Robert Osborne, R.I.P.

 | 

Robert Osborne (1932–2017), who died on March 6, started out as an aspiring young gay actor, whose talent was not equal to his aspiration. His acting career fizzled. But his enthusiasm for the art of film turned out to be a hundred times greater than his desire to act. Acting, after all, is only one aspect of the art. He didn’t repine; he kept involved. He became a writer about film, and eventually he became the founding and continuing host of that great American institution, Turner Classic Movies, which presents movies on cable TV, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and never edits or censors them.

Osborne’s genial, knowledgeable, and above all genuine presence made him a central figure in my life and the lives of many other people. I remember sharing happy hours watching TCM with the late Ronald Hamowy, when he was ill and had difficulty leaving his house. Ronald and I watched whatever movies Osborne presented, always appreciating the way he handled his role as host and (concise) commentator. Ronald knew more about movies than I did, and consequently knew better than I how to value Robert Osborne; but over the years I learned more about film, and a lot of it came from watching Osborne and TCM. There are few things in life that are both good and available at any time. TCM is one of those things, and Osborne was largely responsible for its continuance and success.

Osborne's acting career fizzled. But his enthusiasm for the art of film turned out to be a hundred times greater than his desire to act.

Osborne was famous for his friendships with Hollywood stars, but he was no idolator or press agent. His interviews with them dwelt on serious questions of art and craft and the challenges of life, and he had a way of gently bringing people out in conversation so that pretense vanished and personality emerged. He took human weakness for granted and went beyond it, to more interesting things.

I have no idea what Osborne’s politics were, because they were irrelevant to his work. I wish I could say as much about the unequal figures who have occupied the scene at TCM during recent years, years of the mysterious illness that seems finally to have claimed Osborne’s life. He was himself a strong personality, but he never thrust the purely-Osborne forward; he was always Osborne in pursuit of the life of film.

For this I am thankful. As Auntie Mame said, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” People who don’t know the history of film are missing much of the food and most of the fun. Osborne’s mission was to issue invitations to the banquet, to inspire in others his own enthusiasm for a great art form. He was not a “legend,” as dead celebrities are always proclaimed to be. No, he was a reality.




Share This


Immunity from “Fear” — and Criticism

 | 

The Canadian parliament is currently discussing Motion 103. This motion, if passed, would require the government torecognize the need to “quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”

The motion was placed by a Pakistani-Canadian Liberal MP, Iqra Khalid, who immigrated to Canada in 1998.

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic.

Liberals and the media have been shouting that this is not a bill and will not convert into a law. It is a simple non-binding gesture of goodwill, and in their views there is nothing to worry about.

But is there not?

There is no known Islamic country that is liberal. In almost all of these societies, women and non-Muslims have a rather low status. And if the countries enjoy economic prosperity, it is generally limited to empathy-lacking elites and exists not because of value created by their people, but because of exports of natural resources. Even Turkey and Malaysia, which have so far been relatively moderate, have taken a turn towards fanaticism.

Is it inappropriate to explore, regardless of accusations of Islamaphobia that are bound to come, if there is something inherent in Islamic societies that makes their backwardness entrenched?

A troubling fact is that Islamic societies tend to become less liberal as they become more democratic. Many complain about lack of liberties, particularly of women, in the US-supported dictatorial regime in Saudi Arabia, but those who understand the area better would claim that were it to become democratic, the remaining liberties would vanish. Women would be completely locked in.

No one in Pakistan — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means.

Pakistan — where Iqra Khalid was born — is an interesting case study. It keeps vacillating from military dictatorship to democracy. When they have dictatorship, women come out in droves to fight for “freedom and democracy.” When they get democracy, women get locked back in.

Failing to understand causality, the Pakistanis keep the cycle going. None of them — the tyrants, the democratic rulers, or the rest of the society — appears to know what “liberty” means. They are forever looking for something external to solve their material and, very much, their internal miseries. My rare Pakistani friends who do not like religious totalitarianism must stay completely silent, or risk being killed. They cannot expose their views even to their own family. They are not allowed to question anything whatsoever about Islam.

