Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Bobo, solo.

May 3, 2016

Oh, gawd, but he’s a tiresome little fop.  Bobo is now hyperventilating and wringing his hands over “The Choice Explosion.”  He gurgles that American life today is defined by many options, but we often lack the techniques to make good decisions.  Here’s a short comment by “Len Safhay” from New Jersey, with the complete comment by “gemli” from Boston following Bobo: ” “…the choice explosion has contributed to widening inequality.”  Hmmmm…choices choices, choices. Let’s see…go sailing? Nah, too wet. Spring semester in Paris? Too rude. Buy a classic 10 room co-op on Park Avenue? Too stuffy. Pick up a Bonnard at Christies? Too yellow. Man, I wish I had a priest or a rabbi to tell me what to do; this lack of old time values and moral authority figures and shibboleths is leaving me spiritually, emotionally and intellectually adrift! Wait…here’s one…work for $8 an hour; no benefits. Bingo!  Yep, must be it.”  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

A few years ago, the social psychologist Sheena Iyengarasked 100 American and Japanese college students to take a piece of paper. On one side, she had them write down the decisions in life they would like to make for themselves. On the other, they wrote the decisions they would like to pass on to others.

The Americans filled up the side for decisions they want to decide for themselves. Where to live. What job to take. The other side was almost blank. The only “decision” they commonly wanted to hand off to others was, “When I die.”

The Japanese filled up the back side of the sheet with things they wanted others to decide: what they wore; what time they woke up; what they did at their job. The Americans desired choice in four times more domains than the Japanese.

Americans have always put great emphasis on individual choice. But even by our own standards we’ve had a choice explosion over the past 30 years. Americans now have more choices over more things than any other culture in human history. We can choose between a broader array of foods, media sources, lifestyles and identities. We have more freedom to live out our own sexual identities and more religious and nonreligious options to express our spiritual natures.

This opening has produced much that is wonderful. But making decisions well is incredibly difficult, even for highly educated professional decision makers. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath point out in their book “Decisive,” 83 percent of corporate mergers and acquisitions do not increase shareholder value, 40 percent of senior hires do not last 18 months in their new position, 44 percent of lawyers would recommend that a young person not follow them into the law.

It’s becoming incredibly important to learn to decide well, to develop the techniques of self-distancing to counteract the flaws in our own mental machinery. The Heath book is a very good compilation of those techniques.

For example, they mention the maxim, assume positive intent. When in the midst of some conflict, start with the belief that others are well intentioned. It makes it easier to absorb information from people you’d rather not listen to.

They highlight Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 rule. When you’re about to make a decision, ask yourself how you will feel about it 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now. People are overly biased by the immediate pain of some choice, but they can put the short-term pain in long-term perspective by asking these questions.

The Heaths recommend making deliberate mistakes. A survey of new brides found that 20 percent were not initially attracted to the man they ended up marrying. Sometimes it’s useful to make a deliberate “mistake” — agreeing to dinner with a guy who is not your normal type. Sometimes you don’t really know what you want and the filters you apply are hurting you.

They mention our tendency to narrow-frame, to see every decision as a binary “whether or not” alternative. Whenever you find yourself asking “whether or not,” it’s best to step back and ask, “How can I widen my options?” In other words, before you ask, “Should I fire this person?” Ask, “Is there any way I can shift this employee’s role to take advantage of his strengths and avoid his weaknesses?”

The explosion of choice means we all need more help understanding the anatomy of decision-making. It makes you think that we should have explicit decision-making curriculums in all schools. Maybe there should be a common course publicizing the work of Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, Dan Ariely and others who study the way we mess up and the techniques we can adopt to prevent error.

This is probably especially important for schools that serve the less fortunate. The explosion of choice places extra burdens on the individual. Poorer Americans have fewer resources to master decision-making techniques, less social support to guide their decision-making and less of a safety net to catch them when they err.

As the researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have shown, the stress of scarcity itself can distort decision-making. Those who experienced stress as children often perceive threat more acutely and live more defensively. A school principal I met in Pittsburgh observed that living in an area of concentrated poverty can close down your perceived options, and comfortably “relieve you of the burden of choosing life.” It’s hard to maintain a feeling of agency when you see no chance of opportunity.

In this way the choice explosion has contributed to widening inequality.

It’s important to offer opportunity and incentives. But we also need lessons in self-awareness — on exactly how our decision-making tool is fundamentally flawed, and on mental frameworks we can adopt to avoid messing up even more than we do.

This whining, simpering fop needs to get the hell out of his “vast spaces for entertaining” and spend a full year living on the minimum wage.  What an awful foof he is.  Now here’s what “gemli” had to say to him:

“We don’t need anyone’s help making decisions for ourselves. What we need is a level playing field. Every “freedom” that Mr. Brooks mentions had to be fought for against a conservative backlash that condemned people for their choices. And the battle is far from over.

If David Brooks thinks that people can live out their sexual identities he hasn’t been paying attention to initiatives in North Carolina that would tell the transgendered which restrooms they can use. No one chooses to be gay, but increasing religious freedom has often meant the freedom to openly demonize gay people, undermine abortion rights and to inject medieval theology into public policy.

Mr. Brooks mentions “schools that serve the less fortunate” as if they’re a fact of nature and not a choice that has been made for us. They exist because cities have been economically abandoned for decades, crumbling under the weight of a pathetic minimum wage, egregious income inequality and a Civil War that never really ended.

Some of us chose Mr. Obama as our president to recover from eight years of Republican war and economic collapse. That choice was taken away from us by conservatives who crippled our democracy by refusing to cooperate with the president. For the upcoming election, they’ve given Republicans the choice between a real estate buffoon and an evangelical dominionist.

There is no choice when it’s a game of heads they win, tails we lose.”

The editors of the NYT should fire Bobo’s useless butt and give the space to gemli.

Brooks and Krugman from 4/29 and Collins from today

April 30, 2016

Sorry about missing yesterday, but I had some eye surgery on Thursday that left me a bit under the weather yesterday, and seeing is still a bit of a challenge.  Bobo on Friday gave us “If Not Trump, What?” and Prof. Krugman addressed the “Wrath of the Conned.”  Today Ms. Collins considers “The One Thing Worse Than Trump.”  Here’s Bobo’s offering:

Donald Trump now looks set to be the Republican presidential nominee. So for those of us appalled by this prospect — what are we supposed to do?

Well, not what the leaders of the Republican Party are doing. They’re going down meekly and hoping for a quiet convention. They seem blithely unaware that this is a Joe McCarthy moment. People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.

The better course for all of us — Republican, Democrat and independent — is to step back and take the long view, and to begin building for that. This election — not only the Trump phenomenon but the rise of Bernie Sanders, also — has reminded us how much pain there is in this country. According to a Pew Research poll, 75 percent of Trump voters say that life has gotten worse for people like them over the last half century.

This declinism intertwines with other horrible social statistics. The suicide rate has surged to a 30-year high — a sure sign of rampant social isolation. A record number of Americans believe the American dream is out of reach. And for millennials, social trust is at historic lows.

Trump’s success grew out of that pain, but he is not the right response to it. The job for the rest of us is to figure out the right response.

That means first it’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. That leads to an everyone-out-for-himself mentality and Trump’s politics of suspicion. We’ll need a communitarianism.

Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.

Then at the community level we can listen to those already helping. James Fallows had a story in The Atlantic recently noting that while we’re dysfunctional at the national level you see local renaissances dotted across the country. Fallows went around asking, “Who makes this town go?” and found local patriots creating radical schools, arts festivals, public-private partnerships that give, say, high school dropouts computer skills.

Then solidarity can be rekindled nationally. Over the course of American history, national projects like the railroad legislation, the W.P.A. and the NASA project have bound this diverse nation. Of course, such projects can happen again — maybe through a national service program, or something else.

Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.

Next up we have Prof. Krugman from yesterday:

Maybe we need a new cliché: It ain’t over until Carly Fiorina sings. Anyway, it really is over — definitively on the Democratic side, with high probability on the Republican side. And the results couldn’t be more different.

Think about where we were a year ago. At the time, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush were widely seen as the front-runners for their parties’ nods. If there was any dissent from the commentariat, it came from those suggesting that Mr. Bush might be supplanted by a fresher, but still establishment, face, like Marco Rubio.

And now here we are. But why did Mrs. Clinton, despite the most negative media coverage of any candidate in this cycle — yes, worse than Donald Trump’s — go the distance, while the G.O.P. establishment went down to humiliating defeat?

Personalities surely played a role; say what you like (or dislike) about Mrs. Clinton, but she’s resilient under pressure, a character trait notably lacking on the other side. But basically it comes down to fundamental differences between the parties and how they serve their supporters.

Both parties make promises to their bases. But while the Democratic establishment more or less tries to make good on those promises, the Republican establishment has essentially been playing bait-and-switch for decades. And voters finally rebelled against the con.

First, about the Democrats: Their party defines itself as the protector of the poor and the middle class, and especially of nonwhite voters. Does it fall short of fulfilling this mission much of the time? Are its leaders sometimes too close to big-money donors? Of course. Still, if you look at the record of the Obama years, you see real action on behalf of the party’s goals.

