Yesterday, a lot of people – at least I assume they were people – sent me an article by Scott Alexander. They wrote, “What do you think?” “I would love to see a G File on this. “” Click this link to meet Russian girls who really like you! ” Oops, sorry, that was a different email.
Anyway, I read these emails with some dread. I had planned to write about Bill Kristol test flask that anti-Trump Republicans become Democrats, but it looked like Alexander’s play was worth addressing. So, I read this morning. And the good news is, I can write about both. Let’s start with “Modest Proposal. “
Alexander, a truly brilliant writer from whom I learned a lot, argues that the GOP should spend more time talking about classes. I’m going to quote a long passage, but please don’t use it against my word count, as this is going to be a much long G File. He writes:
So here’s my recommendation: use the word “class”. Move from senseless populist fury to a careful campaign to combat classism.
Yes, yes, “class” sounds Marxist, class war and everything, you should be against that kind of thing, right? Wrong. Economic class war is Marxist, but here in the United States class is not a purely economic concept. Class is also about culture. You are already waging a class war, you are just doing it blindly and confused. Instead, do it openly, using the words “class” and “classism”.
Trump did not win on a platform of capitalism and freedom and everything. He won with the platform of being anti-establishment. But which establishment? Not rich people. Trump is rich, many of his cabinet choices were rich, practically the first thing he did was to cut taxes on the rich. Some people thought that it contradicted his anti-establishment message, but these people were wrong. Powerful people? Getting hotter, but Mike Pence is a powerful person and Trump was not against Mike Pence. Little people? You are very hot now.
Trump took a stand against the upper class. He can define them as: people who live in beautiful apartments in Manhattan, SF or DC and laugh softly if someone comes from Akron or Tampa.
He goes on to make a series of interesting points and useful recommendations. Not only do I agree with many (though not all) of them, I have made some of those arguments myself many times. For example, your suggestion that the GOP declare war on wokeness is a good summary of the things I’ve been writing for decades:
But now it is because wokeness is a mysterious, invented religion that college students invent to feel superior to you. Why are they so sure that “some of my best friends are black” doesn’t make you less racist? Because the whole point is that the only way to not be racist is to master an inscrutable and ever-changing collection of trendy phrases and opinions that are secretly class norms. The whole point is to make sure that the white guy from the working class, whose best friends are black and who marry a black woman and have beautiful black children, feels immeasurably inferior to the white guy with a college education who knows what to say “people of color “it is terribly offensive but saying” people of color “is the only way to dismantle white supremacy. You must make it clear that this is total nonsense, you could not be less interested in it and will continue to make friends with people of color anyway.
So, what’s my problem? Well, he’s basically saying that Republicans should follow Bill Kristol’s advice. Not Bill Kristol of the 2020s, but Bill Kristol of the 90s.
“The Cultural Elite.”
Let’s jump on the Wayback Machine. There was a time when Vice President Dan Quayle – remember him? – dominated the political conversation calling “the cultural elite”. “The changes in our country,” Quayle argued, “created a cultural division in our country. It is a division so big that sometimes it seems that we have two cultures, the cultural elite and the rest of us”.
At its peak, the argument of the cultural elite was subsumed in the Murphy Brown brouhaha. Murphy Brown it was a sitcom about a rich, attractive and powerful news presenter – named Murphy Brown – who had a child out of wedlock and chose to raise him alone, something that was at least somewhat controversial at the time. The sophisticated way of Murphy Brown The criticism – which I still subscribe to – is that cultural elites rich in economic and social capital celebrate reckless behaviors that can pay, but can be dire for the less affluent.
To use one of my favorite illustrations from this point, Madonna famous sung “Daddy don’t preach, I’m keeping my baby. “But the fact is, Madonna can afford to be a single mother. When on tour, she had an entourage of hundreds and admitted in an interview: “I have no problems with [diapers] because I never changed one. ”The fictional Murphy Brown had a live-in painter who was also a nanny.
In any case, Quayle criticized Brown, and the reaction of the cultural elite taught him that “to appeal to our country’s enduring basic moral values is to invite the contempt and laughter of elite culture.”
Although Murphy Brown’s part was not Kristol’s idea, the biggest war against the cultural elite certainly was. Kristol was the vice president’s chief of staff and, as The new republic said the famous phrase, “Dan Quayle’s Brain”.
