Monday, September 12, 2016
Trump is sounding better
BY ROGER KIMBALL
I think Publius is right that the demonization of the Right would only accelerate in a Hillary Clinton administration. Which brings Publius—and me—to Donald Trump. “Yes, Trump is worse than imperfect, “ he admits. “So what? We can lament until we choke the lack of a great statesman to address the fundamental issues of our time.” Publius goes further than I would. “Trump,” he says,
"alone among candidates for high office in this or in the last seven (at least) cycles, has stood up to say: I want to live. I want my party to live. I want my country to live. I want my people to live. I want to end the insanity"
There were others, in my opinion, who fit this bill, including Ted Cruz. But Ted Cruz is not a candidate for the presidency in 2016. Donald Trump is. Which brings me back to my second thoughts about Trump. As recently as a few weeks back, I was a lesser-of-two-evils, reluctant Trump supporter: classic Russian roulette vs. the loaded semi-automatic that is a Hillary Clinton victory.
But then Trump embarked on a series of high-profile speeches and rallies. I liked what he said about taxes and economic policy. I liked his list of possible SCOTUS nominees. I liked what he said about supporting the police and the plight of blacks in the inner cities. I liked what he said about combatting Islamic terrorism (what Barack Obama calls “workplace violence”). I even liked most of what he said in his immigration speech in Arizona. I thought it was courageous and “presidential” for him to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. I thought he did the right thing in going to lend moral, and even a bit of material, support to the victims of the floods in Louisiana. I was grateful when he released a video commemorating the canonization of Mother Teresa. I was happy to see him supporting school choice, standing up for religious freedom, and criticizing those who mock Christians and people of faith.
I know there will be some who object, “But how do you know he will do all things things.” The answer is, I don’t.
But I do know what Hillary would do: Obama on steroids. She’s a known-known. She would, as Publius warns, complete the “fundamental transformation” of this country into a third-world, politically correct socialist redoubt.
There is a fair amount of hysteria among NeverTrumpers about “The Flight 93 Election,” which I guess underscores just how potent its argument is. (The fact that Rush Limbaugh read it aloud on his radio show redoubled that potency.) As I say, I’ve come around to thinking that there are plenty of good reasons for someone of conservative principles to support Trump. I know, and have repeatedly rehearsed, the standard litany of criticisms about Trump. But they fade if not into insignificance then at least into near irrelevance in the face of his actual program (see above) and, most of all, in the face of the horror that is his opponent. I’ll give the last word to Publius: “The election of 2016 is a test . . . of whether there is any virtù left in what used to be the core of the American nation. If they cannot rouse themselves simply to vote for the first candidate in a generation who pledges to advance their interests, and to vote against the one who openly boasts that she will do the opposite (a million more Syrians, anyone?), then they are doomed. They may not deserve the fate that will befall them, but they will suffer it regardless.”
The great James Burnham once remarked that where there is no alternative there is no problem. Fortunately, we do have an alternative, and, my, we do have a problem. I was wrong when I predicted that Donald Trump would not be the candidate. I hope I will be proved wrong about my prediction that, were he the candidate, he would not win. The trends are promising, I think, but it would be foolish to deny that there are madmen in the cockpit or that many of the passengers are scared, apathetic, deluded, or just plain cowardly. We need a real-life Decius Mus who is willing to say “Let’s roll” and make a concerted charge. It may be the last chance we have.
Charles Murray talks about the new class war cleaving the US in two
With the publication in 2012 of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, political scientist Charles Murray – celebrated and denigrated in equal measure for his earlier works, Losing Ground (1984) and The Bell Curve (1994) – produced a searing, searching analysis of a nation cleaving along the lines of class, a nation, as he put it, ‘coming apart at the seams’. On the one side of this conflicted society, as Murray sees it, there is the intellectual or ‘cognitive’ elite, graduates of America’s leading universities, bound together through marriage and work, and clustered together in the same exclusive zipcodes, places such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Boston.
