Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Election is 'Rigged' He Said

Rummaging around on YouTube I came across a seven minute ‘splainer on Ludwig Wittgenstein. It’s quite interesting and even funny in places To Vox it, Wittgenstein argued that if we got language right all of the other problems would fall in line.

Which brings me to the dispute of the moment, courtesy of Donald Trump, (of course), the claim that the election is rigged. Asked the question a couple of nights ago, George Will responded that Trump tended to jumble a great many things together but then seemed to support the accusation by citing the persistent refusal on the part of election officials to clean the voting rolls. It was a surprising answer from someone who as a conservative should be aware of the folly of trying to immanentize the electoral eschaton.

And here, pace Wittgenstein, a great deal of the inherent problem in this discussion is the imprecision in the term “rigged.” As Will is well aware baseball umpires have reputations for distinct strike zones. Some are likely to call as strikes pitches that are a little low, others to give the pitcher the benefit of the doubt on the outside or inside corner, and so on. The technology to call balls and strikes exists. By sticking with umpires are we to conclude that major league baseball is rigged?

America currently consists of 435 congressional districts, many more electoral units and conducts national, state, and local elections every two years. Human beings being human it would be absurd to believe that there aren’t irregularities, some intentional, in the election process.
When Donald Trump claims in October that the election is rigged this isn’t what he means or at least it’s reasonable to interpret him as saying something quite a bit more accusatory. Trump is at the very least happily implying that whatever the actual votes they (undefined of course) will find what is needed to declare him the loser. Trump isn’t saying that a couple of toes might rest on the scales, he’s saying the result is a foregone conclusion because the powers that be will never let him be president. His claim is that the election is Rigged not rigged.

One final point. A prominent actor in this plot to deny Trump the presidency is the media. This is pretty hilarious if you stop and think about it. That Hillary would be our next president was a fait accompli the minute Trump got the GOP nomination (I actually think the end date was earlier). To the extent the charge is valid, the chief conspirator was Roger Ailes and carried out by his band of renown at Fox News.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Shallow Worldliness of Never NeverTrump

We will forever be hostage to developments of which we cannot, at present, know, albeit we must proceed as if we knew what we need to know.” –Timothy Fuller

Apparently the swipe a couple of weeks ago at Never Trumpers in the New York City based WSJ for their “exquisite sensibilities” wasn’t enough. Today, from columnist Bill McGurn, we get that they/we are “cheap moralizers.” In McGurns telling of the story the puritan Never Trumpers have rejected Trump because he is “coarse and boorish” and they have then simple mindedly ascribed the same qualities to Trump’s supporters. In their disgust they’ve “ransacked history in search of the worst metaphors like college sophomores” [my emphasis].

The Never Trumpers believe that political correctness can be fought by Miss Manners, but the sophisticated, who operate in the real messy world, know this to be false. To make an omelette eggs must be broken [egg pun intended?]. The na├»ve, romantic Never Trumpers don’t realize that politics is “prosaic” that Ryan is trying to preserve the GOP majority in the House, and that the alternative to Trump is the very bad Hillary Clinton. And lest you miss the point, he begins the piece by citing Bill Maher because the worldly Bill McGurn is aware that a true statement can be uttered by anyone even ones nominal opponents.

See how easy that is? I’ve just reduced McGurn’s entire argument to a cheap signaling of his sophistication. Unlike a Socratic dialogue it seems this is a game that two or more can play.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jonah Goldberg and His Angry Readers

"freedom from extraneous purpose and irrelevant interest is the sign of all seriously undertaken thought" -- Michael Oakeshott

In recent months Jonah Goldberg has afforded us a partial window into the life of a political columnist. It seems every time he writes something critical of Donald Trump he hears from his readers. Doesn’t he know that he’s just helping Hillary? He—Goldberg--is a liberal, a know nothing sellout (to be fair, the interest alone on an evil lair must be difficult to cover), he’s only saying these things to keep the Georgetown society invitations coming. And by happy coincidence all of this has occurred at the same time as Experience and Its Modes has been re-issued which is just the book to turn to if one wishes to make sense of all this.

