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E-Pluribus | September 20, 2022
Where have all the civil libertarians gone, does trying to prove you're not a racist work, and what's the real problem with National Conservatism?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Matt Taibbi: What Happened to America's Civil Libertarians?
Justice is supposed to be blind, but Matt Taibbi says too often civil liberties advocates and organizations are turning a blind eye to abuses by the Department of Justice. On his Substack, Taibbi says the DOJ has a long history of such abuses, but the tendency of civil libertarians on the left to gloss over or even encourage such abuses against Donald Trump is a worrying trend that ends up harming everyone.
The reason it’s important to raise a fuss about abuses involving Trump isn’t in spite of the target. It’s because the DOJ trains extralegal weaponry (and its new expertise in lying through the media) on him in particular that these cases matter more. By the time Trump was elected, the only thing standing between the security bureaucracy and basically unlimited authority was the theoretical objection of voters and judges. So it mattered, a lot, when the DOJ repeatedly used illegal tactics on a sitting president and got away with doing so every time. If they could do it to Trump, they could (and do) do it to anyone, and seemingly on every day of his presidency, they violated new norms.
But, you say, who cares about a little FISA abuse or leaking of classified intercepts or grand jury material to the media, or raiding the offices and apartments (and seizing the cell phones) of presidential lawyers? The implicit argument of Trump’s pursuers has always been that any rule-bending is worth it because, like Saddam Hussein, Trump was and is a unique danger, an “exceptional” or “existential threat.” Therefore we don’t need to prove cases, as Representative Maxine Waters once explained on MSNBC, because we just know: “I think he colluded with Putin, doing the election and that hacking and everything that took place. I think that it’s there. We just have to dig deeper, do the investigation and find it.”
The real victim of this reasoning wasn’t Trump, but concepts like the presumption of innocence, which get degraded during these manias. Once people start down the road toward this kind of thinking, they tend not to stop until they themselves are victimized by it, which is happening with more than a few Republicans now.
Authorities aren’t stupid. When they start smashing rules and throwing off constitutional restraints, they always start with someone unpopular. People as a result tend to shrug off the excesses in the moment, but it’s the world they wake up to ten years later that’s the problem. We were told after 9/11 that our political problems in the Middle East were really tactical issues, and that if we just let the right people take the gloves off for a few years, our terror problem would go away. Instead we multiplied our enemies a hundredfold, and won for our trouble the honor of having Swiss-cheesed a Constitution some of us were proud of once.
Read the whole thing.
John McWhorter: Trying to Prove You’re Not a Racist
Trying to prove one is not a racist is a bit like trying to answer the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” The "racist” accusation often presumes guilt, so trying to push back can come across as protesting too much. At The New York Times, John McWhorter encourages his readers to focus more on the long term goal of reshaping “our general consciousness on race” rather than trying to address the name-calling.
Rather, as I have learned in my now lengthy experience with this kind of criticism, it’s that those who disagree with me feel — or perhaps have been taught to feel — that opinions like mine amount to giving white people a pass on racism, that they distract whites from engaging in the kind of thinking and activity that will help Black America. As such, they do not think of people like me as having opinions different from theirs but legitimate. They think opinions like mine are dangerous. I can imagine that to my critics, white people writing me for counsel is exactly what Black America doesn’t need. I am basing this on 25 years of receiving this kind of critique from various directions.
[ . . . ]
If people who don’t see race things my way continue to call you names and get in your way, you have my full sympathy. (And an overprivileged college professor like me isn’t the only one who would come to your defense. “Unwoke” views on race are quite common among Black people of all levels of education.)
But I consider myself engaged in a gradual process of — I hope — shaping our general consciousness on race via constant argument over decades of time. This is a long-game business. Views change slowly, incrementally, and writing is part of making it happen.
Read it all here.
Bobby Miller: The Left Misunderstands the Problem with National Conservatism
National conservatives have been called everything from semi-fascists to fascists to Nazis, but writing for National Review, Bobby Miller contends that there’s no need to assign nefarious motivations to National Conservatives to say that their policies are wrong. Miller writes that focusing on the non-conservative aspects of National Conservatism is a better and more practical way to push back on the growing movement.
There is some difference — and even disagreement — among the speakers and attendees [of the National Conservatism Conference]. But the basic premise of the gathering was that we’re living through an epochal moment in the history of our civilization. National conservatives (NatCons) assert that liberalism, the dominant ideological paradigm in the West since 1945, amplified by the emergence of “neoliberalism” in the 1980s, has failed. Globalization has enabled “hostile foreign powers to despoil America.” Atomistic individualism has left people in a state of spiritual malaise.
[ . . . ]
In the case of the NatCons, progressives such as Matt Yglesias have argued that the lip service they pay to the interests of the working class is all just a smokescreen for the same regressive program of redistributing wealth upwards. The best explanation they’ve come up with for this phenomenon is that the NatCon emphasis on Christian nationalism and preserving traditional culture and is just less-discreet white-nationalist dog-whistling.
This is mistaken. For all their flaws, the NatCons are not in the pocket of oligarchs on Wall Street, and they’re not further proof of America’s inherent bigotry. Branding the project as the same old prejudice in service of a classist agenda fails to capture the challenge NatCons present.
National conservatism correctly diagnoses many societal ills and rightly calls attention to traditional-conservative blind spots on class and culture. But its solutions fail to address these problems. They are a hackneyed hodgepodge of protectionism, industrial policy, and foreign-policy restraint often difficult to distinguish from isolationism.
[ . . . ]
The root of national conservatism’s penchant for statism is its fundamental misunderstanding of what gave rise to this moment of profound disillusionment in America — for which the Left will not accept blame — and how to fix it. Workers have not seen their wages stagnate, health-care costs increase, and homeownership become unattainable because of “market fundamentalism.” Each one of these problems is the result of well-intentioned technocratic policies. The Judeo-Christian character of the nation has been debilitated, not aided, by the administrative state. Manning the levers of coercive state power for oneself will not remedy these problems; depowering the levers, however, will.
Read it all.
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Jane Coaston of The New York Times kicked off a spirited discussion today with a quote from Stephanie Slade’s recent Reason article on National Conservatism: “A free society must respect people's freedoms even when lots of other people dislike how they're used.” Click around in the thread for much more if you are Twitter savvy enough:
And finally, on The View, Asunción Hostin (who goes by "Sunny") suggested Nikki Haley is not “embracing” her “ethnicity” by not using her given name “Nimrata.” After some discussion, Whoopi (Caryn Elaine Johnson) Goldberg decided it was time for a commercial: