Saturday, November 21, 2020

Following The President Wherever He Goes

My most recent Twilight Patriot entry has earned a rather unusual distinction. If you go to Google and type (with quotation marks) “A cowardly moron could have wrote this article,” complete with the bad grammar, then you will get exactly one result: Intellectual Conservative’s copy of my post from the week after the election.

Obviously, the quotation isn’t from the text of the article – it’s from the top-rated comment in the comments section. And how did I go about convincing my audience that I was a “cowardly moron?” Why, by saying that Joe Biden had won the election, and that Donald Trump was making a fool of himself by insisting otherwise.

Notice that I did not say the election was free of fraud. (There has never been an election that was completely free of fraud). What I said was that Biden’s margins are big enough that for Trump to change the outcome by proving in court that a sufficient number of Democratic votes are fraudulent – and to do that in at least three states – is not realistically possible. Conclusion: Joe Biden is going to be the next President.

But for a certain faction of the American Right, saying this out loud makes me a “cowardly moron.” Perhaps these are the same people who are threatening to boycott Georgia’s upcoming double senate election in order to punish the GOP for stabbing Trump in the back? (FYI, the outcome of those races is going to decide whether Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell will be the man who decides how much of the Biden agenda gets through Congress.)

But for too many people on the Right, politics isn’t about making a level-headed appraisal of reality, and then deciding how to act on it. Rather, their modus operandi is to borrow that line from the New Testament about how the elect will “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth,” but with the populist leader du jour taking the place of Jesus.

This attitude is downright cultish, and as long as the Republican Party falls for it, Democrats and skeptical moderates alike will have every right to say that Republicans are blowing smoke whenever they claim to be the party of individual liberty and checks and balances and full-grown men and women who can think their own thoughts.

Nothing good can come from the Republicans’ refusal to be realistic about the role that the President is supposed to have in our system of government. He is not America’s CEO. He was not chosen to ‘run the country,’ or even to run his own party. He is one elected official among many. If he tries to lead his party on a flight from reality, then that party’s other elected officials ought to have the courage to say no.

Except that they don’t. When George Bush Jr. said that Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons and that invading and occupying Iraq would be a step on the way toward filling the Middle East with flourishing liberal democracies, only one Republican Senator and six Representatives had the courage to say no to his war. Meanwhile most Republicans, especially in the media, kept on defending Bush’s alternate reality years after events had stubbornly refused to accommodate themselves to the narrative.

This wasn’t even the first flight from reality on which Bush had led his party. Back in 2001, he and John Boehner crafted the No Child Left Behind Act on the premise that an elaborate system of federal bureaucratic controls would fix America’s school system – basically, he decided to start peddling an idea that was the exact, reverse opposite of the ideas on which small-government conservatives always run for office.

And the Republicans fell for it! Only 39 out of 263 congressional Republicans had the courage to vote against No Child Left Behind. The consequence was that Bush got to have, as his signature domestic policy enactment, an orgy of government overreach so dysfunctional that Barack Obama, of all people, ended up waiving most of its requirements.

Now let’s go back in time a little further, to when the elder President Bush said that David Souter, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, would be a great conservative judge. Bush had no real reason for believing this, because, in order to avoid a confirmation fight a la Robert Bork, he had intentionally picked a nominee with no record from which anyone might guess at his judicial philosophy.

But even though a lot of Republicans had doubts about Souter’s ideology, none of them had the courage to say no to a Republican President. The result was the near-unanimous confirmation of a leftist Supreme Court justice.

Ronald Reagan did pretty-much the same thing with Sandra Day O’Connor. Actually, what Reagan did was quite a bit worse, because (1) his party had a majority in the Senate at the time, and he could have gotten anybody confirmed, and (2) unlike Souter, whose record was a complete blank, O’Connor had a history of supporting leftist causes, which Reagan had to strain to overlook. The grousing from people like Phyllis Schlafly and Jesse Helms is evidence that movement conservatives knew that they were dealing with a slippery nominee. But at the end of the day, every Senator proved willing to follow Reagan into his fantasy land, and O’Connor was confirmed unanimously.

