Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Bobo, solo

November 29, 2016

In “The Future of the American Center” Bobo has tells us that Donald Trump’s victory smashes traditions of party loyalty, presenting opportunities between the extremes.  And “gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Here’s Bobo:

Over the past few decades, party loyalty has been the defining feature of national politics. Especially in the House but even in the Senate, members deferred to their party leaders. Congress as a whole deferred to the presidency. Members of the president’s own party acted as his foot soldiers. Members of the other party acted as his opposition.

But Donald Trump’s victory smashes all that. He is hostile to the Republican establishment. His proposals cut across orthodox partisan lines.

As Bill Kristol told me, the coming Congress may not look like the recent Congresses, when party-line voting was the rule. A vote on an infrastructure bill may look very different from a vote on health care or education or foreign policy. This may be a Congress with many caucuses — floating coalitions rather than just follow-the-leader obedience.

Meanwhile, as Christopher DeMuth wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, committee chairmen may reassert authority against the executive branch. Trump’s authoritarian style represents an assault on the traditional separation of powers. He may end up energizing all those constitutional forms and practices he stands against.

What’s about to happen in Washington may be a little like the end of the Cold War — bipolarity gives way to multipolarity. A system dominated by two party-line powers gives way to a system with a lot of different power centers. Instead of just R’s and D’s, there will be a Trump-dominated populist nationalism, a more libertarian Freedom Caucus, a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressive caucus, a Chuck Schumer/Nancy Pelosi Democratic old guard.

The most important caucus formation will be in the ideological center. There’s a lot of room between the alt-right and the alt-left, between Trumpian authoritarianism and Sanders socialism.

Until now, people in that space have been slow to create donor networks, slow to form think tanks, slow to build coalitions of moderate legislators. But suddenly there’s a flurry of activity between the extremes.

For example, Bill Kristol and Bill Galston have worked in the White Houses of different parties and had voted for the opposite presidential candidates in every election for four decades. But Donald Trump has reminded them how much they agree on the fundamentals.

The two Bills have now issued a joint statement calling for “a New Center.” It’s a defense of the basic institutions and practices of our constitutional order, which now seem under assault. It’s an attempt to learn from the election results and craft a governing philosophy that people of different parties can rally around.

That’s in the realm of ideas. In the realm of organization there’s also a flurry of activity. David Burstein’s group, Run for America, is recruiting a new generation of political candidates.

The most active centrist organization, No Labels, began six years ago in opposition to polarized, cutthroat politics. The problem with the group back then was that there was no future to a political movement whose first name is “No.” You have to be for something.

But under the leadership of its undeterrable co-founder, Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has evolved. It created a package of reform ideas to make Congress and the executive branch work together. It created an active congressional caucus, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which now has 80 members, divided roughly evenly between both parties.

It has been building grass-roots activities, which have so far engaged one million people. It created a “super PAC” so that members of Congress who vote as centrists can get some political protection. It recently published a policy playbook with 60 proposals to create jobs, reform the tax code, balance the budget and secure entitlement programs.

Going forward, moderates face four big challenges. First, deepen a positive national vision that is not merely a positioning between left and right. Second, elevate a new generation of political leaders so the movement is not just a retread of retired establishment types.

Third, build a mass movement of actual voters, not just financiers and think-tank johnnies. Fourth, have the courage to stand together as a swing legislative caucus, when the pressure from the party leaderships becomes intense.

It’s an uphill climb, but this is a fertile moment. The Trump/Sanders era is going to create new opposition blocs, filled with people who never thought they would be working together.

Moreover, the future of this country is not going to be found in protecting jobs that are long gone or in catering to the fears of aging whites. There is a raging need for a movement that embraces economic dynamism, global engagement and social support — that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.

The new center will probably start as a legislative caucus with members of both parties. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess.

He just can’t admit that his party foisted a megalomaniacal, narcissistic grifter on the nation.  Here’s “gemli” with a few words for Bobo:

“You’d think pundits would have realized by now that it’s impossible to predict anything in this New World Disorder. But David Brooks predicts that in the midst of unparalleled political chaos the lions will lay down with the lambs. The glare of near-nuclear presidential upheaval will really be the sun rising on a new day of across-the-aisle cooperation. New voices will emerge from the hellish Babel of contradictory policy statements.

It’s more likely that the policies coming from the Alt-White House will be just as confusing as they are now, with the “president” saying one thing about Romney for Secretary of State while his spokes-mantis Kellyanne Conway says the opposite.

There won’t be caucuses in Congress as much as carcasses, as the old dependable assaults on our freedom die, only to be replaced by new ones that will be a mystery to the conservative cliques of old.

At least we knew where we stood in the good old days of 10 minutes ago, when Congress was jam-packed with political cronies, gerrymandered hacks and economic frauds like Paul Ryan running the show. They were all about taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. They won’t begin to fathom what new deals the megalomaniacal Narcissist in Chief may have made, possibly with foreign powers.

We thought it was an embarrassing end-around ploy when Congress invited Netanyahu to speak before them. Imagine their surprise when Putin shows up to give them a lecture on how power really works.”

Brooks and Krugman

November 25, 2016

Today is full of questions.  In “Does Decision Making Matter?” Bobo has a question:  Why are you interested in the things that interest you?  Prof. Krugman also has a question in “The Populism Perplex:”  What does the white working class want?  Here’s Bobo:

Danny Kahneman grew up Jewish in occupied France during World War II. Once in Paris, after curfew, he was nearly captured by an SS officer. His family traveled from town to town through rural France, hiding and hoping people wouldn’t recognize them as Jews. As Michael Lewis writes in his forthcoming book, “The Undoing Project,” Kahneman survived the Holocaust by keeping himself apart.

The family moved to Jerusalem. The army assigned him to a psychological evaluation unit and Kahneman became a psychologist.

Amos Twersky was born in Israel, to a mother who ignored him for long periods so she could serve the nation. He became a paratrooper in the war of 1956, and received one of the nation’s highest awards for bravery after he rescued a man who’d fainted on a torpedo just before it exploded.

Twersky was idiosyncratic. “Amos thought people paid an enormous price to avoid mild embarrassment, and he himself decided early on it was not worth it,” a friend told Lewis.

If he felt like going for a run, he stripped off his pants and went in his underpants. If a social situation bored him, he left. Twersky wasn’t sure how he drifted into psychology. “It’s hard to know how people select a course in life,” he once said. “The big choices we make are practically random.”

Kahneman and Twersky began to work together. They would lock themselves together and talk and laugh, year after year. If they were at a party, they would go off and talk to each other. “When they sat down to write, they nearly merged, physically, into a single form,” Lewis writes, hunched over a single typewriter.

“Their relationship was more intense than a marriage,” Twersky’s wife recalled. When they wrote a paper together they lost all track of who had contributed what. They scrambled for research topics that gave them an excuse to be together, and completed each other’s sentences.

“The way the creative process works is that you first say something and later, sometimes years later, you understand what you said,” Kahneman recalled. “And in our case it was foreshortened. I would say something and Amos understood it. It still gives me goose bumps.”

It was a mystical alchemy that revolutionized how we think about ourselves. Kahneman and Twersky are like a lot of the characters who appear in Michael Lewis’s books, like “Moneyball” and “The Big Short.” They are intellectual renegades who are fervently, almost obsessively, determined to see reality clearly, no matter how ferocious the resistance from everybody else.

While most economics models assumed people were basically rational, Kahneman and Twersky demonstrated that human decision-making is biased in systematic, predictable ways. Many of the biases they described have now become famous — loss aversion, endowment effect, hindsight bias, the anchoring effect, and were described in Kahneman’s brilliant book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” They are true giants who have revolutionized how we think about decision-making. Lewis makes academic life seem gripping, which believe it or not, is not easy to do.

My big question is: How is the world they describe reflected in their own lives? Kahneman and Twersky write about the kind of decisions that you might call casino decisions — in which people confront various probabilities and try to calculate which course will be best.

But over the course of their lives Kahneman and Twersky don’t seem to have actually made many big decisions. The major trajectories of their lives were determined by historical events, random coincidences, their own psychological needs and irresistible impulsions. In the course of the book there’s only one big formal decision point — when Twersky decides to move to the U.S.

Their lives weren’t so much shaped by decisions as by rapture. They were held rapt by each other’s minds. They were fervently engaged by the puzzles before them. They succeeded not because they were master decision-makers but because of their capacity for zealous engagement. They followed their interests step by step.

And this is my problem with the cognitive sciences and the advice world generally. It’s built on the premise that we are chess masters who make decisions, for good or ill. But when it comes to the really major things we mostly follow our noses. What seems interesting, beautiful, curious and addicting?

Have you ever known anybody to turn away from anything they found compulsively engaging?

We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity. Why are you interested in the things you are interested in? Why are some people zealously seized, manically attentive and compulsively engaged?

