Democracy, Demagogues, and Populist Pandering

The rise of Trump and Sanders has resurrected a debate as old as Western civilization.

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Donald Trump’s winning the Republican nomination and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders’ giving Hillary Clinton a much tougher run than anyone expected, has naturally resurrected an ages-old debate about democracy. On the one hand, their success demonstrates that the elites of both parties have failed to understand the needs and interests of ordinary folk. On the other, there are the elites coming out of the woodwork to decry the folly of giving too much control to the unwashed masses.

The latter view is espoused by Andrew Sullivan in a New York Magazine essay titled “Democracies end when they are too democratic.” The setup goes back to Plato’s warnings of too much equality.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

Sullivan, of course, sees Trump as the latter-day manifestation of this.

And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head. Plato had planted a gnawing worry in my mind a few decades ago about the intrinsic danger of late-democratic life. It was increasingly hard not to see in Plato’s vision a murky reflection of our own hyperdemocratic times and in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”? Is he testing democracy’s singular weakness — its susceptibility to the demagogue — by blasting through the firewalls we once had in place to prevent such a person from seizing power? Or am I overreacting?

Sullivan allows as to how he might be and acknowledges that, over time, America’s democratization has mostly been to the good, expanding freedoms for the poor, for women, for racial minorities, and for gays. Still, he worries.  He worries that removing the barriers the Framers set up to direct democracy has allowed unqualified candidates—those without years of seasoning on the national stage—to emerge, sometimes doing quite well.  He worries that various developments have lessened people’s faith in The System. He simultaneously rejoices in the opening that blogging and other social media has given to free speech and worries that the flattening has taken away the calming powers of the old gatekeepers.

Those who believe that Trump’s ugly, thuggish populism has no chance of ever making it to the White House seem to me to be missing this dynamic. Neo-fascist movements do not advance gradually by persuasion; they first transform the terms of the debate, create a new movement based on untrammeled emotion, take over existing institutions, and then ruthlessly exploit events. And so current poll numbers are only reassuring if you ignore the potential impact of sudden, external events — an economic downturn or a terror attack in a major city in the months before November. I have no doubt, for example, that Trump is sincere in his desire to “cut the head off” ISIS, whatever that can possibly mean. But it remains a fact that the interests of ISIS and the Trump campaign are now perfectly aligned. Fear is always the would-be tyrant’s greatest ally.

And though Trump’s unfavorables are extraordinarily high (around 65 percent), he is already showing signs of changing his tune, pivoting (fitfully) to the more presidential mode he envisages deploying in the general election. I suspect this will, to some fools on the fence, come as a kind of relief, and may open their minds to him once more. Tyrants, like mob bosses, know the value of a smile: Precisely because of the fear he’s already generated, you desperately want to believe in his new warmth. It’s part of the good-cop-bad-cop routine that will be familiar to anyone who has studied the presidency of Vladimir Putin.

With his appeal to his own base locked up, Trump may well also shift to more moderate stances on social issues like abortion (he already wants to amend the GOP platform to a less draconian position) or gay and eventransgender rights. He is consistent in his inconsistency, because, for him, winning is what counts. He has had a real case against Ted Cruz — that the senator has no base outside ideological-conservative quarters and is even less likely to win a general election. More potently, Trump has a worryingly strong argument against Clinton herself — or “crooked Hillary,” as he now dubs her.

His proposition is a simple one. Remember James Carville’s core question in the 1992 election: Change versus more of the same? That sentiment once elected Clinton’s husband; it could also elect her opponent this fall. If you like America as it is, vote Clinton. After all, she has been a member of the American political elite for a quarter-century. Clinton, moreover, has shown no ability to inspire or rally anyone but her longtime loyalists. She is lost in the new media and has struggled to put away a 74-year-old socialist who is barely a member of her party. Her own unfavorables are only 11 points lower than Trump’s (far higher than Obama’s, John Kerry’s, or Al Gore’s were at this point in the race), and the more she campaigns, the higher her unfavorables go (including in her own party). She has a Gore problem. The idea of welcoming her into your living room for the next four years can seem, at times, positively masochistic.

[…]

And so those Democrats who are gleefully predicting a Clinton landslide in November need to both check their complacency and understand that the Trump question really isn’t a cause for partisan Schadenfreude anymore. It’s much more dangerous than that. Those still backing the demagogue of the left, Bernie Sanders, might want to reflect that their critique of Clinton’s experience and expertise — and their facile conflation of that with corruption — is only playing into Trump’s hands. That it will fall to Clinton to temper her party’s ambitions will be uncomfortable to watch, since her willingness to compromise and equivocate is precisely what many Americans find so distrustful. And yet she may soon be all we have left to counter the threat. She needs to grasp the lethality of her foe, moderate the kind of identity politics that unwittingly empowers him, make an unapologetic case that experience and moderation are not vices, address much more directly the anxieties of the white working class—and Democrats must listen.

Anis Shivani takes Sullivan’s article to task in a Salon essay titled “Our awful elites gutted America. Now they dare ring alarms about Trump, Sanders — and cast themselves as saviors.”  Much of it is a screed against Sullivan himself, some of which (choices he made as editor of the New Republic, his enthusiastic support of the Iraq War) is fair, some of which (notably the charge that Sullivan, who always labeled himself a tortured conservative, was a bad liberal) not so much.  But his core argument is interesting:

Both parties are in terminal decline after forty years of ignoring the travails of the average worker (the Republicans admit they’re in the intensive care unit, while the Democrats calling for Sanders to quit already have yet to come around to admitting that they might have the flu), and voters on both right and left have at last—and this is a breath of relief—stopped caring about the cultural distractions that have kept the elites in power. No, they want their jobs back, even if it means building a wall, keeping Muslims out, deporting the illegals, and starting trade wars with China and Japan—because what else did the elites give them, they’re still opposing a living wage!

[…]

You’ve all now, the elite punditocracy on either spectrum, suddenly become nostalgic for George W. Bush, because he didn’t—well, not always—use the crude and blatant vocabulary that Trump deploys to demonize Mexicans and Arabs and Muslims and foreigners. But Bush is the one who actually implemented, with your full support, plans to surveil, discriminate against (in immigration proceedings), and impose a de facto bar on Muslims from the “wrong countries” that is still, under Barack Obama, a severe disability on Muslims who may want to emigrate to this country.

Where were you elites when Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic party elite spoke as one with Republicans on endlessly strengthening border security, on the need to mercilessly enforce immigration laws, on imposing such punitive measures against potential legalization that it becomes possible only in theory not in reality?

The natural conclusion of these ideas is the literal wall, but Trump didn’t start it, he’s only putting the finishing touches on the discourse that you elites, on both sides, have inflamed for twenty-plus years. Bill Clinton started the demonization of immigrants—legal immigrants were made ineligible for benefits—for the first time since the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965. Bill Clinton ended welfare, tapping into racist discourse about African Americans, and permanently unmoored millions of people from the social safety net. No, Trump didn’t start any of it, Paul Begala and Karl Rove, representing both parties, and the elite interests they represent, poisoned the discourse.

[…]

The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres.

The Hillary supporters have the authoritarian mentality of small property owners. They are the mirror image of the “realist” Trump supporters, the difference being that the Trump supporters fall below the median income level, and are distressed and insecure, while the Hillary supporters stand above the median income level, and are prosperous but still insecure.

