Team Normal Sucks
They want Trump to go away, but fight against everyone trying to hold him accountable.
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1. Team Normal Sux
Josh Barro seems like he’d fit in well around here:
Republicans are correct that many Democrats have acted hypocritically, raising alarm about Trump being a unique threat to democracy while they act to strengthen his grip on the Republican Party. But there’s lots of hypocrisy in politics. The reason this burns so much for the “Team Normal” Republicans is that Democrats are making life more difficult for them on two dimensions — they’re making it harder (at the margin, anyway) for them and their allies to win Republican primaries, and they’re helping to saddle the party with Trump’s preferred candidates, who are less likely to win general elections.
How do I know that’s the real reason Republicans are so indignant? It’s because when Democrats take actions that are consistent with their purported view that Trump is a danger to democracy — such as, for example, pursuing a criminal investigation of his activities — the “Team Normal” Republicans complain about that, too. Right now, the Republican bellyaching is the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago — it’s unprecedented! it strengthens his hand! it’s “overreach,” whatever — even though the actions of the Democrat at issue here (Merrick Garland) are perfectly congruent with viewing Trump as a legitimate and direct threat to democracy. . . .
In the view of the Republicans who cry foul at these actions, it’s the Democrats’ responsibility not to back Trump or oppose him — it’s to ignore him, as they try mightily to do the same, in hopes that it will cause him to disappear in favor of another stronger potential nominee. That is, Democrats are supposed to participate in their strategy to get DeSantis nominated in 2024 — it’s their duty, even if it entails giving Trump a pass on criminal acts, and even though it will make Democrats less likely to win the 2024 election.
Read the whole thing and subscribe. It’s great.
Here’s the problem with Team Normal:
They hate Trumpism. They just want tax cuts and FedSoc justices. They look at the mouth-breathers who show up to Trump rallies and went to the insurrection and they would not be caught dead with any of those Very Fine People.
Team Normal wants nothing more than for Trump to go away. Doesn’t matter how. Jail. Defeat. The January 6 Committee. Whatever. They’re not picky.
But also, Team Normal cannot—under any circumstances—appear to want Trump to go away. And so they wind up pushing back against and defending Trump from the processes that could drive him out of American politics.
This isn’t a new phenomenon in human affairs.
I’m reading Liu Xixin’s sci-fi classic The Three-Body Problem, which opens in Communist China during the Cultural Revolution. There’s a scene at a struggle session in which a bunch of young communists are beating down a beloved former professor of theirs. Most of them don’t really want to hurt the guy. But one of the cadres is a real commie hard-ass. She starts whipping him with her belt.
And so the others join in because they’re terrified that someone will be taking notes and will observe that they were less enthusiastic than their peer. Such an observation might go into a file. They might become the featured attraction at a future struggle session.
And that’s pretty much how Team Normal operates in Republican politics.
They started this revolution and now they want out. But they don’t have the sand to do anything about it. So they keep going along with whatever is required of them and hope that the Big Orange Problem just . . . takes care of itself.
In case you’re not a Bulwark+ member, Sarah Longwell and I do a weekly podcast only for members and it’s pretty great. We almost never make it available to the outsiders, but this week I decided to give you a peek at the show where we talked about Trump 2024, the real heirs to Trumpism, and the saga of my trying to get a basketball hoop installed in my driveway. Give it a listen. You’ll like it. I promise.
2. TikTok Will Suck Too
Embedded has some great news for the Youngs: TikTok’s comments are turning into Twitter!
One of the most quintessential negative Twitter experiences involves tweeting out a feeling or statement applicable only to you, and inevitably fielding at least one user who’s irate that the tweet didn’t speak to what someone totally different might feel or believe. As in, recommending a pizza place you just tried only to have a gluten-free vegan who is allergic to tomatoes in your replies, scolding you for not accounting for the sum of human experiences.
