Or download the MP3
Saturday, June 24, 2017
If you prefer to listen rather than read:
Or download the MP3
Or download the MP3
As I said in my last post, I’m not the first person to speak about the current political climate in terms of a civil war, and the events of the last few weeks mean I definitely won’t be the last either. As one of my commenters pointed out I didn’t mention the shooting last week at the congressional baseball field. But even more recently than that, on Monday morning, a man drove a van into a crowd of Muslims who were leaving a London mosque. That attack was probably a response to an attack earlier this month where some Muslim terrorists drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians on London Bridge before getting out and stabbing people. One would hope that we’ve seen the last such incidents for awhile, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
I think it’s becoming clear that we have a real problem on our hands, the only questions are, “Is it getting worse?” And, “How much worse?” As I indicated in the last episode (of which this is a continuation) the answer to both those questions is greatly assisted by understanding how long it’s been going on, and so I’m more focused on the long term view then I am on dissecting every individual incident. For one thing, if that’s really what you’re looking for there are no shortage of people willing to engage in that dissection. Also, by looking back decades rather than days we find things that are both comforting and sobering. All of this is to say that, as usual, I’m more interested in the 50,000 foot view than the view from the ground. Another person who shares this preference is Dan Carlin of the Common Sense and Hardcore History podcast, who released a Common Sense Episode on this very topic on Sunday, so just before the most recent incident in London. An incident which paradoxically makes his podcast even more timely.
Carlin mentions that a lot of people will want to write off the various perpetrators, from the baseball shooter, to the van drivers, as crazy. And in my experience, that’s definitely going to happen, though people will disagree about which are crazy and which are evil. In fact it’s striking how often people decide that the people who are on their side of things must have been crazy while people on the other side are invariably evil. I would offer that they’re all crazy to one degree or another, but Carlin makes the excellent point that they represent something of a canary in a coal mine. As things get angrier and polarization increases the most susceptible crack first. But he argues, and I agree, that if it continues more and more people will drink the kool-aid and the amount of craziness it requires to turn violent will continue to decrease.
We have seen this happen before. Preceding the Civil War there was Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Bleeding Kansas, and of course, the event which most resembles the kind of thing we’re worried about today, John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. More recently when we look at the flare-up of the late 60s/early 70s there was the Weather Underground bombings, the Kent State Shootings and the Manson Family Murders. I don’t feel qualified to get into the psychology of people before the Civil War, but looking at the list of people involved in the more recent social unrest we have the whole continuum from very insane on one end to very sane on the other. It’s hard to argue that Charles Manson is not insane, but the participants in the Weather Underground were sane enough to go on to become respected professors, and I can’t find anyone who claims that the National Guardsman who fired on protesters at Kent State were anything other than sane.
Reviewing these incidents should provide some comfort. As bad as things are today we haven’t had anything yet that rivals the events I just listed. Even the campus protests of today, as angry as the protesters are, don’t (yet) come anywhere near the intensity or scope of the campus protests or the wider social unrest present in the late 60s/early 70s. As much as I worry about increasing violence and the widening ideological chasm, it has been worse. And I don’t think people realize how bad it was. This is another thing Carlin brings up in his podcast and to illustrate his point he uses the following selection from Nixon’s Memoirs:
From January 1969 through April 1970 there were, by conservative count, over 40,000 bombings, attempted bombings, and bomb threats--an average of over eighty a day. Over $21 million ($140 million in today’s dollars). Forty-three people were killed. Of these 40,000 incidents, 64 percent were by bombers whose identity and motive were unknown.
Now you may not want to believe Tricky Dicky, but I think we can all agree that things aren’t as bad now as they were then. Still, as I said in my previous post, whether they remain that way depends on which direction things are headed and how long they’ve been headed in that direction. I have already said that I think they’re headed left, and they’ve been headed left for awhile. But the important question, as always is, what evidence do I have of this? And here I would like to introduce another way of looking at this subject, the aptly named, Overton Window.
