The Year in Ridiculous

puffyshirt

“But I look ridiculous!”

The unbound progressive id unleashed on the country this year was truly something to behold. No faction of the identity politics left went without aggressive advocacy and not a small number of the population was subjected to the inchoate and nauseating “agitation” that characterizes the activist method. From the false “war on women” to the cynical highjacking of a burgeoning cross-partisan police reform movement by race-baiters (and then subsequently by police unions) to the bald-faced lie repeated by every progressive that the child migrant surge at the Texas border was due to anything other than direct incentives created by Obama’s Deferred Adjudication of Child Arrivals (DACA) executive action to the execrable and absurd on its face notion that the president finished the year strong and in fact the the year was actually a success for him and for liberalism.

Unreal.

It is also tempting to declare that because there is only so much ridiculousness and farce a respectable society will accept, and that eventually lies and propaganda are exposed as such by the cold nature of reality, the progressive strain of leftwing politics is nearing its sell-by date. Just glance at some of the thoughtful midterm election postmortems by some left pundits and marvel at their nearly unanimous conclusion that the party’s decision to go all-in on divisive cultural issues at the expense of an employment focused campaign targeted at the working class is responsible for the Democrats’ lowest representation in Congress and across statehouses and state legislatures in about a century. This is no small observation. This is a blanket repudiation by people on their side of the Democratic Party’s cynical identity politics platform. Whether we’re talking about blacks, Hispanics, gays, or women, the politics of victimhood and grievance have worn increasingly thin. Throw climate change into the mix as well because it is the identity politics issue for coastal white liberals and it is something to which all right-thinking millennials give as much thought as the New Testament Gospels. The point of being a hip progressive is not to know the truth but to possess the right opinions. Far better to tow the climate change line on pure faith than be deemed a “denier.”

Why is it more important for the left to hold the correct stances on issues rather than the truth? Jonah Goldberg offers this explanation:

If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.

Good intentions are more important than objective reality. In normal times this would be an outrageously controversial claim, but these are not normal times. While many feminists with a conscience have done noble and searching work in the wake of the Rolling Stone campus rape story debacle, still many others are digging in and insisting that it matters not that the story accusing a UVA fraternity of systematic and brutal gang rape is a fabrication, what matters is the narrative and the important spotlight being shined on the “epidemic” of campus sexual assault. Then, almost like mana from Heaven, the Justice Department released updated statistics on criminal sexual assault, which committed the public service of dumping ice cold water all over the favored falsehood of the president and feminists that “one in five” women will be sexually assaulted in their time on campus (the stat is closer to 6 out of 1,000, which is still too high, but nowhere near an epidemic or a crisis and certainly not one in five. That a segment of the radical left still insist on their narrative even after ideologically sympathetic outlets have suggested that this has all gone too far is pretty strong evidence that their agenda trumps the truth. If feminists are actually interested in rooting out rape cultures, they should look to Syria or, closer to home, Rotherham, England.

Though I am at odds with the majority of conservatives on the issue of immigration, I am not a full “open-borders” libertarian either. As a Texan, I tend to think the model here works pretty well, far better at any rate than my other home state of California, which has a vast and bloated public employee system over which uncontrolled immigration holds a Sword of Damocles. In Texas, where we eschew the public employee model as much as we can, Hispanics are much more likely to vote Republican than their counterparts on the West Coast. This past November, Governor-elect Greg Abbott got 44% of the Hispanic vote and Senator John Cornyn was re-elected with 49%. Whatever else can be said about the farce that is Battleground Texas, the idea that their modus operandi is to “turn Texas blue” is surely in the running for most ridiculous conceit of the year, especially in light of those Texas Hispanic voting trends. Meanwhile, California public debt and pension obligations are on a one-way ride to fiscal calamity and the people who are going to bear the worst of that reckoning are the poor and immigrant populations.

The border surge of child migrants from three countries in Central America was among the more ridiculous scenes of American politics in my lifetime. The actual line parroted by the left – extensively – was that this was all due to rising tides of violence in the region. As if Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador had never experienced cartel or gang violence before. No, what happened was obvious to anyone with a shred of decency or honesty: Obama issued the DACA order in the Spring which allowed child arrivals from non-contiguous countries (i.e. everywhere but Mexico) to avoid deportation. Leave aside for now this blatant instance of legislating from the executive branch and just connect the dots. Obama issued an order, either indirectly or directly got the word out in Central America that any children able to make it into the United States interior would be granted a “permiso,” which in turn would mean their parents would be subject to legal immigration at a later date. The sheer volume of children sent on that crazy sojourn through Mexico to the Rio Grande means the message was received. The incentive duly laid by the American government, rational people in want of a better life understandably jumped at the chance and sent their kids packing, even if it meant putting them in extreme danger by handing them over to the “coyotes” who were ably gaming the new system. The backlash by the right was too harsh, or at least not on point enough, because it focused more on the tangible reality of poor migrant children here illegally rather than the ungodly level of cynicism, deception and outright fraud perpetuated by the White House, Democrats and media nationwide.

