Discover more from The Transom
The Realignment That Never Came
How did the left-right realignment go wrong?
After the disappointing 2022 midterm elections, which saw multiple realignment-sympathetic candidates fail, Catholic intellectual Gladden Pappin, one of the chief organizers of the Steubenville conference, penned a nearly 6,000-word essay in the journal American Affairs.
In “Requiem for the Realignment” Pappin observes, “Since the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many on the right have preached the advent of a ‘realignment.’ Accounts of realignment have taken various forms, but generally involve some traditionally Democratic constituencies shifting to the Republican Party and the GOP itself beginning to reflect the populist priorities of its base.” Citing the 2019 declaration “Against the Dead Consensus,” he continues: “Calls for realignment on the right are even more urgent now than they were five years ago. But they are currently on very precarious ground, and only an honest reckoning with that fact can keep the possibility of realignment alive.”
No one has come up with “a positive governing agenda that would use the power of the state to bolster the national industrial economy and support the American family,” Pappin writes. While certain groups (including his own) have developed arguments to back such ideas, “they aren’t being translated for the electorate as a whole.” Pappin blames this problem on the inadequacy of “the typical conservative approach to governance,” the abiding fiscal conservatism of the Republican Study Committee on Capitol Hill, and Republican objections to Joe Biden’s unconstitutional student-loan debt forgiveness — instead, he argues, the GOP should favor a Hungary-like debt cancellation approach. (He is a visiting senior fellow at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, along with several of his ideological allies.)
Pappin is not at all happy, however, with some of his putative allies. His essay repeatedly criticizes not the failure of green candidates or the expenditures of political groups, but the Heritage Foundation’s new president, Kevin Roberts, apparently for the sin of sticking to a fundamental, if dusty, conservative line: “Government is not the solution, but the obstacle, to our flourishing.” To Pappin, Roberts’s platitude signifies that Heritage is interested in mere lip service to the New Right — despite the fact that a Catholic and populist himself, Roberts is undeniably the most national-conservatism-friendly figure in the world of large think tanks. But in the realignment framing, the old must be swept away so the new can dominate.
I reached out to an accomplished campaign consultant who has elected multiple nationalist-conservative or “New Right” candidates. “This is written by a person who obviously is not a combatant and never has been, almost like he has been watching politics and policy from a distant library somewhere,” he told me. “It’s foolish to believe that all these groups, think tanks, new movements, and self-described ‘important conservative groups’… that he should take them seriously, or that they impact anything. This entire piece, including the polling that he cites, is primarily fiction.”
From the beginning, the forces of realignment have assumed too much about the inevitability of their project. The arrival of the Trumpian moment in 2016 appeared to be a golden opportunity for dissatisfied conservatives: if you disliked old-guard, big-business Republicanism, Tea Party fiscal policy or the hawkish GOP foreign-policy establishment, you hoped the post-Trump GOP could become the vehicle for… well, whatever it was you’d always wanted. Instead of championing military spending and confrontation with Russia and China, the GOP would turn dovish. Instead of being the party of the Chamber of Commerce and Right to Work, it would become the party of more powerful unions; instead of touting supply-side economic policy that sought to cut back on entitlements and lower taxes, it would consider joining with the left to fund bigger social programs with taxes on the wealthy. Yet their endeavor took shape as an approach utterly at odds with the populist nature of its aspirations. Rather than engage in a popular activist project like the Tea Party, the “realignment” appeared to be designed around think tanks and panels and long, overwritten essays. It was as if the nerds had decided that the way to guide the conservative movement away from the orthodoxy of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page was through the op-ed pages of the New York Times.
One abiding element of the realignment’s failure is the strangely unmerited self-importance of the New Right. They have elected almost no one who espouses their views — not even Donald Trump. (If you come out of a friendly electoral cycle where you espoused your popularity and inevitability by adding one sympathetic senator in J.D. Vance, that’s typically viewed as a failure.) They talk about Hungary as if it were self-evidently the way of the future (many of them while accepting payment from said country’s government), seemingly unaware that this is something no actual American conservative voter they claim to speak for will point to as an aspiration. All their talk of the “return of the strong gods” and a “based MAGA majority” is characteristically unintelligible — and at odds with reality. In March, a Wall Street Journal poll suggested that young Americans’ only real priority anymore is money — a depressing but powerful rejoinder to their argument that things are moving inevitably in the New Right’s direction. And yet they act like teenagers in a creative writing class, convinced they’ve already written the best screenplay ever and have nothing to learn.
You can read the whole thing here. I hope you find it of interest.
The Trans Children’s Crusade
“Gender identity,” part of a recently hatched belief system, is changing that. Gender identity is defined as “one’s own internal sense of self and their gender, whether that is man, woman, neither or both,” in the words of a National Public Radio glossary, which draws on information from the American Psychiatric Association. The Genderbread Person, a widely disseminated teaching tool—presenting as a cartoon-like gingerbread figure, apparently designed to engage the young—helps to clarify some relevant distinctions. Gender identity, “how you in your head define your gender,” should not be conflated with sexual orientation or attraction. And none of these should be confused with an individual’s sex, that is, “physical traits you’re born with,” or, in the now-familiar argot, “the sex you’re assigned at birth.”
