The United States of Fear

Dramatic representation of social media commenters addressing people engaging in activity outside the home.

In graduate school, I wrote a paper titled “Fear and the American Founding.” My thesis was that both the Founders/Federalists and Anti-Federalists were in part motivated by fear. The Anti-Federalists feared expansive government power, particularly placed in the hands of a federal or national government. The Federalists, meanwhile, feared both government and the masses. It was this fear that prompted them to establish a republican government of limited powers, based in part on democratic elections but which also was not based on majoritarian sentiment.

In many respects I still stand by the thrust of the paper, perhaps though with some moderate revisions.

Fear can be a force for good, in a certain sense, so I have never cared for FDR’s bluster that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Perhaps if more Americans were afraid of the long-term deleterious consequences of the New Deal and expansion of presidential power, then we could have avoided some of the problems we still face today.

There’s a distinction to be made, however, between jealously guarding your liberties and letting fear take complete control of your actions. It seems we have traveled far afield of generations who had a strong, but rational fear of government, mass democracy, or what have you. Now our politics seems to be inspired by an ignorant fear of the unknown. What’s more, these fears are stoked by media institutions all too happy to play on those fears.

I think the video from my previous post is worth reposting here.

This fear-driven paranoia is augmented by the sense of spite I wrote about previously. We are fed bits of media that only reconfirms our fears. And so many are not getting pieces of information that contradict our fear-driven notions. That’s why millions of parents are absolutely scared to death of sending their children to school despite the overwhelming evidence that there is less of a chance their child will die of COVID than the typical flu. But that’s not what they are reading or seeing on MSNBC or the Facebook memes they rely on for talking points. And it’s also why millions of Americans are defying mask orders, because obviously they are a government plot of some kind. Their importance to health and safety are not the sorts of things they read about or see on Fox News or the Facebook memes they rely on for talking points.

As I said, spite feeds the fear. “If the other guy isn’t concerned about something, and that guy is voting for Trump, then we better be damned sure to shut it down.” And of course the same applies on the other side.

Benefit/cost calculations have been tossed aside in favor of vague feelings that something is bad. You can throw out all the COVID stats you want at someone suggesting that children are not particularly vulnerable to the virus, and you will likely just get a shrug of the shoulders and a curt dismissal of the evidence. “I just don’t feel it’s a good idea to send kids back to school,” says the person offering no evidence to justify this feeling.

There was the notorious Flight 93 article from the 2016 election intimating that the choice was to vote for Donald Trump or welcome the end of the republic. Since then, the Flight 93 parallel has been used by those both wanting to vote for and against President Trump, as though the very future of the republic hangs in the balance based on this one presidential election. Every election is the most important election of our lifetime (until the next one), and if our side loses, then we are doomed – DOOOOOOOOOOOOMED I tell you.

We can go on and on playing the somewhat boring both sides game, and so I will stop there. In the end, this mass-media induced fear is spurring the populist movements on both the left and right to reject the liberal order upon which we were founded. Yes, you might say I fear this turn of events, but my fear is based on a careful understanding of history and where populist, anti-liberal ideologies tend to bring society.

So what is a despondent classical liberal to do when faced with such a bleak landscape.

On that, I have a few ideas.

(Cross-posted at The Classical Liberal)

November 3rd is Election Day

One of the odd things about the Trump presidency is that a lot of his actions and words are so demonstrably stupid that there is really no need for further analysis. His intimation that the election needs to be moved back over concerns of fraudulent mail-in balloting is so bereft of any constitutional or legal legitimacy that there really is no need for a deep dive analysis. Senator Jim Lankford’s reply back to The Dispatch for comment on the story, which is also the title of this post, is really all that needs to be said.

The only thing to ponder is why? Why did President Trump tweet out those words? What was the master strategy?

Here’s the thing: there was no strategy other than perhaps distracting away from the terrible 2nd quarter GDP numbers. But if that was the strategy, it was an altogether bad strategy. The economic numbers are indeed terrible, but no intellectually honest person can really blame President Trump for them. On the other hand, going out and confirming some of the worst fears (which even those among some of his fiercest critics have dismissed) of his opponents strikes me as spectacularly unwise.

It’s incomprehensible that after five years his cheering section still thinks of Trump as some grand master strategist who is playing 100-dimensional (or more) chess. He’s really not. What he is is a lucky man who conned millions of Americans into thinking he actually cared about the things they cared about and would actually do something about those issues, who lucked into a divided GOP field that licked the will to unite behind a single anti-Trump candidate, and then lucked into a general election running against someone almost as despised as he was.

You keep looking for absolute bottoms with this presidency, and just when you think you’ve found it, he manages to dig another couple of layers.

The United States of Spite

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more perfect distillation of our country’s political climate as this video.

The narrower point of this video is something I’ve seen play out on right-wing social media groups especially. Every discussion is framed around approval or disapproval of Donald Trump. Objecting to an overly critical or unfair hit piece against the president leads to immediate howls that you are a “Trump Humper.” Conversely, pointing out the flaws in some obsequious piece lauding Trump for allowing the sun to rise that day is to be labeled a socialist, communist, or, worse yet, a Biden supporter. No middle ground between “Trump is Greater than God” and “Trump is Worse than Hitler” is acceptable to seemingly 90 percent of the American population.

