Good Friday Morning! We’re still in a government shutdown as I write this — the cable news show timers are continually rolling. I’ve maintained, for a while now, that the closure doesn’t matter politically in the long term. I still think that’s mostly true because it’s too far out for these things to matter electorally.
However, it could start mattering more if the shutdown continues long enough to force federal employees to seek new employment. If people have to start finding new jobs en masse and we see a sustained surge in unemployment benefits, that could create a long-term resentment politically that could matter later on. Both RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight show Trump’s approval rating plummetting since the shutdown began, people blame him and Republicans for this issue. If we end up in a sustained closure, which I still doubt we’ll see, that will encourage a primary challenge to him for 2020. Those challenges usually don’t succeed, but if Trump gets especially weakened from the shutdown along with new issues like House Democrat investigations — the primaries could matter. All the decisions on primary challengers will start getting made over the summer, and historically speaking, challenges are the norm, not the exception.
Conventional wisdom in DC is that Trump will end up declaring a national emergency to build a wall at the border, knowing that it will get mired in the courts. This plan will allow Congress to freely pass funding to reopen the government without using any wall language. Both sides will declare victory. This scenario also allows Trump to run on the issue of the wall for the next couple of years.
The theory is based on an old post over at Ace of Spades HQ called, “The MacGuffinization of Politics.” It’s a brilliant post that, if you apply it to the current news, points out that none of this news cycle is about the wall, but instead about Trump. It’s about making sure Trump comes out of this as the hero — not whether the wall gets built.
It’s a good theory overall and may happen, though I hope it doesn’t because having Presidents declaring random emergencies to achieve policy victories is both constitutionally dubious and politically dangerous. I’m more of the opinion Pelosi is working Trump over to beat him down enough to give him an off-ramp eventually. People wrongly assumed her ploy with the State of the Union was about trolling Trump (Trump firing back at her over the plane was trolling). Pelosi is establishing the narrative over Trump’s SOTU by having people disagree with the first line: “The state of our union is strong.” It’s hard to say that with a straight face in the middle of a shutdown. Pelosi is waving a red cape, like a matador, expecting Trump to run at it. He’s already losing the polling battle over the wall; she wants him to lose the SOTU too.
If she lowers him enough, that gives her the chance of either making him a lame duck or offer him an off-ramp to achieve legislative victories she wants. If she provides Trump an off-ramp, then Democrats are shifting their focus from Trump to attacking McConnell and the Senate. Having Trump and Senate Republicans take the blame is more lucrative long-term for Democrats. If Pelosi can get Trump to attack Senate Republicans for her in the process — she’ll be thrilled.
This week I’m covering the shifting norms we see in social media and how institutions have given way to social media influencers. Links follow.
One story is breaking late as I write: BuzzfeedNews has two journalists reporting: “President Trump Directed His Attorney To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project.” The key passages are at the beginning:
President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.
And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
One of the reporters is Jason Leopold, who I’ve read in the past on FOIA matters and other stories. He’s usually excellent and well-sourced. The entire story is set up on them having two law enforcement sources. I find this odd because Mueller’s team hasn’t leaked a thing to the media so far. The press has never known what Mueller was going to do until he did it.
If this evidence exists as the sources describe, then what they’re describing is obstruction of justice by Trump. He directed a person to lie under oath, and there’s physical evidence proving that point. Is it enough for impeachment? Probably not (there’s nowhere near enough votes in the Senate). The Democrat’s base will go nuts over the proposition though — see my column above for the Conservative Institute.
This story’s importance rides on the integrity of the sources. As with all things Russia Investigation — keep an eye on it.
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.
As you follow the 2020 Democratic Party field form, watch the issue of impeachment. It’s the one issue where, like Trump in 2015, no one in the establishment wants to talk about it, and the entire base wants to focus on it. It sounds bizarre, a Presidential candidate running on the issue of impeachment — but it would allow a leftist candidate to differentiate themselves in a wide-open field where things like Medicare for All and taxing the rich don’t make you unique. Impeachment plays to the base and punches from the left.
The growing use of surrogacy in America and the world needs a spotlight shined on it. It dehumanizes women and has created an international problem of abusing women in other countries.
Our shifting loyalties: From institutions to persons
I was reading one of Jessi Hempel’s new columns on LinkedIn, “Mark Zuckerberg’s Toughest Choice,” (subscribe to her if you’re on the platform, she’s excellent). She wrote a fascinating column on how Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s personal posts morphed into corporate marketing to support Facebook’s collapsing image. The following general observation was particularly on point:
In short, our trust in institutions–businesses, governments, the media–had begun collapsing. This is a fundamental shift in American culture that the internet has kicked into overdrive. The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, which has surveyed tens of thousands of people for the past 18 years, found that trust fell again last year in all four of the institutions it examines–government, media, business, and nongovernmental organizations.
In place of institutions, people have placed their trust in other people. Witness the rise of influencers on social media platforms. Ask yourself, do you believe in the Democratic party, or do you believe in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ability to change Congress with the gusto she preaches on Instagram? Do you put your faith in Fox News, or do you follow Sean Hannity? Do you believe in Tesla, or do you have faith in Elon Musk?