Above all, you have the Affordable Care Act, which has given about 20 million Americans health insurance, with the gains biggest for the poor, minorities and low-wage workers. That’s what you call delivering for the base — and it’s surely one reason nonwhite voters have overwhelmingly favored Mrs. Clinton over a challenger who sometimes seemed to dismiss that achievement.

And this was paid for largely with higher taxes on the rich, with average tax rates on very high incomes rising by about six percentage points since 2008.

Maybe you think Democrats could and should have done more, but what the party establishment says and what it does are at least roughly aligned.

Things are very different among Republicans. Their party has historically won elections by appealing to racial enmity and cultural anxiety, but its actual policy agenda is dedicated to serving the interests of the 1 percent, above all through tax cuts for the rich — which even Republican voters don’t support, while they truly loathe elite ideas like privatizing Social Security and Medicare.

What Donald Trump has been doing is telling the base that it can order à la carte. He has, in effect, been telling aggrieved white men that they can feed their anger without being forced to swallow supply-side economics, too. Yes, his actual policy proposals still involve huge tax cuts for the rich, but his supporters don’t know that — and it’s possible that he doesn’t, either. Details aren’t his thing.

Establishment Republicans have tried to counter his appeal by shouting, with growing hysteria, that he isn’t a true conservative. And they’re right, at least as they define conservatism. But their own voters don’t care.

If there’s a puzzle here, it’s why this didn’t happen sooner. One possible explanation is the decadence of the G.O.P. establishment, which has become ingrown and lost touch. Apparatchiks who have spent their whole careers inside the bubble of right-wing think tanks and partisan media may suffer from the delusion that their ideology is actually popular with real people. And this has left them hapless in the face of a Trumpian challenge.

Probably more important, however, is the collision between demography and Obama derangement. The elite knows that the party must broaden its appeal as the electorate grows more diverse — in fact, that was the conclusion of the G.O.P.’s 2013 post-mortem. But the base, its hostility amped up to 11 after seven years of an African-American president (who the establishment has done its best to demonize) is having none of it.

The point, in any case, is that the divergent nomination outcomes of 2016 aren’t an accident. The Democratic establishment has won because it has, however imperfectly, tried to serve its supporters. The Republican establishment has been routed because it has been playing a con game on its supporters all along, and they’ve finally had enough.

And yes, Mr. Trump is playing a con game of his own, and they’ll eventually figure that out, too. But it won’t happen right away, and in any case it won’t help the party establishment. Sad!

And now here’s Ms. Collins from today:

Ted Cruz continues to astound. Every time it appears he can’t get more awful, he finds a new avenue, like a ground mole sniffing out a beetle. Right now, he’s in Indiana, trying to save his presidential career by ranting about transgender people and bathrooms.

“Even if Donald Trump dresses up as Hillary Clinton, he shouldn’t be using the girls’ restroom,” Cruz declaimed at a rally. It’s his new favorite line. He is constantly reminding Republican voters that Trump, when asked which bathroom transgender people should use, simply replied the one that they felt most appropriate.

That was possibly the most rational moment of the Trump campaign, and of course he has since started fudging on it. But not enough for Cruz, who has earned the distinction of being a presidential candidate who can make Donald Trump look good. “I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life,” said the former House speaker, John Boehner. He also called Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.”

If this has become a battle between fear and loathing, it appears that Republicans who know both candidates are deciding they’d rather be afraid.

Tuesday’s Indiana primary is critical for Cruz, and he scored a coup when Gov. Mike Pence endorsed him. Perhaps Pence, an extreme social conservative, felt he had to go with the only candidate who opposed allowing rape victims to seek abortions. But you have heard more enthusiastic announcements from flight attendants demonstrating the proper use of seatbelts.

Pence praised Trump for taking “a strong stand for Hoosier jobs” while blandly commending Cruz for his “knowledge of the Constitution.” We all know that as a youth, Ted memorized that document, and you can imagine him reciting Article II for the edification of his classmates. Which is both commendable and a possible explanation for why his former college roommate told The Daily Beast that he’d rather vote for a name picked randomly from the phone book.

It was a week in which Cruz made headlines with his disastrous attempt to connect with Indiana sports fans, in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” That was a terrible moment, although certainly not as bad as Trump’s boastful announcement that he’d gotten the backing of the ex-boxer Mike Tyson. (“I love it … Iron Mike. You know all the tough guys endorse me. I like that, O.K.?”) Tyson has strong ties to Indiana, having served three years in prison there for raping a beauty pageant contestant in 1992.

Cruz made a desperate play for attention by picking Carly Fiorina as his ticket’s vice-presidential candidate. While he’s still way behind in delegates, the senator from Texas now leads the pack in anointed running mates.

Fiorina was obviously chosen after long and careful consideration. But who do you think the other finalists were? He clearly needed a woman whose best career option was joining the Ted Cruz ticket. I am thinking the possible contenders were:

A) That State Board of Education candidate in Texas who claims Barack Obama used to pay for his drug habit by working as a prostitute.

B) Mrs. Cruz

C) The House member who made the impassioned speech denouncing government regulation of ceiling fans.

D) Wendy who delivered pizza to the campaign headquarters during the Ohio primary.

The woman from Texas is an actual person. The one from the House is Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. (“First they came for our health care. Then they took away our light bulbs … now they are coming after our ceiling fans.”) She’d be perfect, really. But unfortunately, she’s leaning toward Trump.

Cruz says that as the former head of a Fortune 500 company, Fiorina knows “where jobs come from.” (And where jobs go — she laid off 30,000 Hewlett-Packard employees.) She also ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in California — who can forget that campaign commercial where her opponent was depicted as a satanic sheep? The California connection might at least help him out in the state’s June primary, except that Fiorina decamped for Virginia after she lost the election, leaving behind memories and unpaid campaign debts.

The whole political world tuned in to watch Cruz announce Fiorina’s elevation, then wandered off to dust some bookshelves as he orated on for half an hour before turning over the stage. Fiorina then mesmerized the remaining viewers by singing a song, which she claimed she used to entertain Cruz’s daughters on bus rides, in a little-girl voice.

Cruz has been dragging the children, 5 and 8, into his campaign a lot. It appears they now spend their days on a bus with Carly Fiorina and being trotted onstage by Dad — before he gets to the part about Donald Trump cross-dressing in the girls’ restroom. They’ve also starred in a TV campaign ad reading from a mock Christmas book called “The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails.”

Free the Cruz Kids.

Never fear, America.  After DefeaTED loses Indiana he’ll announce his transition team.

Bobo, solo

April 26, 2016

Welp, Bobo is still in Havana, not “rediscovering” America.  And he’s decided to wax philosophical, which is always dangerous.  In “Getting to Zero” he gurgles that Hemingway’s life was in many ways a mess, but he proved it is possible to create honest and unvarnished art even in the midst of decline.  [sigh]  Here’s the comment (in its entirety) from “Robert Eller:”  Mr. Brooks, you’re in Cuba. You have a singular opportunity to act on your recently self-lamented admonishment to do your job better, and get out among people, to report on something most Americans don’t know.  Instead you retreat to your own weakness. You focus on a long dead American writer, and overlay that writer’s over-explained, over-analyzed life and work with your own over-analysis. Adding to your failure to seize the opportunity to be in Cuba, you “see” an opportunity to make a raggedy Ayn Rand comment about an artist preserving his purity by not serving the community. Unfortunately, you seem to think that all producers lose their purity not serving their community, because somehow, despite the constant lesson of all of nature, for people like you all of competition is inherently good, all of cooperation inherently evil. (Try reading Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s “Mother Nature,” Mr. Brooks, or any honest work of field anthropology or primatology. Even you might learn something about human beings.)  Cubans could have taught you something about cooperation, if you had not already decided that everything good in Cuba was frozen in amber, waiting to be “rescued” by the re-introduction of competition, the “purity” of not serving others. Oh, well. No man is an island, and you certainly are not Cuba.  Hemingway, by the way, because of his success and wealth, could afford his weaknesses and sins, even if those around him did not do so well. There’s a real Cuban story for you.”  Now here’s Bobo his ownself:

Ernest Hemingway’s house in Cuba seems like such a healthy place. It is light, welcoming and beautifully situated. There are hundreds of his books lining the shelves, testimony to all the reading he did there. There’s a baseball diamond nearby where he used to pitch to local boys.

Yet Hemingway was not a healthy man during the latter phases in his life. He was drunk much of the time; he often began drinking at breakfast and his brother counted 17 Scotch-and-sodas in a day. His wives complained that he was sporadic about bathing. He was obsessed with his weight and recorded it on the wall of his house.

He could be lively and funny, the organizer of exciting adventures. But he could also be depressed, combative and demoralized. His ego overflowed. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who endured a psychological crisis at about the same time, observed that Hemingway “is quite as nervously broken down as I am, but it manifests itself in different ways. His inclination is toward megalomania and mine toward melancholy.”

Even as a young man Hemingway exaggerated his (already prodigious) exploits in order to establish his manliness. When he was older his prima donna proclivities could make him, as one visiting photographer put it, “crazy,” “drunk” and “berserk.”

