The Importance of Economics (And Economic Thinking)


When I was a young socialist (yes, you read that right), I had a lot of opinions about what people and society should do with their money. But I didn’t know a single thing about actual economics. No, not one thing. I was completely ignorant even that I should know things about economics, I was deep into the realm of Rumsfeldian “unknown unknowns.” I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and this meant that there was no way for me to learn on my own and teach myself to a better understanding. I was ignorant of my ignorance, which I now know is itself a well-understood and studied phenomenon: part of the condition of being ignorant is that you don’t know you’re ignorant. It’s kind like how part of being crazy is that you don’t know you’re crazy.

There’s even a fancy name for it:

Dunning-Kruger Club.jpg


This is a topic worthy of discussion in its own right, but I just want to mention it to paint a picture of where I myself have been regarding the topic of economics. This abstract basically describes my level of economic understanding in my 20s:

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

In essence, we argue that the skills that engender competence in a particular domain are often the very same skills necessary to evaluate competence in that domain—one’s own or anyone else’s. Because of this, incompetent individuals lack what cognitive psychologists variously term metacognition, metamemory, metacomprehension, or self-monitoring skills. These terms refer to the ability to know how well one is performing, when one is likely to be accurate in judgment, and when one is likely to be in error.

For example, consider the ability to write grammatical English. The skills that enable one to construct a grammatical sentence are the same skills necessary to recognize a grammatical sentence, and thus are the same skills necessary to determine if a grammatical mistake has been made. In short, the same knowledge that underlies the ability to produce correct judgment is also the knowledge that underlies the ability to recognize correct judgment. To lack the former is to be deficient in the latter.

If you would like to know more about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, you can read the Wikipedia article here, view and download the full paper here, or read it online in html here.

So there I was, Dunning-Krugered as hell about economics. So what happened? What always happens with me: I started arguing with people. I took my DK’d self with my DK’d ideas, and brought them all cocky and manly like to other nerds and wonks, and got my ass severely kicked and handed to me over, and over, and over again, in debate after debate. I literally cannot count the number of debates I lost, and how many times I didn’t just lose a debate, but basically got woodshedded like a red-headed stepchild.

[This was in my mid-20s, after a five year stint in the army, while an undergraduate at Columbia University]

But two things have saved me in life from having this sort of thing destroy me and ruin my self-confidence: one, that I can take a loss, and two, that I can learn from one. I would walk home from an argument outside of class or outside a bar, swearing and muttering to myself all the way home (on the inside, I hope). Mostly for being so stupid and so wrong, and occasionally, for being so arrogant. And each time, mad as I was, I was even more grateful, for having been so violently and suddenly disabused of such erroneous ideas. As one of my idols Sam Harris has said: I don’t want to believe a wrong thing for one minute longer than I have to. So I welcome intellectual challenges and people who can teach me something, or better yet, correct any wrong ideas I currently have.

Of course, as time went on, I sought to educate myself. Once I realized this was an intellectual weakness of mine, I read an uncountable number of articles on economics, sought out people who knew more than me (now to ask questions, rather than debate), and read a few foundational econ books. I realized through the course of these conversations that while I considered myself a policy wonk and a politics nerd, I was lacking a fundamental pillar of understanding these issues: that of basic economics. I realized that I was functionally illiterate in one of the core areas necessary to understanding our world, and to having an educated opinion on political topics. It was one of the most humbling intellectual realizations of my life, and maybe the first real moment and topic where I found myself sitting in silence with an awareness of my own profound ignorance of something so obviously important, if you actually knew anything about the world.

The reason I’m writing this essay is that I have come to realize that my own ignorance, while shameful and appalling, is not unique. In fact, I think it is the norm. Now just like I recently stated that I’m no mathematical genius, I’m also no economics genius. I’m not an economist, even by hobby, let alone trade. I’m no expert on economics or economic theories, even a lay expert or hobbyist. But here’s what I’ve come to fear/realize: I simply know basic economics very well, and that means I know more than 95% of people I meet. And I don’t mean 95% of people in the mountains of Arkansas. I mean 95% of college educated people with otherwise sophisticated and nuanced understandings of the world. I mean that just as I made it through high school and college without a single day of economics education, so does pretty much everyone else. Literally everything I’ve learned about economics has been self-taught. And in that regard, I think “the system,” whatever that means, our education system, society writ large, whatever, has failed me, and continues to fail current and future generations of Americans. I mean that you literally cannot have a reasonably educated and sophisticated understanding of politics and society without an understanding of basic economics. This is a disservice to all of us as a general citizenry, when most of our educated, voting adults pretty much know nothing about economic fundamentals.

And it’s not just politics. It’s personal. Understanding basic economic concepts has drastically improved my thinking and decision making in exponential, innumerable ways. I literally cannot imagine my life, thinking about politics, analyzing situations, or making decisions without knowing about things like opportunity cost, marginal utility, economies of scale, or comparative advantage. I cannot imagine how I could effectively analyze or understand pretty much anything about the world without these conceptual tools. Economics is in a very real sense an exercise in pure logical thinking. It’s about as close as you can get without using Actual Math or formal logic. That’s because it requires logical formulations and connections to make sense. It requires definitions and axioms (for example supply and demand and their effect on each other). It requires clear formulations and connections that can be reduced to formal logic terms such as “If A, then B” or “If A, then not B” (ceteris paribus reasoning, for example). You have to logically connect concepts and conditions to understand how they work together. It’s not a matter of interpretation, there is a right and wrong answer, and the strength of your logic determines your ability to find the right one, or to be as accurate as possible based on the available data. This is the beauty, the elegance, and the power of economic thinking.

A couple of examples from one of my favorite authors:

1. That which is seen, and that which is unseen

A very common economic fallacy, as well as general human cognitive error, is to evaluate a choice or an action by a very obvious (usually positive) effect, but to ignore a less obvious (usually negative) effect, which may precisely offset or even be greater than the apparent effect/benefit. Here’s an example: a trade policy, tax policy, subsidy, or other government action that benefits one group of people, let’s say farmers. Giving a generous tax break or subsidy or trade protection to this one group, on its face, at first blush, seems like a great thing…look at all the farmers we’re helping. Look how much better off they are. Isn’t it wonderful? How can you be against it? Do you hate farmers…?

What most people don’t see, because they’re not used to economic thinking, is that the benefits are obvious because they’re focused on a (relatively) small, discreet, graspable group of people, but the costs are distributed to everyone else in society. We may enact a policy that will help farmers, but the cost of that policy is that the cost of their goods rises for everyone else, or that the rest of us pay for their subsidies in other ways, perhaps in higher taxes. This is a tradeoff, and perhaps it is one we want to make, but most people are not even aware that we are making it, and therefore the tradeoff is not debated or factored in when crafting this policy. And we certainly ought to discuss if we do in fact want to make any of the necessary tradeoffs for any particular policy.

Again, benefits are focused, but costs are disbursed. We have to realize this whenever we craft any sort of economic policy. Everything has to be paid for. Yes, everything. Literally, everything. And we rarely ask what the costs are for our particular pet projects, and are typically discouraged from doing so if we try to bring it up. This actually raises another point, that everything has a cost, and we can’t just do everything that we’d like or that seems like a good idea, because we can’t afford it. That’s its own issue, but related to this one. If more people thought about the tradeoffs and costs involved in any particular policy, I believe most people would be a lot more conservative in their pet projects designed to help this or that particular group.

This is a long essay discussing this topic, but you can understand the principle well enough just reading the introduction and Part I.

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause — it is seen. The others unfold in succession — they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference — the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, — at the risk of a small present evil.

In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in that of morals. It often happens, that the sweeter the first fruit of a habit is, the more bitter are the consequences. Take, for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore, a man absorbed in the effect which is seen has not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation.

This explains the fatally grievous condition of mankind. Ignorance surrounds its cradle: then its actions are determined by their first consequences, the only ones which, in its first stage, it can see. It is only in the long run that it learns to take account of the others. It has to learn this lesson from two very different masters — experience and foresight. Experience teaches effectually, but brutally. It makes us acquainted with all the effects of an action, by causing us to feel them; and we cannot fail to finish by knowing that fire burns, if we have burned ourselves. For this rough teacher, I should like, if possible, to substitute a more gentle one. I mean Foresight. For this purpose I shall examine the consequences of certain economical phenomena, by placing in opposition to each other those which are seen, and those which are not seen.

2. Comparative advantage

One thing you will find in common with all professional and lay economists is a universal disapproval of trade barriers, tariffs, and protectionism. This is not because they don’t value the farmers, merchants, and tradesmen of their own country, or that they do not have proper patriotic feelings. It is because they understand basic and universal economic maxims. One such maxim is that every country, society, and culture has its own unique advantages for producing goods, and we all benefit when everyone uses them as freely and as maximally as possible. Conceptually, there is a bit of “what is seen and unseen” in this as well, but has the additional condition of specific advantages residing in each discreet group of people.

A very easy example of this is the environmental conditions for growing natural produce. It is probably possible to grow oranges, for example, in Minnesota. You could grow them for a few months in the summer, and conceivably build indoor facilities to grow them indoors year-round. But though such a thing is economically possible, it is not wise. We could do it if we tried, but it is obviously much more advantageous to everyone if oranges are grown in a climate naturally suited to their thriving, all year long, say in Florida.

As The Man Himself put it:

Labor and Nature collaborate in varying proportions, depending upon the country and the climate, in the production of a commodity. The part that Nature contributes is always free of charge; it is the part contributed by human labor that constitutes value and is paid for.

If an orange from Lisbon sells for half the price of an orange from Paris, it is because the natural heat of the sun, which is, of course, free of charge, does for the former what the latter owes to artificial heating, which necessarily has to be paid for in the market.

Thus, when an orange reaches us from Portugal, one can say that it is given to us half free of charge, or, in other words, at half price as compared with those from Paris.

