I Never Thought I’d Agree with the Federalist….

The Federalist Society is an organization composed of politically conservative lawyers; Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito have been members, reflecting the legal orientation of the membership.

I have found myself disagreeing with the positions of the Society far more frequently than I have agreed, but I completely agree with a recent essay by Paul David Miller, titled “The Moral Collapse of the Republican Party,” published in its magazine, The Federalist.

Miller calls the party’s embrace of Trump “an obvious, avoidable, epic blunder.”

Embracing Trump, as almost all the party’s leaders have done, is a colossal, world-historical, vast mistake; an inexplicable failure of moral courage; and a repugnant act of institutional suicide. It is shocking to see such rampant self-destruction sweep through the ranks of a once-great party.

After providing a “roll call” of sorts, in which he identified political figures who have obediently endorsed Trump, Miller notes that most of the holdouts–Romney, the President Bushes–have ended their political careers and have nothing to lose.

By embracing Trump, the Republican Party embraces the man, the ideas, and his fate. Whatever legitimate grievances underlie Trump’s appeal—such as frustration with the pace of globalization, or with the culture of political correctness—have been tarnished by Trump’s overt hostility to basic norms of republican government. The party has given away all the high ground it had against the increasingly illiberal and autocratic progressive left by nominating the only person in America who embodies an equally clear disregard for equality under law.

If Trump loses—which he probably will—the Republican Party will lose with him, and it will deserve its loss. The down-ticket damage will be all of Trump’s doing, with the party’s open complicity, and much of the gains at the state and local level in recent years will be undone.

If Trump does lose, and if he takes a significant number of down-ticket Republicans with him, many Americans (including this one) will breathe a sigh of relief. But that outcome is by no means assured–and that’s what keeps me up at night.

It is worse if Trump wins (and I think he has a higher chance of winning than most polls say): a Trump victory vindicates Trumpism—already dangerously on the rise—and permanently transforms the Republican Party into the party of white grievance, nativism, and belligerent nationalism. America will no longer have a party of limited government and classical liberalism. Losing the presidency but recovering a party dedicated to the ideals of ordered liberty is far preferable…

[W]hat surprises me is that they want the Republican Party to win no matter what the party stands for, even if the party flirts with white supremacy and proto-fascism. I held out the hope—now, I see, hopelessly deluded and naïve—that politicians understood that there is a line you don’t cross; there comes a point at which principle really does come before party; that the good of the nation should come before partisanship; and that when your party starts to go off the deep end, you jump ship.

Many of us have done just that–we “jumped ship.” Some earlier, some later, depending upon when we saw the party becoming something very different from the responsible center-right party America still needs. We can only hope that–faced with the reality of Trumpism–many more follow. Before November.

It Might Have Been Written Yesterday

An old friend recently pointed me to “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,” a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King many years ago that–as he noted–could have been written yesterday.

Evidently, there are aspects of the human condition that change slowly, if at all.

King’s opening thesis is that we need to synthesize our opposing characteristics:

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites…..  And he gave them a formula for action, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

King described that “tough mind” as one characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment, one having the ability to sift the true from the false.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Soft-mindedness, on the other hand, can be seen in the effectiveness of manipulative advertising, responsiveness to slogans, and unquestioning acceptance of facts provided by the media.

Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.

And this was written before the advent of the internet and the explosion of propaganda outlets that the web has fostered.

After watching much of the just-concluded GOP convention in Cleveland, these two passages particularly struck me:

The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the South is reported to have said, “I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until after I die.” The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness….

There may be a conflict between soft-minded religionists and tough-minded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge that is power; religion gives man wisdom that is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.

When King turned his attention to hard and soft-heartedness, his reflections were equally pertinent to today. He was especially critical of hardhearted people who lack genuine compassion and engage in a “crass utilitarianism that values other people mainly according to their usefulness to him.”

At the end of his sermon, King calls on us to avoid both the complacency and do-nothingness of the soft-minded and the violence and bitterness of the hardhearted.

The sermon was written in 1959. It is as if he foresaw 2016.


