Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Bobo, solo

March 22, 2016

Oh, dear God.  Bobo feels that he now has to explain “The Middle-Age Surge.”  He sits in his vast spaces for entertaining and burbles that the image of midlife as a time of crisis is almost the opposite of what this period in life is really about.  Dear, sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick…  In the comments “Greeley” from Farmington, CT sets him straight:  “Mr. Brooks, The fact that you can write this column and not even give a passing nod to the vast number of Americans who are never going to have a peaceful middle age+ period in their lives speaks volumes about the obliviousness with which you and your privileged compatriots proceed. You must be very sheltered, indeed, if you have missed the news bulletin that millions of Americans lost what little they had in the financial meltdown, caused mostly by the Republicans who had their hands on the controls. And you wonder whence came Trump and Sanders?  Wake up and smell the coffee, Mr. Brooks. We now have a new kind of midlife (and old age) crisis, far removed from the decision to buy a red Corvette. We no longer have the luxury of an existential pondering of our mortality in our later years. This crisis is called survival.  So sorry to burst your bubble.” Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

The phrase almost completes itself: Midlife … crisis. It’s the stage in the middle of the journey when people feel youth vanishing, their prospects narrowing and death approaching. So they become undone. The red Corvette pops up in the driveway. Stupidity reigns.

There’s only one problem with the cliché. It isn’t true.

“In fact, there is almost no hard evidence for midlife crisis at all, other than a few small pilot studies conducted decades ago,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes in her new book, “Life Reimagined.” The vast bulk of the research shows that there may be a pause, or a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but this shift “can be exhilarating, rather than terrifying.”

Bradley Hagerty looks at some of the features of people who turn midlife into a rebirth. They break routines, because “autopilot is death.” They choose purpose over happiness — having a clear sense of purpose even reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. They put relationships at the foreground, as career often recedes.

“Life Reimagined” paints a portrait of middle age that is far from grim and decelerating. Midlife begins to seem like the second big phase of decision-making. Your identity has been formed; you know who you are; you’ve built up your resources; and now you have the chance to take the big risks precisely because your foundation is already secure.

The theologian Karl Barth described midlife in precisely this way. At middle age, he wrote, “the sowing is behind; now is the time to reap. The run has been taken; now is the time to leap. Preparation has been made; now is the time for the venture of the work itself.”

The middle-aged person, Barth continued, can see death in the distance, but moves with a “measured haste” to get big new things done while there is still time.

What Barth wrote decades ago is even truer today. People are healthy and energetic longer. We have presidential candidates running for their first term in office at age 68, 69 and 74. Greater longevity is changing the narrative structure of life itself.

The elongation of vital life has changed the phases of life. The most obvious change is the emergence of the odyssey years. People between age 20 and the early 30s can now take a little more time to try on new career options, new cities and new partners.

However, another profound but more hidden change is the altered shape of middle age. What could have been considered the beginning of a descent is now a potential turning point — the turning point you are most equipped to take full advantage of.

It is the moment when you can look back on your life so far and see it with different eyes. Hopefully you’ve built up some wisdom, which, as the psychologists define it, means seeing the world with more compassion, grasping opposing ideas at the same time, tolerating ambiguity and reacting with equanimity to the small setbacks of life.

By middle age you might begin to see, retrospectively, the dominant motifs that have been running through your various decisions. You might begin to see how all your different commitments can be integrated into one meaning and purpose. You might see the social problem your past has made you uniquely equipped to tackle. You might have enough clarity by now to orient your life around a true north on some ultimate horizon.

Lincoln, for example, found in midlife that everything so far had prepared him to preserve the Union and end slavery. The rest of us don’t have causes that grand, but plenty of people bring their life to a point. They dive fully into existing commitments, or embrace new ones.

Either way, with a little maturity, they’re less likely by middle age to be blinded by ego, more likely to know what it is they actually desire, more likely to get out of their own way, and maybe a little less likely, given all the judgments that have been made, to care about what other people think.

The people who find meaning at this stage often realize the way up is down.

They get off that supervisor’s perch and put themselves in direct contact with the people they can help the most. They accept that certain glorious youthful dreams won’t be realized, but other, more relational jobs turn out to be more fulfilling.

They achieve a kind of tranquillity, not because they’ve decided to do nothing, but because they’ve achieved focus and purity of will. They have enough self-confidence, and impatience, to say no to some things so they can say yes to others.

From this perspective, middle age is kind of inspiring. Many of life’s possibilities are now closed, but limitation is often liberating. The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply.

I can’t wait until Driftglass and/or Charlie Pierce sink their teeth into this.  And for the love of St. Francis, somebody dognap poor, poor Moral Hazard.  He’s suffered enough.

