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The Strange Death of Conservative Fusionism

Good political discussion is often quite ideological. The best conversations, as the old saying goes, focus on ideas over people and events. We ask questions like: are these views consistent? How do we apply a given principle to this novel or particularly complicated scenario? Which elements of the present are genuinely unjust? Those inquiries are fascinating, and they are the foundation of most good conversations about politics and philosophy, the kinds you have in good Twitter threads or bars and cafes where you can hear yourself think.

They’re also largely irrelevant in the real world. Most people make decisions based on group affinities and instincts rather than from any well-formulated philosophical or ideological position, even those of us (like myself) who enjoy a good intellectual conversation. The rationale comes later. Generally, if people have an overriding social or economic position, they are largely loss averse, meaning that they worry about things that represent a threat to that position. (This doesn’t mean that all wealthy people reject high taxes; by default, they would only reject high taxes if they viewed them as a genuine threat to their position.)

Thus when we look at the political decline of conservatism, we’re asking a question about ideology in a realm that is not particularly interested in ideology. This leads us to red herrings and rabbit holes; the answers that we want to find are not the ones that are moving the world around us. Stated differently: our priorities very often don’t align with public priorities. This is doubly true for a conservative focused on institutions and processes: Conservatives of a certain persuasion are arguing for the future benefits of intangible systems. Jay Cost can lament our neglect of Bolingbroke and Cato and our embrace of celebrity in politics; Ben Sasse can champion the intrinsic benefits of the separation of powers; and Jeff Flake can slam the current president’s “affection for strongmen and authoritarians”, but these positions–on their own–do not win votes, full stop, and a focus on them that results in the neglect of more tangible priorities might actually lose votes. This is tragic, but it is mass democracy in an era of limited civic engagement and civic responsibility. We reap what we sow.

So, what moves votes? Tangible promises about things that people see as threats, from telegenic and persuasive messengers with an air of authenticity. “I’m going to solve health care.” “I’m going to stop the drugs.” “I’m going to punish the bankers.” “I’m going to close the border.”

Let’s offer a model, then: to win elections, you need two things. First, you need a program dedicated towards addressing the stuff that people worry about. Second, you need a good messenger.

Conservatism had its threat for a solid four decades: Soviet communism. Anti-communism was the lodestar of the American Right from the aftermath of the Second World War through the presidency of George H.W. Bush. Threats unify disparate groups quite nicely. Social conservatives saw the anti-religious element of communism as a threat. Businessmen hated the abolition of private property and the destruction of their livelihoods. Military-oriented folks liked that the anti-communists valorized the military and rejected the ideas of detente and rapprochement–we would win by virtue of our might.

This is a stylized summary of fusionism, the old ideology of William F. Buckley and National Review, and the foundation for the conservative movement for much of the latter half of the 20th century.

Then it had its messenger: Ronald Reagan. An articulate former actor, Reagan had been in people’s living rooms for a couple of decades in various capacities, making the case about the superiority of the American system and why it needed to be protected from the threat of expansionist, godless Soviet communism. The product of this salutary merger was the 1984 election, where the Republicans stormed the gates everywhere across the country, losing only in Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

Since roughly the end of the Reagan administration through the 2016 election, the Republican Party has been trying to figure out what comes next. It usually had something to do with that old-time Reaganist religion. It worked so well in 1984; why not bring it back? Every primary debate would include paeans to the memory of Reagan, right down to the GOP hosting debates at his presidential library, in front of Air Force One, answering questions about their fidelity to the old master.

This stopped working a while ago for a couple of reasons. First, the threat disappeared. The Soviets lost; communism died. While Russia has resurfaced as a geopolitical threat, for the broader American populace, the original threat wasn’t about geopolitics, it was about religion and our way of life. A regionally expansionist Russia that is not perceived as posing a direct threat to American society is just not as powerful a motivator.

Second, there was only one Reagan. He has had many imitators in the GOP trying to take up his mantle–like leaders around the world stylizing themselves as Caesar by calling themselves czar or kaiser–but none combined his steadfastness, rhetorical skill, instincts, and polish.

