Good Friday Morning, except me. I worked late into the night cranking out this newsletter, a post-debate column, and a reaction podcast to the second and final presidential debate. The podcast is linked below (episode 61), or if you’re subscribed, you should have that in your new downloads before I even click send on this issue.
Overall, the debate was better than the first, Trump scored a lot of points. But whatever I think of the debate matters less now, because voting is fully underway and the capacity for a major event to shake up the race is shrinking fast. If an event is going to topple this race in Trump’s favor, Trump needs it ASAP.
Biden’s lead in the RealClearPolitics average is falling a bit. Biden topped out with a 10.3 point lead on October 11, and as of the moment I’m writing this, it’s a 7.9 point lead, which dropped to around 7.4 points earlier in the week. Gravity has pulled this race back into the 6-8 point range it wants to be in for now, and the question for Trump is: can pull it closer? That remains to be seen. The debate was a good one for Trump, but usually, when people see Trump, they dislike him. Trump really needs Biden to dominate the news and events that close out this campaign.
Speaking of events, that’s what I’m talking about today and how those have dominated the four years of Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. And also, who I voted for since I did that this week. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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ACB, originalism, and the left’s war on language and meaning – The Conservative Institute.
It’s crunch time for Trump – The Conservative Institute.
How Events Shape Presidencies and Voting
Mowbray was in a state of great excitement. It was Saturday evening: the mills were closed; the news had arrived of the arrest of the Delegate.
“Here’s a go!” said Dandy Mick to Devilsdust. “What do you think of this?”
“It’s the beginning of the end,” said Devilsdust.
“The deuce!” said the Dandy, who did not clearly comprehend the bent of the observation of his much pondering and philosophic friend, but was touched by its oracular terseness.
“We must see Warner.” said Devilsdust, “and call a meeting of the people on the Moor for tomorrow evening. I will draw up some resolutions. We must speak out; we must terrify the Capitalists.”
“I am all for a strike,” said Mick.
“‘Tisn’t ripe,” said Devilsdust.
“But that’s what you always say, Dusty,” said Mick.
“I watch events,” said Devilsdust. “If you want to be a leader of the people you must learn to watch events.”
“But what do you mean by watching events?”
“Do you see Mother Carey’s stall?” said Dusty, pointing in the direction of the counter of the good-natured widow.
“I should think I did; and what’s more, Julia owes her a tick for herrings.”
“Right,” said Devilsdust: “and nothing but herrings are to be seen on her board. Two years ago it was meat.”
“I twig,” said Mick.
“Wait till it’s vegetables; when the people can’t buy even fish. Then we will talk about strikes. That’s what I call watching events.”
Sybil, or The Two Nations – Benjamin Disraeli (1845).
I’ve spent the better part of the pandemic year reading a lot of Benjamin Disraeli, the first and only Jewish Prime Minister of Victorian England, and the favorite of the Queen. He was an early Tory conservative who also spent time figuring out what it meant to be a conservative in a changing world. In Disraeli’s life, the industrial revolution was in full swing, Marxism was in its infancy (though socialism was ever-present pre-Marx), and the modern world was appearing.
The modern American conservative movement traces its intellectual roots to Disraeli’s predecessor in the Tory party, MP Edmund Burke. To some extent, that makes sense because Burke supported the American Revolution while blasting the French Revolution. Understanding that philosophical difference is key to understanding modern divides between conservatism/liberalism versus left and right conceptions of progressivism.
Burke gives us the notion, which William F. Buckley would later echo, that conservatism was about standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!” It’s a notion I’ve longed like but increasingly find myself disagreeing with. It’s why I’ve come to lean more on Disraelian and Churchillian thought on this front. Those Prime Ministers saw their position as upholding true principles, conserving those ideas in society, and guiding the people through events.
There’s an intriguing division here between a progressive and a conservative in the above traditions. Modern Progressives take their cues from the Leninist school of Marxism. They try to force events to occur that yield a utopian progressive future. Progress gets produced by experts, or “We are the people we’ve been waiting for,” as put by Obama. A conservative sees this as impossible. They see events occurring naturally as having more impact. It’s the wise statesman’s job to guide nations through these turbulent waters while adhering to the ideas, principles, and traditions that make a country what it is.
That’s the ultimate point of that passage above. The wise leader knows when the time is ripe to act and when to hold back. There are no forcing events. Events dictate these things, and events can alter what society needs at a given time. Politics and statesmanship under this idea is more an art and less a science. Disraeli was trying to push conservatives of his generation to aid the poor and working-class, what he called “one nation conservatism,” or “Tory democracy.”
