This “Tyrannophobia” is Not Worse Than Tyranny

Samuel Moyn and David Priestland argue today in The New York Times that something they dub “Tryannophobia”, rather than Donald Trump, is a threat to our Democracy.  I think they’re being a bit too quick and cute here and, without getting too fancy, I think they miss the point.

Donald TrumpFirst, to suggest that resistance and concern over the rise of Trump, Trumpism, and all this represents and exposes in our social and political culture is merely an expression of tyrannophobia suggests that there isn’t something unique — and dangerous — in the current state of things.

“Tyrannophia” — the fear of tyrants — sounds general and even dismissive, like generally being afraid of heights is a condition of acrophobia.  But sometimes you are standing on the edge of a thousand-foot cliff and other times just at the edge of a curb.  There is a difference.

Second, the authors tell us that tyrannophobia distracts us from real issues, like our dysfunctional economy, and we shouldn’t be so concerned with less-real issues like Trump trying to seize power unconstitutionally.

Well, I agree that Trump isn’t likely to seize power unconstitutionally — he can barely manage the power he has — and so we shouldn’t be overly concerned about that.  However, that isn’t the real threat and there are things we should responsibly worry about.  That real threat is the politics, rhetoric, and actions of the man democracy elected, not the risk that he might devolve further and bring us into a state tyranny.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily take a tyrant to create tyrannical obstacles to protecting rights, equality, and justice, not to mention peace and security, all of which are to some lesser or greater extent at risk under Trump and his GOP enablers.

Trump expresses the methods and apparatus of tyranny and that is bad enough.  Opinions — even lies — trump facts, fear eclipses reason, and shrugs replace critical discourse.  This is the method of Trump’s power.   And as long as Trump can say he is the greatest president in history doing more good than any other president before him when he is none of that and gets away with it…

Well, in that case, you don’t need a tyrant.  You need an impressionable, malleable public to accept it.  Tyranny by the masses.  That’s what serious critics of Trumpism and mainstream conservativism recognize.  And that is what we are dealing with today.

Happy Fathers Day?

A friend posted this on Facebook:  “Happy Fathers Day to all the Fathers who actually have jobs and support their children.”

I don’t have much to say about this, but rather will let you ponder it.

HOWEVER!…it would seem that this person’s priorities start with the fear of someone getting something they don’t deserve, right?  In this case, that undeserved something is praise for being a father, although — as an expression of spiteful privilege — I suspect this goes deeper than that.  Nevermind that none of us is who we are today without the support — direct or otherwise — from others.

Some of us are given the gift of fortunate birth, such as someone born in the United States versus the slums of Kibera.  Among the fortunate born, most of us do our work in an economy that is the result of the law, cooperation, and sound governance, not singular effort alone.  No one enjoying economic success today can escape this fact.  No one could “support” his children — as my friend seems to suggest — without this fact.

On the other hand, some are born into great disadvantage despite being surrounded by opportunity and success.  These might be children of poor parents or even absent parents.  Isn’t that right?  There are parents who don’t have the luxury to ridicule others and still other parents who probably shouldn’t have been parents in the first place.

But to qualify your praise of fatherhood on whether or not a man has a job is despicable.  (Sorry.)  If we accept this narrative, that only makes it more difficult for the struggling father to support his children.  After all, “support” is about more than having a job.  That isn’t obvious?

I’ll shut up.

(Apologies to my half-dozen readers…there are two copies of this post floating out there.  When I hit update to delete the draft, it seems to default to the draft.  Working on it.)

The Jane Addams Model and I Agree with David Brooks on This One

It happens and it has happened again. I find myself agreeing with…David Brooks!

The very short opinion piece linked here (yes, even charter school kids can get through it) is simple, smart, and reassuring. I like it.

Jane Addams, 1913

Jane Addams, 1913

I like, for example, how Brooks criticizes today’s philanthropy for its “doer’s arrogance and intellectual laziness”. That’s a pretty clean assessment and it is mischievously funny because I think Brooks is talking about pundit intellectuals like the Minnesota native everyone here in Minnesota loves to love, Thomas Friedman, whose simple solution to damn near EVERY problem in the world today is “learn to code.” If poking a hole in vapid quasi-intellectualism like that is Brooks’s intention — which I think is precisely what it is — then I agree with him that much more.

