This Reactionary Moment

Continuing the conversation from James Joyner's post.

On my old, original, blog I used to use the tag line: “A rough draft of my thoughts.” This post very much fits into that mold. It was inspired by James Joyner‘s post about a recent Andrew Sullivan column and started as a comment that clearly needed to be more than a comment. The post expresses a basic thesis about out current politics, but I acknowledge it is a thesis that could use additional development.

On several occasions over the last couple of years I have been prone to state, when people label Trump and the current Republican Party as “radical” that those are the wrong labels. Rather, I have long thought that the proper term is reactionary.

To wit (in simple terms):

Conservative politics is about mainly maintenance of the status quo with change being moderate, slow and considered. It worries about unintended consequences and sees human reason as limited.

Liberal politics are far more trusting of human reason and are dedicated to the notion that applied reason can lead to progressive change of the human condition.

Radicals and revolutionaries don’t just want applied reason over time, they want change, and they want it now!

Reactionaries want change, but they want retrogressive change. They want to go back to some imagined, better, past.

In typical parlance, radicals/revolutionaries are on the left, then liberals, then conservatives, and reactionaries are on the right of the spectrum. This is not a perfect typology, but it is pretty standard and fits how most people use the terms in daily language.

And yes, there is a lot more to say about these labels, as well as their connections to contemporary politics and specific policy preferences. There is also a long discussion that could be had about their specific usages in American political vernacular over time. But, this is a blog post, not a book.

Not surprisingly, people with power tend to be conservative. People with less power are often liberal, and people who are losing power are often reactionary.

I do think we are in a reactionary moment, but not because the nasty left made the right go nuts. We are in a reactionary moment because of structural changes to society, the government, the economy.

Part of this moment was born in the Great Recession. The Tea Party movement, for example, emerged directly in response to the housing crisis and the commensurate contraction of the economy. But also there is a great deal of long-term damage done to certain sectors of the economy by globalization. There are also the the issues created by automation.

In terms of government, I think some of our current national angst is due to the fact that our institutions do a terrible job of actually representing public preferences. (As I have repeatedly noted). I think a lot of people feel this problem without knowing what it is, why it is, or how to fix it. All the while they are aware that something isn’t working in DC and elsewhere.

Most significantly, however, I think this reactionary moment is about demographic change (the fact that the US is going only be plurality white, rather than majority white), and the expansion of rights of women, non-whites, and LBGTQ citizens. It is also about the erosion over the decades of the prominence of at least cultural Christianity are a dominant national philosophy.

Loss of power, real and perceived, brings reaction.

(Side note: I recognize that a lot of these groups and ideas still have a lot of power in the US–but the issue is about relative decline and not necessarily absolute decline).

And while “the libs” may have brought about some of this change, it is not “the libs” that reactionaries are reacting to, it is change itself. Or, more accurately, fear of that change and, most significantly of all, fear of loss of power.

Trump is absolutely a reactionary. He talks constantly about an imagined past, even if he doesn’t fully use terms that immediately evoke the past. But, think about it: coal and steel are industries of the past. A vision of the middle class built on mid-west manufacturing jobs is straight out of stereotypical view of the 1950s. Trade wars? A world in which the US can just tell anyone what to do, and they have to do it? That is all from a worldview that is rooted in a simplistic version of the post-WWII world.

Even the ridiculousness-of-the-week, buying Greenland, is a callback to an imperialist era in which Great Powers treated the world like one big game of Risk. It is 19th Century mindset.

The whole talk about political correctness? It is about the ability of white men to say what they want, when they want, about non-whites and females. (Or, if you will, the notion that the Access Hollywood tape was just “locker room talk”–the idea that men, when they can be real men with other men regularly joke about sexual assault–and come on! it is just a joke!).

Look, “Make America Great Again” is an inherently reactionary slogan. It states that our best days were in the past and that we need to reclaim that past.

It cannot be forgotten that the evocation of the 1950s (whether directly or indirectly) is the evocation of a time period in which women were mostly in the home, gays were in the closet (or mental patients), and blacks were in their own schools, drinking from their own water fountains, and riding in the back of the bus. While any given Trump supporter may not pine for those specific things, the reality is what it is: only certain groups in 2019 can look back with pure nostalgia on the 1950s.

What is MAGA save for a look backwards? Even if the exact backwards is vague.

So, yes, we are in a reactionary moment. And I suppose you can blame liberals for pushing for equality in the areas of race, gender, and sexual orientation, but the reaction is due to loss of power, real and perceived, not because the liberals are being too mean.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Donald Trump, Society, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    Rather, I have long thought that the proper terms is reactionary.

    I’m going to go with the term, “apeshitting reactionary” as we need to better describe the actual, ‘tinfoil hat’ situation. I’m taking Rod Dreher levels of Chicken Little but about absolutely everything.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I agree with all of this.

    Sullivan is right that there’s (in your parlance) a radical/revolutionary left. But they’re far less influential than the reactionary right, which in fact controls the White House and the Senate right now. The radical left controls bupkis.

