As I said in my most recent blog post over a month ago (ha), I intended to be much more active in getting my ideas in text. Off to a rough start as I’m minutes away from February already.
Today (actually yesterday now that it’s 1:35am) I stumbled on this op-ed by Paul Starr, titled “5 reasons Why MAGA Conservatism Has Never Made Any Sense”. Instead of doing a grand analysis of the piece as a whole, or even point by point, I’m doing it line by line. I’ve found that when trying to critique most pieces, you hit the big points but you gloss right over some of the smaller, jagged points. Little sub-textual cues, rhetorical wizardry, that most people consciously ignore but are subconsciously suggested by due to the sly nature of the wording itself. The only way to address this is to compartmentalize each point and address it one on one. Let’s start from the very beginning.
“MAGA hats have become a symbol of support not just for Donald Trump but for a return to a lost world of white privilege.”
Direct quote. We’re only one sentence into this piece at Mr. Starr has already revealed his hand, failing to resist the urge to conflate MAGA- Trump-what-have-you with white privilege, and by extension, racism. Not even MAGA, specifically MAGA hats. He says this as if it’s an objective fact, as if that’s simply what the hat means, as opposed to subjective interpretation – what the hat means to some people. Neither MAGA nor MAGA hats are a symbol of white privilege to me, and I’m Hispanic. I doubt most of the people who wear the hats themselves imbue them with that kind of symbolism. I doubt any of the non-white individuals in these photos think that’s what it means.
We’re only one sentence in… this is going to be a doozy.
Mr. Starr continues…
In the slogan “Make America Great Again,” the operative word is “again.” The slogan points vaguely to a time in the past when things were “great,” when white men were free to push black people, women, and immigrants around
My above argument applies here too, however I do want to expand on this, and it’s a point I have often thought about but never thought that it needed articulation as it always seemed so obvious to me. Speaking as a MAGA supporter myself, I never thought of one specific time or aspect of our country when things we’re all around better, that I wanted to capture again. When I think of making American great again, it’s more of a collage, a collection of various aspects of the America of old which I like, melded together. A little of this, a little of that. They need not be mutually exclusive, they need not even be political, or even on a national scale.
I’m from San Diego and I remember a time when even during rush hour you could zip to any part of town and your speed would never dip below 55 mph. Now, even on Tuesday at 1pm the freeways feel sluggish. My neighborhood was once peaceful, quaint, quiet, and clean. The past several years have brought an uptick in crime, litter, graffiti, loitering, cars blasting music at all hours, vehicles speeding through the neighborhood where they used to cruise at a respectful pace. Recollecting back, my community used to be great. Maybe less so now, and I’d like to make it great again. Halloweens used to be be a revolving door of kids yelling TRICK’R TREAT! and even in our early twenties my college roommates and I we’re happy to hand out candy to youngsters (given the 31st didn’t land on a Friday or Saturday night). Now, October 31st is a sad, pathetic affair. I want to make Halloween great again! We used to be able to drink on the beach in San Diego, and that was made illegal, I’d like to make summers great again! These aren’t things Trump can fix, but I want to illustrate how when people say MAGA, they aren’t talking about one thing, one time, that’d they’d like to wind the clocks back to and set it on Groundhog Day mode.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s admit the possibility of a more generous interpretation. In the wake of the Great Depression, many Americans during the mid-20th century—white Americans chiefly—experienced greater social mobility and economic security than at any time since. In the generous interpretation, “Make America Great Again” could mean let’s rebuild an America with that high level of opportunity and security. On its face, it could even mean let’s create those conditions for all Americans today.
But that generous view runs into a problem. The kinds of policies Trump and his party favor won’t bring back those conditions even for whites who are voting Republican, much less for everyone.
… even when he’s being generous he just can’t help but take a jab at white people. This is truly going to be a grueling one. On to the meat and potatoes.
Here are five reasons why make-America-great conservatism has never made any sense on its own terms.
