Progressives’ final, Pyrrhic victory

As the days remaining on my New York Times subscription dwindle down to just a few, I cherish each remaining David Brooks and Ross Douthat column. This one from today should generate some serious thought, though tribalism may not allow it.

Back to that in a minute.

The people pushing for gun restrictions have basically done the exact opposite of what I thought was wise. Instead of depolarizing the issue they have massively polarized it. The students from Parkland are being assisted by all the usual hyper-polarizing left-wing groups: Planned Parenthood, Move On and the Women’s March. The rhetoric has been extreme. Marco Rubio has been likened to a mass murderer while the N.R.A. has been called a terrorist organization.

The early results would seem to completely vindicate my position … The losing streak continues.

Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles.

Two things have fundamentally changed the landscape. First, over the past two years conservatives have self-marginalized. In supporting Donald Trump they have tied themselves to a man whose racial prejudices, sexual behavior and personal morality put him beyond the pale of decent society.

While becoming the movement of Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity and Franklin Graham, they have essentially expelled the leaders and thinkers who have purchase in mainstream culture. Conservatism is now less a political or philosophic movement and more a separatist subculture that participates in its own ostracism.

Second, progressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.

As Andrew Sullivan noted recently, “workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago.” There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.

What’s happening today is that certain ideas about gun rights, and maybe gun ownership itself, are being cast in the realm of the morally illegitimate and socially unacceptable …

Conservatives have zero cultural power, but they have immense political power. Even today, voters trust Republicans on the gun issue more than Democrats. If you exile 40 percent of the country from respectable society they will mount a political backlash that will make Donald Trump look like Adlai Stevenson.

(David Brooks)

Be sure not to gloss over that last paragraph. What Brooks describes — cultural power and political power even more sharply out of sync and at war with each other — would have been hard to imagine not long ago, but we’re already, in the age of Trump, getting a taste of what it would be like.

I’m not in “the movement of Dinesh D’Souza, Sean Hannity and Franklin Graham,” but don’t bet I won’t choose that as the (probably) lesser evil if push comes to shove.

Down at the southern tip of Manhattan where Wall Street lies, Peggy Noonan, without engaging David Brooks, has a considerably sunnier view I’d be remiss to omit:

This country is tired of tragedy, of the weeping president and the high-toned speech. Mr. Trump doesn’t do that because he can’t, and doesn’t know how to mourn. Just as well: We’re all tired of moist and empty vows. Do something …

Mr. Trump, God bless him, doesn’t know enough about the facts to be fatalistic about them. But he got the big picture right—at least the larger context of voters frozen along battle lines.

His presentations were stream-of-consciousness—undisciplined, scatty. And as always the question is whether he meant any of it. His opinions rest on impulses. He likes to say words. You never know which you can believe, which makes deal-making hard.

But of all recent presidents he is the one who can give cover to congressional conservatives, work with Democrats, and get something done.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Short shorts

A judge after my own heart tells SCOTUS it’s wrong and nonsensical, but then follows the &!!(%##! precedent.

 * * *

I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

(Leah Libresco, I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 5

“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)

There is no epistemological Switzerland. (Via Mars Hill Audio Journal Volume 134)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.