How Trump might change the GOP race

In a largely improvised speech brimming with Trumpitude, The Donald announced last month his official entry into the race for the GOP Presidential nomination. Instead of just lingering around the fringes throwing garbage as in previous elections, Trump seems like he might mount a serious run.

Trump’s chances of winning the nomination are as near to zero as it’s possible to get, but he doesn’t have to win to change this race. A more or less intentional Trump campaign for the nomination could change the outcome of this race by introducing these three factors:

Candor – Yes, you read that right. To be clear, barely one out of every seven or eight statements Trump makes could fall within any reasonable definition of truthfulness. Mostly he’s just playing the part of the drunk uncle at the Thanksgiving table. When I use the term candor in reference to Trump I’m highlighting the unique character of those rare, factual gems.

Inside the GOP at this moment, the only officially tolerated narratives are based on delusions. From science denial to supply-side economics to Benghazi, on almost every issue of consequence the party is presently unwilling to make even the minutest concessions to reality.

Into this bubble of denial wanders a reckless monster with more money than Mitt Romney. While most of Trump’s statements fit the usual Fox News pattern of fact-starved, bigoted blather, he occasionally lays a foul smelling nugget of verifiable reality on the family table. Like rhetorical croutons in Trump’s word-salad, these inconvenient truths are disruptive and difficult for the other candidates to swallow.

For example, in his announcement speech he mentioned the disastrous cost of the Iraq War in specifics. When the Club for Growth called for him to be banned from the Republican debates, he claimed they’d done it because he refused their request to donate $1m to the group. Then he produced a private letter from the organization that seems to support his claim. These are things that serious Republican political figures simply would not do.

As a random wealthy weirdo beholden to no one, Trump can say things no one else can. His rare truthful statements are far more disruptive than his lies.

Stretching the definition of “credibility” – Having Trump on a debate stage being treated like a Real Candidate transforms the standard for credibility in this race. Trump makes Ben Carson look like a levelheaded, qualified leadership figure. The biggest loser if Trump participates in the debates will be Jeb! and the biggest winner will be Ted Cruz.

Nothing recommends Jeb! to Republican voters more than his fairly convincing claim to be the only adult in the race. With Trump hogging the media spotlight, juvenile outbursts from characters like Santorum, Carson, Huckabee or Cruz are less likely to blow up into major stories.

The simple physics of the Overton Window means that Trump’s presence makes everyone else look relatively rational. Placed on a spectrum of craziness with Trump, Cruz and Bush suddenly sit pretty close together near the political center.

And under current standards Trump will have treated as though he were a Real Candidate. No one in this field registers much more popularity or support than Donald Trump. Heck, outside the hardened party base few of these guys have higher favorability ratings than lung cancer. Trump has enough money and enough of a hardened goofball following to never dip below sixth or seventh in this race no matter what he or anyone else does.

An independent campaign – Here’s where it gets interesting. Trump has absolutely no shot at the GOP nomination. Every major constituency, every voting bloc, every organizational entity in the party will do anything necessary to stop him from winning. He is a major disruption, but not a candidate.

So what if he doesn’t quit when the GOP selects someone else?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but this may be the Republicans’ only shot at winning the White House in 2016. The logic of the Blue Wall boils down to this: thanks to demographic realities there is nothing that Republicans can do to win the White House. That’s not to say Republicans can’t win. Accidents, mishaps, and acts of God can occur. The Blue Wall logic says that none of the things Republicans are willing to do to win are enough to win. Winning will require some force majeure.

Since we can’t win by just nominating a solid candidate and running a great campaign, Republicans need some unforeseeable disruption, some strange event large enough to scramble the electoral math. Maybe there will be a war or a natural disaster. Or the Democrats’ will self-immolate by nominating the socialist Senator from Baja Canada. Or, someone like Trump might deliver what we need.

Granted, it would be reasonable to assume that an independent campaign by Trump will peel away more potential Republican voters than Democrats, but it’s hard to be certain. The man’s appeal is…let’s just say, eccentric. If he ran as an independent and he managed to get on the ballot in some of the larger states he might create enough static to make 2016 interesting.

Though possible, that outcome is unlikely. It’s far more likely that Trump will just shower the GOP primaries in bullshit, undermining whatever minimal credibility the winner hoped to gain. At some point in the process he’ll probably just wander away, distracted by a waiter or limo driver who needs a good reprimand. He’ll ruin the 2016 nominating campaign then move on to even bigger and better bankruptcies and trophy wives.

When the value of your brand dips below a certain critical mass, you start to invite speculation from junk dealers. The GOP nomination is about to get the Trump name plastered all over it in gold capital letters, then left to rot like some godforsaken Atlantic City hotel. And there’s nothing we can do about it, because no one can fire the Donald.

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Posted in Election 2016

Being Southern

The Old Country Store in Lorman

The Old Country Store in Lorman

On US 61 about halfway between Vicksburg and Natchez sits a sagging shack under a rusting tin roof. As you speed by on your way to someplace important you might wonder why dozens of cars are awkwardly crammed into the packed dirt around it. There’s no sign visible from the highway. No explanation of what this place is or why anyone would want to be there.

The Old Country Store in Lorman, Mississippi offers a potent introduction to the Southern way of life. The past, present, and even the future of the South are tucked into the unpretentious corners of this little institution. Simultaneously fulfilling and defying the stereotypes of what it means to be Southern, this unassuming little restaurant delivers a tantalizing peek at a hopeful new Southern identity struggling to be born.

