Okay what have I made lately…
I made a video summing up headlines from around the Anglosphere:
And I made a guest video for my friend Eric’s channel about Pokemon and Japanese culture:
And I wrote two articles about Canadian politics:
See you next week!5 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
Two new articles I wrote recently for Loonie Politics:
Who will be Canada’s Trump?
We’re due for one.
Is Canada’s election really that much better than America’s?
In which I dispel various myths Canadians tell themselves.
I have also made an anti-Elizabeth May website know as Operation Tinfoil.3 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
The greatest virtue imbedded in democratic government is not fairness or equality, but honesty. Democratic elections deliver the preference of the public as stated, with little allowance for after-the-fact denial. The result is not merely the government we deserve but the government we claimed to want, and like any honest statement, we must suffer the consequence of expressing it.
Much of the mainstream media’s rhetoric surrounding Donald Trump is aggressively anti-democratic. We are constantly told he “can’t” or “won’t’” win, he’ll “never” be the nominee or president, and “should” or “must” drop out immediately. It is therefore profoundly dishonest, as it seeks to deny the popularity of a candidate that is quite obviously present — and by recent accounts, growing.
I am deeply sympathetic to basically every criticism of Trump, but repeated assertions from on high about his “doomed” campaign and “inevitable” surrender make me squeamish. Candidates are not generally scolded or shamed out of elections, nor should they be. They are not obligated to earn a passing grade from the Very Serious People in order to continue their campaigns; runs should only end once voters have expressed their opinion, either at the ballot box, or through a series of unambiguous polls. As of now, Trump has not failed either test.
There have been endless articles attempting to diagnose the Trump phenomenon from a variety of different angles, but all share common conclusion that the man’s base is coherent and strong. This suggests Trump’s road to the nomination is anything but impossibly uphill. A majority of GOP voters may oppose him, but primary elections are decided by plurality vote and on a packed ballot less than 50% can be more than enough to win. In 2012, Rick Santorum won Iowa with 24%, Romney won New Hampshire with 39% and Gingrich won South Carolina with 40%. And back then the GOP field was considerably less crowded.
Though Canadians have scorned the Trump candidacy with predictable smugness, the modern politician he most resembles is Toronto’s Rob Ford. Like Trump, he was popular in a way the Serious People found equal parts maddening and incomprehensible. Like Trump, they constantly predicted just one more gaffe would make him go away forever. Like Trump, he represented an honest expression of public sentiment that can only emerge in a direct-election political system.
During his peak, when his reelection looked imminent, my thesis of Mayor Ford was that he simply represented the fact that a lot of people these days are nasty and gross, and nasty gross people like electing one of their own to power as much as anyone else. Educated upper-middle-class types are often in a great deal of denial about the sheer popularity of a vulgar lower-class culture they go out of their way to avoid, and become shocked when forced to confront it. How did Two and a Half Men get so popular? And where did all these Minions come from? It’s a style of willful dishonesty about the nature of the society they inhabit, formed from a sheltered perspective.
Trump is not popular for political reasons, and efforts to cast him as a revolutionary figure of substance, particularly among alt-righters who worship the man as their white nationalist messiah, are tortured and weird. Trump does not have a history of pushing clear or consistent political beliefs, priorities, or agendas. He does have a history of being an entertaining reality show star known for sassy insults and loveable egomania.
Voters are human, and can be animated by the superficial appeals of celebrity, novelty, and humour. Such appeals have the capacity to cloud better judgements about merit and ideology, and common sense in general.
Much of modern American culture is shaped by products and media that encourage us to discard rational consideration of what is right or good in favour of what is fun or satisfying in the immediate moment. It is not surprising that politics is not immune to this, and commentators on both right and left alike have cautioned for decades against following “celebrity” politicians offering fame in place of reputation and emotional satisfaction instead of wisdom.
Trump is perhaps a more grotesque and brazen spectacle than what we are used to, but the trend lines have been pointing in his direction for quite some time. While his erratic vanity makes it difficult to predict just how long he intends to pursue the presidency, his popularity is an honest expression of what a certain faction of Americans enjoy, and the sentiment will outlast the man.1 Comment - Discuss on Facebook
Here are two recent articles about Canadian politics I wrote for two different clients:
“Bilingualism is the demand of Canada’s linguistic aristocracy,” for the National Post, in which I reflect on what my time in Japan taught me about how languages are learned or not-learned.
