I’ve been reading the massive, but excellent, World War II novels by Herman Wouk, who recently died at the age of 104.  The Winds of War deals with the situation leading up to the war and the beginning of it.  War and Remembrance takes the story until the end of the war.  Wouk, who was Jewish and a veteran of the war, wrote quite a lot, amidst the battles and conferences and life on the Home Front, about facts and ideas relevant to anti-Semitism and why Hitler rose.

I mention all this because in my mind it dovetails a good deal with commentary on the terrible situation in America today.

Certainly the half-baked comparisons of Donald Trump to Hitler are part of it.  “Half-baked” is the right phrase.  He doesn’t hate anyone, from anything I can tell, except perhaps people who are critical of him, but even them he doesn’t do anything bad to except maybe fire them, if he can.  He hasn’t persecuted anyone or put them in camps.  He hasn’t sicced the IRS or FBI on his enemies.  He hasn’t even denigrated entire groups whose differences are based on something they can’t help.  You can call him a lot of bad things with complete accuracy, but not “Hitler”.

The reason the comparisons are not completely irrelevant are entirely to do with his supporters and the way he rose, and that’s what I want to talk about today.  In essence, the situations are alike, as overreach in a conflict of identities.

Out of many World War II conflicts of identities, two are most relevant.  Non-Jews versus Jews, and the winners in the First World War versus the losers.  Religion and nationality, basically, were the identities.  One could say that it was the uncultured versus the cultured, but that would be revisionist history.  Universities and newspapers went over to the Nazis aplenty.

Anti-Semitism was a centuries-old story, but this particular clash of nationalities was a somewhat new kind.  In response to a war begun and prosecuted in considerable part by German militarism, and whose destructive effect was magnified by technology to a degree with which no one had any experience, England and France in their horror and shock were easily able to rationalize to themselves being self-dealing and particularly contemptuous of and hard on their enemies.  The 1920s roared for them, while Germans were carrying baskets of millions of marks to the market just to buy bread.  But to England and France any analysis of the rightness of their demand that Germany pay the cost of the war in gold, began and ended with “but the War!”  Out of which Hitler rose.

The parallels to 2016 are clear, I think.  Successful, powerful identity-based groups being self-dealing, and contemptuous of and hard on their defeated enemies, both culturally and economically, and having an all-purpose rationalization (something along the lines of “but social justice!”) to deflect any criticism.  Relying, in fact, just as did England and France, on norms that made any escape by their enemies of the box they put them in seem impossible.  We’re just lucky that enough norms remain that we wound up with someone as relatively harmless as Trump.  The warning, however, should be heeded.

A huge percentage of problems crop up as a result of a mismatch between politics and pressures.  Peace and justice frequently depend on there being a norm among leaders to say, in essence, “Yes, we have the power, politically speaking, the self-justification, to go farther against our opponents, but we won’t.  There is a point of taking at which the long-term consequences begin to be poisonous.”  It’s a discounted-future-rewards problem, but also a Prisoner’s Dilemma.  You can’t get only one side to have that norm, because being on the losing side over and over swiftly gets old.  Identities, particularly identities like religions or Wokeism that are based in considerable part on moralizing and righteousness and not being “that other side that’s immoral and unrighteous”, tie our hands and make that kind of norm less likely.

Good fake news?

  There’s been a lot of repetition, aimed at the virtuous goal of promoting social distancing in today’s COVID-19 pandemic, of the facts that Philadelphia did not cancel a parade in late September of 1918 and had, ostensibly as a result, a very high mortality rate from Spanish flu, and that St. Louis did cancel one, and had a much lower rate.  There is probably some causation here—it did some good, I’m sure—but less than a casual glance would suggest.