What distinguishes Canada from Pakistan is precisely this: freedom of speech. Iqra Khalid wants Canadians to stop questioning if there is anything wrong about Islam. Maybe there isn’t, but if I am inviting someone to come to my home permanently I see no reason not to find out whether he is bringing a biological, or in this case a cultural, virus. Khalid of course does not conceive of the idea that anything could have gone wrong with Islam. She wants to brand Canadians who question it as “Islamophobic.”

Perhaps she should reflect on why her family immigrated to Canada. So eager is she to find problems among Canadians that one may ask whether she finds no problem in her own background or culture. She herself might ask why those in Pakistan who disagree with Islam are not allowed to speak up. She might ask why people in the West are increasingly scared to discuss Islam. She might ask why it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim — including herself — who publicly considers Islam to be anything but perfect.

She evidently believes that controlling freedom of speech in Canada is a mere tweaking at the fringes, to somehow improve that country. She fails to see that the fringe of free speech is really the center of what keeps Canada from becoming a mirror image of what she left behind. She fails to see the danger that, if she gets her way, she herself may eventually be forced into a veil and packed back into her house. And it is clear that neither she nor other supporters of the Motion would entertain the question of why, if Islamic culture is really so invulnerable to criticism, they do not wish to live in an Islamic country.




Share This


The Democrats and the Zombie Horde

 | 

I’m not gushing with praise about President Trump’s big speech on February 28, but one of his actions on March 1 does make me gush a little. I chose that verb with cunning: it alludes to his signing of an executive order striking down President Obama’s “Waters of the United States” rule, which gave the EPA the authority to harass people who try to do almost anything about the water on their land, even if the water is nothing but ponds or “vernal pools” (i.e., puddles that show up when it rains). And when I say “harass” I mean harass. The EPA has tried to make malefactors pay tens of thousands of dollars a day in fines.

I usually don’t like to talk about social classes, because the Marxists made such a mess of that, but the rule that Trump wants to get rid of is class legislation of a familiar but very pernicious kind. It’s like all the rules that Democrats have made forbidding you from getting the lightbulb you want or building a house near the suspected hive of some rare insect or drilling for oil in some area that no one ever visits but some environmentalist organization has located on a map and now derives financial support for “caring about.” Such rules — such under-the-table legislation — are meant to help well-off people who live in cities have good feelings or to help their kids get jobs “advocating for the environment,” at the expense of people who work with their hands on farms or oil rigs, or who simply want to maintain a decent environment for themselves. This is legislation that takes wealth (whether money or psychic benefits) out of the control of one group and gives it into the control of another group, which is ignored or ridiculed if it protests.

While he talked, the people in the background sat immobile, staring into space, not daring to move a muscle.

The Democratic Party is the main (not the sole, but the main) engine of class warfare in America, and its view of the exploited class — i.e., the broad mass of people who are hurt by its policies, but have to pay for them — has never been indicated so clearly as it was by the Democrats’ response to Trump’s oration. The Democratic leadership has identified what it thinks is the cause of all its problem: older, white, working-class people who live in that strange, virtually unknown region west of the Hudson and east of Hollywood. So it arranged for a retired Democrat governor from Kentucky, who looks about 180 years old, to sit in a diner in his home state, backed by other white people, mainly old, and talk in a strong Southern accent about himself, his religious connections, and his identification with po’ people and the workin’ class. While he talked, the people in the background sat immobile, staring into space, not daring to move a muscle. This, in the professional Democrats’ view, is the Other that must be tricked into continued subservience to us — the Other that can best be tricked by images of itself as a collection of zombies.

Yes, come to think of it, I do believe that Marx might have had something interesting to say about this.




Share This


The Base vs. the Most

 | 

The idea is abroad on conservative blogs and talk shows that President Trump’s opposition is staging much of its agitation against him simply as a means of “pandering to the base.” I refer to senatorial walkouts from confirmation votes, the constant barrage of inflammatory remarks from Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and other official leaders, the constant demands for investigation of this or that normal process of government (e.g., Trump’s firing of political appointees from the losing party), the accusation that Trump is anti-Semitic and homophobic, etc.

If the “pandering” idea is true, then the Democrats believe they are in serious trouble. You don’t keep pandering to your base unless you’re, first, unsure of its loyalty and second, unable to reach out to a broader array of potential voters. Perhaps Democrats have been traumatized by the fact that many people in their core communities failed or refused to vote in 2016.