There is a larger subtext, and it is that the extreme edges of our political debates are motivated, it seems, by simple spite. “If Trump’s fer it, I’m agin it” See the likes of “conservative” columnists Jen Rubin disclaim long-held beliefs because Donald Trump has adopted it.

This stupidity plays out in the coronavirus discussion. How many people refuse to wear masks for no other reason than a bunch of (to them) liberal establishment types say it must be done? Conversely, how many individuals are delighting in ratting out someone who isn’t wearing a mask, or is not “properly” socially distancing?

It’s because of this that I was so annoyed by this picture.

Personally, I couldn’t care less. Dr. Fauci is seated next to his wife on one side, and a close friend on the other. Of course, unless he has the super new Iphone which has the bottled water app, I don’t see him drinking (he has a bottle to his side, but that’s not what is in his hand).

But the optics are terrible. It’s already going to annoy some that he even gets to attend a baseball game, a privilege denied to all other non-connected Americans. But there he is, mask off, chatting with someone not in his household just inches away. Like it or not, there will be people who see this picture and say, “Well if Dr. Smarty Pants ain’t gonna wear that mask right, I’m not going to wear it at all.” So Dr. Fauci needs to be more attuned to this environment.

Jonah Goldberg and others have noticed this tendency, so I won’t belabor it. But it does seem America’s increasing political tribalism is spurred on this spiteful inclination. More and more people are defining themselves not by what they believe, but what “the other side” believes.

Spite is thus one of the two animating drives in American politics. The other will be addressed next time.

To wrap things up, and also to set the stage for my next post, here’s another video from Ryan Long that also helps capture the current mood.

The School Debate

It is looking like many, if not most, schools are returning to “virtual” “learning” this Fall. Some schools are offering hybrid options, while a few others are at least now planning for a full, five-days per week return to in-class learning.

While there are certainly many parents who are quite happy to keep their kids home, most are disappointed (if not outright angry) that at least some in-person education is not being offered. Our experience as parents this Spring after schools were closed does not inspire us with confidence. The consensus experience was that virtual learning was a complete disaster, if not farce. Leaving aside the difficulty parents had in keeping track of their children’s different Zoom, Google classroom, or whatever other platform schedules, children just did not have the same quality of instruction as they did in-person.

Most troubling of all, continued school closures and distance learning will most adversely impact precisely those students most in need of the structured environment of schooling: special education students and the poor. It also is generally ineffective for elementary school children, and maybe barely tolerable for middle school and above.

And none of this even touches upon the lack of socialization. One of the misunderstood aspects of home-schooling is that under normal circumstances home-schooling families usually take part in cooperative ventures and other joint group efforts to enable children to interact. This virtual learning “home-school” experience lacks this element. Many children have lacked almost any interaction with friends or similar-aged children for months, and this will now continue for months more. Sure, there are ways parents might be able to help encourage playtime with certain other families, but that is not an option open to all families.

What is most frustrating to those of us who think schools should re-open is that there is this repeated mantra offered by public officials and school superintendents that they are just following “science” and “data” when it is apparent they are not, or at least are not adequately informing themselves of all the data. It’s true that there is much that we don’t know still about the virus, but it is now fairly clear that small children just are not susceptible to becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID. While COVID is 5-6 times more deadly than the flu for the general population, that’s not the case with chidren who are 10 and younger. Older kids have more risk, but it’s still fairly minimal compared to the general population.

As for transmittal, that’s a bit more uncertain. This study out of South Korea suggests small children do not tend to transmit the virus, but older children (10+) do at the same level as adults. The study’s sample is small, though, so it may not tell the whole story. From what we know of the virus and how it is transmitted, it makes intuitive sense that small children probably are not generally transmitters, but I of course understand that school boards don’t want to go by intuition alone. But if older kids do present a greater risk to their adult teachers, they are also much more likely to reliably wear masks and keep them on than, say, a kindergartner.

With that being said, I want to address a pair of common arguments presented by either side of the debate. On the one hand, there is a common thread that parents are willing to put teachers’ lives at risk just because we need babysitters. First of all, though the risk for teachers is admittedly higher than it is for the children, it’s still relatively small for teachers who have no other underlying conditions. One would hope we would be able to figure out ways to protect the more vulnerable teachers. As for the sneering dismissal that parents are just looking for babysitters, while it contains a hint of truth, it is ultimately unfair.

It is decidedly true that two-income parents are going to struggle if there is no school. Teachers are going to get paid either way, but lots of moms (and some dads) will not be able to work. Some families may have to develop very divergent schedules to enable both parents to work at different times, but this will obviously be a further strain. Furthermore, though the childcare aspect does concern many parents, almost every parent I know is primarily concerned about another four months, at least, of stalled education. Speaking personally, my two youngest are both deaf/hard of hearing (with cochlear implants), and go to a school for the deaf. My youngest child in particular needs a lot of attention, and distance learning is completely useless for her. Even my two older children struggled. This distance learning just does not work effectively, and we don’t want our children to fall further behind.