Now that we know a bit more about decision-making, maybe the next frontier is desire. Maybe the next Kahneman and Twersky will help us understand what explains, fires and orders our loves.

Ahhh…  It would appear that Bobo is still in the throes of his midlife crisis.  It hasn’t been pretty…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million, and she would probably be president-elect if the director of the F.B.I. hadn’t laid such a heavy thumb on the scales, just days before the election. But it shouldn’t even have been close; what put Donald Trump in striking distance was overwhelming support from whites without college degrees. So what can Democrats do to win back at least some of those voters?

Recently Bernie Sanders offered an answer: Democrats should “go beyond identity politics.” What’s needed, he said, are candidates who understand that working-class incomes are down, who will “stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

But is there any reason to believe that this would work? Let me offer some reasons for doubt.

First, a general point: Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.

Consider eastern Kentucky, a very white area which has benefited enormously from Obama-era initiatives. Take, in particular, the case of Clay County, which the Times declared a few years ago to be the hardest place in America to live. It’s still very hard, but at least most of its residents now have health insurance: Independent estimates say that the uninsured rate fell from 27 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2016. That’s the effect of the Affordable Care Act, which Mrs. Clinton promised to preserve and extend but Mr. Trump promised to kill.

Mr. Trump received 87 percent of Clay County’s vote.

Now, you might say that health insurance is one thing, but what people want are good jobs. Eastern Kentucky used to be coal country, and Mr. Trump, unlike Mrs. Clinton, promised to bring the coal jobs back. (So much for the idea that Democrats need a candidate who will stand up to the fossil fuels industry.) But it’s a nonsensical promise.

Where did Appalachia’s coal mining jobs go? They weren’t lost to unfair competition from China or Mexico. What happened instead was, first, a decades-long erosion as U.S. coal production shifted from underground mining to strip mining and mountaintop removal, which require many fewer workers: Coal employment peaked in 1979, fell rapidly during the Reagan years, and was down more than half by 2007. A further plunge came in recent years thanks to fracking. None of this is reversible.

Is the case of former coal country exceptional? Not really. Unlike the decline in coal, some of the long-term decline in manufacturing employment can be attributed to rising trade deficits, but even there it’s a fairly small fraction of the story. Nobody can credibly promise to bring the old jobs back; what you can promise — and Mrs. Clinton did — are things like guaranteed health care and higher minimum wages. But working-class whites overwhelmingly voted for politicians who promise to destroy those gains.

So what happened here? Part of the answer may be that Mr. Trump had no problems with telling lies about what he could accomplish. If so, there may be a backlash when the coal and manufacturing jobs don’t come back, while health insurance disappears.

But maybe not. Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment.

For let’s be serious here: You can’t explain the votes of places like Clay County as a response to disagreements about trade policy. The only way to make sense of what happened is to see the vote as an expression of, well, identity politics — some combination of white resentment at what voters see as favoritism toward nonwhites (even though it isn’t) and anger on the part of the less educated at liberal elites whom they imagine look down on them.

To be honest, I don’t fully understand this resentment. In particular, I don’t know why imagined liberal disdain inspires so much more anger than the very real disdain of conservatives who see the poverty of places like eastern Kentucky as a sign of the personal and moral inadequacy of their residents.

One thing is clear, however: Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.

Bobo, solo

November 22, 2016

So now Bobo considers himself a “critic” of Mein Fubar.  In “Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening” he babbles that we should take a break and see what’s going on.  Oh, trust me Bobo — we KNOW what’s going on.  “Gemli” from Boston will respond.  Here, God above help us, is Bobo:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best imaginable Trump voter. This is the Trump supporter who wasn’t motivated by racism or bigotry. This is the one who cringed every time Donald Trump did something cruel, vulgar or misogynistic.

But this voter needed somebody to change the systems that are failing her. She needed somebody to change the public school system that serves the suburban children of professors, journalists and lawyers but has left her kids under-skilled and underpaid. She needed some way to protect herself from the tech executives who give exciting speeches about disruption but don’t know anything about the people actually being disrupted.

She is one of those people whom Joan C. Williams writes about in The Harvard Business Review who admires rich people but disdains professionals — the teachers who condescend to her, the doctors who don’t make time for her, the activists whose definition of social justice never seems to include the suffering people like her experience.

This voter wants leaders tough enough to crack through the reigning dysfunction, and sure enough, Trump’s appointments so far represent the densest concentration of hyper-macho belligerence outside a drill sergeant retirement home.

This voter wants a philosophic change of course, and Trump offers that, too. The two party establishments are mired in their orthodoxies, but Trump and his appointees are embodiments of the nationalism espoused by Pat Buchanan, the most influential public intellectual in America today.

Buchanan’s organizing worldview is embodied in visceral form in the person of Steve Bannon.

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia,” Bannon said in his Hollywood Reporter interview. The new political movement, he said, is “everything related to jobs.”

He vowed to drive conservatives crazy with a gigantic spending program to create jobs. He vowed to use that money to create a new New Deal that will win over 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, creating a neo-Jacksonian majority that will govern for 50 years.

It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see why some good people might be willing to tolerate Trump and Bannon’s personalities in order to pursue it.

Thinking about this best voter has helped me take an emotional pause. Many of my fellow Trump critics are expressing outrage, depression, bewilderment or disgust. They’re marching or writing essays: Should we normalize Trump or fight the normalizers?

It all seems so useless during this transition moment. It’s all a series of narcissistic displays and discussions about our own emotional states.

It seems like the first thing to do is really learn what this election is teaching us. Second, this seems like a moment for some low-passion wonkery. It’s stupid to react to every Trump tweet outrage with your own predictable howls. It’s silly to treat politics and governance purely on cultural grounds, as a high school popularity contest, where my sort of people denigrates your sort of people.

We’ve arrived at the moment of actual governing. We’ve arrived at the moment when Trump has to turn his vague notions into concrete proposals.

Trump promised to rip up the Iran deal, but he seems to be realizing there are six other signatories and we’ve lost leverage with the Iranians because we already gave them back their money.

Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, but how do you do that when it has already been woven into the fabric of every health care system in America?

Whether it’s reforming immigration or trade policy, his governing challenge is going to be astoundingly hard and complicated. Surely this is not the moment to get swept up in our own moral superiority, but rather to understand the specificity of the proposals he comes up with and to offer concrete amendments and alternatives to address the same problems.

Finally, surely a little universal humility is in order. Orthodox Republicans spent the last 30 years talking grandly about entrepreneurialism while the social fabric around their core voters disintegrated. Maybe a little government action would have helped?

The Democratic Party is losing badly on the local, state and national levels. If you were a football team you’d be 2-8. Maybe you can do better than responding with the sentiment: Sadly, the country isn’t good enough for us.

Those of us in the opinion class have been complaining that Trump voters are post-truth, that they don’t have a respect for expertise. Well, the experts created a school system that doesn’t produce skilled graduates. The experts designed Obamacare exchanges that are failing. Maybe those of us in the professional class need to win back some credibility the old-fashioned way, with effective reform.

There will be plenty of time to be disgusted with Trump’s bigotry, narcissism and incompetence. It’s tempting to get so caught up in his outrage du jour that you never have to do any self-examination. But let’s be honest: It wouldn’t kill us Trump critics to take a break from our never-ending umbrage to engage in a little listening.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

November 18, 2016

In “The Danger of a Dominant Identity” Bobo says that seeing people as one dimensional dehumanizes all of us.  I wonder if that applies to Bobo’s railing about dirty hippies and those shiftless layabouts having unapproved sexytimes while Bobo slaves away in the salt mines at the Times?  As usual, “gemli” from Boston has a thing or two to add.  Mr. Cohen ponders Trump, Bannon and the looming apocalypse in “The Man Who Would Not be President.”  Prof. Krugman, in “The Medicare Killers,” says candidate Trump promised to protect entitlements, but President-elect Trump apparently has different plans.  Here’s Bobo:

Over the past few days we’ve seen what happens when you assign someone a single identity. Pollsters assumed that most Latinos would vote only as Latinos, and therefore against Donald Trump. But a surprising percentage voted for him.

Pollsters assumed women would vote primarily as women, and go for Hillary Clinton. But a surprising number voted against her. They assumed African-Americans would vote along straight Democratic lines, but a surprising number left the top line of the ballot blank.

The pollsters reduced complex individuals to a single identity, and are now embarrassed.

But pollsters are not the only people guilty of reductionist solitarism. This mode of thinking is one of the biggest problems facing this country today.

Trump spent the entire campaign reducing people to one identity and then generalizing. Muslims are only one thing, and they are dangerous. Mexicans are only one thing, and that is alien. When Trump talked about African-Americans he always talked about inner-city poverty, as if that was the sum total of the black experience in America.

Bigots turn multidimensional human beings into one-dimensional creatures. Anti-Semites define Jewishness in a certain crude miniaturizing way. Racists define both blackness and whiteness in just that manner. Populists dehumanize complex people into the moronic categories of “the people” and “the elites.”

