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American Imagination

Loyalty to a family or a clan is probably an evolutionary adaptation necessary to keep from ending up in a lion’s lunch pail. Why people similarly devote themselves to a national identity is harder to explain but it’s one of those things that political scientists enjoy exploring. Benedict Anderson call national identity an “Imagined Community” – a way of placing oneself inside of a fuzzy mass that fills in the gaps without the bonds of kinship. Our imagined community is myth that requires some strong juju to hold it together. We collectively imagine what it “means” to be an American.

Our myth is inclusive – or at least it used to be. You can be American regardless of race, color or creed. We honor the “all American” myth in the breech for many marginal groups. Yet as the gluten in our American baguette it has served its purpose. We are Americans merely because we imagine ourselves part of a common project. Indeed, one of the mysteries of America is how it has remained cohesive while folding its arms around regional and ethnic cultures – something it does far better than it’s European cousins.

What “American” means has always been a high stakes game. I believe that activists fight hard for minority rights in our system because they feel this American identity strongly, and hence they feel the dissonant sting of inequality. On-line groups argue endlessly about what activities and ideas are “American” or “Un-American”. The myth includes the presumption that anyone can be an American, even as it argues that certain things are or are not American.

When the Trump administration began separating families at the border, the most common refrain was “this is not American”. Folks on both sides of the immigration issue were appalled. Some commentators sensitive to history noted that oppression of minorities and out groups is a historical fact both distant and recent, but they miss the point.

Feeling that family separation is “un-American” is not an argument in fact. It’s an argument against the fraying of the national myth that binds us together. The issues that touch on our character as a nation – NFL players kneeling at the national anthem, marches for women, marches for babies, drives to help Houston after a hurricane, pride parades – all of these function as anchors to this imagined community for groups folded into our society. These anchors are often on opposite sides of our great political divide, but to the participants they are what it means to be American. The tug-of-war between extreme liberals and extreme conservatives is for the soul of this idea.

It remains to be seen if our myth is strong enough to endure. Will we have the wisdom to maintain our collective imagination amid a hobo’s stew of other identities? Will the plural society fall because it destroyed it’s own grand narrative? Perhaps Europe can provide some clues.

European Identity

The late Tony Judt’s seminal work, “Post War” contains a provocative assessment of post WWII Europe in its introduction. After lamenting the loss of a pre-World War I cosmopolitan Europe that, while flawed, nevertheless existed, he states:

The tidier Europe that emerged, blinking, into the second half of the twentieth century had fewer loose ends. Thanks to war, boundary adjustments, expulsions and genocide, almost everyone lived in their own country, among their own people. For forty years after World War Two Europeans in both halves of Europe lived in hermetic national enclaves where surviving religious and ethnic minorities – the Jews in France for example – represented a tiny percentage of the population at large and were thoroughly integrated into it’s cultural and political mainstream… But since the 1980s… Europe is facing a multicultural future. Since 1989 it has become clearer… just how much the stability of post-war Europe rested on the accomplishments of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Between them, and assisted by wartime collaborators, the dictators blasted flat the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated continent were then laid.

Judt’s magnum opus details the hope and triumph of the European miracle while concluding that its more diverse future is less certain. The case he is making is stark. To connect the dots: forced homogeneous enclaves within EU created by the devastation of the war and the Holocaust (combined with US security guarantees) allowed enough lower conflict breathing space for a new, Western European mode of government to flourish. This in turn gave birth to a nascent, fragile, specifically “European” identity – an imagined community called “Europe”.

That fragile identity is now in jeopardy as Judt already recognized before his death nearly 10 years ago. The pressures of immigration may be putting the lie to the idea of “European” identity. Consider Angela Merkel’s recent struggle to navigate immigration issues in Germany. To maintain her fragile governing coalition Merkel was forced to give ground (the NYT piece shockingly uses the word “appease”) to far right politicians, and allow camps for asylum seekers on the Austrian border. The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I read of “border camps” in Germany.

