About five miles from my office lives a very nice young lady, who just cleared seventy years out of a womb and on this Earth. We'll call her Mrs. Martin, because she's a fairly unassuming woman who would be scandalized to know someone's writing about her on the internet. (When I asked her if I could, she said, "I don't think I'm important enough to be on the INTERNET.") Mrs. Martin is a sometimes-client of mine, a widow whose husband's love of America was matched only by his love of the United States Navy and Mrs. Martin's casseroles; she shared his love of America and of those casseroles, but she was sort of sour on the Navy by the time her late husband took his full pension. In her home there are pictures of ships with paint-pen signatures all over; of naval bases in sunset (her husband was a mildly talented amateur photographer and she had an eye for scenery); of children and grandchildren; of Ronald Reagan; of Christ; and of various, mildly kitschy Americana that one finds in homes of those of a certain age.
Mrs. Martin lives in a less-than-desirable-but-not-awful neighborhood, one like tens of thousands across the South, where you can walk from a broken shack to a collection of doublewides to some intact-but-not-much-more-base-style-housing to some old-but-well-maintained ranch styles, to some old-but-obviously-expensive-Georgian-eras, in no particular or consistent order, without once leaving the block. Hers is one of the penultimate ones, a lovely little house with a beautiful (if occasionally slightly overrun) front yard and some statuary that look like forlorn, worn angels, not least because that's what they are. The ethnic breakdown of her neighborhood is much like that in many such neighborhoods across the South, which is to say poor-to-middle-class-to-lower-upper-class whites, poor-to-middle-class blacks, and a passel of folks whose birthplace lies on the other side of the Rio Grande and whose kids were born there or here. The kids either split up by ethnic group to play or not play soccer, or mingle to play baseball or football, or, more recently, to play Jedi and Sith.
When I first met Mrs. Martin, I came to her house to discuss her legal troubles. She apologized about twenty minutes in and raced to her oven to pull out cookies, slid them onto a plate in that way older women have of reminding middle-aged-men that we're useless in kitchens, and raced out to hand them to the neighborhood kids getting off the bus. In a detail that struck me as unexceptional at the time but will be important in a few minutes, she smiled at each kid as he or she got off the bus (no parents around), greeted each by name, and handed each a cookie. She didn't skimp for any of them, white, black, brown, native-born or almost certainly not. She then hurried back in and we resumed.
When we next met, she undertook a similar pattern, but winter had finally called it a year and given way to spring, so this time, it was chilled lemon squares; the handout process was no different.
She called me not long ago to ask me some questions about the matters with which I'd helped her before, so I drove over to her house, honestly hoping to snag one of those cookies. When I pulled up to her house, I thought I must be in the wrong place, because I was greeted with signs that said, subtly, "TRUMP," and "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN," and honestly I stopped paying attention because there were a lot of them, I mean a lot, and I was having trouble processing this.
I'm Southern (well, Texan, but close enough), so as I sat in her living room to speak of minor legal matters, I engaged in the sort of gentle linguistic dance my people use when trying to communicate unspeakable horror to people we're suddenly unsure are capable of understanding it or their role in it. (My wife, a Yankee, finds this maddening even after a decade and a half of marriage.) This is roughly the verbal equivalent of saying, "Bless your heart," in different ways for about twenty minutes while the other participant refers to you as "a dear." This allows us to both exchange information and mild insults without resorting to gunplay; I would encourage it of urban-dwelling Yankees, but I think they lack the patience for it in the cold in which they live.
With her permission and as none of what followed was protected by the attorney-client privilege, I'll relay some of the more interesting parts.
Mrs. Martin loves her Facebook page. She loves keeping up with her children and grandchildren ("They're teaching me how to use the Skype soon!") and, she beamed to tell me, her upcoming great-grandchildren. She follows her favorite TV shows and a couple of authors and, of course, The Donald. She reads the Drudge Report, which might be too strong a way to say "she reads the headlines and then goes back to her chores and her Zoomba class."
When I asked her if she'd followed any of the, let us say, indelicacies of the Trump Adventure -- boasting of penile length, subtle suggestions that one cannot trust Hispanic judges, being endorsed by open white supremacists, the list is getting depressing -- her reaction ranged from sheer disbelief ("There's no way he said that!") to polite disbelief ("Why that's silly, he's from up North, they don't join the Klan up there" ) to indifference ("Politicians say silly things all the time, he's just doing what they do") to approval ("I'm glad someone is standing up for America again"). When I noted that, if some (but not all) of his ramblings could be taken seriously, they would mean that some of the nice children for whom she bakes cookies every day would be forcibly deported, she all but suggested I was insane -- no one could possibly mean that, he just meant no more people would come here illegally.
What came through, most of all, was that most of the things that would cause most normal Americans to light up Trump's life at a stake were news to her. Several surveys done in January and February showed that most of Trump's followers did not know the slew of damaging things he'd said and done; most could not have even imagined them. If you've followed the actual news -- not the internet, but news channels and news radio -- this shouldn't be a surprise. If you get most of your news from the internet, it's a different ballgame.