What came in its place? With apologies to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” nothing so far, because conservatism’s new threat is a much more problematic one. Namely, conservatism is no longer oriented against Soviet communism and its perceived enablers. It is now oriented firmly against various aspects of the American Left. This is extremely dangerous because, among other reasons, the Left can never–will never–be vanquished. There can be no final victory in this fight, just a never-ending tug-of-war, and increasing resentment at defeats.

Trump got there first, frankly. What other candidates sometimes hinted at, Trump dialed up to 11, identifying the problem as a “globalist” Left focused on arcane priorities and interests at the expense of American greatness. He also brought his long-held celebrity to the fold, attracting free media and positive response with his outer-borough variation on a homespun, folksy style. Message, plus messenger.

Six months into Trump’s tenure, the fractures on the Right are best identified by how they feel about Trump himself, and how they feel about the Left. There is some overlap between the groups, but most public figures can fall primarily into one group or another.

  • The Institutionalist Right sees the greatest threat from Trump as beyond specific policies and more about the challenge he presents to the governmental system over which he presides. They fear both Trump and the consequences of the system reacting to him. In particular, there is a lot of focus on the separation of powers, the rule of law, and the efficient administration of the bureaucracy. What they objected to about Obama with respect to governance, Trump has escalated by orders of magnitude. Ben Sasse is probably the most prominent figure from this faction. It’s also probably the smallest segment, and the one that faces the toughest challenge in making the rhetorical case. It probably needs to co-opt another faction or find a sympathetic leader in another faction to hold influence beyond some very small fringes.
  • The Libertarian Right opposes Trump on economics, generally, with an emphasis on his disgust for free trade, and his rhetorical support for police brutality. (Immigration is much more of a mixed bag here.) They oppose the Left on the size and scope of government, and tax policy. Jeff Flake has been a leader here, with Rand Paul in and out depending on the issue.
  • The Fusionist Right opposes Trump for not being a movement conservative and rejecting the old three-legged stool of Reaganism. Dan McLaughlin and Jonah Goldberg are probably the two most prominent conservative writers here; Trump’s most vocal conservative opponents over 40 tend to fall in this group, with their fellow Gen-Xers Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio hanging around as well.
  • The Moderate Right opposes Trump for his personal failings, his vulgarity, and his support for policies they view as cruel, particularly on immigration and health care. From the pundit class, I’d put Ana Navarro and Michael Gerson here. Among elected officials, John Kasich has laid down a marker.
  • The Nationalist Right largely supports Trump’s priorities but would object to the fundamental incompetence sabotaging his program. They oppose the Left for failing to prioritize what they see as America’s national interests, putting the interests of “cosmopolitan elites” ahead of traditional American values. Tom Cotton is striving to lead this group, and Jeff Sessions is a member in good standing. A lot of talk radio has moved in this direction, now that the opportunity is there.

But we should return to our original point: these ideological objections to Trump and spins on conservatism are not what will move voters; what will move voters will be the ability of candidates to demonstrate affinities with voters and respect for their priorities. The policies they proffer must fit into that context; those that push policies that do not meet those minimal thresholds will be punished. Our debates are important to set the stage, but they are the equivalent of an athlete doing strength training in the offseason. The game itself–the political arena–requires a connection to the voters, the ones that generally don’t care much about ideology.

And so the next several years will be a battle royale between those ideological factions, trying to figure out the right way to frame a threat, and the right messenger to make the case. Frankly, with his weak approval ratings, that’s probably not Trump himself. Either someone will successfully navigate the stormy seas and bring the movement together under a coherent vision, or the schisms will continue. Bet on chaos for now.

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Dan Scotto lives and works in Oregon. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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74 thoughts on “The Strange Death of Conservative Fusionism

  1. Let’s offer a model, then: to win elections, you need two things. First, you need a program dedicated towards addressing the stuff that people worry about. Second, you need a good messenger.

    The Right has since created a set of influential media outlets designed to create new worries among its followers, to keep them in the fold…

    Namely, conservatism is no longer oriented against Soviet communism and its perceived enablers. It is now oriented firmly against various aspects of the American Left.

    …and those outlets, dealing as they do in mostly synthetic threats, can pick and choose among things to scare voters to the polls (and more importantly, to keep watching and clicking and drawing advertising dollars). This makes the American Left a perfect foil, as it will indeed never go away, and it makes every election, every Supreme Court seat, and hell, every procedural vote in Congress into an existential struggle.

