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May 13, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Wizard Noah,

There is no need for alarm about the rising Darkness. The weakness of the old order shows it’s time is passed and a new order must rise. Surely you can see that we must join the winning side. There will be a high position for one as wise as yourself in the service of the Darkness. Reduced inequality, YIMBY development, bunnies (!), all you could achieve if only you put aside this foolish notion of democracy and join those with the will to lead.

Yours with utmost sincerity,

Saruman at Isengard

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One needs only to look up J.R.R Tolkien and note the period over which he wrote the Hobbit and the L.O.R Trilogy so see that he very much had his mind on the Darkness roaming the globe in the time of the two World Wars.

It is very entertaining to try to figure out who Saruman, Wormtongue, or the Ringwraiths were in our world but ultimately the characters are likely just amalgams of our familiar villains, Kaiser Wilhelm, Lenin & Stalin, Mussolini & his Blackshirts, Hirohito & his Kamakazis, and, of course, Hitler, his henchmen & the SS Death Soldiers.

It is clear to me that every American who is proud of our part in stopping those forces and the Darkness they spread needs to read this. It is clear to me that every American who believes Jefferson's ringing phrases in the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution needs to read this too.

Every American who thrilled when Superman stood tall for "Truth, Justice, and the American way" needs to read this as well...

They all need to read it and to take action...

Phoning your Congressperson and Senator to express your alarm is action. Writing a letter to the Editor is action. Sharing this piece with others is action too.

It's a start.

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Best comment...except for "in the service of Darkness". Government via majority vote of self-interested individuals aka the blind-leading the blind, which invariably results in a 50/50 L-R community split, aka hyper-partisan politics, IS obsolete. And of course green development IS necessary 'in *everyone's* backyard'....

Requiring global co-operation. Biden expecting China to reduce emissions by reducing its development , while the US has double China's per capita emissions, is self-interestedness gone mad.

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You are absolutely right that the drift towards authoritarianism is driven by fear. This is true not just globally but domestically. We on the left have to ask ourselves, why is the right living in such fear? Just because it's unwarranted doesn't mean it isn't real. They fear a drift from "Christian values." They fear terrorism. They fear socialism (which also drifts towards authoritarianism in a plethora of historical examples). They fear a society without "law and order." These might sound like racist dog-whistles to us. But if you can set aside the judgement, you can see why a strongman like Trump appeals to them; they are willing to abandon "democracy" for safety. "Democracy" is not protecting what they view as the source of their safety because their political opponents seem antagonistic towards it. I do not think they are correct in this assessment. But I do think the burden falls on the left to also look in the mirror and see what we're doing to exacerbate fears, and what we might be able to do to ameliorate them (in spite of Fox News). Bipartisan compromise on police reform (not abolition), return to liberal values of tolerance for all (including non-authoritarian conservatives, Christians, annoying people, and combinations thereof), efforts at understanding the sources of our different worldviews and finding common ground. Make the relief of collaboration more appealing than the terror of our respective partisan echo chambers. It might sound idealistic but that's the only way to fight "the darkness" (imho).

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I'd like to thank Ms. Kennedy for this insightful and empathetic comment--despite identifying as being on the political left, she has perfectly described where I and many other social conservatives are coming from: fear. Although I couldn't ever bring myself to vote for Trump--his family separation policies were just too morally repugnant--if I am being honest with myself, I rooted for him to win in my heart of hearts in both 2016 and 2020. I'd like to explain why:

I reverted to Catholicism from atheism in the 2000s. Since then, my politics could be roughly described as "to the left of Bernie Sanders, in favor of legal gay marriage, very open borders, reparations, and very radical police reform, but anti-abortion, and very conservative in my personal morality." In 2008, I was persuaded by Doug Kmiec's argument that the best way to lower abortion rates wasn't prohibition, but attacking the economic causes of abortion (like lack of maternal healthcare) by voting for Obama. So I spent a lot of time that year volunteering for Obama. Around the same time, I used to frequent various conservative blogs, and try to convince my fellow conservatives that there would be no harm to us in supporting gay marriage, since none of these people were asking to get married in our churches--they just wanted hospital visitation rights and stuff. I have found the last 12 years very disillusioning and scary, and have reluctantly abandoned my prior position. First it was the Obama Administration insisting that the Little Sisters of the Poor comply (admittedly in an attenuated way) with the ACA's contraception mandate. Then it was all the lawsuits against Evangelicals who didn't want to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages or whatever. (Personally, I'd have no problem "baking the cake," but the lawsuits themselves were an attack on religious liberty in my view.) Now we see bills like the Equality Act passing the Democratic-controlled House with RFRA exemptions for religious people specifically stripped away.

What I would like is to live in a country where LGBT people can marry, be honored with their preferred pronouns, and generally participate fully in public life. But I would also like tolerance for my group--I would like Christian adoption agencies, wedding venues, universities, etc., to continue to be able to act according to conscience with regard to sexual morality. I would like Catholic hospitals to be allowed to refuse to perform abortions or gender affirmation surgeries. I would like to be able to raise my children with my values without having them undermined by the way the LGBT civil rights narrative tends to be taught in public schools. In short, I don't want to oppress anyone. I just want to be left alone--to be tolerated, now that conservative Christians are an ever-decreasing share of the US population, and now that those who find traditional Christian morality abhorrent are in almost complete control of academia, Hollywood, the FIRE industries, etc., such that sheltering under the aegis of the State is the only hiding place left that isn't controlled by progressives.

What I have seen from the Democratic side of the aisle is a shift from asking for tolerance to demanding affirmation. It is not enough to live and let live with regard to sexual morality--my children will be expected to refer for abortions and gender affirmation surgery if they want to practice medicine (which in practice will mean that the medical profession is closed to them, as if we were second class citizens), Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies will be forced to close (as some already have) because they will not be granted conscience exemptions, and Catholic universities will soon be stripped of funding like Bob Jones University was for its racism--since our culture now regards traditional sexual morality and racism as equally "deplorable."

The fear that the switch on the left from asking for tolerance to demanding affirmation will turn my children into second class citizens--or worse, lead them to apostatize to get ahead in their careers--is a huge influence on my political thinking. I do not welcome the influence of a amoral kleptocrat like Trump in American politics. But if the alternative is an Equality Act that strips my coreligionists of RFRA protections, and Supreme Court justices who will find that not to be a violation of the First Amendment, then the temptation to support an incompetent grifter like Trump, just to protect my children from second class citizenship, is very strong, and it's hard for me to blame other conservative Christians for succumbing to it.

The things is, Biden's economic policies poll very well with typical white working class Trumpist populist types when presented without party labels. But a lot of Trump's voters just want to be left alone by the dominant progressive culture. And they don't think they will be. They think every election is a "Flight 93" election.

All that said (perhaps at too much length), this post from Mr. Smith scares me even more. Because in this post, those Christians who supported Trump seem to be implicitly taken to be equivalent to "the Darkness," to people who supported strongmen like Hitler. If the view of a thoughtful liberal like Mr. Smith is that my children and I are equivalent to literal Nazis, then how can I not be terrified of Democratic control of all three branches of government?