Now, it is precisely on the basis of its being semigratuitous (pardon the word) that you maintain it should be barred. You ask: “How can French labor withstand the competition of foreign labor when the former has to do all the work, whereas the latter has to do only half, the sun taking care of the rest?” But if the fact that a product is half free of charge leads you to exclude it from competition, how can its being totally free of charge induce you to admit it into competition?

To take another example: When a product—coal, iron, wheat, or textiles—comes to us from abroad, and when we can acquire it for less labor than if we produced it ourselves, the difference is a gratuitous gift that is conferred upon us. The size of this gift is proportionate to the extent of this difference. It is a quarter, a half, or three-quarters of the value of the product if the foreigner asks of us only three-quarters, one-half, or one-quarter as high a price. It is as complete as it can be when the donor, like the sun in providing us with light, asks nothing from us. The question, and we pose it formally, is whether what you desire for France is the benefit of consumption free of charge or the alleged advantages of onerous production. Make your choice, but be logical; for as long as you ban, as you do, foreign coal, iron, wheat, and textiles, in proportion as their price approaches zero, how inconsistent it would be to admit the light of the sun, whose price is zero all day long!

Simply put, every society and region has its own economic advantages, whether it be advantages of nature, a particularly developed and sophisticated industry, a highly skilled workforce (generally or in specific areas), cheap labor, the list is endless. When we do not restrict trade between all of these splendidly diverse regions and people, we all benefit, by everything being cheaper and more readily available in greater quantities than would be if we institute tariffs or other trade barriers to protect our own “hard working, indigenous” whatevers. Protectionism is, economically speaking, always bad, because it raises the cost and limits the supply of everything it touches. Again, this is not advanced, mathematical economics, accessibly only to calculus geeks. This is basic, common sense knowledge that allows us to maximize everyone’s economic and material well-being, and saves us from costly errors harming not just society in general, but the very people we seek to protect with trade barriers.

As I said, I’m no economic genius. I couldn’t calculate a supply and demand curve to save my life. But I know what one looks like, and have seen plenty of them. I can’t punch up a formula to calculate producer surplus or consumer surplus, but I know what they are, conceptually, and this basic economic knowledge allows me to rationally analyze the world around me, political decisions, and economic decisions on both a personal level and a societal level. I don’t consider my economic understanding to be advanced, but it is still greater than almost everyone I encounter when I discuss economic subjects. I think my grasp of economics is the bare bones baseline required to understand our world, and I think it’s a crime that we seem not to care about it as a society, and that we completely neglect it in the education of our young people. To have a functional, rational society, everyone should have at least a basic understanding of democratic and republican principles, our constitutional history and framework, and the core economic principles that dictate the success, failure, and cost of our political policies.

If I could snap my fingers and change one thing about our society, it would be to require at least two years of basic economics in high school and one in college (non-math intensive for the math-challenged), as a pillar of being an educated citizen with an ability to fulfill your basic civic duty. Until we make basic economic literacy a pillar of our education system and civic culture, we are likely to continue the economic and political deterioration of the last few years, and eventually, the consequences are going to catch up to us, in dramatic and painful fashion.


“I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined, but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish”

Ben Franklin

I leave you with this: a great text, from The Great Man Himself. I have a few other recommendations for economics reading, more short essays with great economic realizations and truths that you can get through in one sitting, but I’ll save those for later.

Farewell, until next time.

Economic Sophisms PDF




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Breaking Out Of Your Bubble

Here’s an interesting political thought exercise: name 2-5 things you agree with “the other side” about. I say 2-5 because only coming up with one may be too easy, and if asked, I think most people could come up with some sort of token “disagreement” with their own party just to seem reasonable, and not give the question any real thought. It’s too easy to just wave it away with one. And I say five because trying to come up with five points of agreement with your political opponents can be a real intellectual stretch, and require you to emotionally leave your comfort zone of party affiliation. It makes you have to really think of “the other side” as human, to take time to consider/realize that thoughtful, well-meaning people have come to different conclusions than you have about important things, and generally increases the zone of your empathy outside of your political tribe.

I’ll start!

1. Pot/drug legalization

Marijuana legalization is probably one of the best things to happen as a social policy in my lifetime. It is the least harmful of all recreational drugs by a long-shot, and if anything, I wish our society’s relationship between pot and alcohol was reversed. If people smoked as much pot as they drank and drank as much as they smoke pot, we would be immeasurably better off.

Think about that for a few moments…think of all the violence, to oneself and others, that results from the effects of alcohol on the mind. If all of the people who drank themselves into a state of mind to hurt themselves or others had gotten similarly intoxicated on marijuana, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of intoxicated incidents of violence would not happen. You are probably not going to get high on weed and go out looking for a fight. Honestly, I’d like to meet the person who would, just out of curiosity.

In the big picture, all drug addictions should probably be treated as health problems and not criminal problems. And society is moving in that direction. A moment that startled me and helped me realize just how far we’ve come and in what direction we’re headed is seeing an interview with Christ Christie in 2015 while he was pursuing the Republican nomination for president, in which he says just that: we need to think of drug addiction as a public health issue and not as a criminal issue.

It might take a moment to appreciate what’s happening here…a former federal prosecutor and a presidential candidate for the “tough on crime” GOP was publicly making the argument for decriminalization. We’re nowhere near that point from an institutional policy perspective, but policy doesn’t change until social mores change. The law is always a laggard behind public opinion. But the public consciousness is being raised on this issue, and we’re moving in the right direction.

Legalizing drugs would also largely end gang violence by taking the money out of the drug trade and leaving them nothing to fight over. This would save thousands of lives per year from that violence, boost the ever living hell out of the economy by moving a major economic sector off of the black market, create mountains of new tax revenue, and create a world where inner city kids can focus on getting real jobs and developing professional skills rather than falling into a life of degeneracy and hopelessness as permanent outsiders from normal society. Imagine inner cities being safe places where people can work and children can go to school peacefully…that is what’s at stake in our decision to end or maintain the drug war. But it’s a fact that you will almost never hear conservatives (other than libertarians) discuss.

Last but not least, legalized and regulated recreational drugs would remove the uncertainty for recreational drug users wondering what their product contains, and save many lives from horrific and painful overdoses due to what they ingest being cut with god knows what toxic substance by unscrupulous drug dealers with no concern for the safety of their customers. Occasionally, to my disgust, I’ve heard people brush this off with the only semi-cogent argument against this fact, which is a callous disregard for the lives of drug users, a sort of puritan “let them die” mentality that you might have heard spoken in a John Wayne voice 50 years ago. But if you actually think of drug users and drug addicts (there’s a difference) as human beings whose suffering you care about and would like to alleviate, then having a clean drug for them to use is a tremendous boost to their safety. If you are the sort of person who clings to a “let them die” mentality, then take at least a minute to be honest and wish the same for yourself if alcohol was outlawed again or for your grandparents when they lived through Prohibition.

As I said, we are collectively making progress on this issue, and there actually seems to be a consensus on marijuana among both parties for anyone under 60. But pretty much all of the resistance to pot legalization at both the state and federal level is from Republican holdouts. And while Chris Christie has shown himself to be pretty forward-thinking on the topic, and even Donald Trump is coming around, the overall “War On Drugs” continues, destroying countless lives through criminalization, costing ungodly sums of money in enforcement, and creating perverse economic incentives that destroy even more lives by putting the drug trade on the black market and diverting the profits to whoever happens to be the most ruthless killer. And while your average Republican is starting to progress on pot and addiction generally, there are still very few voices among Republican politicians, leadership, or thinkers willing to comment on these topics.

2. Defense spending

To put it bluntly, Republicans are off their f**king rocker on this topic. We could cut defense spending by 10-25% without even blinking. We could likely reduce it closer to 50% of its current threshold and still be able to annihilate the rest of the world ten times over. Republicans are deaf, dumb, and blind on this issue, and frankly irrational to talk to about it. The addiction to a seemingly infinite level of defense spending is like a drug to Republicans, or maybe a religious belief or some kind of cult, and it drives me freaking CRAZY.

I’m a self-professed neocon, I’m a veteran who has gladly participated in a peacekeeping military intervention, I believe in a strong and vigorous foreign policy, and I firmly believe in American leadership on the international stage. You can even count me in the camp supporting a Pax Americana sustained well into the future, to the end of my lifetime and beyond. If it needs to be made any clearer, I supported and continue to support both the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.

What I don’t support is wasting billions or trillions of dollars. Here is just one example of the tremendous, unfathomable waste involved: aircraft carriers. Ask yourself this: who are our main threats or enemies in the world? Are you thinking of the two that came to my mind? Let’s see where we stand against them in terms of aircraft carriers:

Russia has one

China has one

We have eleven

The entire rest of the world has ten. And all of the others are either our allies or, at worst, neutral. I’m not particularly worried about the threat posed by Brazil or Thailand’s aircraft carriers, are you? Why don’t we try, I don’t know, surviving on eight and see if the world doesn’t come to an end, while we drastically reduce our budget deficit and/or tax burden? If we wanted to go really crazy, what if we reduced our operating aircraft carriers to *shudder* five or six? You know, three times more than both of our only real threats combined? How much is each one of these things costing us that could go back into our pockets? Would you like to know? I certainly would.

I will admit that I’m not an expert on this topic, but it’s certainly worth digging into. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

The aforementioned list, by the way, “does not include submarine aircraft carriers, seaplane tenders, escort carriers, merchant aircraft carriers, helicopter carriers or amphibious assault ships.” How many classes of expenditures are there like this that we could cleave from the budget and reclaim for taxpayers, while still remaining the most dominant military force in human history? Forget $500 hammers, how about $13 billion aircraft carriers?