On the other side, I’ve heard a lot of sniping that teachers are just looking to be able to take more time off. This is unfair. Almost every teacher I know is as frustrated by the distance learning as are the parents, and that goes double for teachers who themselves have small children. It is no picnic for them, and it’s not like more distance learning means they get to sit back and take siestas all day. And while the ridiculous demands of the Los Angeles teachers union damage their reputation, I don’t believe they represent anything like a majority of teachers out there. I know that most teachers are trying their hardest, so let’s not scapegoat them. Well, all of them.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

A good chunk of my blogging career has been dedicated to calling out the centrist right. There have been times recently where I have regretted some of what I wrote, thinking I was perhaps too harsh and too demanding of a sort of ritualistic purity.

And then John Kasich does a thing like agreeing to speak at the Democratic National Convention, and I’m like, nah.

Kasich, as you recall, was the last ditch Hail Mary of the hardened Never Trumpers who could not bother to think rationally four years ago – who, in spite of the glowing red neon sign that indicated that Ted Cruz was all that stood between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination, insisted on throwing all of their remaining credibility (and a decent chunk of money) at the dead-end candidacy of John Kasich. (Who, by the way, is the son of a mailman. Did you know that?)

Now many of those very same dead-enders have joined Kasich and have abandoned all pretense of being in any way considered conservatives. The Grifter Project, as Steve Stampley accurately pegs them, has finagled millions of dollars from Democratic donors to promote their efforts to, errr, stamp out moderate Republican Senators.

What’s interesting about the Grifters is that they are in effect showing themselves to be the true purists. Susan Collins is no longer pure enough even for them, and must be ousted for the sin of voting for a nominee to the Supreme Court selected by a president from her own party.

Dan McClaughlin has the measure of this clown show. And he also observes, as I did here, that this effort to cure the Republican party of its Trumpiness by burning down the entire thing is likely a very, very bad strategy.

Where the Lincoln Project leaves behind any pretense at being a Republican or conservative project at all is in concentrating its efforts heavily on mainstream, moderate, and otherwise very not-Trumpy Republican Senators — Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, Joni Ernst, Martha McSally, and Thom Tillis — and doing so mainly by running ads attacking them from the left, not the right. Some of these folks hold seats that, if won by the Democrats, would be extremely hard to win back. And if your claim is that Republicans need to be defeated to learn some sort of lesson, there is no evidence that burning down the Republican caucus on Capitol Hill by removing its more moderate and temperate members will make it less Trumpy. As I predicted in 2018, that was not the lesson taken by House Republicans from losing power, and it is not how the Republican Parties of California, Virginia, or New York have responded to losing power. What moderates the party is the need to pursue the building of majorities, not the experience of the wilderness, where performative rage is more lucrative.

The Baseball Crank also righteously lays into Kasich for his disastrous 2016 run.

What did he do then, when there was still a large, active sentiment among Republican and conservative voters to stop Trump — large enough that 60 percent of Republican primary voters cast ballots against Trump in contested primaries through Indiana on May 3? Kasich did everything possible to prevent those voters from coming together behind a single anti-Trump candidate. He was not the only one, of course: Jeb Bush should have dropped out by Labor Day rather than pouring out oceans of money attacking Marco Rubio, Rubio should have packed it in no later than his March 5 wipeout in Kansas, Chris Christie should not have whiffed on his chance to attack Trump over Atlantic City at the first debate, and Ted Cruz should not have waited so long to criticize Trump. But no decision was so obviously self-interested and destructive of the anti-Trump effort than Kasich staying in the race throughout the primaries. He could, and should, have bailed out after finishing 19 points back in New Hampshire, much as Huntsman did in 2012. As I’ve noted before, outside of Ohio, Vermont, and D.C., Kasich was a consistent flop, always below 30 percent of the vote: In the other 31 contests through Wisconsin he cleared 20 percent in just one other state (Michigan). He finished in single digits 19 times in 42 contests. He finished behind Ben Carson ten times in 15 tries. Staying in the race drained votes that Rubio or Cruz could have consolidated (especially in Virginia). When Rubio told people to strategically vote Kasich in Ohio, Kasich refused to reciprocate. This all made sense only if he was playing to be a power broker at a brokered convention, but staying in the race all the way to Indiana — then dropping as soon as Cruz gave up the stop-Trump ghost — prevented one.

It was not just Kasich’s strategic choices: Over and over, even when Rubio and Cruz were going hard after Trump, Kasich refused to attack Trump on the debate stage. Go back and watch the GOP debates from February and March 2016 if you don’t believe me and see how often Kasich even talks about Trump. The simple interpretation, as with his strategy, is that Kasich was either hoping to cut a deal with Trump or, at any rate, prioritize stopping the movement-conservative alternatives (Cruz and Rubio) over stopping Trump.

