It’s always a tough call on any given day to decide which establishment media product deserves the award for “Dumbest (Article/Post/Broadcast) of the Day.” That’s why we all owe a debt of gratitude to someone named Barton Swaim, who for some reason has been selected by the Washington Post as a (regularly) “contributing columnist”. Because his essay this morning titled, “America is off the tracks, but the GOP errs in thinking it can right her” (not exactly catchy, to be sure) is the runaway winner.
The piece performs the impressive feat of making not one but two arguments that clash with reality. The first concerns his apparent belief that only the kinds of Republicans and conservatives who are inclined to support Donald Trump believe that America has (for various reasons) veered onto the “wrong track,” as pollsters like to put it.
Weirdly, Swaim says he agrees with this concern – and in fact, he articulates the conservative version well. But where does he get the idea that the fundamental worry is exclusive to supporters of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee? Or to any faction on the Right? Certainly not from the polls – which, for all their serious shortcomings, provide us with most of the major data points on such matters.
One of the most complete compendiums of survey data can (easily) be found on the RealClearPolitics website. The surveys in its files go back to early 2009. And as can be seen from the results over more than seven years, the vast majority of the time, the vast majority of Americans have viewed the country as being on the “wrong track” as opposed to moving in the “right direction.” Since (again, according to polling data), conservatives remain far from a majority of all Americans, then obviously the wrong-trackers must include lots of moderates and liberals.
Another kind of important clue regarding the non-partisanship of major voter concerns that’s escaped Swaim’s notice: Bernie Sanders shockingly unexpected run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Does the author think that a self-identified Socialist from a tiny state would have come so close to unhorsing the Democratic establishment favorite Hillary Clinton if most of much of the American Left thought the country was doing swimmingly?
Swaim’s second goof is at least as bizarre. It’s his contention that the most sensible choice that voters can make this year is to bow to the inevitable. In Swaim’s words:
“A republic in decline doesn’t need a leader who will try to force its electorate to be something it isn’t, or who will insult and berate its leaders into doing things differently. What’s needed, rather, is… [s]omeone…who can manage the decline of a great nation without making things worse.”
To be fair, the ellipses I’ve stuck in the above quote represent text in which Swaim offers entirely legitimate criticisms of Trump’s candidacy, as well as the eminently reasonable hope for “someone who will stand against the excesses of modern liberalism without entertaining the vain hope of obliterating it….”
But if Swaim thinks that either conservatives or liberals or moderates are looking for a president whose top priority is presiding over more of the same, he’s either seriously delusional or – as is much more likely – so comfortably esconced in the nation’s chattering class bubble that he equates his own privileged position with that enjoyed by himself and his affluent peers. Come to think of it, that’s probably why the equally cloistered Washington Post believes these thoughts are worth presenting.