Brooks and Krugman

March 18, 2016

Bobo has reached the point where he’s having a tantrum.  He’s produced something called “No, Not Trump, Not Ever” (can’t you just see him lying on the floor, kicking his feet and screaming?) in which he says voters deserve respect, but this year, their candidate does not.  In the comments “Cowboy” from Wichita had this to say:  “The Republican alternatives to Trump are just as bad or worse. That’s in part why GOP voters turned to Trump; they don’t much like any traditional Republicans this year.  The once Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower has turned into a motley group of anti-government religious fanatics.”  Prof. Krugman considers the “Republican Elite’s Reign of Disdain” and says rather than blaming itself, the party establishment blames working-class Americans for their problems.  Here’s Bobo:

The voters have spoken.

In convincing fashion, Republican voters seem to be selecting Donald Trump as their nominee. And in a democracy, victory has legitimacy to it. Voters are rarely wise but are usually sensible. They understand their own problems. And so deference is generally paid to the candidate who wins.

And deference is being paid. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida is urging Republicans to coalesce around Trump. Pundits are coming out with their “What We Can Learn” commentaries. Those commentaries are built on a hidden respect for the outcome, that this is a rejection of a Republicanism that wasn’t working and it points in some better direction.

The question is: Should deference be paid to this victor? Should we bow down to the judgment of these voters?

Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.

Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

And yet reality is reality.

Donald Trump is epically unprepared to be president. He has no realistic policies, no advisers, no capacity to learn. His vast narcissism makes him a closed fortress. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know and he’s uninterested in finding out. He insults the office Abraham Lincoln once occupied by running for it with less preparation than most of us would undertake to buy a sofa.

Trump is perhaps the most dishonest person to run for high office in our lifetimes. All politicians stretch the truth, but Trump has a steady obliviousness to accuracy.

This week, the Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked 4.6 hours of Trump speeches and press conferences. They found more than five dozen untrue statements, or one every five minutes.

“His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources,” they wrote.

He is a childish man running for a job that requires maturity. He is an insecure boasting little boy whose desires were somehow arrested at age 12. He surrounds himself with sycophants. “You can always tell when the king is here,” Trump’s butler told Jason Horowitz in a recent Times profile. He brags incessantly about his alleged prowess, like how far he can hit a golf ball. “Do I hit it long? Is Trump strong?” he asks.

In some rare cases, political victors do not deserve our respect. George Wallace won elections, but to endorse those outcomes would be a moral failure.

And so it is with Trump.

History is a long record of men like him temporarily rising, stretching back to biblical times. Psalm 73 describes them: “Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. … They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.”

And yet their success is fragile: “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed.”

The psalmist reminds us that the proper thing to do in the face of demagogy is to go the other way — to make an extra effort to put on decency, graciousness, patience and humility, to seek a purity of heart that is stable and everlasting.

The Republicans who coalesce around Trump are making a political error. They are selling their integrity for a candidate who will probably lose. About 60 percent of Americans disapprove of him, and that number has been steady since he began his campaign.

Worse, there are certain standards more important than one year’s election. There are certain codes that if you betray them, you suffer something much worse than a political defeat.

Donald Trump is an affront to basic standards of honesty, virtue and citizenship. He pollutes the atmosphere in which our children are raised. He has already shredded the unspoken rules of political civility that make conversation possible. In his savage regime, public life is just a dog-eat-dog war of all against all.

As the founders would have understood, he is a threat to the long and glorious experiment of American self-government. He is precisely the kind of scapegoating, promise-making, fear-driving and deceiving demagogue they feared.

Trump’s supporters deserve respect. They are left out of this economy. But Trump himself? No, not Trump, not ever.

So Bobo has decided he’s going to have to change the way he does his job.  Quitting would be good, Bobo.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

“Sire, the peasants are revolting!”

“Yes, they are, aren’t they?”

It’s an old joke, but it seems highly relevant to the current situation within the Republican Party. As an angry base rejects establishment candidates in favor of you-know-who, a significant part of the party’s elite blames not itself, but the moral and character failings of the voters.

There has been a lot of buzz over the past few days about an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review, vigorously defended by other members of the magazine’s staff, denying that the white working class — “the heart of Trump’s support” — is in any sense a victim of external forces. A lot has gone wrong in these Americans’ lives — “the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy” — but “nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.”

O.K., we’re just talking about a couple of writers at a conservative magazine. But it’s obvious, if you look around, that this attitude is widely shared on the right. When Mitt Romney spoke about the 47 percent of voters who would never support him because they “believe that the government has a responsibility to take care of them,” he was channeling an influential strain of conservative thought. So was Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, when he warned of a social safety net that becomes “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

Or consider the attitude toward American workers inadvertently displayed by Eric Cantor, then the House majority leader, when he chose to mark Labor Day with a Twitter post celebrating … business owners.

So what’s going on here?

To be sure, social collapse in the white working class is a deadly serious issue. Literally. Last fall, the economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton attracted widespread attention with a paper showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans, which had been declining for generations, started rising again circa 2000. This rising death rate mainly reflected suicide, alcohol and overdoses of drugs, notably prescription opioids. (Marx declared that religion was the opium of the people. But in 21st-century America, it appears that opioids are the opium of the people.)

