Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration

Leftists like to taunt conservatives by saying that it is “conservative” to accept the status quo. But leftists know that the much of the status quo was attained by applying the power of the state to override a status quo that resulted from voluntary interactions among people. To question the new status quo becomes an occasion for official abuse (e.g., Mike Pompeo), or for levying civil and criminal penalties against the questioner (e.g., Jack Phillips).

Michael J. Totten has issued a useful reminder about the facts of life under leftitst totalitarianism:

As Christopher Hitchens once said of North Korea, communist states are places where everything that isn’t absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden. Mounting any kind of resistance against them is nearly impossible unless and until the state loses its will to continue.

And if you believe that today’s American leftists aren’t totalitarians at heart, I urge you to read this and this.

How did we get here? In addition to the raw exercise of political power, the left has deployed a clever gambit, which some libertarians have adopted in all seriousness because of their inability to see that social norms underlie liberty. (More about that below.) The gambit is to argue for the normalization of behavior that would otherwise be socially discouraged or illegal (e.g., homosexuality, pot-smoking, and worse) because it “just comes naturally”. Why, leftists and libertarians ask, should “natural acts” be discouraged or penalized?

The “natural act” defense is shallow and diversionary. Anything that a person can do is a “natural act” — literally. Such acts include not only murder — which leftists are loath to punish properly — but also various forms of “sexual misconduct”. This is a new, amorphous category of crime which encompasses almost any kind of behavior frowned on by strident feminists and the eunuchs who worship at their feet. It is a “crime” which leftists are quick to punish without benefit of due process.

In that regard, given the nature of the male human being, what is more natural than an attempt to flirt with an attractive female? But in today’s version of leftism, a rather innocent thing like a wolf-whistle or even holding a door open for a woman has become an act of aggression. But a physically dangerous and potentially deadly act such as anal intercourse is a “natural” act of love. (Do leftists ever check their ideas for logical consistency?)

Such contradictions just go to show that the real issue isn’t the “naturalness” of an act, but whether it should be allowed, and who decides whether it should be allowed.

It is taken for granted, even by leftists, that murder, theft, fraud, and various kinds of assault are unallowable, if not punishable in ways that serve the causes of justice and deterrence. Those leftists who are rationalists (as most of them are) will say that punishment is necessary because the world (or the United States, at least) would be a terrible place in which to live if anyone could murder, steal from, or assault anyone else with impunity.

But that is a superficial explanation for the evolution and application of social norms. They are about bonding, the essential ingredient of liberty (discussed below). Punishment isn’t just a response to wrong-doing; it’s an essential means of preserving the bonds that underlie liberty.

Leftists — who like to argue for government programs in aid of this and that group or cause by saying (inter alia) that “we’re all in this together” — think and act in the opposite direction. That which leftists prefer is to be made policy by force rather than being tested in the acid of use.

A classic example is the decree by Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority in  Obergefell v. Hodges, which brushed aside a social norm thousands of years old in favor of “doing what comes naturally”. Kennedy quotes a district court’s ruling in a same-sex marriage case:

[I]t is wholly illogical to believe that state recognition of the love and commitment between same-sex couples will alter the most intimate and personal decisions of opposite-sex couples.

It may be illogical, but only if one grants the premises implicit in that statement. A key one is that people ignore signals sent by the state. They do not, of course, because of behavioral conditioning and the power of the state to enforce its edicts. (Consider, for example, the cake-makers, florists, and photographers who dared to say that they wouldn’t provide services for same-sex “weddings” and have been punished severely for their impunity.) People do heed the signals sent by the state, and the minions of the state count on that because the state cannot be everywhere all the time. (For every brave cake-maker there are thousands of complaisant shopkeepers, managers, and executives — eager to line up behind the new dispensation for fear of ostracism, and worse.)

And so, when the state undermines long-standing norms that discourage divorce, sodomy, and homosexual coupling, such behaviors become legitimate despite their anti-social effects. Certainly, there were such behaviors before they were legitimated by the state, but they were the exceptions that underscored the norms. The state has normalized the exceptions.

If anyone can be blamed for the low estate of social norms today, it is John Stuart Mill. He is the father of modern leftism, though he is usually thought of as a proponent of “classical liberalism”. Mill’s harm principle, enunciated in his long essay, On Liberty (1869), is the sand upon which leftism is built:

That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. [Chapter I, paragraph 9]

This seemingly libertarian principle is in fact anti-libertarian, as I explain at length in “On Liberty”. In that post I focus on harm. As I say there,

the only plausible interpretation of the harm principle is as follows: An individual may do as he pleases, as long as he does not believe that he is causing harm to others. That is Mill’s prescription for liberty. It is, in fact, an invitation to license and anarchy.

Here is Mill, again:

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. [Chapter I, paragraph 5]

There’s the rub. Who decides when the “tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling” is too oppressive? In the end, it must be the state.

“State” is nothing more than an impressive-sounding word that really denotes the amalgam of elected officials, judges, bureaucrats, interest groups, corporate Quislings, and “reliable” voters who control the power of government — even when the more statist of the two major parties is formally out of power.

There are those who say that the state embodies the nation, which is like saying that the lion-tamer embodies the lion. The state most certainly is not society, but it is has the power to be far more tyrannical than society’s “prevailing opinion and feeling”.

Mill’s touchy-feely followers — libertarians and old-fashioned “liberals” — made a bargain with the devil when they opted to empower the state to overthrow those despised social norms. When long-established rules of behavior are sundered willy-nilly the result is a breakdown of the voluntary order known as civil society.

Liberty — the state of peaceful, willing, and beneficially cooperative coexistence, based on mutual trust, respect, and forbearance —  depends on the institutions of society. It is those institutions — family, church, club, and the like — through which individuals learn to treat one another with respect; through which individuals often come to the aid of one another; and through which instances of disrespect can be noted, publicized, and even punished (e.g., by criticism and ostracism). That is civil society, which the state ought to protect, but instead usurps and destroys.

The state usurps civil society through agencies vested with primary and even sole jurisdiction in many matters (e.g., public schools, health insurance for the elderly), and funding them with tax money that could have gone to private institutions. Worse, however, is the way in which the state destroys the social norms that foster social harmony — mutual respect and trust — without which a people cannot flourish. (Why should I — or any reasonable person who isn’t in thrall to “intellectual” fads — trust a person who advocates infanticide in the womb or birth canal, who believes that anal intercourse is a natural act of love, who insists that science is “settled” by consensus, or who wants to establish a single-payer system of health-care with its inevitable death panels? I could go on, but you get the idea.)