“Mulcair’s radical promise,” for Loonie Politics, in which I consider the consequences of the fact that the NDP is the only party that still favors using the “coalition government” trick to prevent Harper from serving another term.
I am also briefly quoted in this Foreign Policy article about US-Canada differences, as manifested by the GOP debate.2 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook
I actually watched both, even though that entailed ignoring the Canadian prime ministerial debate scheduled simultaneously with the “top tier” one.
What was most striking was how good everyone was. Despite the tired caricature of the GOP field as a “clown car” packed with lunatics, with at most two exceptions (Trump and Dr. Carson), all 17 of the candidates presented as competent, qualified, articulate, and thoughtful. It is an amazingly strong field. I assume a lot of these people are going to run again in 2020 simply because there are basically no Republicans of national stature or fame who aren’t running now.
There are theories that our brains can only conceptualize so many friends; I think the same is probably true of political candidates. It is extraordinarily difficult to form useful opinions and insights on over a dozen politicians of rather narrow ideological deviation, so the pressure is strong to just relapse into familiar storylines and simply reconsider the the merits or flaws of those whom you have pre-existing opinions.
Huckabee was said by some to have had a good night for instance, but since I grew numb to his shtick long ago his performance didn’t move me. I know he’s articulate and witty and forceful in a way that makes for good retail politics, but he also suffers the classic populist’s flaw of lacking substantial second-liners to follow the clever one-liners. Santorum was neither impressive nor unimpressive, I just think the world has so utterly tired of him he barely registers at all. Perry has clearly been heavily coached since last time, and has some Dubya-esque charms that now seem oddly nostalgic, but given how infamously he flopped in 2012 it’s probably too late.
Rand Paul is a confused anachronism. He tries to win the isolationist vote while simultaneously conceding the isolationist moment has passed. What’s left is a candidate as shrill and pugilistic as his father but without the ideological consistency. It’s not compelling.
Trump, ditto. Whether he exceeded low expectations or not, he was identifiably himself. People project all sorts of things onto him, but at his core he’s just a rude man utterly convinced of his own brilliance. Either you go for that sort of thing or you don’t.
Dr. Carson has a sweet and pleasant (even Reaganesque) personality but he’s not qualified to be a head of state. He did nothing last night to demonstrate otherwise.
The newcomers, your Kasich, your Gilmores, got lost in the weeds of limited attention spans.
Many pundits felt Carly Fiorina was the breakout star of the earlier, “bottom tier” debate, but I wonder whether voters are too fatigued at this point to go through the whole process of “getting to know” the entire biography and baggage of some slightly intriguing new face when there’s already so much of that to sort through as it is.
In that sense, I’d posit it was the middle tier, those candidates who are nearly equal parts knowns and unknowns, who had the most actually at stake, since their inclusion offered the potential to solidify public perceptions that have yet to fully harden.
On that front, I found Walker, Bush, Christie, Jindal, and Rubio to be exceedingly plain, though Walker’s plainness was more vivid than most, given his superstar reputation. Bush comes off as completely identical to Mitt Romney in style and substance, which I suppose suits him just fine. But if his slow-and-steady campaign capsizes for some reason you can easily imagine one of the other four generics filling the void.
Rubio, who the press also seems to be impressed with, demonstrated sophisticated calculating in some answers. When confronted with a quote implying he favored abortion in cases of rape or insest, he simply replied “I never said that,” which is just weasely enough to both win hardcore pro-lifers in the primary and offer plausible deniability to moderates during the general.
Cruz is the one candidate I have a hard time pigeon-holing. I was taken some time ago by this very good essay by Andrew Ferguson that argues Cruz is enormously overrated, the product of a quiet conspiracy between the liberal press and Cruz himself to inflate him into a much more consequential figure than he actually is. He’s an intelligent man who has chosen to use his intelligence to market himself as a radical right-winger who everyone hates. I am not sure this is a wise way to win a popularity contest.
Lindsey Graham, it has been said, only entered this contest to make a point about how we don’t fear the Middle East nearly enough and he delivered it with all the passion of a cop informing the next of kin. His performance was more avant garde than anything Trump did.
They were interesting debates but I’m not sure we learned much.10 Comments; - Discuss on Facebook