Many liberals criticized Kristol as a hypocrite, as he was clearly – by definition – a member of the cultural elite. The title of a play NewsdayNina Bernstein captured the stupid argument I got you. “Neo-Con ARTIST; It turns out that the man who orchestrated Quayle’s attacks on New York – and Murphy Brown – grew up in the city, right in the middle of the cultural elite. ”A long profile of Kristol in The new republic by Hanna Rosin was more generous and fair. “There is, of course, something ironic about this last protégé of the cultural elite invoking a populist revolt against it, ”wrote Rosin. “But this irony is one of which Kristol is undoubtedly aware. After all, Kristol went from dining with the Trillings at her parents’ West Side apartment in Manhattan to high school at Collegiate, a private school for elite boys in New York, to Harvard. “
Defending Quayle, Kristol told the New York Times, “He used the term to refer to people who disparage middle class bourgeois values. It is a superficial sophistication, not a generic culture. It’s bicastal snobbery, and I think it’s worth criticizing. “
The “irony” that Rosin identified – and that Bill fully understood and could defend – is precisely the content of Alexander’s essay. He correctly argues that class, as a purely economic term, has very limited analytical value in America today (and, I would say, it has always been so). After all, about 85 percent of Americans I think of themselves as a middle class in some way. Alexander is right to say that Trump is rich, but he is a culturally inferior class, a bridge and tunnel billionaire (presumably) who carries a huge chip on your shoulder about people who claim to be the elite. People who tried to paint Kristol as a hypocrite did not want to or were unable to understand that cultural power in America often – although certainly not always – has to do only tangentially with money.
It is true that the cultural division at that time was more defined around feminism than race, although there were many racial things at stake. Kristol admitted in interviews that L.A. disorders were the touchstone for the cultural elite’s campaign. “In all honesty, the whole cultural offensive started with a line in a speech and was spurred on by real life – the LA riots,” Kristol told Bernstein, insisting that it was the vice president’s idea to talk about dividing families and values as a cause of violence.
The cultural elite campaign was, as I think Bill would admit, an update of his dad arguments against the “new class”. How Remaining listeners will know, these were themselves a distillation of arguments made by Joseph Schumpeter and James Burnham, among others. A defining characteristic of all the new class criticisms is that people positioned at the height of command in society use culture – ideas, entertainment, education, etc. – to protect your power.
“Power for what?” Irving Kristol asked in a famous Wall Street Journal rehearsed in 1975. “Well, the power to shape our civilization – a power that, in a capitalist system, must reside in the free market. The ‘new class’ wants to see a lot of that power redistributed to the government, where they you will then have an important word in the way it is exercised. “
The oldest Kristol (an intellectual hero of mine, by the way) recognized that the new class is “idealistic”, by which he meant that they sincerely believe in the things they say. It turns out that they “are convinced that they can do a better job of running our society and feel entitled to have the opportunity”.
This is where I think Alexander is coming from.
Perhaps the best illustration of Alexander’s point is discrimination against Asian Americans on university admissions. I don’t think Harvard and MIT are fanatics against Asians in the same way that, say, Progressive Age intellectuals were. But they are prejudiced against people who do not follow the principles of social justice or awakening. Many highly qualified Asian-American candidates for elite schools are immigrants or children of immigrants, and still cling to the bourgeois notion that education is desirable for economic success (ie, getting a good job). Their parents are much more concerned with their children’s calculating performance than with how they can describe the evils of white supremacy.
But college administrators care a lot about these things and eliminate children who don’t know catchphrases and social justice phrases. And Alexandre is absolutely right in saying that conservatives should aim for such behavior over and over. For example, I have written for years that, regardless of what you think about immigration policy, it is shameful and outrageous that the right has abandoned the glorious Americanity of immigration history to the left.
To be fair to the new types of classes, they believe in upward mobility. But they are manipulating the system in a way that requires obedience to wokeness.
So, what do I disagree with Alexander about? I have a few small nits to choose from. For example, I think your discussion of forecasting markets is … interesting, but as a political program, it seems that the idea needs more time in the oven. Furthermore, I do not think that the economic class war is necessarily Marxist. A better way of putting it would be that Marxism is about economic class war, but not all forms of economic class war are Marxists.
Which brings me to my main criticism: what did Alexander think was the last 40 years of GOP messages in the first place? The material of the cultural elite was exactly what Alexander was talking about. Family values, the oath of allegiance, compassionate conservatism; all of this largely fits into a similar program. (Many people on the left will say that it made Trump inevitable. I disagree, but we will have to leave that for another day.)
Alexander admits that: “You are already waging a class war, you are just doing it blindly and confusedly.” But I don’t think that suddenly using the word “class” is as enlightening as he thinks – let alone some kind of silver bullet. In addition, many Republicans were urination from them pie holes lately about “the working class” and the need for the GOP to become a “workers’ party”. And just to be clear, Republicans have been continuously appealing to the middle class for 40 years.
Alexandre, as he himself admits, has an excuse for not appreciating this enough, since this is not his natural territory.