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  3. @James Joyner:

    Sullivan is right that there’s (in your parlance) a radical/revolutionary left. But they’re far less influential than the reactionary right, which in fact controls the White House and the Senate right now. The radical left controls bupkis.

    Indeed.

  4. Argon says:

    The radical left controls bupkis.

    I don’t think they even control a single state, whereas Kansas and Wisconsin went on to be stellar examples of what happens when conservative ideology gets free reign.

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    I think you’ve got it just right, @Steven Taylor. They’ve lost power, not because of anything we liberals did, but because of a changing reality to which we adapted easily, and to which they failed to adapt. Liberal mammals, conservative dinosaurs.

    The Trumpaloon notion that they are somehow going to force gays back into closets, women into the kitchen, and POC to remain silent and compliant is fantasy. Isn’t happening. Cultural shift has been one of my metrics for watching Trump’s real-world effect. He won the political moment, but has he been able to change the culture? No. He’s liberated POS to be openly POS, but the country is still pro choice, pro education, pro gay rights, pro legalization, pro immigration, pro women in the military, and so on.

    The proof is in corporate America. Watch the public-facing companies. In every cultural dust-up they’ve sided with liberals. That is very revealing of the state of the culture. No one gives a fart for conservative boycotts, while everyone is scared of us. Even Trump fundraisers like Mr. Soul Cycle.

    The utter corruption – intellectual, moral and actual – of so-called conservatives has created a vacuum. Having revealed themselves as nothing but racists, misogynists and ignoramuses, Trump’s cult has destroyed any notion of credible conservatism and made the country safe for a move to the left.

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  6. wr says:

    In Sullivan’s world, the decades of the horror of Jim Crow only came about because the liberals of their day insisted that freed slaves be treated as equal citizens of the USA. And to some extent that’s true — if blacks had shown the good grace to remain in their state of slavery, Jim Crow wouldn’t have come about. But what he consistently fails to address is the question of whether the change being pushed is actually just, fair and right.

    Modern reactionaries may believe themselves forced into mass murder because there are more Spanish-speaking people around, but that doesn’t mean the underlying change is wrong. Just that it pisses some people off. And I don’t recall the part of the Constitution saying that we have a right not to be annoyed by societal changes.

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  7. Mr. Prosser says:

    I have bookmarked this post because it lays out in a systematic and understandable way the reasons I am a liberal but have been too inarticulate to voice. Thank you.

  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    Most significantly, however, I think this reactionary moment is about demographic change (the fact that the US is going only be plurality white, rather than majority white), and the expansion of rights of women, non-whites, and LBGTQ citizens. It is also about the erosion over the decades of the prominence of at least cultural Christianity are a dominant national philosophy.

    I agree it’s about a demographic change, but I think it’s actually something even more fundamental: the boomers are finally starting to sail off for that undiscovered country and dear god they are not taking it at all well.

  9. Barry says:

    Stephen: “Part of this moment was born in the Great Recession. The Tea Party movement, for example, emerged directly in response to the housing crisis and the commensurate contraction of the economy. ”

    Note that the Tea Party emerged in an instant, when the GOP lost Congress and the White House, and that nothing done by Trump and McConnel has caused them a moment of doubt

    Corruption and elitism was not their motivation.

    And no matter how badly Trump and the GOP screw up the next recession, they will not protest him. At most, they’ll pretend that thye never supported them.

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  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    Or, if you will, the notion that the Access Hollywood tape was just “locker room talk”–the idea that men, when they can be real men with other men regularly joke about sexual assault–and come on! it is just a joke!

    The issue with the Access Hollywood tape was not that it was an inappropriate joke, it’s that it was a confession of actual criminal behavior. Trump’s already won the argument here as you’ve implicitly accepted his framing that the controversy is about whether he should have said something like that rather than whether he should be allowed to get away with the acts he was describing:

    The Alt-Right Playbook: Control the Conversation

  11. @Stormy Dragon:

    The issue with the Access Hollywood tape was not that it was an inappropriate joke, it’s that it was a confession of actual criminal behavior. Trump’s already won the argument here as you’ve implicitly accepted his framing that the controversy is about whether he should have said something like that rather than whether he should be allowed to get away with the acts he was describing:

    I am not accepting his framing, nor am I saying it was simply an inappropriate joke (far from it).. A given utterance can have more than one meaning or significance.

    I agree that he was confessing there (and it is one of the reasons I believe E. Jean Carroll).

    However, in terms of the way many people rationalized that statement fits with what I wrote: boys being boys. (And note: that can be a pretty dangerous way of looking at things and has been used to excuse a lot of really horrible, and indeed criminal, behavior).

  12. Note how I referenced “the notion that the Access Hollywood tape was just “locker room talk””

    I was writing about the way many have framed the utterance. I was not asserting what I thought was true about said utterance.

  13. Kit says:

    We are in a reactionary moment because of structural changes to society, the government, the economy.

