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.”

The funhouse mirror of paranoia

Adam Serwer has a popular piece at The Atlantic whose title says it all: “The White Nationalists Are Winning”.  Catering to pure Trump Derangement Syndrome, he quotes Tucker Carlson telling his audience that “Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country”.  Serwer argues that, “Republican audiences are now being fed white-nationalist philosophy through mainstream conservative figures with national followings.

“Unless something changes, conservative constituencies will eventually begin to demand that their representatives adopt those views as well.”

The narcissism of this blinkered analysis is simply amazing.  Set aside the fact that it was decades of slanted coverage by the media that created such a thing as “Republican audiences” in the first place.  The “white nationalism” of Carlson, so-called, is nothing of the sort.  His position is only the rejection and reverse of all-but-explicit Democratic policy: cynically pack the electorate with as many Democratic-voting types as possible, particularly minority immigrants, to ensure that the book The Emerging Democratic Majority by John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira becomes a reality.  If there’s any racism in this, it was the Democrats that brought it in in the form of Judis and Teixeira’s manual of identity politics, fondly believing that racism is their political workhorse, not a Bottle Imp which, encouraged anywhere, fosters racism everywhere.  Carlson is arguing against that tactic just as Democrats argued against voter-ID laws.  And he’s arguing against demographic change– but a Know-Nothing, a genuine white-nationalist identity-politics purist, would instead be pushing for demographic change in the form of illegally expelling large numbers of minorities, such as Republican luminaries Nikki Haley, Mia Love, Bobby Jindhal and Dr. Ben Carson, who was at one point in the 2016 elections polling at 25%.  Have we seen anything within miles of that?  Only by squinting at this with deep paranoia and gallons of rationalization could any sane person answer “yes” to that.

The only true victories in our national arguments are in swaying the beliefs in other people’s private hearts.  The normalization in public life of various kinds of sexuality is a good example.  That’s not at risk today not because of Obergefell, but the very reverse: Obergefell occurred because people, Republicans included, changed their private opinions in response to shows like Will & Grace.  Which I suppose is the real basis for Serwer’s paranoia: Tucker Carlson and Jordan Peterson and so on must be some sort of right-wing analog to Will & Grace, and will nefariously seduce people.

I’ve argued before that the most fascinating thing about these times is the hidden information about everyone that they’re revealing in their responses to recent events.  Far from serving his cause, Serwer undermines it by provoking serious questions about the Democratic approach to policy in general.  Such as:

What sort of victory was it before if no one was truly convinced?

Do any truths ever require shutting down debate?

And:

Are people really supposed to believe in your message if you so transparently and sincerely believe that they’re so stupid that they’re that easily manipulated?

The purest of bullshit

The New York Times, forfeiting all credibility, hired and subsequently defended an out-and-out hater of white people and men with the explanation, “her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time, she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.”

Andrew Sullivan, whose piece is linked-to above, described this quite accurately as “the purest of bullshit“.  He writes, “If you want to respond to trolls by trolling them, you respond to them directly.  You don’t post slurs about an entire race of people (the overwhelming majority of whom are not trolls) on an open-forum website like Twitter. And these racist tweets were not just a function of one sudden exasperated vent at a harasser; they continued for two years.”

It’s one thing for a place like the Washington Post to publish a similar men-hating piece, because they at least also publish people like Megan McArdle, who’s kind of center-right/libertarian.  The Post, at least at present, and surely thanks to the fact that it’s owned by someone who doesn’t need it to make money, is in harmony with Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of truth and error grappling in an arena of freedom.  But the fact that The New York Times kept someone with views more vile than those that Kevin Williamson was defenestrated for upon their discovery by The Atlantic, even in the face of widespread outrage, makes its actions simply unforgiveable and the damage to its reputation possibly irreparable.

This marks the moment when the NYT ceased to be “The Paper of Record”.