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No brain toilers for Trump

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holy trinity

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Holy Trinity Church is an 1892 SCOTUS case, mildly famous among lawyers, which is often cited to support the doctrine that legislative intention can trump statutory plain meaning. The case involved the apparent violation of one of the earliest federal immigration laws, when a New York church paid to bring an English pastor to America, to become the church’s minister. The statute forbade employers from paying to bring foreigners into the country, subject to exceptions that didn’t seem to apply to the pastor’s case. The Court got around that by citing legislative history for the proposition that Congress hadn’t intended to stanch the flow of “brain toilers,” as opposed to manual laborers, across our teeming shores:

It appears also from the petitions and in the testimony presented before the committees of Congress that it was this cheap, unskilled labor which was making the trouble, and the influx of which Congress sought to prevent. It was never suggested that we had in this country a surplus of brain toilers, and least of all that the market for the services of Christian ministers was depressed by foreign competition.

The opinion is chock full of nativist paranoia, that makes for amusing reading in these more enlightened times:

“[The act] seeks to restrain and prohibit the immigration or importation of laborers who would have never seen our shores but for the inducements and allurements of men whose only object is to obtain labor at the lowest possible rate, regardless of the social and material wellbeing of our own citizens, and regardless of the evil consequences which result to American laborers from such immigration. This class of immigrants care nothing about our institutions, and in many instances never even heard of them. They are men whose passage is paid by the importers. They come here under contract to labor for a certain number of years. They are ignorant of our social condition, and, that they may remain so, they are isolated and prevented from coming into contact with Americans. They are generally from the lowest social stratum, and live upon the coarsest food, and in hovels of a character before unknown to American workmen. They, as a rule, do not become citizens, and are certainly not a desirable acquisition to the body politic. The inevitable tendency of their presence among us is to degrade American labor and to reduce it to the level of the imported pauper labor.” (Quoting the House committee report).

Anyway, it’s in my view a shame that MR. JUSTICE BREWER’S verbal conceptualization of a laboring “class whose toil is of the brain” never caught on, and we are stuck with the word “intellectual,” which is admittedly a much narrower concept, and also a term which basically can’t be used without irony or sarcasm (indeed you are almost required to add the sneering modifier “so-called” whenever describing anyone as such).

Which brings me at last to my point, which perhaps surprisingly does not involve remarks on the wearing of onions on belts in bygone days: there are almost no intellectuals anywhere on the political spectrum who are actually supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy. At most on the right you can find a few Victor Davis Hanson types who will make a lesser of two evils argument, but the heavy lifters of right-wing brain toiling — your Brooks’s and Douthats and Kristols and Wills et. al., — remain vehemently opposed to him, even now, after all hope has been lost of stopping him from being the GOP candidate.

Of course anybody to the brain toiling left of these gentlemen recoils in unmitigated horror from the prospect of a Trump presidency, with the rare exception of the very occasional apparently brain-damaged not a dime’s worth of difference Princeton professor.

What’s interesting about this I suppose is that it’s some evidence of the shall we say limited influence of intellectuals of any type on either public opinion or the shape of national politics. Basically no thinking person, loosely speaking, is willing to admit to even moderate enthusiasm for the potential reign of Herr Trump, and yet here we are.

Update: Thanks to Newish Lawyer for flagging this very interesting Vox interview with Avik Roy:

The available evidence compiled by historians and political scientists suggests that 1964 really was a pivotal political moment, in exactly the way Roy describes.

Yet Republican intellectuals have long denied this, fabricating a revisionist history in which Republicans were and always have been the party of civil rights. In 2012, National Review ran a lengthy cover story arguing that the standard history recounted by Roy was “popular but indefensible.”

This revisionism, according to Roy, points to a much bigger conservative delusion: They cannot admit that their party’s voters are motivated far more by white identity politics than by conservative ideals.

“Conservative intellectuals, and conservative politicians, have been in kind of a bubble,” Roy says. “We’ve had this view that the voters were with us on conservatism — philosophical, economic conservatism. In reality, the gravitational center of the Republican Party is white nationalism.” . . .

Conservative intellectuals, for the most part, are horrified by racism. When they talk about believing in individual rights and equality, they really mean it. Because the Republican Party is the vehicle through which their ideas can be implemented, they need to believe that the party isn’t racist.

So they deny the party’s racist history, that its post-1964 success was a direct result of attracting whites disillusioned by the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights. And they deny that to this day, Republican voters are driven more by white resentment than by a principled commitment to the free market and individual liberty.

“It’s the power of wishful thinking. None of us want to accept that opposition to civil rights is the legacy that we’ve inherited,” Roy says.

He expands on this idea: “It’s a common observation on the left, but it’s an observation that a lot of us on the right genuinely believed wasn’t true — which is that conservatism has become, and has been for some time, much more about white identity politics than it has been about conservative political philosophy. I think today, even now, a lot of conservatives have not come to terms with that problem.”

This, Roy believes, is where the conservative intellectual class went astray. By refusing to admit the truth about their own party, they were powerless to stop the forces that led to Donald Trump’s rise. They told themselves, over and over again, that Goldwater’s victory was a triumph.

But in reality, it created the conditions under which Trump could thrive. Trump’s politics of aggrieved white nationalism — labeling black people criminals, Latinos rapists, and Muslims terrorists — succeeded because the party’s voting base was made up of the people who once opposed civil rights.

“[Trump] tapped into something that was latent in the Republican Party and conservative movement — but a lot of people in the conservative movement didn’t notice,” Roy concludes, glumly.

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