You don’t keep pandering to your base unless you’re, first, unsure of its loyalty and second, unable to reach out to a broader array of potential voters.

But much the same thing can be said of Trump’s speeches, tweets, and continuing rallies in his own support. Anyone can tell that his remarks on these occasions, and many of the occasions themselves, are meant to keep his base energized, not to attract people outside the base. Like the Democrats, he wouldn’t mind attracting such people, but the first priority is to keep the base alive. Trump is, perhaps, just as worried as the Democrats, and if so, with good reason, because so far, it doesn’t seem that the majority of the American people is any more than superficially supportive of or even listening to either side in the great controversy.

Victory will go to whoever can win those voters, and while it seems certain that Trump is way ahead — he has a larger base of passionate supporters — he has every reason to feel insecure.

Having said these things, I need to notice the fact that politicians are often members of their own base, virtually indistinguishable from it, and unable to look beyond it. In national politics, however, these people are almost always failures — and politicians who want to be nationally influential often try not to be that way. Many Washington honchos are embarrassed by the rhetoric that now issues from the commanding heights of their parties, seeing it as mere rhetoric; they just go along with it, hoping that after the base is secure they can start counting votes outside the base. But such people as Elizabeth Warren are at one with their core supporters. She isn’t fooling anybody; she actually believes the strange things she says, and she is very unlikely to see the value of saying anything else. The more important question is the degree to which Trump is a member of his own base.




Share This


Slam Dunk Me, Karma, Through the Basketball Hoop of Life

 | 

Is it just me? Surely not. I can’t be the only person in America who has noticed that since the election of President Trump, huge numbers of both Democrats and Republicans have turned into raving twits. There must be something in the water that makes people forget everything that happened politically in this country longer ago than, say, six weeks.

George W. Bush was absolutely godawful for freedom. Then Barack Obama actually made the situation worse. Now along comes Donald Trump, going authoritarian like gangbusters, and many of the same conservatives who only a couple of months ago were complaining about the Stalinist direction of the federal government are euphoric about how masterfully he is steering the ship of state. And the “progressives” (sorry, I cannot bring myself to write that word without scare quotes), who so recently worshiped at the altar of the previous president’s might, have actually begun to lament the authoritarianism of the presidency.

Since the election of President Trump, huge numbers of both Democrats and Republicans have turned into raving twits.

If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today, having fallen asleep just before November of 2016, he’d be so confused that he’d go right back to sleep again. Libertarians could explain it all to him, since we’re the only ones who understand what’s going on. I can only speak for one libertarian, but the whole mess makes me want to take a nap and not wake up ’til at least a few among my countrymen who’ve lost their minds come to their senses again. I’m being exceedingly optimistic, of course, in assuming that this will happen.

From the long perspective of history, that pendulum of power we always talk about is swinging to and fro like the bell-pull in the tower at Notre Dame. Poor Quasimodo is hanging on for dear life. And those of us who’ve managed to retain our sanity are hanging on with him.

What the Democrats are experiencing at the moment is karma. Not the good kind, which results from doing unto others as you would like to be done unto you. To paraphrase an old country song, they’re getting slam-dunked by karma through the basketball hoop of life. They care about nothing but winning the political game. But they’re getting trounced, and their Republican opponents are gleefully running up the score.

Democrats' hypocrisy has all but destroyed what little remained of their credibility.

It never occurs to the Democratic leaders that they’re losing precisely because they’ve turned politics into a game. Or that they’re being beaten so savagely because they’ve been playing so dirty. They’ve been doing dirt unto others, so now dirt is being done unto them.

They are currently beclowning themselves with artificially manufactured outrage over President Trump’s temporary ban on travel to the US from seven predominantly-Muslim countries. They uttered not a peep while President Obama dropped thousands of bombs on Muslim countries and instituted his own immigration ban on Iraqi refugees (see paragraph 5 here). Their hypocrisy has all but completely destroyed what little remained of their credibility.