Only twenty-four hours ago, I thought about becoming active in the Skyway Avoidance Society, but now I see that perhaps starting up a Jane Addams Society (to counter all those annoying TED talks, among other things) is a better way to go. Could I owe this to David Brooks?

Take a look!

Alan Simpson Explaining Partisanship on CNN with Smerconish

I got a kick out of listening to Alan Simpson explain the rise of extreme partisanship in Congress with Michael Smerconish on CNN Friday.
He had a point about decades of Democrat leadership in Congress, but quickly lost it thereafter when he tried to frame this as a bi-partisan issue…a favorite cover taken by the right.
All of this starts in the early 80s when Republicans began to embrace redlines — eventually achieving Gingrich’s “Contract with America” and Norquist’s tax pledge — and continues a rightward march with the Tea Party caucuses and worse.
What Simpson might think is partisanship matching conservative extremism is simply a response to irresponsible and intellectually lazy policy positions on the right. To quote a man who was once a conservative saint, Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
The problem is the fact that the right has gone so far right that it has fallen off the rails and now runs counter to the interests of the country and the vast majority of its citizens.
Take a look at the GOP healthcare plan, right? Bad plan, they couldn’t pass it, and if they had passed it would have made things worse, not better. Is there a better example of Republican failure to govern on sound policy? (Not yet.)
The objectives of today’s conservative majorities in Congress and across the country put Democrats in a position where if they were to move to the right in an effort to compromise, it wouldn’t be much different than negotiating with an assassin…do you want me to shoot you now or will you work with me a little so I can kill you tomorrow? Not much of a compromise, is it?
Democratic “intransigence” has become the smart option in many cases and not some bi-partisan tug-of-war on a rubber band where, as both sides pull, they pull further apart.

GOP Existential Crisis: “Lazy Nostrums” or Something Else?

Paul Ryan and Donald Trump congressional address

Doug Mills/New York Times

In today’s New York Times, Corey Robin muses about what it means to Republican identity and goals now that they are in power and are finding that power hard to manage.  He seems to pace around the issue, however, rather than dive in and further unpack the catastrophe of incompetence and demagoguery that binds the party to its ideological base.  In short, he seems to suggest that Republicans have no force or focus if they don’t have a struggle.  This would define conservativism as a heroic identity without which it does not possess agency or the will to act.

Indeed, Robin suggests that American conservativism has “[softened] into lazy nostrums or hardened into rigid dogmas”.  I’ll give him that, but he wants to say this is so because when Republicans regained the “keys to the castle” they became “joyful” and as a result “no longer control or set the terms of political debate”.  Significantly, they no longer reach out — compromise and cajole — to expand their base.  The movement becomes inert.

In this analysis, it is the “no longer” part that I quibble with, otherwise I think Corey Robin is more or less on the mark.  I think Republicans did — and do — take their victory for granted; however, rather than being lazy about their nostrums and dogmas, they are smug about them.

I don’t think this is a new phenomenon manifesting itself as a result of Republican electoral success in 2016 or emerging from under the pall of Donald Trump.  On the contrary, this approach to “governing” — or at least to setting policy priorities and agendas — has been on a complacent march from the early 1980s; Reagan, Gingrich, that crowd.  Perhaps, as Robin suggests, conservativism once “progressed” as he tells us Friedrich Hayek said free markets progressed, that is  when they are “on the defensive.”  That makes sense to some extent, at least in the early years of conservative revolt against government and the state apparatus of public goods and services.  But the so-called defensive stance congealed into an offensive one and adopted strongly divisive strategies in its attack.  It has been a long time since conservativism was about building and sustaining growing coalitions.