Voting, Trump, and me.
I suppose I’m starting more wistful today because I went and voted yesterday. Had you told me in 2016 that I’d pull the lever for Donald Trump in 2020, I’d have laughed in your face or called you a liar, or both. First, I’d have laughed because that meant Trump won in 2016, which was a perceived long-shot (there’s been an interesting rewriting of 2016 history which says the race was always perceived as close all along, which is utterly false). But the second laugh would have unquestionably been a laugh at the thought of voting for him.
And maybe my vote for Trump is the kiss of death for his campaign. I’ve yet to vote for a winning Presidential ticket. My first election was the 2006 midterm elections, in which Democrats wiped out Republican nationally. In order, I’ve voted for John McCain, Mitt Romney, Evan McMullin, and now Donald Trump. I’ve worked on a half-dozen Republican campaigns from the local level to the Presidential level. When I sat down for an interview as part of the process of passing the Tennessee Bar Exam, the old law partner looked down at my resume and back up at me and said, “So you’re just a professional political volunteer, huh?”
Guilty as charged, though that’s been less true as of late because I’m a working stiff. But the change in my vote over the last four years has unquestionably resulted because of events. The broader ideas I believe, to my core, haven’t changed all that much since 2016. Events, however, have shifted my perception of the world.
Events that governed Trump.
One of the first events of the Trump era was the Russian collusion story. The weird stories that appeared on that front during the Republican primaries were among the myriads of reasons I couldn’t support Trump in 2016. I predicted in January of 2017 before he got sworn in that it would hound his presidency until he got cleared. All the others, things like the emoluments clause violations and more I dismissed quickly, and that ended up being right (it’s also interesting reading some of my analysis at the time, which include some skeptical takes on the Steele dossier).
That mess got cleared up by the Mueller investigation and subsequent report. In it, you find lots of untoward behavior, but no smoking gun. And far more troubling throughout the entire thing is the intelligence agencies, DOJ, and FBI’s conduct. If you go back and read reporting from that time, from those agencies, it seems like Peter Strzok and his ilk were the sources for a lot of that bad journalism.
The second storyline was, what would Trump do on judges? There were jokes and rumors he’d put his sister on the Supreme Court. But Trump ended up upholding that end of the bargain, to an extent few people saw. It wasn’t just the Supreme Court. It was all the lower courts that Mitch McConnell set about filling up with well-qualified conservative nominees like he was shoveling coal into a blazing furnace.
The most surprising set of events out of the Trump administration? Foreign policy. He’s been far from perfect here. I’m not too fond of his dealings with the Taliban or the niceties with authoritarian countries’ leaders. Outside that, he’s kept the US outside of escalating conflicts in the Middle East and helped broker honest-to-goodness peace deals between Israel and a litany of Arab countries. Things people said were impossible.
Outside that, the Trump era’s policy accomplishments have mostly been administrative state-level stuff, sending new orders into the system. While many of these are good, they aren’t long term legislative accomplishments. Nothing to write home about.
Events that have dominated the Left.
But the events that have probably mattered more is the utter revealing of the derangement of the progressive left. One thing I’ve believed from the beginning about Trump is that he’s an excellent reflector. He’s awful in so many unique ways, but when his enemies go after him, they reveal that they’re no different than him. His absurd lashing out at everyone and everything is a perfect distillation of where we are, interacting with each other on social media and more, on any topic. Please take a look at the political conversations on your Facebook feed; not many of them rise above the level of Trump-like behavior.
A certain of pundits in elite media says, “the cruelty is the point,” referring to how Trump bonds with his base. They propose that Trump is wrong because all he does is look for ways to torture his enemies.
That’s true to a point, in that Trump does enjoy looking for ways to attack or prick his enemies, any way possible. And very often, he steps over the line. But is Trump a cause here, or a reflection? Here’s an article headline on Buzzfeed from this week: “Listen: Chris Pratt Might Be A Republican, But Should We Care? ‘I can’t say that Chris Pratt is necessarily a Republican boogeyman like many want him to be.'”
Chris Pratt’s sin? He didn’t attend a Biden fundraiser with other Avengers castmembers. The backlash was so idiotic, it prompted Robert Downey Jr., who also didn’t participate in, to post on Instagram defending Pratt. And this is a minor event that describes a much larger and more problematic phenomenon.