But it’s not only racists who reduce people to a single identity. These days it’s the anti-racists, too. To raise money and mobilize people, advocates play up ethnic categories to an extreme degree.

Large parts of popular culture — and pretty much all of stand-up comedy — consist of reducing people to one or another identity and then making jokes about that generalization. The people who worry about cultural appropriation reduce people to an ethnic category and argue that those outside can never understand it. A single identity walls off empathy and the imagination.

We’re even seeing a wave of voluntary reductionism. People feel besieged, or they’re intellectually lazy, so they reduce themselves to one category. Being an evangelical used to mean practicing a certain form of faith. But “evangelical” has gone from being an adjective to a noun, a simplistic tribal identity that commands Republican affiliation.

Unfortunately, if you reduce complex individuals to one thing you’ll go through life clueless about the world around you. People’s classifications now shape how they see the world.

Plus, as the philosopher Amartya Sen has argued, this mentality makes the world more flammable. Crude tribal dividing lines inevitably arouse a besieged, victimized us/them mentality. This mentality assumes that the relations between groups are zero sum and antagonistic. People with this mentality tolerate dishonesty, misogyny and terrorism on their own side because all morality lays down before the tribal imperative.

The only way out of this mess is to continually remind ourselves that each human is a conglomeration of identities: ethnic, racial, professional, geographic, religious and so on. Even each identity itself is not one thing but a tradition of debate about the meaning of that identity. Furthermore, the dignity of each person is not found in the racial or ethnic category that each has inherited, but in the moral commitments that each individual has chosen and lived out.

Getting out of this mess also means accepting the limits of social science. The judgments of actual voters are better captured in the narratives of journalism and historical analysis than in the brutalizing correlations of big data.

Rebinding the nation means finding shared identities, not just contrasting ones. If we want to improve race relations, it’s not enough to have a conversation about race. We also have to emphasize identities people have in common across the color line. If you can engage different people together as Marines or teachers, then you will have built an empathetic relationship, and people can learn one another’s racial experiences naturally.

Finally, we have to revive the American identity. For much of the 20th century, America had a rough consensus about the American idea. Historians congregated around a common narrative. People put great stock in civic rituals like the pledge. But that consensus is now in tatters, stretched by globalization, increasing diversity as well as failures of civic education.

Now many Americans don’t recognize one another or their country. The line I heard most on election night was, “This is not my America.” We will have to construct a new national idea that binds and embraces all our particular identities.

The good news, as my Times colleague April Lawson points out, is that there wasn’t mass violence last week. That could have happened amid a civic clash this ugly and passionate. That’s a sign that for all the fear and anger of this season, there’s still mutual attachment among us, something to build on.

But there has to be a rejection of single-identity thinking and a continual embrace of the reality that each of us is a mansion with many rooms.

And now here’s what “gemli” had to say about that:

“Yes, we’re all gems with many facets, and we should appraise each other in the refulgent glow of their wondrous complexities. This would be sage advice if any organism back to the moment of abiogenesis had ever viewed its fellow creatures as anything more than food.

Those of us who have evolved made the attempt to view people as more than one-dimensional objects. We thought people should be taken care of, even if they were poor, old or sick. But we faced opposition from certain monkeys who wouldn’t be happy until they had all the bananas.

It was only recently that conservatives and liberals tried to get along, momentarily intrigued by the novel idea of a democracy. Lion and lamb cooperated, and reluctantly agreed to work together. They valued education and science. Government worked to eliminate poverty, racial hatred, unfairness and ignorance.

It couldn’t last. Things started to fall apart when a recent president changed the complexion of the White House. Something primal was triggered, and conservatives reasserted their dominant identity.

This didn’t start with Donald Trump. He’s merely the culmination of the one-dimensional thinker, the self-appointed alpha male, pea-brained but powerful, prowling for prey and groping the gazelles.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

What was evident during the campaign is more apparent after Donald Trump’s election: He is deeply ambivalent about becoming president. He’d rather stay in his lavish New York penthouse. Policy is a headache. It requires concentration. There are annoying laws against nepotism. Trump won 4.1 percent of the vote in the District of Columbia. Washington does not pine for him.

It all began as a game, turned into an ego trip, and ended in a strange apotheosis. Trump has uncanny instincts but no firm ideas. He knows the frisson authority confers. A rich boy from Queens who made good in Manhattan, he understands the galvanizing force of playing the outsider card. A man who changed his past, purging German lineage for “Swedish,” he understands America’s love for the outsized invented life. For his victory he depended on America’s unique gift for amnesia.

Trump saw the immense potential appeal of an American restoration — all nationalism finds its roots in a gloried, mythical past — after the presidency of a black man, Barack Obama, who prudently chose not to exalt the exceptional nature of the United States but to face the reality of diminished power.

The proposed restoration went beyond that. It was of the Judeo-Christian West against what Trump’s chief strategist — read propaganda minister — Steve Bannon calls “the new barbarity.” That barbarity has many components. One is the crony capitalism of the “party of Davos” — the elites who have the system rigged. Another is the dilution of Judeo-Christian values through rampant secularization, migration and miscegenation. The mass 21st-century influx of Muslims in the West may be equated, in these people’s eyes, with the mass emancipation and emergence from the Shtetl of Jews in 19th- century Europe: disruptive, threatening, a menace to the established order.

Obama is of mixed race. Who could better symbolize the looming decadence? For “Make America Great Again,” read “Make America White Again.” Trump saw that racism and sexism could be manipulated in his favor. He was the self-styled voice of the people to whom he bore least resemblance: those at the periphery far from the metropolitan hubs of the Davos consensus.

From headline to headline Trump stumbled, ending up with the last thing he wants: a minutely scrutinized life. You can wing a campaign; you can’t wing the leadership of the free world. An unethical commander-in-chief is a commander-in-chief with problems.

Trump knows all this. He was big on hat; now he needs cattle. That’s problematic. He does not really know where to begin. Clearly not at the State Department, which has yet to hear from him.

One is put in mind of H.L. Mencken: “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Except that Trump is no moron. That makes the outlook more sinister. Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, got it about right when he said of Trump: “I’m a New Yorker and I know a con when I see one.” He might have said a gifted charlatan.

Bannon, as set out in remarks reported by BuzzFeed to a conference held at the Vatican in 2014, believes that, “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” that will, absent a firm stand by “the church militant,” “completely eradicate everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

The thing is, of course, this fight — this imagined restoration — will be waged against the very essence of the modern world: the movement of peoples and ever greater interconnectedness, driven by technology. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Trump-Bannon war can only end in apocalypse.

I believe money binds Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Trump. Precisely how we do not know yet. But there is also a cultural aspect. Putin has set himself up as the guardian of an absolutist culture against what Russia sees as the predatory and relativist culture of the West. The Putin entourage is convinced the decadence of the West is revealed in its irreligious embrace of same-sex marriage, radical feminism, euthanasia, homosexuality and choose-your-gender bathrooms. Enter Bannon.

It’s all a terrible mistake. Trump affects something close to a regal pout, close enough anyway to be perfected through Botox. He loves gilt, gold and pomp. He’s interested in authority, but not details. He yearns to watch the genuflections of the awed. He loves ribbon-cutting and the regalia of power. Used to telling minions they’re fired, he prefers subjects to citizens. In short, he’d be better off at Buckingham Palace.

That won’t happen. I see a high chance of disaster within the first year of the new presidency. Trump won the game. But now the game for him could be up. Or perhaps the world will go down in flames.

Well, that’s what we’ve heard — no more water, fire next time.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

During the campaign, Donald Trump often promised to be a different kind of Republican, one who would represent the interests of working-class voters who depend on major government programs. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he declared, under the headline “Why Donald Trump Won’t Touch Your Entitlements.”

It was, of course, a lie. The transition team’s point man on Social Security is a longtime advocate of privatization, and all indications are that the incoming administration is getting ready to kill Medicare, replacing it with vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance. Oh, and it’s also likely to raise the age of Medicare eligibility.

So it’s important not to let this bait-and-switch happen before the public realizes what’s going on.

Three points in particular need to be made as loudly as possible.

First, the attack on Medicare will be one of the most blatant violations of a campaign promise in history.

Some readers may recall George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security, in which he claimed a “mandate” from voters despite having run a campaign entirely focused on other issues. That was bad, but this is much worse — and not just because Mr. Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin, making any claim of a mandate bizarre.

Candidate Trump ran on exactly the opposite position from the one President-elect Trump seems to be embracing, claiming to be an economic populist defending the (white) working class. Now he’s going to destroy a program that is crucial to that class?

Which brings me to the second point: While Medicare is an essential program for a great majority of Americans, it’s especially important for the white working-class voters who supported Mr. Trump most strongly. Partly that’s because Medicare beneficiaries are considerably whiter than the country as a whole, precisely because they’re older and reflect the demography of an earlier era.