As someone who spends far too much of his life learning and arguing about politics and policy on the internet, it was one of those reminders that normal people don't. For a bit of perspective, as of this writing, Kim Kardashian-West has nearly 42 million followers on Twitter and 28 million likes on Facebook; Ted Cruz has 942 thousand Twitter followers, and a little over 2 million likes. (Donald J. Trump has just under 7 million followers and about 6.5 million likes.) In other words, a vapid woman who is famous for being the daughter of a famous lawyer, having a sex tape, having a healthy rear, and being famous, has a social media presence that laps many times both of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination for the Presidency. (For further perspective, a parody Twitter account that combines Mrs. West's vapidity and the musings of Søren Kierkegaard is almost half as popular as Senator Cruz's.)
Most Americans use the internet. However, most people use the internet to be informed about things they want to be informed about. We speak of self-sorting and -segregation on the internet -- like-minded people clustering together and reading things that reinforce their opinions -- but that's only part of it. The thing we tend to forget is that now that there are so many sources of information out there, you don't need to watch the evening news for that one segment on the movie or celebrity you care about, or as a lead-in to Entertainment Tonight. Today, you can get what you want and never dip your toes in anywhere else.
What this means for the future of the Republic ... well, let's stick to one depressing topic at a time.
Mrs. Martin is not a one-off. Anecdote is not the singular of data, as a friend of mine likes to say; but in political years, I like to actually speak to people other than exceptionally smart people who write on the internet and see what they're thinking. I've had occasion to travel throughout the Bible Belt over the last few months -- they should possibly rename it the Trump Belt for how well the oleaginous, Godless, orange-hued carny has thumped the unctuous little Hobbit Cruz -- and a fairly consistent pattern has emerged: If you are white (or surprisingly often, black), not a professional, usually but not always vote Republican, vaguely Protestant, and are on the wrong side of the income curve, you're going to speak up for Trump. You're going to talk about America as one does a lost high school love; maybe you're going to make somewhat embarrassed references to the Mexicans Who Hang Out In the Home Depot Parking Lot taking jobs; maybe you'll talk about hating Congress; maybe you'll talk about how hard it is to make ends meet; maybe you're mad at the Democrats for trying to destroy Social Security (forget it, he's rolling); maybe you're mad at Obama (who may be a foreigner or worse, a Yankee) and you want someone who will stand up for you against him; maybe any number of things. Sometimes you'll say you'd vote for Bernie Sanders if you thought he had a chance. Sometimes you'll say you thought George W. Bush was a good man and a good president but he didn't stop the jobs from going away or people from falling behind. There is a giant, roiling mass of undereducated, underinformed, angry, depressed, mistrustful Americans out there, and they have decided to care, and to do it in the way undereducated, underinformed, angry, depressed, mistrustful people often do.
This makes a lot of people angry. Were we still a Republic in all but name, that anger would be righteous and indeed it would be right. But of course, we're not.
In American politics, where we fight over the tiny morsels over which we are still allowed control of our lives, it's often an easy shortcut to treat our opponents as slavering, fanged enemies. It makes our own insanities easier to ignore; and when they burst out, harder to contain or even recognize.
And that is why the Republican Party is trying to commit suicide, albeit in its usual, clumsy, inelegant, and ineffective way.
In 2015, the Republican Party went very slightly mad. Like all great madnesses, however, it was not so much a single mental illness, but a collection of clashing delusions that manifested as so much self-righteous chaos and, ultimately, mental and moral bloodshed.
It was a year that saw (the loudest) Republican voters and activists reject The Establishment, a hazy and nebulous group that might best be described as the Senators and Congressmen they'd duly elected and re-elected for years; the lobbyists and various remoras attached to their underbellies, and whose class those same Congresscritters aspire to join; and wealthy, odd people, mostly distinguishable from the wealthy, odd people who underwrite Democrats because of their fascination with carried interest and their higher rate of being self-made before going odd. The epicenter of this hatred -- Where the Establishment Lives -- is the imperial capital of Washington, D.C., and the portions of Maryland and Virginia it has annexed spiritually if not legally. The Treasury Capital of New York would get the occasional hate-mention, too.
It was therefore a year that gave way to another year in which a native New Yorker who has taken his slumlord father's sizable fortune and turned it into a slightly more sizable fortune (exact figures are a royal secret) through the generous application of lucre to the imperial class; two sitting Senators; and a governor who spent the most significant part of his prior life as a Congresscritter and as a servant of one of the Mandarins of the Treasury Capital would edge out sitting and former governors who by and large had never been part of the imperial class and who promised to overthrow it. Those same governors, with the exception of that one lucky non-entity, found their political careers and reputations at least temporarily destroyed, especially if they had the utter lack of grace required to note that the orange carny from New York is historically left-wing on almost everything; a longtime funder of Democrats and prominent, moderate Democrats; and more importantly, clearly out of his barking mind.