And other signs of social unraveling, from deteriorating health to growing isolation, are also on the rise among American whites. Something is going seriously wrong in the heartland.

Furthermore, the writers at National Review are right to link these social ills to the Trump phenomenon. Call it death and The Donald: Analysis of primary election results so far shows that counties with high white mortality rates are also likely to vote Trump.

The question, however, is why this is happening. And the diagnosis preferred by the Republican elite is just wrong — wrong in a way that helps us understand how that elite lost control of the nominating process.

Stripped down to its essence, the G.O.P. elite view is that working-class America faces a crisis, not of opportunity, but of values. That is, for some mysterious reason many of our citizens have, as Mr. Ryan puts it, lost “their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” And this crisis of values, they suggest, has been aided and abetted by social programs that make life too easy on slackers.

The problems with this diagnosis should be obvious. Tens of millions of people don’t suffer a collapse in values for no reason. Remember, several decades ago the sociologist William Julius Wilson argued that the social ills of America’s black community didn’t come out of thin air, but were the result of disappearing economic opportunity. If he was right, you would have expected declining opportunity to have the same effect on whites, and sure enough, that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

Meanwhile, the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.

But the Republican elite can’t handle the truth. It’s too committed to an Ayn Rand story line about heroic job creators versus moochers to admit either that trickle-down economics can fail to deliver good jobs, or that sometimes government aid is a crucial lifeline. So it ends up lashing out at its own voters when they refuse to buy into that story line.

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that Donald Trump has any better idea about what the country needs; he’s just peddling another fantasy, this one involving the supposed power of belligerence. But at least he’s acknowledging the real problems ordinary Americans face, not lecturing them on their moral failings. And that’s an important reason he’s winning.

Brooks and Krugman

March 11, 2016

In “Dogs, Cats and Leadership” Bobo gurgles that maybe we should ask candidates questions that would reveal qualities we associate with pets.  In the comments “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ had this to say:  “There you go again, Lord Brooks, with yet another O Henry false equivalence finish.  False equivalence is a propagandist’s finest friend…and your friendship is flourishing.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Trade and Tribulation,” says Donald Trump’s popularity and Bernie Sanders’s Michigan upset prompt the question: Are we in a protectionist moment?  Here’s Bobo:

When he was in the middle of his Syrian peace deal negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry would go to President Obama with a request: Could the U.S. quietly send a few cruise missiles to hit Assad regime targets, just to send a message and maybe move the Syrian president toward a deal.

“Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage,” a senior administration official told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

Obama continually said no, and eventually grew impatient. Goldberg asked Kerry if he thought he has more of a bias toward action than Obama. “I do probably,” Kerry responded. “I’d say that I think we’ve had a very symbiotic, synergistic, whatever you call it, relationship which works very effectively. Because I’ll come in with a bias toward ‘Let’s try to do this, let’s try to do that, let’s get this done.’”

The new Goldberg essay is a profound and comprehensive look at President Obama’s foreign policy thinking, and especially his steadfast desire to reduce American involvement in the Middle East.

But it’s also fascinating to read in the midst of a presidential campaign. It shows how insanely far removed campaign bloviation is from the reality of actually governing. It also reveals that the performance of presidents, especially on foreign policy, is shaped by how leaders attach to problems. Some leaders are like dogs: They want to bound right in and make things happen. Some are more like cats: They want to detach and maybe look for a pressure point here or there.

If we want to understand the dog or catlike qualities in candidates, we should be asking them a different set of questions:

How much do you think a president can change the flow of world events?

President Obama, for example, has a limited or, if you want to put it that way, realistic view of the extent of American influence. He subscribes to a series of propositions that frequently push him toward nonintervention: The world “is a tough, complicated, messy, mean place and full of hardship and tragedy,” he told Goldberg. You can’t fix everything. Sometimes you can only shine a spotlight.

Furthermore, Obama argues, because of our history, American military efforts are looked at with suspicion. Allies are unreliable. Ukraine is always going to be in Russia’s sphere of influence, so its efforts there will always trump ours. The Middle East is a morass and no longer that important to U.S. interests.

Even the Iran nuclear deal is seen as a limited endeavor — not to reshape the Middle East but simply to make a dangerous country less dangerous.

Do you think out loud in tandem with a community, or do you process internally?

Throughout the Goldberg article, Obama is seen thinking deeply and subtly, but apart from the group around him. In catlike fashion, he is a man who knows his own mind and trusts his own judgment. His decision not to bomb Syria after it crossed the chemical weapons red line was made almost entirely alone. His senior advisers were shocked when he announced it. The secretaries of state and defense were not in the room.

More generally, Obama expresses disdain with the foreign policy community. He is critical of most of his fellow world leaders — impatient with most European ones, fed up with most Middle Eastern ones.

When seeking a description of a situation, does your mind leap for the clarifying single truth or do you step back to see the complex web of factors?