Many media outlets had to settle multiple defamation lawsuits from the fallout of the Covington Catholic kids. Numerous journalists called for outright violence — against kids — all for wearing a MAGA hat. Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett all experienced outright slander of their character merely for being nominated by Donald Trump. The national press has all but whitewashed the Congressional baseball field shooting where a left-wing, Bernie Sanders-supporter, nutjob shot 60 rounds at Republican Representatives and senators’ on a baseball field.
And that’s not including the absurdities of this year. For months, I’ve listened as Republican governors, and Donald Trump are to blame for all the ills of the country’s handling of the coronavirus. Meanwhile, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has released a book, bragging about his handling of the coronavirus, which the left has pushed onto the New York Times Best Seller list. Nevermind the fact that the Department of Justice is currently investigating civil rights abuses for Cuomo’s orders that directly led to tens of thousands of more deaths than any other state in America. The man has literal blood on his hands, and he’s glad-handing his way around a Democratic victory lap, with Biden allegedly considering him for Attorney General.
If violence is Trump’s point, is he a cause or a response? I’ve long written that Trump is a classic reactionary, populist response to current events. Placed in that frame, he’s not a cause; he and his supporters are reacting to a world around them. This point, of course, doesn’t excuse Trump’s behavior. But it does explain why he’s sitting in the White House, and no one else is right now. You can either give populist impulses an avenue to vent or experience the resulting turmoil. Too many pundits see the evils of Trumpism while giving a pass to every form of that exact behavior on the left. These are all “cultural war” flashpoints, and you already know all the beats and rhythms of that.
Conclusion: How events revealed a new issue for me.
My last point is one where Trump’s election has changed my mind on something. And like most things, it’s not that I’ve received new values, but it’s opened my eyes to something I didn’t see before his election: the aristocratic technocracy. I wrote about this first in issues 191 and 192, talking about the fallout from the Michael Flynn case. Because Trump is such an outsider, he’s acted as something of a wrecking ball to cultural institutions and groups. He’s wrecked the legitimacy of the modern aristocracy.
The Constitution and all its norms are sufficient and mostly unharmed in my view. Trump has revealed that there’s an elite on both the right and left, who have managed to accrue a lot of power for themselves. The mere existence of Trump threatens their power. I was already trending in this direction as I was studying the founders’ political philosophy and understanding why their conception of federalism was as much about dividing up various classes and ending old notions of the aristocracy (reading Montesquieu, who profoundly impacted the founders, also helped). Michael Lind’s recent book, “New Class War,” has shoved me even further in that direction.
America has an aristocracy. It’s different than what the Founders dealt with, but we do have one. I’d blame the progressive outgrowth from the Wilson administration for purposely giving these ideas root, all from Germany. And as I’ve written, stripping the administrative state of power and nuking aristocratic importance is something Trump can accomplish, or at a minimum, stop the growth. No other candidate achieves that task.
We don’t get that revelation without Trump’s election, or at least I don’t. These are all events and ideas out in the open now. And I think America needs to explore this era some more. So, I voted for Trump. His character still stinks to the high heavens. But unlike everyone pushing Biden, I seem to have retained my memory of the eight Obama years, and I have no desire to return to one second of them.
Events are the actual mover of politics and campaigns. Progressives are wrong in thinking they can move history by shifting society’s levers, like a machine. A Biden administration would empower factions who would rebuild technocratic aristocratic grounds for themselves. And that’s as much the reason I voted for Trump as anything else. I see a much larger and longer battle ahead for America now. Knocking down the continuing impacts of Wilsonian progressivism is a long-term project.
Links of the week
The Barrett Boycott: Democrats Struggle To Get An Empty Sack To Stand Up – Johnathan Turley
Hunter Biden’s Ex-Business Partner Alleges Father Knew About Venture: Former vice president says he had no involvement; corporate records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show no role for Joe Biden – Andrew Duehren and James T. Areddy, The Wall Street Journal
The Media’s Shameful Hunter Biden Abdication – The Editors, National Review
Seems like a lot of people owe the New York Post an apology – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
Spain, France Exceed 1 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases Each – Reese Oxner, NPR
John Kasich’s Long, Strange Trip How did a man who started out as a somewhat interesting and effective fiscal conservative in Congress become the irrelevant blowhard he is today? – Jack Butler, National Review
The Media’s New Rule: No Biden Criticism Until November 4th – Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast
Studies Point To Big Drop In COVID-19 Death Rates – Geoff Brumfiel, NPR
Facebook Stings Babylon Bee – Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
With Mic Muted, Trump Corrects Biden With Tweets – Babylon Bee
Biden: Let the troops decide where to invade next – Duffel Blog
Thanks for reading!