To manipulate them, the Democratic and Republican elites have both played a double game for forty years and have gotten away with it. They have incrementally yet quite comprehensively seized all economic and political power for themselves. They have perverted free media and even such basics of the democratic process as voting and accountability in elections. Elites on both sides have collaborated to engineer a revolution of economic decline for the working person, until the situation has reached unbearable proportions. The stock market may be doing well, and unemployment may theoretically be low, but people can’t afford housing and food, they can’t pay back student loans and other debts, their lives, wherever they live in this transformed country, are full of such misery that there is not a single word that an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush says that makes sense to them.

Most of this is over-the-top but there’s certainly truth in it. Ditto the triumphant predictions of change to come:

The game, for the elites, is over. This is true no matter what happens with the Sanders campaign. The Republican party as we have known it since the Reagan consensus (dating back to 1976) is over. The Democratic party doesn’t know it yet, but Bill Clinton’s neoliberalism (and what followed in his wake with complicity with Bush junior, and the continuation of Bush junior’s imperialist policies with Barack Obama) is also over, or well on its way to being over. The elites are in a cataclysmic state of panic, they don’t know whether to look right or left, they have no idea what to do with Trump, they don’t know what to do with the Bernie diehards, they have no idea how to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

And these same elites, both liberal and conservative, these same journalists and celebrities, became quite comfortable with Bush once the war on terror was on. They’ll get used to Trump too, his level of fascist escalation will soon be presented byThe Times and other institutions as something our democracy can handle, just as they continually assured us during those eight years of gloom that our democracy could easily take care of Bush. We, the citizens, don’t need to get our hands dirty with implementing checks and balances, the elites will do it on our behalf. Soon, once he starts talking to the elites, you won’t even be that afraid of Trump. Wait, he’s the one who wants to make America great again, and what’s so wrong with that?

The election of Trump would end the Republican party as we know it, but more refreshingly it would also end the Democratic party as we know it. The limits of the academic left’s distracting cultural discourse in keeping economic dissatisfaction in check would be fully exposed. Trump threatens the stability of the fearmongering discourse of Sullivan and his like. The threat to their monopoly of discourse is the real reason for the panic.

Oh, and Hillary, good luck fighting Trump with your poll-tested reactions. Your calculated “offenses” against his offensiveness against women or minorities or Muslims are going to be as successful as the sixteen Republicans who’ve already tried it. You won’t be able to take on Trump because you do not speak the truth, you speak only elite mumbo-jumbo. Trump doesn’t speak the truth either, but he’s responding to something in the air that has an element of truth, and you don’t even go that far, you speak to a state of affairs—a meritocratic, democratic, pluralist America—that doesn’t even exist.

In fairness to Sullivan, he acknowledges elite complicity—his own included—in his essay.

The deeper, long-term reasons for today’s rage are not hard to find, although many of us elites have shamefully found ourselves able to ignore them. The jobs available to the working class no longer contain the kind of craftsmanship or satisfaction or meaning that can take the sting out of their low and stagnant wages. The once-familiar avenues for socialization — the church, the union hall, the VFW — have become less vibrant and social isolation more common. Global economic forces have pummeled blue-collar workers more relentlessly than almost any other segment of society, forcing them to compete against hundreds of millions of equally skilled workers throughout the planet. No one asked them in the 1990s if this was the future they wanted. And the impact has been more brutal than many economists predicted. No wonder suicide and mortality rates among the white working poor are spiking dramatically.

“It is usually those whose poverty is relatively recent, the ‘new poor,’ who throb with the ferment of frustration,” Hoffer argues. Fundamentalist religion long provided some emotional support for those left behind (for one thing, it invites practitioners to defy the elites as unholy), but its influence has waned as modernity has penetrated almost everything and the great culture wars of the 1990s and 2000s have ended in a rout. The result has been a more diverse mainstream culture — but also, simultaneously, a subculture that is even more alienated and despised, and ever more infuriated and bloody-minded.

This is an age in which a woman might succeed a black man as president, but also one in which a member of the white working class has declining options to make a decent living. This is a time when gay people can be married in 50 states, even as working-class families are hanging by a thread. It’s a period in which we have become far more aware of the historic injustices that still haunt African-Americans and yet we treat the desperate plight of today’s white working ­class as an afterthought. And so late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous, revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain — and has actually helped exacerbate.

For the white working class, having had their morals roundly mocked, their religion deemed primitive, and their economic prospects decimated, now find their very gender and race, indeed the very way they talk about reality, described as a kind of problem for the nation to overcome. This is just one aspect of what Trump has masterfully signaled as “political correctness” run amok, or what might be better described as the newly rigid progressive passion for racial and sexual equality of outcome, rather than the liberal aspiration to mere equality of opportunity.

Much of the newly energized left has come to see the white working class not as allies but primarily as bigots, misogynists, racists, and homophobes, thereby condemning those often at the near-bottom rung of the economy to the bottom rung of the culture as well. A struggling white man in the heartland is now told to “check his privilege” by students at Ivy League colleges. Even if you agree that the privilege exists, it’s hard not to empathize with the object of this disdain. These working-class communities, already alienated, hear — how can they not? — the glib and easy dismissals of “white straight men” as the ultimate source of all our woes. They smell the condescension and the broad generalizations about them — all of which would be repellent if directed at racial minorities — and see themselves, in Hoffer’s words, “disinherited and injured by an unjust order of things.”

And so they wait, and they steam, and they lash out. This was part of the emotional force of the tea party: not just the advancement of racial minorities, gays, and women but the simultaneous demonization of the white working-class world, its culture and way of life. Obama never intended this, but he became a symbol to many of this cultural marginalization. The Black Lives Matter left stoked the fires still further; so did the gay left, for whom the word magnanimity seems unknown, even in the wake of stunning successes. And as the tea party swept through Washington in 2010, as its representatives repeatedly held the government budget hostage, threatened the very credit of the U.S., and refused to hold hearings on a Supreme Court nominee, the American political and media Establishment mostly chose to interpret such behavior as something other than unprecedented. But Trump saw what others didn’t, just as Hoffer noted: “The frustrated individual and the true believer make better prognosticators than those who have reason to want the preservation of the status quo.”

It’s a fascinating discussion. While I’m sympathetic to Sullivan’s arguments and share his disdain for the Trump nomination, I don’t believe the solution is less democracy. Indeed, I’d prefer the primaries be more democratic in many senses, most notably eliminating caucuses, superdelegates, and the like.  Likewise, while I find Shivani’s analysis flawed and hyperbolic, I fundamentally think it’s correct: it’s up to the elites to come up with programs and policies that benefit the people. It’s not shocking at all that, after decades of decline, they no longer trust the elites of either party to serve them. Trump and, to a lesser degree, Sanders are poor vehicles for that. But I understand why they’re so attractive.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Politics 101, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I have not had time to read in full, and therefore even less time to comment on, Sullivan’s essay. However, I have skimmed it and I would say a) he misinterprets (or at least commits serious presentism) in is interpretation of Plato’s views on democracy (yes, an esoteric critique), but more importantly b) he is stretching the concept of “direct democracy.”