Ronald Reagan typified the single clarifying truth habit of mind, both when he was describing an enemy (Evil Empire) and when he was calling for change (tear down this wall). In his interviews with Goldberg, Obama leans to the other side of the spectrum. He is continually stepping back, starting with analyses of human nature, how people behave when social order breaks down, the roots and nature of tribalism.

Do you see international affairs as a passionate struggle or a conversation and negotiation?

Obama shows a continual distrust of passion. He doesn’t see much value in macho bluffing or chest-thumping, or in lofty Churchillian rhetoric, or in bombings done in the name of “credibility.” He may be critical, but he is not a hater. He doesn’t even let anger interfere with his appraisal of Vladimir Putin, praising him for being courteous and businesslike. Because fear distorts judgment, he seeks to place the threat of terrorism in its proper perspective: More Americans die from falling in bathtubs.

Personally, I don’t think there is one correct answer to whether we want a dog or a cat as leader. Depends on the situation; there are successful examples of both types. But I’m struck by how catlike Obama is. And it’s striking how many Americans have responded by going for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are bad versions of the bounding in/we-can-change-everything doggy type.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Mr. Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.

So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not: There are other possible explanations for Michigan, and free-traders have repeatedly cried wolf about protectionist waves that never materialized. Still, this time could be different. And if protectionism really is becoming an important political force, how should reasonable people — economists and others — respond?

To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.

The first is that we have gotten to where we are — a largely free-trade world — through a generations-long process of international diplomacy, going all the way back to F.D.R. This process combines a series of quid pro quos — I’ll open my markets if you open yours — with rules to prevent backsliding.

The second is that protectionists almost always exaggerate the adverse effects of trade liberalization. Globalization is only one of several factors behind rising income inequality, and trade agreements are, in turn, only one factor in globalization. Trade deficits have been an important cause of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 2000, but that declinebegan much earlier. And even our trade deficits are mainly a result of factors other than trade policy, like a strong dollar buoyed by global capital looking for a safe haven.

And yes, Mr. Sanders is demagoguing the issue, for example with a Twitter post linking the decline of Detroit, which began in the 1960s and has had very little to do with trade liberalization, to “Hillary Clinton’s free-trade policies.”

That said, not all free-trade advocates are paragons of intellectual honesty. In fact, the elite case for ever-freer trade, the one that the public hears, is largely a scam. That’s true even if you exclude the most egregious nonsense, like Mitt Romney’s claim that protectionism causes recessions. What you hear, all too often, are claims that trade is an engine of job creation, that trade agreements will have big payoffs in terms of economic growth and that they are good for everyone.

Yet what the models of international trade used by real experts say is that, in general, agreements that lead to more trade neither create nor destroy jobs; that they usually make countries more efficient and richer, but that the numbers aren’t huge; and that they can easily produce losers as well as winners. In principle the overall gains mean that the winners could compensate the losers, so that everyone gains. In practice, especially given the scorched-earth obstructionism of the G.O.P., that’s not going to happen.

Why, then, did we ever pursue these agreements? A large part of the answer is foreign policy: Global trade agreements from the 1940s to the 1980s were used to bind democratic nations together during the Cold War,Nafta was used to reward and encourage Mexican reformers, and so on.

And anyone ragging on about those past deals, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, should be asked what, exactly, he proposes doing now. Are they saying that we should rip up America’s international agreements? Have they thought about what that would do to our credibility and standing in the world?

What I find myself thinking about, in particular, is climate change — an all-important issue we can’t confront effectively unless all major nations participate in a joint effort, with last year’s Paris agreement just the beginning. How is that going to work if America shows itself to be a nation that reneges on its deals?

The most a progressive can responsibly call for, I’d argue, is a standstill on further deals, or at least a presumption that proposed deals are guilty unless proved innocent.

The hard question to deal with here is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration has negotiated but Congress hasn’t yet approved. (I consider myself a soft opponent: It’s not the devil’s work, but I really wish President Obama hadn’t gone there.) People I respect in the administration say that it should be considered an existing deal that should stand; I’d argue that there’s a lot less U.S. credibility at stake than they claim.

The larger point in this election season is, however, that politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder. But you know, that’s a would-be president’s job.

Brooks and Cohen

March 8, 2016

In “It’s Not Too Late!” Bobo moans that Republicans still have time to reject Donald Trump, avoid Ted Cruz and pick a nominee who allows them to maintain their standards.  The poor S.O.B.  I’d almost feel sorry for him if he hadn’t been playing Gunga Din to the worst of the worst for decades.  In the comments “soxared040713” from Crete, IL had this to say:  “Mr. Brooks, the desperation in your column (and the panic in the headline over it) reveal the barren landscape that has defined your party for half a century.”  Mr. Cohen is seeing “An Anti-Semitism of the Left” and says this was overheard at Oberlin: The Holocaust was mere “white on white crime.”  He got taken to the woodshed in the comments.  “Peter Feld” from New York had this to say:  “Any definition of anti-Semitism that relies on attitudes toward Zionism, Israel or the Palestinians is corrupt. How does rejecting settler-colonialism, or showing “uncritical” support for Palestinians (who had their land stolen by Israel and now live under ethnic repression or in exile) make anyone anti-Semitic? I will never condone anti-Semitism but it is we Jews who have turned our own Star of David into a symbol of terror and apartheid by putting it on the flag of a supremacist ethnocracy.”  Here’s Bobo:

It’s 2 a.m. The bar is closing. Republicans have had a series of strong and nasty Trump cocktails. Suddenly Ted Cruz is beginning to look kind of attractive. At least he’s sort of predictable, and he doesn’t talk about his sexual organs in presidential debates!

