IMG_2753Welcome to Primarily Politics. I hope you enjoy your visit here.

You may notice that I have been away from this blog for quite some time. I’m at work on a piece that I hope will see the light of day somewhere in the next month or so, and it includes a brief explanation of my prolonged absence from the world of print. In the meantime I’m also restructuring this site, removing some material that’s no longer really relevant, archiving a lot more, and in general tidying up for what I hope will be a period of renewed activity. This is a work in progress, though, so don’t be surprised as the blog changes form over the next little while until I get it right, or at least more right.

One thing that will not change is this remark from my first-ever post:

I welcome comments and will do my best to respond promptly. Whatever subject I might be working on, my approach is always “conversational”— writing, for me, is about the exchange of ideas. But like anyone who engages with controversial issues, I’m familiar with the respondent whose motivation has more to do with venting his/her weirdly neurotic anger than with intellectual exchange. Comments in that vein will not receive a response. Life’s just too short to tilt at windbags.

More to come!


July 5, 2017

Hello again!

I’m still working on the piece mentioned above, which has meandered into a corner from which escape may be difficult to arrange. Time will tell where that is concerned, but I did want to post something I wrote on Slate today in response to Isaac Chotiner’s interview with Edward Luce, the author of a recently published book on The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Luce is a highly intelligent and perceptive writer, and I have great respect for his work. I’m reading Retreat now and learning a lot from it, but I believe it gets some important things wrong, or at least not quite right. Specifically, I think it overstates the extent to which Trumpism is a response to the same anxieties behind Brexit and other follies of the European right. Trump undoubtedly exploits these things, but he does so in the service of a racially coded program that goes back in GOP circles to the mid-1960s— long before “globalization” became an international epithet.

In any case, you can read the Chotiner interview here:


And then peruse my comment here:

I’m reading Luce’s book now and enjoying it, but I wonder if his analysis puts the emphasis in exactly the right place.

In Germany, as in Europe generally, there is a (more or less) reliable electoral consensus that a significant percentage of national wealth should be reinvested in programs that benefit middle- and working-class citizens. We no longer have such a consensus here, and that is almost entirely because of the evolution of the Republican Party since 1964.

The GOP long consisted of an alliance between robber barons and aspirational middle-class citizens, many of them clustered in the small towns and suburbs of the Midwest and Northeast. The latter saw “the market” as the engine of personal enrichment and social improvement, and generally accepted the robber barons’ argument that low taxes and a light regulatory touch would facilitate these things. They tended to want fewer social protections than Democrats, but did not seek to eliminate the New Deal state entirely; they just wanted it to have a smaller, more efficient footprint.

With the passage of major civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s, the GOP recast its traditional appeal to the economic benefits of “small government.” Now the sought-after limitations on federal power were also offered as a defense of “states’ rights”— i.e., of the “massive resistance” of white southerners, and the state governments they supported, to the extension of legal equality to black Americans. The solid Democratic south rapidly became a reliable supporter of Republican candidates in presidential politics, and this presented the robber barons with an historic opportunity. They could now exploit the racial and cultural anxieties of white southerners in pursuit of a harsher, grimmer social policy than more moderate Northeast and Midwest Republicans would ever have approved. Taxes could be slashed, spending could be cut, environmental regulations rescinded, labor protections scanted, and it would not matter that the economic benefits of these changes mostly flowed— often quite transparently so— to the already wealthy. All that would matter was the perception that benefits were being taken away from mostly poor, mostly black citizens.

This has been the template of GOP politics for the last half-century. An insatiable economic elite uses the prejudices of white voters, especially in the south, to drive a policy agenda that augments the wealth of the former at the expense of the latter (and everybody else). Trump offers no innovation here; he is merely following the same blueprint that Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes— especially Dubya— followed. His only novelty is the breathtaking insouciance with which he lies and his realization that you can sell this agenda much more effectively if you incorporate the affect of the untermensch you are deceiving— the reflexive dismissal of “experts” who think they know more than you, the snarling, sneering rage, the paranoia and resentment and suspicion of “outsiders.” All of this rhetoric goes over much better if you drop the namby-pamby diction of Mitt Romney or the Bushes and just let it  spray from your mouth like spittle.

As long as these voters think you hate the same people they hate, they will support you even as your policies deepen their misery. The pressures of globalization and automation play right into the hands of this time-honored GOP strategy. We have a much higher hill to climb than the Europeans, and I’m not quite sure Luce appreciates that.


March 29, 2016

There was an interesting piece in yesterday’s NY Times by Nick Confessore on the current state of GOP politics (“How the GOP Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump”). Confessore is a fine reporter and his story contains a wealth of insights, BUT— like much mainstream journalism on this issue, he mostly avoids the elephant in the newsroom: namely, the role of race in the evolution of today’s GOP. I’ve written about this issue many times before and won’t rehearse those arguments here, but I did want to make a few quick points.

A classic complaint about political journalism is that it focuses on the horse race rather than policy— who’s up or down in the polls, who’s ahead in delegates, that sort of thing. But when political journalists actually pivot to policy— and it does happen, though not as often as it should—  their default position is often some kind of economic determinism: a conviction that filthy lucre, and the distribution thereof, is the main driver of political behavior. That is essentially Confessore’s theory in this new piece. While he nods in passing at the racial animus behind much of Trump’s appeal, his answer to his titular question comes down to this: the GOP elite has for decades systematically undermined the economic interests of its white working-class voters, and finally, in the wake of the Great Recession, the latter have risen up in righteous anger against said elite. Trump is the vessel of their outrage.

Now this explanation isn’t simply wrong, which is to say it’s not wrong in a simple way. These people— like everyone else who isn’t part of the 1%— have been devastated by the GOP’s economic royalism. We used to hear a lot about “trickle down” economics, but at least that idea gestured at a non-zero sum conception of economic growth. The economic malaise of the 1970s, globalization, the ascension of finance capitalism in the 1980s— along with a determined Republican assault on organized labor— gave the plutocrats means and motive to ditch the idea that all Americans should benefit from economic growth. Now they would grab as much as possible for themselves. In 2010, for example, an astonishing 93% of all income growth in this country went to the wealthiest 1% of the population. (Bernie Sanders sprinkles this statistic into his stump speeches all the time, and who can blame him? It’s enough to make anybody into a socialist.) But plutocratic greed, like the poor, is always with us. It didn’t prevent an unprecedented improvement in working- and middle-class incomes from the mid-’40s through the mid-’70s, as the benefits of post-war growth were allocated much more equitably. So what changed? What event, or events,  intervened to skew the income distribution so decidedly to the already fabulously rich? A generation of political dominance by the GOP, increasingly determined to abet the oligarchic ambitions of its corporate masters. And that dominance, in turn, was secured through a consistent strategy of (more or less) coded appeals to the racial anxieties of the white working-class, especially that portion of it resident in the American South. (Yes, yes, I know: the story of the rise of income inequality is actually more complicated than this. But complexity is not always inconsistent with culpability.)

The irony, of course, is that no group of Americans has fared worse in the world wrought by Republican economic policy. As bad as it’s been for the rest of us, low-skill workers without a college degree have been carpet-bombed (to borrow a phrase from Ted Cruz) by this new world order. The plausibility of Confessore’s argument derives from this fact, and from our natural inclination to think that money, if not the root of all evil, will seldom turn up far from the tree where politics is concerned.

But this plausibility is compromised by other, more inconvenient facts which Confessore largely ignores. Probably the most apposite is this: in poll after poll, about two-thirds of Trump supporters identify themselves as birthers— as proponents, that is, of the utterly insane view that President Obama is some kind of Manchurian Candidate who came to the presidency by way of Kenya. The kindest thing you can say about this is that it betrays an appallingly defective epistemic filter. The most obvious— but telling— thing is that it signals a mentality disturbingly sensitive to racial identity when it bestows (or withholds) social trust.

This last point chimes with most other things we know about Trump’s supporters— their venomous attitudes toward Hispanics and Muslims, for instance, and the frequency with which they display sympathy (if not outright support) for white supremacist tropes. Trump, a self-promoter of genius, understood this aspect of his intended audience with preternatural clarity. That is why he opened his campaign, back in June, with a vicious attack on the character of Hispanic immigrants— not with a lecture on the neoliberal outrages of Republican economic orthodoxy. Trump realized that the economic frustrations of these voters (which are very real) are filtered through their racially inflected worldview, rather than the worldview being shaped by their economic struggles. Here Confessore was led astray by the economic determinism he shares with writers such as Thomas “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank. When a party tells voters that their problems result from the anti-social tendencies of people whose appearance, lives, and religion differ from their own— and when it repeats this message relentlessly for the better part of fifty years— it ends up with a “base” that imputes its economic situation to brown-skinned immigrants rather than to unchecked corporate power. Anyone who can’t buy this has by now become a Democrat or an Independent. The GOP created the electorate it wanted, and that electorate, in 2016, may very well become the instrument of the Party’s dissolution.

Of course, this leaves one-third of Trump voters who may very well be motivated more by economic than racial anxiety. Presumably they account for most of the potential “Trump – Sanders” crossover vote we keep hearing about. While it’s hard to imagine the Democrats attracting much support from the birther crowd, they might— just might— find a way to appeal to this relatively sane one-third. It would take a commitment to populist but economically realistic policies, policies that recognize the importance of constraining market power in the name of widespread opportunity and prosperity. I hope the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are listening.


May 4, 2016

The Day After…

I’ve spent most of today reading various responses to Donald Trump’s Indiana win last night, a win that essentially guarantees him the GOP presidential nomination. The best of these, unsurprisingly, is Thomas Edsall’s piece in the NY Times (“The Great Trump Reshuffle”) about how Trump’s victory reveals the GOP to be a party dominated by the sensibilities of largely uneducated working-class whites— a party, in other words, that looks a lot like the Democratic Party before the New Deal. Elsewhere in the Times, Ross Douthat navel-gazes the various “theories” of the GOP that Trump’s “presumptive nominee” status disproves, and the ever-fatuous Thomas Friedman sees Trump doing “the work of the Lord” in breaking up an obstructionist Republican Party. (He expects Trump’s GOP to be any less obstructionist?) Meanwhile, in Slate, Isaac Chotiner calls Trump a fascist and Jamelle Bouie dispenses (as usual) some smart words of cool wisdom (“Donald Trump Will Never be President of the United States”).

There are lots of insights here, but also a great deal of stale thinking. This operates at the level of particular judgments and also— more importantly, maybe— at the level of method. There seems to be a general blindness (and blandness) about exactly what kind of thing Trump’s victory is, and therefore about what could possibly count as an adequate explanation of it.