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      • Yeah, I love the rich tapestry of wrongness that Damore vomited up there. “You’re so brainwashed you’re letting the Ku Klux Klan bogart all the incredible coolness of Dungeons and Dragons!” is a bad take for the ages.

        And it just gets worse from there. “Grand Wizard” wouldn’t even be an awesome name for a third-rate prog rock band.

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        • Guy says that theres something wrong with everyone freaking out when someone says that “Grand Wizard” is a cool title. Everyone freaks out. Somehow I dont think he is the problem. Even if he is wrong its not obviously stupid. Nor is he some kind of crypto racist for pushing the theory. Seriously people here have said far stupider things. People joining the KKK and then becoming racist in order to fit in is just not that crazy an idea. I don’t see why we have to insist that they must have been irredeemably racist from the start.

          Look Grand Wizard is a cool title and that is one of the insidious things about the KKK.

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          • Guy made a potentially inflammatory argument in the clumsiest possible way, using Twitter, which is the worst possible medium for making nuanced arguments. This seems to be something of a pattern with him, what with his shock and horror over being fired for making inflammatory arguments via company email.

            Sometimes stupid hurts.

            Also, I am sticking to my guns on the “Grand Wizard” thing. It’s dorky as hell. The rest of the Klan titles are even stupider.

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  2. Bet on chaos for now.

    Indeed. A divided gov’t is the best hope for inaction on all fronts. You know you’re going to get screwed when gov’t agrees and joins together. We’ve got the Dems trying to block any legislation, or just let the Repubs fail to get a majority. The wild card is Trump. Will he work with the Dems against the Repubs? Hopefully not much.

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          • As best I can tell, the Clinton stuff started because Bill had the audacity to win. See, Reagan was supposed to usher in generations of Republican dominance. The Democrats weren’t supposed to win back the White House.

            It was Morning in America. The Democrats had been roundly defeated for all time.

            Then Clinton won, but not really because Perot spoiled the ballot. So he basically cheated his way in. And then he won again, but didn’t get a majority, so he wasn’t really President then either. Then he didn’t get impeached, and it was totally the Democrats turn for THAT….

            Bluntly, Clinton was supposed to fail and he refused to. That, more than anything, seemed to drive the 90s GOP. His mere existence in Reagan’s White House.

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              • Not really. There wasn’t really a repudiation of him as legitimate President, even in 2000.

                As an example — the Great Orange Satan (Daily Kos), back in the Bush years, would pretty much auto-ban anyone questioning the legitimacy of the 2004 election.

                The left didn’t like Bush, but they didn’t pretend he wasn’t legitimately elected. Even Trump, the second Republican to win office after losing the popular vote and what’s looking like some fun foreign collusion, is considered a legitimate President.

                One they think should be impeached, one they think the whole purpose of the electoral college was to prevent, and one they think is corrupt, venal, incompetent, and possibly blackmailed by Russia….but still President, if hopefully not for long.

                Nobody feels he stole anything. That maybe it’s time to switch to the popular vote only, sure — but again, second President in 20 years to have a popular vote/electoral college split.

                But Clinton? Good god, were you around those days? They were convinced he murdered his way into office. And Obama, of course, spent years having his very citizenship questioned — that he wasn’t really President because he wasn’t even a citizen.

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                • The asymmetry can be boiled down to this. After 8 years of Bush, Democrats were (justifiably IMO) pig-biting mad. So in order to express their anger, they nominated notoriously calm Barack Obama, a guy who was constantly getting shit for never being emotional enough.

                  After 8 years of Obama, Republicans were similarly furious, and they went out and nominated Donald Trump.

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                  • Allow me to assure you it was crazy — and incredibly profitable for the GOP.

                    Lists of people supposedly murdered by the Clinton’s, discussions of how the Clinton’s were involved in drug rings flying coke to secret landing strips Bill used his governor’s power to hide….

                    And full-fledged, national politicians would go on TV and claim that it was worth investigating, that it seemed true. There was literally no accusation against a Clinton that was too crazy for a leading GOP politician to go on TV and claim was the scandal that would take down the President.

