Streetwise Professor

September 3, 2018

The McCain Funeral: The Political Version of the Dunning-Krueger Effect

Filed under: Politics — cpirrong @ 5:49 pm

I am still agog at the most flagrant public display of political onanism in living memory, by which I am of course referring to the McCain funeral.

Although ostensibly praising the deceased, the praise was really for the (unfortunately) still breathing–the political establishment.  McCain was wonderful! McCain was one of us! Therefore, we are wonderful! Wonderful beyond words!

I was going to ask, rhetorically, whether these people could be THAT clueless?  But the answer is obvious, which kind of saps the force of a rhetorical device.

This is nothing less than the political version of the Dunning-Krueger effect: an entire class of individuals with low ability, a history of poor performance, and a complete lack of perception and self-awareness, believing that they are God’s gift.  And believing that the hoi polloi who voted for Trump are vicious ingrates for not recognizing how totally awesome the elites are.

Almost two years after the election, these people still fail to comprehend that the reason they have been rejected and scorned by tens of millions of ordinary Americans is their litany of failures post-1990.  It is a record unblemished by success.  A perfect record, in a perverse sense.

By failing even to question their own genius–and indeed, to loathe anybody who dares do so–they are only feeding the disdain in which they are held.

The cluelessness is crystalized in a tweet by a person laughably described as the Washington Post’s conservative voice–the truly repulsive Jennifer Rubin:

It is disgusting enough to equate the Trump presidency to 9/11–and have no doubt that is what she is doing.  The fact that she actually thinks that the funeral “eschew[ed] tribalism” is beyond belief.  As I said in my post the other day–it was all about tribalism.  It was the two clans of the political establishment tribe uniting to excoriate The Other under the pretense of having a funeral.  Rubin’s assertion is an inversion of reality.

Several historical comparisons come to mind when thinking about the funeral bloviations.

The first is Talleyrand’s remark about the Bourbons, who learned nothing and forgot nothing.

The second is Pericles’ funeral oration.  I watched a BBC show about the Spartans the other day in which the narrator summarized the oration as: “Everything about the Athenians is right.  Everything about the Spartans is wrong.”  Substitute the US political establishment for the Athenians, and Trump for the Spartans, and you have the McCain funeral orations to a “T”.

The third is that funeral was a perverse reversal of Mark Antony’s line in Julius Caesar.  Instead of “I have come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him” the assembled bloviators in DC in effect said “we come here pretending to praise McCain, but actually to bury Trump.”

This got me thinking about  some parallels between Rome in the 40s BC and DC today. Caesar was a member of the elite who appealed to the masses–both in the sense that he directed appeals to them, and that they found what he said appealing.  He also insulted the elite at every turn, and implemented policies that attacked their interest and affronted their inflated sense of dignity.  This frightened, incensed and enraged the Roman establishment, which was centered in the Senate.  Caesar’s popularity, his disdain for the elite, and his refusal to kowtow before it, combined with the elite’s obsession with its power, privileges, and amour propre, brought the country into civil war.

No, history does not repeat, and late-Republican Rome is vastly different in many (most) ways from (hopefully not late-) Republican America (referring to the form of government, not the party).  Yet the present spookily rhymes with the distant past, with Trump playing the role of Caesar, and the US Senate playing the role of, well, the Roman Senate.

Again, I’m not pushing the analogy too far.  But there are enough points of comparison to make thoughtful people take pause.  But, alas, the phrase “thoughtful people” is not one that describes the assembled “mourners” at McCain’s funeral, or their camp followers.

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  1. “The first is Talleyrand’s remark about the Bourbons, who remembered nothing and forgot nothing.”
    I think you meant They had learned nothing and forgotten nothing
    Otherwise an excellent post.

    Comment by a.russian — September 3, 2018 @ 10:48 pm

  2. Great post from the smart professor!

    Comment by Andre S — September 4, 2018 @ 4:41 am

  3. The first commenter took the note I was going to make.

    As to the funeral bloviation: they demonstrated perfectly the naked truth that we have only one party of nomenklatura, just camouflaged in different slogans.

    I am disgusted.

    Comment by ETat — September 4, 2018 @ 5:38 am

  4. @a.russian & ETat–Good catch. My bad. Speed kills. I’ve corrected.

    Comment by cpirrong — September 4, 2018 @ 9:34 am

  5. “By failing … to loathe anybody who dares do so”: I suppose that’s not what you intended to write, as in that they hardly ever fail.

    Comment by Ivan — September 4, 2018 @ 2:01 pm

  6. It was meta-projection.
    We will look back on that travesty and realize that all those in attendance were at their own funeral.

    Comment by Richard Whitney — September 4, 2018 @ 7:01 pm

  7. Whenever I look at the politico-media class I am reminded of an observation by a biologist whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten. The gist was that there’s arguably only one kind of life on Earth, and that’s DNA. Speciation is just DNA’s portfolio diversification strategy, to ensure that whatever species happens comes out on top from time to time, it’s certain to have DNA in it.

    If there were a franchise for a Fuckwit Party there would unquestionably be one. Arguably we already do. Spaces on the political spectrum are just that.

    Comment by Green As Grass — September 6, 2018 @ 8:10 am

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