For starters, Trump is not a fascist. Fascists have ideas— repellent ideas, to be sure, but ideas nonetheless. Trump does not. He’s an upscale Willy Loman— a salesman whose ultimate brand, he knows, is himself. Casting about for an underserved market, he found one in the decidedly downscale white proletariat lured into the Republican Party by long-standing cultural, racial, and religious resentments. Because he is also a preening egotist whose nihilism knows no bounds, he did not think twice about the repercussions— for the Republican Party, for the country as a whole— of dedicating his campaign to a relentless stoking of those resentments. Trump is a huckster, pure and simple, whose bottomless opportunism charts the point where American salesmanship meets the American darkness.

Chotiner is right, though, that the chattering classes generally fail to grasp the magnitude of what just happened. This is because they have largely spent the last ten months clutching at “normalizing” explanations— a natural response to trauma, but singularly unhelpful in this case. And so we hear about reality TV and celebrity culture, we hear about the influence of right-wing media and the impact of Twitter and Facebook, we hear about the gradual erosion of party authority. We hear a great deal, too, about the declining fortunes of the white working class. All of these things have salience here, but they simply cannot explain how this man became the presidential nominee of a major political party.

Take the oft-invoked “decline of the white working class” trope, for instance. Yes, this demographic has been shattered by the Great Recession and globalization generally. Yes, they have been poorly served by the Republican Party they’ve supported since the mid-’60s. This kind of explanation appeals because it is safely conventional and mainstream— it invokes material interests, which we’re all supposed to know are always at the heart of political behavior. We vote our pocketbooks, right?

But if economic discontent lies behind Trump’s success, why did it take him so long to expand his share of the vote beyond 30-40%? And why does he trail far behind Hillary Clinton in almost every national poll? After all, there is a LOT of economic discontent in America right now. Plenty of people have been scorched by the Great Recession, globalization, and income stagnation. Between 1979 and 2007, 90% of American households saw income growth that lagged the national average— an average that was itself severely inflated by enormous growth in incomes at the very top. 90%! Shouldn’t Trump actually be doing much better than he in fact is?

The clue here is not the discontent Trump appeals to— it’s his explanation for it. Trump hasn’t captured the hearts of minds of economically stressed Americans per se, but of that subset of economically stressed Americans who are prepared to believe certain things about their situation. In their minds, it doesn’t stem from a rapacious global capitalism aided and abetted by its servants in the GOP, but from “big government” rewarding the unproductive and undeserving at the expense of hardworking “true” Americans. The problem isn’t robber barons like Trump and their excessive influence on our political process— it’s Mexicans and Muslims and African-Americans and “disgusting” women and everyone else who rejects the authority of white Christian male America. If we just bring these people to heel and return to the old dispensation, all our problems will be solved and America will be great again.

These voters have always been a slice of the electorate, of course, but until now they have rarely been able to control the nominating process. What changed? How did they become such a force within the GOP— a force powerful enough to wrest control of the party from the Reince Priebuses and Jeb Bushes and Mitt Romneys of the world and hand it over to Donald Trump?

Since the mid-’60s, when the Party saw a chance to scoop up white voters repelled by the Civil Rights movement, it has been engaged in a relentless effort to placate their anti-modern sensibilities. The world changed around them, and the GOP said soothingly that it was the world’s fault, not theirs— America was headed in the wrong direction! We have to stand up for freedom! We have to take back the country! Over a generation, this strategy drove liberal and moderate voices out of the Party and left it dependent on an increasingly shrill version of “conservatism.” What had been a pragmatic political philosophy shaped by Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower hardened into dogma and doctrine. Anything that appeared to contradict the pure faith must, therefore, be shouted down or wished away. Reason, critical thought, evidence— all were tools of the Devil. What mattered were the sacred truths of supply side economics and the depredations of “welfare queens” and their “strapping young bucks.” Later came the murder of Vince Foster and then WMD in Iraq and then democracy in Iraq and then “garbage” climate science and then birtherism and socialism and death panels and Ebola and so on and so on.

What GOP leaders never grasped was that in cultivating this obscurantism they were sealing their own fate. They created the electorate that eventually turned against them. When you tell people for a generation or more that facts don’t matter and expertise is an elitist illusion, you end up with voters whose grievances are at the service of their ignorance and credulity— and who are therefore ripe pickins for a cynical demagogue like Trump. They won’t think twice when he tells them about the wall Mexico will pay for, or that he can “ban” Muslims from entering the country or singlehandedly reverse the effects of globalization. They’ll lap it up like milk, because that’s what you’ve trained them to do. They will cheer his bluster and swagger and ignore his vacuous rhetoric. There will be no scrutiny of his logic and no second thoughts about “the evidence.” They will vote their prejudices just as you’ve always told them to do. And they will deliver your party to a ruthless huckster to shatter and destroy.

What happened last night was that the Republican Party got the nominee it deserves from the electorate it created. And now the rest of us will pay the price.


June 3, 2016

Well, we live in interesting times, no?

We’re used to hearing that elections are “turning points,” but this one, I think, really is.

The GOP’s 50-year project of radicalization left it with a base that looked at Donald Trump and saw, incredibly, a potential president. Now every other Republican has a choice to make, and the country will— or at least, should— hold them accountable for years to come. If there is any justice in this world, the Paul Ryans and Marco Rubios of the GOP just forfeited their right to be taken seriously as political leaders.

This isn’t a matter of the party picking someone, like Nixon, who was professionally accomplished but personally damaged, nor of it selecting a figure, like Reagan, whose knowledge was limited but who had the support of an intellectual movement and of highly pragmatic, experienced professionals— and who had demonstrated a willingness to listen to them.

No, this is a matter of a party falling under the spell of a cult of personality— of it acquiescing in the personal rule of a soulless vulgarian whose bluster and bravado cannot conceal a desperate emptiness of self. For it to offer this man up as its candidate— to make him one of two people who might become the most powerful human being on the planet— is an act of breathtaking irresponsibility.

Imagine if George Wallace had captured the Democratic nomination in 1968. Then every Democrat would have faced the kind of choice every Republican faces now. Don’t think it’s any different, folks— if anything, our present dilemma is worse.

Thucydides said that war is a stern master. History is an even sterner judge.


July 20, 2016

The conservative writer Reihan Salam, a practitioner of the kind of thoughtful, intellectually serious conservatism that— gasp!— used to be fairly common in the GOP, has an interesting piece up on Slate today. (I’ve posted a link below.) It deserves an equally thoughtful response, so I will refrain from describing this Republican Convention as the biggest collection of cranks, kooks, paranoids, racists, con artists, cretins, and militarists since the last Lyndon Larouche soiree.

Ooops— guess I won’t.

But seriously— Salam is making two rather different (though not logically inconsistent) points. The first is that politics is a volatile game, with lots of opportunities to get into trouble and lots of opportunists too. Hence coalitions come and go. The second is that tensions always simmer among the various elements of a coalition and have a way of eventually boiling over. Hence coalitions come and go.

I think both arguments are correct, but to infer that disaffected members of the Democratic coalition will automatically flee to the GOP assumes there will be a GOP for them to flee to— that is, a functional political party that can legitimately contend for national office. That may not be the case after this election cycle.

What the Trump event exposes is the party’s fragmentation into (at least) three disparate pieces. There is a large white nationalist element consisting mostly (though not entirely) of former Democrats who migrated into the GOP after the Democratic Party’s embrace of racial equality in the 1960s. These folks are eaten alive by racial, religious, and cultural anxieties, but have no ideological problem with federal economic activism so long as it targets hardworking, productive Americans— i.e., white people. There is a large group of educated suburban voters who are socially moderate (if not liberal) but like the Republican emphasis on upward mobility and national security. And there is a small but powerfully influential set of robber barons— the “donor class”—  who couldn’t care less about the working class, the middle class, or Jesus but who demand ever lower taxes and lighter regulation of business.

This coalition held together for the better part of 50 years, but fell victim to its own success. The GOP’s neoliberal economic agenda created the conditions for the Great Recession, which revealed to the white nationalists just how screwed they really are in today’s economy. The problem is, the party’s leadership, tethered as it is to the donor class, simply has no alternatives to offer— neoliberalism is conservatism as far as they are concerned.

So I really don’t see how they put this thing back together. The cat is out of the bag where the effects of GOP economic policy are concerned, which means you probably can’t lure the untermensch back in with renewed appeals to their racial resentments. But without the rural South (and, to a lesser degree, the rural Midwest) you can’t harvest the votes needed to win national elections. On the other hand, the more you spout vile calumnies against minorities, homosexuals, and women, the more you alienate suburban voters. And there just aren’t enough millionaires and billionaires to elect presidents and senators.

So we may be looking at a future in which the place of the GOP is taken by two successor parties— one that panders to white nationalist anger, another that represents bourgeois sensibilities. The robber barons will scuttle from one to the other as inclination and opportunity provide. The GOP may continue to prosper in state and local elections for some time— just as the Whigs did— but there, too, will eventually come under the same demographic pressures now unraveling the national party.

As noted above, we live in interesting times.



August 26, 2016

Isaac Chotiner is doing some good work at Slate, conducting a number of thoughtful, serious-minded interviews with people who think and write about politics. Yesterday’s interview with J.D.Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, is a good example. (Link provided below.) Vance and Chotiner talk at length about the travails of the “white working class” and how its struggles might be related to the political fortunes of Donald J. Trump.

One point that emerges from their discussion, I think, is that we need to distinguish two questions: (1) Assuming there is some kind of pathology afoot among the white working class, what explains it? (2) Some members of the white working class, predominantly those who are older and male, account for most of Trump’s electoral support. What explains that? And does it differ from the explanation of (A)?

I think the failure to see these questions as analytically distinct has given rise to multiple confusions, some of which Vance shares.

You don’t have to be a Marxist to believe that white working class malaise is rooted in economics— principally in the disappearance of the kind of semi-skilled manufacturing work (often unionized, at least in the North and upper Midwest) that gave non-college whites an entree into bourgeois life. As these jobs were lost to automation and globalism— and as government failed to invest in any sustained, effective program of retraining and reeducation of these workers— the economic basis of their personal and communal lives collapsed. (I’m from North Carolina and have seen this process up close and personal in my own home town.) This collapse, and the hopelessness, frustration, and resentment it engenders, explain most (if not all) of the social pathologies Vance mentions.

But not all of these persons end up being Trump supporters. A recent Gallop study of 87,000 Trump voters revealed that they are not more likely to be economically distressed than non-Trump voters among Republicans. In fact, they tend to be a bit better off than the average. Nor are they more likely to have been recently laid-off, or to have been directly affected by free trade or globalization. The study did isolate three markers that make it more likely such voters will support Trump: (1) They live in areas with high mortality rates among whites, (2) These areas exhibit low rates of socio-economic mobility, and (3) They are areas with little in the way of racial diversity— white enclaves, if you will.

