Or download the MP3
Saturday, September 23, 2017
If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:
Or download the MP3
Or download the MP3
I’m deep enough into talking about the cultural war, and its various nooks and crannies, that I might as well keep going. In fact this whole endeavor kind of reminds me of a line from Macbeth. The line comes after Macbeth has killed King Duncan, and it has him reflecting that he has gone so far with his scheme that it’s basically just as easy to keep killing people as it would be to go back and undo the damage. Or as Shakespeare has him say:
I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er.
I don’t think I’m killing people, in fact one of my primary purposes has been talking people out of violence. But it does sometimes feel like a grim business to talk about these sorts of things. Also as I have said, even if it (hopefully) isn’t a real war it definitely feels like one at times.
As long as I’m going to continue writing in this vein, I find that there’s more that I want to say about the Moderate Manifesto I mentioned last week. Primarily I want to continue talking about how the current narrative has been wrenched so far to the left that everything the author claims as moderate positions are actually things the average conservative would be overjoyed with. I do this for two reasons:
1- These are all good ideas and need as broad a distribution as possible
2- To illustrate how completely the left is winning without most people noticing. And especially to counter the idea that the left needs to win faster.
For this post, I’d like continue talking about the article by looking at his list of the seven assumptions and attitudes which characterize centrism.
The first is:
Mistrust and disdain for extreme proposals and actions. Innovative ideas and political proposals shouldn’t be discouraged, but those that require radical changes to the current status quo should be moderated to appeal to a broad constituency. Extreme proposals are often wrong, but even when they are correct, they require careful consideration and slow implementation. Violent action is almost always wrong and counterproductive, as is curbing basic freedoms that allow liberal societies to flourish.
Right off the bat it’s important to point something out about the article and the list. The author has this habit of using the extreme libertarian wing of the right to provide the examples he uses for misbehavior by the right as a whole. I would argue that this amounts to essentially a straw man. And the first point is an excellent example of how it works.
Quick name the most extreme right wing proposal you can think of… Were you able to come up with even one? It wouldn’t surprise me if you couldn’t, particularly if you eliminate libertarian fantasies. Even assuming that you could, how likely is it to actually become reality (this is why we eliminate all the libertarian fantasies). Finally, if by some miracle it did come to pass, how long would you have to go back in time before it wasn’t “extreme conservative policy”, but something the majority of people took for granted without even having to think about it?
Let’s take a couple of examples:
Abortion, specifically overturning Roe v. Wade- Is the idea that we should turn abortion back over to the states really that extreme? Remember that Roe v. Wade didn’t make abortion legal, it removed the ability of the states to make it illegal. If for some reason this still strikes you as being extreme, what are the chances of it actually happening? As I said in a previous post, we had a Republican President, a Republican controlled congress, and seven of the nine judges on the Supreme Court were appointed by Republicans, from 2003-2005 and Roe v. Wade sailed through that period unscathed. Finally if it did happen it wouldn’t be reverting us to the dark ages, we’d be reverting to 1973.
That’s a cultural issue, what about a financial issue like eliminating Medicare and Medicaid? First, while this may or may not be an extreme issue, it’s extreme enough that no one actually favors eliminating it, they mostly just want to privatize it. Given that we’re 20 Trillion in debt, and those two programs consume roughly 25% of the budget is that so extreme? I’ve already talked about the chances of it actually happening, but additionally recall that the same Republican President and Republican Congress I just mentioned not only didn’t get rid of it they added to it with the Medicare drug benefit. And finally if we did eliminate both of them in their entirely we’d be going all the way back to 1965… and I understand 50 years seems like a long time, but trust me it’s really not.
All of this is to say that the only extreme proposals which have a realistic chance of being implemented, and would therefore be of concern to the centrist, are almost entirely in the domain of the left.
Moving to the second assumption of centrism:
Mistrust of grand political theories or systems. Societies and polities are incredibly complicated and our understanding of the way social systems and human nature interact is excruciatingly limited. Grand theories are almost always incorrect, and they encourage dogmatism and extremism. Utopianism is perhaps the most dangerous and seductive kind of grand theory. Ideas that require significant harm today to bring about a better tomorrow are particularly pernicious. Uncertainty about the future requires humility and a commitment to order and well-being in the here and now.