Beyond that, think of what would happen if Medicare didn’t exist. Some older Americans would probably be able to retain health coverage by staying at jobs that come with such coverage. But this option would by and large be available only to those with extensive education: Labor force participation among seniors is strongly correlated with education, in part because the highly educated are healthier than the less educated, and in part because their jobs require less physical effort. Working-class seniors would be left stranded, unable to get the health care they needed.

Still, doesn’t something have to be done about Medicare? No — which is my third point. People like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, have often managed to bamboozle the media into believing that their efforts to dismantle Medicare and other programs are driven by valid economic concerns. They aren’t.

It has been obvious for a long time that Medicare is actually more efficient than private insurance, mainly because it doesn’t spend large sums on overhead and marketing, and, of course, it needn’t make room for profits.

What’s not widely known is that the cost-saving measures included in the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, have been remarkably successful in their efforts to “bend the curve” — to rein in the long-term rise in Medicare expenses. In fact, since 2010 Medicare outlays per beneficiary have risen only 1.4 percent a year, less than the inflation rate. This success is one main reason long-term budget projections have dramatically improved.

So why try to destroy this successful program, which is in important respects doing better than ever? The main answer, from the point of view of people like Mr. Ryan, is probably that Medicare is in the cross hairs precisely because of its success: It would be very helpful for opponents of government to do away with a program that clearly demonstrates the power of government to improve people’s lives.

And there’s an additional benefit to the right from Medicare privatization: It would create a lot of opportunities for private profits, earned by diverting dollars that could have been used to provide health care.

In summary, then, privatizing Medicare would betray a central promise of the Trump campaign, would specifically betray the interests of the voter bloc that thought it had found a champion, and would be terrible policy.

You might think this would make the whole idea a non-starter. And this push will, in fact, fail — just like Social Security privatization in 2005 — if voters realize what’s happening.

What’s crucial now is to make sure that voters do, in fact, realize what’s going on. And this isn’t just a job for politicians. It’s also a chance for the news media, which failed so badly during the campaign, to start doing its job.

Brooks solo

November 15, 2016

In “The Life and Example of Gwen Ifill” Bobo says she has left a chasm, which nobody else can fill up and which nobody has a tendency to fill.  Here he is:

Smartphones change death. When I heard that Gwen Ifill had died on Monday I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the photo album.

There were pictures of Gwen and her “NewsHour” colleague Judy Woodruff laughing uproariously together, doing little exploding fist-bumps, which I sneakily took while she was heroically covering the political conventions this year.

There was a picture of her joyously driving a boat full tilt during a “NewsHour” party a few summers ago, the wind blasting into her clothes and face. There were pictures of her posing with friends of mine who had come to visit the set. Everybody who came wanted a picture with Gwen.

Every reminiscence you read about Gwen will describe her smile. It was not subtle. It shone from her face like some sort of spiritual explosion.

Once, during a walk through Rock Creek Park, she told me that if she didn’t go to church on Sunday she felt a little flatter for the whole week. A spirit as deep and ebullient as hers needed nourishment and care, and when it came out it came out in her smile, which was totalistic and unrestrained.

Gwen worked in a tough business, and being an African-American woman in that business brought its own hardships and scars, but Gwen’s smile did not hold back. Her whole personality was the opposite of reticent, and timidity was a stranger to her. When the Ifill incandescence came at you, you were getting human connection full-bore.

And you had better honor it. After the photos, I searched Monday through our email exchanges. I don’t know how Gwen was with her other friends, but she’d send me short, sometimes cryptic emails every couple of weeks. Sometimes it was a compliment, sometimes a bit of gossip, sometimes it was a jokey offer to rub out someone who’d been nasty to me, and sometimes she was just the sort of friend who checks in: “For some reason you have been on my mind. Are you well?”

Gwen was ebullient, as I’ve mentioned, but she was not soft. She was authoritative, an executive and confident.

I suppose every profession has a few people like this, people who love the whole profession, who pay compliments when its standards are met and who are tough when they are not. Gwen talked a lot about her extended family, but also a lot about newsrooms and who were the great colleagues in them.

I would say she was an ambitious person. She liked moderating the big debates, even though she was a bundle of nerves just before. But she was not ambitious the way some other TV people are. Gwen was adored wherever she went, but she let the adoration roll off her, without it affecting her understanding of what was real.

She was ambitious for quality. She worked for low money at PBS. She worked doggedly on her programs, and whenever I did anything that diminished the “NewsHour” she let me know directly.

She loved her country, too. She relentlessly promoted female and African-American journalists. She had a strong affinity for badass women of all types. She kept her journalistic distance from the Obamas, but she knew what a step it was to have an African-American president.

The night before Obama’s inauguration in 2009, a group of journalists met in David and Katherine Bradley’s house. At the end of the evening they gathered around the piano and sang civil rights anthems and some hymns. Everybody knew the first stanza to “Amazing Grace,” but only Gwen knew the last three, which she sang alone, in honor of the past labors and future promise.

By 2012 she sensed that racial ugliness was coming out into the open. She began getting more racist reactions on social media and she moved to support her friend Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, who was getting anti-Semitic ones. Keep your head down and keep writing, she urged Goldberg; it’s what they don’t want you to do. Gwen knew what was coming.

These days it is normal to bash Washington, to want to “drain the swamp” and to attack the mainstream media. The populists are in and the establishment is out.

But I confess, when I looked at the front of The Times website on Monday and saw a photo of Stephen K. Bannon, on leave from Breitbart as chairman and rising in power, and then underneath it a photo of Gwen, who is passing from this world, I wanted to throw up. This is not progress and this is not good news.

Gwen’s death merits a bit of the reaction that greeted the death of the writer Samuel Johnson centuries ago: She has left a chasm, which nobody else can fill up and which nobody has a tendency to fill.

Now that Gwen is dead, who is the next best thing? There’s nobody. There are many great people who will follow her example. But nobody quite reminds you of Gwen.

Brooks and Krugman

November 11, 2016

Oh, fergawdsake…  Bobo continues to suffer buyer’s remorse.  In “The View From Trump Tower” he moans that we should learn from the vote, work to mend society and build a political movement for the post-Trump era.  Bite me, Bobo.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a few words for you.  Prof. Krugman, in “Thoughts for the Horrified,” says Tuesday’s fallout may last decades, but we must still stand up for American values now.  Here’s that worthless POS Bobo:

If your social circles are like mine, you spent Tuesday night swapping miserable texts. Not all, but many of my friends and family members were outraged, stunned, disgusted and devastated. This is victory for white supremacy, people wrote, for misogyny, nativism and authoritarianism. Fascism is descending.

I was on PBS trying to make sense of what was happening while trying to text various people off the ledge. At one point I was opining about the results while a disbelieving text flashed across my phone: “Change It! Change It! CHAAAANGE IT!”

Those emotional reactions were a fitting first-night response to the greatest political shock of our lifetimes. Still, this is probably not the best mentality for the coming era.

In the first place, emotions like disgust don’t do justice to the complexity of Donald Trump’s supporters. The disgusted posture risks turning politics into a Manichaean civil war between the alleged children of light and the alleged children of darkness — between us enlightened, college-educated tolerant people and the supposed primitive horde driven by dark fears and prejudices. That crude and ignorant condescension is what feeds the Trump phenomenon in the first place.

Second, we simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters. It is true that those voters are willing to tolerate a lot more bigotry in their candidate than I’d be willing to tolerate. But if you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.

Third, outrage and disgust impede learning. This century is still being formed and none of us understand it yet. The century really began on 9/11, and so far it has been marked by strong reactions against globalism and cosmopolitanism — by terrorism, tribalism and authoritarianism.

Populism of the Trump/Le Pen/Brexit variety has always been a warning sign, a warning sign that there is some deeper dysfunction in our economic, social and cultural systems. If you want to take that warning sign and dismiss it as simple bigotry, you’re never going to pause to understand what’s going on and you will never know how to constructively respond.

Finally, it seems important to be humbled and taught by this horrific election result. Trump’s main problem in governing is not going to be some fascistic ideology; his main problem is going to be his own attention span, ignorance and incompetence. If he’s left to bloviate while others are left to run the country and push through infrastructure plans, maybe things won’t be disastrous.

The job for the rest of us is to rebind the fabric of society, community by community, and to construct a political movement for the post-Trump era. I suspect the coming political movements will be identified on two axes: open and closed and individual and social.

Those who believe in open believe in open trade, relatively open immigration, an active foreign policy and racial integration. Those who believe in closed believe in protective trade, closed borders, a withdrawn foreign policy and ethnic separatism.

Those who favor individual believe in individual initiative, designing programs to incentivize enterprise and removing regulatory barriers. Those who believe in social believe that social mobility happens within rich communities — that people can undertake daring adventures when they have a secure social and emotional base.

Donald Trump is probably going to make the G.O.P. the party of individual/closed. He’s going to start with the traditional Republican agenda of getting government out of the way, and he’s going to add walls, protectionism and xenophobia. That will leave people isolated in the face of the challenges of the information age economy, and it will close off the dynamism and diversity that always marked this crossroads of the nation.

