A victory for due process, or the confirmation hearings of Grand Moff Tarkin?

I hope you have energy for one more damn blog post about Brett Kavanaugh, who has now been confirmed to the Supreme Court.   I don’t think herein you will discover any new or profound points, but perhaps.  I deeply regret and apologize for my lack of editor.

Megan McArdle and Jonah Goldberg were right, of course, that there was no good outcome, at the end.  Either the Left was going to be furious at having been balked and at having a woman’s accusations of sexual assault and attempted rape be disbelieved enough to not spike a nomination to the Supreme Court, or the Right was going to be furious at the nakedly political attempt to ambush a nominee at the eleventh hour with accusations of vile crimes that could neither be proven nor disproven, despite the Democratic Senator in question having had the accusatory letter for months without revealing it and despite the fact that even the people named by the accusers as having been there declined to back up the details or substance of the accusation.

I was and am on the side of confirming Kavanaugh.  Naturally I’m glad how it turned out– in that one respect.

To Kavanaugh himself I am indifferent.  If credible charges of any offense had been made back in the summer and he had backed out, or if Trump had withdrawn his nomination, and then Trump offered up someone else, I would have been fine with that.  The way it happened, though, made the stakes rather different than merely the identity of the person warming the ninth seat.  The pathetically obviously political quality of the timing of the release– to try to delay matters past the midterm elections next month– the hypocrisy of the Left (for example, in having covered up and apologized for Bill Clinton’s non-teenage mashing, or their apologetics for the crimes of black youths of a similar age to Kavanaugh in 1982, arguing that teenagers shouldn’t be held to as high a standard), and the Waterford clarity that this was about revenge for denying Merrick Garland a vote adds up to the unavoidable conclusion that rationality had nothing to do with the Left’s position.  Which was more or less, to blither, fulminate and fling any shit that comes to hand, no matter how vile.

The Left’s position, when not purely partisan, is essentially one of emotion, and, depth of rage notwithstanding, it is still not acceptable to make nothing more than emotion a policy consideration.  Emotion will, true, always play a role in human affairs.  Voters need not hew to any standards but their own, and the fear of voter anger does affect politicians.  But politicians must at least pretend to be rational.  There has to be a real policy issue at stake which is argued to be more important than the other issue.  For politicians, it cannot openly be “the depth of my side’s emotions must be more important than your reasons”, especially when that issue is something central, like due process or the Rule of Law.  And, momentary fluctuations notwithstanding, it has in the end to be justifiable emotion.  Emotion that one side has stirred up to a fury pitch out of a sense of identity does not qualify.

Voters on the Right got angry, too, of course, and that played a role.  But the Right’s position is one of basic prudence and common sense: that if this is all that it takes to spike a nomination, we will all have consented to race to the bottom in terms of standards, and we’ll get a steady stream of accusations from the mentally unstable and cheap opportunists willing to lie.  Even sincerity, which Kavanaugh’s first accuser displayed, is not enough.  It might not be enough even with events only a year old, because the unreliability of memories and eyewitness testimony is well-known, but most certainly memories of events 36 years ago which no one else from that time and place supports, making an allegation that the rest of Kavanaugh’s life seems to belie, are not enough.

So the Left turns out to be who’s enraged, and will spin this into a political Just-So story, some new component of their identity narrative, along the lines of the confirmation by the Imperial Senate of a glib, fast-talking Grand Moff Tarkin making all the right sounds.  But rage and storytelling and the rationalization of the imposition of end results are the Left’s normal modus operandi.  How is this different?  And in most respects other than taxes and the 2nd Amendment the Left has gotten most things they wanted for the past half-century.  Honestly, I have no idea what they think they can rationalize to do in retribution, that they haven’t already or wouldn’t have done before.  Spent options and burnt bridges make for poor leverage.

2016: the two types of issue

In which I continue to try to parse the significance of 2016.  (I hope they come up with a standard term for the events of the past couple years, because Trump-and-Brexit-and-Europeans-revolt-against-the-elite is clunky.)

Megan McArdle has on more than one occasion talked about “Washington issues”:

A Washington Issue is something that sounds terrible, has little meaningful impact on more than a handful of people, and most importantly, allows you to pretend that you are addressing a different, very difficult issue that would impact a large number of people if you actually tried to make meaningful change — people who might get angry and do something rash, such as voting for your opponent.

This is clearly correct, it seems to me.  How does 2016 play in?  Well, on that particular subject area of political science, let me theorize a bit.

As I see it, there are two basic types of issue.  There are “retail” issues, and there are “luxury” issues.

Retail issues are the sort that the public really cares about.  They tend to be fairly simple and easy to explain, and they tend to touch many people’s emotions.   Jobs.  Taxes.  Defense.  Football.  The Left appears to me to imagine that their issues are mostly retail.  The administrative state?  Meritocracy and mandarinism?  They seem to think these are all things the public is really on their side about, and are shocked and mystified when evidence to the contrary appears.  (Washington Issues are a kind of retail issue that is high-margin, in business terms: high payoff, low cost in terms of tradeoffs.  They’re the sweet spot for politicians, so long as people are fooled into thinking they mean anything.)