This is another place where he uses libertarianism as his boogieman on the right, despite the fact that, before the 2016 election, the Libertarian Presidential Candidate never got more than 1% of the vote, and even in 2016 it was only 3.28%. Because, once again, we’re asking essentially the same questions: Beyond libertarianism, what are the grand political theories the centrist should worry about from the right? How extreme are these theories, really? And how much chance do they have of actually being implemented? Take an example like smaller government. Even if we grant that it’s a grand, unproven, conservative political theory (and not strictly libertarian). And even if we place this theory in the extreme category because of the harm it causes to those who rely on the government, where is the evidence that there’s the slightest danger that it will ever happen? Look at this chart of government spending and notice that first off there are only ever the tiniest dips, and that secondly there’s no evidence that when Republicans control congress that there is any discernable effect on spending.
Moving on to another example, people will often talk about the conservative hostility to public education, and during every presidential election one or more of the candidates will mention getting rid of the Department of Education. This has been going on since 1981. And here we are 36 years later and despite Republican Presidents being in power for 20 of those 36 years, it’s still going strong.
On the other hand utopianism abounds on the left. Communism is of course the largest and deadliest example, but there’s also the utopian fantasies I mentioned in my last post including the idea that all cultures are equal, or that all people are essentially equal, or that we can allow functionally unlimited immigration. Speaking of which let’s move on to his third centrist assumption:
Skepticism about the goodness of human nature. Although our understanding of human nature is limited, the best evidence, scientific and historical, suggests that humans are often parochial, tribal, and prone to violence. This does not mean that humans are unremittingly “sinful” or wicked. They are not. At times, they are peaceful and cooperative. But peace and harmony among disparate cultural, ethnic, and religious groups is an exception, not a rule. Political and cultural systems must deal with humans as they exist and to understand their basic propensities. Excessive optimism about human nature has often led to tragedy. And the current political system, whatever its failures, is often wise because it has been conditioned by years of slow experimentation with real humans. A decent society in the world is worth 1,000 utopias in the head.
This assumption, more than pervious two, appears specifically directed at the left. Though I think he ended up burying the lede. In particular I’m talking about this sentence, “But peace and harmony among disparate cultural, ethnic, and religious groups is an exception, not a rule.” I agree, and I think it’s possible, even likely that at least part of the resistance to immigration comes from an awareness of this fact. I would further argue that taking an immigration rate which is near the historic maximum (in percentage terms, the absolute numbers are unprecedented) and combining it with a progressive ideology which encourages resistance to assimilation is a bad idea.
On this point, at least, the author appears to agree, going on to say later in the article:
Take immigration as one example. It is an exceedingly complicated issue and any comprehensive immigration policy will include painful tradeoffs. If the rate of legal immigration is restricted, then many ambitious and morally upstanding people will be denied a chance to join thriving societies to fulfill their potentials. On the other hand, if the rate of legal immigration is dramatically expanded, then it will cause continued social and cultural disruption, resentment, and quite possibly lower wages.
There are many good-natured people on both sides of this debate. However, many on the Left not only disagree with restrictive immigration laws, they denounce those who support them.
This last point he brings up, about the denunciations, is a theme that has run through all of my posts on politics. The left has been very effective at not only denouncing certain forms of speech (see for instance, the pull back from using the term “illegal” with reference to immigration) but has also rendering certain discussions completely off limits (see my post about the Overton Window). What follows from this, is a situation where the left doesn’t win the battle of ideas, so much as declare the battle over and themselves the victors while the other side remains on the field. Or to put it another way they don’t win the debate they rule the subject too evil to even consider debating. Which takes me to his fourth assumption:
Desire to seek compromise and form large coalitions. Good governance and social harmony require at least an implicit consensus among the governed. Policy proposals that veer from this consensus, even if ultimately correct, threaten to alienate people and foment discontent. It is therefore crucially important to win a battle of ideas before implementing a policy that significantly changes the current status quo. This is best done by appealing to common values and bipartisanship.
You have probably seen the chart which shows the increasing polarization of politics and the lack of any moderate middle at the congressional level. On this point, at least, there is plenty of blame to go around, and I suspect that here is where I would get the most pushback if I claimed that political polarization was mostly an attribute of the left. And, it is indeed the case, that when you look at something like the debt ceiling debate and the past brinksmanship involved there (though recall that I mentioned the national debt as one place where moderation has contributed to the mess) that Republicans have been very bad at compromising. You also have a Republican primary system which increasingly rewards the most extreme candidate, meaning people are elected having specifically pledged to avoid compromise. All of this is true, and there is certainly vast room for the Republicans to improve. But once we move beyond that, we end up in an area the left is particularly bad at, building consensus.
