Two easy pieces

October 17, 2021 • 1:00 pm

There are two items today that I commend to your attention.

The first is Andrew Sullivan’s latest newsletter on The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot below), in particular his main piece on a new phenomenon: people confronting politicians or those whom thy oppose in private venues, and harassing them or vandalizing their property. You might remember that this started in the days running up to the Trump election, when people would accost Republican politicians in restaurants, scream at them, or, sometimes, the restaurant owner would ask them to leave.  Although some readers thought this was fine, I didn’t. People should be able to dine in restaurants in public with their families and be left in peace, whether they be Trumpites or Bernie bros. (Most of the hectoring was done by the Left, but as Sullivan notes in this week’s column, the Right is not immune.)

Both sides need to lay off disturbing people’s regular lives, for it has no salubrious result; it allows some people to blow of steam while hardening the divisions in America. And it inspires other people to go off on their enemies in public.

Click on the screenshot to read, and remember to subscribe if you read often:

The title itself shows one example of Leftist damage to the home of Oakland’s mayor. As you see, it says “defund the OPD [Oakland Police Department]”, “cancel rent!” (that would work well) and so on. That mess of paint requires serious cleaning up!  Sullivan cites a bunch of examples of similar attacks by the Left, but you can read for yourself. I’ll adduce one more: the mayor of Portland, Oregon had to move because protestors went after his condo, even breaking windows of other people’s offices and throwing burning material in them. Yelling at people is insufficient these days! No, you have to follow them into the bathroom and yell at them in their stalls when they’re trying to micturate, as happened to Kyrsten Sinema.

And attacks by the Right as well:

Although not as persistent or as widespread as the far left’s invasion of the privacy of public figures, the far right is not innocent either. LA Mayor Garcetti’s residence was targeted by anti-lockdown activists; LA County’s public health director was also targeted at home; some folks brought menacing tiki-torches to the Boise mayor’s home; in Duluth, Trump supporters organized 20 trucks to circle the mayor’s home. Over the new year, Nancy Pelosi’s private home was vandalized, graffiti written on her garage door, and a bloody pig’s head was thrown into the mix for good measure.

There are also attacks on school board members around the country, who favor teaching the concepts of critical race theory to kids, or are implementing Covid mask policies. It’s fine and good to protest; it is not fine and good to force these people and their families to live under personal siege.

Anti-mask demonstrators, for example, hounded one Brevard School Board member and mother, Jennifer Jenkins, at her Florida home, at one point coming to her doorstep and coughing in her face. She later testified that she was ok with demonstrators outside her home, but that “I object to them following my car around, I reject them saying they are coming for me and I need to beg for mercy … that they are going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors. That they’re making false DCF [child welfare agency] claims against me to my daughter. That I have to take a DCF investigator to her playdate to go underneath her clothing and check for burn marks. That’s what I’m against.”

All of this is to make the point that the personal is not political, a phrase that never made a lot of sense to me. Sullivan, like me, is opposed to this kind of stuff, and is and was also opposed to outing closeted gays. As he says, “I have long felt that way even about ‘outing’ public figures who have bad records on gay rights. Legitimize outing gays to combat homophobia and you legitimize other people outing gays in order to shame and humiliate.”

Sullivan ends like this:

What we’re losing, I fear, is the idea that we can take on a role as public citizens that is separate from our role as private human beings; that we can place limits on what the state can do to us, and what we can do to each other. As Hannah Arendt perhaps best grasped, a liberal society is almost defined by its belief that politics has limits, and that it exists to defend us from either the government or our fellow citizens leveraging private human flaws for political purposes. There are, in fact, many worse things than hypocrisy. Shamelessness, for example. The first is human; the second is sociopathic. I want to live in a world where the former prevails.

The idea that “the personal is political” is not just a glib phrase. It is actually best exemplified by totalitarian systems, which seek no limits to their authority over private matters, even those matters that are buried deep in your mind and soul, and which enroll citizens into becoming mutual spies in pursuit of heretics. I don’t want to live in that transparent, unsparing, brutalizing world. It turns us all into spies; it gives no one space to think or escape; it is devoid of mercy and gives no benefit of the doubt.

Let’s not lose the distinction between public and private. Let’s remember that everything we decide to do to violate the privacy of others comes back to legitimize others’ violation of ours. The immediate payoff may be gratifying; but what it does to a society over time, as the tit-for-tats cascade, is to remove the chance for civil debate, and enhance the power of personal hatred, and, ultimately political violence. That’s where this leads: a descent from civil argument to civil war.

That last sentence might be hyperbole, but it’s not out of the question.

Can we have a little civility around here? America is so polarized that even at the University of Chicago, when our administration refused to get rid of its police department, students camped out in the street in front of our Provost’s house for a week (an illegal act, but the police let them be for a while), and even painted a parking space for the Provost, who’s of Chinese descent.  She’s not by any means a racist, but that’s the worst thing that the Woke can call someone, and so they painted it in front of her house, helpfully in Chinese and English (I don’t even know if she reads or speaks Chinese). “CareNotCops” is the local student “progressive” group.

This is not okay:

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Second item (h/t Paul): a 28-minute interview of Bari Weiss by Brian Stelter, CNN’s lead reporter on the media.  The topic is why she, like Andrew Sullivan, Matt Taibbi, and others, have moved from “MSM” to Substack. Click on the screenshot below to go to the page with the audio interview, and then on the arrow by the header below.

As Stelter notes, Weiss now makes a lot more money on Substack than she did before she resigned from the New York Times, but I’m sure she did it for the freedom to write without censorship, not for money (she couldn’t predict that she’d get over 100,000 subscribers). She indicts the NYT for pushing a defined narrative rather than “all the news that’s fit to print.”  She wants her column, Common Sense, to be “the op-ed column I would like to read”, the place that cover stories that the MSM won’t touch.  She gives a laundry list of “the ways that the world’s gone mad”; you’ll be familiar with many of them, including MIT’s cancellation of University of Chicago professor Dorian Abbot’s invited lecture, which was completely ignored by the major media save the Wall Street Journal. (She also indicts CNN itself.)

In the end, her aim is to publish things that will affect our “fear-based society” in a good way, so that people don’t become afraid, as many are, to say what they think. Stelter pushes back at some points, and it’s a very good interview.

h/t: Paul

Andrew Sullivan on the possible downfall of Biden

October 2, 2021 • 11:00 am

Andrew Sullivan is no lover of Trump, nor, I think, are many people here. But it behooves us liberals to ensure that he doesn’t make a comeback. I think that unlikely, but others differ. One of them is Andrew Sullivan in his column this week, concentrating on the issue of immigration (click on screenshot, but subscribe if you read frequently). You can read his argument by clicking on the screenshot below.