The “Overton” comes from Joseph P. Overton, a think tank executive who died young in a plane crash, and if you spend much time in certain corners of the internet you’ll already be familiar with this term. But if you’re not familiar with it, the idea behind the Overton Window is that out of all the things you could talk about some are acceptable and some are completely unacceptable. The things which are acceptable are inside the Overton Window and everything that’s unacceptable is outside the window. The idea was originally developed as a way of describing the political viability of an idea, and specifically what someone seeking a public office could and could not say if they wanted to have any hope of getting elected. Some examples will help to clarify things:
Currently, supporting same sex marriage is squarely in the Overton Window, not only can you talk about it, it’s policy everywhere in the US. On the other hand, opposition to same sex marriage is at the edge of the Overton Window. You can still talk about it, but depending on which party you’re affiliated with it may disqualify you from seeking public office. From this you may have already deduced one of the central features of the Overtown Window, it moves. For example less than 10 years ago Obama said: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” Can you imagine any democrat seeking a nationwide office saying that now? No, and that’s because in the last ten years the Overton Window moved significantly with respect to this issue.
To take a less partisan example let’s look at single payer healthcare. In 2008 when Obama was running for the presidency, he made sure to clarify that his proposed health care plan was not single payer, because he knew that the idea of single-payer healthcare is unpalatable to a lot of people and advocating for it would have made it difficult for him to get elected. In other words, it was on the edge of the Overton Window. And even after the election, and despite controlling the presidency and both houses of congress, the democrats didn’t try to pass single-payer despite the fact that it was clear, even then, that the frankenstein monster they did put together was almost certainly worse than single payer. Now that healthcare is back on the table not only is single-payer being seriously discussed but even republicans are talking about it. Another example of the movement of the window, though notice that it’s moving more slowly than in the first example.
From looking at stuff inside, or at the edge of the window let’s look at something that was once in the Overton Window and is now so far outside of it, that it’s a major news story if anyone attempts to even slightly minimize its horror. Of course I’m talking about slavery. There was a time when talking about whether slavery should be legal, or whether it should be expanded into new states, or whether free states had a duty to return escaped slaves, were all well within the Overton Window. Now, of course, such subjects aren’t anywhere near the window of acceptable discourse. And I’m probably going to get in trouble for even talking about it.
In all of the examples the window moved left. And as we shall see, that represents another interesting feature of the Overton Window, not only does it move, when it does move it always moves left. In the last post we talked about how conservatives, after decades of effort, finally got tired of trying to change academia and the media and defected to create their own institutions. In this post we uncover the explanation for why. Not only were conservatives unable to make media and academia more conservative, they were unable to even hold the line. Historian Robert Conquest summed up this process in his second law of politics:
Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
And not only are all organizations moving left, there is significant evidence, as we saw with same sex marriage, that they’re picking up speed.
At this point, particularly for those inclined to disagree with me, you’re probably looking for a counter example, some place where the window did not move left. And I will concede that It’s certainly possible to cherry-pick some small issue where the right achieved a temporary victory, or a tiny roll-back. But, as I mentioned in the beginning, my point is to look at things from 50,000 feet, and from that view point, the long-term trends are all moving left. So the fact that Proposition 8 made same sex marriage illegal in California in 2008 or the fact that the effective corporate tax rate was once 50% and now it’s 17% are not facts which falsify the idea. Because, the key fact is not that same sex marriage was made illegal again for a few years, but that it became legal everywhere after a fight of less than a decade. And the key fact is not where the government gets it’s money and if it’s getting more or less from businesses, but how much the government spends and how much it continues to grow in size.
And these two examples represent the two branches of conservatism: fiscal conservatism and social conservatism. And as you can probably already guess I am claiming that within these two broad categories the leftward shift is unmistakable.
If we focus first on fiscal conservatism, no one who looks at government spending could do anything other than conclude that fiscal conservatives are getting their butts kicked. As usual SlateStarCodex beat me to the punch (seriously how does that guy write so much?) and in his most recent post he has several graphs showing the ridiculous growth in government spending, and particularly in welfare programs. Of the graphs he included, my favorite is the one showing per person welfare spending in constant dollars. On this graph there is a spot marked to show when President Clinton implemented welfare reform. And at that spot the graph flattens a tiny, almost imperceptible amount, it doesn’t go down, it’s just flat. Meaning that even when we set out to reduce welfare spending that all we were able to do was hold it flat for a couple of years. Now of course it dropped a lot during the financial crisis, so it’s not impossible for it go down it’s just not something, apparently, that we can exercise any conscious control over.