So my suggestion is quite simple: stop demanding affirmation of progressive ideology, and settle for tolerance. Allow Christian nun, physicians, bakers, wedding photographers, adoption agencies, universities, and parents to opt out of the progressive world you're building, the way that conscientious objectors are allowed to opt out of the draft, and kosher delis aren't legally required to cater weddings with ham and bacon upon request. Delete the part of the Equality Act that strips away RFRA protections. If you want religious conservatives to support democracy and liberty, then you need to stop threatening to take away *our* liberty. I think that if the Democratic Party were able to do that, that it would lower the temperature of the culture wars quite a bit, and take away the grist from the mills of the grifters on FOX News, etc., that stoke the culture war.

For those who find my views offensive, and feel that I'm trying to eliminate your identity or turn LGBT people and pregnant people seeking abortions into second class citizens by advocating for conscience protections and opt outs for conservative Christians, I apologize for the offense and any hurt I've caused you. For what little it's worth, I'd very much like to share my country and my neighborhood with you as fellow citizens and as friends. I just want to be allowed to raise my children in my own tradition, to see them able to practice medicine if they want, and to not see my faith's institutions forced to shut down. There will always be tensions between LGBT civil rights and religious liberty. But if the goal is to lessen support for illiberal authoritarianism among social conservatism, then progressives must also rediscover liberalism, and stop the illiberal effort to crush every vestige of conservative Christian participation in public life. Let's agree to live and let live--or things will continue to get worse, and we may, much to my deep sorrow, continue to be on opposite sides of American politics.

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I am a non-religious progressive but my response to your excellent post (and Marie's as well) is "Hear hear!" The Left needs to learn the benefits of tolerance and live and let live, while adamantly insisting on the same from the Right as well. But to start with, demand that they respect the norms and strictures of democracy because that is an immediate pressing threat. Maybe with a shared sense of tolerance and support of norms and laws, we can learn to better coexist.

But again, thank you for your thoughtful, heartfelt and very convincing essay.

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“For what little it's worth, I'd very much like to share my country and my neighborhood with you as fellow citizens and as friends.” This is so beautiful. I want the same. Thank you for sharing!!!

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I found the exchange between you and I don't know who i am to be thought-provoking and challenging to me. I am not a christian or American, but my sympathies do tend to lie more in the direction of I don't know who i am, if only because I cannot understand the alternative.

The problem, as I see it, is where to draw the line - how can an opt-out from distasteful aspects of legal or professional responsibilities be made to work? The well-known case of the gay wedding cake was raised. But what if the couple were not gay, but rather interracial? It seems self-evident to me that some law should be in place to protect the dignity of the couple, even if that impinges on the freedom of the baker. I do not want to live in a world where the provision of a service relies upon agreeing with the provider on unrelated matters - would it not be absurd for someone to refuse to tile my floor on account of my relationship status? How is this different from the cake baker?

The example of the doctor also raises similar issues. Perhaps it seems that objecting to abortion would be a small matter for a medical practitioner, or one could avoid being placed in the position of discussing it (e.g. by becoming a dentist). But what about objecting to a blood transfer? Jehovah's Witnesses famously shun blood transfusions. Although there are JW doctors, I can't really understand how modern medicine could work without blood transfusion/testing, and frankly I would not be pleased to learn that my surgeon is a JW, or that medical authorities were too accommodating in employing them! Closer to home with your catholic faith, can a catholic doctor in good conscience recommend a medicine which uses or has been developed from fetal stem cells? I can understand that they may not be able to, but please also understand how upset I would be if I was not informed about a possible treatment on these grounds.

The command to "render unto ceasar that which is ceasar's" raises the unanswered question of what is ceasar's. Being a doctor or a baker or a tiler should bring with it some legal and professional responsibilities, and one must accept these. I acknowledge that it is a difficult question of what to do if these conflict too greatly with your personal morality, and perhaps some exceptions are necessary. But I also struggle to understand how society could work if these exceptions became too widespread.

How would you respond to these points?

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Thank you for your kind words. These are excellent questions. I think the interracial couple scenario is particularly helpful. To speak in a flippant way, one might say that "racism is why America can't have nice things." For example, the obvious way to avoid forcing people to have to do what they don't want to do in a commercial situation is to let them decline to do business with whomever they like for any reason or no reason at all. However, this form of free association had to be limited in the American context because the only way to end racial segregation in the South was to force all businesses to desegregate--indeed, even if many Southern businesses had wanted to desegregate, they would've faced a massive coordination problem of knowing that they weren't the only ones who felt that way, and the only entity able to solve that coordination problem was the State. In the cake hypothetical, it should remain illegal to refuse to serve someone based upon their identity as Black, LGBT, Jewish, or whatever. But it should remain possible for businesses to avoid being coerced into speech acts. For example, I should not be allowed to turn someone away from my bakery because he is ethnically German. But I should be allowed to refuse to bake a cake frosted with the phrase "Heil Hitler!," or the "n-word," or anything else I find morally objectionable. Is that helpful, or does it seem poorly thought out to you?

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Thanks Olive Branch for this response, and I appreciate you drawing attention to the main issue, which is coercion - should the state punish you if you are asked to do something that you don't want to do? The laissez faire approach is to let any business do what it wants, and this does have the attraction of being a consistent philosophy! However, we agree that sometimes this leads to unacceptable results, and the state must step in.

I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know what degree of latitude a business normally has to make these decisions. It isn't hard to agree to the proposition that a cake baker shouldn't have to decorate a cake with the "n word", or a painter to daub a house with a swastika. But less extreme examples present a murkier picture - a cafe refusing to serve a divorcee on moral grounds would seem absurd to most people, but the principle seems to me to be the same. Also, just because there are plenty of other places to serve the divorcee doesn't seem to me to change the facts - if this is wrong when there is only one cafe in town, it surely must still be wrong when there are other choices?

Frankly, the outcome I would have been most comfortable with in the Masterpiece cake imbroglio is that the baker accepted the cake order but told the gay couple that they would be going to hell for it. It seems like a case where people want to confuse being served or serving with receiving or giving affirmation. I suspect that much of the vitriol in the culture wars is that people on all sides want to be affirmed in their beliefs, which perhaps explains why these wars never come to an end!

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I think you’re quite right that an insistence upon affirmation on all sides drives much of the culture war’s intensity: we humans are status-seeking primates, and having our identities publicly validated and affirmed is felt as a strong need by Trump-supporting Evangelicals and secular progressive LGBT people alike.

I think a business that told a customer he was a hell-bound sinner would probably be open to civil rights lawsuits in many jurisdictions: in New York City, eg, a misgendered customer has grounds for a civil rights complaint, and telling a gay customer that his sex life is sinful seems a analogous to misgendering a trans customer.

