Friday, July 22, 2016

The problem with Trump

There are many.

 But after his RNC speech, there are a couple that jump immediately to attention:

 • His use of "I" language. Most presidential candidates — even the most narcissistic — use "we" language, precisely to avoid charges of narcissism and incipient strongmanism. "I alone can fix it" suggests that there aren't any principles that can guide America toward solutions, only the application of Trumpian will. It's very cult-of-personality strongman type stuff. "I am your voice," too, sounds like a way of assuming the people's sovereignty into the Trumpian person.

 This is scary stuff.

 • Too, there's the assumption — the promise — that problems will bend themselves to the Trumpian will. There are no hard problems, no messy and sometimes contradicting ideals. Opposing forces will bow down before him, or be wiped out. Nothing is hard. On Jan. 20, 2017, he promises, the world will go, Wizard of Oz-like, from black-and-white to color, transformed instantly into a Trumpian wonderland of "law and order."

 All politicians overpromise. This is something different. Wariness is recommended.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Republicans helped cause Hillary's email scandal

The relationship between Republicans and Hillary Clinton is akin to that of the one between Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. One has relentlessly pursued the other across the decades, and in the process things have gotten messy. Should Hillary Clinton win the presidency — an outcome much to be hoped for given the other likely possibilities at this point — the hunt will continue.
Republicans have pursued every misstep and unfortunate occurrence by the Clintons as though each and every incident was in and of itself an IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE, a high crime and something almost certainly more than a misdemeanor. Sometimes there was more there than at other times, but it didn't matter: Every bad thing that occurred in proximity to the Clintons became worthy of a years-long Congressional investigation, or inquiries by off-the-reservation independent counsels who exceeded their mandates to find something, anything, that would put a final nail in the coffin. (All of this sprang from a pre-determined conclusion: The Clintons — and Democrats more broadly — had no legitimate place at the head of government and thus could not be tolerated. The same process has been at work during the Obama years, but the President Obama has — perhaps owing to a lifetime of being a black man working his way up through white institutions — been much more circumspect in his behavior, giving critics much less to latch onto.) Time and again, the overreach failed.
The Clintons have helped feed this process over the years through carelessness and occasional inability to stop following their — his, really — own worst impulses. They never seemed to understand that the appearance of a conflict of interest can be just as bad as an actual conflict. The email scandal is easily seen as the result of all this: Hillary knew Republicans would sooner or later come after her email and mine it for scandal because it's what they do; she tried to build a wall around that email and in the process played a bit fast and loose with the law — an attempt to elude her tormentors instead became the latest tool they used against her.
So it's both the case that the Clintons have been overzealously pursued by Republicans and the case that they were dumb enough not to let it force them to cling to the highest standards of appearance and conduct. 
Everybody's guilty and nobody has hands clean. But most of us have been reinforced in either our cynicism or self-righteousness, and at this point, that's probably the best we can hope for.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Charles Kesler's half-baked case for Donald Trump

Charles Kesler is in the Washington Post this morning, making the case for Donald Trump to NeverTrump conservatives. It's a case made with some speculative leaps, some prayers for luck, and a bottom line suggestion that the devil you don't know — Trump — might be better than the devil you do know.

Here's Kesler on Trump's virtues:
Here Trump’s populism, or what Walter Russell Mead calls his Jacksonianism, comes to bear: He trusts the American people, not the special interests or the governing elite.
I'd say we're terribly short of evidence on that front. True, Trump's been pretty down on the special interests and governing elite — but his rhetoric isn't that "the American people are smarter than that." It's "I'm smarter than that." This glorification of self doesn't suggest a trust of Americans does it? It really only means that Trump thinks he's smarter than all the folks who already think they're the smartest people in a given room.

Kesler on the devil you know....
Liberalism’s century-old effort to turn the president into a “leader” who can rise above constitutional constraints such as federalism and the separation of powers might, under certain circumstances, be music to Trump’s populist ears. But what he might be tempted into is what Clinton is committed to on principle, as a self-described progressive. How could a vote for Clinton be defended as a vote for greater constitutional safety, much less integrity?
But where's the evidence a President Trump would acknowledge the restraints of the Constitution or the law? His promise to force the military to torture terror suspects in violation of the law? His attempts to strongarm news organizations into good coverage?  His encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies? His illegal solicitation of campaign contributions from overseas? There's no indication Trump has any philosophy regarding the Constitution of governance. Yeah: I think it's more than possible that from a conservative standpoint that Hillary Clinton will hew more closely to Constitutional governance than trump.

