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Culture War Roundup for the week of April 3, 2023

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Since my post last week for which I was explicitly not warned at that time, I thought I would address the particulars of the criticism, mainly that,

your substantive position (that the primary impetus for targeting Trump is purely political, as evidenced by the ceaseless barrage of unusual, contorted, or even spurious charges raised against him) seems defensible, but the way you raise it as though it were obviously true (implicitly building consensus), without furnishing either evidence or argument, brooks no discussion on the matter. That is antithetical to the foundation of the Motte.

First, there is nothing stopping anyone from disagreeing, but I figure I should present and defend my thesis.

Donald Trump is guilty of winning the 2016 election, and for this crime he will be hounded by Democrats until the end of his days. The crime of winning in 2016 was the rationale for the Russia collusion hoax, it prompted the Mueller investigation (which produced nothing actionable), it was the reason for his first impeachment (not the appropriate anti-corruption measures he was taking against his likely 2020 opposition), and it is the reason he was indicted last week.

Plenty of people commit plenty of crimes, and I'm sure Trump is technically guilty of many things, but the same can be said of Obama, Bush, and Clinton, as well as she-Clinton and VP Biden, though not themselves Presidents. The same can be said of many, many people at all levels of the legislative and executive branches. Presidents are not prosecuted, and for good reason, until now, so the difference cannot be the scale of the crime, but must be some other factor. The obvious and clear factor, judging on the last seven years of evidence, is that Trump is unduly and irrationally hated by the powers that be, and that he is specifically marked for destruction in a way most others are shielded.

From Victor Davis Hansen:

#1) Bragg promised in advance that he would try to find a way to indict Trump. His prior boasts are reminiscent of Stalin’s secret police enforcer Lavrentiy Beria’s quip, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” Nancy Pelosi gave the game away, when in her dotage, she muttered that Trump had a right to prove his innocence as if he is presumed guilty.

#2) No former president has ever been indicted—and for good reason. Such prosecutions would be viewed as persecutions and render all former presidents veritable targets of every publicity-hungry and politically hostile local, state, or federal prosecutor. They would reduce the presidency to Third World norms. Gratuitously prosecuting former presidents would become a political tool to harm the opposing political party or to tarnish the legacy of a former president.

VDH goes on to list six problems with this prosecution, before 20 examples of crimes that have gone unprosecuted, from the people I've mentioned as well as various spooks and spies.

If we look at the indictment itself, and the person responsible for it, Alvin Bragg, you see more evidence of my thesis.

Here's the kind of thing he chooses to prosecute:

A Manhattan parking garage attendant who was shot twice while confronting an alleged thief at his business was charged with murder after wrestling away the weapon and using it to fire at the suspect.

This is the kind of anarcho-tyranny that one would expect when you view the world through a comprehensive lens that allows for understand my claim. That Alvin Bragg doesn't give a shit about the law, he's just there to settle scores and punish those he can find. The law is powerless to help, but boy can they punish when they get around to it. Alvin Bragg, for what's it worth, is another Soros-funded prosecutor. Soros at least gets his money's worth, as every single DA I've ever seen associated with him and his money is using their discretion is release violent criminals and prosecute normal citizens. The man has a type.

Everything about this perfectly fits the model that I've developed over the last seven years for understand what happens to people when confronted with Donald Trump. Trump engenders hatred and revulsion unmatched by anyone in my lifetime, the source of that hatred is his 2016 election win, and that people like Bragg can't help themselves but act on it.

Maybe one day events will not fit this model, but today is not that day.

For those of you who don't share this model, or don't share this view, how can you explain the lack of prosecutions of other executive branch employees in the past? How can you explain the two impeachments and long-lingering investigation? How can you explain the one-sided coverage by once-respectable media outlets? How can you explain anything that's happened since 2016? I didn't use to rely on this explanation, but after a certain amount of time, it becomes the simplest explanation, and I have stopped fighting it.

Trump engenders hatred and revulsion unmatched by anyone in my lifetime, the source of that hatred is his 2016 election win, and that people like Bragg can't help themselves but act on it.

What's missing from your argument is an explanation of why Trump engenders unprecedented "hatred and revulsion." The explanation cannot be merely that he won the 2016 election, since many of the other people you mention (Clinton, Bush, Obama, Biden) also won presidential elections.

The standard pro-Trump explanation for why he's hated is something like "he's the only one who isn't corrupt and won't do what the deep state wants." The standard anti-Trump explanation is something like "Trump has shown a unique willingness to violate democratic norms, such as by calling on Russia to release hacked emails or stating that both the 2016 and 2020 election results were rigged."

