Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Billie Burke in George Cukor's Dinner At Eight (1933).

David F. Brooks feels that "we" have failed ("The Failures of Anti-Trumpism"):
WACO, Tex. — Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure.
We have persuaded no one. Trump’s approval rating is around 40 percent, which is basically unchanged from where it’s been all along.
Not for the first time, I find myself wondering, "What do you mean 'we', white man?" In the sense, I mean, that nobody toiling in my vineyard is hoping to "weaken Trump's support" and persuade his approval ratings down. Especially not by exposing the harm he's doing. Exposing the harm he's doing just gets them mad. The only thing that's going to get them to stop supporting him—and it will come, I believe, sooner or later, as it came with George W. Bush—will be when he's exposed as not tough. And only circumstance will persuade them of that, not anything I can say.

No, the job from our point of view is to strengthen those who oppose the president, who have been an absolute majority of the population in the poll aggregates I look at without a break since 15 March 2017 (and rising most of this month with disapproval currently at 54.1%), and make sure those suckers vote this year.

What Brooks is really talking about isn't the failure to defeat Trump, any time in the near future; he's talking about the failure to swell the ranks of the Republicans-in-Exile, the MSNBC and PBS Republicans, the Kristol Red Persuasions:
Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party is complete. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans now have a positive impression of the man. According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 59 percent of Republicans consider themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party.... this is Trump’s party, not Reagan’s or anyone else’s.... I almost never meet a Trump supporter who has become disillusioned. I often meet Republicans who were once ambivalent but who have now joined the Trump train. Rich Lowry just had a column in Politico called “The Never Trump Delusion” arguing that Trump is not that big a departure from the Republican mainstream.... many Republicans, including Ted Cruz, are making the argument that if Democrats take over Congress, they will impeach the president. In other words, far from ignoring Trump, these Republicans are making defending him the center of their campaigns.... Even in blue states, Republicans refuse to criticize the man. In districts across Southern California, 11 Republican House candidates were asked about their positions on various issues. Seven of them refused to answer any question concerning Trump, and the four who did were strongly supportive....
I'm so sorry about your party, but it's not my problem. And what were you expecting anyway? Lowry's right!

(And please don't talk to me about how Trump has transformed the Republican party through his Buchananite positions on international trade until he's actually accomplished something different from what the Bush administration did with its failed attempt to impose illegal tariffs on foreign steel, which the Trump administration hasn't gotten close to yet. And by the way Buchanan is a Republican too; it hasn't been a partisan issue since around 1930, everybody mouths the same pieties about "free and fair" and "reciprocal" and outright protectionism is a minority position in both parties and Trump is no different on this issue from anyone else except for his toddler impulsiveness, and his scorn for labor rights, which is as GOP as it gets.)

And yet when Brooks is casting around for someone to blame for the unhappy situation of the Republican party, he doesn't look at the Republican leadership, political (Cruz) or intellectual (Lowry), ceasing all resistance and bowing down to the Trumpery. He blames me, and you, and all of us, for having bad manners:
Part of the problem is that anti-Trumpism has a tendency to be insufferably condescending. For example, my colleague Thomas B. Edsall beautifully summarized the recent academic analyses of what personality traits supposedly determine Trump support.
Trump opponents, the academics say, are open-minded and value independence and novelty. Trump supporters, they continue, are closed-minded, change-averse and desperate for security.
Edsall summarizes it "beautifully", but Brooks doesn't summarize the summary well at all. Indeed, you might just as well say Brooks lies about it, in hiding the key word for describing Trump supporters, authoritarianism, as in Edsall's headline, "The Contract with Authoritarianism" and 31 more instances in the course of Edsall's column, compared to three for "closed", five for "aversion to change" (he doesn't use the adjective version), and two for "security" ("desperate" doesn't show up at all). The concept of authoritarianism, in the views of these researchers, is what brings all the strands of Trump voter opinions together, in terms of the "universal theory" articulated by Karen Stenner
about what causes intolerance of difference in general, which includes racism, political intolerance (e.g. restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g. homophobia, supporting censorship, opposing abortion) and punitiveness. It demonstrates that all these seemingly disparate attitudes are principally caused by just two factors: individuals’ innate psychological predispositions to intolerance (“authoritarianism”) interacting with changing conditions of societal threat
such as the (propaganda-induced) "perception of civil dissent and unrest, loss of confidence in social institutions, unpopularity of leaders on both sides of politics, divisive presidential campaigns, internal or external crises that undermine national pride or confidence, national economic downturn and rapidly rising crime rates." And survey studies establish that 45% of the US population is high-authoritarian, in contrast to 33% in the EU.

Having turned this picture of the Trump voter into a pathetic caricature by leaving out its most important feature, authoritarianism, and introducing his own word, "desperate", to project a feeling of helplessness, Brooks is compelled to point out that it's completely mistaken, according to Brooks's own personal gut. Not that he's looked at the reported research himself, but it strikes him:
This analysis strikes me as psychologically wrong (every human being requires both a secure base and an open field — we can’t be divided into opposing camps), journalistically wrong (Trump supporters voted for the man precisely because they wanted transformational change) and an epic attempt to offend 40 percent of our fellow citizens by reducing them to psychological inferiors.
The 11 studies cited by Edsall are all wrong because
  • Brooks confuses what John Bowlby believed humans need (maternal base for security and open field to explore) with what everybody actually has (everybody has different unmet needs and an "innate" predisposition to lean one way or the other), concluding, if I'm reading this right, which I can't quite believe, that since we're really all alike political difference is just an illusion (like a Christian Science practitioner explaining that disease doesn't really exist);
  • Brooks believes Trump voters were universally driven by a desire for "transformational change" and who needs evidence? and
  • Brooks thinks it's very offensive to claim that some people "value social cohesion, certainty, and security" more than "independence, self-direction, and novelty" so if you have evidence that that's the case you should keep it to yourself.
Instead, Brooks feels, we should adopt the view that Trump voters are just regular folks who "rightly feel that their local economies are under attack, their communities are dissolving and their religious liberties are under threat" and hoped that this unpleasant situation could be "transformed" into its opposite by a wall on the Mexican border, threats of 45% tariffs on Chinese imports, and locking her up.

Sorry, who's insufferably condescending? I think the Trumpery is a movement of powerful and evil people who want to end democracy and Brooks thinks it's bewildered peasants who believe in pumpkin-headed miracles.

For all the hype, the Mueller investigation looks less and less likely to fundamentally alter the course of the administration.
Heh. The wording of that is truly peculiar, as if Brooks were laboring under the idea that the Mueller investigation were an essentially political initiative, aimed at making the White House moderate its plans in some way, making it more respectable in the eyes of David F. Brooks and Bill Kristol and the other disappointed GOPers. Or something other than uncovering and evaluating evidence of the commission of crimes and democracy-subverting espionage activities in the 2016 election campaign, which might, especially if Trump is found to be one of the criminals, put an end to the administration. I guess that would be fundamentally altering its course, but a strange way of putting it.

He filed that copy the day the US attorney's office for the New York Southern District took possession of Michael Cohen's papers, computer, and cell phone, by the way, indicating that at least one federal judge, one US attorney's office (the acting himself is recused), and one deputy attorney general of the United States are all convinced they have seen enough evidence of criminality to suggest that the attorney-client privilege is overridden in at least some aspects of the case of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. However it's looking, "less and less likely" doesn't describe it. Oh, and Mueller has the notes of Dana Boente corroborating James Comey's evidence of obstruction of justice,  and Paul Ryan's kicking it in, joining a herd of Republicans in full stampede and the likelihood of a Congress capable of impeaching.

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