Kelser also suggests that Trump's critics make two unresolvable charges against him: That he's a buffoon with control issues and that he's also a "monster, a racist, a wily demagogue, a proto-fascist or full-fledged fascist, a tyrant-in-waiting."
The two arguments are in some tension, insofar as the first implies that Trump doesn’t know what he is doing or is not serious about it, and the second that he knows precisely what he is doing and is deadly serious about it.
I don't know. Seems to me the first argument is that Trump is a fool and the second is that Trump might be an evil fool. There's nothing in conflict there, I don't think. History is full of such fellows.

Kesler's best argument is that conservatives shouldn't so lightly dismiss a candidate approved by millions of their fellow Republican voters. Maybe. But that makes popularity its own justification. Unfortunately, that's the best justification for Trump that Kesler offers.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bag O' Books: James Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time"

I came to this book after reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me", which a number of reviews suggested followed in Baldwin's footsteps. It's true there are similarities — both relatively short, yet incisive, essays on what it's like to live as a black man in America — but there are differences: Baldwin's book is written when (in 1963) it seems like white supremacy in America might be undone; perhaps as a result, it's a more hopeful book than what Coates delivered. Which is an odd thing to say about a book that remains bracing, angry, and uncompromising after all these years.

A few quotes from the book that seem relevant to our current discussions. These are all taken from the second part of the book, ""Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind":

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Steve Hayward's Wrong About Diversity and "Trump 101"

My friend Steve Hayward is put out with The Chronicle of Higher Education for not including non-white-guy voices in its recent “Trump 101” syllabus:

Where to begin. First, let’s note that Trump has caught on precisely because he speaks to “marginalized groups” that the fashionable, race-obsessed academic left (and much of the GOP establishment—ahem) disdains. So the identity politics set gets a failing grade here for low self-awareness. Second, it is embarrassing but necessary to point out that when inquiring about any subject, any serious list will want to include only the best work that bears on the subject. When Ta Nahesi Coates writes something sensible about Trump, someone will include it on a recommended reading list.

So let’s talk about the “identity politics” involved here.

John Hinderaker Misses White (Electoral) Supremacy, But Thinks It's Dems Who Stir Racial Resentment

This post from John Hinderaker is a doozy, oozing wistfulness for a time when white folks decided how the country was run:
One thing is worth pointing out, however: even in this outlier poll, Trump holds a ten-point lead among white voters, 50%-40% (down from 57%-33% in May!). It is remarkable that even at his low ebb, Trump wins by a near landslide margin among white voters, a majority of the electorate. Not many years ago, that would have assured him of victory.
This is why Democrats stir up racial resentment, he says:
This is why Democrats are so anxious to “fundamentally transform” the United States through mass immigration from Third World countries. Only by building up the minority population do they have a chance to stay competitive. But that still wouldn’t be enough, even if the Democrats got most of the votes cast by minorities, if minorities voted in anything like a normal pattern. In order to win, the Democrats need to roll up ridiculous margins, like the 90%-8% lead that Clinton holds with blacks in the ABC/WaPo poll.
Hinderaker's got a couple of presumptions going here:

• That minority groups are incapable of determining their own best interests and easily suckered by Democrats who are playing them. This is, er, patronizing, let's say. 

• It ignores the role Republicans have played in their own marginalization — they're on the verge of nominating a presidential candidate who regularly demonizes persons of minority races and religions, and who has a personal history of racial nastiness. White people are the only voting group he can appeal to, given that rhetoric. What's more his positions merely echo the nasty stuff that's been said by conservative popularizers like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and the Fox News crew for years. Physician, heal thy own goshdarn self.

Now: Yes, Democrats have their own problems with race. I won't pretend otherwise. But Hinderaker's play-it-both ways game — pining for white (electoral) supremacy and blaming Democrats for exploiting his preferences — doesn't bear scrutiny.

Friday, June 24, 2016

I'm for an assault weapons ban

I believe in the right to self-defense. I believe that that right encompasses, to some extent, the right for individuals to bear arms — even though that's a particular right I personally choose not to exercise it.

By recognizing that right I have, in recent years, focused my solutions to the gun-violence problem around the edges — solutions I thought might be effective in keeping guns out of the wrong hands (convicts, the mentally ill, domestic abusers, and so forth). I've even suggested expanding gun-safety classes. (Yes, I've also argued that guns, far from being the inanimate objects their defenders try to suggest they are, are uniquely efficient tools of death. It's possible to hold both ideas in my head.)