Well, Republicans, have your standards really fallen so low so fast? Are you really that desperate? Can you remember your 8 p.m. selves, and all the hope you had about entering a campaign with such a deep bench of talented candidates?

Back in the early evening, before the current panic set in, Republicans understood that Ted Cruz would be a terrible general election candidate, at least as unelectable as Donald Trump and maybe more so. He is the single most conservative Republican in Congress, far adrift from the American mainstream. He’s been doing well in primaries because of the support of “extremely conservative” voters in very conservative states, and he really hasn’t broken out of that lane. His political profile is a slightly enlarged Rick Santorum but without the heart.

On policy grounds, he would be unacceptable to a large majority in this country. But his policy disadvantages are overshadowed by his public image ones. His rhetorical style will come across to young and independent voters as smarmy and oleaginous. In Congress, he had two accomplishments: the disastrous government shutdown and persuading all his colleagues to dislike him.

There is another path, one that doesn’t leave you self-loathing in the morning. It’s a long shot, but given the alternatives, it’s worth trying. First, hit the pause button on the rush to Cruz. Second, continue the Romneyesque assault on Trump. The results on Saturday, when late voters swung sharply against the Donald, suggest it may be working.

Third, work for a Marco Rubio miracle in Florida on March 15. Fourth, clear the field for John Kasich in Ohio. If Rubio and Kasich win their home states, Trump will need to take nearly 70 percent of the remaining delegates to secure a majority. That would be unlikely; he’s only winning 44 percent of the delegates now.

The party would go to the convention without a clear nominee. It would be bedlam for a few days, but a broadly acceptable new option might emerge. It would be better than going into the fall with Trump, which would be a moral error, or Cruz, who in November would manage to win several important counties in Mississippi.

This isn’t about winning the presidency in 2016 anymore. This is about something much bigger. Every 50 or 60 years, parties undergo a transformation. The G.O.P. is undergoing one right now. What happens this year will set the party’s trajectory for decades.

Since Goldwater/Reagan, the G.O.P. has been governed by a free-market, anti-government philosophy. But over the ensuing decades new problems have emerged. First, the economy has gotten crueler. Technology is displacing workers and globalization is dampening wages. Second, the social structure has atomized and frayed, especially among the less educated. Third, demography is shifting.

Orthodox Republicans, seeing no positive role for government, have had no affirmative agenda to help people deal with these new problems. Occasionally some conservative policy mavens have proposed such an agenda — anti-poverty programs, human capital policies, wage subsidies and the like — but the proposals were killed, usually in the House, by the anti-government crowd.

The 1980s anti-government orthodoxy still has many followers; Ted Cruz is the extreme embodiment of this tendency. But it has grown increasingly rigid, unresponsive and obsolete.

Along comes Donald Trump offering to replace it and change the nature of the G.O.P. He tramples all over the anti-government ideology of modern Republicanism. He would replace the free-market orthodoxy with authoritarian nationalism.

He offers to use government on behalf of the American working class, but in negative and defensive ways: to build walls, to close trade, to ban outside groups, to smash enemies. According to him, America’s problems aren’t caused by deep structural shifts. They’re caused by morons and parasites. The Great Leader will take them down.

If the G.O.P. is going to survive as a decent and viable national party, it can’t cling to the fading orthodoxy Cruz represents. But it can’t shift to ugly Trumpian nationalism, either. It has to find a third alternative: limited but energetic use of government to expand mobility and widen openness and opportunity. That is what Kasich, Rubio, Paul Ryan and others are stumbling toward.

Amid all the vulgarity and pettiness, that is what is being fought over this month: going back to the past, veering into an ugly future, or finding a third way. This is something worth fighting for, worth burning the boats behind you for.

The hour is late and the odds may be long. But there is still hope. It’s a moment for audacity, not settling for Ted Cruz simply because he’s the Titanic you know.

And then he tottered off to his fainting couch…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Last month, a co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, quit in protest at what he described as rampant anti-Semitism among members. A “large proportion” of the club “and the student left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he said in a statement.

Chalmers referred to members of the executive committee “throwing around the term ‘Zio’” — an insult used by the Ku Klux Klan; high-level expressions of “solidarity with Hamas” and explicit defense of “their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians”; and the dismissal of any concern about anti-Semitism as “just the Zionists crying wolf.”

The zeitgeist on campuses these days, on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of identity and liberation politics. Jews, of course, are a minority, but through a fashionable cultural prism they are seen as the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel. They are the anti-victims in a prevalent culture of victimhood; Jews, it seems, are the sole historical victim whose claim is dubious.