Brexit too is a clear reaction against the pluralism of “European” identity brought on by heightened immigration and an influx of (non-white, non-western) immigrants. To be fair the Brits have always been uneasy Europeans. Please note, I’m riding Judt’s analysis here and seeing it’s manifestation in the news. I’m not an expert on EU politics, but the trend appears clear from my Midwestern US haven. My EU readers will no doubt persuade me otherwise if I’m in error.

Which brings us full circle back to the US. Immigration is not a new issue, and most indications are that it is less of a problem than it was a decade ago. Our overall tradition – full of flaws and exceptions to be sure – is to welcome the stranger. What exactly is tearing us apart? Our politics have always been partisan and they’ve often been far more vicious than they are today.

One could make the case that the biggest historical change in political temperature is not the new incivility but the almost complete lack of political violence. Our protest marches, replete with antiseptic police presence and choreographed media savvy spectacle, are no longer “clashes”. They are entertaining parades where, like a small town paper reporting on visiting relatives, “In spite of some horseplay, a good time was had by all.”

Where violence does rear its head it is often the silly jets-vs-sharks violence of one extreme side facing off against the other extreme side in a game of chicken using “oh-no-he-din’t” signs and hurled insults with the F word replacing true vitriolic creativity. Occasionally violence breaks through as in Charlottesville, but it’s the rare exception not the rule. More than 1500 political bombings and fire-bombings occurred in 1968. Protest ain’t what it used to be.

I’m not advocating violence – that particular cure is nearly always worse than the disease. I’m only pointing out that the ennoblement and institutionalization of the act of protest may have robbed it of effectiveness. Like men at the local gym  we have devolved to evaluating a protest’s effectiveness by comparing sizes.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Meanwhile, where to from here? We have a country who’s founding myth – the idea that there is a transcendent imagined identity of “being American” that we all share – seems to be coming apart. Where do we find some hope that all of us together can find a path forward?

Pro-tip number one: don’t listen to the fringe of either side. It’s not that they never have any good ideas, but extremes think they can “win”. For them it’s not about persuading or building consensus or finding common ground. For them it is anchored in “settled truth”. The “you’re-going-to-take-your-medicine-and-like-it” message is a view of the world that a majority will never share for long.

Extremes believe their solution is so wonderful and obvious that any opposition to it will simply melt away, chagrined in the light of the new age of socialism or spiritualism or fascism or ham-sandwichism. But of all the things America is, it’s not a place where either extreme can win. The system resists the “will of the majority” by design. The truth – the real truth – is that these two sides see the world differently and they are not going away. Short of extermination of one side or the other, we will have to live together.

The good news is that America has always embodied high doses of political creativity. We have, with each new age cohort assuming power, reinvented our imagined identity as a nation. My parents disapproved of inter-racial couples. I was always  “meh” about it. I was uncomfortable with gay marriage but my 20 something kids roll their eyes at that. My father-in-law supported higher taxes and Johnson’s great society. His son wants smaller government. Our unwieldy system manages to be stable enough for us to reinvent the wheel every generation or so. One side or the other makes progress, then the pendulum swings again.

Yet while Europeans seem to easily fall back to being French, German, or British, Americans are still fiercely arguing over what it means to “be American” 240+ years after the Declaration. The battle for our national myth continues to have irresistible traction among all of us. And the power of that idea is a lighthouse. The fact that we still care about our imagined identity means we haven’t given up on our joint project. We scrap and cuss and “resist” and “maga” because we all still care.

Whichever side you are on, don’t stop striving. Keep battling for what you believe. Just remember that if your idea is to wrest the project completely away from the other side, there is no winning that battle. We are in this together, and (with apologies to Mr. Franklin) if we do not all hang together we will all hang separately.


