Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bad writing from VDH

Googled "Fresno irrigator truck" but didn't find anybody with yellow false teeth. Photo from California Agricultural Technology Institute where they evidently lack a proper sense of tradition.
BooMan sets a take-home exam question:
Compare and contrast Victor David Hanson and Corey Robin.
Do they agree more than they disagree?
I thought, after looking at the essays (Hanson's in City Journal, Robin's in the groovier n+1) it was a pretty dumb question and drafted the following as a comment, then thought it might look like trolling and I'd better just put it here.
I can't see the relationship between the two pieces at all. 
VDH, a semi-retired historian of Classical Greece whose serious work is decades old, is doing a cliché-driven "analysis" of Trump's victory in November, featuring his usual shtik on the moral superiority of the deeply hierarchalized, conservative rural society, down to the fictional cartoon pictures of gnarled Mexican-American Trump voters and smooth-faced white Clintonites, to conclude that Trump was the True Conservative all along, and that's why he won. Like all Hanson's writing on political subjects it's not worth reading at all except for the fun of fisking and demonstrating what idiots the National Review staff writers are.
Robin, an important political scientist working now, is trying to say something original about what kind of president Trump is going to be operationally, based on an important concept that keeps getting neglected, the fact that the presidency is held by a committee, not a person (so that whether you think the person is excessively "left" or "right" or whether you "like" her or not is less important than the constellation of power around her), to conclude that Trump is not going to have a lot of institutional power to effect the change he's promised (which refreshingly doesn't assume he even knows what he's promised; too many people think he has some kind of coherent plan that he came up with himself to accomplish some particular goal other than "winning winning winning"). Robin could be totally wrong (I found myself furious with him during much of the campaign), or he could be getting to a plausible end by a poorly constructed route, but whatever he writes is absolutely worth reading.
Hanson's cartoons went like this:

I stopped to talk with an elderly irrigator on the shared border alleyway of my farm. His face was a wrinkled latticework, his false teeth yellow. His truck smelled of cigarettes, its cab overflowing with flotsam and jetsam: butts, scribbled notes, drip-irrigation parts, and empty soda cans. He rolled down the window and muttered something about the plunging water-table level and whether a weak front would bring any rain. And then, this dinosaur put one finger up on the wheel as a salutation and drove off in a dust cloud.
Five hours later, and just 180 miles distant, I bought a coffee at a Starbucks on University Avenue in Palo Alto, the heart of Silicon Valley, the spawn of Stanford University. Two young men sat at the table next to me, tight “high-water” pants rising above their ankles, coat cuffs drawn up their forearms, and shirts buttoned all the way to the top, in retro-nerd style. Their voices were nasal, their conversation rapid-fire— politics, cars, houses, vacations, fashion, and restaurants all came up. They were speaking English, but of a very different kind from the irrigator’s...
I love the poverty of Hanson's invention, where he can't bear to imagine himself listening to anything the putative Trump voter says except the part he wants to put in his article, so that the story reads like an encounter in a surrealist drama, the conversation unmotivated and random ("I stopped to talk with" him, but he had to roll his window down first, and then rolled it back up and sped off as soon as he could escape). Perhaps he was chasing the man off his property, or chasing down a chainsaw thief, and the man said "But I'm a Trump voter!" to get Hanson to put the gun away.

If the geezer cared anything about the water table he certainly should have been voting Clinton, who's aware California has a drought (Trump said last June it didn't exist). I note old farmer Victor patronizes Starbuck's as well.
in liberal, urban America, one often heard Trump’s win described as the revenge of the yahoos in flyover country, fueled by their angry “isms” and “ias”: racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and so on.
Also euphoria, aphasia, Romania. Those "ias" are everywhere you turn.
Yet Trump’s success represented more than simply a triumph of rural whites over multiracial urbanites. More ominously for liberals, it also suggested that a growing minority of blacks and Hispanics might be sympathetic with a “country” mind-set that rejects urban progressive elitism. 
Yes, Trump's 8% of the black vote and 28% of the Latino vote—lowest minority scores of any winning candidate in history, but better than Romney got—is a sign that increasing numbers of African American voters are reading up on their Burke and realizing that they'd really be much better off with a country squire like Victor Davis Hanson making all their important life decisions for them. Or maybe it's just elderly Cubans pissed off with Obama.
He hammered home the point that elites rarely experienced the negative consequences of their own ideologies. New York Times columnists celebrating a “flat” world have yet to find themselves flattened by Chinese writers willing to write for a fraction of their per-word rate. Tenured Harvard professors hymning praise to global progressive culture don’t suddenly discover their positions drawn and quartered into four part-time lecturer positions. 
Post-tenured Hanson, with his family farm and secure berth at the Hoover Institution, doesn't have any more of a clue than Friedman, which is why he had no idea that poor people love the Affordable Care Act...

But tenured professors are a constantly diminishing part of academia, and tens of thousands of graduate students who hoped to help change the world through sciences and arts and find that whenever some fossil like Hanson finally stops "teaching" the position itself does indeed divide up like a sick amoeba into adjunct gigs and one-year contracts at miserable pay. They know many times more about hardship than Hanson does.

Enough. Read the Robin piece if you get a chance, and maybe we'll talk about it later.

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