The border surge was by design, yet we were loudly and assuredly told otherwise by the media chorus who understood it was their job to distort and confuse the issue until it went away, like all Obama scandals eventually do. Great tomes on the subject of stonewalling are still to be written about this administration and his enablers.

The piece de resistance of progressive ridiculousness is the national conversation on race. Rarely has such a broad coalition of left-right interests coalesced behind as seminal a reform effort as criminal justice and over-incarceration. Not just libertarians but conservatives, from Rick Perry to Chris Christie to governors across the South, are embracing initiatives like “Right on Crime” that aim to reduce prison populations and that carry the additional and (for some) counter-intuitive benefit of continued decline in crime rates. Had the left not been so wedded to its alternative reality narrative of America as an irredeemably racist society and instead been sober about picking its battles, it’s likely we never would have heard of Ferguson and would have instead concentrated on Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other instances where police misconduct was far more concrete. Real consensus and coming together would have been possible, though far from assured, had the conversation remained on police conduct and the need for reform exclusively. New York’s Benjamin Wallce-Wells places his finger on it:

But something strange has happened during the past month, both in the politics of New York and those of the country. In the debates over policing that followed the tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and officers Ramos and Liu, race has assumed the central role, displacing crime. This has brought about a more direct confrontation with our remaining national sickness around race, but it has also surfaced an atavistic, tribal strain in our politics, reminiscent of the racialized fights of an earlier era. It is probably no accident that some of the central figures of New York’s recent past returned to the public stage last week, and that their view diverged from de Blasio’s. Instead of a reasonable, technocratic decision to adjust policies of policing and punishment to a place where there is much less crime, they saw the debate as a declaration of allegiances — of whose side you were on.

Of Mr. Wallace-Wells, I have just one question: who made this about race?

Based on the grand jury evidence aired to the public, one can say with 99% certainty that Michael Brown did not have his hands up and did not say “don’t shoot.” That does not make what happened any less of a tragedy, or any less of a reason to talk about the need for police reform, such as the need for body cameras which would have saved the country a whole lot of grief since this case would have been clear one way or the other. But somehow, within hours of the incident, the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme emerged in the streets of Ferguson and since that train left the station… it has barely slowed. While there is no reason to excuse the agitators for stoking ire and running with false narratives, the blame and the ridiculousness of it all lies with enablers in media and progressive politics. There are simply too many progressives in East Coast media willing to ignore facts and context so long as the existing narrative serves their interests, and it most definitely does serve the left’s interests to see America permanently mired in 1960’s racial strife, because nothing sustains power like a good grievance.

The corrosive effects on family and dignity imposed on poor inner city black and impoverished rural white alike are among the proudest achievements of the institutional left. Their policies trap the impoverished in their station, leaving them with little recourse but to look to government, while simultaneously feeding grievance and laying the blame at the feet of “the man.” What continues to escape them in this reasoning is the indisputable reality that in today’s America the left is the man. “Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave,” says Goldberg. “Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.”

Progressives would bristle at the charge but it is no less true. They are ever so proud of the welfare state they erected, not because it works, but because they built it, and conservatives don’t like it. Liberals are responsible for any well-intentioned program gone bad because theirs is the philosophy that holds good intentions above truth in the heirarchy of virtues. Theirs is the vision of government that insists all social problems be adjudicated from on high. The vice grip that the left has on our culture is so tight that any objections are considered blasphemous rather than just wrong. Don’t believe me? Argue with a lefty about biological distinctions between sex and gender. Actually, for your own sake, don’t do that.

Why then, is the left allowed to avoid accountability for their failures? Going back to Goldberg, it is because their hearts are pure, and ours are not.

Peaceful, law-abiding tea-party groups who cleaned up after their protests — and got legal permits for them — were signs of nascent fascism lurking in the American soul. Violent, anarchic, and illegal protests by Occupy Wall Street a few years ago or, more recently, in Ferguson, Mo., were proof that a new idealistic generation was renewing its commitment to idealism.

When rich conservatives give money to Republicans, it is a sign that the whole system has been corrupted by fat cats. When it is revealed that liberal billionaires and left-wing super PACs outspent conservative groups in 2014: crickets.

When Republicans invoke God or religious faith as an inspiration for their political views, it’s threatening and creepy. When Democrats do it, it’s a sign they believe in social justice.

When it comes to progressives my sentiment is the same as Nick Frost’s frustration with Simon Pegg in the excellent The World’s End: “it’s pointless arguing with you.” Nowhere is that more on display than in the media’s attempt to put some kind of sheen on Obama’s 2014. All that they are left with is the spectacle of an unhinged president acting outside his constitutionally delegated authority to impose on the country his idea of what America should be. And most ridiculous of all is the fact that Obama genuinely believes he had a good year. He would look less ridiculous in the puffy pirate shirt.

