Paul Ryan: The Silent Speaker

Paul D. Ryan was one of the few reassuring touchstones for traditional Republicans, assuring them that the GOP hadn’t completely imploded. As a result, many of the pieces written about Ryan’s decision not to run for reelection in 2018 conflate his exit with the end of a Republican Party once characterized by people like Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. As the party ambles through the Donald Trump wilderness, its experienced navigators continue to fall away, most notably in sight of an unfavorable wave election. Pew Research Center notes that about 38 Republican House Members will not seek reelection–a near record high. Add to that list, Paul D. Ryan whose announced departure from the House of Representatives has inspired numerous articles about his legacy.

Poring over the pieces recounting his triumphs and failings, I have found the most mystifying articles those castigating the Speaker for not “speaking out” more strongly against President Donald Trump. I truly struggle to understand this critique, if it is, in fact, made in good faith.

I think it is important to note that these articles come from a liberal perspective (there may be conservative writers criticizing Ryan on similar grounds, but I have not seen them yet). This observation matters for two reasons: first, liberals tend to overestimate the power of protesting.

For example, Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic:

“Ryan blinked at confronting the president’s appeals to white racial resentments. Pressed for reaction to comments like Trump’s reported description of African nations as ‘shithole’ countries, Ryan managed to mumble the bare minimum of plausible criticism: ‘The first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful.’ For most people genuinely distressed by Trump’s remarks, ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unhelpful’ were probably not the first words that came to mind; ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ were.”

What exactly Brownstein believes a more forceful condemnation would have done escapes me. Donald Trump would not reflect on those comments and apologize. In fact, when Ryan said that Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel were an example of textbook racism, nothing changed. Of course, a decent person does not wear the label “racist” as a “badge of honor,” but I suspect that Brownstein would not characterize the President as a decent person. Who would?

On the other hand, what we do know is that President Trump works with people who “say nice things” about him. So, besides obliterate any possibility that Ryan could achieve his own legislative ends, those policies once associated with Republicans, what would harsher criticism have accomplished?

This, of course, is the point, and is the second reason why this particular criticism comes from the left: Liberals want a crippled GOP. A crippled GOP can’t pass tax cuts, or curtail government spending. A crippled GOP can’t reform entitlements, and it cannot do so in Ryan’s image if Ryan is feuding with a mercurial president who has no grand vision. In other words, goading Ryan and other traditional Republicans to follow the Jeff Flake model is a surefire way to ensure that no part of a conservative agenda is served. In the face of criticism Trump doesn’t change. He tweets. The offending politician may lose his or her job, and the GOP distills, becoming even more Trumpian–even more difficult to defend.

Furthermore, Paul Ryan is not a commentator. His role in the political process is to compromise with people with whom he disagrees to win legislative victories for the people who elected him. Ryan worked with President Barack Obama and with the House Freedom Caucus to accomplish as much as he could, a task that required him to speak strategically, not emotionally. Not symbolically. Perhaps in a new role he will have the freedom to speak for himself and to solely bear the responsibility of what he says. Perhaps he will choose, still, to refrain. Either way, he hadn’t that freedom before.

As for the articles suggesting that the Trumpian changes in the GOP are forcing out thoughtful conservatives like Ryan, there can be no doubt.

Prager and the Wolf

Part of what is so disheartening about President Donald Trump leading the Republican Party is discovering that thoughtful people–perhaps even people who you admire–will ignore, excuse, or even endorse Trump’s worst aspects. The kinds of people who saw profound meaning in Barack Obama’s annoying idiosyncrasies (omitting the words “our Creator,” when quoting the Declaration of Independence, for example) appear curiously unable to connect the dots on President Trump’s most troubling behaviors.

Conservative commentator, Dennis Prager, is one such person who I once very much admired. He does not know whether President Trump holds racist views in his heart that inform his policy decisions. Neither do I. Nor would Mr. Prager or I look to the mainstream American left for any elucidation on the issue. But the question is serious enough that Prager writes a piece arguing that the evidence against Mr. Trump is specious.

