There’s Miranda’s speech in The Tempest – Act V, Scene I – “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in it!”
Shakespeare is one thing, and Aldous Huxley is another. His famous novel Brave New World turns those words inside out – the future that he imagines isn’t nice at all, and the people in it are rather awful. Natural reproduction has been abolished – that’s engineered. Educating children is done with a sort of hypnosis, to make sure everyone fits in properly, and critical thinking is gone – most folks are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think – and the individual is gone too. Spending time alone is considered abnormal and just plain wrong – so well-adjusted citizens spend their free time in communal activities requiring no thought – but at least group sex and drugs are fine. And everyone has lots of stuff. Citizens are conditioned to promote consumption – that keeps things humming along.
That sounds familiar, and the irony is that Huxley ended up out here in Hollywood, in a fine house at the top of Beachwood Canyon, just under the Hollywood sign. That burned down years ago, but he did spend his last years looking straight down on that Brave New World he had imagined. Hollywood is all that he imagined. In the novel, the hero, blessed, or cursed, with some real self-awareness, tries to escape that world. He can’t. That’s a bummer.
So, imagine Aldous Huxley out here in Hollywood looking down at those miles of bright lights below, at that brave new world that has such people in it – lost souls who don’t even know who they are anymore, but with lots of stuff, and pleasantly and perpetually sedated too. Now, this evening, imagine him glancing at the television, and trying to make sense of America’s first presidential primary. What kind of world has such people in it? The preposterous Donald Trump won on the Republican side? Yes, and on the Democratic side, the “democratic socialist” actually won, big. What?
A quick review of the basics:
Donald J. Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont harnessed working-class fury on Tuesday to surge to commanding victories in a New Hampshire primary that drew a huge turnout across the state.
The success by two outsider candidates dealt a remarkable rebuke to the political establishment, and all but guaranteed protracted, bruising races for each party’s presidential nomination.
Mr. Trump, the wealthy businessman whose blunt language and outsider image have electrified many Republicans and horrified others, benefited from an unusually large field of candidates that split the vote among traditional politicians like Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who finished second, and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.
But Mr. Trump also tapped into a deep well of anxiety among Republicans and independents in New Hampshire, according to exit polling data, and he ran strongest among voters who were worried about illegal immigrants, incipient economic turmoil and the threat of a terrorist attack in the United States.
That got him all of thirty-five percent of the vote, but that was far more than anyone else, as so many others were running, but Sanders got sixty percent of the vote available to him, and that was a big deal:
The win for Mr. Sanders amounted to a powerful and painful rejection of Hillary Clinton, who has a deep history with New Hampshire voters and offered policy ideas that seemed to reflect the flinty, moderate politics of the state. But Mr. Sanders, who has proposed an emphatically liberal agenda to raise taxes and impose regulations on Wall Street, drew support from a wide cross-section of voters, even edging her out among women, boosted by his appeal among the young.
At his victory party, Mr. Sanders, flashing a wide, toothy grin, pointed to the large voter turnout as evidence that only he could energize the Democratic electorate to defeat the Republicans in November.
“Together we have sent a message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington, from Maine to California,” Mr. Sanders said. “And that is that the government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their ‘super PACs.'”
This worries some folks:
While Mr. Sanders led New Hampshire polls for the last month, and Mr. Trump was ahead here since July, the wave of support for both men was nonetheless stunning to leaders of both parties who believed that in the end, voters would embrace more experienced candidates like Mrs. Clinton or one of the Republican governors in the race. Yet the two men won significant support from voters who felt betrayed by their parties and were dissatisfied or angry with the federal government.
It is a new world, or maybe not:
Mr. Kasich’s surprise second-place finish was driven by voters who described themselves as moderates and independents and were charmed by his pragmatism and his upbeat campaign. Effectively skipping Iowa, Mr. Kasich spent 62 days in New Hampshire, holding 106 town hall-style events.