And this isn’t just a matter of playing follow-the-leader with the President. For far too long, the American Right has embraced an ethos in which loyalty consists of adhering to the narrative even when the narrative doesn’t adhere to the facts. You can see it in the rose-colored glasses through which Republicans view their Presidents; you can also see it in the way that so many otherwise intelligent Republicans are all-in for young-eartherism and climate change denial. Why? Because when holding an irrational belief becomes a marker of tribal affiliation, beliefs stop being checked to see if they fit the evidence.

And then it becomes way too easy to believe ridiculous things – for example, that it is a good idea to refuse to vote in the Georgia Senate runoffs in order to “punish” the GOP for its failure to keep Trump in office after his loss in the 2020 election.

Really, this shouldn’t take a lot of thinking to understand. When looking at a struggle in which your team clearly isn’t winning, and saying “I’m afraid that our team isn’t winning,” is a good way to get called a “cowardly moron,” then there is a simple way to sum up the situation: your team is setting itself up to lose again and again and again.

Donald Trump is not the Republican Party’s commanding officer. He isn’t its sole owner and proprietor, or even its CEO. Nor is he the divinely anointed end-times servant that the people at Liberty University want him to be, or the whitehat anti-puppetmaster extraordinaire that the dorks who follow QAnon insist he is. And Trump isn’t even the most powerful Republican politician right now (that would be Mitch McConnell).

From today until noon on 20 January, Donald Trump is just a citizen who happens to hold an important office.

And it’s the job of other well-meaning American citizens, whether their role in public life is large or small, to be candid about the President’s shortcomings, oppose his flights of fancy when they think there is a good reason to do so, and otherwise behave like citizens of a republic rather than deluded sycophants in a personality cult.

Monday, November 9, 2020

More 2020 Election Notes

One of the consequences of having had a presidential election six days ago is that people in the news are talking about politics slightly more than usual. (Circumstances being what they are, “slightly more than usual” is the only intensifier that makes any sense). I already wrote last week about how I don’t expect Biden’s win to have much practical benefit for Democrats – without the Senate, they can’t enact their agenda, and since the President’s party tends to do badly in midterm elections, there’s no reason to expect them to regain the Senate.

That being said, here are some other things I have noticed over the last few days.

1.      Donald Trump Is Making An Ass Of Himself

President Trump probably went to bed on Tuesday thinking that he was going to win and then woke up the next morning to realize that he wasn’t in the lead anymore. So did a lot of Republicans, including myself. It was a big disappointment.

            Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have guessed that almost a week later he would still be holed up in the White House, munching on an endless train of fast food and attended by only the most sycophantic members of his staff, as he carried on tweeting things like “STOP THE COUNT!” and “I WON BY A LOT!”

            One might be forgiven for thinking that the President has stepped into the role of the evil overlord in a children’s cartoon who spends the final minute or two of the episode pointing to his defeated army and shouting “No! This cannot be! I am invincible!”

             Needless to say, I don’t exactly regard it as beneficial to the Republican cause that Trump has decided to handle his loss this way.

            As for the possibility of Trump reversing the outcome through litigation like he was already threatening to do several weeks before the election? It’s a pipe dream. There is nobody serious who sees a potential repeat of 2000. To begin with, George W. Bush was ahead after the first count of the Florida ballots, and to win, he only needed to get the courts to halt the recounts, which he managed to do after a month of lawsuits. Also, the whole election hinged on just one state – if Bush won Florida, then he would become the next President.

            Trump, on the other hand, will have to flip three or four states in order to come out on top in 2020. And he will have to flip states where Biden won on the first count, by much bigger margins than the 537 votes (.009 percent of the total) that were at issue twenty years ago. There is a big gap between suspicion of fraud – of which there is plenty – and evidence strong enough to get the courts to disqualify two or three percent of the Democratic ballots in multiple states. The latter is not going to happen.

