Good Friday Morning! We’re still in the midst of a government shutdown, which according to the constant running clocks on cable news shows is a sign of the apocalypse. And after one of the worst speeches from the Oval Office in history, followed by an equally if not worse response from Democrats, we’re still at square one.
I remain unphased by this entire storyline and would underline the fact that it doesn’t matter. This boondoggle is all about politics, and it has nothing to do with the budget, the government shutdown, or the wall and border security. Here’s how you can tell that’s the case.
First, Trump was offered wall and border funding multiple times but turned them all down when he had Republicans in the House and Senate. The first was a border adjustment tax cooked up by Paul Ryan that would have allowed Trump to claim both that he secured wall funding and that Mexico was paying for it — Trump turned it down. Second, Republicans debated multiple other border security bills and sent those ideas to the White House to see what Trump wanted — he accepted none of them. We’ve worked our way from around $50-60 billion for “the wall,” to now arguing over $5 billion.
Second, Democrats aren’t really against the wall. Marc Thiessen lays this nonsense to rest in a column in the Washington Post:
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) now says that “a wall is an immorality,” back in 2013, she supported a bill that required the construction of 700 miles of border fencing. (Trump has called for a wall of “anywhere from 700 to 900 miles” long.) The bill negotiated by the Gang of Eight, which included current Democratic leaders Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), declared that “not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary [of Homeland Security] shall establish . . . the ‘Southern Border Fencing Strategy,’ to identify where 700 miles of fencing (including double-layer fencing) . . . should be deployed along the Southern border.”
That’s not all. The bill further said that “the Secretary may not adjust the status of aliens who have been granted registered provisional immigrant status . . . until 6 months after . . . [the Secretary submits] a written certification that . . . there is in place along the Southern Border no fewer than 700 miles of pedestrian fencing.” In other words, Democrats agreed that no illegal immigrants could get a path to citizenship until all 700 miles of border fencing had been fully completed.
Every Senate Democrat voted for the Gang of Eight bill — including 36 Democratic senators still serving today. President Barack Obama agreed to sign it. Indeed, he praised the bill for including what he called “the most aggressive border security plan in our history” and said that “the Senate bill is consistent with the key principles for commonsense reform that I — and many others — have repeatedly laid out” (emphasis added). That bears repeating: Obama said building a 700-mile fence on the southern border was consistent with the principles of the Democratic Party.
So what is this wall fight? It’s a plot device. Trump wants to claim that he successfully negotiated money and concessions out of Democrats. Anything that allows him to do that is a victory. Democrats want to say they held firm against Trump. The wall is the volleyball in the middle of the net.
Trump doesn’t want to solve the border so much as continually use it as something to campaign on in 2020. Democrats can’t go full anti-wall because they have newly elected House Reps in purple districts. Republicans, watching this in the House, can pretend they’re all aligned on the issue (they aren’t). If and when this government shutdown breaks, look for it to break when one side gets enough of what they want to end it.
All that said, this week I’m focusing on a rant by Tucker Carlson of Fox News that spurred on enough hot takes in the conservative editorial-sphere to warm the country for the rest of the winter. Perhaps the most fun part about it was the long fight/argument it spurred on the National Review Editors podcast this week. Links of the week follow analysis.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
If you know people in state or local government responsible for getting funds to police departments — send them this link. I fully expect the Supreme Court to reduce the amount of money police departments receive through asset forfeiture. State and local budgets should start thinking about this problem now.
My look at Warren’s newly launched Presidential campaign — and my expectation that she’ll lose.
The Tucker Rant
You can read or listen to Tucker Carlson’s entire monologue on Fox News. He starts it with a riff on Mitt Romney’s column attacking Trump at the first of the year. And from there, he descends into a full broadside against market capitalism. Jane Coasten wrote a pretty solid summary of his argument (and interviewed Tucker about it):
Last Wednesday, the conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson started a fire on the right after airing a prolonged monologue on his show that was, in essence, an indictment of American capitalism.
America’s “ruling class,” Carlson says, are the “mercenaries” behind the failures of the middle class — including sinking marriage rates — and “the ugliest parts of our financial system.” He went on: “Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.”
He concluded with a demand for “a fair country. A decent country. A cohesive country. A country whose leaders don’t accelerate the forces of change purely for their own profit and amusement.”
The monologue was stunning in itself, an incredible moment in which a Fox News host stated that for generations, “Republicans have considered it their duty to make the world safe for banking, while simultaneously prosecuting ever more foreign wars.” More broadly, though, Carlson’s position and the ensuing controversy reveals an ongoing and nearly unsolvable tension in conservative politics about the meaning of populism, a political ideology that Trump campaigned on but Carlson argues he may not truly understand.
