The Edina Resistance and Katherine Kersten

Judging by the interest in what would normally be a sleepy school board election, The Resistance is alive and fired up in leafy Edina. The town is slathered with yard signs. It isn’t just that there are 12 people running for four seats. It’s also the clear reaction to former Strib columnist Katherine Kersten and a suddenly reinvigorated Center of the American Experiment (CAE).

The latter used to be a deeply ingrown redoubt for what passed for the intellectual right in Minnesota. (It’s run out of Golden Valley.) For years the leader was an amiable guy named Mitch Pearlstein, the sort of character you could have a pleasant and even entertaining lunch with and not feel like you’d been exposed to some mutant toxin. The CAE brought in speakers and held luncheons and generally maintained boiler pressure for the usual conservative shibboleths like “smaller government” and climate change denial.

But as American conservatism began walking further and further out on the plank of talk radio nuttery, the CAE began losing what relevance it had. I mean … eight years of ruinous, disastrous, freedom-sapping Barack Obama rule! This aggression can not stand, man! Whether Pearlstein grew tired of that shtick or simply too old, I don’t know. But roughly a year ago he was replaced by John Hinderaker, best known as the most incendiary (i.e. unhinged) of the attorneys fueling the nationally popular Powerline blog. (The Strib ran a perfunctorily bland PR piece shortly after he took over.)

Hinderaker will forever be remembered for this 2005 commentary on George W. Bush, “It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.” It was typical of both his depth and his lick spittle approach to conservative power centers.

Which is why a lot of people, me among them, suspect Hinderaker tapped some very (very) rich vein of cash to infuse the CAE with enough money to choke Edina mailboxes last month with a remarkably polished magazine, “Thinking Minnesota”, driven by a cover story from Ms. Kersten on “racial identity activists” polluting the traditional curriculum of Edina’s public schools. It was an academic gloss on nakedly distasteful racial fear mongering.

No matter how much Kersten, the CAE and establishment Republicans (most of whom have their toes curled at the very edge of the talk radio, race-baiting plank) try to “intellectualize” and legitimize her message, the fact remains that the targets of her animus are invariably organizations and people with increasing racial and cultural diversity. Rethinking hoary white traditions and encouraging racial/cultural acceptance is like a dagger to her ideological heart.

As everyone watching politics since Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” knows, modern Republican antipathy toward racial and cultural diversity is also a key tactical strategy in suppressing Democratic votes. (Here’s another Strib piece, reporting on the effects of Kersten’s persistent, dog-with-a-bone attacks on a Muslim-oriented St. Paul charter school.)

Anyway, pretty much everywhere you go in unequivocally first world Edina these days people are talking … school board elections. The “Thinking Minnesota” mailing, coupled with a Kersten commentary published by the Strib has given my well-bred, well-educated, upscale neighbors, (I’m none of that), an amphetamine-like injection of resistance/activist zeal. The field of 12 candidates has been parsed down to pro-Kersten and well, “[bleep] Kersten and the horses she rode in on”.

As I say, I don’t know where Hinderaker got the money. Lord knows there are enough well-heeled metro area Republicans to goose the CAE’s prospects. (Climate change denying will always get you a check from Stanley Hubbard.)  Or it could be, as conspiracy-minded liberals like me prefer to think, an example of the Koch brothers tossing the Minnesota bums a dime to both shore up “traditional thinking” on the school board and prep the landscape to reelect Third District Congressman Erik Paulsen. Paulsen being a legislative lightweight ripe for plucking if the Democrats can coalesce around a viable opponent. (“Adult spirits” heir Dean Phillips would seem to have the best shot.)

Defeat of the “Kersten slate” of school board candidates should rightly spook Paulsen.

Down around the bottom line is this: Edina has changed. Once a reliable fortress of white entitlement, the city, while still very (very) white is home to enough brain power and conscience to be disquieted-to-horrified by the corruption and bigotry of the Trump regime and the various apparatuses — (eg: the CAE) — that promoted his pyrrhic victory.

The resistance is lined up for lattes and scones at Patisserie Margo and is saying, “No way! Not here!”


Frat House Group-think, from Oklahoma to the U.S. Senate

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterNot being a big “joiner” — no bowling league will have me and the Elks Lodge want too much in dues — two nearly simultaneous events this past week reaffirmed my long-held belief that the truly wise man follows his own path.

First, those Oklahoma frat boys. When I was in college, during the height of the anti-Vietnam counter culture, nothing was less cool than a fraternity. Country club prep houses for kids too self-absorbed and weirdly rule-bound to notice or care that the times were a-changin’. A duller crowd you couldn’t invent, even if a lot of flashy girls turned out for their parties.

Mainly though it was the tribal mindset, the appalling group-think required to gain entry to … what? A band of brothers who might some day rule hedge funds that could single-handedly crush a Third World nation? Or, more likely, the possibility of exchanging a secret handshake with an insurance agent selling you your first homeowner policy? The thrill didn’t register. Worse, the thought of acquiescing to the herd mentality that required you to run naked through a girls’ dorm with a propeller on your head while singing “Wild Thing” didn’t strike me as particularly, well, dignified.

Clearly, I was an outlier. Post counter-culture, the Greek culture has come roaring back, or ranting back as was the case with the astonishing numbskulls on video from Oklahoma, who at least have the excuse that they are a bunch of liquored-up kids. (Over dinner last night my wife and I agreed that short of John Wayne Gacy does anything reflect worse on your parenting skills than a kid leading a “no n—–s” singalong? Jesus!)

Human history is littered with examples of the extreme downside of tribalism, the need to belong to a group that you believe gives you more power than yourself alone, the feeling of affirmation, the certainty that if so many others who look like you are doing it must be okay. It’s no great consolation that the young are most susceptible to the allure of malignant group-identity.

So, second example, what can you say about 47 Republican Senators who … sign their names … to a letter to the Great Satan-hating Ayatollahs of Iran urging them, tribe-to-tribe, to resist a deal impeding their nuclear ambitions? These aren’t stupid kids, and as far as I can tell none of them were drunk at the time they signed on, although there’s no guarantee a few of that crowd aren’t on high-powered dementia medication.

The letter of course was the inspiration of newby Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a 37 year-old Harvard man with deep Tea Party roots and ambitions far beyond Razorback-holler. (Over the years, local bloggers, the Powerline lawyers, have regularly soiled themselves promoting young Mr. Cotton as a “true conservative”, i.e. tribal warrior). It goes without saying that as a dragon-breathed Constitutionalist (or whatever) Cotton’s master plan is far more about himself than saving the free world from a bad deal on nuclear tubing.

Cotton is following the well-marked path of other archer-than-arch conservatives like Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, the entire House class of 2010 and every foghorn on talk radio. Go big. Go loud. Go half-insane. The people who will send you money and push you forward as their next savior will be delighted far beyond reason. They will give you license to go forth and smite the infidel libtard tribes until not so much as a lame dog walks among their burning huts.

There’s no downside whatsoever for Cotton. But what can you say about … John McCain, a guy already stamped by history as have demonstrated some of the worst judgment of any top-level politician of his era? (Sarah Palin.) How does he explain, I mean truly explain, attaching his name to something so nakedly self-serving as Cotton’s letter?

The suspicion is that like the muddled-head frat kid egged on by the house’s alpha-party animal McCain piped up and added his voice to, you know, prove he too is worthy of the tribe.