My success with even having a civil conversation with Republicans about this issue is about equivalent to the number of christians I’ve talked out of believing in Jesus. They put up the “I’m not even discussing this” force field, proclaim some sort of superior insight into “the real world” or “security” that they presume I don’t have, even when they have never served in the military. I literally had a guy walk away from me at a fundraising event for a Republican candidate in Minneapolis. It was pretty impressive, he was able to pull it off in under a minute, the “You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about” head-to-toe glance over and walk away, in one smooth movement. It was the sort of treatment I get from liberals when I try to talk to them about say race or gender, and one of the reasons I choose to be a conservative is that I don’t find this sort of behavior among conservatives when we talk about political issues…except on this topic. I swear that Republicans are more willing to debate the literal truth of their religion with you than have a factual debate about military spending. In my experience this is the main area of willful ignorance and avoidance in the Republican party. When a person or a group of people won’t even discuss a topic, that’s a pretty big red flag that it’s a religious belief, not a thoughtful position arrived at by deliberation, and that they know it.

Defense spending, more than any other issue, puts the lie to the “fiscal conservatism” that Republicans profess to believe in. And unlike many issues, where the party leadership is out of touch with or simply ignoring the base and acting against their wishes, as far as I can tell the Republican base and leadership speak as one on this issue: there is literally no such thing as “too much” defense spending.

What angers me the most about this position, beyond its terrible reasoning and ideological blindness, is that it makes long-term budget reform politically impossible, it guarantees that our country will never reduce our deficit or balance our budget, because it makes reciprocity or compromise with Democrats impossible. The message I’m trying to get through to Republicans is this: if you want Democrats to give up anything on entitlement reform, we are going to have to give up something on military spending. It’s a well known fact that the three things that are breaking our nation’s budget and sending us towards a humiliating national bankruptcy someday in our children’s future if not our own, are Social Security, Medicare, and military spending. As a conservative, I strongly favor tax cuts to lubricate the economy and foster economic growth, but such growth has to come with major reform and reduction of entitlement AND military spending in order for us to be fiscally healthy again. But I see absolutely no willingness from either party to touch their sacred cow,  both from the base and the leadership, so that means we’re just going to push this ship full steam ahead until we hit that economic iceberg.

In case you’re wondering what that iceberg is going to look like and when it’s going to hit, here’s a bit of info on it (open up the “see more” section of the video’s description to read the original article).

[Note: I explored this topic further in my follow-up article, American Bankruptcy]

America's Finances

3. Gay marriage

Honestly, I don’t even think this is a thing anymore, except for extremely religious Republicans over 60. Everyone else is on board. But those who aren’t are just behind the times. I don’t even know any Republicans who don’t support it, but I’m sure they exist, more in religious and rural areas. This battle is over, the right side won, and it’s not even a discussion anymore. But when it was a contentious issue over the last couple of decades, I was always staunchly opposed to the Republican position against it.

4. Planned Parenthood

So to make my own position clear up front, I’m a pro-choice Republican, at least at the beginning of a pregnancy. And to be honest, I’m struggling with this issue more lately. Because if anyone who is pro-choice is honest, you can’t draw a clear, distinguishable line between when it is acceptable and when it is not. A lot of liberals like to walk away from me at this point, when this undeniable logic is mentioned, but you have to face it if you want to be honest about the issue. If you’re honest about a topic and your own position, you have to admit where it has weaknesses or unknowns.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever looked up what they do to “terminate” a pregnancy once the fetus starts to develop, but if you haven’t, you absolutely have to if you want to have an informed opinion on this issue. I personally can’t get through an entire article describing the procedure, and in case you didn’t know, once you get past the first few weeks, it’s not like simply “expelling” a blob from your body…they have to kill the fetus. Yes, kill it. By, say, dismembering it or vacuuming out its brain. If you’re pro-choice, you have to face this, and should read some articles about the procedures, maybe look at some diagrams, and try to imagine the procedure in every detail from start to finish, and then see how you feel about it.

But this war on Planned Parenthood is a ridiculous red herring and a monumental waste of time and political capital. I could not believe how much time was wasted on it in our local caucus in 2016, and I was clearly unwelcome when I questioned it (that is its own story/post). There is still a demonization of Planned Parenthood from Republicans like they’re fighting Satan Himself (and I’m sure some of them think they are).

Now on this or any other issue, it’s fine and normal that people will have different opinions, and be passionate about it, and fight about it. That’s normal in politics. But it’s infuriating to deal with conservatives who seem to think they’re fighting Nazis here, when they don’t even know what Planned Parenthood does. And I find very disturbing the degree to which they dehumanize the people who staff that organization (which is about on par with the degree to which I find most liberals dehumanize anyone who is pro-life). In a civilized society, we should never see people who disagree with us on a political issue as monsters, and I’m just as disturbed when “my side” does it as when the “other side” does.

As contentious as the months after the 2016 election were, and as many Facebook wars as I had with hysterical liberals about the end of democracy and President Hitler, I’m almost proud to say that my first block of 2017 was from a hysterical Republican over Planned Parenthood. He was ranting about how evil they are, and I simply posted a chart showing how much they spend on various services, and asked what his objection was to the majority of their work (hint: it’s almost entirely other female health and reproductive services). He blocked me within less than a minute, another record of which I am proud.

I understand why conservatives don’t like Planned Parenthood for its abortion services. I can understand why that makes them angry, because unlike many people who are pro-choice, I can see how someone could disagree with me on this issue, and respect their disagreement. What I can’t stand is how most conservatives seem to completely ignore literally everything else Planned Parenthood does. The plethora of health services they provide is vital to the health of so many women, and they provide a lot of services for women who could not otherwise afford them.

And conservatives should be especially thankful for the free and low-cost birth control they provide, because more birth control equals fewer abortions. I mean, this is just about the best thing any organization could do to prevent abortions: how many fewer abortions are there because Planned Parenthood and other organizations provide birth control to women who could not otherwise afford it? They should literally be praying for as much birth control and contraceptive education as Planned Parenthood and other organizations can provide. But this view requires some nuance, and also requires one to do some minimal research into what they actually do. For pro-life conservatives overcome by their hatred for Planned Parenthood and abortion in general, this seems like something they are incapable of or simply unwilling to do.

Now, for my friends and readers who are pro-choice, I have to ask you to do something very uncomfortable: I have to ask you to watch this 4 minute video which is the absolute best version of the pro-life argument on abortion. It explains, as succinctly and logically as possible, why a person would hold that position on abortion, and I can say fairly confidently that it’s an argument you haven’t heard before. It also addresses the current politicizing of the Supreme Court, no matter who the candidate is, and it speaks a very important truth about how many (in my experience most) advocates of abortion rights view those who oppose them. As hesitant as I am to do this, I have to pose this as a personal challenge, and a litmus test of whether you are willing to honestly engage the best version of the other side’s argument (only you will know whether or not you pass this test). Please take a few minutes to watch and digest this commentary, and I think you will be better for it, both in understanding the pro-life argument, and in bringing you closer to humanizing people who disagree with you on perhaps our most polarizing issue.


I first wrote a few preliminary thoughts on the topic of points of agreement with “the other side” and disagreement with my own about six months ago, as it occurred to me that this would be a useful exercise for myself and a helpful conversation starter with liberals, demonstrating that I think for myself and come to my own conclusions, rather than simply toeing a party line or regurgitating talking points from my preferred conservative news outlet, which is one of the first things liberals start saying to me when they want to get nasty.

For the record, I actually get almost all of my news from NPR, CNN, the New York Times, and other liberal outlets. Like, 95%. A full 90% of my news and information comes from NPR alone, which I listen to every day both ways on my commute, continuously at home, and for coverage of any major event. I’ve even supported them financially as a subscriber/member.

And no, I don’t watch “That Station.”

I also think a conversation like this is a demonstration of goodwill and open mindedness, showing that you are willing to consider arguments from people who disagree with you, that you are open to facts that may counter your current views, and that you aren’t overly invested in your “team” winning and partisan party politics. Also that you’re just a decent human being who can get along with other human beings even if you disagree about some things, and more important, see them as human beings. There’s a whole other conversation to be had about how politics isn’t everything, about how we’re all in this together, and how we should all love and respect each other, and not let politics poison every single aspect of our life. But that’s going to have to be another article for another day.

Ok, now it’s your turn…GO!!   🙂

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Election 2018

SO…how to analyze the results of last night’s midterm elections. There is both a lot going on here, and less going on than one might suspect. Let’s get right into it.

Referendum on Trump

The big question on everyone’s mind for last night’s election was this: how is Donald Trump going to affect the midterm elections? The answer: it’s a mixed bag. He seemed to simultaneously help and hurt the Republicans, and in some ways, perhaps most indelibly, not affect them much at all, which is the really big surprise. All in all, this election was more like a run of the mill midterm election than most of us thought it would be. The results of the party in the White House losing seat in congress were pretty standard, not even coming close to a “Blue Wave” of repudiation of Donald Trump, which was the big hope for Democrats in this election. Typically, the president’s party loses 25-30 seats in the house in a midterm election, and right now it’s looking to be a loss in the mid-30s for Republicans.

What does this mean? This means, on a national level, that Trump is nowhere near the Destroyer Of Worlds that he’s been made out to be for the Republican party.

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If he was truly as toxic at the ballot box as Democrats hoped he would be, this election would look a lot more like when Barack Obama lost 63 house seats in 2010 or Bill Clinton lost 54 in 1994.

That’s right. Donald Trump did better, FAR better, as a bellwether in his first midterm election that either of the two most talented politicians in my lifetime. In fact, his party performed at about the average of the losing midterms for George W. Bush and Republican saint Ronald Reagan (George W. Bush’s first midterm was just over a year after 9/11, and should be excluded from the statistical pattern). If the Democrats thought The Bogeyman was going to drag Republicans down to bring a Blue Wave to Washington, they were wildly mistaken.