Two points about gender identity are essential for understanding the new world of juvenile trans. First, proponents view it as entirely subjective; individuals may decide that their gender identity is congruent with their biological sex, in which case they’re “cis” gender, or it may be at odds with their anatomy, that is, trans. Importantly, children, even very young ones like six-year-old Jazz, can know their identity. We have no way to prove or disprove someone’s self-definition, on this view; it is true simply because it has been spoken, and its truth must be recognized—“validated”—by others. Second, though medical professionals sometimes use the concept, it has no grounding in either science or tradition. It is a very recent invention based on a mix of ideas from academic gender studies and an activist trans movement, enabled by medical technology and mass affluence. Trans individuals have existed throughout history, but nothing in the human record suggests that the “gender journey” is a widespread experience—or that gender identity should frame the obsessions of young people trying to figure out what kind of person they want to be. Now, both assumptions are ascendant.
To grasp the novelty of gender identity, compare its idea of child nature with that of child psychology. The psychological approach is predicated on an idea that seems glaringly obvious to most people today: young minds differ from those of adults. Jean Piaget, one of the field’s first theorists of cognitive development, called the first two years the sensorimotor stage, when infants and toddlers explore the outside world through sensory means. They only gradually gain control of their arms and hands as they grab at their clothes and their hair, pull at their genitals, or reach for a caretaker’s necklace or hair. Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows that toddlers’ emotions are so fleeting that they forget the banana that they just demanded in a fit of red-faced rage, once distracted by a bright shiny object.
Here are other truths about young children known to experts and parents alike. They are prone to magical thinking; they believe, as Jazz Jennings did, that a fairy will change their penis into a vagina, or that they play with invisible companions, like the castle-dwelling ninjas that my grandson used to “fight” when he was five. Their sense of time is primitive. Young children have trouble thinking about being six years old; imagining themselves as 20, as they would need to do to know their identity, is like science fiction. Their personalities change; the placid infant turns into a chatterbox five-year-old, who suddenly turns into a withdrawn ten-year-old. Dysphoria itself is often a temporary condition. Assuming that they don’t socially transition, as Jazz did, the large majority of dysphoric young children will desist as they get older; most will become gay.
Yet pediatric gender experts have put psychology’s idea of the child out to pasture. In their view, kids, even those who have yet to pull themselves up in their cribs, are capable of insight that many adults don’t have. “Kids understand themselves better, and at a much younger age, than adults assume. This includes their gender identity,” theorists at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education maintain. Today’s prodigies intuit their gender identities before they can talk. Diane Ehrensaft, director of mental health at the University of California–San Francisco and one of the foremost exponents of youthful gender dysphoria, explained at a 2016 conference how preverbal children could communicate gender distress. A boy infant might pull at the snaps of his onesie, she answered, in order to “make a dress”; he is sending a “gender message” that he really wants to be a girl. Likewise, a toddler tugging at the barrettes in her hair is not trying to ease the pulling at her scalp; she’s demonstrating that she wants to be a boy.
The U.S. Fentanyl Feud With China
Last August, the Chinese government announced that it formally would cease counter-narcotics cooperation with the U.S. after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. But the two countries’ efforts to crack down together on the global fentanyl scourge had flown off the rails well before then, officials involved in the deliberations told Semafor.
A major turning point came in May of 2020, when the U.S. Commerce Department placed sanctions on two Chinese government agencies involved in anti-drug efforts — the Ministry of Public Security’s Institution of Forensic Science and the National Narcotics Laboratory of China — for allegedly committing human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslim population in the western region of Xinjiang.
The decision drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, which had moved months earlier to schedule fentanyl and all of its chemical analogues, making it one of the first countries in the world to do so. Scheduling a narcotic forces companies to get government authorization to produce and sell the drug, and violators can face significant prison time.
U.S. officials say that China’s cooperation on drug issues began to severely deteriorate after that point.
Over the coming months, the two sides swapped competing lists of demands through their embassies about how to address the fentanyl crisis going forward. But according to officials who described the meetings to Semafor, they were unable to reach any agreement.
Signs Of Renewed Faith?
A greater share of young adults say they believe in a higher power or God.
About one-third of 18-to-25-year-olds say they believe—more than doubt—the existence of a higher power, up from about one-quarter in 2021, according to a recent survey of young adults. The findings, based on December polling, are part of an annual report on the state of religion and youth from the Springtide Research Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit.
Young adults, theologians and church leaders attribute the increase in part to the need for people to believe in something beyond themselves after three years of loss.
For many young people, the pandemic was the first crisis they faced. It affected everyone to some degree, from the loss of family and friends to uncertainty about jobs and daily life. In many ways, it aged young Americans and they are now turning to the same comfort previous generations have turned to during tragedies for healing and comfort.
Items of Interest
“The line-by-line, sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood. "Knowing" the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.”
— Neil Postman