The Long View 2002-12-19: Lott, Lower Manhattan, and Vichy

This post of John's is interesting for the way in which you can see current trends in American politics in embryo. Trent Lott resigned as Senate Majority Leader after Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers made an issue of him mildly praising Strom Thurmond. At the time, this was a new thing. Now, the digital lynch mob may be the normal way politics is conducted in America. John didn't think much of this tactic at the time, but he also wasn't that alarmed by it. I wonder what he would make of the SJWs and the Eye of Sauron they turn on those who displease them?

Another trend John correctly predicted was the growing influence of the various strands of the non-Establishment Right after the Great Recession and the Iraq and Afghanistan debacles. Old warhorses like Pat Buchanan have indeed made the best of the situation, but newer voices like Alex Jones are also incredibly popular. Then there are the sovereign citizens, the neo-reactionaries, and various and sundry movements that exist outside the Establishment Right. There is a sense in which complete and utter political and economic disaster would suit these various groups just fine, because the status quo on both Left and Right effectively excludes them from real power. Only chaos would give them any chance of success.

Lott, Lower Manhattan & Vichy
If Senator Lott's colleagues are foolish enough to keep him as majority leader, the civil rights establishment would have the same sort of leverage over him that feminist groups have had over Ted Kennedy these many years. Kennedy has danced to the femnists' tune because they have enough on him personally to drive him from office if they ever so choose. Similarly, Lott would be beholden to a self-interested network that everyone who wants better race relations must oppose. Abigail Thernstrom made essentially this argument in yesterday's New York Times (except for the Kennedy analogy) and I have little to add to it.
Would it be altogether fair to Lott to force him from the leadership? Perhaps not. Few people who heard Lott's flattery of crumbly old Senator Thurmond on the occasion of the latter's 587th birthday thought much of it, until they were told to do so. Trent Lott is an ordinary bring-home-the-bacon legislator. He is not the sort of person who has an ideology, which is not necessarily a criticism. On the other hand, he is not one of the ornaments of the Senate; he has never been one of those senators, like the late Senator Wellstone, whose expertise you have to respect even if you disagree on policy.
Lott is being Borked, after a fashion, chiefly by conservative commentators, indeed by bloggers. They realized that the liability he represents for the 2004 elections far outweighs the benefits of party unity between now and then; it even outweighs the value of the Republican majority in the Senate. Borking is a vile practice, subversive of healthy politics, but this may be the least bad use of it. Any majority leader insubstantial enough to be brought down by Andrew Sullivan was a mighty thin reed to begin with.
* * *
The long-awaited second batch of proposals for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan has been presented to the public. The architects have taken the hint that people want something superlative to go there. My own opinion is that, to recoup the dignity of the city, the tallest building in the world has to go there, even if it is filled with house plants. Several of the nine proposals do more or less that. The one to beat is probably Forster & Partner's "Kissing Towers." We know this from the characteristically inane and uninformative commentary by The New York Times architectural critic, Herbert Muschamp, who says: "Norman Foster's design is one's favorite new hate."
As everyone acknowledges, the point of this exercise is not to design the new buildings that will actually go on the site, but to block out the land use. Specifically, they have to figure out very soon where the train stations will be. The PATH trains from New Jersey still don't have their terminus in lower Manhattan back, for instance: a serious local bottleneck.
All the proposals, including the titanic ones, will create a much more interesting neighborhood than the old WTC provided. The people who worked in that complex loved it, and I am still willing to defend elements of it architecturally. Still, it was designed at the absolute nadir of urban planning. In those days, architects went out of their way to discourage pedestrian traffic around major buildings. Walking around the old complex was as interesting as walking along the blank walls of a levee. The new plans open up the streets that the World Trade Center had blocked off. Some of the plans would create what would be among the world's great urban prospects.
As for the Hanging Gardens of Manhattan, let's see what the real estate market is like in five years.
* * *
While citing Thomas Friedman just encourages him, his column in yesterday's Times, Blair for President, did have some sound advice for all currently out-of-power political factions. Speaking specifically to Democrats, Friedman sets out a number of rules. For instance:
"Rule #2 Never put yourself in a position where you succeed only if your country fails. The Democrats can't just wait for Mr. Bush to fail in Iraq or hope the economy collapses, and assume they will benefit."
There are several reasons to take this to heart. The most important for Democrats is this: should Washington ever become Vichy on the Potomac, it is not at all clear the Democrats would be the incumbents. The Americans who are most persuaded they would benefit from disaster in the Middle East and economic collapse at home are the Buchanan Nationalists. Given enough national dismay, they suppose, they would be in a position to pursue a counter offensive in the culture war with some chance of success. They could easily be mistaken, but they are less confused about the issue than the Left is.
Most confused of all is Norman Mailer, whose picture graces the cover of the proto-Vichyite magazine, American Conservative. In the interview I Do Not Favor World Empire, Mailer gives the impression of a man who understands what he should be saying, but whose prejudices just won't let him say the words. Yes, he knows that evading a war in the Middle East now would mean a far more catastrophic war in 20 years. Yes, be believes in evil in history, and even in the Devil. Nonetheless, the fact that President Bush uses terms like "axis of evil" is gall too bitter for him to swallow. He somehow persuaded himself that the neoconservatives who support the Bush Administration, and not the people who were interviewing him, represent the cultural policies he most abhors.
When Mailer says that the occupation of Iraq would be the beginning of a world empire, he is exaggerating. Still, he is right about the trend. His only real problem seems to be that it is happening under a Republican Administration.
* * *
Speaking of Iraq, readers will note that I do not follow events in that region with the detailed attention of the War Blogs; the news is still mostly static. Still, an interesting crackle that came over the wires in the last day or two is the report that the Iraqi government plans to employ scorched-earth tactics in the event of an invasion. The country's infrastructure would be destroyed. Chemical and biological weapons will be used without much attention to their effect on Iraq's own civilians.
These are American reports: scrupulously anonymous but phrased with grave plausibility. They may well be true, but one suspects their real audience is inside Iraq. There have been many rather better confirmed reports of late about the collapse of the Iraqi people's faith in the durability their own government, and even that they hope the country will "get back to normal" in six months or so. If people come to believe that the regime poses a greater threat to life and property than the prospective invaders, they could just begin to ignore orders.
If a civil war breaks out, it makes little difference what the UN says: the invasions starts then.

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