The senate races turned out to not be much of a referendum on Trump, and more a referendum on the treatment of Brett Kavanaugh in the recent Supreme Court nomination. Every close senate race that Trump campaigned for ended up as a win for Republicans, so that does indicate that he was able to rally the base to get off the couch and go vote, which is a good sign for him and the party. But it also turns out that every Democrat who voted against Kavanaugh in a state that Trump won lost their seat in the senate, and polling of Republican voters indicates that the Kavanaugh hearings were a major motivator for them. So the hail Mary to “save Roe v. Wade” thrown by the Democrats seems to have seriously backfired on them, and now Trump and Republicans have a clear path to continue reforming the federal judiciary for the next two years, and if Justice Ginsburg should fall into ill health in that time, Democrats will have basically no chance to block an even more conservative nomination, because they will almost certainly not have a single Republican senator they can convince to vote with them. If  I could offer some advice for court watchers, it would be to familiarize yourself with Amy Coney Barrett. (Hint: she’s loudly and proudly pro-life)

Based on the Senate seats up for election in 2020 (1/3 each election, as a reminder), there is almost no statistical chance of Democrats regaining the senate, so if Trump should happen to win, we can almost be guaranteed one or two more conservative Supreme Court justices. This will be a major motivating factor in the next election, for both sides of the aisle.

All-in-all, this election was not anywhere near the bloodbath that many predicted for Republicans, nor anything even resembling a rebuke of Donald Trump. Were it not for the current occupant of the White House, there would be nothing at all remarkable about this midterm election. And even worse for Democrats, since Trump was not on the ballot and many Republicans stayed home during this election, I think it can be said confidently that Democrats would not have picked up anywhere near this many seats, and that Republicans may have even held onto the house. So it’s a loss for Republicans, but no more than any average midterm loss for the party in power. What that means for 2020 remains to be seen.

Mexican Word Of The Day: Beto

As in: You Beto take down all them yard signs!

The most-watched individual race in the country was probably the election for Texas senate between Robert Francis O’Rourke and His Evilness Ted Cruz. This was the sort of election that years ago would not have even been worth mentioning or covering, Texas being, well, Texas. But it was an unnervingly close race for Republicans, O’Rourke coming within three points of defeating Cruz.

It’s not easy to read the tea leaves to determine exactly what this means, but there are a couple of major factors that are fairly apparent that caused this race to be so close. The first is the California Factor: as is by now well known, approximately 1,000 Californians have been moving into Texas every day for a few years now. They have turned the metropolitan areas of Texas purple, if not outright blue. I have some familiarity with Austin, and this city’s reputation as a delightful place to live with a vibrant cultural scene, along with its semi-recent status as a mini-Silicon Valley, has been a major draw to Californians for a couple of decades now, with a major migration starting to occur in the mid-2000s. I am less familiar with the culture and goings-on around Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, but it appears that these cities are starting to attract these economic migrants as well. And economic migrants they are, as the class of people moving eastward to the land of ten gallon hats tend to be well-educated professionals, presumably largely of the upper middle class, and presumably moving either with a job in hand, or with highly marketable skills that allow them to move freely and find work easily. It’s hard to say if they find the lack of a state income tax appealing, but one might assume an upper middle class professional might smile a bit when they notice the effect that has on their bottom line.

The second major factor is that, to put it bluntly, Ted Cruz is the Hillary Clinton of the Republican party. O’Rourke put up a strong performance, no doubt, and is highly charismatic and photogenic, unfortunately just about the only qualities that matter in today’s tv age of elections. But he was also going up against one of the worst and weakest candidates the Republicans have to offer on the national stage. He is, much like Hillary Clinton, simply mechanical and unlikable. You can almost see the gears of ambition moving underneath his face whenever he speaks.

Now, he is a brilliant, accomplished man of substance, let there be no doubt about that. He has “authored 70 U.S. Supreme Court briefs and presented 43 oral arguments, including nine before the United States Supreme Court. Cruz’s record of having argued before the Supreme Court nine times is more than any practicing lawyer in Texas or any current member of Congress.” To say nothing of his long legal and policy experience at the state and national level. To compare his professional career and accomplishments to O’Rourke is worse than a joke, lower than an insult. A sampling of O’Rourke’s professional accomplishments prior to running for office is as follows:

Following college, O’Rourke worked as a live-in nanny for a family in Manhattan, then at Hedley’s Humpers as an art mover, before working with his uncle at a startup Internet service provider. During this time, he fell into a depression, unsure of what to do with his life. However, his friends Stevens and Klahr (along with his friend from Columbia University, David Guinn) joined him in New York, and they rented and renovated an inexpensive 2,000-square-foot factory loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Interested in the publishing industry, he found a job as a proofreader at H. W. Wilson Company in the Bronx, and wrote short stories and songs in his free time. He began to miss his family and lifestyle in El Paso, and returned to the city in 1998.

It might also be worth noting that he has not, to put it mildly, pulled himself up by his bootstraps. “His mother was the owner of a high-end furniture store, and is the stepdaughter of Fred Korth, Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy. His father served in El Paso as County Commissioner and then County Judge.” It also just so happens that his father in law is a billionaire (and the $20 billion kind, not the scrappier, pluckier $1 billion kind). On substance, experience, and knowledge of policy and law, there is nothing to compare here.

But O’Rourke has that magical ingredient for politics, that special sauce that’s the most important quality to get one elected to political office: he’s likable. He seems down to earth, as many aristocrats in political memory and history have seemed. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, a trait (or affect) that many a man of privilege has been able to convey, many of whom were christened “Kennedy” or Roosevelt.”

Whereas Cruz has the core personality defect of many a successful man or woman: raw, naked, uncured ambition. For someone like him or Hillary, it seems like every sentence they speak can be translated as “I want to be president.” If their mouths don’t say it, it certainly comes across in their eyes…those creepy, creepy eyes. You can easily imagine them hyping themselves up in front of the mirror, practicing their affects, polishing their folksy aphorisms, perfecting their “aw, shucks” working class accents. It’s not a stretch to imagine someone like this with a backward-lettered motivational tattoo on their chest that they can read every morning to affirm their ambition and get them pumped up before they walk out the door.

Now this is not exactly an uncommon personality trait, and anyone who has spent time in certain social circles, particularly in places like New York or Washington, D.C., will know that this is pretty run of the mill for bankers, lawyers, politicians, and business people. And the higher up you go in the social strata of these universes, the more common and pronounced that trait is. However, since as I mentioned “likability” is a major factor in the success of a politician, it serves one well to have the good sense and common decency to at least hide it from everyone else. As well, since this is one of the most fundamental understood truths of politics, one would have to assume that people like Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are aware of it as well, and they still are unable to hide this aspect of themselves. So what we are seeing is almost certainly a muted aspect of their true selves and real ambition, and that may say something scary indeed about how deep the river of ambition runs within them.

I happen to know one person who has met Ted Cruz, a very politically active conservative who has dedicated her life to Republican causes and politics. Her impression of him was that “He’s the sleaziest son of a bitch I ever met.” And this is from someone on his team. Imagine how he comes off to moderate voters or apolitical citizens.

So O’Rourke doing so well against Candidate Cruz is somewhat akin to Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton…it almost certainly wouldn’t have happened against anyone else. This is not to discount the demographic changes taking place in Texas, which are sure to be a long term concern for Republicans in the future. But it is to say that we can’t read too much into or learn much from this one result, because it’s probably a statistical anomaly based on an extraordinarily weak and unlikable candidate. And let’s not also forget that he spent more money than God to lose this race (approximately $70 million), received mountains of fawning, un-probing press coverage, and was endorsed by every celebrity Hollywood could drag away from a martini for five minutes. So he had an unprecedented number of favorable factors for a nationally unknown, first time senate candidate, and was up against possibly the least likable senator of either party. There are lessons here and things to be learned in the forensic aftermath of this election, but as with the overall midterms, there is no sea-change or harbinger of a new era in American, or Texan, politics.

And of course, the final note that must be rang on the Texas senate race, the one which truly tells us what to be anticipating as we move towards the future, is that Robert Francis O’Rourke didn’t care about the senate anyways. Believe me when I tell you, he’s getting to work on 2020 TODAY. I hope you already knew this, but he had absolutely no intention of winning a senate seat to be a senator. If you thought he intended to win yesterday and spend the next 6, 12, or 18 years crafting policy and proposing legislation in the senate, I’ll give you a minute to sit back and laugh at yourself. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Ok, so now let’s get real. O’Rourke’s very obvious, transparent plan was to win a seat in the senate, and then spend the next two years campaigning for president, just like a certain someone else we know. Do you suppose that he was paused by yesterday’s defeat, or that his pride was wounded in a way that would make him step back for a second and wonder if he’s truly qualified to run the free world, or if he could even win a presidential election? Do you think that a $70 million loss might make make him stop and reflect on his ambitions, instill a sense of humility, and for one moment second guess himself? Me neither. So prepare yourself for O’Rourke 2020, and soon.

For my part, I do wonder why Democrats are so excited about electing another über-wealthy white guy who’s a child of privilege to office as a “breath of fresh air,” but I guess if you’re a dreamboat, that’s all that really matters in politics.

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And in case anyone still wonders what’s going on here, have you seen Politico lately?

Beto’s consolation prize: Running for president

Beto O’Rourke dodged a bullet. The Texas congressman came dangerously close to beating Ted Cruz on Tuesday.

Lest his groupies wallow for long in defeat, they should know there’s a lot for them to like about his loss: No getting bogged down in the drudge-work of a freshman senator in the minority or obligation to fulfill his duty to serve out his term.

And, to O’Rourke’s credit, there was no blowout, a fate that would have extinguished his star. Indeed, he showed an unapologetic liberal could compete and almost win in Texas.

O’Rourke’s narrow loss to Cruz instead sets him up to run full time for president — and jump immediately into the top tier of Democratic contenders.

O’Rourke has not yet indicated his intentions, but he has built, in the course of a few short months, a national brand and a national fundraising base that few Democrats can match. Conveniently, the chief knock on O’Rourke’s campaign, that he embraced staunchly progressive positions that played poorly in Texas, only heightens his appeal in a national primary for a Democratic Party that has been tacking leftward.

