The nation’s immediate predicament is more banal. Republicans cannot win with former president Donald Trump defining them or inflaming their nominating electorates to select preposterous candidates. Democrats cannot win without invoking Trump’s specter to stifle debates about some of their policies (“no cash bail”; “greed” causes inflation) that stroke their base’s erogenous zones.
In this centennial of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” recognize Trump as “dry sterile thunder without rain.” When, however, he is scrubbed from the public square — an entertainer with a stale act is as perishable as vaudeville — this cleansing will be welcomed by an exhausted electorate but will be discomfiting to both parties. Republicans will be forced to articulate an agenda beyond retrospective grievances and prospective pugnacity, and Democrats will be at first speechless, then forced to defend their agenda.
First, I was always hoping for a divided government — an outcome achieved by the GOP takeover of the House. Second, I had misgivings about a Republican Senate majority made of candidates who stand for who-knows-what and others who decisively embrace protectionism on steroids along with other destructive populist policies. Third, I feared a red wave would energize former President Trump and his MAGA followers. Last night’s results should be a wake-up call that it is time to move on from Trump. Of course, it may not turn out this way because the former president, in his megalomania, seems utterly without common sense. This was always going to be a good night for him, according to him, since he had announced that if his candidates had a good night, he should get the credit, and if they didn’t, he shouldn’t be blamed.
Finally, it seems that the Republican move away from a free-market, limited-government agenda toward an open embrace of big government economic policies has not paid off. Maybe the lesson here is that one overtly statist party is enough.
Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat. The GOP was pounded in the 2018 midterms owing to his low approval rating. Mr. Trump himself lost in 2020. He then sabotaged Georgia’s 2021 runoffs by blaming party leaders for not somehow overturning his defeat. That gave Democrats control of the Senate, letting President Biden pump up inflation with a $1.9 trillion Covid bill, appoint a liberal Supreme Court Justice, and pass a $700 billion climate spending hash.
Now Mr. Trump has botched the 2022 elections, and it could hand Democrats the Senate for two more years. Mr. Trump had policy successes as President, including tax cuts and deregulation, but he has led Republicans into one political fiasco after another.
Americans routinely tell each other how fed up they are with their politicians — Gallup reported in June that Congress’s approval rating had dropped to a near-microscopic 16 percent — but they never do anything about it. A lopsided majority of the public is convinced that the country is on the wrong track, most voters have an unfavorable view of both parties on Capitol Hill, and neither the current president nor his predecessor is regarded with respect or affection by most Americans. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing changes. Election after election, roughly 9 out of 10 members of Congress who run for reelection are returned to office. Nearly as high is the reelection rate for governors. Voters ignore the apocalyptic rhetoric that so mesmerizes the chattering classes and let officeholders hang onto power for as long as they like.
Vanishingly few American politicians can bear the thought of giving up the power with which voters cloak them. And voters, to their discredit, are almost never prepared to take it away. If you thought 2022 was going to be the year that would change, you were fooling yourself. For all the huffing and puffing, “democracy” wasn’t on the ballot, incumbents were. As usual, they won.
GMU Econ alum James Broughel argues that the key division today among Americans “is between those who trust individuals to run their own lives and those who think technocrats know better.” Three slices:
While I agree with [Tyler] Cowen that the American right has undergone a transformation in recent years, I disagree that classical liberalism does not itself exhibit strong “anti-elite” tendencies. In fact, classical liberalism has a long tradition of being skeptical of intellectuals, who represent a certain class of elites, so much so that to dispense with that skepticism is arguably to abandon classical liberalism altogether. In this sense, the “anti-intellectualism” of the “New Right” is nothing new, it has some undeniably positive characteristics, and it possibly even represents a kind of revival of the older classical liberal tradition.
In fact, my worry about the trajectory of American politics is nearly the opposite of what Cowen seems concerned with. That is, I worry not about anti-elitism or anti-intellectualism on the American right, but rather about how many on both the left and the right put too much faith in the abilities of intellectuals to guide the evolution of human progress. Our tendency to overestimate our own abilities is not benign: As history has shown, it has the potential to lead to disastrous consequences, and these consequences can likely be avoided only by constraining the worst impulses of intellectuals through strong institutions.
The idea that classical liberals would put considerable faith in “elites” is, to be honest, puzzling. One of the most important articles in the classical liberal canon is “The Intellectuals and Socialism” by F.A. Hayek, which details the allure of socialism to the intellectual class. In his book “The Road to Serfdom,” published a few years later, Hayek expounded on the idea, blaming intellectuals for contributing to the rise of the Nazis in Germany and Communists in the Soviet Union.
Cowen chastises the New Right for castigating elites as “evil and pernicious,” but if any intellectual worldviews are evil and pernicious it is these. Moreover, consider this: The neoconservative foreign policy positions that created the conditions for the Iraq War have now been significantly downgraded in the Republican Party, and we have largely the New Right to thank for this.
Hayek himself would unkindly refer to intellectuals as “second-hand dealers of ideas,” and he argued this class of individuals, which includes “teachers, journalists, and media representatives,” not only tends to be attracted to unsound economic principles but also constitutes a threat to civilization itself. In fact, a pillar of classical liberalism is arguably what one might roughly label “anti-intellectualism”: It is anti-intellectual not in the sense of being against ideas or against scientific progress, but in the sense of recognizing and opposing the more destructive tendencies of the intellectual class.
The real schism in modern politics is not between classical liberals and the New Right, but rather between those who seek expert management of the economy and those who believe in individual freedom. The technocratic position is extremely attractive, even to right-wing intellectuals, because it claims to be on the side of science and progress. The problem with this philosophy, again, lies in whether the institutions are aligned with achieving those objectives.
Unlike in the market, where unprofitableness drives a company out of business, regulators can keep producing rules, academics can keep authoring reports and journalists can keep writing flattering news columns about socially fashionable policies, all without any consequences to them personally if things don’t go as planned. In the words of the economist Thomas Sowell, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
Why do so many ‘progressive’ faculty at fancy universities object to the idea that people who disagree with them are speaking with each other on campus? I’ve never encountered a more illiberal bunch.
A recent publication on censorship and suppression and its tactics and countertactics drew our attention. The study was based on interviews with established scientists “who were censored for their heterodox views on COVID-19”.
Participants reported 12 censorship and suppression tactics used by the medical establishment and the media due to their critical or unorthodox positions on COVID-19. Our analysis is that these fall into three broad categories: Silencing and Censorship, Denigration and Discrediting of an individual and Complaints and Intimidation.
As I argue in my 2021 book When Politicians Panicked, historians will marvel at the shocking stupidity of politicians, experts, and unrestrained authoritarians. They really and truly thought that the suffocation of personal and economic freedom was the virus-mitigation answer. And they still haven’t apologized. Our reward will be history, and history will not be kind to the nail-biters. This includes, but is not limited to Xi and his crowd.