Moreover, in Carlson’s words: “At some point, Donald Trump will be gone. The rest of us will be gone too. The country will remain. What kind of country will be it be then?”
The penultimate paragraph in his criticism was:
Market capitalism is a tool, like a staple gun or a toaster. You’d have to be a fool to worship it. Our system was created by human beings for the benefit of human beings. We do not exist to serve markets. Just the opposite. Any economic system that weakens and destroys families is not worth having. A system like that is the enemy of a healthy society.
That then spawned Episode 127 of the National Review Editors podcast where writers Reihan Salam and David French go toe-to-toe over the merits of Tucker’s rant. Reihan mostly sides with Tucker, and French attacks Tucker’s position. Charles C. W. Cooke circles around later in the discussion to side with French. I highly recommend listening to that episode to get a feel for the arguments.
I have two main issues with Tucker’s points here and would side with David French and Charles C. W. Cooke in the above argument. First, Tucker is wrong on the way markets work and the critical cause-and-effect mechanisms in them. Second, Tucker is disingenuously defending populism and Trump — he’s trying to overlay Pat Buchananism on modern populism and Trump.
On the first point, Tucker calls the market and market capitalism a tool. This is simply wrong. The economy is organic. You can do things to manipulate that organism at it races across the world, but you can’t ultimately control it. The market is millions and billions of individual transactions happening every day, moving and setting prices for a multitude of things.
When right-wing talkers like Tucker start describing the market as a tool, they’re adopting wholesale the terminology of people like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ben Shapiro described this beautifully in his reaction:
This sounds far more like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren than it does like Ronald Reagan or Milton Friedman. That’s because the democratic socialist movement has a lot in common with the economic populism of the Right. The Marxist Left claims that human failings are the result of private property–based economic systems; therefore, private property–based systems must be destroyed. Social democrats like Sanders and Warren agree, but also acknowledge the inherent power of markets (although Sanders speaks more like a Marxist than a social democrat). Social democrats believe that shackling the power of the market to the redistributive and regulatory power of the state represents the best way forward. That’s why Sanders and Warren use the Nordic states as their models, rather than Cuba or the Soviet Union.
The populist Right largely agrees. Carlson explicitly states, along with Sanders and Warren, that voluntary decisions can amount to exploitation; he blames rich Americans for somehow, in unspecified fashion, convincing poorer Americans to conceive children out of wedlock. The free-market system, according to Carlson, has provided us with a lot of stuff, and “yet drug addiction and suicide are depopulating large parts of the country.” Therefore, free markets are responsible for our empty souls as well as for our fuller fridges.
Jonah Goldberg hit this same point, noting that the market may have tool properties, but it’s also an economic right:
Look at it this way: Guns are tools. This is literally far more true about firearms than it is about the free market, because while both are to a certain extent artificial things, guns are actual physical devices bought and sold in the market. And yet, who among us, including Carlson, would deny that the right to self-defense is more than merely a tool?
Twitter, Facebook, magazines, and newspapers are akin to tools as well. They are artifacts. But they are also the means by which we often exercise various rights, chiefly the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. These rights aren’t merely tools.
Well, economic liberty is a right, too. Just because the free market looks like a “tool” from the vantage point of some policymakers and other elites gazing at society from olympian heights doesn’t mean my right to buy and sell what I want isn’t a right too. I am certain that I could spend a few minutes googling to find dozens of examples of Tucker — and all of his supporters — agreeing that the gay-wedding cake baker has a right to sell or not sell what he wants. I’d also find countless examples of tirades against people like Michael Bloomberg who think they know better than the citizenry about what foods or drinks they can consume.
Of course, economic liberty is not an unbounded right any more than free speech or the right to self-defense are. Reasonable limits can be placed on every right. But it seems to me the new rightwing anti-market populists are going to need to do a lot more thinking about what they are actually advocating here. The left has used economic regulation as a façade for cultural regulation for a century — and it wants to do a lot more of it. And people like my friend Tucker Carlson have gotten famous and wealthy denouncing elites for their nanny-statism. If I’m going to take the idea that the free market is solely a tool seriously, I’m going to need to hear a hell of a lot more about why rightwing nanny-statism is philosophically distinguishable from the leftwing variety. I haven’t heard anything like that from him or his fellow-travelers, at least not yet.
And where you go wrong in thinking that an economy is a tool is that you start putting faith in the government to plan out a market and an economy that is naturally spontaneous. The great Austrian economic Friedrich von Hayek put it this way, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
That’s the real key to Tucker’s rant and the mirror version on the left: they imagine they can design a society that can fix anything. That belief that they can fix it is what Hayek called a “fatal conceit.” That conceit destroyed the centrally planned economies of socialism and communism in the 20th Century. That conceit won’t improve just because you shine it up and put it on the right side of the political spectrum.
