Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


Martin Longman amazingly favorably discusses Ross Douthat's latest column.  Amazingly, because Douthat is usually so flamboyantly wrong.  Notably, Douthat was wrong about Trump taking over the GOP.  His latest conclusion is interesting, as we have seen it in other forms from other voices of the Center Right (to the degree such a thing exists anymore).

Basically, liberal created Trump by being all...liberal.  Some of this I am sympathetic towards.  For instance, I'm not a fan of speech codes or safe zones (beyond personal space) or trigger warnings.  I don't think there are a ton of those, but I'm also not on college campuses.  And I also acknowledge that taking certain words and putting them beyond the Pale has a cognitive effect on people.  If you can't say the N-Word, you are less likely to believe in the logic that creates that word.

There is also no doubt that the ascendancy of cultural liberalism is very much at the root of Trump's appeal to "make America great again."  Multi-cultural, multi-racial, sexually tolerant culture threatens the hell out of older, whiter and more rural Americans.  The economic anxiety is there.  And Longman has recently been beating the drum about the complete discrediting of elites.  But so much of Trump's appeal is cultural.  He has no policies, he has no experience: he has only cultural grievance.

And Douthat notes that the last time this happened, it created the cultural backlash that gave us Nixon and Reagan.

Arthur Schlesinger argued that American history happens in cycles of reform.  Three steps forward, two steps back.  The pendulum swings towards reform and "liberals" and then back towards conservatism, even reactionary politics.  The Reconstruction becomes the Gilded Age; Progressivism becomes the Roaring Twenties; the New Deal becomes the placid '50s; the Sixties gives us Reagan.

That is true, as far as it goes.  But even during these periods of retrenchment - Douthat references Crane Brinton's term Thermidor - progress continues.  Of course, what makes Trump different from Reagan is that Trump threatens many of our democratic institutions.

At some point, ascendant cultural liberalism could create the necessary backlash to overcome the demographic changes that are swamping the GOP.  Younger people are simply more tolerant than any comparable cohort.  Many that came of age in the '70s came to revile cultural liberalism and those Boomers became the Reagan Democrats.  As they pass from this earth, that will have an effect on our politics that could cement certain culturally liberal ideas.

If anything, the threat to the Center Left seems more likely to come from the Populist Far Left as from the Populist Far Right.  Though in the end they are pretty close together, when you think about it.

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