In building Facebook, Zuckerberg intuited this shift earlier than most. Though Facebook didn’t cause it, it has certainly served as an accelerant. Consider that on this platform, the people are the nodes–the social graph–through which information travels. Businesses and other institutions get pages, to be visited or ignored. So of course it stands to reason that for Facebook to maintain trust in this environment, it would need a relatable individual to be a stand-in for the company—a recognizable, authentic voice who users felt they knew. A “friend.” It would need a Zuckerberg.
I think she’s dead on accurate here. We’ve replaced institutions with people because we no longer trust any of the institutions out there. I wrote about this phenomenon partially in the past, focusing on it through the lens of Robert Putnam’s classic book, Bowling Alone.
But Hempel raises some interesting thoughts here, that we’ve replaced our institutional trust with people who have cultivated large followings. In our culture and society, this collapse has happened for a while, and it seems as our leadership is becoming more focused around various types of cults of personality (see: Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Beto O’Rourke, and Barack Obama).
But Hempel is right in pointing out the cults of personality pre-date the politicians. While we’ve always had various moments and kinds of people with cults of personality, we also had institutions to counter them. We no longer have those institutions, or rather we don’t trust the institutions we do have to question our choices.
The ancient Greek historian, Polybius, believed in a process called anacyclosis. With it, he described the rise and fall of governments in cycles. One form of government devolved into another, his cycle looked like: 1. monarchy, 2. kingship, 3. tyranny, 4. aristocracy, 5. oligarchy, 6. democracy, and 7. ochlocracy.
The broad point he made was that the rule of one (monarchy/tyranny), descended into the rule of a few, (aristocracy/oligarchy), and the rule of the few descended into the rule of the many (democracy/mob rule). And from there, the cycle repeated because out of mob rule a single ruler could always emerge victoriously. Polybius applied this to government’s, but I’m beginning to think in the internet age, we’re witnessing this happen to every aspect of society.
Every primary sector of our politics, culture, and communal life is getting ruled by a form of anacyclosis. Social media influencers are nothing more than demagogues rising from the fray of a mob rule in the culture, media, religion, government, and other spheres. And because the mob can feed whatever desires it wants, it can raise single rulers in these areas to feed its desires.
Those tyrants, in turn, use their new-found celebrity fame to either enrich themselves or push their agendas. Internet mobs are the new puritan class for these tyrants, who use their social media weight to attack non-believers.
And if every single party of society is run by various types of demagogues, relying on mob rule in their sphere, then it’s no surprise the government would eventually go along for the ride. And yes, I do know that America is a republic. But we’re a republic as long as the people keep it one. If we shift towards democracy, the constitution will only hold as long as people adhere to it.
In anacyclosis, demagogues were always the primary way democracies, and mob rule ended. Someone would rise and squash those forms of government to solidify themselves. The only way to prevent outcomes like this is to reinvigorate local communities and institutions. Without those, there’s nothing to check the rise of tyrants.
Links of the week
The Odd Way We Announce for President Now: The challenge, pressure and opportunity of being a female candidate in 2020. – Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal
How Clickbaiting and Ratings Mongering Cuts against Liberal Media Bias – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
A Lawsuit Claims Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Retaliated Against A Staffer Who Planned To Sue The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Over An Alleged Rape: The woman, identified by a pseudonym, claimed in a lawsuit that she was raped by a former employee of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She says Jackson Lee fired her as she was preparing to pursue legal claims over the alleged assault. – BuzzfeedNews
Making It: As Norman Podhoretz turns 89 today, he looks back on the long journey from Brooklyn to Manhattan – Lee Smith, Tablet Magazine
Steve King couldn’t be more wrong about ‘Western civilization’ – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Useless Knowledge Begets New Horizons: Fundamental discoveries don’t always have practical uses, but they have soul-saving applications. – Bret Stephens, The New York Times
Was The Facebook ’10 Year Challenge’ A Way To Mine Data For Facial Recognition AI? – Nicole Martin, Forbes
Millennials: A Lost Generation Without the Booze and Jazz – Charles F. McElwee III, Intellectual Takeout
Why Ex-Churchgoers Flocked to Trump – Timothy P. Carney, Intellectual Takeout
Wall-to-wall politics – Jay Caruso, The Washington Examiner Magazine
Satire piece of the week
U.S. — As society becomes increasingly dominated by nerds, hipsters, and computer programmers, people have fixated on what they think is our biggest problem: masculinity.
“It’s just toxic and causes nothing but problems,” said Elisha Mcewen, a vegan activist and no threat whatsoever to spiders or tight jar lids. “I was sharing my feelings on masculinity with other men in my drum circle, and we all agreed that if we ever encountered masculinity, we would run far away.”
Masculinity is said to have in the past been the cause of such things as violence, war, bullying, defeating the Nazis, carving society out of untamed wilderness, and landing men on the moon, but now masculinity is being driven out of society to make sure nothing like those things ever happens again. However, there are reports that masculinity still lurks out there, which is a source of anxiety to modern men and causes them to have upset tummies.
Thanks for reading!