Yes, there have been some actual wrongs that have been sustained by social norms. The worst wrong in American history was slavery, which drew on a widespread disdain for blacks as intellectually inferior and a fear of them as violent savages. This isn’t quite the same thing as a norm that prescribes behavior, but it underlies the now mainly tacit agreement among most whites (even affluent “liberals”) to “hold the line” against social integration. It’s important to note that the norm wasn’t restricted to the South, nor did it die with the end of slavery. Nor could it die, because it has a basis in truth — a truth that leftists embrace subtly, but tellingly, in the bigotry of low expectations.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am by no means apologizing for slavery. But it wasn’t a social norm per se; it was a practice that was validated, in part, by a social norm (prevailing attitudes toward blacks). Slavery was far from a universal practice; in 1860, about one-third of the families in the South owned slaves. More families undoubtedly would have owned slaves had they been able to afford them, but slavery wasn’t the norm in the South, and far from the norm in the North, even though most Northern whites shared the prevailing view of blacks. On that score, I quote a quintessential Northerner, the Great Emancipator himself:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied every thing. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. [Cheers and laughter.] My understanding is that I can just let her alone. I am now in my fiftieth year, and I certainly never have had a black woman for either a slave or a wife. So it seems to me quite possible for us to get along without making either slaves or wives of negroes. I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness—and that is the case of Judge Douglas’s old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson. [Laughter.] I will also add to the remarks I have made (for I am not going to enter at large upon this subject), that I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, [laughter] but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, [roars of laughter] I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes. [Continued laughter and applause.] [Abraham Lincoln, in the 4th Lincoln-Douglas debate, at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858]

(The prevailing attitude in the North was the same more than 100 years later, when I left the North for a job in the South, and found the natives to be like those I had left behind. Nor are attitudes really any different today, as far as I can tell — especially among affluentliberals” who undoubtedly pay lip service to “diversity”.)

Slavery was, above all, an economic institution that was kept in place by the political power of slave-owners, to the benefit of not a few Northern manufacturers, merchants, and bankers. To put it another way, slavery was really the product of state action at the behest of special interests. It doesn’t take a social norm to produce a great evil. All it takes is political power.

In summary, neither slavery nor any other wrong negates the irreplaceable value of social norms as an essential civilizing force. Nor do such wrongs validate the state’s power to override long-standing norms. That power is a two-edged sword. A state that is powerful enough to abolish slavery is also powerful enough to enact slavery of a different kind: forcing people to surrender a large portion of their income (and thus wealth) for the benefit of groups favored by the state.

“Thanks” to the state — and despite long-standing social norms — we now have not only easy divorce, subsidized illegitimacy, and legions of non-mothering mothers, but also abortion, concerted (and deluded) efforts to defeminize females and to neuter or feminize males, forced association (with accompanying destruction of property and employment rights), suppression of religion, absolution of pornography, and the encouragement of “alternative lifestyles” that foster disease, promiscuity, and familial instability. The state, of course, doesn’t act of its own volition. It acts at the behest of leftists (and their clientele and enablers), who are bent on the eradication of civil society — nothing less — in favor of a state-directed Rousseauvian dystopia from which morality and liberty will have vanished, except in Orwellian doublespeak.

Those who scorn social norms often mock the “social oppression” that is captured in “What will the neighbors think?” But “social repression” is always with us. “What will the neighbors think?” has simply been replaced among leftists by “What will my ‘liberal’ friends think if I question today’s ‘liberal’ dogmas?” Those dogmas have ranged, over the decades, from eugenics (even before Hitler became a household word), prohibition, repeal of prohibition, peace through unilateral disarmament, overpopulation, global cooling, peak oil, global warming, carbon footprints, recycling, income inequality, unconscious racism, white privilege, forced integration, forced segregation (if blacks want it), coeducation, mixed-sex dorms, single-sex schools, any reference to or image of a firearm, keeping score, winning, cultural appropriation, diversity, globalization, free speech (not), homophobia, same-sex “marriage”, prohibition of smoking (pot excepted), gender “assignment” at birth, “free” college for all, “settled science”, collective guilt (but only for straight, white, conservative males of European descent, and Germans in 1933-1945), racial profiling and stereotyping (except when leftists do it), etc., etc., etc. All of which can be categorized as the triumph of hope over facts and experience.

“Social repression” — leftist style — now runs amok in the land. Witness political correctness in the nth degree, shout-downs of conservative speakers, trigger warnings, the demand for “safe spaces” where contrary views aren’t uttered, the banning of conservative views from social media, etc., etc., etc. Old-fashioned “social repression” didn’t hold a candle to the oppressiveness and destructiveness of today’s version.

Leftism, with its profusion of socially destructive dicta, is undoubtedly the least natural of political stances. It arises not from nationalistic or religious fervor, an informed view of human nature, or a principled view of rights and responsibilities. It arises from the political dilettantism of the spoiled children of capitalism. It has split the country into warring social camps — mostly in rhetoric but sometimes in actual battle.

It’s the left’s fault.


Related reading:
John Craig, “The Left vs. Natural Instincts“, American Renaissance, January 18, 2018
Theodore Dalrymple, “Mary Neal Lives On“, Taki’s Magazine, January 13, 2018
Theodore Dalrymple, “An Uncivil Society“, Taki’s Magazine, March 31, 2018
Rod Dreher, “A Time of Tribalism“, The American Conservative, April 27, 2018
Rod Dreher, “‘The Therapeutic Is Our Ultimate Terrorist’“, The American Conservative, April 28, 2018
Brian Jones, “Civic Chaos and the Myth of Autonomy“, Public Discourse, January 25, 2018
John O. McGinnis, “The Divide between Jefferson and Adams on Human Nature Is Ours Too“, Law and Liberty, January 17, 2018
Francis Menton, “Climate Science and the Process of Orthodoxy Enforcement“, Manhattan Contrarian, January 14, 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “The Man Who Foresaw the West’s Fantasia“, The American Conservative, January 25, 2018
Amy Wax, “Are We Free to Discuss America’s Real Problems?“, Imprimis, January 2018


Related posts:
Refuting Rousseau and His Progeny
The Left’s Agenda
In Defense of Marriage
The Left and Its Delusions
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Society and the State
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
Getting Liberty Wrong
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights
Getting “Equal Protection” Right
The Writing on the Wall
How to Protect Property Rights and Freedom of Association and Expression
The Principles of Actionable Harm
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Beginning of the End of Liberty in America
Turning Points
There’s More to It Than Religious Liberty
Equal Protection in Principle and Practice
Social Justice vs. Liberty
Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative
The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences
The Left and “the People”
Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Compromise
Liberal Nostrums
The Harm Principle Revisited: Mill Conflates Society and State
Liberty and Social Norms Re-examined
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
Equality
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Self-Made Victims
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Disposition and Ideology
How’s Your (Implicit) Attitude?
Down the Memory Hole
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Mass Murder: Reaping What Was Sown
Andrew Sullivan Almost Gets It
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Pronoun Profusion
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
My View of Mill, Endorsed
The Framers, Mob Rule, and a Fatal Error
Abortion, the “Me” Generation, and the Left
Abortion Q and A
Whence Polarization?
Negative Rights, Etc.