That story, itself, would be a madness worth savoring were it happening to the Democrats, but this is only the surface madness to which the Republican Party had fallen prey. Just below that surface were deeper madnesses, at war with each other as surely as they were with reality, like lobotomized sharks whose left fins had been amputated. Consider those who march under the banner of madness.
Let us begin, as we sadly must, with Donald Trump and his band of monomaniacs -- and those who follow in their wake.
The first thing one must understand about the entire Trump movement is that it is not so much irrational as anti-rational; it is a profession of faith that some facts are more equal than others (one supposes it's nice that we finally got low-church Protestants to make a creed of some kind). It is a belief that cuts across the entire movement, from the batty crypto- and not-so-crypto-Nazis who infest the Twitter mentions of anyone who suggests that whites are not, in fact, undergoing a genocide (we're not); to the very nice and very motley crew who show up at Trump rallies to raise their hands like sexagenarian school children when asked to declare their loyalty to Brand Trump; to the Mrs. Martins of the world; to Chris Christie, bless his fat heart. It's a belief that the polls that have been more or less accurate in identifying Donald Trump as the leading vote-getter in most Republican primaries so far, on which Trump has staked his electoral credibility, are conversely lies and plain error when suggesting that he's dead come the general election.
This is not to say that these people, individually, are irrational. (The White Genocide People, however, are.) It's to say that there are several, unrelated intellectual threads that have converged to bring about this state of affairs, and they appear to have reached a perverse apotheosis in Trumpland.
There is, first, the belief that the elites are stupid. There's a great deal of merit to this, and a great deal of evidence to support it; after all, those same elites judged Trump a non-factor a year ago and less. Those elites -- politicians, consultants, pollsters, political science professors, opinion writers, that one guy who drove the cab that picked you up when you flew into LaGuardia and who's gonna be back on his feet in no time -- managed to misread the electorate's composition, mood, and intellectual capacity in almost every relevant particular for years. Thus, if the elites are saying something that cannot be or has not been demonstrably tested, you may safely assume that they are wrong; and the fact that they were wrong about Trump before the primaries started suggests they're wrong about him before the general election.
There are obvious logical and rational problems with this. They're not important because you cannot reason with people when their emotions are high, as Twitter is in the habit of proving. What makes the problem worse is the death of expertise, or more accurately, All Americans Are Trial Lawyers Now.
Trial lawyers, of which I'm one for my sins, are guilty of a particular fallacy in which after enough time litigating a matter, we come to conclude that we are experts in that matter. (Spoilers: We aren't.) This unfortunate combination of rank ignorance and even smellier hubris has somehow trickled into American society at large, aided by an internet full of sites and people who don't know very much (or who do but don't want to give away their livelihoods). Americans think they look up something on Wikipedia or through a Google search, understand about seven of every ten words (or maybe all ten), and so without any background knowledge or practical experience, can go toe-to-toe with the best. It's a bad proclivity made worse by a lot of the ridiculous marketing technology companies and idiotic politicians do.
Thus, if you're the average American with any kind of internet connection, and you see the Experts being Wrong about something about which you were Right, you conclude that the Experts are Idiots and You Know Better. Thus, Experts who think Trump is gonna get pasted by Hillary Clinton don't know the way you do that Nuh-Uh.
Again, this is a conclusion that is prone to fallacies that begin with Blind Chicken Finds Corn: Story at 10 and continue from there. It is a complete and completely ridiculous logical error, and worse, it is dumb. Unfortunately, all of those warnings in the Federalist Papers about the dangers of ignorant mobs went right out the window some centuries ago, and now we don't even check to see if you can fog a mirror before handing you a ballot card. Worse, when we eliminated the structural barriers to hordes of people in the grip of being stupid voting, we also raised the prerequisite madness to the level of national virtue -- we applaud the fact that anyone, no matter how insane, stupid, rootless, and undereducated, can form a mob to vote. In fact, it is now considered un-American to argue that people who cannot find Washington, D.C., or their own state capitals on maps should be unable to vote; and worse than that, it's elitist.
So when actual experts and informed humans point to data that says Trump is gonna get trumped, or -- more on this to follow -- no matter how many trade barriers and wages we raise, we cannot return to a world in which manufacturing employs a huge share of Americans, the people most affected by this news tend to tune it out because they know better, and they've been told that being a noble savage is better than being a pointy-head who didn't even understand how Mr. Trump was gonna win it all.
Yet this is only the first problem of many.
The next intellectual root of Trump's ascendance is that the world as we've historically known it has more or less fallen apart, and those same elites are viewed as at best clueless or indifferent, and at worst actively malignant to the men and women over whom they govern, nominally with those same men's and women's consent. This is made worse because in some unfortunate ways, Republicans are all libertarians now.
