Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Importance of Persuasion

In his distinctive style, Ace notes the importance of rational persuasion in some interesting remarks about my recent piece in The Weekly Standard:
Bauer goes back to James Fennimore Cooper to set up a struggle between two wicked sorts: demagogues, and the doctrinaire type.
I was just talking about this in the podcast. I mentioned that in the nineties, when Perot challenged Clinton on NAFTA, Clinton, at least, arranged for a debate on NAFTA. (Al Gore vs. Ross Perot.)
Give Clinton credit -- he was willing to debate the issue. He attempted to persuade people he was right. He briefed his Wooden Puppet Moron on some talking points and put him on Larry King Live to do this.
Public persuasion -- what an idea.
Where has that idea gone?
Anyone trying much of this on the right, lately?
Chiefly the form of "persuasion" one sees on these issues lately is ever more ghastly and baroque insults directed at the white working class.
The idea seems to be that if this cohort is insulted in even more vicious terms than the liberal ruling class did, they'll finally see the sense of supporting the right-side ruling class.
Ace's whole post is very much worth reading.  He goes on to argue that, on certain issues (especially, from his perspective, the topic of transnationalism), there's a temptation for advocates of the dominant paradigm to defend their position not with carefully argued reasons but instead with a hurricane of shame.

James Fenimore Cooper understood that shame politics has its limits.  It's not pandering to address the real concerns of voters, nor is it statesmanship to respond to public concerns with a self-righteous sneer.  The Founders of this nation and many of its great political figures, such as Abraham Lincoln, found circumspection, rationality, and intellectual diligence to be of more use than proclamations of their own virtue.  They did not rest content with calling worried Americans losers, monsters, and idiots.  Instead, they actually tried to address the desires of the people and channel popular energies in a responsible way.

The rise of Donald Trump points to significant shortcomings in the current ideological chic.  An identity politics allied to elite malfeasance and haughty transnationalism has encouraged a broad economic slowdown, instability in foreign affairs, and increased divisions in the body politic.  The responses of the left to these problems have proven dissatisfying, and the right needs to do more to offer real solutions to these issues.  I think that conservatives can offer such solutions, but running on the same old policies, which were designed to respond to global conditions forty years ago, is unlikely to do the job.

As Ace notes, defeating Donald Trump will not solve those broader problems, so disappointment awaits those who hope that they can return to the halcyon status quo if--somehow, just somehow--they can stop The Donald.  Absent policy reform, the dynamic that has given rise to Trump will continue to persist.  Some of the more interesting analysts of the Trump phenomenon, including the team at the intriguing and pugnacious Journal of American Greatness, have looked beyond Trump the man in order to consider the broader forces that have fueled Trump's rise.  Whether one supports Trump or not, that bigger picture is crucial.

I've been arguing for a while that a potential detente between conservative and populist tendencies is possible.  Such an association might frustrate some transnationalists, nostalgiacists, and lobbyists, but it could also reinvigorate national affairs and strengthen the enterprise of a free republic.  Some on the right, including Laura Ingraham, have been more open to Trump because they think his candidacy could make some reforms more likely to be implemented.  However, supporting Trump and supporting conservative reform are not identical; some of Trump's fiercest critics--such as Ross Douthat, many writers at National Review and The Weekly Standard, and so forth--have been supportive of conservative reform.

When faced with a disruptive force, existing institutions can curl up into themselves or they can adapt to the new circumstances.  In the wake of dis-Trumption, Republicans have to decide whether to double down on the past or to evolve toward the future.  This evolution need not require the surrender of key principles of individual integrity, personal freedom, and limited government, but it would require fresh thinking to confront facts on the ground in light of these principles.  Doctrinaire scorn is a poor substitute for imagination, empathy, and reason.

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