Still, I think Alexander is making the same mistake that Rubio, Hawley and others are guilty of. They seem to think that winning over new Trump voters or “Obama-Trump” voters is the complete game. What is missing is cost-benefit analysis. Let’s stipulate that populism attracts many voters who don’t normally vote. So far, most of these voters are not very reliable when Trump is not on the ticket. Meanwhile, these cruel populist appeals have cost the Republican Party historically extremely reliable voters in the suburbs.
It is certainly possible that, if current trends continue, the GOP will take the lead in this strategy. But that seems unlikely so far, especially when you consider the broader cultural context. First, if the left is correct in claiming that the pre-Trump GOP culture / class messages inexorably lead to Trump, it is worth considering what horrors to fully commit to Trumpy populism may result (I mean, in addition to the attack to the Capitol by a violent crowd).
I think that all serious political observers agree that Democrats have a huge asymmetric advantage when it comes to controlling the centers of cultural power in America. Following a strategy that essentially says: “We are the party of the impotent and culturally handicapped” does not seem to me a great way to keep many traditional Republican voters (general elections), let alone convert enough new ones to make up for the growing deficit. And again, the prospect of success – that is, trumpeting most of the country – can be more frightening than failure.
Although I agree with Alexander that higher education needs to be stopped, I would still like to see conservatives mount a Gramscian counter-march through institutions to retake positions of command in culture, instead of simply adopting a strategy of permanent war against them .
The Red Dog strategy.
Which brings me back to Bill Kristol. I can’t think of a few people better suited to help lead that kind of effort than Bill. He understands the academic world, enjoys a strange new respect in the liberal media and has a deep understanding of how the corporate and philanthropic world works. But instead, Bill and some of his colleagues are thinking of a march to a very different institution: the Democratic Party. I fully agree with Michael Brendan Dougherty’s opinion on this idea. It would be great if it could work. As I say constantly, the goal of the conservative movement is to move the center of gravity to the right. Unfortunately, I need to qualify today. When I say to the right, I mean in the traditional conservative sense of defending bourgeois notions of morality, citizenship and good conduct, a free market economy and limited government – not to the right in the sense of Matt Gaetzian’s bait populism and “owning the libs ”asininity.
“If Kristol and her friends could join the Democratic Party, dull their left margin and moderate it on a number of issues, the legacy of the Never Trump movement would be to dramatically push America’s center of gravity to the right,” Michael writes.
The first problem is that I don’t think it would work, for the same reasons that Michael explains:
But I think the fatal problem for this project is that the center-left does not have the moral or intellectual capacity to resist the awakened revolution. This is being proven repeatedly in other institutions, whether at the ACLU or the New York Times. Older, institutionally oriented liberals are simply unable to resist demands or defend themselves against the fatal attacks by younger leftist officials. Why would the Democratic Party – almost alone – stand firm against the revolution that has sparked that is disturbing everything else?
From neocon to neolib?
I may be wrong, but I suspect that Bill is being driven in part by nostalgia for the role of neoconservatives in his father’s generation, who emerged in the Republican Party and the conservative ranks of the 1960s until the early 1980s. Whether I am right or wrong about Bill’s thinking, I’m confident that I’m sure the analogy doesn’t work. The neo-conservatives had great influence on the right, but, as William F. Buckley Jr. noted, their impact was not mainly ideological. Buckley argued that the neo-conservatives brought new arguments to old and established conservative positions. Pre-neo-conservative conservatism was either too fragile or too “Aristotelian”, in Buckley’s words. Neoconservative refugees on the left helped conservatism by providing the newest (and new class) language of “sociology” and the social sciences. Irving used to say that one of the great achievements of neoconservatism – I am paraphrasing – is to provide hard data that shows that the things your grandmother told you were right.
This is not the contribution that anti-Trump Republicans like Bill are looking to make, nor is it one that Democrats and the new class have any desire to hear. Neoconservatives were, for the most part, conservative intellectual reinforcements (notwithstanding the paleocon protests). In fact, joining the conservative ranks probably changed the neoconservatives more than the neoconservatives changed conservatism. Bill Bennett, Irving Kristol, Michael Novak, Father Neuhaus, Charles Krauthammer and others became decidedly more conservative after they switched sides.
Membership of the Democratic Party would, out of political and psychological necessity, require a transformation similar to the left. Just look at Jen Rubin, Max Boot and Steve Schmidt to see how quickly this can happen. Now, Bill is not Jen Rubin. Unlike his detractors, Bill is still a philosophical conservative (and a very decent man). But simply because of his political calculation – and his elevation of party and anti-Trump politics over other considerations – it has been very difficult to find examples of him publicly fighting for conservative principles in recent years, if that could be interpreted as providing cover for Trump’s GOP. Let me be clear, I agree almost entirely with him about Donald Trump’s inadequacy and the damage he has done to conservatism and the Republican Party. But tactically, strategically and – as the Straussians would say – prudently, I disagree with him.
