Macro Situation: Things Are Profoundly Different Today from What 10 Years Ago We Thought Would Be

Monday Smackdown: Michael Kinsley and "Extremism"

*Live from La Farine: I gotta get back to posting and praising *real DeLong smackdowns--or at least get back to making more fun of David Graeber.

But this is such a target-rich environment! Outsourced to the extremely sharp Scott Lemieux:

Scott Lemieux**: "That Word 'Extremism', I Do Not Think...": "Michael Kinsley is, in 2015, being paid to write a column...

...and this month’s insight is that Donald Trump is not qualified to be president. You can’t get that kind of analysis from just anybody! You would think that pursuing this line of argument wouldn’t be much a challenge, but he manages to step into a rake or ten along the way:

A while back in the Times, Josh Barro started a debate about whether Trump is really a ‘moderate’ who merely acts like an extremist because it sells. You might say that he isn’t an extremist but he plays one on TV. Barro’s argument was that if you take all of Trump’s extreme views on Social Security, immigration, and so on, some of them classified as extremely right-wing and some extremely left-wing, they average out to be more or less down the center.

Ezra Klein replied in Vox, essentially, that extreme views are extreme views, no matter how they average out. But looking for some kind of ideological thread in Trump’s various positions is a fool’s errand (and another victory for Trump). The appeal of Trump’s alleged views on every issue is their extremeness. That, and their seeming simplicity. The fact that he hasn’t thought them through and has more or less pulled them out of the air (or out of his ass, as Trump himself might put it) is a feature, not a bug, as they say in Silicon Valley. Trump stands for the proposition that you don’t need to know much to run the government. You just need to use your common sense and to grow a pair, as Sarah Palin so memorably advised.

Wait, what was that again?

Trump’s extreme views on Social Security

Trump has ‘extreme’ views on Social Security, or at least views that Josh Barro considers ‘extreme’? That doesn’t make much sense. Let us consult the original source:

The main way Mr. Trump stands out from the field on economic policy is leftward: While most Republicans favor free trade, Mr. Trump has called for much higher tariffs on imported goods to protect American industries from competition. He has also criticized his opponents for proposing cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ‘I’m gonna make us so rich you don’t have to do those things,’ Mr. Trump said in April.

Barro, you will notice, does not describe Trump’s views on Social Security as ‘extreme.’ While we’re here, you can also read Ezra’s argument, which is nothing like Kinsley describes it as.

And the reason Barro and Klein do not describe Trump’s views on Social Security as ‘extreme’ is that they are about as mainstream and popular as a position can be.

The ‘extreme’ position is Kinsley’s view that:

  1. You can’t have everything,
  2. ??????,
  3. We must cut Social Security rather than raising taxes or cutting defense spending!

Pain caucus pundits have been marinating in their own nonsense for so long they just take the soundness of Social Security cuts as being self-evident. Trump, for all his many faults, is performing a useful service in showing that even among the Republican rank-and-file Social Security cuts have very little support.

What can I add?

I can pick up on Lemieux's observation that "Ezra’s argument... is nothing like Kinsley describes it..."

Lemieux is right. Kinsley claims Ezra's argument is: "essentially, that extreme views are extreme views, no matter how they average out." That's not right at all. What Ezra says is:

Trump could appeal to voters who hold a basket of opinions... [not] represented by either party.... As my colleague Matthew Yglesias wrote, these voters definitely exist: "The Trump worldview isn't just a grab bag of popular issues. It holds together... among highly 'ethnocentric' white voters... who are most friendly to the anti-Obama 'birther' messages that made Trump a political sensation in the first place." Trump's ideas are sometimes very liberal, sometimes very conservative, and sometimes completely incoherent. And that's true for a lot of voters, too. This speaks to the problem with Washington's fetishization of moderate voters, which is... a projection of what political elites wish.... Now that someone is finally representing all those moderates out there, the political establishment doesn't seem all that happy about it.

What's the point in claiming that Ezra says "Trump's extreme views are extreme views, no matter how they average out" when what Ezra actually says is: "The Trump worldview... holds together... [is] sometimes very liberal, sometimes very conservative... [and] represent[s]... all those [voters people like Kinsley call] moderates out there..."? What's the upside?