In Experience and Its Modes Michael Oakeshott argues that experience is modal (now that I’ve cleared that up). That is, instead of being one big whole we break experience into modes, or “platforms of understanding.” Modes determine what questions we ask, how we answer them, and what we do with the conclusions. There isn’t an object and then we think about it, the object and the way we think about it are intertwined from the start. In the course of his works he identified as modes, the philosophic, the scientific, the historical, the practical, and a poetic mode and suggested there were or could be developed additional modes. A mode is coherent or sensible within its parameters but ultimately incomplete or partial. A fundamental error—an ignoratio elenchi, otherwise known as a category error—was to approach one mode from the postulates of another, that is to fall prey to the error of irrelevancy.

It may be useful here to expand on two of these modes. For Oakeshott, philosophy or theorizing was to view things critically. To question that which we already know in order to understand it better. And it was unique in that its ‘conclusions’ produced more questions rather than ‘answers’. Whereas the other modes went on the merry way without questioning its premise, the philosopher focused on just that area even to the point of questioning the premise(s) of philosophy.

The poetic mode is defined by “the thing in itself.” We enjoy a painting because it is pleasing or disturbing not because it teaches us something. To say The Godfather is a bad movie because it glorifies the mafia is modal error because it is viewing the poetic (a film) in practical terms. A joke is either funny or it isn’t. When we ask whether a joke is good for society we’ve left the poetic moment in favor of the practical.

Now if you are still following along you can probably anticipate where this is going. A political column is a modal mutt, a mix, in various proportions, of the poetic (the column’s style or as entertainment), the philosophic/theoretical, and the practical. The columnist whose work is written to bring about a result—advance a cause, get you to vote for particular politician or party known in its pure form as ‘the hack’—is operating within the practical mode. Whereas a typical Jonah Goldberg column or his newsletter is usually more theoretical in nature than practical. And it’s amusing that the friendly advice he receives to have fewer jokes contains this modal understanding. The readers won’t take a funny man seriously.

As a writer, Goldberg is showing us his work as he considers a particular event or political problem. The question he asks and the arguments he uses are at least as important as his conclusion. But for the mono-modal reader of the practical kind the only consideration is the expected practical outcome(s) associated with the column. He wants answers, a dogma, and his side to win. A political columnist is either on the Trump train or off it. What train you’re on, what side you support is for this reader the only relevant consideration.

One final thing. You may have noticed, at least to the degree I’ve been successful, that this post doesn’t really tell you how to read a political column, still less how to write one. The attempt has been to understand “a particular goings on a little better.”

Footnote: the comedian Jon Stewart was on to this modal character albeit disingenuously His Daily Show mixed the poetic (comedy, laughs for laughs sake) with the didactic. When the practical content of the show was criticized he retreated to the defense that it was all comedy, I.e the critic was guilty of a ignoratio elenchi.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Am I Really Voting For Hillary?

Like, numbers unknown, I am a long time conservative who is not planning to vote for Donald Trump in November. And of course I’ve seen many times the Trump supporter claims that not voting for Donald is tantamount to a vote for Hillary [hereafter NVT=VFHRC]. While I think this argument is seriously flawed, I don’t deny that it has some merit.

Besides math, I take the NVT=VFHRC argument to rest on two propositions; 1) an understood initial position, and 2) the view that turnabout is fair play.

On the first, it seems reasonable to say that before things get started it is quite valid to take it as given that long time conservatives will vote for the Republican nominee. If your team’s quarterback, who started as a sophomore and junior, decides sometime during the preseason that he’s no longer going to play it’s understandable that team, coaches, fans are going to feel let down. They had proceeded on the reasonable assumption that the team was set at quarterback. A key point in the primaries is to find a candidate that can appeal to independents—electability—it being taken as given that conservatives will fall in line.

On the second, I think the argument would go as look we hated McCain and Romney with a passion. Didn’t you notice how desperate we were to find an alternative to Romney in 2012? But we voted for them anyway because we were told to be practical and understood it to be our duty to support the eventual nominee. And now when OUR candidate is the nominee, you put your nose up and declare he’s too declasse to support [insert your favorite image of blind rage here]?

What I believe is being lost sight of in a history of normalcy is the element of contingency in both of these propositions. The conservative starts the election cycle with a presumption of voting for the Republican nominee. As your QB I WAS planning to play my senior year, but then you hired as coach a man who poisoned my dog. I too--perhaps for very different reasons—wasn’t keen on either McCain or Romney but like you sucked it up and voted for them. But this nominee, this Trump [because of my overly exquisite sensibilities?] is too much. Better in the long run to lose to someone, even Hillary (and of course here, a critical variable is just how bad do you believe Hillary to be), than to put Trump in charge and to be associated with him.