    Allowing voters a say on who will occupy a position (in this case, to be the nominee) is not “direct democracy”–it is part of broader system of representative (or indirect) democracy insofar as the actual governing is done by an elected official (or group thereof). Direct democracy is a system whereby the people directly govern (e.g., referenda or the proverbial New England Townahll).

    I understand his broader point, and in some ways am sympathetic to it insofar as primaries don’t actually produce as democratic an outcome as we think they do. My criticisms of primaries are less, however, that elites know best, but that (ironically) party elites might actually do a better job of selecting candidates that broad swaths of the population would prefer (which is, in some ways, more democratic after a fashion than what we have given the turnout rates).

    There is more to say about this essay, but I need to give a fuller read before I can further discuss.

  2. Pch101 says:

    It has more than its share of flaws, but one benefit of the checks-and-balances system is that it serves to nullify some of these election results.

    Even if Sanders or Trump were elected, they wouldn’t be able to accomplish much of what they claim to want, anyway. The president lacks the kind of authority.

    Populists aren’t good with practicalities, so they blame the Other for their problems instead of their own failure to win broader support for their ideas. These groups comprise perhaps 10-20% of the population, yet are so narcissistic and naive that they believe that they speak for a majority, so they end up chasing their tails and getting very little of what they want.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: While Sully has a Harvard PhD in political theory, I agree he’s interpreting Plato and others he cites through a lens convenient to his narrative. And, yes, while having voters chose the Electors is closer to direct democracy than having elected state representatives chose the Electors, they’re both still forms of representative democracy.

    Your point about the elites being more able to chose candidates who represent the masses than the current system, wherein the masses ostensibly chose the candidates, is almost certainly right and worthy of a post in its own right.

  4. Argon says:

    Still waiting for:
    1) Certain government and military officials to be tried for torture.
    2) Banks being broken up and forced to maintain more reserves plus complacent regulatory officials being banned for life from participating in any work related to finance.

  5. James Pearce says:

    The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres.

    For once, someone else said it, not me…

  6. humanoid.panda says:

    This is a tangent, but this sort of commentary annoys me to no end:

    The Hillary supporters have the authoritarian mentality of small property owners. They are the mirror image of the “realist” Trump supporters, the difference being that the Trump supporters fall below the median income level, and are distressed and insecure, while the Hillary supporters stand above the median income level, and are prosperous but still insecure.

    In fact, Hillary supporters, are, on average, less well-off than Trump supporters- because many of them are single women and African Americans. So much of our elite discourse presumes that only White people exist, and then proceeds to discuss politics as though in America, race does not predict wealth.

  7. Mr. Prosser says:

    @James Pearce: Sorry, the tell in that sentence is this, “…which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people … does “normal” mean white, employed, non-handicapped, straight and privileged?

  8. humanoid.panda says:

    And, this is why I don’t buy the “economic anger breeds populism and demagogy” narrative. No matter how you spin it, minorities, are, generally speaking, less secure, poorer, and more likely to be be victims of state violence than similarly situated White people. And yet, not are they more likely to be optimistic about America- they also tend to vote for the most pragmatic, moderate candidate on offer this year. And discussion of popiulism in America that ignores this fact is bunk.

  9. Andy says:

    The main problem is that elites support policies that hurt many middle-class and poor Americans. Until they change their worldview there will continue to be a populist backlash. It’s really pretty simple. Their promises have not materialized and they’ve become so insular they believe their own bullshit.

  10. Todd says:

    The last couple of paragraphs near the end hit on some of my own concerns. I don’t think Bernie Sanders would be anything close to a “perfect” president; more likely far from it. I also acknowledge that Clinton would be far superior to Trump. My fear is that if/when she is elected, smug Demoratic elites will take it as a sign that they can arrogantly ignore how broken their own party is too.

  11. James Pearce says:

    @Mr. Prosser:

    Sorry, the tell in that sentence is this, “…which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people … does “normal” mean white, employed, non-handicapped, straight and privileged?

    Why would it?

    I took it to mean people who have “normal” concerns, like, providing for their families or fulfilling their own ambitions, not weird meaningless preoccupations, like whether Zoe Saldana is “black enough” to play Nina Simone.

  12. Lit3Bolt says:

    My problem with Sullivan’s essay is that while he argues that the elites are necessary and vital to save democracy from itself, he only briefly acknowledges that the elites have made their share of mistakes, such as 9/11, the fallout from that, the housing bubble and the resulting financial crisis, etc.

    All of these events were just as damaging and dangerous to democracy as the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency. But apparently the authoritarianism of elites is preferable to the authoritarianism of the masses for Andrew Sullivan, who just happens to be an elite.

    So my question is, what good are philosopher kings if they only make mistake after mistake and are never held accountable?

  13. Mikey says:

    @James Pearce:

    Why would it?

    Because in every other context it does.

  14. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce:

    The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors,

    Of course, the worst offenders are always the liberals. Why, the liberal kids of campuses are pushing the campaign of an elderly Jewish man basically tone deaf to racial issues — how dare they? And the liberal SJWs have gotten the last Star Wars movie to have a woman and a black guy as the two main characters, and the next one will have a woman in the lead role — how dare they?

    I mean, the folks on the right, all they did was nominate a racist carnival barker who is now one disaster away from becoming president. And the Sane Republicans, all they did was slowly give more and more to the crazies so they could remain in power a little longer. Mere trifles compared to Black Lives Matter.

    Ok, I cannot believe you meant that. What did you mean?

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Mikey:

    Because in every other context it does.

    No, in every other context, normal means “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.”

    It’s only In the context of the PC framework that “normal” takes on this pejorative tone of meaning “white, employed, non-handicapped, straight and privileged.”

  16. Gustopher says:

    I don’t think it is that the elites are out of touch with the concerns of the people which has created this populist wave, but that the elites have been deliberately ignoring the concerns of the people.

    The Republican elite have been playing their base for suckers for decades, to the point where the base is lashing out. The Tea Party was a faux grassroots movement, spawned by right wing media playing on resentments, and has now taken over the Republican Party. And once one of the major parties has gone to crazy, the entire system breaks down.

    The Democrats have filled the vacuum a bit, incorporating more and more of the center right, ignoring their base and periodically enjoying a bit of hippie punching.

    Meanwhile, huge swaths of issues are not even seriously debated.

    For instance, Free Trade, espoused by both parties, hasn’t created more jobs. We cannot stop globalization, but we can do more to soften the blows and help the communities that are most impacted.

    The middle class has seen their real earnings drop since the Reagan years, but neither party has any concern for this other than tax cuts which do nothing to fix the problems, it just helps to cover it up.

    We’re heading for a realignment, possibly a larger one than when the Democrats ceded the racists to the Republicans. We will probably be stronger for it, but it will be freakishly weird.

  17. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: when “normal” is used in contrast to “the American left’s cultural warriors”, I’m pretty sure that normal means “straight, able-bodied white men”.

    I have little doubt that is what the original author meant (Sullivan? skimming the post hasn’t found it, and the iPad is clunky for searching in the page).

  18. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “It’s only In the context of the PC framework”

    It is astonishing to me how a man as intelligent as you can keep falling for this “oh no! PC is the problem!” crap.

    For centuries, the elites in this country — particularly the Southern elites, but plenty elsewhere, too — exploited the hell out of the white working class, keeping them poor to enrich themselves. And they kept the poor whites on their side by saying “sure you’re poor and I’m rich — but we’re both white, so we’re all better than those people.”