One possible solution to the “bake the cake” scenario and to the pronoun problem as well might be to try to change background assumptions about the communicative intent of various speech acts. Most conservatives who object to “baking the cake” or using preferred pronouns are trying to avoid the sin of lying. That is, they feel that it would be a lie to affirm that two men can truly marry, or that a person’s true gender can differ from his or her biological sex. But these conservatives aren’t being asked to bake cakes that say “I, Bill the Baker, affirm that gay marriage is good,” or to say “I believe that you, coworker X, are female.” Instead, they are being asked to bake cakes or use pronouns that they take to imply these (in their view false) affirmations. If instead the background assumption was that a baker needn’t affirm every message sent by his cakes or that one can use preferred pronouns just to politely humor someone without agreeing as to their accuracy, then these problems might be avoided. However, I don’t think the typical refusenik baker would find my analysis very persuasive, unfortunately. But in principle something like that might work in those cases. The cases that worry me the most aren’t the ones asking for speech acts that could be taken as affirmation (like cakes and pronouns) but instead asking for speech acts that render the speaker complicit in helping the hearer commit an act the speaker takes to be immoral, like using contraception or procuring an abortion. That latter set of speech acts are part of the category that Catholics call “material cooperation with evil,” and changing background assumptions doesn’t offer a moral loophole of the sort that I think is available for the “affirmation” speech acts. I can’t see how a fair society can force people to materially cooperate with what they consider to be evil, but I also understand why secular progressives are unwilling to accept that in a rural area with only one hospital, that hospital could if Catholic refuse to perform or refer for, eg, abortions or gender affirmation surgery, or to provide contraception. I think it’s a genuinely hard problem.

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This comment is completely absurd, and the fact that it's received encouragement totally indefensible and shameful. Perhaps you'd have an easier time understanding the world if you didn't interpret it through the lens of thought terminating clichés to obfuscate the reality of what anything you're discussing represents.

For instance, the state isn't "violating the religious liberty" of "people with traditional Christian morality" (or alternatively "very conservative personal morality") in any of the policies you describe, or otherwise "turning them into second class citizens". This has nothing to do with "traditional morality", but rather a set of very concrete policy positions which have been rejected by most Americans through our democratic process. And besides that, the notion of "liberty" is completely vacuous, and in order the reality of the situation is as follows:

If your daughters refuse to disclose certain treatment options to their patients, they're not doing it on the basis of "traditional morality", they're doing it on the basis of unscientific and unobjective considerations. The fact that these considerations stem from a text and governing body (the Vatican, or whatever other Christian denomination you follow) that's afforded religious significance by many other people does nothing to separate it from other medical decisions influenced by "personal conscience". For instance, doctors who perform euthanasia could morally defend their decisions from a certain perspective, and those who prefer alternative medicine might justify their decision to deny their patients approved treatment for other illnesses (ie offering chemotherapy to cancer patients) under their personal politics. Alternatively, they might justify heavy prescription of drugs or operating pill mills (ie on the basis that patients would otherwise be forced to pursue illegal means to procure them). However, none of these personal justifications overrule the legal mandate that such behavior isn't acceptable for medical professionals, and as such don't save them from prosecution for their actions.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14347645

https://roanoke.com/news/radford-alternative-medicine-therapist-charged-with-64-counts-of-practicing-without-a-license/article_99da5005-9918-522d-883d-09188cd027c1.html

https://www.justice.gov/usao-edpa/pr/fourteen-individuals-charged-operating-pill-mills-and-illegally-prescribing-drugs

Both abortion and gender transition treatment can be difficult decisions that each carry an associated risk, as is the case with any other treatment, and any doctor should be (and to my understanding is) able to discuss any relevant health concerns, or potential emotional trauma, that have been observed under an appropriate medical environment and reviewed for accuracy. Anything beyond that, in terms of refusing to discuss relevant treatments with patients or dissuading certain treatments on the basis that they're morally bad or "sinful", constitutes medical malpractice. If your daughter would allow personal opinions not based on science or medical literature to influence her decision making while operating as a doctor in a way that could affect a patient's care, it means she isn't equipped to be a doctor.

The fact that you describe such opinions as "religious" does nothing to change the fact. That people who would prevent patients from seeking legally acceptable treatments such as abortion or gender transition, regardless of whether it's medically appropriate, cannot become doctors, doesn't mean that people with "traditional views on sexual morality" are second class citizens, at least not any more than the fact that people who believe that the heart was the seat of intelligence can't become doctors proves that people with "traditional views on cognition" are second class citizens. You and your daughter are just wrong, and your opinions are incongruent with the modern scientific consensus and a medical establishment which could be trusted to provide people with appropriate health care. Sorry, but sucks to form your opinions on a selective interpretation of a centuries old book (don't suppose you think people not being allowed to stone misbehaving youths is an encroachment on the "religious liberty" of those with "traditional views on parenting"?).

With respect to the issues of Christian adoption agencies and other Christian-owned businesses, the issue isn't one of whether or not you want to "oppress" anyone (another thought-terminating cliché). It's not a question of whether they can "opt out of the progressive world we're building". It's that they discriminate against gay people. There's nothing to suggest that gay people being able to adopt children produces worse outcomes versus them not being able, that being gay is harmful enough to society that it justifies a minority of people being able to deny their services to them, whether on the basis of incentivizing them to not be gay or just out of their blind hateful stupid bigotry, or that the slim minority of people who would engage in this behavior if legally permitted to do so would actually disincentivize people from being gay, or do anything other than just unpredictably fuck with some people. This behavior being illegal doesn't suggest anything about "people with traditional views on sexual morality being second class citizens yada yada", it's just an example of arbitrary behavior that doesn't accomplish anything other than randomly fuck over people who don't deserve to be fucked over being restricted. These services can easily either adapt their behaviors be replaced by those who won't discriminate against gay people, and thus produce better results. Again, sorry, but sucks to suck. Being an idiot is difficult in the world, I'll grant you that.

As you might have already guessed none of the comparable examples you provide are actually relevant.

"conscientious objectors are allowed to opt out of the draft, and kosher delis aren't legally required to cater weddings with ham and bacon upon request."

Firstly the draft isn't terribly relevant to modern politics or warfare, but I'll address this point regardless. The reason we allow conscientious objectors to opt out of the draft is because those disinclined towards violent behavior would likely be ineffectual in combat, and could undermine combat effectiveness. Instead they're provided important noncombatant and civilian work, entailing either military training in a noncombatant capacity or meaningful and relevant work domestically. So this policy not only accommodates people's preferences, but is also societally beneficial in a way that legalizing discrimination against gay people isn't.

https://www.sss.gov/conscientious-objectors/

With respect to the issue of bacon, I have to assume you're being disingenuous. If you aren't, this is just capitalism. The issue with businesses that discriminate isn't that they don't offer certain goods, it's that they restrict to whom they sell the goods they're providing. People can provide whatever goods they'd like to in their business so long as they make enough money to stay afloat. If enough people want to eat a type of good or service that isn't offered on the basis of religious preference (or for any other reason), they'll create a market for some business to provide it, which means that someone will be willing to sell it to them. If there's a significant non-Jewish population who want ham and bacon, some non-Jewish person will start a business catering to those people. There's basically no downside to allowing people to have their religious beliefs dictate what they offer to people, but there's significant downside to allowing them to dictate whom they accept as customers. So this is totally irrelevant.

