Slaves to narrative are fugitives from reason

Andrew C. McCarthy writes

The supplanting of fact by “narrative” — in race relations, in our politics, in our assessment of national-security threats, in our foreign policy — has become such a fad that we are at the mindless point of skipping past what it portends.

It is all well and good — even necessary — to find thematic ways to express truth, to teach its lessons. “All that glitters is not gold,” for example, is a theme, not a narrative. It is a transcendent bit of fact-based wisdom that allows us to navigate the world as we actually experience it.

A narrative, to the contrary, is an excuse for avoiding reality and acting against our best interests.

It is this way with every totalitarian ideology. We’d be foolish to assume it can’t happen to us. Slaves to narrative are fugitives from reason. Their societies die.

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How to get away with privilege

VDH explains how to get away with privilege:

In our atheistic and agnostic society, inexpensive, loud, and public virtue-mongering has replaced church penance — with Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Al Sharpton, network anchor people, NPR, the New York Times, and such acting as the new bishops who can dispense exemptions. The wealthy, the influential, the intelligentsia, and the cultural elite all broadcast their virtues — usually at a cut-rate rhetorical price — to offset their own sense of sin (as defined by feelings of guilt), or in fear that their own lives are antithetical to the ideologies they espouse, or sometimes simply as a wise career move. Sin these days is mostly defined as race/class/gender thought crimes.

Wearing a mask of virtue is done not to save one’s soul for eternity but to still feel good about enjoying privilege. The sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts or mafia-black outfits of Silicon Valley billionaires can compensate for their robber-baron sins of outsourcing, offshoring, and tax avoidance or simply their preference for apartheid existence with the fellow rich; for George Soros (currency manipulator and European financial outlaw), it is funding leftists who hate capitalists and rank financial speculators like him. All that beats lashings and haircloth.

What enrages the public about virtue-mongering is that, according to the laws of their own value system, the elite sin and then fob such failings off on others to find resolution. Kaepernick makes more in a month than most Americans whom he insults will make in a lifetime; and most Americans have never used the N-word to slur someone of color. Most Americans do not get rich off overseas coal plants like the green Tom Steyer did, or dump worthless cable channels to the Islamist and anti-Semitic Al Jazeera in order to get rich from carbon-exporting Qatar, in the fashion of the global-sermonizing Al Gore. None of us in the manner of the Clintons have boarded a Lolita Express jet or tried to peddle diplomatic passports to the wealthy and connected. I have never met an American who bought up all the homes surrounding his own to redefine his neighborhood as did Mark Zuckerberg, who derides walls and border enforcement for others. And yet we are lectured about our social-awareness failings ad nauseam by these masters of the progressive universe.

The Reformation — and Counter Reformation — mostly ended the selling of penances. Only something similar will end our pathetic version, perhaps when the public tunes out at the tired boilerplate of “racist,” “sexist,” and “nativist”; or when we quit sending money to the “safe space,” “trigger warning,” “micro-aggression” Ivy League; or we flip the channel when NFL gladiators playact as robed philosophers; or we laugh off celebrity activists as the new John D. Rockefellers tossing out a few of their shiny new dimes.

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Fixing immigration, Trump or No Trump

Kevin D. Williamson has an excellent piece about how we’l have to Fix Immigration, Trump or No Trump.  However the election turns out, U.S. immigration law will remain a mess – a fixable mess that we don’t want to fix.  After remarking, “Much of that mess is a result of destructive political incentives and extraordinarily shallow political thinking,” he gets around to some ideas to recommend;

As I have argued for some time, we could do a great deal to reduce and reverse illegal immigration by taking five fairly straightforward steps that do not even require building a wall (though there are sections of the border that certainly should be walled). Those steps are: 1) Passing a law that forbids anyone who is or who has been an illegal immigrant from ever becoming a U.S. citizen, even if his current status is legal; 2) Passing a similar law that forbids anyone who is or has been an illegal immigrant from applying for a work permit, even if his current status is legal; 3) Carrying out robust workplace enforcement through mandatory E-Verify and the deployment of asset forfeiture against businesses convicted of employing illegal-alien labor; 4) Putting a citizen or non-citizen stamp on drivers’ licenses and requiring non-citizens to document their legal status when engaging in ordinary financial transactions such as cashing a check or booking domestic travel; 5) Passing a law that forbids anyone who is or has been an illegal immigrant from ever legally entering the United States.