It seems like the whole argument pivots around this "why is he hated" question. If Trump is in fact uniquely willing to violate democratic norms, it seems reasonable for his opponents to take issue with that and to argue he has forfeited the right to avail himself of those norms for protection. You and VDH raise good arguments for why the norm of "don't prosecute former presidents" exists, but many similar arguments could be made for why the norm of "presidents gracefully concede elections and don't challenge the results" exists. In game theory terms, if Trump consistently choses the "defect" option, it may be the optimal strategic choice for his opponents to do the same.

Well, now that we are actually having a substantive conversation about it:

The explanation cannot be merely that he won the 2016 election, since many of the other people you mention (Clinton, Bush, Obama, Biden) also won presidential elections.

I personally think the character of the 2016 election matters a lot to this calculus. Hillary Clinton's election was supposed to not only be a sure thing, but the ushering in of a new era: America's First Woman President. And post-awokening, people didn't just want this to be true (as they perhaps wanted it to be true decades earlier)--a large number of people (especially young, especially female, especially college-educated types) felt entitled to it. When Al Gore lost in 2000, the brouhaha over Florida was wild--and yet there was nothing like this happening, at least not where I could see it.

It made for a sobering contrast with 2008, when America's First Black President won his own anticipated victory. Even country music stars were singing his praises. In a nation that has become culturally obsessed with "firsts," with shattering "glass ceilings," and with otherwise celebrating people not for what they actually contribute, but merely for their membership in politically important minorities, 2016 was not a defeat--it was a heist. No less important a figure than former president Jimmy Carter said:

There’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election, and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016. He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.

The much celebrated congressman from Georgia, John Lewis, skipped the inauguration, saying:

I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.... I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

No wonder there were peaceful but fiery protests come inauguration time. The list goes on, but the point is that Democrats did not respond to Clinton's loss in a normal way. Florida's 2000 problems were bad, but at least they were Florida's problems--they were not specifically cultural problems, or problems caused by one or both of the candidates seeking victory at any price. There was a legitimate dispute based on plausible evidence. What happened in 2016, though, was a defection; Democrats responded by abandoning even a pretense of respecting the rule of law. For them to lose was no longer a political setback, but a failure of democracy! Catastrophe! Devastation! Revolution!

The parallel case of 2020 simply cannot be understood outside that context. Reactionaries gonna react. When you slap the "defect" button in an iterated game, your opponent is all but guaranteed to follow suit, and in this case I think that is substantially what Republicans did.

Maybe Trump's personality makes this all worse, somehow. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Clinton had lost instead to Rubio or something. But then again--would Clinton have lost, to anyone else? Trump's ability to rally disaffected blue collar labor and increase the Republican share of black and Hispanic votes proved important. So it's difficult to guess how things might have been different, absent Trump.

But it does seem to me that Democrats were much more interested in (and expectant of) a Clinton victory; until he won, Trump was, to them, a joke (at least mostly). Losing the election is one thing; even casting protest votes in Congress against certifying a presidential election has become old hat despite the breathlessness with which the media reported on it in 2020. But being denied the apparent moral victory of being personally involved in electing America's First Woman President was (for many) apparently so, so much more than just another loss. It was, one might say, a crime.

Maybe Trump's personality makes this all worse, somehow.


Literally just take out his game of footsy with election denial and I would argue it'd lower the temperature.

  • -10

Literally just take out his game of footsy with election denial and I would argue it'd lower the temperature.

This seems like an odd response given my demonstration that it was election denial from the Democrats that was the serious political defection of 2016.

Honestly I think Trump's Twitter belligerence does far more to distinguish him from (most of) his opponents, than his so-called "election denial." I think there's a very real possibility that I'm just wrong about all of this--that my sense of the Democratic revolt of 2016 is pure presentism, that this is all "business as usual" in American politics, and I am caught in the same trap as many of the people I am criticizing: thinking that any of this is really a meaningful departure from business-as-usual. So I have done my best to make the case that the Great Awokening is a meaningful phenomenon, and that the first presidential election post-Awokening is meaningfully different. If it is in fact Trump himself who is meaningfully different, that would be interesting; I really do suspect he's a symptom rather than a cause, but I could be wrong about that, too. It's just that "election denial" does not appear to set him apart from any of his political opposition, as demonstrated with direct quotes in my post.

This seems like an odd response given my demonstration that it was election denial from the Democrats that was the serious political defection of 2016.

Democrats pushed Russiagate after they lost cause they hated Trump. But they hated Trump because...? That is a question people are trying to answer and I was touching on.

Trump offended the sensibilities of left-wingers, obviously - which sometimes gets coded as a "threat to democracy"*. I think though that certain things like asking Russia or especially raising the specter of contesting the election was a red rag.

Trump saying "I'll accept the election...if I win" was probably a funny response to hysterics in his base's eyes. I legitimately think it scared and then enraged Democrats - precisely because there were no consequences.

Honestly I think Trump's Twitter belligerence does far more to distinguish him from (most of) his opponents

It's all of a piece.