In conclusion, the reason you and other members of your dying cult are running into so much trouble with the world isn't an example of restrictions of "religious liberty", but rather an example of deeply stupid people who would engage in irrational behavior detrimental to society having their horizons limited as a result of their irrationality and stupidity. The issues people have with you and other religious fundamentalists have nothing to do with you causing offense to people, and your apology means nothing; it's that if you were allowed to behave as you'd prefer you'd negatively impact the country, at least from the perspective of the majority of Americans who are responsible for enacting and maintaining the laws you from doing so.

So in conclusion, I know what I've said might seem scary to you, as does many of the other trends you see in modern America. But for what little it's worth, I'm sure I speak for most liberal Democrats in saying that I'd very much like to share the country and neighborhood with you, as well as give your children the opportunity to be whatever they want. But if they allow their delusions to impact their work and fuck with LGBT people, or anyone else, then they can be expected to face the full extent of the law, same with anyone else. And I can't wait until your braindead bigotry dies out.

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Thank you for your frankness. To the extent that views like yours prevail, religious conservatives are likely to continue to support strongmen out of fear. Liberty is often in tension with democratic or even scientific consensus. There’s nothing liberal about tolerating behavior you find inoffensive. A liberal society is one where people with different ethical and moral, metaphysical and religious frameworks can live together amicably. You seem to be seeking instead a majoritarian society where those who don’t agree with the cultural consensus will be crushed. You can hardly be surprised if those you’re proposing to crush resist with whatever political help they can find.

On the specific issue of cakes, I think you misunderstand the cases. These Evangelical bakers weren’t turning away customers because they were gay—they’d’ve happily baked them birthday cakes, eg, and said so. They just wouldn’t bake a cake that had two grooms on it or whatever. So it’s quite analogous to a kosher deli that will sell a pastrami sandwich to anyone at all, but won’t sell you a BLT. (Again, I’d “bake the cake.” I cite the example only for its religious liberty implications.) There’s unfortunately a tension here between the civil rights framework around public accommodations and religious liberty protections. You may think the religious beliefs in question are stupid and pernicious, but if you refuse liberty to those who hold them, you shouldn’t be surprised if those people turn to a strongman for protection. I am not asking that you *like* these beliefs, but that you *tolerate* them, and those who hold them. I’m saddened that you seem unwilling to do so, but again, I appreciate the frankness of your reply, and the seriousness with which you’ve taken the time to engage my comment.

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The specifics behind the cake situation are irrelevant. In your other examples you clearly say you want people to be able to discriminate against gay people, and don't pretend otherwise.

Also, it isn't that I don't "tolerate" your views because they're "offensive". Suggesting this indicates to me you didn't really get what I was saying at all. I don't "tolerate" them because they're harmful to society, and to people within society, for arbitrary reasons. I'm not going to tolerate people causing harm to others for religious reasons more than for any other reason, sorry. "Religious tolerance" and "liberty" are red herrings. I tolerate that people hold these views, you need to tolerate that you'll have opportunities cut off from you if you choose to act on them in inappropriate ways. This isn't difficult.

You can throw a tantrum about supporting strongmen all you want, but people with your views are a declining minority. Currently your perspective is privileged by our electoral system, first past the post voting, and part primaries favoring this minority, but not nearly to the extent that you're ever going to be able to reverse the societal rejection of the behaviors you're defending. You can threaten all you want, but you don't have the power to carry out those threats, because people like you are capped at an ungovernable majority. in this country.

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People disagree about which behaviors are healthy and which are harmful to society. A liberal society makes as much room as possible for such disagreements. You are unwilling to do so, which ironically gives you something in common with illiberal authoritarian strongmen.

In any case, I’m sorry you thought I was throwing a tantrum, and I’m sorry that I seem to have upset you. Comments on the Internet aren’t worth getting upset over. Despite our disagreements, I wish you well. Have a great weekend!

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No it doesn't, many behaviors are outlawed in any given society.

Besides that, I wouldn't describe myself as a liberal. I hold basically liberal views with respect to issues such as gender, sexuality, race, etc, and support the continued existence of a liberal democracy, but I'm not a "classical liberal" and don't think restrictions on behavior by government or business are inherently bad. Besides that I'm sure I have a great deal in common with illiberal authoritarian strongmen, any two human beings are sure to feature commonalities. The meaningful distinction between us is that I support using liberal democracy in passing my desired societal changes into law through a majoritarian government, whereas they don't, and typically try to undermine these very processes. I also don't support killing you on the basis of your beliefs or anything like that, just restricting your ability yo hold certain positions for which your beliefs will negatively affect your ability to function.

Besides that, I'm not upset and felt you were having a tantrum on the basis of your consistent threatening to support people like Trump because of my views. Support whomever you think is best for the country, but if some of Trump's views are inconsistent with your own (ie on economics, race, or immigration) then please support someone else and encourage others in your community to as well. No reason to have someone as uniformly terrible as Trump ever again if it's just sexual politics we disagree on.

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That’s a classic. I admire Scott Alexander a lot. If everyone in the world tried as hard as he does to “steelman” opponents’ arguments, the world would be a far better place

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I want every LGBT person to get medical care, get married, be able to have a cake at their wedding, adopt kids, etc. I do not want them to be subjected to hatefulness, judgement, or undue burden to get it, either. I also do not want people to be legally obligated to violate their deeply held religious beliefs or morals. Certainly it's easier to work out solutions if we skip the name-calling. https://www.deseret.com/2021/5/4/22417652/meeting-in-the-middle-religious-freedom-lgbtq-rights-fairness-for-all-equality-act

But hey, I also said I would tolerate annoying people, so you lucked out too ;)

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If someone has a deeply held religious belief or moral that chemotherapy is wrong, should they be allowed to become an oncologist? If not, what's the difference here? Should we allow antivaxxers to hold prominent public health positions the same as pro-vaxxers? I'm curious why you probably supported kicking Mike Pence out of his job because of his deeply held Christian beliefs in the last election?

Just because a belief is deeply held doesn't mean it isn't wrong.

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First, I apologize for calling you annoying, it was not helpful!

Second, I genuinely find it fascinating that you would assume Mike Pence's personal religious beliefs were even in my top 20 reasons for voting for Biden. To the extent they did factor in, I would not want him to be president because he would promote laws that would enforce his religious beliefs on others who don't agree with them.

Where is the line between "religious liberty" and "dogmatic enforcement"? I don't know, and I'm not claiming the answer is simple or obvious. It's definitely a matter of perspective. One person's freedom or righteous cause is another person's oppression. Working out the details in a multicultural society in a civil and respectful way is how we avoid "the darkness." Anyone who is willing to put down their sword and listen compassionately to the concerns of others, especially those who feel like enemies, is an ally of mine. With swords down, we can find a lot more common ground, and reasonable compromises have the chance to percolate to the surface. Going to war is almost always antithetical to progress as it triggers the threat response in others. This was the message I was trying to send in my first post: when we try to fight, denigrate or shame our opponents into submission, without offering them the same basic respect and dignity we want them to offer our allies, we are giving in to "the darkness." Beloved Community FTW. https://thekingcenter.org/about-tkc/the-king-philosophy/

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Another thing is that these businesses could specialize in making certain dishes, or using certain ingredients versus others. I imagine it's preferable and more efficient to have one restaurant in one location offer a greater variety of menu options, but again whether two restaurants exist-one catering to orthodox Jewish customers, another to those who don't follow the Torah-barely impacts anyone. There's no significant advantage to prohibiting these restaurants versus allowing them.

