yes, it is, as a combination of past journalistic traditions, present need for readership, and an eternal desire to ingratiate with the next administration.

Reporter Weigel mostly exonerates Bannon of the charge of racism, relying in part on Morning Joe Scarborough’s exhaustive study of ‘like five different people’ that Scarborough happened to choose:

More importantly, Bannon helped shape a Trump message that won the condemnation of the Anti-Defamation League — and helped him in swing states. Trump’s closing ad, a two-minute edit of a speech he had given attacking the “global financial powers,” struck the ADL as hitting “anti-Semitic themes.” In the wider media, it was seen as stirring and populist.

“I played the clip for like five different people and I said, ‘Is that anti-Semitic?’” said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week. “No. There are dog whistles, but .?.?. play that ad to 100 Americans in middle America, 99 of them will go, ‘That’s cool.’?”

(Weigel’s ‘in the wider media’ claim is both vague and false.  The Trump ad to which he refers drew considerable media criticism.  For a detailed assessment of the ad’s anti-Semitism, see Josh Marshall, Trump Rolls Out Anti-Semitic Closing Ad, with a scene-by-scene analysis.)

For an answer to the question of Bannon’s racism, see David Corn’s excellent Here’s Why It’s Fair—and Necessary—to Call Trump’s Chief Strategist a White Nationalist Champion: Stephen Bannon said he was.

Kevin Drum on Trump and the End of Reconstruction 

Blogging at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum – like many of us, of whatever politics – seems uncertain about the consequences of a Trump Administration.  (In fairness, much has happened in a short time, and it’s hard to make sense of it all.)

Still, Drum’s thinking has shifted significantly over the last few days, in ways he no doubt sees.  His 11.9 day-after post, Things We Can Count on In the Next Two Years belies his 11.10 post, The United States Is Not About to Spiral Into Fascism and Tryanny

Two days after the election, Drum writes to reassure, contending that Trump will be no different, no worse, than 

say, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be. Beyond that, though, he’s less conservative on the policy front. The reason Trump is uniquely bad is mostly symbolic: he’s willfully ignorant; he’s vindictive; he’s a demagogue willing to appeal loudly and proudly to racial animus; and he has the attention span of a small child. He’d be an embarrassment to any country, let alone the most powerful country in the world.

Isn’t that bad enough? There’s no need to pretend we’re about to spiral into a fascist nightmare or a financial collapse. We have not embraced tyranny. The United States is a very big battleship, even for Donald Trump.

One day earlier (that is, one day after the election), Drum sees a different prospect for America under Trump:

Since I have the Reconstruction era on my mind right now, it’s hard to avoid the obvious comparison. Reconstruction lasted about eight years, and then was dismantled almost completely. Barack Obama’s presidency lasted eight years and will now be dismantled almost completely. I will withhold my opinion for now on the obvious reason for this similarity.

There lies Drum’s – and our – problem. If a Trump era is anything like the end of Reconstruction was for millions of black Americans at that time, then there is every reason to be extremely concerned. Generations – indeed, during roughly a century of history – went by before millions received the rights the Constitution granted them.

There’s no need to belabor a point that Drum knows, and about which he is sympathetic. The problem for this country is that a politics like the end of Reconstruction was for blacks would be devastating for millions our fellow citizens. When one reaches the need for an analogy between our time and the decades after 1877, one has already arrived at a moment of crisis for huge numbers.

So, is Drum’s initial concern (by way analogy) on 11.9 justified, or is a Trump Administration likely to be little different from how a Cruz or Rubio Administration might have been (as Drum wrote on 11.10)?

Few during these last months thought that Trump, Cruz, and Rubio were much alike; there’s no reason to think they were. A populist politics of Trump’s kind will push as far as it can, making Drum’s initial concerns more probable than his subsequent reassurances.

Where Libertarians Stand on the Presidential Race

Libertarians have a political philosophy, and may also be members of a political party using that same name.  For those of us who are both ideologically libertarian and members of the national party (as I am), the statement yesterday from Libertarian vice presidential candidate Bill Weld (a former Republican governor of Massachusetts), summaries nicely our views on the 2016 presidential race.

I’ve reproduced Gov. Weld’s full statement below, and I’d not quibble with a single word of it:

“It is a privilege and an honor to participate in this year’s national election campaign. I am grateful to Governor Gary Johnson for the opportunity to do so. Under Governor Johnson’s leadership the Libertarian Party has made great strides in this election cycle. Gary and I will carry our message of fiscal responsibility, social inclusion, and smaller government through November 8, and I hope that this election cycle will secure for the Libertarian Party a permanent place in our national political dialogue.

“We are making strides toward breaking the two party monopoly, and America will be stronger when we do, but given the position of the Commission on Presidential Debates, the deck is still stacked against even a credible third party ticket with two proven former Governors.

“Against that backdrop, I would like to address myself to all those in the electorate who remain torn between two so-called major party candidates whom they cannot enthusiastically support. I’m speaking particularly to those Republicans who feel that our President should exhibit commonly accepted standards of decency and discipline.

“I would not have stepped out of the swirl of the campaign to make this statement if I did not fear for our country, as I do.

“A President of the United States operates every day under a great deal of pressure — from all sides, and in furtherance of many different agendas. With that pressure comes constant criticism.

“After careful observation and reflection, I have come to believe that Donald Trump, if elected President of the United States, would not be able to stand up to this pressure and this criticism without becoming unhinged and unable to perform competently the duties of his office.

“Mr. Trump has some charisma and panache, and intellectual quickness. These qualities can be entertaining. Yet more than charisma, more even than intellectual ability, is required of a serious candidate for this country’s highest office. A serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States must be stable, and Donald Trump is not stable.

“Throughout this campaign, Mr. Trump has demonstrated an inability to handle criticism or blame well. His first instinct is to lash out at others. When challenged, he often responds as a child might. He makes a sour face, he calls people by insulting names, he waves his arms, he impatiently interrupts. Most families would not allow their children to remain at the dinner table if they behaved as Mr. Trump does. He has not exhibited the self-control, the discipline, or the emotional depth necessary to function credibly as a President of the United States.

“From the beginning of his campaign, Mr. Trump has conjured up enemies. First it was eleven million criminals in our midst, all bent on obtaining the benefits of citizenship, at our expense. Over time, the enemies became any trading partner of the United States. He says they are nothing but foreigners seeking to threaten our livelihoods. Now we have reached the point where his idea of America’s enemies includes almost anyone who talks or looks different from him. The goal of the Trump campaign, from the outset, has been to stir up envy, resentment, and group hatred.

“This is the worst of American politics. I fear for our cohesion as a nation, and for our place in the world, if this man who is unwilling to say he will abide by the result of our national election becomes our President.

“This great nation has weathered policy differences throughout our history, and we will do so again. Not in my lifetime, though, has there been a candidate for President who actually makes me fear for the ultimate well-being of the country, a candidate who might in fact put at risk the solid foundation of America that allows us to endure even ill-advised policies and the normal ebb and flow of politics.

“In the final days of this very close race, every citizen must be aware of the power and responsibility of each individual vote. This is not the time to cast a jocular or feel-good vote for a man whom you may have briefly found entertaining. Donald Trump should not, cannot, and must not be elected President of the United States.”

Via STATEMENT BY GOV. BILL WELD REGARDING THE FINAL WEEKS OF THIS ELECTION @ Johnson-Weld 2016.