    I strongly suspect that the country has been undergoing significant structural changes to society, the government, the economy since the founding. And those comprising today’s Right have always been with us. In my opinion, we are in a reactionary moment because of changes in the media (Fox, talk radio, the internet), and an entrenched oligarchy that seeks to transform society in ways that the radical Left could only dream of.

  14. Mikey says:

    So, yes, we are in a reactionary moment. And I suppose you can blame liberals for pushing for equality in the areas of race, gender, and sexual orientation, but the reaction is due to loss of power, real and perceived, not because the liberals are being too mean.

    Something I’ve seen put in slightly different ways, but for which the underlying principle is consistent: To those who have always benefited from privilege, equality feels like oppression.

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  15. wr says:

    I’ve been thinking about these two posts for a while now, and this is what I’m finally arriving at:

    For decades, mainstream Republican politicians have used racist tropes to lure poor, uneducated whites into voting for policies that benefit only the upper classes. Democrats have seized on these tropes and accused Republican politicians — including Reagan and Romney — of being racists. Respectable Republicans then took personal offense, because they knew these men and had never witnessed them acting or speaking in an overtly racist manner. (Of course, the recent release of the Nixon/Reagan “monkey” tapes puts the lie to that — but I suppose that was just locker room talk, and therefore in no way reflects the actual beliefs of the speakers.)

    This is how “intellectuals” like Sullivan managed to maintain their innocence while supporting a party that was primarily built on racism — they would take great umbrage at the idea of, say, Mitt Romney, as a racist because they knew the man or men like him and knew them to be generous towards individuals of all races. And they would ignore the tropes being used by the campaign or the policies being pushed by the campaign and focus entirely on the personal.

    That’s no longer possible in the Trump administration, as all Republicans are now free to say out loud all those things they’d never say in public before. And even those who choose not to use the words fall in line behind policies that are entirely and unapologetically racist in intent.

    Basically, the lie the Sullivans of the world have used to excuse their own complicity with racism has fallen away, leaving them exposed. And since someone as morally good and true as Sullivan fancies himself can never admit what is now obvious to everyone, he’s got to find someone else to blame. And who better than Democrats?

    So you see, it’s not that Republicans have always used racism to further their goals. It’s that Democrats have been calling them racists for so long that they have somehow turned into them.

    Does it make any sense that a man could go for years thinking whites and blacks were equal, but because they were annoyed by Democrats suddenly decide that whites are the master race and blacks a hideous tribe of mud people? Of course not. But apparently to Sullivan — the man who, by the way, published The Bell Curve — this is easier to accept than the idea that he has been supporting racists all along…

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  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “The utter corruption – intellectual, moral and actual – of so-called conservatives has created a vacuum.”

    This, along with what wr has said above, is why I find myself amazed at what I see as an effort to “reclaim conservatism” that I see in some of the posts of Dr. Joyner. Unlike Slugger, who had a different view of life than the one I experienced, I became conservative in my youth because I could see the excesses of progressivism first hand from my seat on the Left Coast express. I gradually abandoned by philosophy as I saw the negative elements of conservatism become more dominant than the qualities that I admired. But I still don’t trust progressives to rule unfettered. I do believe that progressives need an opposition beyond Liberalism. We need conservatives to balance the equation.

    Sadly, conservatism is hopelessly and fatally broken in much the same ways as liberal/progressivism was 40-some years ago. If Dr. Joyner, Andy, Hal, and others who seem to be of similar mindsets want conservatism, they’re going to need to fix what’s broken–the racism, the entrenchment of privilege, the reactionary state of the philosophy, and such–and create a new conservatism that can be the kind of counterweight that the left will need. I think the tools are there. Is the will to use them there also?

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The issue with the Access Hollywood tape was not that it was an inappropriate joke, it’s that it was a confession of actual criminal behavior.

    If it wasn’t for all the credible accusations of sexual assault — if we were hearing that tape out of context — I would assume it was a grossly immature twit gloating about power he wants his listener to think he has, but that he would be utterly terrified to even attempt. The Canadian girlfriend that you wouldn’t know, but better and more awesome because he’s an Alpha Male With Money.

    Do we believe Charles Mingus’ autobiography, about his time as a pimp, or do we just think it’s sad that he thinks that is cool?

    Only an idiot would believe that bullshit. Everyone else shakes their head with a mixture of pity and embarrassment for the braggart.

    Trump, alas, believes his own bullshit and acts on it.

  18. Gustopher says:

    I do think we are in a reactionary moment, but not because the nasty left made the right go nuts. We are in a reactionary moment because of structural changes to society, the government, the economy.

    I think this is true, as far as it goes, but lacks the effects of the right-wing echo chambers and the increasing dominance of troll culture.

    All of the things that have marked reactionaries in the past — a loss of status, a feeling of no control — plus a public cheering section, control over the government, and online radicalization where they egg each other on to be bigger and bigger assholes as a performance for each other.

    A spiteful desire to ensure that if they don’t win, at least their enemies will lose even if that means they lose even more.