It's meant nothing.

 The latest mass shooting has changed my mind on one part of the issue, though. I now favor an assault weapons ban.

 My conservative friends will be angry with me. Some will say "what do you mean by assault weapons?" They've decided to contest such efforts, essentially, by essentially denying that any such category exists or can even be reasonably defined, mocking the lack of gun knowledge possessed by anti-gun activists.

 But — my conservative friends will object to this — we know assault when we see them. As I say in my latest column with Ben Boychuk: "

 The Orlando attacker used a high-power semi-automatic rifle with a large, easily reloadable magazine. This allowed him to kill or injure a large number of people in a relatively short time. Most people recognize such a gun for what it plainly is: An assault weapon." 

 I'll let the lawyers come up with a more precise definition.

But yeah: An assault weapon makes it easy to fire rounds quickly, and features a large magazine so the shooter can fire many rounds quickly. If guns are uniquely efficient tools of death, then what we commonly understand to be assault weapons exist on a whole other plane. The fair question to this is:

Will it work? The answer: It probably depends on how the law is executed. I don't pretend this is a perfect answer to the gun violence problem. But reducing the number of assault weapons available to the public might begin to reduce the number of mass shootings American experiences. Even that won't be perfect: Dylann Roof, after all, killed nine people in a Charleston church using nothing more than a handgun.

 My conservative friends will suggest I want to infringe on their rights — that I'm on the side of gun grabbers or tyrants or worse. The truth is, though, we have few rights in American life that aren't at least a bit curtailed because of the harms they can create. As a working journalist, I'm a big fan of the First Amendment, but I'm not allowed to libel or slander people without consequence. The American people can judge that some types of weapons create more harm than good, and act accordingly.

 My conservative friends will suggest such a law would be ineffective. They might be right! But it might also be the case that the law does its job, but does it imperfectly. That's the great thing about conservative and libertarian views of governance: Government only has to be imperfect once to validate anti-government beliefs. The rest of us should not let perfect be the enemy of good.

What's more, the Supreme Court has just turned away challenges to state assault weapons bans. It suggests that even the gun-friendly court sees the right to guns as having some limitations.

 Curbing guns is not the only answer to curbing gun violence. But it might well be part of the answer. We should act accordingly.

Monday, June 20, 2016

This is why "empathy" on the Supreme Court is a good thing

A few years back, President Obama earned sneers from conservatives when he said "empathy" is a quality he looks for in making judicial nominations. I thought about that today when reading about Justice Sotomayor's dissent in a police evidence case.

Essentially, the court ruled that evidence can sometimes be used against defendants even if that evidence was gathered by police illegally. Sotomayor was cranky. From TPM:
She was joined in most of her dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who also joined a dissent penned by Justice Elena Kagen). But, in the final portion of Sotomayor's dissent, she said she was "[w]riting only for myself, and drawing on my professional experiences." There, she expounded upon the "severe consequences" the unlawful stops in question have, including being "degrading" and causing "indignity." 
"Although many Americans have been stopped for speeding or jaywalking, few may realize how degrading a stop can be when the officer is looking for more," Sotomayor, the first Latina justice on the Supreme Court, said. "This Court has allowed an officer to stop you for whatever reason he wants—so long as he can point to a pretextual justification after the fact." 
In this case, "empathy" means having a visceral understanding that some people — minorities — are targeted for stops that have "pretextual justification after the fact" more than others. "Empathy" means knowing that outside the ivory-tower domain of an appellate courtroom, the law falls on different people in disproportionate and burdensome ways. "Empathy" seeks, then, to hold the law not just to the letter of the Constitution but the spirit. Justice Sotomayor is an asset to the court.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

About those terrorist watch lists

Eliminating One Constitutional Right Does Not Make All the Rest Fair Game | Kevin Drum

"Due process" is the key phrase here: the US government should never be able to revoke fundamental liberties based on mere suspicion. This doesn't necessarily mean that suspects are entitled to a full-on court hearing, but due process does mean something substantive, speedy, and fair.

That's why I'm not comfortable with proposals to use watch lists — as currently constructed — to deprive suspects of gun rights. I think it's wrong that those lists are used to deprive suspects the right to fly.

Understand: I'm not against depriving guns or flight rights to terrorists. But there's got to be a process that's open, understandable, and lets the accused make a legitimate effort at challenging the designation.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Does "domestic gun violence" cause "domestic gun violence?"

