Fox News Halftime Report

Welcome to the Big Stupid

Chris Stirewalt

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On the roster: Welcome to the Big Stupid - Trump continues tirade against Republicans - Cohn considered quitting over racists, will stay for tax cuts - Trump weighs crackdown on Dreamers - You’re doing it wrong

WELCOME TO THE BIG STUPID
Megan McArdle
 writes a lot of smart things, but what she wrote this week stood out even in her field of tall intellectual cotton.

What she wrote matters because she addressed the vital question facing our republic and culture today: How do we stop the inevitable slide toward stupidity? Things feel very stupid now, but the problem is that we all know deep down, that stupidity is just getting warmed up.

Smart humans have been talking about the causes of the Big Stupid for at least a decade.

If you lean left, you may think Thomas Piketty is, ahem, on the money about the way income inequality is breaking our culture apart. If you lean right, you may think Charles Murray is correct about the cultural causes of the widening gap between the increasingly cloistered elite and the 80 percent who are tumbling down a well.

Whomever you primarily blame for the problem, be it business or government (or, more typically, some alliance between the two), most Americans are now acutely aware that things are, to borrow Murray’s phrase, “coming apart.”  

That’s not to say that America’s past is an unbroken span of enlightenment, intellect and advancement. Hardly. But it’s also impossible not to see that the Big Stupid is upon us.  

Failing institutions beget decreased social capital which, in turn, begets a further weakening of the same core institutions. To take one component, failing schools produce ill-equipped graduates who, in turn, are less able to fund, support or lead schools. 

All of these institutions are interconnected. Families, schools, religious and charitable organizations, businesses and governments form an ecosystem that we call a culture. When one fails, the others can help strengthen and sustain each other and the culture. When they all decline at once, things start moving in unhappy directions.  

Our current trend manifests in a strong bias toward enthusiastic ignorance in which feelings trump facts and emotionality outweighs concrete action. This is the pulsating plasma at the core of the Big Stupid.

The trend toward feelings as ends unto themselves has been with us for decades, yes. But things are accelerating now as our political movements no longer seek particular policy aims but rather act as expressions of fearful insecurities masked by rage. “What do we want? %^$# you! When do we want it? %^$# you!”

Politics this badly broken has a rapid and corrosive multiplier effect on everything else. Like many failing cultures, we are in the dangerous space where nothing can be free from politics. Not work, not sports, not entertainment. Nothing. 

If the ne plus ultra of politics is now to satisfy the angry, squirmy feelings of the largest number of people on every subject and if everything is now political, then tangible achievements will matter less and less in every pursuit.   

So is the Big Stupid just the inevitable result of decades of the slouchy slide toward a nation of emotionally unkempt, self-absorbed stunted adolescents, or is something else happening?

Here’s McArdle: “It's like the world’s biggest small town, replete with all the things that mid-century writers hated about small-town life: the constant gossip, the prying into your neighbor’s business, the small quarrels that blow up into lifelong feuds. We’ve replicated all of the worst features of those communities without any of the saving graces, like the mercy that one human being naturally offers another when you’re face to face and can see their suffering.”

You know just what she’s talking about. As you thumb through this note on your mobile device or click away on a desktop, you are very likely a resident of that same unhappy burgh: social media.

Her piece, “We live in fear of the online mobs,” explains the way in which the tyranny of emotional outrage has been spurred by social media. Connectedness has proven to be, like fire and government, a wonderful servant and a terrible master. And it has most assuredly made us more stupid.

McArdle uses the example of the memo written by the worker bee at the Google hive about gender policies as her opening example. You could name 100, including the most recent case, highlighted by Fox News colleague Stephen L. Miller, in which the nation’s premier advocate for the right to express unpopular opinions cowered in shame for posting a picture of – this is actually true – a baby holding an American flag.      

McArdle’s concern is what happens in a culture where people are not free to express themselves because of the rule of the mob. “We may have to start talking about two kinds of problematic coercion … Mass private coercion, which even if not quite as bad [as government coercion], still needs to have safeguards put in place to protect individual liberty. But we have no legal or social framework for those.” 

If McArdle will excuse us, there’s another problem even beyond the stultification of a once-vibrant marketplace of ideas and limits on freedom: Americans are becoming ethical imbeciles. The standard of what is right and wrong in a particular case should be informed by many things, but never what the loudest, angriest 0.003 percent of the public thinks.

Because of the mob’s demands, institutions and individuals with increasing frequency make decisions that betray their own values and objectives because it’s simply not worth it to deal with the howling outrage hordes. This reflexive cowering is limiting, yes. 

But it’s also destructive to our judgment in the long term. 