  19. Gustopher says:

    Pondering for a few more moments — I don’t think we are just living in a reactionary moment, as I don’t think it’s like any of the other reactionary moments of our past. We are living in a reactionary moment, but we are really living in an Era Of Performative Spite.

    Look at the gun control debate and the open carry loons. There isn’t going to be useful gun control, there’s nothing to react against. They just want to wear their guns and rub everyone’s noses in it.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    In terms of government, I think some of our current national angst is due to the fact that our institutions do a terrible job of actually representing public preferences. (As I have repeatedly noted). I think a lot of people feel this problem without knowing what it is, why it is, or how to fix it.

    Surely radical racial gerrymandering and the undemocratic electoral college, among other reasons, contribute to this particular problem…

  21. @An Interested Party: Yes, yes, and yes.

  22. dazedandconfused says:

    I fully agree with the OP, but it strikes me that the labels may be a distraction. As you say, it would take a book, and it seems that book, should it touch on the Renaissance, will hit a brick wall. Is a movement seeking to drag up those old Greeks radical or reactionary? To anyone who tries I say lotsa luck with that.

    In our times the key to this reactionary movement is the scapegoating of people of color. It’s ridiculous, as no way did industry flee en-mass for China and elsewhere in an effort to escape cheap north American labor. Yet many people today believe that if only the demographic dominance of white people be restored to what it was in the mid-twentieth, why, everything would be right as rain. The labels are not relevant in scapegoating. It’s an old, old habit.

    This remains a deeply racist nation. Obama’s election came about a century before this nation was ready for a black man to be POTUS. It unwittingly launched this reactionary movement from a slow simmer to a boil.

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  23. Jim Brown 32 says:

    This country paid a dear price for Slavery via the civil war. The bill for 90 years of Jim Crow is still outstanding. Now that actual racism is illegal and socially taboo, America’s white culture needs replacement Njggers. White liberals chose rural America and White Republicans chose Democrats. America’s monied aristocracy saw the perfect opportunity to weaponinize media against both groups while simultaneously pursuing a now 3 decade campaign of pro-capital, pro-corporation, pro-law enforcement, pro bribery policy and legislation.

    Anyone with half a brain can see that the gov’t inability to respond to challenges is by design. The only thing that gains any traction are wedge issues. And God forbid any Party actually solve any issue because now they loose a turnout issue. The only saving grace is that 40 something’s and below don’t seem to be as exuberant to grind an axe so there is still time for the current environment to resolve itself before bloodshed becomes the tool of choice

  24. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Sullivan is right that there’s (in your parlance) a radical/revolutionary left. But they’re far less influential than the reactionary right, which in fact controls the White House and the Senate right now. The radical left controls bupkis.

    There is a revolutionary left when the powerful let their hubris take them too far. Then people lose their heads, and appalling dysfunctional doomed regimes are born out of the ashes. Some of them eventually mostly heal, like France and perhaps Vietnam. Others (Russia, China, Cambodia) not so much.

    The US currently has no such revolutionaries in sufficient numbers to worry about, though we did right up until FDR eased the pressure a bit, then WW2 grabbed everyone’s attention. If the GOP were to achieve their vision for what America should be like, America would again grow radical revolutionaries in large numbers.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    Now that actual racism is illegal and socially taboo…

    The election of Obama, the trash in the White House, and his Republican enablers have done quite a lot to make that social stigma not so taboo as it may once have been…

  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @An Interested Party: True to a certain extent. I suppose it’s ok again to tell rascist jokes to your white friends and associates…. But I think it’s still understood that calling a black man boy or njgger to his face in 2019 is going to result in a completely different outcome than it it did in 1959. Youtube is full of videos where Trumpites tested the water and found out. I’ve recently gone back to carrying Betsey around with me in case one of these Trump Nationalists is feeling extra MAGA. I’m not playing around with these people.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    I’ve recently gone back to carrying Betsey around with me in case one of these Trump Nationalists is feeling extra MAGA.

    If you and a couple of million more men of color started ostentatiously packing heat (especially in red states), so many of these 2nd Amendment absolutists would want gun control so fast their heads would spin…

  28. Ken_L says:

    Reaction becomes attractive to more and more people if they lose any hope of a better future. Or to put it the other way, the more faith people have in the vision of the future conveyed by progressives, the less inclined they are to be reactionary.

    In many ways, 21st century America reminds me of post-WW2 Great Britain. All the trappings of empire were still there, but the means to give them substance had evaporated. America’s plight is nowhere near so dire, of course, so the decline is happening much more slowly. But it is happening nevertheless. The US has aspirations beyond its capacity to deliver; consequently frequent disappointment is inevitable, leading to Obama’s observations about resentful people clinging bitterly to their guns and religion.

    What can progressives realistically offer? Bullshit and fantasy, to be honest. Congress is grid-locked and almost guaranteed to stay that way. Political institutions and the capitalist economy are no longer capable of delivering progress that ordinary Americans expect as their right. It’s no wonder large numbers of them turn to a metaphorical Man on a White Horse to take them back to a misremembered golden era, or that many others embrace the politics of class warfare preached by Bernie Sanders.