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36 thoughts on “American Imagination

  1. Fantastic post Mark. In the book Sapiens they talk about how biologically humans are really only designed to care about 150 or so people in the ‘community’ sense. In that context, it’s kind of amazing that humans have expanded their allegiances to such a large degree, but it also really explains why we struggle so much with national identity.

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  2. Good post. Shame it seems to have gotten little attention due the holiday/picnics/2nd civil war. It seems like we need to keep in mind that national identities are always being created. Even in Europe where people will look back at hundreds or thousands of years of history there was never one national identity that has always existed. We remake it for each generation building on our myths and stuff.

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  3. There’s a lot I agree with here, especially this:

    I’m not advocating violence – that particular cure is nearly always worse than the disease. I’m only pointing out that the ennoblement and institutionalization of the act of protest may have robbed it of effectiveness. Like men at the local gym we have devolved to evaluating a protest’s effectiveness by comparing sizes.

    That gets at why I tend not to like most protests/demonstrations or see them as ineffective. It also gets at why I think that’s (mostly) a good thing, because like you I don’t advocate violence.

    One quibble I have is with this statement (bold added by me):

    Extremes believe their solution is so wonderful and obvious that any opposition to it will simply melt away, chagrined in the light of the new age of socialism or spiritualism or fascism or ham-sandwichism. But of all the things America is, it’s not a place where either extreme can win. The system resists the “will of the majority” by design. The truth – the real truth – is that these two sides see the world differently and they are not going away. Short of extermination of one side or the other, we will have to live together.

    I don’t think that bolded part is wholly true, although it’s largely true for the reason you argue. Extremes can win enough to make things very bad. I have been and continue to be on the side that seeks empathy for one’s opponents–and in today’s context that means empathy for Trump supporters. I have that view for tactical reasons (it’s the best way to effectively oppose what they stand for) and for moral reasons (I think it’s the right thing to do). But even so, I’m saddened by the extent to which the pro-nativist, pro-racist, pro- (for lack of a better word) authoritarian side seems to be gaining ground. Their victory has not been and will not be total, but it will be bad enough. At the end of the day, it *can* happen here.

    That said, I am not accusing you of being blithe about the dangers. Your framing the issue as one of imagined communities is a good framing. And with Greginak, I agree that these communities are “reimagined” by each generation. Although I’m not very enamored of the unjust war that was pursued to get this country started–or of many of the other unjust wars this country has engaged in–I’m onboard with the project for inclusiveness.

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    • Gabriel,

      Thanks for your excellent thoughts. I think you’re probably right that extremes can gain enough power to do a great deal of damage. The two things I would add as counterpoints (or maybe just side points?) are that:

      A) Extremes (real extremes, not just center right/center left) can’t hold a majority for long. When they do manage it, it tends to be based on passion surrounding a single issue, often carried along by high resentment.

      B) Minority factions in our system have a great deal of power. It may not seem like that (especially to minorities) but in fact, while minority factions like the black caucus, Bernie folks or the tea party are often paralyzed to accomplish the things that they want, they can actually affect the system through atrophy. They are the intentional Madisonian sand in the works.

      The system design is an unwieldy “multiple centers of power” blueprint that requires cross cutting interest groups to form coalitions. In spite of all the hubbub, this actually remains true. The reason for the outrage is that the pendulum has swung to the right temporarily and some things are being rolled back – this seems anti-progress (and it IS depending on your view of progress. :). Secondly Trump, a force of nature with gobsmacking disdain for any previous norms and traditions, is an attention seeking glory hound. He feeds on the outrage and keeps it stoked for his own reasons.

      Of course those on the right think the swing is permanent and are busy trying to hold it there. Note that those on the left thought the Obama coalition was a permanent swing. They told themselves the “demographic inevitability” story over and over and that’s why they are so flummoxed by the right’s resurgence. Neither side is going to triumph. They think it’s WWII but it’s really Viet Nam.