Whence Polarization?

America today is riven with racial, social, and political divisions. Why? Is there a way out?

It’s hard to know where to begin. So, rather arbitrarily, I begin with race. David Reich‘s hot new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here, is causing a stir in genetic-research circles. Reich, who takes great pains to assure everyone that he isn’t a racist, and who deplores racism, is nevertheless candid about race:

I have deep sympathy for the concern that genetic discoveries could be misused to justify racism. But as a geneticist I also know that it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among “races.”

Groundbreaking advances in DNA sequencing technology have been made over the last two decades. These advances enable us to measure with exquisite accuracy what fraction of an individual’s genetic ancestry traces back to, say, West Africa 500 years ago — before the mixing in the Americas of the West African and European gene pools that were almost completely isolated for the last 70,000 years. With the help of these tools, we are learning that while race may be a social construct, differences in genetic ancestry that happen to correlate to many of today’s racial constructs are real….

Self-identified African-Americans turn out to derive, on average, about 80 percent of their genetic ancestry from enslaved Africans brought to America between the 16th and 19th centuries. My colleagues and I searched, in 1,597 African-American men with prostate cancer, for locations in the genome where the fraction of genes contributed by West African ancestors was larger than it was elsewhere in the genome. In 2006, we found exactly what we were looking for: a location in the genome with about 2.8 percent more African ancestry than the average.

When we looked in more detail, we found that this region contained at least seven independent risk factors for prostate cancer, all more common in West Africans. Our findings could fully account for the higher rate of prostate cancer in African-Americans than in European-Americans. We could conclude this because African-Americans who happen to have entirely European ancestry in this small section of their genomes had about the same risk for prostate cancer as random Europeans.

Did this research rely on terms like “African-American” and “European-American” that are socially constructed, and did it label segments of the genome as being probably “West African” or “European” in origin? Yes. Did this research identify real risk factors for disease that differ in frequency across those populations, leading to discoveries with the potential to improve health and save lives? Yes.

While most people will agree that finding a genetic explanation for an elevated rate of disease is important, they often draw the line there. Finding genetic influences on a propensity for disease is one thing, they argue, but looking for such influences on behavior and cognition is another.

But whether we like it or not, that line has already been crossed. A recent study led by the economist Daniel Benjamin compiled information on the number of years of education from more than 400,000 people, almost all of whom were of European ancestry. After controlling for differences in socioeconomic background, he and his colleagues identified 74 genetic variations that are over-represented in genes known to be important in neurological development, each of which is incontrovertibly more common in Europeans with more years of education than in Europeans with fewer years of education.

It is not yet clear how these genetic variations operate. A follow-up study of Icelanders led by the geneticist Augustine Kong showed that these genetic variations also nudge people who carry them to delay having children. So these variations may be explaining longer times at school by affecting a behavior that has nothing to do with intelligence.

This study has been joined by others finding genetic predictors of behavior. One of these, led by the geneticist Danielle Posthuma, studied more than 70,000 people and found genetic variations in more than 20 genes that were predictive of performance on intelligence tests.

Is performance on an intelligence test or the number of years of school a person attends shaped by the way a person is brought up? Of course. But does it measure something having to do with some aspect of behavior or cognition? Almost certainly. And since all traits influenced by genetics are expected to differ across populations (because the frequencies of genetic variations are rarely exactly the same across populations), the genetic influences on behavior and cognition will differ across populations, too.

You will sometimes hear that any biological differences among populations are likely to be small, because humans have diverged too recently from common ancestors for substantial differences to have arisen under the pressure of natural selection. This is not true. The ancestors of East Asians, Europeans, West Africans and Australians were, until recently, almost completely isolated from one another for 40,000 years or longer, which is more than sufficient time for the forces of evolution to work. Indeed, the study led by Dr. Kong showed that in Iceland, there has been measurable genetic selection against the genetic variations that predict more years of education in that population just within the last century….

So how should we prepare for the likelihood that in the coming years, genetic studies will show that many traits are influenced by genetic variations, and that these traits will differ on average across human populations? It will be impossible — indeed, anti-scientific, foolish and absurd — to deny those differences. [“How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’“, The New York Times, March 23, 2018]

Reich engages in a lot of non-scientific wishful thinking about racial differences and how they should be treated by “society” — none of which is in his purview as a scientist. Reich’s forays into psychobabble have been addressed at length by Steve Sailer (here and here) and Gregory Cochran (here, here, here, here, and here). Suffice it to say that Reich is trying in vain to minimize the scientific fact of racial differences that show up crucially in intelligence and rates of violent crime.

Those ineradicable differences mean that there is something like a permanent — and mostly black — underclass in America. But there is an American “overclass” (to which I will come) which insists that all can be made well by pushing the underclass into contact with people who (wisely) resist the push, and shoveling money and privileges at it. This, alone, would be cause enough for a chasm between the overclass and those who resist its misguided social agenda. But there is more.

I now invoke Robert Putnam, a political scientist known mainly for his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2005), in which he

makes a distinction between two kinds of social capital: bonding capital and bridging capital. Bonding occurs when you are socializing with people who are like you: same age, same race, same religion, and so on. But in order to create peaceful societies in a diverse multi-ethnic country, one needs to have a second kind of social capital: bridging. Bridging is what you do when you make friends with people who are not like you, like supporters of another football team. Putnam argues that those two kinds of social capital, bonding and bridging, do strengthen each other. Consequently, with the decline of the bonding capital mentioned above inevitably comes the decline of the bridging capital leading to greater ethnic tensions.

In later work on diversity and trust within communities, Putnam concludes that

other things being equal, more diversity in a community is associated with less trust both between and within ethnic groups….

Even when controlling for income inequality and crime rates, two factors which conflict theory states should be the prime causal factors in declining inter-ethnic group trust, more diversity is still associated with less communal trust.

Lowered trust in areas with high diversity is also associated with:

  • Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
  • Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in one’s own influence.
  • Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
  • Higher political advocacy, but lower expectations that it will bring about a desirable result.
  • Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
  • Less likelihood of working on a community project.
  • Less likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
  • Fewer close friends and confidants.
  • Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
  • More time spent watching television and more agreement that “television is my most important form of entertainment”.