This puts additional burdens on non-citizens residing in the United States, which is unfortunate for them but which is nonetheless the most desirable place to put such burdens, while adding trivially to the regulatory burden of already heavily regulated institutions such as financial firms and airlines. It also adds trivially to the regulatory burdens endured by employers vis-à-vis new hires. That isn’t ideal, but neither is a lawless system of immigration or a Brownsville–to–Chula Vista wall that probably cannot or should not actually be built and that would be at best only half effective in any case.

Even though it’ls probably a 20-year project…

…one would expect to see radical improvements in a much shorter period of time, particularly if some future Justice Department could be inspired to get off its collective bureaucratic ass and put a few meatpacking executives and construction-firm operators in prison for violating U.S. immigration and labor laws.

Why do we want to do this?

The main reason, and the most obvious one, is that while we are indeed a nation of immigrants — like every other nation on the face of the earth — this polity, like any other polity, has the right to decide who joins it and on what terms. Those laws could be liberal or they could be very restrictive, but the worst situation is the one we have, meaning very strict laws in theory but anarchy in practice.

But it will be politically and practically impossible to go about amending our immigration laws in an intelligent way while we have lawless conditions, which invite both self-interested partisan grandstanding on both sides of the aisle and irresponsible demagoguery — if the European example tells us anything, it is that Donald Trump will not be the last of his kind. Reorganizing U.S. immigration law in a way that emphasizes the economic interests and cultural continuity of the United States rather than maintaining a chain-immigration system that privileges the (sometimes theoretical) reunification of extended immigrant families over genuinely national concerns is a project that can only be coolly and rationally undertaken once the volatile problem of illegal immigration is under control.

“Under control” here should not be taken, as it so often is, as the precondition for amnesty and the “path to citizenship.” Even if, after doing all of the above, we were to decide at some date 20 years hence that the presumably smaller number of remaining illegal immigrants should be granted legal residency — and there is no obvious reason to do that — there is no pressing need to extend citizenship to illegal immigrants, now or ever. People reside, sometimes permanently, in foreign countries for economic and other reasons all the time, and the decision to do so is fundamentally different from the decision to become a citizen of that country. The United States is a nation that is based on neither ethnicity nor any other Old World blood-and-soil criterion, but on citizenship. Consequently, we should take citizenship seriously, which means that it should be treated as an end in and of itself rather than as a means to some other end, such as a good job or domestic convenience.

None of this should be especially controversial.

Lawfulness is preferable to lawlessness, and though we certainly have and should have a humane concern for the world’s unhappy people, the responsibility of the government of these United States is to the citizens of these United States, not to the citizens of other countries, as much as we might like to help them.

And our humane considerations should be tempered by the knowledge that the economic consequences of continuing high levels of low-skilled immigration are borne most heavily not by native-born workers (who in fact benefit, on net, from lower prices) but by prior low-skilled immigrants, who tend to be concentrated in the same industries as the new ones and who suffer from the same economic limitations, such as limited English proficiency or lack of formal education. Assimilation is not only a cultural concern but an economic one, too, and it is much more difficult to bring low-skilled immigrants into the economic mainstream with high levels of similar immigration.

Intelligent immigration reform will be complex and difficult. I would not bet on Donald Trump’s being the man for that job. But it is a job that someone is going to have to do.


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Two parties united behind two different facets of statism and identity politics.

Here’s Jonah Goldberg on the magical thinking in Cleveland.

In the Mythic Trump story, he is like Moses living amongst the Egyptians before he sees the light. Nowhere in his speech did Trump give any sense that he knew — or cared — how he would get things done through his “sheer force of will.” That’s the thing about magical thinking, you don’t need to explain it. The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For get it, and everyone else never will. As Bart Simpson said when running for class president, “My opponent says that are no easy answers. I say he’s not looking hard enough!