When nonsense becomes the party line | Power Line
Surfing past Fox News this morning, I heard someone report on a poll about what caused the massacre in Orlando. Apparently, most Republicans believe it was caused by Islamic extremism, whereas most Democrats believe it was caused by “domestic gun violence.”

But the massacre was domestic gun violence. Democrats might just as well say that murder caused of murders.
I dunno. It occurs to me that it might be more like saying that the flu virus causes the flu. In such case, I guess, you could say "the flu causes the flu" and people would laugh at you, but you wouldn't be wrong.

We have a culture unique in its access to and (I'd say) worship of guns, a founding that depends on righteous violence to achieve, and a political culture that to a large degree believes might makes right. And we have an awful lot of gun violence that, in some cases, leads to copycat gun violence. I'm not so sure that domestic gun violence isn't the cause of domestic gun violence.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why we debate the Second Amendment the way we don't debate other rights

NRO's Charles CW Cooke:
“It is not acceptable to treat the Second Amendment as if it is a second class or less important right, and it’s not acceptable to deprive individuals of it purely because they are under suspicion… In my view, the way to take someone’s rights is to convict them of something.”
I hear this kind of thing a lot from my conservative friends, but it seems there's a kind of willful naiveté involved here. The reason our discussion of the Second Amendment is different is because the effects are different.

As I've said a million times: The function of a gun is to kill. Other things that a gun is useful for — hunting, self-defense — are a byproduct of its function to kill. That differentiates it from other tools or inanimate objects that can also cause death:

Yes, lots of people die in cars each year, but that's an accidental and unfortunate byproduct of the car's essential function to provide fast transportation — and, incidentally, we've worked successfully to mitigate that accidental byproduct. When a person takes a gun and kills 50 people in a nightclub, the person is defective, but the gun is working precisely as it should. No other civil right has quite the same results.

The First Amendment doesn't result in a Sandy Hook. The Fifth Amendment doesn't create a Columbine. But guns — and a Second Amendment that makes access to guns easy and widespread — often result in death. Lots of it.

 Now: Just because this is true doesn't mean the policy discussion should go one way or another, necessarily. But it's the reason, sensibly, we don't just say "welp, it's a Constitutional right" and shrug our shoulders. Guns are different. The Second Amendment is different. We shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Karl Rove is the reason we can't get along after big terror attacks

For a few years now there's been a fond hearkening back to the so-called "9/12 moment" — a memory of the last time the United States responded to a terror attack with something like unity. Now, whenever there's a man-made disaster, everybody retreats to their usual battle lines and starts throwing grenades.

 David French laments this today at National Review:
I can’t recall a better time to be an enemy of the United States. The message to the jihadist world is clear: Not only is it open season on Americans wherever they live, work, and play, but jihadist attacks will have the added strategic benefit of further dividing a polarized country.
So what happened? My guess: Politics, of course.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The problem with Tom Friedman's "New Republican Party."

Tom Friedman tells thoughtful never-Trump conservatives it's time for them to go form their own party today:
America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party. America needs a center-right party ready to offer market-based solutions to issues like climate change. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense gun laws. America needs a center-right party that will support common-sense fiscal policy. America needs a center-right party to support both free trade and aid to workers impacted by it. America needs a center-right party that appreciates how much more complicated foreign policy is today, when you have to manage weak and collapsing nations, not just muscle strong ones. But this Republican Party is none of those things.
Sounds good. Here's the problem: What kind of electoral success would thoughtful conservatism have without its Trumpkian allies? Not much of one.  Damon Linker identifies the problem:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In praise of distracted, Internet-addled writing

In his review of Freewrite's "Smart Typewriter," Ian Bogost offers praise for the pre-Internet era of writing, when one could set one's fingers to the keyboard and simply write, without all the distractions and bells and whistles that a wifi connection bring to the process.

There's more than a hint of protesting too much.