Behind that uninviting exterior hides the best food you may ever experience. No effort is lost on pretense. As a structure, The Old Country Store is exactly what its name describes. Remnants of the building’s earlier mercantile life still linger on shelves that were never cleared out. An untouched, abandoned past surrounds the diners who scarcely notice. The building serves little purpose other than to hold a roof over the owner, Arthur Davis, while he and his colleagues work. My four year-old gleefully caught a lizard in the men’s room.

Arthur Davis labors away through a particularly uncomfortable moment for Southerners. We are watching the Confederate battle flag lose its last minimal claim to legitimacy and seeing Southern religious values displaced from their dominant cultural and political place. Yet, neither of these is the core of our discomfort. Central to the crisis of Southern identity in our time, white, black, or other, is the death of denial, that blanket of mysticism and myth that generations of my ancestors used to cushion themselves from the realities around them.

Southerners are justified in their aversion to self-awareness. Our celebration of the stubborn, insular simplicity of places like the Country Store has meaningful roots in our history. As capitalism opens the South to a wider world a degree of self-examination is inevitable. Arthur Davis’ simple, but amazing work demonstrates the power of Southern culture and identity and how it may endure.

Davis is black, a recent transplant to Mississippi drawn there by opportunity. He is performing work once done by slaves and later by nominally free, violently oppressed black subjects. Where previous generations had their art and labor appropriated, he now owns his own business earning a living from an art form with roots in Africa, honed and perfected under subjugation. His art and the profits it produce belong to him. That little shack by the side of Mississippi’s Blues Highway sits squarely in our past while pointing to a hopeful future. With eyes wide open, freed from the burdens of denial, the South may yet rise again, as much an economic and political force as it always been a cultural powerhouse.


Ours is a history punctuated with nightmares. The soaring promise of the American Revolution hovers like a distant mirage, ever present yet offering no relief. People lived here, black and white, cheek by jowl, long before air conditioning in a place where a walk in the night air feels like bathing in stew. There was nowhere to hide, no private space of any consequence or security. In small communities entwined in knots, real privacy could only be found inside your own skull. Nothing was more prized than the sovereignty of the individual and nothing was more persistently elusive.

Friendliness there seems almost compulsive, emerging from a frustrated desire to achieve some real peace amid the relentless, simmering tension of oppression. That tenuous peace could be and regularly was interrupted by horror.

At any moment, an ill-tempered or drunken outburst by a white man or an open expression of futile resistance from a black man could cascade into sickening violence that most everyone felt powerless to suppress. Living under that pressure created an aversion to candor, a willingness to compromise justice for calm, and an almost manic attachment to outward expressions of emotional warmth that still defines us now.

Amid these forces emerged a culture of awesome beauty, a social force so powerful it has come to define almost everything we think of as “American.” Blocked for so long from access to the commercial and industrial engines of capitalism, the South reveled in music, food, art, literature, sex, religion and sports. Almost every emotionally compelling and enduring expression of popular art in American life has its roots in the South.

Music we consider emblematic of places like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland were born in the Delta. The South gave our food its spice, our movies their sass, our literature its humor and its darkness. Twain, Faulkner and Ann Rice rendered Southern culture into American legend. That heritage is as powerful and vital as ever.

At a time when Americans across much of the country must watch a TV show to learn how to cook the simplest items, most Southerners, male or female, can still prepare an individually tailored dish as complex as gumbo. Most Southern families produce someone who sings or plays an instrument, perhaps not to mastery, but enough to entertain a party. Art is so innately bred as to go unrecognized as a concept separate from life itself.

Southern players dominate nearly every major American sport. In food, music, literature or any other expression, Southern art revels in a lusty embrace of flavor. If Southern religion seems obsessed with sexuality, we come by it naturally. Our evangelical or “charismatic” religion is just as soaked in the pleasures of the flesh as the rest of the culture.

A mainline Protestant religious service in the North possesses a soothing order, contained and quieted by ancient liturgy. Such domesticated religious expression was always difficult to sustain in the South and rarely took root. Even if all other distractions could be suppressed, and vain efforts were made to suppress them, any calmly-ordered worship would be hopelessly disrupted by the sensual aromas wafting from the kitchen as the church ladies prepared their after-service “dinner on the grounds.”

For every well-ordered Southern congregation there were ten more that surrendered to the wider culture. Services were defined by the quality of their music and even their dancing. In less domesticated areas congregations indulged in faith healing, speaking in tongues and other tribal expressions of supernatural enthusiasm. As it has done in other artistic genres; Southern religion has gradually swallowed the rest of American spirituality. As the civilized West enters the post-Christian era, a rollicking, passionate, sensual Southern religion, separated from our pagan heritage by a tissue-thin theological veneer, is about all that remains of Christianity.


Radio and recorded music exploded as popular entertainment in the period after World War II. A unique niche developed around “race records,” recordings by black entertainers. Despite their growing popularity, major outlets would not sell or play them, limiting the earning potential of writers and performers.

A producer at Sun Records in Memphis made a name for himself by reproducing black hits with white artists. He got his big break when a handsome young white singer named Elvis Presley recorded “That’s Alright Mama.” The song had originally been written and recorded by Arthur Crudup, a black blues musician from the Mississippi Delta.

Crudup continued to work as a field laborer and bootlegger and died in poverty. Mr. Presley, on the other hand…well, you may have heard of him. Crudup’s story is one among millions. Life under the oppressive conditions of the South fostered a rolling pattern of theft, theft of labor, of art, and ideas.