First, Philadelphia was a city in a coastal state.  Looking at the various charts available, both contemporary (such as the one below) and modern, a reader can immediately see that cities in coastal states were much harder-hit than Midwestern cities.  Ports of arrival and nearby places received the illness first.  In an era before most airplane or automobile travel, it took more time to travel inland.  St. Louis’s mortality rate was low, it’s true, but that was true about most other midwestern cities as well.  According to a chart on p. 109 of American Pandemic:  The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, by Nancy Bristow, over about six months (September 8th, 1918 to March 1, 1919) Toledo, Ohio had an influenza mortality rate of 0.22%, St. Paul, Minnesota had one of 0.35%, and Louisville, Kentucky one of just over 0.06%.  St. Louis’s rate of 0.28% maps very well with distance from seaports.

It doesn’t seem to map well with official reaction, which was more stringent in most places than parade cancellation.  “In San Francisco, for instance, theatres and cinemas were hurriedly closed and the municipal authorities issued an ordinance mandating the wearing of gauze masks in public.”  That was much more stringent than a one-time cancellation of a parade, yet over those six months San Francisco’s mortality rate from influenza was higher (0.66%)1 than Philadelphia’s (0.50%) and much higher than that of St. Louis (0.28%).  “Boston had churchless Sundays”—0.60%.  In Washington, D.C. “it became an offense for the sick to leave their homes”—0.57%.  (Quotes from Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 by M. Honigsbaum, p. 122.)

Now, I can see ways to poke holes in my own argument, the way I was taught in school and the way most repeaters of the parade-no-parade factoid don’t.  (On average, the shorter facts are, the faker they are.)  Older coastal cities were probably more likely to have a higher population density than midwestern cities and than more recently developed ones like Los Angeles, growing up around trolleys and cars instead of horse and foot.  And, too, exactly what other anti-flu measures did each of these cities enact, and when, and how long did their restrictions last?  What was the average age of their population?  Perhaps most important, as you can see, over the ten weeks when the flu was at its worst Philadelphia was by a small margin the worst city2, even when compared only to other major coastal cities, and the short term matters a lot today, because our primary goal is the slowing of the infection rate until science can catch up, and the prevention of the overwhelming of the health care system.  All of these are perfectly valid objections (albeit on the side of we-don’t-know-yet, which suggests to me that we shouldn’t say yet.) and the various social-distancing measures that the target of my critique supports are by and large good.

Still.  My point is this: it bears pointing out that despite the good intentions of the repeaters of the meme and despite the fact that social distancing does work, this is a prime example of how history can be distorted for social purposes.  History doesn’t work that way.  Fake news does, and so in the debate about it we ought to raise the question: what do we do about fake news when it’s proffered with good intentions and has good results?

The policy flab of a one-party jurisdiction

In the face of California’s posturing environmentalism, NIMBYism and civic rot, insurers have dropped fire insurance coverage for over 350,000 customers in the state.
There was a moment in the saving of GEICO back in the 1970s– under an aggressively expansionist management, it had taken on foolish risks and become badly under-reserved– when the new CEO met with the chief insurance regulator of New Jersey and explained that they had to have a rate increase. The regulator was a crusty, arrogant old man. He refused to allow it. The CEO took GEICO’s license to offer insurance in New Jersey out of his pocket and threw on the astonished regulator’s desk, and walked out. He immediately sent telegrams to every GEICO customer in NJ, canceling their insurance, before the regulator could go to court to stop him.  They got their increase.
High-handed behavior is one of those rare things that is both easy to criticize and easy to admire. Often, though, beyond analysis, it is as necessary as a fastball is to a change-up. It shows you weren’t bluffing. In this case, it shows they won’t engage in business under conditions that have become unprofitable, and won’t allow politicians the cover of a delay that allows them to obscure the connection between bad, if popular, policy and a lack of business.

Subclinical economics

Aaaand the Washington Post is trying to boost its credibility with the Left, after being guilty of such horrible openmindedness and thoughtfulness as to hire people like Megan McArdle, by calling for an increase in the minimum wage.

