Belmont Club

Taking a Chance

Leap of Faith

From the looks of things, the greatest enemy of the political elite isn’t ISIS, it’s Donald Trump. To understand how great of an annoyance he is, consider the fervor with which CNN commentator SE Cupp, worried by his wholesale destruction of the party’s messaging, argues it may be better to concede the 2016 presidential election to Hillary Clinton if it will save the Republicans from being damned by the Donald.  Lose, if need be, only stop him.

Republicans [are] worried that Donald Trump … will decide to jump ship and run as an independent … If he does, he’ll most likely pull enough votes away from Republicans to ensure a Democratic victory. …

as a conservative who would very much like to see a Republican win the White House again in the future, I’m increasingly thinking this is the best thing for the party, even if it means a certain victory for Democrats. … I know it’s a painful prospect — but we may have to lose this one to ever win again.

Even the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal saw fit to tweet “you are a disgrace not only to the GOP [the Republican Party] but to all America. Withdraw from the US presidential race as you will never win”.  This was of course precisely the reverse of the problem.  If Trump were a nonentity he could easily be ignored.  The difficulty, as NYT polls show, is that Trump might possibly win.  That makes him dangerous.

Nor is “hate speech” per se his principal offense.   Even though the Washington Post quotes UNC academic Michael Waltman as saying “Donald Trump is a very good example of hate speech being mainstreamed”, it has been mainstreamed for a long time. For example the 1924 Democratic National Convention, held in New York City had the dubious distinction not only of being known as the “Klanbake” but also  as a modern example of a “brokered convention”.

Jesse Walker argues in Reason that the Klan in 1924 was completing the move from a Southern “overwhelmingly rural, fundamentalist” setting to the cities and other regions. “The Klan controlled the governments of Indiana, Oregon, and Colorado, elected other politicians across the country, and played a major role in the Democratic convention of 1924; its members included future president Harry Truman and future Supreme Court justice Hugo Black.  It reinvented itself as an  “anti-Catholic” movement “largely concerned with enforcing an authoritarian moral order” based on pseudo-scientific theories like eugenics.

In this view the Klan never died. It just got interested in Global Warming.  It simply transferred all its moral smugness and vitriol to other objects. Hate speech is old hat.

What changed, as Kimberley Strassel argues in the Wall Street Journal was not the sudden intemperance of speech but the sudden tendency of politicians to act like banana republic strongmen creating what she calls politics “without guardrails”. Strassel says: “President Obama broke all the boundaries—and now Clinton and Trump are following suit”.  Administration supports might argue irregular methods were needed to get action.  Nevertheless, the present discontinuities were not caused by a violation of speech codes but the disturbing willingness to use police power arbitrarily for political ends.

Barack Obama has done plenty of damage to the country, but perhaps the worst is his determined destruction of Washington’s guardrails. Mr. Obama wants what he wants. If ObamaCare is problematic, he unilaterally alters the law. If Congress won’t change the immigration system, he refuses to enforce it. If the nation won’t support laws to fight climate change, he creates one with regulation. If the Senate won’t confirm his nominees, he declares it in recess and installs them anyway. …

Mrs. Clinton routinely vows to govern by diktat. On Wednesday she unveiled a raft of proposals to punish companies that flee the punitive U.S. tax system. Mrs. Clinton will ask Congress to implement her plan, but no matter if it doesn’t. “If Congress won’t act,” she promises, “then I will ask the Treasury Department, when I’m there, to use its regulatory authority.”…

For his part, Mr. Trump sent the nation into an uproar this week with his call to outright ban Muslims from entering the country. Is this legally or morally sound? Who cares! Mr. Trump specializes in disdain for the law, the Constitution, and any code of civilized conduct. Guardrails are for losers.

Evan Soltas and Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s opinion piece in the NYT uses data from Google, gathered in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, to argue that a growing number of Californians had lost patience with inaction.

After the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2, and minutes after the media first reported that at least one of the shooters had a Muslim-sounding name, a disturbing number of Californians had decided what they wanted to do with Muslims: kill them.

The top Google search in California with the word “Muslims” in it was “kill Muslims.” And the rest of America searched for the phrase “kill Muslims” with about the same frequency that they searched for “martini recipe,” “migraine symptoms” and “Cowboys roster.”

Perhaps even more disturbingly for Soltas and Stephens-Davidowitz,   having Muslims neighbors did not ameliorate the index of Islamophobia.  If anything, proximity exacerbated it. The article continues:

What, then, can we do to fight Islamophobia?

Unfortunately, there is not much evidence that some of the most obvious-sounding solutions might work. One idea might be to increase cultural integration. This is based on the “contact hypothesis”: If more Americans have Muslim neighbors, they will learn not to harbor irrational hate.

We did not find support for this in the data — in fact, we found evidence for the opposite. We looked at searches in the 10 counties with the highest Muslim populations in the United States. On average, these counties are about 11 percent Muslim, compared with 0.9 percent of the United States as a whole. We estimate, in these 10 counties, that anti-Muslim search rates are about eight times higher than they are in the rest of the country.

This suggests that “hate speech” is more a symptom of a breakdown in the political system rather than its cause.   Everone, not just Obama, wants to cut the Gordian knot.  In fact voters far from being addicted to speech, “hateful” or otherwise, have had a bellyful of it.  The simultaneous proclivity for personalistic leadership in Trump, Hillary and Obama is probably a rational poll driven response to a perceived failure of the rules.  Strassel argues that the really worrisome trend is that voters are willing to set aside the rules as long as they get results.

The more outrageous Mr. Trump is, the more his numbers soar. The more Mrs. Clinton promises to cram an agenda down the throats of her “enemies,” the more enthusiastic her base. The more unrestrained the idea, the more press coverage; the more ratings soar, the more unrestrained the idea. The humble candidates—those with big ideas, but with respect for order and honor—are lost to the shouting.

Perhaps the “humble candidates—those with big ideas, but with respect for order and honor” are in the wrong saloon.  The order and system that used to make “big ideas” work are temporarily inoperative. The world is in a state of transposition.  It is waiting for an event, a man, a technology — a something — that can make the road from out of this dead end.  That requires a skillset that most Western politicians don’t have.  Because voters sense that politics is in flux past experience as a professional public servant is deprecated. In a situation where past organizational knowledge is regarded as a liability, a businessman can be as good as an ex-First Lady.  Trump may not have what it takes; the danger for many of his rivals is the public know they don’t have what it takes.

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