In contrast, forcing adoption centers to accept LGBT customers is almost certainly just a straightforward advantage, unless someone can come up with evidence proving that this would cause a net decrease in adoption centers. But I'd assume that either these adoption centers would adapt to the policies and continue operating, or be replaced with religiously unaffiliated adoption centers from which both Christian conservatives and LGBT people would adopt. Doubt demand for adoptees is flexible in this respect. It's probably a good policy that would help people.

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These aren't comparable situations. I'm not a libertarian, and the difference is that in the real world a) the barriers to procure these different services aren't comparable, b) doctors operating within the U.S. are understood to represent the medical community , and are held to a different standard than bakers or restauranteurs, and c) to my understanding there's no law requiring that doctors provide contraceptives, the issue is whether relevant doctors will divulge any relevant information to patients irrespective of religious beliefs.

Culturally, whether any given restaurant offers a menu option isn't understood to suggest anything about one's ability to find that menu option elsewhere. In contrast, doctors are part of the medical establishment, and are expected to operate under an objective perspective while entertaining only scientific and empirical considerations. A doctor who shapes their perspective on arbitrary and unscientific beliefs shouldn't be allowed to continue their practice, as it would potentially destroy public trust in the medical community. A doctor making decisions on the belief that people shouldn't be provided certain services because they're sinful is no different than, for instance, a teacher telling students that the Earth is flat or only 6,000 years old during a science class on the basis of religious beliefs. We don't permit that just like we don't permit these examples in medicine because professionals are held to professional standards, and unfortunately some people's personal delusions don't permit them to meet those standards.

Also I've never said anything about getting along, I've said something about refusing to allow certain behaviors that are detrimental to society. Nobody would question these arguments under any other circumstances, religion's no different.

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“A doctor who shapes their perspective on arbitrary and unscientific beliefs shouldn't be allowed to continue their practice,”

Yes, but the belief that given medical interventions are morally acceptable is no less “arbitrary and unscientific” than the belief that they’re immoral. Your arguments keep conflating your personal moral views with science—a common confusion among secular progressives. Compare the question of whether or not to be vegan. The health effects of various diets are a scientific question. But whether it is immoral to eat animals isn’t a question that has “objective scientific” answers on one side and “arbitrary unscientific beliefs” on the other. Moral questions just aren’t like that. And by conflating secular progressive morality with objective science you keep missing the key political problem here: while people are in widespread consensus that certain actions (eg, murder, rape) are wrong, they disagree as to whether others are wrong—and there is no “scientific” way to settle those questions, because they aren’t scientific questions. Instead, the answers depend upon background premises in philosophical fields like ethics and what we might call the ontology of personhood (Are there persons? If so, what determines membership in that set?). These philosophical debates have proven interminable, such that societies can either attempt to settle them by force (as in the Crusades, or the 17th c. Wars of Religion, or the twentieth century totalitarian regimes) or attempt to accommodate people with divergent moral views as frictionlessly as possible. Defining one’s own morals as “scientific” is the sort of move that 20th century totalitarians made: it’s not just a philosophical category error, but a dangerously authoritarian claim to monopolize what counts as legitimate (objective, scientific) moral opinion.

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As an addendum, his point about RFRA protections makes it explicitly clear his post was defending federally funded hospitals discriminating and denying services on the basis of religious belief. Missed this before.

" Delete the part of the Equality Act that strips away RFRA protections."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/congress-should-amend-the-abused-religious-freedom-restoration-act/2015/06/25/ee6aaa46-19d8-11e5-ab92-c75ae6ab94b5_story.html

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that the RFRA means it is entitled to taxpayer funding to assist unaccompanied immigrant minors, many of whom have been raped, despite the fact that it refuses to provide those teens access to or referrals for abortion and contraception services, as required by law. It goes so far as to assert that Catholic organizations can’t be required to tell the government when they have a teen who needs care — because then the government might step in and help."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Freedom_Restoration_Act

"However, on October 15, 2019, federal judge Reed O’Connor said that, because of the RFRA, federally-funded healthcare insurers and providers must be allowed to deny medical treatment and coverage on the basis of the sex, gender identity or termination of pregnancy of the person who is requesting the services, even if the services are medically necessary. Transgender people may be turned down even if the healthcare service they need is not related to their being transgender."

The RFRA is the law that allows federally funded doctors to deny services (and other bad stuff) on the basis of religious beliefs. Defending the RFRA clearly means supporting federal funding of discriminatory Christian hospitals.

Again, it's Olive Branch with whom you're disagreeing.

RFRA protections allow

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It seems that we're in agreement. I don't think hospitals should be required to provide all services. I don't think that's what Olive Branch's comment was suggesting though, as his comment was clearly fearmongering over the Equality Act.

"But if the alternative is an Equality Act that strips my coreligionists of RFRA protections, and Supreme Court justices who will find that not to be a violation of the First Amendment, then the temptation to support an incompetent grifter like Trump, just to protect my children from second class citizenship, is very strong, and it's hard for me to blame other conservative Christians for succumbing to it."

" Delete the part of the Equality Act that strips away RFRA protections."

My understanding is that the Equality Act only removes federal funding from hospitals that don't provide certain services, it doesn't close them down. From the Catholic League:

https://www.catholicleague.org/equality-act-is-anti-christian/

"Under the Equality Act, they would either lose federal funding or be forced to get into the abortion business."

Also, currently Catholic hospitals can discriminate whom they offer medical services to. The Equality Act wouldn't force them to offer certain services, just not discriminate who gets them. Ie, St Joseph Medical Hospital offers hysterectomies (removal of the uterus):

https://www.stjosephshealth.org/clinical-focuses/womens-health-services/item/1595-gynecologic-robotic-surgery

"There are currently four Robotic Surgeons who have mastered advanced laparoscopic procedures utilizing the robot to perform hysterectomy, myomectomy (removal of fibroids) adnexal (tube and ovary) surgery, infertility and repair of pelvic floor disorders including prolapse and incontinence. "

But not to trans people:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2020/07/17/transgender-hysterectomy-lawsuit-maryland/

"Transgender man sues University of Maryland hospital after it canceled his hysterectomy"

To my understanding, Olive Branch's comment was saying their children shouldn't face any consequences for refusing medical treatment in any context.

"my children will be expected to refer for abortions and gender affirmation surgery if they want to practice medicine (which in practice will mean that the medical profession is closed to them, as if we were second class citizens), Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies will be forced to close (as some already have) because they will not be granted conscience exemptions"

Catholic hospitals will only be forced to close if they can't survive without federal funding, which you and I seem to agree is an acceptable outcome. This is all that the Equality Act entails, no Democrat is in favor of unilaterally closing all Catholic hospitals, just removing federal funding from them. Olive Branch seemed to be (hysterically) conflating removing federal funding and the potential result of that action.

As such, my interpretation of his comments regarding his kids was that he thought they should be allowed to practice medicine while refusing services incongruent with their religious beliefs under any circumstances, ie even while receiving federal funding, and without facing any consequences. I could have mistaken what Olive Branch meant, but we seem to basically agree on this issue.

