Saturday, July 22, 2017

Further exploration of the larger point I was approaching in my last post

I could just link to the latest NRO pieces by Ben Shapiro and Jonah Goldberg, command you to read them, and have probably effectively made 70 percent of my point.

But I have a little more territory I'd like to cover.

I will set the table with a few insights from each of the above links.

Shapiro effectively reputes the argument that the agenda is proceeding in spite of the wince-inducing nature of the person who was elected president:

There have been precisely two big Trump wins for conservatives: Justice Neil Gorsuch, and regulatory reform via the Congressional Review Act and the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Trump has re-enshrined the Iran deal; his greatest defender on Fox News, Tucker Carlson, now spends his evenings browbeating commentators who suggest that Iran poses a threat to the United States. Trump has doubled down on President Obama’s policies on Russia in Syria; his cease-fire deal with the Russians was so bad that even the Israelis rejected it. Trump has not reformed taxes. There is no world in which Obamacare will be repealed. There is no wall, nor will the wall be forthcoming anytime soon.

And I daresay that if we now had a President Cruz, "A"CA repeal would be a done deal or at least underway. He would not be motivated by that which drives Trump: a willingness to sign anything that bolsters the view that he's a winner. He would have brought his understanding of economic freedom to a meeting with kindred spirits on Capitol Hill within the first week of his administration and pressed the matter relentlessly.

Goldberg makes clear the cost to principle that tribalism, of both right and left varieties, is exacting:

Clicks-from-cultists media outlets strive to justify and rationalize every failure as a success and every setback as part of the master plan. If you don’t see it, you’re part of the establishment, a globalist, or an elitist. The RNC is reportedly refusing to support Republican candidates who criticized Donald Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood video. “[The president] is unhappy with anyone who neglected him in his hour of need,” an anonymous RNC insider explained.

This is sickening madness. If this is true, then the logical inference is that the GOP as a party believes that there was nothing wrong with the president’s conduct, even though he was a Democrat at the time. Or, perhaps, that there is nothing so wrong with what he said — and what he claimed he did — that it can justify breaking faith in the Leader.

That is moral rot on an institutional scale and the people aiding and abetting it should be ashamed of themselves. The party needs to support the president, to be sure. But it must support other things — decency, principles, truth — even more. When it ceases to do that, it ceases to be the Grand Old Party and becomes a Venal New Party.
What I'd like to do now is add some really broad cultural context.

A side gig I've had for many years is teaching rock & roll history, jazz history and blues history at my local Indiana University campus. I anticipate that my merely revealing that can be expected to engender some eye-rolls. Yes, I take state-government money to play Chuck Berry recordings to a classroom mainly comprised of twenty-somethings looking to knock out a three-credit-hour elective. But I've developed a reputation for demanding rigorous thought and the pursuit of true insight. I generally give some Fs.

When I expose the students to the reaction in some quarters of 1950s society to the rise of rock - the assessment that it was a cultural menace - I do my best to invite them to ask why such a view might be taken quite seriously.

Rock, and the sensibility that informed not only that musical genre, but cinema and literature as well, celebrated simplicity, indeed primitivism. Musical principles were learned in that realm in seat-of-the-pants fashion. Both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr recount a bus ride they took across Liverpool because they'd heard some guy could teach them how to play a B seventh chord.

Yes, rock & roll as a body of musical achievement is full of some performances and compositions, and threads of influence, that are worthy of being called art, especially given the backdrop of the way overall Western culture has gone over the last 70 years, and what art had to draw upon for content. But the overall trend has been toward ever-less-dignified expressions of - well, what? What the hell is Slipknot trying to say?

And consider all the other harbingers that have been attendant to rock's permeation of our culture. I recently wrote a post on tattoos that I'd recommend if you didn't see it the first time. My main point was that they are an enshrinement of the all-about-me-ism that puts off-limits any institutional attempt to establish standards. Even the military is now agonizing over just what degree of tattoo-ed-ness it's going to accept in recruits.

Did any of you see any coverage of a recent tattoo artists' convention in Medellin, Colombia? It was nothing short of horrifying. People who have had their tongues split and bumps surgically implanted in their foreheads to look more reptilian.

This is not some kind of celebration of individual sovereignty. This is not self-invention. This is nihilism. This is the devil on the prowl. There, I said it.

A question such as "Didn't the British Invasion loosen up societal norms with the introduction of long hair on men?" is of the same type as questions such as "Isn't an impulsive little butterfly tattoo on a cute girl's shoulder a pleasant little lark?" or "Aren't most marijuana smokers mellow yet responsible citizens?" Okay, there are affirmative answers to be given to those questions, but consider that the man bun, an outward expression of acquiescence to the notion of gender fluidity, the above-mentioned tattoo-convention attendees, and the fact that heroin is now as cheap and accessible as weed have their antecedents in seemingly innocuous little cultural moves resistance to which was short-lived.