Before we begin, let me recommend again Sullivan’s new book, Out on a Limb: Selected Writing, 1989-2021. The selections range from very short to quite long, and some of them are really great essays. His arguments for gay marriage, for instance, instrumental in moving the country towards recognizing that institution, are heartfelt and persuasive. He offers an apologia for his support of the Iraq war, trying to explain where he went wrong, and, presciently, predicted Obama’s victory well before the election. His essay “We all live on campus now” was also prescient, and there are various miscellaneous pieces like a good essay on “What’s so bad about hate?” The pieces go up to February of this year with discussions of gender issues and “the whiteness of the classics.” If you don’t like an essay, just read the next one. There’s something here for everyone. It’s also quite personal in places, as when he recounts his bout with HIV and how it changed him.

Anyway, click below to read:

The elephant in the room—the one factor that may be fatal to Biden’s reelection while energizing Trumpists, is, claims Sullivan, immigration. No liberal wants to come out explicitly favoring immigration limits (it’s been discussed very little lately, though 400,000 immigrants are predicted to pass through the southern border of the U.S. this October), as that sounds inhumane. Nevertheless, we have to take into account three issues. As Sullivan says, they’re not all Biden’s fault, for he inherited a badly broken immigration system.

a.) Volume, clearly much greater than ever before. As Sullivan says,

We are in a new era of mass migration, and the US government is demonstrating in real time that it has no idea how to control it. From January through July, well over a million undocumented migrants were intercepted at the border — Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians, Romanians, among others — and the pace is accelerating. If those intercepted in the first half of this year formed a city, it would be the tenth largest in the US.

There are some short-term factors behind this: earthquakes, natural disasters, political unrest, Covid, gang warfare, and economic stagnation. But there is also a long-term one: climate change, the impact of which on migration from the south to the north is increasingly felt across the globe. The sudden wave at the border is a 21-year high — after both the Obama and Trump administrations had kept the numbers to around a quarter of that rate most years (excluding a sudden surge in 2019).

A further — and arguably central — reason for the acceleration is a change under Biden in how the US treats these intercepted newcomers.

I think even Progressive Democrats have to admit that this volume of influx is unsustainable, but you won’t hear them mention it. In fact, one could well get the impression from both Progressive and Center-Left Democrats that they favor open borders. We want to be compassionate, but no country can deal with this level of influx. Sullivan says that the tide of immigration, much of it illegal, is one reason why Latino support for Biden is waning, especially in towns near the border.

b.) Once you’re in, legally or not, you’re pretty much in for keeps. We all know that despite the requirement for formal applications to stay in the U.S., and rulings by immigration judges, many immigrants simply vanish into the population, not showing up for their court dates and lying low.  Sullivan:

In the latest crisis, with 15,000 Haitian migrants arriving in Del Rio, around 2,500 were sent back to Haiti (where many hadn’t lived for years), and 12,500 were allowed in. That’s an 83 percent success rate.

So what, you may ask? Don’t those 12,500 have to get their asylum cases approved in order to stay permanently and legally in the US? Theoretically yes. But the wait for a court date can be several years (the average is around two and a half years) given our broken immigration infrastructure, after which it’s inhumane (as well as extremely difficult) to send people back. There’s also currently no way to force anyone to appear at the court, and 50 percent of removal orders — failed applications for asylum resulting in deportation — are issued in absentia, i.e. without the asylum-seeker showing up. The key stat: every year only around two percent of illegal immigrants are deported. You can do the math. That’s why another 60,000 Haitians are on their way.

This is why we badly need immigration reform, which of course will be sidelined for the next few months as Congress squabbles over Biden’s infrastructure and social reform bills. Don’t expect the initiative to come from the Democrats, many of whom equate immigration reform with immorality, nor from the Republicans, who have a lot to gain by doing nothing and letting people gravitate towards Trump as immigrants pour in.

c.) Many immigrants claim refugee status, but are really moving for economic advantage. To get asylum you have to be fleeing danger or persecution in your home country, and all immigrants know this. Many thus confect persecution stories to get in. It’s the savvy thing to do. Everybody in Congress knows this, but it’s ignored. Sullivan:

The other clear fact is that, by any sane definition, these are not people fleeing political or religious persecution, i.e. bona fide asylum cases. Most, including most Haitians, had already relocated to countries like Chile, but chose the US for economic reasons. And that’s great. They can apply legally, and see if they qualify. Instead, they are using the broken border, and fake claims of asylum, to jump the line.

Responding to the claim that, well, Sullivan himself is an immigrant, he notes that he went through the process legally, and it took him 18 years.

I agree with Sullivan here: the Democrats, if they’re to win the midterm elections next year and the 2024 election, would be much better positioned if they had a humane but workable immigration program.  We don’t want Trump re-elected while immigration is still broken and as he promises to build his damn wall.

Overall, Sullivan has a pretty gloomy prognostication about Biden aside from the immigration issue. You may disagree, but here’s his take:

Elsewhere in the West, mass migration has empowered the far right, and taken the UK out of the EU.

Yet in a very similar situation, when racial anxiety has already helped bring an unhinged authoritarian to power, and threatens to help him come back, the Democrats seem utterly blind to the danger. You want to take the wind out of the racist “Great Replacement” canard that appears to be gaining traction? You can huff and puff on Twitter, and feel great. Or you can get serious about border control.

The optics are also terrible — and compound a sense that the Biden administration is losing control of events. The scenes of death and mayhem in Kabul merge too easily in the mind with the squalor and disorder in Del Rio. Factor in the faltering vaccine program, and the prevaricating, incomprehensible shit-show of this Congress, and you can see how the image of a doddering incompetent in the White House is beginning to stick. And once that image imprints itself, it’s hard to escape it.

Worse: the immigration debate reflects an elite that simply cannot imagine why most normal citizens think that enforcing a country’s borders is not an exercise in white supremacist violence, but a core function of any basic government.

. . . If mass migration continues to accelerate under this administration, and Biden seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it, Tump could win that election in a romp. And deserve to.

Well, under no circumstances do I think an unhinged, authoritarian demagogue deserves to win, but what Sullivan surely means is that unless the Democrats get savvier, they’ll be hoist with their own petard.

 

Take this quiz: Which of six new political parties do you belong to?

September 9, 2021 • 9:15 am

The New York Times’s opinion section has started a new series whose purpose is outlined in the article below by

But America is not young anymore. Whereas it was once spry and excitable, it is now creaky and soft. The country that passed Prohibition and created Social Security now spends decades dithering over how large a role the government should play in health care. The country that went to the moon shrinks at the challenges presented by climate change. Its bold and expansive political imagination has atrophied.