No one would reasonably dispute that writing tools affect the shape and content of both writing and the thought that goes into writing, but it's mistaken to suggest — as Bogost seems to — the the older, slower way was necessarily deeper. Here's an odd passage:
For Nietzsche, the typewriter offered a way to write despite his deteriorating vision (and sanity). He knew that tools changed their users; “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts,” Nietzsche aphorized. These are facts I happen to know just because they were memorable, not because I remember facts like these regularly anymore. I’ve long since outsourced such easily-rediscovered knowledge to the Internet.
Here's the thing: The human brain is at once both wondrous and limited. In writing this essay 30 or 40 years ago, Bogost might've dropped the exact same knowledge from memory — or, if he (as is often the case with this kind of learning) remembered-ish Nietzsche's comment, he would've gone into the stacks of books (his own, or perhaps a library's) to find the comment, quote it precisely, and cite it. Now, if he's unsure, he can Google it up. Good writing rarely stops and starts with the writer's brain and the writing tools; it's often augmented by reporting and research, knowledge of not just how to marshal facts in service of a story or argument, but how to marshal those facts. Forty years ago, Bogost might've written: "I've outsourced such easily-rediscovered knowledge to the encyclopedia," and it would've sounded silly as a lament. We writers use such tools to enlarge our understanding, and our craft.

Our old arguments don't explain Donald Trump. (Or, why point-counterpoint is in danger.)

Dennis Prager's approach to column-writing is pretty simple: A) Something is bad in the world. B) Democrats are at fault. So goes his explanation for the rise of Donald Trump.

It's tendentious and dumb — as per usual with Prager — but reading it made me consider a possibility: The old right vs. left construct of our debates might be a bad template going forward. It depends on how much Trumpism survives 2016. If this is more than a one-off, then "telling both sides of the story" won't work anymore, nor will point-counterpoint presentations. (I say that as somebody who co-authors a nationally syndicated point-counterpoint column.)  Trumpism has an array of causes, and grafting an explanation for him onto our old debates seems to not quite hit the point. We're going to need new arguments.

Vulture ponders: "Why X-Men: Apocalypse Is Generating So Little Excitement"

Unexplored possibility: We're at peak super-hero, and maybe after two giant comic-based adventure movies in the last six weeks - including one a week ago -  maybe we're about all ka-blammed! out.

Teaching Philly kids to use guns — the right way

Two years ago, trying to find a radical solution to the gun violence problem in Philadelphia, I suggested that maybe it was time to stop clamping down on guns and time to start inculcating a culture of responsible gun ownership and usage. It was kind of a controversial idea. 

While there are plenty of guns circulating in Philadelphia, there are also plenty of guns — per-capita, at least — in my home state of Kansas. Yet there are relatively few gun deaths there: As best I can tell, 9.9 gun deaths per 100,000 residents in Kansas, compared to 24.3 in Philadelphia. (The comparisons aren’t quite exact, but I think the disparity between those two numbers is probably in the neighborhood of correct.) Why? 
One of the reasons, surely, is that cities are simply more violent places: Living cheek by jowl can produce short tempers; short tempers can produce violence. 
But it’s also true that my rural friends have built a culture of gun safety that goes hand-in-hand with the culture of gun ownership. The clearest expression of this: To get a hunter’s license in Kansas, you must complete a 10-hour hunter safety course — heavy, of course, with lessons on how to handle firearms safely and respectfully. Some classes are taught by the NRA, but a hunter safety course was offered in my rural Kansas middle school back in the late 1980s.

Today, Helen Ubinas reports somebody else had the idea, too, and is running with it. Meet Maj Toure:

While gun-control advocates are forever looking for ways to reduce the number of guns in circulation, Toure favors dealing with a gun culture that isn't going anywhere, believing that legal gun ownership and training can reduce crime. In a city where so many people die by guns, I'd love to believe that solution would work. But my guess is that the people who go to the trouble of educating themselves about what it takes to own and handle a gun legally aren't the yahoos creating chaos with guns on the streets. 
"I was 15, walking around with a gun I had no idea how to use and no real respect for," he said. "In hindsight, I wish there would have been somebody to say, hey, this is a firearm, it's not a game. So when I'm seeing other people living out the same scenario, I want to be that adult teaching them properly."

Toure's militance puts Ubinas off a bit — he apparently favors black gun ownership as a deterrence against police brutality. It's worth noting, though, that Second Amendment activists often suggest that private gun ownership is a means of restraining government; Toure is well within NRA norms on that one. And for what it's worth, gun control efforts largely have their roots in white fears of an armed black populace. I'm curious to see what impact Toure's efforts have in Philadelphia. It's a hell of an experiment, at the very least. 

Senate GOP investigates Facebook

If Facebook really has biased its feed results against conservative outlets, that truly sucks. But I wonder if my conservative friends think that warrants government intrusion into the company's affairs, and if so: On what basis?