It’s not as if Putnam is a social conservative who is eager to impart such news. To the contrary, Putnam’s

findings on the downsides of diversity have also posed a challenge for Putnam, a liberal academic whose own values put him squarely in the pro-diversity camp. Suddenly finding himself the bearer of bad news, Putnam has struggled with how to present his work. He gathered the initial raw data in 2000 and issued a press release the following year outlining the results. He then spent several years testing other possible explanations.

When he finally published a detailed scholarly analysis … , he faced criticism for straying from data into advocacy. His paper argues strongly that the negative effects of diversity can be remedied, and says history suggests that ethnic diversity may eventually fade as a sharp line of social demarcation.

“Having aligned himself with the central planners intent on sustaining such social engineering, Putnam concludes the facts with a stern pep talk,” wrote conservative commentator Ilana Mercer….

After releasing the initial results in 2001, Putnam says he spent time “kicking the tires really hard” to be sure the study had it right. Putnam realized, for instance, that more diverse communities tended to be larger, have greater income ranges, higher crime rates, and more mobility among their residents — all factors that could depress social capital independent of any impact ethnic diversity might have.

“People would say, ‘I bet you forgot about X,’” Putnam says of the string of suggestions from colleagues. “There were 20 or 30 X’s.”

But even after statistically taking them all into account, the connection remained strong: Higher diversity meant lower social capital. In his findings, Putnam writes that those in more diverse communities tend to “distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.”

“People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ — that is, to pull in like a turtle,” Putnam writes….

In a recent study, [Harvard economist Edward] Glaeser and colleague Alberto Alesina demonstrated that roughly half the difference in social welfare spending between the US and Europe — Europe spends far more — can be attributed to the greater ethnic diversity of the US population. Glaeser says lower national social welfare spending in the US is a “macro” version of the decreased civic engagement Putnam found in more diverse communities within the country.

Economists Matthew Kahn of UCLA and Dora Costa of MIT reviewed 15 recent studies in a 2003 paper, all of which linked diversity with lower levels of social capital. Greater ethnic diversity was linked, for example, to lower school funding, census response rates, and trust in others. Kahn and Costa’s own research documented higher desertion rates in the Civil War among Union Army soldiers serving in companies whose soldiers varied more by age, occupation, and birthplace.

Birds of different feathers may sometimes flock together, but they are also less likely to look out for one another. “Everyone is a little self-conscious that this is not politically correct stuff,” says Kahn….

In his paper, Putnam cites the work done by Page and others, and uses it to help frame his conclusion that increasing diversity in America is not only inevitable, but ultimately valuable and enriching. As for smoothing over the divisions that hinder civic engagement, Putnam argues that Americans can help that process along through targeted efforts. He suggests expanding support for English-language instruction and investing in community centers and other places that allow for “meaningful interaction across ethnic lines.”

Some critics have found his prescriptions underwhelming. And in offering ideas for mitigating his findings, Putnam has drawn scorn for stepping out of the role of dispassionate researcher. “You’re just supposed to tell your peers what you found,” says John Leo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. [Michael Jonas, “The downside of diversity,” The Boston Globe (boston.com), August 5, 2007]

What is it about academics like Reich and Putnam who can’t bear to face the very facts that they have uncovered? The magic word is “academics”. They are denizens of a milieu in which the facts of life about race, guns, sex, and many other things are in the habit of being suppressed in favor of “hope and change”, and the facts be damned.

All of this is a prelude to some observations about the state of America:

The U.S. was undoubtedly more united — more tightly knit by “bonding” and “bridging” capital — in 15 years after the end of World War II than it has been since. Bonding has loosened among whites because of socioeconomic and geographic mobility.

Post-war prosperity enabled most of the descendants of the Greatest Generation (GG) to live high on the hog compared with the GG.

College-going rates boomed, giving the descendants of the GG access to social and cultural circles that weren’t open to most of the GG.

The descendants of the GG, because of their greater prosperity and movement in “higher” circles (which include even seemingly trivial things like book clubs and wine-tasting clubs), became (on the whole) distant from the morals and mores of the GG and its antecedents. The more educated and the more highly paid, the more distant.

The GG and their antecedents weren’t strangers to regional, racial, religious, and class differences, and the suspicions and (sometimes) hostility engendered by them. But the whites among them (i.e., the vast majority), were broadly united in their allegiance to God and country. The blacks were, too, though they lived mostly apart from whites, by design (mainly on the part of whites) and mutual choice.

That degree of unity was possible because the economic and educational differences among the GG and its antecedents didn’t span as vast a range as they do today, and because they were racially (if not ethnically) similar.

On top of that there are wide and growing racial-cultural fissures. (For who can deny that race and culture are deeply intertwined?) These fissures are due in part to the rapid growth of black and Hispanic populations in the United States since the 1960s, growth that will put whites in the minority by the middle of the 21st century, This will come after two centuries (from 1790 to 1990) when whites accounted for more than 80 percent of the population, and a 70-year span (1900 to 1970) when the population was 88-percent to 90-percent white. Throw in the huge numbers of illegal immigrants, and the picture looks even darker.

There is just no getting around it. Like prefers like, and it’s just as true among blacks and Hispanics as it is among whites. Throw in the deepening divisions among whites (discussed above), and you have a country unlike the one that existed in the first 60 years of the 20th century.

Throw in, on top of all that, dissensions bred by white elites (The Crust), and you have a country that is unrecognizable to almost anyone who came of age before 1960, or anyone who still adheres to the morals and mores of that earlier era.

The Crust consists of the information-entertainment-media-academic complex, huge swaths of the professional-managerial (college-educated) classes, and most of the politicians at the national, State, and local levels. Many of the politicians who profess allegiance to conservatism are nothing but vote-seeking, power-hungry, backslappers who would rather be reelected by pandering to special interests than actually try to conserve traditional American values like self-reliance and respect for others’ property and liberty.

What you have, in fact, is a culture war that has become a cold civil war. But it’s not a war of white vs. colored or North vs. South, though because of the “big sort” it does have a geographic dimension. At bottom, it’s a war of white traditionalists vs. The Crust and the “victim” classes (blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, etc.) favored by The Crust to the exclusion of non-Crust heterosexual white males. You know the drill:

The Crust believes in sharing the wealth. Not all of its own wealth mind you, but just enough to assuage The Crust’s white guilt. But sharing means forced sharing (because The Crust knows what’s good for everyone), regardless of its long-run economic effects and the burdens that it places on taxpayers of modest means.