And they keep coming at us with fresh outrages: Trump’s plan to deport known criminals who are here illegally was morphed into a pogrom against all brown people, his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was accused of plotting the end of all education everywhere in America, and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was thrust into the media hot seat because a “Make America Great Again” cap was spotted in his locker. I could go on with the examples, but why? Our nation reels from them, like a punch-drunk boxer on the ropes. Because we can absorb only so much outrage, the cumulative effect is that many of us are merely numb. The Democrats hunger for relevance, but the cruelest blow that karma is inflicting is that they have made themselves irrelevant.

The Democratic Party may have entered a death spiral. Its moment of defeat may, this time, prove to be permanent. It very possibly may not be able to rescue itself, because it can’t stop being itself. What is perhaps most gruesome about the whole spectacle is that America’s oldest political party has locked itself into its follies. It can’t admit them, and to desist from them would be to tacitly admit that they are foolish. So it sees no choice except to double down on them,even though these tactics may reduce the Democrats’ vote beyond the point of national electability.

The Democrats hunger for relevance, but the cruelest blow that karma is inflicting is that they have made themselves irrelevant.

Libertarians have been wondering if our own party might possibly move into such prominence that a three-party system might be established. What just might happen, instead, is that the Dems will go the way of their ancient enemies, the Whigs. In that case, Libertarians might be the ones squaring up against the GOP in the two-party head-to-head conflict that has almost always characterized US politics.

I don’t know if this will happen, but I believe that such a development would be good for our country. It would certainly be better than the likely alternative, which is a continuous Republican ascendancy. Liberty loses when one party always wins.




Share This


Hidden in Plain Sight

 | 

One of Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to order federal agencies to repeal two regulations every time they propose one.

This is an action that requires some followthrough. It can easily be twisted or ignored by unwilling bureaucrats — and what Washington bureaucrat wants to obey President Trump? If the boss doesn’t watch out, somebody in Ring 3, Floor 9, Office G, Cube 2B will fulfill the departmental quota by rounding up ten nasty little regs, withdrawing them, and issuing one big, ten-part, much nastier reg.

We’ll see whether the followthrough happens. But the idea itself seems exactly what libertarians and conservatives have been waiting for. As someone who is more or less actively engaged in sorting through old books and files, so I can get some space to live in, I’ve made a personal commitment to throw out two boxes of junk for every new box of junk I acquire. This makes sense to me, and if I ever follow through on the scheme, it may work.

If the boss doesn’t watch out, somebody will fulfill the departmental quota by rounding up ten nasty little regs, withdrawing them, and issuing one big, ten-part, much nastier reg.

Trump’s idea should be crucially interesting to modern liberals, though in a different way. Their power and often their jobs depend on the proliferation of rules, of people who make rules, of people who interpret and enforce rules. That’s them, the modern liberals, so I would think their eyes would be firmly focused on Trump’s attempt at a de-rulement.

Yet neither liberals nor libertarians nor conservatives are paying much attention to Trump’s apparently fundamental change in the way the government works. Even when they notice it, they don’t seem to care very much. On February 2, the famous (for what, I’m not exactly sure) Fareed Zakaria wrote a column in the Washington Post in which he approved of Trump’s action — but only as a public foil for his dislike of Trump. Zakaria’s point was that although he liked the reduction of regs idea, he objected to the president otherwise, especially detesting his administration’s attempt to “delegitimize” “any institution or group that might stand in its way.”

To me, this approach seems a little one-sided. We have lately been exposed to seemingly endless videos of people — often Senators, attorneys, professors, and other elderly rioters — noisily insisting that Trump is not the president and that all his acts are unlawful, vicious, racist, misogynist, and fascist. It seems clear to me that there’s a whole lot of delegitimizing going on, besides Trump’s desacralizing of, for instance, the media in which Zakaria swims.

So much for Zakaria, and so much for Trump. What is not clear to me is why no one is making a big deal, one way or the other, out of this thing — reducing regulations — that Trump actually did. To me, the lack of reaction is a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in something I can’t figure out. Do you understand it?




Share This


Worker’s Rights Advance, Under the Radar

 | 

In the firestorm of news reports surrounding President Trump’s nominees and Russia’s hacking, some great news about workers’ rights has been overlooked. But in January, without any fanfare, Kentucky adopted a right-to-work (RTW) law.

