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.

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.

Dirty Hands

In Jean Paul Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” two Communist revolutionaries argue about politics. Hoederer, the leader of the faction, believes that rhetoric and principles serve as vehicles to deliver a political reality that comes as close as possible to an ideal. He is a tough pragmatist who understands short term trade offs can serve long term ends. Hugo; his secretary who, unbeknownst to him has been sent to kill him; believes passionately in the Communist rhetoric and principles. He believes that compromising those principles with rank politics so undermines the movement that it loses its right to exist.

As a Republican in the “Era of Trump,” I ask myself: “Who, in this analogy, am I?”

For years, I railed against “RINO Hunters,” arguing Hoederer’s point, that imperfect messengers who delivered incremental victories were worth more than political losses delivered by principled grandstanders. Besides, I argued, the America that the so-called RINOs want closely resembles that which the conservative zealots envision. It was the naive ideologues who cheered on Senator Ted Cruz’ “Green Eggs and Ham” filibuster, or Ron Paul’s half-baked immutability. These ideologues rejected Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney–both men more conservative than their Democrat opponents, but deemed not sufficiently pure. For nearly a decade I wrote Black and Red, touted the supremacy of conservative principles, and supported “the most conservative candidate who could win,” even when the candidate was less conservative than my ideal.

Then, came 2016.

The GOP primary, and election of Donald Trump as President, caused me to reconsider my place in the GOP; and to rethink the Party’s desired goals. For years, I defended my tribe against liberal attacks that Republicans’ advocacy of principles like a smaller federal government, supply-side economics, and federalism, were nothing more than a Trojan Horse designed to deliver on darker, more sinister ends. I found these critiques the lowest of political demagoguery. Then, Trump wooed Republican voters, appealing directly to these dark impulses; while paying only cursory lip service to the grander principles the Party ostensibly supported. Clare Malone writes an incisive piece for Five Thirty Eight that reads in part,

“Many have assumed that adherence to a certain conservative purity was the engine of the GOP, and given the party’s demographic homogeneity, this made sense. But re-evaluating recent history in light of Trump, and looking a bit closer at this year’s numbers, something else seems to be the primary motivator of GOP voters, something closer to the neighborhood of cultural conservatism and racial and economic grievance rather than a passion for small government.”

One of Five Thirty Eight’s findings, which took into account multiple polls that gauged immediate feedback, found that among Republicans, candidate Trump’s approval ratings increased whenever he said the most outrageous things (e.g.–Judge Curiel couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican heritage). Quite notably, his approval rating among Republicans has not dipped below 81%, in spite of his heretical views on conservatism.

So, who am I now?

Am I Hoederer, the pragmatist, who (if he weren’t a communist) would see Trump as a political means to an end?

Or am I Hugo, the idealist, convinced that this political concession threatens to entirely obliterate our shared ends?

That depends on who the GOP is–who we have become. Are we bigger than one man? What are our long term goals? How do we propose to improve Americans’ lives? What vision do we have for the country? Currently; between a White House perpetually embroiled in self-inflicted damage control, and a Balkanized Republican Congress; it appears that the conservative agenda (whatever it really is) has stalled.

Trump Proves Me Wrong, Yet Again

Rarely am I happier that I lack a larger audience than when I’m dead wrong about politics. My most recent piece wrongly predicted an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. I did so here, as well. With certainty, I declared Donald Trump “a loser.” In fact, so depressed was I about our nominee, that I rarely wrote articles beyond mid-summer. Personally, I abstained voting for president, as promised. The day after the election, though, America witnessed a political upheaval like no other–Donald Trump overcame the prognostications and won the 2016 election–“bigly.”

Trump needed to outperform Mitt Romney’s 2012 efforts in order to win, and it appears that he did so by calling the Democrats’ bluff on the numbers of Black and Latino voters they expected to rally around Clinton. In battleground states like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, fewer Blacks voted this year than in the last presidential election. In 2012, Romney won 59% of the white vote nationally, leading me to argue that Trump needed to do significantly better among whites–an unlikely scenario–or make inroads among Blacks and Latinos in order to offset whatever whites he lost to Clinton. Surprisingly, he did the latter–outpacing Romney among Blacks; winning 8% to Romney’s 7%, and Latinos; winning 29% to Romney’s 27%. Unfortunately, Trump’s victory may further postpone minority outreach efforts.

But now that he’s proven me wrong in the primaries, and general election, what lies ahead?

Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House starting in January 2017. Now in control of the federal government, the GOP must seriously shift from being naysaying spectators to being active problem solvers. Within the first two years of a Trump term, the Republicans could end federal funding of Planned Parenthood; a minor, but symbolic feat. They could nominate and confirm a conservative jurist to replace the late, great, Antonin Scalia. They could repeal Dodd-Frank.

But what could they do to positively connect their leadership with the lives of the average American? How will they prioritize larger, more complicated goals, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, or rewriting the tax code? Americans will be looking for meaningful results, and the Republicans have promised (or perhaps, over-promised) to accomplish a great deal. Can they pursue these items without risking political capital needed to survive the midterm elections in 2018?