1. If we want to make America great, we need an updated understanding of the economy. The jobs of the future aren’t going to come from industries that belong to a fading past. Trump’s promises to revive coal and protect steel reflect an image of the economy and sources of employment that comes from a half-century ago. Coal is in the midst of an inexorable decline because of technological change, quite apart from environmental regulation
What I find particularly interesting is how Mr. Starr, and many others, seem to suggest that certain industries belong in the past. As if this is written in the stars somewhere and we’re all obliged to follow some prescribed blueprint for society. Who says certain industries belong in the past? I don’t know much about the coal industry, but is it still profitable? If so, I would argue that, as an industry, it very much belongs in the present. And if it declines because of natural market forces, then so be it, the end of the coal industry it is. No tears from me. But is it the role of third parties to dictate which industries should thrive, and which should fail?
The left does this with many things. He makes too much money. She isn’t paid enough. Starting ideas with everyone should… instead of I would prefer it if people did... These claims all revolve around the concept that they, and they alone hold the answers to all of life’s riddles, as opposed to simply having and being entitled to an opinion like everyone else.
slapping tariffs on imported steel raises the price of inputs for other manufacturers and makes their goods less competitive. As the minor modifications Trump negotiated in NAFTA show, he was never going to reverse America’s interdependent trade relationships and bring significant numbers of high-paying jobs back that way.
Except many of those jobs have indeed come back. Read this piece from Chuck DeVore, a contributor at Forbes that talks about the Trump manufacturing job boom.
All the false hopes he has aroused have mainly served as cover for the one major economic policy the Republicans have passed—the 2017 tax legislation, with its giveaways to the rich.
This barely merits a response. Allowing people to keep more of their own money is not giving away anything. By Mr. Starr’s logic, I have given away millions of dollars by not robbing banks.
2. If we want to make America great, we need to avoid a declining and aging population. Child-bearing in the United States has fallen below the replacement rate; in 26 states, there are more deaths than births among the white population. In that light, you’d think conservatives would recognize the need for policies to reduce the costs to families of raising children.
Reducing the cost of living for Americans is a good thing. I think that much Mr. Starr and I can agree on. What is unclear in this statement, and take note that Mr. Starr specifically didn’t touch on the issue, is whether or not he is arguing that reducing the costs of raising kids will incentivize Americans to have more kids, and therefore avoid a declining population, to use his words. Basically, does he think people will have more kids if they have more money? I’ll wager that he intentionally left this out, because the numbers say that no, more money doesn’t mean more kids. In fact, numbers suggest the opposite.
The movie Idiocracy brushed up on this concept in it’s introduction, where the less intelligent presumably economically under-performing Clevon spawned several litters, while the hyper intelligent, very well-to-do Carol and Trevor died childless and alone.
That would mean providing public support for child care and paid family leave; it would mean help for families with housing costs and college costs.
Who doesn’t have housing costs? Who are these lucky people? Conservatives actually do try to address this, and it’s a great place to start. For most Americans, especially those in Democrat strongholds where real estate prices are the highest, housing costs are a family’s single greatest expense. You can cut coupons, get energy saving light bulbs, and bike to work to lower your food, utility, and transportation expenses respectively, but rent/mortgage is inescapable. So it should be something we try to address, and we have, in efforts to curtail rent control, which actually has an adverse effect on many tenants. Yes, rent control inadvertently results in rents going up, or more correctly, transfers the cost of rent from one group of renters to another. In San Francisco, these groups were usually cost shifts from older renters to younger renters, or in other words, from people without kids and without colleges costs, to those more likely to have one, the other, or both. Read more about the study conducted by Stanford.
Their opposition to immigration compounds the danger.
Yahtzee! There it is. I smelled this coming around the bend before I got to it. I’ll spoil the movie for you. “Americans, have more abortions, even late term abortions! What’s this? Americans aren’t breeding enough? It must be because of conservative policies. Lets import people!” Americans are reproducing. Left leaning people… not so much. I won’t bore you with the details, so read here, here, and here (2006). Considering 50% of conceived black children in New York (Democrat stronghold) are aborted, I think we have very confidently identified the solution to avoiding a declining and aging population. Democrats, stop killing your babies.