    And that worked for generations.

    But now, those people — and yes, some upppity college kids — are insisting that the poor whites really aren’t better than those people just by virtue of their skin color or sexual orientation. And they’re saying you can’t treat us like that any more.

    And so now the poor whites are still poor — but they’re not allowed to be superior to other people anymore. And so they are increasingly aware of how bad their lives are — and how they’ve been played.

    The smart ones realize that they are really in the same boat with those people — that this is and always has been a class and not a race problem.

    But the dumb ones — yes, I said it, the dumb, ignorant, racist, homophobic ones — just whine about how they’re not allowed to treat those people badly anymore and look to an elite leader who encourages to hate the other members of their class.

    And you — you fall for it every time.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres.

    Ahh, so Sullivan doesn’t consider himself a normal person, as one of those cultural fights helped to ensure that he could legally marry another man…well, he is a part of that academic, publishing, and media ecosphere that he seemingly disdains…

  20. grumpy realist says:

    @An Interested Party: Yes, to read the Usual Suspects over at TAC, you’d think that all problems in the US will be solved if we get rid of SSM, force transsexuals to pee in the bathrooms corresponding to their birth gender, and everyone went to church every day.

  21. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    And the liberal SJWs have gotten the last Star Wars movie to have a woman and a black guy as the two main characters, and the next one will have a woman in the lead role — how dare they?

    We have gone over this, me and you, enough for you to know that I’m not one of the “how dare they” crowd. I’m one of the crowd that says, “So you got a woman and a black guy in Star Wars*. Now what?”

    * (And seriously…I’m supposed to be impressed by this 40 years after Princess Leia yelled, “Into the garbage chute, Flyboy” as she grabbed the blaster out of a dude’s hands. She was already a Senator and a rebel leader long before Luke Skywalker and Han Solo even started their Hero’s journey, but put on one gold bikini…… And Lando? Lando was a scoundrel no doubt, but also the Mayor/Governor of Cloud City, the kind of guy who can talk about “my people” and refer to the people who work for him, not people with the same skin tone. I mean, I could go on. I’m offered these surface-y, shallow critiques and I’m supposed to buy into them? Nah, try harder.)

  22. C. Clavin says:

    Our friend Trump has now flipped on taxing the wealthy, and on the minimum wage.
    He’s been on both sides of every single issue.
    So what do his supporters think they are supporting?
    Anyone know?

  23. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    when “normal” is used in contrast to “the American left’s cultural warriors”, I’m pretty sure that normal means “straight, able-bodied white men”.

    There’s a lot of overlap in the “American left’s cultural warriors” set and the “straight, able-bodied white men” set, so kind of hard to contrast anything there.

    This is what I think it means: there are people who judge art, movies, books, TV shows, etc through a political lens, making sure every little facet lines up with a particular ideology.

    And then there are people who don’t. The people who don’t, they’re “normal.”

    @wr:

    It is astonishing to me how a man as intelligent as you can keep falling for this “oh no! PC is the problem!” crap.

    Um…thanks?

    For what it’s worth, I don’t actually think the PC left is the “worst offender” in the injustice sweepstakes. But the PC left is an offender, and they sure get impressed with themselves over some pretty minor stuff.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: Except you’re quoting someone who actually does mean the stupid, idiotic version of that — Sully is an idiot, after all — as if it is vindicating some long held argument you have been making.

    You’re not an idiot — except, perhaps in your reading comprehension of Sullivan, and failing to pick up the contrast of “liberal cultural warriors” with “normal” and the clear echo of “social justice warriors” — what is it that you think he somehow vindicates?

    Is it that the activists on the left spend too much energy on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and inclusiveness? (I disagree — for a million reasons our culture is at a spot where we are willing to consider these issues, and we should push it as far as we can while we can before that opportunity ends.)

    Is it that the activists on the left spend too little energy on bread and butter economic issues? (The left has been ineffective at fighting off the attacks on unions, but the $15 minimum is catching on in ways that “living wage” hasn’t)

    Is it that the activists on the left include a bunch of loons who look funny on TV? (Yes, they do, but less so than guys with teabags hanging from their three-pointed hats, or rifles on their backs)

    I am pretty sure I know what Sullivan means, but I don’t really know what you mean, other than it almost certainly isn’t what Sullivan means.

  25. Scott F. says:

    Wow! All these words on why the political elites do what they do and no mention of campaign-finance reform? If you want to know why the elites ignore the needs of the middle class – follow the money.

  26. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    @wr:

    This is one of those arguments where no one is necessarily wrong.

    Going down the PC/media/academic rabbit hole of inclusiveness can be totally goofy and self-absorbed, and it’s all the more annoying when that language is appropriated by dudebros as evidence of meaningless Far Left jargon and wishy-washiness. To an outsider, it appears completely divorced from their day to day reality.

    Of course, that “day to day reality” is a mythological construct too, of square jawed, brawny white men always shooting the terrorist and never the hostage, of being always right and never wrong, and being unworthy in a multitude of ways but always completing their heroic or romantic journey to triumphant cheers.

    The new Ghostbusters is a good example this rabbit-hole, PC, online “culture war.” And there’s good points everywhere! The trailer was bad! The jokes seem kind of tired! There’s cultural stereotypes…but with women! And there’s a definite hostility coming from the supposedly “objective” male geeks who are attempting to mark their cultural territory with the grace and finesse of Jabba the Hutt, and whose motives should and will always remain suspect.

    That said…99.99% of people are NOT aware of this. They’ll see the movie, or not, based on its rating, when it comes out, whether they have money, what review they read about it, or if they think they can see boobies. And the Far Left is lecturing me that I HAVE to see it? As a part of some moral obligation to women? Uh, no thanks, egghead! That is how the cultural left comes across to the majority, unfortunately…as hectoring, paternalistic, and deeply cynical (It has women now! It HAS to be better!!).

    However, the anti-PC crowd in the media, I think, reveals themselves to be deeply insecure when they challenge every new cultural offering. A black James Bond? Hell, to me, that sounds kind of cool! Not so to the anti-PC crowd! A female Thor, the Goddess of Thunder? Why not? But for some reason that “ruins it” for previous target audience. Since when did African-American and female power fantasies become so threatening? Women in Star Wars? Hell yeah, bring them on! Oh wait, no, Rey is a “Mary Sue” character that magically gets all of her plot wishes granted, unlike that well-developed character of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, the blond haired blue eyed farmboy who magically saves the entire universe with little or no training or military experience.

    The cultural arts are an imperfect reflection, but they are a reflection. It wasn’t that long ago when a black or female President was Science Fiction. Yet here we are today. And if Black Widow encourages women to be strong, and Black Panther encourages young men to be badasses, or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama prove that they can go into politics, then I think all of us will be better for it And white men will be OK if they have black or female role models too. Because the lesson the world doesn’t revolve around you and panders to your every fantasy is sometimes a much-needed one.

  27. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    Except you’re quoting someone who actually does mean the stupid, idiotic version of that

    I was quoting Anis Shivani’s Salon piece actually.

    Not included in the excerpt above was this sentence:

    “Elites on both sides insisted on not addressing the root causes of economic dissatisfaction, hence the long-forseen rise of Trump.”