Even after beating O’Rourke, Cruz’s chief strategist, Jeff Roe, stands impressed. “The Democrats don’t have anybody like him,” Roe said. “I’ve seen all of them. They don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage. I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa in 453 days.”

So those are the two biggest stories and take-aways from the 2018 election. There are of course other issues, Governor’s races (Florida and Georgia chief among them), voter turnout, ballot initiatives, outcomes in state legislatures, demographics and trends, etc. But unfortunately I’ll have to leave those to the professionals. I think the two issues above are the main topics of concern that are going to have the biggest impact as we move past this year’s Most Important Election Of Our Lifetime…until the next one.

I’ll leave you with a bit of wisdom from Joe Rogan, which I presume neither party is going to learn from after this election:

“When you win, you win.

When you lose, you learn.”


Scalia predicts Kavanaugh debacle in 2005

I haven’t yet written a post about the hearings for Justice Kavanaugh, although I did listen to most of the confirmation hearings prior to the sexual assault claims, and to every minute of testimony from both Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey-Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mostly this is because to write, fact-check, and cite everything that needs to be said about it it going to take hours and hours to author and compile.


Putting aside the sexual assault allegations (and even, or especially, considering them if you get right down to it), let’s be absolutely clear on one thing about his nomination, the only thing that matters and the fact that explains everything that happened from the day he was nominated: this entire ordeal was about one thing only, and that is the fate of Roe v. Wade. There is nothing else that mattered about him or his nomination other than that he was seen as potentially the deciding vote in overturning that case and sending the question of abortion back to the states, so that each state can decide for itself how to properly regulate this matter.

Sit on that for a minute. Literally, nothing about Brett Kavanaugh or who he was mattered other than this political fact/perspective/possibility. It literally didn’t matter who he was, where he went to school, where he had practiced law, what his judicial history or philosophy was, what his reputation was among the profession, how many opinions he wrote, how he wrote them, or what issues they covered. His character didn’t matter. His personal history and professional conduct didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he could be the 5th vote in overturning Roe v. Wade. He was an empty vessel containing nothing but this political time bomb.

Antonin Scalia predicted this 13 years ago. Sadly, he was as prescient as ever, a veritable Cassandra, cursed to utter prophecies that were true but that no one believed. This is a fantastic lecture, and I highly encourage you to listen to it from the beginning, especially if you find he and originalism confounding and frustrating. But most especially, listen to the snippet below, an excerpt from the last few minutes of his talk. He explains exactly why a nomination like Kavanaugh’s was almost inevitable to happen the way it did, certain to proceed in the fashion it did during the confirmation hearings, and certain to come down to a strictly party-line vote in the senate.

Then ask yourself: is this really the way forward, and how we want this process to work now and until the end of our republic? Because I believe Justice Scalia to be right: this is the natural, inevitable, and only possible outcome from a “living constitution.”


The talk in its entirety

You can’t label ME! or “I’m a special snowflake!”

When discussing politics, I often hear people say things along the lines of “I don’t consider myself a Democrat OR a Republican,” “I don’t believe in labels,” “Liberal and Conservative don’t mean anything to me,” or “I’m a moderate/in the middle.” I’m never quite sure exactly what this means, and, not surprisingly, you never hear anyone mention specifics, like which things they agree with or disagree with on one side and also the other.

I’m personally not impressed with people saying “I’m not one or the other” or “you can’t label ME!” I think that’s kind of a reflex to show what a unique snowflake you are, when in reality, you’re not.

Take me as an example: I believe in low taxes, the free market, minimal regulations, strong local and state government and weak federal government (the forgotten concept of “federalism”), personal responsibility for your outcomes in life, and I reject identity politics pretty much wholesale.

Am I a “moderate?” Am I “in the middle?” No, I’m a conservative, and it would be silly of me to claim I’m somehow in the center when I’m clearly on the right. What is so bad about admitting this? Why is this so hard?

If you believe in higher taxes, “fair share” politics and the wicked “1%,” identity politics, socialized medicine, more government regulation, social engineering of personal choices like smoking and eating, and want Washington dictating social policy to the whole country rather than letting states and cities create the bulk of social and government policy, you’re a liberal, and you should just be honest about it instead of pretending to be “in the middle” when you’re not. What do you gain by pretending to be moderate when you’re not? Social standing? The appearance of open-mindedness?

It just seems like a big act that means nothing to me. Most people have a belief system, and pretending you don’t only makes it harder to solve problems, not easier. It makes it harder to have honest discussions about policy and society, because you’re playing “hide the ball” about your actual beliefs. This is somewhat different than the other common trope of saying you just want “sensible such and such regulation” in order to appear as if you really thought hard, struggled with the arguments, and considered both sides rather than just falling in line with your team’s talking points, but it’s in the same vein. Just about everyone falls in line with the majority of either liberal or conservative beliefs, and almost no one believes in half of one and half of the other, or even 60/40. Because frankly it would be pretty logically inconsistent to do so, you really couldn’t have a coherent set of beliefs or logic if you did.

If you applied similar logic to other ways to think and live, it would be like saying “I’m kind of a yuppie, but kind of a gutter punk too,” or “I’m kind of a cowboy, but also kind of a gangster rapper.” Just…no. Being or believing one thing or one kind of thing is going to logically preclude some others in most cases. Gutter punks aren’t also investment bankers and vice-versa, you’re not kind of one and kind of the other. You make choices, you have values, and you believe in certain logically consistent values and not others. And that’s ok. Just like it’s ok to be liberal, and it’s ok to be conservative, and you’re not less open-minded just because you have a consistent philosophy and worldview.

Candace Owens In Minneapolis

It seems that Kanye West is not the only one who loves the way Candace Owens thinks. I and more than 500 other people attended a lecture today put on by the Center Of The American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based think tank. This was a major event, a luncheon that drew a large and energetic crowd at a downtown hotel. The last such event I attended was for a similar topic, also arranged by the Center, when Jason Riley came to discuss his book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed. Discussing conservatism from the perspective of black Americans and how it offers a superior alternative to liberal thought and policy has long been an interest of mine, but now it seems like it’s becoming somewhat of a mainstream interest just in the last few weeks, thanks mainly to Kanye for bringing it to light, and to Candace for bringing the issue to his attention.

I only became aware of Candace about six weeks ago, when I saw a profile on her from John Stossel shared on Facebook. I was intrigued, I thought that this is a smart, brave young woman, and she seems like a great voice for black people, for youth, and for conservatives in general. I thought “I bet she has a great future,” and immediately put her existence into the back burner of my political thoughts.

Then April happened.

In case you haven’t been on the internet in the last month, Kanye West broke it a couple weeks ago by tweeting a bit of qualified support for Donald Trump. He even dared to follow it up with a criticism of Saint Obama. Worse yet, another famous black rapper made an equally heretical statement that blacks don’t have to vote for Democrats. The left has spent the last two weeks melting down and trying to discredit both Kanye and Candace. To, how shall we say, put them in their place and teach them when to shut up and what they’re allowed to say and believe. Thankfully, neither is the type to do any such thing, and together they seem to be bringing us to what may be a watershed moment in black American politics.

It was with this backdrop that Candace arrived in Minneapolis. Her arrival would have been an “event” in any instance, but considering the absolute perfect timing, it was even more of a sell-out than I believe the Center originally anticipated. I just checked the date of the first invite I received from them about this event, and it was three days before Kanye burned the internet down in April.

Candace started her talk by discussing some of the things that have been said about her recently as she has come into her share of fame and notoriety. Insults about her personality, vile racial slurs, lies about how she grew up etc. She’s been called a white supremacist, a white supremacy apologist, an Uncle Tom, and Alt-Lite, among others. She said that she started to read these stories so that she could learn more about herself, and even made an alert on her phone so she could learn something she didn’t know about herself every day. From the beginning, it was clear that a large part of her charm is that she has a great sense of humor, even about herself. One very salient fact she mentioned is that not a one of these published reporters who smeared her has ever reached out to ask her about her story, and why she believes what she believes.

After starting with the lies people have been telling about her, she dug a bit into the truth of her story and her life. She said that, for example, some people have criticized her as an out of touch rich girl from Connecticut who doesn’t really know the black community. She made it very clear that she came from humble beginnings: “Some people ask me if it’s really true that most of my family was on welfare. It’s not that they were on welfare or have been on welfare, most of my family is on welfare right now.” She estimated that about 80% of her family is on welfare, and said that part of her experience growing up was going to see uncles in prison. She made a point to re-emphasize this, to make it clear that she’s looking at this from the street-level view, and not as an academic or talking head from an ivory tower.

She also discussed her political “awakening,” explaining that when she was younger and less political, she just sort of assumed she was a Democrat, because it was basically the default for her friends, family, and community. Similar to the experience of other black conservatives I’ve listened to and know, and as happened to me personally, when she started to learn more about economics and some of the failed social policies that have contributed to the difficult and impoverished state of much of the black community, she started to lean towards conservatism. She said she’s not even sure if she quite considers herself a Republican, which indicates to me that she’s a deep and serious political thinker, but she at least knows that the principles that appeal to her are conservative. She actually did not spend too much time relating the details of what led her to become conservative, but the general outline was clear.

She continued to relate the story of how she came to be a political commentator. She said that she felt this burning desire to get out there and be part of the conversation when she had her “awakening,” and to, and I love this phrase, “Start a civil war in the black community” in order to empower people individually, to take back black political autonomy so that one party can’t take them for granted, and to generally fight the war of ideas that she so passionately believes must be waged for the sake of black folks. So she quit her job, and decided to start making YouTube videos. Hilarious as always, she prefaced it by saying “I don’t recommend anyone do this, but I quit my job in order to do this full-time.” She said, predictably, that her friends and family thought she was crazy, and even the black Republicans she knew thought she was crazy. Nevertheless, she persisted.

