Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Minor Musing About Libertarians In The Age Of Trump

This Dakota Free Press post about Bob Newland's speech to the 2019 Libertarian Party Convention caused a few ideas to gel for me. (As a quick aside, I believe I have met Mr. Newland only once and he struck me as an affable gentleman.)

First, it's refreshing to see a Libertarian discuss a role for government in infrastructure. I would like to hear Libertarians also espouse Hayek's view of social insurance:
There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained , the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. . . .there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. . . . 
Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.
Hayek goes on to say, ". . . there is no incompatibility in principle between the state's providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom."

Libertarians' unwillingness to support a social safety net might have something to do with their view of socialism, a political theory Newland took time to attack. In 2019, however, the biggest threat to classic liberalism is not socialism but the new toxic mix of nationalism, populism, and Trumpism. 

Earlier this summer members of the conservative intelligentsia engaged in a rather heated argument about liberalism. Writing in First Things, Sohrab Ahmari attacked Never-Trumper David French because French, a cultural conservative,  "has individual autonomy [as] his lodestar: He sees 'protecting individual liberty' as the main, if not sole, purpose of government." In short, Ahmari is attacking French for being too Libertarian.

More importantly, Ahmari uses Trump, a man whose only political philosophy is an "I alone can fix it" narcissism as a blank slate. According to Ahmari,
[Trump's] instinct has been to shift the cultural and political mix, ever so slightly, away from autonomy-above-all toward order, continuity, and social cohesion. He believes that the political community—and not just the church, family, and individual—has its own legitimate scope for action. He believes it can help protect the citizen from transnational forces beyond his control.
Trump's recent "go back" to "crime infested places from which they came" tweets put the lie to any claims that he seeks "social cohesion." However, it seems clear that Ahmari wants to use Trump's followers to impose a form of "order" that will, unironically, attempt to force people to be autonomous and virtuous in ways that bend the terms "autonomy" and "virtue" beyond recognition. In short, government will exist to force citizens to relinquish rights to achieve the nationalists' or Trumpists' order.

Finally, the Ahmari article coincides with Newland's apprehension about what he calls an "insidious threat," "squincthy-eyed evangelicals" who attempt to impose "their version of God's will" on others. Ahmari is not an evangelical. He will, however, give intellectual heft to some social conservatives' desires to quell their inchoate fears with government imposed puritanical security. That threat should have all of us keeping one foot in the Libertarian camp.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

MAGAs Revive "Love It Or Leave It," A Minor Musing About A Logical Fallacy

I was young when I first heard "America, love it or leave it." If I were to venture a guess, I probably first heard a Vietnam War supporter utter the phrase on radio or television when I was 9 or 10 years old.

During the past week, Trumpists of all ages and stations in life have trotted out the trite phrase as if were something original, witty, logical, or patriotic.

The phrase, is of course, a logical fallacy which can be succinctly defined:
When only two choices are presented yet more exist, or a spectrum of possible choices exists between two extremes.  False dilemmas are usually characterized by “either this or that” language, but can also be characterized by omissions of choices.
This afternoon, I was reminded of how everyone should know how unpatriotic that phrase is when this tweet came across my twitter feed.
Because I don't trust Blogger to allow the picture in the tweet to be enlarged, I am uploading a copy as well.

The second column of this 50 year old editorial has two important paragraphs. Sydney J. Harris writes,
Those who want to leave have a right to, but those who want to stay and work for what they consider a better society must be protected in that right--for without it, our nation would sink into stagnation and the process of change would harden into repression by those who benefit by keeping things just as they are. . . . 
Somebody who truly didn't like what America stands for ought to be invited to leave; but there is a vast difference between such a person and those who dislike what we have allowed ourselves to become, through greed and prejudice and provincial indifference to the great problems we now face. No community can afford to lose these good "agitators."
Most recent political and policy discussions have devolved into each side calling the other names bereft of context that provides meaning: fascists, socialists, racist, anti-Semitic. Nearly every devolves into whataboutism and dueling charges of hypocrisy.

Since the nation seems to have lost all of its adults, can we perhaps listen to one from 50 years ago and develop new ways to facilitate the process of change which has stagnated and hardened into repression.

Certainly, we can all be better "agitators" and refrain from the illogical and unpatriotic "love it or leave it" fallacy.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

South Dakota Democrats And Evangelicals Should Drink More Whisky And Listen To Mayor Pete

It's Mother's Day, so the best thing one should do is discuss whisky, politics, and religion. What bad can happen?

This morning, I watched two YouTube videos that I would urge every South Dakota Democrat and evangelical to watch.

One was Mayor Pete Buttigieg's speech at the Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign Dinner. It was an excellent speech. He discussed what he calls "a crisis of belonging." He alluded to the fact that many of the nation's excluded citizens are being divided by metaphoric walls that allow them to "get divided and carved up." In order to prevent divisions from continuing, Buttigieg asked the audience to be willing "to stand hand in hand with people just like you and people not at all like you." In short Buttigieg reminded people to tell person stories that welcomed rather than excluded.