I have nothing but sympathy for those who feel they must vote against Hillary Clinton. But I have scorn for those who think that requires lying about Trump. If you’re a true-believer in Trump, that’s fine. I think you’re making the same mistake that the Left’s 2008 true believers made about Obama. There are no saviors in politics. But when millions of people think there can be, those of us in the Remnant of doubt get treated like heretics.

That’s fine, too. Indeed, despite my obvious fatigue and anger, I’m actually far more hopeful than you might think. In Cleveland, I met scores of fellow heretics. We didn’t meet in catacombs. But we plotted and planned all the same. We are the anti-establishment now. We stand opposed to two parties united behind two different facets of statism and identity politics.

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The Flight 93 Election?

Some good stuff from this week’s G-File:

Goldberg disagrees with the argument put forth in “The Flight 93 Election” that asserts this election is the most important ever [don’t we hear that every cycle?], so much so that we have to “rush the cockpit” even though there’s no guarantee we’ll live.  I.e., we have to elect Trump because that gives us a chance – but just a chance – to save the country.  The alternative is The End.

I am the first to concede that if Hillary Clinton wins it will likely be terrible for the country. But America is larger than one election for one office in one branch in one of our many layers of government. Indeed, if it’s true that America is one election away from death, then America is already dead. Because the whole idea of this country is that most of life exists outside of the scope of government. Yes, this idea is battered and bloodied. But I fail to see how rejecting the idea — as Publius does — is the best way to save it…

In my preferred metaphor, we are on a plane heading for a bad place, though not to our deaths. We are heading to a place from which it will require years of work just to get back to where we are now, never mind a preferred destination. I remember giving speeches during Obama’s first term, amidst the fights over the stimulus and Obamacare. The set title for my talks was “Cheer Up, for the Worst Is Yet to Come.” I was right of course. But I remember saying, often, that I may end up spending the rest of my professional life fighting just to undo the messes this president has created. That may well still be true. And if either of these two hot messes hit the fan in November — and one almost surely will — I’m going to be on my hands and knees with a bucket and sponge trying to get the stain out of the carpeting.

And that’s the thing. The plane is off course because the pilot is MIA, off guest-editing Wired magazine or some such, while the other two members of the flight crew are fighting over the throttle. One, Hillary Clinton, wants to take us to a bad place and she knows how to get there. The other, Donald Trump, wants to take us someplace that doesn’t even exist. The best argument for Donald Trump is that if the destination existed, it might be a great place to go. I hear the martinis in King’s Landing are fantastic. Meanwhile, the only argument for Clinton is that at least she knows how to fly.

On the double-standard applied to Mrs. Clinton:

Men can wear the same suit every single day and almost no one will notice. Women have to come up with new stuff all of the time. Why Hillary Clinton chooses to dress like the First Minister of Rigel 7 in an episode of Star Trek is a separate mystery, but the basic point holds true.

But the idea that Hillary Clinton is being brutalized by sexist double standards is ridiculous, particularly in a cycle where the size of her opponent’s hands — wink wink — has been a major topic of conversation. There may be some sexist undercurrents when critics say Hillary should smile more or that she is shrill. But they are erased by the factual tsunami that she is actually quite shrill. Think of it this way. I certainly get why gays bristle at the word “effeminate,” especially when it’s used as a generic insult about all gays. But am I really guilty of anti-gay bigotry if I point out that Richard Simmons is pretty damn effeminate?

Not only is it not sexist to dislike Hillary Clinton, it is sexist to claim that disliking Hillary Clinton is sexist. I do not see Hillary Clinton as a stand-in for all women, nor do I associate the things I dislike about Clinton with women in general. If I did, I’d still be a bachelor or looking for Richard Simmons’s phone number.

And anyway, male politicians have always been vulnerable to insults to their manhood — just ask the first president Bush who was derided on magazine covers as a “wimp.” When he ran for president, it was said his trouble with women stemmed from the fact that he reminded women of their first husband. This was all grotesquely unfair to Bush of course. The guy signed up to fight for his country when he was 17. Moreover, I would guess a significant number of first husbands were cut loose — or left their wives — because they were cads, bullies, or bad fathers. George H. W. Bush is, in fact, a consummate gentleman and family man.

