Tag Archives: Trumpers

The Problem With Ideologues

It isn’t that ideologues are stupid. Most are really very bright–if we define “bright” to mean that they have high IQs. They just can’t deal with ambiguity, and we live in an ambiguous world.

Politicians aren’t all ideologues: although many members of Congress–both Democratic and Republican (albeit more Republicans these days)–doggedly adhere to relatively simple “black versus white, wrong versus right” world-views, many others do not. The current administration is far, far from ideological. (True, Trumpers play to their fanatic base of True Believers, but from cynicism, not agreement.) Con artists are the antithesis of ideologues, and as I’ve previously noted, we have an administration composed of none-too-bright Keystone Kops and people who would be right at home in the Mafia.

We should also distinguish between “True Believers” and ideologues. True Believers tend to be people who uncritically adopt world-views generated by others. They find those “ready made” explanations (white nationalism comes to mind) appealing because they provide answers/excuses: why is it that my life isn’t going the way I wanted/expected? Whose fault is it? Who can I blame?

Ideologues, on the other hand, tend to be high IQ people who have worked out a coherent, orderly explanatory model that they proceed to apply to a world that is anything but coherent and orderly.

And that brings me to Richard Epstein.

I met Epstein briefly some twenty-five years ago, when he was teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. (You don’t teach at U.C. unless you are really, really smart–of course, “smart” and “wise” aren’t the same thing–not even close.) He made a speech which I have since forgotten, and had just written a book which I read and which is still buried somewhere in my library.

I would describe Epstein as a radical libertarian, and what I remember most about that just-written book was one chapter’s insistence that we don’t need a government agency to award or monitor air lanes–that once two planes had collided midair, and the airlines had been held liable for the immense damages (he does believe in legal liability, evidently–it’s been a long time since I read the book), the airlines would be motivated to get together and agree on the distribution of air lanes, because it would be in their financial interests to avoid such collisions in the future.

Cold comfort to those on one of the first planes…

At any rate, Epstein is now, apparently, affiliated with both NYU Law School and the Hoover Institution, and according to the New Yorker,  his approach to the way the world should work significantly influenced early White House pandemic policy.

According to the Washington Post, “Conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials have been circulating an article by Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institution, titled ‘Coronavirus Perspective,’ which plays down the extent of the spread and the threat.

Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law, published the article on the Web site of the Hoover Institution, on March 16th. In it, he questioned the World Health Organization’s decision to declare the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, said that “public officials have gone overboard,” and suggested that about five hundred people would die from COVID-19 in the U.S. Epstein later updated his estimate to five thousand, saying that the previous number had been an error. So far, there have been more than two thousand coronavirus-related fatalities in America; epidemiologists’ projections of the total deaths range widely, depending on the success of social distancing and the availability of medical resources, but they tend to be much higher than Epstein’s.

According to the article, Epstein is known for his “libertarian-minded reading of the Constitution.”  He continues to advocate for what he calls a “restrained” federal government, and last year published an article on Hoover’s web site arguing that “The professional skeptics are right: there is today no compelling evidence of an impending climate emergency.”

Well, when pesky evidence threatens your carefully-constructed worldview, the evidence must be wrong.(What are you going to believe? Your lying eyes, or your elegant theoretical model?)

The linked New Yorker article has a verbatim interview. If you want a glimpse of just how far afield a rigid ideology can take even a really smart person, click through.

 

A Shared Understanding of Reality

For probably twenty years, I have written about the growing gulf between libertarian and “country club” Republicans, on the one hand, and the Evangelical/social conservative/white nationalists who make up an ever-growing percentage of the party, on the other.

I think it is safe to say that the “Never Trumpers” come disproportionately from the ranks of the (increasingly endangered) libertarians.

While I have significant differences with libertarians on economic policy, they tend to be educated and thoughtful proponents of a particular worldview, not– like so many on both the far Right and far Left–emotional and tribal “my way or the highway” extremists.

Trump’s assault on norms of democratic governance has deepened the rift between libertarian Republicans and the others– a rift underscored by a recent article from Reason Magazine,titled “Trump’s Congressional Defenders Deny Reality.” (Reason is a premier publication of libertarianism.)

During Monday’s impeachment hearing, Republican lawyer Stephen Castor denied that Donald Trump had asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender to oppose Trump in next year’s election. “I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor said.

That jaw-dropping moment starkly illustrated the lengths to which Republicans have gone in rebutting the charge that Trump abused his powers for personal gain. The president’s defenders have repeatedly contested well-established facts in a way that makes fair-minded nonpartisans despair of having an impeachment debate based on a shared understanding of reality.

