Welcome to the 19th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! We’re 32 days out from the General Election! We have two debates under our belt with two more to go for Trump and Clinton. Early voting is about to begin in earnest for most states. Both campaigns are watching the returns come in with great interest trying to see where they can deploy last minute resources. And with Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coastlines, we have a potential news cycle breaker on the horizon. And that’s where I’m starting today…
Hurricane Matthew comes at nearly the same time as 2012’s Hurricane Sandy
As I write this, Hurricane Matthew is a category 4 storm and bearing down on the Florida coastline. If you are reading this and are in the path of this hurricane, I hope you’re taking precautions. I’ve personally ridden out a Category 3 hurricane and that was dangerous enough. Hurricanes are nothing to treat lightly. Politically, the timing of Matthew is instructive. We’ve been in this position before. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy, the second most costly hurricane in US history after Katrina, hit the east coast at the end of October. 24 states were impacted, New York and New Jersey being the hardest hit.
Two major themes emerged from Sandy, aside from the lost lives and property. First, the storm allowed President Obama to appear Presidential by bringing aid to disaster-struck communities. As President, he was able to oversee FEMA operations. This provided a boost to his approval ratings, sending him above the key mark of 50% by the end of October. It also gave him a boost in polls, after he struggled and lost ground in the first debate. In what was largely a tied race to start October became an Obama lead by the end of the month. Second, this is also the point where we got the infamous Chris Christie “hug” of Obama. Which gave Obama the appearance of bipartisanship heading into election day.
We don’t know how Matthew will impact the race yet. Neither candidate is positioned to use the hurricane to their advantage quite like Obama 2012. But this will give both candidates a test on appearing Presidential before the American people. Americans watch these events and how their potential leaders react. How each reacts to the swing state of Florida will speak as loudly as the next Presidential debate. It may even become a debate topic. The goal for both candidates will be to use this event to boost their underwater approval ratings (like/dislike). Boosting that number is a key way to raise the ceiling on the number of votes a candidate can expect to receive.
State of the Race: Post VP Debate
Two debates down, I am *amazed* that Obamacare, which is legitimately struggling, hasn’t been brought up once.
The first rule of Vice Presidential debates is this: VP debates don’t matter.
The biggest historical home-run moment of any VP debate was the 1988 VP debate between Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Republican Senator Dan Quayle. In defending his young age and lack of experience on the campaign trail, Quayle started comparing himself to Jack Kennedy in stump speeches. When Quayle fell back on that same stump speech point in the VP debate, Bentsen delivered his now famous retort: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” The response was considered an instant classic and decisively won the debate for Democrats. Quayle’s inexperience was underlined and his performance in the debate has been widely mocked ever since.
George H. W. Bush and Dan Quayle went on to win 40 states, 426 electoral votes (including California), with 53% of the popular vote. It was a landslide victory over Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen. Democrats were soundly defeated. In short: the most impressive knockout punch thrown in a VP debate didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the overall race. Nate Silver joked that the winner of the VP debate could expect a 0.006% boost in the polls. Americans don’t vote for the Vice President. They vote for the President.
So how should we view the Pence-Kaine VP debate? Most evidence indicates a fairly decisive Pence victory. The problem for Pence and Kaine: 40% of Americans don’t know them. The problem for Trump is that this doesn’t move the election for him. Vice Presidents are worth about a 2 point polling boost in their home states, and that that’s exactly what Trump and Clinton are getting from their running mates. And that lack of movement hurts Trump tremendously right now. As Nate Silver observed this week:
State polls we’ve gotten over the past 3 days are starting to look like early August or June, i.e. when Clinton had a BIG lead nationally.