I agree with the Lincoln Project people and Kasich on one front: yes, Trumpism needs to be purged from the GOP (or at least moderated in form with a more level-headed standard bearer). But then again, so do the likes of Kasich, Wilson, Schmidt, and others. That they have already seemingly begun the process of their own accord is a most welcome development.

#Cancelled

I haven’t really delved deeply into the ongoing mania that has gripped our nation surrounding cancel culture. There have been many excellent pieces written, including the one I linked to in my last post, and honestly I don’t have much to add to what has already been said.

There is one thing I would like to touch upon, and it’s the self-assured assumption of having obtained perfect truth and knowledge typified by the aggressors in the cancellation campaigns. It’s remarkable that so many 30-year old and younger individuals have managed to do what Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and thousands of philosophers and billions of human beings have been unable to accomplish after devoting their lives to the pursuit of discovering greater truths. Who knew all it took was a journalism degree from Columbia University or an undergraduate degree in social science from a liberal arts college to imbue one with all the accumulated wisdom of the universe.

It’s good that they have obtained all truth, because it would be a shame to have future generations tearing down their statues due to some horrible moral stance they now hold which future generations deem to be beyond the pale. One doesn’t want to be part of a generation that permits an entire group of human beings to be denied their basic humanity. One would not want to be counted among those who allowed a constitutional system to flourish under which a select group of people did not share in the basic human rights afforded to others. And no one wants to be associated with a generation of Americans that cheered lawless Supreme Court decisions that helped to further strip rights away from this class of human beings.

Continue reading “#Cancelled”

Cancelling the Saints

Kevin Williamson is my favorite current events writer, and it’s because of posts like this. Kevin takes on the cancellation mania of the moment, which has now seeped into calls for renaming entire cities. After pointing out the utter absurdity of it all and how far it will need to be taken to satisfy the modern Jacobins, he concludes on this note:

Given all the murder and ignorance and such, it is difficult to imagine that St. Louis’s namesake tops the list of St. Louis’s problems. But that relationship surely tops the list of Louis IX’s problems. Like Jack Kennedy and that godawful airport, Louis IX deserves a better monument. If the United States of America has no place for him and his kind, then so much the worse for us.

Indeed.

Flight of Fancy

The Conundrum for anti-Trump Conservatives

In his June 1 column, George Will wrote that not only should President Trump be defeated this Fall, but so should his Congressional “enablers.” In language evocative of an angry god declaring that all shall be vanquished before him, Will wrote:

The nation’s downward spiral into acrimony and sporadic anarchy has had many causes much larger than the small man who is the great exacerbator of them. Most of the causes predate his presidency, and most will survive its January terminus. The measures necessary for restoration of national equilibrium are many and will be protracted far beyond his removal. One such measure must be the removal of those in Congress who, unlike the sycophantic mediocrities who cosset him in the White House, will not disappear “magically,” as Eric Trump said the coronavirus would. Voters must dispatch his congressional enablers, especially the senators who still gambol around his ankles with a canine hunger for petting.

Will was not quite finished.

We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation’s domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for . . . what?

Nothing cries dispassionate analysis quite like World War II parallels.

Will is certainly not the first fire and brimstone spewing conservative critic to call for the electoral elimination of the Republican party, but he’s perhaps the only one worth taking seriously.

Most anti-Trump conservatives[1] will not find much to disagree with GeorgeWill here. We have watched in horror as the Republican party has transformed itself into a cult of personality. Even Trump-skeptical Republicans have either muted their criticism or have become, to not put too fine a point on it, royal ass-kissers, including certain 2016 primary opponents of his. In many right-wing journals even mild criticism of the president is considered something like treason.

So why might an anti-Trump conservative have reservations about Will’s strategy? Because the beneficiary would be a political party no more deserving to hold the reins of power. It could also have the unanticipated result of inspiring a reaction that leads to something much worse than Trump down the line.

The case against Trump

The easiest part of Will’s argument to swallow is the most basic one: President Trump does not deserve to win re-election. The reasons so many conservatives opposed Trump in 2016 still obtain. If anything, Trump has exceeded our worst expectations of his character. He continues to spew idiotic conspiracy theories on Twitter even in the midst of a global pandemic that his administration, to put it charitably, bungled the response to. And even as America descended into riotous protests, Trump’s response was to suggest a “shoot first, ask questions later” response to the protesters and to suggest another conspiracy theory about a man whose skull was cracked open after being pushed by the police.

Trump supporters downplay the significance of all this – “They’re just tweets,” is the common response – but even for those of us who think the “rhetorical presidency” is overblown, we cannot ignore that these insane ramblings do nothing to help unify the country or advance his agenda.

Speaking of Trump’s agenda, while he has been not as bad as conservatives feared, there’s little here to suggest that he has earned a second term, as the miles and miles of invisible border walls attest to. Thus far Trump’s main “accomplishment” has been a tax cut, but for credit for that mainly goes to former Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And while his administration has rolled back regulations, these are temporary victories that can be easily undone with the next Democratic administration. He has been bolder than other theoretical Republican presidents in some areas – moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, for starters – yet Trump has been more of a paper tiger than a fierce warrior slashing down the cultural enemies quaking before him.