There are, of course, reasons for this settling. As the historian Daniel Immerwahr argues in a guest essay, hard partisanship makes it difficult to create coalitions for sweeping changes. Wars, which once smashed through gridlock, no longer lead to collective action.

Not all of the big changes were completely — or even ambiguously — good. The economic boom of the industrial age was fueled by the blood and sweat of exploited workers; the country’s westward expansion came at the expense of Native Americans. But America in its youth was a country confident and unafraid to confront the future. What if it could recover that spirit of invention and restlessness, the risk-taking that formed this country? What would it change? What could it be?

This is the idea behind Snap Out of It, America!, a new series from Times Opinion. It will present not a single, cohesive vision but an array of ambitious ideas from across the ideological spectrum to revitalize and renew the American experiment.

The series will come out every Wednesday, but I’m not going to be paying a lot of attention. Click on the screenshot to read Kewku’s whole article

Now the fun part: a quiz! Yesterday, as part of this series, the Times decided to revitalize America by imagining not two but six political parties falling on a two-dimensional plot of social conservatism and economic conservatism. There’s a brief intro of the seemingly thin rationale at the screenshot below:

America’s two-party system is broken. Democrats and Republicans are locked in an increasingly destructive partisan struggle that has produced gridlock and stagnation on too many critical issues — most urgently, the pandemic and climate change.

There is no reasonable or timely way to fix this broken system. But there is an alternative: more parties.

It is not so hard to imagine a six-party system — and it would not even require a constitutional amendment.

The description of how to get to such a system is below. But first, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent (or other), in the 20-question quiz below, you can discover which new party would be the best fit for you.

Now that’s gonna work. We’ll have the Christian Conservative Party, the Patriot Party, the American Labor Party, the Growth and Opportunity Party, the New Liberal Party, and the Progressive Party.

Which one would you belong to given your social and political views. Click on the screenshot below to take the 20-question quiz. At the end it will slot you into one of the six parties and tell you a bit about it. If you want to skip the quiz and read about these imagined parties, just go here.

 

Here’s the first of 20 questions; many of them are about race:

I took the quiz twice independently several hours apart, and both times fell into the same party. (I didn’t remember my answers to the first round.)


This is a description of that party:

The New Liberal Party is the professional-class establishment wing of the Democratic Party. Members are cosmopolitan in their social and racial views but more pro-business and more likely to see the wealthy as innovators.

Its potential leaders include Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Eric Garcetti and Beto O’Rourke. Based on data from the Democracy Fund’s VOTER survey, this party would be the best fit for about 26 percent of the electorate.

I guess I can’t be unhappy with that, as I’m on the liberal side of both economics and social attitudes. Still, I don’t know what this means, what I’m supposed to do about it, or how I can use my slot to revitalize America.

Of course you’ll want to know where you fall, too, so comment below and we’ll put a quiz here showing where readers fall.

Which party were you closest to?

View Results

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h/t: Paul

Taibbi rips Obama a new one

August 15, 2021 • 12:30 pm

You won’t be able to see this article unless you subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s Substack column (some other pieces there are free), but this is certainly worth reading, as it’s the strongest attack I’ve seen by a non-Republican on Obama and his legacy. You can click on the title, but it will just take you an excerpt of his piece—granted, an excerpt worth reading. But it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Taibbi is well acquainted with the doings of Obama, for he reported on the man for Rolling Stone and has been following him closely ever since. And, unlike most of us (well, at least unlike me), he never saw Obama as a lodestar of hope, but spotted him for a grifter from nearly the outset. And this has only been confirmed by Obama’s grasping behavior since he left office.

Click below, and I’ll fill in some of the the rest.

As you probably know, Obama threw himself a fancy 60th birthday party at his mansion on Martha’s Vineyard, inviting a galaxy of stars from both the political and entertainment world.  But then he realized that there was a pandemic on, and his advisors told him to cut back the festivities. And so many people were disinvited. As Taibbi notes:

A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a maskless ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curveball. Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal. But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.

Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary deep-throat of his ex-boss. Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). An early report that Pearl Jam had been hired to perform was later refuted. Eddie Vedder would just be there, but not to play.

I have been disturbed by Obama’s efforts to rake in the cash since he became President, an increasingly accepted effort of ex-Presidents. You may argue that he’s entitled to do that, to get a $65 million advance on his book and buy a $12 million mansion on Martha’s Vineyard (the Vineyard, for chrissake!), and charge $400,000 per speech (remember when people criticized Hillary Clinton for charging half of that?). And yes, capitalism allows it all. But compare that to Jimmy Carter, who lives in a modest house, drives a modest car, and, at 96, still hammers nails in houses for Habitat for Humanity. Who do you admire more? Who has lived his principles better?

Not only that, but the people who really helped Obama govern—folks like Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and (apparently) Nancy Pelosi—were disinvited when the guest list was pared, while George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Chrissy Teigen and John Legend (for chrissakes) were still invited. That is the sign of a man who prizes star power more than his legacy.

But I don’t have a tenth of the knowledge that Taibbi has about Obama’s political machinations, so I’ll just give a few quotes.  Taibbi is particularly disturbed by Obama’s cronyism and cozying up to banks and business, but I won’t get into that. I can’t evaluate his claims, but I put them out there for you to see and judge.

Obviously, getting rich and not giving a shit anymore is the birthright of every American. But this wasn’t supposed to be in the script for Obama, whose remarkable heel turn has been obscured by the Trump years, which incidentally were at least party his fault. The history books and the still-starstruck press will let him skate on this, but they shouldn’t.

Obama was set up to be the greatest of American heroes, but proved to be a common swindler and one of the great political liars of all time — he fooled us all. Moreover, his remarkably vacuous post-presidency is proving true everything Trump said in 2016 about the grasping Washington politicians whose only motives are personal enrichment, and who’d do anything, even attend his wedding, for a buck. Trump’s point was that he, Trump, was already swinishly rich, while politicians have only one thing to sell to get the upper class status they crave: us.

Obama did that. He sold us out, and it’s time to start talking about the role he played in bringing about the hopeless cynical mess that is modern America.

One example of cronyism:

Many Democrats remember vaguely that the early Obama years were a disappointment, but the disappointment has been glazed over by a propaganda point: it wasn’t his fault. Tilting at the windmill of a corrupt Washington establishment, his talk about learning to “disagree without being disagreeable” shattered by viciously obstructionist Republicans and race-baiting Fox audiences, Obama accomplished what he could, which wasn’t much.