Looking at that graph reminds me of something Thomas Sowell once said. (Though, for the life of me I haven’t been able to track down the reference.) He pointed out that if government programs really had the impact their advocates claim then you should be able to easily pick out when they were implemented on a graph and yet if you take away the labels and the dates, that’s rarely the case.
The welfare spending per person graph is a great example of this. (Here’s another example.) I am positive that without the label and without the date axis that no one could pick out the spot where the Clinton welfare reforms were implemented. Of course this is all just an interesting, though somewhat tangential point. The important point is that no matter how fiscally conservative the Republicans are; No matter how large their legislative majority; Or how many tea party candidates get elected, Government just keeps growing. In 1913 you needed a constitutional amendment to implement the income tax. In 1935 the only way Social Security was passed was because it was expected to cover just a tiny number of people (the average American didn’t even live until 65 back then) and even so there were serious debates about its constitutionality. In 2001 you could propose (unsuccessfully I might add) to privatize social security, But in 2016 neither candidate was even able to propose raising the retirement age. (Clinton actively opposed it.) The Overton Window just kept moving left. If you can’t even talk about raising the retirement age and be a viable political candidate, you certainly can’t talk about privatization of Social Security, and heaven help you if it get’s out that you ever considered eliminating it.
Government just keeps growing. And one of the points made in the SlateStarCodex article is that this is despite the Republican base becoming increasingly fiscally conservative, and despite the associated rise of the Tea Party, and despite the Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress for 12 out of the last 22 years and the House (which is in charge of the money) for 18 of the last 22 years. One of the favorite phrases fiscally conservative pundits use when speaking about this issue is that, “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t,” and Margaret Thatcher wisely observed that eventually you run out of other people’s money. And that is certainly the case, but it looks like our very best efforts to avoid that eventuality have barely move the needle.
Based on all of this I would reiterate my position that in the realm of government spending the Overton Window is moving left. Even if it took 80 years for Social Security to get to the nearly unassailable position it currently enjoys, it still got there. In part this relative slowness is due to that fact that when it comes to spending we do have a useful measuring stick in the form of money. If we run out of it, everyone (presumably even Paul Krugman) would agree that we have a problem. Krugman might point out the abstract nature of money in a world where we can print our own or spend $3.5 Trillion on quantitative easing. To which I would retort that, while it’s not perfect it is nevertheless better than nothing.
On other hand when it comes to social issues we enjoy neither the same leisurely pace we had with fiscal issues, nor a generally agreed upon measuring stick. With respect to accelerating cultural change, I have already mentioned same sex marriage, and while it’s definitely a great example of the kind of rapid change I’m talking about, a better example might be transgender rights which appear to progressing by an order of magnitude faster still. Though, making such a claim, is precisely the situation where a generally agreed upon measuring stick would come in handy.
Frequently, when someone is trying to measure something abstract like transgender rights they’ll turn to the Google Ngram viewer and look at word frequency. If we do that for the word transgender we see usage of the word as being all but non-existent until 1988 when the graph suddenly goes almost vertical. Unfortunately the Google NGram viewer only goes to 2008, but in the 20 year period from 1988 to 2008 occurrences of the word transgender increased 33,000%! And you can only imagine how much more common the word has gotten since 2008. In other words the concept of being transgender essentially didn’t exist before 1988 and now when I do a search of the word transgender in the news I get articles on Pakistan issuing a transgender passport, two different deputies (one in Colorado, one in Orlando) coming out as transgender, a debate about whether to delay allowing transgender people into the military and a discussion of whether someone can decide that they’re transgender when they’re only three. All of this around a concept that didn’t even exist 30 years ago. If this isn’t evidence of the Overton Window moving left at an ever increasing speed, I don’t know what is. And transgender awareness and same sex marriage are not isolated issues, this is a society wide change that has happened blindingly fast, and which has incredibly broad implications well beyond either of the two individual issues.