Luxury issues, on the other hand, are the kind that only particular interest groups and politicians care about.  They don’t swing elections by themselves.  They’re the kind of thing that you can use to put together coalitions, because the interest groups care intensely about their particular issue or issues, but they’re not things whose presence or absence sways the public as a whole.

And, of course, these are not fixed points, anode and cathode.  They are points on a spectrum.  People can sometimes be gotten to care more about a particular issue, and in fact that’s the nexus between the media and politics.  Any time a politician says something like “let’s get a national conversation going about X issue”, the real meaning is, let’s try to move this issue from the luxury side of the spectrum to the retail side.  This can sometimes be done, but if it is not maintained, it may slide backwards once the victory is gained and the policy enacted.  And some things that were once inherently retail drift to the side of luxury issues by the operation of the entropy of public disillusionment with them.  Public education is an example of this.  People ostensibly care about it, but large amounts of money spent uselessly on it, together with a public perception that it’s been captured by administrators and teachers’ unions and run chiefly for their own benefit, has been causing it to drift in the direction of a luxury issue.

2016 demonstrates that the Left, and the global elite as a whole, has confused the two.   The public as a whole doesn’t care about the components of the administrative state.  The less able distrust meritocracy, a dynamic in which they are the losers, and non-elites as a whole dislike the identity politics of meritocracy, which is what we call elitism.  The Democrats, in fact, resemble nothing so much as the character of Martin Prince on The Simpsons, who gets pushed down by Bart, to laughter from the other children, and says in shock, “They laugh at me? I’d always considered myself rather popular… My speed with numbers? My years of service as a hall monitor? My prize winning dioramas? These things mean nothing to them?”  And he gets pushed over again, again to general laughter.

Unlike Martin, though, who responds, “You have made your point”, the Democrats have yet to acknowledge the point made by Trump when he pushed them over.  They still think the bureaucrats of the Hall Monitor Agency and the diorama-building of the National Endowment for the Arts, are things with genuine and deep popular support.

The meaning of Trumpism

The meaning of Trumpism is clear.  It’s a paradigm fight.  (How’s that for an unburied lede?)

Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans have been agog and aghast at the degree of enthusiasm generally displayed for Donald Trump by a huge percentage of Americans, and have been mystified by it.  How, they think, apart from mass psychosis, could it be possible that people they thought they knew could so strongly support someone so repulsive on so many levels?  Poor, rural,  working-class voters hailed as one of their own an arrogant New York multimillionaire and hard-edged businessman, a boss.  Evangelicals showed up en masse to strongly support their Satan.   Horses rode men and grass ate cows and cats were chased into holes by the mouse.

Trump’s unique fractal chaos is their desire.  A brutally honest policy platform of theirs might go something like this: “Nothing else can cut apart the Horsemen of our Apocalypse: the cozy political modus vivendi; the rotten previous political parties; the administrative ossification; the Deep State; the self-dealing by elites; the liberal ratchet and the Left’s gleichschaltung over higher education, the media and Hollywood.”  This description does not imply agreement or disagreement by me.  But into their lives, through the rent that 2016 tore in the American polity, the sweet air of ambition has swept.  It’s not only the ambition to decimate the foregoing supposed catalog of the elite paradigm, but the ambition for ambitions of their own.

If you think about it, that’s something the grassroots Right hasn’t had, hasn’t gotten to have, in a long, long time.  The last real ambition I remember them having is school prayer, which is a hope (of theirs, not mine) which hasn’t existed in a long time.  The Left would respond, “But what about tax cuts, regulation cuts and wars?”  Those are things which aren’t actually that conservative, from a grass-roots point of view.  They’re things favored by the Republican leadership, as influenced by Madison Avenue.  Anger at the Republican leadership for having allowed major donors to suck off most of the political capital is, I think, one of the reasons Trump won the nomination, and it took someone as heedless of political donations as Trump to defeat the influence of those donors over Republican policy.  You could argue abortion– but that’s a rollback of the Left’s achieved ambition, and mainly resurgent in the set of “this might actually happen” as a result of the same wave that shattered the previous Overton Window and brought Trump into the Oval Office.

Will they get their ambitions?  Hard to say.  Despite its power Trumpism is an amorphous cloud of discontent, not a precise policy tool.  (As a paradigm it’s no more coherent than he is.)  Some, probably.  Trumpism does have an effect of reversion to the mean, which means the Left will lose (and has lost) some ground.  Nothing, however, is controlling which issues it’ll lose on, or how much.  Entropy may be the Democrats’ friend, as the energy of Trumpist discontent spins off into the Void.

The socialist mackerel

Yes, it’s yet another blogger’s post about Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, the 20-something socialist who defeated a powerful New York City Congressman in the Democratic primary, who will therefore surely win the general election.

