Monday, October 26, 2020

Dr. Douthat and Mr. Ross

Illustration via Wikipedia.

Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, has come up with the perfect allegorical representation ("The Last Temptation of NeverTrump") of his shtik: as an interior dialogue between his divided selves, the weary preppy of the surface, in roman type, and the alt-right maniac of the depths, urging a vote for Trump, in italics. 

Ah, sure — you’re my right-wing id. And let me guess — you want to make the case that I should vote for Trump? I figured the coronavirus experience had shamed you into silence.

Shame is what you should feel, sellout. Look, I get that you’re a lost cause. But someone needs to tell you that you’re going to miss Trump when he’s gone.

Douthat, you see, doesn't endorse Trump—he's just saying. But the endorsement's in there and has to come out. He's far too proper to do anything as disgraceful as voting for Trump himself—

He’s a bigot and an aggressive liar, he winks at violence, and he’s exacerbated one of his party’s worst tendencies, its obsession with the minor threat of voter fraud and its eagerness to throw up impediments to voting. What he’s given to cultural conservatives with the courts, he’s taken by making us seem like hypocrites and making embarrassments like Jerry Falwell Jr. the face of conservative Christendom. He’s radicalized young people and empowered some truly terrible tendencies on the left that will reshape American institutions deep into Amy Coney Barrett’s old age. And I haven’t even gotten to the coronavirus.

—but he hopes people won't agree with him too much:

You yourself have written that Trump can’t be held responsible for all those deaths. You said our response had a lot in common with Europe’s — and look at their case numbers lately. You were right!....

And Joe Biden could repeal the Hyde Amendment, fund abortion with public money, and preside over an extra 60,000 abortions every single year.

No question the situation in Europe is very grave; they're also, as they have been throughout the pandemic, a couple of months ahead of us, and managing it much better, even when it's very bad. The projections below, via IHME, show France, where the current outbreak is scariest, starting (in the brown "current projection" line) to bend the death rate curve back down in a couple of weeks from now, by mid-November, assuming they maintain the restrictions currently in place, while in the US it won't start flattening in the best case until late January, and not starting to drive it back before late February, if then; the horrible place France is in at the moment is where we're going to be at Christmas, with 2000 deaths per day (compared to around 800 now), if we don't "open" any further than we've already done (if we do open further, it'll be 3000 deaths per day), and a very long way to go before it gets better. Ross is still making this stupid mistake.

United States

The abortion number comes from a "pro-life researcher", Michael J. New, whose method is literally insane—after the implementation of the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortion stopped most state Medicaid programs from paying for abortions in 1976, he claims, birthrates among Medicaid patients rose in Illinois, Texas, and Ohio, though I can't find an instance in his bibliography of anybody looking at the question anywhere except North Carolina, where somebody determined that 37% of women who would have had abortions if the state had been paying for them went and had their babies in periods when the state fund ran out of money, implying that the Hyde Amendment causes a similar number of babies to be born, permitting New to make guesses on how many lives had been saved overall over the 40 years from 1976 to 2016 in all 50 states and DC, by imagining the difference for each if the Hyde Amendment raised the state's birthrate by 1.52 children per 1000 women of childbearing age, through calculations such as the following:

  • Scenario 1: In 1976, the Hyde Amendment was not in effect due to legal challenges, therefore it saved no lives in any state in 1976. Similarly, in California in 2015, the state was funding abortions through the state Medicaid program. Therefore, the Hyde Amendment saved no lives in California in 2015. 
  • Scenario 2: In Texas in 2015, neither the state nor the federal government was funding abortions through Medicaid. According to the U.S. Census, there were 5,748,631 women of childbearing age living in Texas in 2015. As such, we predict the Hyde Amendment saved (1.52/1000)*(5,748,631) = 8,738 lives in Texas in 2015. 
  • Scenario 3: In Pennsylvania an injunction on a law limiting Medicaid funding for abortions was lifted on February 15, 1985. As such, Medicaid funding for abortions was limited for 87.4 percent of the year (319 days/365 days). According to the U.S. Census, there were 2,690,543 women of childbearing age living in Pennsylvania in 1985. As such, we predict the Hyde Amendment saved (1.52/1000)*(2,690,543)(.874) = 3,574 lives in Pennsylvania in 1985.

And since all the "predictions" he can make on the subject add up to a total of 2.13 million "lives saved" over the four decades, or 60K per year, quod erat demonstrandum, because predictions are the same thing as experimental results. Somehow.

As to Trump's corruption, says the italics person,

We’ll get to it. But you know, because you’ve written about it, that there was self-enrichment in Washington long before Trump. It was just laundered through respectable channels rather than the Trump hotels. I’ll concede that Trump is more naked about it, more impeachable. But sometimes you have to vote for the corrupt candidate when the policy stakes are more important.