She discussed her rise in popularity in wonderfully vivid and personal terms. She wanted to make short, digestible videos that would capture and hold people’s attention, and learned how to for example make jump cuts to keep the videos interesting. Her first video has become a bit of a modern classic among conservatives (I confess to having heard much about it, but not have watched it until now), but it was one of her posts that soon followed that put her on the map. She said that she posted the video, then took a nap (“I highly recommend taking naps”), and when she woke up it had 20,000 hits. The next day it had 80,000 hits. People were starting to notice her.

Soon thereafter, she was hired by the think tank Turning Point USA, and started to expand her audience and the scope of her videos. She thought it would be a fun idea to got to college campuses and challenge people to change her mind on topics like race and socialism, a la Steven Crowder. As we have seen so much of lately, she encountered a lot of venom and hatred, with white women unironically screaming in her face that she’s a white supremacist, and when she asks why, saying it’s because she supports capitalism. Her group encounters student protests against “white supremacy” when they appear on campus, and generally speaking what she calls “blue-haired white women” try to shame her for being black and conservative. “I don’t know why, but they always have blue hair.”

About half of the talk was about her personal story, and the other half was sort of conservative red meat on race, politics, and economics, discussing her encounters with the left and a lot of the data and history that most of the room was probably pretty familiar with. She discussed the role of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state in financially incentivizing black mothers not to stay with the fathers of their children, the stark jump in fatherless black families in the sixties from just over 20% to over 70% now, the fact that blacks have been voting over 90% Democrat for decades, so that the party no longer has to actually do anything for black people to compete for their votes, and how they can basically show up every four years to fire up black communities over marginal if not imaginary racial issues to bring out the vote, then go home and forget about them until the next election, etc.

Candace Owns is a major voice for our time that is on her way up. She spoke knowledgeably, forcefully, and with great verve and humor. You can’t help but be disarmed by someone who is highly intelligent, funny, and self-deprecating. One thing that I really like about her is that sense of humor, and the way it helps her interact with her critics, both directly and when talking about their criticism of her. This is a major weakness in both mainstream conservative and wonky libertarian personalities and commentary. Typically, commentators on the right come across as stiff, robotic, or needlessly aggressive when dealing with critics in person or discussing criticism in general. Candace has the brains of the best of them, but has the warmth, humor, and personality of an actual human being, something that has been lacking on the right for some time. She is someone who can discuss ideas with a political “opponent,” and still remain friendly and charming to that person, and to the viewer as well. I think she may be the best talent conservatives have in media at the moment, and her freshness and her background only add to her considerable raw talent. I’m looking forward to learning from her for years to come.

I leave you with a photo that brings together the present and the past of poweful black conservative women. Vive la révolution!


Against Empathy

Today I attended a very interesting lecture on the topic of empathy. It may seem strange at first blush: what’s to discuss? What’s to even think about? Empathy is good right? Like being kind, generous, forgiving, and generally a good person who treats others well, empathy seems like something we can and should take for granted as a sort of core tenet of life and human interactions, something that we can just accept as a foundation for how we’re supposed to act in the world, without any sort of examination. In fact, to even examine it might not only seem strange, but a bit grotesque and off-putting when brought up as a topic of inquiry.

But in fact, this seemingly innocuous subject and impulse may actually be at the root of many, if not most, of our most intractable social and political problems, and I am only now starting to appreciate this fact.

The topic was first brought to my attention, as many topics are, by author and intellectual Sam Harris. In this episode of his podcast from 2015, Sam interviews Yale psychologist Paul Bloom about the research that led to his 2016 book Against Empathy. Bloom argues that rather than enhance our moral understanding and decision-making, empathy may actually interfere with it, distort it, and even steer it towards unforeseen if not immoral actions and consequences. I will say more about this podcast in a later essay, but for now, let us return to today’s fascinating lecture by Deborah Nelson.

Professor Nelson is a professor of English and chair of the English department at the University of Chicago, where she studies late 20th-century US culture and politics. The local University of Chicago Alumni Association in Minneapolis brought her in to speak about her latest bookTough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, which “focuses on six women whose work coheres in a style and philosophical viewpoint that challenges the preeminence of empathy as the ethical posture from which to examine pain.” The lecture was advertised as such:


Empathy has been receiving a lot of attention recently, its importance urged not only in national politics but also in the workplace, schools, between friends, and among strangers.
But what if we are wrong? What if empathy isn’t what we need, but unsentimentality? This talk by Deborah Nelson describes the ethics and aesthetics of unsentimentality as practiced by some of the late 20th century’s most notable women artists and intellectuals: Susan Sontag, Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, and Simone Weil. Drawing upon her recent book, Tough Enough, Nelson will consider what it would mean to have an ethics without empathy even in the face of extreme suffering.

Needless to say, I would find this topic fascinating even if I had not previously discovered it in a podcast. It has a wonderful sense of counter-intuitiveness that seems ripe to make one examine previously unquestioned premises.

Professor Nelson began her lecture with a discussion of the recent popularity of empathy in our news, business, and politics. She showed us a few recent headlines, including an article from the Harvard Business Review entitled Empathy: The Most Valuable Thing They Teach at HBS. A quick search of the HBR turns up a plethora of articles on empathy. Next, she showed a headline from the New York Times addressing president Trump’s first attack on Syria in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians entitled On Syria Attack, Trump’s Heart Came First. [Searching for this, you find that, perhaps a topic worthy of its own discussion, that the New York Times has changed the title of that article, although you can still find the original title here, and a scathing critique of that article here, which I guess indicates some blowback from left wing political circles. Thank you, Internet.] Finally, she showed a headline discussing what is starting to be understood as “empathy fatigue,” a term and analysis I am unfamiliar with, but which makes intuitive sense when you take a few moments to think about the sorts of issues that have dominated our news in the last few years, including but not limited to the refugee crisis, police shootings and Black Lives Matter, and the MeToo movement. Upon reflection, it is apparent how empathy as an analytical tool has taken off as a means to understand our world, and, for better or worse, to reach policy decisions.

Professor Nelson then discussed the genesis of her book, which was to analyze 20th century historical and intellectual figures in the context of an ethic of unsentimentality and their own public controversies with the subject of empathy. She did not set out to write a book solely about women, but she found that it was almost impossible to find a male public intellectual who had been through such a controversy, yet another topic worthy of its own discussion. She weaves the various writings and analyses of these intellectuals with their own personal stories, perhaps ironically drawing our interest in these figures through our own empathy with them.

One extremely interesting foundation of this discussion is the origin of the concept of empathy as an analytical tool and part of our lexicon. Surprisingly, the origins of the word have nothing at all to do with feeling the perspective of another human being. Contrary to intuition, empathy has not always existed as a concept for how to interact charitably with other human beings. Historically, moral philosophers tended to use the words “sympathy” and “compassion” for how to approach treating others with kindness. The term empathy itself came into existence in the 19th century as a scientific term, intended to express literal mirroring of physical states in the natural sciences. As the 20th century emerged, it evolved into yet another meaning with which most of us are probably not familiar, as an aesthetic term used to analyze the quality of art. I’m not quite sure that I understand the exact nature of this use of the word, but from what I gather it was meant to express not a subject-object sensation where the observer feels the perspective of say another person represented artistically, but rather that the art expressed a reality of the object. My understanding is that the word was used as a measure of the quality and truthful representation of the art. In any case, the modern sense of the word “empathy” did not evolve until well after the second world war, taking hold sometime in the 1960s. This historical understanding alone is somewhat revelatory if not revolutionary for our modern understanding, as it demonstrates that empathy is not a fixed and eternal element of our moral understanding and landscape. In fact, not even a very long-existing one. I expect to chew on that alone for some hours in the coming weeks.

In the meat of her discussion, Professor Nelson examined the historical trajectory of our modern concept of empathy, partly by analyzing that modern concept, and partly through exploring some of the details of the lives and work of the women in her book. The overall theme was that these women, each in their own way, took what was probably an unconventional view about moral analysis, in the sense that this sort of work should be done with an ethic of unsentimentality, rather than empathy, for several reasons.

One reason is that empathy, rather than guiding us to proper moral actions and conclusions, can do just the opposite, because the reality of human hard wiring is that we are designed to be empathetic to people who look like us, who are near us, who we find more physically or personally attractive, etc., so that rather than decrease tribalism, it can, and perhaps most often does, increase it. An example would be that one might feel great empathy for the dead and wounded soldiers of one’s own army or country, but little to none for the injured and suffering of one’s enemy, and in fact one’s empathetic intuitions may lead in the opposite direction to antipathy or contempt.

Another reason is simply the fixed limits of our understanding and ability to process the information required to understand the world in an empathetic way. Professor Nelson spoke for some time about the attempt for the world to process the events of World War II, to even find language and concepts for it, let alone to actually understand what had happened. I was not aware, but even going into the 1960s, there was not a robust published body of analysis of the Holocaust, and in fact it was not until the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961 that such work began on any scale. Hannah Arendt was not even able to find a publisher for her groundbreaking  work Eichmann In Jerusalem for some time because of a perceived lack of interest. Looking back, it seems almost appalling that the world could go more than a decade without seriously examining the Holocaust, but perhaps this expectation that we would have now of an immediate dissection of this issue reflects how hard it is for us to understand the enormity of this catastrophe for those living in that time. How do you process the scale of the deaths of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands dying in a single day or in one attack, let alone tens of millions dying in the totality of the war? Which brings us back to the limits of empathy, even in its best case, its best use, its best outcomes, and its best intentions. We simply do not have the mental machinery to process empathy on a scale of more than a handful of people, let alone for any truly important and tragic event. Or, as someone once said: “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.”

In light of the problems with and limits of empathy, it’s a compelling point that perhaps our moral philosophy should be guided by unsentimentality rather than empathy. Professor Nelson examined how her subjects strove to understand the world and morality through an understanding of facts that we can know with our senses and analyze abstractly, rather than with emotional connections to the people we wish to help or wish we could have helped. In doing so, these women received their share of criticism, which I suspect would very likely happen to anyone making such an argument today, whatever their gender or identity.