He was a prisoner of his own celebrity. He’d become famous at 25 and by middle age he was often just playing at being Ernest Hemingway. The poet David Whyte has written that work “is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself … losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.” Hemingway seems to have lost track of his own authentic voice in the midst of the public persona he’d created.

His misogyny was also like a cancer that ate out his insides. He was an extremely sensitive man, who suffered much from the merest slights, but was also an extremely dominating, cruel and self-indulgent one, who judged his wives harshly, slapped them when angry and forced them to bear all the known forms of disloyalty.

By this time, much of his writing rang false. Reviewer after reviewer said he had destroyed his own talent. His former mentor Gertrude Stein said he was a coward.

Yet there were moments, even amid the wreckage, when he could rediscover something authentic. Even at these late phases, he could write books like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” and passages like some in “To Have and Have Not” and “Islands in the Stream” that remain loved and celebrated today.

This is a process that we might call “getting to zero,” when an artist — or anyone, really — digs through all the sap that gets encrusted around a career or relationship and retouches the intrinsic impulse that got him or her into it in the first place. Hemingway’s career got overlayered by money, persona and fame, but sometimes even at this late stage he was able to reconnect with the young man’s directness that produced his early best work.

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity. Then in middle age, out of softness, laziness and self-approval, he indulged himself. But even then, even amid all the corruption, he had flashes when he could distinguish his own bluster from the good, true notes.

There is something heroic that happened in this house. Hemingway was a man who embraced every self-indulgence that can afflict a successful person. But at moments he shed all that he had earned and received, and rediscovered the hard-working, clear-seeing and unadorned man he used to be.

Brooks and Krugman

April 22, 2016

Oh, cripes.  Remember when Bobo said he was going to venture forth to “look for America?”  Well, he went to Cuba instead.  In “Jose Martí, the National Poet” he babbles that Cuba has challenges ahead, but its national spirit is worthy of deep admiration.  He wonders whether our “national malaise” has something to do with having lost touch with our national poets.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston tried to tell him something:  “Our national malaise is the result of an attack on the American spirit by Obama-hating zealots, abetted in part by the weekly poetry of opinion pieces by David Brooks. Did he really have to travel to Cuba to see young men hanging about on the streets with no jobs, no prospects and a dismal future? He could have seen that right here in the good old USA, where entire cities have been decimated by economic abandonment, and where we lock up more of our population than any other nation on earth. Eat your heart out, Fidel.”  In “In Hamilton’s Debt” Prof. Krugman says of course the founding father should stay on the $10 bill, and that today’s policy makers could learn from his wisdom.  Here’s Bobo, writing from Havana:

Many nations have attempted the transition from revolutionary socialism toward some form of democratic capitalism; Cuba just happens to be the final one.

The country has many things going against it as it tries to make the journey. It suffers from the dysfunctions that afflict countries that have giant bureaucratic states lying heavy on society. Those at the top have been trained all their lives to regulate and control. The governing elites speak (at great length) in lifeless ideological jargon.

The current government slogan — not without haste, but without pause — suggests a steady reform process, but in fact the old people running this effort are halting and glacial. The world is changing Cuba faster than the Cuban state can cope.

The neighborhoods feel warmer and more communal than those in many other nations, but there are certainly a lot of young men lethargically hanging about all day without much to do.

Independent civic institutions are scarce. The young people, local scholars say, are disillusioned with all systems. They hope technology will save them, or moving abroad will.

But there is one big thing Cuba definitely has going for it: national pride. One encounters a fierce love of country, a sense of national solidarity and a confident patriotic spirit that is today lacking in the United States.

The patriotism has prickly manifestations. Cuban officials drop random Bay of Pigs references into their conversations with Americans, just for the ornery satisfaction of it. There is also a pervasive (and sometimes completely unhelpful) sense of Cuban exceptionalism; the idea is that no other model quite fits Cuba because the place is so remarkably distinct.

But there are glorious manifestations. A lot of that national pride is based on cultural achievements. I am here with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, part of President Obama’s reconciliation with Cuba. Musicians like Smokey Robinson, Dave Matthews, Joshua Bell, John Lloyd Young and Usher and creative types like the playwright John Guare and the choreographer Martha Clarke, got to interact with their Cuban counterparts, while government officials negotiated future exchanges.

This is the way to see Cuba at its best. The artistic community is consistently dazzling. It’s not only the high artistic standards. There is a radiating joy in performance that glows out of each artist, a blaze from something deep in the Cuban soul.

But Cuban national pride has another source: the 19th-century poet and journalist José Martí. I was amazed how much Martí’s name came up in conversation here and how little Fidel Castro’s did. Martí is the national poet, the one who shifted the national imagination, who told Cubans who they were and what their story was. He inspired a common faith in a dignified future.

One foundation head told me: “When I’m depressed I try to read something Martí wrote. He’s a father who embraces you. I think he engages the best of Cuba.”

Martí taught by example, fighting for Cuban independence all his life. He was jailed in Cuba and exiled to Spain and elsewhere. He lived a good chunk of his life in the U.S., fighting American imperialism but writing admiring essays on Whitman, Emerson and the Brooklyn Bridge. He excelled at prose, poetry and political organization. He died in battle, fighting for Cuban independence from Spain.

He also taught through his writing, which is quoted on all sides. He believed in an independent Cuba, a moderate and democratic political system with protections to tame capitalism. His love of Cuba caused him to love all Cubans. He spent much of his life trying to unite and reconcile them. “Absolute ideas must take relative forms if they are not to fail,” he wrote.

But he was not primarily a systematic or programmatic thinker. “The problem of independence is not a change in form but a change in spirit,” he believed. He fired patriotism and self-confidence. He found inner fulfillment by serving a national project and envisioning a national purpose.

It’s hard to be too optimistic about Cuba’s short-term future. The leaders are trying to square the mother of all circles — to have a rich society but without rich people; to have an entrepreneurial class but without losing the egalitarian solidarity; to have revolutionary socialism and also outside investment and growth, risk-taking and enterprise.

But it’s exciting to see a nation that has a palpable sense of its own soul. It’s interesting to see what a powerful force a national poet can be. Long dead, Martí is a precious resource who unifies amid disagreement and fortifies in hard times.

Every nation needs to know who it is and what its collective story is. I wonder if the current U.S. malaise has something to do with the way we have lost touch with our own national poets, or even a common sense of who they might be.

Let us now all pause and consider the glory of Bobo calling Cuba “socialist.”  For decades he and his ilk have called Cuba “communist.”  I wonder if he’s now suddenly singing a different tune because of a certain Presidential candidate?  Nah, unpossible…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

The Treasury Department picked an interesting moment to announce a revision in its plans to change the faces on America’s money. Plans to boot Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill in favor of a woman have been shelved. Instead, Harriet Tubman — one of the most heroic figures in the history of our nation, or any nation — will move onto the face of the $20 bill.

She will replace Andrew Jackson, a populist who campaigned against elites but was also, unfortunately, very much a racist, arguably an advocate of what we would nowadays call white supremacy. Hmm. Does that make you think about any currently prominent political figures?

But let me leave the $20 bill alone and talk about how glad I am to see Hamilton retain his well-deserved honor. And I’m not alone among economists in my admiration for our first Treasury secretary. In fact, Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong have an excellent new book, “Concrete Economics,” arguing that Hamilton was the true father of the American economy.

Full disclosure: I know next to nothing about Hamilton the man and his life story. Nor, I’m sorry to say, have I managed to see the musical. But I have read Hamilton’s pathbreaking economic policy manifestoes, in particular his 1790 “First Report on the Public Credit,” a document that remains amazingly relevant today.

In that report, Hamilton proposed that the federal government assume and honor all of the debts individual states had run up during the Revolutionary War, imposing new tariffs on imported goods to raise the needed revenue. He believed that doing so would produce important benefits, which I’ll get to in a minute.

First, however, I think it’s interesting to ask how such a proposal would be received today.

On the left, it would surely be denounced as a bailout — a giveaway to speculators who had purchased devalued debt for pennies on the dollar, and would reap large capital gains. Indeed, a fair bit of the report is devoted to explaining why trying to prevent such windfall gains, via “discrimination between the different classes of creditors,” would be impractical and unwise.

Meanwhile, on the right — well, Hamilton was calling for a tax increase, which modern conservatives oppose under any and all circumstances. Luckily for him, there was no Club for Growth to demand his impeachment.

But why did Hamilton want to take on those state debts? Partly to establish a national reputation as a reliable borrower, so that funds could be raised cheaply in the future. Partly, also, to give wealthy, influential investors a stake in the new federal government, thereby creating a powerful pro-federal constituency.

Beyond that, however, Hamilton argued that the existence of a significant, indeed fairly large national debt would be good for business. Why? Because “in countries in which the national debt is properly funded, and an object of established confidence, it answers most of the purposes of money.” That is, bonds issued by the U.S. government would provide a safe, easily traded asset that the private sector could use as a store of value, as collateral for deals, and in general as a lubricant for business activity. As a result, the debt would become a “national blessing,” making the economy more productive.