Awhile back, in a context I can’t recall, Jonah Goldberg observed that “it’s all in the dosage.” That covers a great deal of ground. I’m long past the expectation that my votes are going to be tasty and delicious, but I’m not inclined to cast a vote that will kill my sense of self however mistaken that sense may be.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Quick Post on Good Behavior

As Donald Trump has put male behavior towards women front and center for the moment, I thought I would share this from Ken Minogue’s essay The Fate of Rationalism in Oakeshott’s Thought:

I pluck from the current headlines a proposal made in Britain by the current minister for Schools and Children—a title that would’ve provoked notable derision from Oakeshott. New guidelines for schools should require that boys from the age of five onward must be taught respect for girls as one element in a curriculum at something called ‘personal development.’ Oakeshott knew, as most of us do unless we are ministers of the crown promoting a faith, that men refraining from acting violently toward women is part of the absorption of manners they acquire in the interstices of early life, partly by imitation of adults and partly by absorbing elements of the chivalric convictions that have almost perennially been a presence in European life. The notion that such subtle and central modes of conduct can be disseminated propositionally by a taught course of a didactic kind, is a piece of rationalism that no sophisticated person would take seriously.”

The only thing I would add here is that Minogue is quite wrong in his conclusion. A great number of ‘sophisticated people’ would take the described proposition seriously.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Normalizing Trump

The old Candid Camera show came to mind today. If I recall correctly, the usual setup was to insert something bizarre into a regular situation and then observe the lengths to which the unsuspecting participants would go to treat the highly irregular as normal.

What brought this to mind was a Bill Kristol tweet on Wednesday night:

“Lefty media types: Stop. Take a breath. You loathe Trump. Fine. But it's now hampering your ability to report & analyze the race accurately.”

A fair point (that also presumably applies to many NeverTrumpers like myself) but also not particularly insightful. If you are on Twitter during any major political event you know something like this is a constant.

A more interesting line of inquiry (he wrote modestly) is to explore whether something like the opposite of what Kristol is warning against is at play. What really stands out this cycle is the stubborn insistence of treating Donald Trump like a normal candidate. A notable political commentator can proclaim after Trump’s Wisconsin speech “that if conservatives hear this speech, he can win” and the same commentator and others on Wednesday were insistent that Donald appeared “presidential” in his meeting with the real Mexican president.

Both propositions would perhaps have merit if it wasn’t for everything else. We’re to take his reading of a speech in a completely different idiom from his other speeches as dispositive? To say of Trump that he looked presidential because he looked sober enough standing behind a podium for an hour or so is silly delusion considering the months of jackassery by the same Donald Trump.

Similarly, Rich Lowry tweeted at one point during the Arizona immigration speech:

Very important passage here on proposed changes to legal immigration system”

It probably was, but as the immigration speech was, per usual, a verbal Jackson Pollock, to fasten on a particular point seems quite wrongheaded. Like saying in regard to Pollock, ooooh that was a good paint throw! The upper left hand corner is very effective!

What’s truly extraordinary in the current election cycle is how adamant the commentariat has been in normalizing Trump. It’s now September and the candidate still hasn’t opened field offices in many states, still hasn’t stuck to anything like a message for 24 hours, still hasn’t given any indication that he has any knowledge of or actual interest in policy. The rest is just ephemera. Treating his playing around with the forms of politics as if they are were substantive out of habit is to concede too much to candidate Trump.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Herbert Stein on our Politics (in 1989)

“But it is the talk, and not only from the Right but also from the Left, and not only from the politicians but also from the ‘intellectuals,’ that is most distressing. People routinely say with apparent certainty serious things that are if not patently false at least highly uncertain. And there is no debate, no confrontation of facts or analysis. The things people say are not meant to be measured on the scale of truth. They are only the signs by which one indicates which team one belongs to, like the identification ‘friend-or-foe’ signals that warplanes emit. Perhaps this low quality of the discussion does not hurt, but it is surely ‘unlovely,’ in Herbert Simon’s favorite word of disapproval.”

Herbert Stein, April 1989 from On the Other Hand