Since 2009, the last time the national minimum wage was raised, there have been various and sundry studies about it, including a “very credible” 2017 study in Seattle saying that Seattle’s 2014 high increase in the M. W. hurt workers, which was so significant in its contribution to that field of study that the acolytes of Paul Krugman have been trying to talk down and blunt it ever since.

Now, there are lots of strong arguments against minimum wages.  They’re price-fixing for labor, people say.  They’re discriminatory against the kinds of businesses that employ minimum-wage workers.  They spur automation, which kills that sort of job entirely.  They hurt the poor that don’t have those jobs because they can no longer afford the new, higher prices of the product.

All of those arguments have a lot going for them.  But today I’m criticizing a different aspect of minimum wages: the science being used to try to justify them.   (Minimum wages need justification because labor is claimed to be an exception to the economic tenet that with most goods, price and demand vary inversely.  Price the good higher and the market demands less.)

Put briefly and bluntly, the data suck.  It’s the usual problems of social and economic scientific studies, which are that the data are usually limited in quantity and accuracy, and it’s sometimes a problem that they were often collected for other purposes, from what may have been an unrepresentative group of people, using assumptions and definitions other than those of the study.  This being the case, there is also usually no way for there to be a reliable control group.  This is a really major flaw, because significant political pressure is on this study from both sides.  Not only does it mean that there are a myriad of opportunities for biased scientists to p-hack (that is, to set the study’s parameters according to which ones appear to validate the conclusion that the scientist wants) but it provides opportunities for people that want to justify mild increases in the minimum wage, which used to be the only politically possible move anyway.  Look, they used to say, mild increases in the minimum wage don’t hurt the economy!  (Although nowadays, they substitute ad hominem attacks upon Republicans in lieu of the adjective.)

What wasn’t possible politically to say is that the data we have are too crude to be able to discern the lower levels of economic damage.  But it’s telling that the places where high minimum wages are being offered are places like Seattle, San Francisco and New York that have strong economies for reasons unrelated to industries with minimum wages.  Hey, let’s test a medicine’s effectiveness without regard to the age and overall health of the patient!

Medicine is actually a good area for economic metaphor, because of the parallels of the human body with the human economy in complexity and in our difficulty collecting data deep enough to really tell us what’s going on.  Many times when people have diseases, their experience of the diseases are “subclinical”, meaning that their symptoms are so mild that the person with the disease doesn’t feel them.  The damage of slight increases to minimum wages to strong economies are, similarly, subclinical.  Not Quite Seen, in the Bastiatic sense.  The damage they do to those economies is very real, but the number of dollars flowing into those cities from Silicon Valley, or Wall Street, simply swamp the already-crude information we have about that damage.  Prosperity skews the null hypothesis wildly.

The inefficiency of politics

I’ve been thinking a good deal about how inefficient the events of the past few years have made politics seem.

Brexit was a major example.  To try, finally, to quell the political movement that argued for leaving the European Union, they allowed people to express themselves directly on the question, quite certain that they knew the answer already.  Certainly they were shocked to discover the inefficiency of their information-gathering on how people felt when Leave won by a four-point gap.  But I think the inefficiency-discovering hasn’t ended.  I think there are undiscovered effects of our societal wealth upon politics.  Let me illustrate.

Back in January Megan McArdle wrote that the best solution to Brexit would be “leave, good and hard”, a reference to H. L. Mencken’s famous quote that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it, good and hard”.  “For the record,” McArdle wrote, “I think the outcome of Brexit is likely to be quite unhappy for Britain and for the ‘Leave’ voters who expect it to improve their lives.”