Now there are a lot of you who think this is a good thing, or at least not a bad thing. And I certainly hope you’re right, but before we can definitely say that we need to know what the endgame looks like. And this is where both the speed of the Overton Window and the lack of a measuring stick come into play. If we continue at this pace for another 30 years where does that put us? Is it possible that in that time we will have gone too far? Or that we have already gone too far? What measuring stick are we using to know when we’ve “run out of money”? And this is where we finally return to Dan Carlin’s podcast. Speaking on the subject of a potential civil war, Carlin asks a very important question, “What does winning a civil war even look like?” Does everyone have to be comfortable with the most liberal current position that exists today, because in 10 years that will be mainstream? What about 20 years from now? By that time would we all have to be comfortable with positions that even the most liberal person finds abhorrent now? What if there are people who will never be comfortable with those ideas? Do we kill them? Re-educate them? Banish them? And this all assumes something approaching a best case scenario for the left where they win and there’s no violence. Neither of which, especially the latter, is guaranteed.
The Overton Window is an express train heading at great speed towards an unknown destination. I don’t know how to stop it, but it would be nice if it didn’t run over anyone as it hurtles into the darkness.
The world is changing fast, if you think that’s a good thing you should donate since I’ll need the money for my own re-education when the time comes, and if you think it’s a bad thing you should also donate because now you understand better why that is.
Also there will be no post next week. I’ll be taking my summer vacation.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
If you prefer to listen rather than read:
Or download the MP3
Or download the MP3
Many years ago I got an email from my brother urging me to register my opposition to some new forest service regulations that were about to take effect. My brother is an avid snowmobiler and he claimed that the new regulations would severely impact snowmobiling in a nearby national forest. As I recall he sent me to a webpage where the injustice of the new regulations were laid out in minute detail, and with much ranting.
Obviously my first inclination was to help out my brother, but from reading the webpage it was apparent that the regulations were just the latest battle in an ongoing war between the snowmobilers and local environmentalists. And out of curiosity I went looking for the other side of that war. In particular I wanted to know what they thought about the new regulations. After a little bit of sleuthing I came up with the name of the group on the other side of the issue and went to their webpage. As I said this was many years ago, so I can’t remember the identities of either group but I do remember thinking that as much as the snowmobilers hate these new regulations that the environmentalists must love them.
Instead, I discovered that the environmentalists appeared to hate the new regulations just as much as the snowmobilers did, and there was a similar rant about how horrible and unjust the new regulations were on the environmentalist’s website. I honestly don’t recall any longer if they were also urging people register their opposition, but they very well might have been. Regardless, it was clear that they were also not happy. I suppose this shouldn’t have surprised me. Bureaucracies constantly have to split the baby in such a way that no one is happy. But still, one can’t help but feeling that it would have been better to make at least one of the sides happy than to make both equally miserable.
I was reminded of this story recently as I was thinking about the current liberal-conservative dynamic, and especially the fact that these days, nearly everyone, regardless of their political persuasion, seems convinced that their side is losing. Immigrants are convinced they’re all about to be deported. Christians feel under attack by an increasingly secular society. Democrats and liberals are dismayed by the election of Trump and Republicans and Conservatives are alarmed by the increasing strident social justice activism.
Of course it’s one thing to lose a battle it’s another to be losing the war, and to me it seems obvious that on any time horizon longer than about a year, the left/liberal/progressive side has been winning the war. Though, while this seems obvious to me, it’s definitely not obvious to some of them. In particular I remember seeing a comment on Facebook from a high school acquaintance, wherein he confidently asserted that outside of same sex marriage and a couple of other items (unfortunately I can’t find the original comment) that the right has been dominating politics and getting their way for decades. I have a hard time imagining how even the most partisan individual would arrive at that conclusion, but given that I’m neither liberal, on the left, or especially progressive, perhaps I’m just another person who is convinced that their side is losing. But what does the evidence actually say?