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I think this is a good post.

I may add a few comments:

-I recently read F Fukuyama. Before you jump and say "no he was wrong, there is no end to history blablabla", hear this: Fukuyama already predicted that liberal democracy will be questioned in the future. Francis is still very relevant today. Check this for instance:

https://unherd.com/2020/09/why-fukuyama-was-right-all-along/

"Where Huntington and Kaplan predicted the threat to the Western liberal order coming from outside its cultural borders, Fukuyama discerned the weak points from within, predicting, with startling accuracy, our current moment."

-I wont be original in saying that the main problem in the US is polarization and the fact that common rules are not accepted enough. I am French, we have the same problems in France where last elections was questioned and I fear too much that our next elections is going to be ugly.

- I recently read Deaton "death of despair" and I think it is an important book that explains why the economic system in the US is not working. Too many people left behind and the damages are quite impressive. I think I understand better the nihilism under Trump after reading this book. Honestly you should read it. You already said it on twitter, the US will not be a democracy without a "reasonable" right wing party.

Deaton provides several solutions more original than just "less inequalities". I recommand it.

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I actually was at RAND and sat in on the seminar in 1989 when Frank Fukuyama (then working there as well) first presented his speculations on the "end of history?" (with question mark definitely included). I remember thinking, and commenting, that it was a brilliant extrapolation from early 19th century German philosophy applied to current events but somehow missed the general cussedness of human nature. Sometimes we just don't want to keep nice things. Like liberal democracy.

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I was maybe not in the original 1989 presentation but the cussedness is definitly in his book :)

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Why do you say this was Deaton's work? Isn't the lead author Anne Case?

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You are totally right. Apologies I am correcting this. :)

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Excellent post! You have a remarkable ability to so clearly distill ideas that I've sort of vaguely been thinking about for a while. I'm definitely in the camp of "sorry I don't have an opinion on that, Noah hasn't made a blog about that yet".

I've been thinking about what exactly will cause the GOP to rethink itself, and it might be them losing the 2022 midterms (which most people seem to think they will not do), so that's worrying. But we don't need to worry, we need to fix the problem. Like you said, that's what got us through all the other times.

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Noah, please, lead with the solution. Democracy as an ideal is a beautiful motif, and a motivational one. By describing the problem in so much detail, we contribute directly to the sense of fear and foreboding. And that fear becomes addictive— we crave the bad news. My as of you as a widely read columnist is to stop enabling the doom scroll. I want to hear your vision for a better world— I’ve seen enough of recent decadence

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May 13, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

suppression of speech and religion; suppression of speech by religion - don't forget

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A well-written post, identifying and describing an undoubtedly challenging situation - and yet I find myself disagreeing with certain aspects and assumptions.

E. H. Carr argues that the dividing line in international politics is not between good and evil, but between those countries supporting the status quo (currently, the US and its allies) and those opposed to it (currently, China and Russia). When the countries opposed to the status quo are stronger than those supporting it, as in the 1930s - when Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan were facing off against France and Britain - we can expect trouble.

George F. Kennan observes that for geographic reasons, the security of the US, like that of the UK, depends on the balance of power in Europe and Asia. The enduring interest of the UK - going back to the days of Henry VIII - lies in maintaining a stable balance between powers on the continent, so that one of them doesn't dominate the rest and then threaten the UK. The same is true of the US. This is why it was in the interest of the US to oppose Germany under Wilhelm II and Hitler, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

During the early Cold War, with the UK, Europe, and Japan in a desperate state, the US accounted for 50% of the world economy. Thus the US had to step up to oppose the Soviet Union. But during the course of the Cold War, as Europe and Japan recovered, the US share of the world economy declined, while it continued to carry a disproportionate share of military spending.

After the Cold War ended, Kennan argued (in "Around the Cragged Hill") that the US needed to turn its attention to serious internal challenges, and pare down its security interests abroad to a bare minimum - basically NATO and Japan. After the 2008 financial crisis and the Trump interregnum, this line of reasoning seems stronger than ever.

This suggests that the US ought to pursue multilateralism and burden-sharing abroad (Kennan calls it a "fellow worker in the vineyard" approach), while at home it's critical for Democrats to focus on winning elections until the Republican Party reforms itself. (David Shor and Matthew Yglesias argue that Democrats need to appeal to cross-pressured swing voters, who may agree with Democrats on health care but agree with Republicans on immigration.)

In this view, the key challenge facing the US isn't the rise of global illiberalism, but establishing a more sustainable balance between its goals and its capabilities, and encouraging its allies to take on more of the burden of maintaining the status quo.

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Well said, but actually I think it can be both. Noah's view doesn't exclude yours and vice versa.

Perhaps by focusing more on internal challenges, the US can become more of a moral and economic leader for the world. I daresay that most of our hard power involvements in the past few decades has done much to further world peace or our larger national interests.

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I guess what I'm suggesting (based on Kennan, as well as the internal threats illustrated by Trump) is that with the Cold War over, the US should really aim for a more modest foreign policy. US security doesn't depend on the global triumph of liberalism; as long as Europe and Japan remain friendly, the US should be pretty secure, even if China is a powerful single-party state and Russia remains an autocracy.

I think it makes sense for the US to focus on dealing with its urgent internal challenges, give up the prestige of world leadership, and push its allies to take on more of the burden of maintaining the status quo. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, Soviet expansion into Western Europe was a real threat, but today Europe is a stable and prosperous society, and Russia's economy is only about the size of Italy's.

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International institutions are far weaker than domestic institutions, so I don't think this analogy is very useful as a means of resolving the conflict. To the extent that international institutions exist, China does have representation - China has a veto at the UN Security Council, for example.

In domestic life, conflicts can be resolved by the legal system. There's no such analogy at the international level - as Hans Morgenthau observes, norms and laws are only effective when backed up credible threats if they're broken. The future of Taiwan can't be resolved by law. It's going to depend on the distribution of power in the Western Pacific.

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Great piece, I'm forwarding it widely.

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May 13, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

I enjoyed this piece and would enjoy more like them. I have no idea what the reason for increased interest in authoritarianism might be (I think yours is good reasoning) but one thing I did notice is that my friend has gone full MAGA and he's too young and ignorant to even realize what it is that he's endorsing. That's what scares me the most is the possibility that he has no idea what he's doing in relation to history.

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Not a single mention of political polarization driving authoritarianism in America? It's all the fault of trump and republicans?

Don't get me wrong, those people are awful. But did the republicans make Obama imprison a record number of journalists?

> https://freedom.press/news/obama-used-espionage-act-put-record-number-reporters-sources-jail-and-trump-could-be-even-worse/

I watched the democrats howl when bush signed the patriot act, and rightfully so. Then, Obama goes on to sign it, and the democrats say nothing. This descent into authoritarianism is a bipartisan dance. Both of these factions feed off each other.

Yes. fear, plays a role here. but i don't think that's sufficient to explain what's' going on. A better thesis is the one advanced by Martin Gurri:

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/22301496/martin-gurri-the-revolt-of-the-public-global-democracy

The internet has made it increasingly impossible for governments to control the beliefs of their people. This is probably a necessary transition to _true_ democracy. What we've had has been something a system of rule by two warring factions of elites, who persuaded the masses to go along with them because the elites controlled all channels of information dissemination.