Trump's narcissism is why he can't stay off Twitter and be "dignified" (which offends sensibilities) but also why he can't just take the loss (any loss - which leads to problematic places)

I really do suspect he's a symptom rather than a cause

I tend not to believe in Great Man theory but Trump is the biggest counter-example that gives me pause. I do think a lot of the situation (e.g. polarization and the risk that a radical can capture the party as a result of combining that with primaries, discontent with the economic and cultural consensus) were built in but Trump's particular character and nature shapes how everything turned out.

For example: a different candidate might have just folded and went into obscurity when they lost, especially if pressured by power players (look at how Ted Cruz couldn't make even a token stand against Trump).

A political entrepreneur might have realized that they could push the issue and win points from their base eventually but it feels like Trump has the exact right personality type to push things past what even his fellow Republicans thought he can get away with it (they criticized him for a lot of moves that either worked or at least weren't fatal). Either he's a political savant (of the idiot variety or not) or his narcissism dovetails really well with the polarized climate.

* See anything smeared as "populist".

If any other Republican nominee had beat Clinton, they would have been hated, as Obama was, as Bush was, and perhaps even more due to social media turning up the temperature. But I think it's unlikely they would have been impeached or criminally indicted.

But I think it's unlikely they would have been impeached or criminally indicted.

Maybe! There were efforts to impeach Bush; probably depending on what you count as "efforts" there have been at least some efforts to impeach many U.S. presidents. I still see occasional digs from the American Left to the effect of "here's your periodic reminder that Bush and Cheney are guilty of war crimes and should be in prison." So what gets us across the threshold of "generic anti-opposition talk" to "concrete action," at this point?

The threshold does seem to be lower, now. It seems to me that, compared to 30 or 40 years ago, we spend a lot less time talking about what would actually be good for the country, policy-wise, and a lot more time insisting that the opposition's plans are actually illegal, that the opposition belongs in jail, etc. Trump certainly played his own part in that ("lock her up!") but he backed away from it after election. We're now more than halfway through his successor's first term and Democrats in power in New York (not coincidentally, I think, the state that elected Hillary Clinton as Senator!) are actually carrying through efforts to jail Trump on what so far appear to be exaggerated charges. Can a kangaroo court be far behind?

Watching the news media take shots at DeSantis in advance of his anticipated run at the White House, with headlines like "Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is a Far More Dangerous Politician than Donald Trump" is interesting. Discussions of a national divorce are also not entirely novel in American political history. My worry is that the Left, which has for most of the 21st century been warning America of encroaching fascism, has decided to beat its opponents to the punch on the matter.

"Trumped-up charges" is looking to become the most consequential case of nominative determinism in American history.

I mean, I highly doubt Marco Rubio would've tried to pay off porn stars, talk the governor of Georgia into finding some votes, or instigating an insurrection after he narrowly lost Arizona in 2020.

Why do you doubt it? Paying off hookers is probably the most archetypical thing a politician could do (and that's when they're being nice), and BLM shows insurrections are pretty common.

If anything, this shows Trump must really be quite clean, if this is all they can throw at him.

After all, he was a real estate developer in New York in the 1970s and 80s. I would have expected way worse.

Either he's super clean or the real charges would implicate people that no New York prosecutor wants to implicate.

It does feel like Trump might have been one of the first modern candidates that had a seething hatred aimed at him from both the base and the DC political class of the opposite party. Bush and Obama seemed hated by the bases, but it didn't seem like it was anything more than "well, your turn to lead for now and we'll be the opposition" other than that.

I am leaning in this direction that the biggest difference is the left changed after the 2016 election combined with Trump being especially good at owning the libs.

Why the left changed? Who knows. Maybe it was progressivism running about hard biological limits. They took over every major institution and still couldn’t solve things like low black academic performance. Unable to compete on substance they needed to find someone to personify why they were failing which fit perfectly for Trumps entrance. And a role he was perfectly happy to fill.

I'd also remind you of OWS, the Trayvon Martin scandal and the Michael Brown scandal between 2011-14. From a leftist point of view, these were all obvious political flops. That must have felt deeply frustrating. There was also Gamergate, which must've generated enormous leftist resentment and bitterness.

The left changed because they couldn’t understand the reaction to Obama.

Obama said things like ‘people in rural areas clinging to their guns and religion’ ‘I support abortion because I wouldn’t want my daughter to be punished with a baby if made a mistake’ ‘if I had a son he would have looked a bit like Trayvon’ etc, etc. these things are obviously horrible things to say to the red tribe; to blue tribers they might be things that you shouldn’t say on national television, but it’s inconceivable that someone could find them offensive or wrong. And so the red tribe reaction to Obama’s culture warring got interpreted as personal animus because he’s black, which meant that republicans needed a massive reaction because they’re all evil. And, what do you know, you have a Republican nominee that the blue tribe portions of the party are obviously uncomfortable with who routinely says boorish or offensive things.