If you put these findings together with the racialist cast of Trump’s rhetoric, I think the most obvious interpretation is this: his voters consist of those white working class citizens who are most inclined to view their situation, personally and communally, through a racially inflected lens. They see the decline in opportunity for their children and younger people generally, they see the drug use and indolence and broken homes, and their instinct is to blame these things on the Racial Other— on brown people stealing across the border, on black and brown people who receive unwarranted benefits from a government content to abandon them, the virtuous white remnant, to the tender mercies of global capitalism.

The white working class predicament is rooted in economics. The belief that Donald Trump can remedy that predicament is rooted in race. The debate we hear so often in the media— and that Vance and Chotiner, to some degree, rehearse— is whether Trump’s support is driven by economics or by prejudice. But this is, as the logicians say, a false dilemma.What we have here is economically inspired anxiety filtered through racial suspicion and paranoia. The racial element is invoked to explain the economic problem.

Vance also muses helpfully on the future of the Republican Party. I don’t know any more than he does about how it will play out, but I am not sanguine.

Right now the party, as an electoral entity, consists of two major parts— rural, mainly working class whites in the South and Midwest, and more affluent, better educated suburban whites in those regions and elsewhere. The GOP’s strategy since 1964 has been to leverage the racial and cultural anxieties of the former in order to drive an economic agenda of benefit mainly to the latter (and to the donor class, financially important but electorally insignificant.) The Great Recession finally awakened working class whites to the devastation that agenda had brought them, thus driving a wedge between the party’s two electoral blocks. Trump is the tribune of that awakening.

After Trump loses (probably substantially) in November, the party will have to decide how to move forward. There will be enormous pressure from its leadership, donor class, and commentariat to interpret the election as a referendum on Donald Trump and not as a repudiation of conservatism. But this is far too facile. As I argued in an earlier piece for Salon, Trump’s animating concerns, especially on issues of race, immigration, and gender, locate him securely in one (very powerful) strain of American conservative thought. The question won’t be whether the voters rejected Trump or conservatism; they will reject Trump, in part at least, because they rightly associate him with a kind of conservatism. The real question will be whether the GOP has the stomach to think through, clearly and honestly, what this might mean.

And here, of course, is where my pessimism comes in. There isn’t a lot of historical evidence that political parties are very good at this sort of thing— at clear-eyed self-critiques in the wake of electoral disaster. After the arch-conservative Barry Goldwater was trounced in 1964, there was a fair amount of Republican hand-wringing over the lessons of that defeat— but a mere 12 years later the party nearly gave its presidential nomination to the arch-conservative Ronald Reagan over the sitting president, the more moderate Gerald Ford. (And of course Reagan did capture the nomination in 1980.) After Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012, GOP worthies commissioned the famous (or is it infamous?) “autopsy” to try to figure out where the party had gone wrong and how it might make things right. And now Donald Trump is the Republican nominee.Do you see a trend here?

(I suppose one could argue that a counterexample is the work of the Democratic Leadership Council in steering the Democratic Party back to the center after the horrors of the 1988 election. But that is a question for another time.)

There is a solid strategic reason for parties to avoid any especially rigorous self-scrutiny of this sort. In our winner-take-all electoral system, political parties— successful ones, anyway— tend to be broad coalitional concerns. When you start openly musing about whether one part of your coalition consistently causes you to lose elections, you run the risk that they will jump ship— moving to another party, perhaps, or simply staying home on election day. And if this coalitional segment is very important to you— because of its size or intensity, say— its defection could be even more ruinous for you. From a purely strategic point of view, your best bet, in such a  situation, is always to try to find a way to keep them inside, while doing what you can to mitigate the damage they inflict.

This is precisely the dilemma the GOP faces with Trump’s supporters. That segment of the Republican coalition is now powerful enough to have wrested control of the nominating process from the party “establishment” and leadership. They simply represent too many votes for the GOP to wash its hands of them and walk away. There aren’t enough suburban voters to sustain the GOP as a competitive national party; electorally, it is far more dependent on large numbers of rural whites in places such as Texas, Alabama, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas— the very folks, that is, who awarded the nomination to Trump.What is more likely to happen, I think, is that some slippery but suitably shiny rhetoric will be sprinkled over an elitist economic agenda— some gossamer words about “opportunity” and “fairness”— and the party will then turn to the one thing it knows its disparate elements can converge on: opposing Hillary Clinton at every turn.

In other words, four more years of the same old crap.


42 thoughts on “Welcome!

  1. I enjoyed reading your comments on Rockford, particularly your analysis of masculinity. I am not analytical and never would have noticed the things you mention. Just know I loved both Maverick and Rockford, and I never saw Garner in anything I didn’t like. No dud or called in performances from him. A much under rated master. Found this when researching Juanita Bartlett. One criticism–I assume you are just using a template to do this site, but it is not easy to navigate and find things. Just reaching your home page took work. Would be nice to have a navigation bar.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Anya. I completely agree with what you say about Garner— he never phoned it in. From everything I’ve read and heard, he was a consummate professional who always showed up ready to say his lines and hit his marks. And everyone who worked with him seems to have loved the guy.

      Apparently Garner’s daughter, Gigi, tweeted the piece not long after it appeared. Seeing that was a special treat for me.

      I also appreciate your advice about the navigation bar. Other projects have prevented me from spending much time on this blog, but I plan (hope?) to remedy that soon. I will do what I can to make it easier to move around the site.


      Liked by 1 person

    2. Re: Terrified Republicans.

      Thank-you so much for your cogent and quite depressing article re: Republicans. I see you are from the South, which gives lie to my totally negative and stereotyped impression- I don’t even want to go there unless it is necessary. Stupid perhaps- but there it is.
      I am old enough to remember a drive through the South during segreagation when I was a teenager- I was rattled to my sneakers. I wonder how much has changed and if there is a possibility of change. During two recent visits, even in relatively liberal enclaves like Asheville- I felt that things were very different off the reservation.

      You article clarified a lot.


      1. Thanks for your comment, Sharon. The South is a very strange place. I was born in the late ’50s, so by the time I became really conscious of racial distinctions the Civil Rights Movement was already in full swing. North Carolina never had the kind of large-scale unrest experienced in places such as Alabama and Mississippi— thanks in large part to a tradition here of racially progressive leadership from governors like Terry Sanford— but of course the state was scarcely a redoubt of racial enlightenment. Sadly, I don’t think it’s changed much. If anything, Republican gains in the state legislature have taken us backward, especially on issues such as voter suppression. My sense is NC now looks pretty much like the rest of the country— urban areas are diverse and (relatively) liberal, rural areas are enclaves of white resentment. Your Asheville experience was spot-on.


  2. I came here after reading your piece in Salon about the Tea Party’s barren individualism. It was a great piece with which I completely agree. Although I was born and raided in Dallas, Texas, things were quite different then.

    I started school there in 1951 and continued through high school and community college there. I was 45 when I moved with my husband to Indiana – which is worse than the Dallas I left in 1992. From the 1st grade on there were Hispanics in my classes, and they were treated just like anyone else by teachers and classmates alike.

    In fact, my first boyfriend – sat behind me in 3rd grade – was a sweet Hispanic boy named Ricardo Saldana. No one, including my parents, had any problem with that. Never thought of such a thing. I was out of school before integration came along, but I don’t remember any ugly episodes like Alabama or Arkansas. In my working life there I worked with many Blacks and Hispanics and we got along great. Many are still friends of mine.

    I guess things are different there now. Sigh. As for Indiana, I never see any blacks or Hispanics in our little town of Warsaw. I’ve seen maybe two Black people the entire time I’ve lived here.

    The Republicans are destroying our schools here by cutting funding to give tax brakes to the rich. Lots of “Voucher” schools as well. Our governor, Mike Pence, is a supporter of Christian Reconstructionism and plans to attempt a run for President in ’16. You have been warned.


  3. Hi Kim:

    In response to your article “RIP, American conservatism …”, I’d like to comment on how really simple the whole problem is, now and throughout history. Some people just compulsively seek control over everyone else (“predators”), like FOXes (catch the symbolism?) trolling hen-houses. They know it and exult in it. We (the “chickens”) just can’t imagine that predation is real and we are prey (because thinking about it would make life unbearable), and we can’t seem to figure out how to get rid of predators and get off the defensive (because we can’t be proactive about something that we see as impossible, irrational and sure to kill us if we act up).

    It’s always been about control, keeping the prey in line, and it all involves self-obsession, absolute callousness, and parasitism: colonialism, slavery, police-statism, corporatism, Nazism, communism, barbarianism, empirism, capitalism, red-herrings, obstructionism, vigilantism, guns, discrimination, anti-abortionism, oligarchism, “Homeland Security”, ISIS, tyranny, “extremism”, theocracy, ideology, anti-education, rape, anti-unionism, lying, glib speech, political seduction, emotional manipulation, anti-science, etc.

    So try this: just name everything in their bag “predation” (starting with school-yard bullying), consider recent scientific advances in explaining compulsions as resulting from dysfunctional brain structures, and support training children in public schools and adults to recognize and oppose bullying in their environments and predation in adult life (especially politics).



    1. John, thanks for taking the time to comment. Your argument reminds me of Edmund Wilson’s famous preface to Patriotic Gore, in which he compares the Union and Confederate armies to aquatic (if memory serves) predators trying to consume each other.

      There may be a certain cynical frisson in that kind of view, but it’s not one I can personally endorse. The grain of truth here, I suppose, is that the human capacity for violence must have some sort of biological basis. (Like every other human capacity.) So I’m with you there, but that’s simply too slender a reed to support much in the way of theory. The first sign something is wrong is the claim that political phenomena as disparate as slavery, Nazism, communism, capitalism and theocracy are all subsumable under the same explanatory framework. The second sign is the difficulty of deciding, in any given case, exactly who is prey and who is predator. Consider that Mitt Romney’s notorious “47%” remarks traded heavily in the rhetoric of “parasitism”— Romney and his robber baron buddies genuinely see themselves as the victims, not the agency, of predation.

      Of course, I would completely agree with your implied premise that Romney et. al. have it backwards. But that’s because we (you and I) share a particular view about what kinds of economic behavior are truly predatory. In other words, we share a political idea, and we bring that idea to bear on the case at hand. But this is just to say that any interpretation of that case, and any attempt to explain the situation it involves, must make reference to such ideas. Long story short, we can’t take the politics out of politics.

      It’s very tempting to try, of course. The desire to reduce politics to something else— economics if you’re Marx, “expertise” for the Progressives, technology if you’re Tom Friedman— has been around probably as long as politics itself. But like all reductionisms, it is to be resisted. While many different things are at play in politics, including all the stuff mentioned above (and tons more), it simply isn’t true that political life is “really” about only one (or some) of them and only superficially (or epiphenomenally) about the others. Politics is about exactly what it appears to be about— the conflicts and struggles of human beings who have different views about the proper shape of public life.