The strange thing is that when she won, everyone lost their minds and acted as though it’s 1.) new, though Bernie Sanders has been representing the idea of socialism in the Federal government at a much higher electoral level– the statewide office of U.S. Senator– for many years, and 2.) a recipe for a popular mandate for a national platform along those lines, though it was decided by 4,000-and-some votes out of 27,744 cast, in a safe-blue NYC district with 214,750 registered Democrats.  It would be narcissism to the nth degree to imagine that that can be assumed to be a cross-section of Democrats in that district, much less of America.

The Democrats have been floundering, policy-wise, for something like a couple decades, if not more.  What do they stand for?  More of the same.  More government, more wealth redistribution, more identity politics, more support for the cheap-moral-outrage component of their base that gets off on cracking the whip of ism-accusation.

This has actually been the case for a while.  The Democrats won the 1992 election due to Ross Perot, who got something like 20% of the vote, mostly from the Republican side, they won the 1996 election as incumbents, they won the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections not due to a general belief in their platform, but largely due to a combination of anger at the Republicans for Iraq and the Great Recession, plus black people turning out to vote in racial self-interest (if not flat-out racism) for the first black President of the United States.  It’s true that to be young, idealistic, eloquent and black, as Obama was, was an appealing set of characteristics for a candidate right then– but again, they had nothing to do with the freshness of the ideas.  The Democrats would surely have won some of those Presidential elections even without those factors, simply because people get fed up and it’s rare, historically, for one party to hold the White House for three or more successive terms.  Irritation and boredom are not ideas, though.  Perhaps the lesson is that elections rarely turn on fresh ideas, or that in national politics, the low-hanging new-idea fruit gets picked quickly.

So they seem to be returning to “heirloom varieties” of ideas.  In a way, it’s not surprising that on the Left socialism has surged in popularity.  As has been pointed out by others, Ocasio-Cortez and most of her cohort were born around or after the fall of the Soviet Union; they barely have a memory of the 20th century and none of its awful socialist failures.  They were also born, I might add, after the “state capitalist” overlay was put in place in various ostensibly socialist countries, like Vietnam and China, which led them to prosperity while retaining the name of socialism and “prove” that socialism can work.  They came of age, too, after the rise of the technocrats at Google, Amazon, Tesla and the like made the precedents of the past seem distinguishable– if they’d just had social media they could have made it work!– and therefore no barrier any more.  And finally, their party, the Democrats, are out of power and searching for hope and renewal.  The rise to attention of base-pleasing ideas is what happens when a party parts its intellectual and policy mooring by thinking it has no need of the moderates that anchor it.

Yes, those annoying buzz-kill, anchoring moderates prevent the party from going anywhere, but they also prevent it from being blown onto the rocks in a high wind.  So let’s continue with a maritime metaphor shift and think of socialism not as a sort of ideological cultivar, but as a mackerel in the moonlight.  It glitters attractively from a distance.  But it stinks.   The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle– the popular part, anyway– is that shining light on electrons to discover where they are makes them move, ruining the inquiry.  Socialism is like an economic version of that.  Socialism seeks to seize economic value and redistribute it to poor people– but the problem is that economic value created by free enterprise requires freedom to exist.  Seizing it usually ruins it.  Socialism today would be particularly nasty because so little of Western economies is based on natural resources.  When the economy is more like Venezuela’s, based on something that exists irrespective of human effort, or with only a relatively small effort, like oil, socialism can, like spending an inheritance, seem temporarily workable until the price of oil collapses.

As noted, Ocasio-Cortez is not even new in having parted moorings from reality (assuming she was ever so tethered).  What she is that Bernie Sanders is not, is physically attractive, young, female and Latina.  The Democrats are hoping for a renewal not of Leftist economic ideas, but of a renewal of identity-politics turnout that will hopefully translate to the national level.  That won’t work.  Identity politics has never yet emerged in generations, very weakly in gender, and even if it did among Latinos in America, which seems questionable, the places where they are concentrated include only one swing state, Florida…where Fidel Castro’s socialism is still hated.

Prisms and mirrors

One of the really valuable things about these times of shocks and reassessments of old assumptions is the way it’ll provide evidence about many things that lots of people had simply assumed.

Did the Left and Hollywood and the media assume that a lot of policies of the NWO had genuine popular support, as opposed to being political luxuries?

Did the Deep State assume it was so useful that no one would ever seriously challenge it?

Were America’s dealings with North Korea hindered by the automatic assumption that we can’t imperil Chinese-American trade by taking a hard line over Chinese support for North Korea?

I think the answer is obviously yes to all of these.   The Trump administration itself is basically a photographic negative of the “New World Order”.   It’s as though all his targets are chosen, not on his opinions about them or on his philosophy, none of which I’m certain exist, but on how sacred a cow they were to the NWO.  And in turn, all his actions reveal more about everyone else, by their reactions to them, than anything about him.  Now the components of modern policy have been split into a spectrum the way white light is split into separate colors through a prism.

Some of these things– those which we come to discover we miss– will no doubt return in a stronger form.  Others will be trashed.  That’s a good thing.