The Democrats are probably going to be the party of social/closed. The coming Sanders-Warren party will advocate proposals that help communities with early education programs and the like, but that party will close off trade, withdraw from the world, close off integration with hyper-race-conscious categories and close off debate with political correctness.

Which is why I’ve been thinking we need a third party that is social/open. This compassionate globalist party would support the free trade and skilled immigration that fuel growth. But it would also flood the zone for those challenged in the high-skill global economy — offering programs to rebuild community, foster economic security and boost mobility. It would integrate the white working class and minority groups by emphasizing that we are all part of a single American idea.

Trump’s bigotry, dishonesty and promise-breaking will have to be denounced. We can’t go morally numb. But he needs to be replaced with a program that addresses the problems that fueled his assent.

After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think.

Stuff it up your nose, you supercilious piece of crap.  And should Trump resign (his Republican Congress will not impeach him) we’ll get Pence, who’s even worse.  And you’re a major enabler.  So, again, bite me.  Now here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“We’re never going to understand the Trump fiasco if we don’t get the facts straight. Trump supporters have on average annual incomes of $72,000. The idea that they’re all jobless, poor and desperate is about as true as the idea that Hillary is the antichrist.

These are the same people who listened to Obama’s support for medical care for the poor, food stamps for the hungry, retirement security, women’s rights, gay rights and reining in the ruinous cost of education and they said, out with the bum! We’re not going to take it anymore!

These are the voters who stuffed Congress full of Tea Party extremists, who kept evangelical zealots in office and who fed the eight years of political dysfunction and stagnation that they’re now complaining about. If they’d vote for Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Mitch McConnell and all the other rabid Republicans that have crippled the country, then the fact that they elected Donald Trump should come as no surprise. He’s their kind of guy.

It’s a shame that David Brooks uses his intelligence to apologize for Republican ignorance. When Trump supporters were interviewed, they didn’t bring up Brexit or global trade issues or the challenges of an increasingly technological society. They said Hillary was crooked, and there was something about e-mails, so by the transitive property of stupidity the answer is Donald Trump.

The future is not closer than we think. The future is here, and it’s making me look forward to the past.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So what do we do now? By “we” I mean all those left, center and even right who saw Donald Trump as the worst man ever to run for president and assumed that a strong majority of our fellow citizens would agree.

I’m not talking about rethinking political strategy. There will be a time for that — God knows it’s clear that almost everyone on the center-left, myself included, was clueless about what actually works in persuading voters. For now, however, I’m talking about personal attitude and behavior in the face of this terrible shock.

First of all, remember that elections determine who gets the power, not who offers the truth. The Trump campaign was unprecedented in its dishonesty; the fact that the lies didn’t exact a political price, that they even resonated with a large bloc of voters, doesn’t make them any less false. No, our inner cities aren’t war zones with record crime. No, we aren’t the highest-taxed nation in the world. No, climate change isn’t a hoax promoted by the Chinese.

So if you’re tempted to concede that the alt-right’s vision of the world might have some truth to it, don’t. Lies are lies, no matter how much power backs them up.

And once we’re talking about intellectual honesty, everyone needs to face up to the unpleasant reality that a Trump administration will do immense damage to America and the world. Of course I could be wrong; maybe the man in office will be completely different from the man we’ve seen so far. But it’s unlikely.

Unfortunately, we’re not just talking about four bad years. Tuesday’s fallout will last for decades, maybe generations.

I particularly worry about climate change. We were at a crucial point, having just reached a global agreement on emissions and having a clear policy path toward moving America to a much greater reliance on renewable energy. Now it will probably fall apart, and the damage may well be irreversible.

The political damage will extend far into the future, too. The odds are that some terrible people will become Supreme Court justices. States will feel empowered to engage in even more voter suppression than they did this year. At worst, we could see a slightly covert form of Jim Crow become the norm all across America.

And you have to wonder about civil liberties, too. The White House will soon be occupied by a man with obvious authoritarian instincts, and Congress controlled by a party that has shown no inclination to stand up against him. How bad will it get? Nobody knows.

What about the short term? My own first instinct was to say that Trumponomics would quickly provoke an immediate economic crisis, but after a few hours’ reflection I decided that this was probably wrong. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks, but a best guess is that there will be no immediate comeuppance.

Trumpist policies won’t help the people who voted for Donald Trump — in fact, his supporters will end up much worse off. But this story will probably unfold gradually. Political opponents of the new regime certainly shouldn’t count on any near-term moment of obvious vindication.

So where does this leave us? What, as concerned and horrified citizens, should we do?

One natural response would be quietism, turning one’s back on politics. It’s definitely tempting to conclude that the world is going to hell, but that there’s nothing you can do about it, so why not just make your own garden grow? I myself spent a large part of the Day After avoiding the news, doing personal things, basically taking a vacation in my own head.

But that is, in the end, no way for citizens of a democracy — which we still are, one hopes — to live. I’m not saying that we should all volunteer to die on the barricades; I don’t think it’s going to come to that, although I wish I was sure. But I don’t see how you can hang on to your own self-respect unless you’re willing to stand up for the truth and fundamental American values.

Will that stand eventually succeed? No guarantees. Americans, no matter how secular, tend to think of themselves as citizens of a nation with a special divine providence, one that may take wrong turns but always finds its way back, one in which justice always prevails in the end.

Yet it doesn’t have to be true. Maybe the historic channels of reform — speech and writing that changes minds, political activism that eventually changes who has power — are no longer effective. Maybe America isn’t special, it’s just another republic that had its day, but is in the process of devolving into a corrupt nation ruled by strongmen.

But I’m not ready to accept that this is inevitable — because accepting it as inevitable would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The road back to what America should be is going to be longer and harder than any of us expected, and we might not make it. But we have to try.

Amen.

Bobo, solo

November 8, 2016

Oh, this is rich beyond mere words.  Bobo has produced his magnum opus of the 2016 election nightmare.  He calls it “Let’s Not Do This Again” and, while weeping and clutching his pearls, having subsided to his fainting couch, he moans that the presidential campaign has proved the need for a third party.  He’s being taken to the woodshed in the comments, and “gemli” from Boston will have something to say to him.  And I personally can’t WAIT until Driftglass sinks his teeth into it.  Here, God save us all, is Bobo:

If I had to sum up the election of 2016 in one clause, I would say it has been a sociological revolution, a moral warning and a political summons.

Sociologically, this campaign has been an education in how societies come apart. The Trump campaign has been like a flash flood that sweeps away the topsoil and both reveals and widens the chasms, crevices and cracks below.

We are a far more divided society than we realized. The educated and less educated increasingly see the world and vote in different ways. So do men and women, blacks and whites, natives and immigrants, young and old, urban and rural.

We like to think of democracy as a battle of ideas and a process of individual deliberation, but this year demography has been destiny. The campaigns have pushed us back into our tribal bunkers. Americans now seem more clannish, and more incomprehensible to one another.

This year a legitimate social uprising has been twisted to serve destructive means. Over the past 50 years, most of us have benefited from feminism, the civil rights movement, mass immigration, the information age and the sexual revolution. But as Charles Murray points out, one class has been buffeted by each of these trends: white workers.

The white working class once sat comfortably at the core of the American idea, but now its members have seen their skills devalued, their neighborhoods transformed, their masculinity delegitimized, their family structures decimated, their dignity erased and their basic decency questioned. Marginalized, they commonly feel invisible, alienated and culturally pessimistic. This year the workers overthrew their corporate masters and grabbed control of the Republican Party.

That would be progress and even inspiring, but — maybe because of the candidate who is leading it — the working-class revolt has been laced with bigotry, anti-Semitism, class hatred, misogyny and authoritarianism that has further rent the American fabric.

Our partisan divides now menacingly overlap with our racial and class divides, threatening to form a trinity of discord with horrendous consequences.

The moral health of the polity is in even scarier shape. Any decent society rests on codes of etiquette and a shared moral ecology to make cooperation possible, to prevent economic and political life from descending into a savage war of all against all.

But this year Donald Trump has decimated the codes of basic decency without paying a price. With his constant, flagrant and unapologetic lying, he has shredded the standards of intellectual virtue — the normal respect for facts and truth that makes conversation possible. With his penchant for cruelty, bigotry, narcissism, selfishness and even his primitive primate dominance displays, he has shredded the accepted understandings of personal morality that prevent the strong from preying on the weak.

Most disturbing, all of this has been greeted with moral numbness. The truest thing Trump said all year is that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. We learned this year that millions of Americans are incapable of being morally offended, or of putting virtue above partisanship.

And that brings us to the summons. The events of 2016 represent a watershed and a call to do politics differently.

Personally I’ve always disdained talk of a third party, mostly because the structural barriers against such parties are so high, no matter how scintillatingly attractive they seem in theory. But it’s becoming clear that the need for a third party outweighs even the very real barriers.