Deporting millions of undocumented here would create an immediate economic crisis; businesses would go bust, and whole towns would die off. The higher birth rate among immigrants is a blessing; it helps counteract the falling birth rate of the native born.
Maybe deporting them all at once would hurt. But done so gradually, over say, the course of 5 years, I think would do this country wonders. Just a couple sentences ago Mr. Starr mentioned housing costs. Lets talk about the relationship between population size and rent rates in any given area, since the two are very closely tied together (learn, learn more). The San Diego Union Tribune reported that San Diego is home to 170,000 illegal immigrants as of 2014 – which roughly translates into 1 in 20 residents of the county, or 5% of the population. Imagine if these 170,000 people were no longer in the country, and all their housing units we’re freed up. For the sake of argument, lets pretend these are large families averaging 7 per household, that works out to about 24,285 housing units these people occupy. Imagine if these 24,000 houses/apartments were freed up. How would that affect rents in San Diego? For the 19/20 other San Diegans, it would be greatly reduced rents. Imagine 24,000 new homes built in San Diego, without the added traffic that normally accompanies it. Then factor in the impact on school crowding, traffic, infrastructure, health care and emergency services, and the benefits to legal Americans is great.
How would businesses go bust? After all, isn’t it illegal to hire illegal aliens? We know of course some businesses still do, and in the absence of sub-minimum wage workers, those businesses would be forced to hire legal Americans, and pay legal, higher wages. Leftists like Mr. Starr can’t argue that this would be bad for the economy, because this is the very argument they use in justification and defense of raising the minimum wage. Check mate. Oh, and Mr. Starr, since you mentioned earlier that reduced housing costs would help families with kids and college costs, you win twice brother!
MAGA supporters ought to recognize that they will need enough workers to pay into Social Security while they’re collecting it. So if for no other reason they should favor immigration reforms that legalize the status of the undocumented who have long been here and that welcome immigrants in the future.
Legalizing illegal activity incentivizes more illegal activity. Imagine if you robbed a store, and the government just decided to “legalize” the stolen property, everyone is square, it would motivate people to do it again realizing that eventually once the problem hit critical mass, there would be another round of legalization.
We’re finally to point 3!
3. If we want to make America great, we need to support science and the universities, not undermine them. The conservative antagonism to knowledge-producing institutions makes no sense from the standpoint even of people who will never set foot in them.
I’m going to use my crystal ball here and guess that this is a jab at climate change. Let’s set that to the side for a second and continue. I’m giddy with anticipation. Conservatives aren’t against “knowledge-producing institutions” but my concern is that many on the left seem to think that the only such places worth their while are liberal arts colleges. I went to such a college, San Diego State University, and got a Bachelors of Science. I’m not knocking college, but to act as though the options are college or jail, as Bernie Sanders put it, is a false dichotomy, and misguided advice that has resulted in millions of young Americans falling into the trap of student debt. I’ll try to dedicate a separate piece about why college is so expensive in the United States but let’s all just agree that for what ever reason, it is expensive. There are plenty of other careers paths towards financial security (and economic prosperity for the country) that don’t involve going to college. Vocational and technical schools, trade schools, military, firefighting, and law enforcement, to name a few. I know a good many realtors and loan officers who make six figures and then some without a college degree. I know many successful business owners with no degree, who also do very well for themselves. In hindsight I wonder if I had started my current career sooner in lieu of college, I may very well be retired by now at the ripe age of 32. The point I am trying to make is college is not the end all, be all of success. For many people, it has spelled financial ruin, and for others college has worked beautifully. As far as the antagonism goes, it probably doesn’t help when academics in their ivory towers choose to be condescending to those “who will never set foot in them”.