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  3. I question a lot of things here. For all the criticism someone like Jeff Flake levels on Trump, he is still going to support Trump’s agenda in Congress. This is at something close to 98 percent. Same with Ben Sasse and anyone else.

    Despite the fantasies of pundits, Trump is still governing as an ultra-Orthodox Republican plutocrat.

    The most spot on thing you said above is that a lot of GOP mainstays hate Trump for his vulgarity. This is different than opposing him on policy grounds. Nikki Haley might have looked glum at the UN yesterday but not because she disagreed with the substance of Trump’s comments, just the phrasing.

    The true NeverTrumpers are a small and now impotent set. Jennifer Rubin is well on her Road to Damascus to liberalism based on her columns. The Commentary crew is holding the anti Trump line but how many people listen to them? Notice that it is largely Jewish conservatives who maintained a strong anti-Trump stance.

    I guess I just doubt the death of conservative fusionism. It seems very alive to me.

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  4. During the Cold War, American conservatives viewed the entire spectrum of the American left from mainstream Democratic politicians to real radicals as enablers of Global Communism. The Civil Rights movement was Communist, the feminists were Communists, people weary of a full on fight in Vietnam were Communists, and anybody engaged in the Counter Culture was a Communist. There was the same sort of apocalyptic battles on domestic issues that exist today.

    I think this sort of dynamic still exists today. Its just that Islamic terrorism replaced Global Communism as the foreign bogey man. Its not exactly the same because Global Communism was an actual semi-united foe while Islamic extremists are more disjointed. Business people can’t really get into the battle against Islamic terrorism in the same way that Christian conservatives or National Security people can because a billion Muslims are potential customers. The entire spectrum of American liberals are still seen as enablers even though the connections might stretch.

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            • Rhetorically and substantively.

              Very little of what he discusses has anything to do with upending the basic capitalist nature of our economy or putting workers in charge of the means of production. I think calling himself a socialist was an effective signal to people (mostly left of center) who were frustrated with what they see as a political establishment that is far too friendly with corporate interests.[1] Most of them aren’t really socialists either, so it all worked out well for him in the end, and he was enough to the left of Clinton and the median Democratic politician that even committed socialists often supported him with at least some enthusiasm.

              I do think the end of the Cold War is intimately tied up with all of this, though. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the most negative associations with socialism became much more tenuous, and to a lot of people who are my age [2] or a little younger, “socialism” either doesn’t evoke much of anything at all, or evokes Denmark or something.

              You don’t have to be a big fan of the Scandinavian social democracies to acknowledge that the prospect of becoming one is much less frightening than the prospect of becoming the USSR.

              As a result, “socialism” for Sanders and many of his followers is more a label signaling defiance of an existing (and to their minds corrupt and obsolete) political order than it is a statement of commitment to, well, socialism.

              For disclosure’s sake, I should hasten to add than I am not myself a socialist. I’d like to pad the rougher and sharper edges of capitalism with careful regulation and a more generous welfare state, not toss the whole thing overboard. I sometimes found Sanders’ policy proposals to be too naive, or just poorly thought out, but no more so than those of the typical presidential candidate.

              [1] Will Truman wrote a great piece about an analogous process among Trump supporters last year.

              [2] I was 11 when the Berlin Wall fell.

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              • As a result, “socialism” for Sanders and many of his followers is more a label signaling defiance of an existing (and to their minds corrupt and obsolete) political order than it is a statement of commitment to, well, socialism.

                And the gigantic policy proposal that Sanders has been pushing, single-payer, is…not actually socialism in any sense.

                It is possible to argue that something like NHS is socialism, as the government would own and operate what could be called a ‘means of production’. (1)

                Now, I actually disagree with calling that socialism, and have previously argued that there is a difference between the government making and distributing goods for free, which is a sorta new-ish thing that might deserve a certain label, vs the government providing free services to people. That is is basically the purpose of the government, and governments have done it since their invention, and extending that to some new service does not magically make that extension ‘socialism’. (2)

                But I see the confusion, maybe. Someone could, in theory, say someone advocating for the NHS is advocating for ‘socialism’. I think they’re wrong, but okay.

