The Big Sleep Gets Bigger

A short while ago I wrote in opposition to “assisted suicide,” an opinion that garnered an astonishing amount of hostility and anger. It is rather incredible how passionately people get about letting other people kill themselves; they are very eager—almost happy!—to subtly encourage their fellow humans to swallow the pills and be done with it. It does not bode well for our country, which is slowly but surely making it legal for doctors to help kill their patients. It is equally instructive to look at other countries that have legalized this barbarous practice; a number of European countries have already done this, and the results are chilling:

A new study of doctor-assisted death for people with mental disorders raises questions about the practice, finding that in more than half of approved cases, people declined treatment that could have helped, and that many cited loneliness as an important reason for wanting to die. The study, of cases in the Netherlands, should raise concerns for other countries debating where to draw the line when it comes to people’s right to die, experts said.

At least three countries — the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland — allow assisted suicides for people who have severe psychiatric problems and others, like Canada, are debating such measures, citing the rights of people with untreatable mental illness. Laws in the United States, passed in five states, restrict doctor-assisted suicide to mentally competent adults with terminal illnesses only, not for disorders like depression and schizophrenia.

Sadly, there is not much reason to imagine that this study will have any real impact on euthanasia politics, at least in the places in which it is already legalized. For most decent people, it is uniquely horrifying to imagine a doctor helping kill someone just because he or she cites “loneliness” as a motivating factor. But it is nonetheless fully within the Overton window of the politics of assisted suicide, precisely on the same rationale as every other justification for the practice. If one’s bodily autonomy is enough to justify a doctor’s helping one commit suicide in the event of a terminal illness, is there any reason that a seemingly-intractable depression shouldn’t be treated the same way? Put another way: if there’s a limiting principle regarding assisted suicide—a big if—then why should the line be drawn before loneliness? If these cases in the Netherlands are any indication, it is perhaps inevitable that legalized euthanasia will be extended to people who are simply tired of living. Clobbered by the politically correct language of pro-death activists, most people have no real ability to argue against this.

There is an astonishing kind of groundswell underway within much of the developed world. In Europe, authorities are baffled that unhappy people are taking advantage of a clean and easy way to kill themselves; in the United States, abortion is increasingly coming to be seen as a positive social good and in some cases a cause for celebration and joy. Life is incrementally becoming more dangerous to live: while in the womb you must contend with a culture that views you as a disposable “clump of cells,” and when elderly or sick you must deal with a culture that slowly but surely offers you more incentive to commit suicide. A civilized society is not so callous and so cavalier about precious human life—and so we must ask ourselves how civilized we really are anymore.

Whither They Are Going?

The boorish and uninformed immigration policies of Donald Trump aside, it is worth wondering what the effect of Muslim immigration will be on the United States. Such immigration can certainly affect the tenor of a given locale—witness, say, the segregation of menstruating girls in a public school cafeteria in Canada. Given enough time and enough segregation and enough Muslims, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Toronto might become, per capita, quite a bit more misogynistic over time. So there’s that. But there’s also the oft-asked question about the tension between Islam and Western democracy: namely, are the two things at all compatible? Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times wondered the same thing yesterday:

A charge commonly laid against Islam is that it is incompatible with western values. Certainly, passages of the Koran can be hard to reconcile with tolerance or respect for minorities.

But the same can be said for passages of the Bible. So does Islam pose no less a threat to the upholding of human rights than Christianity?

Right off the bat this whole thing is kind of incoherent. Humphreys says that “passages of the Bible” are “incompatible with western values.” But what does this even mean? The Bible, properly understood, is not a “book;” it is books, some of which are history, some of which are prophecy, some of which are ancient Israelite laws, some of which are parables, and so forth. Determining what is what is critically important when discussing “the Bible;” otherwise you sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Joe Humphreys might as well have said, “There are some passages in the bookstore that are incompatible with western values.” It doesn’t really make sense.