An RTW law simply gives workers in any business where the workers are unionized the right not to support (i.e., join or pay dues to) the union. Without RTW laws, unions can and often do compel workers to join or support them in spite of their desires. While the right to join a union is protected by federal law, the right to refuse to join is not so protected. It is up to the states to pass RTW laws, and counting Kentucky, 27 states have now done so.

The Kentucky House of Representatives first passed the measure by a vote of 58–39. What allowed this to happen was a massive recent historical change: the Republicans took control (by a nearly 2-to-1 margin) of the chamber, which had been controlled by Democrats for nearly a century. Shortly thereafter the bill was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, in a rare Saturday session, and the Governor — Matt Bevin, also a Republican — immediately signed it into law.

Short-term, this was a fabulous deal for the auto workers, giving them a seemingly crazy amount of job security. But in the long run, it drove the automakers off a fiscal cliff.

The reaction to this by Kentucky union leaders was predictably bitter. Bill Londrigan, head of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, angrily barked, “Right-to-work is simply a clever slogan designed to undermine union resources.” Caitlin Lally, of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, lamented, “The future of the fight is in . . . trying to stop the erosion of wages, benefits and safety.”

This is nonsense, of course. There are several compelling arguments about why it is morally repugnant to force workers to support a union, arguments that are winning out in state after state.

First, unions justify forcing workers to support them with the free rider argument: since the unions deliver great contracts to the workers, it is right to make every worker pay dues. However, it is by no means clear that unions negotiate contracts that benefit the workers overall and long-term. For example, the contracts the United Auto Workers were able to force upon US automakers included provisions that seemed great — such as the one requiring the companies to keep all employees on at full pay when any of the companies shuttered a plant (say, because the model made at the plant wasn’t selling). Short-term, this was a fabulous deal for the auto workers, giving them a seemingly crazy amount of job security. But in the long run, it drove the automakers off a fiscal cliff, resulting in the bankruptcy of two of them, and in turn requiring taxpayers to pay massive amounts of subsidies to keep the companies alive.

Second, the right to free association applies to all parties. You and your friends are free to form a club, free from any interference by me. But I have the same right to refuse to join, no matter how much you might think it would benefit me to be a member. Similarly with unions: the right of private-sector workers is sacrosanct, and nobody — least of all I — proposes to take it away. But the right to opt out of the union should therefore be recognized as equally sacrosanct.

Workers who are pro-Second Amendment find with alarm that their dues fund politicians intent on ending gun rights.

To this, union apologists offer the freedom-to-contract argument: workers and management have the right to contract freely, so if a company’s workers can get management to agree to a contract compelling all workers to support the union, the rest of us shouldn’t interfere. But the union apologists are intellectually dishonest here, since they support the federal law that prohibits “yellow dog” contracts — that is, contracts that forbid unionization. If there is freedom of contract, then yellow dog contracts should be allowed, too.

Finally, there is the point made by Thomas Jefferson: “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Unions typically use worker dues for the lavish support of politicians and political organizations that are typically Left-liberal in orientation. So workers who are pro-life find with disgust that their dues go to support extreme pro-choice candidates, and workers who are pro-Second Amendment find with alarm that their dues fund politicians intent on ending gun rights.

More good news for worker freedom may be just around the corner: both Missouri and New Hampshire are considering RTW laws, and both have newly elected Republican governors who have indicated that they support free choice for workers.




Share This


Crowded Out

 | 

The first 48 hours of the Trump Administration were nothing if not illuminating. Following a dour, dire inaugural address in which the new president affirmed his commitment to faux-macho militarism and the destruction of free trade, Trump and VP Pence set off on the traditional post-inaugural parade. But much of the parade route was lined, not with adoring supporters, but with empty bleachers. Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat — especially when compared to Obama’s numbers in 2008 (or even in 2012, the much less “hopeful” time around). Aerial photos confirmed that Trump’s crowds did not stack up: there were huge gaps on the Mall, some of them even visible on the live TV feeds when Wolf Blitzer or someone equally dim tried to talk about a “teeming mass of humanity” that was not in evidence.

Measured against Trump’s promise of an “unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout,” the entire day fell flat.