A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, wrote in a Facebook post of the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.” As reported by David Bernstein in The Washington Post, she wrote of Jewish students, “Our struggle does not intersect with other forms of racism.”

Noa Lessof-Gendler, a student at Cambridge University, complained last month in Varsity, a campus newspaper, that anti-Semitism was felt “in the word ‘Zio’” flung around in left-wing groups.” She wrote, “I’m Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I have Palestinian blood on my hands,” or should feel nervous “about conversations in Hall when an Israeli speaker visits.”

The rise of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s opposition Labour Party appears to have empowered a far left for whom support of the Palestinians is uncritical and for whom, in the words of Alan Johnson, a British political theorist, “that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is.”

Corbyn is no anti-Semite. But he has called Hamas and Hezbollah agents of “long-term peace and social justice and political justice in the whole region,” and once invited to Parliament a Palestinian Islamist, Raed Salah, who has suggested Jews were absent from the World Trade Center on 9/11. Corbyn called him an “honored citizen.” The “Corbynistas” on British campuses extol their fight against the “racist colonization of Palestine,” as one Oxford student, James Elliott, put it. Elliott was narrowly defeated last month in a bid to become youth representative on Labour’s national executive committee.

What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature. It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe. It dismisses the legal basis for the modern Jewish state in United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947. This was not “colonialism” but the post-Holocaust will of the world: Arab armies went to war against it and lost.

As Simon Schama, the historian, put it last month in The Financial Times, the Israel of 1948 came into being as a result of the “centuries-long dehumanization of the Jews.”

The Jewish state was needed. History had demonstrated that. That is why I am a Zionist — now a dirty word in Europe.

Today, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who are dehumanized through Israeli dominion, settlement expansion and violence. The West Bank is the tomb of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Palestinians, in turn, incite against Jews and resort to violence, including random stabbings.

The oppression of Palestinians should trouble every Jewish conscience. But nothing can justify the odious “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism” (Johnson’s term) that caused Chalmers to quit and is seeping into British and American campuses.

I talked to Aaron Simons, an Oxford student who was president of the university’s Jewish society. “There’s an odd mental noise,” he said. “In tone and attitude the way you are talked to as a Jew in these left political circles reeks of hostility. These people have an astonishingly high bar for what constitutes anti-Semitism.”

Johnson, writing in Fathom Journal, outlined three components to left-wing anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. First, “the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.” Second, “a demonizing intellectual discourse” that holds that “Zionism is racism” and pursues the “systematic Nazification of Israel.” Third, a global social movement to “exclude one state — and only one state — from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity.”

Criticism of Israel is one thing; it’s needed in vigorous form. Demonization of Israel is another, a familiar scourge refashioned by the very politics — of identity and liberation — that should comprehend the millennial Jewish struggle against persecution.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

March 4, 2016

Another outpouring of angst from Bobo.  In “Donald Trump, the Great Betrayer” he wails that Republican officials have a responsibility to their country to spread the nasty truths about Trump.  Right, Bobo.  But in their debate last night all the others said they’d vote for The Donald if he got the nomination.  In the comments “Jack Chicago” from Chicago had this to say:  “That Trump’s leading competitors for the nomination can express their opposition to him in such crude terms, that he admittedly introduced, and yet then state their support if he wins the nomination, says it all. GOP politics is about the sacrifice of principle for power. The electorate don’t know which way to turn when their supposed leaders are such a cynical bunch of rogues! I cannot express adequately my feeling of helplessness as the country seems to be circling the drains.”  And “gemli” from Boston began his comment with this:  “This is rich. The party of scammers, betrayers and lying egomaniacs is warning us about Trump.”  Mr. Bruni has “Five Big Questions After a Vulgar Republican Debate,” and says it was a night of truth, consequences and puerile boasting for Donald Trump.  Prof. Krugman considers the “Clash of Republican Con Artists” and says Donald Trump isn’t the only fraud running for the Republican nomination.  Here’s Bobo, drenched in flop sweat:

Now, at long last, the big guns are being brought to bear. Now, at long last, some major Republicans like Mitt Romney are speaking up to lay waste to Donald Trump.

For months Trump’s rivals and other Republicans have either retreated in silence or tentatively and ineptly criticized him for exactly those traits that voters like about him: for being a slapdash, politically incorrect money-hungry bully.

But now finally — at long last — major Republicans are raising their heads and highlighting Trump’s actual vulnerability: his inability to think for an extended time about anybody but himself.

He seduces people with his confidence and his promises. People invest time, love and money in him. But in the end he cares only about himself. He betrays those who trust him and leaves them high and dry.

It’s unpleasant to have to play politics on this personal level. But this is a message that can sway potential Trump supporters, many of whom have only the barest information on what Trump’s life and career have actually been like.

This is a message that can work in a sour and cynical time among voters who already feel betrayed. This is a message that can work because it’s a personality type everyone understands. This is a time when it is not in fact too late, when it may still be possible to prevent his nomination.

