Is Trump the Herald of “Localism?”

Donald Trump is the source of great pain on the left and also in the professional politician class of the GOP.

Why ?

He was an outsider in GOP politics but the GOP politicians had failed a lot of the voters, including me. Like Ross Perot in 1992, he attracted a lot of people who were tired of being taken for granted by the regular politicians.

Now there are some interesting theories of what is happening.

Henry Kissinger, who knows Trump personally, has said some interesting things about him.

The 93-year-old Nobel laureate told CBS show Face The Nation that the Republican’s unconventional style could be an asset and an ‘extraordinary opportunity’ for the US.

‘Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries haven’t seen. So it is a shocking experience to them that he came into office, at the same time, extraordinary opportunity,’ Kissinger said.

‘And I believe he has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president,’ he added.

Naturally, this has disturbed some of the usual Trump opponents.

Now, as Donald Trump signals that he wants a more cooperative relationship with Moscow, the 93-year-old Kissinger is positioning himself as a potential intermediary — meeting with the president-elect in private and flattering him in public. Like Trump, Kissinger has also cast doubt on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia sought to sway the election in Trump’s favor, telling a recent interviewer: “They were hacking, but the use they allegedly made of this hacking eludes me.”

The headline, of course, smears Kissinger, always hated by the left, as “a longtime Putin confidant.”

What is going on ?

Richard Fernandez, whose writings I read every day, has an interesting thought.

Maybe the next era of public life will be defined by a resurgence of localism.”

Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. … Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results … many cities have more coherent identities than the nation as a whole. … People really have faith only in the relationships right around them, the change agents who are right on the ground. ..

People like me are very frustrated by the attempts to run all of American society from Washington DC. Lyndon Johnson ran the Vietnam War that way, picking targets and sending “signals” from DC. That did not work out well.

Fernandez links to David Brooks, the NYT house “conservative” and this time Brooks seems to get it.

We’ve tried liberalism and conservatism and now we’re trying populism. Maybe the next era of public life will be defined by a resurgence of localism.

Localism is also thriving these days because many cities have more coherent identities than the nation as a whole. It is thriving because while national politics takes place through the filter of the media circus, local politics by and large does not. It is thriving because we’re in an era of low social trust. People really have faith only in the relationships right around them, the change agents who are right on the ground.

The column is worth reading in full.

15 thoughts on “Is Trump the Herald of “Localism?””

  1. No, the left is not going to suddenly start advocating “localism”. As soon as they are back in control, resistance to central authority will go back to being racist, sexist, etc. Have you seen any celebrations of the fact that many IL counties have declared themselves to be “gun sanctuaries” that will not enforce state-level gun laws? Of course not.

    2000-2008: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!
    2008-2016: Dissent is Racism!
    2016-?: Dissent is the highest form of patriotism!

    It will be interesting to see in the medium term how we are going to deal with the fact that the Senate is going to be a permanent barrier to leftist control of government. The further left the Dems go, the more states will refuse to elect them to the Senate. But unlike the electoral college, redistricting, etc., there is no workaround for them.

  2. Localism is more formally known as subsidiarity.

    “Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.” … “The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and has its origins in Catholic social teaching.”

    It is also a basic principle of classical conservatism as explained by Russell Kirk:

    “In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger.”

  3. Re Localism, a couple of points:

    1) A state or a municipal area with several million people is still a very large entity, and anything it does will of necessity have significant bureaucratic aspects. As Peter Drucker observed:

    Whether government is “a government of laws” or a “government of men” is debatable. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost. For “control” of the last 10 per cent of any phenomenon always costs more than control of the first 90 per cent. If control tries to account for everything, it becomes prohibitively expensive. Yet this is what government is always expected to do.

    The reason is not just “bureaucracy” and red tape; it is a much sounder one. A “little dishonesty” in government is a corrosive disease. It rapidly spreads to infect the whole body politic. Yet the temptation to dishonesty is always great. People of modest means and dependent on a salary handle very large public sums. People of modest position dispose of power and award contracts and privileges of tremendous importance to other people–construction jobs, radio channels, air routes, zoning laws, building codes, and so on. To fear corruption in government is not irrational.

    This means, however, that government “bureaucracy”— and its consequent high costs—cannot be eliminated. Any government that is not a “government of forms” degenerates rapidly into a mutual looting society.

    So, the expansion of government into all aspects of human life leads to increasing inefficiency–while the increasing frustration with bureaucracy results in a widespread demand to “make government more responsive” by giving more discretionary authority to administrators and to their political superiors…with consequences for favoritism and corruption. This applies also when the government undertaking is at the level of a large local or state government, not only at the Federal level.