Moreover, Hillary Clinton is running explicitly as the First Woman President, Breaker of Glass Ceilings, and Grandma-in-Chief. She’s doing that in large part because she needs to borrow excitement she can’t muster herself. She’s like an unseasoned plate of steamed root vegetables, but the chef is determined to dress it up by describing the meal in French and delivering it under a giant brass dome. Voila! The spectacle is all the more ridiculous when you hear the wait staff and busboys shouting about how great the “real steamed cauliflower” is or how what the chefs need to do is come up with “Cauliflower 6.0.” There’s really only so much you can do with cauliflower.

On Trump’s habit of praising Putin:

This morning, I heard a sound bite of Donald Trump Jr. explaining that the one thing we know is that Putin is doing “what’s best for Russia.” This is spectacularly disgusting. So now conservatives believe that strongmen who brutalize their own people and undermine American interests and allies around the world are to be admired for their leadership. I cannot wait to hear the Trumpistas explain how punctual the trains are in Russia. Four years ago, Mitt Romney rightly said that Russia was our chief geopolitical foe. Obama countered that the 1980s called and wants its foreign policy back. Well, now it seems the 1930s are on the line and Trump is eager to take the call.

Earlier, I spoke about cleaning up messes. Well, the best-case scenario is that the mess these fools are making can even be cleaned up at all.

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Let’s defend the 1st and the 2nd

Charles C. Cook wonders, “Who can claim without laughing that a reversal of Heller wouldn’t render the right a dead letter?”

Before he made his reprehensible “Second Amendment people” joke yesterday, Donald Trump said once again that Hillary Clinton wants “to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

Whenever Trump says this the press works itself up into a tizzy, the typical response being that Trump is “wrong” to make this claim because a) Clinton has not explicitly called for a constitutional amendment to neutralize the Second Amendment, and/or b) she has said “no more” than that the Heller decision was wrongly decided.

But both of these positions are too clever by half. As anybody with an elementary understanding of American law comprehends, one does not need to call an Article V convention in order to effectively remove a provision from the Constitution. If, for example, Donald Trump were to claim tomorrow that the First Amendment did not protect an individual right to speech, how do we imagine that the press corps would react? Do we think that the New York Times’s editorial board would nonchalantly say “well, that’s fine because he hasn’t called for Article V repeal”? Or do we imagine that it would cry — correctly — that this was pretty damn worrying given that Trump might be in a position to appoint judges? Clearly, it would be the latter — and rightly so. Who in their right mind would respond to a Court decision rewriting the First Amendment by shrugging, “well, at least it’s still written down on the parchment”?

“Ah,” Hillary’s defenders tend to respond.  But Heller was more controversial than the meaning of the First Amendment.” Insofar as there are more people who are willing to lie about the Second Amendment than the First Amendment, this is certainly true. But it’s also entirely besides the point. As Trump implies, there would be precisely no point in having a Second Amendment if it did not, like the rest of the provisions written for “the people” within the Bill of Rights, protect an individual liberty. As was observed in Heller’s majority opinion, the revisionists’ interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it protects the right of the people to join a state organization over which the federal government enjoys plenary power. In and of itself, this position is logically absurd and historically illiterate. But it is also ridiculous on a practical basis. As is clear to anybody who has read the writings of both the colonists and the Founders, who has studied the jurists of the revolutionary era and beyond, who is familiar with the Dred Scott decision and the subsequent fallout, who has looked across the state constitutions, and who has followed the trajectory of the academic debate over the past 60-or-so years, Americans have enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms for all of their history.

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The unluckiest political idea in the history of political ideas

Kevin D. Williamson  writes that the countries most often praised as examples of socialism actually score higher than the US on the Heritage Foundation’s economic-liberty index.

The Nordic countries have relatively high taxes and big welfare states, but they also have free trade, relatively liberal regulatory regimes, transparent and effective public institutions, etc. The United States gets dinged for crony capitalism and overly complex regulation. As Nima Sanandaji points out in these pages, four of the five Nordic countries have center-right governments, with the social democrats holding power only in Sweden. But even Sweden has undergone decades of reform in what would be understood in the United States as a generally conservative direction, as indeed did Canada a few decades ago.