Pay to Play

Economic inequality—the gap between rich and poor—should concern policymakers for many reasons: humanitarian concern for the everyday challenges faced by the working poor; the cost of social supports needed to fill the gap between what people earn and what they need in order to live; and the substantial drag on the economy from weak demand (when people lack discretionary income, they cannot buy many goods and services). And of course, social scientists have long recognized that unequal societies are unstable societies.

Those concerns are widely acknowledged. Less recognized is the harm done to democratic systems when large numbers of Americans live in or on the edge of poverty. Those people lack what political scientists call voice.

Democratic theory begins with the concept of membership, the right–and duty– of (competent adult) members of a society to participate equally in the citizenship responsibilities of the nation.

The most prominent responsibility, of course, is voting, and even before the current Republican efforts to make voting much more difficult for poor and minority citizens, turnout in poorer precincts was low. There are any number of reasons why people preoccupied with making it through the week—paying rent and putting food on the table—have little time or energy left for civic duties. In many states, including my own Indiana, polling places are inconvenient and they close early, making it very difficult for people who work long hours, or who may not have ready access to transportation, to cast a ballot.

If participation at the polls is skewed toward more affluent Americans, giving the comfortable more voice, other mechanisms to influence public policy are even more unevenly distributed.

Poor Americans do not send lobbyists to the halls of Congress or to their local statehouses. They rarely write letters to the editor (assuming that quaint effort to enter the public conversation still matters). When legislators hold hearings on issues that will affect middle class families and the working poor, they are unlikely to face citizens from those constituencies who have come to testify.

Poor citizens are also highly unlikely to make political contributions. (For that matter, according to Open Secrets, only a tiny proportion of the public—fewer than 1%–makes political contributions of $200 or more.)

Even the most conscientious policymakers can only act upon information they receive, and even when there is no quid pro quo, it is human nature to at least listen to people who have contributed to your campaign or your political party.

The result of disproportionate participation and information asymmetry is disproportionate legislative attention to the concerns and desires of those who can and do participate.

It isn’t just legislative inaction. Poor neighborhoods notoriously receive less attention from municipal agencies; streets in such neighborhoods are the last to be plowed or paved, parks and other public amenities are more likely to be neglected, since more empowered residents know how to make their needs known, and have the time and wherewithal to communicate with local government.

Lack of voice translates into a marginalized civic status– poor Americans lack the means to influence the system, or to change policies that operate to keep them marginalized.

In a variety of ways, they are second-class citizens–holders of “class B” memberships in the American polity. It’s something we need to fix, but the remedy is by no means obvious.




A Definition of Insanity

John Hamilton is Mayor of Bloomington. This week, he had a heartfelt, frustrated–and frustrating–op ed in the New York Times.

Hamilton recounted two recent events from his city: an “open carry” parent swaggering around a municipal swimming pool, terrifying other parents; and a float in the annual Fourth of July parade “featuring armed men from a private firearms training center with military-style machine guns held at the ready, ammunition belts attached, atop a pickup truck.”

Both incidents generated unease and concern; both prompted calls for the Mayor to “do something” to ensure citizen safety. But, as Hamilton wrote, his inability to do anything–no matter how minor–has been assured by Mike Pence and Indiana’s legislature.

This is all happening in Indiana, with a governor, Mike Pence, who has long fought against any reasonable restrictions on guns. His extreme views on this, and other issues, are apparently one reason Donald J. Trump chose him as his running mate. The nation as a whole will now get a better look at the kind of attitude on gun laws that has earned Governor Pence an A rating from the National Rifle Association — and has made it harder for me to do what my constituents want when it comes to making them safe.

As Hamilton points out, his constituents aren’t anti-guns, or anti- Second Amendment.

They just don’t want handguns carried around at their public pools. They don’t want machine guns in their parades. Nor does my Police Department. Nor do I.

And in fact, my city used to have reasonable restrictions in place on the possession of firearms in parks, city facilities and at City Council meetings.

But five years ago the State Legislature prohibited cities from enforcing virtually any individual local regulation of firearms, ammunition or their accessories. The statehouse said we couldn’t restrict what kind of guns or ammunition can be carried, displayed, worn, concealed or transported, with a few very limited exceptions like courtrooms and intentional displays at official public meetings.