This argument anticipates, to a remarkable degree, one of the hottest ideas in modern macroeconomics: the notion that we are suffering from a global “safe asset shortage.” The private sector, according to this argument, can’t function well without a sufficient pool of assets whose value isn’t in question — and for a variety of reasons, there just aren’t enough such assets these days.

As a result, investors have been bidding up the prices of government debt, leading to incredibly low interest rates. But it would be better for almost everyone, the story goes, if governments were to issue more debt, investing the proceeds in much-needed infrastructure even while providing the private sector with the collateral it needs to function. And it’s a very persuasive story to just about everyone who has looked hard at the evidence.

Unfortunately, policy makers won’t do the right thing, largely because they keep listening to fiscal scolds — people who insist that public debt is a terrible thing even when borrowing costs almost nothing. The influence of these scolds, their virtual veto over fiscal policy, somehow persists even though their predictions of soaring interest rates and runaway inflation keep not coming true.

The point is that Alexander Hamilton knew better.

Unfortunately, Hamilton isn’t around to help counter foolish debt phobia. But maybe reminding policy makers of his wisdom is one way to chip away at the wall of folly that still constrains policy. And having his face out there every time someone pulls out a ten can’t hurt, either.

Bobo, solo

April 19, 2016

Bobo has decided to issue a stern warning about “The Danger of a Single Story.”  He gurgles that our politics and our humanity suffer when we only acknowledge one explanation for a person or phenomenon, especially on issues like criminal justice.  Here’s a longish comment from “C. Hofman” from the Netherlands:  “There is so much wrong in this piece, I don’t know where to start. The false equivalence between left and right, blaming Trump for the vilifications, simplifications and misappropriations that are long part and parcel of the Republican platform, and rehashing a whole lot of long debunked sloppy research to make a point against the (mostly correct!) narrative of the left. Yes, there are more sides to a lot of issues, but the problem is that most of the sides you mentioned aren’t true.  Let me take out one of these debunked stories: Less aggressive policing means more crime. It’s really not clear that crime rose at all, in fact, it didn’t. Crime perhaps rose in some places, in others it fell, that’s natural, because things always don’t stay exactly the same. Moreover, correlation does not mean causation. Especially in this case: the places where policing became less aggressive as a reaction to protests about far too aggressive policing were *not* the places where crime rose.  I can say similar things about your other “stories”.   Single viewpoint stories can indeed be wrong, but wrong stories are worse. And then there’s the hypocrisy: the single story is the domain of the party David Brooks belongs to, and it is also always the conclusion he comes to in his columns.”  Now that we’ve heard from someone with a few brains here’s Bobo:

In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a fabulous TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.” It was about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: when Africans, for example, are treated solely as pitiable poor, starving victims with flies on their faces.

Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity.

American politics has always been prone to single storyism — candidates reducing complex issues to simple fables. This year the problem is acute because Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the giants of Single Storyism. They reduce pretty much all issues to the same single story: the alien invader story.

Every problem can be solved by finding some corrupt or oppressive group to blame. If America is beset by wage stagnation it’s not because of intricate structural problems. It’s because of the criminal Mexicans sneaking across the border or it’s because of this evil entity called “the banks.”

Worse, the stories have become identity markers. This is a phenomenon borrowed from campus political correctness. In order to express your solidarity with the virtuous team, you have to embrace the socially approved story. If you differ from the official story — the way Bill Clinton differed from the official progressive crime story a few weeks ago — it is not so much a sign that you are wrong (truth is not the issue). It is a sign that you have false allegiances. You must embrace the approved story to show you are not complicit in a system of oppression.

Hillary Clinton is not naturally a single story person. But while she is controlling the delegate race this campaign, Sanders is controlling the conversation and she is gradually coming around to his version of everything. For example, last week she came closer to embracing a nationwide $15 minimum wage, though still with caveats.

One true minimum wage story is that corporations are reaping record profits while pushing down wages of the unskilled. But another true story, embodied in the vast trove of research, is that if you raise the minimum wage too high, you end up punishing less skilled workers. One study found the modest hike in the national minimum wage between 2006 and 2009 reduced employment among young people without a high school degree by almost 6 percent.

The key is to find a balance between those stories. Raising the minimum wage to $15 may make sense in rich areas, but in most of the country there will be horrendous consequences for less skilled workers trying to find jobs.

In the realm of criminal justice, one true story is that America’s criminal justice system was constructed within a system of slavery and racism. It enables police brutality, often of a racist sort. It has led to massive over-incarceration, which has devastated individuals, families and neighborhoods.

Yet there are other opposing stories, also true:

Incarceration reduces crime. Experts disagree wildly on how much, but most studies show a significant effect. That’s partly because most of the people who do serious crime are career criminals. Among inmates released from state prison in 2005, the average number of previous convictions was five and the average number of previous arrests was greater than 10.

Less aggressive policing means more crime. After the release of the horrific Laquan McDonald video — which showed a Chicago cop killing him in cold blood — there was a 69 percent drop in the nonfatal shooting arrest rate and a 48 percent drop in the homicide arrest rate. In the meantime, according to an analysis by Rob Arthur and Jeff Asher of FiveThirtyEight, nonfatal shootings rose by 73 percent and homicides rose by 48 percent.

While the overall system is steeped in structural racial inequality, parts of the system don’t seem that biased. As the criminologist Barry Latzer notes in his book “The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America,” there is not a wide disparity between whites and blacks in time served for various offenses.

Moderate, bipartisan efforts are reducing inequality. Decades ago, evangelicals like Chuck Colson joined with a swath of progressives to reduce incarceration rates. These efforts are having an effect. Total U.S. imprisonment has declined for the past seven years. The imprisonment rate among black women has dropped by 47 percent since 2000, while the rate of imprisonment among white women has risen by 56 percent. Male imprisonment trends are similar though less striking.

As in life generally, every policy has the vices of its virtues. Aggressive policing cuts crime but increases brutality. There is no escape from trade-offs and tragic situations. The only way forward is to elect people who are capable of holding opposing stories in their heads at the same time, and to reject those who can’t.

Better late than never… Brooks and Krugman

April 15, 2016

Sorry for the delay, but sometimes life gets in the way.  Today Bobo has a DEEEEP question:  “What Is Inspiration?”  He gurgles about how that moment when mind and spirit take flight stands apart from normal life.  There were some wonderful comments, but we’ll have to pass since I’m in a hellacious rush.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Pastrami Principle,” says beware politicians — Republican or Democratic — who sneer at voters.  Here, alas, is Bobo:

For decades, Anders Ericsson has reminded us of the value of hard work. The Florida State psychologist did the research that led to the so-called 10,000-hour rule. In his informative new book, “Peak,” he and co-author Robert Pool downplay the importance of native-born genius (even in people like Mozart) and emphasize the importance of deliberate practice — painstaking exercises to perfect some skill.

Anybody who has observed excellence knows that Ericsson is basically right. Dogged work is the prerequisite of success. Yet there are some moments — after much steady work and after the technical skills have been mastered — when the mind and spirit take flight. We call these moments of inspiration. They kind of steal upon you, longed for and unexpected.

Inspiration is a much-used, domesticated, amorphous and secular word for what is actually a revolutionary, countercultural and spiritual phenomenon. But what exactly is inspiration? What are we talking about when we use that term?

Well, moments of inspiration don’t quite make sense by normal logic. They feel transcendent, uncontrollable and irresistible. When one is inspired, time disappears or alters its pace. The senses are amplified. There may be goose bumps or shivers down the spine, or a sense of being overawed by some beauty.

Inspiration is always more active than mere appreciation. There’s a thrilling feeling of elevation, a burst of energy, an awareness of enlarged possibilities. The person in the grip of inspiration has received, as if by magic, some new perception, some holistic understanding, along with the feeling that she is capable of more than she thought.

Vladimir Nabokov believed that inspiration comes in phases. First, he wrote, there’s the “prefatory glow,” the feeling of “tickly well-being” that banishes all awareness of physical discomfort. The feeling does not yield its secret just yet, but a window has been opened and some wind has blown in.

Then, a few days later, Nabokov continued, the writer “forefeels what he is going to tell.” There’s an instant vision, the lightning bolt of inspiration, that turns into rapid speech, and a “tumble of merging words” that form the nucleus of a work that will grow from it over the ensuing months or years.

Inspired work stands apart from normal life. In the first place it’s not about self-interest as normally understood. It’s not driven by a desire for money or grades or status. The inspired person is driven intrinsically by the work itself. The work takes hold of a person.

Inspiration is not earned. Your investment of time and effort prepares you for inspiration, but inspiration is a gift that goes beyond anything you could have deserved.

Inspiration is not something you can control. People who are inspired have lost some agency. They often feel that something is working through them, some power greater than themselves. The Greeks said it was the Muses. Believers might say it is God or the Holy Spirit. Others might say it is something mysterious bursting forth deep in the unconscious, a new way of seeing.

Inspiration does not happen to autonomous individuals. It’s a beautiful contagion that passes through individuals. The word itself comes from the Latin inspirare, meaning “to breath into.” One inspiring achievement — say, the space program — has a tendency to raise the sense of possibility in others — say, a little boy who dreams of being an astronomer. Then the one who is inspired performs his own feats and inspires others, and so on down the line.