    I’ve experienced being part of the management team of a rapidly growing corporation, and also of an organisation that was in slow decline. The former was great fun, rewarding and exciting. The latter was soul-destroying. The parallels aren’t exact, but much the same considerations apply to America 1950 v America 2019.

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  29. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    why I find myself amazed at what I see as an effort to “reclaim conservatism” that I see in some of the posts of Dr. Joyner

    As noted in yesterday morning’s post, I’ve long since moved away from “conservative” to “classical liberal” as a descriptive. What I continue to defend is a small-c conservatism of approach.

    I would have preferred, for example, same-sex marriage to have been legalized organically, as is now happening across the land with marijuana, than via judicial dictat. It may have taken a couple more years but it was already well underway and would have come with substantially less resentment by those who lost the culture war.

    That’s especially true with issues like transgender rights, which are essentially a brand new issue culturally and intellectually but seems to have been swept in along with gay equality, for which we were much more ready as a society. The consequence has been a massive backlash from people who are simply befuddled by an issue they can’t possibly understand.

    In both cases, I support the direction in which we’re inevitably headed. But I think process matters considerably more than the radicals (to use Steven’s description) seem to acknowledge.

  30. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: A couple more years? Are you serious?

    The reason marriage equality had to go up to SCOTUS was that it never would have happened otherwise. Do you think the Tennessee state legislature (100 Republicans, 31 Democrats) or Georgia (138R, 96D) would have ever passed it? Or maybe you’re thinking about Mississippi (105R, 65D). Um…nope. Perhaps big ol’ Texas? Hmmm…102R, 79D. Guess not.

    If there’s one thing we should all have learned by now, it’s that GOP-controlled states are quite happy to keep on violating the Constitution unless they are held to account in the courts. Legislative remedies simply don’t work in those states.

  31. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey: I’m sufficiently conservative ideologically that I don’t think gay rights are in the Constitution. So, even though I support the policies created by SCOTUS rulings to the contrary, I see them as judicial activism and social change by fiat.

    Where I think the courts would have had a legitimate role is in enforcing the Full Faith and Credit Clause. So, while nothing in the Constitution should reasonably interpreted as requiring Alabama to marry gays, it absolutely requires Alabama to recognize gays who got married legally in Connecticut as married. There’s clear black letter law to that effect going back to the earliest days of the Republic. Indeed, it’s what spawned the Defense of Marriage Act.

    Would that have been messier in some respects than the way it actually happened? Sure. But it would have been seen much more widely as legitimate. And I think that’s important when enacting major social changes of this sort.

  32. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    Would that have been messier in some respects than the way it actually happened? Sure. But it would have been seen much more widely as legitimate. And I think that’s important when enacting major social changes of this sort.

    I’m not really seeing a whole lot of difference, because either way the courts would need to get involved. Alabama’s state legislature would not have been any more likely to accept the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause for gay marriage than it was for interracial marriage, another issue that required SCOTUS intervention.

    But my main point was that your assertion of “a couple more years” was both naive and, frankly, a great deal more flippant than I’ve come to expect from you.

  33. @James Joyner:

    Where I think the courts would have had a legitimate role is in enforcing the Full Faith and Credit Clause.

    I would counter that the folks currently lashing back about gay marriage would not have been appeased by the esoteric difference between a more originalist interpretation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause instead of a more expansive interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause.

    To them, either is fiat and, really, only a handful of people (in relative terms) would know the difference.

    So, to them, either route is fiat.

  34. And, as we have discussed before, I really do not think that we are bound by original intent (if anything, because there was never some clear, obvious, immutable intent).

    If “nor shall any State […] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” means women and gays in 2019, and it didn’t in 1868, I am really do not know why we should be bound to a 1868 definition of “citizen.”

    Beyond that, there has never been a consistent application of originialist interpretation by the Court, so really the issue becomes one of political philosophy, not fidelity to a lost way of doing things.

    As a side note (not aimed at you): I will take the originialists on the Court seriously when they start interpreting the Second Amendment to only apply to firearms available in 1791, among other things. Either words only mean what they meant in the 1790s (which is absurd in my estimation) or they don’t.

  35. Back to gay marriage (as with desgregation): I think that democratic governance required privileging rights of groups and individuals over the majority’s preference, and I would place equal treatment under the law in that category, so that the Court had to enforce the right does not bother me.

    Although I agree with you, I would have preferred it we had, as a society, recognized that right legislatively rather than having to have the issue forced by the Court.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:

    Would that have been messier in some respects than the way it actually happened? Sure. But it would have been seen much more widely as legitimate. And I think that’s important when enacting major social changes of this sort.

    Isn’t this basically the neo-Confederate argument that had we just waited patiently slavery would have died out in a few years? No need to fight that big messy war? Sure, slavery would have gone on for another 20 or 40 or 100 years, but in the end the process would have been seen as more valid?