The reality is much more grotesque. Obama sold out the instant he moved into the White House, before the likes of Mitch McConnell even had a chance to figure in the picture.

Example: as mentioned here before, Obama as a candidate had run an ad denouncing Louisiana’s Democratic congressman Billy Tauzin for taking a $2 million job at the the drug lobby firm PhRMA right after passing a monster prescription drug handout bill. “That’s an example of the same old game-playing in Washington,” Obama said, in an ad called, Billy. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better. I want to put an end to the game-playing.”

Immediately after Obama took office — between February 4th and July 22nd of 2009, to be exact — “Billy” became a regular visitor to the White House, visiting an average of once every 15 days. Those meetings culminated in a deal struck between the Obama White House and PhRMA, in which the trade group would donate $150 million to lobby for the passage of Obamacare, and Obama in return would abandon two of his key campaign pledges (among other things): allowing Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices in bulk, and allowing citizens to import cheaper drugs from Canada. Right out of the gate, Obama’s signature bill was built atop the exact slimeball game-playing, with the exact slimeball players, he pledged to avoid.

Every politician breaks promises, but the issue with many of Obama’s long list of reversals was not failure but betrayal, in the most profound and devastating sense of the word. I was relatively a booster of Obama in 2008, but once assigned to cover the financial crisis found myself stunned at choices he made, beginning with the appalling decision to invite still-employed Citigroup officials to run his economic transition. This move led to one of the more breathtakingly corrupt deals in modern presidential history, one the press gave almost a complete pass. I heard about it from a senior Democratic Party official, a great believer in Obama who was flabbergasted by the lack of press attention and still I think hopeful on some level that the King simply didn’t know what was going on at his court.

But wait! There’s more!

I could go on about Obama’s betrayals and broken promises, which included the expansion by the gentle constitutional lawyer of both a brutal drone murder program and a vast illegal surveillance operation, the instantly violated pledge to have no registered lobbyists in the White House (Obama brought former Goldman lobbyist Mark Patterson in to serve as Deputy to Tim Geithner right after inauguration), the ignored promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the waived plan to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” and walk with union members in a picket line (he never did this), the decision to make the Bush tax cuts permanent while blowing off promises to lift the payroll tax cap above $250,000 or end the carried interest tax break, the repeated use of the Espionage Act to bully non-compliant reporters and their sources, and so on, and so on.

Just yesterday the Washington Post published an excerpt from a new book about the “baldfaced” deception of December 28, 2014, when Obama furled the green flag of coalition forces in Afghanistan to mark the supposed end of our “combat mission” there, in what he called a “milestone for our country.” This was despite the fact that the Administration never had any intention of leaving Afghanistan, and didn’t, and systematically covered up our failures there.

The approval of drone strikes and the failure to close Gitmo particularly upset me. But I kept my mouth shut.

And I want to show this:

This was before I knew that Obama would immediately start monetizing his name with a battery of $400,000-per-hour speeches to Wall Street, and also before I knew the incredible details of his May, 2016 trip to Flint, Michigan. The city had been plagued by outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease and lead poisoning, with children sickened with neurological and behavioral problems, after years of drinking and bathing in poisoned water in as pure an example of sociopathic negligence as we’ve seen in American governance. Flint was true Evremonde politics, the kind of gross mistreatment that inspires revolutions, leaving people with nothing but rage for their injured children.

When Obama came to town, residents of the predominantly black city expected him to ride to the rescue by declaring a federal disaster and sending in FEMA for a cleanup. Instead, he told a story about how he was sure he ate lead paint as a kid (and turned out fine!), then took a micro-sip of Flint water, as if to show how safe it was. When the assembled gasped in horror, he chuckled with annoyance, “This is a feisty crowd tonight!” After, he held a quick presser where he repeated the sipping trick and zipped back to Air Force One in his limo. The scene is as close to pure political evil as you’ll ever see on stage”.

You be the judge about whether this is evil. It’s sure not good “optics”! It does seem slimy. And yes, it is a stunt:

And Taibbi’s ending:

. . . Obama has been ostentatious in his near-total disinterest in the country he left behind, showing almost no public leadership in five of the most difficult years of its history, holstering his legendary communications skills during years of spiraling acrimony and division.

Worse, Obama has now displaced the Clintons as the ultimate example of the modern political profiteer. We now automatically assume Senators and presidents will spend their retirements pursuing every conceivable moneymaking opportunity while living lives of hoggish exclusivity. No more Jimmy Carters living in $167,000 homes, driving 1983 Mercury Capris and volunteering to build houses in between negotiating African peace treaties. The White House is now first and foremost a seat of financial power, its occupant by design an apprentice member of the 1%, who’s expected to accept full entrance into the wealth archipelago upon exit.

Trump won in 2016 because America preferred someone who was already a pig to someone merely on the way to being one. The country didn’t reach that level of cynicism on its own. Disillusionment has a cost, and Barack Obama transforming from symbol of hope and possibility to whatever he is now — to a shallow, conceited, Fat Elvis version of a neoliberal washout — has been a hell of a blow, whether America’s ready to admit it or not.

Now these are Taibbi’s views, not mine, but I have to say that the monetization of Obama’s post-Presidency has irked me a great deal. Every time I walk past his house in Kenwood, which is on my regular walking route, I think about how we all expected him to move back to Chicago, but now he lounges in a mansion on Martha’s Vineyard and schmoozes with movie stars.

_________________

You may also want to read this takedown of Birthdaygate by Maureen Dowd in the NYT, a piece I highlighted yesterday. Click on the screenshot:

h/t: cesar

Cuomo resigns as New York governor

August 10, 2021 • 12:51 pm

That didn’t take long. As of this afternoon, facing both impeachment and possible criminal charges for sexual harassment (11 women came forward), Andrew Cuomo resigned as governor of New York State.  Granted, he never had a day in court, or an impeachment hearing, but there was a damning 165-page report that Cuomo himself requested. And the most important issue, as he notes below, is one of keeping the state going on, especially during the pandemic—not defending himself ad infinitum. He did the right thing, and will resign in 14 days. His successor will be Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, another Democrat, who will be the first woman governor of New York.

I’m wondering if anyone thinks there’s been a rush to judgment. The report itself was pretty damning, and if criminal charges are brought, he will have his day in court. In my view, this is a satisfactory outcome, and the necessary one.

Andrew Sullivan recommends going easy on China and letting them have Taiwan, all to reduce global warming

July 24, 2021 • 11:00 am

When I visited Tibet some years ago, it was painfully evident that China was trying to wipe out native Tibetan culture, replacing Tibetans with the dominant group, Han Chinese. Pictures of the Dalai Lama were outlawed, and Buddhism itself was being suppressed: monasteries closing, Han stores moving in, and so on.