The state did nothing to fill this vacuum it created. It did create one exception to protect itself — prohibiting anyone but officers, legislators or judges from carrying guns in the statehouse. And in one more technical twist, the state said if any city ever tries to restrict firearms or ammunition, it would be subject to paying triple the lawyers’ fees for anyone who sues us.

So despite what a vast majority of Bloomington wants, we can’t ban a handgun from a public pool or a machine gun from a parade float.

Polls routinely show large majorities of Americans favoring reasonable restrictions on guns. Until we vote out the politicians who have been bought and paid for–or cowed–by the NRA, however, responsible public officials will have no option but to stand by and watch childish, macho displays of….what?

What is the psychology of a parent who parades around a municipal swimming pool packing a pistol?

In an era where police are rightfully concerned about being targeted by mentally unstable individuals, why on earth would we encourage citizens to walk around brandishing weapons?

How do they–or the rest of us– distinguish the “good guy” with the gun from the disturbed guy looking for provocation?

This is nuts.

A Summary of the Situation….

Okay….Yesterday was the last day of the Republican convention. It was without a doubt the weirdest national conclave in my lifetime.

If Trump did not pose such a threat to national security and American values, the spectacle might have been entertaining; as it is, I can’t help worrying that there might be enough anti-Other, angry, civicly-illiterate voters to put this dangerous ignoramus in office.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has one of the better summaries of the spectacle. (Marshall has also memorably defined what he calls Trump’s Razor: “Ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts.”) The entire article is well worth reading, but here are a few of his most trenchant observations.

The Republican party nominated a man because of his ability to dominate and denigrate opponents and summon up a plethora of demons already rumbling under the seas of Republican revanchism. The man was and is a charlatan and a grifter, the master of a Potemkin Village world rooted in narcissism and aggression which creaks and staggers under even the most measured scrutiny….

Indeed, while this conflagration was erupting in Cleveland another bomb, which Trump himself had lit earlier in the day, was going off on the pages of The New York Times. One can debate whether it is wise or sensible for the United States to guarantee the independence of small states on the periphery of Russia which had for centuries been either within the Russian domain or inside its sphere of influence. But we have. In his comments to the Times, Trump treated the matter like a real estate goon shaking down a distressed landlord to make an easy buck.

Trump’s mix of cocky ambiguity and predation could scarcely be better primed to trigger the kind of great power confrontation that could push the world from smoldering to fire. It is no exaggeration to say that were it not for the relative confidence that Trump will be defeated in November that interview alone could trigger a genuine international crisis….

On his own Trump is simply a bracing case study in abnormal psychology. But he didn’t shoot to within reach of the most powerful office in the world by happenstance. He is the product of a political and cultural breakdown on the American right, a swaggering reductio ad absurdum of every breach and breakdown and violation of extra-statutory norms we’ve seen over the last two or three decades.

Even more chilling–if possible– is the response of the Trump campaign to a supporter’s call to murder Hillary Clinton. It has gone beyond the rabid chants to “lock her up,” as staggering a deviation from democratic norms as that sentiment represents; a Trump advisor who said Clinton should be “shot for treason” is now being investigated by the Secret Service for threatening the former First Lady and Secretary of State’s life.

Any responsible campaign would immediately disavow a person making such a statement. Not this one.

In response to Baldasaro’s attack, Trump Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said: “We’re incredibly grateful for his support, but we don’t agree with his comments.”

Again, Josh Marshall summarizes the import and context of that “wink wink” statement:

Do I think people on the Trump campaign really want to see Clinton injured or killed? No, I do not. But I do think they believe that exciting a climate of agitated grievance, militant anger and aggression helps them galvanize, gain and intensify support. On one and three they’re likely right. Just as importantly, they clearly believe that any clear denunciation of the growing chorus of angry and occasionally violent threats would demoralize and dishearten a key part of their base. Trump’s brand is dominance and submission. Provocation is his calling card. Calling a pause on their more febrile supporters would simply be off brand and would be hard to clearly differentiate in kind from the campaign-endorsed demand for her incarceration.

Just this week, David Duke reaffirmed his strong support for Trump, and once again, there has been no disavowal of that support from the campaign. Meanwhile, the ghostwriter of “Art of the Deal” described Trump as a nine-year-old with ADHD, and predicted disaster should he be elected.

My ulcer has been acting up ever since this Presidential campaign began, and I think I know why.