These gotchas and actuallies and bad faith readings aren't always personal. They can be reflexive, from a Debbie Downer to someone who pokes holes in things because they’re rewarded for it with engagement. Others willfully misread and misrepresent a benign statement under the guise of social justice (for this, Twitter has Tumblr culture to thank).
But now, this behavior has migrated to comments on TikToks, previously one of the funnier and purer parts of the app, and it’s particularly jarring to witness.
But it’s not just the comments in TikTok! At Stratechery, Ben Thompson has a long and thoughtful piece about the future of social media and how TikTok is killing the social graph and replacing it with pure machine-learning goodness.
Thompson notes a brief history of social media by Sam Lessin that goes basically like this:
(1) The Pre-Internet ‘People Magazine’ Era
(2) Content from ‘your friends’ kills People Magazine
(3) Kardashians/Professional ‘friends’ kill real friends
(4) Algorithmic everyone kills Kardashians
(5) Next is pure-AI content which beats ‘algorithmic everyone’
It’s going to be tight when everyone is watching custom-made, AI generated, three-minute videos on whatever is the dominant platform in ten years.
Maybe Quibi was just too early?
3. Better Teams
In his excellent newsletter, David Epstein interviews Dan Coyle about making remote team culture better. This is my jam:
David Epstein: In chapter 11 of Range, I write about “healthy tension” as part of a learning organization. I think this resonates with your suggestion to “call out smoothness as a negative,” even though that sounds counterintuitive. Can you explain what you mean?
Dan Coyle: When I started studying culture, I assumed that smoothness was a good thing. I thought that great cultures are tension-free places where people rarely disagree, where everybody’s aligned all of the time.
The truth is exactly the opposite. Great cultures actually contain more tension. Because people aren’t afraid to disagree, to argue energetically about big issues — then go out for a beer. Because the relationships are strong enough to explore hard problems together. In weak cultures, you get what I call Smoothness Disease — that tendency to want to pretend that everything is good. To walk past disagreements. To pretend that everything is good when it really isn’t.
The feeling of being in a great culture isn’t smoothness — it’s the feeling of solving hard problems with people you admire. That’s a special feeling, and it’s the reason that people inside great cultures love it so much. . . .
Ask your group: “Let’s imagine it’s one year from now and our organization is in a really bad spot. Nothing worked out. What caused that to happen?” Naming those factors will help illuminate the hidden barriers and opportunities of the landscape you’re in, and help you to navigate.
Also: don’t be afraid to question your group’s values and assumptions. I’ve met a lot of good leaders who do that by cultivating what I call “productive disgruntlement.” They remain curious and questioning; they don’t drink the Kool-Aid. They are always asking: Do we really believe this? Does this still work? Where do we need to evolve? This is particularly important to do when you’re successful. Because success is the strongest narcotic ever created . . .
Coyle then talks about how to solicit effective feedback from team members and shares something I’m 100 percent going to use:
One quick feedback generator is the Three-Line Email, an idea from Laszlo Bock, CEO and founder of Humu. In it, you send an email to your group with these questions:
• What is one thing I currently do that you’d like me to continue to do?
• What is one thing that I don’t currently do frequently enough that you think I should do more often?
• What can I do to make you more effective?
I love that so much.
Finally, Coyle talks about how good leadership can sometimes be invisible:
David Epstein: You write that leaders in effective cultures sometimes “disappear.” That reminded me of this clip in which Coach K recounts joining the Dream Team as an assistant coach, and Chuck Daly tells him to put away his notebook, because he needs to learn to ignore things. Can you give an example of a leader helpfully disappearing?
Dan Coyle: Gregg Popovich is famous for vanishing during a timeout. It’s awesome: the players circle up like normal, waiting for him to appear and tell them what to do. And he … doesn’t show up. The players look around — and slowly realize, Hey, we gotta figure this out ourselves. And then they do.
Read the whole thing and absolutely subscribe. I’m convinced that one of the secrets of life is that you should never stop being curious. David Epstein’s newsletter is the product of a curious mind and it’s always valuable.
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