I mentioned this already as a problem in my post about Confederate Monuments. As it turns out a majority of people want them left alone. In other words the consensus is to do the exact opposite of what’s happening. We saw the same thing with Same Sex Marriage (SSM). It was defeated over and over again when put to a vote, but then rather than waiting for public opinion to shift and a consensus to emerge, the left resorted to legalizing it through the judiciary. Based on the latest polling I think if they had waited just a few more years they would have been able to achieve consensus, win at the ballot box and avoid both the appearance of judicial activism and some degree of discontent. Might SSM still be illegal in Utah? Sure, it might, but it’d be legal nearly everywhere else. And I imagine that even in Utah there’d be something like a civil union. Would the harm really have been that great to wait a few more years? Maybe so, but if I’m underestimating the harm, I think people are even more likely to underestimate the damage that comes from not forming a consensus and routing around the ballot box. And I think this is exactly the point the author is making.
Moving on to his fifth assumption:
Pragmatic emphasis on science, evidence, and truth. Because societies are exquisitely complicated, the best social policies are arrived at through slow and careful experimentation, not dogma. Although science cannot solve all social problems, it is the best instrument we have for measuring the success or failure of particular policies. It is important, therefore, to protect vigilantly free speech and free inquiry so that the best ideas are rigorously debated in the public forum. Political ideologies tend to blind people to the best policies. One should not seek a “conservative” answer to poverty or a “liberal” answer to immigration. One should seek the best answer. It is highly unlikely that any political party has a monopoly on truth.
I suppose some people might claim that it’s not the last point which represents the biggest indictment of the right, it’s this one. I mean certainly you’ve heard of intelligent design and young earth creationism! Yes, I have heard of those things, but despite that I still think from a moderate perspective the left has a bigger problem with this than the right, despite things like intelligent design. I’m sure that some of you are wondering how I ever arrived at that conclusion. The most significant factor, for me, is the widespread censorship of science which is perceived to have a any sort of rightward bias. And a great example of this censorship is the recent incident with James Damore and Google. That incident is also something of a minefield, so I don’t intend to get too deep into things (though if there’s enough interest I might in future post). But I’m on firm ground to say that the science of gender differences is not settled science. There is plenty of evidence for exactly the kind of disparities Damore was talking about. It is an open question (actually less open than Damore’s opponents think, but that’s precisely my point.)
It is true that there are many Republicans and conservatives, and other members of the “right” who are anti-science. There may even be more of them than on the left, but as is so often the case the attacks by the Right are completely ineffective. Yes, as I mentioned there are creationists, but what have they actually done to slow down science? Where are the actual casualties? Point me to a study that was killed by creationists, or a professor who was fired by them. It just isn’t a thing.
Moving on to his sixth assumption:
A healthy admiration for patriotism and a distrust of identity politics. Nation states, although not without flaws, are one of the few social vehicles capable of forging broad identities not based on parochial tribal markers such as race or religion. They allow individuals to share in a large collective group enterprise that is admirably committed to a creed rather than ancestry. Although patriotism can be dangerous, it can also be salubrious. Identity politics tend to divide people and create bitter factions that compete for their perceived interests. Because humans are naturally tribal, this factionalism is easy to create and dangerous for a broader cooperative union among dissimilar peoples.
Now we’re back to issues where the right has a natural advantage. I once heard that a quick and easy way to determine whether someone was on the right or the left was to ask them whether they thought America was the Greatest Country on Earth (i.e. American Exceptionalism). If they said yes, they were conservative, if they said no they were liberal. Which is to say that the right has a near monopoly on patriotism, while the left has a monopoly on identity politics, both these things putting the right squarely on the side of things the author is encouraging. Out of the two I’d like to focus on identity politics. Not only do most of the people on the right think they’re a bad idea, and not only do moderates, like this guy, think they’re a bad idea, but increasingly even on the left people are starting to realize how corrosive and divisive they are.
One of the themes which has run through the last several posts, is the idea of what’s an acceptable political tactic and what’s unacceptable. And of course while there are (I hope) some absolutes when discussing this, there is also the principal that if you start employing a tactic it’s going to be really difficult to keep your adversary from using the same tactic. That is one of the big problems with identity politics, you can’t spend decades emphasizing the importance of black or latino or gay identity and not eventually have people decide that they should emphasis their white or European or straight identity. If anything, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. But once the genie was out of the bottle it was always going to be difficult to put it back in, especially if one side continues to insist on using the genie to grant wishes, while claiming that any attempt to do the same thing by the other side is literally the worst thing ever.