The Republican Party will probably remain the white working-class party, favoring closed trade, closed borders and American withdrawal abroad. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is increasingly dominated by its left/Sanders wing, which offers its own populism of the left.

There has to be a party for those who are now homeless. There has to be a party as confidently opposed to populism as populists are in favor of it.

There has to be a compassionate globalist party, one that embraces free trade while looking after those who suffer from trade; that embraces continued skilled immigration while listening to those hurt by immigration; that embraces widening ethnic diversity while understanding that diversity can weaken social trust.

There has to be a patriotic party that understands that the world benefits when America serves as the leading and energetic superpower.

There has to be a party that unapologetically emphasizes public character formation. It’s not clear that our political culture is producing individuals capable of exercising freedom wisely. But citizenship is a skill that can be nurtured — by a party that insists on basic standards of decency in its candidates; that practices politics in humble, honest ways; that strengthens trust and institutions by playing by the rules, by confirming appointees and the like.

The problems go deeper than the jobless rate and the threat of ISIS. The underlying social and moral foundations of the nation have been weakened. Today a rancid chapter ends. Tomorrow let’s start with fresh ground and a new party.

Jesus Horatio Christ on toast points, but that’s something…  It’s always those OTHER Republicans, WAAAY over there that turned the dog whistles into klaxons while Bobo mused delicately about Burke…  Here’s what “gemli” in Boston had to say to him:

“A healthy society couldn’t have come down with such a bad case of Donald Trump. We should have been immune to his fevered talk and his sick rhetoric, but we had no defenses against it.

The seeds of our destruction had been sown for decades. Trump was an opportunistic infection that took hold in a society weakened by decades of Republican legislative obstruction, hate speech, thinly veiled racism, second-amendment zealotry, economic piracy, a fostering of voter ignorance and a systemic denial of reality.

Trump is the spokesman for a party with nothing to say. And millions of people liked what they heard, having heard little else than a constant drumbeat of negativity for the past twenty years.

We flirted with stupidity when W. was president, and untold thousands died in wars that should have never been fought. We dabbled in torture and self-destruction with Cheney, and are living the nightmare of that legacy in the Middle East. But W. and Cheney seem wise and compassionate compared to their intellectual and moral spawn. In this Oz come to life, Trump is W. without the brain, and Cheney without the heart.

Courage has left the building. Trump is nothing but fear and loathing, building walls, closing doors, kicking out and shutting down. He promises never to stop, even if he loses.

We’ve had a smart, compassionate, intelligent, poised and progressive leader in the White House for eight years. Republicans are furious. Trump is their response.”

Brooks and Krugman

November 4, 2016

Bobo has seen fit to extrude something called “The Banality of Change” in which he says Hillary Clinton is the bigger change agent this year, because she can get things done in government.  That’s effing rich — as though the Republicans in Congress won’t treat her with the same contempt that they’ve treated Obama.  You thought the racism was fun?  Just WAIT for the sexism…  “Soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, Illinois will have something to say in reply.  Prof. Krugman has a question:  “Who Broke Politics?”  He says Republican leaders have spent decades trashing democratic norms in pursuit of economic benefits for their donor class.  Here’s Bobo:

A few weeks ago I met a guy in Idaho who was absolutely certain that Donald Trump would win this election. He was wearing tattered, soiled overalls, missing a bunch of teeth and was unnaturally skinny. He was probably about 50, but his haggard face looked 70. He was getting by aimlessly as a handyman.

I pointed to the polls and tried to persuade him that Hillary Clinton might win, but it was like telling him a sea gull could play billiards. Everybody he knows is voting Trump so his entire lived experience points to a Trump landslide. He was a funny, kind guy, but you got the impression his opportunities had been narrowed by forces outside his control.

One of the mandates for the next president is to help improve the life stories of people like that.

Trump speaks to this man’s situation and makes him feel heard. But when you think practically about which candidate could improve his life, it’s clear that Clinton is the bigger change agent.

Let’s start with what “change” actually means. In our system, change means legislation. It starts with the ability to gather a team of policy experts who can craft complex bills. These days, bills often run to thousands of pages, and every bad rookie decision can lead things astray.

Then it requires political deftness. Deft politicians are not always lovely, as Lyndon Johnson demonstrated, but they are subtle, cunning and experienced. They have the ability to work noncontentiously with people they don’t like, to read other people’s minds, to lure opponents over with friendship, cajolery and a respectful nudge.

Craftsmanship in government is not like craftsmanship in business. You can’t win people with money and you can’t order people around. Governance requires enormous patience, a capacity to tolerate boredom and the skill of quiet herding. Frustrations abound. When it is done well, as a friend of mine in government puts it, each individual day sucks but the overall experience is tremendously rewarding.

Change in government is a team sport. Public opinion is mobilized through institutions — through interest groups, activist organizations, think tanks and political parties. As the historian Sean Wilentz once put it, “political parties have been the only reliable electoral vehicles for advancing the ideas and interests of ordinary voters.” To create political change, you have to work within groups and organize groups of groups.

Now, if you wanted to design a personality type perfectly ill suited to be a change agent in government, you would come up with Donald Trump: solipsistic, impatient, combative, unsubtle and ignorant.

If you wanted to design a personality type better suited to getting things done, you might come up with James Baker, Robert Gates or Ted Kennedy, but you might also come up with Hillary Clinton.

None of us should be under any illusions. Wherever Clinton walks, the whiff of scandal is always by her side. The Clintons seem to have decided that they are righteous and good, and therefore anything that enriches, empowers or makes them feel good must always be righteous and good. They surround themselves with some amazing people but also some human hand grenades who inevitably blow up in their faces.

But Clinton does possess the steady, pedantic skills that are necessary for governmental change: the ability to work doggedly hard, to master details and to rally the powerful. If the Clinton campaign emails have taught us anything, it is that she and her team, while not hugely creative, are prudent, calculating and able to create a web of interlocking networks that they can mobilize for a cause.

Clinton was at her best in the Senate. She worked very well with Republicans (and not just the amenable ones like John McCain and Lindsey Graham). She was an operations person, not a publicity person. Whereas Barack Obama sometimes seemed to see his fellow politicians as objects to be studied, Clinton got on with them as an equal. Her accomplishments — post-9/11 funding for New York, saving Army bases in upstate New York — were concrete.

Passing legislation next year is going to be hard, but if Clinton can be dull and pragmatic, and operate at a level below the cable TV ideology wars, it’s possible to imagine her gathering majorities behind laws that would help people like that guy in Idaho: an infrastructure push, criminal justice reform, a college tuition program, an apprenticeship and skills program, an expanded earned-income tax credit and a bill to secure the border and shift from low-skill to high-skill immigration.

Many of us disagree strongly with many Clinton policies. But any sensible person can distinguish between an effective operating officer and a whirling disaster who is only about himself.

The thing about reality TV is that it isn’t actually real. In the real world, the process of driving change is usually boring, remorseless and detail oriented, but the effect on people out there, like the guy in Idaho, can be profound and beautiful.

He still can’t quite bring himself to be honest enough to endorse Hillary.  Here’s what “soxared 04-07-13” had to say:

“Golly, Mr. Brooks, is this endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president that we have breathlessly awaited? Or is it just a rhetorical exercise? One hopes, as our final weekend for Armageddon dawns, it’s the former.

Where to begin, though? Let’s start with your glancing blow at Barack Obama. You say, in so many words, that a “rookie decision” can be fatal. You go on to compare him, unfairly with LBJ, the consummate political animal from poor, dust-blown Texas to the Oval Office, largely through Lee Harvey Oswald’s cross-hairs.

A companion piece today by Paul Krugman details how Republicans long ago abandoned any pretense to governing. Barack Obama’s inexperience was not the cause of Congressional gridlock. In your very words, “change in government is a team sport.” When, Mr. Brooks, did the Congressional delegation reach out to President Obama?

The Right attacked this good and decent man with a treasonous, seditionist employment of “public opinion [to] mobilize…institutions — through interest groups, activist organizations, think tanks” to obstruct the black president. Game, set and match, no? “You lie!”; “one-term president”; no hearings on Judge Merrick Garland? Mitch McConnell should have been investigated by the Senate’s committee for un-American activities. Right?

Hillary Clinton, with a majority Democratic Senate, can begin to lay bricks on the long and winding road. Donald Trump wants to dig it all up.

Are you with her on Tuesday? Finally? Do we have your word?”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

As far as anyone can tell, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — and the leader of what’s left of the Republican establishment — isn’t racist or authoritarian. He is, however, doing all he can to make a racist authoritarian the most powerful man in the world. Why? Because then he could privatize Medicare and slash taxes on the wealthy.

And that, in brief, tells you what has happened to the Republican Party, and to America.