Let’s start by looking at a battle the left definitely lost, though before I do, I should clarify that I know that by using “the left” as all purpose term to identify one side of things and “the right” as my all purpose term for the other side that I’m hand waving all manner of ideological differences and lumping people together who may not only disagree with what I’m about to say, but they may have significant disagreements with each other. With that caveat in place let’s move on.
The biggest loss the left has suffered recently is obviously the election of Trump. But, recall, and this is something I’ll be mentioning a lot, we need to distinguish between losing a battle and losing the war. The last election was a particularly hard fought, and acrimonious battle. And without a doubt the left lost that battle (though, when it’s all over we may decide that we all lost.) But did the left lose the war? Losing a decisive battle can mean you lost the war, but was the election of Trump decisive? It certainly doesn’t seem that way. First, Trump’s victory has so far not amounted to much. Every proposal he’s made has been fought tooth and nail. Second, and closely related, the opposition is anything but cowed. If you need proof of this compare the Russian and Chinese opposition to the current American opposition. Finally, in a democracy none of the “battles” should be decisive because you reset the board and have a new “battle” every four years (or two if you count control of the legislature.) With all this I don’t think there’s any reason to declare that the left has lost the war.
However, looking deeper you may recall an argument I made in a previous post that the Supreme Court, and the judiciary more broadly, are gradually becoming the de facto rulers of the country. If you buy into this argument, (and certainly many people called it the most important issue of the 2016 election) Then, depending on how many justices Trump gets to appoint and depending on how conservative they end up being you could certainly imagine a scenario where this particular battle ended up being rather decisive. However I would offer up a couple of reasons why this is unlikely.
- Trump is unlikely to get the opportunity to replace more than one of the court’s liberal judges. To do even that, one of them would have to die (Most likely Ginsburg, but maybe Breyer) since none of them would dare to retire while Trump is President. Slate has this great calculator based the CDC tables which tells you the odds of any given judge or combination of judges dying and it puts the chances of one of at least one liberal justice dying at 56%. If this is the case then it is conceivable that the conservatives could end up with a 6-3 majority on the bench, assuming that Kennedy and Roberts continue to be counted on the conservative side of things. Which brings me to the second point.
- Both Kennedy and Roberts have become increasingly liberal over time. (See this graph.) In fact it’s quite common for a justice nominated by a Republican president to end up on the liberal wing of the court. Recent examples of this are: Blackmun, Souter and Stevens. The opposite, Democratic Presidential nominees ending up on the conservative wing, is basically unheard of. Thus even if Trump does manage to flip a liberal seat to a conservative one, there’s a good chance that one of the judges currently considered to be conservative will end up mostly siding with the liberal wing of the court. Witness Roberts’ votes on Obamacare and Kennedy’s vote on Same Sex Marriage.
On the first point, we mostly just have to wait and see what happens. On the second, though, we should get a pretty good idea of whether Trump is “winning” when the Supreme Court gets around to ruling on his travel ban, which will probably happen sometime this fall.
The best case scenario for Trump is a 5-4 ruling upholding the travel ban and overturning the rulings of all the lower courts. Then if he can hold on to that basic split, and if a liberal justice dies, and if he can get a nominee through the Senate (which is by no means a certain thing) and if, by this time, Kennedy or Roberts hasn’t drifted over to the liberal side of the court then we might end up with a 6-3 conservative-liberal split on the Supreme Court. This would be pretty bad for the left. But I hardly think it would represent losing the war. In the mid 90’s seven of the nine justices had been appointed by Republican Presidents and despite this, to the best of my knowledge Roe v. Wade, for example, was never in any danger of being overturned.
This all assumes that the Supreme Court overrules the lower courts, which is by no means certain. Alan Dershowitz, a noted liberal attorney, thinks they will, but no one (including Dershowitz) would be surprised if they didn’t. And if they don’t, then at best the election of Trump is a temporary setback for the left, considering that he won’t have been able to get even his signature initiative past the courts.