And for his seventh and final assumption:
A steadfast dedication to rule of law and fidelity to constitutional principles. The rule of law is one of the greatest and most fragile accomplishments of Western Civilization. It creates a sense of fairness and protects citizens from the whims of their leaders. It should be lauded and guarded against possible corrosion. And although highly educated men and women might not need base appeals to authority (“Madison wrote X, Y, and Z”), society is not comprised of only highly educated men and women. The prejudices of the people require attention and cannot be disregarded. Having a written document (or legacy of laws and principles that are venerated) that inspires reverence helps insure the preservation of the rule of law.
This is yet another thing I’ve been harping on for quite a while. And yet one more area where there is no difference between the author’s definition of centrism and modern conservatism. We see this in the DACA debate, and in the immigration debate as a whole, and I think we also see it in the subject of judicial activism. Whatever you think of the idea of a living Constitution, it’s indisputable that the right has far more concern for constitutional fidelity than the left. And the left’s hostility to First Amendment protections, under the guise of combating hate speech is only making things worse.
Just barely I used the term “modern conservatism”, and when I did so, I realized I may have too hastily glossed over the many sins conservatives were historically guilty of, and the many ways in which what I just said was not accurate (or at least less accurate) historically. This is all true, but we’re talking about a moderate way out of the current crisis, and using these historical issues as a permanent cudgel with which to beat the right, or worse, using past excesses by the right to justify current excesses by the left only deepens the crisis.
I know that if you’ve read this blog with any frequency you’ve probably come to the conclusion that I’m unrepentantly conservative, but I hope that over the course of the last few episodes I’ve show that the left has gone so far, and gotten so extreme in it’s quest for victory and a progressive ideological utopia, that the moderate course is the conservative course.
If you’re a conservative, you should donate because I just showed how conservatives are currently on the right side of everything. If you’re a moderate you should donate, because I just spent an entire post lauding the virtues of moderation. And if you’re a liberal you should donate because I did nothing but malign you and this is your chance to prove me wrong.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
If you prefer to listen rather than read, this blog is available as a podcast here. Or if you want to listen to just this post:
Or download the MP3
Or download the MP3
This post is a continuation of the last post, and to begin with I think it’s worthwhile to spend some more time expanding on the idea of kicking someone when they’re down, or dancing in the endzone, and how to distinguish those actions from actions which may be annoying and even objectionable for other reasons, but are otherwise in the realm of a “fair fight”. And whereas last time I mostly focused on the left, here I’ll largely be speaking about the right.
Several people have recently asked me what my thoughts are on the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). And since many people view this as an example of the right kicking someone while they’re down, it seemed worthwhile to talk about it, but before diving into that aspect of it, I should mention that, in some respects, it’s an even greater example of how the media amplifies the perceived extent of the crisis, with the majority of the coverage being best compared to screaming. This screaming is nothing new in the age of Trump, but as usual it does make it hard to get to the bottom of things.
When you do take the time to strip away the accusations of racism and cruelty, it appears that Trump has done something pretty savvy, even if he’s not very good at selling it that way. (Though once again that may be as much a statement about the media as it is about Trump.) To understand why it’s savvy, a little bit of history is in order.
To begin with, DACA is not a law, it’s an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, and kind of an iffy one at that. What’s prosecutorial discretion? Well, as the executive, the president is in charge of enforcing the laws, and given that there are somewhere north of 11 million illegal immigrants he’s perfectly within his rights to prioritize the prosecution of drug dealers, and repeat offenders, and terrorists above the prosecution of those who arrived when they were children. And if that’s all it was, not only would Obama have been completely within his rights. But if Trump had later come along and prioritized prosecuting children, or even said he was going to prosecute everyone equally, that wouldn’t be so much kicking people when they’re down as it would have been just colossally stupid.
The problem and the iffiness comes in when Obama additionally decided to create a formal government program where these Dreamers (a name for those covered by DACA, for reasons which are not worth getting into) could apply for two year work permits, get social security numbers and largely behave as legal residents, though with no path to permanent residency or citizenship. This is where the iffiness comes in. The formality of the whole process makes people question whether this doesn’t go beyond simple prosecutorial discretion. And it seems obvious to many (myself included) that it’s more properly viewed as an example of the executive branch usurping the law-making power of the legislative branch.
