Originalism: The Original Trigger Warning

Neil Gorsuch will soon be an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Barring any eleventh-hour scandal (unlikely, if one is to judge by his haircut), the Senate will confirm him. It will be confirming a young man, in judge years, a reliable conservative in politics and an originalist in legal philosophy. The first two traits are unobjectionable in a judicial nominee—we expect presidents to nominate people with views consummate with their own ideology (or, in Trump’s case, the ideology he promised Christian conservatives he would have at the time of the nomination). There is some opprobrium hanging over the fact that it is a “stolen seat,” but that shame attaches to the Senate, not to Trump … [Read more...]

A Brief History of Sanctuary Cities

As everyone with a Twitter feed already knows, Donald J. Trump is no friend of immigrants. In a spate of hot-headed executive orders this week, he slammed the door shut on refugees, banned visitors from seven Muslim countries, and promised to build a “Great Wall” physically separating us from Mexico. But his wrath extended past Mexican day laborers and Muslim asylum seekers to take aim at the traitors within. In an executive jeremiad, Trump torched “sanctuary jurisdictions” for “willfully” violating federal law and causing “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” To such harmers of the Republican Fabric he threatens to withhold all federal funds, … [Read more...]

An Inauguration Day Greeting from Tropics of Meta

Many years ago, I was teaching high school in Gastonia, North Carolina. The senseless, world-destroying catastrophe of the Iraq War was just breaking over the horizon at the time, and students asked me what I thought about it.  As a novice teacher, I didn't know what my proper response should be.  Personally, I was despondent.  Whether or not Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction"--we'd given them to him, after all--it seemed transparently obvious that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States, and the ideologues and used car salesmen in Washington were driving us into a pointless war of choice. It was a dark time, and arguably much of the horror of the twenty-first … [Read more...]

Trump, Brexit, and the Abject Poverty of Liberalism

Two seemingly monumental and world-historic events occurred in two of the most powerful imperialist countries this past year. On 23 June, the United Kingdom held a referendum on its membership in the European Union, resulting in a “leave” vote. On the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for President of the United States, was victorious in his electoral campaign against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The Leave Campaign won the “Brexit” referendum with 17.4 million ballots, or 51.9 percent of the votes, whereas Donald Trump won the US presidency with 62.9 million votes, amounting to 46.1 percent of the ballots cast (note that Clinton won the popular vote with … [Read more...]

Bacon’s Rebellion, Donald Trump, and American Populism

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 took place long before Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, but if we allow for a wide-angle view of history we might trace out some general similarities between these two events. In fact, I am inclined to argue that the American populist tradition has its roots in Bacon’s Rebellion. Following such an argument, Donald Trump can be explained as the latest incarnation of Nathanael Bacon, though contextualized to the early twenty-first century. The key word here is: populism. Populism, Defined or Not First of all, what is populism? The easy answer is: who knows, you decide. “Scholars debate whether it [populism] is a creed, a style, a political strategy, a … [Read more...]

Sorry, Folks, but Trump Really Is Different

Trump is different. Wow—a really big breakthrough discovery, huh? Maybe it is. Some contributors to this discussion seem determined to carry a brief for the Left by proving that Trump is merely the coming home to roost of GOP chickens. His misogyny and racism is “nothing new,” or just the logical conclusion of 40 years or more of GOP rhetoric. As tempted as I am to accept this analysis, I cannot. Something new—or at least, not terribly old—is happening right now. To explain away Trump by citing Willie Horton or Strom Thurmond or something is to choose not to reckon with the evidence of the recent past.  Sure, the GOP made robust use of dog whistles and “coded” language to play on the … [Read more...]

New Right, Far Right, Alt-Right? Donald Trump and the Historiography of Conservatism

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about the most frequent cause of my current existential dread election and I half-jokingly remarked that Donald Trump’s outlandish candidacy almost made me miss George W. Bush. She laughed and said that Bush had made her feel the same way about Richard Nixon. We both chuckled at the absurdity of the conversation and went on our merry ways. When I got back to my office, however, something didn’t sit well. Did I really just say I missed George W. Bush? The Bush administration was a clear point in my own political and professional development. I was in college during the Iraq War and I started grad school toward the end of Bush’s presidency, all … [Read more...]

There Is a There There: Trump Is Hardly Sui Generis

I remember almost ten years ago, the normally sagacious Economist commented on the looming 2008 race.  “The smart money is on Hillary,” they declared, remarking sarcastically on the “icy” small talk among Hillary’s lady friends at a tony fundraiser, and warning that an outbreak of Bill’s horn-dog behavior could still upset the Clintons’ especially well-constructed apple cart. [Editor’s note: we thought about going with “eruption” instead of “outbreak,” but decided that either one is queasily connotative when used in the context of William Jefferson Clinton, so… fuck it.] Of course, the good journalists and editors at the Economist could not see the unlikely figure of Barack Hussein Obama … [Read more...]

Is Trump Sui Generis?

Given Donald Trump's ongoing meltdown, all of this may be moot. But even a catastrophically failed presidential campaign has ramifications that can unfold for years, even decades to come, as well as lessons to teach us about the country. After all, many at the time saw Barry Goldwater's 1964 landslide loss as a fluke; the takeover of a mainstream party by a noisy, right-wing minority supposedly spelled the end of conservatism as a political force in the country. Yet historians now recognize that, even in defeat, Goldwater pointed the way to a major conservative revival. In contrast, Walter Mondale's historic drubbing in 1984 said a great deal about where the Democratic Party was coming from … [Read more...]

Let’s Get Ready for This Nightmare

Dorothy Parker is said to have commented, “What Fresh Hell is this?” any time someone came to her door. After 234 years of campaigning, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be used to this response. In fact, by the time of the third presidential debate, this wasn’t even Fresh Hell anymore. This was more like Clearance Sushi at Kroger. Not exactly the same thing as browsing the clearance aisle at Ross or TJ Maxx for nipple clamps. It’s just stale, and disturbing. The debate began with Chris Wallace, son of the great journalist Mike Wallace— a sort of sad, sloughed-off chicken skin who’s the most disappointing sequel since the Star Wars prequels.  Wallace started off by declaring there … [Read more...]