If we outsource our ethics to the mob, we will lose the hard-won cognitive abilities that help humans find their ways the ever-changing culture in which we live. We are social creatures and rely on our consciences and internal moral compasses to navigate these rocky shoals. 

The Big Stupid isn’t just about not knowing things. It’s about not knowing how to do things. And making clear-eyed judgments about rapidly evolving ethical and moral situations is a core competency of our species.   

If we don’t find a way to bring the mobs to heel while simultaneously preserving free expression, these skills could fall to the wayside in just a generation or two. 

And we can’t opt out. As McArdle says, “And, of course, you can't move away. There’s only one internet, and we’re all stuck here for the rest of our lives.”

THE RULEBOOK: SO JELLY
“Whenever, and from whatever causes, it might happen, and happen it would, that any one of these nations or confederacies should rise on the scale of political importance much above the degree of her neighbors, that moment would those neighbors behold her with envy and with fear.” – John JayFederalist No. 5

TIME OUT: PIE ARE SQUARE?
NatGeo: “For nearly 100 years, the mysterious tablet has been referred to as Plimpton 322. It was first discovered in Iraq in the early 1900s by Edgar Banks… It was later bought by George Arthur Plimpton in 1922 and has been called the Plimpton 322 tablet ever since. Now researchers from the University of New South Wales are calling it one of the oldest and possibly most accurate trigonometric tables of the ancient world. … The tablet is arranged in a series of 15 rows intersected by four columns. … Norman Wildberger, explained that the research team reached their conclusions that the tablet was used for the study of triangles by findings based on ratios, not angles. In the top row of the tablet, said Wildberger, relatively equal ratios create a near equilateral triangle. Descending down the tablet, the ratios decrease the triangle's inclination, creating narrower triangles.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -18.6 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.6 points

[President Trump’s score is determined by subtracting his average job disapproval rating in the five most recent, methodologically sound public polls from his average approval rating, calculated in the same fashion.]

TRUMP CONTINUES TIRADE AGAINST REPUBLICANS
WaPo: “President Trump attacked another fellow Republican on Friday, taunting Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman last week publicly questioned the president's stability and competence. Trump said Friday morning on Twitter, ‘Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ‘18. Tennessee not happy!’ Trump’s attack on Corker comes as the Republican National Committee is convening in the senator’s home state of Tennessee for its summer meeting. … Corker is well-regarded within the Republican establishment and was a dutiful supporter of Trump during last year's campaign, trying to educate the political novice-turned-presidential nominee on foreign policy and even introducing him at a rally. Trump in turn considered Corker as a possible vice-presidential running mate and secretary of state. But their relationship began to rupture last week. … Corker criticized the president's leadership.”

COHN CONSIDERED QUITTING, WILL STAY FOR TAX CUTS
Bloomberg: “The markets swooned recently amid reports that Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, ex-Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, was considering whether to quit. Bloomberg News and others reported that he was deeply distressed by Trump’s comments that ‘both sides’ were to blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. Now Cohn is staying and for the first time, he gave the reason why: He isn’t going to let some white supremacists run him off. ‘As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting ‘Jews will not replace us’ to cause this Jew to leave his job,’ Cohn said in an interview published Friday by the Financial Times.”

But White House won't be releasing its own tax reform proposal  - The Hill: “The Trump administration has no plans to release a detailed proposal for reforming America's tax code, instead relying on the GOP-held House and Senate to take the lead, according to Thursday reports. CNBC Washington correspondent Eamon Javers reported that an unnamed administration official says the White House will not be releasing its own plan, and stressed that President Trump had never committed to doing so. … At a press briefing Thursday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said an announcement on tax reform could come next week.”

Trump will hit the road though - WashEx: “President Trump will begin a tour next week to boost the chances for tax reform, and will start with a visit to Springfield, Missouri. The Wednesday stop will be the first in a series of stops around the country, according to the White House. … White House officials have long said that Trump would press the case for tax reform in the states of members of Congress whose votes he needs.”

TRUMP WEIGHS CRACKDOWN ON DREAMERS
Axios: “President Trump is seriously considering ending DACA, the Obama-era policy that shields some illegal immigrants from deportation, before conservative state attorneys general file a court challenge to the program. Sources familiar with the deliberations tell Axios that Trump has made no final decision, and the White House continues to receive advice from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Jeff Sessions strongly believes Trump should end DACA; DHS, however, has a more nuanced position, and Trump himself has said he's sympathetic to the children helped by the program. … If Trump rescinds the program, it will affect a huge number of people. At least 750,000 people currently have DACA status. Despite promising on the campaign trail to immediately rescind DACA, Trump has wavered since taking office, saying he feels for these children who were brought to the country through no fault of their own.”