            Honestly, we would all be better off if Trump conceded defeat and then spent the next two months nominating judges, issuing pardons, and doing whatever else an outgoing President usually does during his final days in office. His present course of action just makes him look like a jackass.

2.     We Can Expect More Covid Relief When Spring Comes

Perhaps you remember how, at the end this summer (though it feels like a year ago) Republicans and Democrats talked about how they were going to pass a second Covid relief bill with another round of $1,200 checks for every American, plus other useful spending? Well, they didn’t pass it.

The reason is that the first bill, from back in March, gave people on unemployment insurance an extra $600/month beyond what they were already getting, and beyond the $1,200 one-time payment that went to everybody. The bill was passed in such a hurry that nobody had much time to debate the merits of this provision, but in the second bill, the Republican Senate decided not to reauthorize it.

After all, the Republicans said, people on unemployment insurance are already being paid money to make up for their lack of a job, so why should they get extra money, when so many people who aren’t on unemployment insurance but are still struggling – such as those who only had part time work, or who owned floundering small business – didn’t get anything along the same lines?

Democrats wouldn’t budge. Faced with the choice between $1,200 checks for everyone and ordinary unemployment benefits for the unemployed, versus no relief at all, they went for no relief at all, and went home shouting at the tops of their lungs about how Republicans hate the poor.

They could do that because Donald Trump was the President, and so it was his party, not theirs, that would be held accountable by the electorate for whatever happened. (One of the consequences of having a profoundly ignorant electorate is that it is nearly always in the opposition party’s interests to behave as obstructively as possible).

With Biden as President, the situation will be reversed. The Democrats will now benefit from trying to minimize economic hardship and get America back to normalcy as fast as they can. And most Senate Republicans have enough genuine love of their country to make a serious attempt to work with them.

Also, Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden, despite belonging to opposite parties, have a history of personal friendship. I am genuinely curious to see how far this friendship can get them.

3.     The Georgia Runoffs Are A Complete Mystery

When I wrote my last post, I said that Republicans would end up with 52 or 53 seats in the new Senate (53 turned out to be too optimistic, as Michigan was soon called for the Democrat). At the time, I wasn’t paying any attention to the Georgia runoffs; I had assumed that since Georgia was such a red state, the Republicans would easily win both races in this rare double-special-election.

As it turned out, Georgia this year made a surprise break for Biden. Neither Senate election produced a majority, so one Republican and one Democrat will contest each of them on 5 January. Naturally, Democrats are excited about their chance to get from 48 to 50 Senate seats after all.

There is a simple rule for predicting the outcomes of special elections, and it goes like this: The President’s party gets smashed. Just ask yourself why the Republicans won in Massachusetts in 2010 or the Democrats won in Alabama in 2017. It’s only possible because turnout is very low except among the people who feel like their party is the underdog and that it desperately needs to win in order to resist the tyranny of the incumbent President.

  It has been like this for at least three decades. The only special Senate elections in which the candidate from the President’s party doesn’t get beaten are the ones where an especially strong candidate is running on his party’s home turf, like when Cory Booker won in New Jersey in 2013. Even then, the margins are still smaller than usual.

So if there is such a simple rule to predict special elections, then why am I admitting complete cluelessness about Georgia?

The answer is that at this point, it is impossible to say which party is the President’s party. From a technical standpoint, it will obviously be the Republicans, as Biden won’t be sworn in until 20 January. But will the Democrats still feel like they need to turn out en masse to resist Trump, or will they act like he’s already beaten and let those seats slip away? And will the Republicans turn out en masse to resist Biden?

There are no examples from recent history of a special Senate election held during a transition, so I can’t answer those questions on the basis of experience. Speculation is all we have to go by.