From Al Jolson to Elvis to Paula Deen, the cultural expressions that have moved Americans most have usually emerged from the South. And in so doing, they have born with them the burden of appropriation. This is the richest vein in America’s cultural mountain and its wealth has been consistently extorted from those who actually produced it. That systematic theft is an inherent trait of Southern culture and its removal is critical to a more hopeful future.

Even among the black community which suffered most deeply from cultural theft, there is a strange pride in the larceny of outsiders. After all, no one bothers to steal music or food or poetry from New England. Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones never bothered to rip off of Minnesota’s music culture. When U2 wanted to capture the soul of American music they didn’t go to Los Angeles. They went to Memphis.

As the South slowly sheds the burdens of violence and oppression that defined it, something beautiful and truly unique is emerging. Houston’s ramshackle glory offers a picture of a revitalized America, disorderly, vital, exciting, rich and almost insanely free. Stirrings of new life, freedom and wealth in Nashville and Atlanta and Charlotte are promising, but they are only a shadow of the possibility ahead of us. To seize that promise we must grapple with something troubling that still lurks beneath the muddy water.

In the shadows, there is a Gothic darkness to much of Southern art. Faulkner defined it in his novels, but that edge is inescapable in our music, religion, even our politics. It is inseparable from our history, carrying the weight of a political and economic structure built on violence.

Peace in Southern life, such as could be found, was secured through denial of the horrors that haunted our margins. Southerners developed a resistance to honest assessment as thick as the summer air. A culture steeped in denial and built on oppression lay chronically vulnerable to fraud. From the borrowed dignity of “gentlemen” whose fortunes were planted and harvested by sharecroppers, to the mystical finesse of faith healers in the camp meetings, right down to the unpaid vigilante thugs who took upon themselves to make sure no one stepped out of line, Southern culture evolved into a great circular grift. Insularity and distrust formed a hedge against theft. Smiles were free and ample, but trust was hard-won. A potent cocktail of denial and fraud bred spasms of public paranoia that still ripple through the culture and warp Southern politics. Denial bred darkness, and trouble lurked in that darkness.

Facing the great grift, our white ancestors accepted a corrupt deal that allowed them to be exploited just a little bit less than those we chose to define as “black.” Any prosperity, any security was bought at the crossroads at midnight in a deal cloaked in darkness and protected by lies. Hiding from the past to protect those lies is a Southern cultural obsession.


More than any other element of our culture that bargain, and the determination to conceal it, continues to define us. We can reject that deal. Perhaps the most counter-cultural, liberating act we can take in our time is to acknowledge that our fates are inextricably tied, black and white together. Our potential will be stunted until both sides openly grasp it. This may be the most distressing and crucial truth for all of our communities – to acknowledge that black and white neighbors are, to a degree systematically repressed and denied by our forebears, our extended family.

As they have done with our food, our music, and the rest of our culture, black Southerners are offering yet another contribution to our heritage – an opening toward honesty. If we can find the courage to resist our innate, inherited resistance to candor, we can begin to own everything we deserve. Some are reluctant to take ownership of that “box of chocolates.” They would preferring to keep the past quietly concealed rather than open it up and discover what we all deserve.

This Southern culture, one of America’s greatest gems, can be truly ours with all that goes with it if we recognize our kinship and confront our history with open eyes. We can be the first generation of Southerners, liberated from white and black, from fear and violence; the first generation of Southerners to truly breathe free. This is no mirage. That legacy is waiting for us. It is ours for the taking.

Recognizing our shared roots in a uniquely American nightmare is an act of supreme rebellion, a liberating political and artistic expression. With Grandpa’s flag and cape no longer hidden or denied, for the first time we can all own our culture for ourselves. We have a chance to discover that definitions of “black” and “white” were lies. That race was a tool that oppressed us all, that made it possible for a few to steal what we created. Though powerful, such recognition is not as simple as it sounds.

Honesty offers powerful benefits, but it will come at a steep cost. It will kill our cherished delusions. It means never again seeing Gone with the Wind in the quite the same romantic light. For many of us who benefited from oppression, it will cost us a measure of our pride. Being Southern means being an heir to a stolen legacy, the great wheel of grift. It is cultural wealth coupled with a frightening burden. Watching that flag relegated to its true place in history means watching the myth of white supremacy laid bare, revealed as a lie. For some that may be too much truth.


Being Southern means living with a rich and painful legacy. Despite that legacy, we are the bearers of America’s greatest expressions of vitality and life and hope. We produced Elvis Presley and Rosa Parks in the same era. Our epic and still incomplete struggle to plant freedom in this hot, damp soil defines much of the best and worst of what it means to be an American. Without us America might be as gray and predictable as Canada. Without us, America would be boring.

We cannot claim that wealth and all that it means without bearing its troubling weight. Southern culture is a rich stew defined by its bitterest herbs. Leaving behind the security of inherited fear to embrace an identity beyond black or white is an opportunity toward which few dared aspire. That dream now looms as a genuine possibility. Like the coded messages that guided escaped slaves north, there are clues in our culture that could lead us to a better place.

Without trying, Arthur Davis may have built a model for us in his Country Store, a guide to freedom written in the walls and the smells and the flavors. All over the country you can find post-ironic renditions of Southern cooking complete with faux-shabby décor. Highly talented chefs with years of intensive training work to recreate dishes our grandmothers produced by rote. There’s always something missing in their often respectful and even adoring mimicry.