    2) The Alexander Analysis and its limits are worth considering in this context.

  4. Sorry to go OT, Mike K, but while reading this, it dawned on me that Trump’s opponents must think of him as the Mule w/o ever trying to understand his real appeal.

  5. Government at any level is the last resort. Keeping it that way has failed, so all the consequences (inefficiency, favoritism and corruption) have been magnified with its growth at all levels.

    It seems reasonable that keeping government local and of small geographical/population scope would keep it most accountable as the difference between the specific interests and the general interests. But this is only a matter of degree not kind. In some cases, large organizations could overwhelm local general interests by concentrated political influence purchase. There at least is the possibility of diseconomies of scale in such interventions so long as the localities are autonomous, generally homogeneous internally and numerous. If one considers the agrarian culture on our pre Civil War era, one can invasion that they were much more autonomous and accountable. Industrialization, telegraph, rail travel and reconstruction empowered the growth of government and more of a top down conformity. This fuels the growth of the mercantile, crony capital and special interest political system we suffer today. It is obvious to me that the political class and their ideology are firmly in control at the local level in most jurisdictions.

    Much of this is not largely reversible, but I see it at least slowing down. The change in the Supreme Court could provide some relief.


  6. I read the Fernandez and Brooks pieces this morning, and I had the following thoughts:

    Does Brooks not understand that his apparently newly-discovered concept of “localism” was pretty much the message preached by the Tea Party of “smaller government and personal responsibility” to counter the increasing intrusions of federal government into local affairs? Does he not understand that the purposes of Art. I, Sec. 8 of, and of the 10th Amendment to, the Constitution were to restrict to LOCAL control (be it most appropriately at the state, county, city, or individual level) everything other than specifically=defined purely national issues?

    It seems to me that the deepening divisions and polarization of our social fabric have grown in step with the recent greater intrusiveness of the feds into what should not and should never be of federal concern. Sure, that’s been growing ever since, what? Wickard v Filburn?, or even earlier. But the issues and the impacts on business at large, and the adversely affected portion of the population has, I think, never been greater. To believe that policy decisions made at the federal level are suitable to manage the social, commercial and personal affairs of 300+ million people is delusional – and further, is guaranteed to foster resentment and pushback (and that’s what got you Trump.)

    Is Brooks just now figuring this out? Perhaps we should expect no better from someone who was seduced by a crease in a pair of pants, eh?

  7. Others have pointed out that local officials are perfectly capable of stupid decisions such as Santa Barbara passing a law that requires jail time for handing put straws.

    We may live in crazy communities, I live in Tucson which is a lefty haven, but they may not able to enforce the crazy laws.

    Nobody in Arizona pays attention to the Tucson city council except to complain about the roads.

    Localism, according to Fernandez, may be what we are seeing with Trump.

    The think tank intellectuals hate it.

    Tucker Carlson had an amusing exchange with Boot and Peters,

    Both seem to have lost their minds. It’s too bad because I just finished Boot’s biography of Edward Lansdale, and liked it.

  8. I’m still skeptical of the Alexander Analysis. I think it was a post hoc rationalization in the spirit of reconciliation and maybe a little bit of business promotion.

    The Confederacy was really fighting because they were unable to impose their police state on the rest of the country. Lincoln actually represented a compromise position over his radical abolitionist opponent William Seward, and he ran in 1860 on a platform denouncing John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid. Lincoln instead was a great proponent of Localism, and never more so than in his 1858 House Divided Speech,

    Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

    Have we no tendency to the latter condition?

    Let any one who doubts, carefully contemplate that now almost complete legal combination — piece of machinery so to speak — compounded of the Nebraska doctrine, and the Dred Scott decision. Let him consider not only what work the machinery is adapted to do, and how well adapted; but also, let him study the history of its construction, and trace, if he can, or rather fail, if he can, to trace the evidence of design and concert of action, among its chief architects, from the beginning.

    Lincoln could see clearly what was coming. The southern states were going to pervert the undemocratic tendencies of the judiciary to force free states into enforcing federal slavery laws.

    In what cases the power of the states is so restrained by the U.S. Constitution, is left an open question, precisely as the same question, as to the restraint on the power of the territories was left open in the Nebraska act. Put that and that together, and we have another nice little niche, which we may, ere long, see filled with another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits.

    Do the math and the nightmare scenario will quickly become reality

    Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States.

    Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown.

    We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State.