The Koran is different: Islamic faith holds that it is the word of God dictated directly to Muhammad. So when we speak of the Koran, we are—at least according to Muslims—speaking about God’s word verbatim, not just in a divinely-inspired transliterative kind of way but quite literally. If the Bible is something like a bookstore, bibliographically speaking, then the Koran is more like a traffic law. Knowing this, it’s quite silly and ignorant to directly equate the divergent holy texts that exist within Christianity and Islam, respectively. They’re not the same: functionally, theologically and historically they are radically different. With this in mind, it should give us pause that there are many passages in the Koran that are wholly and completely at odds with Western-style liberties and human rights. That has drastic imports for how Muslims may or may not interact with Western civilization.

Now, Joe Humphreys cites a professor at Trinity College Dublin, who points out that there are some divergent schools of thought within various Islamic approaches to western-style human rights. Plainly not all 1,600,000,000 Muslims think the same way about everything. So how might we determine the practical implications be for countries with enormous Muslim majorities? Well, it would probably vary from country to country—but it’s also worth looking at the countries that already have massive Muslim populations, as well as countries that have Islam as their official state religion. The Freedom House overwhelmingly ranks Muslim-majority countries and state-sponsored Islamic countries in the Middle East as “not free,” with a few sporadically “partly free.” In fact, only two countries in the Middle East-North Africa geographic range rank as free: Israel and Tunisia, the latter of which was most recently awarded the lowest “free” rating possible.

It is not unreasonable, in other words, to assume that Islam is incompatible with some or most of the core tenets of Western civil liberties.

There is compelling evidence that already suggests just that.

There nonetheless remains a very strong impulse on the part of a great many commentators to try and equate, say, Islam and Christianity, even as the societies that these religions have bequeathed or greatly influenced remain in most cases radically different, as do the religions themselves. A while ago, rehashing a tired old stunt, a few thoughtful pranksters read people some violent passages from the Book of Leviticus which they claimed were from the Koran:

Realizing it was from Bible a person said, “Of course I’ve heard Bible stories when I was young, and I went to a Christian school, but I really had no idea this are from Bibles [sic].”

“Our experiment was a way to highlight our prejudice as a society about Islam, one that has been fed to us through mass media over the past couple of years,” Alexander Spoor of Dit Is Normaal wrote to The Huffington Post in an email.

This is sort of an interesting experiment, but it’s ultimately kind of meaningless, mostly because of the exegetical reasons mentioned above. More importantly, it’s worth stressing that it is not the fault of “mass media” that people believe Islam is a violent religion: people believe this because these days, on a semi-regular basis, Muslim men and women are apt to show up in public places and start slaughtering innocent people while screaming “Allahu Akbar!” The “mass media,” in fact, have frequently tried to cover up this unpleasant fact out of a sense of politically correct propriety. But it hasn’t worked. Most people harbor no ill will towards Muslims, and for good reason. But many people also intuitively sense that Islam has a violence problem. We deny this at great risk to ourselves, our civilization and the precious liberties upon which our civilization rests.

Whence They Came

There is something mildly depressing about the passing of the old liberal order that we see playing out in politics these days. Hillary Clinton has come to symbolize this strange phenomenon perfectly: a child of the turbulent cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s who eventually became a card-carrying member of The Establishment herself, she assumed that the power structures to which she had grown accustomed would be hers for the taking when she was ready—but it isn’t really playing out that way. As the Iowa caucuses so amply demonstrated, the Democratic voting bloc has fractured quite stunningly along an age fault: young people went for Sanders in overwhelming numbers, leaving Hillary baffled and wondering why the presumed First Female President had lost the youthful idealist vote to a wheezy old doddering weirdo from Vermont.  You can practically see the track on repeat in her head: It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. But it is this way.

Now you can witness the tired old remnants of the olden days starting to get upset that Hillary Clinton may not get the spoils everyone assumed were hers by right. Last week feminist icon Gloria Steinem let the mask slip a little bit, chiding the younger generation of females for not falling in line behind the heir apparent:

Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous spokeswomen of the feminist movement, took the sentiment a step further on Friday in an interview with the talk show host Bill Maher. Explaining how women tend to become more active in politics as they become older, she suggested younger women were just backing Mr. Sanders so that they could meet young men.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” Ms. Steinem said.