    My point: the social justice warriors do not address the root causes of economic dissatisfaction. They focus on media tone-policing –media criticism really– and in the most superficial way about the most superficial stuff. Star Wars casting?

    That’s for Siskel and Ebert, not a serious political movement.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    If a few thousand members of the “elites” manage to manipulate 150 million voters, how is that solely the fault of the elites? Do the voters have no agency? Do they lack raw power? Are they not allowed to vote? Are they not adults?

    In a Democracy the fault always lies with the voters. American voters are astonishingly ignorant, despite the incontestable fact that at no time in human history have people had more access to data. The American people don’t know how their government works, they know nothing about the world beyond US borders and damned little about anything inside US borders. They know nothing of history. With no real understanding of, well, anything, voters choose to fill their brains with whatever sugary, pleasing, easily-swallowed line of bullsh-t they come across. They lack any sense of responsibility to the truth, preferring instead to shut down whatever critical faculties they may have once had. Idea gives way to identity, people follow shibboleth over fact. Intellectual self-discipline is non-existent.

    The people have been making bad decisions. The people, not the elites. Elites can lie or dog-whistle all they like, but it has no effect until it reaches the ears of a credulous voter. Elites can push policies which voters can stop instantly, overnight. It’s the voters who are corrupt. It’s the voters who have failed.

    We don’t teach people to think. We choose not to teach people to think. Can anyone guess why we cannot have real philosophy courses or logic courses in public schools? Who would be most threatened by a course in epistemology? Anyone with a stake in an existing religion or belief system, that’s who. You cannot teach philosophy because the religious folks will scream. You cannot teach history or the right-wingers will scream. You cannot teach our own culture or the left-wingers will scream.

    Think I’m wrong? Try this debate topic in a public school: All religions are wrong. How about this topic: Morality shifts to adapt to circumstances. Let’s try one from history: Aboriginal peoples inevitably fall to more technologically advanced cultures. Or: Exploitation is a necessary step on the road to progress. For that mater, just try debating the concept of progress. We have boxed ourselves in, closed our minds, alienated ourselves from reality, become intellectual cowards. But that’s the fault of a handful of Manhattan-Washington-LA “elites?” Bullsh-t.

    Democracy will not work when the voters are simultaneously growing more influential, and more ignorant.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @James Pearce: Godknows. I gave up on feminism when the loonier section of it started complaining about maths and science as a masculinist plot.

    (My roommate from M.I.T. had one of these lunatics as a law professor. My roommate was Not Amused.)

  30. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    In fairness to SJWs, I have yet to see anyone other than Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren address the root causes of economic dissatisfaction.

  31. Gustopher says:

    @Lit3Bolt: To be fair to nonSJWs, I would include the Pope in there as well.

    I’m not so sure about Bernie though. “We’ll give you free shit to make up for declining wages” isn’t addressing the causes. I may be caught up in his health care and college plans, and missing a lot of nuance though. And he gets minimal support from African Americans which leads me to believe he takes them for granted, viewing everything through the lens of class. And his policy proposals have been a lot more about the middle class than the working poor (I would claim that a lot of the middle class really are the working poor, they just don’t know it).

    But I haven’t heard anyone making a full throated case for government intervention in areas that private industry has failed, citing the failures of private industry as the cause, other than Warren, and only occasionally from her. Let’s toss Bernie in there as well — I don’t take him seriously, so I may be missing something.

    The Republicans have been saying for decades that the government is the problem, pretty much from the top of their party to the bottom, but the Democrats don’t, in general, make an opposing case.

  32. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “But the PC left is an offender, and they sure get impressed with themselves over some pretty minor stuff.”

    Sure, they get impressed with themselves. Over at Deadline, there are groups of fanboys screaming that Captain America is a terrible flop because it only opened with $185 million and that proves that DC rules — and other groups screaming the opposite.

    There are annoying people everywhere. But to hold them up and say “hey, you unemployed middle aged white guy — your problem is not the fault of hedge funds that buy the business you work out, steal all the money while lading it down with debt, then running away with cash while the business implodes, it’s actually some 19 year old at Smith who talks about micro-aggressions” — I understand why the hedge fund guys and their water carriers do this. I don’t understand why you do.

    For the record, I don’t really care who Yale’s buildings are named after. I do understand why some Yale students and alums do. Let them fight it out and stop whining about it all.

  33. An Interested Party says:

    The Republicans have been saying for decades that the government is the problem, pretty much from the top of their party to the bottom…

    And this is a primary reason why there is such a toxic atmosphere in Washington, this is why so little can get done, and this is why so many hate government as they have been conditioned to think that way…meanwhile, Star Wars and DC/Marvel superheroes mean very, very, very little compared to minority rights, infrastructure, and the shrinking middle class, among other things…

  34. dmichael says:

    Another post trying to couple Trump and Sanders. Mr. Joyner’s qualifier “to a lesser extent” is of no help because he fails to describe any of the factors linking the policies of the candidates, only frustration with the current arrangement. Does Sanders believe we should wall out immigrants, stereotype “Mexicans” and Muslims, call for violence at his rallies and call his opponents and protesters names? Does Trump call for reducing the inequality of income and opportunity, break up financial institutions too big to fail or provide a means for the young to get a post-high school education? Give me a break.

  35. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    Wow! All these words on why the political elites do what they do and no mention of campaign-finance reform?

    That.

    Also. I confess I only skimmed the Sullivan piece and perhaps I’ll change my mind if I find time to read it. But at a skim it struck me as a fairly strained “both side do it”. Oligarchs, are destroying the economy for everyone else, but liberals talk mean.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    OMG! I thought Hillary was such a horrible moderate, even conservative! Well, that’s what Sanders and his fanbois tell us…

  37. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “While Sully has a Harvard PhD in political theory, ….”

    Sullivan *does* have a track record, and it’s not good.

  38. Tyrell says:

    @Argon:
    1- Yes, ISIS leaders, if captured alive, should be put on trial for genocide, torture, crimes against humanity, and destruction
    2- Banks being broken up – how big ? Where would you start ?
    I happen to like our local bank. They know most customers by their first name. Most people around here can get a loan on signature only; some with just a handshake ! (Try that in the big city !) The local banks are worried that too much of this regulation stuff could hurt them and cost the customers.
    3- I would add some sort of consequences to the oil companies. There should be a rule that they raise gas too much over $2/gal. they will start losing their tax breaks. We have had enough of the tricks, scams, and shenanigans with the oil/government complex over the years !
    $2 a gallon gives them plenty of profit and the hard working American middle class people some extra spending money !
    “Have you had your break today at McDonald’s ?”

  39. James Pearce says:

    @grumpy realist:

    I gave up on feminism when the loonier section of it started complaining about maths and science as a masculinist plot.

    We could become peopleists.

    @Lit3Bolt: Great overall comment. Just one minor quibble.

    And if Black Widow encourages women to be strong, and Black Panther encourages young men to be badasses, or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama prove that they can go into politics, then I think all of us will be better for it

    The aspirational nature of some of this stuff is important and can’t be discounted, but those should be artistic aims, not political ones. Aesthetics, not ideology.

    @wr:

    I understand why the hedge fund guys and their water carriers do this. I don’t understand why you do.

    This is why: That stuff is bad politics, and worse, bad art.

