Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I believe in closed, Alfie

Bound fabric. Hand-dyed "Dark Shadows" by Blackberry Primitives, via Etsy.
I shouldn't totally give up on last Friday's Brooks, outlining his post-Trump plans for that third party, which don't seem to be that different from the pre-Trump plans, but there's some very funky argumentation, starting from a pious hopefulness that the coming cataclysm won't be the end of humanity:
If [Trump]’s left to bloviate while others are left to run the country and push through infrastructure plans, maybe things won’t be disastrous. The job for the rest of us is to rebind the fabric of society, community by community...
What makes him think that Paul Ryan's House and Mitch McConnell's Senate are interested in pushing through infrastructure plans is anybody's guess. Ryan's already on record as saying they spent quite enough on infrastructure last year, thanks very much:
That bipartisan agreement allocated $305 billion for highways, mass transit and other projects over five years -- an increase in funding, but far less than what Obama and the Democrats had sought. Republicans said the funding in the legislation was adequate.
"We passed the biggest highway bill, the long-term highway bill, for the first time since the 1990s just a few months ago," Ryan said in September. "That's already in place at 10 percent above baseline spending on mass transit and highways."
The only major Republican figure that wants to spend a large amount of money on infrastructure is your president-elect, and if you want to pack him off into the bloviation department there will be literally no non-Democrat in Washington to work on your plan.

"Rebind the fabric" is a pretty picture. I have an idea what bound fabric would look like (see above), but if you rebound it—took off the ribbon and then put it back on—how would you be able to tell the difference? But there you have it, anyway, all of us outside the infrastructure-pushing powerful are now stock clerks in a dry-goods shop.
... and to construct a political movement for the post-Trump era. I suspect the coming political movements will be identified on two axes: open and closed and individual and social.
Everybody needs to join in constructing one political movement, but the movements that are "coming" will be plural, and plotted on a Cartesian graph. "I suspect" that the thing I've been hawking for the past couple of months that sounds like a political-science hypothesis will actually correspond at some future date to reality, on the basis of evidence I'm too busy to bother you with. Keep your suspicions to yourself, Brooks.

OK, so the x axis in the Brooks Conjecture is about attitudes on a set of issues dealing with the national community's relationships with other national communities (in questions of trade, immigration, or foreign policy questions that aren't questions of trade) or an ethnic group's relationships with other ethnic groups:
Those who believe in open trade, relatively open immigration, an active foreign policy and racial integration. Those who believe in closed believe in protective trade, closed borders, a withdrawn foreign policy and ethnic separatism.
I suspect the first sentence started out, "Those who believe in open believe in open trade..." and an editor actually stepped in, for a change, to delete the fourth through sixth words, not realizing it was possible that Brooks could have meant to write such a thing, which sounds like Gertrude Stein—but if you compare it to the second sentence it's clear he probably did mean to, and the editor, sadly, has only made the situation worse.

A big part of the problem is this "believe in [adjective]" format, "I believe in faithful", "I believe in sincere", or whatever. I say if you really believe in something you can take the trouble to make it into a noun. Like "openness" and "closedness" (Wiktionary is OK with that so shut up if you don't like it), or "being open" and "being closed", depending on what you mean. Say, what do you mean?

This unfortunate trend continues in the next graf, on the y axis, which seems to be about the best way in traditional conservative theory to make people adventurous—though he moderates the mud a little by finding an alternative to "believe" ("favor") in the first clause:
Those who favor individual believe in individual initiative, designing programs to incentivize enterprise and removing regulatory barriers. Those who believe in social believe that social mobility happens within rich communities — that people can undertake daring adventures when they have a secure social and emotional base.
Ah, there's a little crevice where you can get a foothold, around the "rich communities"—David Brooks believes in social, or believing in social is believing something Brooksish. And we know for a fact he'd like to undertake a daring adventure himself. Only his social isn't secure and his base isn't emotional. Is that clear?

In fact, what the y axis is about is the murky battle in Brooks's own mind, over what he himself believes, in the traditional contest between libertarianism and authoritarianism. In traditional conservatism, naturally, there is no conflict, because the libertarianism is for Us, the enterprising individuals, and the authoritarianism is for Them, the faceless masses. But for Brooks, it's a crippling problem because of his deep personal longing for an authority of his own, a kind but stern father assuring him that he's doing the right thing. He can only feel truly free—ready for that daring adventure—if someone is telling him what to do, not "designing programs" to let him loose, but tethering ("re-binding") him to the woven or rewoven fabric of a spiritual safety net, so that when ever he shoots off he will spring back.

And then naturally, since it's always projection, he confuses his own neurotic neediness with the needs of society as a whole, and his loneliness with the "closed" character of the society that fails to give him that sense of safety; turns out it's all closed. "Probably":
Donald Trump is probably going to make the G.O.P. the party of individual/closed. He’s going to start with the traditional Republican agenda of getting government out of the way, and he’s going to add walls, protectionism and xenophobia. That will leave people isolated in the face of the challenges of the information age economy, and it will close off the dynamism and diversity that always marked this crossroads of the nation.
The Democrats are probably going to be the party of social/closed. The coming Sanders-Warren party will advocate proposals that help communities with early education programs and the like, but that party will close off trade, withdraw from the world, close off integration with hyper-race-conscious categories and close off debate with political correctness.
Would you care to estimate the probability that the Trump will make the GOP anything significantly different than what it has been for the past six years? All you've got up there is the protectionism and I don't have any confidence in that. Note that the traditional Republicans got along fine doing free trade and xenophobia at the same time, as if your "closed" category were an imaginary construct.

Because it is. This thing doesn't, in point of fact, add up to anything that is entirely real. There's certainly no prospect that any Democratic party any time soon will close off trade or withdraw from the world (unless you mean militarily, which I guess you probably do, being of the old school).

When you talk about "closing off integration with hyper–race-conscious categories" I can't even imagine what you think you're saying unless it's a complaint about the nationwide conspiracy to force you to say you're a white man. A "Sanders-Warren" party will include representatives of all races and genders and sexual orientations including many many white dudes. It's not that easy to learn to check your privilege, but political correctness should be a piece of cake to a person as notoriously civil as yourself. Being dubious about "free" trade (most of us regard it as imaginary and strongly favor "fair" trade) does not make you a xenophobe over in our tent.

In fact—
Which is why I’ve been thinking we need a third party that is social/open. This compassionate globalist party would support the free trade and skilled immigration that fuel growth. But it would also flood the zone for those challenged in the high-skill global economy — offering programs to rebuild community, foster economic security and boost mobility. It would integrate the white working class and minority groups by emphasizing that we are all part of a single American idea.
—you might be tempted to think the "third party" he's calling for is the Democratic part as it currently exists. But I wish you wouldn't. His argument is like a hot-air balloon, which lands wherever you run out of steam, and the fact that he lands on terrain that looks vaguely like ours doesn't mean he lives there.

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