In an interview, Mr. Davis once said this about his food, “My chicken is truth. You become successful by truth.” He does not see himself as an artist or a cultural icon. He makes a living preparing chicken in a manner he learned from his mother and grandmother. Unpretentious. Unconsidered. Unintentional. Without irony or sleight of hand. You become successful by truth. Simple, disruptive, counter-cultural advice.

This can be the generation to “Come and Go to that Land.” It can be done. Building a New South that preserves the best of our heritage starts and ends with truth; simple, elusive and often terrifying. The banners, the flags, the songs, the heroes both legitimate and pretended, they must find the place that they authentically deserve in a full story of our heritage, white and black and beyond. We have an opening to build something beautiful and unprecedented if we are bold enough to honestly embrace our history. All of it.


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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Uncategorized

Wrong about oil derivatives

Back in the spring I joined a collection of commentators expressing concern about distortions in oil markets. Price declines were being cushioned by a practice sometimes described as “contango,” in which traders were paying to store, rather than sell, oil that they had never intended to take delivery on.

It appeared then that the strategy might be approaching a breaking point in which a tightening supply of storage forced speculators to begin dumping their contracts, a move that would cause a downward cascade in oil prices. Here’s what I said:

There is a chance that the industry may avoid a reckoning, but only if producers and traders can navigate an ugly challenge over the next few months. It appears that the US is running out of cheap oil storage. At the current production pace we will run out of capacity at the main “contango” facility at Cushing, Oklahoma in June. Avoiding a price crash will depend on finding new places to store the stuff until production finally declines and demand recovers – whenever that might be.

Well, traders have been successful in finding cheap storage. That reckoning has not happened.

Oil storage is cheap and across short timeframes even the simplest containment methods can be effective. Iran is currently storing more than 40m barrels of oil, about a tenth of the total US supply, on tanker ships. Costs are low enough that this form of long-term speculation can carry on for a very long period.

The logic behind this concern remains valid. Carried out over a long enough time-frame there is a theoretical danger that this could develop into a troubling crash. However, time is a critical element of any prediction.I can tell you with absolute confidence that it is going to rain. However, if I can’t tell you when it will rain, then I’m no weatherman.

It is not clear that the contango strategy oil producers are using to support crude oil prices will cause any major disruptions. So far it has worked splendidly. US oil production has barely dropped in response to the Saudi supply dump.

Most predictions end up being wrong. I got this one wrong.

Posted in Uncategorized

Gay marriage is a conservative idea

Lost amid the cheering as the Supreme Court finally ends the battle over gay marriage is a strange paradox. Gay marriage is a fundamentally conservative concept. Its legal basis was established and promoted by key conservatives. It exists as a ringing endorsement of traditional institutions, an expansion and strengthening of the community and family values on which conservatism has rested for centuries.

By “conservative” of course I refer to the term in its older traditional sense, the manner explained in this earlier piece. And when I refer to the conservatives who played such key roles in this process I am thinking most notably of Ted Olson, who built the constitutional case, and Andrew Sullivan, who helped form the public case for same sex marriage.

It wasn’t so long ago that same sex marriage was a deeply controversial concept in the gay community. It wasn’t so long ago that marriage itself, as an institution, was generally thought to be under sustained attack in our culture. Andrew Sullivan’s most prominent early fight, starting in the ’80’s, had less to do with getting the wider public to accept same sex marriage than with prodding the gay community to make it a cause. Promoting marriage in the gay community was seen by many as a capitulation to repressive conservative morality. In a sense it was. It still is. Why can’t people who call themselves “conservative” recognize this and celebrate a win?

One of the most frustrating consequences of Republican paranoia is way it has blinded us to opportunities. If the GOP could muster a shred of cool-headed sanity, practically every gay couple in America who wants to marry would be Republicans. Absent the bigotry that’s gripped the party, why wouldn’t they be?

The same goes for ambitious young immigrants, African-American families looking to seize new economic opportunities, young professional women, and on and on and on. There is nothing valuable – not one valuable thing at all – at risk of loss by extending the right to marry to homosexuals. Reflexive fear of change is leaving the party crippled and dangerous.

Between this ruling and the collapse of our quiet defense of Confederate values, maybe we can sober up. There is absolutely nothing left to gain from promoting public fear and loathing of gays. Perhaps this emerging cultural shift can force the party to rethink the Neo-Confederate alliances built up over the past few decades. Maybe we can remember who we are and start to build the optimistic, realistic agenda that the country deserves to hear from us.

Here are a few resources on the subject;

Ted Olson’s landmark conservative defense of same-sex marriage

Andrew Sullivan’s 1989 piece on same sex marriage

And from this blog’s archive:

Chick fil-A, Gay Marriage, and Your Grandchildren

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Posted in Civil Rights

Democrats and the Politics of Crazy

PoliticsOfCrazy_YLW2Over the past two decades America’s second political party has devolved into a circus of the bizarre, an open revolt against reality. As the tide of crazy swamps the GOP, many on the left entertain fantasies of an impending Republican implosion that will fulfill all their dreams of power.

A stark realization awaits them. The political dysfunction that has swallowed the GOP is not a distinctly Republican phenomenon.

Republicans individually are no dumber, crazier or more venal than anyone else. The GOP has simply been the first to tumble into a vortex that is pulling at our entire political culture. Republicans aren’t worse than Democrats. We are just running a little ahead.