In these communities of the likeminded, which Murray gives the fictional title of ‘Belmont’, the inhabitants share the same values, the same moral outlook, the same distinct sense of themselves as superior. And on the other side, there is the ‘new lower class’, the white Americans who left education with no more than a high-school diploma, who increasingly divorce among themselves, endure unemployment together, and are gathered in neighbourhoods that Murray gives the title of ‘Fishtown’ – inspired by an actual white, blue-collar neighbourhood of the same name in Philadelphia.
It is in Fishtown that the trends Murray identifies as the most damaging over the past 50 years – family breakdown, loss of employment, crime and a loss of social capital – are felt and experienced. Its inhabitants have a set of values (albeit threadbare ones), an outlook and a way of life that are entirely at odds with those from Belmont. And it is between these two almost entirely distinct moral communities, that the new Culture Wars now appear to be being fought. Sean Collins caught up with Murray to talk about the cultural drivers of this latent class conflict; how it plays into the rise of Trump; and what can be done about this dangerous division
Sean Collins: In Coming Apart, you argue that the top and bottom of American society are divided culturally as well as economically. Fishtown is not only poorer than Belmont, but engages in different cultural practices, and has different values. For example, the value placed on marriage and religion differs among the people in your two archetypal towns. What forces have created this divide? To what extent have economic trends, such as a lack of employment opportunities, contributed to the divide?
Charles Murray: In Coming Apart I deliberately avoided talking about causes, and the reason for that was to enable people on the left to read the book without giving up on it. In my own view, many of the left’s policies, starting in the 1960s, contributed to this breakdown. They contributed to the breakdown of the family; they contributed to rising crime; they indirectly contributed to declining religiosity; and, above all, they contributed to the withdrawal of a lot of males from the labour force. Those policies weren’t the only causes, but I didn’t want to talk about those I had discussed in an earlier book, Losing Ground. Instead, I wanted my audience to confront the fact that this division between top and bottom had occurred.
However, in terms of the forces driving this division, I would say the economy’s role has been vastly overstated. My reasons for saying that are, first, that we have had a natural experiment. We have had prolonged periods in the US where the job market has been tight, with more jobs than workers: we had scattered years in the 1970s, for instance; then we had a period in the mid 1980s, during the second term of the Reagan administration; and, most obviously, in the latter half of the 1990s, labour markets were very tight. Yet during all of this time we saw the low-skilled, poorly educated workers of Fishtown drop out of the labour force. If the labour market was to blame, then presumably males would have come back into the labour market during those periods – they did not. The decline slowed somewhat during those periods, but it did not reverse. So, when people say, ‘oh, we can solve this problem by creating plenty of jobs at good pay’, I say, we tried that. You have to tell me what is going to be different about a tight labour market in the future, that was different from, say, the latter half of the 1990s.
I think the much larger changes in the culture were driven by, as I mentioned, a variety of social policies that I discussed in Losing Ground. But I should add to those a couple of others. First, the invention of the birth control pill, which liberated women from the fear of pregnancy and generated a sexual revolution. This led to a situation in which males’ incentives for marriage changed. A major incentive for a young male to marry prior to 1960 was to have regular sexual access to a woman, which was hard to do at that time if you were not wealthy or otherwise in a fortunate position.
So are working-class Americans angry? Yeah. And is Trump a vehicle for expressing that anger? Absolutely
Second, feminism. Women were able to get into the labour market in ways they had not before. It was a good thing to happen, but it also fundamentally changed the role and status of the working-class male. So before the entrance of women into the workplace, he could say ‘I am the head of the family; I am putting food on the table, and a roof over the heads of my children’, which gave him not only a personal sense of satisfaction, but also a status within the community. But the role and status of males changed when so many women started to become economically independent of men.
So, it’s a classic case of many forces creating the problem I described in Coming Apart. Forces which were progressive – I’m glad that the feminist revolution occurred, I’m glad that better contraception was available for women. But they had collateral effects which were problematic.