Here’s why Prager is wrong:

In the first place, Prager argues that the left has lost credibility on using the word “racist,” writing:

“The left labels anyone who opposes race-based quotas, or all-black college dorms, or the Black Lives Matter movement ‘racist.’”

Therefore, he argues, because liberals call so many innocuous things racist, they threaten to embolden “real” racism.

This is mostly true.

I think of the braindead attacks on Senator John McCain, calling him a racist, for referring to then-Senator Barack Obama as “that one,” when distinguishing between their voting records. I think of the many attacks calling President George W. Bush a racist despite the diversity of his cabinet, his electoral successes among Latinos, and his tireless work improving conditions in many African nations–improvements that are recognized across the political spectrum.

But Prager’s argument has two sides: while liberals may overcharge racism, conservatives underestimate it with the same zeal.  A Pew Research Study released last year expresses that very point. It finds that Democrats believe that not enough attention is paid to “real” instances of racism, while Republicans argue that too much attention is paid to “fake” racism. Both can be true: Democrats may pay too much attention to “microaggressions,” while Republicans prefer to ignore racial disparities in police shootings and incarceration.

But all this really means is that the right has lost just as much credibility on the issue of racism as the left.

Prager writes:

“On race the Left has cried wolf so often that if real wolves ever show up, few will believe it.”

And, so here we are: The Left is calling Mr. Trump a wolf, and Mr. Prager suspects that they might be seeing a giraffe.

The event in question finds President Trump in negotiations about DACA recipients and the future of a diversity lottery immigration program. The bipartisan negotiation would have ended the diversity lottery, in exchange for allowing the people who used that program to live legally in the United States (some, for decades) to join the class of DACA recipients and earn the chance to be granted permanent status. Upon learning that some of the people who benefited from the diversity lottery were from Haiti and Nigeria, President Trump asked why the U.S. should allow those people from “shit hole” countries to stay. He reportedly followed up by asserting that we needed more people from countries like Norway.

If whatever subtlety that exists eludes you, as it has Mr. Prager, what the President reportedly said is that if these people were from European countries–regardless of their value to the United States–they should be allowed to be incorporated into the DACA program. Otherwise, they should be sent home at government expense because of where they came from, not because of who they are and what they have contributed.

This sounds like racism to me, but not to Prager who defends Trump’s assertion by tying an imaginary “moral state of an immigrant’s country” to the likelihood that immigrants from those countries would use American welfare benefits.  (Remember, Mr. Trump did not say that the United States needed fewer immigrants who would use welfare benefits– that would have been more tenable.) As it were, none of Prager’s other arguments have anything to do with Trump’s statement, in fact, as nimbly as he claims not to know what Trump actually said, he more boldly asserts to know what Trump meant.

The point still remains, that Prager appears to suffer from the same affliction that the Pew study finds among conservatives more generally. It is true: if this were the only insensitive thing that Mr. Trump said, then one could plausibly deny that Trump is a racist. Just as sharp teeth, alone, do not a wolf make.  

But if only Mr. Prager would touch the pelt of the man who lied about knowing who David Duke was; if he would let the teeth of the man who precluded blacks from living in his developments pierce his fingertips; if Prager would listen to the howl of the beast who said that a Republican judge could not do his job professionally because he is of Mexican descent; study the scat of this animal that peddled a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace. If only Prager would enter his picture into the Google Arts and Culture app, he would see that Mr. Trump keeps coming back–wolf.

Right Noise [A Tale of Two (Ancient) Cities]

Donald Trump is almost heroic–really.

Find out what our philosophical, cultural, and religious ancestors recommend we do to weather the Trump Era.

 

Credits:

  • Music: “From Then to Now” by Cutside; “I and I” by Downbeat; “Huzzam Oyun Havasi” by Seyyah; “Vari Hasapiko” by The Rosen Sisters; “Mary Celeste” by Kevin MacLeod; “Outside Poolside” by Lasswell; “Fossils” by Kyle Preston

Right Noise ShortCut [Bipartisan Support for Sexual Assault]

Have both political parties made a Faustian bargain that threatens sexual assault victims? So far, it appears so.