But Henry Louis Mencken coined that saying over a century ago (in 1916’s A Little Book in C Major), when, to take a few major examples, food was a much higher percentage of a household’s budget and most people had no car (as opposed to today’s ponderings about whether we’ve reached “peak car”) or electronic entertainment.  Society was much less wealthy.  As I’ve also argued, it’s societal wealth– the number of hours needed to work to acquire the basics to live– that pushes people further up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  How much increase in the cost of living, then, is needed to lower them down again to the point where they suffer?  It’s rather surprising that McArdle, who is one of the rare observers of today’s world who can usually be counted on to ask, “How much?” and “When?” rather than merely “What?” did not ask them here.  She did not question the assumption of elite policy-setters that tariffs will cause the cost of living to increase so much that ordinary dwellers in the United Kingdom will a.) notice and b.) decide that on average, it wasn’t worth trading it for regaining control over their own borders and affairs.

They certainly might do both, though elites underestimated the degree to which the latter is a retail issue for people, not a luxury issue.  Where I differ from the columnist is that I see no reason to assume it.  Overall, politicians still don’t know about the majority of things that people care about, much less how much they care about each.  We are wallowing so much in a sea of billions of people, tens of billions of their degrees of opinion, and trillions of dollars, that no one has a very good idea what’s going on.  People vote with their feet, they vote with their pocketbooks, and the tiny minority who answer polling calls vote with their answers to prephrased questions, leaving politicians looking like anthropologists trying to use the archaeological record to figure out mating rituals among the ancient Aztecs.  And in turn, people don’t know or care about the vast majority of the actions that government takes, and you can’t argue to voters that they’ll miss something you’ve done that they hadn’t even realized existed.

How cheap things are explains a lot of this.  There’s a sort of marginal utility to cheapness, a point of diminishing returns past which the increase in the value people put on cheapness is lower and lower in terms of political significance.  This works in both directions of wealth.  The tariffs involved in Brexit and the trade hardball that Donald Trump has been playing with Mexico and China will cause the price of goods to rise, but it is going to take a while before people feel it enough to alter their political behavior.  Trash cans and thrift stores are alike swamped with secondhand but still perfectly useable goods.  These goods are like a folk heuristic for the cost of living; they’re a measure of slack in the economic line.  How many fewer cargo containers of cheap goods will the U.K. be able to afford before its citizens notice?  Maybe not that many, but how many before they value cheap things more than sovereignty and democracy?  Hopefully, politicians will be paying close attention to the answer to that question.

I know Darth Vader’s really got you annoyed, but remember if you kill him then you’ll be unemployed.

So, here we go again with another musing about the moving parts of that weird alloy of capitalism and socialism that we live in, modern Western democracy.

The Relationship Between Politics and Idealism

One thing which is rarely even mentioned, let alone discussed, is the relationship between politics and idealism.

The value of social and moral activists to political parties is of course partially the value of their votes.  But part of the value is that they supply idealistic clothing to disguise the naked fights over power and money.  Political parties cling to their justifications too long and too hard.  The Democrats have been fighting racism, sexism, et cetera for a long, long time– long enough for the struggle to shift from a process to a pillar of their identity, their worldview.  This is what happens with ideas that have enough juice.  The Left appears never to have considered what they would do if they actually achieved what they ostensibly wanted, which appears to be the case:  racism and sexism have never been rarer than they are today in America and Europe.  They’re far more common in the rest of the world.  True, the activists of the Democrats have come up with some new stablemates for these tired old nags, in the form of homophobia, transphobia and so on, but given the arguments about the terms, the relative scarcity of the pitiable people in question, and (unlike race and gender) the concealability of the defining characteristic in many cases, it’s doubtful that they’ll ever be the workhorses that race and sex were.

So.  Faced with the unpleasant fact that you won, and might no longer have that sweet political and identity-narrative juice going forward, what do you do?

Give them up?

The Democratic Party won’t permit that.