And then there’s the courts. “But Gorsuch” was the rallying cry for Trump supporters once upon a time. Indeed, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court, not to mention hundreds of federal judgeships secured for originalists throughout the country, is a major victory for Leonard Leo and Mitch McConnell. But as several late-term SCOTUS opinions demonstrate, there are limits to how much the judiciary has advanced. Specific opinions aside, if the major argument for a president’s re-election is judicial appointments, then the republic is on far rockier ground than we even realize.

Trump supporters have another “ace” up their sleeves: Flight 93 revisited. If Joe Biden is elected president then the Green Deal will be enacted, religious liberty will be destroyed, taxes will go through the roof, single payer healthcare will be upon us, and the rivers will run red with the blood of cancelled conservatives. It’s a familiar argument that turns every election into the most important election in American history™ and demands that all good God-fearing American must vote for the Republican nominee or else.

The rebuttal to this is straightforward enough: even a Biden administration will be unable to enact a quarter of what the most radical progressives desire. There are far too many moderate Democrats – yes they exist, no matter what social media fearmongers insist – for a President Biden to force through major changes (assuming he even wants to). Assuming Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster – and they will – Democrats will still need a Sinema and Manchin-proof majority, not to mention vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2022. Do you think Michael Bennett is a sure vote for single payer?

To say that Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to be re-elected is not to suggest that conservatives must go out and vote for Joe Biden. Casting a protest vote against Trump’s character for someone who has repeatedly lied about the sobriety of the man involved in the accident that killed his wife, enabled the disgusting character assassination of Robert Bork and then Clarence Thomas, and told a black audience that Republicans “want to put y’all back in chains,” not to mention his move to the left since wrapping up the nomination, is a little bit odd.[2] Then again, I voted for Evan McMullin, so my judgment on protest votes is also suspect.

Against Never-GOPism

Whatever conservatives decide to do this November with regards to the presidential election, though, Will’s own contention that it is a moral imperative to remove President Trump is undermined by his added contention that Congressional Republicans be decimated at the polls as well. As I noted above, one of the main arguments against the Flight 93 paranoia is that there’s only so much a President Biden can do. That argument is nullified if the Democrats have a 60+ seat Senate majority and a triple digit advantage in the House of Representatives.

One could plausibly counter by observing that the Democrats had a 80+ seat advantage in the House and a filibuster-proof (at times) majority in the senate during the Obama administration, and the world didn’t end. While true, there are two counterarguments. First of all, the 111th Congress managed to pump out a lot of legislation with long-lasting and negative impacts. Dodd-Frank, the massive stimulus, and the expansion of SCHIP are but a few of the major pieces of legislation signed into law in Obama’s first term, not to mention a little thing called the Affordable Care Act (which, one observes, was not repealed by the 115th Congress). Even if the long, drawn-out process of passing Obamacare prevented the Democrats from achieving more, that’s a pretty substantial list and it was certainly more ambitious than the Republican achievements between 2017-2018.

More importantly, even if the Democratic party hasn’t moved as far left in its totality as Republicans contend, it has moved left. The legislative program to be pursued by a Democratic Congress with supermajorities in both chambers is likely to be far, far more ambitious than one with narrow majorities (and perhaps a continuing Republican majority in the Senate). Suddenly single-payer, the Green New Deal, and God knows what else are all on the table.

It’s easy enough for people like George Will to say that’s what Republicans deserve for kowtowing to Trump for four years, but a radical re-orienting of America to the far left seems to be a pretty high price to pay to teach Republicans a lesson.

More to the point, one lesson from life under the pandemic is that the Democrats have done little to merit the gift on uncontested power.

Life in Lockdown

Neither party holds a monopoly on good or bad governance during the COVID crisis, highlighted by the recent spike in infections in both red and blue states, but the very worst behavior among state and local officials played out in New York thanks to the Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne of New York, Andrew Cuomo and Bill deBlassio, whose gross incompetence, negligence, indecision, and egoism literally cost thousands of lives.

And while (largely) Democratic reticence to end lockdowns can be debated on the merits, the gross inconsistency in how lockdown policies have been applied is sufficient evidence of why many Democratic officials should never be allowed near the levers of power again. We will continue to debate the merits of past and future lockdowns for years to come, but there’s no debating the moral inconsistency demonstrated by the likes of Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in not only permitting mass Black Lives Matters protests but in actively celebrating and encouraging them even as they energetically pushed for continued lockdowns.[3]

Seeing what amounted to (in some cases) giant block parties being permitted while being denied the ability to receive Holy Communion is bound to rub some people the wrong way. It also does not inspire confidence that one’s rights will be protected by these same people if they are given even more power.

Whatabout “whataboutism?”