“We never went negative because we have more good to sell than to spend our time being critical of somebody else,” an ebullient Mr. Kasich told supporters, vowing “to re-shine America, to restore the spirit of America and to leave no one behind.”
And Marco Rubio fizzled, Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses, went nowhere, and Jeb Bush finally joined them in the group of the marginally okay but not quite good enough for second place. Chris Christie started his exit:
With little money left and a slim chance of being eligible for a Republican debate on Saturday, the governor said he was going back to New Jersey on Wednesday “to take a deep breath.”
He came in sixth. It’s over, and it was Trump’s night:
At an exuberant victory party at a banquet hall in Manchester, people waved foam fingers reading “You’re hired!” or “Make America great again!” Mr. Trump’s remarks ranged from emotional expressions of thanks to his late parents to more belligerent assertions that echoed his stump speech.
“I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” vowed Mr. Trump, adding that he would “knock the hell out of ISIS,” or the Islamic State.
There’s more, but Josh Marshall nicely summarizes it this way:
Me. Me. Me.
This is the perfect Trump speech. My family is awesome. I’m awesome. My campaign is awesome. It’s awesome. Me. Me. Me. And then the key transition. I will make us winners again. Because I know. Because I’m a winner. Don’t be a loser. I’m a winner. People won’t laugh at us anymore. We’ll stop losing.
There’s almost a vicarious, soteriological aspect to it. Elect me and you can participate in my awesomeness.
Who are these people running for president? Consider Marco Rubio:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) apologized Tuesday to his supporters for not doing well at the final GOP debate before the New Hampshire primary and said he was disappointed for not winning the Granite State. But he promised to return to the state “to win the general election.”
“I’m disappointed with tonight. But I want you to understand something. I want you to understand something. Our disappointment tonight is not on you – it’s on me,” Rubio said. “I did not do well on Saturday night. So listen to this: that will never happen again.”
That’s just pathetic, but the day before, McKay Coppins explained Rubio’s disastrous performance at the debate just before the voting:
To those who have known him longest, Rubio’s flustered performance Saturday night fit perfectly with an all-too-familiar strain of his personality, one that his handlers and image-makers have labored for years to keep out of public view. Though generally seen as cool-headed and quick on his feet, Rubio is known to friends, allies, and advisers for a kind of incurable anxiousness – and an occasional propensity to panic in moments of crisis, both real and imagined. …
More than age, record, or wardrobe, it is Rubio’s natural nervousness that makes him seem to so many who know him like he is swimming in his dad’s sport coat… From the moment the 2010 primary turned negative, the candidate needed a fainting couch every time an attack was lobbed his way, his aides recalled to me… When a state senator who was backing the governor referred to Rubio as a “slick package from Miami,” he was aghast and ordered his aides to cry foul. Dog whistle! Anti-Cuban! Racist! When opponents accused Rubio of steering state funds toward Florida International University in exchange for a faculty job after he left office, he was indignant. Outrageous! Slander!
“He just lets these little things get to him, and he worries too much,” a Miami Republican complained after spending close to an hour sitting next to Rubio on a flight as he fretted over a mildly critical process story about him in the National Journal. “I’m just like, ‘Marco, calm down.'”
Who are these people running for president? And Slate’s Josh Voorhees argues the Kasich “win” (a quite surprising second place) doesn’t fix much:
Kasich isn’t going home. He’s going on to South Carolina. The problem for the Republican Party, though, is that Kasich is unlikely to go much further than that. In the meantime, he’ll siphon off momentum, media attention, and money from his fellow party-approved rivals who are actually in a position to capitalize on a post-primary bump. Kasich’s surprise showing actually turns the GOP’s Trump-themed headache into a migraine.
The guy just isn’t one of them:
Kasich’s bigger problem is just how out of line his (relatively!) moderate worldview appears to be with that of the Republican voters he’ll need to unite. He doesn’t just have a history of going against the conservative line – he has a history of unapologetic conservative apostasy, often seeming to take great joy in telling conservative voters that they’re wrong. In a world where a former reality TV star can win New Hampshire, anything is possible. But in a world where Donald J. Trump does win New Hampshire, it’s hard to imagine a critical mass of Republican voters will be excited about Kasich’s positions on hot-button topics like immigration, Common Core, Medicaid expansion, and marriage equality.