Any political party or politician (Republicans included) needs idealism not only for the activist energy and votes, but to disguise the uglier aspects of their party.  Poor Democrats require a veil over the fact that much of their proffered pitiability is little more than the intellectualization of greed of foolish people who are in the lower half of the distribution when it comes to talent, brains or capitalist ability, and/or in the upper half when it comes to spending money on lifestyle.  The unaffordability by the government of poor people’s greed must likewise be concealed.  They have to have obfuscation and obscurantism over the fact that the expedience of voting yourself money is an addiction which often never ends (and which, like addiction, requires more and more over time as the system acclimates).  Find new idealism, or fix the old?  Nah.  They’re too addicted to the “quicker, easier, more seductive” path of clinging to the old idealism, poorly fitting though it now is.

So if they can’t give stale idealism up or reform it, just as Christianity could not for so long, what can they do?

Only one thing.

Move the goalposts.  Redefine them.   Do the new definitions fit the real world poorly?  Scream and rage at those pointing it out, since righteousness has its own energy, cheap and corrosive though it is.

Ralph Waldo Emerson saw this sort of rot of idealism.  In his most famous essay he wrote,

“Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression.”

Cultural Marxism

The Guardian has a worthless glop of an article about Siri and Alexa, which they sum up as, “Virtual assistants such as Google Home and Siri only encourage the attitude that women exist merely to aid men in getting on with more important things.”

I mention this because it appears to me to be the perfect illustration of the core idea that lies behind everything wrong with the Left today.   That core idea is essentially Marxist anthropology, the ideas about human beings that Karl Marx relied upon in his deeply failed ideology.  Its application here is a bone-deep belief that human beings are extremely conditionable, and therefore that everything can be chopped up into micro-factors that tend in one direction or the other.

A billion times, no.

The Asymmetry of NeverTrumpers

The thing about NeverTrumpers is that there is no Leftist equivalent.

I know that’s kind of an odd statement, but I’ll try to explain.

NeverTrumpers are a bit like Cincinnatus, or George Washington.  “People who are defined by what they are not willing to do to have power” makes it sound as though I am complimenting them.  It makes them sound noble, and in some sense they are.  Only superficially, though.  They aren’t surrenderers of much power themselves.  Washington was powerful and popular and could have been king, and his alternative, the beautiful vision for which he established the precedent of peaceful transfers of American power, was the establishment of real democracy, even though it would mean the election, inevitably, of hacks, and the enactment of folly.  The NeverTrumpers are only giving up mainstream conservative intellectual status, and not for a beautiful and farsighted vision, but to avoid the re-evaluation of their worldview in the face of shocking evidence of its incompleteness.  What they are willing to do is to go back to a pre-2016 situation that amounted to a pack of Mean Girls eating their lunch every day, with compromise, back when such a thing existed, amounting to the Left getting what it wanted only slightly more slowly than its intellectual Young Turks could imagine it.

The Left, too, avoids the re-evaluation of their priors; it’s a human tendency.  But they still aren’t similar to the Right in the main way I am talking about.  During no Democratic administration has there ever been any analogue on the Left to NeverTrumpers.  I can name no time when any significant and prominent component of the Left has visibly refused to go along with some clear moral dilemma to have power.  I can think of no time when they have said, “We want this policy, but this one thing standing in the way that we have the power to get rid of– this part of the Constitution, this pillar of the Rule of Law, the idea of the loyalty of the Loyal Opposition– is too important to sacrifice.”  If they have, it happened in private.

Public or private, the Left is willing to have unity at the cost of the society-poisoning whiny viciousness of victim politics and social media mobbing.  They’re willing to condone the hounding out of office of an executive who, far from even saying anything, had merely donated to a cause opposing gay marriage, or the ruination of bakers and pizza-makers for insisting upon their right not to associate.  They stoop to claiming, in essence, that hurt feelings are on a par with lynching.  They have originated and nourished the idea that foolishness and poor decisions by teenagers are a matter not for a serious discussion and a teachable moment among adults, between the people in question and the people whose feelings were hurt, but for the ruining of lives and decades’ worth of work long after the emigration from the foreign country of the past.  These moral dilemmas lack the personification of a President, but they are none the less equivalent in significance, if not greater, and the Left stands guilty in the spotlight.