Sharing the wealth includes a commitment to demonstrably destructive and counterproductive schemes, some of which are the affirmative action, the minimum wage, universal basic income, expanded Medicaid rolls, “free” college, and that holy grail of feel-good schemes: single-payer health care. (You can be sure that The Crust would still have access to private-pay health care.) These are sure-fire vote-getters among blacks and illegal immigrants — both (not coincidentally) favored groups among The Crust.

Throw in other programs and policies to entice and keep the votes of aggrieved feminists, gender-confused persons, naive transnationalists, religion-haters, success-enviers, and everyone else who believes that white America is evil (The Crust excepted, of course) and that it’s government’s job to deliver nirvana. Sprinkle in a huge helping of idealistic and impetuous youth. Stir, stir, stir with all of the communications technology that can be mustered.

Suppress dissenting views by invoking the “victim” classes (women, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gender-confused persons, etc.).

Pump schoolchildren and college students full of The Crust’s crazy beliefs (small samples here and here), so that in a few decades those beliefs will be set in concrete among most of the populace. (Shades of the “flower children” of the 1960s and 1970s who became politicians, lawyers, judges, professors, and joined other influential pursuits.)

These economic and cultural differences underlie the fragmentation of America.

But it’s worse than fragmentation. The Crust is in charge of almost everything, including much of government. The Resistance (which Wikipedia doesn’t even acknowledge) is of The Crust’s making. In concert with its sub-rosa members in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the central, State, and local governments, The Resistance is dedicated to the overthrow of the lawfully elected President of the United States. Why? Because he is perceived as a threat to The Crust’s agenda: one world under the technocratic control of administrative agencies dedicated to the pursuance of The Crust’s pseudo-scientific dogmas.

The spirit of it is captured by Theodore Dalrymple:

The threat to our freedom comes not from government, except when it cravenly capitulates to the demands of monomaniacs and tries to limit our speech by decree, but from pressure groups from within what used to be called, invariably as a term of approbation, civil society. Perhaps uncivil society would now be a better term for at least a part of it, which wants to reform not only laws but our minds and souls. It does this not for the sake of betterment, but as an exercise in, or as an expression of, power. The will to power seems to have infected people who once might have been content to live quietly, power itself now being the only goal worth aiming for in the absence of anything more elevated or elevating.

Stalin famously (or infamously) once said that writers were the engineers of souls, and that is what pressure groups believe themselves increasingly to be. They do not so much seek to persuade us by the force of their arguments as irreversibly to change our mentalities. Habit is character, and if we can be forcibly made to change the way we speak, eventually our thoughts will follow. Of course, such changes have always occurred, but less by design than spontaneously.

The totalitarian impulse did not die with the Soviet Union, but rather fractured into many different monomanias. The freedom that many people desire is the freedom to limit other people’s freedom, which they find much more gratifying than the mere expression of their own opinion, which has at most the effect of throwing a pebble into a pond, causing a ripple that soon disappears and is forgotten. Surely I am more important than that, and my opinion deserves to dictate to others?

Political polarization is about much more than culture. It’s about liberty. Freedom of speech is a threat to The Crust and The Resistance because their joint agenda can so easily be shown for the sham that it is. Thus it is imperative for The Crust and The Resistance to stifle freedom of speech and other freedoms that threaten their agenda: freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to bear arms.

Totalitarianism is on the march, and it is gaining strength daily.

I once again beseech Mr. Trump to undertake a preemptive (cold) civil war before it is too late to rescue liberty from its enemies within.

It’s the only way out.


Related reading:
Peter Leyden and Ruy Texeira, “The Great Lesson of California in America’s New Civil War“, Medium, January 19, 2018
Kurt Schlichter, “Liberals Announce Plan to Crush Normal Americans in a New “Civil War” (Spoiler: It’s Not a Great Plan)“, Townhall, April 9, 2018
Selwyn Duke, “Twitter’s CEO Endorses Call for Conservatism’s DestructionThe New American, April 11, 2018
Surnantra Maitra, “The Creeping and Creepy March of the Progressive Totalitarian Impulse“, American Greatness, April 11, 2018
John Derbyshire, “Ideology Trumps Reality in Reich’s Who We Are And How We Got Here“, The Unz Review, April 19, 2018

Related posts:
Slopes, Ratchets, and the Death Spiral of Liberty
The Slippery Slope of Constitutional Revisionism
The Ruinous Despotism of Democracy
A New (Cold) Civil War or Secession?
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare
The Culture War
Judicial Supremacy: Judicial Tyranny
The Tenor of the Times
The Answer to Judicial Supremacy
Turning Points
Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Rahn Curve Revisited
Polarization and De-facto Partition
Civil War?
Freedom of Speech and the Long War for Constitutional Governance
Roundup: Civil War, Solitude, Transgenderism, Academic Enemies, and Immigration
If Men Were Angels
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Liberty in Chains
Self-Made Victims
The Social Security Mess Revisited
The Public-Goods Myth
Libertarianism, Conservatism, and Political Correctness
Sexual Misconduct: A New Crime, a New Kind of Justice
Politics and Prosperity: A Natural Experiment
As the World Lurches
A Not-So-Stealthy Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utilitarianism (and Gun Control) vs. Liberty
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
“Democracy” Thrives in Darkness — and Liberty Withers
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War
Reductio ad Sclopetum, or Getting to the Bottom of “Gun Control”
Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, without Delay

As the World Lurches

Pew Research Center offers “17 Striking Findings from 2017“. I have the impression that some of the findings are bad news to the Pew folk. But many of the findings are good news to me, as you will see in the following commentary. Pew pearls, in italics, are followed by my demurrers, in bold:

1. Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today.

The growing divide is unsurprising given the sharp leftward lurch among Democrats since the days of Bill Clinton’s “triangulation”. The good news is that there are still a lot of Americans who haven’t lurched leftward lemming-like.

2. Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. A global median of just 22% have confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs, according to a survey conducted last spring. The image of the U.S. abroad also suffered a decline: Just 49% have a favorable view, down from 64% at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency.

This is excellent news, inasmuch as America is loved by foreigners only when Americans are being killed or taxed on their behalf.

3. About four-in-ten Americans say they live in a gun-owning household, while three-in-ten say they personally own a gun. Protection tops the list of reasons for owning a gun.

But if you were to believe the leftist media (about which, more below), you would think that the main reason for owning a gun is to kill people — randomly and in large numbers. I own a 12-gauge, bolt-action shotgun, which stands ready to be used (with 00 shot) against an intruder. I am merely representative of the vast, gun-owning majority who — unlike a lot of gun-grabbing politicians — don’t live in a virtual fortress or have armed bodyguards (paid for by taxing the likes of me).

