Rules For Radicals

Bil Vallicella comments here on the selectivity of Democrat outrage over Donald Trump’s hot-mike remarks. The gist:

The insight is that the Left uses our decency, which they don’t believe in, against us, mendaciously feigning moral outrage at what doesn’t outrage them at all. (Cf. Saul Alinsky’s RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”)

Be sure to read the other items linked to in the post — in particular this piece by Heather Mac Donald.


  1. In a post on the topic, I myself said there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy in the outrage, but as I think of it, I feel that only goes so far. As always, the problem is this reification of the left and the right as individual actors with united motives instead of people along a spectrum with a tendency. But more to the point, there is a great concern among many of us, to the point where it almost becomes a kind of Puritanism or prudery, about macho displays that make women into objects of gratification, and this does not always co-exist easily, as you would be the first to say, with calls for sexual liberation.

    Just to consider Trump’s response, what’s unfortunate is he’s going around saying he was embarrassed by the tapes and that he considers it “locker room” talk. I get the sense that what he regrets is not so much what he said as that he was overheard saying it. And as for “locker room” talk, well, we really do not want people to talk about women in that manner, or anyone, indeed, first of all, and second of all, you know that is disingenuous, because what people most object to is not that he would talk about body parts, but that he expresses some idea that being a celebrity allows him to just go around groping people, and that that’s a good thing.

    Finally, I’ve seen B.V. argue strenuously that to accuse someone of hypocrisy is no argument against the ideals that man’s actions do a disservice to. Even if there is some inconsistency in our revulsion, that doesn’t make the revulsion less genuine. And there is some sort of petitio principii, in the end, in saying that only the conservative side could consistently exercise moral revulsion when it comes to these matters.

    Posted October 11, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks for that thoughtful comment, Alex.

    I think, however, that if we are careful with words and meanings, the issue here is not hypocrisy — and so I did not use the word (although Bill did).

    The issue, rather, is the inconsistent application of rules, and the feigning of outrage.

    Heather Mac Donald, in the piece linked to above, quotes lyrics from Jay-Z and Beyoncé, who are staunch pals and supporters of the Clinton campaign. I won’t quote the lyrics here, but Jay-Z’s in particular easily trump Trump’s remarks for brutal sexual machismo. If this sort of talk about women genuinely offended the Democratic base, they would have to rule a great deal of popular culture — particularly black popular culture — out of bounds. But instead the Clintons and Obamas cozy up warmly to Jay-Z and his wife.

    You are right to point out that what makes Mr. Trump’s remarks particularly objectionable is that they are about the abuse of high status for sexual gain. If the rules were to be consistently applied, however, then Bill Clinton’s sexual predations, and the treatment by Mrs. Clinton of his prey (and of others, such as the 12-year-old girl whose rapist she laughingly defended), would have ruined their political careers. Instead they may well be moving back into the White House — presumably to resume their defilement of it.

    Bill V’s argument about hypocrisy is that the charge is often leveled against those who speak of high moral principles and then fail to live up to them. He says that this can simply be due to weakness, and that in some cases we should still credit the accused for recognizing the value of such principles in the first place. (Hypocrisy, said La Rochefoucauld, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.)

    But this attack on Mr. Trump is not hypocrisy in this sense at all. When seen in the correct social, historical and political context, it is instead a demonstration of how little the principles at stake really matter to these people, except as weapons in a struggle for power.

    Posted October 11, 2016 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  3. I appreciate the points you make, Malcolm, but I’ll reiterate that you might be careful talking about “these people.” There are strains of the left that are not at all complacent about the way women are depicted in rap. But this is what makes the “game” of politics so strange — something happens and thousands, millions of people react to it at once, each for their own reasons, and while, as I said, you can speak of a direction that the reaction takes (and in which individual actors can channel it), I am not so sure there is a motive. It’s just the same with The Media — it tends in a direction that is not always fair, but I can’t convince myself it is part of a plot, whether I hear that from a Sanders supporter or Sarah Palin.