Such as? The "conservative populism" of Douthat's and Reihan Salam's 2009 Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the America Dream, which looks like a kind of Bannonism without the Sieg Heils:

Oh, you mean the economic populism of a corporate tax cut and an “infrastructure week” that’s just a running joke.

No, I mean that Trump did two big things that no other president would have done together. He actually cut immigration rates and he backed a looser monetary policy.

You mean he ran an inhumane family separation policy and he appointed a bunch of hard-money cranks to the Federal Reserve.

The inhumane policy was abandoned quickly, and the cranks weren’t actually confirmed. I’m talking about results, not problems with particular appointees or policies. Why do you think the economy ran hot for so long, and low-wage workers did a lot better under Trump than under Obama? Loose money, tight borders.

The inhumanity of the policy (for asylum seekers supposedly under special protection of federal and international law, not immigrants in general) wasn't abandoned at all, though the family separation mostly has; the concentration camps have largely been moved across the border to Mexico, where we can pretend we're not responsible for them, and there are still 545 kids in detention whose parents the ACLU hasn't been able to locate. And legal immigration has been hugely reduced, by more than two thirds,

Via the anti-immigrant "Center for Immigration Studies", but there's no reason to doubt the data.

as part of the Trump-Miller plan of bans, discouragements, and obstacles. But if incomes for low-wage workers are rising, it has nothing to do with Trump policy or the Federal Reserve: it's minimum-wage laws passed by Democrats in local jurisdictions.

And money may be loose if you're a bank borrowing from another bank, but it's not that easy to get a mortgage or a business loan, especially now:

The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has driven interest rates to rock-bottom levels, meaning there has hardly been a better time to borrow. But with tens of millions of people out of work and coronavirus infections surging in many parts of the country, qualifying for a loan — from mortgages to auto loans — has become more trying, even for well-positioned borrowers.

The real economic side of Trumpism is not the loose money, anyway, that started with Obama and the response to the 2008 crisis; it's the crazy tariffs wielded with the pretense that Trump is trying to get a "deal", but actually because Trump has been obsessed since the 1970s with reducing the US trade deficit, and thinks he's got "money rolling in", although he's totally wrong about all of that, 

New figures out Tuesday show the U.S. trade gap is on track to exceed $600 billion this year. That would be the highest since 2008, just before the global financial crisis.
The monthly deficit in U.S. goods trade with all other countries set a record high in August at more than $83 billion.
Trump has blamed the trade deficit on bad trade deals negotiated by his predecessors and unfair trade practices by other countries, but most economists disagree with that explanation.
and Peter Navarro backs him while Larry Kudlow drinks himself sick; and it's not populist, but as conservative as it was in 1896, when William McKinley fought for the protective tariff against William Jennings Bryan's loose money policy.

And finally, repeat after me:


And it's not Trump voters either. The working class in the United States includes some white people without college degrees alongside African Americans, people of recent immigrant backgrounds with a variety of racial identities, and young white people including many with college degrees who haven't been able to find their way into the economy. Trump voters are traditional Republicans, including especially a very large cohort of older white people without college degrees who have done reasonably well for themselves (especially running small businesses) but feel disrespected because their kids think they're idiots.

Douthat thinks he's developing a unified and philosophically coherent program of government—I don't suppose he'd care to call it an "ideology"—but what he's really doing, in an almost involuntary intellectual tic, is a kind of branding exercise, to recreate the kind of coalition that won elections for Republicans in 1896, or 1920, or 1980, with a fabulously wealthy ruling class ensuring that its wealth will continue to grow and a voting majority provided by performing malcontents who mostly hate foreigners and black people. The guns and abortion thing has been running out of steam lately, but xenophobia has always had oomph. Let them eat pep rallies.

Nicholas Lemann at The New Yorker makes it more coherent:

The Cold War made fusionism possible. In the name of helping capitalism defeat Communism, the movement allied Republicans who adored McCarthy with those who despised him, on the basis of a shared commitment to an aggressive American military stance and a super-empowerment of private business. But the isolationist impulse has deep roots in American political culture. It was clearly present during the red scare after the First World War, the repudiation of Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, and the passage of the 1924 law that severely restricted immigration. As Zelikow put it, “The isolationists believed the U.S. should be bristling with weapons. Foreigners are a viral pathology. The whole point is to keep foreigners away from us.” These attitudes were consistent with a high-alarm version of internationalism that focussed on the Soviet threat. Buckley-style conservatism went from being regularly dismissed as irrelevant, a creed whose following didn’t extend far beyond the small circulation of a political magazine, to being the core principle of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency.

But it's never been a way of thinking—it's an election strategy for protecting the interests of military contractors and the energy business and the like, and it doesn't really make any sense, and it's violently falling apart again. Douthat's Jekyll and Hyde act—performing dissociative identity disorder—expresses that in a remarkable way.

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