Shortly after this profoundly silly and narrow-minded remark, Steinem issued a lame apology on Facebook: “Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary,” she wrote, “young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.” That’s a quick if unconvincing way to save face—hey girls, it’s okay if you go with Bernie, you’re still “activist!” But nobody is buying it, because this election is plainly not, for Steinem at least, a matter of practical political considerations; for her, it’s not how much you can get done, but whether or not you’re a woman while you’re doing it. Bernie Sanders is more liberal than Hillary Clinton in every meaningful way possible, he is probably  much more likely than Hillary Clinton to use unilateral executive force to further his liberal policy goals, and he is more authentic and more compelling a person asleep than Hillary Clinton is while fully awake. Bernie is the liberal they’ve been waiting for. And yet Gloria Steinem still feels compelled to scold young women because they are not voting straight-ticket identity politics in a way that’s pleasing to Gloria Steinem. Shame on her. It is ridiculous to cast a vote for Sanders, of course—his policies would be disastrous for America by just about every conceivable metric—but surely Steinem can muster a better anti-Sanders argument than, “Ladies! Hillary Clinton happens to have the same sex chromosomes as you!”

Steinem is very much a creature of second-wave feminism, that slightly confused yet still rather deliberate movement that more or less spanned the middle decades of the twentieth century. We might at least concede that she has made her bones in this movement, and that she is perhaps entitled to feel so strongly about the implications of Hillary’s candidacy. Maybe it’s to be expected, in other words. Yet this is, of course, the root of the matter: Steinem’s hang-ups are not the hang-ups of young women today. The world has turned. For the up-and-coming generation of liberal women, Bernie is the future, while petty, provincial feminist politics like Steinem’s are part of an archaic and unpleasant past.

The Fall of the White Tide

It is commonly-held knowledge that the GOP is the party of “old white men,” and that consequently the shifting demographic trends of the country at large will shortly mean the irrelevance of the Republican Party as a national force in politics. It thus must baffle the hell out of the demographic eggheads that three of the top four GOP candidates are of the ethnic heritages generally regarded as Democratic shoe-ins: two Latinos and a black man. This isn’t the way things are supposed to be, after all. Even the New York Times has taken note of the unexpected success of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and of the queer non-response with which that success has been met:

With Senator Ted Cruz taking nearly 28 percent of the vote and Senator Marco Rubio getting 23 percent, each vastly surpassed the results for any other Latino candidate in any previous United States presidential contest.

How is that not being celebrated as historic or at least worth a headline for a day or two?

The answer is not that complicated: Neither Mr. Cruz nor Mr. Rubio meets conventional expectations of how Latino politicians are supposed to behave.

There is, of course, the distinct possibility that—having elected our first black president eight years ago—the United States is no longer very taken or struck by the relative novelty of successful minority candidates. (You can very much expect Hillary to hammer the woman card if and when she secures the nomination, but that’s a different political consideration with its own political pathology.) If this is true, it represents genuine progress on the part of the American electorate. But let’s assume that Roberto Suro is correct, and Cruz and Rubio are not being widely “celebrated” because they do not “[meet] conventional expectations of how Latino politicians are supposed to behave.” What this suggests is that, for many voters, party affiliation and partisan politics are both more important than the color of one’s skin—that even the people who obsess over race and ethnicity will abandon their fixations when it is politically expedient to do so. This is actually a good thing, depending on how you look at it, at least insofar as it suggests that people are increasingly willing to judge a candidate by his or her qualities and intentions rather than by superficial appearances. But, at least in this election, it does stink of hypocrisy. And that’s never pleasant.