Because of this questionable constitutionality, ten state attorneys general told Trump that if he doesn’t end DACA, they’re going to challenge it in court. And, supposedly this is what prompted his action on the topic. It’s a sign of the times, and the of war I’ve been talking about, that shortly after Trump made his announcement, other state attorneys general said they’re going to sue Trump if he does end DACA. The fact that they would even try that is a pretty big piece of evidence both for my claim that the left is winning, and also my previous points about the power of the judiciary.
Now you could argue that the demands of the initial set of attorneys general was just the cover Trump was waiting for to do the racist thing he always wanted to do, but it’s also unclear what the result of an eventual legal challenge would be, given the facts I just outlined. If Trump had decided to do nothing, certainly one scenario, would be for DACA to make it all the way to the Supreme Court, and be struck down and end immediately without the six months of warning that Trump is giving.
As far as I know there’s no reason Trump couldn’t have ended DACA immediately, but as I just alluded to, he didn’t, he is waiting six months, and he is urging Congress to use that time pass a bill replacing DACA. Now he could be insincere about this or he could be outright lying, but this is the savvy part I was talking about. Objectively DACA, as implemented by Obama, is of questionable legality, and could end up getting overturned if it actually ended up before the Supreme Court. If it were an actual law, passed by the actual legislature it wouldn’t have that problem. This is what Trump claims to want. Given all this, is Trump kicking the Dreamers or the Democrats while they’re down?
First, as you’ve probably already gathered, the six months is a very non-dancing in the endzone move, because, as I said, there’s no legal reason he couldn’t have ended it immediately, but he didn’t. Second, whether you believe his protestations or not, he is going out of his way to signal that the whole thing has left him very conflicted. Here’s what a recent article said about it:
“To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids,” Mr. Trump said at a recent White House news conference. He said he would deal with the matter with “great heart,” but nodded to the political difficulty of doing so.
This was from an article in the New York Times titled Trump’s Soft Spot for Dreamers Alienates Immigration Hard-Liners, so if he’s dancing in the end-zone the rest of his “team” isn’t celebrating with him.
This is not to say things couldn’t change. As I pointed out part of DACA was that those who wanted to participate in it had to register. And as many people have pointed out, having registered they are now much easier to find and punish should ICE, or Trump or Sessions decide that’s what they wanted to do. Let me be clear, while I don’t think the way DACA has been handled so far qualifies as kicking people while their down, this definitely would. As the kids say, it would definitely be a “dick move”.
I know that many people are convinced, that this is exactly what will happen. Maybe… But given Trump’s statements on the subject and the irrationality of prioritizing these people ahead of criminals and terrorists and the like, I’m betting against it. This is not to say that if DACA is rescinded that there won’t be a story here and there of a Dreamer being deported, but this is one of those cases where the plural of anecdote is definitely not data. I’m saying there will be no large scale, systematic deportation of Dreamers if the program is eliminated.
Of course, in my last post, I said that in some respects it doesn’t matter what the facts are, what matters is how people perceive things, and certainly, regardless of the facts, there are people who feel that the revocation of DACA is a form of dancing in the endzone. And, to be fair, I can see where they’re coming from, though honestly this is at least as much Obama’s fault as Trump’s. Allow me to explain: if Obama had made it clear from the beginning that this was merely prosecutorial discretion, that it wasn’t a change in the law, it wasn’t a new program, that he was just temporarily telling federal prosecutors to de-prioritize this category of offenders, then things would currently be in a very different place. First the 10 state attorneys general I mentioned earlier would have no standing for a lawsuit. Second, there would be no Dreamer information for Trump or anyone else to abuse. Third, the incentives for keeping it vs. getting rid of it would be completely different, with elimination being far more controversial than it currently is. Thus, while people may view it as dancing in the endzone, if it is, it’s something of an own goal. (To completely butcher the metaphor.)
Having spent a lot more time on DACA than I intended, are there any other examples of the right, or specifically Trump, kicking people when they’re down? Or to make it even more broad, what has Trump done to deserve his evil overlord status? After discussing my DACA predictions with one of my friends I asked him that question, and he offered the memo Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued back in May as a good example of Trump being malicious. The memo he was referring to instructed Federal Prosecutors to seek the toughest charges and the maximum possible sentences available, especially for drug crimes.
