22.10.17

WHAT HAPPENED.

Yes, that's the title of a new book by a failed presidential candidate, but the impression I have gathered of it is that she continues to blame everyone but herself, and life is short.

But when two members in good standing of the vast right wing conspiracy offer widely differing polemics on the outcome of the same election, perhaps I should devote Book Reviews No. 21 and No. 22 as a brief compare-and-contrast.

On the dismayed side, Charles J. Sykes, proud Never Trumper, is out with How the Right Lost Its Mind, (yes, I set that up with the earlier review of E. J. Dionne's Why the Right Went Wrong) in which he wonders if his talk radio echo chamber hasn't made possible the epistemic closure in which voters hear what they want to hear and disregard the rest, even if what they are hearing is made up out of whole cloth and hyped by clickbait-savvy webmasters or ratings-desperate talk show hosts.

I might take Mr Sykes's confession more seriously if he'd say an Act of Contrition over helping undermine the extension of the Hiawatha service to Madison as a boondoggle for a few Capitol Square rent-seekers -- although Passenger Rail advocates in Wisconsin did a poor job of rebutting his claims.

On the other hand, the Charlie Sykes of Prof Scam and Fail U properly could characterize much of what came out of the pro-Trump commentariat as the fallout of postmodern deconstructionism of coherent beliefs.  Thus, we might add to the sins of the political class "weaponizing the Executive only to turn it over to Donald Trump" and to the sins cultural class "weaponizing identity politics only to see it picked up by White America" the sins of the academic class "treating truth as a malleable social construction only to see the sledge-hammer wielded by Breitbart and Alex Jones."

But the election did come down to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and principled conservatives could make a case for Mr Trump, crudity and all.  For instance, Victor Hanson saw it this way, to Mr Sykes's dismay.  "One does not need lectures about conservatism from Edmund Burke when, at the neighborhood school, English becomes a second language, or when one is rammed by a hit-and-run driver illegally in the United States who flees the scene of the accident."

What comes earlier in Mr Hanson's essay is more salient.
The lives and concerns of the Republican establishment in the media and government no longer resembled those of half their supporters. The Beltway establishment grew more concerned about their sinecures in government and the media than about showing urgency in stopping Obamaism. When the Voz de Aztlan and the Wall Street Journaloften share the same position on illegal immigration, or when Republicans of the Gang of Eight are as likely as their left-wing associates to disparage those who want federal immigration law enforced, the proverbial conservative masses feel they have lost their representation. How, under a supposedly obstructive, conservative-controlled House and Senate, did we reach $20 trillion in debt, institutionalize sanctuary cities, and put ourselves on track to a Navy of World War I size?
That's where the second book, Laura Ingraham's Billionaire at the Barricades: The Populist Revolution from Reagan to Trump, comes in.  Ms Ingraham might be angling for a job as director of communications in the Trump administration (although Sarah Huckabee Sanders is doing just fine without her help) but her book makes the case -- perhaps, it parallels Mr Dionne in its exploration of presidential campaigns from 1988 to the present -- that the Republican establishment Mr Dionne wanted to be more accommodating and squishy was in fact more interested in its sinecures than in the lived experience of their voters.  She even quotes somebody interesting on that score.
I've been governor of a small state for 12 years. I'll tell you how it's affected me. Every year, Congress and the President sign laws that makes us -- make us do more things and gives us less money to do it with. I see people in my state, middle-class people, their taxes have gone up in Washington and their services have gone down while the wealthy have gotten tax cuts. I have seen what's happened in this last four years when in my state, when people lose their jobs, there's a good chance I'll know them by their names. When a factory closes I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them. And I've been out here for 13 months meeting in meetings just like this ever since October with people like you all over America, people that have lost their jobs, lost their livelihood, lost their health insurance.

What I want you to understand is the national debt is not the only cause of that. It is because America has not invested in its people. It is because we have not grown. It is because we've had 12 years of trickle-down economics. We've gone from first to 12th in the world in wages. We've had four years were we've produced no private-sector jobs. Most people are working harder for less money than they were making 10 years ago. It is because we are in the grip of a failed economic theory. And this decision you're about to make better be about what kind of economic theory you want. Not just people saying I want to go fix it but what are we going to do. What I think we have to do is invest in American jobs, American education, control American health care costs and bring the American people together again.
That's Governor Bill Clinton, sounding a populist theme to the expense of President George H. W. Bush: that Bush the son and Hillary the spouse both failed to pick it up, and Hillary the candidate called the disaffected voters deplorables contributed to the populist insurgency.  Yes, and it was one Donald J. Trump who, in 1993, objected to the North American Free Trade Agreement that the various Bushes and Clintons signed off on.

Now, she argues, it is up to the populists to keep their focus. and to hold Mr Trump to his promises to keep working for the people, as opposed to the political class.