  4. I first came across one of your essays when I goggled TEA PARTY and NARCISSISM and found the explanation I was looking for (August 2013). I had recently attended my 50 year high school reunion at a Texas high school and found myself surrounded by people I no longer knew or recognized. I had attended my 30 year reunion, and everyone basically just hung-out and socialized. We certainly didn’t talk about politics. Twenty years later many of my former friends and acquaintences had morphed into self-righteous, negative (but jovial and smiling) strangers.

    I certainly agree with your analysis in R I P of individual angst vs. real community, and status vs. agency, and I have enjoyed and appreciated the insight offered by your other essays. Your analysis also seems in line with John Jost’s research on how a strong undercurrent of fear leads to an emphasis on authoritarian politics, and the narcissist of the right’s version of identity politics that you mention.

    My question is what are we to do? Left-wing electoral politics doesn’t explain any of this, or speak to the real paranoia and pathology of the right. This failure makes me stay away from the political world, any political world, because it is so superficial and boring I look forward to your essay on this topic.


    1. MGB2— Thanks for your comment and for the kinds words about the piece on Tea Party narcissism. (If I remember correctly, the published title was “The Tea Party’s Paranoid Aesthetic.”) I still think the argument there is mostly correct, though if I were writing the piece today I would make it more clear that “narcissism” should be taken metaphorically rather than clinically. What’s at stake, I think, is a tendency to conflate one’s own political values— and hence, at least partially, one’s identity— with the political “essence” (identity) of the country as a whole. This isn’t so much a clinical disorder as a failure of political imagination, and I should have done a better job of emphasizing that.

      I have read a bit of the Jost stuff and on systems justification theory generally. There are good insights there. The grandfather of all efforts in political psychology is, of course, the 1950 book “The Authoritarian Personality,” co-authored most famously by Theodor Adorno of the Frankfurt School. You might want to check out that one if you aren’t familiar with it already.

      My own interest in these issues runs to the question of why some people experience difference as innately suspect— as something hostile and antagonistic. This, I think, is what generates the anxiety and paranoia so rampant on the far right today. I’ve always believed that if you are genuinely secure in your convictions, you will not be bothered by the mere fact of disagreement with others. Indeed, you will be excited at the prospect of engaging with them and thereby enriching your own perspective and maybe theirs too. But there is no denying that this attitude is not shared by everyone. Folks in the Tea Party, for example, seem to believe that everyone who isn’t wants to exploit and traduce them and the country as a whole. It’s odd.

      Which brings us to your question of What Is To Be Done? I wish I knew. Like you, I’m often tempted to turn away from politics out of sheer disgust and/or boredom. For one thing, our politics generally takes place on an intellectual level so impoverished it is, quite simply, appalling. But I always end up coming back to these issues because (a) I think they are enormously important, and (b) because the very difficulty of politics is testimony to its necessity. I wrote a piece last year (Salon ran it as “The Right’s Big Morality Puzzle”) in which I argued, among other things, that politics is the realm of human activity in which we confront most directly the sheer intractability of other human beings. We may not want to deal with them, but in the end we have to. The crudity and hysteria of today’s right is first and foremost a political problem, one we will have to solve through politics itself. So I sulk a while, and then I come back to the fray. I hope you’ll continue to do the same.


      1. I understand your point about the difference between clinical narcissism and cultural narcissism. One of my heroes, Christopher Lasch, famously wrote The Culture of Narcissism, bringing attention to the superficiality and emptiness of our corporate culture. Lasch, also wrote, apropos of a point you made in your latest essay on the right’s rejection of modernity, that open-ended argument is not only good, but needed, because a real give and take argument allows one to know one’s own mind. (From a Harper’s article). Real argument, argument that is not manipulative or controlling, expands possibilities. (This seems like a fantasy these days.) And I appreciate your emphasis on the political sphere, as opposed to the psychological or sociological. Believe me, I WANT the current right’s emphasis on divisiveness, negativity and mean spiritedness to be simply a political problem; if it was simply a political problem both sides would be able to rationally explain what they want, and come to a political solution. What does the radical right want? You have pretty much covered that topic, and it’s not a political solution. After all, real politics is just about confronting the reality of the present so that we can change the future, if needed: more social justice or more laissez faire economics, and so on. As you point out, essay after essay, the position of the right is not about rational, political, solutions. I have read all you essays, and I really appreciate them, but it’s almost as if you are having an argument with yourself: it’s political (rational) or it’s not political. After all, politics is about the art of the possible. In your last essay in Salon, you mention that fanaticism, whether from the left or the right, is the same, and you are so right. The Tea Party crowd works against their own self-interest all the time; they seem more intent on hurting others than simply working toward their own individual gain.

        What I have noticed about everyone on the far right today, is how they try to shut down any real attempt at conversation, discussion or open-ended argument, and they are very successful at this. Where, in our culture, is there any real, face to face, discussions about politics, current events, books? Certainly not in the workplace, where we spend the most amount of time. In graduate school, students and professors seem more intent on currying favor then engaging in the subject matter. In local politics, of which I have been active over the years, meetings are almost always about strategies and fund raising; not about real political issues. Book TV (C span) seems passive, at best. I thought Occupy was great, but I really don’t want to have to live in a park just to be politically engaged. One of the things that impressed me about the Revolutionary War period was how often people met just to discuss politics, how many pamphlets were published, how people went to coffee houses specifically to meet and talk. In coffee houses today, everyone just looks at their phones. If I really want to shut down a conversation, I just say “Have you read the new book by . . . “ The internet is great for blogs like yours to provide ways for like-minded people to communicate; but also provides a space for so many to anonymously express so much hate.

        So I have come to the conclusion that the current right-wing movement is more psychological or sociological than political, in so many ways, and I think you have done a really good job helping us get to the bottom of it. As you said, deviation from the accepted party line means dismissal. Bertrand Russell mentioned, in his autobiography, that he valued two things: kindness and clear thinking. As he got older, he realized they were the same thing. He didn’t elucidate much on this theme, but my take on it is that by kindness, he means the ability to listen to others; to pay attention, to imaginatively enter into the world of someone else. The political narcissism of the Tea Party crowd (and other extremists) is that everyone is supposed to think and act the same, usually based on some external authority or authority figure. By the way, I’m also a big James Garner fan. I loved Murphy’s Romance, and The Americanization of Emily is a real classic.


      2. MGB2— Thank you for another thoughtful comment. I apologize for taking so long to answer. Life has been busy, and I didn’t want to write until I had time to compose a proper reply.

        First, a few preliminaries. I’m happy to hear that you’re a James Garner fan too. “Americanization” is a wonderful flick— Garner always said it was his favorite work— and one that is being “rediscovered” these days if I’m not mistaken. And I was tickled to see your reference to Bertrand Russell. When I was 16 or 17, I came across “A History of Western Philosophy” in my local library. I took it home and read it non-stop until I finished it, then I read it again. It probably had a bigger influence on my life than any other book I’ve ever read. Later on, Russell’s work in logic and the philosophy of mathematics was a huge influence on me. Your interpretation of his remark about the relationship between kindness and clarity sounds exactly right to me.

        Moving on to politics, I’d like to take up a few of the issues you mention. The central one emerges in your claim that “the current right-wing movement is more psychological or sociological than political.” I think my previous remarks, both in the Salon stuff and on this blog, have left you with the impression that I regard the Right as “simply a political problem.” I’d like to suggest that we have something of a false dilemma here. We shouldn’t think of “the political” and “the psychological” as mutually exclusive, or even as necessarily opposed. Political problems often— indeed, usually— involve psychology, but in a particular kind of way, one we need to parse very carefully.

        Put very simply, my view is this: there is a difference between “psychological” and “pathological.” Psychology, in the basic sense of how the mind shapes perception and thereby behavior, is obviously an element in political life. People bring their identities with them when they act politically, and these identities are of course powerfully shaped by their psychology. One thing I would resist, then, is your apparent equation of “a political problem” with something we can “rationally explain,” if this meant to eject the non-rational per se from the political. Understanding someone’s political behavior is often not that different from understanding her personal behavior— what a person loves or hates, despises or desires, is usually just as relevant to her politics as her ideas. It is precisely this, in fact, that makes some political disputes so intractable.

        So politics cannot be isolated from psychology. Psychology, however, can be distinguished from pathology. We should always be wary of the claim that a given belief or ideal isn’t just confused or unhelpful, but actually crazy . (Or, if “crazy” strikes you as too strong a term, try “wacko.”) There are crazy people in politics, of course, but what makes them crazy is almost always something other than their politics. All of us should avoid the mistake of converting political opposition into some kind of therapeutic syndrome. What’s wrong with conservatives, on my view, isn’t that they’re insane; it’s that a society organized along conservative lines would be destructive of human dignity.

        If we think of politics in this way, as an amalgam of passion and thought, we will immediately realize the importance of trying to grasp how the other guy’s values hang together— what it is that makes them seem plausible and attractive; what it is that makes them seem worthy of love and devotion. But this doesn’t mean giving up on rationality in politics. What we want isn’t irrationalism, but realism— realism about what motivates people to take part in political life. Once we fill in the details for any particular case, we are in a much better position to frame counter-narratives that expose the problems in our opponents’ views. This is what lies behind my argument that the Tea Party is driven, at bottom, by a singular vision of the American community— one that is extraordinarily suspicious of those who affirm various “non-normative” identities. This may or may not be right, but it is an attempt to explain (if only to myself) the vision of political life that animates the Tea Party’s virulent strain of right-wing populism.

        (You mention that my essays suggest I’m “having an argument” with myself. This is very perceptive. I grew up in a small town in the North Carolina foothills. While my own family was congenial enough, it soon became evident to me that the broader community was not. I was a fish out of water in pretty much every way imaginable. There is a very real sense in which I’ve been trying to explain the South to myself— and myself to the South— ever since. The pieces I’ve written lately are part of that process.)

        Of course, people like thee and me would prefer a politics longer on intellect and shorter on passion. There is no reason for us to apologize for this; it’s a perfectly legitimate ideal. But a politics in which arguments are scrupulously made, in which evidence is carefully weighed and data minutely dissected, is not to be identified with “politics” proper. It is simply one version of politics, a version inherently amenable to many of us liberals (and, to be fair, to many non-liberals also) but dramatically less so to many of our opponents. In my view, this makes them purveyors of bad, or at least flawed, politics— but not of something other than, or less than, politics.