The Trump team had many options available to explain this disappointment. First, the weather: dreary, overcast, continually promising rain that arrived right in time for Trump’s address. Second, the demographics: of course Obama would pull more people from DC and its suburbs, the center of the swamp that Trump has appointed himself (and half of Goldman Sachs) to drain. Third, the economics: heartland Republicans might wish to be there for the historic moment, but the depredations of Obama have left them unable to travel outside their own red states. Fourth: the priorities — and this would be a stretch for any politician, but bear with me: they could have said that the inauguration itself wasn’t what was important; rather, what mattered was individual taxpayers working to better their lives in their own communities, not traveling to pay homage to a new would-be god-king.

Faced with these and other possibilities, the Trump team chose the expediency of bald-faced lies.

When press secretary Sean Spicer took the podium on Saturday for a press briefing, he refused to accept any question, delivering instead a diatribe against the media for misrepresenting the crowds, which he estimated at “a million to a million and a half people” — a transparent falsehood. Asked about these remarks the next day, advisor Kellyanne Conway referred to Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts.” Alternative facts!

Of course, Trump never lies without also personally attacking the people he’s lying about. During a rambling, borderline unhinged speech to the CIA, of all people, he referred to the media as “the most dishonest human beings” — something which might be accurate, apart from the grotesquely dishonest context in which he was giving utterance. Other admin statements took a threatening tone: Reince Preibus spoke of “not allowing” the media’s obsessive quest to “delegitimize the president”; Spicer himself warned menacingly that the administration would hold the press “accountable” for, one assumes, telling the obvious truth.

They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign.

And here’s the thing: the DC press corps is packed full of liars, courtesans, and ass-kissers. Any other president would let these natural sycophants do their work for them: just promise them access and appear even vaguely “presidential,” and they’ll swallow anything — just look at the Bush buildup to the Iraq War, or any major Obama initiative. Trump & Co. have instead made clear that they will fight to the death anyone who doubts the anointed — a policy which would leave us soon with Breitbart and (maybe) Fox News as our new Pravdas. If he had wanted to float supreme above the press, that would be one thing — that would at least promise the pleasure of toppling an icon. Instead, he seems to desire endless flattery and coos of reassurance. For someone who claims to value masculine independence, he’s proving himself such a whiny, fragile little snowflake.

All of this, meanwhile, over just the most pointless thing, something not even worth lying about. The crowd size doesn’t matter, any more than the popular vote does, or anything else that isn’t direct, concrete governance. They could have had a crowd of one geezer and a flatulent dog and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the fat stack of executive orders Trump is about to sign. This, in fact, is the main danger facing the press corps, as well as the historically huge crowds that turned out to protest Trump the day after his inauguration: they’ll once again think they’ve vanquished him, when they won’t have delayed for even a second anything those working through him have planned.

In the meantime, though, the lesson remains: either Trump’s ego is such that he can’t bear coming off second best on any comparison to Obama, or he really is so beholden to audience numbers and ratings that he literally can’t see things anyway, or (more sinisterly) the administration wanted an early test case to see who would echo their lies, even when hard data and common sense both dictate clearly otherwise. Either way, it’s indication and confirmation of exactly how far we should trust anyone connected to the White House: the distance between a fact and its alternative.



Share This


The Challenge of a Sectional Election

 | 

In 1860 occurred the most momentous election in American history. Abraham Lincoln swept the North, receiving essentially no votes in the South. The southern Democrat, John C. Breckinridge, swept the South but received fewer than 100,000 of his total 670,000 votes from the North (if you include California, which gave him one-third of those Northern votes). The sectional South could not stand the idea of working with a sectional Northerner as president, and seceded. The election of 1860 was the fatal overture to the Civil War.

When one compares the electoral map of 1860 with the electoral map of 2016, one is hard pressed to say which election was more geographically polarized.

Fewer voters switched to the Democrats; indeed, many Democrats refused to be lured to the polls to vote for anyone.