                But Sanders isn’t doing that. He is merely advocating for the government to collect taxes from people to pay existing private industry and individuals, which…if that is socialism, literally every single thing the government does is socialism, from top to bottom. The government paving roads is socialism. The government hiring people to pave roads is socialism. The government cutting a deal with someone to operate a toll road is socialism. There is absolutely no government behavior that is not socialism if single payer is socialism.

                Unless, of course, the definition of ‘socialism’ is ‘the government doing something new (And maybe some of the stuff they’re already doing) to help poor people’, which is what it really seems to be at times.

                Bernie Sanders, far as I can tell, has never proposed an actual socialist policy in his life. Nothing like ‘The government should build an auto plant so they can give everyone a free car’.

                1) People think that means communism, but communism is when the government owns and operates almost all the means of production and there is no money because there are almost no private transactions, or at least are not supposed to be. The government doing that in one area, like the government producing and distributing all transportation, would be socialism, not communism, because the rest of the private economy presumably still exists.

                2) A lot of conservatives seem to weirdly think this has something to do with the constitution. That the courts are laid out in the constitution and health care is not. But ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘socialism’ are not synonyms, or even related to each other in any way.

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  5. Where do you put the group, particularly prominent at the state level in some places and all claiming to be conservative, with a strong policy goal of making it difficult for the poor, minorities, and to some extent the young to vote?

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          • Oh gawd that article!

            There is some horrible truth to it, tho, if you pull back the lens. What I mean is, there is a great deal of radicalization of young men that went on among the “manosphere” and “gamergate” communities, both teeming with angry young men who have much insecurity regarding their sexual and romantic prospects. This is not an enormous group, but it seems reasonably large and energetic.

            But still — I mean seriously folks. The whole “blame the women who won’t sleep with us” routine is beyond pathetic. Furthermore, the guys who went from this space and found themselves Trump supporters — good grief. Is there a bigger confirmation of a low quality human being than that?

            By turning to Trump, these dipshits proved women correct. Who wants to date someone like that? Who wants to share deep intimacy with someone so stupid and hateful?

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              • There is something of a difference because your probably one of the few classical liberals in Singapore and that isn’t really quite the same as saying that women who believe in feminism and a woman’s right to choose should date a man with slight to very misogynistic beliefs who is anti-choice. That relationship isn’t going to work out that well.

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              • For me personally, yes dammit, political views are pretty high up there on what matters. On the other hand, not many Trump supporters are looking to date a queer trans woman.

                Actually, for me, the requirement that you must be willing to be seen with me in public would filter out 90% of Trump supporters anyhow.

                So yeah, but this is really about more conventional cis women I suppose. Should politics matter?

                Would you date a person who thought tax rates should be progressive when you thought a flat tax was better?

                Would you date a person who thinks your sister is subhuman garbage who deserves to suffer and die?

                Those are different questions. You can see the difference, right?

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  6. I may come back to the Topology because while I think it is useful, I also think it could be improved as and others have noted… but broad brushes are broad.

    More interesting, I think is this:

    It is now oriented firmly against various aspects of the American Left. This is extremely dangerous because, among other reasons, the Left can never–will never–be vanquished.

    Which I think is a really good insight in-so-far as some of those things just… are. But you pivot to Trump in a way in which we might question:

    Trump got there first, frankly. What other candidates sometimes hinted at, Trump dialed up to 11, identifying the problem as a “globalist” Left focused on arcane priorities and interests at the expense of American greatness.

    A lot hinges on “Globalist Left” and it being the thing which cannot be un-done, re-done, or done better. It also misses, I think, that the “Globalist Right” is implicated as well – which explains the Republican inability to co-opt (the good) and/or marginalize (the bad) Trump… a form of political malpractice. But this is fundamentally a Left/Right Establishment/Institutional failing. And what should concern those factions, as you note above, is that they are the least numerous factions (though by far the best funded). Tripling down on Free Markets has serious critiques from both the left and right.

    I guess my question is this… why wouldn’t Globalism* serve as a reasonable target** for a new (or refurbished) party – on either side?

    *Resist the temptation to go binary that anti-Globalism = Mercantilism. The clever leader will redub it Neo-Globalism and will leave you boxing at shadows.
    **Not that Trump has any plan or answers (I never thought he did).

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    • I guess my question is this… why wouldn’t Globalism* serve as a reasonable target** for a new (or refurbished) party – on either side?