      This too is why structural changes (as when Democrats eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominees in 2013) are generally a bad idea when they are designed to serve the side in power. They are done on the assumption that the side in power has won and the other side is fading into the dust bin of history. Then, predictably, those that put the change in place are kneecapped when the same change is used against them.

      We are addicted to this idea of our side winning. We can’t simply say “Our side has some good ideas and we want to see if we can try them.” Instead, we vilify the opponents and make it a war. And we think winning means triumphing in a decisive winner take all battle. Consider how many “GOP is dying” op-eds were written (many still being written) during the Trump campaign. And of course, as soon as he won unexpectedly, hundreds of “How will the Dems survive” op-eds followed. Partisans on either side can’t accept the fact that groups of people who see the world through other lenses are here, and our system gives them the power to shift the conversation. Either side can make waves and cause damage, but short of totalitarianism, neither side can win.

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    • “But even so, I’m saddened by the extent to which the pro-nativist, pro-racist, pro- (for lack of a better word) authoritarian side seems to be gaining ground.”

      I don’t know if this is apples to apples, but in my company I have noticed the old guard management getting more angry, less tolerant, etc in the last couple of years. Most are close to retirement and my director even told someone recently that he wasn’t going to fade away, he was going to ‘go out swinging’. I can’t help but wonder if the same dynamic is what drives much of that stuff you are talking about surrounding Trump. It’s the last gasp of the Baby Boomers before they all head off to the nursing home. With that said though, I know it isn’t just them. There are plenty of middle aged folks that are ANGRY too, though I find it harder and harder to figure out why.

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        • LOL! Glad I could help. As a contrary point, there’s this hilarious essay at McSweeney’s.

          “Until Trump, my parents were on a relatively normal track to middle-aged moderation. They embraced Clinton-era centrist Democratic policies and, although they viewed the invasion of Iraq as arrogant and misguided, my dad made the seemingly sound argument that a world without American leadership was a world with a dangerous power vacuum. And while my friends and I drove to Washington to protest the invasion, my father TiVo’d Colin Powell making his infamous speech to the United Nations.

          In its way, everything was going according to plan. I railed against Obama’s expansion of drone warfare while my parents drove into New York City to catch Bill Kristol at the 92nd Street Y. My dad even started reading every book about Lincoln, which is the liberal’s gateway drug to watching History Channel war documentaries, freebasing some National Review, and becoming unbearable at Thanksgiving. Just as things are supposed to be.

          I was to the left of them just as they had been to the left of their parents and their parents before them and, as the lions become the grass, the Circle of Life made sense.

          But Trump is so shockingly off-putting that my parents and I have been forced together, awkwardly floating on the same life raft with the other multigenerational dupes. I send my dad an article about Trump’s dog-whistle antisemitism and he replies with an even more damning article citing Trump’s redlining policies back in Queens. I tell my mom that my wife and I are going to a Bernie rally in Chicago and she asks if she can bum a ride, like we’re all teenagers trying to get to Woodstock.

          What the hell is going on here?”

          I’ve seen the same thing with my in-laws. My FIL especially was solidly Republican for the first 14 years I knew him. Now he is attending protests and making signs. I find myself trying to be the voice of moderation around the dinner table and that is just weird.

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      • Agreed, a good comment wrt Boomers.

        I connect it to the Flight 93 narrative, i.e. the last chance to preserve white American culture before cataclysm.

        The Boomers, especially the liberal side, imagined that ethnic resentment had been conquered after the 1960s, so they have a hard time imagining themselves as anything other than enlightened and aware.
        So IMO they lack an explanation for the fear and anxiety that gnaws at them that drives them to see a dark future.

        White people, especially Boomers, have grown very comfortable with being tolerant and inclusive. But it is always as the host, being tolerant of guests on our turf.

        I think the election of Obama was one of those turning points where millions of white Boomers could see a future in which they were no longer the tolerant hosts, but the tolerated guests.