The 1860 map is complicated by the fact that Stephen A. Douglas, candidate of the national Democrats, won some counties in the deep South and many counties among the Republicans of the Old Northwest. Breckinridge, the southerner, won counties in California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, while the border-state Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell, won many counties in the deep South as well as the border states. Compare 2016, when Hillary Clinton won most of the coastal West, most of New England, African American counties of the South, Hispanic or American Indian counties of the Southwest, parts of the upper Mississippi inheriting a kind of progressivism from German American or Scandinavian American roots, and geographically isolated large cities, university towns, and state capitals. Oh, and she won the government employees in northern Virginia. This sounds like a lot, until you notice that the rest of the country went for Trump — the vast length and breadth of the nation, over five-sixths of its counties. Not only did all of this go for Trump; it often went for him by majorities as large as or larger than those that Clinton piled up in coastal cities.

Things were very different in 1992, when Mrs. Clinton’s husband beat the Republican, George H.W. Bush. Back then, you could find a Democratic county without driving very far, even though Clinton won with only 43% of the vote.

The change toward a more sectionally divided America has been going on for a while, but maps of voter change show a geographical intensification in 2016, resulting largely from a rush of formerly Democratic voters to Trump. Fewer voters switched to the Democrats; indeed, many Democrats refused to be lured to the polls to vote for anyone. But there has been a very strong, though unquantifiable, intensification of antipathy toward Republicans in core Democratic areas.

The ten Democratic US senators who do not come from safe districts, who come in fact from states that Trump carried, and who are up for reelection in 2018, are not boycotting.

Meanwhile, Republicans have inexorably captured state house after state house. They now occupy the governors’ chairs and control the legislatures in 25 states, Democrats in only 6. On the other side, the government of California hired a former Democratic attorney general of the United States to defend it against any attack by President Trump — before President Trump even came into office — and Democratic cities have declared that they will defy the administration in regard to the prosecution of illegal immigrants and other issues of concern. Sixty or so Democratic members of Congress have advertised their inability to live with a Republican administration by boycotting the new president’s inauguration — many even questioning the legitimacy of his election.

It is notable that these are all, or almost all, members from safe districts. The ten Democratic US senators who do not come from safe districts, who come in fact from states that Trump carried, and who are up for reelection in 2018, are not boycotting. If, by 2018, nothing changes (which something very well may), these senators will be out of office, and the political sectionalization of the United States will be further intensified.

A little bit of context may be helpful, one way or another. Despite popular belief, no one got a majority of the popular vote in 2016: Trump got 46.1%; Clinton got 48.2%. But Lincoln got only 39.8% — an indication of considerably greater sectional feeling. In 1860 the two-party system crumbled into four parties, owing not just to Southern refusal to acknowledge the possibility of life with a Republican president but also to Southern and Northern hatred of a non-sectional candidate, Douglas. The question would be: was either Clinton or Trump a non-sectional candidate, in the contemporary sense?

There is nothing like the chance of losing one’s livelihood to spur people to desperate acts.

To continue: in today’s political mix there is no fundamental, essentially unsolvable problem such as slavery. What divides the two sections of the country is, I believe, the predominance of the “liberal” bureaucrats and wealthy “capitalists” who cluster in large cities and on the coasts. This predominance can be reduced or increased by action on a variety of fronts, all of which will witness vast outpourings of bile, but no actual secession. On the other hand, there is nothing like the chance of losing one’s livelihood to spur people to desperate acts, and that is what we are seeing in the contest between phased-out industrial communities, now backing Republicans, and state employees and benefit-recipients, backing Democrats.

This is not a spectacle that most libertarians will enjoy. Some reforms that libertarians desire will be enacted by either local Democrats or national or local Republicans, but they will be tainted by today’s violent party spirit, and broadly discredited. I do not sense the spirit of limited government in the fact that most state governments are now one-party states. And when I look at the map of congressional districts in the election of 2016, I see a vast expanse of safe districts, hardening into total irresponsibility. When you add the element of real hatred and hysteria, fostered during the election by political operatives and pressure groups and continued thereafter as a way to keep donations flowing, I see a period in which antipathy will blind people on both sides to any form of political rationality.

But yes, I hope I’m wrong.




Share This


A Field Guide to Humanoids

 | 

In one of Woody Allen’s best films, Manhattan, he portrays a television comedy writer who gets fed up with the triviality of his job. He doesn’t want to make audiences laugh at people anymore, because he no longer finds people very funny. Only as he’s quitting do we learn the name of the program for which he writes: Human Beings — Wow! There are surely times — perhaps daily — when our sentiments echo those of that title. Sometimes we find the fellow members of our species funny, but painfully often we can’t.