The same thing, but on a larger and more brutal scale, is going on with another religious minority in China: the Uyghurs—a Muslim ethnic group living largely in the big province of Xinjiang. The Chinese are eliminating them in every way possible, including putting them in “reeducation camps” where they’re brainwashed out of their Islam and turned into Han Chinese. Although reports from these camps are hard to come by, they’re dire, with forced labor, punishments, brutality, and, as described in the second video below, torture. There are 6 million Uyghurs, and it’s estimated that a million of them—one in six—are living in the camps.

The Chinese are also imposing strict surveillance on Uyghurs, monitoring their phones with special apps, ensuring that they don’t own “dangerous” books like the Qur’an, tripling the security budget, and installing cameras everywhere that are programmed to identify faces. While there are no mass killings reported, this is in effect a cultural genocide, one described in the two videos below.

The first is from The Economist, and the second from Al Jazeera. The content is somewhat overlapping, but it’s well worth the 18 minutes of time to watch both of them. See what happens when a dictatorship decides to get rid of a minority that won’t be “assimilated” into the Han culture. Both Trump’s and Biden’s Secretaries of State have called this a “genocide.”

China, of course, denies nearly all of it: it’s all in the interest of peace and security, and the camps are there to provide Uyghurs with “job skills.” (Note that the Rohingya, another Muslim minority, are persecuted by Myanmar as well, but nothing near on the scale of China’s repression.)

 

So what can the U.S. do about this. We couldn’t do much about Tibet, though India has provided a refuge for the Dalai Lama, and we can’t do much about the Uyghurs, either.  Our impotence on this issue is the major topic of Andrew Sullivan’s new column in The Weekly Dish (click on screenshot to read; it should be free):

In view of China’s dictatorial system and genocidal intentions, what can we do? Sadly, Sullivan, at the expense of his own conscience, suggests that we practice Realpolitik: pragmatism. He does recognize China for what it is:

And what China truly is helps defuse some of the hysteria that demonizes America: China, not America, is a built on a racist (Han) supremacy. As Jonah Goldberg notes, China is far, far worse on “free speech, democracy, police abuse, racism, reproductive freedom, corporate greed, colonialism, and corruption.” What China does to the Tibetans and Uyghurs makes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians (while lamentable) seem minor. Where is the BDS for China, one wonders?

Good question! What China is doing to the Uyghurs really is creating a genuine apartheid system, but of course Israel and not China is the Country of Demons.

And then Sullivan says things that disturb me, including writing off the vigorous country of Taiwan (Sullivan seems to think that a Chinese takeover is imminent) and ignoring what’s going on in Tibet. He has bigger fish to fry.

And no, Taiwan is not a vital US interest, and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Nor is there any conceivable way the American public would support a global war to defend an island on the other side of the world — a war which essentially every Pentagon war-game predicts we’d lose. We should, it seems to me, maintain a certain ambiguity about Taiwan, and stress to the Chinese the huge international blowback if it were to be the aggressor in such a conflict.

So Sullivan’s “solutions” involve, à la Gwynnie, conscious economic decoupling, calling attention to the Chinese use of forced or slave labor, asking us to boycott goods made with such labor (which may include products by the likes of Nike and Apple), and asking us to “shame them.” That’s right: shame both those companies and China:

We cannot prevent major US companies from becoming enmeshed with a totalitarian country; but we can shame them when they re-write their film scripts, or when they manufacture their products with slave labor, or when they distract from their enabling of real oppression with woke takes on “oppression” in America, or when they kowtow to China’s language police. It should be possible for there to be a revulsion at China’s model on both right and left in America. And Biden’s framing of our rivalry as one between a free society and a totalitarian one is a contrast that can also win converts abroad if we do not overplay our hand.

That will work in the U.S, since we have more of a moral backbone, but it will do jack for our relationship with China. None of Sullivan’s recommendations will do accomplish much except keeping U.S. companies from exploiting workers in other countries. As for making China our friend, fuggedaboutit. It’s like expecting the renaming of birds to have a serious effect on reducing racism.

Why is Sullivan so pessimistic? Well, by and large he’s right: China is a big and powerful country full of smart people, and its leadership is canny and has a plan. We’re just a minor impediment in their plan. But, it seems, the main reason Sullivan wants us to coddle China is—wait for it—we need their help to reduce global warming:

Unlike with the Soviets, we also have a global emergency we need China’s cooperation and help with: climate change. There is no longer any hiding of the fact that we are facing a global catastrophe, made much, much worse by China’s coal plants and breakneck growth. Without their signing off on drastic carbon reduction, we are all fucked. Similarly with one result of that climate change: a world which will likely endure ever more viral outbreaks of unknowable power, released as the ground thaws, species move, and temperatures gyrate. You can see the Covid disaster — and China’s key role in creating it — as a reason to cut them off, and isolate them. I understand that. But, given their technological capacities, how does this actually help us stymie the next plague?

Yes, we are facing a global catastrophe, and the savvy now admit it. And China has to pitch in if we’re to conquer it. But seriously, does Sullivan really think that if we go easy on China, and let them persecute the Uyghurs without protest and then hand Taiwan to them, they’ll be so well disposed toward America that they’ll take serious steps to reduce carbon emissions?  If you believe that, I have some land in Florida to sell you.

I’d like to hope that Sullivan is right. But I just can’t see it.

Are we playing into the hands of the Right by criticizing the excesses of the Left?

June 29, 2021 • 11:15 am

A poll: Will wokeism hurt the Democrats in the midterms and in 2024?

June 11, 2021 • 12:20 pm

We haven’t had a poll in a while, and of course polls on this site aren’t scientific, because readers are hardly a cross section of America. But they are a cross section of readers—unless, of course, those prone to give answers have some biases. Actually, I do this for myself, just to see how readers feel.

This poll was inspired by an article sent by reader Barry and posted by Ben Cohen on his Substack site, The Banter. You’ll have to subscribe to read it (click below), but some of Cohen’s posts are free, so subscribe if you like them.

 

Cohen was inspired by this recent article in the NYT showing that “the party is at risk of losing ground with Black, Hispanic and Asian American voters unless it does a better job presenting an economic agenda and countering Republican efforts to spread misinformation and tie all Democratic candidates to the far left.” (You can read the original report by three groups here.)

But how can a party at war with itself, like the Democrats are now, “rebut Republican misinformation”? Every squabble between the center and “progressive” Left (I have to find a new adjective there) weakens party unanimity and causes Republicans on the sidelines to chuckle.

