Friday 11/18/16

  1. The know-it-all
  2. The unprepared Trump team
  3. Are you focusing on the wrong things?
  4. Putting on the red hat
  5. This week’s winner of the internet
  6. Rules for Politics distilled


First Things

1

Maybe the most elusive form of media bias is not how a story is covered, but what stories are covered at all — considered “newsworthy,” in other words.

I was reminded of that by non-mainstream metastory that Cliff Barrows had died. You may not know who he was without clicking through. Tens of millions of Americans do know. He was an original, core member of the Billy Graham evangelistic team, and participated in the formative decisions that kept the organization and key figures from sexual scandal and financial scandal or excess.

Should you know? I can’t say. The New York Times hasn’t run an obituary. There’s a lot the New York Times cares about that I don’t care about, like the death of Holly Dunn, just to stick to obituaries.

We all operate, every one of us, in a closed system of sorts, not so much unwilling to entertain ideas or news from outside as unable to even note everything that’s important to someone somewhere.

Yet in some ways, we’re bombarded with the opportunity to know far more about goings-on in the world than even kings and emperors of the past.

I suspect that’s part of the anxiety of the age — but I haven’t had time to see what others have thought, said or written about that. For all I know, I’m plowing old ground and plowing it badly.

Ironic, isn’t it? But let me suggest that a better demeanor toward these realities is humility, rather than an arched eyebrow or an ironic wink, and a conscious and pious awareness of our need for God’s mercy, as only God is a real know-it-all.

Tertiary Things

2

The Donald continues implausibly sucking all the air out of the room (I think that’s the idiom; I didn’t want to say something crude involving flies and cow pies) day by day.

Michael Brendan Dougherty has a terrific analysis of Trump’s pending problem of assembling an Administration, but with no suggestion on a solution. One aspect, of particular concern to me (since Trump’s putative foreign policy was one of a precious few things I almost liked about his campaign):

Staffing up an administration is difficult for any transition team, but for Trump it is proving immensely difficult. His support among Republican elected officials was hardly genuine or deep. His ability to attract the finest policy minds on the right is practically non-existent. His foreign policy advisors during the campaign were D-listers and cranks. His policy repulsed neoconservative thinkers who wanted to use American power to spread democratic values. But instead of attracting sober realists, he has brought on hawks who are just indifferent to democratic values, men like John Bolton or retired general Mike Flynn. Almost everyone else who thinks about foreign policy seriously seems to be afraid to step out and help him, for fear of participating in a botch-job or disaster …

Let’s see if governments offices packed with competent establishmentarians and a few amateur revolutionaries can deliver.

I’m hoping that for State or Defense, he’ll reach out to James Webb. Although there are some 4000 jobs to fill, each of those is more important than 1/4000.

I commend the whole article, to which my excerpt does not do justice.

3

Dougherty’s colleague Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry is also excellent Thursday:

As David Frum, a prominent #NeverTrump conservative, put it in response to concerns about what a President Trump would mean for pro-choice policy: “If you lose enough elections, you get an abortion regime you don’t like. That’s normal. Whenever you focus on the same objections you’d make if another Republican had won, you’re focusing on the wrong things.” Quite right.

If the stunning disarray of Trump’s transition effort is any indication, the incoming administration promises cataclysmic incompetence and government by a combination of cronies and nincompoops. Proud “alt-right” supporter Steve Bannon’s elevation to a senior advisory role might portend an unabashedly ethnonationalist agenda from the White House. Trump’s financial ties to Russian and Chinese banks (and other autocratic regimes) suggest a president who, for the first time in recorded history, has a personal financial interest in kowtowing to regimes that have a record of human rights abuse and geopolitical antagonism towards America. Those things are completely out of the ordinary, and yes, they are more alarming and more pressing than whether high-income Americans pay a 39.5 percent or 35 percent or even 25 percent marginal tax rate, or which bathroom transgender people get to use. Come on, people.

I won’t lie: I have been #NeverTrump from day one, but when I hear people say Donald Trump is a monster because he might appoint pro-life judges, my first instinct is to put on a red hat and help build that wall. It’s stupid, but it’s how the human mind works — we are a tribal species, first and foremost. Now, of all times, is not the time to give in to tribalism and spend our energies focused on how we can eliminate our rival tribes. Donald Trump is a man-child. If you want to oppose him, start by acting like a grown-up.

(Emphasis added)

Boy does he hit the spot with the second set of stuff I bolded. That has been my reflex, too — in part because my opposition always was more fundamental that “bad morals” or “bad policies;” it was that Trump is deranged by narcissism and some sociopathy, and thus unreliable (beyond reliably alleycatting). But people do continue critiquing him just as if he was experienced, office-ready but ideologically extreme.

4

On the other hand, some #NeverTrump conservatives, including Rod Dreher (maybe even me in a weak moment; I’ve at least felt the impulse), have “put on a red hat” in their mockery of some very strong and even illegal reactions to Trump, including college kids wanting “safe spaces” (I cannot eschew scarequotes on that phrase).

Strong reactions are understandable because Trump’s victory is not just a normal political defeat, but is the election of someone all us bien pensants recognize, explicitly or not, as suffering from the aforesaid personality disorders.

That’s legitimately scary, perhaps especially to a young person who has never seen anything like this and whose imagined future is cast into sudden doubt. It’s kind of like a co-ed of 45 years ago getting word that the rabbit died.

5

Other Trump critics aren’t getting the vapors over Trump acting like a Republican, but are calling him a “white power” candidate, “openly racist,” “anti-semitic” and homophobic.

Scott Alexander, the pseudonymous psychiatrist who writes the Slate Star Codex blog, has won the Internet for the week with his long, magnificently well researched post telling the anti-Trump left to quit scaring people with their ridiculous propaganda. Alexander is not a Trump supporter, so why does he feel so strongly about this? This is why:

Why am I harping on this?

I am a psychiatrist. So far I have had two patients express Trump-related suicidal ideation. One of them ended up in the emergency room, although luckily both of them are now safe and well. I have heard secondhand of several more.

… Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.

I am not going to quote Alexander’s blog post at length, because if I got started, it would be hard to stop. What he does is go through most of the allegations against Trump (e.g., that he’s anti-Semitic, that he’s a white supremacist fellow traveler, that he hates gays, etc.), and demolishes them with factual analysis. He really does. I learned a lot of things I did not know about Trump. And again: Alexander is not a Trump supporter. One of his points is that the left, especially in the media, have focused on trivial stuff (the kind of stuff that freaks out a relatively small sliver of lefties, actually) and let the big things go.

(Rod Dreher) I took Dreher’s invitation and read the whole 8,000-word blog, and it really is powerful. I admit that I considered Trump’s campaign racist (though subtly rather than openly — and I did not think that racism was a major vote-getter for him).

But I now think the “racist” label, let alone “openly racist,” is wrong, as I’ve considered the charges of anti-semitism and homophobia all along. Read it yourself if you’re willing to give up an error.

Predictably, Alexander doesn’t touch the claim of sexism/misogyny. UPDATE: I neglected to mention that Alexander’s casual slanders of Patrick J. Buchanan as “neo-nazi” and “holocaust denier” don’t affect the overall persuasiveness of the post — just the personal credibility of the the blogger’s reflexes.

6

Rules for politics distilled from ads during the election season so recently passed:

  1. If you have dirt on your adversary, use it.
  2. If you have no real dirt on your adversary, put the dirtiest possible spin and the maximum hyperbole on the closest-to-dirty things you can find.
  3. If there’s nothing even close to dirty, make up some lies and do a lot of post-production work.

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.