This was an excellent lecture, and I can’t wait to buy the book. One quote that I found interesting at the end of the lecture was from one of Professor Nelson’s subjects saying something along the lines that “Pain shows us the limits of ourselves.” In other words, pain tells us that we are not the world, that reality and other people exist beyond us, and that there are limits to not only our selves, but our impact on the world. I can’t imagine a more unsentimental note to end on, and I encourage you to find a copy of her book and see what it can teach you for your own understanding of morality.



Why the *#%! would you vote for Donald Trump???

I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t this the question at least half of the country is asking? And isn’t that just how they want to ask it?

It’s always the first question I’m asked when someone finds out I’m a Republican (I didn’t). Even before they get the words out, I can see it in their eyes.  The bewildered look of “What the *____* is wrong with you people?” The desperate, pleading expression of “Please God, help me understand!” That look of “Jesus Christ, do I even want to know??” If you’re familiar with the comedian Lewis Black, it’s that sort of pre-apoplexy face of astonishment, confusion, and fear.

This post will answer the question of why someone who is not crazy, not a bigot, and has read a book at least once in their life would vote for Donald Trump.

The easiest way to start is by sharing the first time I heard someone give a cogent explanation for why they were voting for him. I was at a debate watching party, talking to a lawyer in his 60s. It was the first Clinton/Trump debate. We were at a large, airy bar, in a festive atmosphere courtesy of a local conservative think tank. At the time, I still couldn’t believe anyone was actually going to vote for this guy, even after winning the nomination, even after clearing fourteen lifelong politicians and two truly self-made achievers off the slate. The whole thing was still a joke to me. But here this lawyer was dead-serious going to vote for Trump, and after I stopped laughing, I asked him why. He quietly said “The president is for four years, the Supreme Court is forever.”

My reaction? “………….”

Ok. Well. Hmmmm…….s**t, that’s actually a real reason to vote for him. I had to concede that immediately. I really didn’t know what to say. I honestly hadn’t been able to imagine a single genuine reason to vote for Trump until then. And if there was one legitimate reason….there might be more.

This is the moment that made it real for me. “It” being a real thing in the real world where real people were actually going to vote for Donald Trump. I couldn’t argue with the guy or his logic. I had to admit that was as legitimate a reason to vote for any candidate as you’ll find in any election. As he said, if we get just one Supreme Court justice, that’s a huge win for conservatives. A generational win. If we get two, that’s like hitting the political lotto twice, almost certainly solidifying a conservative Supreme Court for at least one generation, literally for decades to come. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, if this is something within your reach with one election, that’s a game changer in the political landscape in your favor. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is.

And that’s the first thing you need to understand about people who voted for Donald Trump. It’s not necessarily about Donald Trump. It’s about run of the mill politics. It’s about your party passing your agenda and ensuring your vision is the one being propagated by the federal government. Do you want higher taxes or lower taxes? More regulations or fewer regulations? More Obamacare or less Obamacare? A liberal Supreme Court or a conservative Supreme Court? So that….that’s just business-as-usual. It’s got nothing to do with who the particular candidate is, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Mickey Mouse. Whoever advances your agenda is your “man.” If Mickey Mouse favors my kind of tax plan, I’m voting for Mickey Mouse, I don’t care what he says about ducks or about his squeaky voice or his tiny hands.

And on this one issue alone, what has Donald Trump done with our Supreme Court and our judicial system in general? Well, see for yourself:

Trump Is Rapidly Reshaping the Judiciary. Here’s How.

In the weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, lawyers joining his administration gathered at a law firm near the Capitol [and] filled a white board with a secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges.

[…] Mr. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard M. Nixon.

[…] Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure. Democrats — who in late 2013 abolished the ability of 41 lawmakers to block such nominees with a filibuster, then quickly lost control of the Senate — have scant power to stop them.

[…] During the campaign, Mr. Trump shored up the support of skeptical right-wing voters by promising to select Supreme Court justices from a list Mr. McGahn put together with help from the Federalist Society and the conservative Heritage Foundation. Exit polls showed that court-focused voters helped deliver the president’s narrow victory. Now, he is rewarding them.

“We will set records in terms of the number of judges,” Mr. Trump said at the White House recently, adding that many more nominees were in the pipeline. Standing beside the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, he continued, “There has never been anything like what we’ve been able to do together with judges.”

So on this single issue, one that in itself can sway many rational voters, President Trump has delivered, and appears primed to deliver more, in spades. Now, I understand: this reshaping of the judiciary is utterly horrifying to someone who leans left on the political spectrum. But this is no different than how conservatives would view a similar judicial opportunism by a Hillary Clinton administration. Nor is it any different than the worst case/best case scenario (depending on your view) that you would see with any other Republican president. So in a deep and meaningful way, this election had nothing to do with Donald Trump, the same way every election is in some sense more about whatever random Democrat or Republican empty vessel that stands in for our own hopes, dreams, and agendas than the specific individuals who become those vessels.

Here’s another thing that will help Democrats understand why people voted for Donald Trump, but it requires a bit of harsh self-reflection about your own party: many people held their nose and voted for Hillary Clinton, choosing to vote for her not because she was their ideal candidate or first choice, but because she was the person in the position to advance their agenda. There are innumerable, well-documented reasons to lack enthusiasm for Clinton even if you’re a Democrat that I won’t go into here. But knowing this can help you understand Trump’s voters: if you can hold your nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, someone else can hold their nose and vote for Donald Trump. Yes, really. No I mean really. Your version of holding your nose and voting for your party’s candidate is just as horrifying and unimaginable as their version is to you. So I think this is a great place for some common ground and for voters in both parties who were stuck with historically bad candidates to have some empathy for each other. This is a point that can allow both sides a mutual understanding of how it feels to not only have to vote for a candidate you find at best unappealing, but a nomination process that exposes a horrifying dearth of leadership within both parties, and potentially within society at large.

And this brings me to my next point: what does Trump’s very nomination say about the Republican party and Republican voters? Doesn’t the nomination of this disgusting man-pig speak volumes about Republicans, who they are willing to vote for, and by extension who they themselves are and what they believe? I’m glad you asked!

This is a very important point that I think most Democrats are missing, that cannot be over-stated: Donald Trump’s nomination was not a ringing endorsement of Donald Trump, either as a human being or as a candidate. As I mentioned above, voting for Donald Trump in the general election was not necessarily an endorsement of him as a person, but simply a vote to advance one’s agenda, whoever the vessel may be. Likewise, a vote for Donald Trump in the Republican nomination was not a vote for Donald Trump The Man. It wasn’t a vote for Donald Trump as articulating or embodying our noblest conservative ideals. Nominating Donald Trump was, by and large, quite simply a gigantic “F U” from the Republican base to the Republican party establishment. Donald Trump was their weapon, a blunt instrument to be sure, but nonetheless the weapon they had at their disposal to express their dissatisfaction with being taken for granted by their party, for being lied to by their party, for their party turning their back on their values, and for the party establishment being, in general, a bunch of self-dealing, two-faced sellouts and elitists who had abandoned the principles of small government and stopped listening to the voices of their grass roots. Ironically, this is exactly what almost happened in the Democratic primary in 2016, and would have happened if the party hadn’t rigged the nomination for Hillary.

So here again, Democrats should be able to have a lot of sympathy for why Republicans voted for Donald Trump: he was a refutation of party politics-as-usual, and a means to punish the party establishment and tell them exactly where to go. Republican voters were Negan, the Republican party was Rick’s group from Alexandria, and Donald Trump was Lucille. Or, if you will, picture Donald Trump as a giant middle finger. For some reason I think that will be easy to imagine….

The last point I want to raise about why people voted for Donald Trump has, unavoidably, a bit of a ring of partisanship to it, but it can’t be helped entirely, and it is an absolutely crucial aspect to understanding what happened in this election, and what may continue to happen for at least a few cycles to come. Once again, I feel that explaining my personal experience will help you understand this phenomenon writ large. To put it simply, conservatives are very, very tired of identity politics, and of the modes of discourse common to today’s discussions of political issues when we engage our friends on the left. There is no way I could ever count the number of times I’ve been called a racist, for example, for disagreeing with today’s dominant liberal views about race in America, and for having completely mainstream, middle-of-the-road conservative views about say the intersection of economics, race, culture, and success in America. There are periods of time when I’m engaged in a lot of online political discussion that I am literally called a racist every day. The long-term effect of being met with the worst sort of personal slanders for the simple act of disagreeing and having a political view on the other side of the spectrum has built up an enormous well of resentment, which can easily turn into a powerful backlash if given the opportunity.

For example, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, there was a tsunami of stories about a sudden and drastic spike in hate crimes, most of which turned out to be false. One of my friends was posting about a slew of bomb threats to Jewish community centers, and was expressing his dire concern about how Trump had done this to America. I advised caution and to wait until the facts came out to see if any of these turned out to be hoaxes, like so many of the other stories that had received much attention and gone viral (the vast majority did turn out to be hoaxes). Almost as soon as I said it, one of his friends jumped in to call me an anti-Semite. When I responded that I was only saying we shouldn’t make a judgment until we know the facts, that we don’t even know if these are real, let alone how or if you could attribute them to something about “Donald Trump’s America” if they were, he simply said “I refuse to engage with a known anti-Semite.” I tried, politely, to get him to respond to my points on the facts, and he simply repeated he would not engage in a discussion with a bigot. I suspect he didn’t want to “normalize” me. Rather than defend my character and ask his other friend to tone it down, my friend, who happens to know something about my views regarding Jewish culture, not only let these accusations stand, but explained how it was reasonable to interpret my comments as expressing bigotry.