In any event, the contrasts couldn’t be sharper: race-minded liberals might be ignoring the minority barn-burner that’s currently swept the GOP, but goodness, the opposing ticket picked a hell of a year to be as white as steamed rice. Hillary Clinton is as white as a loaf of Wonder Bread in a snow drift. Bernie Sanders is a white socialist representing Vermont, which means he couldn’t get any whiter without dispersing into elemental photons. Martin O’Malley is an Irishman who was once the governor of Maryland, which speaks for itself. Like every candidate, of course, the Democratic candidates should be weighed on their merits (if you can find any); but just the same, imagine the frustration and discomfort for many of the voters who under other circumstances would be celebrating the success of Rubio and Cruz: they have to grit their teeth and cast their votes for Hillary and Bernie. Oh, well. The country’s changing, and even the Democrats can’t remain the party of old white people for very long.

A Deal of No Caliber

The big news this week is the Iowa caucuses and the fact that Donald Trump is finally, if but briefly, a loser. But there is some other startling news of some significant import, and it took place in Virginia, and it is this: a bipartisan deal on gun control was actually hammered out:

One month ago, Virginia became a sudden and shining example of progress for the gun-control movement. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Mark Herring, announced that Virginia would no longer recognize concealed-carry permits of firearms owners in the 25 states with laxer gun laws than its own. The National Rifle Association promptly called his decision “the biggest setback” that gun owners had suffered politically in all of 2015.

On  Friday, the state reversed itself. As part of a bipartisan agreement with Republican legislators, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia would keep granting reciprocity to out-of-state gun owners, so long as they had not been specifically denied a permit in Virginia. (The ban was to have taken effect next week.) In exchange, GOP leaders agreed to change state laws to prevent domestic abusers from possessing guns and to make it harder for private dealing from skipping a background check when selling at state gun shows. A beaming McAuliffe declared the accord a potentially life-saving victory for Virginia and the most significant bipartisan deal on gun laws in a generation.

It is certainly a relief that Mark Herring’s stupid, transparent rule change has been reversed: it was a silly political gesture from a desperate political party that has made no headway whatsoever with its anti-gun agenda. And yet it is instructive to note how fact-free this debate remains. Preventing domestic abusers from acquiring weapons is laudable, so long as the process is not used against innocent people. But Herring’s reciprocity decision was made on the basis of no real compelling evidence whatsoever; he offered no proof that the “laxer gun laws” of other states were a danger to Virginians in any way at all. As for the expansion of background checks to private sellers at gun shows, this is in of and itself inoffensive, but it is also, if you’ll pardon the expression, something of a red herring: the vast majority of guns used in crimes are not purchased at gun shows—the number is estimated to be small enough that it is statistically inconsequential—and in any event the process is still a voluntary one, not mandatory.

This leads me to another, more significant concern, and it is this: opening up the NICS system to private sellers may in fact be an underhanded and sneaky way to implement universal background checks in Virginia. If the NICS database is now open to private sellers—and since police officers are now required to be on-hand at gun shows to conduct these checks should any private seller desire to perform one—then it would seem like an easy-enough step to mandate (most likely by gubernatorial executive order) that private sellers must avail themselves of the now-accessible and (at least at gun shows) omnipresent background check system.

I have spoken to people—pro-gun people, I should add—that believe this is a misguided concern, and that the probability of a Virginia governor unilaterally legislating in such a way is very low, if nonexistent. Perhaps that’s true. But there is also this to consider: in the eight years since D.C. v. Heller, Democrats have been continually embarrassed and frustrated on the gun control issue, they are angry and impatient to effect some change on this matter, and it is really not hard to imagine the pieces falling into place in such a way. Gradualism is a very powerful political tool, it’s one the Left has been happy to use in the past, and it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that they are as willing to use it with firearms as they are with anything else.