Equal parts children of the gods and descendants of the apes, we possess about the same number of traits from each. If aliens from outer space were to come to earth, intent on learning all they could about us, they’d probably be puzzled. Just as birdwatchers consult field guides to the species native to their area, our visiting aliens might make good use of a field guide to humanoids. Having studied the human drama all my life, I think I could write a pretty decent one. I know just what I’d want to tell them, especially if they ever obtained the vote.

One of the main strategies of statists is dehumanizing the opposition. It must be evil, and it must never change.

The political forces that would control us want to keep us alienated from one another. They employ the time-tested tactic of divide and conquer. They don’t want us to understand human nature, because then we would learn how to get along with one another. We’d never achieve perfect harmony, no matter how much we understood, but we’d certainly be able to function without constant, heavy-handed government supervision.

One of the main strategies of statists is dehumanizing the opposition. It must be evil, and it must never change. If it could be seen to improve, gradually becoming less evil and generally better, the state would no longer be needed to protect its minions from that wicked force.

What does it look like when people change their minds about an issue? Our statist lords and masters don’t want us to know. If we came to recognize it, we might be more patient with those who disagree with us. If we realized how effective nonaggressive persuasion can be, we’d be willing to use that instead of the coercion to which we feel we must resort if we’re sure nothing else will work.

Most of my friends and relatives are leftists. When I try to get them to understand what’s really going on in this country — as opposed to the twaddle they’re told — I get dogged resistance. They don’t want to understand the changes that are taking place. Their heads are stuck deep in the 20th century, and a mythical version, at that.

If aliens from outer space were to come to earth, intent on learning all they could about us, they’d probably be puzzled.

When people change their minds, the process is usually one of gradual evolution. They usually think (or want to think) that they arrived at their new opinion totally on their own, without having been persuaded by anyone else. Sometimes they even try to pretend that they never thought any other way.

They’re not going to publicly flagellate themselves for their errors, no matter how cathartic the spectacle might be for others. I know that I don’t like getting even a private flogging for mine. I sometimes do from conservatives, when I admit that I used to be a leftist. “So you know you were wrong, now . . . huh, huh, huh?” They actually think that treating me like a poorly housebroken dog and grinding my nose into a pile of poop will get me properly trained.

It shouldn’t be made personal, because it really isn’t, as the trite saying goes, “about us.” Truth existed for eons before we were born, and it will endure long after we are gone. It’s bigger than we are. We need it, but it does not need us.

I’ve seen tremendous change in many conservatives, particularly on issues like gay rights. Leftists are deathly afraid to admit this. Donald Trump is probably less hostile to gays than any president in history before Obama, but the LGBTQWERTY left has utterly convinced itself that his administration is going to herd them into boxcars and ship them off to some new Dachau.

After hearing this fear expressed for at least the five thousandth time, I finally blew my stack. I asked a sad and quaking, safety-pin-wearing friend exactly what he thought it would look like if conservatives finally changed their minds about gays — humoring him by assuming, for the sake of argument, that a great number of them already haven’t. He gave me a long, blank look, like a schoolboy who’d failed to study for an exam. Then he launched into a litany of government actions that conservatives “must” support to show how really, really, really, really sorry they are for having been such meanies.

They’re not going to publicly flagellate themselves for their errors, no matter how cathartic the spectacle might be for others.

The concept of change happening organically in society — instead of being engineered by government — is totally foreign to him. He can’t fathom the possibility that people might be persuaded by logic and experience. Everything must be forced to happen. People who think this way are abysmally and inexcusably ignorant of human nature. It’s almost as if they came to this planet along with those visiting aliens and — like them — were seeing it now for the very first time.

If we don’t learn to understand each other, eventually we will destroy each other. There have been legends about extraterrestrial visitors since the days of the Pharaohs. We keep scaring ourselves by speculating that they might someday try to conquer and colonize this planet. I don’t think we need to worry.

They’ve been watching us through their binoculars and muttering, “Human Beings — Wow!” Like Woody Allen, they may not mean that as a compliment.




Share This
Syndicate content

© Copyright 2018 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.