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It literally is all the fault of Trump and Republicans. Democrats were mad about the 2016 election results. What they didn’t do was storm the Capitol to try and prevent the election results from being certified, leaving multiple dead bodies in their wake. What they didn’t do is expel their own members from leadership for saying that Trump won the election. What they didn’t do was pass laws to try and prevent people from voting because they don’t think they can win an election fairly.

This fake both-sides/ism is getting really old.

If you want me to say sometimes Democrats do bad things too, fine, I’ll be the first to say that. It’s also irrelevant to this particular question because the entire Democratic Party hasn’t rejected the idea of democracy like the Republican Party has.

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https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf#page=17 found that 18% of Democrats, compared to 13% of Republicans, thought they would be justified in using political violence if their candidate lost the presidential election in 2020. Indirect ideological support for such a course (of the 'the other side cheated, we're just fighting back against an attack on democracy' variety, which did not promote violence itself but could easily have formed the basis for a popular justification of it) had already been developed: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/ among other articles argued that Trump would try to stay in office even if he lost, that he would likely try to interfere with the election or circumvent it using the Electoral College, & that he had a good chance of succeeding. That article advised Democrats to "[t]ake agency. An election cannot be stolen unless the American people, at some level, acquiesce. … [W]hat if you had Orange Revolution–style mass protest sustained over weeks[?] What effects would that have?” There were even organized preparations for this sort of mass action: https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/ provides a detailed description, much of it in the participants' own words or summaries thereof, of what it openly calls "a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, … a vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election – an extraordinary shadow effort dedicated not to winning the vote but to ensuring it would be free and fair," organized mostly by Democrats but also including many moderate and principled Republicans, which included not just efforts to support mail-in voting, promote participation in the election, & argue against Trump's conspiracy theorizing & frivolous lawsuits, but also a campaign to "pressure platforms to … remov[e] content or accounts that spread disinformation and … more aggressively polic[e] it in the first place," based on the assumption that "the instinct … to push back, call it out, say, ‘This isn’t true'" "only made it worse" (the result turned out to be politically biased: see https://quillette.com/2019/02/12/it-isnt-your-imagination-twitter-treats-conservatives-more-harshly-than-liberals/ , & consider that the Twitter account Noah cited as supporting the Holocaust in the context of opposing the Israeli government's recent actions is still active (archived at https://archive.md/OVjC1)), & plans to organize massive protests, led by "[t]he organizers who helped lead" the BLM protests, which would "surrounded lines of voters in urban areas" &, "[t]o stop the coup they feared, … w[ere] ready to flood the streets" with "400 planned postelection demonstrations, to be activated via text message", which were planned to be peaceful but at which "everyone was expecting" "Antifa vs. Proud Boys incident[s]". In the event, Trump did little more than bloviate & file frivolous lawsuits until after the results of the election were perfectly clear — nothing like the anticipated disruption of vote counting, invocation of the Insurrection Act, &c. happened until all the votes had already been counted — & so the anticipated mass protests were cancelled. But given this information, I think it is plausible that, had Trump won, some Democrats would have reacted violently in a comparable way.

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May 13, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Yes, you should start writing capital D Democracy.

Signed,

A Liberal Democrat

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This is hard to respond to without going long. I completely agree that we are back in a 1930s-like world, but I disagree in many ways on how we got here.

On the global situation, your views seem essentially anti-interventionist Democrat, close to Obama. The core theme of this view is that progressive democratic countries should use soft power by being models of success, respecting all other nations however they are ruled, using economic power to restrain regimes that attack US interests or abuse their own people, and avoiding inevitably counterproductive interventions in other countries, except perhaps in rare cases on anti-genocide grounds. From this view the second Iraq war was entirely wrong, even an evil perpetrated by Americans on Iraqis. But that's not how most Iraqis see it. Generally they hate the US heavy-handed invasion but appreciate the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of democracy.

The second Iraq war was very much an attempt to replay the first. The first was in the context of the disintegration of the Russian ("Warsaw pact") empire, which at the time was so weak the US was actually trying to help keep what was left of it (the USSR) together out of fear of an authoritarian coup in Moscow. Aside from overturning Iraq's attempt to annex Kuwait, the first Iraq war a demonstration of US military power, driving home the point on everyone's nightly newscasts that the US was now the sole superpower. The coup came in Russia anyway, but an overwhelming majority of communist and newly ex-communist elites stood it down. Francis Fukuyama wrote the End of History.

The second Iraq war was meant to do the same. Besides an even more overwhelming invasion and an even more thorough destruction of Iraq's military abilities, the goal was set beyond just regime change to destroying the Baathist state and building a new one. Bush and his team assumed Iraqis would embrace the project and their neighbors would be too intimidated to interfere, and a US-allied democracy would develop, as in Japan and Germany after WWII. Iraqis did embrace democracy but most of them wanted to ally with Iran, while Iran and Syria interfered very actively, with covert support from Russia, where authoritarian imperialists had returned to power. And meanwhile the invasion of Afghanistan turned out similarly. The US was bogged down in two occupations that were at the same time unsustainable and disastrous to abandon. Instead of projecting an image of US indomitability as intended, the second Iraq war and occupation projected an image of aloof incompetence and American decline.

The next big step into darkness was the subprime collapse, when America's economic might was brought down by its own tawdry corruption. Vladimir Putin seized the moment to invade Georgia, a US ally that was trying to join Nato. The US response confirmed its weak position: send a European to negotiate a truce in which Russia's grab of an expanded area of Georgian territory was unchallenged and ethnic cleansing of Georgians from that area was hardly mentioned.

For a brief moment America seemed hopeful when it elected Obama by a wide margin and there seemed to be a clear majority ready to confront and reject the racism that divides and undermines us. And then that seeming consensus gradually unraveled. The racist minority became hostile to the state and more prone to conspiracy theory. Rupert Murdoch, who had built a global media empire on exploiting the least educated and most reactionary, seized the moment to amp up the vitriol and rally the resentful to Fox News. Less educated Americans, especially those living outside major cities and their suburbs, had seen their relative status in the world plummet since the 1950s. It was easy to turn them against the centrist establishment consensus that had long favored and defended globalization and free trade. The Republican party lurched rightward.

In truth globalization is driven by the dictatorship of the consumer and no political force seriously wants to stop or reverse it. But there was a big problem with the old consensus pro-globalization ideology: it embraced a myopic notion that liberal trade inevitably fostered liberal politics. Instead China grew economically and militarily powerful and at the same time more strictly authoritarian, using its advancing technology to more aggressively control and monitor its people. Xi Ping has consolidated his personal power, ramped up investment in weapons, and adopted a much more aggressive foreign policy. We now have Russia and China successively grabbing territories, testing the West's response, finding it quite mild, and preparing for the next. So far two parts of Ukraine, Hong Kong, various islands and reefs around the South China Sea. Putin has limited power and must choose small battles cautiously, but Xi has capacity to massively ramp up his aggression and he's deadly serious about taking Taiwan. Japan, Korea and all of Asia are vulnerable.