      Because globalism is, I think, very hard to sell if people aren’t seeing it benefit them materially, and whether or not globalism is ultimately at fault [1], a lot of people can point to a status quo that is doing them no favors.

      [1] A difficult question to answer at all, given the disparate things that get lumped together as “globalism”.

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        • Both the left and the right have factions in them that are going to be incredibly uncomfortable with Globalism as a target in the way that Communism was. Globalism helps business people make money and its going to be harder for them to oppose that than Communism, which hurt their bottom line. Large parts of the Left believe that anti-immigration policies are de facto racist and aren’t going to be comfortable with that. The entire right spectrum had something with Communism as a target. With globalism, not really.

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          • Both the left and the right have factions in them that are going to be open to Globalism as a Target in the way that Communism was.

            …is another way to put that. :-)

            Both are true statements. Whether or not it will emerge as a fusion target, I’m not yet sure.

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      • Matt Y had an interesting critique at Vox. He basically thinks the globalist left and right is too fearful of inflation because they generally withstand recessions very well but loathe a financial collapse. Contractions in the economy rarely stress the elites.

        Basically governments need to learn to fear unemployment more than they fear inflation.

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        • Not only loathe a financial collapse, they also tend to, say, own debt or having savings, which are often jeopardized by inflation. It’s a milder form of the tendency of some hardcore libertarian types to describe inflation as a form of theft.

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          • Concurred but there are still issues. I do think that there is a globalized class that has more in common with itself than with their fellow citizens. I’d argue that this class extends beyond the 1 percent. It is more of a class of anyone who had a good education and found themselves working in middle or senior management for large international companies in banking, consulting, finance, tech, etc. It is more of a global upper-middle class that does enough travel.

            I know enough to dance their steps even though my legal work is decidedly local in character. Sometimes they even find what I do quaintly fascinating because it is very different than their world.

            But when trouble hits, they have each others back and give each other all sorts of saving graces.

            You still need to care about reducing unemployment and income inequality and I am not sure that the elite do.

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            • There is a theory that so many European countries went republic after Word War I ended because it was an age of growing nationalism and the royal and aristocratic families seemed to cosmopolitan and international. They married each other, mainly spoke French rather than German, Russian, Hungarian, or what not, and really seemed out of step with the times. The royal families that survived were the ones that managed to seem integral to their country like Windsor or the Balkan royal families.

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              • As a non-member of said class, part of it may have to do with what these citizens have in common with the working class that they don’t with an upper-middle-class in their own regions. I don’t know if any of this applies to you, but I know people in this class who share experiences like:
                – hassles because of skin color and other experiences of immigration officials being a jerk to them
                – hassles because of gender or sexuality (even people who don’t feel safe in their home countries because of this)
                – hassles because of seeming “different” by accent, dress, or other cultural patterns that were very natural where they actually grew up
                – hassles because of seeming “different” by accent, dress, or other cultural patterns that they got from their immigrant and/or expat parents, but didn’t occur among their peers in whatever country
                – often some experience of poverty at some previous point in their lives
                – often an experience of having crossed a lot of boundaries and ended up somewhere where none of the people they grew up with did

                Now, few of them experienced ALL of these things and some of them have experienced none of them…. but there’s a lack of insulation (even if they haven’t had these experiences, at least a few of their friends have had) that prevents a total lack of empathy amongst at least the ones I know.

                Of course that’s rather self-selecting as the ones who are more like Saul describes – and they definitely do exist – don’t bother to talk to someone like me.

                Part of the reason I have the job I have is because one of its indirect effects is to help make that global elite more heterogenous.

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                • That’s a good list. I don’t think anything on the list really applies to me, but lots of it definitely applies to various colleagues and friends. I think people also tend to (unconsciously) assume that we are necessarily a hipper and more urban bunch than we are.

                  Somehow the cultural understanding that we tend to be the least cool bunch of squares and herbs you could ever imagine has been lost, to everybody’s detriment.

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            • I’d argue that there is an entire separate globalist class spectrum and an entire anti-globalist class spectrum. The global lower middle might travel less than the global upper middle or even working class but their cosmopolitan outlook on life makes them part of the globalist class.