    It is all too easy to stop American government from functioning. (See: Mitch McConnell’s entire career.) If all parties were acting in good faith, sure, fine, wait it out a bit. But conservatives don’t act in good faith, conservatives lie. They lie about what they believe, they lie about their intentions, they just lie. Or do you think Trump single-handedly turned the modern GOP into a white supremacist party? They’ve been white supremacists since the mid-60’s, they just lied about it, and now Trump’s made it impossible for them to lie effectively.

    Every major advancement in American liberty has come with conflict. (Independence, the end of slavery, the basic right of Native Americans to life itself, civil rights, worker rights, student rights, voting rights, gay rights.) We never make progress from some rational exchange of views because while we are openly stating our positions, conservatives are lying about theirs. And they are more than happy to use violence to back their lies – from Confederate armies to strike-breaking Pinkertons to gay-bashing cops to National Guard troops at Kent State to Oklahoma City to Trump’s ‘proud boys’.

    The dynamic is predictable. Liberals (by various labels) lay out a vision of some improvement in life, conservatives hate it but can’t just come out and say ‘we hate it because we don’t care about anyone but ourselves,’ so they lie. That’s not dialog, that’s one side proposing and the other side lying reflexively.

  37. Hal_10000 says:

    I think is partly right, but I disagree with a key part. The “radical left” may not control any of the reigns of government power (for the moment). But they have immense control of the culture. Education institutes are uniformly liberal and give free reign to the radical left. Entertainment is immensely liberal and gives free reign to the radical left. Every late night talk show these days is aggressively liberal, to the point of being unfunny and unwatchable even to moderates like me. I think it was Will who said that the conservative have political power but crave cultural power. And the liberals have cultural power but crave political power.

    And a lot of people feel like that cultural power is being abused. Opposing illegal immigration is recast as racism. Opposing abortion (as half of women do) is troglodyte sexism. It’s not enough to believe that trans folk should have civil rights; you have to say that Catelyn Jenner is stunning and brave. It’s not enough to say that gay people should have equal rights; you have to agree that gender is a social construct. Sullivan goes into this in great detail in this post and past ones.

    Political correctness has become the apotheosis of this. Bill James pointed this out recently: that when we banned certain racial pejoratives from our language in the past, it was by some sort of consensus. But we now have a group of self-appointed elites decreeing that this is sexist, that is racist, this is a microaggression and you think there are two genders YOU MONSTER. None of us had a say in this (and, in fact, polls show that white liberals are for more obsessed with these things than actual minorities). Everyone feels like they are one tweet away from a shame mob. Or one 20-second video clip.

    So I agree with you that part of what’s going on is a fairly typical reaction to how fast and how furiously our culture has change over the last few decades. And I would also agree that it’s being cynically exacerbated by a giant “conservative” grifter class trying to cash in on anger. But I also think that this reaction is being worsened by smug cultural elites constantly haranguing people about … everything. When you can’t even watch the late show without getting a ten minute unfunny diatribe about how awful Trump is, how do you expect people to react?

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  38. Teve says:

    Or do you think Trump single-handedly turned the modern GOP into a white supremacist party? They’ve been white supremacists since the mid-60’s, they just lied about it, and now Trump’s made it impossible for them to lie effectively.

    When that tape with Reagan calling Africans monkeys came out, there were some conservatives who very conspicuously pretended it didn’t happen. The idea that maybe the liberals were right and they’ve been supporting a white supremacist party all their adult lives is not an easy pill to swallow.

  39. @Hal_10000:

    The “radical left” may not control any of the reigns of government power (for the moment). But they have immense control of the culture. Education institutes are uniformly liberal and give free reign to the radical left.

    I think this assessment requires a different definition of “radical left” than I am using.

    I also don’t find your examples to be as representative of entertainment writ large as you present them to be–Catelyn Jenner (old news, now) is hardly indicative of mainstream TV and movies, for example.

    The biggest money makers are about superheroes. These are movies (which I enjoy) in which predominantly white men use power and money to pummel their way to control. Whatever that is, it is not radical leftism.

    Speaking of abortion: it is my observation that in most TV and movies, even with clearly liberal writers and producers, abortion is rarely the outcome, but rather having the child is. Most rom coms are about heterosexual couples finding their way to a traditional marriage, etc.

    How many TV shows are there that show law enforcement or the military as unvarnished goods?

    I am not saying there aren’t counter-examples, but the overall entertainment world is not radical leftism–far from it. Indeed, while think of liberal tropes and ideas in popular movies and TV, I cannot, off the top of my head, conjure a example of radical leftism. Where are the revolutionaries and Marxists on American television?

    I will agree that the education and entertainment are more influenced by liberals than conservatives, but I think that that is very different than being controlled by “the radical left.”

    And, I would note, since liberals tend to value reason over tradition, it is not surprising that the academy is more liberal (any more than it is surprising that the clergy is more conservative).

    I am not saying that some of what you note isn’t real, but I would argue that you are overemphasizing the significance of quite a lot of it while not seeing the ways in which lots of conservative-oriented ideas and cultural artifacts still very much suffuse our popular culture.