Each of these outcomes now about equally likely: 1. Clinton landslide (8+ point win) 2. Obamaish win (4-7 points) 3. Narrow Clinton win 4. Trump win
Trump has managed to undo about 5 weeks of steady gains on Clinton in about 10 days. What should be a positive news cycle with Pence’s debate win is turning against Trump. The early reports said Trump was “frustrated” and “jealous” of Pence’s victory. Trump’s advisors are telling him to imitate Pence, only adding to Trump’s jealousy. He continues a sexist feud with a former Miss Universe contestant. And he’s trying to spin news stories about his tax returns. This political malpractice has reopened challenges from Trump’s right flank. 30 former GOP Congressmen released a letter saying they refused to support Trump. Even his own loud supporters are having doubts. With the prominent and highly vocal Trump supporter John Nolte melting down on Twitter and blasting Trump in conservative media for the continual miscues.
Evan McMullin has used this opening to attack Trump and pull conservative and centrist voters. Aside from the 2% national result just six weeks into the race, McMullin has pulled even with Gary Johnson in Utah. Together, the two of them are combining for 25% of the overall vote in Utah. McMullin has seized this momentum and pushed harder in Utah, unveiling an array of policy proposals and ideas. He challenged Jill Stein and Gary Johnson to a debate, only Stein has accepted. McMullin has also been renting Mitt Romney’s email list in order to raise money. As I said at the beginning of his campaign, McMullin needed to pull Romney’s donors. That pitch is beginning in earnest right now. McMullin’s new Vice President running mate, Mindy Finn, will help in that push as a former GOP operative herself.
The state of the race is this: Clinton has returned to a decisive lead over Trump. We’ve seen a return of the undisciplined Trump campaign at the worst possible time. He’s losing with white voters that Romney won easily. McMullin and Johnson are gaining ground on both Trump and Clinton. The momentum Trump had in September is gone and he’s in dire need of a news cycle flip. Clinton is seeing good results from data analysis of early voting:
Iowa was the first of the battlegrounds to start in-person voting last Thursday. Of the 39,435 people who have cast ballots, 58 percent were Democrats and 25 percent were Republicans – but that was much closer than in 2012.
In North Carolina, buoyed by strong voter interest, Clinton appears to hold an edge with Democratic ballots submitted so far currently leading Republican ones, 40 to 35 percent. At this point in 2012, Republicans had opened a wide lead over Democrats in ballots, due in part to strong support among older whites.
For 2016, Clinton officials pointed in particular to a 13 percent increase in African-American and a 40 percent jump in Latino mail-in ballot requests. To them, it’s a hopeful sign that non-whites and young people will be engaged this election, part of a shift in campaign strategy to more strongly mobilize less reliable, sporadic voters first. Still, the campaign said it will have a much clearer picture once in-person voting begins in the state on Oct. 20.
Similarly in Florida, absentee balloting began only Tuesday, but already more than 2.5 million people – nearly one-third of the total number of votes cast in 2012 – have requested ballots. In-person voting doesn’t begin until Oct. 24, so state Democrats are now strongly urging voters to vote by mail – including in a letter from President Barack Obama paid for by the party.
There is still time for Trump to turn this campaign around. The impossible can happen. But the polls must close the gap. When Brexit won the vote in Britain, there was a distinct tightening of the polls. Trump is losing ground at the worst time in the campaign. He needs to flip the script in the next debate. If not, his problems will only be amplified in the closing weeks of the campaign. But if you look at his current debate prep having meltdowns in front of friendly crowds and handpicked questions, we’re in for a bad second debate from Trump:
And while Sunday’s debate will stretch for 90 minutes without a bathroom break, Trump bolted from his town hall in Sandown after barely more than one-third of that time.
Trump’s campaign did place a two-minute countdown clock in front of their candidate on Thursday. He repeatedly blew past that time limit anyway.
“I said forget debate prep. I mean, give me a break,” Trump said at one point. “Do you really think that Hillary Clinton is debate-prepping for three or four days. Hillary Clinton is resting, okay?”
Yet even without the duress of an opponent, independent moderators and anything but softball questions from supporters, Trump struggled to drive any type of cohesive message, either about himself as a change agent or Clinton’s shortcomings.