That may have been a deeper dive than you wanted into the Supreme Court, but I spent so much time on them because, in the final analysis, particularly if you consider the US, that is where most of the recent battles have been decided, so if any side was going to lose permanently it would probably involve the court in one respect or another. Of course all of the foregoing assumes that Trump plays by the rules and many would argue this assumption is already invalid given that he’s been breaking rules left and right. Still I don’t see him breaking any of the big rules (suspending elections, declaring martial law, trying to stack the court, etc.) Also recall that we’re talking about who’s winning now, and while it’s appropriate to consider the near future in that assessment the farther away from the present we get the less value our assessment has.
I started off by looking at the area where you could make the strongest claim that the left is losing. Outside of Trump’s election the left’s case that they’re losing gets more tenuous. Though, another area where the argument could be made is with respect to the media, particularly if you start including social media. This point is closely related to the last one I made about the election, since many people have claimed that it was Trump’s mastery of social media (especially Facebook advertising) which lead to his upset victory. But unlike looking at the voting records of the Supreme Court Justices to detect a liberal-conservative split, trying to decide who’s winning the media battle is a lot more complicated, though if you want to argue that Trump’s election proves that the conservatives are at least doing well in this battle I would certainly grant that. But as far as winning goes, before you get too far into things you have to decide what winning even means outside of something like an election. Is the right winning because Fox News is the #1 cable news network? (Though with Trump as a target, Rachel Maddow has been doing pretty well recently.) Is the left winning because only 7% of reporters identify as Republican? Does the rise of, so called, fact-free journalism mean that the right is winning because they’re much better at propaganda or does it mean the left is winning because the facts are on their side? Or are we really just dividing into separate echo chambers where each side is winning the game because they made up the rules and didn’t invite the other side to play? I’m inclined to think it’s this last thing...
As he does so often Scott Alexander beat me to the punch and published an examination of this issue on SlateStarCodex at the beginning of May. His article was, in turn, responding to another article that had been posted on Vox.com (a website whose liberal leanings are pretty obvious) about tribal epistemology, which is a fancy way of describing the echo chamber problem. Alexander’s summation of the Vox article is so great I have to quote it:
...there used to be a relatively fair media in which both liberals and conservatives got their say. But Republicans didn’t like having to deal with facts, so they formed their own alternative media – FOX and Rush Limbaugh and everyone in that sphere – where only conservatives would have a say and their fake facts would never get challenged.
Or: everyone used to trust academia as a shared and impartial arbitrator of truth. But conservatives didn’t like the stuff it found – whether about global warming or trickle-down economics or whatever – so they seceded into their own world of alternative facts where some weird physicist presents his case that global warming is a lie, or a Breitbart journalist is considered an expert on how cultural Marxism explains everything about post-WWII American history.
As hilarious as I find this description, it’s also an accurate representation not only of the article, but of the viewpoint that many on the left have about where things stand at the moment. But there are several problems with this representation. First, though it’s beyond the scope of this post, I don’t think liberals have nearly the monopoly on truth that they claim. Second, and most germane to our subject, if conservatives have fled en masse from media and academia, isn’t retreating from the field a pretty good description of losing? Finally, it implies that this is a recent split, that everything was going along fine when suddenly, right around the election of Trump, the conservatives went crazy and unilaterally blew the whole system up because they hate the truth. Leading to a broken system where liberals continue to be on the side of facts and justice and conservatives have turned into rabid barbarians.
Alexander takes particular aim at this last point, and mentions that the original article (the one he’s commenting on):
...devotes four sentences in his six thousand word article to the possibility that conservatives might be motivated by something deeper than a simple hatred of facts.
Alexander points out, I believe correctly, that reducing the recent conservative split down to just a “hatred of facts” leaves out all manner of context. Which is to say it blatantly misrepresents what has happened. The four sentences Alexander call out, end with the statement:
But the right has not sought greater fairness in mainstream institutions; it has defected to create its own.