It turns out that, as many of us knew, identity politics and Wokeism are largely endeavors of white people on the progressive Left. Issues like “defunding the police” or drastically opening up the border don’t go down so well with voters of color, who are concerned largely with economic issues (who isn’t?)  Here are two quotes from Cohen’s piece:

The major issue with the identity politics movement is not necessarily the ideology itself. If you ignore the more militant aspects of it, there are many necessary, noble and good ideas embedded in it. From understanding structural racism to the complex issues faced by the LGBTQ community, identity politics can offer an interesting lens through which to examine them. The biggest problem though, is the right’s ability to magnify the extremist elements of the movement and unfairly tie the Democratic Party to it.

I don’t spend a huge amount of time talking about the identity politics left because it isn’t a dangerous movement like the far right is, and although influential, it is still relatively small. But if you follow the right wing media, you would be forgiven for thinking that Black Lives Matter was an offshoot of Al Qaeda, and Nancy Pelosi was ordering militant lesbian doctors to abort the fetuses of good Christian women around the country. The more mainstream identity politics gets, the more Republicans are able to use it as a rallying cry for their bigoted policies and distract voters from the good the Democrats are doing in office. Furthermore, it is helping Republican efforts to drive more conservative minorities away from the Democrats.

Cohen adds that of course the Democrats’ biggest problem isn’t the Woke among us, but Trumpism, which—despite my efforts to ignore it—appears to be waiting nearby in the wings, and still dominates the GOP. But the ruling political party tends to lose in the midterms, and our Democratic margin is already damn thin.

When Biden won, I worried that his administration would be too woke, and that that position would hurt the Dems down the line. It turns out that Biden isn’t that woke, and has been doing some pretty good stuff, but he’s always being pressured by the progressive  Authoritarian Left, and I wonder about his ability to withstand that pressure. (Pelosi’s presence helps.) We don’t want to lose the House and—Ceiling Cat forbid—the Senate in next year’s midterms.

Do you think the wokeness of the “progressive” wing of Democrats might turn the tide for the GOP? I have no definite opinion, but I worry.  So give your answer to the poll below and your explanation in the comments, please.

And yes, I know that Trump is a bigger danger than, say, “the squad,” so I needn’t be apprised of that.

Will the wokeism of the "progressive Democrats", or wokeism in general, hurt the Democrats in 2022 or 2024?

View Results

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Sullivan on Orwell on Language

June 5, 2021 • 11:00 am

George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” is one of my favorite essays of all time (you could do worse, though, than read all his collected essays, many of them masterpieces). It not only teaches one how to write clearly, but shows how political writers deliberately use obfuscation and euphemism to blur language for ideological ends, hiding political brutality and base motives. You can read it here, and should, like me, do so at least once a year. It will improve your prose. There’s a reason why Christopher Hitchens wrote a book called Why Orwell Matters in 2003.

Andrew Sullivan is also a fan of that essay, as all writers should be, and highlights it in one section of his weekly column (click on screenshot below). But he gives it a modern twist, showing how the kind of obscurantist writing decried by Orwell is still with us—pervasive in the works of the Woke.

Reviving Orwell’s thoughts in light of modern politics was a great idea. He’d have a few harsh words to say about the woke!

First, though, let’s look at the five principles of good writing Orwell lists at the end of his essay:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Then Sullivan gives several abstracts of Woke writing that violate many of these guidelines. I won’t reproduce his critique at length (it’s pretty funny in parts), nor mention the other people who violate these principles (e.g., the group Sullivan calls the “alphabet people” obsessed with gender nouns).

Here’s one example of bad modern writing discussed by Sullivan:

I was just reading about the panic that occurred in the American Medical Association, when their journal’s deputy editor argued on a podcast that socio-economic factors were more significant in poor outcomes for non-whites than “structural racism.” As you might imagine, any kind of questioning of this orthodoxy required the defenestration of the deputy editor and the resignation of the editor-in-chief. The episode was withdrawn from public viewing, and the top editor replaced it with a Maoist apology/confession before he accepted his own fate.

But I was most struck by the statement put out in response by a group called “The Institute for Antiracism in Medicine.” Here it is:

The podcast and associated promotional message are extremely problematic for minoritized members of our medical community. Racism was created with intention and must therefore be undone with intention. Structural racism has deeply permeated the field of medicine and must be actively dissolved through proper antiracist education and purposeful equitable policy creation. The delivery of messages suggesting that racism is non-existent and therefore non-problematic within the medical field is harmful to both our underrepresented minoritized physicians and the marginalized communities served in this country.

Consider the language for a moment. I don’t want to single out this group — they are merely representative of countless others, all engaged in the recitation of certain doctrines, and I just want an example. But I do want to say that this paragraph is effectively dead, drained of almost any meaning, nailed to the perch of pious pabulum. It is prose, in Orwell’s words, that “consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.”

It is chock-full of long, compounded nouns and adjectives, riddled with the passive voice, lurching and leaning, like a passenger walking the aisle on a moving train, on pre-packaged phrases to keep itself going.

Notice the unnecessary longevity: a tweet becomes an “associated promotional message.” Notice the deadness of the neologisms: “minoritized”, “marginalized”, “non-problematic”. As Orwell noted: “the normal way of coining a new word is to use a Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the -ize formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalizeimpermissibleextramaritalnon-fragmentatory and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning.” Go back and see if you can put the words “minoritized” or “non-problematic” into everyday English.

His second target is Ibram X. Kendi, who also comes in for it in Sullivan’s “Dissents of the Week” section for proposing a Department of Racism that could vet and reject any U.S. law on the grounds that it creates inequity. But you can read that for yourself. Here’s his critique of Kendi’s language:

I caught a glimpse of Ibram X. Kendi’s recent appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the annual woke, oxygen-deprived hajj for the left-media elites. He was asked to define racism — something you’d think he’d have thought a bit about. This was his response: “Racism is a collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity that are substantiated by racist ideas.” He does this a lot. He repeats Yoda-stye formulae: “There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy … If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” These maxims pepper his tomes like deep thoughts in a self-help book. When he proposes specific action to counter racism, for example, he suggests: “Deploy antiracist power to compel or drive from power the unsympathetic racist policymakers in order to institute the antiracist policy.” “Always vote for the leftist” is a bit blunter.

Orwell had Kendi’s number: “The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.” And that conformity is proven by the gawking, moneyed, largely white, Atlantic subscribers hanging on every one of this lightweight’s meaningless words — as if they really were in church.

