The ‘Balls & Strikes’ View

There’s an interesting exchange between conservative Trump-critic Evan McMullin and conservative Josh Hammer worth considering. The exchange shows the divide among conservatives about Trump. (There’s also a divide among conservatives about whether anti-Trump conservatives are, in fact, conservatives. To this libertarian, they all look sufficiently conservative; that intra-tribe debate is not one in which I’m engaged.)

First the highlights of the exchange:

2:50 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer  He’s obsessed with virtue signaling to MSNBC, NYT, Shaun King, and the rest of the clown show, and is incapable of anything but Trump hatred

3:44 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @Evan_McMullin Josh, I’m sincerely disappointed that this is how you feel.

3:45 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer So show more nuance in actually calling balls and strikes with Trump (as most of us Trump skeptics are), instead of just blasting him 24/7.

What it shows:

  1. Hammer contends that one should call balls & strikes with Trump, but that assumes Trump is a normal political figure, playing by normal rules of the game. Those who oppose Trump don’t accept that he’s within the American political tradition. Hammer also assumes that he – and others – are in a position to play the role of umpire with Trump. If Trump’s even half so bad as those opponents believe him to be, there’s no umpire that Trump will respect.
  2. Hammer thinks that McMullin’s criticisms are virtue-signaling to particular people and institutions. I neither know nor care; the principal question is whether Trump is autocratic.
  3. Hammer call himself a Trump skeptic. Just as one needn’t be an advocate, one needn’t be a skeptic. Some of us are opponents – that others are advocates or (as Hammer sees himself) skeptics is unpersuasive to us. Nuance looks like acquiescence and appeasement.
  4. There’s likely an aspect of intra-conservative peer pressure here: who’s securely within the group, who’s too close to dreaded adversaries outside the group. The real signaling isn’t virtue-signaling to outsiders – it’s signaling to insiders, a profession of countless orthodoxies to reassure one’s fellows of an ideologically correct and pure kinship. Those outside may never notice, but one can be assured that others inside will notice and will care.

There’s a funny local aspect to this, that brings to mind a story about when I began publishing this blog. At the time, someone related to me the concerns of a town notable about my blog. It took me a while (truly) to realize that the concerns mattered to her because someone in authority had expressed them. SeeAn Anecdote About an Appeal to (but not of) Authority. The source of the concerns was unimportant to me, as it was their substantive value that was worth considering. For some, however, social pressure drives debate and discussion.

Intra-conservative or intra-liberal debates will haunt much of the consideration of Trump, at least for now. They are interesting, but unpersuasive, to those outside those particular environs.