Therefore, what we have now is more of a conservative event horizon than a lull in conservative dynamism.  They have gotten what they were striving for and now cannot pull back.  Health care reform is a perfect example of this displayed in practice.  It is one thing to say you will do X, Y, and Z when saying so will advance an ideological battle.  It is another thing altogether to enact those plans when those plans will have real consequences.

If you are a conservative, what are you going to do?  Your entire identity and the momentum behind it is built on a discourse that wins (at least with some) in the abstract, but creates problems in practice.  Back to health care reform, even if we ignore the bill proposed and withdrawn by the Republicans, we can see the problems this extreme right wing abstraction creates when put into practice by the very fact that it caused real divisions within in a party that is otherwise known to march pretty much in lockstep.

Back to health care reform…even if we ignore the bill proposed and withdrawn by the Republicans this month, we can see the problems this extreme right wing abstraction creates when it is put into practice.  Look no further than the very fact that it caused real divisions within a party that was otherwise known to march pretty much in lockstep.  It was an opportunity for Republicans to come together under one of their defining tropes — less government — and deliver on perhaps THE signature campaign promise since 2010, the repeal of Obamacare.  And they couldn’t do it.  The bungle that was their healthcare bill is really an afterthought in this analysis.  It’s irrelevant.  They cannot deliver.

So it isn’t just a problem of having the keys to the castle and not knowing what to do with that castle now that they have it, it is a problem of overselling the abstract and having to own that.  Over the years we have expected less and less concrete policy from conservatives — they had 7+ years to draft an alternative to Obamacare and look at what we got — and more and more rhetoric, increasingly detached from fact or reason.  Fantasy proselytizing is going to cause problems, as we see now.  For Republicans, it painted them into a corner.  You said you were going to do this, now do it.  But if you cannot, how do you escape?  How do you escape your rhetoric and retain your staunchly discursive identity?

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of winning for conservatives is now having to govern and produce results.  That requires a different stance from taking defensive positions against an opponent and, in this regard, Corey Robin is absolutely right.  But if being in power is the problem defining conservativism today, one should ask whether conservatives ever really expected to have to govern.  Now there you have an existential crisis.  Namely, what is the point of American conservativism today?

Healthcare Freeloader Control Act

I have an idea!  (And it is a good one.)  I call it — without having done anything more than come up with the half-baked (but good) idea — the Healthcare Freeloader Control Act.  Let me know what you think.

It works like this:

We give people the option to be free and not buy any health insurance if they choose not to.  They can opt out of health insurance altogether just as they can now, but if they opt out, they opt out for life.  Thereafter it is all pay-in-full in advance and cash only, unless they can find charity…to pay in full in advance and cash only.

Otherwise, if you’re a young inevitable and you get in a horrible car wreck and no one comes to haul off your broken body, society will put you out of your misery.  If you are old and sick and broke, we’ll wheel you out onto a burning barge and set you adrift on the ocean.  For everything else in between, we strongly recommend a course in first aid and WebMD.com.  In short, unless you are there to pick up the trash, your shadow never crosses the threshold of a hospital or medical clinic.  Ever.

Swell idea, right?  What do you think?

In a way, conservatives touting the freedom excuse for gutting the Affordable Care Act are arguing to sustain the opposite of my Freeloader Control Act and that hardly seems fair.  Republicans embrace the status quo which tolerates free riders, people who know they will get health care that they don’t make plans to cover.  Then they complain about it.  Pay attention to the repeal and replace rhetoric and this is clear.  Republican Anti-ACA arguments really don’t address the poor, they rant against the non-poor being forced to buy insurance and pay taxes to bolster our struggling and sparse healthcare system, especially care that covers those who cannot care for themselves.  They cite specific examples of people being forced to buy insurance for care they don’t want or won’t need.  And when they remove penalties connected to mandates, they in essence protect free loaders in the process.

Allowing Republicans to indulge in their selfish logic of independence and freedom does not obligate the rest of us to pick them up when they fail, does it?  If it does, why?  If they want to stand apart from the community of civilized society, let them.

Of course I am not serious, but perhaps only because the idea isn’t a practical one and not because I give a damn about people who game the system in order to break it.