By and large, the Left’s capacity for rationalization appears almost completely unfettered, a seemingly infinite intellectualizing force for amoral expedience.   NeverTrumpers and the Left are alike in appearing to be unable or unwilling to see that the Left itself caused the pressures on the Right to come up with whatever seems necessary to counteract it.  To the Right– and to me– the Left winning and getting to terraform the United States is not acceptable– full stop.  NeverTrumpers are like seated passengers on Flight 93 cautioning the chargers of the cockpit to fight fair.

The Broken Overton Window Fallacy

The angst-y topic of the week for conservatives and Republicans appears to be over the future of the party, with Trumpers and NeverTrumpers at odds like Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.

Megan McArdle recently wrote about NeverTrumpers:

“Yet as the party heads into 2020 with Trump still very much at the helm, a number of people are beginning to ask an obvious question: “What’s the point?” Conservative resistance hasn’t ousted Trump; all it’s done is split the movement. So as political scientist and RealClearPolitics writer Sean Trende recently asked in a Twitter thread, what is the end game for the dedicated holdouts?”

McArdle explains problems with each of Trende’s three possibilities.

  1. Conceding defeat, she says, “means abandoning your dearest principles — and if you think the Trump administration is likely to end in some combination of disaster or corruption scandals, it means positioning yourself to be splattered by the fallout.”
  2. She says that “in practice there’s little benefit” to positioning yourself as the loyal opposition.  “Liberals will identify you with all of Trump’s worst excesses, while the Party of Trump will regard you as a fifth columnist.”
  3. Pursuing active insurgency “means sacrificing any realistic chance of retaking the helm of the party,” says McArdle, in paraphrase of Trende.  She continues: “If you have been actively working to nuke Trump’s presidency, then if you succeed — or even if external events do the job for you — you can be sure that your faction will be the one group not chosen to rebuild the party out of the rubble.”

The second of these seems easily the best to me.  Liberals will identify conservatives who choose that with Trump’s excesses, sure, but then again, they’ll do that anyway.  Expecting rationality, fairness and consistency out of the Left these days is a fool’s errand; they often appear a breath’s worth of rationalization away from doing anything they please.  The Party of Trump will regard you as a fifth columnist?  Well, no– a fifth column is almost definitionally a secret organization of fellow-travelers.  They may regard you as “cucks”– a word I hate, incidentally, and not least because it’s used ad infinitum, ad nauseam— but you have to stand for what you stand for, and once their ambition is tempered and the laws the Left proposes to put in place next time they get into power are seen clearly enough to be feared, they may come back.

But my reaction would be to reject this trichotomy.

Politics is a lot like capitalism, in being a system intended in part to produce information about what people desire and how much.  Both systems are often distorted.  In capitalism, for example, the ethanol tax credit ruins the data about how much people actually want ethanol, while in politics, the Commission on Presidential Debates skews information about how much people might like the Libertarian or Green parties’ platforms by keeping their candidates out of the debates.  As I’ve argued, politics steers idealism as much as the other way around.   The marketplace of ideas was turned to the private benefit of a pretty cozy group of politicians, bureaucratic mandarins and cultural influencers.  They steered people away from issues that were uncomfortable or politically unprofitable or economically crazy.  This is one way of avoiding bad policies, it’s true.  But distorting the marketplace of ideas that way leads to a distorted picture of what people want, and how much.

So.  What use is all this talk of unaddressed issues to a NeverTrumper trying to figure out what to do?