The Virginia Way of Embarrassment

It would be wrong to say that Donald Trump is stupid—as dumb as he seems to be, he appears to have run his campaign with a deliberateness and a calculated insanity that has worked out very well for him, like a planned insurgency by a battalion of Norse berserkers. But it would also be misguided to ignore the fact that Trump has benefitted from some extraordinary good luck throughout the primaries. The safe, hesitant, carefully-coiffed campaign of Jeb Bush, for example, was a useful cudgel for Trump early on; whatever Bush’s merits, you couldn’t have asked for a better public representation of “the Establishment” by which Trump might contrast himself, to say nothing of Bush’s slightly sad, shoulder-slumped demeanor throughout most of 2015. He was an easy mark. Then, too, Trump benefitted from the fact that most of the GOP candidates have been reluctant to criticize him much at all; none of them want to bring down upon themselves the wrath of the disaffected GOP base (to say nothing of the double helping of white supremacist anger you receive whenever you say something bad about Trump).

Going into 2016, Trump’s particular brand of stubby-fingered braggadocio shows no signs of letting up, and neither does his rather aggravating streak of good fortune:

Virginia’s Republican Party on Saturday scrapped plans to use a party loyalty pledge in the March 1 GOP presidential primary, sending elections officials scrambling because absentee voting was already underway.

“We unanimously voted to rescind it,” John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said after a meeting of the State Central Committee.

In September, the party decided to require voters to sign a “statement of intent” before taking part in the primary.

That idea, which has been proposed several times in recent years, caused controversy in Virginia, one of about 14 states that hold “open primary” elections in which voters do not register by party. Supporters have said that the measure would cut down on Democrats who want to make mischief by voting in GOP primaries.

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump drew national attention to the pledge by calling it a “suicidal mistake” that would turn away voters disenchanted with traditional party politics — the very newcomers who might be drawn to his unconventional presidential bid.

I have no idea if this “loyalty pledge” would have made any difference to Trump’s chances in the primary; probably it wouldn’t have mattered, given the fact that it was apparently not binding in any meaningful way whatsoever. It was pretty much a dumb idea to begin with, and they never should’ve floated it. But they did float it—and then backed off from it. Plainly this looks like a victory for Trump: he scolded the Virginia GOP for this move, telling them it was a dumb idea, commanding them to “be smart and win for a change,” and now they’ve recanted. Trump’s base will like this; they like it every time this coddled, bankrupt-four-times-over, thin-skinned man-child flexes his muscles and thumps his chest. When Trump skipped the latest GOP debate because he was afraid of Megyn Kelly, the voting public got a rare chance to see the whiny little adolescent lurking just underneath Trump’s blustery facade. The Virginia GOP’s rescinding of the “loyalty pledge,” as dumb an idea as it was in the first place, is the kind of thing that could reverse that progress. Well done, Whitbeck.

In all fairness, this move does make the Virginia GOP look like a bunch of feckless, incompetent jackasses. They proposed a silly rule that was transparently political, they backed off after a bit of blustery grandstanding from both Trump and state Democrats, and now they’ve created a minor controversy by throwing a wrench into the absentee voting process. It’s an embarrassment for Virginia Republicans, engendered by Virginia Republicans. Would that they might take Trump’s advice: be smart and win for a change. Maybe next election.

Render Whatever Unto Caesar

If you go to church on a regular basis—let’s say weekly, which is arguably the smallest regular-basis unit of time by which one might measure church attendance—then you are part of a rather dwindling subset of Americans, those who apparently take religion seriously enough to invest their time in it. America is getting less religious; it has been getting so for some time and the trend doesn’t really show any signs of slowing down. That’s bad for any number of reasons, but it’s also a particularly confusing phenomenon, because—in spite of their growing areligiousity—Americans still genuflect towards religion in some odd ways (if you will pardon the pun):

The new survey confirms that being an atheist continues to be one of the biggest perceived shortcomings a hypothetical presidential candidate could have, with 51% of adults saying they would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who does not believe in God. Indeed, in the eyes of the public, being a nonbeliever remains a bigger drawback than having had an extramarital affair (37% say they would be less likely to support a candidate who had been unfaithful), having had personal financial troubles (41% say they would be less likely to support a candidate who had had financial struggles), or having used marijuana in the past (20% would be less likely to support a former pot smoker).