Instead, he whacked at CNN’s John King, CNBC’s John Harwood, polling analyst Nate Silver and Republican Sen. Mark Kirk. He digressed about how Hispanics in Nevada would rather be called Latinos. He kept complaining about his microphone at the last debate.
“Doing well, doing well,” Carr said after a few questions, offering Trump encouragement.
“I like this audience,” Trump said. “I like this audience.”
GOP Prospects in the House and Senate look better with each passing week
Republican House leadership is more confident it will hold its majority position after November:
House Republicans are beginning to spread the message that their electoral losses might be in the single digits. For the last few months, most Republicans pegged losses between 10 and 15 seats, but in recent days, GOP lawmakers and aides have raised the bar, saying they don’t see much evidence of anything approaching a wave and they could limit their losses to around seven seats.
Keeping a House majority would give Speaker Ryan more room to handle bad policies by Trump or Clinton. It also gives the GOP room to grow in 2018 when the Senate race shifts to their favor. Instead of being on the defensive across the map, they’ll be on the offensive.
The Senate race for 2016 is far tighter, with the GOP averaging a 3-4 point lead across the battleground states. As I’ve been noting, Democrats have largely ceded ground in Ohio and Florida, hoping for miracles while moving resources elsewhere. FiveThirtyEight had a great piece on the current map:
Of course, it’s possible we’ll wake up on Nov. 9 and find that one party swept all these close races. That has happened before, including in 2014, when Republicans beat their polls in virtually every battleground state. So if there is a polling error in one of these states, we’d be more likely to expect an error in that direction across the board. It’s quite possible, therefore, that Democrats will win all six of these tight races plus the two in which they have significant leads and end up with a net gain of seven seats. Indeed, about 20 percent of the time in our polls-plus simulations, Democrats net a gain of at least seven seats in the Senate. The reverse is also possible; we have Democrats netting two seats or fewer nearly 25 percent of the time.
This year, however, could be different. If you look at the races where the polls are really close, the states that are up for grabs are pretty dissimilar. You have a New England state in New Hampshire, a Mid-Atlantic state in Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt state in Indiana, a Southern state in North Carolina, a sort-of-Midwestern state in Missouri, and a western state in Nevada. You have a state with a lot of black voters in North Carolina, a state with a lot of Latino voters in Nevada, and a state with a lot of white voters in New Hampshire. Of this group of states, New Hampshire is the whitest (which helps the Republican), but its white voters are the most likely to have a college degree (which helps the Democrat). Nevada is the most diverse state, but its white voters are the least least likely to have a degree. And white voters with and without a college degree are voting very differently at the top of the ticket. The point is that we shouldn’t necessarily expect these states to move together in the final month of the campaign.
The big fights between Democrat and Republican Senate PAC’s are in North Carolina, Nevada, and Missouri. Indiana is also proving to be a hot race. Many of the GOP candidates are outpolling Trump in most of these states. It remains to be seen if split ballots will happen this year, but there are growing indications people will be splitting their Presidential and Senate preferences.
The White House and Clinton campaign coordinated efforts and communications throughout 2015 and 2016 about the fallout from her illegal email server. – WSJ
Indiana State Police are expanding a voter fraud investigation into 57 of Indiana’s 92 counties. – Associated Press
Former Communications Director for Jeb Bush: The Conservative Case Against Trump. – The Ringer
“The final humiliation.” Video is posted of Ted Cruz phone banking for Trump. Internet mocks Cruz relentlessly. – The Hill
Megyn Kelly criticizes Trump for only giving interviews on “safe space” TV Shows like Hannity. – Mediaite
Hannity then attacked Megyn Kelly for speaking negatively about Trump. – Mediaite
Which led FoxNews PR to freak out and have Hannity and Kelly pose for a picture saying they were friends. Worth noting, Fox wants Kelly to re-up her contract. Good odds they forced Hannity to bury the hatchet with Ailes out. – Mediaite
Clinton’s lead is becoming safer as more undecided voters choose her over Trump. – FiveThirtyEight
Clarence Thomas is largely ignored in the new museum for African-American history. Anita Hill is given large coverage. – Circa
Politico is ignoring how Jewish conservatives have opposed Trump in order to drive a race narrative. – The Federalist
Russian aggression towards the US is becoming more pronounced
As the negotiations between the US and Russia fell apart last week over the Syrian ceasefire, Russia upped its antagonism towards the US. The major news was Putin withdrawing Russia from nuclear treaties:
Starting in the last years of the Cold War, Russia and the United States signed a series of accords to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals, agreements that have so far survived intact despite a souring of U.S.-Russian relations under Putin.