If you listen to the podcast I mentioned above, Reihan goes into a lengthy description of how specific government policies can have a positive impact. And he’s right — we can prove certain ways you manipulate the market can improve conditions for some. But there are always ripple effects, known and unknown. And you can test this by looking at every form of social improvement policy every put forward — we keep attacking these problems with increasing government policy and the issues still exist.
That doesn’t mean pursuing better economic policies are wrong — it just says we need to embark on those paths with the full understanding they won’t solve everything. You can’t have a fatal conceit or belief in programs.
As an example: Obamacare set out to solve the problem of too many people being uninsured. But in doing so it also dramatically impacted prices and coverage for everyone else. They accomplished one goal while fouling up the rest of the healthcare market.
Like David French and Charles C. W. Cooke, I’m deeply skeptical of any claim that more government intervention will provide the magic cure. A number of the problems in this world are cultural — meaning they have to get solved on the community level by things like churches and civic organizations. But as those local level solutions continue to fail and lose trust, people are clamoring more for a top-down solution from the federal government — which is why we’re seeing rants from the right now emulating the Warren/Sanders critique of the world.
Countering the collapse of local institutions should be the primary objective — and the federal government can’t accomplish that by expanding its powers.
That brings me to my second point. Carlson’s defense of Trump and this economic populism he’s pushing aren’t populism or what Trump believes, it’s Pat Buchanan’s paleoconservatism, which failed and flamed out in the ’90s, shined up and plastered with Trump’s name. Trump’s not a paleocon. He’s not a conservative of any kind. Trump is a personality and mimics what he thinks his base wants. He found an opening in the Republican Party in 2016 and exploited it — that doesn’t make him a conservative.
Tucker’s points are all an attempt to describe Trump in paleoconservative terms: isolationist foreign policy, economic populism, and harder immigration policies.
So far what we’ve seen is that Trump focuses on trying to rack up wins that help him in polls, the press, and holding his base together. He’s zigged and zagged on every single issue. If you’re trying to encompass Trump in any one ideology, the only way to get there is cherry-picking the news stories that help and explain the rest away.
Support Trump all you want, I don’t care, but don’t pretend he’s fulfilling some form of conservatism. He’s achieving Trumpism — whatever Trump defines that as being on a given day.
Links of the week
The Free Market Is Not Just a Tool – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
The Right Should Reject Tucker Carlson’s Victimhood Populism – David French, National Review
Here’s One Thing Tucker Carlson Gets Really Right – David French, National Review
Toward a Unifying Republican Agenda – Fred Bauer, National Review
Trump Keeps Giving Mueller Reasons to Pursue the ‘Collusion’ Probe – Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review
The War on Asian Americans – Abe Greenwald, Commentary Magazine
The Facebook Farce – Matthew Continetti, Commentary Magazine
Iran has been caught causing terror in Europe once again – Kyle Orton, The New York Post
The ‘Green New Deal’ isn’t just ambitious — it’s insane – Rich Lowry, The New York Post
‘Assisted suicide’ turns vulnerable people into disposable ones – Kristen Hanson, The New York Post
The American ‘Zionist’ assault on Israel: Less hubris and more interest in why Israelis think what they do would go a long way to helping this relationship survive – Daniel Gordis, The Times of Israel
We Must Stand Strong Against the Men Who Would Be Kings – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
I Am Pro-Life. Don’t Call Me Anti-Abortion. That kind of language allows critics to dismiss me and fellow pro-lifers as single-issue obsessives. – Charles C. Camosy, Mr. Camosy is a board member of Democrats for Life of America, The New York Times
Leave the Children Out of It – Alexandra Desanctis, National Review
How Cities Make Money by Fining the Poor: In many parts of America, like Corinth, Miss., judges are locking up defendants who can’t pay — sometimes for months at a time. – Matthew Shaer, The New York Times Magazine
Solitude and Leadership: If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts – William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar
What Driving Can Teach Us About Living: How we respond to the rules of the road offers insight into being human. – Rachel Cusk, The New York Times Magazine
How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation: I couldn’t figure out why small, straightforward tasks on my to-do list felt so impossible. The answer is both more complex and far simpler than I expected. – Anne Helen Petersen, Buzzfeed News
Satire piece of the week
‘1984’ Moved To Current Affairs Section – The Babylon Bee
U.S.—According to a representative from the American Booksellers Association as well as a representative from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, retail shops and online book resellers will now be asked to stock George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 exclusively in the “Current Affairs” section of their retail locations and online storefronts.
The reclassification came as a wave of worldview censorship and privacy violations by large tech companies have come to light, as well as the House of Representatives recent vote to renew NSA surveillance programs, though factors like the Trump administration’s redefinition of truth and facts also reportedly played a part.
Thanks for reading!