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      • Well, I suppose it is possible we’re travelling in different circles – but sure, I think critiques of the New Economy and the post-Globalist assumptions are where a lot of the analysis is being done right now. That’s partly what makes it so volatile. Ideas, Policies, Allies, all that comes later… its the difference between building a movement and stumbling upon a political nerve.

        Trump is an accident of the situation, not a driver, and certainly not a reformer. What happens after Trump will be the interesting thing.

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        • Sure, but my point is that to make globalism the central target at some point you need to have a prescription and right now there isn’t exactly one that any large group of people like. I agree there’s a lot of jaw about it but no serious “there therefore we should’s”. I mean the middle left mumbles about retraining, assistance and safety nets, the far left squalls about replacing capitalism with *mumblemumbleit’llbegreatmumble*; the middle right says “well imagine if more than 1% of the nations population actually believed in libertarianism” and the far right screams “dey took our jerbs!” No one has any particularly good solutions.

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          • I would just point out that you just listed one lame, sort, of, mild, kind of, perhaps useful, in part, thing, and three different but completely useless rhetorical venting.

            In other words: one policy, which might not be perfect but it’s better than nothing, and three political tools to capture power.

            There’s some sort of significance there.

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            • @j_a All due respect to , the reason he did that is because middle-left is his own position (*deep breath* insofarasanyofushavesuchasimplifiedandunnuancedthingasasinglealbeithyphenatedwordpoliticalposition *breathes again*). I have no problem with him doing that, and if he wasn’t sincere about it he would probably hold a different position, but if you’re looking for significance, that’s what it is.

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            • It’s an honest reflection of my opinion of the center left, the far left and the pretty much utter degradation I see that has consumed the majority of right wing thought, at least as encapsulated by the GOP. I assure you it’s only about a third hyperbole.

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              • I’m not criticizing middle-left. That’s my position too.

                I’ve said many times in these comments that the mines will not reopen, that the old still mills will not reopen, and that, regretfully, the only thing that can realistically be done for places like West Virginia or Youngstown is a combination of retraining, welfare, education, and economic change into activities that will probably be less lucrative. It’s a palliative, yes. It runs over the dignity of the WWC, yes. It’s also possible.

                Those that reject the middle left proposal have nothing else but air -and dignity- to offer. Dignity is important, but those that are voting for dignity are also voting for even more misery. I wish those that are offering voters the dignity package would have the courage to say the quiet parts loud. That’s there’s no “there” there. That nothing will change in their lives.

                The middle-left is offering a policy. The rest are just offering politics.

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                • I’ve said many times in these comments that the mines will not reopen,

                  I agree completely with that, but I don’t like that phrasing, because it implies the problem is the lack of mines.

                  It is entirely possible for some mines to reopen. And new mines can open. In fact, some of that is currently happening! Coal is making a comeback!

                  These mines don’t happen to employ anywhere near the same amount of miners, and will employ less and less, so there still aren’t any coal jobs for anyone. But there’s coal mines a-plenty!

                  Ironically, part of this is thanks to the fact that voters in many of those states have been okay, for decades, with electing people that are obviously completely and totally in the pocket of big coal.

                  This seemed like a reasonable plan when big coal was merely bribing elected official to keep unsafe coal mines open…coal miners could keep their jobs! Sure, some miners got killed, but whatever. At some point, however, big coal started bribing elected officials for permission to blow up mountains so they didn’t need any coal miners at all. And, uh…well, crap.

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  7. I’ll double your sure with a sure of my own… but my point is that when you sift through all the buzz, globalism as a target is much buzzed.

    We are, after all, only one year out from Autor’s China Shock paper (which pulled-up even libertarians like McMegan) and the research on inequality is such that even a Neo-Con like Kristol is getting on board with Inclusive Growth and ditching the previous Republican big business fetish by Challenging the Titans of Technology, etc. Of course a cynical wag might point out that Kristol was neither Neo nor Con… but then, that’s also missing the point that the Neo-Cons kinda put together the Fusion in the first place. So, maybe Neo-Cons taking selective aim at Globalism (possibly to save Globalism) is, I think, possibly worth ruminating on.

    Perhaps this is a bizarro-world 1964 moment where Goldwater somehow won… and who knows if there would have been a Reagan if there had been a Goldwater… but the time between 1964 and 1980 is about the right amount of time for a fusion to coalesce.