He’s a moderate on such things, and then there’s this:
The Ohio Republican’s already difficult job will get that much more so now that the race is leaving New Hampshire, a state where the candidate he’s most often compared with, Jon Huntsman, won roughly the same share of the GOP vote four years ago as Kasich did on Tuesday. (Huntsman, you probably won’t remember, dropped out shortly after.) Next come South Carolina and then Nevada, neither of which will be anywhere near as friendly to Kasich’s particular brand of politics. If he is still standing come March, he’ll then need to survive a Super Tuesday dominated by delegate-rich southern states like Texas, Georgia, and Alabama. In other words, Kasich will leave New Hampshire as a winner – but a winner the race will soon forget.
So the relatively humane guy is as good as gone, and Isaac Chotiner covers Clinton:
Hillary Clinton’s impressive concession speech Tuesday night, which followed Bernie Sanders’ even more impressive win in the New Hampshire primary, was a bracing call for getting real. Clinton is making a version of the case she made against Barack Obama in 2008: Voters may be inspired by her opponent, but they should vote for her if they actually want change to occur. The argument didn’t quite succeed in 2008, although Clinton and Obama battled to what was nearly a tie. Against a weaker (if surprisingly formidable) opponent this time, will it be enough?
Perhaps not, but she gave it a try:
In her speech, Clinton mentioned Flint, Michigan, and health care, along with a couple other old standbys, and acknowledged that voters were right to be angry. But rather than appeal emotionally to that anger, she urged them to be pragmatic, saying that people should be “hungry for solutions” and labeling herself the “best change-maker.” It was a clever use of a key Obama word, and it highlighted her argument: If you want change, don’t rely on hope.
But she wasn’t being cynical:
What made the speech better than many of her previous efforts – I’m not including her Goldman Sachs speeches, since we haven’t seen those – was that she mixed this practical approach to leadership with a surprising amount of heart. “I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” she intoned. “Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.” This reference to her low levels of support from Kids These Days led to several other relatively heartfelt lines about her awareness of “what it’s like to stumble and fall.” (Against Obama, Clinton had her best moments when under attack or when voters were reminded of her past troubles.) Clinton also mixed in a passionate appeal for racial justice of the sort that neither she nor any candidate would have included eight years ago.
Fine, she’ll get past this, barely:
Clinton has had several strong debates, she has given several impressive speeches, and she has released an impressive set of policy proposals. She occasionally seems to have transcended her previous flaws as a candidate and public figure. But then there is the constant stream of stories about possible staff shakeups; about Bill misbehaving, or speaking out of turn; about coziness with Wall Street that rightly makes Democrats squirm; about emails. Her argument for experience and pragmatism should be enough to get her past Bernie Sanders, but mainly by default.
That may be good enough, and then she can get past Donald Trump in November, by default. By then he’ll probably be calling for the death of all Muslims, worldwide. He’s already promising “something much worse than torture” as official policy. A plodding and unpleasant pragmatist is better than a proud uninformed sadist with no doubts about anything, maybe. The vote could still be close. Oh brave new world that has such people in it!
Is this the brave new world? The New York Times’ older in-house conservative, David Brooks, wonders about that, and admits he’ll miss Obama:
Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.
The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.
We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.
He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.
And then there’s the issue of basic humanity:
Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.
He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.
And the guy thinks things through:
Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.
Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.
Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.
To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.
And there is grace under pressure:
I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions – that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.
Now add optimism:
To hear Sanders or Trump, and Cruz and Ben Carson campaign, is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.
People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.
No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.
Yeah, a lot of people are noticing that, and not noticing this:
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss…
This man needs to get used to the brave new world. New Hampshire is only the start of it. Think of Huxley looking down on the lights of Hollywood. Sigh.