        I share your dismay at the intolerance behind so much right-wing rhetoric these days, and your impatience at the lack of interest, even among otherwise intelligent persons, in constructive solutions to public problems. There is a tremendous amount of anger at work in conservative politics just now, and it is easy (I do it myself sometimes) to dismiss it as nothing more than hysteria. (Sometimes it is nothing more.) But in general this reaction, while natural, is a mistake— and an unhelpful one to boot. Like it or not, we have to live with these people, and that means finding a way to speak to their concerns. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them, or even sympathizing with them in any especially robust way. But it does mean making a good faith effort to understand how a person who is probably as intelligent as we are, and as knowledgeable and well-intentioned, can think it makes sense to hold such outre opinions. Politics, to paraphrase, W.C. Fields, is hard.

        Oh, and one final note: I really appreciated your reference to Christopher Lasch. His work, like that of Lionel Trilling, is an important example of how liberalism can profit from the insights of friendly but tough-minded critics.


  5. It is good to see liberals becoming exorcised about things like foreign policy, decorum, and the constitution. That means it’s working. But just to hit a few of the high points:
    Bill Clinton was impeached because he lied, perjured himself, to a federal grand jury in a civil rights case involving sexual harassment. It was NOT a right wing conspiracy
    President Obama passed historic Health Care Reform in a completely partisan fashion. When the people of Massachusetts (no conservative bastion) voted in a special election to stop it, liberals found another way because, well, the people don’t know what is good for them. And when the Supreme Court upheld free speech in Citizens United, the President scolded them. Unprecedented? probably not, a departure from your ‘informal norms’, definitely.
    The Constitution, now that is interesting. Your quote:

    ” Constitutions matter, but every political system depends as well on informal norms, a more or less tacit consensus on how things will be done and what kind of behavior is and isn’t acceptable. This is especially true in America, where our constitutional separation of executive and legislature, and extra-constitutional devices like the filibuster, require compromise and cooperation if the government is to function effectively. Political actors must accept the constraints laid down by the rules (formal and informal) that define legitimate behavior, and must trust that others will do so in turn. When this trust lapses, confrontation replaces compromise and the political system lurches into crisis.”

    In a nutshell, just because something doesn’t happen the way that you like, you don’t get your way anyway. Harry Reid had every right to hold up dozens of bills in the Senate because he runs the Senate. But now that he doesn’t, the rules get to change. The President had multiple opportunities to enact Comprehensive Immigration Reform his way, but he chose not to. Now that it’s inconvenient to use the constitution system to do it, he does not get his way anyway. As far as Iran is concerned, House Speaker Pelosi met with Syrian strongman Bashar Al Assad while GWB was conducting foreign policy in the Middle East. Certainly her right. Counterbalance that the President has shown a weakness for negotiation with foreign leaders, so inserting an adult into the fray makes the Mullahs think twice about who they are REALLY dealing with. The point is that Congress has a role to play in the negotiation and ratification of treaties, even if it is usually done with cooperation behind the scene.

    The problem is that the President truly believes he is the smartest person on every issue so he can’t bring himself to listen….two ears, one mouth, listen twice as much.


    1. You have a laundry list of complaints. Any positive programs for using govt to create jobs and protections for workers in unsafe conditions, consumers at risk if no regulations for safe sir, water and products? Health care for poor so we don’t all catch their diseases if. not for humanitarian ressons? Support of s president who may have to change policy when he gets new info (eg that much of the resistance to Assad was Islamist not just democracy livings)?

      Btw, Clinton didn’t lie – 20-something’s at the time did not consider what he did ‘ with that woman ‘sexual relations’ and besides, for centuries, men have had affairs, been considered gentlemen for not exposing their wife or mistress to public shame – only men like the GOP who were also ha ing affairs but exposed him publicly deserved the shame


    2. Thanks for your comments, Don. As you can probably guess, I don’t agree with much of your argument.

      Many of your empirical assertions strike me as highly dubious. To wit:

      (1) Bill Clinton appeared before a federal grand jury that grew out of an independent counsel investigation of the Whitewater case— a faux scandal largely created by right-wing obsessives such as Richard Mellon Scaife. Call me silly, but I’m inclined to agree with the constitutional scholars who argued that perjury about private sexual conduct is not what the Founders meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors.” A “vast right wing conspiracy” is exactly what the Clinton impeachment was.

      (2) I’m unclear what you mean by describing health care reform as “completely partisan.” President Obama essentially borrowed Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care program, which itself adapted ideas from an earlier plan proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Obamacare” is mainly a device to move all (or nearly all) Americans who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid ( or VA care) into private insurance markets. The dreaded “individual mandate” was the centerpiece of the Heritage proposal. Additionally, Obama let congressional negotiations over the ACA drag on for months in an attempt to woo at least a few Republican votes. (A strategy I, for one, regarded as inherently ill-advised.) If anyone’s behavior here was “completely partisan,” I’d say it was the decision of Republicans to oppose root-and-branch a program largely based on their own ideas.

      (3) When you allude to “the people” of Massachusetts voting “in a special election” to “stop” Obamacare, I assume you mean the Scott Brown election in late 2009 / early 2010. (Can’t recall exactly which right now.) That Democrats went forward with Obamacare anyway strikes you as proof of their insidiously elitist designs. But if memory serves, Brown won a little more than half the vote in an election in which only about half of eligible voters turned out. Half of a half, as you may recall from math class, is one-fourth. This hardly strikes me as evidence of tsunami-like disapproval of the ACA among Massachusetts voters.

      (4) Nancy Pelosi meeting with Assad is one thing; in general, I’m not a big fan of legislative branch outreach to foreign officials in fraught situations, except at the request, direct or indirect, of the president. But regardless of what one thinks about Pelosi, Boehner’s decision to invite the leader of a foreign state into the well of the United States Congress to attack negotiations by an American President is something else altogether, as is the Iran letter itself. Imagine the howls of outrage from Republican worthies if Democrats had invited the leader of Taiwan to oppose Richard Nixon’s diplomacy with China, or if they had e-mailed Iraqi Sunnis on the potential weaknesses of Bush’s “surge” in Iraq. I agree that Congress has a role to play where treaties are concerned, but the Iran agreement— and this isn’t merely a technical matter— isn’t a treaty. Now, treaty or not, would it have been better for the executive and legislative branches to have cooperated on the Iran negotiations? Of course it would have. But the behavior of Congress since 2009 hardly inspires confidence that it would have acted as the “adult ” in the room. Two near debt defaults and a government showdown hardly qualify as responsible behavior. Given the radically partisan nature of the Republican majorities in Congress, Obama made a perfectly rational calculation about the extent to which they could be trusted to play a constructive role in this extremely sensitive and critical situation. Boehner and McConnell have no one to blame but themselves and their hard-right compatriots.

      (5) On immigration reform, Obama’s executive action came only after John Boehner repeatedly refused to allow an up-or-down vote on a comprehensive bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Again, it was the Republican refusal to act in good faith that prompted Obama to look for alternative paths forward. Similar considerations apply to the use of the filibuster, which skyrocketed to historically unprecedented levels after Obama’s election in 2008. Harry Reid went “nuclear” only after Republican senators made it clear they would block votes on judges (and other executive nominees) not because of doubts about the candidates but because they wanted to preserve an ideologically congenial judiciary and to be seen by their base as antagonistic toward Obama.

      We can agree to disagree about the merits of these various cases. Doubtless our reactions to them are shaped by our broader political values, which is exactly as it should be. I’m not squeamish about political conflict; conflict is why we have politics in the first place. But precisely because of this, I hope we can agree that the informal norms I referred to in my piece are an important— really, an essential— part of our politics and must be preserved.

      The reasons why are actually quite simple. Two strike me as especially important.

      First, as I argued in Salon, our system simply isn’t designed to function without close cooperation among competing factions. The Founders intended this to encourage compromise and moderation, as these qualities would be needed to reach agreements. What they assumed, of course, was that all factions would want agreement— would prefer a functional to a non-functional state. That assumption is being tested today in a way it hasn’t been since the Civil War.

      Secondly, our Constitution is quite vague in places about the powers it ascribes to the branches of government. Because of this, it is rare for conflicts among the branches to involve blatant or obvious violations of constitutional text. In any given case, it’s often very much a matter of interpretation whether one branch has encroached on the prerogatives of another. This situation, in which the proper allocation of powers is almost always ambiguous and uncertain— in practice if not in theory— requires the branches to accept certain norms of conduct as a sign of good faith. The alternative is increasingly overt conflict among the branches, which leads inevitably to gridlock as political matters are transformed into judicial questions. The right’s insistence on litigating every word (literally) of the ACA is only the most obvious example of this trend. I’m afraid that nothing good— and much that is very bad indeed— will come of this.


  6. don’t forget Rockford files had one of the best theme songs ever all in all a well crafted show right jimmy….


  7. Krugman NYT Op Ed today (March 20) adds facts to support your insights into GOP fear of a govt that cares as much about people as profits


    1. Thanks for the heads-up, Tita. I have enormous respect for Krugman. He’s a brilliant man— glad he’s on our side! (Though he would probably say, “The facts are on our side, and I follow the facts.”)


  8. It’s really ironic first of all that you, a white angry liberal white male would pen such an article.
    Are you so blind to your own prejudices that you are a caricature of what is on the other side of the pendulum? In this article you engage in the name calling and demeaning you bemoan.

    Full disclosure: I am a southern white male. I am college educated and a registered democrat.
    I am an evangelical Christian. I am confident that you dislike me already. That’s ok.
    You don’t have to like me. I only ask that you be intellectually honest about your motivations.

    Let’s try some real analysis that doesn’t just attack a group of people that are not like you.

    The Donald Trump phenomenon is more about being fed up with the status quo in both political parties.
    Both sides give lip service to their base but at the end of the day it all about being re-elected.
    It seems that once someone gets into office they feel they have fulfilled their destiny to be part of the
    ruling class and they will anything to maintain it.

    Most do not think Trump would be the perfect political leader. What they do believe is that he would be
    a game changer to Washington. By using his own money he is obligated to no one. Most In Washington would consider this their worst nightmare. A man or woman who would be their own person and could not be manipulated by either side.

    He is also not politically correct. The average person in this country thinks that it is stupid that you
    can no longer speak your mind for fear of offending someone. Nowhere in the constitution are you guaranteed the right not to be offended. Speak the truth as you see and be willing to defend your ideas. If they are good they will stand on their own.

    He would also run the government like a business. I am an evil greedy capitalist. I believe that if you work hard and succeed you should be able to keep the majority of your money and use it as you see fit. This principle was the cornerstone of what built this country. Many of us believe that applying business principles to the government would fix many problems.

    Trump also knows how to hire smart people and fire ones that do not perform. Washington is full of political hacks and bureaucrats. A few more doers and achievers would go a long way.