Credits:

Music: “She Gave You Everything” by ABSRDST; “1969” by Matte Black; “Ignorance is Bliss” by MindsEye and Dr. Rinkel

Right Noise [Political Cliches]

Do you hate political cliches with a passion? Me too. Here are some of the cliches that drive me crazy.

 

Credits:

  • Music: “From Then to Now” by Cutside; “Old Ways” by Josh Armistead; “Motet for Soprano and Orchestra Larghetto” by Advent Chamber Orchestra; “The Forlorn” by Starseed

Right Noise ShortCut [Abolish the Electoral College?]

The Democrats just can’t stop whining about their loss–much to the joy of President Trump. Part of their plan is to attack the Electoral College. Is this a good idea, or a bad one steeped in sour grapes? The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake weighs in. So do I.

 

Credits:

Someone is Wrong on the Internet…and Everywhere Else

Brie and Joe created SWOTI and host the SWOTI podcast. The two, self-described “Millennials of Color” wrestle with race, politics, relationships, and myriad items swimming about in the popular culture. In doing so they discover that, well, SWOTI–“Someone is Wrong on the Internet.”

 

Someone is wrong, indeed.

 

Someone is wrong on the internet when Megyn Kelly fears for her life because internet trolls threaten her for asking then-candidate Donald Trump a challenging question–you know, doing her job. Someone is wrong on the internet when crazy websites like World Net Daily, and Breitbart, and Infowars hold the same prominence among a large swath of the American public as The New York Times, or The Washington Post. Someone is wrong on the internet when the conspiracy theories promulgated by honest-to-goodness fake news sites lead to violence. Still don’t think someone is wrong on the internet? You haven’t spent enough time in unmoderated comment sections on YouTube.

 

Or maybe you have.

 

But in truth, what is wrong on the internet correlates with what is wrong in American society; and not to be too grandiose, but this points to what is wrong in the human condition.

 

Confirmation Bias causes us to look for ideas that support our preconceived notions. The Dunning-Kruger Effect means that we’re most confident when we’re most wrong. The Backfire Effect sees us persisting in error especially when offered evidence to the contrary.

 

And to top it all off, we insist that we can understand the unspoken motives of others who disagree with us. This, in spite of an argument I make in a Right Noise episode that states that our ability to understand the motivations of others is even more challenging than our ability to understand our own motives.

 

And so, politics and political affiliation must be understood as an imperfect vehicle of our attitudes, philosophies, and expressions of our life experiences. Therefore, attacking those who disagree with us politically as morally depraved, insincere, or worse, becomes a tiresome self-righteous exercise, devoid of self-awareness (not that I do not make this mistake sometimes, myself).

 

Moreover, it’s unproductive. It’s noise. It’s the white-hot heat of anger in place of the illuminating light of empathy.

 

My opposition to some abortions is not a proxy for a deep-seated misogyny. My skepticism of the wisdom and efficacy of certain government programs does not betray a secret desire to see vulnerable people suffer. My belief in the traditional definition of marriage–however inconsequential politically–is not rooted in a desire to see gay people harmed.

 

Or is it?

 

Maybe politics provides a convenient narrative, wrapped in the flag, that allows me to cling to confirmation biases that insist that the races are created unequal, that women should not be trusted to forge their own destinies, or that gays should be hanged and stoned as they are in so many other places around the world.

 

For some folks, this may very well ring true. Just as there are some people on the left who truly hate the United States and want to see it obliterated.

 

But it’s not true of me, nor is it true of literally millions of conservatives and Republicans who agree with me.

 

Still, insisting that bigotry; or even ignorance; accounts for ideological differences amounts to a naivety that is both overly pessimistic and exceedingly optimistic.

 

My politics is a blurry reflection of my beliefs, experiences, faith, philosophy, privileges, upbringing, ideals, and sense of justice. Not the other way around. These elements tug at each other, and compete with human frailties and sinful failings. I always assume the same is true of my political opponents as well.