You can tell from Sullivan’s snide remarks about the Aspen Ideas Festival—which I once attended—and about Atlantic subscribers that he’s pretty ticked off, and in good form.

So what do we do about this abuse of the English language? Sullivan recommends, correctly, that we call it out and ask for clarification:

And that is the only recourse an average citizen has when buried by this avalanche of abstraction: ask the language-launderers what they are really talking about. When some doofus apologizes for the “terrible pain” they have caused to the whatever community, ask them to give a specific example of that “pain.” When someone says “structural racism,” ask: what actual “structures” are you referring to? How do they actually work? Give concrete examples.

When someone calls American society “white supremacy”, ask them how you could show that America is not a form of “white supremacy”. When someone uses the word “Latinx”, ask them which country does that refer to. When someone says something is “problematic”, ask them to whom? When you’re told you’re meeting with members of the BIPOC or AANHPI communities, ask them first to translate and then why this is in any way relevant, and why every single member of those communities are expected to have the same opinion. And when you’re told that today is IDAHOBIT Day, ask them if you can speak to Frodo.

The term “structural racism” is my personal bugaboo, as it’s become a synonym for just “racism”, with the “structural” tacked on to add gravitas and a supposed intensity of malfeasance. But “structural” racism is racism built into some institution or structure, like laws or rules, not simple acts of bigotry. As for “pain,” well, I accept very few of these claims as accurate. “Pain” has become another word for “offense” or even “manufactured offense.”

But I will stop here lest I begin ranting, for Sullivan’s rant is enough. Read it.

Thomas Edsall on toxic wokeness and how it hurts the Left

May 27, 2021 • 10:30 am

As far as I can determine, New York Times political columnist Thomas Edsall is a classical centrist liberal. Nevertheless, like many of us, he’s worried that wokeness among Democrats, rife in the misnamed “progressive” wing of the Party, could spell disaster in our attempts to court centrist Americans. This is the subject of his weekly column in the Times (click on the screenshot to read):

First, some statistics showing where Americans sit on several issues that are “big” for progressives (all quotes are from Edsall unless indicated otherwise):

  • In 2019, the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group commissioned a survey asking for agreement or disagreement with the statement: “There are only two genders, male and female.”

    In the full sample, a decisive majority, 59 percent agreed, including 43 percent who “strongly agreed,” 32 percent disagreed and 9 percent who said they weren’t sure. Among Republicans, it was no contest, 78 percent agreed and 16 percent disagreed. Independents mirrored the whole sample.

    Democrats were split: a plurality, 48 percent, disagreed, and 44 percent agreed.

  • An August-September 2017 Pew Research survey asked respondents to choose between two statements: “whether a person is a man or a woman is determined at birth” and “whether a person is a man or a woman can be different from the sex at birth.”

    A 54 percent majority of all those surveyed said sex “is determined at birth” and 44 percent said it “can be different from the sex at birth.” Republican voters and those who lean Republican chose “at birth” 80 to 19. Democratic voters and those who lean Democratic said sex can be different from the sex at birth 64 to 34.

  • Or take the public’s view of the “defund the police” movement that gained momentum after the murder of George Floyd a year ago.

    March 1-2 USA Today/Ipsos Poll found that voters were opposed to defunding the police 58-18, with the strongest opposition among whites (67 percent to 13 percent support, the rest undecided) and Republicans (84 to 4 percent), while a plurality of Democrats were opposed (at 39 to 34), which was also true among African Americans (37 to 28).

  • These surveys are complemented by others that measure the fear that our public dialogue is too constricted. A Harvard/Harris survey in February asked, “Do you think there is a growing cancel culture that is a threat to our freedom or not?” By 64-36, a majority of voters said they thought there was. Republicans see a threat by 80-20; independents by 64-34, but Democrats were split, with a slight majority, 52-48, saying they do not see a threat. This basic pattern is observable across a number of issues.Although centrist Democrats make up a majority of the party in the polls I cited above, the fact that a substantial minority of Democrats takes the more extreme stance allows Republicans to portray the Democratic Party as very much in thrall to its more “radical” wing.

Now of course some of the “wokeness” is in a good cause. Transgender people need to be not just respected, but given, as far as possible, full equal rights under the law. Police violence, racist or not, needs a closer inspection. And more people than ever are living in fear that what they say publicly could lead to their eternal damnation (pushback is of course useful and legal, but things have gone way too far).

Before I show some of the statements collected by Edsall to support his thesis, here’s one in support of wokeness that deserves consideration:

Elizabeth Rose, a law student, argued, for example, in “In Defense of Cancel Culture” last year that “for all the condemnations on cancel culture as an un-American speech suppressing monster, I would argue that cancel culture is incredibly American.”

Cancel culture, she continued,

is essentially a boycott. It’s refusing to participate or support those that promote racist, homophobic, sexist, transphobic, or otherwise ignorant behavior. Protest is at the heart of this country and it shouldn’t be limited in the name of making already powerful people feel safer to spew ideas that are not tolerable in today’s society. Because exposure by millions is so easy now with social media, celebrities, rich, powerful, connected, and beautiful, can no longer get away with disrespecting human dignity. They are not being held to a higher standard for being a public figure, they are being held to the bare minimum.

The problem is not that one should not push back against statements you consider injurious or bigoted. The problem is twofold. First, the pushback is not just counter-speech, but an attempt to ruin the lives of those who say things you don’t like. It is, in other words, a lack of empathy and civility—the assumption.  More important, much of the wokeness that irritates people like me—and probably many centrists—is that it is performative: it doesn’t aim to improve social problems but, apparently, to highlight the virtue of the critic. This includes things like the demonstrations against “Kimono Wednesdays” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the attack on a professor who used a Japanese phrase that sounded like the “n word” but was a common Chinese filler sound, the overreaction to supposed racial slights that weren’t really racial, like the one at Smith College, the demonization of “whiteness” that’s an essential part of much anti-racist training (training that’s proved to be largely ineffective), and (a non-performative example) the dismantling of standardized testing on the grounds that it reveals gaps between racial groups. If these things strike me as overreactions, and often risible, then they will strike people more centrist than I as even more ridiculous.

Note, too, that the Right engages in much of this bad behavior, as Nadine Strossen points out:

Nadine Strossen, professor emerita at New York Law School and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote by email that she considers herself

a “bleeding-heart liberal” but even more important to me are the classic liberal values that are under siege from all sectors of the political spectrum, left to right, including: freedom of speech, thought and association; academic freedom; due process; and personal privacy.

As I always emphasize, the behavior of the Right is nearly always way more odious than that of the Left, but my interest is keeping Democrats in power, and to do that, as Edsall’s quotes attest, we need to dial down the more ludicrous forms of wokeness. Do you want Republicans to recapture the House and Senate in 2022?