There is no resistance at all to any cultural development now.

I'm sure Tom Kavanaugh took a few moments to look over his Real Clear Politics piece today before deciding not to edit it further. He no doubt wondered whether enough people would deem it hopelessly cornball and the stuff of broad-brush nostalgia that it might not be worth the effort.

But it's an important essay. The gist is report card from his mother-in-law's childhood:

 . . . which my wife and I stumbled upon in advance of a family reunion last weekend in the Buckeye State. That’s where Loraine Bigler and her eight siblings grew up. Powhatan Point, to be specific. On a farm, to be even more precise. The Bigler kids and their widely spaced neighbors attended a one-room schoolhouse till they entered high school. Imagine that – a lone teacher instilling knowledge and character in charges ranging from age 6 (actually, 5 in Loraine’s case, thanks to a December birthday) to 14. Somehow, it worked.
Can you imagine any school, certainly any public school, holding today's youth to these standards?

Grades were given for reading and writing and ’rithmetic, of course, along with agriculture, civics and the aforementioned thrift. But the bulk of the report card – the two inside facing pages – measures growth both broader and more personal. Under the heading of “Citizenship” are nine focal areas, starting with “Manners” (“courtesy to teachers,” “kindness to associates” and something often missing in our public discourse today, “cleanliness and civility of speech”) and ending with “Punctuality.”
In between are what we might once have defined as all-American values: respect for law, order and authority; truthfulness and self-control; effort to do the best work; interest in community welfare; and, under “Reverence,” “attitude toward things sacred.”
Imagine the ruckus that last item would raise today in public school circles.
There are also seven grading areas that deal with purely personal matters. There’s neatness of dress (including “clothing clean” and “shoes clean”); neatness of person (“face clean,” “nails clean,” “hair brushed”); even posture, among others. The list ends with “weight.”
Again, imagine the uproar such grading areas would spark today, when unkempt appearance and childhood obesity are so commonplace. This is not to say anyone should ever be shamed if they fall short, only that there’s good reason to set — and meet — standards. 
Which brings me back to two really stupid columns I mentioned in the post right under this one. One is by Chris Buskirk at The Journal of American Greatness, and one is by Kurt Schichter at Townhall. Each celebrates the possibility of Kid Rock running for a Senate seat.

Now, Kid Rock is the fruition of the process whereby rock & roll's inherent primitivism has been destined to render it irredeemably worthless. He got his start in the nu-metal movement, which took heavy metal's basic ugliness to unprecedented extremes, and proceeded to incorporate elements of hip-hop and outlaw country into the stringy-haired-working-class-white-guy persona he was cultivating.

Buskirk's embrace of this I can understand. He is, after all, a leading light in the pathetic attempt to impart some kind of intellectual coherence to the Trump phenomenon.

But Schichter was not a Trump fan at all during last year's primaries, and even after Trump's nomination was a fait accompli, Schichter was of the binary-choice school that acknowledged that a Trump victory was not going to usher in a conservative paradise, and would probably be closer to a train wreck.

Lately, though, he's gone full Buskirk, relishing an in-your-face stance vis-a-vis principled conservatism:

Kid Rock? Oh, well I never!” You simpering sissies. I’ll take his nasty stringy mop and torn wife beater over your preferred weasels’ coiffed politician/newscaster hair and Gucci loafers.
No, he didn’t go to some Ivy League snob factory and all he’s got to rely on are attitudecommon sense, and a love of actual Americans (especially our troops). But wait - you want “conservatism.” A fat lot of good your version of conservatism’s done us. It’s always waiting up there ahead, just after the next election cycle, and in the meantime, we’ll compromise and make some more excuses.
No, we’re past voting for the ideology. Now we’re ready to vote for the id.
A guy like Schlichter is just as culpable as any pussy-hat marcher for the death of Western civilization. The whole where-have-the-position-papers-from-the-think-tank-pointy-heads-gotten-us mentality is nothing short of Jacobin.

I've always relied on the most rigorous thought processes I could muster to substantiate my argument. But you know what really committed me to my stance? Good old intuition. From the moment the guy hedged about running for president, saying, "I really don't have to; my businesses are doing so fantastically well, and I'm really rich," I just had a feeling that something was very wrong with what was unfolding.

And, in spite of a few moments when despair has encroached on my thought processes, I've had an attendant feeling that the think tanks and magazines of actual conservatism were going to be just fine, and that the efforts of this populist-nationalist sociocultural hiccup to scrape together some kind of legitimization for itself was going to falter.

The final verdict is far from in, but I just have a feeling I'm on the right track.

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