    The advance of interconnecting technology may have the result of achieving peace through social evolution. On the other hand, it might also have just allowed the Confederacy faster means to subjugate free states. Which is what we saw with 20th century totalitarianism and what we see today with the social media crisis. It could all depend on the type of technology and the type of social values it’s connecting.

  9. A fascinating article about Chinese interpretations of Trump, which are blissfully free of the idiocy that saturates domestic political commentary:
    “My interlocutors say that Mr Trump is the US first president for more than 40 years to bash China on three fronts simultaneously: trade, military and ideology. They describe him as a master tactician, focusing on one issue at a time, and extracting as many concessions as he can. They speak of the skilful way Mr Trump has treated President Xi Jinping. “Look at how he handled North Korea,” one says. “He got Xi Jinping to agree to UN sanctions [half a dozen] times, creating an economic stranglehold on the country. China almost turned North Korea into a sworn enemy of the country.” But they also see him as a strategist, willing to declare a truce in each area when there are no more concessions to be had, and then start again with a new front.”

  10. Grurray…”Lincoln could see clearly what was coming. The southern states were going to pervert the undemocratic tendencies of the judiciary to force free states into enforcing federal slavery laws.”

    Also, there was concern that underpricing made possible by slave labor would undercut the value of free labor. This undercutting would be limited in its impact as long as the slave regions were basically focused on agriculture and specifically on just a few crops…but if slavery had expanded geographically, then crop diversity would have expanded as well. And if the South had acted more aggressively in developing industry…

    Slave labor vs Free labor has clear echoes in our current trade environment.

  11. Agree. Neutralizing plantation economies and slave labor was the real motive behind Civil War era legislation such as the Homestead Act, the Morill Land Grant Act, Militia Act, and especially the Second Confiscation Act that authorized conscripting slaves.

    In 1862 the war was looking bleak for the Union. Many soon realized that while the North was scrambling to recruit and call up militias, the South had a large and ready supply of slaves that could be forced to fight. Freeing slaves and employing their service became a major objective of the war.

    Here is what Ohio Senator John Sherman wrote to his brother General William Tecumseh Sherman about the pressing issue on August 24, 1862 (pg 156)

    Dear Brother: Your letter of Aug. 13, with enclosures, was received. I have read carefully your general orders enclosed and also your order on the employment of negroes. I see no objection to the latter except the doubt and delay caused by postponing the pay of negroes until the courts determine their freedom. As the act securing their freedom is a military rule, you ought to presume their freedom until the contrary is known and pay them accordingly. . . .

    You can form no conception at the change of opinion here as to the Negro Question. Men of all parties who now appreciate the magnitude of the contest and who are determined to preserve the unity of the government at all hazards, agree that we must seek the aid and make it the interests of the negroes to help us. Nothing but our party divisions and our natural prejudice of caste has kept us from using them as allies in the war, to be used for all purposes in which they can advance the cause of the country. Obedience and protection must go together. When rebels take up arms, not only refuse obedience but resist our force, they have no right to ask protection in any way. And especially that protection should not extend to a local right inconsistent with the general spirit of our laws and the existence of which has been from the beginning the chief element of discord in the country. I am prepared for one to meet the broad issue of universal emancipation.

  12. An interesting thought-experiment re absolute Free Trade:

    If the South had gained its independence AND expanded to encompass a broader range of crops…for example, Kansas + Oklahoma (wheat, soybeans, etc) AND developed significant industrial capacity (textile mills using cotton raw materials + labor-intensive apparel manufacturing operated by slaves)


    Would it have been wise for the North to allow the import of these products on a no-tariffs basis?

  13. But every government is, by definition, a “government of paper forms.” This means, inevitably, high cost.

    It is amusing to recall the promise of “paperless charts” with the Electronic Medical Record. (Electronic Health Record, for those hating doctors,)

    Anyone who reviews records for any purpose is overwhelmed with the volume of paper generated by the EHR.

    Most of it is boilerplate generated by the risk managers that have made nursing notes absolutely useless.

    I used to do a lot of medical malpractice chart review and I always went to the nursing notes first. That became a waste of time in the 1990s. The worst offender when I was still doing that was Kaiser.

    The other result is that it takes only the click of a mouse to delete years of medical records. One would think preserving records would be much simpler when file cabinets and file rooms were no longer necessary but it is now impossible to find records older than 7 years and, even when required by law to retain them until a child is 18, they are destroyed.

    When I was an intern in 1967, I was able to obtain the records of a child operated on in 1932 as an infant. That would not happen now. It is a disgrace.

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