This has been an election in which almost every week sees some longstanding norm in U.S. political life get broken. We now have a major-party candidate who refuses to release his tax returns, despite huge questions about his business dealings. He constantly repeats claims that are totally false, like his assertion that crime is at record highs (it’s actually just a bit off historic lows). He stands condemned by his own words as a sexual predator. And there’s much, much more.

Any one of these things would in the past have been considered disqualifying in a presidential candidate. But leading Republicans just shrug. And they celebrated when James Comey, the director of the F.B.I., broke with policy to lay a heavy thumb on the election scales; if Hillary Clinton wins nonetheless, they have made it clear that they will try to block any Supreme Court nomination, and there’s already talk of impeachment hearings. About what? They’ll find something.

So how did all our political norms get destroyed? Hint: It started long before Donald Trump.

On one side, Republicans decided long ago that anything went in the effort to delegitimize and destroy Democrats. Those of us old enough to remember the 1990s also remember the endless series of accusations hurled against the Clintons.

Nothing was too implausible to get on talk radio and get favorable mention in Congress and in conservative media: Hillary killed Vince Foster! Bill was a drug smuggler!

Nothing was too trivial to trigger congressional hearings: 140 hours of testimony on potential abuse of the White House Christmas card list. And, of course, seven years of investigations into a failed real estate deal.

When Mrs. Clinton famously spoke of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” out to undermine her husband’s presidency, she wasn’t being hyperbolic; she was simply describing the obvious reality.

And since accusations of Democratic scandal, not to mention congressional “investigations” that started from a presumption of guilt, had become the norm, the very idea of bad behavior independent of politics disappeared: The flip side of the obsessive pursuit of a Democratic president was utter refusal to investigate even the most obvious wrongdoing by Republicans in office.

There were multiple real scandals during the administration of George W. Bush, ranging from what looked like a political purge in the Justice Department to the deceptions that led us into invading Iraq; nobody was ever held accountable.

The erosion of norms continued after President Obama took office. He faced total obstruction at every turn; blackmail over the debt ceiling; and now, a refusal even to hold hearings on his nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

What was the purpose of this assault on the implicit rules and understandings that we need to make democracy work? Well, when Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995, he was trying to, guess what, privatize Medicare. The rage against Bill Clinton partly reflected the fact that he raised taxes modestly on the wealthy.

In other words, Republican leaders have spent the past couple of decades doing exactly what the likes of Mr. Ryan are doing now: trashing democratic norms in pursuit of economic benefits for their donor class.

So we shouldn’t really be too surprised that Mr. Comey, who turns out to be a Republican first and a public servant, well, not so much, decided to politically weaponize his position on the eve of the election; that’s what Republicans have been doing across the board. And we shouldn’t be surprised at all that Mr. Trump’s lurid personal failings haven’t caused a break with the leaders of his party’s establishment: They decided long ago that only Democrats have scandals.

Despite Mr. Comey’s abuse of power, Mrs. Clinton will probably win. But Republicans won’t accept it. When Mr. Trump rages about a “rigged election,” expect muted disagreement at best from a party establishment that in a fundamental sense never accepts the legitimacy of a Democrat in the White House. And no matter what Mrs. Clinton does, the barrage of fake scandals will continue, now with demands for impeachment.

Can anything be done to limit the damage? It would help if the media finally learned its lesson, and stopped treating Republican scandal-mongering as genuine news. And it would also help if Democrats won the Senate, so that at least some governing could get done.

Bobo, solo

November 1, 2016

Bobo’s decided to continue avoiding things.  In “Read Buber, Not the Polls!” he gurgles that the writings of the Jewish sage Martin Buber offer a distraction from election anxiety.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a thing or two to say about that.  Here’s Bobo:

If America were a marriage we’d need therapy.

There has been so much bad communication over the past year: people talking in warring monologues past each other, ignoring the facts and using lazy stereotypes like “elites” and “Trumpeans” to reduce complex individuals into simplistic categories. Meanwhile, our main candidates are poor connectors. We’ve got the self-enclosed narcissism of Donald Trump and, to a lesser degree, the mistrustful defensiveness of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

As an antidote for all this, I’ve been reading the work of Martin Buber, the early 20th century Jewish theologian who dedicated his career to understanding deep intimacy. Buber is famous for the distinction between I-It relationships and I-Thou relationships.

I-It relationships come in two varieties.

Some are strictly utilitarian. You’re exchanging information in order to do some practical thing, like getting your taxes done.

But other I-It relationships are truncated versions of what should be deep relationships. You’re with a friend, colleague, spouse or neighbor, but you’re not really bringing your whole self to that encounter. You’re fearful, closed or withdrawn — objectifying her, talking at her, offering only a shallow piece of yourself and seeing only the shallow piece of her.

I-Thou relationships, on the other hand, are personal, direct, dialogical — nothing is held back. A Thou relationship exists when two or more people are totally immersed in their situation, when deep calls to deep, when they are offering up themselves and embracing the other in some total, unselfconscious way, when they are involved in “mutual animated describing.”

A doctor has an I-It relationship with a patient when he treats him as a machine in need of repair. But Peter DeMarco described an I-Thou relationship in a letter to the doctors and nurses who cared for his dying wife, which was published in The Times:

“How many times did you hug me and console me when I fell to pieces, or ask about Laura’s life and the person she was, taking the time to look at her photos or read the things I’d written about her? How many times did you deliver bad news with compassionate words, and sadness in your eyes?”

In our culture we use phrases like finding oneself, finding your passion, loving yourself so you can love others. But Buber argued that it’s nonsensical to think of the self in isolation. The I only exists in relation to some other.

“The development of the soul in the child is inextricably bound up with that of the longing for the Thou,” he wrote. All through life, the self is emerging out of some dialogue, either a cold stifling one or a rich complete one: “All real living is meeting.”

You can’t intentionally command I-Thou moments into being. You can only be open to them and provide fertile soil.

Some people go through life with a detached posture, trying to self-differentiate themselves and be more sophisticated than others. Those people tend to have mechanical relationships. Their feelings are self-enclosed. They don’t get to experience the Thou.

Others adopt a guard-down posture that is openhearted and open-minded. They regard others as unique persons and not objects. They have histories in which trust and vulnerability are rewarded.

Such people experience moments of genuine dialogue. Buber described genuine dialogue as a sort of social flow. Teachers and students are learning with each other. An audience and an artist are lost in a performance.

These moments don’t last. It is the “exalted melancholy of our fate” that Thou moments always fade back into It moments. But a world has been built during such intense moments. A binding cord has been strengthened. The person who has experienced the Thou has been thickened and come closer to wholeness.

Buber’s writing reminds us to be intentional and brave about relationships. But it also has communal and political implications. Some organizations and leaders nurture openhearted bonds. Such communities usually began, Buber wrote, with some sacred Thou moment — like the Exodus story for the Jews or the revolutionary struggles of the early Americans. Leaders connect current problems to that “living effective center” and set the table for situations of caring and trust.

Buber’s story is also apt because he overcame betrayal to come to a posture of trust. When he was a small boy, his mother eloped with an Army officer and wasn’t seen for 30 years. But he still had the courage to throw himself wholly in with his wife, Paula. Their marriage became a living example of a true and equal Thou.

Today, America is certainly awash in distrust. So many people tell stories of betrayal. So many leaders (Trump) model combativeness, isolation and distrust. But the only way we get beyond depressing years like this one is at the level of intimacy: if Americans reconnect with the living center of the national story and they rebuild Thous at every level.

And now here’s “gemli:”

“We live in a country that would rather let poor people die than give them affordable medical care. We lock up a higher percentage of our citizens than any other nation on earth. We cling to the death penalty, worrying more about where we’ll get the next batch of poison than what it says about our system of justice. We lament our absurd murder rate while we hand out guns like Tic Tacs, yet we’re so afraid of guns that we shoot black people at traffic stops. We let rich people write laws that let them hoard all of the money, while the rest of us go begging. We let sexual abuse slide when it might embarrass politicians, sports stars or religious leaders, and then attack those who point out the abuse. We invent gods so that we can make homophobia holy.

We’re not an I-Thou sort of country. It’s become more of an Us-Them kind of thing. We were doing pretty well over most of the last century, giving unions power over robber barons, paying living wages, making sure old people had money in retirement, feeding the hungry, waking from the nightmare of racial intolerance, recognizing women’s rights, giving them control over their well-being and their bodies, realizing that gay people were people.

Conservatives fought against every one of these things, and the fight has paid off. After a long incubation, they’ve given birth to their philosophy’s apotheosis. Now it’s all about I, and Thou can go to hell.”

Brooks and Krugman

October 28, 2016

Bobo is wringing his hands over “The Conservative Intellectual Crisis.”  But he tells us it’s about to get better.  Really — “conservative intellectual” is an oxymoron, with an emphasis on the last 5 letters.  There will be a reply from “soxared, 04-o7-13” from Crete, Illinois.  Prof. Krugman, in “Obamacare Hits a Pothole,” says the news about premium hikes is bad, but not nearly as bad as some critics would have you believe.  Here’s Bobo:

I feel very lucky to have entered the conservative movement when I did, back in the 1980s and 1990s. I was working at National Review, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. The role models in front of us were people like Bill Buckley, Irving Kristol, James Q. Wilson, Russell Kirk and Midge Decter.