Inspiration is not permanent and solid. It’s powerful but ephemeral, which is why so many people compare it to a gust of wind. And when it is gone people long for its return.

The poet Christian Wiman wrote that inspiration is “intrusive, transcendent, transformative, but also evanescent and, all too often, anomalous. A poem can leave its maker at once more deeply seized by existence and, in a profound way, alienated from it, for as the act of making ends, as the world that seemed to overbrim its boundaries becomes, once more, merely the world, it can be very difficult to retain any faith at all in that original moment of inspiration. That memory of that momentary blaze, in fact, and the art that issued from it, can become a kind of reproach to the fireless life in which you find yourself most of the time.”

Most important, inspiration demands a certain posture, the sort of posture people feel when they are overawed by something large and mysterious. They are both humbled and self-confident, surrendering and also powerful. When people are inspired they are willing to take a daring lark toward something truly great. They’re brave enough to embrace the craggy fierceness of the truth and to try to express it in some new way.

Yes, hard work is really important for achievement. But life is more mysterious than just that.

He needs to spend a year or 12 working at minimum wage jobs and trying to find inspiration in that.  The asshole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

A couple of months ago, Jeb Bush (remember him?) posted a photo of his monogrammed handgun to Twitter, with the caption “America.” Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, responded with a picture of an immense pastrami sandwich, also captioned “America.” Advantage de Blasio, if you ask me.

Let me now somewhat ruin the joke by talking about the subtext. Mr. Bush’s post was an awkward attempt to tap into the common Republican theme that only certain people — white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens — embody the true spirit of the nation. It’s a theme most famously espoused by Sarah Palin, who told small-town Southerners that they represented the “real America.” You see the same thing when Ted Cruz sneers at “New York values.”

Mr. de Blasio’s riposte, celebrating a characteristically New York delicacy, was a declaration that we’re also Americans — that everyone counts. And that, surely, is the vision of America that should prevail.

Which is why it’s disturbing to see Palinesque attempts to delegitimize large groups of voters surfacing among some Democrats.

Quite a few people seem confused about the current state of the Democratic nomination race. But the essentials are simple: Hillary Clinton has a large lead in both pledged delegates and the popular vote so far. (In Democratic primaries, delegate allocation is roughly proportional to votes.) If you ask how that’s possible — Bernie Sanders just won seven states in a row! — you need to realize that those seven states have a combined population of about 20 million. Meanwhile, Florida alone also has about 20 million people — and Mrs. Clinton won it by a 30-point margin.

To overtake her, Mr. Sanders would have to win the remaining contests by an average 13-point margin, a number that will almost surely go up after the New York primary, even if he does much better than current polls suggest. That’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely.

So the Sanders campaign is arguing that superdelegates — the people, mainly party insiders, not selected through primaries and caucuses who get to serve as delegates under Democratic nomination rules — should give him the nomination even if he loses the popular vote. In case you’re rubbing your eyes: Yes, not long ago many Sanders supporters were fulminating about how Hillary was going to steal the nomination by having superdelegates put her over the top despite losing the primaries. Now the Sanders strategy is to win by doing exactly that.

But how can the campaign make the case that the party should defy the apparent will of its voters? By insisting that many of those voters shouldn’t count. Over the past week, Mr. Sanders has declared that Mrs. Clinton leads only because she has won in the “Deep South,” which is a “pretty conservative part of the country.” The tally so far, he says, “distorts reality”because it contains so many Southern states.

As it happens, this isn’t true — the calendar, which front-loaded some states very favorable to Mr. Sanders, hasn’t been a big factor in the race. Also, swing-state Florida isn’t the Deep South. But never mind. The big problem with this argument should be obvious. Mrs. Clinton didn’t win big in the South on the strength of conservative voters; she won by getting an overwhelming majority of black voters. This puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it?

Is it possible that Mr. Sanders doesn’t know this, that he imagines that Mrs. Clinton is riding a wave of support from old-fashioned Confederate-flag-waving Dixiecrats, as opposed to, let’s be blunt, the descendants of slaves? Maybe. He is not, as you may have noticed, a details guy.

It’s more likely, however, that he’s being deliberately misleading — and that his effort to delegitimize a big part of the Democratic electorate is a cynical ploy.

Who’s the target of this ploy? Not the superdelegates, surely. Think about it: Can you imagine Democratic Party insiders deciding to deny the nomination to the candidate who won the most votes, on the grounds that African-American voters don’t count as much as whites?

No, claims that Clinton wins in the South should be discounted are really aimed at misleading Sanders supporters, giving them an unrealistic view of the chances that their favorite can still win — and thereby keeping the flow of money and volunteers coming.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Mr. Sanders should drop out. He has the right to keep campaigning, in the hope either of pulling off huge upsets in the remaining primaries or of having influence at the convention. But trying to keep his campaign going by misleading his supporters is not O.K. And sneering at millions of voters is truly beyond the pale, especially for a progressive.

Remember the pastrami principle: We’re all real Americans. And African-Americans are very definitely real Democrats, deserving respect.

Brooks and Cohen

April 12, 2016

Oh, gawd…  Bobo has decided to tell us all what’s wrong with politics.  (Hint — it has nothing to do with Republicans.  Apparently it’s all due to sex, drugs and rock & roll… or something.)  The title alone is worthy of a spit take:  “How to Fix Politics.”  In this opus he babbles that we should shrink it, and surround it with other social bonds.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “False equivalence, thy name is Brooks.  The Democrats have never shut down the government but Viet Nam draft dodger Gingrich and Ayatollah Ted have, twice.  …  It is only the republicans who have the multi-billion dollar disinformation/ agitation propaganda operations of the continuing criminal enterprises of serial Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violator Faux Noise and the eco terrorists of Koch Sedition, Propaganda & Pollution, working 24/7/365 to subvert our democracy.”  Mr. Cohen, in “The Islamic State of Molenbeek,” says a district of Brussels had in effect seceded from Belgium, and that Europe must fight an ideological battle against Wahhabi Islam.  In the comments “Roland Menestres” from Raleigh, NC had this to say:  “Roger Cohen fails to mention that those Wahhabi clerics who hijacked those lost young Muslims are all paid and supported by our “friend” Saudi Arabia. The same Saudi Arabia that produced the twin towers terrorists and financed Al Qaeda and ISIS. Maybe, instead of blaming Belgium, a tiny country that has gone out of its way to integrate economical and political Muslim refugees/immigrants, maybe, just maybe we should go to the source of that religious extremism and shut it down saving ourselves lots of future blood shedding.”  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

In the middle of this depressing presidential campaign I sometimes wonder, How could we make our politics better?

It’s possible to imagine an elite solution. The next president could get together with the leaders of both parties in Congress and say: “We’re going to change the way we do business in Washington. We’re going to deliberate and negotiate. We’ll disagree and wrangle, but we will not treat this as good-versus-evil blood sport.” That kind of leadership might trickle down.

But it’s increasingly clear that the roots of political dysfunction lie deep in society. If there’s truly going to be improvement, there has to be improvement in the social context politics is embedded in.

In healthy societies, people live their lives within a galaxy of warm places. They are members of a family, neighborhood, school, civic organization, hobby group, company, faith, regional culture, nation, continent and world. Each layer of life is nestled in the others to form a varied but coherent whole.

But starting just after World War II, America’s community/membership mind-set gave way to an individualistic/autonomy mind-set. The idea was that individuals should be liberated to live as they chose, so long as they didn’t interfere with the rights of others.

By 1981, the pollster Daniel Yankelovich noticed the effects: “Throughout most of this century Americans believed that self-denial made sense, sacrificing made sense, obeying the rules made sense, subordinating oneself to the institution made sense. But now doubts have set in, and Americans now believe that the old giving/getting compact needlessly restricts the individual while advancing the power of large institutions … who use the power to enhance their own interests at the expense of the public.”

The individualist turn had great effects but also accumulating downsides. By 2005, 47 percent of Americans reported that they knew none or just a few of their neighbors by name. There’s been a sharp rise in the number of people who report that they have no close friends to confide in.

Civic life has suffered. As Marc J. Dunkelman writes in his compelling book “The Vanishing Neighbor,” people are good at tending their inner-ring relationships — their family and friends. They’re pretty good at tending to outer-ring relationships — their hundreds of Facebook acquaintances, their fellow progressives, or their TED and Harley fans.

But Americans spend less time with middle-ring township relationships — the PTA, the neighborhood watch.

Middle-ring relationships, Dunkelman argues, help people become skilled at deliberation. The guy sitting next to you at the volunteer fire company may have political opinions you find abhorrent, but you still have to get stuff done with him, week after week.

Middle-ring relationships also diversify the sources of identity. You might be an O’Rourke, an Irish Catholic and a professor, but you are also a citizen, importantly of the Montrose neighborhood in Houston.

With middle-ring memberships deteriorating, Americans have become worse at public deliberation. People find it easier to ignore inconvenient viewpoints and facts. Partisanship becomes a preconscious lens through which people see the world.

They report being optimistic or pessimistic depending on whether their team is in power. They become unrealistic. Trump voters don’t seem to realize how unelectable their man is because they hang out with people like themselves.

