The GOP has the lion’s share of macadamias, pistachios, and cashews, while the Democrats have mostly peanuts.
Dear Reader (Including the dude in Brazil who hasn’t changed jobs since 1922),
As at least one working woman with a riding crop probably said to Roger Stone, I’ve got to put a clock on this one.
So, I’m going to do this “diarist” style (where a bunch of mostly disconnected thoughts and observations are connected by the chewing gum, baling wire, and duct tape of stylistic legerdemain and poetic license). I call it diarist style because I think the old New Republic’s diarist columns, at their best, managed to pull this off.
I’m not sure that Elon Musk is going to pull off this Twitter thing. I wish him luck and, contrary to an amazing number of people, I don’t think this is the biggest deal in the world. In fact, I think the most significant thing about Musk’s (very likely) acquisition of Twitter is not the acquisition of Twitter itself but how big a deal people are making of it. Abe Greenwald over at Commentary said it best a couple weeks ago, “People believe Twitter is the real world. They therefore believe that Elon Musk is buying the world.”
That’s sad for a lot of reasons, starting with the fact Musk was literally the frontrunning contender to buy a world— just not this one. Maybe not literally, but not entirely figuratively either. After all, he’s said that he wants to die on Mars. And he’s probably the first person in the history of our species to say that and not be entirely crazy for saying it. Unfortunately, much of what I knew until 5 minutes ago about the applicability of maritime law to space exploration—which I learned from the movie The Martian—is not entirely correct. Simply showing up on Mars in your own rocket and saying, “Dibs!” doesn’t make you the owner of the planet, even if the natural law tradition going back to Aristotle, specifically the principle of Ego sum custos et inventoris. Victus es et plorantium (“I am the finder and the keeper. You are the loser and the weeper”), gave him a good shot. Even if he doesn’t want to conquer Mars, but merely colonize it for America or make it a kind of Casablanca, that seems like a much more significant priority than ensuring Tucker Carlson can post testicle tanning videos.
Speaking of orbs under excessive external heat, even Musk’s second passion—responding to global warming with breakthrough technologies like feasible electric cars and networks of tunnels (that do not disturb the Mole People, Morlocks, Moloids, Fraggles, Gorgs, or CHUDs)—seems a Hell (soon with tunnel access from Los Angeles!) of a lot more important than whatever the Most Important Thing Twitter Thinks Is Important happens to be. The Apollo program had a motto—“Waste anything but time”—because the race to the moon was deemed so important. Call me crazy, but on their own terms those goals—making humanity an interplanetary species, forestalling the testicular baking of the entire planet, even fixing L.A. traffic—all seem like better uses of the man’s valuable time. In a way, Musk’s decision is the ultimate vindication of Peter Thiel’s complaint about how our obsession with the digital revolution distracted us from pursuing greater revolutions in physical technology. “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.”
Of course, since Thiel said that the character limit has doubled, and who can argue with that kind of progress?
Yesterday, Musk tweeted an interesting little cartoon of a different kind of progress.
The response to this Tweet made Abe Greenwald’s point better than anything else could. Vast swaths of Twitter responded like he walked into a Red Sox bar wearing a Yankee uniform, ordered Manhattan clam chowder, and spit on the decorative picture of Ted Williams. Whoa, whoa, Republicans moved to the right! shouted everyone from politically addicted chiropodists to political scientists. We’ll get to that in a moment. But if you look closely at the cartoon, you’ll notice—well, who knows what you’ll notice. So let me point out two things. First, nowhere in the thingamabob does it say anything about “Republicans” or “Democrats.” And more importantly, the little stick figure dude in the drawing didn’t say “America” or the “world” or “politics” or “median voter” or even “government cheese.” It said, “Me.” And a zillion people who spent days bitching and moaning about how Musk thinks he’s too self-absorbed basically bought into the idea that the measure of man, at least political man, is … Musk.
“So the guy who is poised to buy Twitter once again successfully drew attention to Twitter by offering a visual analysis of how American politics has changed in recent years,” began the Washington Post’s Philip Bump. Again, that’s not actually what Musk did. Now, it’s possible—heck, maybe even probable—that this is what he was trying to do. But to the extent one can apply strict textualism to some doodles, all he was referring to was his own politics and his perception of politics. And I think at least three things can fairly be said about that: 1) He’s entitled to his opinion; 2) It is widely shared by others; and, 3) His opinion is not, in fact, unreasonable.
The first observation should be undebatable, but the funny thing is that people are constantly debating whether or not people can be allowed to have bad opinions. While there are Bad Opinion Police everywhere, they have a lot more institutional power in America on the left, including, until this week, on Twitter. The second observation is actually undebatable, which is one of the main reasons why so many people hate so many other people and why thought policing is so hot right now.