 

Understanding that this identity soup simmers in each of us should dissuade you from shooting at Congressmen at a softball practice, or threatening an Iraq War veteran who writes for the National Review. That which is wrong on the internet, and in American life, is not our politics, but the unwarranted assumptions about what our politics say about our personal morality.

 

The mouth betrays our passions. The pen betrays our thoughts.

These are some of the points I hope to have conveyed in my interview with the SWOTI Podcast.

The New American Threat to World Order

Gideon Rose wrote an impassioned, yet wrongheaded, defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that his policies keep America, and the world, on a positive track.

 

“The key to Obama’s success has been his grasp of the big picture: his appreciation of the liberal international order that the United States has nurtured over the last seven decades, together with his recognition that the core of that order needed to be salvaged by pulling back from misguided adventures and feuds in the global periphery.”

 

Rose, then proceeds to absolve Obama’s failures by relegating them to “feuds in the global periphery,” while elevating Obama’s obscure successes to the pinnacle of foreign policy genius–all in the name of maintaining the liberal international order.

 

As problematic as Rose’s evaluation is, his argument continues to fail on its own merit, especially in light of our changed approaches to rogue and dictatorial regimes. The liberal international order that the United States created after World War 2, enticed illiberal states to change their ways in order to enjoy the spoils of cooperation. Participation in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, and other intergovernmental organizations required member states to pursue liberal institutions that secure peace. Free press, free elections, representative governments and open societies make for peaceful, predictable partnerships–the kinds of partnerships that have led to the relative peace of the post World War 2 era, and the worldwide rise in economic prosperity. Failure to insist upon the adoption of liberal institutions rewards despotism, and can even enrich tyrants.

 

Yet, that’s exactly what Obama’s foreign policy has done.

 

In 2008, Senator John McCain criticized Obama’s desire to legitimize rogue states by opening diplomatic ties with them. Obama called McCain’s charge an appeal to the politics of fear. He went further, saying, “we need to…use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” This rejoinder sounds consistent with what Rose, and others concerned with preserving the liberal international order, would welcome. However, even if Rose considers the Iran Nuclear Deal, the normalization of relations with communist Cuba, and the lifting of the weapons embargo with communist Vietnam, peripheral items, these Obama policies do not support the liberal international order. They do, in fact, quite the opposite.

 

Rose argues, for example, that Obama exercised sound judgement by responding tepidly to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2013, in part, because Ukraine (not a NATO member) didn’t deserve our protection.

 

“This policy seems eminently sensible,” Rose writes. “NATO members have an ironclad security guarantee of American protection, which Washington will unquestionably enforce if necessary…Ukraine will probably join the liberal order eventually, when circumstances permit. But it is not the United States’ job to fight to bring it in before then.”

 

Contrast this with our new stance with Vietnam. Vietnam persists as a communist nation, replete with political prisoners and basic injustices. Hours before Obama landed in Hanoi, the Vietnamese people held an election in which more than 98% of Vietnamese citizens voted to legitimate the illegitimate and oppressive regime. Still, Obama strengthened this regime–promising to sell it F-16s, drones, surveillance equipment and electronic warfare capabilities so that “Vietnam [can] fully link its kill chain between ‘see-ers’ and ‘shooters.’”

 

If this effort were meant to “pressure” Vietnam into liberalizing, then Obama would be serving the liberal international order. However, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere notes, “neither the Americans or [sic] the Vietnamese spent any time pretending the change had anything to do with actual democratic reform. Obama didn’t make a show of calling for it. President Tran Dai Quang didn’t make a show of pretending he was for it. They both knew it would have been a joke.”
What incentivizes nations to pursue liberalism–often reducing the power of the ruling class–when the benefits of the liberal global order fall upon illiberal states as well? Doesn’t Obama’s approach to these hostile states undermine the liberal international order? Or do a stronger Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam exist only in the periphery?

