As the Republican Party battleship slowly sinks below the waves, a jagged hole in its bow created by the torpedo called Trump, Megan McArdle attempts to salvage what is left of her party, while elbowing the lower classes out of her way to the lifeboats.
Republicans who look at the matter objectively must be watching the prime-time lineup at the Democratic National Convention with no small amount of envy. Whatever you think of the content of their speeches, the Obamas, Cory Booker, and Bill Clinton each have better delivery than anyone who spoke at the Republican convention last week -- in part because so many of the Republican Party’s top talents found pressing reasons to be elsewhere.Or don't exist. Trump is the perfect excuse for party-wide incompetence and mediocrity.
Last night Barack Obama reminded us how he managed to sweep practically out of nowhere and win the presidency in 2008. As I once heard someone say about a different speaker, the world lost a great talker when he wasn’t born twins.The Senate is nowhere? What other qualifications does her boy Rubio have? And Walker couldn't even graduate from university.
His speech at the Democratic convention was noteworthy for the passages in which when he was actually speaking to Republicans -- with one moment that was extremely effective, and one moment that probably undid a lot of his good work.
The good moment came early in his speech, when Obama said:
Look, we Democrats have always had plenty of differences with the Republican Party, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s precisely this contest of ideas that pushes our country forward.But what we heard in Cleveland last week wasn’t particularly Republican -- and it sure wasn’t conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems – just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate.And that is not the America I know.
Why was this effective? Because it directly addressed Republicans whose motivation to vote for Donald Trump is party loyalty.It feels effective to McArdle because Obama was pandering to the conservative desire to avoid the consequences of their actions and to disavow Trump, pretending that he took over the party instead of being elevated and supported by Republican voters. By letting Republicans pretend they don't pander to racism and depend on it to get votes, Obama is neglecting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to undercut conservative power. He seems to genuinely believe that giving a person the benefit of the doubt will make that person act reasonably, when all it does is teach the people who are out of control that nobody will curb their behavior.
Politics is tribal. A lot of Republicans dislike Trump. But of course, they also dislike Democrats, and beyond the policy and the ideology, there is a simple rivalry between two groups of people who are often pretty mean to each other, and consequently don’t like each other very much.
As I have said countless times, authoritarians divide the world into Us and Them (or Me and Them for libertarians) , and treat important matter of state like a football game, where the goal is winning, not governing well. McArdle is petty and spiteful and doesn't like to be crossed or denied so she doesn't like liberals and is mean to them.
This is why after every electoral victory, the winning side celebrates -- and then goes trolling the internet for the comments of the losing side, to enjoy the sweet, sweet agony of their opponents. It’s not pretty, but it is human nature.After Obama won, McArdle said that liberals were crowing about a return to a FDR-like radical reform of the freshly crashed financial industry. It turned out that the only person talking about a new FDR era was Megan McArdle. Once again, McArdle is probably talking about herself.
Obama could have taken this moment to castigate Republicans, to say that Trump is their fault because Republicanism is just thinly veiled hate and that Trump has ripped off the veil to expose what was underneath. I guarantee that his audience at the convention would have gone wild for that speech.It also would have been the truth.
But moderate Republicans would have recoiled.The moderate Republican is now supporting Trump, and always denied that racism had anything to do with their scapegoating of minorities. You can't claim that voters are tribal, but if liberals are polite and complimentary enough to conservatives, conservatives will vote for them. Well, you can, but that would be dumb.
You don’t call someone a hater and then ask for their vote. Instead Obama framed the conflict as two sides: Republicans and Democrats on one side, versus Trump on the other. This lowered the psychological hurdle to crossing party lines and helping out the other team.McArdle just stated that politics is tribal and everyone chooses sides and hates the other side. Can she not remember that far back?
This is exactly the line that Democrats and left-wing commentators should take for the rest of this election cycle.To rescue the Republicans from the consequences of their own actions, McArdle wants the left to actively work to support and rehabilitate the Republican Party, undermining their own tribe.
They will not say that Trump is the true face of Republicanism. They will not say that Republican obstructionism somehow created him. They will not try to take this opportunity to tear down the Republican Party.This is the rhetoric of a teenage girl who failed math, is now failing a summer school math, and is desperately trying to psych herself into convincing her parents to not ground her or take away her phone.
They will make this election entirely about Trump himself, and such policies as he may eventually get around to proposing. They will emphasize that he does not represent Republican values.Since the Republican values voters nominated him, all of this wishful thinking would be a lie.
They will emphasize the ways in which Hillary Clinton is closer to Republican values than Trump is.Republican values are a fake that hide racism and sexual squeamishness. Liberals will not emphasize any similarities between Clinton and Republicans to get votes, let alone Clinton and Trump.
Frankly, I doubt many on the left will be that self-disciplined; hating on the other team is simply too much fun.Yes, McArdle is projecting again.
Which brings me to the part of Obama’s speech that didn’t work, and even undid progress he made in reaching across the aisle. That was the part of the speech where he started musing about what Trump was making other countries think of us:
What could Obama be thinking of? This kind of talk will never win over the Trump voters who chant that they want Clinton killed or jailed.I have to say this. People outside of the United States do not understand what’s going on in this election. They really don’t. Because they know Hillary. They’ve seen her work. She’s worked closely with our intelligence teams, our diplomats, our military. She has the judgment and the experience and the temperament to meet the threat from terrorism. It’s not new to her.
I cringed when I heard this. This sort of thing is a tic on the left, and it damages their cause. You hear lines like this all the time about America’s health care system, the death penalty, paid family leave, and a dozen other policy issues where progressives are looking enviously across the Atlantic. The most common formulation is probably “America is the only developed nation that,” but “Europeans don’t understand why …” is certainly in the top five. It clearly sounds like a winning argument to progressives, which is why they say it so often. Unfortunately, the only people who thrill to its implications are people who are already planning to vote for Clinton.McArdle thinks she is so important that Obama is on tv to try to get her vote. Perhaps Obama is trying to stem the damage Trump is doing to our global image. He is the president, after all.
To other people, it sounds like running down your country as being less perfect than some other place.1The postscript reads:
Before you rush to your keyboard to type out that impassioned comment or e-mail telling me that there are very good foreign policy reasons to care what foreigners think … well, yes, indeed there are. But you do not win votes in any country by telling voters that they have to do something because foreigners approve of it. You don’t see Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande trying to win a domestic election by telling voters they need to suck up to America. Like I said, politics is tribal.First politics is tribal, then it isn't, now it is again.
I think that a lot of folks on the left don’t get this because as I observed a few weeks ago, the people in the global professional class have in many ways started to identify more with each other than with people unlike them in their own countries.The upper classes have always held themselves apart from the lower classes, with walls, gates, guns, police, and bespoke laws. They have always worked for their own gain, with their own goals.
They have a lot of friends living abroad. They care what those friends think. But more Americans lack a passport than have one. How much do you think they like being told how to vote by people they’ve never met, living in places they’ve never been? If Democrats want to win this election, they need to assemble a tribe big enough to defeat Trump.Clinton will win without Megan McArdle's vote. Liberals don't need to make concessions or beg for votes or promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court judges. They don't need to do anything but not screw up.
And the first characteristic of that tribe will be that it is American. Mainstream American identity is big enough to span a country and win an election, if politicians like Obama can define “mainstream American” to include both Republicans and Democrats, and to exclude Donald Trump.The Republican Party sank their battleship and now Megan McArdle expects the left to rescue Republicans from the ocean, give them their liberal ship, and jump into the ocean to be eaten by sharks.
Concern troll is not only concerned, she's waiting under the bridge to slice your Achille's tendon when you walk by.