Libertarians who infest think tanks are mild idiots of a very specific kind, and their peculiar way of seeing the world has filtered into too much of the Republican and conservative little-e establishment. An example will suffice. Many of Trump's voters will say, American manufacturing is dying. Taken on its face, this is actually not merely incorrect, but wildly so: American manufacturing is in great shape; we export to the world and the world cannot get enough of what we export. Our manufacturing GDP fraction is doing just fine and has been for years.
And that is precisely what libertarians and therefore most Republicans and conservatives will reply. And it is not merely right, it is also amazingly, fantastically, stupid and tone-deaf.
When Trump voters and others say, American manufacturing is dying, they do not mean, American GDP as a measured by the fraction of the same arising from manufacturing industrial and consumer goods is decreasing, and not merely because only people as weird as I speak like that. They mean The manufacturing jobs that gave high-school graduates and pre-graduates a middle-income lifestyle are gone and not coming back; and the sense that America makes, the world takes, and America is the arsenal of democracy, and America is the world's industrial powerhouse, are gone with it. They logically assume that we're not making much stuff and selling it any more, but they're much less concerned with the chicken than its implications about the egg.
It only took an entire recession and limp recovery for the Cato sorts to start to respond, and their response, today, is: Wow, that sucks. Have you considered training for a different job in the exciting nursing sector? Or Well, sure we import from China and places where labor is even cheaper, but now things are cheaper at Wal-Mart! You should be grateful!
And as with almost anything and everything that breed of libertarians says on economic subjects, this has the double edge of being both absolutely right and insanely stupid. High (union and non-union) wages made and make American labor noncompetitive. High-tech advances make things other than certain niche industries (finished furniture, specialized surgical equipment, etc.) more capital-intensive than labor-intensive. The cost of living as a share of income has plummeted, in everything from food to household goods to consumer electronics.
And to the point: Manufacturing jobs are dying and they're not coming back, and the people who used to or would work in that sector really do need to find different ways to make scratch. (I'd counsel something besides medicine, but we decided about seven years ago that we were going to eat all of our seed corn to make sure no Medicaid wasn't expanded.) This is the inevitable result of technological progress and free markets: We do not mourn the untold souls who lost their jobs in uprooting tree stumps when the coal revolution hit England, nor the horse-cart manufacturers whose livelihoods ended as the iron horse and then the horseless iron replaced their livelihoods.
But we do not mourn them not merely because they are removed from us by decades, but also because the very nature of work and life have changed in a way that it did not a century and more ago, because the men working those jobs could move to one more kind of barely-skilled or unskilled labor; today, that work is rapidly vanishing, but the percentage of humans who can only do that work is not.
The jobs we used to offer for those who could barely make it through high school, if that, are disappearing all over, in every sector. Humans draw a sense of dignity from work; if there's no work, they will feel they have less dignity. This is a very real and pressing problem for the increasingly large share of American humans who are unemployable at any wage that meets even basic sustenance levels. It is a worse problem when you remember how many of these are men, and gender-theory-nonsense to the side, genetically normal men of every race, creed, and color are hardwired to provide for their families, cause violence, and/or both. It is even worse when you realize that across every possible population division, there are and will be men with strong backs and rough hands and those are the talents they will bring to a job market that couldn't care less -- and that even men and women who can bring more to that market increasingly find that they lack any marketable skill of any kind.
And so the American policymaker response, when they've noticed, has ranged from idiotic ideas like trade barriers (destroying the manufacturing jobs we have and driving up prices on basic goods), to a higher minimum wage (further rendering American workers less competitive), to sending make-work projects into Congressional districts and West Virginia, to job retraining for thirty-to-sixty-year-olds (presumably on the theory that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks), to taking the whole passel of Federal benefits and lumping them into a giant payout so that folks can go on the dole and sit around while not cluttering the system with fraud and waste.
There are no easy solutions because we are in the midst of several revolutions at once: of technology, of trade, of demographics, and of politics. But as bad as bad answers are, as intractable and convoluted as the problems are, it's the fundamental incompetence, tone-deafness, and dishonesty of those policymakers that is driving the Age of Trump (and to some extent, the Age of Sanders). Our political class largely gave up its political power to the Executive Branch subset, and instead exists purely to dole out money and retire on sweet, sweet investments curiously timed with major legislation, and jobs lobbying for more of it. And yet, even at that, they are incompetent: Their efforts at legalized money-laundering have been at best ineffective and worse counterproductive in dealing with a growing, dangerous, social problem. And Americans have noticed.
Yet this is hardly the alpha and omega of either negligent or callously indifferent misgovernance, and the rho and theta are part of why Donald Trump will be the leading vote-getter: immigration and Islam.