Buttigieg enunciated a simple truth; politics is personal and people want their stories heard. Serendipitously, the second YouTube video I watched feature two Whisky YouTubers, Erik Wait and Daniel Whittington, who discussed "Telling the Story of Whisky." Throughout their entertaining conversation about the need for story, Whittington made two important points. First, "story doesn't eliminate information; story gives information context." A little later Whittington said directly what Buttigieg alluded to: "No one cares about your story. They care about how you become part of their story." In short, tell stories that help people belong.

During this century, I recall only a handful of South Dakota Democratic candidates who were decent story tellers  There have been some good policy wonks who had a great command of the facts and some good policy positions. There were a few entertainers who could cleverly turn a phrase,  but storytellers have been rare. Meanwhile, Kristi Noem et al. were going full Horatio Alger. Maybe it's because Democrats apparently prefer clear spirits, but if they want to reverse their fortunes in the state, they need to start telling better stories that gives information context.

It is a Sunday, and and any discussion of story makes me think of two old hymns: "Tell Me the Story of Jesus" and "I Love to Tell the Story." I do wish the evangelical folk who used to sing those songs regularly would get back to telling the story of Jesus and recognizing that Trump's lies are not coherent stories. I also wish they's recognize that every time they tell the story of Trump, people who seek to be part of Christ's story are driven away from grace.

Everybody else who is sick of politics and religion, go watch this video of the greatest whisky speech ever.

Friday, May 10, 2019

South Dakota At Risk For Severe Job Losses

On Wednesday, Governor Noem tweeted,
The cynical among us might wonder why scores of businesses offering high paying jobs are not racing to the state, but it's #SmallBusinessWeek, so criticizing Governor Noem for celebrating a meaningless statistic seems to be bad form.

Today, Axios points out that automation will likely wreck havoc on jobs in the Midwest.
  • A quarter of all jobs across the U.S. have high chance of being wiped out by automation.
  • The five states with the highest share of at-risk jobs are Indiana (29%), Kentucky (29%), South Dakota (28%), Arkansas (28%), and Iowa (28%) — all of which went for President Trump in 2016.
  • Compare that to the bottom five: New York (20%), Maryland (20%), Massachusetts (21%), Connecticut (22%) and New Mexico (22%), all of which went for Hillary Clinton.
But the extent of the hit to middle America is even clearer when zooming in to the county level.
  • For example, in Jerauld County, South Dakota, 53% of jobs are hanging in the balance.
  • 48% of jobs are vulnerable in Scott County, Miss.; 48% in Dakota County, Neb.; and 46% in Colfax County, Neb.[emphasis mine]
Axios concludes, "To absorb the coming disruption, the government and corporations will have to take charge of reskilling and upskilling huge swaths of displaced workers."

There's little hope that corporations concerned about only the bottom line will bring jobs to a state that needs a quarter of its workforce retrained unless the state is willing to help shoulder the cost of retraining.  Over the past few sessions, the South Dakota legislature spent more time arguing about useless resolutions, placing the national motto in schools, civics classes, guns, and chislec than it has about funding K-12 education. There's less hope that legislators or Governor Noem will suddenly decide to fund the retraining of workers.

A Minor Musing About South Dakota's Brain Drain

A few weeks back, the Constant Commoner posted about a United States Congress's Joint Economic Committee  study on the "brain drains" in the United States. South Dakota, contrary to popular belief, is not 49th in everything. In 2017, the state had the second highest gross and third highest net departure of highly educated or highly skilled residents.

The problem starts at the top. Former Governor Daugaard routinely mocked those pursuing degrees in philosophy. In her 2012 congressional race, Governor Noem implied winning "the South Dakota Young Leader Award from the South Dakota Soybean Association" was a superior achievement to earning a Masters degree from Cambridge. If one values the life of the mind or a world class education, the message that one should leave is crystal clear.

While there may not be a trickle down effect in economics, there is one in culture. Thirty years in the classroom has taught me that intelligent kids are the ones who stretch the boundaries and the rules to the breaking point. As a rural state South Dakota creates many spaces for functionaries to develop "big fish in a small pond" syndrome. Whether it be overly uptight county commissioners, school administrators, mayors, sheriffs, or Speaker Haugaards, many of these wannabes will decry Nicholas Maduro's socialism but covet his power to squelch dissent. They have one response to everyone who questions their policies or offers suggestions for improvement: "if you don't like, leave."

In his Constant Commoner post, John Tristan made the economic point, so I won't repeat that here. The brain drain hurts South Dakota, but it will continue because the state's leadership want it to.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Minor Musing About Trump And Tech Giants With A Dash Of Orwell

I don't know if it's the fact that I'm getting older or the fact that we're cursed to live in interesting times, but I seem to re-read and cogitate over things more than I used to.