  40. grumpy realist says:

    @Tyrell: And what happens when the *costs* of generating a gallon of gasoline go over $2, hmmm?

    Tyrell, how old are you? This is absolute stupidity.

  41. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Todd: Just come out for Jill Stein and be done with it. That’ll show ’em.

  42. Barry says:

    @Barry: Adding on, what Sullivan is trying to do is a variation of ‘both sides do it’. And this election has made it clear to any honest people that Both Sides Are Not the Same.

  43. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Allow me to weigh in with another variation. Do I get fatigued with some of the hobby horses that the advocates for social justice ride? Certainly. Now, on the other hand, do I believe that the median emotional age of the people conducting the social justice discourse is probably about middle school age? Guilty as charged. Considering both factors together, is the most reasonable thing for the adults to do to remind the middle schoolers that society demands more of them for the sake of the good of the society and our role as “the shining city on the hill (TM)?” Also, yes. Do I wish that the adults on both sides (assuming that there is a legitimate argument for overdone PC–which may not actually be true) would reign in their respective sets of middle schoolers? Absolutely!

    However, I spent 4 days last week herding cats reasoning with middle school students last week, so…

  44. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “Godknows. I gave up on feminism when the loonier section of it started complaining about maths and science as a masculinist plot.”

    This is exactly what the previous post (‘Where are the sane Republicans?’) was about – you are giving up on something due to the ******loonier***** section is doing.

    With the GOP, the equivalent would be well over 50%.

  45. Andre Kenji says:

    As many people have pointed out, demagoguery is much more common in Undemocratic than in Democratic societies. And democracy don´t precludes the necessity of Institution, on the contrary.

  46. Gustopher says:

    @dmichael: Trump and Sanders are both populists. This is entirely true.

    The difference is that the populace on the left is a whole lot less hatey and racist.

    And, to tie this back to the PC thread running through the comments, Sanders does well with the microaggression crowd, but kind of poorly with the “I would rather the police not shoot me because they get scared of my skin color” crowd.

  47. al-Ameda says:

    Donald Trump’s winning the Republican nomination and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders’ giving Hillary Clinton a much tougher run than anyone expected, has naturally resurrected an ages-old debate about democracy. On the one hand, their success demonstrates that the elites of both parties have failed to understand the needs and interests of ordinary folk. On the other, there are the elites coming out of the woodwork to decry the folly of giving too much control to the unwashed masses.

    So much for “wisdom of The People,” right?

    There’s a kind of Jacksonian feel to what’s going on in America these days.
    Andrew Jackson gave voice to many angry ill-informed people. Jackson himself despised our central banking system and he had little faith in paper currency, he believed in silver and gold as a store of value. Very little about Jackson’s presidency was appealing, and the economic consequences of his financial policies led directly to the first great depression in America.

    It’s a different time, a different America, to be sure, however there is a ‘philistine’s on their way to Washington’ feel to our current political environment – the people who hate government are trying to take command of it. Conservatives have the House, the Senate, and with the Presidency they can continue the 3-plus decades of conservative dominance of the Supreme Court.

  48. grumpy realist says:

    @Barry: Well, there was also the “Third Wave of Feminism–Choice” stuff, which came across as “I can act like the worst stereotype of a 1950s housewife with her brain turned off, but because I CHOSE it, I’m the most rad radical feminist EVAH!”

    (I honestly don’t mind women quitting their jobs and staying home “for the kids.” I do mind women quitting their jobs and staying home “for the kids”, and then having a snit fit 15 years down the pipeline because the only job they can get is starting from the bottom again. Oh, and deciding it’s more important to bake cookies with their daughter than keeping up-to-date on the family finances and documents because “my husband does all that.” )

  49. An Interested Party says:

    I’m curious what others think of this analysis of the course of the two major political parties over the past few years…

  50. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: art fundamentally is political.

    Art reflects our values and our aspirations as a society. Do we value diversity in society? — well, if movies of the past decade are any example, generally we don’t. We occasionally get a “strong female character” — a woman who can keep up with the men, talk like a man, and has boobs.

    Art changes society. Elvis and Eminem appropriate black culture and sell it to white kids, making it less threatening, and more acceptable. Prince crosses boundaries to the point where people didn’t care about his race.

    Michael Jackson showed that pedophiles can make great music and there is no reason to be frightened of them unless you are a child, a parent of a child, or have ever met a child. He also showed that money can’t make you white but plastic surgery and bleaching one’s skin can turn you into a freak of your own design. (Ok, he’s a bad example)

    Back to Star Wars, Lando couldn’t refer to “his people” and mean blacks because the only other black character was a guy who ran across the screen carrying an ice cream maker.

    So, when the cultural warriors go on and on about inclusivity and why it’s weird that the Ancient One in Dr. Strange is now the only person on Earth even whiter than Benedict Cumberbatch, I think they have a valid point (although Tilde Swinton in anything is wonderful). They are applying pressure to change society in the future by redefining what it means to be a hero.

    That said, the new Ghostbusters with all chicks looks terrible.

  51. James Pearce says:

    @Gustopher:

    art fundamentally is political.

    No, sometimes it’s personal, or spiritual, and sometimes it’s just “here, I made this thing.” It can be political, and if it’s done well, it’s still good art.

    Do we value diversity in society?

    I don’t mean to sound daft, but I’m trying to have this discussion outside this kind of academic talk. Diversity? Whether we like it or not, we live in a very diverse society that nonetheless has split off into enclaves and niches. The “academic” version of diversity favors the blending and mixing of these enclaves, and that’s fine…to a point. But mix too much and you don’t get this rainbow colored spectacle, you get this gray, colorless matte. The enclaves and niches must be given room to breathe.

    Elvis and Eminem appropriate black culture and sell it to white kids

    I have to say, I’m not one to talk of the evils of appropriation. What you’re calling “black culture” is a subculture of American culture, and I think it’s high time we respect it as such. It’s not this strange exotic thing that white kids “appropriate.” I grew up with Prince and Michael Jackson too.

    Back to Star Wars, Lando couldn’t refer to “his people” and mean blacks because the only other black character was a guy who ran across the screen carrying an ice cream maker.

    Well, Darth Vader was black… (groans all around) In all seriousness, though, Star Wars was filmed in 1977 in England. It had no black people. For the sequel, they cast a black actor for a prominent role. In the prequels, they cast a few. In each Star Wars film, there are more and more black people. And they’re not given some weird race name, like Gungans or Nemoidians. They’re just humans.

    Perhaps thee doth protest too much?

    (PS. You know why they cast Tilda Swinton in the Dr. Strange movie instead of some more racially appropriate Asian actress? Because you love Tilda Swinton. And the Asian actress you’d prefer to be cast? You recognize her name, but you don’t love her, not like you do Tilda.)

  52. grumpy realist says:

    @An Interested Party: I think you’ve got the clueless “establishment Republicans”, who are the only ones left in the clubhouse now that they have gotten rid of all the Rockefeller Republicans, are now terribly worried that the peasants are revolting and are uneasily wondering if the help is willing to defend them.. Dear dear, tsk tsk. And the peasants/sans-culottes are like a bunch of bratty teenage kids trashing a place. Simply because they can and they want to Stick It To The Man. It’s not productive, it’s not going to help anything, but by gum they’re gonna tear down the place to Show Them.