Political Math

Imagine, if you will, a Venn Diagram in which the left circle (A) represents virtuous Americans who possess strong leadership skills, intelligence, amiability, and the ability to comprehend and solve complex problems. Let the right circle (B) represent Americans willing to have their reputations muddled, their words distorted, and their personal failings broadcast and analyzed by strangers ad nauseum. From the circles’ overlap (AᑎB) we choose our party nominees and eventually, our president.

 

Americans universally agree that media sensationalism and emphasis on scandal scares people in Circle A away from politics; leaving the American public to choose leaders from a throng of celebrities and empty narcissists. This election cycle, Republican candidates have weathered particularly biased media coverage and distortion. From detailed examinations of Marco and Jeannette Rubio’s moving violations, to Scott Walker’s educational credentials, to things Dr. Ben Carson did or didn’t say; media has provided the very cynical coverage that is so universally detested.

 

A prime example of this malfeasance regards coverage of Jeb Bush’s “stuff happens” remarks.

The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts wrote one of the less braindead pieces about Bush’s comments, a piece that begins:

 

“And the Bush family’s War on English continues.”

 

Pitts goes on to compare Bush’s “callous” remarks to a “stink bomb in the flower bed.” He calls them “dismissive,” and lectures Bush–and conservatives–about why the comment is so reprehensible.

 

“‘Stuff happens’?…It doesn’t happen like this in Great Britain. It doesn’t happen like this in Brazil. It doesn’t happen like this in Israel…It would behoove us to try and figure out what other countries know that we do not.”

 

Take away the fact that none of these countries’ history, culture or philosophy match our own, and that most of us would rather live in an American ghetto than a Brazilian favela, and Pitts simply penned a typically thoughtless liberal response to gun violence. So what makes his article “less braindead?” He acknowledges that Bush’s “callous” comments were taken out of context.

 

The story of Bush’s “stuff happens” comment started with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza tweeting the two words out of context. News media pounced. President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton scolded Bush over this account of Bush’s “indifference” to gun violence. When asked about his statement, Bush doubled down. Republican and independent voters, donors, and Bush supporters, who hadn’t the time to research the full quote; or who were depressed by the barrage of negative press were likely to be less enthusiastic about Bush in light of this “news.” Maybe Jeb’s inarticulateness is as bad as his brother’s. That’s how the media tells the story, after all.

 

When conservatives hounded Lizza to provide the full quote [here], it became clear that the “stuff happens” story was just another smear job. The kind of smear job that keeps people in Circle A away from politics. In fact, buried in Pitts’ daft rant against comments that were never made, he acknowledges that “this is just a new round of the gaffe gotcha game where you strip clumsy language of inconvenient context so as to imply the candidate said or meant something he never said or meant. So let’s be fair: Bush was not being callous toward the Oregon tragedy…”

 

Pitts’ article could end there. Perhaps it could even call on the media to be more responsible–less nakedly partisan. Pitts could have reminded us, as The Federalist Staff did, that the media response to Bush’s statement is eerily dissimilar to their coverage of the same language coming from a certain Democrat politician.

 

“When bad stuff happens around the world, the first question is what is the United States going to do about it,” President Obama said about children being gassed in Syria.

 

“This stuff happens way too often,” President Obama said about the Charleston shooting.

 

To turn our ire to President Obama for saying “stuff happens” misses the point. Our disgust should be aimed squarely at a media that reduces a conversation about the limits of legislation to two words that do not characterize Bush’s remarks or his sentiment. Our disgust should be aimed at the fourth estate–the very institution that makes a liberal democracy possible.

 

It is no wonder 60% of Americans distrust the media. It is no wonder our politicians look more like Donald Trump and less like Adlai Stevenson. It’s no wonder AᑎB is so small. What more can we expect when this “stuff happens?”

The Democrats’ Refugee Crisis

Democrats, nationwide, face a vexing refugee crisis of their own making: Hundreds of thousands of people have picked up their lives to rescue their families from devastation wrought by liberal incompetence and naive policies. These refugees, numbering nearly 1,000 per day, simply seek a better life, even if that means contending with culture shock and a change of climate. However sympathetic to the refugees’ plight, the people tasked with accepting them fear that the newcomers will bring along a dangerous worldview that can turn their newfound garden spots into the dysfunctional locales they left behind. As observers sift through the data to learn as much as possible about these refugees, one point remains clear, virtually all of them are Americans.