This is odd for a number of reasons. As I’ve written before, data suggest that around two-thirds of Americans these days are lackadaisical at best when it comes to attending religious worship. I’d wager that the actual number is probably even higher than that; it is entirely probable that people who claimed to go to church “weekly or more” were in fact fudging the numbers a bit, and that the “monthly or yearly” folks might even skip the big holidays when they come around. If over half of Americans aren’t really into the whole church scene—which is to say, well over half of Americans really aren’t that religious at all—then why do nearly that same amount want their candidate to be religious? To be fair, the number of people unwilling to vote for an atheist has declined in recent years, at the same time areligious sentiment has been increasing, which is about what you’d expect. But these most recent numbers are still rather striking, suggesting that Americans still value the idea of religion even as they’re less and less drawn to any really functional observance of religion itself.

Take, for example, Bernie Sanders’s recent declaration that he is “not actively involved with organized religion:” Sanders stated that “everyone believes in God in their [sic] own ways,” and for him, “it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” The antecedent here is anyone’s guess, but this is such a perfect distillation of what is increasingly becoming mainstream American religious thought: when it comes to God, Bernie is Millennial religious politics personified. “All of us are connected, all of life is connected, and…we are all tied together.” What does any of this even mean? It doesn’t really mean anything—it just sounds good, it’s deliberately undemanding, and it’s vaguely comforting in a college freshman dorm kind of way. What is most surprising is that this kind of vague, tedious claptrap is probably more preferable to voters than just straight-up atheism: Bernie’s espousing a half-baked kumbaya philosophy likely helps him in the polls, in however small a way, even if his “religious belief” is, operatively at least, indistinguishable from atheism itself.

What this suggests is that many modern Americans want it both ways: a comforting visage of old-timey religious rhetoric, but with no added demands or difficult theological or philosophical questions to consider. This is similar to the way Americans approach the welfare state: they’re absolutely in favor of both the New Deal programs and the later social welfare schemes cooked up during the 20th century, but they’re also generally unwilling to have their taxes raised to the levels necessary in order to ensure the viability of these programs. In that regard, Bernie is only half of a total package, or maybe three-quarters of one: he’ll give you all the washed-out New Age religious sentiment you could possibly want, but he’ll also raise the hell out of your taxes if you give him half a chance.

What’s Here is Here to Stay

I guess we may have to live with Obamacare for some time—it is a deeply flawed and unpleasant piece of legislation, but it is also more or less a federal entitlement, which means it is in many ways un-repealable—but one would nonetheless like to think that the really awful execution of this law might soon sway a majority of voters to action:

Reflecting slower than anticipated enrollment growth in health insurance purchased through the Affordable Care Act, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has lowered its estimate of how many people will get coverage through the law in 2016.

In any given month this year, about 13 million people on average are now expected to be enrolled in a health plan purchased on a marketplace created by the law, often called Obamacare.

That is down from 21 million people previously estimated by the budget office, whose projections about the impact of legislation are closely watched by both parties in Washington.

There are three instructive lessons to take from this report. The first is that, when it comes to government failures like Obamacare, the language the media use is always quite particular. The headline claims that Obamacare enrollment was “slower than expected,” the content posits that last year saw “slower than anticipated enrollment growth.” There is a weasely, passive-voice quality to all of this kind of prose, like an alcoholic who relapses but says, “Hey, I only had fifteen beers last night instead of my normal twenty!” Many members of the media are very reluctant to admit that Obamacare has serious structural flaws that render it unworkable on many levels, and so its failures are masked in this kind of rhetoric.

Secondly, note the enormous gap between the initially-predicted enrollment numbers and the revised predictions. The CBO revised down by about eight million, or nearly 40% of its original estimate! This is an astoundingly large reduction. It is a wonder we take government projections seriously; they almost always underestimate the costs of most government programs, and they nearly always miscalculate the number of future participants, either underestimating (with programs like Cash for Clunkers) or overestimating (as is the ongoing case with Obamacare). In both cases, the result is a financial mess, either in the form of much more outlays or much less inflow than is necessary to sustain the program in question.