Some will argue that these are tantamount to “whatabout” arguments, and indeed they are. What about Democratic party radicalism? How does a conservative reviled by Donald Trump and unhappy with Republican party subservience to him solve this conundrum? How was a conservative to vote in, say, Texas in 2018 when Ted Cruz was up for re-election to the Senate?

Ah, Ted Cruz. This is a good time for a slight tangent. I supported Ted Cruz during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, and I would not have made a different choice if I had to do it all over again, especially once some of the heavy-hitting solid GOP governors bowed out early. And this is why I am not Never Trump. Because when people started adopting this term, for many it also meant “and not Cruz either.” The very same people who urge the fiery destruction of the Republican party are the ones who continued to support the dead-end candidacy of John Kasich. Instead of uniting behind the one candidate who could actually defeat Trump, as the Democrats did this year to united behind Biden when the prospect of a Sanders nomination stared them in the face, these self-centered, short-sighted dolts wasted time and resources on the pointless candidacy of John Kasich. Would Trump have won anyway? Perhaps, but it would have been awfully nice to have tried a true one-on-one matchup. But since Ted Cruz gave them the ickies, they selected a path that only aided and abetted Donald Trump. And now these same geniuses are still dishing out political advice? Lest I run afoul of such stalwart conservatives as Max Boot and Tom Nichols, maybe I will follow my own instincts.

Anyway, back to Ted Cruz. I have been as disappointed as anyone in his sudden turn from fierce Trump critic and as a man who said “vote your conscience” at the Republican convention into another Trump-defending sycophant, especially as he adopts policy positions he should know better than to support. But if I lived in Texas (I wish) in 2018 and I had to choose between him and Beto O’Rourke, I wouldn’t have even given it a second thought before voting for Senator Cruz. Sure, there’s always the option to not vote or vote for a third party, as I am doing this year in the presidential race, but am I really just going to “punish” a Senator who I am aligned with on 99 percent of issues because he hasn’t been as critical of Donald Trump as I would like? Who am I punishing in allowing someone like “Beto” to represent me in the United States Senate?

Both Trump critics and Trump fans are finally joined in unison as they shout back at me “Aha – charade you are!” After essentially disclaiming against the “elections are binary” argument for the presidential election, I am now changing tact for other elections.

Not quite. In every election you have to make a rational decision weighing all the circumstances. In 2016 I decided that neither Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump were good enough to earn my vote, but neither was so obviously heinous as to force me to vote for the other person. I have made the same decision (so far) with regards to the 2020 presidential election. But not every election is the same. I couldn’t (and still can’t) vote for Donald Trump because, well, he is an utterly repellent human being and an ineffective president. But Ted Cruz? I’m supposed to enable the ascension of a character like Beto O’Rourke at his expense because I don’t think he’s been critical enough of Donald Trump? That’s a stretch to me.

More importantly, in at least the example outlined above, I did find the other person (Beto) heinous enough to move me to vote for Ted Cruz (if I could have).

But that’s a discrete decision based on the circumstances of one race. The larger context, which I have tried to lay out, is that punishing Republicans at the ballot box for insufficient Trump hatred is a questionable, at best, strategy. Leaving aside the question of whether Republicans have truly enabled President Trump (and it’s not a small question to leave aside, but I don’t need to drone on for another thousand words), conservatives are right to feel more than a little suspect at the prospect of handing unlimited control of government to the Democrats.

Populism: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

There’s one other big risk entailed in a massive Democratic takeover of the government. Anti-Trump conservatives have held a (likely fanciful) hope that there will be something like a return to normalcy once Trump is removed from the scene. This is wishful thinking. The populist ascendency within the GOP is no short-term phenomenon. It began before Trump, and will outlive him. Perhaps this populist strain will be more “enlightened” – it cannot but help but be. Yet the tension between the classically liberal/conservative and anti-liberal/populist strands of the movement is likely to become even more fierce once Trump is no longer on the scene (and his defeat this November by no means guarantees he will not be a major player in the years to come).

What’s more, a complete Democratic sweep this November is more likely to favor a populist ascendency. The Democratic sweep in the aftermath of the 2008 election inspired the growth of the tea party movement. Some of us might pine for the relatively sanguine days of a libertarian-inspired social protest movement. Yet this was also a populist revolt. Indeed it was a paradoxically libertarian-populist (two words combined that can’t make sense[4]) protest. Over time, though, it was the libertarian side of this uneasy alliance which lost.

There has been something like a rebirth of the tea party, libertarian-populist sentiment in the wake of COVID lockdowns, and it’s possible two years of hard-left Democratic rule can spur something similar. Yet nothing that has occurred over the past few years inspires confidence that any right-wing reaction to leftist overreach will be measured and reasonable. A more likely right-wing response will look a lot more Josh Hawley than Mike Lee. And it’s possible a Hawley-styled turn is the best case. In other words, the sort of figure to emerge as the leader of the anti-liberal response to left-wing dominated governance may look Donald Trump look like a piker.