I remember this memo well. I was actually at a fundraising breakfast for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center the day it was issued and the federal public defender who had invited me, told me the news. My feeling now is the same as my feeling then, this is a very bad idea. However, I don’t think it’s an instance of kicking the other side while they’re down, or even of conducting politics unfairly. I would say, rather, that this particularly policy represents a genuine difference in ideology. Session’s ideology is the War on Drugs, and while I think it has been fairly conclusively shown that this War is a failure (like so many of our recent wars) the idea of handling the drug problem in this fashion has a lot of history behind it, it’s not just something Jeff Sessions came up with to punish the poor. To be clear, I think it does punish the poor, but it’s not something specifically designed by Sessions with that end in mind.
Returning to Trump, what else is there? I know I said that I would look at things from the other side, but I’m having a hard time thinking of any more examples. Trump has made a lot of noise, and said a lot of bizarre things, but what has he done that could be considered dancing in the endzone? There’s the travel ban, which just the other day got some support from the Supreme Court, but given that the ban doesn’t even involve citizens, to say nothing of people who voted against Trump, it hard to argue that any face-stomping is going on.
Then I suppose there’s the Obamacare repeal, but, again, I’m not sure this fits any standard of gloating or unfairness, given that the Republican congress has been promising to do it for the last six years, and, perhaps even more important, given that they have so far failed.
So there you have it, I’m happy to call out instances of kicking people while they’re down on the left and the right, but I’m not seeing a lot of that actually happening on the right. If you feel like I’m missing some egregious (or even not egregious) example, please let me know, but in the absence of examples of what not to do on the edges, I’m going to spend the rest of this post looking at what should be done closer to the middle. The kind of behavior we should be encouraging regardless of our political affiliation. In this I was inspired by a recent article, Centrism: A Moderate Manifesto.
Though before I get into the article, a word about moderation. The saying, “Moderation in all things” is a phrase commonly used by Mormons. And many people, incorrectly, assume that it can be found in the scriptures, generally imagining it to be in the Word of Wisdom (the part that instructs us not to use alcohol or tobacco.) As it turns out that phrase doesn’t appear anywhere in the scriptures, nor is it especially useful when speaking of religion. No one thinks it’s a good idea to tell people to be moderately charitable, or moderately obedient, or moderately chaste. Outside of religion, there are times when it’s not even particularly useful in politics. I think the national debt is a situation where moderation has landed us at the bottom of a very deep pit. And there was no moderate course to beat Hitler. Finally, as David Lloyd George said, “There is no greater mistake than to try to leap an abyss in two jumps.” All of this is to say that moderation and moderate behavior will not solve all of our problems, but, I would argue, in the current crisis, that it would help with most of them.
In the last post I mentioned that there are some people who think that there is no war, that the truly radical elements off the far-left and far right are tiny and that we have more in common, and things are better, than we think. I dismissed this argument for a couple of reasons which I won’t bother to rehash, but I do agree that there is no giant pit, there is no Hitler, (no, not even Trump), and there is no vast abyss, at least not in the areas people are fighting about. Meaning that moderation might in fact be the best strategy, so what is the “Moderate Manifesto” and what does it recommend?
It recommends, among other things, centrism. What is centrism?
Understood properly, centrism is a consistent philosophical system that attempts to guide political and cultural systems through change without paroxysms of revolution and violence. The centrist, in this sense, believes that political and cultural progress is best achieved by caution, temperance, and compromise, not extremism, radicalism, or violence.
While the author doesn’t use this term, I think he’s basically describing what I call prefer to call gradualism. Gradualism recognizes that things will change, that, as I pointed out in the last post, statues will get torn down, moral standards will change, technology will make certain things possible which previously weren’t. But, currently, whether you call them the left or progressives or democrats, they have rejected doing anything gradually. Or to use the terms of the article, they have rejected caution, temperance and compromise in favor of extremism, radicalism, and increasingly, violence.
This injunction to slow down shouldn’t seem that conservative, but I think these days that’s the only way to view it. And this is why there are so few examples of conservatives not playing by the rules, because playing by the rules is basically all they have left. Having largely failed to conserve much of anything, particularly from the standpoint of morality, they are now happy if they can just slow things down a bit. Despite what people claim, there is no radical maneuver the right can pull which will somehow magically turn American into Nazi Germany or the Handmaid’s Tale. Instead, they’re reduced to saying, maybe if we’re going to give residency to a bunch of Dreamers we should pass a law to that effect. To which the left screams, “Racist!”