Though if, by the time those elections roll around, Trump still hasn’t admitted that he lost, then the Democrats will be in a stronger position. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Joe Biden's Useless Victory

I am writing this on the evening after election day. Most of the votes have been counted, and only four states remain uncalled: Georgia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, which lean Trump, and Nevada, which leans Biden. But unless Trump wins all four of those states, which at this point is very unlikely, then Biden is going to be the next President – right now I will be so bold as to call it a 95 percent certainty.

Contra all the pundits and pollsters who foresaw a Democratic blowout, this election has ended up as a squeaker, just like the last one. At the beginning of the year, I predicted that Joe Biden would win the primaries, and Trump would win in the general election. Once Trump started bungling this year’s spate of crisis events, I admitted there was a chance he could lose, a la Carter in 1980 – the only other President of the last 120 years to lose re-election when his party had only been in the White House for four years.

But there is a big caveat for the Democrats: by winning the White House while leaving the Republicans with a 52 or 53 seat majority in the Senate, Joe Biden may well have achieved the most useless presidential victory in modern politics.

This victory comes at the end of a long, long struggle. Back in the 1960s, when Biden was still cheating his way through law school, he decided that he wanted to become a Senator when he was 30 (the minimum age) and then become President as soon after that as he could. True to his aspirations, Biden won Delaware’s 1972 Senate election at the age of 29 (he turned 30 before inauguration day). But his first two bids for the Presidency – in 1988 and 2008 – didn’t even make it into the primary season, though the latter at least netted him eight years of the vice-presidency as a consolation prize.

Biden didn’t give up, and now, at age 78, he is set to become America’s oldest president on the day he takes the oath of office. To get an idea of how long he has had to bide his time, just think about the fact that when former presidents Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump attend his inauguration, they will all be younger than the man being sworn in.

Well, the guy has certainly got persistence.

But that raises an unpleasant question: Now that Biden has (sort of) achieved his personal goal – becoming President at as young of an age as possible – what is in it for his party?

The answer is: surprisingly little.

Had the Democrats picked Bernie Sanders or, really, anyone other than the most dull and uninspiring candidate to run in the primaries, they might have gotten themselves a leader with actual energy and charisma, arriving in Washington with a handful of new Senators and Representatives on his coat-tails.

Instead, they got an old, senile President who can barely stay awake, and only 47 or 48 Senate seats. Which leaves them in a very weak position.

Over the last few months, Democrats have filled the airwaves and the internet with talk about Medicare for All and student loan forgiveness and climate legislation and free college and repealing the Hyde Amendment and (as of 18 September) adding seats to the Supreme Court. Without a Senate majority, none of that is going to happen.

If Trump had won, the Democrats would have been shut out of power for the time being, but they would also have picked up a bevy of House and Senate seats in the 2022 elections (as a general rule, the incumbent President’s party gets clobbered in the sixth-year midterms). But with Biden nominally in charge and no bright orange hate object to inspire Democratic turnout, you can expect the Democrats to gain little or nothing in the upcoming midterms. From the standpoint of legislative potential, the Biden win was a Pyrrhic victory if there ever was such a thing.

Luckily for the Democrats, it has been nearly a century since America’s elected legislature played a leading role in making policy – in the modern system, that is usually a job for the civil service and the courts.

Biden can’t do much with the courts. All of his judicial appointments will have to go through a Republican Senate; for all we know, he might not even be able to provide a younger replacement for Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court’s oldest liberal, in the event that Breyer wants to retire. Expect the current balance of three conservatives, three centrists, and three liberals to remain unchanged.

That leaves the civil service. Biden and Harris will certainly do their best to put leftists in all the key positions in the executive branch, within limits (i.e. as long as the GOP controls the Senate, nobody who’s spent the last four years talking about “whiteness” will get to head up a cabinet agency). Nevertheless, under Biden-Harris, we can expect  there to be more illegal immigration and more public celebrations of  deviant sexuality and more discrimination lawsuits filed against religious schools and businesses.