The portion of even Republican primary voters who think all illegal aliens (sorry, undocumented-Americans) should be deported constitutes a loud but undeniably not very large or electorally significant number of people. In fact, poll after poll, including exits from this year's primaries and caucuses, show that most Republicans support pathways to legalization and/or citizenship for those same non-papered aliens; and yet the two candidates promising the ugliest solutions to our apparently-immortal immigration fiasco are the two candidates left standing. This by and large mirrors a truth about the American people: Most of them don't have the words "GANG OF EIGHT" burned into their synapses and tend to have bought into the sepia-toned picture of immigration as How America Was Built And Made Better (the riots, anarchists, Presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations, social unrest, socialism, and ethnic tribalism somehow don't make it into the film reel), but somehow they keep re-electing people who go to war to stop any attempt to turn our helot class into citizens. This is a bit of a puzzler, but the consistent elite response is to keep doing the same thing again and again: offer a bill that directly or indirectly offers amnesty to illegals and directly or indirectly offers citizenship to illegals, claim it's not only the best policy choice but a moral and American duty, lose, call their opponents racists, and fight against or tacitly encourage the abandonment of enforcement of our immigration laws to achieve the same end. With roughly the same breath, they will then deny that there are any problems with mass immigration, helotization of our fellow men and women, and porous borders. And, to top matters off, they now say that instead of using terms used for the centuries since our Founding, we should refer to these men and women not as "illegal aliens" or "illegal immigrants," but as "undocumented"-various-things.
Since the early 1990s, Muslims have been blowing up, shooting, attacking, crashing planes into, knifing, and otherwise mass-killing non-Muslim (and in a smaller percentage, Muslim) American civilians with a fair level of frequency, broken largely by the Presidency of George W. Bush. This is not really all that remarkable; Muslims were doing a lot of these things to Americans right after the United Kingdom called enoughsies in 1781, a behavior that continued through every century since. What changed, however, is how the American elites described and reacted to these events.
If someone runs up to you and yells, "I will kill you for Christ commands it," and holds up a knife with a cross on the pommel (therefore making two crosses if one includes the hilt and crossguard), and makes some noises about protecting the See of St. Peter, and maybe brings up transubstantiation on a downswing, you'll not only be amazed by his energy level, but you might come to the creeping suspicion that this man is Catholic. If one further discovers that he attends daily Mass, wears a hairshirt, has forty or so kids with his wife, and has ashes on his forehead on this very odd Ash Wednesday, that suspicion is gonna waggle its eyebrows and suggest it's actually a conclusion.
This sort of rational sorting -- taking the human proclivity for categories and matching it with data -- is what ordinary humans do. It is not what our political class -- Republican and Democrat -- does when confronted with men (and women) yelling, "Allahu Ackbar!" while performing any of that list of horribles, not even when discovering that the nice young fellow was a regular at the mosque, undertook the Hajj multiple times, posted on HududIsAwesome.net, changed his name to Mohammed bin Mohammed, skipped reading everything except jihadi sites and his three worn-down Qurans, grew a beard, and promised to restore a Caliphate. So ridiculous has this become that whenever the Islamic State on orders from its Caliph engages in its weekly atrocity bonding activities, blows up Belgium, etc., our political class rush out to explain that these folks aren't Muslim, they have nothing to do with Islam, and also we're going to import a lot of these people now, racist. We'll call them Daesh, because they hate that, and they're not really Muslim, which is what the nice fellow from CAIR told us to say or else we'll be racists.
The imported people are, of course, settled in the hinterland and at any rate far from the Imperial Capital because, well, no need to go crazy here. Meanwhile, that same political class will remind anyone who will listen about the recent atrocities committed by Christians, for example the Crusades, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the Crusades, the Thirty Years' War (if they're erudite enough), the Crusades, the Inquisition (of whatever kind), also the Crusades, and possibly the Holocaust (because if there's anything Hitler and the Nazis were, it's devout Catholics and Lutherans). And oh yes, the Crusades, which must exist outside of their historic context, nature, actual history, and even reality, because they're the Crusades.
This particular failure has more fathers than usual, as it's bipartisan: There's the left-wing identification with the poor and marginalized, grafted onto just under a billion people because of the (to their mind related) sin of colonialism, which becomes racism through a grotesque transubstantiation, which is at any given time at least tied for The Worst Sin of All. There's the right-wing Fear of Being Called Racist. There's the intensely condescending fear that every Muslim is a barely-contained suicide bomber just waiting to be hatethought into killing innocents. There's the intensely condescending fear that ordinary Americans are going to mass-murder in horrifying ways doctors, hotel owners, and gas station operators if you admit that the couple who just shot up a community center are, yes, it's true, Muslim. There's the worry about losing Michigan's electoral votes (and I guess Minneapolis's?). There's the concern that we won't get more exchange students from the Arabian peninsula to whom we can teach nuclear engineering for their return trip to Yemen. There's the abiding fear that the British, French(!), and Germans(!) will call us bad people. There's the pragmatic fear that it will be harder to extract favorable terms for our foreign policy in the Middle East and South- and Southeast Asia, as well as favorable terms for getting liquid black stuff to make our economy go. There's intraclass signalling -- we don't give into racism, we are better than that. There's just flat-out stupid and/or functionally illiterate, which should never be underestimated.