    Or maybe it will be something totally different… what do I know about 2032?

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    • William Irvingson Kristol is on board with this stuff? I hadn’t seen the Radical Center before. Much of the left part of the political spectrum would be delirious to get most of this through. So would I. Except, of course, that if Kristol is for it, it must be wrong, so I’ll have to reconsider.

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      • Kristol’s partner is Bill Galston who, I’m told, is a Democrat… maybe only a Centrist Democrat like Bill Clinton… but hardly GOP; it would be odd to call this project a GOP project. Further, from what I’m reading much of the fuel for the criticism of Tech Giants seems to be coming from the left these days.

        Now, cynical of Kristol’s long term commitment to such a project? Opportunism? Sure that I’m fine with.

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        • Based on a quick Google, Galston really does seem to be a Clintonian style Democrat. They’re invariably drawn to these sorts of projects, which, I think, is not unrelated to why these sorts of projects are invariably doomed. The sort of centrism that can bring guys like Galston and Kristol together probably mixes aggressive foreign policy, tax increases, spending cuts, and no particular position on any controversial social issue. That stuff is catnip for the Washington Post editorial board, but it’s ballot box poison.

          I don’t doubt Kristol’s sincerity, here, but as always, I have deep reservations about his competence.

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          • Yeah, basically it’s lukewarm good policy but has pretty much zero constituency to push for it*.

            *except for a more aggressive foreign policy with is terrible policy and does have a vaguely supportive constituency though far smaller and weaker a one than in the past thank God(ess?)

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  8. Everybody knows that the Euthyphro is the “is a thing good because the gods love it or do the gods love it because it is good?” mud wrestling match. Less commonly known is the case that kicks off the discussion.

    Euthyphro is running off to court to testify against his own father in a manslaughter case. The deets are a little more interesting… the slave in question had killed another slave and the father had caught and bound the slave in order to hold him for the authorities. It was under these circumstances that the murderous slave died.

    Anyway, Euthyphro is running off to court to testify against his own father.

    Socrates boggles, as Socrates does, because in Athenian law, only relatives of the deceased may testify. Euthyphro gigglesnorts at Socrates for making distinctions between relations and non-relations because, surely, it is impious to make such distinctions.

    Socrates, being Socrates, immediately figures out that Euthyphro is an expert on the whole “pious/impious” thing and starts asking questions because, so he says, he’s going to be on trial himself in a short while and figures that he could use some help with the whole “pious/impious” thing from an expert (but we know the *REAL* reason is because Socrates is a jerk).

    I don’t bring this up because I’m hoping to disagree with Euthyphro’s conclusion of the whole piety thing when it comes to testifying against his father (indeed, are there any of us who would dare do so?) but to point out that Socrates’s’s immediate go-to was the whole “hey, I can’t believe you’re testifying against your own father” thing. Now, maybe he’s only pulling this crap because he found a position and if someone has a position then Socrates argues against it. If Euthyphro was running off to court to defend his own father, we all know that Socrates would have immediately pulled out the “why do you make distinctions in a murder case between a family member and someone who is not a family member?” and if Euthyphro said “the law makes such a distinction” Socrates could have easily jumped to the whole law reflecting the good or the will of the gods and from there to the question that everybody knows the Euthyphro is about.

    But there’s also a similar sentiment that shows up in The Analects:

    1. The Duke of Sheh informed Confucius, saying, “Among us here there are those who may be styled upright in their conduct. If their father have stolen a sheep, they will bear witness to the fact.”
    2. Confucius said, “Among us, in our part of the country, those who are upright are different from this. The father conceals the misconduct of the son, and the son conceals the misconduct of the father. Uprightness is to be found in this.”

    Now, I don’t bring this up to defend Confucius (indeed, are there any of us who would dare do so?) but to point out that Confucius also argued a similar point to the one that Socrates just merely happened to chance upon based upon his opponent arguing the opposite.

    These two guys both defended (and saw as worth defending) a moral position that we, today, know to be absolutely monstrous.

    In this same way, we’re on the cusp of a new and improved morality that, soon, everybody will have. And the only people willing to defend the old morality will be people in books.

    (Shout out to Rufus who also wrote about this sort of thing a million years ago.)

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