From his days as an adviser to Bill Bennett (now very Trumpy) to his work in the 1990s, including the founding of The Weekly Standard, Kristol has always been both a conservative intellectual and a right-wing political player. For much of his life, there was little tension between these two roles. Now that has changed – and the tension between them is very real.
Which leads me to my most fundamental disagreement with Bill. It is essentially personal, as the rise of Trump and Trumpism was deeply enlightening for me. As I have told many times, I observed how many friends, professional colleagues and role models found it very difficult to part with the team when demands for partisanship demanded loyalty to Trump. Some did so openly in the name of party loyalty. Some did it less openly, out of careerism and opportunism. The least questionable of them justified his decision in the name of instrumentalism – “Trump is flawed, but we can use him.” But even many of these people ended up getting drunk with green room Kool-Aid and simply converted to Trumpism. It’s one thing to admit Trump’s addictions while pocketing his victories. It is quite another to consider your vices as virtues and to proclaim your victories as proof of that virtue.
Bill rightly rejected all of this and chose to use his skills as a political player to oppose Trump. Again, I have my disagreements, but I think no less of him for his choice.
But my own answer was almost the exact opposite. I never had a small fraction of the influence Bill had on the political game, but I decided to invest even less in the game.
I chose to make peace with being in the remnant, and I decided to overcome it by simply telling the true as I saw. I am not saying that everyone is lying (although many are). I am saying that the need to remain “relevant” has caused many conservative intellectuals and experts – and, of course, countless politicians – to redefine the truth to fit the political facts on the ground. I don’t want to adjust my sails to party political winds. I have been protesting against populism and popular facade politics for 20 years and I have tried to be consistent about it, even when all the financial and career incentives seemed to point the other way. I was not like Whittaker Chambers in Witness that I was confident that I was joining the “losing side”, but I was open to the possibility.
To that end, I spent half a decade insisting that I am not going to double my understanding of conservatism and political morality to conform to a populist cult of personality and, as a result, I faced the relentless vitriol. And that’s why this “Red Dog Democrats” idea, in which the NeverTrump crowd takes advantage of some degree of political influence to drag the Democratic Party a few feet to the right (an effort I don’t see working), makes me so cold. I refused to sign up for that kind of thing on the right, so I can’t understand why I would do it on the left. In other words, if Trumpism is not a reason for me to change my mind about telling the truth about what is right, neither is anti-Trumpism.
But if Bill can do that without committing much of himself to the process, I wish him all the luck in the world. This is not the game I want to play.
Various and diverse
First, a note about the last Friday G File. A lot of people really didn’t like it and scolded me for it. The main criticism was that it was just a minor rhetorical stream of consciousness. For this charge, I plead guilty. In fact, I literally said in the second paragraph that it would be a mobile party of absurdities, or words to that effect. If that’s not your preference, “Just leave now, instead of sending me a furious email about how, like a basset hound asked to do the work of an English setter, I never made it to the Score. ”
And yet, many of you have sent me exactly that kind of email. Well, consider today’s long and dense letter, without jokes, as compensation – or punishment – for your complaints. Be careful what you want, guys.
Dog update: Something is wrong with Pippa. I’m not sure what, but this morning she refused to get roast beef, which must be a bad sign. She has also been very lame lately, preferring simply carry your loved one tennis ball instead of picking it up. It’s fine with me, as long as she’s recovering.
In other news, the weather has finally gotten hot enough for a canine TV renovation– what we call the upstairs window that girls love to look at.
Oh, one last thing. I already told you about Chester, the cat that hurts our neighbor. Well, because my wife usually gives me goodies when he shows up, he comes a lot. Funny how that works. This morning, I went out the front door instead of the door that many of you know as the portal to those “welcome committee” videos. When I opened it, Chester was standing there like the security guard at a stowaway.
The two dogs suddenly stopped. Pippa finally managed to escape, giving Chester ample space. But Zoë is the anointed defender of the castle. In Neo-Assyrian culture, it would be known as “Expeller of Evil. ”She couldn’t decide what to do with Chester. I held her tightly on the collar and pulled her through to Chester, who stood as steadfast as Gandalf in front of the Balrog. We went down the front steps and Zoë turned and gave an “Aroo” that shook the windows and looked like it should be accompanied by a huge cloud of fire. I didn’t know if it was in Chester – “This intrusion must not be forgotten, brindle demon!” – or me for denying your God-given right to police the perimeter.
And now, the weird things