Welfare states are welfare states and socialism is socialism, and, in spite of the Bernie Sanders gang and the Right’s talk-radio ranters, they are not the same thing. Welfare states use taxes and transfer payments to enable higher levels of consumption among certain groups, usually vulnerable ones: the poor, the sick, the elderly, children. Welfare states are not synonymous with big government: Singapore, for example, offers surprisingly generous housing and health-care benefits despite having a public sector that is (as measured by spending) about half the size of our own and a little more than a third the size of France’s. Switzerland has a fairly typical portfolio of welfare benefits (including a health-care system that is approximately what Obamacare was intended to look like, if Obamacare hadn’t been written and enacted by fools) with a public sector that is smaller than our own. You can view the data and make your own comparisons here.

Socialism, as I have written at some length, is a different beast entirely. Like the welfare state, it involves the public provision of non-public goods, but it achieves this in a different way. Rather than levying taxes and distributing checks or vouchers, the socialist government owns and operates the means of production, or, in the corporatist variant, puts the means of production under political discipline effectively indistinguishable from government ownership of them.

The easiest example to illustrate the difference is in American education:

The Right advocates a welfare-state approach, with government funding education costs through taxes which are passed on to families with school-age children in the form of vouchers, which can be used at a variety of different kinds of institutions serving a variety of different kinds of needs; the Left, in contrast, advocates the truly socialist model, with government owning and operating the relevant economic assets (public schools) which function as a monopoly. The fact that you can send your children elsewhere does not make them less of a monopoly: Stop paying your school taxes and they’ll still send men with guns to your house to force the money out of you, to seize your home, or to cage you until you comply.  Violence is always at the end of the socialist enterprise, as the poor people of Venezuela are discovering.

As for the claim socialism has never been truly tried, or “has never been done right,” the author has this to say:

Weird thing: That feckless and authoritarian kind of socialism is the only kind of socialism anybody has ever seen or heard of outside of a college dorm room. Either socialism is the unluckiest political idea in the history of political ideas and it just happens to have coincided with government by monsters, caudillos, and incompetents every place it has been tried, or there is in fact something wrong with socialism qua socialism.

Why is it that the big-government Danish welfare state, the small-government Swiss welfare state, the frequently illiberal Singaporean welfare state, and the nice-guy Canadian welfare state all seem to work, each in its own way, while socialist experiments — including the so-called democratic-socialist experiments of places such as Venezuela — go speeding down F. A. Hayek’s road to serfdom?

The critical difference is that entrepreneurship and markets are allowed to work in a welfare state — and to work especially well in welfare states characterized by public sectors that, while they may be larger or smaller, are transparent, honest, and effective. The U.S. food-stamp program has its defects, to be sure, but it’s a great deal more effective than was Soviet collective farming and state-run groceries. A dynamic capitalist economy such as Switzerland’s or Singapore’s or Canada’s can carry a lot of welfare state.  But it cannot really carry all that much socialism.

In conclusion he points out that fans of those societies cherry-pick the policies they wish to replicate.  (Imho, those fans also overlook the critical role played by the social cohesion found in smaller countries with less heterogeneous cultures.)

When one of our so-called progressives looks at a Nordic welfare state, what he always says he wants to replicate here is the relatively high taxes and relatively large public sector. It’s never Sweden’s free-trade policies, Denmark’s corporate-tax rate (which is far lower than our own), or Finland’s choice- and accountability-driven education system. When the American Left expresses its envy of Western Europe, it’s never Switzerland’s minimum wage ($0.00) it wants to reproduce, only bigger and more rapacious government. But the relatively large Danish public sector does different things than does the U.S. public sector, and it does them differently. A larger U.S. public sector would be a great deal like the current U.S. public sector — ineffective, captive to politics, corrupt — but bigger.

If you want to see what so-called democratic socialism looks like, turn your eyes south to Venezuela and its new slave-labor camps. What’s happening in Canada and Denmark is something else — something that is much more in tune with the approach and priorities of the free-market/free-trade Right, or at least what’s left of it.

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