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        • I think the election of Obama was one of those turning points where millions of white Boomers could see a future in which they were no longer the tolerant hosts, but the tolerated guests.

          Good insight Chip and I agree. It’s easy to be magnanimous when you are at the top of the food chain.

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          • Mike and Chip,

            You two seem to think it’s a last gasp. Is that because you think that the coming cohort will, in the end be heavily progressive and more tolerant?

            The “demographic narrative” is that whites will be in the minority as of 2035 (is that right?) and this means a permanent leftward swing. Whites are in the minority in many places now.

            But it’s worth remembering that a 45 or 48 percentile is still a dominant culture. If politics is about competition for resources and is unavoidably clannish, I’m not convinced that the coming cohort will simply roll over. More tolerant? yes. More plural and assimilated into a broader culture? Yes.

            But Europe’s troubles should concern us. After decades of arguably leftest policies and progressive thought, they appear to have the same right/left divide as before. Cultural groupishness is not simply a matter of education or right thinking. It’s a design flaw that’s not going away.

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            • Contra the demographic narrative, I don’t think there is any magic sauce that will make the non white majority liberal in any sense.

              Liberal democracy is a fragile thing that requires us to suppress the tribal instinct, and that requires a choice being made by millions of people.

              I know it’s tempting to want to play the seer, but really I just don’t know which way it will go.

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            • I’m obviously heavily biased towards this ideology but in my Anthony Bourdain piece I talked about a ‘weary progressivism’ that he exhibited in his later years. I see this a LOT with my Gen X peers. Most of just want to focus on our immediate world. Our families, our jobs and our local communities. At the same time, we’re a generation of go-getters and I think many of us are going to become more Progressive (re: not liberal) as we get more and more fed up with the status quo. For me personally, that means serving on Boards for those organizations I care about and trying to shake things up a little bit. At work, I see my peers starting to voice their frustrations a little more and also waging a quiet revolt against the Boomers who we see as part of the problem.

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              • Mike and Chip,

                Great takes. Can one of you explain better about “progressive not liberal”? Is that establishment vs. Bernie or … I don’t want to pigeon hole anyone, but this line is fuzzy in my head.

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                • At the risk of speaking for and , “liberal” is a heavily overloaded term in the US, sometimes meaning, “member of Team Blue”, and sometimes meaning, “committed to individual rights as the primary means of understanding and engaging with politics and government, much like the middle three quintiles (at least) of the political spectrum.”

                  A lot of people feel/hope/fear that the Democratic Party is moving towards a left-wing “progressive” politics that rejects individual rights as fundamental. I’m a little skeptical (maybe even a lot skeptical) of this argument, because I think it overstates the degree to which the Left is moving at in that direction, as well as overstating the degree to which American political consensus is committed to individualism to begin with.

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                • My take is that the terms are interchangeable and it is a distinction without a difference.

                  However, there is a subset of libertarian-leaning types that dislikes the modern American usage of liberal because it focuses on the welfare state, regulation of business, and safety net. They think of liberalism as being the old low-government, pro-Free Trade type of stuff from the early 19th century. Some times this group will call themselves “classical liberals.”

                  IMO this group ignores that modern liberalism has been around since one of Gladstone’s last goes as Prime Minister of England. It certainly existed doing Asquith’s time as Prime Minister before WWI.

                  So modern liberalism has been around for longer than classical liberalism but this pisses some people off mightily.

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                  • and ,

                    Good explanations and analysis. I hear a hint of wanting to divorce “liberal” and “progressive” from the basket of policies that seem joined at the hip to them.

                    That would be good in my view. We need far more wiggle room in the policy arena and far less orthodoxy.

                    I do think “liberal” has become loaded as a term, but I fear “progressive” will soon join it as it get’s beaten to death by movements for and against. This is why we can’t have nice terms. :)

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                    • Why isn’t conservative a loaded term? The only reason liberal and progressive are loaded terms is because of a decades long right-wing project. One reason that liberal and progressive is interchangeable is that people on the center-left tended to use them depending on which one wasn’t being stomped on at the moment.