Lastly, these low enrollee numbers betray the ultimate false conceit of this entire law. We were told from day one that this was one of the most necessary and consequential laws in the history of the country, and that it was necessary to pass it in order to save millions upon millions of people from going without health insurance and ultimately health care. And yet, over half a decade later, Obamacare’s projected enrollment numbers are still coming up short by nearly half.  If the law were so desperately needed, why are people so uninterested in signing up for its benefits? The answer, of course, is that the premise of the law itself was deeply flawed and misguided, and it remains an expensive failure that is struggling to attract enough people from the body politic it was supposed to save. This was clear almost immediately, and it remains clear nearly six years later.

Once More Unto the Yuge Breach

The editors of National Review are taking a lot of flak from a lot of white nationalists after their excellent stand against Donald Trump; a host of other conservative voices, my publisher included, are getting yelled at for the same thing. There is a serious debate going on right now as to whether this kind of thing will or even could have any effect on Trump’s perpetually-rising star; I suppose it might, though I can’t help but feel that, when it comes to Trump, everyone’s a Cassandra now. To be fair, it might not matter: Trump’s ongoing success in the polls could crash spectacularly in the actual primaries, with all of his unlikely-to-vote supporters not actually showing up to vote. Then again, he could sweep the primaries, and then maybe the election itself, after which National Review will probably find their offices under seizure to make way for the new Trump Tower Parking Garage #38, at which point I will demand a refund on my remaining subscription balance.

At the New York Times, Ross Douthat has proposed a brand-new “way to stop Trump;” from the outset he concedes that he is writing “a pointless column,” but nevertheless he offers this advice for any GOP candidate willing to take it:

To attack [Trump] effectively, you have to go after the things that people like about him. You have to flip his brand.

So don’t tell people that he doesn’t know the difference between Kurds and the Quds Force. (They don’t either!) Tell people that he isn’t the incredible self-made genius that he plays on TV. Tell them about all the money he inherited from his daddy. Tell them about the bailouts that saved him from ruin. Tell them about all his cratered companies. Then find people who suffered from those fiascos — workers laid off following his bankruptcies, homeowners who bought through Trump Mortgage, people who ponied up for sham degrees from Trump University.

Or just take a camera crew around Atlantic City, and slap Trump’s name on what you find.

Part of this feels tongue-in-cheek—Ross seems to understand just as much as anyone that Trump is all-but-inevitable at this point, that if this particular primary were a sinking ship then we’d be at the tossing-the-deck-chairs-over-the-side-in-order-to-save-a-handful-of-people stage. But let’s assume that this advice might actually be practical instead of simply a kind of sad lament over what might have been. What difference would it ultimately make? Is there any indication that Trump’s base of support would honestly care if they found out he was not a “self-made genius?” Would they feel any differently knowing that he “inherited [money] from his daddy?” If you pointed these things out to Trump’s fans, you’d most likely be met with whining and sneering and summary dismissal: to criticize Trump is to render yourself The Establishment, no matter how factual or deserved the criticism.

Here’s a useful rule to follow when criticizing Donald Trump: imagine how Donald Trump himself would respond to it. Picture yourself saying to Donald Trump, “Donald, you’re not a mega-successful businessman: most of your money came from your dad and you declared bankruptcy multiple times, you charlatan.” You know what his reply would be: “I took advantage of bankruptcy laws—it’s business, sometimes you have to do it. I had to make huge business decisions every day, millions of dollars on the line, people looking to me for decisions. I declared bankruptcy, but you know, we have to make this country great again—bankruptcy is a normal part of doing business, lots of successful businesses go bankrupt, and I did what I had to do and I made millions, millions of dollars in the process.” This is how Trump works: if you hit him with something truthful, he just blabbers until even you’ve forgotten what the hell you said to him, and his base of support will love him for it. If it won’t bother Trump, it won’t bother the people who have flocked to him. Let that be a law going forward.