One such piece is this Rod Dreher post on The American Conservative site. Dreher wonders at conservative's gleeful reaction to the Mueller Report. He favorably quotes a David Brooks column wherein Brooks opines,
And today, across society, two things are happening: Referees are being undermined, and many are abandoning their own impartiality. (Think of the Wall Street regulators, the Supreme Court, the Senate committee chairmen, even many of us in the blessed media.) Things begin to topple. 
… Trump doesn’t seem to have any notion of loyalty to an office. All power in his eye is personal power, and the government is there to serve his Sun God self. He’ll continue to trample the proper systems of government. 
It’s easy to recognize when you are attacked head-on. But the U.S. is being attacked from below, at the level of the foundations we take for granted.
Dreher also writes,
The center is not holding, and technological changes (as well as cultural evolution) are rendering us unable to recreate a sustainable center.  Whether he leaves the White House in 2021, or 2025, after Trump, I believe that the US will be more or less in a Spain 1931 situation. Trump has done nothing to prevent that, and much to hasten its arrival.
Although Dreher writes, "I fully endorse David Brooks’s take on the corruption of the system, and his judgment on Donald Trump as a moral catastrophe," he does not proclaim himself a #NeverTrump club member. Instead, Dreher concludes,
. . . if you want to talk about the foundations of society being attacked, believe me, we should all worry about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Silicon Valley on the whole a lot more than we worry about our buffoonish president. What the surveillance capitalists have done, and are doing, matters far more to the future of our democracy and its legitimacy than does Trump.
In fact, he doubles down on this conclusion:
I just know that I’m a lot more worried about Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg, and the class that they embody, than I am of a crooked real estate magnate from New York who is the weakest and least effective president since Jimmy Carter.
Dreher butters his bread by thinking and writing. Although he calls himself a "Bible-thumping troglodyte," Dreher thinks deeply, comes at the world from an Orthodox perspective, and talks about good food and drink frequentl, so he likely makes many conservative evangelical folk uncomfortable. 

I share Dreher's fears about Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple. The tech giants threaten Americans' privacy and possess a near totalitarian power to control public opinion.They cannot, however, send a person to Guantanamo or launch nuclear weapons. Further, I cannot share Dreher's confidence that Trump "stands, however uncertainly, in the way of the Controllers." Trump's admiration of despots indicates that he would give Bezos et al. free rein were they to offer him just a little flattery. In short, I remain a firm member of the #NeverTrump club.

That said, I worry that Dreher and I are both wrong. Americans seem to possess a certain optimism. The current crop of religious populists claim to be on God's side and view Trump as a savior from the evil liberals. Progressives proclaim that they are on the right side of history's long march toward justice for all. It is, however, likely that such optimism is misplaced and America has reached an Orwellian moment. Not the moment when we all loudly admit to loving big brother, although that moment is certainly possible; rather, we have come to the Animal Farm climax when conservatives, liberals, and displaced folks like myself stand outside the window and look "from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but [find it] impossible to say which was which. "

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Intellectual Diversity, Fox News, Aexandria Ocasio-Cortez, And The Pygmalion Myth: A Minor Musing

Governor Kristi Noem has signed a bill that purports to promote intellectual diversity. Being the good conservative intellectual that she is, Noem surely will work hard to include expansion of a classic curriculum in addition to decrying the corrosive effects of Foucault's and Derrida's postmodern sophistry. (Were she writing this post, the Governor would surely take a moment to point out that sophistry, as is used here, is not merely pretty talk with no substance but a reference to the ancient Sophists who believed that truth was unknowable.)

One of the benefits of a classic education would be knowledge of the Pygmalion myth. Pygmalion feared women, so he created an ivory statute shaped as his version of the perfect woman. He then asked the goddess Aphrodite to make the statue a real woman. Aphrodite granted his request.

I was most recently reminded of the Galatea myth this morning when my Twitter feed featured this aclip of Fox News coverage of Aexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). The fearful folk at Fox are not content to brand AOC as a liberal. She immediately became a poster child for socialism. That's an old tactic, but a Democrat who is merely a liberal or a socialist is not a Fox News commentator's or a former Republican presidential candidate's idea of a perfect Democratic woman.

This morning Mike Huckabee and Fox and Friends completed their transformation of a freshman congresswoman who frightens them merely because she knows how to use social media. She is their perfect Democrat, a liberal, socialist Manchurian Candidate. Clearly, AOC is an empty suit who is being fed the questions she asks at hearings.
For Noem and her Trumpist ilk this unsubstantiated, fear-based rumor and others like it will pass for intellectual diversity. Explanations that put the rumor in the context of a long trend of trying to create a perfect woman who doesn't cause men to fear her will be called liberal bias.