2019 Predictions, Part 2, and the rise of the alt-middle/center

Regarding politics, for 2019 I predict no wall or any meaningful reform or legislation on immigration. Trump should have declared a national emergency weeks ago, but so far any sort of progress/negation has stalled. Trump’s Sunday ‘huge announcement’ was predictably a dud, which is why I didn’t even bother writing about it here. Amnesty for a wall is an absurdly terrible idea.

Trump’s domestic policy, for the most part, has amounted to little more than Twitter threats and token gestures (things that get a lot of media attention such threats against Amazon or Google, but don’t move the needle at all). There has been some progress regrading immigration, but admittedly, not as much as I expected, and my expectations were already pretty low to begin with.

Video blogger Economic Invincibly is correct about having low expectations:

My concern at the time was that was being too pessimistic, but in hindsight was right. Meanwhile, as I correctly predicted in 2017 and 2018, there were tax cuts and increased defense spending but no meaningful progress on immigration, no mass deportations, and no wall.

Trump has done well with foreign policy; for example, brokering trade talks with China, workings out a tentative peace deal with North Korea, Syria withdrawal, withdrawal from Paris Agreement, securing the release of Andrew Brunson, and preventing a possible war between Ukraine and Russia that could have occurred had Hillary won. I would give Trump’s foreign policy an ‘A’, but his domestic policy a ‘C’.

Politics in the U.S progresses in a discrete rather than continuous manner, with long gaps in between developments. By design of the Constitutions, with the  exception of national emergencies that necessitate urgent and immediate action, there is supposed to be a lot of inertia, but the gaps seem especially wide during the Trump administration. With the exception of tax cut and bits and pieces of policy here and there, not much has happened over the past two years.

Although they differ on issues and rhetoric, Economic invincibility, Ross Douthat, Ann Coulter, and Tucker Carlson represent the so-called idealistic faction of conservatism, in contrast to the pragmatists and realists, who have the power but don’t wield it. The irony is those who seek the most change are often in the most disadvantaged position to do so. If the Conservative establishment seems indifferent, it’s probably because their approach to government, fundamentally, it to maintain order and stability but otherwise leave cultural and economic matters mostly up to states, households, and private entities as opposed to federal-level intervention (except in crisis), whereas the left are more activist-oriented and seek to use the federal government to make sweeping changes to society. This has to do with the divide between negative liberties vs positive liberties. For activist-minded idealistic conservatives such as Douthat, Ann Coulter, and Tucker Carlson, this sort of indifference can be frustrating.

2019 will see the continued decline of the influence of the alt-right and far-right, as I wrote about in 2018, and the continued ascent of the alt-middle/alt-center and IDW. These sort of things come in waves. In 2016-2017, there was all this interest in far-right politics, but that fizzled in 2018. In 2017, everyone was obsessed with Bitcoin, but that too fizzled in 2018. Sam Harris’ podcast has surged in popularity since the election of Trump, which is the opposite of what one would expect. Jordan Peterson’s meteoric risie began, coincidentally, also after the election of Trump. One would think that Trump’s win would have embodied the far-right (in support of Trump and as part of a greater far-right insurgency) and the far-left (in opposition to Trump), but the biggest beneficiaries, especially online, have been middle. Tyler Cowen’s blog Marginal Revolution, which is also moderate/centrist, is more popular than ever since Trump’s win, as well as the IDW-webzine Quillette. And then also Jonathan Haidt, Joe Rogan, and Dave Rubin, all of whom in the past 2 years built lucrative careers eschewing identity politics.

There are several possible reasons for this shift: far-right politics have lost their appeal, the alt-middle is siphoning people from the far-right, identity politics being perceived as low-status and low-IQ, or gatekeepers. Regarding the last reason, ideas, memes, and movements often don’t arise purely organically, but need to be inducted by a handful of invaluable influencers/gatekeepers who disseminate it to a broader audience. Another problem is the twitter-right crying wolf too many times, hyping non-events as being important or substantive when the are not, which detracts from real change or fools people into unthinking change is afoot when it is not, but also fosters cynicism and disillusionment when such hype predictably falls short. The only people who come out ahead by spreading hype, in the end, are those who generate traffic their Twitter accounts, YouTube shows, and websites.

All this talk of the ‘rise of populism’ by the media is a red herring and unsupported by evidence, as Trump’s own inability, now in his third year, to delver on his campaign rhetoric has shown. I remember on blogs, YouTube, Reddit, 4chan, and Twitter in early 2017 all this excitement about all the things Trump would do, and telling myself “Nope…not gonna happen.” So far I was right, as I usually am. Of course, one can argue that Trump is being obstructed, and this is true, but either it gets done or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. Creating or justifying excuses does not change the outcome. This backlash against hype and BS, as well as failed promises of change, whether it’s from the left or the right, can explain the appeal of a sort of incredulous and cynical centrism.