Well, slightly more. Even under Trump, most of the people who worked for the government were leftists (they’re called the “permanent civil service,” they don’t get replaced when the party in power changes, and they outnumber political appointees by more than one hundred to one). This is why so many government agencies, even under Trump, have spent the last year promoting wokeness, equity, antiracism, etc. And they will keep doing it under Biden-Harris.

Expect to see more local governments sponsoring events along the lines of Drag Queen Story Hour. Expect to see more people getting fired from their jobs for holding the wrong political opinions, especially if they work in academia, medicine, or white-collar corporate management. These firings will be blamed on Biden, but they would have happened anyway under Trump; I know this because they are already happening under Trump. Ditto with parents losing custody of their children for not affirming gender transitions.

The Supreme Court with its new Trump justices will do a good job of quashing overt censorship, but very little of what the Left is doing, or is planning to do, consists of overt censorship.

Getting banned by Youtube without an explanation or a chance to appeal? It’s well within Youtube’s legal rights. Getting fired from your job at a woke corporation because something you said several years ago has resurfaced on the internet and has been deemed racist or homophobic by the leftist mob? As before, it is within the corporation’s rights.

Ironically, the absence of Trump as a hate object on whom the Democrats can focus their rage will probably lead to a decrease in rioting and politically-motivated disowning of friends and family. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the major trends are still the same.

Neither Trump nor Biden has power over the media, the universities, or the major corporations. These are the institutions which together determine the long-term evolution of American public opinion. Ten years from now, this country will have less freedom of speech, less freedom of the press, and less freedom of religion than it has now.

You had better count on it. Without control of the Supreme Court, the Left can’t simply order us all to give up those freedoms, but high-tech mobs and woke corporations can still harass and censor and boycott their way to the same results.

I started off my post by calling Joe Biden’s win “useless” because it adds nothing to the Democrats' ability to get their agenda through Congress, while a Trump win would have detracted very little from their ability to impose that agenda on the American people by other means. But winning can mean different things to different people.

For Biden, winning meant seizing the Presidency at the youngest possible age. Biden won – sort of. For populist and idealistic Democrats, it means passing sweeping reforms in the Houses of Congress. The results of yesterday's Senate elections guarantee that these people aren’t going to win.

For the plutocratic oligarchy – the people who control the major corporations, the media, the Ivy League schools, and the permanent civil service – winning means maintaining the status quo, lining their own pockets, and keeping the country moving steadily leftward, except on issues like income inequality or environmentalism where leftward movement would interfere with their wealth. These people always win. Their power structure is designed so that populist movements like Trumpism – and Nixonism and Reaganism before it – roll off of it like water off a duck’s back.

But for each American who may be reading this, the most important question should be: how can I win?

The purpose of my blog has always been to wake people up to the broader patterns of civilizational decline that are going on around them, and help them to see that most of the milestones in America’s journey from constitutional republic to post-constitutional empire are by now in the past.

Many of my readers have criticized me for my pessimism, but I don’t consider my own predictions pessimistic. Decline and fall is the unavoidable fate of empires, ours as well as the Roman or Spanish or British empires before us. Pointing out that a nation is mortal – that, like everything on earth, it is subject to decay and death – is not the same as saying that the nation was conceived in rottenness or that the people within it have no future.

Quite the contrary. The American people – at least, the portion of the American people who realize what is going on – can win against the system. Specifically, they can win against the system by detaching themselves from the system.

Winning involves refusing to live in the same way as the American majority, it means being careful about how your children are educated so that they grow up holding your values instead of somebody else’s, and it means learning to work with your hands and adopting a frugal lifestyle in the expectation that the economic arrangements that privilege the United States over the rest of the world won’t be around forever. I have written before on the topic of living prudently in an age of decline; you can read some of my thoughts here.

And the reward, if you’re successful, is that you, or your children, or your children’s children, get to help build the next civilization on this continent, once the present one has finished crumbling. And if you ask me, that’s a much better prize than the one that Joe Biden just won for himself, when he committed to spend the next four years trying to stay awake long enough to pretend to be leading America.