Writing for the Washington Times, Stephen Moore describes the IRS’ findings showing that, liberal blue states continue to hemorrhage people to conservative red states.

“The new Census data…in 2014 shows that the top seven states with the biggest percentage increase in in-migration from other states are in order: North Dakota, Nevada, South Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and Texas. All of these states are red, except Colorado, which is purple. Meanwhile the leading exodus states of the continental states in percentage terms were: Alaska, New York, Illinois, Connecticut, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Kansas. All of these states are blue, except Alaska and Kansas.”

The first, most obvious, question is why.

In a summer debate with Moore, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, argued that weather caused the migrations. “Air conditioning,” Krugman said, “has made the South more liveable.” While that may play some role in the migrants’ calculus, that explanation fails to justify why Americans jettison New Mexico for North Dakota. Furthermore, Moore notes that California, known for its beautiful weather (droughts notwithstanding), lost more than a million more people than it gained over the last decade.

Moore accredits this phenomenon to liberal policies, like pro-union legislation and green energy myopism, noting that Right to Work laws and the exploitation of oil shale mining act as magnets for people, industry, jobs, and opportunity.

Nowhere can Moore’s point be more evident than in our home state of Illinois. Illinois Policy Institute’s Vice President of Policy, Michael Lucci, explains that Illinois lags behind every state in the region in job growth, in large part, because it is surrounded by Right to Work states. And while the Land of Lincoln greatly underperforms her neighbors in job growth, she surpasses them in adding citizens to food-stamp rolls.

“During the recovery from the Great Recession, the Land of Lincoln, alone in the Midwest, had more people enter the food-stamps program than start jobs. Food-stamps growth in Illinois has outpaced jobs creation by a 5-4 margin. In fact…Illinois put more people on food stamps than every other Midwestern state combined.”

Increasing the number of Americans living in red states may appear to favor conservatives, as population boosts equal increases in the number of U.S. House seats and electoral college votes. In fact; Reid Wilson, writing for The Washington Post; argues that the 2016 electoral college map will favor Republicans precisely because of these migrations.

“Blue states would lose a net of four electoral votes, and red states would gain a net of two…the equivalent of flipping a state the size of Iowa from the blue column to the red column,” Wilson writes.

Unfortunately, though, Republicans may not enjoy such luck. Just as Moore indicates, by noting Colorado’s “purple state” status, the sad truth is that too many blue state refugees bring their blue state politics with them to their new homes. NPR’s Alan Greenblatt explains,

“Lots of Californians have moved to Denver and its environs, bringing a progressive strain of politics with them and angering more conservative parts of the state…Conservatives have discovered that living on the far side of the Rockies is no longer far enough to get away from the influence of West Coast liberals.”

Even worse, Colorado is not the only Republican state suffering from the political ideologies of the Left’s “huddled masses.” Greenblatt notes that Nevada, Idaho, and Utah are also transitioning, while other red states “enjoy” more liberal enclaves than in years past.

The remedy for conservatives wanting to combat these trends remains unclear. By staying in red states and fighting off the refugees’ influence, the state remains an attractive magnet for an even greater influx of liberal immigrants. By leaving red states and going to abandoned blue states, like Michigan and many in the Northeast corridor, red states flip quicker to blue as liberals drive conservatives out.

In an ideal country, liberals would own up to their deficiencies. They would abandon fallacious policies; like arbitrary minimum wage hikes, and aversion to nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing. Liberals would understand that unions have a place, but they also have costs and limitations. In an ideal country; liberals would be cured of their obsession with expensive, high-speed rail fantasies; and massive, duplicative, food-stamps programs.

In an ideal country, liberals would be conservative.

In the meantime, maybe red states should consider adopting comprehensive intra-immigration reform.