But on Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending an agreement, concluded in 2000, which bound the two sides to dispose of surplus plutonium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons. The Kremlin said it was taking that action in response to unfriendly acts by Washington. It made the announcement shortly before Washington said it was suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.
The plutonium accord is not the cornerstone of post-Cold War U.S.-Russia disarmament, and the practical implications from the suspension will be limited. But the suspension, and the linkage to disagreements on other issues, carries powerful symbolism.
“Putin’s decree could signal that other nuclear disarmament cooperation deals between the United States and Russia are at risk of being undermined,” Stratfor, a U.S.-based consultancy, said in a commentary. “The decision is likely an attempt to convey to Washington the price of cutting off dialogue on Syria and other issues.”
The move comes as Russia has engaged in a proxy war against the US in Syria, bombing civilians and US backed forces in Syria. It’s worth noting here that Russia’s decision to pull out from this treaty comes as high level anti-nuclear forces in the US have been arguing for the the White House to adopt a “no first use policy” for nuclear weapons. Defense experts strenuously warned that such a move would embolden nations like Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea.
This isn’t the only instance of Russian malfeasance. The State Department is investigating incidents where the Russians have drugged low ranking US diplomats in Russia:
The U.S. government official told RFE/RL that U.S. investigators concluded that the two Americans — a man and a woman — were slipped a so-called date rape drug, most likely at a bar in the St. Petersburg hotel where they were staying.
One of the Americans was incapacitated and brought to a Western medical clinic in the city for treatment, and to have blood and tissue samples taken in order to determine precisely what caused the sudden illness. However, while the person was at the clinic, the electricity suddenly went out and the staff was unable to obtain the necessary tissue samples, the official said.
The individual was then flown out of the country for further medical treatment, but by then it was too late to gather proper samples, the official said.
Because the U.S. officials in attendance at the conference were not top-level State or Justice officials, the State Department decided to take a quiet approach to the incident.A formal note of protest was lodged, the official said, but Russian authorities asked for evidence that the person had been drugged, and the Americans lacked samples.
When investigators sought timesheet records for personnel working at the hotel where the U.S. officials had been staying, the hotel managers said there were none for that particular period, the official added — a claim that also raised suspicions.
But poisoning isn’t where things end. We’ve had specific incidents of Russian defectors being poisoned and killed in the US. And while the US is dealing with bad actions by Russia, our NATO allies on the border with Russia are growing nervous that US military presence lacks the ability to push Russian forces back.