                      I remember lots of earnest debate about whether the center-left should call themselves progressive or liberal to avoid the negative connotations of one or the other.

                      FWIW I prefer to use liberal

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                      • Conservative is a loaded term to some folks – but Liberal has more baggage because the right has been more successful at casting liberals in a certain light.

                        But a lot of energy can be expended trying to save a word. A better use of that energy might be simply re-describe it and move on with a new sort of language (a la Rorty).

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                      • I’m trying to figure out if it’s more of a portmanteau or a motte/bailey thing.

                        Liberal means part of the Western Enlightenment Tradition. You should be embarrassed if you don’t consider yourself a liberal!

                        Also it means “progressive”.

                        Also it means “reactionary who is still pushing for White Supremacy in the guise of the Western Enlightenment having been good”.

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                        • This gets at the heart of it a bit, in that both the contemporary conservative and contemporary liberal movements like to embrace the Enlightenment use of liberal, meaning the emphasis on the rights of the individual separate from the collective body.

                          But of course, the original, “classical” lineup of liberals were to our eyes very conservative and conflicted, and its true that the assertion of a universal humanity had as its default human, the European Christian educated gentleman.

                          Since the source is conflicted, the word can’t help but be.

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                        • I think it serves a lot of purposes, including all of those, and also pretending that the GWB Administration never really happened. A lot of the “hey the liberal order has failed” thinkpieces definitely switch back and forth between the middle two senses (“Enlightenment tradition” and “progressive”) in a way that’s incredibly confused even if it isn’t deliberately obfuscatory.

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                        • More “reactionary who is still pushing for White Supremacy in the guise of Western Civilization having been a creation of northern Europeans to which no one else contributed and which no one else can fully embody, while having no idea if Mozart came before or after Beethoven”.

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                  • , I don’t think you are entirely right about modern liberalism being identical to progressivism.

                    Liberalism (modern or otherwise) can be interpreted as being justified by a concern for a kind of political neutrality or public justifiability*. That’s why I consider myself a liberal but not a progressive.

                    Here is a (not necessarily very good) example. It seems that we don’t need to take a side on the issue of whether there is anything wrong with two people of the same sex having sex in order to justify SSM. It seems that you have to take for granted that there is nothing wrong with it in order to justify forcing a baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

                    *This may be somewhat ahistorical as it applies to the history of liberal thought, but I’m talking about a logical/justificatory connection not a psychological one.

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                    • It seems that we don’t need to take a side on the issue of whether there is anything wrong with two people of the same sex having sex in order to justify SSM. It seems that you have to take for granted that there is nothing wrong with it in order to justify forcing a baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

                      This seems to prove way too much, because it would seem to open the door to an almost arbitrarily large range of discriminatory behaviors aimed at people based on anything that could conceivably be related to behavior someone might have a moral opinion about. Religion and sexuality are the obvious targets, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

                      EDIT to add: The failure for the Right to articulate anything like a clear limiting principle on the gay wedding cakes thing is responsible for, oh, 57% of the angst from the Left about the issue.

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                      • This seems to prove way too much, because it would seem to open the door to an almost arbitrarily large range of discriminatory behaviors aimed at people based on anything that could conceivably be related to behavior someone might have a moral opinion about. Religion and sexuality are the obvious targets, but it’s not an exhaustive list.

                        I don’t think so. We can require in general that businesses do not discriminate because such a requirement would be justifiable for the same reasons that an easement for someone boxed in by private property is justified: access to markets is an important good and rights to private property and association cannot be so strong as to permit some to maliciously (or callously) block access. Exceptions can nevertheless be granted for goods and services which have an expressive component on the grounds that expression ought, in general, not to be coerced except where absolutely necessary.