One could argue that, before Trump, Obama inspired an unusual amount of resistance and hostility from the Right. You have the above-mentioned culture-war items, paired with slightly-less-culture-war things like the ACA, and the Republicans spent all 8 of his years burning political capital on opposing Obama, to the point of government shutdown. I find it hard to say why or how things got this heated after Bush II--buried culture war from Bush II finally coming home to roost, the simple fact of Obama being a progressive Black man, the Republican coalition starting to fracture at its seams, economic strain turning up the temperature of social conflicts, social media polarization already taking effect as far back as 2008, or some or all of the above.

All I can say is that it definitely laid the ground for what happened in 2016, and large segments of the left and center-left were wholly unprepared.

Well yeah, there was an unusual amount of resistance from the right, and the GOP grassroots was so in favor of it because Obama kept saying quiet-part-out-loud blue tribe sentiments that progressives aren’t good enough at the ideological Turing test to realize would come off as callous and hideous to the red tribe. It doesn’t help that Obama decided to play hardball with the GOP in Congress early on and they returned the favor when he lost his supermajority.

If he’d delivered Clinton-level economic growth he might have gotten away with it, but he didn’t, and it was probably beyond his ability to do(objectively, fast and furious and the irs targeting conservatives weren’t as big a deal as ruby ridge, after all) so it blew up in his face.

Republicans spent all 8 of his years burning political capital on opposing Obama, to the point of government shutdown.

Govt was shutdown for 27 days under Clinton (2 separate shutdowns), 16 under Obama, and 38 days under Trump (also 2 shutdowns). Clinton was impeached, Bush was not (in spite of many calls to "Chimpeach the Chimperor"), Trump was impeached, Obama was not. I'm not sure that things did get more heated under Obama - it's not like Bush Derangement Syndrome wasn't a thing prior to that.

Isn’t government shutdown just normal politics? I don’t see how that’s anything like what’s going on now. It was a thing voted on in congress and ended up with a negotiated political deal. A lot like the Supreme Court striking down roe. We politicked to win a branch of government so now we use that power. It’s not like Capitol riots or arresting the other sides like Presidential nominee to stop him from running.

would Clinton have lost, to anyone else?

It seems so, because it looks from the vote totals in swing states that Trump’s victories there were driven more by antipathy for Clinton than by affinity for him. In PA, the Dem vote dropped from 52% to 47.5% (4.5 pts), yet the R vote rose only 1.6 pts (46.6 to 48.2). In MI, the D vote dropped 7.2 pts (54.2 to 47), but the R vote rose only 2.6 pts (44.7 to 47.3). In WI, the D vote dropped 6.3 pts (52.8 to 46.5), but the R vote rose only 1.3 pts (45.9 to 47.2). And, in FL, the D vote dropped 2.2 pts (50 to 47.8), while the R vote was essentially unchanged (49.1 to 49).

Trump's ability to rally disaffected blue collar labor and increase the Republican share of black and Hispanic votes proved important.

I don't know that there is much evidence that he had a particular ability to increase the R share of the black and Hispanic vote in 2016. According to the American Enterprise Institute, in 2016 Trump’s 8 percent of the black vote was rather low compared to previous elections in which there was no black guy on the ballot. Nor was his 29 pct of the Hispanic vote particularly impressive – it was less than Bush and McCain, for example. So, there is no reason to think that a generic R would not have done just as well among black and Hispanic voters.

In PA, the Dem vote dropped from 52% to 47.5% (4.5 pts), yet the R vote rose only 1.6 pts (46.6 to 48.2).

Also, for illustration, Trump underperformed state and Federal House Republican candidates in PA by 10,000 or 100,000 votes, respectively. To the extent you can talk about the 'generic Republican' candidate, it actually did outperform Trump.

While Toomey did underperform Trump in raw numbers, it was only a by 20,000 votes and 100,000 fewer votes were cast in the Senate race. Toomey actually beat his opponent by a larger percentage than Trump beat Clinton.

Probably any of the decent choices in 2016 would have beaten Clinton in PA and, thus, the race.


Please avoid low effort comments - you can just submit the AAQC without announcing it.

But then again--would Clinton have lost, to anyone else?

Yes, the fundamentals indicate that after a two term Democratic president with a not great economy and not great ending polls, the Republicans SHOULD have won. A generic Republican Candidate would have I think beaten a generic Democratic candidate all else being equal. Both Hillary and Trump were I think below par candidates. There's a universe where Trump never entered and X beats Hillary in a landslide I think.

Yeah, this is a neglected point. FYI, every election the journal PS reviews the predictions of elections models. Their summary chart for 2016 is here:

/images/16805601089851074.webp Note that some of the models actually favored the Dem candidate.

But I am not sure which of those is a pure fundamentals model