Keep in mind with these stories, leftist lobbying groups in America want to reduce our nuclear arsenal and allege our upcoming missile programs unnecessarily provoke Russia and China. This argument should be roundly rejected. Russia is a bad actor in the international community. Putin should be treated as nothing more than a tyrannical dictator. Heavy sanctions should be levied against Russia. He chooses to be these things. American defense programs do not make him take these actions. The US should stop pretending Russia is a European ally:
Traditionally, the West has been accused of exoticizing the East, but in a globalized age, where the speed and volume of information create an illusion of intimacy with far-away people and places, the trend has been to downplay differences. Moreover, the reigning paradigm of universal human rights has made the acknowledgment of cultural distance between countries sensitive to the point of taboo. In the case of Russia, the tendency to minimize differences is further reinforced by the whiteness of much of its leadership and its faithful imitation of Western legislative, judicial, and executive institutions. It would be hard to imagine Donald Trump suggesting that Chinese President Xi Jinping become his “best friend” or German Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy and Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel taking time out to reminisce with General Sisi of Egypt, as both have done with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mistaking Russia for Europe is a gift to its president in other ways. Because popular knowledge about Russia is ultimately superficial and limited, Putin is free to craft an image of himself abroad as a decisive, steadfast father to the nation at a time of growing fragility in Western democracies. He owes this success not just to his media savvy but also to the credibility that derives from belonging to the exclusive club of Western leaders. The ranks of the American and European far right do not admire him simply because he is illiberal or because he subsidizes some of their movements, but precisely because they see him as that rare animal—a strong, specifically European leader. If all it took to win respect was presiding over a massive army and a weak economy, then it would be North Korea’s Kim Jong Un being courted by not just one but two US presidential candidates. …
The irony in all of this is that just as the West erroneously projects itself onto Russia, Putin and his adherents project their convictions onto the West. For them, any gesture short of concession is a smokescreen designed to cynically conceal the true aim of subjugating Russia. In their minds, earnestness must be a tactic, everything is ideological, and politics is a zero-sum game. The result is that Russia responds to actions, while the West still trusts in the power of words, even if the only measure to have had any demonstrable effect on Russian aggression has been the sanctions enacted after the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia must be forced to act right according to international laws and norms. Allowing Russia to continue to destabilize and influence the world endangers us all. This aggression must be checked with firm American action. Not words.
White House policy towards Syria continues to be FUBAR
After initially reporting the the Obama administration was considering air strikes against Assad in Syria, military officials began leaking the White House was shutting down any air strikes or intervention in the Syrian city of Aleppo. The administration is instead countering and saying its Syrian policy is working because ISIS is losing ground. This stance is leaving Pentagon officials exasperated:
Proponents of doing more to stop Russian and regime advances have argued that if eastern Aleppo falls, which has appeared increasingly likely since the collapse of ceasefire talks Sept. 19, the campaign could prove a template for the Assad forces to use in other parts of Syria. Aleppo could be a formula for regime takeover of the whole country.
Moreover, the administration would be leaving the next president an emboldened Putin in Syria.
If eastern Aleppo fails, the regime and Russia could start attacking hospitals, bakeries, food and water supplies in the suburbs of Damascus as they have done in Aleppo, a key city in the five-year civil war.
In a bid to reclaim a major urban area, the Assad regime has used bunker buster bombs—designed to pierce hardened, underground military targets—in addition to incendiary weapons and chemical weapons, to siege and starve civilians out of the city.
The result has been a devastating assault on the cities, leaving thousands starving. According to the World Health Organization, as recently as the week between September 23 and September 30, 338 people were killed in eastern Aleppo, including 106 children.
The strategy Assad is using in Syria could be used by Russian forces to take over further areas in the Ukraine and Georgia. While continuing to rattle cages in the Baltics. These creeping land grabs will also embolden states like Iran to become more active in the Middle East. In other words: Putin and Assad are writing the blueprint for pushing the US around in the region. And with a lame duck President disinterested in intervening, he’s already giving interviews over his future memoirs, Putin, Assad, and Iran have free reign in the Middle East.
As a reminder, this is a choice by the President. Congress is trying to give the President options. He is choosing to allow dead Syrians to pile up, Russian malfeasance to go unabated, and war crimes be committed by Assad. He can blame no one for this choice. Myopically focusing on ISIS is focusing on a speck in the region while ignoring the boulder. ISIS is not the only problem in the Middle East. He entered office seeking to repair relations with Arab countries. He’s leaving them in worst condition than they’ve been since President Jimmy Carter. His choices on Syria will be remembered by history as to why America lost influence and power in this region.