These people wrote about politics, but they also wrote about a lot of other things: history, literature, sociology, theology and life in general. There was a sharp distinction then between being conservative, which was admired, and being a Republican, which was considered sort of cheesy.

These writers often lived in cities among liberals while being suspicious of liberal thought and liberal parochialism. People like Buckley had friends of every ideological stripe and were sharper for being in hostile waters. They were sort of inside and outside the establishment and could speak both languages.

Many grew up poor, which cured them of the anti-elitist pose that many of today’s conservative figures adopt, especially if they come from Princeton (Ted Cruz), Cornell (Ann Coulter) or Dartmouth (Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza). The older writers knew that being cultured and urbane wasn’t a sign of elitism. Culture was the tool they used for social mobility. T.S. Eliot was cheap and sophisticated argument was free.

The Buckley-era establishment self-confidently enforced intellectual and moral standards. It rebuffed the nativists like the John Birch Society, the apocalyptic polemicists who popped up with the New Right, and they exiled conspiracy-mongers and anti-Semites, like Joe Sobran, an engaging man who was rightly fired from National Review.

The conservative intellectual landscape has changed in three important ways since then, paving the way for the ruination of the Republican Party.

First, talk radio, cable TV and the internet have turned conservative opinion into a mass-market enterprise. Small magazines have been overwhelmed by Rush, O’Reilly and Breitbart.

Today’s dominant conservative voices try to appeal to people by the millions. You win attention in the mass media through perpetual hysteria and simple-minded polemics and by exploiting social resentment. In search of that mass right-wing audience that, say, Coulter enjoys, conservatism has done its best to make itself offensive to people who value education and disdain made-for-TV rage.

It’s ironic that an intellectual tendency that champions free markets was ruined by the forces of commercialism, but that is the essential truth. Conservatism went down-market in search of revenue. It got swallowed by its own anti-intellectual media-politico complex — from Beck to Palin to Trump. Hillary Clinton is therefore now winning among white college graduates by 52 to 36 percent.

Second, conservative opinion-meisters began to value politics over everything else. The very essence of conservatism is the belief that politics is a limited activity, and that the most important realms are pre-political: conscience, faith, culture, family and community. But recently conservatism has become more the talking arm of the Republican Party.

Among social conservatives, for example, faith sometimes seems to come in second behind politics, Scripture behind voting guides. Today, most white evangelicals are willing to put aside the Christian virtues of humility, charity and grace for the sake of a Trump political victory. According to a Public Religion Research Institute survey, 72 percent of white evangelicals believe that a person who is immoral in private life can be an effective national leader, a belief that is more Machiavelli than Matthew.

As conservatism has become a propagandistic, partisan movement it has become less vibrant, less creative and less effective.

That leads to the third big change. Blinkered by the Republican Party’s rigid anti-government rhetoric, conservatives were slow to acknowledge and even slower to address the central social problems of our time.

For years, middle- and working-class Americans have been suffering from stagnant wages, meager opportunity, social isolation and household fragmentation. Shrouded in obsolete ideas from the Reagan years, conservatism had nothing to offer these people because it didn’t believe in using government as a tool for social good. Trump demagogy filled the void.

This is a sad story. But I confess I’m insanely optimistic about a conservative rebound. That’s because of an observation the writer Yuval Levin once made: That while most of the crazy progressives are young, most of the crazy conservatives are old. Conservatism is now being led astray by its seniors, but its young people are pretty great. It’s hard to find a young evangelical who likes Donald Trump. Most young conservatives are comfortable with ethnic diversity and are weary of the Fox News media-politico complex. Conservatism’s best ideas are coming from youngish reformicons who have crafted an ambitious governing agenda (completely ignored by Trump).

A Trump defeat could cleanse a lot of bad structures and open ground for new growth. It was good to be a young conservative back in my day. It’s great to be one right now.

Lordy.  Here’s rhe reply from “soxared, 04-07-13”:

“Another delusional column from the Captain Quint of the Republican party as the great shark moves in to devour it. Mr. Brooks, are you aware Jason Chaffaetz of Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform? He has taken a page out of Mitch McConnell’s How To Make Government Unresponsive by promising to double down on Mrs. Clinton’s email server contretemps while Secretary of State. The obvious goal in mind is impeachment of the new president before she takes office.

This is your idea of a “new conservatism”, Mr. Brooks, one that will “cleanse a lot of bad structures and open ground for new growth”? Well, here’s my take: it’s the obvious and deliberate attempt to destroy an American president before she even takes office We’ve just witnessed your party’s unique brand of conservatism during the Obama administration. The GOP promises more and all you can say today is “it’s great to be a conservative right now”?

Your misty-eyed reminiscence of William F. Buckley, for example, doesn’t take into account his happily-declared racism, his contempt for diversity. Yet you, as is your wont, try to slide by us a Hall of Fame of right-wing intellectuals as a pantheon of American greatness of thought. Mr. Buckley was Ronald “government is the problem” Reagan’s champion.

He’s also the “intellectual” father of Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, D’Souza, and, yes, Brooks.

Are you proud of that?”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

For advocates of health reform, the story of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, has been a wild roller-coaster ride.

First there was the legislative drama, with reform seemingly on the edge of collapse right up to the moment of passage. Then there was the initial mess with the website — followed by incredibly good news on enrollment and costs. Now reform has hit a pothole: After several years of coming in far below predictions, premiums on covered plans have shot up by more than 20 percent.

So how bad is the picture?

The people who have been claiming all along that reform couldn’t work, and have been wrong every step of the way, are, of course, claiming vindication. But they’re wrong again. The bad news is real. But so are reform’s accomplishments, which won’t go away even if nothing is done to fix the problems now appearing. And technically, if not politically, those problems are quite easy to fix.

Health reform had two big goals: to cover the uninsured and to rein in the overall growth of health care costs — to “bend the curve,” in the jargon of health policy wonks. Sure enough, the fraction of Americans without health insurance has declined to its lowest level in history, while health cost growth has plunged: Since Obamacare passed Congress, private insurance costs have risen less than half as fast as they did in the previous decade, andMedicare costs have risen less than a fifth as fast.

But if health costs are looking good, what’s with the spike in premiums? It only applies to one piece of the health care system — the “exchanges,” the insurance markets Obamacare established for people who aren’t covered either by their employers or by government programs, mainly Medicare and Medicaid.

The way the exchanges were supposed to work was that both healthy and less-healthy people would sign up, providing insurers with a good mix of risks that let them offer reasonably priced policies. Broad participation was supposed to happen because the law requires everyone to have insurance — the “mandate” — or face a penalty. Buying insurance was supposed to remain affordable because the law provides subsidies for middle- and lower-income families, ensuring that health costs don’t become too large a share of income.

Many insurers entered the market in the belief that the system would work as advertised. After all, conceptually similar systems work in other countries, like Switzerland; Massachusetts has had a system along the same lines since 2006 (which is why some of us call it ObamaRomneycare); and even now it’s working O.K. in California, which has managed the program well.

In many states, however, not enough healthy people signed up — and now insurers are either pulling out or hiking their premiums to reflect the not-so-good risk pool. Since premiums have until now been well below projections, this only brings them back up to expected levels. But it’s clearly not good news.

How many people are hurt by these premium hikes? Not as many as you may think.

If you are covered by your employer, Medicare or Medicaid, this isn’t about you. Even if you buy a policy on the exchanges, you’re protected if your income is low enough — $97,200 for a family of four — to make you eligible for subsidies. So we’re talking about a fraction of a fraction of the population (which admittedly may still be several million people).

Oh, and bear in mind that many of those affected by the rate hikes have pre-existing conditions, which means that without Obamacare they wouldn’t be insured at all.

Even if the direct effects of this year’s hike aren’t that big, could it mean that Obamacare is about to unravel? No. Most people on the exchanges receive subsidies, which means that the rate hikes won’t induce them to drop out; people talking about a “death spiral” haven’t done their homework.

So the news is bad, but its badness is limited. Still, the architects of Obamacare had hoped to create a system that would eventually cover almost everyone.

Can the current problems be fixed?

As a technical matter, the answer is clearly yes. Strengthen the mandate; expand the subsidies; close the loopholes that have allowed some insurers to bypass the exchanges; take a more active role in setting standards and reaching out to families to make them aware of their options. Some states are doing much better than others, and it wouldn’t take a lot of money to expand best practices to the nation as a whole.

The trouble is that Congress would have to vote to spend that money. So unless Democrats manage to take the House (unlikely) or Republicans are willing to cooperate in the public interest (even more unlikely), the easy fix that’s clearly in sight will have to wait for a while.

So, is the latest health care news disappointing? Yes. Is it catastrophic? Not at all.