This observation is outlined in more detail in The Politics of Crazy: How American Lost Its Mind and What We Can Do About It. In summary, the case unfolds as follows:

While the global triumph of capitalism has brought massive benefits, any revolution on such a scale creates dangerous new challenges. Collectively, humanity is freer, wealthier and safer than we have ever been in history, but the same forces delivering these impressive results are eroding the social capital institutions on which our political system is constructed.

Democrats have always enjoyed a sturdier network of institutional support than Republicans. As a consequence, Democrats have been slower to feel the impact of our declining engagement in public institutions of all kinds. Nonetheless, that impact is coming. What Republicans are experiencing now waits on the horizon for Democrats.

Potential remedies are described at length in the book, but putting them into practice will not be easy. Responding effectively to the demands of a radically freer, more prosperous culture will require a new policy template, updated expectations about what government can and should deliver, and a greater willingness among the public to invest their most precious asset – their time – in public life.

Before any of these things can happen we must come to terms with what we are experiencing. Most Democrats see the surprising support for Bernie Sanders as a sign that the country’s mood is leaning leftward. What they should see is the rise of their very own Pat Buchanan.

Democrats chuckle gleefully as Republicans stumble over climate denial or face pressure to endorse creationism. They marvel as otherwise competent adults ignore indisputable scientific evidence to protect cherished myths.

Meanwhile pressure grows on the left to ignore the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods, nuclear energy, homeopathic medicines, and the nutritional value of organic foods. Where the right mythologizes the past, the left mythologizes nature. The right reserves its strangest outbursts for matters related to sex while many of the left’s most persistently irrational fixations relate to food.

Contrary discoveries can rarely penetrate the fog of cognitive dissonance. From The Food Babe to The Mattress Girl, the Whole Foods Wing of the Democratic Party has no more respect for objectively discovered reality than your average Pentecostal evangelist.

Democrats, up to now, have distinguished themselves from their sad cousins on the right by their capacity to keep their lunatics in line. They can reap the votes of political oddballs, at least in Presidential Election years, without having to grant those voters much influence.

The Politics of Crazy explains why they are slowly losing control. Democrats can limit the influence of their noisy fringe though the lingering, though diminished power of certain key institutions. As those institutions continue their steady decline, Democrats are dragged toward an inevitable tipping point, the event horizon beyond which their Republican rivals have already slipped.

Massive crowds are greeting Bernie Sanders, the honorable Senator from Baja Canada, as his “message” campaign for the Democratic nomination threatens to become an actual campaign for the nomination. President Obama just suffered a crushing defeat on a crucial Pacific trade bill, only to be rescued by Republicans. Five years ago Obama’s press secretary had this to say about the President’s critics on the fringes of the left:

“They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

He’s right, but reality will probably matter less and less in Democratic politics in the future. The days when a Democratic President can govern in open defiance of “the professional left” are coming to an end.

Democrats may get a lot of entertainment from the absurd spectacle of the 2016 Republican primaries. They should also recognize the shadow of their future in the antics on the Republican debate stage.

Institutional barriers that stunted the influence of the craziest voices on the left are crumbling. Between the laughs, Democrats would be wise to start thinking about how best to respond when the Politics of Crazy sweeps over them.

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Posted in Politics of Crazy

A Flag Ceremony

It was a strange, remarkable, and hopeful moment. Flanked by legislators from both parties the Governor of South Carolina called for the Confederate flag to finally be removed from its revered place on the statehouse grounds.

Republicans have been granted a rare political gift, a window of opportunity to assert our independence from a repugnant element of the party’s base. Governor Haley’s gesture, though it is merely a gesture, creates the potential for Republicans to finally delegitimize a range of political expression that has thwarted efforts to build good public policy and capped the Republican Party’s potential national influence.

Unfortunately, the party’s leaders are unlikely to seize this moment. After decades spent pandering to a shrinking racist fringe the party has purged or demoted almost anyone who possesses the intellectual insight, the sympathy, or even the language required to expand the party’s appeal. Haley’s action is unlikely to help the GOP in 2016.

Nevertheless, we may have passed a watershed. Thanks to this symbolic move and the subtle but significant realignments it will generate, an emerging bloc of Republican political figures may be emboldened. Haley’s decision to take down the flag may set younger Republicans free from intimidation by the far right fringe.

Encouraged by a new freedom to speak frankly about the Confederate flag, we may finally muster the courage to be honest about the rest of our racial heritage. Younger Republican politicians have an opening now to condemn racism in a meaningful way and distance themselves from the politics of the Dixiecrat era. Dogwhistle politics has kept Republicans in a box, unable to acknowledge any of the four inescapable realities that dominate politics in our time. Coming to terms with heritage in a courageous, honest manner could put the Republican Party back on a path to leadership and put the country on track for a very promising new century.

Republicans still win elections, especially elections that are local and concentrated in the South and the rural west. That’s not enough to remain relevant nationally. More importantly, the ways that racism distorts Republican policy templates make it impossible for the party to serve the public interest, even when and where we win.

There’s a reason that violent racist groups like Stormfront came out in support of Ron Paul instead of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. There’s a reason why members and leadership in the Council of Conservative Citizens gravitate toward Republican candidates now, repudiating their past support for Democrats. There’s a reason that the map of likely “red states” mirrors a certain political map from 1860. We have to reexamine those reasons and confront their meaning.