The campaign against Trump has to be specific and relentless: a series of clear examples, rolled out day upon day with the same message. Donald Trump betrays.

It can start with Trump University, where Trump betrayed schoolteachers and others who dreamed of building a better life for themselves.

Trump billed his university as a place people could go to learn everything necessary about real estate investing. According to a 2013 lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, more than 5,000 people paid $40 million, a quarter of which went to Trump himself.

Internal Trump University documents suggest that the university wasn’t really oriented around teaching, but rather around luring customers into buying more and more courses.

According to the New York lawsuit, instructors filled out course evaluations themselves or had students fill out the non-anonymous forms in front of them, pressuring them into giving positive reviews. During breaks students were told to call their credit card companies to increase their credit limits. They were given a script encouraging them to exaggerate their incomes. The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D- rating in 2010.

“They lure you in with false promises,” one student, Patricia Murphy, toldThe Times in 2011. Murphy said she had spent about $12,000 on Trump University classes, much of it racked up on her credit cards. “I was scammed,” she said.

The barrage can continue with Trump Mortgage. On the campaign trail, Trump tells people he saw the mortgage crisis coming. “I told a lot of people,” he has said, “and I was right. You know, I’m pretty good at that stuff.”

Trump’s biggest lies are the ones he tells himself. The reality is that Trump opened his mortgage company in 2006. Others smelled a bubble, but not Trump. “I think it’s a great time to start a mortgage company,” he told CNBC. “The real estate market is going to be very strong for a long time to come.”

Part of the operation was a boiler room where people cold-called clients, sometimes pushing subprime loans and offering easy approval.

Jennifer McGovern had trusted Trump and went to work for him. But she got stiffed in the end. In 2008 a New York State Supreme Court judgeordered Trump Mortgage to pay her the $298,274 she was owed. The bill wasn’t paid. “The company was set up in a way that we could never recover what we were owed,” she told The Washington Post.

The stories can go on and on. The betrayal of investors when his casino businesses went bankrupt. The betrayal of his first wife with his flagrant public affair with Marla Maples. The betrayal of American workers when he decided to hire illegals. The people left in the wake of other debacles: Trump Air, Trump Vodka, Trump Financial, etc.

These weren’t just risks that went bad. They were shams, built like his campaign around empty promises and on Trump’s fragile and overweening pride.

The burden of responsibility now falls on Republican officials, elected and nonelected, at all levels. For years they have built relationships in their communities, earned the right to be heard. If they now feel that Donald Trump would be a reckless and dangerous president, then they have a responsibility to their country to tell those people the truth, to rally all their energies against this man.

Since the start of his campaign Trump has had more energy and more courage than his opponents. Maybe that’s now changing.

Bobo, solo

March 1, 2016

Bobo is having another big sad.  In “The Movement Mentality” he moans that, sadly, we are experiencing an atomization of intellectual life, with fewer movements to join and shape an individual’s identity.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Mr. Brooks laments today’s individualism while being completely unaware that his experience sounds like the epitome of individualistic opportunity. Few of us had the option to join the National Review at 24, or the luxury of living in some intellectual utopia.  If young people today aren’t becoming neorealist agrarian Trotskyites it’s because they’re trying to get a job at Starbucks and wondering how they’re going to repay their massive student loan debt. Today they’re living in a movement where individual lives have been broken on the rack of conservative ideology.”  Here’s Bobo:

It feels like people clumped themselves into intellectual movements more 30 years ago than they do today. There were paleoconservatives and neoconservatives. There were modernists and postmodernists; liberals, realists, and neoliberals; communitarians and liberation theologians; Jungians and Freudians; Straussians and deconstructionists; feminists and post-feminists; Marxists and democratic socialists. Maybe there were even some transcendentalists, existentialists, pragmatists, agrarians and Gnostics floating around.

Now people seem less likely to gather in intellectual clumps. Now public thinkers seem to be defined more by their academic discipline (economist or evolutionary biologist) or by their topic (race and gender), than by their philosophic school or a shared vision for transforming society.

The forces of individualism that are sweeping through so much of society are also leading to the atomization of intellectual life. Eighty years ago engaged students at City College in New York sat in the cafeteria hour upon hour, debating. The Trotskyites sat in one alcove and the Leninists sat in another, and since the Trostkyites were smarter and won the debates, the leaders of the Leninist faction eventually forbade their cadres from ever talking to them.

But today we live in a start-up culture. There’s great prestige in being the founder of something, the lone entrepreneur who creates something new. Young people who frequently say they don’t want to work in some large organization are certainly not going to want to subsume themselves in some pre-existing intellectual label.

The Internet has changed things, too. Writers used to cluster around magazines that were the hubs of movements. On the Internet, individual posters and tweeters are more distinct, but collectives of thinkers are less common.