Fear and hatred of immigrants and different-looking people is a big factor here in the US and in western Europe turning former conservatives into fascists. But there's increasing parochialism on both ends of an increasingly polarized political spectrum. And a growing sense that the human species isn't up to meeting the challenge of anthropogenic climate change anyway, so why bother confronting aggressive imperialists on the other side of the world?

Very 1930s and very dark indeed.

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I don’t understand the part about America becoming more illiberal. Who hasn’t gotten more liberty in the past 30 years? Women, blacks, gays, ect... they all have more liberty now. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but we are clearly moving in the right direction.

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Something like January 6 would have been absolutely fantastical 30 years ago. Even Bush v. Gore was decided with much less overt threat to the rule of law, despite being far closer and more disputable.

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I feel January 6 is such a red herring. Showed Trump as a phenomenon of mass delusion rather than a rising illiberal order. People with a deluded belief about a stolen elections and not an organisation cabable of replacing or subverting democratic government. That's a sharp contrast to the other examples in the post.

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You need to read the histories of Mussolini and Hitlers rise to power both took over democracies after failed coup attempts.

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Sure, but the reason Jan 6 happened is because America is becoming more liberal. It’s just that a minority of people don’t like the choices people are making with their new found liberty.

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It would be like if someone had assassinated Obama and concluding that the country is becoming more racist. Well no...we just elected a black president.

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Then would the fact dictator wannabe trump was elected also not imply in increase in illiberalism?

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I think it would, but then the fact he was unelected would imply an increase in liberalism. There are certainly instances of il liberalism, but on the whole people are gaining liberty.

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I think Noah is using 'liberal' in the sense used in political philosophy (of a democratic government with rule of law & strong protections for the rights of individuals, supported by popular support for equality & tolerance between different people with different cultures or beliefs) rather than the sense used in contemporary American politics (of supporting the Democratic Party). America's government is in most ways as liberal as it has been for the last few decades (though not all: see https://web.archive.org/web/20210311051429/https://fileleaks.com/file/9d4e1574e83024cb56e80d0a61ed51afe256f747/volokh1992freedomOfSpeechworkplaceHarassment.pdf), but popular support for liberalism has declined substantially.

Consider the results of the study described in https://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/510402-afraid-to-speak-your-mind-maybe-were-not-as-free-as-we-think . 52% of Democrats, 59% of independents, & 77% of Republicans feel afraid to make their political opinions public. 32% of Americans expect to lose their jobs if their political opinions become publicly known. Nor are these fears unjustified: 50% of strong Democrats & 36% of strong Republicans think someone who donates to the opposite party's presidential campaign should be fired from their job. The Democrats, at least, seem to be trying to use state power to encourage this: the government of California passed a law requiring nonprofit groups to give them lists of donors to them, which they promised to keep confidential but (if https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-251/170467/20210301143138352_19-251%20Americans%20for%20Prosperity%20v%20Becerra%20Amici%20Curiae%20Brief.pdf#page=29 can be believed) instead posted publicly online; they are now being sued for this in the case of Americans for Prosperity v. Becerra. (The main precedent for the suit, ironically, is NAACP v. Alabama, wherein a racist state government tried to use a similar demand to invite retaliation against NAACP members.)

The change in public opinion is more extreme than that alone would imply: https://www.dannyhayes.org/uploads/6/9/8/5/69858539/kalmoe___mason_ncapsa_2019_-_lethal_partisanship_-_final_lmedit.pdf#page=17 found that more than 40% of people in both parties thought the other party was "downright evil", about 20% in both parties thought members of the opposite party "lack the traits to be considered fully human", 7% of Republicans & 17% of Democrats "wished that someone would physically injure one or more politicians" of the opposite party, 15% of Republicans & 20% of Democrats thought that "we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of [Opposing party] in the public today just died", 9% of people in both parties thought political violence was justified before the 2020 election, & 13% of Republicans & 18% of Democrats said political violence would be justified if the opposite party won the election. The January 6th insurrection was the most obvious practical expression of this, but one might also include Democrats' response to rioting & looting during the BLM protests last summer: many leading Democrats condemned the rioting, but others tried to ignore it, & some praised it (example: https://web.archive.org/web/20200827191914/https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/08/27/906642178/one-authors-argument-in-defense-of-looting).

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I am also using the political philosophy definition and individuals right have increased, not decreased. The left clearly won the culture wars and weren’t that fighting for more liberalism?

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Ehh. Going by what I assume is your own rightist perspective, the left clearly was only fighting for its own leftist interpretation of liberalism, and indeed in some aspects has engaged in illiberalism of its own.

The broader point is that the GOP has given up on liberalism overall. It still cloaks itself in the language of liberalism, but also clearly can't tolerate the cultural wins the left won, nor the inexorable tide of economic wins it thinks that portends. It's given up on all attempts at winning outright majorities, and become solely reliant on minoritarian institutions. A party dedicated to liberalism, even a traditionalist/"classical liberal" one like the GOP used to be, wouldn't do that; they'd happily contest the elections for an expansive, inclusive, outright majority the way they did in 2004, and only use minoritarian institutions to bolster that strategy, not as its cornerstone.

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The GOP has become more liberal on just about every topic. Biden’s sound bits in old clips are to the right of today’s GOP because the country has become more liberal.

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You weren't doing this before, but *now* you ARE conflating left-liberalism with the philosophical definition.

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I’m confused. The GOP is less racist (increased minority liberty), less bigoted (increased gay liberty) and less sexist (increased women’s liberty) than at any point in history

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May 13, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Well done

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I'm surprised you didn't mention technology as a cause of rising authoritarianism. The way we consume "news" has changed radically over the past decade in terms of quantity (↑↑), accuracy (↓↓) and bias (God help us!). FB and Twitter algorithms steer us to content that stimulates like/share reactions so we are flooded with stories that trigger limbic system responses - fear, anger, etc. A few years under those conditions and we're a bunch of tribal zombies with the higher reasoning of chimpanzees. My hypothesis: tweak the algorithms to signal boost love and understanding and the authoritarian trend will reverse. Probably not good for ad revenues though.

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> tweak the algorithms to signal boost love and understanding and the authoritarian trend will reverse.

Or just cause it to represent people's views more proportionally to their frequency. I think much of the way this works is that people are disproportionately shown extreme & (literally) intolerant content from the other political side because this drives "engagement" i.e. anger/fear, which leads people to believe that those sorts of views are more common than they really are, which makes them more fearful & less tolerant of political disagreement generally.

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This is very worrying. I wonder if it is worth capitulating to Republican demands (for example, only allow in-person voting with exceptions for military, expats living abroad, and disabled; only allow voters with IDs, all votes need to be counted by hand so no hacking is possible). Doing this May make elections seem fair to Repubs. The evidence that these laws would disenfranchise democratic voters is extremely weak. But even if the evidence was strong, it might be worth disenfranchising a few hundred votes to save democracy.

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There’s a difference between believing it was illegal and stolen (as Repubs believe now) and believing things were unfair and rigged against them (as Democrats believed in 2016 and Bush v. Gore). Belief in stolen elections can kill the whole democracy, as Noah Smith pointed out.

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