There is no economic alternative to investing in advanced research and education. That’s true not only for the familiar reason: new knowledge will be the basis for future growth. It’s true also because new knowledge is needed to regulate emerging technologies in the public interest.
I think I know what he’s trying to say here, but damn if that doesn’t wreak of Orwellian intent.
4. If we want to make America great, we have to face up to environmental realities. Denying climate change won’t stop it from happening, but it is blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life and necessary investments to limit global warming and prepare for changes that can no longer be averted.
This is another one of those things, where leading messaging is baked in. It assumes that we all really know that anthropogenic climate change is real, but some of us just pretend it isn’t. I used to be on the climate change train, and as I have read more I’ve become sort of agnostic on the issue, but to claim that people who are skeptical of something simply aren’t facing up to reality is a slap in the face. I won’t get into climate change here, but how exactly are MAGA hats “blocking us from making necessary adjustments in our way of life”? Want a Prius? Drive a Prius. Want to bike to work, do that. Telecommute, carpool, vanpool, hold e-meetings, use skype, install solar panels, insulate your attic, take shorter showers, buy used clothes, recycle. To the best of my knowledge all of these activities are still very much legal in spite of whatever opinions people hold. What Mr. Starr seems to be implying here is that if the government doesn’t do it, it can’t be done.
5. If we want to make America great, we need partners in the rest of the world. MAGA conservatism is not only backward-looking but inward-looking. It assumes that the United States was once great because it could push other countries around. But the real greatness came from alliances and cooperation. Globalism isn’t a conspiracy; it’s a necessity in a world with highly integrated economies, facing climate change, and trying to contain the risks from nuclear weapons and terrorism.
MAGA conservatism isn’t anti alliances, or anti partner. It is about taking a second look at some of those alliances and partnerships to make sure that they are equitable, not lopsided. A line from the greatest rom-com Christmas movie ever, Love Actually, comes to mind. Prime Minister Hugh Grant said “I love that word “relationship”. Covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? I fear that this has become a bad relationship. A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to Britain. […] And a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend. And since bullies only respond to strength, from now onward, I will be prepared to be much stronger.”
In that line, Grant wasn’t saying that the U.S. and the U.K. we’re no longer allies, but was inferring that the relationship had soured, and that things needed to change in order to improve said alliance. It wasn’t introversion, it wasn’t escapism, or isolationism, but it was in the interest of self preservation. The notion that because someone is our friend, we must allow them to take advantage of us, is silly. Other nations cannot be faulted for doing what they can to get terms most desirable for it’s own people – that is exactly what a nation’s leaders are supposed to do – at our expense. In some areas, U.S. foreign policy and trade policy needed a little re-calibrating to bring things back to a level paying field, and that’s what MAGA conservatism is advocating.
I’ve met many MAGA enthusiasts from across the country, from all walks of life, races, religions, and all two genders. Their view of MAGA and Trump couldn’t be further from what the opposition and individuals like Mr. Starr think of it. The notes Trump hits resonates with a lot of people, and falls on deaf ears or even deafens others. I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact that there was a media blitz that started in 2015 and continues to this day to paint everything MAGA, everything Trump as sinister, backwards, and stupid. Trump’s style of communication admittedly isn’t for everyone. However I also think that some of these misgivings of MAGA conservatism, or conservatism in general can be alleviated by trying to have civil conversations with members of the MAGA crowd instead of instinctively writing them off as ugly, blind, inward-looking, backward-looking, conspiring, denying, beholden, antagonizing, undermining, fading, and nonsensical – all borrowed words from Mr. Starr’s writing.
The truth is, I don’t think most leftists, liberals, Democrats – pick your word – are evil, or racist, or stupid as I have been called before on many occasions simply for my political bend. I think they are people with their own experiences, who have been exposed to things and simply had a different take away from it. I also truly believe that if they picked the minds of people like myself, some of them might be persuaded that MAGA conservatism actually does make sense.