KASICH, HICKENLOOPER EYE BIPARTISAN TICKET 2020
Axios: “Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) — ‘the Johns,’ as insiders are calling them — have been making a flurry of joint appearances to talk about state-driven improvements to health care. But Axios has learned that their duet is part of an alliance that's gaining momentum toward a possible joint independent bid for president in 2020, likely with Kasich at the top of the ticket: The two, who got to know each other at conferences, plan to extend their joint platform from health care to two other hot policy areas: immigration and job creation. … The two are talking to major media companies about a possible podcast or cable show to continue cementing their brand. Their conversations would include politics, policy, and pop culture. … Why it matters: National Dems so far haven't capitalized on Trump's record unpopularity and obsession with his base. But this is a creative coupling that'll get a ton of airtime, and maybe even traction.”

Franken has feelers out - The Hill: “Political associates of Al Franken say they think the Minnesota senator could be talked into running for the White House if he believes he’s the Democrat best positioned to defeat President Trump. But they say Franken would need to be convinced, and argue that the former ‘Saturday Night Live’ star would be reluctant to enter a battle with a slew of other Democrats in what’s increasingly expected to be a wide-open race for party’s nomination. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Franken's Minnesota colleague in the upper chamber, is seen as a possible presidential candidate.”

ALABAMA SENATE RACE LOOKS SIMILAR TO 2016 ELECTION
WaPo: “An establishment candidate is running for his political life against a controversial, say-anything figure who the elites despise. And against all political logic, the establishment may very well lose. … Only this time, President Trump is on the establishment side, and Alabama voters could very well go against the president they adore. … In the Aug. 15 primary, [Roy Moore] got 39 percent of the vote, while Strange got 33. Polling since then shows Moore with an edge over [Luther Strange]. … That's despite the fact that Trump, who is liked by more than 80 percent of Alabama voters, endorsed Strange. Strange also has the entire Republican establishment at his back… Moore has … none of that. And in this anti-establishment climate, that plays to his advantage. It's not unlike how a man who had never held public office before beat some 16 well-qualified politicians for the GOP presidential nomination.”

Palin backs Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race - The Hill: “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Roy Moore on Thursday, giving a boost to the Republican in the Alabama GOP Senate primary runoff. ‘Glad he's running and am honored to endorse Judge Roy Moore for the US Senate,’ Palin said in a statement. ‘Judge Moore has shown he has what it takes to stand up to the out-of-touch political establishment.’”

Collins sets September deadline for decision on Senate or governor -WLBZ: “U.S. Senator Susan Collins says she will decide sometime in September whether to run for Governor. A number of Republicans have been urging Collins to enter the race for the Blaine House, though she says it is a very difficult decision. Collins ran for Governor in 1994 as the Republican nominee but lost a four-way race to independent Angus King. She was elected to the Senate two years later and is now serving her fourth term.”

WHITE HOUSE: TRUMP WILL FOLLOW RULES ON ARPAIO PARDON
USA Today: “President Trump intends to follow the standard process in deciding whether to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, the White House press secretary said Thursday. That process would involve an FBI background investigation for the 85-year-old immigration hardliner, who was convicted of contempt of court for disobeying a federal judge's order on his detention of those suspected of being in the country illegally. ‘I would imagine they go through the thorough and standard process, and when we have an announcement on what the decision is after that’s completed, we’ll let you know,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday. Trump has twice raised the possibility of a pardon for Arpaio, who endorsed his presidential campaign last year and shares the president's views on immigration.”

Noah Feldman: ‘Arpaio Pardon would show contempt for Constitution’ - Bloomberg: “It’s one thing to pardon a criminal out of a sense of mercy or on the belief that he has paid his debt to society. ….  But it would be an altogether different matter if Trump pardoned Arpaio for willfully refusing to follow the Constitution and violating the rights of people inside the U.S. Such a pardon would reflect outright contempt for the judiciary, which convicted Arpaio for his resistance to its authority.”

HURRICANE POLITICS ARE NO JOKE 
Daily Caller: “Hurricane Harvey, which is expected to develop into a ‘major hurricane’ by the time it makes landfall on Friday, will be a major stress test for the Trump White House. The hurricane will present a new challenge for the Trump administration, which to date has only dealt with political crises and not natural disasters. In a rare pair of tweets Thursday morning, influential news aggregator Matt Drudge said that the incoming hurricane will present a serious challenge for the Trump administration. Drudge noted in one tweet that Harvey signals ‘It’s about to get real’ for Trump. … White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that President Trump has been receiving briefings on the hurricane’s developments and ‘stands ready to provide resources as needed.’ Trump later tweeted out a video showing him meeting with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials and encouraged Americans in the hurricane’s path to plan ahead.”