The Gathering Nuclear Storm: Lulled to believe nuclear catastrophe died with the Cold War, America is blind to rising dragons – WSJ
The Pentagon is reporting that Afghani soldiers in the US who traveled here for training are disappearing. They leave the military base and never return. 44 such soldiers have vanished without a trace in the US. – RadioFreeEurope
The Taliban have opened up new offensives in Afghanistan while the Afghani government begs for support in Europe – The Washington Post
VP Debate: Pence is right. Clinton & Obama tried to negotiate an Iraq troop extension but failed. Bush admin always anticipated such an extension. That failure created the vacuum of power that helped created the Iraq mess today and gave room for ISIS to grow. – Foreign Policy & Condoleezza Rice & Josh Rogin
Has a Russian mole in the NSA finally been arrested? With another defense contractor arrested it appears so… – The Observer
The White House is sequestering and hiding documents related to the Iran Deal and the side deal paying cash to the Iranians for the release of hostages – The Washington Free Beacon
Juno, the new challenger to Uber, shows how the free market works
Uber is the primary company people use to when discussing the “gig economy.” The gig economy is an employment model where people take jobs as they come along, but never work as an employee for a company. Their employment ends with the “gig.” Uber drivers work when they want and take passengers as they show up. Liberals have long attacked Uber and tried to shove it out of cities. One of the reasons they dislike Uber is because the “drivers are mistreated.” But, instead of trying to regulate companies like Uber out of business, other businesses are poaching Uber drivers and offering better benefits. In other words, instead of regulation, Uber’s competitors are correcting those problems, offering better services and prices:
Juno came about when its four co-founders realized that they had a lot of money and not a lot to do. It was October, 2014, and they had just sold their previous company, Viber, which was a competitor to Skype that allowed people to make calls and send texts by mobile phone for free, to a Japanese Internet company for nine hundred million dollars. The only question was what to embark on next. They were obviously “too young to retire,” in the words of Talmon Marco, Juno’s C.E.O. “It’s going to be really boring,” he said to himself at the time, contemplating a future of leisure at the age of forty-one. “We’re gonna sit by the beach all day?”
They briefly considered the online-lending business, but there was no obvious hole for them to fill. There was a lot of negative press at the time about Uber. There had been accusations of several hit-and-run accidents involving its drivers; lawsuits had been filed over the company’s privacy standards; and Uber and its C.E.O., Travis Kalanick, were fighting with regulators around the world over the company’s aggressive approach to entering new markets. There were complaints about Uber’s “surge” policy of charging more when demand was higher. What really stood out to Marco and his colleagues, though, was how disaffected the company’s drivers seemed to be. After launching, in 2010, and wooing drivers to use its network, Uber started cutting the prices it charged riders in some markets and increasing the commission the company took on each ride. In January, 2014, Uber announced that it was reducing fares in sixteen cities, in some places by as much as thirty-four per cent. Partly, this was an attempt to put taxi companies out of business; even public transportation seemed to be under threat when Uber argued that it could be cheaper for a couple of friends to share an Uber than to ride the bus. The company was also engaged in a price war with Lyft. Many people driving for Uber had acquired new cars and were making car payments out of their Uber earnings; suddenly, their incomes were going down. Uber was increasingly popular, but there was still a sense that the company was at war with its own workforce.
Marco and his partners—Igor Magazinik, the company’s chief technology officer; Ofer Samocha, who runs the company’s servers and infrastructure; and Sunny Marueli, the “chief anarchist” and “super-brilliant guy who can do anything” (Marco’s description)—started surveying the driving-people-around market more closely. Most of the drivers working for Uber were also working for Lyft, as well as for any number of smaller competitors. The drivers seemed to have little loyalty to any one company, and the companies—which weren’t offering them health insurance, or even the promise of work beyond what they were doing for the next ten minutes—had no leverage to demand exclusivity.