Look, it has not been a fun five years or so for anti-Trump (but not quite Never Trump) conservatives. We spent the better part of a year vocally arguing against Trump’s nomination. We then watched as a majority of those who were in the trenches yelling with us swiftly turned around and decided to be a part of Trump’s palace guard. (Some for genuine reasons, some, well, less so #caring). Then for four years we dealt with accusations of disloyalty from Ever Trumpers on one hand, and on the other hand complaints about our insufficient hatred and fear of Trump by idiots playacting as the modern incarnation of who people who #resisted an actual tyrannical regime.[5]

We are frankly just a little bit weary of it all. So when George Will tells us it’s not sufficient that Trump be defeated, but that the entire GOP should essentially be burnt to the ground, it’s hard not being a bit conflicted. Because, frankly, the GOP does deserve to be massacred at the polls.[6]

But so do the Democrats.

And so we are confronted with yet another ugly choice with really no good options. Sure, we could stand aside and let the Republicans go down to defeat, and hope (foolishly, no doubt) that it will be reborn in the aftermath of an electoral massacre. And in this fit of rational spite we might come out on the back end even worse off, with the most radical elements of the Democrat agenda enshrined into law. And if the GOP does endure such a defeat, and Democrats are allowed to roam about the country unchecked for two years, does anyone expect that the reaction to this will be measured?

In case I am not making myself clear, if George Will has his way then expect something much worse than Donald Trump four years hence.


[1] Note I do not say “Never Trump.” For reasons to be explained shortly, this is a term I reject for myself.

[2] Kevin Williamson has the measure of the man. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/03/joe-biden-not-a-socialist-just-a-scoundrel/

[3] To say nothing of the mandate in new York not to ask COVID-positive patients if they attended BLM rallies, or the Oregon decision to exempt “people of color” from the obligation to wear masks.

[4] HT: Megadeth.

[5] Because one recalls the history of anti-Vichy Frenchmen openly and loudly denouncing Hitler, lining up bookshelves with their tales of denunciation, and being supported by a media establishment that aids and abets their animus. Totally the same thing there, fellas.

[6] Like, for instance, calling a man who has served in every Republican administration a “warmonger” because he had the temerity to write a book publicly critical of Donald Trump.

Go Away Lucy, and Take Your Football With You

It is difficult to feel angry about the outcome in June Medical Services v. Russo when it was entirely expected. Most conservatives knew Chief Justice Roberts would come up with some half-baked legal justification to “preserve the integrity of the Court,” so naturally he did so with a ridiculously strict rendering of stare decisis, one which he couldn’t possibly uphold. (And as always a satire site manages to convey the ultimate stupidity of this stance.) So be it.

There was one tweet which caught my attention, and so I republish it here.

It is the usual gibberish from the pro-Moloch “Catholic” left. “Forget about all that abortion stuff, and come join the Democrats so we can enact all the stuff that is not really a part of Catholic teaching but we will insist is as absolutely central to being a good Catholic as belief in the real presence.”

I’ve learned to roll my eyes at this stuff a long time ago. The Catholics for Moloch need some way to look at themselves in the mirror, so it makes sense to create a fake Catechism (while calumniating most other Catholics in the process.) They’re no different than pro-choicers who ramble on about “clumps of cells” and other non-scientific hogwash to be able to come to grips with the fact that they are okay with the legalized murder of unborn children.

We all need to find a way to make it to the next day, I suppose.

And yet there is the slightest bit of truth in this statement. One of course has to ignore that all four of the justices who voted to uphold Louisiana’s law were Republican appointees, and four of the five justices who voted to strike down the law were Democratic appointees. It is, I suppose true that conservatives and Catholics cannot absolutely rely on “their” justices to vote as they would like, whereas Democrats never seem to have to sweat this stuff with theirs.

13 of the 17 justices appointed to the Supreme Court since January 1969 have been Republican appointees, yet Roe not only was made law of the land, it has been entrenched several times – once by a Supreme Court with 8 Republican-appointees (and the one Democrat voting to strike it down). While the judiciary has advanced on several fronts, abortion law is one area where the court remains especially disappointing.

The issue remains that the Supreme Court – and indeed the federal judiciary as a whole – has long ceased to operate effectively within the context of a republican form of government. I am no majoritarian democrat, but the fundamental problems with the Court are not going to be fixed by the “right” appointments. This is why the “what about judges?” argument never came close to persuading me to support Donald Trump. Even if Trump has nailed every single appointment (and I think Gorsuch will be fine in the end), we are no closer to a proper orientation of the judicial branch, and likely will not get there anytime in my lifetime.

On a related note, and once again going through the Twitter account of two-faced frauds, here’s the Lincoln Project’s take:

“True conservatism” indeed.

To quote a mediocre coach, they are who we thought they were.

COVID

Over the past few years I have experienced an eternal headache as I have navigated the rough waters of writing about Donald Trump. In the morning I might be doing rhetorical battle on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere with a Trump supporter offended that I have deigned to criticize His Omnipotence, and in the evening I am dueling with some #Resistance fool upset that I do not share his belief that Donald Trump is a tyrant, and as such I have shown insufficient angst regarding Hitler Junior.

