Monday, November 6, 2017

Onkar Ghate Loses the Plot

Recently, Onkar Ghate of ARI wrote an article titled "The Anti-Intellectuality of Donald Trump: Why Ayn Rand Would Have Despised a President Trump."  Despite being unwilling to "speak for the dead," Ghate goes on to speak for the dead, and professes to know what Rand would have thought. He writes :
My wager is that were Ayn Rand alive today, she would condemn the whole Trump phenomenon. Far from seeing him or his administration’s actions as even partially influenced by her ideas, she would see Donald Trump as the kind of political figure whose rise she had foreseen and warned us against.
And despite admitting that she surprised her followers (as geniuses tend to do continually, although that irony seems lost on him) by not endorsing Reagan shortly before her death, as an "expert on Ayn Rand’s philosophy," he feels qualified to speak for her.  Regarding Trump, he claims:
Trump’s salient characteristic as a political figure is anti-intellectuality. Because Rand saw this mentality as on the rise (she called it the anti-conceptual mentality), she had a lot to say about it, and it’s illuminating how much of it fits Trump.
"To be an intellectual," he writes, "is a demanding responsibility. To be intellectual requires real independence of judgment and enduring honesty and integrity." And in case any of us were considering likening Trump to the Founding Fathers, he notes, "It’s not just that Trump lacks these virtues; in comparison to, say, Jefferson, Washington or Madison, most of today’s politicians do. It’s that Trump projects disdain for these virtues."

In fact, we're told, Trump really didn't care about "draining the swamp."  This was merely a last-minute phrase, a "tool of manipulation" that he opportunistically tried and when he observed it to work, kept it in his diabolical act.  Imagine, a politician testing a talking point on his base! (The implication is that deep down, he really loves all the dirty politicos in DC.)

So, what's the upshot of all of this?  Ghate tells us that when the anti-intellectual mind replaces fidelity to truth with "loyalty to the group," it leads to "a profound tribalism" which, in turn, leads towards "authoritarianism and dictatorship."

So, I think I get it.  Trump is an amoral pragmatist with a penchant for lying.  His anti-conceptual mind demands loyalty to "Him" and this represents an ominous trend towards "authoritarianism and dictatorship." Evidently, Ghate tells us, we are nearing the stage where "pseudo-intellectuals will eventually be replaced by their progeny: people who more openly dispense with the intellect and who are more explicitly boorish, brutish and tribal, i.e., by anti-intellectual mentalities."  In this regard, Trump is a Cuffy Meigs type character, but instead of a "gun in one pocket and a rabbit's foot in the other," Trump "carries the nuclear codes in one pocket and Infowars in the other."

There are several ways in which Ghate, and by extension, ARI, is losing the plot. I will put aside whether Ghate, or anyone, is qualified to speak for Ayn Rand (which, with respect to the concrete complexities of politics, I hold is preposterous on its face), and focus on the particular issues. 

First, note that virtually any politician today could be subjected to an isolated dissection of their philosophic and moral pathology.  Imagine such an analysis of Hillary Clinton (which might require volumes), Bush, Bernie Sanders, or Joseph Biden?  They are all the progeny of a collapsing culture and a bankrupt post-modern intellectual climate.  However, focusing on Trump's particular philosophical pathology outside of the larger political and cultural context is pure rationalism.  Yes, maybe he is anti-intellectual (although, I think he is more unintellectual), but that might be ok, for example, if his opponent is a cunning philosophical evil genius bent on overthrowing America.

Second, what is the largest threat facing defenders of individualism today?  The biggest threat is post-modern philosophic trends that are threatening free speech, violently stifling dissent, whitewashing the threat of Islamism, purging western culture from the university curriculum, causing the balkanization of Americans into racial and victim groups, justifying wanton violence towards law enforcement, and breaking down the rule of law - not to mention the left's various political programs of environmentalism, socialized medicine, and confiscatory taxation.   

The popularity of Trump is in large part an American backlash to this threat.  Would it be nice to have an articulate, reasoned, opponent of these trends?  Maybe or maybe not.  Trump's crudeness and unwillingness to apologize to the PC police is exactly what resonated with ordinary Americans fed up with, not just the PC left, but milquetoast Republicans who kowtow to these trends at every available opportunity.  Trump's macho demeanor is anathema to many, but it is a projection of a certain American sensibility - a sense of confidence and moral certainty.  A cowboy wouldn't win the Yale debate club, but he would project confidence, swagger, and ability - important qualities in an executive that most Americans admire.

As Americans watched Dallas cops get gunned down in the street, watched Antifa thugs beat up conservatives on college campuses, and witnessed more and more victims of yet more Muslim terror attacks, all we heard from the leftist shills in the mainstream media was PC propaganda that "Islamophobia" or "white privilege" is really what we must fear!  In an age of "Blame America First," Trump's unabashed "America First" mantra is the first time in a generation or more that a politician has expressed this sentiment.  And, even if this is the product of an "anti-intellectual boor," he means it - and most Americans love it. 