  53. grumpy realist says:

    A very good analysis as to why Trump would be an absolute disaster.

  54. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: It still comes down to the same thing – objecting to a liberal phenomenon because of the fringe.

  55. wr says:

    @James Pearce: “This is why: That stuff is bad politics, and worse, bad art.”

    And completely inconsequential — until Republicans start making it a national issue by claiming it is somehow responsible for all our social ills, and well-meaning Dems start repeating that instead of pointing out what a ludicrous distraction it is.

  56. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “it’s weird that the Ancient One in Dr. Strange is now the only person on Earth even whiter than Benedict Cumberbatch, I think they have a valid point ”

    Although the Ancient One was always a ludicrous Asian cliche, so casting James Hong and playing him the way Lee and Ditko created him would have raised a whole bunch of equally valid points…

  57. Kylopod says:

    The entire Star Wars franchise likes to pretend it takes place in a world where human racial differences are regarded as totally meaningless, no more remarkable than the color of one’s hair or eyes. (The typical Star Wars novel will make offhanded references to a character’s “dark face” and leave it at that.) On the other hand, the aliens and droids sometimes appear to function sort of like racial minorities–think of the bartender’s line to the droids in the first film, “We don’t serve their kind here.”

    The site TV Tropes calls this sort of thing “Fantastic Racism,” and it’s a common trope in fantasy and science fiction. It usually comes in the form of the old-fashioned, straw-man variety of racism invoked by people who like to ignore the real kind that persists in our world today. Lucas has always gotten defensive whenever people have pointed out the lily-whiteness of the (human) cast of the original film (apart from James Earl Jones’ voice), or the way The Phantom Menace incorporates ancient stereotypes of blacks, Asians, and Jews in its aliens. And the fanboys are even worse: after the news of his recent marriage to a black woman, the message boards were aflutter with comments about how this fact proved all these earlier criticisms bogus. Well, obviously.

  58. Jenos Idanian says:

    Hillary Clinton panders a tremendous amount — she just really, really sucks at it.

    Here’s a 13-minute compilation of her lies over the years. The first two minutes show her “evolution” on gay marriage.

    In 2002, Chris Matthews asked her “do you think New York State should recognize gay marriage?” Her answer was a simple “no.” Then, in 2004, she said on the Senate floor that “I believe that marriage is not just a bond, but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” In 2010, “I have not supported same-sex marriage. I have supported civil partnerships and contractual relationships…”

    I don’t know what her core beliefs are. I don’t even know if they even exist. But she’s really good at knowing when it’s time to pander. (I think she has people who tell her when.) She is just really, really bad at it.

  59. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Gustopher: o, when the cultural warriors go on and on about inclusivity and why it’s weird that the Ancient One in Dr. Strange is now the only person on Earth even whiter than Benedict Cumberbatch, I think they have a valid point (although Tilde Swinton in anything is wonderful). They are applying pressure to change society in the future by redefining what it means to be a hero.

    Dr. Strange is American; he’s being culturally appropriated by a British actor. British actors also took over such American characters as Superman (Henry Cavill) and Professor X (Patrick Stewart).

    I don’t happen to buy into the “cultural appropriation” BS, but if those are the rules, can we enforce them consistently? Can white people reclaim their culture in the forms of basketball, vaccinations, mass communications, transportation, and the like?

    Stewart was fantastic as Professor X. Cavill was mediocre at best as Superman. And I have a great deal of faith in Cumberbatch. And don’t get me started how a 6’3″ Australian totally owned the part of a 5’4″ Canadian, or how a black Brit was probably the best Viking god ever.

    As far as the Ancient One goes, Marvel had a no-win situation with that character. If they stayed true to the original concept, they have a huge racial stereotype AND big problems with China, as they don’t like it when people talk about Tibet. If they changed it, they’d get slammed for “cultural appropriation.”

    From what I heard, they just said “screw it” and went as radical as they could. Rumor has it that “Ancient One” is a title passed on through reincarnation, and it doesn’t care about race, sex, or national origin. Yes, it was tied to Tibet for a while, but it didn’t have to stay that way, and it didn’t. I kinda look forward to Tilda Swinton playing a reincarnated ancient Tibetan man.

    One final point: can someone tell me how to tell “cultural appropriation” apart from “embracing diversity?” How can you tell when it’s OK to embrace aspects of other cultures, and when it’s THE WORST AND MOST RACIST THING EVAR?

  60. MBunge says:

    @Gustopher: art fundamentally is political.

    BAD art is fundamentally political. Good and great art is about love and joy and fear and hate and death and transcendence and every other aspect of the human condition.

    There weren’t black people in Star Wars for the same reason there weren’t black people in most other movies made during that time period. It’s fair to note that as an example of the pervasive racial attitudes of the day but to criticize a movie made in the 70s, NOT because it promotes a racist agenda, but simply because it doesn’t satisfy the diversity quota being popularized 40 years later is infantile.

    And not to sound like Donald Trump, but why was it a great idea to make Johnny Storm black but an affront to make the Ancient One a white woman?

    Mike

  61. Jenos Idanian says:

    @MBunge: And not to sound like Donald Trump, but why was it a great idea to make Johnny Storm black but an affront to make the Ancient One a white woman?

    The stupid thing about Johnny Storm being black is that an essential part of his character is that the Invisible Girl/Woman is his sister — and in that last movie, she was white. Which necessitated a diversion into how that came to be. Had they both been kept white, or both made black, that would have been fine.

    On the other hand, I find myself wondering how long it would take for the outrage over “the black woman’s main power is to disappear — how racist is that?” aspect. Never mind that she’s now widely acknowledged to be the most powerful and dangerous member of the Four. When Sue gets really, really pissed, she can be scary as hell. At one point, she turned a villain’s chest transparent, then threatened to create a force field inside the guy’s heart so he could watch his own heart explode while still in his chest. Another time she took out the “unstoppable” baddie by creating a force field around his head, cutting off his air until he passed out.

    THAT, folks, is badass.

  62. Moosebreath says:

    I did not see this mentioned anywhere else on this site, but the President gave a fine commencement address over the weekend, with some words on the democratic process that deserve to be repeated:

    “And finally, change requires more than just speaking out — it requires listening, as well. In particular, it requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise. When I was a state senator, I helped pass Illinois’s first racial profiling law, and one of the first laws in the nation requiring the videotaping of confessions in capital cases. And we were successful because, early on, I engaged law enforcement. I didn’t say to them, oh, you guys are so racist, you need to do something. I understood, as many of you do, that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good, and honest, and courageous, and fair, and love the communities they serve.
    And we knew there were some bad apples, and that even the good cops with the best of intentions — including, by the way, African American police officers — might have unconscious biases, as we all do. So we engaged and we listened, and we kept working until we built consensus. And because we took the time to listen, we crafted legislation that was good for the police — because it improved the trust and cooperation of the community — and it was good for the communities, who were less likely to be treated unfairly. And I can say this unequivocally: Without at least the acceptance of the police organizations in Illinois, I could never have gotten those bills passed. Very simple. They would have blocked them.
    The point is, you need allies in a democracy. That’s just the way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow. But history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse. That’s not just true in this country. It’s not a black or white thing. Go to any country where the give and take of democracy has been repealed by one-party rule, and I will show you a country that does not work.
    And democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will eventually think the whole system is rigged. And that will lead to more cynicism, and less participation, and a downward spiral of more injustice and more anger and more despair. And that’s never been the source of our progress. That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.”