(And, again, I know I mentioned this already, but the idea that some states would claim that it would be unconstitutional for Trump to get rid of DACA really does astound me to no end.)
I would, in fact, argue, that by encouraging even a small amount of gradualism, that rather than being a “Moderate Manifesto” the article, when considered in relationship to what’s actually happening, ends up being, de facto, a strenuously conservative manifesto.
To give you an idea of what I mean here are a few examples:
The article claims that the centrist/moderate:
...like the conservative, is therefore worried about radical utopian proposals because the centrist fears that they might inspire dramatic alterations that upset a reasonably successful social order.
But then goes on to say that:
The centrist, however, is equally skeptical of radical libertarian ideas on the Right. The modern welfare state, whatever its flaws, has done a pretty good job of holding together a broad and largely urbanized society in which private charity cannot solve the worst problems of poverty.
You might assume from this that I’m wrong, that he is in fact advocating a position halfway between. The problem is that the modern welfare state is in zero danger of being rolled back to some sort of libertarian laissez faire fantasy (except, perhaps, through catastrophic collapse). And if you doubt this consider that the Republicans couldn’t even get rid of Obamacare, and that even if they did, it’s most likely replacement is universal healthcare.
While, on the other hand, we’re surrounded by radical utopian proposals, from free college, to universal basic income, to a society where people are allowed to choose their gender. Given that some of these, like the last one, have already been implemented, which ideology really poses more danger to the centrist/moderate point of view?
I think the author is aware of this issue, and he goes to great pains to distance centrism from conservatism:
But, there are two great differences between the centrism here conceived and conservatism: (1) Centrism does not loath change and (2) it does not accept a transcendental (religious) moral order.
I believe I’ve covered the first point. I think most conservatives have come to terms with change (certainly they don’t loathe it) they just ask a few things:
- That they be able to opt out of the change, particularly if there’s no appreciable harm to anyone else (see things like the current cake fiasco)
- That we could slow things down, I mean at least a little bit (see the last post on the statue controversy which has already progressed to the decapitation of the statue of a Spanish Priest.)
- That if we’re going to change things, that we could at least follow the rules. (See the DACA discussion earlier in the post, but also everything I’ve said about judicial activism and the complete abandonment of the process for amending the Constitution.)
Accordingly this first difference is not as great as he makes it out to be, particularly when you look at how things actually operate this late in the game.
On the second point whatever the transcendental religious underpinnings of conservatism in the 19th and early 20th century, is anyone going to seriously argue that these underpinnings are still a factor in conservative politics today? Or that if they are that it’s had any effect whatsoever on the law? I understand his fear, but once again I think he’s taking a strong stand against something which in practical terms isn’t really a factor. I defy you to name one major US policy with a basis in religion. Abortion? Same Sex Marriage? What are the actual effects of the conservative transcendental religious underpinnings he claims to be fighting against as a centrist?
Perhaps you would point at Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration, but recall that every court in the land struck down even the whiff of a religiously based test, and that Trump is having difficulty implementing even his narrow seven nation ban.
On the contrary, as I argued in a previous post, if anyone has a monopoly on transcendental religious beliefs influencing policy it’s the left and the Religion of Progress. I refer you to that post for a more complete discussion of how the transcendental religion of the left plays out, but if you need a current example I refer you to the recent controversy around professor Amy Wax who the gall to say that certain behaviors are better than others and that certain cultures do a better job of encouraging those values. In response to this argument that all cultures are not created equal, the argument from the transcendentally religious left (though they will hardly admit it’s a religion) is that somehow, magically, all cultures are essentially equal?
The grand point I’m trying to make, is that the left/progressive side of things is so dominate, so fanatical, so radical, and there’s so much potential for violence (all the things supposedly even moderates are opposed to) that we face a real chance of having the left break the country, if for no other reason than just because how fast they insist on going. I know that all “right-thinking” people are supposed to be on the side of the progressives and social justice and against Trump. But at this point, even if you’re a moderate, I think it’s time to join with the conservatives, and to paraphrase Buckley: to stand athwart history and to at least yell, “Slow down!”
If you can at least agree, that with everything going on that at, a minimum, we need to take a deep breath, and pause for a moment to consider things, then perhaps one of the things you might consider is donating. If, on the other hand you think progress and change need to speed up, then in lieu of donating, could you email me, because I’m really curious how you got here.