I have more stories like this than I can count. A salient fact here is that I am mixed race, half white and half black. While engaged in one political debate this year, I had a white man call me a house you-know-what for disagreeing with some of his political views. Let’s pause and chew on that for a minute. Political discourse is at such a degraded level, that a white person thinks he has the right to call a black person the worst slur in the English language for a disagreement of political views. What must be the state of mind of such a person? Soon thereafter, a black friend of his found a picture of me in a corporate environment, and proceeded to call me a good Uncle you-know-what, licking the boots of my white masters. The person whose wall this was taking place on not only didn’t try to moderate this discussion and ask them to pull back from their vitriol, he supported their attack on me. Several months later, on the wall of a different friend, a black friend of his found the exact same picture, and called me the exact same name, and then made some absolutely vile comments about white female ancestors of mine lusting after black men. And did my friend who actually knew me ask him to tone it down, or better yet, demand civility and an end to these disgusting insults? I’ll give you one guess.

So now, if you’re politically liberal, imagine you’re me for a minute. Imagine you’re a pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-immigrant, multicultural economic conservative, who is liberal on every social equality issue and goal, but has conservative views on how to achieve some of them. How do you respond to people who say such vile things? Ok, maybe you say “Just walk away and give up.” I can do that. How do you respond if some variation of this happens in the majority of political discussions you have? If you’re not a racist for having mainstream, milquetoast conservative views, you’re definitely a misogynist, or a homophobe, or a classist. And they are going to let you know it. What if this has been happening for the last ten years or more? What if it’s not just a majority of interactions with people who disagree about politics, but more like 75 or 90%? What if it’s not just you, but every moderate conservative you know?

If you want to understand what is going on in the mainstream conservative psyche, please, I beg you, take some moments, now and after you read this, to run a thought experiment and ponder how you might feel about politics or the other side of the spectrum if you have had this experience hundreds of times over the course of years. If you get nothing else from this essay, I hope you come away with a little more empathy for what it’s like to be a reasonable, normal person who is constantly accused of being the most vile sort of bigot almost every time you have a political discussion.

If you do, you’ll feel the inevitable result: a tightening coil of resentment ready to be released in a backlash, just waiting for the moment, and getting stronger by the day. I resist this feeling mightily, and try very hard to rein it in and keep my resentment in check, to remind myself that not everyone on the left is like this (though it feels like it sometimes), to stay aware that responding in kind will not make anything better, and will only contribute to the negative feedback loop that is dragging this country down not only in its discourse, but in its very soul. I make myself reach out to people I disagree with on an almost daily basis, to keep seeking out civil discourse and nurture it, wherever it may be found, to not isolate myself in a bubble, hell, just to see if I can defy expectations and today’s sad normalcy and just have a polite discussion about politics with someone who I disagree with.

But most people are not like this. Most people aren’t this introspective. Most people are not political nerds. Most people don’t engage in political debates or discussions every day. Most people simply don’t have the time to ponder these political problems from as many angles as possible, or read enough articles to make sense of it all. They have families to raise, jobs to worry about, houses to fix, parents to visit, lives to live. But you know what they do have in common with political wonks like me? They experience the insults and easy accusations of bigotry too. They have people in their lives who they care about call them names too. Their feelings are hurt too, when people who should know you’re a good person treat you with contempt for your political views, or silently watch others do it with tacit approval, secretly (or not) cheering them on. If you’re genuinely curious about what happened in this election, ask some closet Trump supporters why they stayed in the closet. Ask some Trump supporters who are out of the closet how many friends they’ve lost, and what kind of things people have said about them. Ask some of your friends who are simply boring moderate conservatives how they have been treated in political discussions over the last ten years. You may find some deep waters that you didn’t see running through our political landscape, and a lot of frustration that you didn’t know existed.

This is the last thing you need to understand about Donald Trump’s election: once again, it’s not about Trump. It’s about something else that’s going on in America. On this point, it’s about a backlash against more than a decade of pent-up frustrations of literally being silenced for your political views, lest you be publicly shamed as a bigot. It is that simple. That is the situation moderate conservatives find themselves facing in the current political climate. This is a thing that conservatives walk around with daily, a thing that we feel whenever we log onto Facebook, whenever we hear our liberal friends talking about politics around us and know we dare not join in, a thing that we see in the news every single day. We see bland, moderate conservative views labeled as the most extreme bigotry, and we are frustrated, confused, and angry. And lately….mostly angry.

I have to admit to feeling this way myself. I fight it as hard as I can, but when for example today I am called a “typical gun nut” for defending Second Amendment rights (I’ve never owned a gun and never will), I can’t help but step back and think “You know what? You deserve Donald Trump.” Now this reaction is nowhere near strong enough in me to get me to actually vote for him, but it clearly is for millions of other people. And every time it happens, I inch a little close to thinking “F**k it, next time, I’m gonna DO it.” Electoral backlash is a very real, and at least occasionally rational political phenomenon. I’m not here to say if it’s the right thing to do in this particular situation, but I am here to say that it is real, it is happening, and we will continue to ignore it at our peril. As one commentator noted, the left is lucky that Donald Trump is the worst thing they got in this electoral backlash. Based on the history of devolved, strife-ridden politics, it could have been much, much worse, and still has the potential to become worse in the future.


If you made it this far, I have to congratulate you for your tenacity, and thank you for your patience. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how to fix it. But I do feel that I have some insight into what the problem is, into how we got here, and into the motivations for the completely normal, civilized, moderate conservatives who voted for Donald Trump. I do believe that if our friends on the left could more often engage us as normal, civilized, moderate human beings, that it would do much to lessen the appeal of a person like Donald Trump as a type of electoral revenge. Beyond and before that, I believe that conservatives as a group and the Republican party as an organization have some very difficult soul searching to do, to find a solid principled stance, to build an intellectual foundation for their policies and beliefs that rests on more than simply anger at reactionary identity politics.

It is a terrible and dangerous thing to define yourself in opposition to, rather than for, a person, group, or idea. When this paradigm is the dominant norm of an era, a society slips precariously towards the edge of a precipice, beneath which lies the potential to tear it apart while we succumb to our worst tribal instincts. We are not there yet, but I think there is little doubt that we are heading in that direction, and when we get there, we are all going to regret it. As impossible as it sounds, Donald Trump is not that precipice. He is only a warning that we are approaching it. And if the warning looks like Donald Trump, can we afford to find out what awaits us over the edge?


Donald Trump Election: Part II

“It seems so clear now…there are a lot of terrible people in America. Thank god I live in Manhattan and not America.”

So said my college roommate, philosophy buddy, and one of my dearest friends in New York the day after the election. I knew who those “terrible people” were that he was talking about…people in dreaded Flyover States, and even worse, southern states too far off the path of a direct flight to L.A. to even fly over.

This posed a problem for me: I now am one of those Flyover People, living in his version of Plato’s cave, watching the flickering shadows of Fox News, or perhaps as a Morlock waiting for Tucker Carlson to tell me when to come out and feed on Eloi in Manhattan. This is only a slight exaggeration of what educated Clinton voters seemed to be thinking and feeling after the election, continuing for months. I’m not certain that anything has changed even now, after a year of emotional and intellectual distance to reflect about “what happened.”

“What happened” on election day is a lot of things. But what happened in the aftermath is important too. Many of us strained and lost friendships, acquaintances, and even relationships with family and partners. If the experience of my friends and I is any indication, this was mostly a one-way street, Clinton supporters horrified at what kind of people they believed they had discovered themselves to be living among. I can only imagine the horror they felt when they realized they were floating on their urban islands in a sea of people who would actually vote for Trump. To quote the old saw, “How could he have won, I don’t know a single person who voted for him?”

Over the course of a day, I lost my college roommate as a friend, for the crime of trying to explain why other people voted for Trump on his Facebook page. He had some horrified things to say reminiscent of our last president’s attitude about ignorant people clinging to their guns and religion. As I tried to explain what values people who don’t live in Manhattan believe in and care about, he was getting messages from his friends asking if he was “actually friends with me” and how could he be friends with “someone like me.” A relative of his piped up that she had lived down south for a while, and had seen how blatantly racist they are down there, as plainly revealed in this election. Finally he deleted all of the comments and blocked me from seeing his posts.

I wish I could say this was an anomaly. But it was instead the norm. A coworker who I considered a friend and who I had spent many hours on the phone with having light-hearted conversations about politics blocked me from Facebook and Twitter for again trying to explain why people might have voted Trump, or arguing that the media and Democrat visions of “the end of democracy and free speech” might be exaggerated. Another friend simply took me off Facebook, having not even had a conversation about the election, and I faced various and vehement accusations of bigotry over the course of multiple discussions.

Having experienced this consistently online and in face-to-face conversations over the last year, I’m not sure where this leaves us as a country. I have found that just to be a Republican is too toxic for many Democrats to even deal with and face a conversation with me as a human being. I’ve seen this creeping into conversations for the last decade, and this election seems to have opened a floodgate of political hatred and shameless vitriol for one’s opponents that I haven’t experienced in my lifetime.

If the reaction to this election continues to be ferreting further into our political bubbles, building better cultural walls, and hating those with different views ever more, what does this mean for the future of our country? I fear we are moving dangerously close to the sort of partisan divisions that precede historical periods of fascism, political street fighting, and worse.

What if we did something different? What if we sought out people who disagree with us to have civil, respectful conversations about why they voted as they did, why they believe what they believe, and who they are as people? What if we asked them what they believe or why they voted a certain way rather than told them, or told ourselves we know without stooping to talking to them? We don’t all have to agree with each other or approve of each other’s choices, in politics or elsewhere in life. But we should, at the very least, try to understand where others are coming from and have enough empathy to try to appreciate why they might believe something different, in good faith and as good people.

I’m not holding my breath though. I just asked my old colleague how she feels about removing me from her life one year later, which should be plenty of time to reflect and cool down. She said she has no regrets about doing so, and to the contrary seems rather proud. Rather than invest in reconciliation, perhaps I should invest in something more practical: beans and bullets.