    If I could chose today I am not sure that Trump would be my candidate. Ben Carson would probably be first, followed by Scott Walker. But I have to admit that a part of me would love to see him run and win for the reasons stated above. Not for any of the stereotypical reasons that you have prejudged me with.

    In the about section of your blog it states that you don’t like North Carolina.
    To quote the late Lewis Grizzard, “Greyhound is ready when you are, $49 bucks or less”.

    Tim in Harnett County


    1. I’m not sure why you are so upset with this article, since Kim Messick has stated exactly the same thing that you go on to explain, in your reply, why you support, Donald Trump’s candidacy.

      (1) You like Trump because he is so wealthy he is beholden to no one, unlike most politicians. He can insult and denigrate whomever he wants, fire whomever he wants, divorce whomever he wants, be as politically incorrect as he wants.

      (2) You like Trump because he would run the country even more like a business. As Messick says, Trump thinks that “government should always conduct itself in such a way as to maximize the value of his assets.”

      The one refreshing thing about Trump’s narcissism is that he does not conceal his own self-interest behind the church or the flag. During his political career he has been all over the map: he’s been a registered Democrat, a registered Independent and a registered Republican. He has been pro-choice and pro-life. He has supported and contributed to the political campaigns of the Clintons, and, of course, many other politicians both on the left and the right. As he has stated, he gives a lot of money to politicians, and in return he expects to have access. This is a politics run by money, which most politicians deny. Trump has no problem with this, which is why he comes across as more honest. What is dishonest about Trump is that, while he speaks to your anger, he himself is not angry. As Messick notes, the more outrageous he is, the more support he gets. However, he himself is not angry, because he can get whatever he wants, whenever he wants. Why the Presidency? Because then he would be on stage all the time. He can’t just buy that, he needs people like you to support him. So he is just using you

      And do you want everyone who disagrees with you to just leave? Are we really not entitled to disagree? Isn’t the reality of political differences, and thus ways to handle these disagreements, the basis of the Constitution?


  9. You grossly simplify the Trump sympathetic sector of the electorate and conflate different Republican activist groups who hate one another or would hate one another if they existed I the same historical epic. Trump for example has absolutely zero in common with the concerns of evangelical Christians. I think the one thing you are correct about is that there is an undercurrent of concern about America becoming a white minority nation, a concern that cannot be articulated because elite referees of acceptable discourse have decreed it forbidden.

    I would argue that there is nothing inherently racist about wanting America to remain white majority country, provided one supports equal rights and opportunities for no n_whites. I would also argue that people like you who are doubtlessly apoplectic over such an admission are MY ENEMY. Your contempt for People of non-color is obvious.


  10. Thanks for the clarification, Kim. I think you are right when you state the most important reason behind the rise the Trump candidacy, is fear, by many white males, of losing the powers and privileges they still possess. Trump operates by taking advantage of all his powers and privileges, because he’s a rich white guy. That’s why so many of his supporters want to vicariously enter his world of extreme power and privilege.

    I graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas. I don’t live in San Antonio any more, but our class has a website, and the whole Confederate Flag controversy sparked the first real conversation, on the message board, anyone had conducted since the website was started years ago. (Usually everyone just wishes everyone else Happy (whatever) Holiday.) Ours was a very segregated class. Many of my classmates seem to treat Robert E. Lee High School more as a shrine than as a school, and there was denunciation after denunciation against removing the Confederate Flag; arguments that the Confederate Flag was really about freedom, the Civil War was not really about slavery, reverse racism is just as much a problem as racism, and other, really tortured reasoning. Being from North Carolina you must be overwhelmed by this controversy. I and some of my classmates jumped into the fray, with really well-thought out and logical arguments, pointing out, among other facts, how the Confederate Flag has been used as a racist symbol for a long time. The Confederate Flag supporters were totally taken aback. The Tea Party crowd, of which I am sure they are members, has tended to isolate themselves from diverse points of view, and just preach to the choir. Anyway, we, the opposition (which are all women), were patronized, labeled and called names. We were not taken seriously, our posts were not read carefully and we were misunderstood, over and over again. We made so much more sense than the upholders of the Confederacy that the message board was taken down and all posts removed. We were really trying to have a conversation; the other guys and gals really wanted just to strong-arm their views as being the right ones. They were not willing to take the time or make the effort to respond with any sort of rational, fact-based replies. I have encountered this with many others I interact with. An Obama detractor will say to me, “Obama is naïve, inexperienced, and arrogant.” Me, “In what way?” No reply. And they don’t think Trump is arrogant?

    Real discussion and argument are dangerous, if they are taken seriously; therefore, they have to be either shouted down, so to speak, or else deliberately side-stepped. Example: Tea Party Person: “Obama, doesn’t understand or respect the Constitution.” I reply, “But he was a Constitutional Law Professor.” Tea Party Person: “He wasn’t really a Professor, just a teacher.” Great argument. This refusal to engage is, to me, the heart of the non-argument. And it is indicative of a really, really immature mindset. We have complex problems, requiring complex solutions. Trump disagrees: he says we have simple problems, send everyone back to Mexico, he’ll take charge and everything will be fine. Shades of Oliver North. As you mentioned once before, “people are so intractable.” So, yes, I think the main reason Trump is so popular right now is, as you point out, fear on the part of the majority white culture, that are forced to become passive by many of the economic realities they refuse to confront. So they support candidates who demonstrate the anger and bluster they can’t act upon in our business centered culture (whatever you do, don’t offend a CUSTOMER or a potential CUSTOMER, which is just about anyone). Anyway, I was wondering if you would be interested in taking on the immaturity issue? There really isn’t much out there about this. A. O. Scott wrote an interesting article about this in the N. Y. Times years ago. Robert Bly wrote The Sibling Society, but this is way too psychologically centered to be very useful as a political understanding. The conservative take on immaturity is all about the lack of formality (people no longer dance and dress like Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers) and a rejection of the hippy, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle (I know I am way out of date in these terms; I don’t really know how to categorize Beyonce and Amy Shumer). And there is of course the argument that everyone wants to be forever young. I find in the workplace there is no real respect for skills and talents that are developed over time and experience; only the money that flows in is valued. There is often an authoritarian mindset, about abstract authority figures and rules (such as a real sentimentalized view of any military figure that ever lived), but no authority figures that mentor or teach. So much of the condemnation of movies and books by conservatives seem less about morality and more about a view of the world as simple and rule-based, rather than a view of the world as it really is. This immature mindset is a complex issue, and probably has a lot to do with economics and the consumer culture: the fact that we are what we buy, rather than who we are as citizens. Anyway, you have touched on this quite a bit. And then there are the venomous disagreements and condemnations, online, by anonymous detractors of liberal or progressive viewpoints. Would adults do this? Would John Wayne or Gregory Peck or James Garner, in any or their roles as heroes, do this? Where are Hondo, Atticus Finch or Jim Rockford when we need them? There was a recent article in Newsweek about how the MIA-POW flag was essentially created as a propaganda tool, by Nixon, and should be understood as such. The article, in no way, detracted from any American military figure, alive or dead; yet the author, who I was following online, received, literally, thousands of hate mail; the invective in these responses is worse than anything I have ever encountered. Probably because I don’t spend a lot of time on the internet, and don’t have a presence there, is why I was so surprised by so much overt hostility. When I mentioned this to my daughter she seemed to just accept this as normal. It seems that lots of people, all the time, threaten to kill lots of people!!! Anyway, the attack on the author of the MIA-POW article happened a few hours after publication, including countless death threats. I keep waiting to see if anyone will be arrested or if the author of that article is still alive. There was very little indication that anyone had actually read the article; there must be strong lines of communication between these trolls. We can’t make a joke about a bomb in an airport, yet the author of a researched and truthful article about a political reality is, literally, forced to go into hiding. Really?

    Since I work in the business world I know many disaffected white males, who, as you state, are angry. They also seem deeply unhappy. Now they don’t come across as depressed; maybe attention seeking, but not depressed. Some are retired, and their lives are filled up with a continual whirlwind of golf, hunting, fishing, you name it. So if they are still angry, why? OK, they want to hold onto everything they have. They have to justify why they are not willing to share their wealth and good fortune with me, for instance, even though I work a lot harder than they ever did. But why don’t they just enjoy what they have, and, at the same time, wish me well? But they don’t do this; they do not wish anyone well who does not agree with them. So I have to believe their anger is due to their unhappiness. And maybe their unhappiness is due to their rejection of modernity as you have mentioned. We seem to have circled back to the beginning. They are angry, they are afraid, they are unhappy. In the meantime they are screwing up my life. I now live in Arizona, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The Governor and the legislature of Arizona have just slashed the funding of both the university system and primary and secondary education, to such an extent, that our education system will soon be a laughing stock. Teachers are moving out of Arizona in droves. The Governor has stated that universities are basically just a form of business; why should anyone bother to study or learn anything at all unless it returns a profit? If individuals are just considered monetized forms of life, and if conservative voters have to agree with this logic, no wonder they are so unhappy.

    Anyway, I was energized to reconnect with some classmates who share my views. Since everyone knows everyone, or at least everyone is using their real names on the Lee website, the level of discussion could not deteriorate into the viciousness found in most anonymous exchanges online. We didn’t convince any of the intractables (new word), but we did show we are willing to speak out and stand up for what we believe. Thanks, Kim, for allowing me to participate in this discussion.


    1. Hi MGB2,

      Your comments are always welcome here. I appreciate the time and effort you put into your latest post.

      The Confederate flag controversy nicely captures the dilemma of today’s Republican Party. It should be perfectly obvious that the presence of this flag on state-owned property was always an insult and an outrage. The state must accord all of its citizens equal respect, which it manifestly does not do when it honors the symbol of a regime dedicated to the enslavement and exploitation of African-Americans. To their credit, many Republicans recognized this and either advocated its removal or acquiesced noiselessly in it. Even Nikki Haley, whose politics I despise, realized the flag had to come down. But the GOP as a whole had to tip-toe around the issue, wreathing it in dodges and evasions— the old “That’s for the people of South Carolina to decide” line— when they didn’t outright support the flag’s presence and those who wanted it to stay. Nothing could more clearly indicate the Party’s status as the voice of white Southern resentment. (Thomas Edsall has a nice piece about this in today’s New York Times.) Because the South is now the electoral redoubt of the GOP, its leaders cannot afford to alienate white Southerners and must kow-tow to their inflamed sensibilities.

      Like anyone else with an internet footprint, I can attest to the viciousness of some of the rhetoric out there. I posted a couple of harsh comments here on the Trump piece mostly to illustrate that very fact. Everything you say about it is correct— the whiff of authoritarianism coming off this stuff is so strong as to be unmistakable. There is, as you say, a “refusal to engage,” and an allied rejection of the most basic rules of argument and evidence.