GOP stances on issues as widely separated as gun control, education, health care, social services, taxes, crime and transportation are warped beyond usefulness by ingrained, unquestioned racism. We can’t have nice things because a significant bloc of the voting population worries that those things might fall into the hands of filthy, mooching “others.” Pandering to racists has made the GOP complicit in the dismantling of a model community values once considered vital to conservatism.

We vehemently deny that reality while carefully constructing policies that retain our appeal to racists. Reality is merciless. Our potential as a country will remain dampened until Republicans wrestle internally with that flaw and build pro-business, market oriented policies that are stripped of their deep-seated racist distortions.

There will be resistance to this process. Those with the strongest emotional attachment to notions of white supremacy are likely to get noisier in the next few years. A sustained attack on the legitimacy of Neo-Confederate politics will not go unchallenged. Republicans, even those who chafe at the demands of the paranoid fringe, will face a powerful temptation to hedge, equivocate, and pander.

The Confederacy with all that it stands for is part of your author’s heritage as much as anyone else’s. Heritage is not legitimacy. My ancestors were fine people. Those fine people fought against the United States to continue to a system of horrific oppression. They didn’t end their fight when the war was lost.

That’s a complex, messy story. That’s where American reality slips loose from American myth. I’m doing no one any favors by continuing that miserable legacy in the name of my “heritage.” We will all be better off when we place our myths in perspective.

Governor’s Haley’s decision and her very visible gesture in support of that decision offer a unique opportunity. We have a political opening to place that heritage inside a wider, truer picture. Old times there are not forgotten. Nor should they be. Perhaps we will muster the courage to remember them honestly and break their power to warp our future.

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Posted in Civil Rights, Neo-Confederate, Tea Party

Why can’t I have landmines?

Our Constitution could not be more explicit – My right to bear arms shall not be infringed. No mealy-mouthed, gun-snatching liberals have the authority to limit my access to private firepower. That right descends straight from Jesus Christ to my basement arsenal.

I want my landmines and I want them now.

Currently, my home is vulnerable to a variety of unnecessary risks that could be easily remediated with carefully placed and marked “home security enhancements.” Unfortunately, the country has been duped by progressives who have convinced the public to exchange their Liberty for so-called safety. Nanny state oppression doesn’t stop at my seat belt or those bogus cigarette warnings. It extends all the way into my front yard.

Gang members, thugs, and Islamic terrorists (the only kind of terrorist, of course) can creep onto my lawn while my family sleeps. They can peer through our windows, exploring our weaknesses for future attacks. Thanks to state-sponsored oppression, I am powerless to obtain and deploy the counter-measures that would keep my family safe from this danger.

Would landmines pose a threat to neighborhood kids, dogs, and postal workers? Maybe, but what price are you going to place on my liberty? What ever happened to individual responsibility?

Sure, some kid might miss the skull & crossbones markers I place next to the sidewalk. They might drift into the wrong spot in pursuit of a stray Frisbee and lose a leg. It happens. Freedom isn’t free. How is that different from the school kids, movie-goers, cops and church members regularly gunned down by super-armed psychos using guns? That’s right, there is no difference.

If Americans didn’t possess nearly half the world’s total inventory of guns in private hands it would be harder for the occasional lunatic get his hands on a weapon and mow down a Bible study group. So what? We need those weapons to protect our liberty from the gangs of roaming thugs who want to oppress us. And from Obama.

America is the only country in the world that endures mass shootings on a regular basis in peacetime because we are the only country on Earth that truly understands freedom. Every decent person unclouded by progressive Communistic propaganda recognizes that there is one way to respond to incidents of random gun violence – arm ourselves even more.

If that church in Charleston had been ringed by landmines, and its doors defended by turret guns attached to heartbeat sensors, and each parishioner was armed with a pistol held on their hip, this tragic incident would maybe still have occurred, but it sure would have looked different. This is what happens when limp-wristed progressives take away our right to self-defense.

Would we be safer without all these weapons? Of course we would. Any idiot can recognize that. Safety isn’t what our God-given Constitution granted us. To be free from mass, random gun violence like every other free, civilized nation on Earth we would have to give up our special brand of Liberty.

So why can’t I buy rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns, and landmines? Let’s face it, as many Americans are killed using firearms each year as in car accidents. Do you really think landmines will make this situation any worse? The only solution to any problem is more individual freedom.

Just like the Bible, the Constitution was written by the finger of God. It must never be interpreted or adapted, only explicitly followed in every literal detail. Thanks to the Constitution, meddling liberal know-it-alls in far off Washington have no authority to tell me how to defend my property. Give me landmines or give me death.

God bless America and get off my lawn.

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Posted in Gun Rights

Psycho killers, gun control, and political violence

There are a lot of potential threads to follow from the murder of nine churchgoers in Charleston’s most historic black church. I’m only posting historical links rather than new material in part to emphasize this crucial reality – we’ve seen this movie before.

The United States is the only place on Earth where violence of this character happens on a regular, ongoing basis. That is not an accident. Somehow we have become numb to this absurdity. We don’t even try to do anything about it anymore. Here’s a summary of a few topics around gun violence and psycho killers:

The Growing Risk of Political Violence

For starters, let’s be clear on what did and did not happen. The incident in South Carolina is not terrorism or political violence. It is vital that we understand the difference between the actions of isolated lunatics and the growing danger of organized, strategic political killing.