Collins: You paint a fairly bleak picture of life in Fishtown. People are not only poor but despairing, and otherwise leading difficult lives. Do you think the elite is to blame for Fishtown? Do the people of Fishtown have any culpability for their situation?
Murray: The people of Fishtown have a lot of responsibility for what’s gone on. If you go to a Fishtown in the US – that includes lots of small towns in the Midwest and West, as well as urban working-class neighbourhoods – you will see, for example, lots of healthy, able-bodied males in their twenties and thirties, who are not working. They are not looking for work; they do not take jobs if they are available; and they spend their lives essentially playing video games. That’s not really an exaggeration. The statistics on the number of hours spent by these guys on video games are stunning.
Now, it is a classic argument of the left to say, ‘ah, they are demoralised. They are not responsible for their decisions.’ And I agree, in some sense they are demoralised. But I also do not want to deprive them of moral agency. They have the option to behave differently. There are people in those same communities who are behaving differently. There are men who are in the labour market, are employed, are doing the right thing. So, if you talk about the new lower class, there are two points to make. One, do forces outside the control of the people in those communities have a bearing on their lives? Absolutely. Two, does that excuse them from the choices they make, to live off of others – girlfriends, parents, friends, the government? No, it does not excuse them from making those choices.
Collins: Coming Apart was published in 2012. Have the culture divisions you identified in the book persisted? Have they evolved at all?
Murray: The divisions have continued to get worse, but not that rapidly. For example, if you look at the marriage rate for guys in their thirties and forties, it hasn’t fallen much more than had it done when I compiled my data (in 2010) for Coming Apart. So have things gotten a lot worse over the past six years? Not a lot, but they have gotten worse. The thing that I did not pick up on in Coming Apart was the decline in working-class women’s labour-force participation, which is quite pronounced. I did look at women’s labour participation while writing Coming Apart, but my breakdowns did not trigger the recognition of how large that reduction was. So, it’s not just demoralisation among men any more; it’s demoralisation among women as well, and that’s been going on since the early 2000s. That’s one thing which I think has probably gotten worse.
Also, I should add, that there was a confirmation of the radical change that’s going on, in the work of the Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton and his co-author, Anne Case, who documented an astonishing rise in death rates among lower-class whites, from diseases related to addiction, substance abuse, and so on. This trend is also an indirect indicator of a huge cultural change for the worse in working-class America.
Collins: Do you see the culture divides and trends you identified in Coming Apart as contributing to the rise of Donald Trump?
Murray: Yes, I do. There are two developments. First, if you look at those people who are out of the labour force – what I call the ‘new lower class’ – they are no longer participating in the major institutions of American society. To put it crudely, I think they look upon Trump as sticking it to the man in a way they find gratifying. But I think they also look upon this as entertainment. I’m exaggerating to some extent, but there’s a sentiment of ‘well, this is a really interesting reality show, look at what this guy is getting away with, with all his outrageous stuff – let’s see what happens next’.
The elites are promulgating policies for which they do not pay the price. That’s true of immigration, that’s true of education
Then you have other people in the white working class who are getting married, holding jobs, playing by the rules – and they are pissed as hell. They see all of these shenanigans among the elites, the Wall Street types, for instance, with their 20,000-square-foot mansions. And most aggravating of all, they have to suffer the cognitive elite’s incredible smugness and condescension. The elites don’t even bother to hide this condescension towards the white working class. They are constantly making fun of rednecks, of evangelical Christians. And they talk about ‘flyover country’, as if nothing between the East Coast and West Coast really makes any difference. Indeed, cognitive elites are contemptuous of the working class. At the same time, working-class people, trying hard to makes ends meet, are being faced with an awful lot of competition for work from an influx of low-skilled, immigrant labour – an influx that the elites have encouraged and done nothing to stop. So, are they angry? Yeah. And is Trump a vehicle for expressing that anger? Absolutely.
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Posted by JR at 12:33 AM