  63. James Pearce says:

    @wr:

    And completely inconsequential — until Republicans start making it a national issue

    This is not a partisan issue for me, and it shouldn’t be for you either.

    Although the Ancient One was always a ludicrous Asian cliche, so casting James Hong

    James Hong? C’mon…..I suppose they could have cast Louis Koo or Song Kang-ho, two younger, more famous (world famous) Asian actors, but the American audience -despite claiming this unfulfilled desire to see movies with non-white actors — has no clue who those guys are.

    @Kylopod:

    The site TV Tropes calls this sort of thing “Fantastic Racism,” and it’s a common trope in fantasy and science fiction.

    Great point, Kylopod, but does “Fantastic Racism” indicate actual racism? Or is an error to confuse the two?

  64. grumpy realist says:

    @Kylopod: You’ve reminded me of a line in Terry Pratchett’s novels: “Black and white got together and ganged up on green.”

    It seems that no matter where you go, a society needs to have an “Other” to sneer at and feel smug about the fact that We’re Not Them. The Brits have the Pakistanis, the Japanese have the Burakumin (to the point that they censor the fact that such a group exists and is discriminated against), we here in the US have had various groups throughout history (blacks, American Indians, Chinese, Irish with the pecking order of who’s considered The Absolute Worst constantly changing….)

    Humans suck, period.

  65. Kylopod says:

    @James Pearce:

    Great point, Kylopod, but does “Fantastic Racism” indicate actual racism? Or is an error to confuse the two?

    I’m not quite sure what it is you’re asking. Fantastic Racism refers to any story where a fictional species is the object of prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and so on. You see it in a lot of children’s books from the ’60s and ’70s, particularly those about anthropomorphic animals in an effort to teach children lessons about tolerance and acceptance of those who are different, but it also shows up in a lot of “serious” sci-fi and fantasy.

    It isn’t a racist trope–it’s a way for the author to comment on racism indirectly–but it is problematic for several reasons. First, it typically ends up reinforcing negative stereotypes rather than refuting them. When you’ve got wookiees or vampires or toons standing in for blacks, Jews, etc., I’m not sure that sends the most enlightened message, to put it mildly.

    Moreover, I often get the subtle feeling that the trope comes mostly from the sorts of white people who think racism ended in 1964. Fantastic Racism usually covers only the most obvious and stereotypical forms of bigotry. More complicated issues like police brutality or the drug war or any fictional equivalent are likely to go unaddressed.

  66. James Pearce says:

    @Kylopod:

    it’s a way for the author to comment on racism indirectly

    Or a way to ground something fantastical in a recognizable reality. There doesn’t necessarily have to be any commentary. (As Grumpy Realist said, “no matter where you go, a society needs to have an “Other”” even in space.)

    First, it typically ends up reinforcing negative stereotypes rather than refuting them.

    Sure, but so does political correctness. You’ve heard of the “Magic Negro” trope I presume? That’s not something a racist would come up with.

  67. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Moosebreath: That’s a nice sentiment. Pity his own actions put the lie to it.

    Recall the Henry Louis Gates incident? Before he knew all the facts, Obama pronounced that the police “acted stupidly.”

    He also filled up those minds with some seriously weapons-grade partisan stupid.

    “And the reason is, is because of an ideology that says government spending is necessarily bad.”

    “But if we have a mindset that says whatever government is doing must be bad, then these are going to be the results.”

    “And that means we have to not only question the world as it is, and stand up for those African Americans who haven’t been so lucky — because, yes, you’ve worked hard, but you’ve also been lucky. That’s a pet peeve of mine: People who have been successful and don’t realize they’ve been lucky.”

    I shouldn’t say “stupid.” Obama isn’t stupid.

    Those are just outright lies.

  68. An Interested Party says:

    Those are just outright lies.

    How so?

  69. Jenos Idanian says:

    @An Interested Party: Oh, that’s right. Aren’t you one of those simplistic morons to whom saying conservatives think ALL government spending and ALL government actions are bad?

    If you’re not, I apologize. But if you are one of those simple-minded demagogues, I don’t.

  70. An Interested Party says:

    @ Jenos Idanian: How nice of you to apologize for a mistake you’ve made…perhaps you could make a habit of that…

  71. Moosebreath says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    “Those are just outright lies.”

    Meh, it’s political hyperbole along the lines of “47% of Americans don’t pay taxes” or “People support Obama because they want free stuff”.

  72. Jenos Idanian says:

    @An Interested Party: If you’re accepting my conditional apology, then you’re saying you disagree with Obama’s simplistic, self-serving platitudes? Congrats, I didn’t think you had it in you, and I apologize for thinking you were that shallow.

  73. An Interesred Party says:

    …Obama’s simplistic, self-serving platitudes…

    How so?

  74. Jenos Idanian says:

    @An Interesred Party: Already answered. Try to keep up.

  75. @Jenos Idanian: If you think that a white British actor playing a white American character is an issue, I would submit that you do not understand the issue.

  76. An Interested Party says:

    I would submit that you do not understand the issue.

    To be fair, he doesn’t understand a lot of issues…

  77. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: If you think that that I had objections, then you missed my point.

    I don’t subscribe to the “cultural appropriation” BS, but a lot of people do. I was pointing out how they don’t apply their “principles” in any consistent fashion, but only when convenient.

    I do have one regret, however. I forgot to mention that both Superman and Batman — quintessential American iconic figures — have been portrayed recently by British men. Henry Cavill was, as I said, unimpressive, but Christian Bale was superb.

    I know one way I can be refuted — to acknowledge the unwritten rules behind “cultural appropriation.” Or will someone try to avoid that?

  78. Lit3Bolt says:

    @James Pearce:

    @Kylopod:

    This has been probably the most enjoyable thread I’ve ever read at OTB.

    I take the point of ideology vs aesthetics, but in our culture, it’s sometimes hard to tease the two apart.

    The casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One…wow, I didn’t even think of her as the Ancient One, just some random mystical lady. And it’s going to be funny listening to the howls of people who are so upset we couldn’t find a real Asian actor to play a pastiche of Fu Manchu.

    The other fascinating thing is just the cross-talk and twisted definitions of words. This all started with “normal” in the pejorative sense versus…”normal” as in hum drum, day to day, standard 2016 experience. And then it was “Woooooosh!” down the rabbit hole we go!

  79. mannning says:

    One glaring take on this thread is the repeated use of the term “elite”, yet it is left to the reader to identify exactly who is tagged with this label. I gather that there are a thousand or more from one post, that there are elites on both sides of the political chasm, and that they are sore afraid of becoming irrelevant or something. There was a hint that Congressmen and the administration might have something to do with elitism, and ditto the rich and famous. One could easily conclude that we are actually governed by the elites in secret caucuses, or we could simply shudder and try to wait the whole mess out, which never works, of course, since apparently elitism is heavily inherited, and heavily produced by Harvard and other Ivy League institutions, ad infinitum . To know an enemy, or a friend, we should be able to name him or her, and have some background about him, such as what the hell makes him an elite? Who has the current roster?