Of course, the horrifying conclusion is this: since nothing appears to bother Donald Trump, then consequently nothing will sway the people who are poised to vote for him. This may be the case; Trump may in fact be the country’s first truly genuine Impermeable Candidate. In which case I’d have to agree with Ross: the primaries are over, and the voting at this point is merely a formality.

The Case for a Case At All

At the latest Democratic debate, Bernie Sander was asked if he believed that the United States should undertake reparations for the descendants of enslaved black Americans, and he responded with, “No.” There are a number of sound arguments against reparations, and unfortunately Bernie really didn’t make any of those arguments—he said he’d be against them in part because they’d be impossible to get through Congress, for instance, which seems kind of beside the point. But whether or not you believe Sanders was ultimately correct (I’m of the opinion that he was), his response still irritated some people. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, who about eighteen months ago wrote a widely- and wildly-heralded piece making “the case for reparations,” was not pleased with Sanders’s answer:

Sanders’s anti-racist moderation points to a candidate who is not merely against reparations, but one who doesn’t actually understand the argument. To briefly restate it, from 1619 until at least the late 1960s, American institutions, businesses, associations, and governments—federal, state, and local—repeatedly plundered black communities. Their methods included everything from land-theft, to red-lining, to disenfranchisement, to convict-lease labor, to lynching, to enslavement, to the vending of children. So large was this plunder that America, as we know it today, is simply unimaginable without it. Its great universities were founded on it. Its early economy was built by it. Its suburbs were financed by it. Its deadliest war was the result of it.

What is so baffling and frustrating about this is that Coates genuinely seems to believe that he has actually effected some kind of “argument” in the first place: he lists the sordid and awful injustices experienced by black Americans over the last few centuries and assumes that this marshals a “case for reparations,” It is, in fact, Coates who outwardly “doesn’t actually understand the argument” for reparations, chiefly because he doesn’t make the argument at all. He in fact seems to very deliberately avoid making any kind of argument other than to list the ways in which blacks have suffered under the American government and at the hands of American citizens. But this is not a “case” for reparations; it’s a history lesson, which is a useful and valuable thing but also a separate thing entirely.

Coates himself foresaw this objection when he wrote that “if the practicalities, not the justice, of reparations are the true sticking point, there has for some time been the beginnings of a solution—” the “beginning” in question being “a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects,” as well as “recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies,'” i.e. reparations. But Coates misses the point (and in the end apparently Bernie Sanders does as well): the practicalities of reparations are inseparable from the justice of them.

To answer certain “practical” questions about reparations—who gets paid? who pays?—is to inevitably raise another set of questions that are in fact central to determining whether or not reparations are just in the first place. If the answer to the first question is, say, “descendants of slaves,” for one, then it must be asked why people should be compensated for wrongdoing they themselves never experienced. If the answer to the second question is, say, “American taxpayers,” then the question becomes: why should American taxpayers who had nothing to do with slavery, or disenfranchisement, or red-lining, be forced to pay for wrongs in which they had absolutely no hand? These are vital questions—indispensable when considering the ultimate justice of this program—but these are also questions that Coates appears uninterested in answering, because he assumes a priori that reparations are just and appropriate because black people have endured so much injustice throughout American history. So far as I know he has never made a “case for reparations” beyond this passionate but ultimately shallow rationale.

Coates’s original argument for reparations was probably so joyfully praised in part because it avoided these important questions, relying instead on an affecting and emotional examination of American mistreatment of blacks, some of who are still alive and able to witness directly to what they have endured. It made for an excellent and profoundly moving essay, but it was also—from the perspective of the reparations debate—a lazy and functionally pointless contribution. Coates used emotional testimony as a substitute for the difficult, rigorous intellectual work needed to actually address this issue; he is so lethargic in his thinking, in fact, that he believes the only way to begin to examine the issue is for Congress to pass a bill! Bernie Sanders doesn’t really understand why reparations are a bad idea, but at least he attempted to explain why he’s opposed to them; in defense of reparations, Coates could not even meet such a low standard, and he still can’t.