But what Islam and immigration have in common is not so much race (though they can both be proxies for race) or xenophobia (though again, this does influence at least some fraction of those concerned by these things), but rather a well-deserved reputation for being untouchable subjects by our political elites. The language we are allowed to use to describe these problems -- and the language we are not allowed to use -- is a both a symptom and a signal of the larger issues.
Let us take the word alien. Alien derives from the Latin alius, other; skipping the usual French transmission of Latin to English, it originally had nothing to do with extraterrestrials and simply meant strangers to one's land. Thus, early American laws on foreigners -- even ones who would become American -- referred to them as aliens. Over time, this usage persisted so that until very recently, we referred to legal aliens (strangers here legally) and illegal aliens (strangers here not-legally). To call someone or something alien is not to engage in racism or any actual sin; it is simply to describe a thing using slightly arcane language.
Starting a few decades ago, it became more fashionable to refer to these strangers as immigrants, a word that is technically both accurate and inaccurate. An immigrant (Latin: migrare, to depart, which then became migrans, one who departs, combined with im which prefix means into as opposed to e, from) is one who departs his place to come into ours. The connotation of immigrant however, is somewhat more permanent than alien, which refers to one who is a stranger for any length of stay. Nevertheless, Americans are not all Latin buffs, so we ran with it.
In the last decade, someone decided that immigrant sounds racist and othering (a portmanteau that a just God will punish with the Fires of Hell), and that illegal immigrant is somehow worse; and all of a sudden, American politicians of both parties explicitly or implicitly declared that calling strangers who come into our land outside of our laws either of those words was racist thoughtcrime.
Similarly, over the last decade and a half, American political leaders have been at great pains to pretend that Muslims who kill people in the name of Islam and subscribe to a system of Islamic belief that has roots at least in the 18th if not 8th century, and whose actions are supported by between ten and fifty percent of Muslims worldwide, are not, in fact, Muslim; and to call them Muslim is that great of American sins, racism. (Islam, like Christianity, perceives itself as a universal faith, which means one open to all races, but it is thoughtcrime to note that, as well.)
Americans may not be amateur etymologists, but they are not actually fools; they understand that this is not an attempt to be polite -- something that even Yankees unconsciously do -- but rather an attempt to control conversation, thought, and action. It is nothing new to remark on how the left likes to control thought through the control of language; a clever fellow named Orwell remarked on it in a nearly eponymous essay decades ago. It is something new to see the nominal right engaged in it as well. It suggests that at some point, solving problems became less important than not making people upset that you recognized them.
But not only does this convey a profound sense of unseriousness -- anyone of even minimal intelligence knows that it's hard to fight a thing if you won't call it by its right name -- it is also a subtle but profound announcement that We are not like (by which we mean, "are better") than you rabble. It says, We do not worry about the same things that you do, and to worry about those things, to call them by their right names and express concern, is racist and honestly isn't nearly as important as making sure politically-connected individuals and corporations get rich. It also says, Trust your betters, morons.
It is dangerous in a Republic for the elected class and voting class to be perceived as too far apart; the 19th-century devolution of the Democratic Party into a bread-and-circuses-band-of-socialists and 20th-century-near-mimicry by the Republicans owe in no small part to a perception that the ruling class had grown too far from those who elected it. It is infinitely more dangerous in a mass democracy, where the rule of law, tradition, and unwritten rules of civil society are far less important than the will of the masses.
We are seeing the danger play out as we speak, and we should count our blessings that it so far manifests only in two senile old men from New York launching insurgent campaigns against their political parties for the role of King for Eight Years.
To diagnose a problem is not to excuse it. It is un-Christian to encourage another in sin, in delusion, and in error. Many of our countrymen are gripped with delusions about the power of government to achieve various utopias, to end the flow of human migration in a way never achieved by any group of humans without resort to truly horrific means, to arrest technological progress, to alter the prevailing zeitgeist in the country, to control the economy and produce boundless wealth and probably some really cool little American flags.
They also think that a dude over half the country actually viscerally hates, and for good reason, will get elected President, and then maybe turn water to wine.
Minds are like parachutes: They keep you from getting killed by being open at the right times, and being closed at all others. Knowing when to open your mind is like knowing when to open your chute: Too early and you're going to get sucked into a jet turbine, the plane crashes, everyone dies; too late, and you're gonna go splat. Trump's supporters are tugging the ripcord and the door isn't even open yet.