We’re good at bonding with people like ourselves but worse at bridging with people unlike ourselves. (Have you noticed that most people who call themselves “connectors” are actually excluders because they create groups restricted to people with similar status levels?)

With fewer sources of ethnic and local identity, people ask politics to fill the void. Being a Democrat or a Republican becomes their ethnicity. People put politics at the center of their psychological, emotional and even spiritual life.

This is asking too much of politics. Once politics becomes your ethnic and moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. If you put politics at the center of identity, you end up asking the state to eclipse every social authority but itself. Presidential campaigns become these gargantuan two-year national rituals that swallow everything else in national life.

If we’re going to salvage our politics, we probably have to shrink politics, and nurture the thick local membership web that politics rests within. We probably have to scale back the culture of autonomy that was appropriate for the 1960s but that has since gone too far.

If we make this cultural shift, we may even end up happier. For there is a paradox to longing. If each of us fulfill all of our discrete individual desires, we end up with a society that is not what we want at all.

The highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization, is actually connected to the lowest level, group survival. People experience their highest joy in helping their neighbors make it through the day.

So he finds this presidential campaign depressing.  One wonders why.  It couldn’t POSSIBLY be because of the collection of buffoons and losers his party has vomited up, could it?  He is SUCH a foof.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Brussels:

There are military trucks parked in Molenbeek, and soldiers with submachine guns patrol the jittery streets of the Brussels district that has been the epicenter of European terrorism in recent months. On the Place Communale idle youths loiter, shooting glances at the police. This is where the Paris and Brussels attacks, with their 162 dead, overlap.

Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving direct participant in the Paris attacks, hid in Molenbeek before his arrest on March 18. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected chief planner of the Paris attacks, lived in Molenbeek. In all, at least 14 people tied to both attacks were either Belgian or lived in Brussels.

One of them is Mohamed Abrini, a Belgian of Moroccan origin who grew up in Molenbeek and was arrested in Brussels on Friday. He has told the police he is “the man in the hat” caught on surveillance cameras leaving Brussels airport after two accomplices blew themselves up on March 22. Cameras also placed him in Paris last November with the Paris attackers.

Sleepy Brussels: goodbye to that image. Yet even today there’s something soporific about this French-speaking city marooned within Flemish-speaking Flanders, beset by administrative and linguistic divisions and the lethargy that stems from them, home to a poorly integrated immigrant population of mainly Moroccan and Turkish descent (41 percent of the population of Molenbeek is Muslim), and housing the major institutions of a fraying European Union.

It is hard to resist the symbolism of the Islamic State establishing a base for its murderous designs in the so-called capital of Europe at a time when the European idea is weaker than at any time since the 1950s. A jihadi loves a vacuum, as Syria demonstrates. Belgium as a state, and Belgium as the heart of the European Union are as close to a vacuum as Europe offers these days.

Belgium — a hodgepodge of three regions (Flanders, French-speaking Wallonia and Brussels), three linguistic communities (Flemish, French and German) and a weak federal government — is dysfunctional. That dysfunction finds its most powerful expression in the capital, where Flemish geography and French culture do not align. The administrative breakdown assumes critical proportions in Molenbeek, the second-poorest commune in the country, with 36 percent of people younger than 25 unemployed.

As Julia Lynch noted recently in The Washington Post, Molenbeek’s radicalism is not new. It was “home to one of the attackers in the 2004 commuter train bombings in Madrid and to the Frenchman who shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in August 2014. The Moroccan shooter on the Brussels-Paris Thalys train in August 2015 stayed with his sister there.”

This is an outrage. Splintered Belgium had lost control of Molenbeek. A heavily Muslim district of Brussels had in effect seceded. If this were the extent of the problem, it would be grave. But Molenbeek is just the most acute manifestation of a European failure.

The large-scale immigration from Turkey and North Africa that began a half-century ago at a time of economic boom has — at a time of economic stagnation — led to near-ghettos in or around many European cities where the jobless descendants of those migrants are sometimes radicalized by Wahhabi clerics. As the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, warned recently, an extremist minority is “winning the ideological and cultural battle” within French Islam.

The fact that the jihadis, often Syrian-trained, are a minority, and that many Muslims who immigrate to Europe are leading successful and integrated lives, is little consolation. After the carnage in Paris and Brussels, the laissez-faire approach that had allowed those clerics to proselytize, private Muslim schools to multiply in France, prisons to serve as incubators of jihadism, youths to drift to ISIS land in Syria and back, and districts like Molenbeek or Schaerbeek to drift into a void of negligence, has to cease. Improved intelligence is not enough. There is an ideological battle going on; it has to be waged on that level, where it has been lost up to now. The moderate Muslim communities of Europe need to do much more.

Europe, of which Brussels is a symbol, presents an alarming picture today. The Dutch, susceptible to propaganda from Russia, have just voted in a referendum against a trade agreement with Ukraine for which more than 100 Ukrainians died in an uprising in 2014. The British are set to vote in June on whether to leave the Union. The euro has sapped economies insufficiently integrated for a common currency. A huge refugee flow has raised questions about a borderless Europe. President Putin plots daily to do his worst for the European Union.

There is a vacuum. Vacuums are dangerous. The answer is a reformed, reinvigorated and stronger Europe, not the kind of division that produced Molenbeek — a microcosm of what fragmentation can bring.

My two older children were born in Schaerbeek. My daughter, now a doctor in New Mexico, took some of her first steps at Brussels airport. This is not the Europe I imagined for them.

Brooks and Krugman

April 8, 2016

Bobo is busy clutching at straws on his way to the fainting couch.  In “The Lincoln Caucus” he gurgles that Republican convention delegates should use their power and unite to bargain with candidates for a better Republicanism.  Were Lincoln alive to day he wouldn’t be a Republican…  In the comments “C.L.S.” from MA had this to say:  “Ah, yes, the Republicans who believe in pragmatic compromise …. they could model their caucus on the wonderful pragmatic compromise evidenced in Congress these late eight years.  Sure.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Sanders Over the Edge” says the revolutionary isn’t cute anymore.  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican presidential campaign just changed. Until now this has been a candidate-centric process. All the different candidates were competing to get a majority of delegates to the G.O.P. convention. But now it’s likely no candidate will get that majority on the first ballot.

So the campaign has become a delegate-centric process. Suddenly the delegates have all the power and the candidates have to woo them for their support. The crucial question is, how are delegates going to use their power?

Well, they could go the solitary path. In this model the delegates give away their support one by one. But they’d get nothing for it in return — except maybe a hug from Ivanka Trump or a Ted Cruz coffee mug. Big whoop.

Or they could choose the collective path.

This is the path that recognizes that the situation we’re in now is more like a parliamentary process than a presidential process. Even very small groups can have an amazing influence over big candidates who are trying to build a majority coalition. Think of the way small Israeli religious parties extract concessions from the much larger Israeli parties.

So I’m suggesting some number of delegates organize themselves into a caucus called the Lincoln Caucus. The Lincoln Caucus would not be an explicitly anti-Trump caucus or an anti-Cruz caucus. It would just be a caucus made up of delegates who are not happy with the choices currently before them.

The evidence suggests that there will be a lot of these delegates. Only 10 percent of the delegates are named by the presidential campaigns. The vast majority, still to be chosen, will be local activists or state legislators.

If they have a chance on a second or third ballot, many of them will love to vote against Donald Trump. By July, many of them, I suspect, will be less satisfied with Cruz than they are today — after he gets crushed in a bunch of big primaries and gets bloodied in the Trump-Cruz civil war.

I’m suggesting that the delegates who signed up to be members of the Lincoln Caucus make a pledge to work and vote together at the convention.

The first thing the Lincoln Caucus would do is plant a flag for a different style of Republicanism. Members of the caucus would remind the country that there still are Republicans who believe in prudent globalism, reform conservative ideas to lift up the working class. There are still Republicans who believe in certain standards of polite behavior in public and pragmatic compromise.

If the Republican ticket gets devastated in November, members of the Lincoln Caucus could say, “We stood for something different,” and they’d be in a good position to lead the rebuilding process.

But the Lincoln Caucus would primarily serve more immediate ends.

First, the Lincoln Caucus would work with the rules committee to get rid of any party bylaws that inhibit delegate flexibility at the convention. Second, it would tell the Trump and Cruz campaigns this: After the second ballot, we will entertain offers for our support. You may offer us policy pledges, personnel positions or anything you think will win our favor.

After the offers were in, members of the Lincoln Caucus would hold a public vote. They could vote for the Trump offer, for the Cruz offer or for some as yet unknown third candidate. If most of the Lincoln Caucus votes went for the third option, then that person would be the caucus candidate in the ensuing convention ballots.

This process would bring the Trump and Cruz campaigns back toward the Republican mainstream. It would create a road toward party unity after one deal or another was reached. It might go some way toward heading off a general election debacle.

It would also create a democratic path toward a Republican nominee who is not Trump or Cruz. Remember, the members of the caucus would be delegates, not Washington insiders. They would be a committeeman from Missouri or a state rep from Ohio. They’d be tied to the grass roots, and the press would be all over these people at the convention. This is the best way to get a non-Trump/Cruz candidate without sparking riots in the streets.