Also, what will come of the Trumpian initiatives: renegotiating NAFTA, sinking NATO, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, the Wall? All of these items were staples of the Trump campaign. Given the pressure Trump has placed upon himself to immediately pursue these goals, he’ll be expected to deliver–and fast. By my estimation, pursuing these idiosyncratic ends threaten to cost Republicans congressional majorities in 2018, dooming his presidency early on.

Or maybe I’m wrong, again.

Maybe the country cares less about a simpler tax code, and more about a symbolic gesture along the Southern border. Maybe we don’t really care about a nuclear Japan as much as we care about ripping up NAFTA.

In light of the 2016 election, Americans everywhere struggle to predict what comes next. Perhaps Mr. Trump will serve as a simple conduit through which thoughtful Republicans can filter policy. Maybe Republicans will continue their nasty infighting in the most public of venues. At this point, only two certainties exist: First, the Trump victory shines a spotlight on the disconnect between the public at large and the political elites. Second, nobody knows what the hell is going to happen next.

Least of all, me.

Why I Oppose the “Wexit”

“I joined [the GOP] because I was a conservative, and I leave it for the same reason: I’m a conservative,” George Will said on Fox News Sunday.

 

Will joins many Republicans, myself included, who refuse to vote for Donald Trump under any circumstances. His exit from the Republican Party, though, is wrong, however understandable.

 

Every day arise new reasons for we members of the #NEVERTRUMP movement to despair that Trump is the Republican presidential nominee: He knows virtually nothing about conservatism, and he cares even less. His most tepid supporters, like Dennis Prager, argue that his potential for choosing conservative Supreme Court nominees serves as reason enough to hold one’s nose and pull the Trump lever. However, we fear that even as Mr. Trump indicated that he would fill the Supreme Court with conservative judges (some of whom whose names he could not properly pronounce), his tendency to renege on promises undermines his credibility. Moreover, the Supreme Court means little if the liberal world order that America created unravels as a result of trade wars and unnecessary rivalries. In November, most voters faced with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, will recognize that Clinton would make a better president than Trump, and will wisely choose her to lead the nation.

 

Adding to our humiliation, #NEVERTRUMP, suffers routine castigation from many of our fellow Republicans. Presidential candidate, Ben Carson, accuses us of demonstrating an “incomprehensible level of arrogance.” Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, argued that we threaten to harm the country. Grant Strinchfield wrote a particularly regrettable piece in The Federalist calling us “anti-American” hypocrites.

 

Then, House Speaker, Paul Ryan, endorsed Trump, opening wide the door for Will to exit the Party. Without a doubt, Ryan’s endorsement dealt a serious blow to the GOP’s credibility. Ryan, who built his career on the moral authority of conservative principles, was a glimmer of hope that the GOP hadn’t completely gone Ann Coulter-Crazy. A dim light having been extinguished, Will left the political party he so honorably shaped.

 

“After Trump went after the ‘Mexican’ judge from northern Indiana then Paul Ryan endorsed him, I decided that in fact this was not my party anymore,” he told an audience at a Federalist Society luncheon.

 

Shared disconsolation notwithstanding, George Will should not have left the Party.

 

For starters, if Republicans finally learn the lessons we should have learned after the 2012 election, and not repeat this mistake again, we can rebuild and bounce back. If those of us who detest Mr. Trump leave the GOP, then only the irresponsible will remain, and the Party will collapse. There will be very little hope of returning it to the timeless conservative principles it needs to rescue America from the postmodern Democrat Party.

 

Secondly, Will should understand that the pressures on Paul Ryan (the highest ranking Republican in America) to endorse Trump differ dramatically from those on him (an unelected commentator) to do the same. Ryan took over the Speakership in a badly divided House, and has been working heroically to keep the focus on policy ideas, messaging and making meaningful progress. In spite of his efforts, there is a cadre of Republicans waiting to undermine him, and they would have their chance if they could blame him for Trump’s impending loss in 2016. Furthermore, given Trump’s propensity to declare war on those who do not endorse him, Ryan needed whatever leverage he could muster to make a semi-respectable candidate of the insecure buffoon that is Donald Trump. His endorsement, therefore, fused some in the responsible wing of the Party with those in the irresponsible wing of the Party in order to keep peace through what will certainly be a calamitous election, and to try to steer Trump, as best he can, toward the Party mainstream.

 

By contrast, Will’s refusal to endorse Trump, a decision lacking in equally consequential implications, bears little gravity.

 

Finally, every Republican has to acknowledge that unity matters most in 2016. While we cannot agree to support our presidential nominee (I, certainly, will not), we should encourage as many people as possible to support Republicans in races further down the ticket. A Clinton presidency with a principled Republican Congress is better than both, a Clinton presidency with a complicit Democrat Congress, and a Trump presidency with a lapdog Republican Congress.  Will said so, himself, at the Federalist Society luncheon. Rather than leave the GOP, Will should have turned his eye from the top of the ticket to the principled Republicans who need support in spite of Mr. Trump.

Of course, I understand Will’s impulse. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve stayed up late nights, and have even wept, lamenting this election and its implications for the conservative movement. But, the GOP and the nation needs principled conservatives right now. That means you, too, Mr. Will. The Cubs are doing great this year. The GOP is still “your party”–our party–and it needs our valuable attention now more than ever.

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?