The future may be the undiscovered country, but it will only be Heaven when Christ returns in His Glory, and the past is now Atlantis. Trump will get annihilated in a general election, assuming he even wins the Republican nomination, something he stubbornly refuses to do. The Jews don't control the world (if they do, someone needs to tell them they're doing it wrong before even more of them get massacred). Immigrants tend to crowd out other immigrants, and not very much native-born Americans, for jobs. Having illegal immigrants as our helot class is morally reprehensible, but keeps the price of all sorts of things down for citizens and immigrants alike. Mexicans are humans, as is notable from the remarkable number of Americans throughout the Southwest and elsewhere descended from them. The destruction of our manufacturing labor base has made the cost of goods on which we rely many times cheaper for everyone, and is a double-edged sword cleaving through China (which is losing factory jobs to cheaper locales as we speak) as much as here. Mexico won't build a wall. The Mexican border has been porous, as has the Canadian, since there was a United States and then a Mexico and a Canada to share borders. Americans don't have enough babies, so we have to keep importing adults in place of the adults we decided not to make or just to abort, and everywhere else is running low on those, too. Technological progress is not merely continuing, it is accelerating, and the effects are and will be revolutionary for years, and revolutions are almost never bloodless. We keep electing the same group of morons, and the collective action problem and our own rational apathy empower them to screw us over; no one else foists these sub-cretins on us.
Whatever my, your, our problems with Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, indeed any of the major Republican candidates with the exception of John Kasich, they are not boorish prigs whose entire public lives are repudiations of decency, good manners, and some sort of respect for what's left of our civil society. Donald Trump may or may not be evil, but he is assuredly all of those things and worse. To support him is not to harken back to an America that was, it is to spit on an America that once held those things as so important and essential as not to need mentioning.
He is a man who has boasted of his atheism because of course he's an atheist, he's intelligent; who has defended the murder of the unborn for basically the same reason; who has endorsed most left-wing, freedom- and liberty-crushing idiocy at one time or another; and moreover, who gives every indication of slowly giving into senility. He has at least accepted if not tacitly encouraged open and brutal racism -- real racism, not "enforcing immigration laws." This brave defender of free speech and free thought wants to make it illegal to criticize him, and backtracks on each and every promise his supporters hold dear as the whim hits him. He is not so much a rock in a storm as a stray newspaper in that same storm, and not just because he's all wet.
These are all truths and unfortunately obvious ones. The willing and deliberate refusal to accept them; to refuse to admit they exist; and indeed, to sometimes eschew sufficient civil responsibility to even be aware they exist is a complete dereliction of some of our basic duties as citizens and as human beings. I have a soft spot for the Mrs. Martins of the world in no small part for the contempt I had for them as a child, but while they are not entirely to blame for the world in which they live, they are also not without responsibility for it. To pretend otherwise is to treat them as children or unwitting serfs cast against impossible forces; I leave that to my Church, which is remarkably good at that, and the rest of us should hold them to the standards of adulthood.
In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of why these people are where they are; what they care about; and most importantly, that they are our fellow Americans, and deserve at least some charity on that account. For example, compare these two pictures:
For just a moment, consider that. There is actually more or less no way that a bunch of Americans of that age and demographic spread, without neo-Nazi uniforms, are going to do that (sloppy; the hands are crooked and raised not straight-and-out like the Hitlergruß, which is something you can see if you look at anyone but the guy front-and-center). It is a perverse Manichaeism, explicable but not excusable by election-year fervor, that would drive us to call our fellow American Nazis when they give no indicium of being so other than supporting a political candidate who rightly arouses distaste in a supermajority of Americans. It is an inexcusable failing of charity; it is also profoundly stupid during an election year in which the numbers favor the Democrats.
What those men and women were doing is something almost as bad as a Nazi salute; they were raising their hands to be counted, like children eager for the teacher's attention. They were showing their commitment to the cause of Donald J. Trump, and promising to support him. They were acting not like free men and women, but like bound vassals pledging their loyalty to a strong man. This is a profoundly un-American impulse; it is self-demeaning; and out of charity and decency, it is incumbent upon us to say so unequivocally.
Instead, we mock, and we analyze as if dealing with laboratory specimens, and we hope they'll go away. That's worked swimmingly so far.
But our failure to empathize with and understand the men and women disrupting what should have been a wildly successful Republican presidential contest is only the beginning. We must also understand why they have sent packing much, much better candidates from the Republican field.
And also why they are still beating Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, and their faithful.
A certain amount of shared myth-telling is natural for a political campaign, especially one in which we elect a king who is more or less glued to his seat for eight years, and who appoints a permanent group of kings to carry out something like his will for decades. Good political campaigns harvest the raw stupid that people naturally invest in men and women who would step over their own mothers for power and leverage that into a coherent political movement: Barack Obama will bring about racial healing, George W. Bush will return dignity to the White House, Bill Clinton will bring about Tomorrow and ... honestly, I still can't figure out what his campaign was premised on, other than being a Baby Boomer and having troubles keeping his pants buttoned.
In other words, it's entirely normal for otherwise intelligent people to invest themselves in the putative god-kings for whom they vote -- not desirable, not admirable, but normal. It is also normal, though less excusable, for those who would lead them to further those same delusions.