In stark contrast to Trump, who were the other choices?  Were the candidates John Galt, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump?  Did I miss something?

Hillary Clinton is a corrupt megalomaniac who has spent her life crushing her opposition in a ruthless quest for political power.  As we have now found out, she spent her years under Obama as Secretary of State selling out American foreign policy for cash.  As we have found out since, her tentacles stretched not only into the DNC (which threw the primary for her), the media (which openly campaigned for her), but to the former Attorney General, the FBI Director, and elements of our intelligence agencies who now regularly leak damaging items about Trump.

She was not pursued for brazen obstruction of justice when she and her cronies deleted tens of thousands of emails, while others rot in prison for 1/100 of an offense.  FBI Director Comey went on national television to cite a litany of obstruction violations under federal law, only to tell us that he would not seek prosecution.  Of course, that is not his call, it is the call of the justice department and attorney general, but, oh wait, AG Lynch had already recused herself due to a mysterious meeting with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac.  This is the stuff of Banana Republics!  If she had won, perhaps Clinton would have worn epaulettes, ceremonial medals, and smoked a pipe at her inauguration.         

Where was Ghate's philosophical analysis of this creature?   

I would have voted for virtually any of her opponents, simply to rid the federal government, as much as possible, of the Clinton machine's cronies and allies, her cabinet heads, her justice department, her FBI, her intelligence agencies and state department, to say nothing of her economic and tax advisors.  In the same way, I'd like to see Chicago shorn of the Democratic machine regardless of what replaces it for a few years. 

Meanwhile, under Trump, we have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice, which is to say we avoided a liberal justice, we have some cabinet agency heads that are dismantling their agencies, notably the EPA and the Department of Education and we are getting non-Hillary types at all levels of his administration.  Due to Trump's and the Republican's inability to think or act in principle, we have not had a repeal of Obamacare, but we don't have full socialized medicine yet.  Also, they are not even discussing cutting back government spending, which is horrible, but no worse than what would have happened under Clinton.  I expect the political achievements of Trump to be minimal, but not devastating.     

More important than policy matters right now, Trump's election has brought to the surface clear fronts in a broader cultural war between PC left progressives and Americans - something that would never have happened as starkly under a Clinton presidency.

The left and the media have been totally exposed.  Liberal democrats and the left are at war.  The left, on full tilt over Trump's election, have exposed themselves as fully anti-American fascists, willing even to shout down speeches given by the ACLU!  If it's not clear that the mainstream media is openly biased, then it never will be.  The main news networks and large metro newspapers openly campaign against Trump and the Republicans on a daily basis in the most brazen way.  The major social media companies openly worked with the Hillary campaign, and now are openly trying to stifle right wing social media platforms on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others.   

The PC left is an authoritarian movement that seeks to purge Western civilization in favor of Marxism and identity politics.  This is the biggest danger advocates of free markets and civil liberties face right now.  America does need clear, articulate defenders of Western civilization and western values of reason, individual rights, and capitalism.  Some of those people have been emboldened by the left's hostile antics, and are now winning in the marketplace of ideas.  People like Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Gad Saad (none huge fans of Trump), and many others have emerged as articulate defenders of free speech and western civilization on campus.

Objectivist intellectuals need to stop rationalistically attacking Trump for not being the Thomas Jefferson of politics.  No one is.  He is flawed.  He is many of things Ghate accuses him of being.  We know!  Call him out for bad policies or bad ideas, but, also, place his presidency in the broader context of the intellectual battle we are waging and the alternatives we actually face in the here and now.  More importantly, they should focus their attacks on the real enemies of civilization.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found this very hard to read sometimes-- to disseminate who was saying what And just what is PC that was used continually--by whom I am not sure. I must not be so intellectual as to know what that is coming in to all this. I felt myself scrolling down to see how much longer this was going take and it proved me right--it was very long-winded--stressing on "very."

Jeffrey Perren said...

Excellent analysis, and exposing yet one more instance of a long-standing flaw in the 'mainstream Objectivist movement': the tendency to ignore reality in the 'here and now', and to deal with real-life choices as we actually face them.

Anonymous said...

This article reads like a "but Christianity!" response to a well-reasoned polemic about Islam. You think Trump is helping to win the fight against the PC left? I would argue that he is emboldening them. I can't even fathom how anyone could think Trump has done anything close to "exposing the media and the left" -- to who? To those that already believed it? Certainly not anyone who didn't.

The fight won't be won by the Trumps of the world because it isn't a fight that can be won with numbers and with volume -- the other side has more numbers and more volume (go read HackerNews or Reddit). It can only be won -- slowly -- by well-reasoned argument of the sort I usually read here. And of the sort like Ghate's piece.

Anonymous said...

Anon's "but Christianity" comment relies on the same rationalism underlying Ghate's article.