    I would like to see a resolution to the culture wars, in the long-run, something that is completely off the tables for this election or the foreseeable future, possibly through a re-emergence and a re-championing of the concept of tolerance. One way to prevent us from fragmenting further into camps is to stop speaking as if we were part of camps. I suppose we are never completely this or that, but speaking as if we were somehow makes it so. I can forgive anyone for speaking this way now, I suppose, since there is something “at stake”.

    You said in the end it comes down to sympathy and trust, or something like that, and I agree. That’s why I will not vote for Trump and you will — I don’t trust what he would do and the aims he is after, just as you don’t trust Clinton, and there is some more difficult sense in which any evidence I am directed to against Clinton I cannot entirely trust. It requires a certain intellectual fortitude to hear the evidence and make the judgment, and the more heat and bickering, the less I have of it. It is my will power that has been exhausted.

    What I worry about for myself is that I am in the middle of trying to return to America with my husband — what wouldn’t have been possible except for the Supreme Court and DOMA — and I do not know what would happen if Trump came in with his anti-immigration message and his appointments. It is harder to be objective when you have skin in the game.

    I’m not as prone to be fiery as I used to, because I’m aware of my own hypocrisy, at a certain level, of my failings, and of what would be perceived as my failings by others, even if I do not perceive them so, which makes me very reluctant to go out and condemn. But I don’t want the spirit of Trump going forward. I don’t know what the spirit of Hillary is, perhaps, or whether it would be an answer, an improvement, but have we really reached this point where we acquiesce to the leaders thrust before us and don’t start out on a third path ourselves?

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 12:31 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    When I started reading Dr. V’s post (and that was before I saw this post of yours, Malcolm), I at first thought the “outrage” that Dr. V would address had to do with Trump’s “jail” comments. If my Twitter feed is any indication, there’s a lot more leftist ire being directed at Trump for what he said during the second debate than for what he had said to Billy Bush a decade or so ago. I would have liked to see a post on that.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  5. Hi Alex,

    Nice to hear from you again. I do admire your ability to delve beyond the obvious aspects of our society’s contentious issues, though I don’t agree with some of your opinions about them.

    Having said that, it really surprises me that you would casually reiterate the false allegation “if Trump came in with his anti-immigration message”. Can you really not distinguish between the concept of “immigration” and the concept of “illegal immigration”? That is most definitely a distinction with a difference. I should know, having once been a legal immigrant myself. And that is one reason why I am voting for Mr. Trump and not for the legality-flouting Mrs. Clinton.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:42 am | Permalink
  6. Henry,

    Of course you’re right that I should be careful to distinguish “anti-immigrant” and “anti-illegal-immigrant” — after I posted and went to lunch, it immediately occurred to me what I wrote would be taken as ignoring that distinction. I also am aware that the argument can go just in the direction you take it — that the illegal immigrants are cutting in line. That being said, for Trump to reassure me, I would have to hear him talk not just about securing the country against illegal immigrants, but perhaps reforming the immigration process to make it easier for those who are deserving to come in. I think this second half of the message is lost, or at least it comes across as being lost, often enough. Britain, for instance, at least from what I’ve heard, is at pains to make it harder for students to stay in the country after studying there. You could say that for me, there’s too much of the prosecutor about Trump — he wants to punish the wrong-doers. But I’d like to hear more about the carrot.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:06 am | Permalink
  7. Hi Kevin,

    You posted your comment while I was still typing mine. But if I had seen yours before I posted mine (above), I would have added that it was Mrs. Clinton’s flouting of the law which had earned her a day or two in court. At the very least an indictment. I don’t know what it was that Mr. Trump said at the “debate”, AKA the slinging of merde, but if he said she belongs in jail, there are millions of other people who agree with him. It is a travesty that the FBI director declined to recommend an indictment for what he himself said were illegal activities that Mrs. Clinton had committed.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:09 am | Permalink
  8. Alex,

    Thank you for your (very rare) acknowledgment of careless phrasing. It is the first time I have had such an admission from a disputant online.

    I understand why you are eager to have a Presidential candidate promise to promote easier processes for legal immigration. My parents and I were most grateful when President Truman’s administration instituted expedited immigration for Holocaust survivors in the late 1940s.