Various entertainment personalities have come in for flack for all but worshiping Donald Trump's withered rear end. I largely agree with these critiques, but it's important to remember a critical detail: These are for the most part not serious thinkers, with the arguable exception of Rush Limbaugh, who has made a career out of saying, "Aw, shucks," a lot while showing a remarkable depth of policy and history knowledge.
But -- and it is very important to separate causation, enhancement, and culpability here -- the roots of the Trump movement are in some ways deeper than radio and television personalities desperate for ratings or at least not inclined to upset an friend.
The modern conservative movement was in many ways founded by William F. Buckley, Jr., who famously remarked that he would sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University. His brand of conservatism was always a delicate balance of refined snobbery combined with a populist anti-elitism that was born in no small part of the fact that the elite of his time were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Communists and otherwise fairly dim. This rejection of the elites and elite education has continued for decades, and spread throughout not just the conservative movement but through the populist and other movements it has spawned. Conservative media makes bank on this idea.
Those ideas, in turn, have trickled into the greater culture. The average American doesn't know a thing about Buckley; but he knows that Harvard is full of leftwing, detached snobs who can't be trusted to run a soda stand at a high school football game. He knows that those same elites are dumb and wrong and are basically untrustworthy. (He's often right, but often wrong, too.)
This by itself would not be nearly so bad, except that it meets perhaps the most important and most obscene of left-wing myths, that of the noble savage, and the American assimilation of that character: the plain-spoken, un-fancy, has-no-need-of-book-learning-hero who is more virtuous for not being civilized. So embedded in our culture is this trope that you have to immerse yourself in another culture to see it. It's the lawman who doesn't need the bookworm droning on, the criminal who does right or gets ahead while the smart people destroy the world, the tough guy hero who outsmarts the guy with the 235 IQ, all of it while scientists and bookworms sit by helping and hoping for just a bit of his reflected glory.
In real life, that guy ends up grabbing the back of a garbage truck, or maybe lucks out and does used car or real estate sales, or maybe ends up a line adjuster for an insurance company. These days, he's on disability, bitter that the factory and equivalent jobs are gone, and possibly trying out painkillers. And he's being told, repeatedly, that it's the elites' fault that he's in this mess.
It is unjust to hold people responsible for unforeseeable consequences of their actions; and writers left and right are not responsible for the rise of Trump because the idea of a TV personality tapping these things as a sales pitch to come within striking distance of imperial power was not reasonably foreseeable.
But the men and women who now back Trump undeniably live in a world we (and I include myself here, pitiable and irrelevant though my contributions are) have created. They swim in our ideas, however indirectly transmitted. Of course they reject the guys who've been in government of various kinds for years; who tell them that free trade is good; who tell them that miracles don't happen in policy; who tell them that any fight worth winning is a long slog. They reject those things because it is very hard to separate yourself from the world in which they've lived their whole lives, and they have no time for the responsible men and women who sound as patronizing and ineffective as those useless elites way too often.
I would like to add a bit more color to Mrs. Martin here, a figure of speech that in some ways should be taken literally. Mrs. Martin's real name, of course, is not Martin; that was her mother's maiden name. Mrs. Martin descends from Scots-Irish stock littered through Appalachia and a traveling salesman from Pennsylvania. Her married name ends in a vowel, because her late husband was a Filipino national who loved America so much his heart was near to bursting at the thought of joining its armed forces; who enlisted and served first on a cruddy little destroyer playing cat-and-mouse with the Soviets; who met a winsome American gal at a base at which he was stationed in the late Sixties and who seemed to embody all of America's bravery and boldness and beauty and so kept asking her out and kept getting turned down until she said yes once and then yes one more time and then said I do; who duly fulfilled a dream he'd developed watching the American reconquista of his native islands and became an American citizen; who fathered five children; and who insisted on being buried with an American flag and his worn-down rosary. His widow, a lapsed Presbyterian, eventually became a de facto but not de jure Catholic (like many if not most Trump voters, she's been to church, she's just not very churched -- she goes to Mass about three times a year), and her children are to a one married, sporting impressive broods of their own, and rather clearly the sorts of people a lot of Trump's faithful on the internet hate as half-breeds. (Most of them are "horrified" that their mother is supporting Trump.)
After indirectly trying to puzzle out why this otherwise decent human being is supporting ambulatory sewage runoff for the Presidency, I more or less directly asked her why she would vote for a man like Trump. (This took roughly three minutes.) This is a college-educated woman who, like her husband, loved America as a land of freedom and hope and integrity; who has five children and many grandchildren who for obvious reasons are squarely in the crosshairs of at least some of Trump's more enthusiastic submorons; and over whose mantle fly an American flag and a Gadsden flag, side-by-side.
She dropped the nice Southern lady routine, looked me in the eyes, and told me that she had watched the world fall apart in the Sixties, and had seen the world spit on America in the Seventies, and would not see that happen again, I noted that Ronald Reagan had stopped that the first time, and Donald J. Trump is no Ronald Reagan.
She took a sip of her sweet tea and said, "Someone needs to be."