Yes, Trump is emboldening them - so much so that they are burning down buildings and attacking even liberal professors and organizations. In other words, they are exhibiting their own fascistic worldview in such stark terms that even many liberal democrats (Alan Dershowitz, Brett Weinstein, and the ACLU come to mind) are distancing themselves from the Antifa types. In other words, to some extent, this phenonmenon is polarizing the culture into two distinct camps: free speech vs anti-free speech, and the left are the bad guys.

Where did the author say that Trump would "win the fight?" In fact, he even says, "America does need clear, articulate defenders of Western civilization and western values of reason, individual rights, and capitalism." Then points out many on the good side have been emboldened in the wake of this leftist lunacy.

Last, it is not the case that the culture "can only be won" in the way you imagine. There are many fronts in this war. The main front is the battle of fundamental ideas which is a slow process. However, acknowledging real world political actors and the affect they may have is critical albeit a complex exercise, that requires an understanding of real life alternatives and facts like the other candidates, the longevity of supreme court justice candidates, and so on. For example, with respect to the election of Nixon (which Rand expert Ghate fails to mention):


From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 6, 1972, "A Nation's Unity,” page 132: She said she didn't like either candidate, but that McGovern would kill the country for sure, so to vote for Nixon.

From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 20, 1972, “The American Spirit,” page 133: “The election was a triumph of the American sense of life, a demonstration of its survival.”

From The Ayn Rand Letter, November 20, 1972, “The American Spirit,” page 133: She said the results of the election were not because Nixon was popular or because Americans approved of his policies. It was because people rejected McGovern who stood for statism.
From The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit,” page 136: “We may hope that Nixon might gain time for the nation, by granting some relief (i.e., removing a few chains) to the private sector of the economy and by arresting the growth of the public sector. But, in view of his record, we cannot be certain. There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his defaults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.”

Ghate's article is a rationalistic exercise that fails to appreciate factual complexity and impugns the character of many thoughtful, intelligent people that see the situation very differently. You don't have to love Trump to see this.

Peter Smith said...

I'm a fan Rat Cap but I gotta say on this one I totally disagree.
In fact not only do I think Ghate has it right, but I would go so far as to suggest that the biggest threat facing advocates of rights protecting government are conservatives more so than progressives.

In terms of the political spectrum I view right vs left as individualists vs collectivists and both progressives and conservatives are completely collectivist.

Progressives are secular collectivists while conservatives are religious/traditionalist collectivists.

What makes conservatives worse is that they present themselves as an alternative to the left, when they are nothing of the sort, but doing so destroys our political discourse.

I think no real push against "the left" is possible until the shambling monstrosity of the conservative movement is done away with.

As to a lot of your other points, some of my thoughts are:
"Trump's crudeness and unwillingness to apologize to the PC police is exactly what resonated with ordinary Americans fed up with, not just the PC left, but milquetoast Republicans who kowtow to these trends at every available opportunity."
Except underneath all this he is a thin skinned incompetent, so we are still left with the empty suit/milquetoast Republicans kowtowing away like nothing has happened due to Trumps total ineffectiveness.

"In stark contrast to Trump, who were the other choices? Were the candidates John Galt, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump? Did I miss something?"
At least with Clinton in the office no one would be making the mistake of confusing whats going on with being "right wing".

"This is the stuff of Banana Republics!"
It's been a year with a conservative running the DoJ so why has the Hillary investigation not being re-opened and expanded in scope to include Comey and Lynch? Does Trump not know he can order this?
Do none of his advisors have any idea what's going?
Of course not. All they care about is banning immigrants, so the leftist fool that is Sessions has bumbled his way into getting a special counsel to investigate Trump over pretty much nothing. You can't make this stuff up. But good think Trump has swagger right? Good appointees huh?

"Meanwhile, under Trump, we have gotten a conservative Supreme Court justice,"
But a conservative supreme court has been worse than useless. They haven't prevented a single piece of disastrous rights violating legislation and what's more will work to repeal Roe v Wade, which in a way is going to be a disaster comparable to Obamacare if not worse. A "conservative supreme court justice" is as bad as a "liberal" one, in every way imaginable.

"Due to Trump's and the Republican's inability to think or act in principle, we have not had a repeal of Obamacare, but we don't have full socialized medicine yet."
That's kinda like celebrating being on a level that hasn't hit the water yet on the titanic with no ability to reach the lifeboats :/

"The left and the media have been totally exposed."
As opposed to what? The conservative media? I mean I read both but the conservative side of things is an unmitigated disaster full of religious leftists who don't know the first thing about American politics or politics in general. They have almost zero positions on most issues outside of abortion and immigration and on those two issues they are further left than even the progressives.

"The PC left is an authoritarian movement that seeks to purge Western civilization in favor of Marxism and identity politics."
And the conservative left is an authoritarian movement that seeks to purge Western civilization in favor of religious and traditionalist identity politics.

It's all the same, except conservatives are worse for pretending to be alternatives to the left.

Sorry if any of that comes off angrier than intended, I like your post even if I disagree with it as it gave me a lot to think about as you can see :P