    But, it is clear to me that such considerations do not rise to the level sufficient to sway any significant number of voters in such a contentious election campaign as this one is. In my 67 years (including the first 5-years waiting period for naturalization) as an American, I have never before seen such enmity between the two opposing camps.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:31 am | Permalink
  9. Kevin Kim says


    Oh, I agree. In a just world, the Clinton dynasty would have perished en taule long ago.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:49 am | Permalink
  10. Whitewall says

    Sometimes radical people spark radical events. They can produce a “turning”. Maybe the clumsy Trump is the beginning of a radical change. The rise of the Totalitarian Felon Hillary to the highest office in the land while Trump validates the suspicion of tens of millions of Americans that Government today is utterly rigged for the benefit of the elite while the rest of us suffer, will inevitably produce unknown and unintended consequences.

    It is interesting that next year will be the 500th anniversary of The Reformation.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Alex, you do indeed sound, as you say, “exhausted”. I don’t know how old you are, but your remarks make you seem bloodless, spent, wasted, resigned.

    Faint heart ne’er won fair lady, however, and as you say, there is much “at stake” that is worth standing up for. I am no longer young myself, but I, for one, am not about to abandon the ramparts.

    You speak darkly of “camps” — but to be in some “camp”, it seems to me, is an essential aspect of the social organization, and psychological foundation, of normal human beings. As I’ve written elsewhere:

    To be harmoniously embedded and contextualized in one’s own culture is, as everyone everywhere seems to have understood until the latter half of the last century, the foundation and bedrock of normal human experience, and is generally a precondition for individual happiness and flourishing.

    Not to associate in this way — not to live, even as a relatively solitary or independently minded person, in some context of “belonging” — is a profoundly unnatural, and I think, psychologically exhausting, condition. We are not atoms.

    Cultures, and communities, are built on foundations of shared traits. Among the most important of those are shared normative axioms. As I have argued extensively (for example, here and here), the more heterogenous the society, the smaller are the areas of overlap and normative commonality upon which a real community can be erected. Such a “culture” ends up being a gaunt and etiolated thing, too weak and fissile to sustain and nurture the inner and outer lives of its people.

    That, I believe, is what’s at stake in this crisis of Western civilization. And some of us are no longer, shall we say, “happy campers”.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  12. Whitewall says

    It seems the First Gentleman in waiting has called all Trump backers “rednecks”. For any of you culturally and regionally challenged, this may be a new experience for you. Middle America is who he is talking about. We’re “irredeemable”. A man who is regarded this way may one day decide he has nothing to lose and act it.

    Posted October 12, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  13. Whitewall says


    Posted October 13, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink
  14. colinhutton says

    I’m sure that what you say in your comment to Alex about the psychological necessity of shared cultures and community is exactly right. However, I get the sense that you are treating the words ‘culture’ and ‘community’ as incorporating a notion of geographic locality. That linkage might be true for our generation, but is far less so for our children’s generation and will likely be an alien notion for our grandchildren.

    Instant, cost-free, global communication / interconnectedness (compared to a generation ago, say, 1990) means that for increasing numbers of people, ‘community’ is not their geographical neighbours, their fellow commuters or, even their countrymen. For them ‘community’ is a group of Facebook ‘friends’, or whichever Twitter stream caters to their base mob instincts. ‘Culture’ is not what appears in the local newspaper and the church hall notice board, supplemented perhaps by a national news magazine. It is YouTube, a limited selection of special interest bloggers and targeted newsfeeds which never challenge their confirmation biases.

    On a countrywide scale you get polarizing identity politics. On a global scale you get Isis.

    We live in ‘interesting times’ .

    Posted October 13, 2016 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Hi colin,

    I get the sense that you are treating the words ‘culture’ and ‘community’ as incorporating a notion of geographic locality.

    No, I am well aware that we’ve long since moved beyond that point in human history. How much simpler it would be, for a nation obviously coming apart at the seams, if those seams were lines on a map!

    The deep geographical interpenetration of trait-groups — races, ethnicities, castes, political blocs — in modern America makes any prospective disaggregation a very worrisome prospect. And as the pressure builds, it makes the prospect of non-disaggregation even more worrisome.

    Posted October 13, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

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