30.10.17

MUGGED BY REALITY.

Two court intellectuals for the Democrats offer their perspectives on the 2016 presidential results, and their efforts provide material for Book Reviews No. 23 and No. 24.


We start with the more overdone of the two, J. Y. Sexton's The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage.   The author, a professor of creative writing at Georgia Southern documents his travels to assorted Trump rallies, Occupy-like demonstrations, the conventions of the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Greens to wallow in the anger.  And he pins a nice juicy target on himself.  Page 239:  "I was feeling a bit antsy to get home to the fifteen-dollar bottle of La Marca prosecco I'd bought to toast Donald Trump's inevitable defeat."  Oops.  And that after he had assured a student reporter there was No. Way. Mr Trump would win.  Then, at least, comes the reflection.  Page 243.  "There's a cloistered community once you reach a certain level of visibility, and everybody gets to know one another."  Particularly if that visibility is Salon, New Republic, and the faculty common room.

But despite Mr Sexton's recognition, late in the book, that his mental model of Trump voters suffering from false consciousness and voting against their best interests is in error, he ends by continuing to travel amongst the angriest of the angry Trump voters, even telling the story of the dinner he abandons (he did pay the bill) in order to rush to a brawl between Trump voters and resistance rioters in Washington the evening of the inauguration.

The political professionals, such as Tyler Jones, note that there are divisions in the Democratic coalition possibly more serious than that between the Chamber of Commerce types and the economic nationalists calling themselves Republican.
We should firmly reject efforts to turn the Democratic Party into an entirely coastal and urban party dominated by the far-left wing, where we demand every candidate support single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage and free college for everyone.

Instead, I believe the path to success requires us to go back to being a big-tent, center-left party; one that resists the urge to grow government so that we can balance the budget, eliminate debt and invest in the future. We should strive to be the party of rural America again. But first, we’ll need to actually show up and understand a culture that many in our party too often treat condescendingly. We should once again be a party that is home to proud people of faith, filled with candidates from all across America who aren’t afraid to talk about it.
The American Interest's Anne Kim weighs in, addressing something Mr Sexton (perhaps unsurprisingly) doesn't address. "Democrats cannot afford another candidate who views half of Americans as 'deplorables' or who reinforces the perennial rap on the party as a bunch of hopelessly out-of-touch elites."

(I note, in passing, that today's process show involving indictments of people who prior to the Trump campaign worked with foreign governments is unlikely to move many of the voters who, perhaps knowing full well what sort of a character Mr Trump was, stood up and declared they would no longer be hectored, they would no longer be condescended to, they would no longer be deplorable-shamed.)

Ken Stern's Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right is an attempt to get beyond the condescension and cloistering, and to an extent, he succeeds.  (News flash: there's a lot more that voters agree on than that they disagree about.)  Thus, he ventures out of his posh-ish Washington, D.C. neighborhood to attend stock car races, hunt wild boar, and go to church.

You have to get through some Kultursmog in order to read and understand the book.  He confesses, at page 19, "I detest Fox News [properly understood as the commentary programming?] and the very sight of Mitch McConnell's hound-dog, jowly face irritates me."  I only recently learned that Mr McConnell is a polio survivor: perhaps Mr Stern engaged in ableism without being aware of it?  And when he's trying to be funny, sometimes that falls flat, e.g. at a gun show, "I feel a bit out of place: my Subaru Liberalmobile barely squeezing in among the rows of pickup trucks, many of them sporting tires that tower over my car.  And sadly, our Subaru lacks a distinctive bumper sticker like 'Yes, I am driving this way just to piss you off' or a great license plate like 'relodn' or any of the other myriad warning signs that suggest you might not want to get in a road rage duel with this driver" at page 43.  Now, if he'd brought a Prius or Volt, rather than a four-wheel-drive mountain car ... but I digress.  On the other hand, he shows more awareness at page 91, "[Mr Trump's] audience is equally indifferent to the nuances of policy and just wants a champion who will fight their fight, build their wall, and perhaps restore America to the time when the white working class was more than a punch line in a Stephen Colbert monologue" than Mr Sexton showed despite a year at the campaign rallies.

Mr Stern has not been converted to a full-on Trump insurgent, let alone a libertarian tory.  And yet, read his evaluation of some of the policy positions, whether advocated by sportsmen (very few of the efforts at gun control have worked); by miners and oil patch workers ("Science indisputably supports global warming, but does not currently support the conclusions about apocalyptic outcomes," page 135); by evangelicals ministering to the poor (an urban effort called the Doe Fund enjoys success keeping paroled prisoners from recidivating, in part by inculcating middle class habits: just read and understand chapter 6).  You don't find that bundle of policy possibilities in what passes for a Republican manifesto these days: and yet, that's not the Nine of Ten Experts Agree, It's For Your Own Good that underpins Democrats' policy proposals.

Best case scenario: the introspection the Trump presidency is provoking amongst political analysts and participants of all stripes might lead to the realization that the 2016 election is recognition of things gone wrong that had to be corrected and yet could not be corrected in the conventional way.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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