Marco suggests that Juno was an opportunity to counter an injustice in the world: “As the mantra goes, ‘I was young and I needed the money.’ Well, we weren’t as young, and we did not need the money. We were not struggling to make it happen at any cost. We did not struggle to put food on the table. So we had the luxury of choosing to do something that was socially responsible.” From another perspective, though, Juno was simply targeting what the partners reckoned was Uber’s one vulnerability—what a hacker would call an “exploit.”
This is, in a nutshell, how free markets work. If you don’t like a service, you can create your own service and solve it. All the problems taxi services had for decades are being solved by Uber. And the problems workers have working for Uber or Lyft are being solved by startups providing services for drivers. Not one ounce of regulation is needed. These companies are filling a niche that needed filling. And they’re fixing problems faster than any committee debate in Congress or local city council. Instead of banning these services like some cities, they should be welcomed with open arms.
The new concern isn’t “Too Big to Fail,” it’s Banks too weak to survive. – Marketwatch
94 million Americans are outside the labor force – and that number is expected to rise. – WSJ
America’s quiet catastrophe: millions of idle, unemployed men. – George Will
Global debt hits a staggering $152 trillion. – The Fiscal Times
US debt passes $19 trillion. – CNN Money
The hysterical critics of Wells-Fargo need a reality check. – RealClearMarkets
What I’m reading
“Populism, II: Populares & populists: On the proto-populist movements of the Roman Republic” by Barry Strauss, The New Criterion
A few weeks ago I posted the first part of this series in The New Criterion by George H. Nash, discussing the intellectual history of conservatives in America. Nash traced the history of conservatism and how it interacted with the populism of Trump. This is the followup by Barry Strauss, who traces the long history of populism in human history, focusing specifically on populist movements in the Roman Empire. Like Nash’s piece, this is must read and covers considerable ground. A key section from this essay:
And so we come to populism. When an elite is corrupt, narrow-minded, and grudging; when it fails to recognize the legitimate claims of the people; when its injustice and misbehavior is not merely a rhetorical trope but a fact, then it is legitimate, indeed necessary, for the people to challenge it. In an ideal world, the challenge will be legal, constitutional, and respectful. It will root its claims not in the brute power of the people but in a philosophically defensible principle of justice. Far from engaging in demagoguery, its rhetoric will be as polite as the table manners of the guests reclining on the couches in a dining room of a Roman villa. We don’t live in an ideal world, however, any more than Cicero’s myopic and rigidly principled contemporary Cato the Younger lived in Plato’s Republic—Rome in its turmoil and corruption was more like the Sewer of Romulus. We no longer live in a world run by America’s founders, those eighteenth-century gentlemen in powdered wigs; actually, we never did, because those same gentlemen skewered each other in print and murdered each other in duels.
Modern populists, like ancient populares, are likely to be vulgar, angry, and confrontational. Such tactics are regrettable, but at times they are necessary. Principled populists will limit any resort to class conflict, will aim at the rule of law and not at mob rule, and will try to compromise with the elite rather than engage in revolution. Or, more likely, nowadays, when everything’s a revolution, they will talk radical change but strike a bargain. Shrewd populists will want to adjust the regime, not destroy it.
Wise elites, for their part, will take populist movements as a wake-up call. Instead of merely denouncing populism as false consciousness, bigotry, resentment, bad manners, mental illness, peevishness, superstition, or class warfare, and instead of adopting a “Problems? What problems?” attitude when faced with protests, they will inquire as to whether genuine grievances might underlie populism’s appeal. Then, having recognized human suffering, they will try to ameliorate it in turn. In that way they will do the right thing while also saving their political skins.
The problem of populism is the problem of elitism. The more just and astute the elite is, the less angry the people are. The more the elite treats politics like a big tent, in which no one should be left out, the less likely they are to face populist challenges.
Quote of the Week
In Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. delved into scripture verses on being “wise as a serpent, but innocent as doves.” King described how this meant we needed tough-minded people with soft hearts. The entire piece is worth reading. This is his warning to America:
There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
Thanks for reading!