Prescience

“But we had better be careful. An apparent verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail may be very deceptive. Moreover, as every lawyer and every politician knows, energetic appeal to familiar facts will go a long way toward inducing a jury or a parliament to accept also the construction he desires to put upon them. Marxists have exploited this technique to the full. In this instance it is particularly successful, because the facts in question combine the virtues of being superficially known to everyone and of being thoroughly understood by very few. In fact, though we cannot enter into detailed discussion here, even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””

-Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942)

Schumpeter was arguing against Marxian orthodoxy which insists that every event and occurrence can be explained and predicted by the inherent logic of history that points to the inevitable endpoint of capitalism.

But while Marxists eventually, grudgingly had to give up on their “arc of history” fantasies, the appeal of the technique outlined above persists, most obviously on the matter of climate change. I have my strong opinions about it and people are free to theirs, but the point Schumpeter makes is instructive and should discourage climate zealots from being so self-righteously assured of their position. The scientific method was conceived in response to the understanding that the science is almost never settled and any honest broker must acknowledge that shutting down debate with the “denier” epithet is the opposite of good scientific norms and practices. It’s the mentality that got a whole bunch of heliocentric advocates burned at the stake in yonder eras.

So much of the modern left is ignorant of the degree that Marxist tenets and arguments still reign over their thinking. Those who know from whence their ideology springs are keen to disguise the heritage of their ideas and, more importantly, their tactics. If it was conventional wisdom that modern leftwing methods are just warmed-over Marxist retreads, far fewer people would embrace them.

Climate change demagoguery takes a page directly from the Marxist playbook and that makes sense once you appreciate how the rise of the green movement and its activist impulses directly correlates with the fall of the Soviet Union. All those Commies had to end up somewhere and in the environmental movement they found their home.

Schumpeter’s critique of the flaws of Marxian “synthesis” as a means of explaining the logic of history (an endeavor championed more by early 20th century Neo-Marxists than by Marx himself) were incredibly prescient. His analysis of mid-20th century Marxist tendencies translates quite well to those of the Western left today. Climate change is the most acute example of modern leftists channeling techniques from a time when unabashed reverence for their ideological godfather was a matter of pride and rebellion rather than a secret. But the left’s reliance on “verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail” and which “may be very deceptive” extends to many other topics as well. Every lie told about Obamacare, for instance. The left’s entire economic model of redistribution is itself a barely-disguised Marxist policy founded on the ridiculous idea that there exist always and forever only two classes, owners (capitalists) and workers (labor), and that the obligation of government is to take from the owners – who only could have accumulated their capital through theft – and distribute to the workers. Their cultural agenda is rooted in the Marxist belief that tradition and social norms are the sole provenance of the bourgeoisie and must therefore be eradicated everywhere. Thus are we subjected to notions of “patriarchy,” “white privilege,” “systemic bigotry” and “us against them” populism aimed at nothing more than placating the jealousy cultivated by the Marxist idea of permanent class war. It does not end there. The family and religion are under assault everywhere you look, displayed most openly by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry in a fine bit of #Grubering that included this nugget of Marxian wisdom:

“We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Whether the nuclear family, religion, property rights, conscience rights or the Bill of Rights, the neo-Neo-Marxists that comprise much of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and many elements of Canadian, Australian and UK Labour are hell bent on burning it all down. Like all good Marxists they can never lose sight of the ultimate goal of bringing about the inevitable demise of capitalism, so for all the shiny cultural distractions into which they pour considerable energies, the animating impulse can always be traced back to the fundamental misconception that society is locked in a fateful struggle between classes, of which there can be only two. Having only two classes – like political parties – creates a situation of permanent adversaries, an alluring construct for the aggrieved and the charlatan alike, never mind that this construct has little tether to reality. Once established in the popular mind, it is exceedingly difficult for critics to persuade the converted that they are being sold false hope based on a lie. The intoxicating promise of seeing the capitalists ultimately succumb to their own evil system of theft and greed has endured to today. How else to explain Occupy Wall Street and the inchoate ramblings of faux-populist Elizabeth Warren?

The goal of the Marx-inspired left is simply to stand for the advancement of government interests over individual or traditional interests at every turn. If you adhere to a belief that social progress is fixed to a logical arc of history defined by the never-ending class war and that the “good guys” are predestined to triumph over the “bad guys” and their ill-gotten capital accumulation, you’re unlikely to be receptive to philosophical or economic arguments in favor of capitalism. Instead your concern falls to the “little guy” who can only be made whole by dint of an aggressive correction to the unjust and immoral status quo of market economics. The vehicle for the correction is the state. No matter how much academic evidence emerges to prove the fallacy of the project, no matter the real world evidence that confirms the futility of collectivism in practice, and no matter the human toll erected on the mantle of socialism, the cult of Marx persists because he offered a moral foundation to anticapitalism. The world was rigged in favor of the bourgeoisie and against the proletariat. Entreaties to trust the invisible hand or the beautiful twin phenomena of innovation and creative destruction would always be met with derision and contempt, for they purported to put the onus for solutions on the very class the workers had been indoctrinated to never trust. The same dynamic at play in 1914 is alive and well in 2014.

The left will not allow us to dissolve the broader class war narrative because it suits them to perpetuate. As Schumpeter might say about the left’s overriding world view today, “even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””