Both Alexander and I remember the last several decades a lot differently, but Alexander says it better so I’ll use another quote from him:
This is a bizarre claim, given the existence of groups like Accuracy In Media, Media Research Center, Newsbusters, Heterodox Academy, et cetera which are all about the right seeking greater fairness in mainstream institutions, some of which are almost fifty years old. Really “it’s too bad conservatives never complained about liberal bias in academia or the mainstream media” seems kind of like the opposite of how I remember the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The way I remember it, conservatives spent about thirty years alternately pleading, demanding, suing, legislating, and literally praying for greater fairness in mainstream institutions, and it was basically all just hitting their heads against a brick wall. Then they defected to create their own.
If you agree with this narrative (and it certainly matches my experience) then we can take three things from it. First it bolsters the idea that the conservatives are losing, second that they have been losing for a lot longer than just since November, in both media and academia, and finally that we have ended up with a media civil war that bears many similarities to the actual Civil War. Another situation where people attempted for decades to keep things together but finally, when it became apparent that was impossible, that’s when hostilities finally break out. Though, hostilities this time around are not anywhere near the level of the actual Civil War and it might be more appropriate to call this a “cold civil war.”
Of course, I am by no means, the first person to talk about an increasingly divided country, or of a national divorce or even the first person to compare it to a new civil war. But I think most of these people are looking at it from a very short time horizon, while I think the key insight in this whole thing, the insight which Alexander brings to the table is that this has been going on for decades, and what we’re seeing recently is people giving up on trying to solve the problem via compromise. Just as, with the election of Lincoln, it became apparent to the South that it would no longer be possible to maintain slavery via the federal government.
Taken all together what this means is that the chasm which is opening up in society is not some recent development, some short-lived mass hysteria brought on by the election of Trump, rather it’s something that has been going on for a very long time and rather than current events being a temporary detour, they more likely represent a metamorphosis into a new and frightening reality, which may bear more resemblance to 1860 than to 1968.
Looking at all of this you may dismiss my conclusions. Perhaps you don’t think conservatives are losing, or you think the division is a temporary bump in the road, not some new and frightening change to the country's politics. If so I would urge you to stay tuned, because I definitely intend to return to this subject and cover areas beyond the Supreme Court and the media and perhaps delving into these other areas will change your mind. But that aside, for the moment, I would ask you to assume that I am correct, to assume that the conservatives are losing and that they’ve been losing for a long time. If this is the case, what are the potential outcomes?
The first possible outcome is that, just like the South during the Civil War, the conservatives could be routed, their institutions could be laid waste and the things they feel deeply about could be made illegal. (It should be pointed out here that the process of making things legal they deeply oppose has already begun.) And there would be many who would cheer this outcome, and if you believe that the signature conservative positions of today are as bad as slavery was then, you probably should cheer this outcome. (You also might be deluded.) But if you can imagine this outcome from the position of the victors, can you also imagine it from the position of the vanquished? And if so do you imagine that they’re going to surrender quietly? It could be argued (and this is one more thing which I intend to cover in more depth when I return to this subject) that conservatives have been surrendering for decades and it hasn’t gotten them anything. And that the rise of the alt-right and the election of Trump and all of the other associated phenomenon have come about because conservatives are tired of surrendering, particularly when it brings no benefit. In any event this outcome flows from the methodology of war, and as I have said in the past, it’s unlikely to be as quick and as painless as you imagine, even if you happen to be on the winning side and even if you keep the violence to a minimum, which is by no means certain.
That is, broadly, what happens if the trend continues. On the other side we have the outcome if the trend reverses itself, things peak, and while, yes, the conservatives are losing, and have been losing for a long time, it slows down, and in a manner similar to what happened in the late 60’s/early 70’s, activism and protests and social unrest reach a crescendo and then subside. Just like Nixon, Trump will leave office and everyone will calm down a little bit. Fox News will mellow and become more like CNN. The polarization in congress will subside and we’ll once again have a bunch of moderates, who reach across the aisle to pass intelligent bipartisan legislation. Obviously, something like this, is the outcome I prefer, but it’s an outcome that requires a lot of understanding and a lot of wisdom. And as I describe it, it honestly doesn’t sound very likely.
If you prefer to see the war fought out in this way with words rather than fists (or guns or worse) consider donating, in return I promise not to punch anyone.