Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Culture

The Republicans are Sticking with Kavanaugh for Purely Political Reasons

Remember when Antonin Scalia died and Barack Obama tried to replace him? I remember because on that occasion I wrote one of the most mistaken pieces I’ve ever published on this site: “How Obama Can Replace Scalia“. In that piece, I argued that because previous Supreme Court justices had been replaced in time periods much shorter than the remainder of Obama’s term, Obama would surely also be able to replace Scalia before leaving office. After all, if Republicans attempted to block him for almost a full year, the public would be furious with them for playing politics with the court, and would play a price at the 2016 election. I even had a nice chart:

Scalia Replacement

I was completely wrong about this because I underestimated the degree to which the Supreme Court has become transparently political, even in the eyes of ordinary Americans. Our political parties hardly even have to excuse politicising the court (though they try to do so anyway). We all know that some of the justices are conservative and some are liberal, even if they couch their political ideology behind legal theories like “originalism” and “textualism”. We recognise that there is no such thing as an apolitical judge, that when judges claim to be politically neutral they are being disingenuous. So we now treat Supreme Court nominations like any other political issue and fight tooth and nail to ensure that the next judge is someone we can ideologically live with. And we may have to live with their ideology a long time–between presidents picking younger judges and judges living longer, the average bench time for a Supreme Court justice has quietly increased by around a decade. Having learnt from my mistakes, I now look at the fight to replace Anthony Kennedy quite differently.

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Migrants Don’t Destroy Traditional Values–The Market Does

The other day I ran across a survey–apparently 40% of British people feel that “having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture”. When people say that western culture has been undermined, they are implicitly saying that at one point in time western culture was better. Many socialists, liberals, and progressives don’t agree with that–they think traditional values are wrong and moving past them is good. But today, instead of relitigating social issue debates about changing values, I want to make a case to our socially conservative friends on their own terms. To be clear, this doesn’t mean I agree with traditional values. I merely want to show that the values social conservatives treasure are not threatened by migrants–they are instead threatened by the very markets many on the right so deeply prize.

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The Collapse of Artistic Criticism Under Trump

The Trump presidency has been bad for art and the way we evaluate it. Yes, there’s newfound popularity for far right art forms that speak to dark impulses. “Martial industrial” music–often set to images of Nazis marching–is spooky stuff, and in the last few years it’s quietly spread all over YouTube:

But mainstream art critics have mostly ignored the niches of material which are nakedly far right. They prefer to focus on more popular stuff. And here they have done us a number of disservices, aiding the right even as they attempt to resist it.

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The Right Doesn’t Know What the Word “Bourgeois” Means

A friend of mine sent me a link to a bizarre opinion piece by Robert Woodson published in The Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Woodson claims that “black Americans need bourgeois norms”. He echoes and cites an earlier piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Amy Wax and Larry Alexander, which argues:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.

The causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.

This argument is instructively bad for many reasons. (Are bourgeois values even something we want?) But today I want to focus on the fact that the right seems to have forgotten what the word “bourgeois” means and where “bourgeois values” come from.

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Barack Obama’s Role in Giving Us the Trump Presidency

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is remembered as a great philosopher and successful military commander, but he is also remembered for picking his feckless son Commodus as his successor, an emperor who infamously cared more about making showy performances as a gladiator than he did governing the empire. Barack Obama is still a popular president–his favorability rating is +10 and his job approval rating is +8. In recent months many pieces have been written lamenting his imminent departure, and many more will likely be written before January. But no matter how likeable Obama is or how well Obama governed while in office, the fact that he could not ensure the election of a competent successor counts against his legacy. How did Barack Obama end up giving us a Commodus? What, if anything, could Obama have done to avoid this?

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