“Perhaps our normal (perhaps there’s a better word…) ecosystem of psycho killers is responding to something in the water that the rest of us are failing, so far, to notice.  As we dump more and more toxic rhetoric into our political swamp, those tortured souls may be acting as our crazy advanced warning system of larger troubles to come.”

Politics, Gun Control, and Psycho Killers

America’s spectacular, unregulated private arsenals are a problem. Pouring that much lethality into the general public will make it impossible to contain the impact of weirdos on the margins on society. We are basically ceding our liberty to crazy people who can take it away more or less at random.


“Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.  However, people kill a lot more people, a lot faster, with a Bushmaster.

Some would say claim that Americans aren’t heavily armed enough.  It’s true I suppose, that if we all had minefields in our yards and Gatling guns mounted on our roofs we would, for example, suffer fewer burglaries.  We would also have fewer limbs.  Life is full of tradeoffs.

We are paying a price in public safety for my ability to play with serious firepower.  That’s an unavoidable fact.  The political question is whether that price is worth paying.”

Gun Control in the Ownership Society

There is no credibly defensible reason why America should be the world’s peacetime leader in mass, random slaughter. Would we continue to have lunatics shooting up our private spaces if we required insurance for guns in the same manner that we do for automobiles?

A properly structured market can solve, or at least mitigate, a wide range of problems. Creating a market for gun safety through a simple, enforceable insurance obligation could radically reduce gun violence while protecting and even expanding the rights of competent, responsible gun owners. There is no sane argument against basic liability for negligent gun ownership.


“New proposals add more symbolic regulation on top of existing symbolic regulation. For example, an assault weapons ban sounds useful until you look at how vague the restrictions are. It is easy to circumvent them and also easy to accidentally violate them. Background checks are a modest help at the moment of purchase, but they don’t follow that gun through its lifespan. Our thinking around weapons regulation fails to address the need for choice bounded by accountability, transparency, and responsibility.

We need a new approach, but the effort to craft better laws is complicated by relative indifference to gun rights on one side and tin-hat paranoia on the other. Here’s an idea that might work.”

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Posted in Gun Rights

Excerpt from The Politics of Crazy: The Influence of Money

PoliticsOfCrazy_YLW2One of the factors that serves to limit public enthusiasm for politics is the general belief that money rules all. Money matters in our politics, but not as much as most people think. More surprisingly, money matters less now than it ever has in the history of our political system. Here’s an explanation from the book:

Imagine a place in which only wealthy people can vote. The threshold for political influence at any level is a minimal amount of property ownership. Women are not allowed to participate at all, regardless of wealth. Only people of the correct race, family heritage, and religious associations are granted any voice.

Add in the legal protection of slaveholder’s rights, and that is the system our Founders constructed. The American Republic was originally built to protect the liberty of wealthy white males. When you place the power of the wealthy in a historical context, the steady decline of their relative influence starts to become clearer.

America didn’t grant voting rights to all white men until the 1820s. We didn’t end slavery until the 1860s. Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1919. Blacks and Hispanics were routinely blocked from the political system until the 1970s and still have their influence systematically blunted today.

There were no federal campaign-finance laws of any kind until the Tillman Act in 1907. Until the early 20th century, Senate seats were more or less openly purchased with payments to the state legislators who selected Senators. That act required no disclosures and included no enforcement mechanism, accomplishing precisely nothing. There were no enforceable federal laws limiting campaign contributions until 1972. Ambassadorships to attractive, peaceful locations are still sold to the highest bidder, as they always have been.


There are few explicit, enforceable legal checks on the political influence of money. Yet buying a political outcome in our system is harder now than it has ever been. It costs more; it requires more effort, energy, and coordination; and more attempts fail than succeed. The decline in the relative power of money in our politics is almost entirely a product of the large devolutionary trends outlined earlier, rather than the result of any legislative effort.

True, well-funded special interests are still more powerful than they should be. Reducing the disproportionate influence of money on our politics should be a priority. However, money is not our central political problem. Finding an intelligent way forward starts with a realistic assessment of the situation.

The most powerful force in our politics is the time, energy, and attention of people willing to get off their couch and participate personally in the process. It takes enormous sums of money to counter the influence of a few well-organized and connected activists.


If it seems like public officials are spending more time and energy than ever raising money, that’s because they are. By a strange twist, our weak campaign-finance laws are to blame for this situation. Our complicated, confusing, and often contradictory mess of regulations has made it extremely difficult to run for office. It has also provided a surprising advantage for wealthy donors.

Thirty years ago, a candidate could fund a campaign with an appeal to one or two donors. As a result, he might be very closely aligned with that one interest, but he spent very little time soliciting money. Now a candidate still needs wealthy donors, but she has to find dozens or even hundreds of them in order to survive. Instead of forging an appeal to a few donors with whom she is already aligned on policy, the candidate must build an agenda that will appeal to wealthy donors as a class. Our funding limits have acted like a union for the wealthy, allowing them to act together in ways that would have been impossible without those limits.

At the same time, the pressure to find donors has increased the power of third-party interest groups and PACs that seek to influence campaigns without being specifically tied to a candidate. A Congressional candidate has only so many hours of the day to spend raising money. These organizations have gained unnecessary influence as caps on campaign contributions have raised the pressure to find cash. They are also competing with candidates for funds.

In short, our approach to campaign-finance law has been an unmitigated disaster. Building a more intelligent system starts with a closer look at the behavior we hope to limit. We want our elected officials to make policy decisions based on a combination of their constituents’ input and their own well-considered evaluations of the public and national interest. Limits on campaign contributions are meant to halt the wealthy from engaging in a sort of legalized bribery that would subvert the public interest in favor of their own.