                        EDIT to add: The failure for the Right to articulate anything like a clear limiting principle on the gay wedding cakes thing is responsible for, oh, 57% of the angst from the Left about the issue.

                        The right is a large diverse group. Some of us who consider ourselves right of centre are supportive of SSM, but oppose requiring social conservatives to bake gay wedding cakes for the reasons I mentioned above (but maybe we don’t count as social conservatives if we are actually supportive of SSM). Other people on the right are not in general in favour of discriminating against gay people but think that that wedding cakes and flowers are different because they are expressive in ways that room and board generally are not. Of course there are many on the hard right who don’t have a limiting principle regarding when they should be permitted to discriminate.

                        It would be true that such members of the hard right have not articulated a limiting principle (because they don’t have one) but it is vacuous. Of course the subset of the right who don’t have a limiting principle regarding discrimination don’t in fact have a limiting principle regarding discrimination. If they had accepted the principle they would not be part of the hard right on this issue.

                        It seems like an arbitrarily high standard to require everyone who thinks that the baker should not be forced to bake the cake to agree to a limiting principle. As long as a plausible non-arbitrary principle can be articulated does it really matter whether certain actual members of the right can accept it. As long as we can show that they have decisive reason to accept it, that should be enough.

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                        • Exceptions can nevertheless be granted for goods and services which have an expressive component on the grounds that expression ought, in general, not to be coerced except where absolutely necessary.

                          I mean cooking is frequently regarded as an “expressive act”, so this line of argument tends to raise my hackles because it seems to flow so easily into re-segregating the Woolworth lunch counter (if Woolworth still had lunch counters or existed in the US, that is).

                          Given that the American Right (as you note) has a sizable chunk arguing for the right to discriminate against LGBT people having a clear limiting principle is pretty important to the Left, in part to build a measure of trust that we know what compromise we’re making. The need isn’t for the Right to speak with a unified voice on the issue, but rather for the chunk of the right who’s in this for civil libertarian grounds to indicate that they’ll break from their coalition if the drive to discrimination goes beyond that.

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                • Once upon a time in the US there were both liberal and conservative Progressives. I believe Nixon was the last prominent conservative to claim the label but it goes much farther back to Eisenhower and of course TR. The general thinking can best be explained by Disreali:

                  “In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is, not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws, the traditions of the people, or in deference to abstract principles and arbitrary and general doctrines.”

                  I think it’s fair to say that liberal progressivism functions as a sort of catalyst and seeks to create change itself, whereas conservative progressivism assumes that change will happen naturally and wants to help steer the ship. It’s a bit more of a 30,000 foot view.

                  Saul sort of demonstrates the general discomfort many of us have with the term. As the Right began to be more and more rigid and resistant to change in the 80s, the Left began to think of themselves as the only advocates for change and they sort of co-opted the term as synonymous with liberalism.

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      • I can’t help but wonder if the same dynamic is what drives much of that stuff you are talking about surrounding Trump. It’s the last gasp of the Baby Boomers before they all head off to the nursing home.

        There’s probably some truth to that.

        With that said though, I know it isn’t just them. There are plenty of middle aged folks that are ANGRY too, though I find it harder and harder to figure out why.

        I too have a hard time figuring that out. On a certain level, though, I think I *get* it, if only because I find myself very tempted to go the same way, even though I know that’s the wrong choice.

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  4. Recent polling shows that Trump has managed to do what immigration advocates could not, he increased the number of people who think legal immigration should be increased compared to those who think it should be decreased. For decades, the polling indicated that around 1/3rd of Americans wanted legal immigration decreased and a 1/4 of Americans wanted legal immigration increased. The numbers have switched now:

    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/07/the-latest-polling-offers-good-news-and-bad-news-for-immigration-advocates.html

    But the polling has bad news for the more immigrant friendly among us too.

    Group identity is tough. Democracy is tough. The trickiest aspect of democracy is learning how to exist among different cultures and identities that believe in very different things.

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