4. Democrats and Republicans disagree now more than ever on the news media’s “watchdog” role. Roughly nine-in-ten Democrats say news media criticism keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done, compared with 42% of Republicans ­who say this – the widest gap in Pew Research Center surveys conducted since 1985. This stands in stark contrast to early 2016, when similar shares of Democrats (74%) and Republicans (77%) supported the media’s watchdog role.

How (not) surprising is this finding, given the media’s transformation from leftist puppet to frothing-at-the-mouth, leftist, anti-Trump, attack dog? For a longer view of the public’s lack of confidence in the media, see the graph here. There was a sharp rise in the fraction expressing “hardly any” confidence in the media at about the time that Bill Clinton became an accidental president, thanks to Ross Perot’s candidacy. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

5. Muslims are projected to be the world’s fastest-growing major religious group in the decades ahead. By 2035, the number of babies born to Muslims is projected to modestly exceed births to Christians, mostly due to Muslims’ relatively young population and high fertility rates.

This points to another reason why Democrats want to open the borders to “political refugees”. Whether they’re Muslim or Central American, they breed faster than gringos and are much more likely to vote for Democrats.

6. In the U.S., Hispanic identity fades across generations as distance from immigrant roots grows. High intermarriage rates and declining immigration are changing how some Americans with Hispanic ancestry see their identity. Most U.S. adults with Hispanic ancestry self-identify as Hispanic, but 11%, or 5 million, do not. While nearly all immigrant adults from Latin America or Spain say they are Hispanic, this share decreases by the third and fourth or higher generations.

Nothing new under the sun. The same was true of the vast waves of European immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s. Probably even more true of them, come to think of it. But they weren’t enticed to America by tax-funded benefits, as are so many Hispanic immigrants. I say that with great respect for the hard-working Hispanic immigrants whom I have encountered.

7. Americans see fundamental differences between men and women, but men and women have different views on the cause of these differences. Majorities of women who see gender differences in the way people express their feelings, excel at work and approach parenting say differences between men and women are mostly based on societal expectations. Men who see differences in these areas tend to believe biology is the root.

Thus does the emotion-based reaction of most women neatly contrast with the fact-based reaction of most men.

8. Many Americans expect certain professions to be dominated by automation in their lifetime – but few see their own jobs at risk. Roughly three-quarters of Americans think it’s realistic that robots and computers might one day do many jobs currently done by humans, and sizable majorities expect jobs such as fast food workers and insurance claims processors to be performed by machines within their lifetimes. Yet just 30% of American workers expect their own jobs or professions to become automated.

The final sentence confirms the prevalence of irrationality. Which is why I have been happy with the rise of automation. To take just one example, it is easier, faster, cheaper, and more pleasant to buy many things online than it is to schlep to a store and be “helped” by an indifferent, inarticulate ignoramus (too often bedecked in tattoos, piercings, weird garb, and outré hairdo). Vive l’automation!

9. The share of Republicans who hold negative views of the effect of colleges and universities on the country has grown significantly since 2015. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners (58%) now say colleges have a negative effect. Two years ago, by contrast, 54% of Republicans said colleges were having a positive effect. Democrats and Democratic leaners have consistently held positive views of the effect of colleges on the U.S.; 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say this today.

Thanks to the “resistance”, the true nature of the academy has been exposed to the view of people who had been blissfully ignorant of it. If the GOP holds and builds a majority in the central government and in State governments, its next big initiative should be to slash subsidies for the enemies of liberty who “profess” and are “professed to” at to colleges across the land.

10. Immigrants are projected to play the primary role in the growth of the American working-age population in the coming decades. The number of working-age immigrants is projected to increase from 33.9 million in 2015 to 38.5 million by 2035, with new immigrant arrivals accounting for all of that gain. Absent these new arrivals, the total projected U.S. working-age population would fall.

But automation will more than take up  the slack. Who needs more immigrants? Democrat politicians, that’s who.

11. News stories about President Trump’s first 60 days in office offered far more negative assessments than they did of prior administrations. About six-in-ten stories on Trump’s early days in office had a negative assessment, about three times more than in early coverage for Obama and roughly twice that of Bush and Clinton. Coverage of Trump’s early time in office moved further away from a focus on the policy agenda and more toward character and leadership.

See #1 and #4.

12. In the past 10 years, the share of U.S. adults living without a spouse or partner has increased. This rise in “unpartnered” Americans, from 39% in 2007 to 42% today, has been most pronounced among young adults: Roughly six-in-ten adults younger than 35 are now living without a spouse or partner. The share of “unpartnered” adults also has risen more sharply among those who are not employed.

Pew ignores the really bad news, which is that “unpartnered” Americans give birth to children, who are then raised in (generally) unstable, poor households without a father. Perhaps it’s time to re-institute the shotgun wedding.

13. About half of 2.2 million people who sought asylum in Europe during the 2015 and 2016 refugee surge were still in limbo at the end of 2016 and did not know if they would be allowed to stay.

Another glaring omission: Mention of the Europeans who would be on the hook to support the asylum-seekers, most of whom would probably side with the politicians who want to give them “free” stuff.

14. About eight-in-ten Americans say they understand the risks and challenges of police work, but 86% of police say the public does not understand. This is one of several areas where the views of police and those of the public diverge significantly. For example, while half of the public says the country still needs to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, this view is shared by just 16% of police. Law enforcement officers and the public are broadly in agreement on other issues, such as making private gun sales and gun show sales subject to background checks.

How could 80 percent of Americans possibly understand the risks and challenges of police work? By watching TV shows about cops or reading crime novels? Cops, by the way, aren’t upholders of gun rights because (a) every gun is potentially turned against a cop and (b) a gun-wielding citizenry is a threat to cops’ law-enforcement monopoly.

15. About six-in-ten Americans ages 18 to 29 say the primary way they watch television now is with streaming services on the internet. Much smaller shares of older Americans cite online streaming services as their primary way of watching TV; older Americans tend to rely on cable connections. Overall, just 28% of Americans cite streaming services as the primary way they watch TV.

I’m with the streamers, despite my advanced age. I have cut the cord, and use an indoor antenna to get local TV stations, which I watch about 5 minutes a day for the local weather forecast. Even that is only a residual habit; I can get the same thing any time of the day from the internet. Most of my TV viewing is devoted to programs that I stream via Netflix and Amazon Video. Vive l’automation!

16. Views on whether whites benefit from societal advantages that blacks do not have are split sharply along racial and partisan lines. Nearly eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (78%) say white people benefit at least a fair amount from advantages that blacks do not have. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 72% say whites do not benefit much or at all from these advantages. An overwhelming majority of blacks (92%) say whites benefit from societal advantages, while just 46% of whites say the same.