Well, we’ve come about to the limits of the set of policies that elites put together back in the 1980s and 1990s that Fukuyama called “the end of history”– the seemingly perfect equation of free trade producing greater societal wealth, producing (I argue) greater capacity in people for social liberalism.  No one thought the equation of this capacity was a hyperbola, so that you could reach a point of diminishing returns of marginal utility to people of ever-cheaper goods and services.  No one knew saw that there was eventually so much market for the ideas that elites of both parties quietly agreed to ignore and backburner– such as nationalism, immigration, the Savonarola-like extremes of identity politics, and a desire by poorer people not for handouts, but for meaningful work and dignity– that it could flood past the cultural and professional gatekeepers (who were in any case weakened by technological change).  The real question dividing Trumpers and NeverTrumpers is the same dividing Pelosi Democrats from Bernie Democrats:  What issues will the parties stand for going forward? 

That, then, is the question that NeverTrumpers should ask.  To date, NeverTrumpers and Pelosi Democrats have seemed united in thinking that “true conservatism” and “true liberalism” means positions only on the set of issues that they confined themselves to since about 1990 or so, and adherence to the worldview that self-justified ignoring other issues.  McArdle mentions that Jonah Goldberg argues that NeverTrumpers should keep fighting Trump simply to “do the right thing” (her paraphrase).  I like Jonah Goldberg, but honestly, a better euphemism for doubling down on one’s worldview, a worldview which saw none of this coming, is hard to imagine.  The wiser course would be to triangulate and try to see how one’s previous worldview was mistaken and which policies beloved of Trumpers they can come to terms with.  Remember that there is no other way to turn a stampede than to take the lead.

Trende’s question really amounts to one about repairs to the broken Overton Window— whether Trump’s voters will, even after their perceived best hope of realizing them is gone, surrender the issues that 2016 liberated or the ambition that Trump awoke.  It seems clear that they will not.  McArdle has often written about path dependence.  We are now in the middle of it.  If NeverTrumpers want to get rid of the man– and I can certainly understand that– I think they’re going to have to surrender the hope of controlling the issues, and instead begin the work of finding someone who can convince the Republican base that he or she can be as effective as Trump has been, without Trump’s manifold flaws, excrescences and sins.

TL; DR: The issues that Trump’s supporters wanted to talk about are not going away, so NeverTrumpers should adjust accordingly.

Natural allies

I should like to consider the folk song, and expound briefly on a theory I have held for some time, to the effect that the reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the people.” — Tom Lehrer

I too have a theory that I’ve held for some time, that I’d also like to expound briefly on.

It is this: that economic conservatives and social liberals are natural allies, despite usually appearing in the platforms of the two main opposing parties, as are economic liberals with social conservatives.

Why is this?

Because more than anything else, social liberalism correlates with societal wealth, in the sense of cheapness of goods relative to your income.  In the fulsome, fatuous old Victorian phrase, if you can take care of the basics– food, warmth, shelter, entertainment– your mind “turns to higher things”.  Or if you’re like me and prefer more modern formulations (and mixed metaphors, which are goofy fun), it would be that a rising tide lifts all boats higher up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

That, of course, is only half of it.  The other half is that economic liberalism in large quantities– the ability and inclination of voters to vote themselves someone else’s money– kills economies.  Always.  Like strychnine or nitroglycerin, which in small amounts are useful (as appetite inducer and heart stimulant, respectively), that which is fine in small amounts is fatal in large quantities.  (Sola dosis facit venenum, as Paracelsus said.)  The most isolated such economies offer the most vivid examples, such as Venezuela, where the societal wealth, the cheapness of goods, has vanished.

Thus it is that unrestrained economic liberalism kills the societal wealth that allows social liberalism to flourish.  Venezuela has never been anyone’s idea of Berkeley, but surely it must be an even more socially conservative place right now.  Single-minded social conservatives should therefore want less societal wealth.  None are that single-minded, of course, but for the reason that is at the core of my theory, and which is at the core of many political problems:  economic desires frequently conflict with social desires.  In this case, the strong support of conservatives for economic freedom hinders their desire for social conservatism, by creating the wealth that enables people to be more socially liberal.