More from Edsall:

In an article in March, “Why Attacking ‘Cancel Culture’ And ‘Woke’ People Is Becoming the G.O.P.’s New Political Strategy,” Perry Bacon Jr., formerly a senior writer at FiveThirtyEight and now a Washington Post columnist, described the ways that policies the Democratic left argued for provided political opportunities to the Republican Party:

First and perhaps most important, focusing on cancel culture and woke people is a fairly easy strategy for the G.O.P. to execute, because in many ways it’s just a repackaging of the party’s long-standing backlash approach. For decades, Republicans have used somewhat vague terms (“dog whistles”) to tap into and foment resentment against traditionally marginalized groups like Black Americans who are pushing for more rights and freedoms. This resentment is then used to woo voters (mostly white) wary of cultural, demographic and racial change.

Among the reasons Republicans will continue to adopt an “anti-woke posture,” Bacon writes, is that it

gives conservative activists and Republican officials a way to excuse extreme behavior in the past and potentially rationalize such behavior in the future. Republicans are trying to recast the removal of Trump’s accounts from Facebook and Twitter as a narrative of liberal tech companies silencing a prominent conservative, instead of those platforms punishing Trump for using them to “incite violence and encourage overturning the election results.”

Insofar as Republicans suppress Democratic votes, Bacon continued,

or try to overturn election results in future elections, as seems entirely possible, the party is likely to justify that behavior in part by suggesting the Democrats are just too extreme and woke to be allowed to control the government. The argument would be that Democrats would eliminate police departments and allow crime to surge if they have more power, so they must be stopped at all costs. Polls suggest a huge bloc of G.O.P. voters is already open to such apocalyptic rhetoric.

We’ve already discussed James Carville’s outspoken criticism of Wokeness in an interview at The Atlantic, but here are three other critics. First, Jon Haidt:

Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at N.Y.U., argued in an email that the policies the Democratic Party’s left wing is pushing are an anchor weighing down the party’s prospects:

Wokeness is kryptonite for the Democrats. Most people hate it, other than the progressive activists. If you just look at Americans’ policy preferences, Dems should be winning big majorities. But we have strong negative partisanship, and when people are faced with a party that seems to want to defund the police and rename schools, rather than open them, all while crime is rising and kids’ welfare is falling, the left flank of the party is just so easy for Republicans to run against.

And then Jonathan Rauch discusses why those opposed to more extreme wokeness don’t criticize it publicly. I think his reasons are quite good:

I asked Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at Brookings and the author of the new book “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth,” about the lack of pushback, and he suggested a series of factors. [JAC: I’ve put in bold the ones I consider most important.]

  • “The younger generation (wrongly) perceives free speech as hazardous to minority rights.”

  • “The purist side has had more passion, focus and organization than the pluralist side.”

  • “Universities are consumeristic these days and very image-conscious, and so they have trouble withstanding pressure from their ‘customers,’ e.g., activist students.”

  • “The use of social pressure to manipulate opinion is a powerful and sophisticated form of information warfare. Anyone can be dogpiled in minutes for any reason, or no reason.”

  • “Activists have figured out that they can have disproportionate influence by claiming to be physically endangered and psychologically traumatized by speech that offends them.”

And Randall Kennedy (an African American):

Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard and the author of the forthcoming book “Say It Loud! On Race, Law, History and Culture,” cited in an email a similar set “of reasons for the deficient response to threats against freedom of thought, expression and learning emanating from the left.”

His list:

“Woke” folk making wrongful demands march under the banner of “EQUALITY” which is a powerful and attractive emblem, especially in this George Floyd/Covid-19 moment when the scandalous inequities of our society are so heartbreakingly evident. On the campuses, many of the most vocal woke folk are students whom teachers and administrators want to mollify, comfort and impress. Many teachers and administrators seek desperately to be liked by students.

At the same time, Kennedy continued, many of the people demanding the diminution of what he sees as essential freedoms have learned how to package their insistence in effective ways. They have learned, Kennedy wrote, to deploy skillfully the language of “hurt” — as in “I don’t care what the speaker’s intentions were, what the speaker said has hurt my feelings and ought therefore to be prohibited.”

Because of this, Kennedy argued,

Authorities, particularly those at educational institutions, need to become much more skeptical and tough-minded when encountering the language of “hurt.” Otherwise, they will continue to offer incentives to those who deploy the specters of bigotry, privilege and trauma to further diminish vital academic, intellectual and aesthetic freedoms.

I would particularly emphasize the recurrent claims of “harm” or “danger”, claims that I often reject completely. Few of these clams involve actual harm; instead, nearly all involve having to encounter ideas you don’t like. And that is part of not just college education, but growing up in general. To call it “harm,” “danger,” or “injury” is ludicrous.

What’s the cure? Well, it’s to appeal to those who are open minded, and that excludes most Republicans. One of the few sensible courses of action I’ve seen is suggested by Diane Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont McKenna College and former president of the American Psychological Association. (It would require a psychologist rather than a politician to make sensible suggestions, wouldn’t it?)

[Halpern] wrote in an email:

All social movements are a series of actions and reactions. For example, we can all agree that charges of sexual assault should be fair to all parties involved. But how does “fairness” get operationalized. The swing from policies that seem to favor the person being accused, then the reverse, then back again, and so on is mirrored in many other topics where people disagree. Action in one direction is followed by reaction in the other direction.

The difficulty, Halpern continued,

is to get people to find what they can agree upon and continue from that point. For example, most people will agree that they want humane treatment of migrants who are fleeing almost certain death in their home country, and we can agree that the United States cannot admit everyone who wants to live here. If conversations began with a shared set of goals, there will still be strong disagreements, but the tone will reduce some of the hostility both sides feel toward each other.

But, as Edsall notes, given the huge ideological gap between Republicans and Democrats, even this tactic may be futile. My suggestion would be the same one I give atheists who are sick of theocracy in America but don’t know what to do: “Speak up! There are many who feel like you, but are afraid to open their mouths. The more of us who express our feelings, regardless of how we’re demonized, the more the silent majority will stop being silent.”

This is one reason, I think, that religiosity has decreased so strongly in the last two decades, for that’s when people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens started writing anti-theist books, empowering others to take up the cause. Now we need a similar spate of anti-Woke books, and by those on the Left. John McWhorter’s will be one of the first, though there are others by more conservative writers like Douglas Murray. Books like that one have good stuff in them, but are ignored by the Left simply because of the authors’ political leanings.

h/t: Greg Mayer