And the political class is despairing.  Consider this lament from Thomas Friedman and fellow panelists on Meet the Press this morning.
TOM FRIEDMAN:
Well, I think what's going on, Chuck, is a real crisis of authority. Something I talked about on the show once before, I quoted my friend Dov Seidman who said, "There's a big difference between formal authority and moral authority." So we have a president who has formal authority, but I would argue he has lost all of his moral authority. That is why last week he had to bring out General Kelly, a four-star Marine general, because he still had formal authority and moral authority. Unfortunately, General Kelly, by saying things that were provably false about that congresswoman, really lost, I think, a lot of his moral authority. And now we have a situation where the White House spokeswoman had to invoke his formal authority, that he was a four-star Marine general to basically shut up the press. And I think that's the tragedy here. Like, everyone has lost their moral authority. And I think that's a real crisis for the country. Because when we're in a real crisis, and we need to trust General Kelly and the president, I think something's been lost here.
CHUCK TODD:
You know, Dani, here's how Peggy Noonan sort of put it. She writes, "F.D.R., Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres. But they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti."
DANIELLE PLETKA:
Yeah, but again, I think President Bush, with all respect for the analysis about moral authority, which I think is very fair, I think that President Bush and President Obama actually don't get what the issue is. There's a crisis [facing] government. The American people, much like many people around the world, don't believe that government is in this for them.
Don't believe that they're being served. Think that they're corrupt. Think that they're dishonest. What those two gentlemen said, while we all at the table may agree with them, aren't actually going towards solving this problem.
CHUCK TODD:
But should we be concerned that their anger is based on fabrications in many ways? Like, they're angry at things that didn't happen, but they think they did because they're being fed divisive rhetoric.
DANIELLE PLETKA:
Well, you might as well say, and I might as well say, well, that's because of the fake news.
CHUCK TODD:
I understand that.
DANIELLE PLETKA:
So that's the national--
CHUCK TODD:
But it's a vicious cycle that we're in.
DANIELLE PLETKA:
But, I mean, we need to answer the crisis of faith in our leadership, not simply focus on the fact that Donald Trump is there. Lindsey Graham was absolutely right. Lindsey Graham said, "This isn't just about what one guy." He got elected. We may not like it, but he got elected. What are those folks looking for?
HELENE COOPER:
I think it's pretty hard though to talk about restoring Americans' faith in the government when you have the representatives of the government standing in front of the American people and telling demonstrably false stories. I think Tom is completely right that General Kelly lost a huge amount of credibility when he said what he did about Representative Wilson. And that just takes away, I mean, you see this White House constantly bleeding out these credibility issues.
ROBERT COSTA:
When I was at the Capitol this week, I talked to some senators on the Republican side and some House members. A lot of them echoed Senator Graham. They said privately, they're in lock step with President George W. Bush. They respect President Obama's comments. But they believe the country, in part because, they told me, about the Obama and Bush presidencies, has lost faith in the institutions, of the national political parties. And because of this rising populism and just general frustration, the leaders in Washington don't feel able to navigate this moment.But okay. Why can't you have this populism, why can't you have this anger without? Look, David Brooks wrote this, "Barbarism and vulgarity we have in profusion. Through his daily utterances, Trump is influencing the nation in powerful ways. Few would say he is spreading a contagion that we'd like our children to catch." The point is, the idea of role model and going back to your moral authority, can't the president do this, torch the establishment and at the same time, set a high bar of laws?
DANIELLE PLETKA:
I mean, there's so much elitist twaddle being sort of slapped around about all of this.
CHUCK TODD:
I understand that.
DANIELLE PLETKA:
And the answer is that Donald Trump is a reflection of something and he is who he is. For those of us who don't like it, for those of us who can't deal with it, the right answer is to figure out how to have candidates out there who aren't Roy Moore, right? And who aren't Donald Trump. And how the American people will elect them. And nobody's talking about that fact.
TOM FRIEDMAN:
You know, Chuck, the biggest industry in America today is the anger industry. Because we have technologies now, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, that allow so many people to participate in arousing, and also videos and pictures. And the whole country is just out there arousing each other through video and pictures and what not. And I worry that we're really fighting this technology. It's just so easy to get a lot of people stirred up and you don't have to be president to do it.
I couldn't watch that panel this morning without having visions of Pope Leo and his cardinals deploring those German peasants talking about redemption by faith alone.  Thomas Friedman as pope, Chuck Todd as loyal cardinal, Helene Cooper and Robert Costa managing the Index, and Daniel Pletka as Devil's Advocate.  Mr Sykes will perform the exorcisms.

But there are fissures in the Bipartisan Ruling Class, and we'll likely be having more of Kurt Schlichter.  "In one week, Trump crushed the cultural left in the Battle of the NFL, decertified Iran, pulled us out of the PLO-hugging fiasco that is UNESCO, gutted Obamacare, and dissed that simpering weasel Bob Corker. Sad? We’re freaking thrilled." Is it an accident, dear reader, that many of the people Mr Sykes thanks for their advice and comments made Salon's Approved Conservatives list?

All concerned ought understand that populism is distinct from the usual Sunday show talking points.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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