His FEMA head will be put to the test too - Fortune: “[Brock Long's] appointment was welcomed by experts on extreme weather, who praised him as neither overtly ideological nor hostile to the mission of the agency he was chosen to lead. Before being appointed to the top job, he was director of Alabama's Emergency Management Agency from 2008 to 2011, as well as a regional hurricane program manager for FEMA. ‘He is a rare Trump appointee who is a well-known professional in the field in which he was appointed,’ said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a Washington research group that promotes market-based solutions to climate change. ‘Every part of his reputation suggests he’ll take a careful, deliberate, technocratic approach to the job.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
$$$$: Mnuchin viewed eclipse from Fort Knox
 - WaPo

Secretary Zinke recommends reducing the size of three national monuments WaPo

Rep. Cohen seeks to prohibit federal spending at Trump businesses - The Hill

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This Sunday, Chris Wallace sits down with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

AUDIBLE: LESS THAN ZERO 
“In the end, the American people, I think, are willing to forgive us for not getting everything done, but they’re not willing to accept us getting nothing done.” – Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio told the WashEx when asked about healthcare reform.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Chris, I am worried that tax reform as being floated by Ryan does not include a border adjustment tax.  That is doubly bad for the lost revenue and the perception that a tariff would stem the flow of manufacturing jobs overseas. I think voters would prefer somewhat reduced global trade and higher costs for imports to the briefly interrupted export of middle-class jobs.  Trying to sell the current ‘tax reform’ package is a betrayal of the most popular and creative plank in the 2016 election.” – Bill McKeeman, Hollis, N.H.

[Ed. note: I hate to be the one to tell you this, Mr. McKeeman, but I think this Congress would be very lucky, at this point, to pass even a modest tax cut of some kind. One of the disadvantages that proponents of the border adjustment tax have had is complexity. While you sound well-versed enough to be able to school me on the subject, I know that compared to other byzantine portions of the tax code the border tax isn’t particularly abstruse. But, when you have every member of Congress, interest groups and the president all diving on the greased football of tax policy, even the whiff of complexity can be debilitating. But look at it this way, most major initiatives on taxes or government or other large scale government initiatives have to fail in order to become part of the discussion when a future fix takes shape.] 

“I think many of your points are correct. BUT, remember ‘drain the Swamp’! Congress is one of the main parts of the Swamp. Many of those people-Republicans and Democrats should be sent back home where I would hope they could find honest work--with their ridiculous high retirement packages, they don't need to ever work again. So, in a way, it is great to see President Trump call them out even though it might not be politically smart.” – Harry Dishman, Santa Fe, N.M.

[Ed. note: It was once the libertines and occultists who once cried “If it feels good, do it!” This, I fear for the sake of both parties, is increasingly becoming a stand in for political philosophy.]

“It is hard to understand the logic of the GOP working against Trump because of their pique about his railing against their lack of legislative accomplishment.  Do they not realize that if this dearth of achievement continues they will be hurt in the upcoming elections even more so than Trump?  One would think that they would be motivated to succeed legislatively for their own sake. They have the votes if they stick together.  And given the Democrats determination to vote in lockstep against Trump no matter what they have nothing to lose by eliminating the filibuster to help advance an electorally nourishing agenda of accomplishment.” – Bob Hoerr, East Peoria, Ill. 

[Ed. note: I think there is truth in what you say, Mr. Hoerr. And I think that truth is so obvious that even politicians will see it. But I don’t think, perhaps, in the way you expect. The key for Republicans in Congress now is to do everything they can to ignore Trump. Trump offers no particular policy provisions that need to be ignored, it is instead his emotional outbursts to which Republicans must close their eyes and ears. Trump is not going to stop attacking his own party. It’s how he started his campaign and, one assumes, it will be how he serves out the duration of his presidency. The challenge for Republicans is not rising to the bait – or as every other t-shirt you see would say: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Trump seems to see everything in personal terms. If Republicans repay in kind not only will they harm Trump, but as you point out, they will harm themselves. Better for the GOP to blow off Trump and instead try to tie his hands with legislative accomplishments.] 

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YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG 
KEZI: “Authorities say two men - one wearing a recycling shirt - were cited for illegally dumping garbage on a rural Oregon road. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the men were cited Tuesday for dumping garbage on Hunter Road in Colton after county employees reported the trash. The Clackamas County Sheriff Office said on Facebook deputies stopped the men as they were leaving the site. Officials say the men admitted to illegally dumping trash and picked it up like ‘good sports.’ One of the men was wearing a shirt with a recycling symbol proudly proclaiming, ‘Going Green.’”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.