According to the White House’s own transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump asked Zelenskiy to look into the claim that Biden pressed the Ukrainian government to replace Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin with the aim of thwarting an investigation of Burisma, an energy company that employed Biden’s son Hunter as a board member. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution,” Trump said, adding that “it sounds horrible to me.”

Trump asked Zelenskiy to “look into it,” and Zelenskiy agreed, saying his new prosecutor general “will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned” (i.e., Burisma). Trump himself has said what he wanted from Zelenskiy was “very simple”—”a major investigation into the Bidens.”

You can argue, as Republicans have, that there was nothing improper about that request. But you cannot credibly deny that Trump made it.

This, in a nutshell, is America’s current dilemma: We do not have a shared understanding of reality. There are multiple reasons for this state of affairs: increasing tribalism, a media environment that encourages confirmation bias and discourages a shared recognition of fact, a widening divide between educated and uneducated Americans, and the cynical manipulation of persistent racial and religious resentment by people who profit from that manipulation.

Thoughtful individuals who disagree about politics and policy can nevertheless come to satisfactory resolutions–they can engage in the scorned but utterly necessary process of compromise. Ideologues and members of a cult–inhabitants of alternate realities–can neither participate in a legitimate conversation (defined as one in which the parties actually hear what the others are saying) nor reach an accommodation that requires them to relinquish even a small part of whatever it is they are demanding.

In the real world, it has been conclusively proven that Russia–and not Ukraine–meddled in our 2016 election. In the real world, Trump withheld desperately needed and congressionally approved military aid in order to get Ukraine’s President to announce an investigation into his (Trump’s) political rival.

But that’s in the real world, and elected Republicans don’t live there anymore.

 

THIS!!

I generally shy away from basing my blogs–or my own opinions, for that matter–on material from partisan sources. Trump and his enablers may accuse traditional media of being “fake” or biased, but that’s a tactic, not an accurate description, so I try to limit my references to places like the New York Times, Washington Post, Guardian, etc.

But in the aftermath of Trump’s most recent–and arguably most breathtaking–departures from anything close to Presidential behavior/circumspection/sanity,  I’m breaking my rule, and sharing a Daily Kos post that spoke to me–loudly and clearly.

The obstacles to Democratic control of Congress are not emotional, and emotions are not the answer. We don’t require more “enthusiasm.” We’re not lacking in progressive ideas and candidates, nor are we shy on appropriately moderate options. We don’t need better explanations of our positions. We’re not even hurting for dough right now.

We need voters. And our opponents have done a damn good job for decades of blocking our voters.

Gerrymandering. Voter ID. Roll purges.

Our problems are structural. And they will take a great deal of work to overcome.

As regular readers of this blog know, when it comes to the importance of social and politicall structures, I’ve been singing that song for a long time. The author of this post goes further than diagnosis, however.

He has a prescription for what ails us.

Voter ID laws are unconstitutional poll taxes. That doesn’t get rid of them. The only way around them is to identify our voters and get them the IDs. We can’t just drive them to the polls, we have to drive them to the DMV six months earlier. And, if they can’t afford the new poll tax, we have to find a way to pay for those cards for them.

We have to make sure they are registered, and stay registered through the coming postcard purges, calling long before Election Day, checking for them and helping them re-register if they get booted.

And, on Election Day, we have to have already built those relationships. The phone calls can’t be, “Hi, I’m blah blah blah from the blah blah blah campaign reminding you to blah blah blah.” They have to be, “Hi, Phyllis, it’s Ashley. What time do you want me to pick you up?”

Admittedly, this is a lot of work. It’s so much easier to post a scathing remark to Facebook, to share a particularly pointed comment or article, and then feel as if we’ve done our part.

We can continue to preach to our choirs, engage in handwringing with those who already agree with us, and who already vote–or we can do the hard work of identifying non-voters, registering them, making sure they have what they need, and getting them to the polls.

Here’s the bottom line: there is only one way to save this country from the accelerating damage to our institutions and national defense (not to mention the raping and pillaging  that the Trumpers aren’t even bothering to hide). Democrats, scientists, moderate Republicans and all sane Americans must do two things simultaneously: we must delay and obstruct as many of their legislative assaults as humanly possible; and we must ensure that 2018 will be a wave election that will oust the Trump enablers from the House and Senate.

If we fail–if we give in to “outrage fatigue,” rely on the Democratic party or Common Cause or the ACLU to act on our behalf, or simply tell ourselves we’re “too busy” to find and equip that non-voter, we will wake up in January 2019 to a country we don’t recognize.. and definitely  won’t like.