It’s the third point we should discuss for a moment. Up until the assclown insurgency started bedeviling the GOP, I’d have argued it’s not just reasonable to say the Democrats have moved further left than the GOP has moved right, but obvious. But I have more sympathy for people who look at the Arkham Asylum wing of the GOP and the establishment’s tolerance for it and say, “Really? My side has more extremists?” In an era of nutpicking where many people suffer from nutblindness on their own side, this is not an unreasonable response.
First, there’s plenty of data to support the gut instinct that Democrats have moved further left than Republicans have moved right. Kevin Drum, no conservative, walked readers through it a while ago (as I discussed here). The guys over at The Liberal Patriot do it all the time. The Democratic Party is freaking out because it’s losing Hispanics because of its leftward shift. Jeremy Raskin and Ro Khanna are even acknowledging it.
But I’m in a generous mood, so I’ll make a concession. I’d argue that in terms of nut quality, the right is ahead. Marjorie Taylor Greene just this week said that the Catholic Church is “under the control of Satan” because it <checks notes> aids illegal immigrants. Also this week, Madison Cawthorn got caught trying to smuggle a loaded gun onto a plane—again. He also got caught up in messier allegations that have me rethinking my earlier mockery of his claims that Washington is akin to House of Cards in its sexual debauchery. I didn’t realize he was bringing the debauchery with him like the cloud of dirt around Pigpen. Add in all the other familiar nuttery, and it’s fair to say that the GOP has the lion’s share of macadamias, pistachios, and cashews, while the Democrats have mostly peanuts and those space-fillers that in Brazil they just call “nuts.”
But as in most cans of mixed nuts, the pedestrian ones outnumber the expensive ones.
So, for most normal people—Democrats and Republicans—their interactions with right-wing nuts are largely second-hand. Ask yourself this: In your day-to-day life over the last 20 years, how have things become more “right wing” for you? How many have become more left wing? People’s answers will vary. But if you can’t see why, for a lot of people, the left’s migration outdistances the right’s, that’s your limitation.
But my real problem is with the centuries old Tyranny of the French National Assembly seating plan (Tyrannie du plan de salle de l'Assemblée Nationale Française). In a world bound by the terms left and right, amid a climate of polarization, tribalization, partisanship, and zero-sumness all the way down, anything the right hates must be left wing and everything the left hates must be right wing.
But not everything falls under the heralds of dexter or sinister. If you keep definitions constant, the left has moved rightward in some regards and the right has moved leftward in others. But the thing is, you have to keep the sextant focused on that specific star. In the 1980s and 1990s, liberals loved industrial policy and protectionism. Today it’s all the rage on parts of the right. Conservatives once loved the idea of policing music lyrics and film content; now progressives think words are violence. Lenny Bruce was once a hero of the left. Today Dave Chapelle is one comedy special away from being unpersoned. It’s not all neat and tidy–-nothing is, except perhaps George Will’s wardrobe–-but you get the point.
Speaking of George Will, I loved his column on amending the Constitution to bar senators from running for president. David Harsanyi’s objections are well-taken, but I think Will’s argument is stronger than Harsanyi’s criticisms. Will argues that a desire to run for president incentivizes senators to behave like performative jackasses. Obviously, some senators resist the urge, but many—too many–-can’t. David writes, “As a big fan of counter-majoritarian institutions, I tend to think modern politics puts far too much emphasis on voting, and far too little on embedded constitutional limitations and freedoms.” I agree! But the desire to be a “national senator” is precisely the majoritarian impulse that Will thinks should be tempered. Indeed, the Senate itself was intended to be counter-majoritarian—two senators from each state, regardless of population. Hillary Clinton ran as a carpetbagger in New York because she wanted to be president. Barack Obama ran for senator entirely because he wanted to be president—a job he in turn started running for the day he was elected. Ted Cruz, Kamala Harris, Josh Hawley—probably—J.D. Vance, et al, saw the job as a profile booster for their real ambition.
Custom used to keep people in their lanes. It wasn’t until FDR that anyone broke the custom of serving a maximum of two presidential terms. Then we amended the Constitution to shore up what FDR’s ambition broke. I can’t say I see no reason not to do the same here, but I can say I think the reasons to do it outweigh the reasons not to.
Various & Sundry
Canine update: So I was sick for much of the last week and the beasts kept a close eye on me, particularly Gracie. Last Saturday, I had to take Pippa to the vet. It was very stressful for us both. But the girls generally had a grand time while the missus was away. I apologize for not getting a welcoming committee video of the missus, but illness got in the way. I regret even more not getting a video of Chester, the neighbor’s cat. Because the Fair Jessica wasn’t home to give him treats, I took the duty upon myself. One day, I brought the bag of treats out with me and he followed me to the wall where I usually put them. As I dropped a bunch of treats as I usually do, he seized the opportunity to put his whole head in the bag of treats like a feed bucket. When I yelled at him he almost flipped the whole thing upside down and wore it like a hood. Have a great weekend.
And now, the weird stuff