Whites are generally smarter and more law-abiding than blacks, which accounts for most of the “advantages” enjoyed by whites. Only a Democrat (or worse) could believe in the unfairness of the situation.

17. Science knowledge is closely related to expectations for harm from climate change among Democrats, but not among Republicans. In 2016, Democrats with high science knowledge were far more likely than Democrats with low science knowledge to say a series of environmental impacts would be very likely to occur as a result of climate change, including rising sea levels and intensifying storms. But there are only modest or no differences among Republicans with different levels of science knowledge in their expectations of harm to the Earth’s ecosystems.

Almost all Democrats with high knowledge about science say climate change is mostly due to human activity (93%); a much smaller share of Democrats with low science knowledge (49%) say the same. Among Republicans, there are no significant differences by science knowledge about the causes of climate change.

All of which just goes to show the wisdom in the adage that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when it’s harnessed to an ideological agenda. Communism was (and still is, I suppose) a “scientific” political theory. Ditto Hitler’s brand of National Socialism, with its “scientific” attitude toward Jews. All those marchers for science weren’t marching for science, they were marching to demonstrate their (hysterical and generally uninformed) belief in AGW. That belief, in fact, arises from a neo-Puritan mindset, and serves as an excuse to subjugate and impoverish other Americans (though many of the neo-Puritans are loath to give up their SUVs, large homes, and extensive air travel).

“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

That’s how a correspondent characterized an op-ed by Mitch Daniels* that appeared yesterday in the online edition of The Washington Post. Daniels says, in part, that

ours is an era when it seems no one ever confesses to being wrong. Moreover, everyone is so emphatically right that those who disagree are not merely in error but irredeemably so, candidates not for persuasion but for castigation and ostracism….

John Maynard Keynes is frequently credited with the aphorism “When I find I’m wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?” Today, the problem may less be an attitude of stubbornness than that fewer people than ever recognize their mistakes in the first place.

In a well-documented fashion, steady doses of viewpoint reinforcement lead not only to a resistance to alternative positions but also to a more entrenched and passionate way in which thoughts are held and expressed. When those expressions are launched in the impersonal or even anonymous channels of today’s social — or is it antisocial? — media, vitriol often becomes the currency of discourse and second thoughts a form of tribal desertion or defeat. Things people would not say face to face are all too easy to post in bouts of blogger or tweeter one-upmanship.

I doubt that it’s possible to return to the “golden days” of political comity, whenever they were. The U.S. hasn’t come close to attaining a sense of national unity since World War II. And even then, FDR’s popular vote share dropped between 1940 and 1944, and the GOP picked up House and Senate seats in 1942 and 1944. At any rate, things have gotten a lot worse since then — there’s no doubt about it.

How might they get better? Someone — an extremely influential someone — has to make the first move, and be willing to lose on an important issue. And he has to bring influential allies with him, or else his move will likely be nullified by a stiffening of his side’s position on the issue.

I submit that the stakes are too high for this to happen, unless a greater objective than “winning” a political debate emerges. Right after 9/11, it appeared that such an objective had emerged, but the sense of unity against a common enemy didn’t last. And it wasn’t entirely Bush’s fault for pushing the war in Iraq. I witnessed (on TV) HRC’s eye-rolling performance during Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress, a performance aimed not only at the Dem colleagues near her but also at anti-Bush zealots around the country. (Bush’s “theft” of the election less than a year earlier was still a sore spot for a lot of Democrat politicians and voters.)

It would be the same again with Trump in office. In fact, he’d be blamed (by Democrats) for whatever dire thing happens, and polarization would strengthen instead of weakening.

I shudder to think what it might take to achieve real and lasting unity, or at least a willingness to engage in honest and open discourse. The nation may be better off if the status quo persists. I certainly do not want compromise if it means giving any more ground to the left.


* I came to know Mitch slightly when we had business dealings about 30 years ago. He is the anti-Trump in size, thoughtfulness, articulateness, and manner. He is exactly the kind  of person who might be able to put the country more or less back together. But having said that, I am glad that Trump is in the White House now. His uncompromising push for conservative policies and judges is exactly what’s needed to counterbalance the Dems’ continuing slide into loony leftism.


Related posts:
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!
Presidential Treason
A Home of One’s Own
The Criminality and Psychopathy of Statism
Surrender? Hell No!
Romanticizing the State
Governmental Perversity
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
How America Has Changed
Civil War?
The “H” Word, the Left, and Donald Trump
Red-Diaper Babies and Enemies Within
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown
Academic Freedom, Freedom of Speech, and the Demise of Civility
Death of a Nation
The Invention of Rights
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
Politics Trumps Economics
Down the Memory Hole
Dining with “Liberals”

Polarization and De Facto Partition

I started this post on the day before election day.

Don’t you have the feeling that Election 2016 will result in greater political polarization, not less? I do.

For one thing, both Clinton and Trump are polarizing figures. It seems unlikely that either of them will do things (or try to do things) that will gain the approval of their political opponents.

For another thing, whatever is done by the president, by Congress, or by the Supreme Court in the next four years will simply fuel the outrage of those who oppose it. When government steers to the left, it usually isn’t far enough to the left to satisfy the growing and vocal band of leftists in America, but it always outrages the right. When government steers to the right, it always enrages the left, but it’s never far enough to the right to restore liberty, thus disappointing and further alienating the right.

The underlying trend toward bigger and more intrusive government is especially frustrating for those of us on the right. It seems that no matter which party controls the White House and Congress, the bureaucracy continues to churn out regulations and the Supreme Court (usually) issues edicts that undermine traditional morality and endorse the central government’s interfering ways.

Political polarization is aided and abetted by geographic sorting, and geographic sorting must aid and abet political polarization. Consider how far geographic sorting has come since 1992:

As of 2012, the divide was pretty wide. Half of all voters were living in a county that President Obama or Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee that year, won in a landslide, which is defined here as a county won by 20 percentage points or more.

The proportion of voters living in landslide counties has steadily increased since 1992, a trend that reflects the growing tendency of like-minded people to live near one another, according to Bill Bishop, a co-author of “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book that identified this phenomenon.

Americans have been self-segregating by lifestyle, though not necessarily politics, for several decades, Mr. Bishop said, but lifestyle has grown to reflect politics. “We’re sorting by the way we live, think and — it turns out — every four years or every two years, how we vote.”

Some political scientists expect the landslide trend to continue in the 2016 presidential election. “If anything, I think we’ll see it intensify because Trump has been doing very well among the kinds of voters who tend to live in rural and small-town America,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. [Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karen Yourish, “How Large Is the Divide between Red and Blue America?The New York Times, November 4, 2016]

Perhaps the most compelling statistic of the many statistics presented in the article is that the percentage of voters living in landslide counties rose from 37 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2012. The United States truly has become a nation divided.

Something has to give. But what, and how? I addressed those questions in “Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead,” and concluded that

unless there is a negotiated partition of the country — perhaps in response to a serious secession movement — a coup is probably the only hope for the restoration of liberty under a government that is true to the Constitution.

The alternative is a continuation of America’s descent into despotism, which — as many Americans already know — is no longer the “soft” despotism foreseen by Tocqueville.

I’ve mentioned the possibility of a coup in several posts, but always with skepticism. I remain skeptical. Given the increasing polarization of the country — political and geographic — something like a negotiated partition seems like the only way to make the left and the right happier.

And then it occurred to me that a kind of partition could be achieved by constitutional means; that is, by revising the Constitution to return to its original plan of true federalism. The central government would, once again, be responsible for the defense of liberty and free trade. Each State would, within the framework of liberty, make its own decisions about the extent to which it intervenes in the economic and social affairs of its citizens.

How might that come to pass?

There are today in this land millions — probably tens of millions — of depressed leftists who foresee at least four years of GOP rule dedicated to the diminution of the regulatory-welfare state.

Obamacare is almost certainly dead. It has been dying of its congenital defects, but I expect Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to put a stake through its heart.

Trump’s nominee to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court probably will be someone closer in judicial philosophy to Antonin Scalia than to Anthony Kennedy. (If it isn’t, Trump may well find himself embarrassed by the GOP-controlled Senate’s rejection of his nominee.) As other vacancies arise during the next few years — and there’s likely to be at least one — they’ll probably be filled by constitutional conservatives. (The GOP-controlled Senate can and should change its rules about Supreme Court nominations to keep Democrats from filibustering Trump’s nominees.) Trump’s one or two nominees will move the Court back to the right, and probably will serve for decades. At any rate, that’s what conservatives hope and leftists fear.

What else? Here’s what I expect (or at least hope for): The end of preaching about race, having “conversations” about it, pretending that it isn’t implicated in violent crime, and turning a blind eye toward violence committed in the name of “racial justice.” The end of uncontrolled (and encouraged) illegal immigration. Reaffirmation of America’s long-standing ties with Israel, the Middle East’s bastion of democracy Western values. Repudiation of the phony deal with Iran. An end to pussy-footing around the relationship between Islam and terrorism. The reversal of anti-growth and anti-business executive orders and regulations (e.g., the EPA’s war on coal) issued in the name of “social justice” and “climate change.” The repeal of Dodd-Frank and its onerous micro-management of the financial industry. The end of efforts to undermine the Second Amendment. The end of the Department of Justice’s meddling in State and local matters to advance a leftist agenda in the name of “civil rights.” An end to similar meddling (and related funding) by the Department of Education — perhaps even an end to the Department of Education. And, generally, a much more hands-off attitude on the part of the federal bureaucracy when it comes to matters beyond the constitutional purview of the central government (which is most matters now consuming the attention of the federal bureaucracy).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea of what conservative expect (or hope for) and leftists fear. And therein is the source of political pressure that could bring about something like a partition of the United States.

The shoe is now on the other foot. A lot of leftists will want out (see this for example), just as Northern abolitionists wanted separation from the South in the 1830s and 1840s. Let’s give them a way out while the giving is good, that is, while the GOP controls the federal government. The way out for the left is also the way out for conservatives.

Congress, namely, its Republican majorities, can all an Article V convention of the States:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….

Note that the requirement for a two-thirds majority pertains only to amendments proposed by Congress. As for applications by the States, there seem to be enough unexpired and unrescinded applications on hand. And if there aren’t, they probably can be arranged in short order.

The convention would be controlled by Republicans, who control a majority of State legislatures. The Republican majority should make it clear from the outset that the sole purpose of the convention is to devolve power to the States. For example, if a State government wants to establish its own version of Social Security to supplement what remains of it after future benefits have been scaled back to match projected future revenues, that State government wouldn’t be prevented from doing so. And it could design that program — and any others — as it wishes, free from interference on by the central government.

To accomplish that devolution, the Convention of the States would consider and approve, for ratification by three-fourths of the States, a revised Constitution. A complete revision, rather than a series of amendments, would be easier for the citizens of the various States to understand and respond to as they voice their views to State legislators or convention delegates.

At this point, I refer you to the page that I’ve created, called “A Constitution for the 21st Century.” It cures the main problem with the present Constitution of the United States, which is not its actual meaning but the fact that inappropriate meanings have been imputed to it because it is too often vague and ambiguous, and because Congresses, presidents, and Supreme Courts have been unfaithful to it for several generations.

The new Constitution is not only far more specific than the present Constitution — and more restrictive of the powers of the central government — but it also includes more checks on those powers. For example, there are these provisions in Article V:

Congress may, by a majority of three-fifths of the members of each House present, when there is a quorum consisting of three-fourths of the number of persons then holding office in each House…provide for the collection of revenues in order to pay the debts and expenses of the government of the United States [emphasis added]….

A judgment of any court of the government of the United States may be revised or revoked by an act of Congress, provided that such any revision or revocation is approved by two-thirds of the members of each house and leads to a result that conforms to this Constitution.

Then there are Articles VII and VIII, Keeper of the Constitution and Conventions of the States, which begin as follows:

The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this Constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies….

Delegations of the States shall convene every four years for the purpose of considering revisions to and revocations of acts of the government established by this Constitution. Such conventions (hereinafter “Convention [or Conventions] of the States”) may revise and/or revoke any act or acts and/or any holding or holdings, in the sole discretion of a majority of State delegations present and voting.

On top of that, there is Article IX, which authorizes petitions and subsequent elections for the revocation of a broad range of governmental acts and the expulsion of members of Congress, the President, Vice President and justices of the Supreme Court. Also, a constitutional convention may be called pursuant to a successful petition.

To the extent that Articles VII, VIII, and IX would inhibit presidential and congressional ventures into unconstitutional territory, so much the better.

This new Constitution also provides for secession, the threat of which might further help to preserve its original meaning.

The job of selling the new Constitution would be a tough one, but the key selling point should be the preservation of choice. Individual States could be as socialistic or laissez-faire as their citizens allow, and the wide range of governing styles would afford ample choice for Americans. It would become much easier for every American to live in a politically congenial place.

Related posts:
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back
Undermining the Free Society
Government vs. Community
The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”
Society and the State
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
IQ, Political Correctness, and America’s Present Condition
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
O Tempora O Mores!
A Home of One’s Own
Surrender? Hell No!
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

See also “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.