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  40. @Hal_10000:

    Political correctness has become the apotheosis of this. Bill James pointed this out recently: that when we banned certain racial pejoratives from our language in the past, it was by some sort of consensus. But we now have a group of self-appointed elites decreeing that this is sexist, that is racist, this is a microaggression and you think there are two genders YOU MONSTER. None of us had a say in this (and, in fact, polls show that white liberals are for more obsessed with these things than actual minorities). Everyone feels like they are one tweet away from a shame mob. Or one 20-second video clip.

    BTW, I am really not buying this. For one, I don’t think that PC is the great scourge that some make it out to be (and precisely why would the sabermetrics guy be an authority on this kind of thing?). This all sounds like the “the libs made me do it” (a stance I really reject).

    This I especially find odd: “when we banned certain racial pejoratives from our language in the past, it was by some sort of consensus”–surely the people who are called the pejorative ought to have a major say in such matters. Indeed, the notion that it takes a consensus to stop pejoratives from being used empowers the majority (likely the main users of that pejorative) over the minority (the ones being called the pejorative). And I am not so sure that consensus on not using certain words came first. I think people objected, and then consensus was formed over time (or, in some case, not).

    Why can’t we just try to be nice and respectful to people, even if it means we have to take a couple of words out of our vocabularies?

    This is the part of the anti-PC crusade I don’t get: it always seems like the language people are upset about not being able to use is some word used against some minority segment of the population.

    Why be upset about that?

  41. @Hal_10000:

    When you can’t even watch the late show without getting a ten minute unfunny diatribe about how awful Trump is, how do you expect people to react?

    I would expect people who want to see Trump made fun of watch and others not to. This is a sign of our polarized times (buy having presidents made fun of on late night TV is not new).

    BTW, while I personally enjoy, say, Colbert, it does strike me as unfortunate that late night comedy has become so polarizing. But, again, I think that reflects our present moment and the nature of mass media in a fragmented age. I would expect Trump fans to avoid Colbert the same way I avoid Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity.

    Serious suggestion: watch Conan–he mostly avoids the Trump jokes of the day.

  42. Hal_10000 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I would expect people who want to see Trump made fun of watch and others not to. This is a sign of our polarized times (buy having presidents made fun of on late night TV is not new).

    I would say the nature of it has changed. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, etc. were made fun of but in a way that everyone laughed, including them. The political jokes on late night TV now are less jokes than political rants told with the cadence of a joke.

  43. @Hal_10000: I would suggest that you have forgotten the wall-to-wall Clinton sex joke era, when I suspect Clinton was not laughing.

    I suspect Dubya did not find Will Ferrell all that funny at the time, either (nor Gore the SNL portrayals back in 2000).

    Regardless, you are gliding over my polarization point.

  44. Mikey says:

    @Hal_10000: Do you think Trump has either the humility or the self-awareness necessary to laugh at himself, regardless of the quality of the joke? I mean, for fuck’s sake, he still sends Graydon Carter pictures of his hands and the “short-fingered vulgarian” thing is from 1988.

    And of course there’s the infamous White House Correspondents dinner…we all know how Trump handled that.

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  45. Hal_10000 says:

    @Mikey:

    Oh, agreed. The WHCP was when I knew he shouldn’t be President.

    Regardless, you are gliding over my polarization point.

    I’m not ignoring the point. I agree for the most part. But everything in our culture seems to be driving toward more polarization rather than less. Entertainers spend way more time bashing the other side and seem to have lost any sense of humor about their own. John Stewart was political and liberal but wasn’t nearly as polarizing. Part of that was his persona and part of it was because he no problem hitting Democrats when they were silly or being gracious to conservatives when they deserved graciousness. That’s gone. One of the hosts — I can’t remember which — had Trump on his show and did a softball sit-down, the kind of thing every host for decades has done. And he got raked over the coals for it. Meanwhile, every time Samantha Bee unfunnily “eviscerates” conservatives, it gets praise and plastered all over Twitter. That’s not even to mention the mainstream news, which is *mostly* OK but occasionally does a spectacular pratfall in their stampede to portray conservatives as villains (e.g., Covington).

    So we have large parts of this country being hit by a double whammy — a conservative griftosphere that is determined to tell them that liberals are awful. And a liberal echosphere that all too often lives up to that characterization.

    This is the part of the anti-PC crusade I don’t get: it always seems like the language people are upset about not being able to use is some word used against some minority segment of the population.

    Well, first of all, as I noted above, white liberals seem to be the most sensitive about this stuff. Second, it has metastasized way beyond a few words into carefully combing over any public utterance for anything untoward.

    I would suggest that you have forgotten the wall-to-wall Clinton sex joke era, when I suspect Clinton was not laughing.

    I suspect Dubya did not find Will Ferrell all that funny at the time, either (nor Gore the SNL portrayals back in 2000).

    No, it didn’t happen overnight. But it has gotten steadily worse.

