I have to admit, I was surprised to read this particular rant by Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist and columnist for the New York Times (he won the Nobel for his work on economics, not his writing). Having read a New York Magazine piece that theorizes that some state election machines may have been “hacked,” thereby costing Clinton the election, Krugman declared:
[N]ow that it’s out there, I’d say that an independent investigation is called for…Without an investigation, the suspicion of a hacked election will never go away.
Really: “never?” Well. Krugman quickly backed off after Nate Cohn challenged this thesis (so much for “never”), but a number of hours later he shared a Vox piece: “The election probably wasn’t hacked. But Clinton should request recounts just in case.” Just in case!
It might be fair to say that Trump’s election kind of broke the brains of many people both left, right and center: nobody expected it and a great many people really didn’t want it to happen. But the Left seems to be taking it the hardest, and this is perfectly exemplified by Paul Krugman, a genuinely brilliant fellow who has started to sound like a tinfoil-hat-wearing neighborhood crank.
Just so we’re clear, the “suspicion of a hacked election” that Krugman latched onto—the one that “will never go away”—was spelled out this way:
While it’s important to note [the Center for Computer Security and Society] has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Yes, it is surely “important to note” that there has been no “proof of hacking or manipulation.” But that doesn’t go far enough by half: there isn’t even any evidence of such, except for some voting patterns that, as Nate Cohn points out, vanish when you control for certain variables. Gabriel Sherman mixes up the cause and effect: proof is demonstrated after an investigation, the latter of which is undertaken only on the basis of strong-enough evidence—which doesn’t exist here (unless you’re an aggrieved liberal pundit, I guess).
But the real story here isn’t the wacky teeth-gnashing of the American Left, though that is quite a story in its own right. No, the most astonishing aspect of the whole thing is that Paul Krugman could be swayed by such a flimsy and unsubstantiated accusation. What it suggests is that the election damaged the political psyche of liberals in ways that it will probably take a while for us to understand.
Consider, by way of example, this excerpt written by a prominent liberal about a decade ago:
Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences. And we can safely predict that these people will never concede that they were wrong.
The writer was none other than Paul Krugman. The column was entitled, “Who’s Crazy Now?” Good question, Dr. Krugman!
Krugman’s flip-flop—from a denigrator of “crazy conspiracy theories” to an eager promoter of them—exposes perhaps just how fragile the political psyche of modern American liberalism is. The current American Left—the most prominent set of politicians, pundits, writers and academics working today—was forged in the fire of the Bush years, for the Left a time of paranoia, nonstop anger, smug self-righteous back-patting and intellectual balkanizing. These tendencies have been present among progressives for decades, of course, but it is hard to overstate just how much George W. Bush exacerbated them. Prominent among these liberals, of course, is Paul Krugman, who was a constant, sneering critic of both Bush and Republicans more generally during those years.
The election of Barack Obama allowed the Left to channel these behaviors proactively rather than reactively: instead of screaming every time George Bush blinked, or holding anti-war protests in a desperate attempt to recapture the Yippie magic, they could apply all the moral preening and political posturing in an active way. They did this for eight years, and though they had varying degrees of success due to oppositional congressional majorities, they had the presidency at the very least. (For good measure, they constantly kept alive the specter of George Bush, blaming him for virtually all of the nation’s problems even after two terms of his successor.)
A Wake-up Call for the Left
You could see the Left settling into this routine: they have the media, they have the colleges, they have the youth when it comes to numerous important metrics, and they had the presidency for the foreseeable future: Hillary Clinton was more or less ordained, she would re-make the Supreme Court in her image, and they assumed that changing demographics would ensure them both the executive branch and Congress for years to come. Upon this foundation—one of seething, permanent Bush hatred mixed with a belief in their own infallibility—progressives constructed a political edifice of smug near-total self-assurance. Donald Trump’s nomination seemed to only set everything in stone: Trump of all people could never snatch the presidency away from Clinton, they reasoned, and in any case he wouldn’t dare.
Upon this foundation, liberals bit a shaky edifice of assumed political superiority. The election of Donald Trump—not merely an earthquake but an extinction-level asteroid event—brought it all crashing down. And you can see that in the behavior of Paul Krugman, a man who has been confronted with, and is struggling mightily to accept, the way the world is. Really, this wake-up call has kind of been a long time coming: there are few columnists on the scene today more intellectually closed and pompous than Krugman, a fellow who once wrote about a particular policy debate, “I…have been right about everything.” Even when you’re right about everything, you don’t write, “I have been right about everything.” Unless you’re Paul Krugman, that is.
But here’s the real majesty of this whole debacle, the rather astonishing aspect of it all: there is no real indication that the education of Paul Krugman is going to stick. Responding to a story that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory is attempting to challenge the election results in that state’s gubernatorial race, Krugman tweeted:
Got that? When a Republican challenges the results of an election, it’s a “coup.” When the loser is a Democrat, however, such a challenge is absolutely necessary, “just in case.” The next four years are not going to be kind to Paul Krugman and to people like him: they are going to discredit themselves even more thoroughly than they already have, all under the auspices of an insufferable, smarmy intellectual superiority. Can you imagine what it will be like for them when Trump wins a second time?