      I understand the impulse to attribute this to “immaturity.” In some cases, of course, that’s exactly what it is, and all it is. But I think in general there’s more at work here. Many of the folks who act like this when they discuss politics— probably many who gave you such a hard time over the Confederate flag— would never behave the same way in a conversation about daily life. You could probably have a perfectly polite argument with them about the best outfit to wear to a party, or who’s really at fault in the neighbors’ divorce, or whether the Stones were a better band than the Beatles. In these contexts they are open to opposing views, accept that “everyone’s entitled to his/her own opinion,” and are usually willing to agree to disagree.

      Why, then, are they so belligerent when it comes to politics? Part of the answer, of course, is simply that politics engages passions that run deeper than disputes about fashion or divorce— deeper even than the Beatles – Stones dispute! But also at work, I think, is how they understand politics— their idea of what it’s all about. They view it as primarily a matter of order and security, and about these things they are deeply authoritarian.

      Their vision of social life generally, and of politics specifically, is of a virtuous community besieged by a malevolent, ubiquitous Other. Both the community and the Other are defined in various ways— there is a racial component, surely, along with economic, cultural, and religious elements. But the crucial point is that the Other cannot be trusted to honor the social contract, so it must be managed through intimidation and aggression. We cannot achieve any kind of consensus with the Other; we can only keep it at bay. Negotiation and compromise drop out of the picture, and politics becomes an attempt to impose our will on them. It is a theater of threat and counter-threat, of suspicion and struggle, of cruelty and coercion. It is the continuation of war by other means.

      It is this idea of politics, I would argue, that animates the behavior of your high-school chums. They adopt authoritarian habits when they discuss politics because they have an authoritarian view of politics itself. As the GOP has worked (tirelessly, assiduously) over the last 50 years to sell itself to white Southern voters, it has become more and more dependent on their peculiar vision of society as a Manichean twilight struggle— a redneck Ragnarok. Now they’re stuck with it, and its latest, greatest efflorescence— the Donald Trump campaign. (For a blood-curdling look at just how deeply entwined Trump’s support is with “white nationalism,” check out the cover story in the August 31 issue of The New Yorker.)

      Now one thing I suggested in my last comment was that an increase in “working class consciousness” might provide a way out of this morass. If Democrats could formulate an attractive working-class economic agenda, and present it clearly and cogently— something they don’t always do even when they have an agenda— it might prove sufficiently compelling to lure white Southerners away from the racially coded, but economically royalist, appeals of the GOP. This is an idea I’m still working out, but it would, of course, be one hell of a lift. Time will tell.

      Finally, I liked your reference to the idea that every aspect of life should be “monetized.” You would probably enjoy the book I’m reading now— Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos. It’s a brilliant exploration of exactly that theme.

      I hope you enjoy the Labor Day weekend, and find time to fit in some James Garner. A little Rockford always picks me up when I’m feeling down….


      1. Hi MGB2,

        Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your latest post. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks fighting the head cold from hell. It won. I’m only just now starting to feel human again.

        There are so many ideas here I’m not sure where to start! A dominant theme appears to be your concern that the authoritarian strain in right-wing politics is inconsistent with (even actively hostile to) the “independent, autonomous” selves you value. You also want to connect this hostility with immaturity on the part of those who manifest it.

        You are already sensitive to the dangers of eliding political issues into therapeutic ones, so I won’t belabor that point here. I think it’s significant, however, that many of the people who display authoritarian tendencies do so quite selectively. While some of them are simply bullies, treating pretty much everyone with contempt, the majority (I would wager) are not. They are perfectly capable of treating others respectfully when dealing with family and friends or with anyone else they regard as worthy of their trust. Their authoritarian impulses are triggered with they confront persons they cannot identify as trustworthy— when, in other words, they confront “The Other.” These persons they regard as incapable of social cooperation; they are amenable only to coercion and control.

        Now in some ways this may be a perfectly natural response. The British political theorist John Dunn, writing about Locke, said that “the central political question is the question of trust.” (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of it.) People group themselves into communities, and some of these are political; whether any given person is or isn’t a member of the community then functions as a proxy, so to speak, for his/her trustworthiness. (In a prima facie way, at least.) The roots of this behavior probably reach fairly deep into primate biology. There is a kind of Darwinian blood logic here that is chillingly simple: “If x is one of us, trust him. If x is not one of us, kill him.”

        The real question, then, is how we decide who’s one of us and who isn’t. Because human beings were hunter-gatherers for most of their history, it’s doubtful this question was originally answered in territorial terms; more than likely, it was the brute fact of simply “being born into this group,” along with certain cultural (and perhaps linguistic) markers. But with the advent of agriculture and the growth of cities, territoriality emerged as an important criterion of identity— one was an Athenian or a Spartan, a Roman or a Carthaginian. Cultural, linguistic, and religious factors figured as well, as did ethnic and racial concerns.

        An important part of the rise of the nation-state as the principal unit of political organization was that it made the question of identity inescapable. Because nation-states tended to encompass wider swaths of territory, they were more likely to include persons of diverse backgrounds. “Am I Welsh?” was a question with a fairly straightforward answer; “Am I British?” was not.

        Governments tended to favor answers that privileged dominant groups within their societies, and this usually meant a special role for linguistic, ethnic, and religious affiliation. Members of minorities, whether Basques in Spain, Huguenots in France, or Jews pretty much anywhere, were often subjected to various civic penalties and treated with contempt and suspicion. (Or worse.)

        One way to think about the history of liberalism is to see it as a solution to the problem of unity-in-diversity posed by the modern nation-state. Liberalism explicitly rejects the use of cultural, racial, and religious markers as definitive of the political community. To the question, “Who is one of us?” liberalism wants to answer, “Potentially everyone.” It locates the capacity for social cooperation in our common humanity— in traits and abilities shared by all human beings. It denies the claim that any particular race or religion or class or gender is inherently more cooperative, and hence more trustworthy, than another. This universalist solution to the problem of political identity is one of the hallmarks of modernity— is, indeed, one of its defining features.

        The problem, of course, is that not everyone accepts this solution. (Which is just another way of saying that not everyone is a liberal in this “universalist” sense.) American politics right now is dominated by a fierce struggle between political modernists, who include Democrats and Republicans, and a ferocious cell of anti-modernists who are almost all members of the GOP. Because of the Southernization of Republican politics over the last 50 years, they now form the electoral nucleus (“the base”) of the party. Their definition of the political community is far from universalist; like their pre-modern ancestors, they continue to believe that trustworthiness is parceled out along racial, religious, and ethnic lines. (Gender, too, is important here.)

        The question is how to persuade them to think otherwise— to accept that all human beings are potential members of our community. Your preferred answer in terms of “maturity” is one approach here. It’s not that I think this answer is wrong in any simple way; it obviously captures many aspects of the problem. If I resist it, it’s for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, I’m allergic to the temptation (we’ve discussed it before) to turn political disagreements into clinical syndromes. On the other, I don’t really think of the issue here as one of personal maturity, in part because (as I’ve already argued) many of these folks are perfectly (or at least acceptably) mature in their non-political lives. It makes more sense to me to think of the issue as one of moral maturity— of giving up a way of thinking about social life that belongs to the infancy of humanity, not to its continued development and edification.

        I confess, however, that at present I have no very clear ideas about how this might be done. What we are essentially asking is how we can persuade everyone (or almost everyone) to become a liberal in the universalist sense. And that is a tall order indeed. It’s connected in important ways with a problem from John Rawls I’ve been pondering lately. As you probably know, Rawls was the Harvard philosopher who wrote “A Theory of Justice” in 1971 and pretty much singlehandedly revived American political philosophy. He thought liberalism originated as an answer to the civic chaos associated with the wars of religion in 17th-century Europe. In its earliest phases, this liberalism was a “modus vivendi”— a kind of ceasefire in which the parties agreed to forego hostilities on pragmatic rather than principled grounds. But as time passed and the benefits of peaceful coexistence became evident— and as citizens gained a wider experience of the social possibilities opened up by toleration— this grudging, halting liberalism blossomed into something very different: a principled belief that “fair terms of social cooperation” should be extended to all as “free and equal citizens.” This notion Rawls identifies with “reasonableness” as an ethical attribute, which he in turn connects with our sense of justice. Rawls’s “reasonableness” is what I’ve been calling “universalist” liberalism.

        So if we wanted to pose our question historically, we might ask, “What was it that persuaded the original liberals— the ‘modus vivendi’ guys— to become principled (‘universalist’) liberals instead?” Part of the answer, I think, is hinted at above— a wider social experience, a sense that toleration “pays”— and we should throw in the kind of brute sympathy (to use a Humean term) that often arises among people who cooperate with one another over extended periods of time. But also important here is a set of epistemic concerns Rawls labels “the burdens of judgment.” He means by this the factors that give rise to differing, often incompatible, points of view on ethical and political questions. (Not just on these, but especially on these.) These factors explain why diversity (Rawls tends to use the word ‘pluralism’) is inevitable once a modus vivendi goes into effect— once, that is, we stop trying to tell others what to think on pain of death.

        We can imagine an epistemic movement here that’s very similar to the affective movement described above. In the early stages, we accept that people must be tolerated even though their ideas strike us as horrific, but we continue to think of them as obviously, willfully mistaken. They seem irrational to us, or at least intellectually wanton and unserious. But as we associate more closely with them and observe their conduct in other aspects of life, we begin to question this attitude. We don’t notice them making lots of obvious mistakes in everyday affairs; outwardly, they seem to be as smart as we are. When we listen to them explain their ideas and respond to our criticisms, we see them weighing evidence carefully, drawing important distinctions, admitting to uncertainty and hesitation sometimes— all the things we do ourselves. We might still regard them as mistaken, but no longer as obviously or willfully so. Instead we think of them as people who are trying hard to get some very difficult and complex stuff right. We think of them, that is, as very much like ourselves. They have become “one of us,” and we have become universalist liberals.

        So our growing sense of the part played in human life by “the burdens of judgment” can have an independent role in moving us into a principled liberalism. It might be interesting for you to explore the ways in which this process relates (and doesn’t relate) to the issues of “maturity” you raise, especially with respect to such things as weighing evidence and tolerating dissent.

        I encourage you to expand your internet footprint. Your ideas are cogent and you express them well. Don’t be put off by the trolls; they’re inevitable but irrelevant. I think of them as the equivalent of the kids in grade school who sat in the back of the class and pelted other students with spitballs. A nuisance to be sure, but more deserving of pity than fear.

        Oh, and thank you for the Crawford citation. It sounds like one more thing I need to add to my (ever-expanding) reading list.