Mostly, members of the Lincoln Caucus would stand up for the legitimate rights of the party. In our republican system, it is parties that choose nominees; not primary voters. Parties are lasting institutions that manage coalitions, preserve historical commitments, protect us from flash-in-the-pan demagogues and impose restraints on the excessively ambitious. The Lincoln Caucus would embody these legitimate institutional responsibilities.

It’s impossible to tell where this process is heading. It would be nice to have a pre-organized faction, standing up for pragmatic, reform conservative ideas, ready for whatever may come.

If modern conservatives don’t stand together, they will surely hang separately.

I wonder if Bobo is going to be in Cleveland, to watch what The Donald’s mob will do if their candidate is weaseled out of the nomination…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

From the beginning, many and probably most liberal policy wonks were skeptical about Bernie Sanders. On many major issues — including the signature issues of his campaign, especially financial reform — he seemed to go for easy slogans over hard thinking. And his political theory of change, his waving away of limits, seemed utterly unrealistic.

Some Sanders supporters responded angrily when these concerns were raised, immediately accusing anyone expressing doubts about their hero of being corrupt if not actually criminal. But intolerance and cultishness from some of a candidate’s supporters are one thing; what about the candidate himself?

Unfortunately, in the past few days the answer has become all too clear: Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.

Let me illustrate the point about issues by talking about bank reform.

The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.

Yet going on about big banks is pretty much all Mr. Sanders has done. On the rare occasions on which he was asked for more detail, he didn’t seem to have anything more to offer. And this absence of substance beyond the slogans seems to be true of his positions across the board.

You could argue that policy details are unimportant as long as a politician has the right values and character. As it happens, I don’t agree. For one thing, a politician’s policy specifics are often a very important clue to his or her true character — I warned about George W. Bush’s mendacity back when most journalists were still portraying him as a bluff, honest fellow, because I actually looked at his tax proposals. For another, I consider a commitment to facing hard choices as opposed to taking the easy way out an important value in itself.

But in any case, the way Mr. Sanders is now campaigning raises serious character and values issues.

It’s one thing for the Sanders campaign to point to Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections, which are real, although the question should be whether they have distorted her positions, a case the campaign has never even tried to make. But recent attacks on Mrs. Clinton as a tool of the fossil fuel industry are just plain dishonest, and speak of a campaign that has lost its ethical moorings.

And then there was Wednesday’s rant about how Mrs. Clinton is not “qualified” to be president.

What probably set that off was a recent interview of Mr. Sanders by The Daily News, in which he repeatedly seemed unable to respond when pressed to go beyond his usual slogans. Mrs. Clinton, asked about that interview, was careful in her choice of words, suggesting that “he hadn’t done his homework.”

But Mr. Sanders wasn’t careful at all, declaring that what he considers Mrs. Clinton’s past sins, including her support for trade agreements and her vote to authorize the Iraq war — for which she has apologized — make her totally unfit for office.

This is really bad, on two levels. Holding people accountable for their past is O.K., but imposing a standard of purity, in which any compromise or misstep makes you the moral equivalent of the bad guys, isn’t. Abraham Lincoln didn’t meet that standard; neither did F.D.R. Nor, for that matter, has Bernie Sanders (think guns).

And the timing of the Sanders rant was truly astonishing. Given her large lead in delegates — based largely on the support of African-American voters, who respond to her pragmatism because history tells them to distrust extravagant promises — Mrs. Clinton is the strong favorite for the Democratic nomination.

Is Mr. Sanders positioning himself to join the “Bernie or bust” crowd, walking away if he can’t pull off an extraordinary upset, and possibly helping put Donald Trump or Ted Cruz in the White House? If not, what does he think he’s doing?

The Sanders campaign has brought out a lot of idealism and energy that the progressive movement needs. It has also, however, brought out a streak of petulant self-righteousness among some supporters. Has it brought out that streak in the candidate, too?

Bobo, solo, and a long comment from “gemli.”

April 5, 2016

Oh, cripes.  Bobo has decided to ‘splain to us all about “How Covenants Make Us.”  He gurgles that the social fabric needs to be rewoven for the 21st century.  As usual, “gemli” from Boston had something to say, and his comment was too good to take a mere snip from.  His comment will follow Bobo’s babbling, which starts here:

When you think about it, there are four big forces coursing through modern societies. Global migration is leading to demographic diversity. Economic globalization is creating wider opportunity but also inequality. The Internet is giving people more choices over what to buy and pay attention to. A culture of autonomy valorizes individual choice and self-determination.

All of these forces have liberated the individual, or at least well-educated individuals, but they have been bad for national cohesion and the social fabric. Income inequality challenges economic cohesion as the classes divide. Demographic diversity challenges cultural cohesion as different ethnic groups rub against one another. The emphasis on individual choice challenges community cohesion and settled social bonds.

The weakening of the social fabric has created a range of problems. Alienated young men join ISIS so they can have a sense of belonging. Isolated teenagers shoot up schools. Many people grow up in fragmented, disorganized neighborhoods. Political polarization grows because people often don’t interact with those on the other side. Racial animosity stubbornly persists.

Odder still, people are often plagued by a sense of powerlessness, a loss of efficacy. The liberation of the individual was supposed to lead to mass empowerment. But it turns out that people can effectively pursue their goals only when they know who they are — when they have firm identities.

Strong identities can come only when people are embedded in a rich social fabric. They can come only when we have defined social roles — father, plumber, Little League coach. They can come only when we are seen and admired by our neighbors and loved ones in a certain way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds.”

You take away a rich social fabric and what you are left with is people who are uncertain about who they really are. It’s hard to live daringly when your very foundation is fluid and at risk.

We’re not going to roll back the four big forces coursing through modern societies, so the question is how to reweave the social fabric in the face of them. In a globalizing, diversifying world, how do we preserve individual freedom while strengthening social solidarity?

In her new book “Commonwealth and Covenant,” Marcia Pally of N.Y.U. and Fordham offers a clarifying concept. What we want, she suggests, is “separability amid situatedness.” We want to go off and create and explore and experiment with new ways of thinking and living. But we also want to be situated — embedded in loving families and enveloping communities, thriving within a healthy cultural infrastructure that provides us with values and goals.

Creating situatedness requires a different way of thinking. When we go out and do a deal, we make a contract. When we are situated within something it is because we have made a covenant. A contract protects interests, Pally notes, but a covenant protects relationships. A covenant exists between people who understand they are part of one another. It involves a vow to serve the relationship that is sealed by love: Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people.

People in a contract provide one another services, but people in a covenant delight in offering gifts. Out of love of country, soldiers offer the gift of their service. Out of love of their craft, teachers offer students the gift of their attention.

The social fabric is thus rewoven in a romantic frame of mind. During another period of national fragmentation, Abraham Lincoln aroused a refreshed love of country. He played upon the mystic chords of memory andused the Declaration of Independence as a unifying scripture and guide.

These days the social fabric will be repaired by hundreds of millions of people making local covenants — widening their circles of attachment across income, social and racial divides. But it will probably also require leaders drawing upon American history to revive patriotism. They’ll tell a story that includes the old themes. That we’re a universal nation, the guarantor of stability and world order. But it will transcend the old narrative and offer an updated love of America.

In an interview with Bill Maher last month, Senator Cory Booker nicely defined patriotism by contrasting it with mere tolerance. Tolerance, he said, means, “I’m going to stomach your right to be different, but if you disappear off the face of the earth I’m no worse off.” Patriotism, on the other hand, means “love of country, which necessitates love of each other, that we have to be a nation that aspires for love, which recognizes that you have worth and dignity and I need you. You are part of my whole, part of the promise of this country.”

That emotion is what it means to be situated in a shared national life.

And now here’s “gemli” in full:

What a load of malarkey. Three hundred million individuals didn’t suddenly decide to rip apart the social fabric.

The wheels came off our experiment with democracy when a small number of conservatives (one percent?) decided that they wanted all the money. Money bought power, and power meant being able to rig the system to their advantage.

Conservative greed sent jobs overseas, stagnated the minimum wage, closed schools and attacked the social safety net. It starved neighborhoods, suppressed voters and gerrymandered partisan hacks into permanent positions of power. It found ways of avoiding taxes that were needed to build and maintain the nation’s infrastructure.

We’re expected to shut up and be polite to our conservative overlords as they starve us of options and economically abandon our cities. They demand social conformity, and use religion as a weapon to demonize gay people, marginalize women and cast suspicion on immigrants. They work tirelessly not to empower the people, but to eliminate rights that we thought we’d won.

Conservatives cultivated a crop of clueless voters, and now they’re reaping the result as voters rally behind a moron who will make conservative Republicans a laughing stock for years to come.

Only when they see their influence wane do conservatives worry about the weakening of the social fabric, and wonder how things could have gone so horribly wrong.

Conservative pundits need only look in the mirror to find the answer.

Amen, gemli.