Not every campaign contribution is bribery. Campaign contributions are in fact one of the ways that we measure a potential candidate’s credibility and qualifications. It takes money to run for office. Communicating with voters costs money. Driving from campaign site to campaign site costs money. Taking money out of politics would require us to take most of the communication, visibility, and accountability out of politics.

Perhaps the simplest, most effective means to limit the power of organized bribery to subvert the public interest is to build our campaign-finance system on bedrock of full disclosure. Instead of limiting contributions by amount, we should impose authentic transparency.

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Posted in Politics of Crazy

Rachel Dolezal and other strange stories of race in America

We found out this week that the NAACP’s city director in Spokane, Washington is a white woman who has been pretending to be black for years. In fact, Rachel Dolezal has invented an entire mythology for herself complete with an ersatz family history and an incident of racially-charged hate mail that she appears to have faked.

Americans have a strange relationship to the notion of race. We tend to think of it as an immutable, empirically verifiable condition, but that is not the case. Ask a geneticist to define race and they will probably stare at you in confusion. Race is a cultural construct that evolved in our country as a way to justify and sustain slavery. It is not much inherited as imposed.

The disconnect between our racial assumptions and the real world has produced an endless string of odd outcomes down through the centuries. The Dolezal incident is perhaps a good excuse to go on a tour of some of the more counter-intuitive, strange, or ironic stories to emerge from our tortured relationship with race:

– It took time for the connection between “blackness” and slavery to congeal in American culture and law. A story from early colonial Virginia provides a glimpse of a time before that connection had been forged.

A slave from Angola named Anthony Johnson completed his contract around 1635. Lifetime slavery had not yet been established as an institution. Johnson obtained property and became a slave-holder himself, even owning white slaves. We know of him primarily from a suit he filed in the 1650’s to regain custody of a runaway slave.

– During this period, thousands of Irish were shipped to North America and the West Indies as slaves, including somewhere between 10,000 and 60,000 who were sent to the sugar plantations of Barbados.

– Many laws were passed in the Colonial period to create a presumption that dark-skinned people were slaves. On the other hand, there was never any law that expressly protected whites from slavery. That created a hole that anyone could theoretically fall into. A petition to the North Carolina legislature in 1800 survives to demonstrate this point.

In a strange twist, a white woman named Laura had been raised as a slave. When her situation was discovered a petition for manumission was submitted to the legislature. No action was taken on her petition, leaving her and any of her potential offspring to remain in bondage.

– Right through the height of the plantation era, there were a handful of freed blacks who managed to not only hold slaves, but to own them in significant numbers. It was a tenuous and irony-filled situation to be sure, but it did occasionally occur. As late as 1860, William Ellison, a freed slave in South Carolina, owned 63 slaves and a highly-profitable plantation. He was one of the wealthiest men in the state and a fervent supporter of the Confederacy.

– For poorer whites, slavery loomed as a constant potential threat if they could not definitively prove their heritage. The strange case of a white woman named Alexina Morrison demonstrates the problem. In 1857 in Louisiana, she sued to prove that she had been abducted into slavery. Her trial was a bizarre spectacle and the court case was interrupted by the Civil War. Technically, her case remains open and unresolved, a fitting irony.

– Radio and recorded music exploded as popular entertainment in the period after World War II. A unique niche developed around “race records,” recordings by black entertainers.

Despite their growing popularity, major outlets would not sell or play them, limiting the earning potential of writers and performers. A producer at Sun Records in Memphis made a name for himself by reproducing black hits with white artists. He got his big break when a handsome young white singer named Elvis Presley recorded “That’s Alright Mama.” The song had originally been written and recorded by Arthur Crudup, a black blues musician from the Mississippi Delta. Crudup continued to work as a field laborer and bootlegger and died in poverty. Mr. Presley, on the other hand…well, you may have heard of him.

– In 1961 John Howard Griffin published Black Like Me. The book was an account of his experiences traveling the in the Jim Crow South under an assumed black identity.

– In 1991, a successful white rap performer who called himself “Vanilla Ice” earned scorn for manufacturing a rough and tumble “urban” biography. He claimed “I’m from the streets. That’s where I learned to dance and rap.” Those “streets” were primarily in the affluent Dallas suburb of Carrollton. Mr. Van Winkle was eventually shaken-down by early Hip-hop pioneer Suge Knight. By turning the Sun Records model on its head, quite literally, Knight may have marked the end of an era in white financial exploitation of black art.

– A recent genetic study demonstrated an interesting fact about racial identity in the US. Across the southern states, between one in seven (South Carolina) and one in ten (Georgia) of each state’s white populations carry enough black ancestry to have qualified as black under those states’ Jim Crow laws. It may be unusual for a woman like Rachel Dolezal to try to “pass” as black, but passing as white was a crucial and successful survival strategy for millions of Americans under slavery and Jim Crow.

Rachel Dolezal’s case is certainly odd, but placed in the context of our racial history it isn’t all that remarkable.

As a Saturday Night Live performer, Eddie Murphy made a living alternatively ridiculing and capitalizing on stereotypes of African-Americans. A short film he made for the show spoofed Griffin’s Black Like Me. Here’s an example of what Rachel Dolezal was giving up by deciding to live as a black woman, according to Murphy:

Enjoy Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s original version of “That’s Alright Mama.”

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