And so it has been with COVID. When the virus became a serious concern in March I broke with many people in supporting the lockdowns and in arguing that the virus was indeed a much more serious concern than the flu. Then, over time, the lockdown forever brigade began to fray my nerves.

In an age of Google and instant internet access for all, it is not difficult to find statistics and other reports about the virus to gain a better insight into what is truly happening. Yes, even months on from the onset of COVID we still receive inconsistent and sometimes contradictory information, so I understand there may be a level of deserved mistrust in the reporting. But as time has gone on, certain facts seem indisputable.

Yes, COVID is deadlier than the flu by quite a lot. At no point in recent memory have 2,000+ people died of the flu in a single day, as happened during the peak. Even now as the curve has flattened (more on that in a moment), the 700-800 daily deaths are 2-3 times what one would see at the peak of flu season. I have seen some estimates that 80-90,000 people might die in a particularly bad flu season, but that figure is wildly exaggerated as the peak number of deaths in the past decade is closer to 60,000, and COVID deaths have doubled that in just over three months.

Conversely, it is true that COVID is significantly less lethal for people under about the age of 60 who have no other underlying health conditions. Nearly 80% of coronavirus-related deaths in the US have been in people aged 65 or older. It is still more lethal than the flu for just about every age group except the very youngest, though, so one should not casually dismiss the seriousness of COVID – especially when one factors potential long-term health impacts.

Most importantly, COVID is especially non-lethal for children under the age of about 12. There have been about two-dozen deaths in this age category, and I believe almost all involved children who had some type of underlying illness. As a father I cannot imagine losing a child, so no death should ever be diminished. But not only is COVID not very much of a threat to the health of young children, contrary to almost every illness in history (I exaggerate, but kids are called “germ factories” for a reason) kids do not seem to transmit the virus much if at all to adults. What’s more, many other countries have opened schools and there have been no reported outbreaks due to these openings. There was a concern that there was a relationship between an uptick in Kawasaki-disease (or a similar syndrome) related to COVID, but the number of cases remained small, and it doesn’t seem as though this ever became a significant concern (though I am open to correction if people have updated data).

It seems as though we have two conflicting goals. On the one hand, we need to better demonstrate the seriousness of the virus to a subset of the population who continues to dismiss its significance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who continue to live in abject fear would do well to better understand recent studies and data. If one purports to be a believer in science, it seems strange to be personally paranoid about a virus that has almost no chance (assuming you are in the low-risk age group) of killing you or even leaving you with long-term disabilities, and has practically zero chance of harming your child if you are a parent.

It’s an admittedly difficult dance. I may not personally have much concern about the virus as it relates to me or my family, but neither do I want to be responsible for passing the virus onto someone who is higher risk. I was very happy to return to Church last week for the first time in three months – a return that was way overdue. Every other pew is blocked off, and everyone wore masks. And yet I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous as two women, likely in their 80s, sat in the next available pew in front of me. I wondered if I could hold my breath for an hour.

And that’s why those who think they are making some sort of political statement by not wearing a mask infuriate me. Oh, you aren’t some sheep who just listens to what others, including the government, tell you to do? Do you stop at red lights? Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you pay your taxes? If you answered yes, then I guess you are just a “sheep.” Wearing a mask is not about protecting you: it is about protecting others from you in case you are pre-symptomatic (as opposed to asymptomatic, which is somehow a different thing). Yes, authorities likely lied about mask-wearing at the outset of the pandemic crisis, and they deserve blame for that. But that’s no excuse now when we know better.

Incidentally, the anti-mask stance is an odd one for libertarians. In an age of video surveillance and facial recognition, mask wearing would seem to be an anti-establishment, finger-poke in the eye type thing. In fact, it is much more likely for masks to be outlawed as facial recognition becomes more ubiquitous. Indeed, masks are precisely the type of subtle protest used in authoritarian countries where video surveillance and facial recognition are widespread. It will be ironic when in a few years libertarians protest the outlawing of masks.

Once again, the flipside is also silly. I don’t wear a mask walking around or when I’m running. I don’t begrudge anyone who decides to do so, though I can’t imagine it being particularly healthy to run in a mask during the summer months. It doesn’t seem as though there is much of a call for people to wear them outdoors except in cases where sustained distancing is not possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that started happening because again, nobody seems to be reading anything.

Admittedly this has been a somewhat rambling post as I am just basically venting off three months of frustration. If there is an overarching message, it’s that I wish people really would take data seriously and really think before jumping on this or that bandwagon. For example, when you see cases jump in certain states, don’t just assume it’s the end of the world. Look more closely at the data. For instance, see Avik Roy’s thread about Florida. He shows that most of the cases are in a much younger population, and that even if hospitalizations are increasing, these are cases where most people are discharged and recover. (Incidentally, the thread also gives lie to the idea that Florida is hiding its data or is being insufficiently transparent when it’s the complete opposite of the truth – Florida has been more transparent than just about any other state).

Maybe my message is simply: be safe, be careful, but also don’t feel you need to hide in your cave.