Brooks and Cohen

March 29, 2016

Oh, God help us…  Bobo has decided to give us his “thoughts” on “The Sexual Politics of 2016.”  He breathlessly tells us that Donald Trump has given misogyny a twist.  Sigh.  In the comments “kaw7” from Manchester had this to say:  “Mr. Brooks, As you have made perfectly clear, in column after column, Donald Trump does not represent the version of the Republican Party you espouse. We get it. However, what you have yet to address are the antics of the Republicans who refuse to even hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Since the death of Antonin Scalia, you’ve penned over a dozen columns, but not one has been about the ongoing intransigence of Senate Republicans and their conservative allies. You have fussed and fumed over Trump’s subversion of the Republican Party, but said nothing about the Republicans’ subversion of the Constitution. Your silence on this matter is all too telling and too typical. Either you are too afraid to chastise your Republican pals, or you agree with their stance and are too embarrassed to admit it. Either way, another column on Donald Trump is merely a distraction. It is past time for you, Mr. Brooks, to address the elephant in the room.”  That will happen when pigs fly.  Mr. Cohen addresses “Trump’s New World Disorder” and says Trump thinks America is being ripped off and NATO is obsolete, but war in Estonia or the East China Sea could be the biggest rip-off of all.  In the comments “craig geary” from Redlands, FL had this to say:  “Another Roger Cohen paean to the beauty, need and desirability of perpetual war.  We don’t need no stinkin’ lead free water in our schools.  Who needs smooth roads and safe bridges?  Let those commie Chinese build 12,000 miles of high speed rail, we don’t need it.  Per Roger Cohen we must garrison the planet in perpetuity.”  Here, alas, is Bobo:

In the middle of the Civil War a colonel named Robert McAllister from the 11th Regiment of New Jersey tried to improve the moral fiber of his men. A Presbyterian railroad contractor in private life, he lobbied and preached against profanity, drinking, prostitution and gambling. Some of the line officers in the regiment, from less genteel backgrounds, rebelled.

They formed an organization called the Independent Order of Trumps. In sort of a mischievous, laddie way, the Trumps championed boozing and whoring, cursing and card-playing.

In her book “The Gentlemen and the Roughs,” Lorien Foote notes that this wasn’t just a battle over pleasure. It was a contest between two different ideals of masculinity. McAllister’s was based on gentlemanly chivalry and self-restraint. Trumpian masculinity was based on physical domination and sexual conquest. “Perceptions of manliness were deeply intertwined with perceptions of social status,” Foote writes.

And so it is today.

These days we’re living through another great redefinition of masculinity. Today, both men and women are called upon to live up to the traditional ideals of both genders. So the ideal man, at least in polite society, gracefully achieves a series of balances. He is steady and strong, but also verbal and vulnerable. He is emotionally open and willing to cry, but also restrained and resilient. He is physical, and also intellectual.

Today’s ideal man honors the women in his life in whatever they want to do. He treats them with respect in the workplace and romance in the bedroom. He is successful in the competitive world of the marketplace but enthusiastic in the kitchen and gentle during kids’ bath time.

This new masculine ideal is an unalloyed improvement on all the earlier masculine ideals. It’s a great achievement of our culture. But it is demanding and involves reconciling a difficult series of tensions. And it has sparked a bad-boy protest movement and counterculture, currently led by a group we might once again call the Independent Order of Trumps.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is a revolution in manners, a rejection of the civility codes of the educated class. As part of this, he rejects the new and balanced masculine/feminine ideal that has emerged over the past generation. Trump embraces a masculine identity — old in some ways, new in others — built upon unvarnished misogyny.

Trump’s misogyny is not the historical moralistic misogyny. Traditional misogyny blames women for the lustful, licentious and powerful urges that men sometimes feel in their presence. In this misogyny, women are the powerful, disgusting corrupters — the vixens, sirens and monsters. This gynophobic misogyny demands that women be surrounded with taboos and purgation rituals, along with severe restrictions on behavior and dress.

Trump’s misogyny, on the other hand, has a commercial flavor. The central arena of life is male competition. Women are objects men use to win points in that competition. The purpose of a woman’s body is to reflect status on a man. One way to emasculate a rival man is to insult or conquer his woman.

Writing for Slate, Frank Foer has one of the best (and most disgusting) compilations of Donald Trump’s history with women. Most of the episodes are pure dominance display.

For example, A. J. Benza was a writer who confessed that his girlfriend had left him for Trump. Trump called into a radio show he was appearing on to brag: “I’ve been successful with your girlfriend, I’ll tell you that,” Trump said. “While you were getting onto the plane to go to California thinking she was your girlfriend, she was some place that you wouldn’t have been very happy with.”

When the commentator Tucker Carlson criticized him, Trump left voice mail bragging about how much more sex he gets. He told an interviewer that you have to treat women like dirt.

It’s not quite right to say that Trump is a throwback to midcentury sexism. At least in those days negative behavior toward women and family members was restrained by the chivalry code. Political candidates didn’t go attacking their rivals’ wives based on their looks. Trump’s objectification is uncontrolled. It’s pure ego competition with a pornogrified flavor.

In this way, Trump represents the spread of something brutal. He takes economic anxiety and turns it into sexual hostility. He effectively tells men: You may be struggling, but at least you’re better than women, Mexicans and Muslims.

I’ve grappled with determining how much to blame Trump’s supporters for his rise. Many of them are victims of economic dislocation and it is hard to fault them for seeking a change, of course, even if it is simplistic and ignorant.

But in the realm of cultural politics, Trump voters do need to be held to account. They are participating in a descent into darkness. They are supporting a degrading wrong. This is the world your daughters are going to grow up in.

And now we’re faced with Mr. Cohen:

Goodbye to all that. Now we know that Donald Trump would rip up the post-1945 world order, trash an “obsolete” NATO, lean toward a Japan with nukes rather than the “one-sided agreement” that leaves the United States responsible for Japanese defense, tell Saudi Arabia that it “wouldn’t be around for very long” without American protection, and generally make clear that “we cannot be the policeman of the world.”

So much for Pax Americana; it was a bad deal, you see, and in the Trump universe the deal is everything. American power and far-flung American garrisons may have underwritten global security and averted nuclear war for more than seven decades, but they cannot be sustained by the “poor country” the United States has become. Why? Because, he insists, the whole postwar setup is a scam.

That Trump could be the next president of the United States is no longer a fanciful notion. Americans don’t want business as usual; Trump is not business as usual. He’s ranting and schmoozing his way to the White House as the man who, through some alchemy, will make an anxious America proud again. The world — already more combustible than at any time in recent decades — may be about to become a much more dangerous place.

Trump, in interviews with my colleagues Maggie Haberman and David Sanger, said: “We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher. We were the big bully, but we were not smartly led.” America was “systematically ripped off by everybody. From China to Japan to South Korea to the Middle East, many states in the Middle East, for instance protecting Saudi Arabia and not being properly reimbursed for every penny that we spend.”

Bottom line of Trump foreign policy: “We will not be ripped off anymore” because “we don’t have any money.” He would like to see the United States “really starting to go robust,” as it did around 1900.

A lot of what Trump said was just plain wrong. He declared that he was “all for Ukraine, I have friends that live in Ukraine,” but those friends don’t seem to have explained what’s going on. He is irked because countries like Germany “didn’t seem to be very much involved” when Russia got “very confrontational” (a.k.a. annexed Crimea and started a war in eastern Ukraine), and so the burden fell on the United States.

In fact, Germany has taken a central role in orchestrating sanctions against Russia and, unlike the United States, is at the table in the Minsk peace process for Ukraine. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Trump dismisses Germany’s role in that he believes Europe’s most powerful nation by far is “being destroyed” by “tremendous crime” (presumably on the part of unmentioned Muslim refugees) and by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “naïveté or worse” (presumably in letting said Syrian refugees in). He also believes that the United States is “obsolete in cyber,” a view Iran would not share, and that “our country doesn’t have money” (it does have some).

But that Trump and facts are uneasy partners is already well known. What was not so apparent before these interviews was how radical a President Trump would be in dismantling the architecture of postwar stability — unless, of course, he changed his mind to demonstrate the unpredictability he prizes.

To say NATO is obsolete — a view Moscow has been pressing since the end of the Cold War as a means to get the United States out of Europe — at a time when President Vladimir Putin is determined to assert Russian power is dangerous folly. Ask the Baltic States that have been spared Putin’s aggression only because they are now NATO members. NATO remains the pillar of the trans-Atlantic cooperation that forged a Europe whole and free from the ruins and divisions of 1945.

To countenance a nuclear-armed Japan at a time when China’s rapid rise and designs in the East China Sea have sharpened tensions between the two countries is also to play a high-risk game. The presence of the United States as an Asian power offsetting China’s rise and reassuring smaller nations in the hemisphere is a principal reason that rise has been peaceful.

As for the disintegration of Saudi Arabia, which Trump seems ready to accept if the Saudis don’t step up to the plate financially and militarily, it may well make Syria look like a playground.

Trump is right about one thing. The world of 2016 is not that of 1945 or 1990. The United States is relatively weaker, power is shifting, there are pressing domestic priorities. But his version of “America First” — which interestingly converges with the views of many on the left who are convinced that the United States should stop policing the world — looks like a recipe for cataclysm.

War in Estonia or the East China Sea could end up being a very bad deal indeed, a real rip-off for all humanity.


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