        As always, thanks for the time and effort you put into your posts. I hope you’ll write again soon.


  11. I did read the article in the NEW YORKER about Trump. I thank it demonstrates that what Trump’s supporters really want is a sort of instinctual, anarchic, personal freedom; freedom from responsibility, complexity, ambiguity, reality. And this is a really immature way of being in the world. After all, Trump resembles nothing so much as a 13 year old bully in the schoolyard where everyone lines up behind him to be on the winning side.

    And of course I agree with you in that right-wing extremism is much more complicated than just dealing with immature bullies. I have read a little of Adorno on the authoritarian personality, quite a bit of Arendt, and most everything of Lasch I can find. There is very little, if anything, that even obliquely compares authoritarianism with immaturity. (Why is this??) However, there is a lot of affinity between authoritarianism, narcissism, and sociopathology. Christopher Lasch is one of the most interesting theorists, I think, of his generation. He managed to combine, and make sense of (at least to many), the Freudianism and Marxism of the Frankfurt School along with the egalitarianism and traditional sensibilities of the working class. If I had to distill everything he wrote in one sentence it would be this: we need to understand, celebrate and encourage whatever it takes to create independent, autonomous citizens. (What we really need is an expanded vocabulary that identifies grown-ups; the word “adult” implies pornography, the word “mature” just means old. I think the lack of an explanatory word for a grown-up is, in itself, meaningful. I did notice that Sean Illing used the word “infantilizing” about Trump’s followers in a Salon article today.) What Lasch did was explain how the forces of capitalism, industrialization, corporatism and consumerism work to diminish individual autonomous agency and create dependent, diminished personalities.

    To expand on this I am going to defer to Hannah Arendt’s explanation of the “banality of evil” she attributed to Adolf Eichmann. As she explained, all Eichmann cared about was his career and himself; if he had to indiscriminately kill millions, so be it. The Jews who perished in the Holocaust meant nothing to him except that their “efficient” extermination furthered his career. Thus the “banality” of evil. He just didn’t care. Arendt’s view is that Eichmann was incapable of comprehending his actions because he was unable to understand the perspective of anyone other than himself. He certainly appears to be a psychopath (he didn’t have a conscience), but if he was a psychopath, he was “crazy” and therefore couldn’t be tried for sins against humanity. That’s, of course, another story. The fact that Arendt’s Eichmann book is still so controversial is also telling. There are lots of people who mask their inability to care, or who feel guilty for not caring enough, through gross sentimentality. The religious right’s co-opting of the family and church is just a way to claim the moral high ground. Their lack of sincerity is demonstrated by their support for Trump. Their supposed reverence for the family is not so much sanctification of children, as their wish to be children.

    As you explain, the authoritarian personality identifies the “other” as someone to be controlled and silenced. The authoritarian personality also lacks the capacity to understand the world from the standpoint of the other; he/she just doesn’t care. To me this indicates a failure to grow up, to mature. One cannot “argue” anyone into caring. Concern for others is not a political position that lends itself to argument, except from the standpoint of one’s own self-interest. I can’t argue someone into caring about the rights of minorities, for example. I can only argue that communities would be safer if minorities had more resources. Of course, the more one is open to the wider world, through reading, travel, experience, the greater the possibility for growth. But the extremist right more and more cut themselves off from this possibility. So how does politics play out if a large number of citizens lack the ability to care about anything beyond themselves, will never be able to develop this capacity, and resent all the rest of us who do? The question is how to keep them out of power. There are studies, in political science, that contrast left-wing voters as nurturing, and right-wing voters as authoritarian. My point is that this is not an either/or mentality, but rather a continuum: the nurturing voter is just more mature. Since I really want to engage political theory rather than clinical psychology, I have to figure out where to go next.

    The one thing I appreciate about the current political situation is that there seems to be clarity about what each side wants. What more extreme contrast than between Sanders and Trump? Somehow we need to find ways to get the remaining uncommitted, overworked, stressed, underpaid, and struggling citizens involved in the political process before Trump and his ilk turn them into an army of zombies, unable to think for themselves. Good luck on delving into working class consciousness. There is so little chance, anymore, of being allowed to do interesting, rewarding work. One of the ways bullies, in the workplace, operate against their victims, is to reduce their ability to do any meaningful work. Have you read Matthew Crawford?

    Trump says what he cares about most is winning, which is the only thing bullies, narcissists, and authoritarian personalities want. Everything is adversarial. Achieving all the outward signs of success is another example of winning. Making money is just another way of keeping score; and money generates power. I have seen several studies lately that indicate CEO’s often have sociopathic tendencies. Trump is just a joke until you stop and think what it would be like to work for him, let alone recognize him as President!!!!! And we thought Nixon and Reagan were bad? I’m sure everyone who works for Trump either thinks just like him, or has been forced to surrender any vestige of independent, autonomous agency. I get tired just thinking about trying to deal with all the attention he demands.

    I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day weekend. I hid out and read! Thanks for letting me try out my ideas. I have no presence on the web; I don’t think I could take the abuse. However, I am venturing, very slowly, to get back in the fight.


  12. I read your article at Salon and would like to comment. I do not believe that what you have observed is a uniquely southern phenomenon. I currently live in Oregon which is the only state admitted to the Union (1859) with a constitution which provided that no black person could reside, work, vote or own property in that state. Needless to say there are not a lot of black people in Oregon particularly in rural areas where a black person sighting is considered newsworthy. Only one lynching of a black person in Oregon has been documented which probably is more of an indication of demographics than an overabundance of racial comity. Some black people must have sneaked in and avoided lynching because they were formally granted the vote in 1927 and an interracial marriage ban was lifted in 1951. There was plenty of anti Chinese violence in the late 19th century just to prove that Oregonians hated minorities in a very equitable manner. The economic insecurities in Oregon are as least as bad as those in the south. Oregon has a very low high school graduation rate – 68.7%. Only The District of Columbia is worse. The job opportunities for the high school graduate are bad enough but for those who do not graduate agriculture, fishing and timber are about it in rural areas if you don’t want to flip burgers. Most of Oregon is marginal agriculturally – see ranching a la Bundy which is based on a belief that if the Federal Government would just go away we could preserve our rightful pioneer heritage and damn the consequences. The timber industry has changed dramatically with mills becoming more and more automated. The federal government owns 53% of Oregon. Federal regulations are perceived to be a huge burden for Oregonians who feel that if they were allowed to merely clear cut everything spray herbicide and turn the state into a douglas fir mono-culture the world would be a better place. What may happen to salmon habitat and their fellow blue collar friends who fish for a living is not considered material. I do have a bias in the other direction. The fishermen do not like quotas or bans on clams which may be toxic. Whatever I may feel is not relevant. Rural Oregonians are as unhappy as anyone in the south and are fertile ground for a populist revolt. The Donald has their back.


    1. Thanks Seth. In 1859, when Oregon drafted its constitution, white supremacy (as opposed to slavery) was pretty much the norm across the US— and probably the western world generally. But you make a very important point. The rural / urban divide is extremely important in our politics; in some ways, it subsumes the Southern / non-Southern divide, with “Southern” forming a subset of “rural.” Southern cities, such as the one where I live, are often comparable in their politics to similar-sized Northern cities. The belief that difference should not automatically imply distrust simply seems harder to sustain in rural areas, and this drives a very distinctive kind of politics.


  13. I linked to your site via Salon.
    And why am i just finding you? You have really made my day. What informative, detailed, and relevant piece.
    Thank you. And i have bookmarked your site so I can always visit.


  14. I found your article in Salon and I want to thank you for your article and blog. Your analysis has clarified much for me, especially the recent politics of my state of origin, West Virginia. West Virginia is a strange beast, very industrial along its waterways, yet rural inland. It traditionally has been a bastion of economically liberal, union politics with a twist of Christian conservatism mixed in, but that weird combination makes for some schizophrenic voting. In the last 10 years, however, it has turned very Tea Partyish, mostly over gun rights and coal, despite the fact that the state benefits enormously from federal funding, i.e. the late Senator Byrd’s “pork barrel” projects, many of which can be defended because they were often useful projects that would have taken place elsewhere without the economic benefit, but that’s a different story. I haven’t been back home in a while, but I have no doubt that Trump would take the state’s delegates in the general election, even in a three-way race with a more moderate Republican, especially since his latest comments on eliminating all gun regulation. The gun issue even trumps religion there. There is a reason Obama has rarely, if ever visited the state. The guy just can’t get a break there. There is more irrational, fanatical anti-Obama rhetoric in West Virginia than perhaps anywhere else in the country. Old-fashioned racism is the most likely culprit, aside from the factors you mention, which apply a little more to the southern states than West Virginia, which never had plantation agriculture and has relatively few minorities. Since more coal is being mined than ever before and people’s guns are not a risk, by any rational argument, much of it boils down to an uneasiness with white masculine identity.

    Thanks again for the great post.


  15. Thanks for your comment, David. I’m gratified that you enjoyed the Salon piece and the blog.

    West Virginia is a great example of how our politics have changed over the last generation or so. Once a Democratic stronghold, it is now in the hands of a Republican Party that uses cultural revanchism to protect corporate power— including the power to maintain unsafe working conditions, to pollute, and to buy off legislators and regulators. You couldn’t ask for a better test case of exactly what conservative misrule can do to a state and its people. The public sector is starved while corporations strip the last dull penny out of the economy, leaving an empty shell of plundered resources and discarded workers. The latter will be left with their guns and their white skins and not much else. The vultures will move on to the next carcass. It’s how this particular game is played, and it’s a goddamn shame.


    1. In hindsight, I guess, the takeaway from my post was that Trump is the custom-tailored and designed candidate for West Virginia. Now I’m not sure if that association is more insulting to Trump or to West Virginia, but being a staunch defender of West Virginia I tend to lean toward the latter.

      I enjoy your writing, by the way. How’s the book coming along? I found this piece on writing today: http://lithub.com/on-the-deep-disquiet-of-finishing-your-book/


      1. I think we’re seeing that Trump is tailor-made for a number of states. He picked up three out of four Tuesday night and appears ready to take at least four of the five up for grabs next week. If that in fact happens, I really can’t see how he doesn’t become the GOP nominee. We live in interesting times.

        Thanks for the kind words about the writing. I’ll take a look at the link you sent; there is an odd kind of ennui that usually attends the completion of any writing project. I used to think this was something peculiar to moi, but I’ve talked with other writers about it and apparently they experience the same thing. It’s an odd tribe.

        The book is coming along, just more slowly than I would wish. If all goes according to plan (which, of course, it seldom does), I should wrap up enough stuff in the next few weeks to be able to focus more or less full-time on the novel until it’s finished— which (drum roll) should be late summer – early fall. Wish me luck!


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