A haunting realization looms over the remnant of the principled right. Perhaps the GOP was never a conservative party, and the movement behind Reagan was never animated by conservative values. As the entire project is boiled down to its essence, we are left not with smaller government, or judicial restraint, or constitutional principles, but with a nasty broth of racist rhetoric wielded by an aspiring petty tyrant. Watching the Reagan wave quietly release its last energy on the beach, conservatives have to consider this ugly possibility: Maybe this song was never about us.
How did sane Republicans acclimate themselves to a political environment constrained by insane demands? Through self-delusion and flight. In the decade after the takeover you could hear business Republicans, in private conversation, explain away the antics of anti-gay crusaders or bizarre abortion extremists as “harmless.” Religious fanatics welcomed into the party (and now occupying all major leadership positions) were “useful idiots” being manipulated toward the party’s wider business and commercial goals.
By the time that illusion became impossible to sustain, those who held it were either fully co-opted to the party’s new lunatic goals or had simply been pushed into irrelevance. As Orwell wrote in 1984, “We have always been at war with Eastasia.” When we abandon our attachment to empirical realities in pursuit of public calm, crazy takes over. Crazy, if tolerated, will in time create its own new normal, pushing reason to the margins before extinguishing it altogether.
A look at the news from across the web.
In a move that channels the philosophy and tactics of the civil rights era, John Lewis this week openly denied the legitimacy of the incoming administration and refused to participate in the inauguration ceremonies. His stand is more than symbolic. Lewis is cutting through the subtleties and evasions, initiating a critical moral division likely to define and harden the fight against the Trump administration.
For the first time in living memory we will now have a celebrity President who fails any credible standard of competence or qualification. The solution emerging on the left, attempting to replace Trump with a better celebrity, fails to address the core problem. For the country to survive in a dawning age celebrity politics, the power of the Presidency and the reach of the federal government may have to be constrained. If competent political professionals are going to be consistently defeated by tabloid figures, then it may be time to rethink the power of the office itself.
The Washington Post published a fantastic op-ed this morning on the forces that have undermined the Democratic Party.
Collapsing federal power presents states like California with an opportunity. California has not enacted single payer health care for one over-arching reason – their decision to cede leadership to the federal government. A collapse of federal power may reinvigorate state efforts to craft and refine smart public policy. In same way Massachusetts inspired the ACA, a new wave of state innovations may spawn an era of policy innovation that could break us out of decades of quagmire. In chaos, there is opportunity. If Democrats ever again want to lead in Washington, let them prove that they can lead in California.
A look at what’s happening around the world.
Whatever policy emerges from the federal government in this climate, it will be guided by delusions, written by morons, and crafted to solve problems that don’t exist using mechanisms that don’t work. We are going to live for an extended time under a grand national experiment in Idiocracy. The tough, interesting, intellectually challenging work of crafting useful policy has lost any immediate relevance. Policy only matters to some potential future that looms out beyond the horizon.
Fifty years later, this explanation of the case for a basic income laid out by Milton Friedman is more relevant than ever. Friedman was describing his plan for a negative income tax, a plan actually introduced and promoted by Nixon, but the skeleton of that case applies to just about any system of universal needs-based support. Also interesting in this clip is the quality of the interaction. Can you imagine any major conservative media figure of William Buckley’s profile engaging in such a smart, thoughtful interaction on a complex subject today?