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  46. An Interested Party says:

    The US has aspirations beyond its capacity to deliver; consequently frequent disappointment is inevitable, leading to Obama’s observations about resentful people clinging bitterly to their guns and religion.

    Perhaps those aspirations wouldn’t be so hard to deliver on if the oligarchy didn’t have such a tight grip on power, particularly political power…and to think that many of those resentful people look up to and admire that same oligarchy which isn’t doing those people any favors…

    But it would have been seen much more widely as legitimate.

    Bullshit…there is no way that many conservatives in red states would have seen SSM as legitimate if it was passed in blue states and then expanded to red states because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause…many of those people see homosexuality as an abomination and nothing in the Constitution or any other document will change their minds…

    And a lot of people feel like that cultural power is being abused.

    As opposed to the political power of the radical right, which allows Republicans to completely ignore implementing laws that a majority of the American people want…

    It’s not enough to believe that trans folk should have civil rights; you have to say that Catelyn Jenner is stunning and brave.

    Who the hell is making such a claim?

    It’s not enough to say that gay people should have equal rights; you have to agree that gender is a social construct.

    I get it, some people are terrified of transgender folks…but imagine what it must be like to be born of one sex and to have everything in your heart and mind tell you that you are really the other sex…to have those feelings in this society seems a little bit more scary than being afraid of transgender people…

    But I also think that this reaction is being worsened by smug cultural elites constantly haranguing people about … everything.

    Once again, as opposed to supposed “real Americans” who harangue others about what America is supposed to be and who should be excluded from that…

    I would say the nature of it has changed. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, etc. were made fun of but in a way that everyone laughed, including them. The political jokes on late night TV now are less jokes than political rants told with the cadence of a joke.

    Perhaps that goes hand in hand with the fact that the current president is radically different from those previous presidents in that he is an existential threat in a way that none of them were…

  47. JohnMcC says:

    @Hal_10000: The effect that you are describing is the right-wing, so-called-conservatives losing the culture war. The rest of what you write is excuses or blaming or something equally irrelevant.

    Your side is losing popular appeal. In a Democracy.

    You know what that means, right?

    Good Bye, Hal. We got the escape pod free. Enjoy the rest of your space voyage.

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  48. wr says:

    @Hal_10000: “Education institutes are uniformly liberal and give free reign to the radical left. Entertainment is immensely liberal and gives free reign to the radical left. Every late night talk show these days is aggressively liberal, to the point of being unfunny and unwatchable even to moderates like me. ”

    That is indeed a terrible situation for you. Clearly this entitles you to pick up a semi-automatic weapon and murder brown-skinned women and children.

    Finally I understand why conservatives feel compelled towards mass murder. Thanks for explaining it!

  49. @Hal_10000:

    But everything in our culture seems to be driving toward more polarization rather than less. Entertainers spend way more time bashing the other side and seem to have lost any sense of humor about their own. John Stewart was political and liberal but wasn’t nearly as polarizing.

    I think you are getting the causation out of order.

    Do you think if Stewart was on the air now that it wouldn’t be Trump jokes like all the other shows? Stewart’s heyday was when a Democrat was in office (and even then, his audience wasn’t a lot of convservatives). And the old Colbert show was all about making fun of Fox News.

    We have perhaps the most polarizing president ever. As such, the response by popular culture should not be a surprise.

  50. @Hal_10000:

    One of the hosts — I can’t remember which — had Trump on his show and did a softball sit-down, the kind of thing every host for decades has done. And he got raked over the coals for it.

    It was Fallon. And yes, a lot of people go upset for normalizing Trump. There are a lot of people who don’t like that.

    Meanwhile, every time Samantha Bee unfunnily “eviscerates” conservatives, it gets praise and plastered all over Twitter.

    I honestly haven’t heard or seen a reference to a Samantha Bee bit in some time. I haven’t seen in on Twitter in forever (if ever).

    BTW: the reason I say you are gliding over the polarization issue is that polarization in an era of niche media means you are unlikely get the broader appeal programming of the past. But, again, a highly polarizing president will produce these outcomes.

    From there you are just citing anecdotes.

    In re: racist language:

    Well, first of all, as I noted above, white liberals seem to be the most sensitive about this stuff.

    You think that minority groups like being called names? The idea that it is just a bunch of white libs who dislike this language is, in my opinion, being dismissive of the power of derisive language.

    And, also: you have not addressed the “radical left” claims.

  51. DrDaveT says:

    @Hal_10000:

    The “radical left” may not control any of the reigns of government power (for the moment). But they have immense control of the culture.

    Hogwash. Marxists have no influence whatever on the culture at the moment; the state of labor unions should be a huge hint in that regard. And they have far less influence than you seem to think within academia, where their self-reinforcing bubble is restricted to humanities studies that have no influence outside of academia. Post-modernists are more influential, God help us.

    Or were you perhaps somehow conflating ordinary liberals with “the radical left”?

    (And it’s ‘rein’, not ‘reign’ — yes, I know I’m not supposed to point that out, but you made the same mistake twice in one comment and I can’t help it.)