The odd thing is that it was easier to come to maturity when there were more well-defined philosophical groups. When there was a choice of self-conscious social movements, a young person could try them on like clothing at the mall: be an existentialist one year and then join a Frankfurt School clique the next. This was a structured way to find a philosophy of life, a way of looking at the world, an identity.

Eventually you found what fit, made a wager, joined a team and assented to a belief system that was already latent within you. When I joined National Review at age 24 I joined a very self-conscious tradition. I was connected to a history of insight and belief; to Edmund Burke and Whittaker Chambers and James Burnham. I wanted to learn everything I could about that tradition — what I accepted and what I rejected — as a way to figure out what I believed.

When you join a movement — whether it is deconstructionist, feminist or Jungian — you join a community, which can sometimes feel like family in ways good and bad. You have a common way of seeing the world, which you want to share with everyone. When you join, people are always pressing books into your hands.

Believing becomes an activity. People in movements take stands, mobilize for common causes, hold conferences, fight and factionalize and build solidarity. (I remember late night at one conference dancing near four generations of anti-communists.)

There are opportunity structures for young people to rise and contribute. First you set out the chairs for the meetings; later you get to lead the meetings. Young people find that none of the mentors is perfect, so they can’t be completely loyal to any particular leader, but they can be loyal to the enterprise as a whole, because it embodies some real truth and is stumbling toward some real good.

The whole process arouses the passions. Today universities teach “critical thinking” — to be detached, skeptical and analytic. Movements are marked by emotion — division and solidarity, victory and defeat.

There are fervent new converts, and traitors who “break ranks.” There are furious debates over strategy; the future design of society is at stake. There are inevitably love affairs and breakups. People learn ardently, with their hearts.

As in any love, there’s an idealistic early phase, then a period of disillusionment, and then, hopefully, a period of longer and more stable commitment to the ideas. The movement shapes one’s inner landscape. It offers a way to clarify the world; a bunch of books to consult if you need to think through some problem.

Of course there is often rigidity and groupthink, but people can also be smarter when thinking in groups. For example, movements pool imagination. It’s very hard to come up with a vision so compelling that it can provide a unifying purpose to your life. But such visions emerge in a movement collectively, and then get crystallized by a leader like Martin Luther King.

It all depends on taking steps that are less in fashion today: committing to a collective, accepting a label, keeping faith, surrendering self to a tradition that stretches beyond you in time.

Brooks, Bruni, and Krugman

February 26, 2016

Bobo has taken to his fainting couch, clutching his pearls and moaning.  In “The Governing Cancer of Our Time” he wails that Donald Trump’s candidacy is the culmination of 30 years of antipolitics.  He tried to weasel in some “both-siderism” but got called out in the comments.  In the comments “DNcgo” had this to say:  “”But not exclusive to the right”! – ??? Mr. Brooks, please devote a future column detailing all the “left-leaning” politicians who support a scorched earth policy. I suspect not much ink will be needed.”   (This comment was also a NYT pick.)  Also in the comments “Don Salmon” from Asheville, NC had this to say:  “”But not exclusive to the right”! – ??? Mr. Brooks, please devote a future column detailing all the “left-leaning” politicians who support a scorched earth policy. I suspect not much ink will be needed.”  Mr. Bruni, in “Five Big Questions After a G.O.P. Debate That Targeted Trump,” tells us what the Republican candidates accomplished and risked in their latest showdown.  Prof. Krugman, in “Twilight of the Apparatchiks,” says the Republican establishment’s “wingnut welfare” made Trump possible.  Here’s Bobo:

We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.

Politics is an activity in which you recognize the simultaneous existence of different groups, interests and opinions. You try to find some way to balance or reconcile or compromise those interests, or at least a majority of them. You follow a set of rules, enshrined in a constitution or in custom, to help you reach these compromises in a way everybody considers legitimate.

The downside of politics is that people never really get everything they want. It’s messy, limited and no issue is ever really settled. Politics is a muddled activity in which people have to recognize restraints and settle for less than they want. Disappointment is normal.

But that’s sort of the beauty of politics, too. It involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own. Plus, it’s better than the alternative: rule by some authoritarian tyrant who tries to govern by clobbering everyone in his way.

As Bernard Crick wrote in his book, “In Defence of Politics,” “Politics is a way of ruling divided societies without undue violence.”

Over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics. These groups — best exemplified by the Tea Party but not exclusive to the right — want to elect people who have no political experience. They want “outsiders.” They delegitimize compromise and deal-making. They’re willing to trample the customs and rules that give legitimacy to legislative decision-making if it helps them gain power.

Ultimately, they don’t recognize other people. They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions. They don’t recognize restraints. They want total victories for themselves and their doctrine.

This antipolitics tendency has had a wretched effect on our democracy. It has led to a series of overlapping downward spirals:

The antipolitics people elect legislators who have no political skills or experience. That incompetence leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to more disgust with government, which leads to a demand for even more outsiders.

The antipolitics people don’t accept that politics is a limited activity. They make soaring promises and raise ridiculous expectations. When those expectations are not met, voters grow cynical and, disgusted, turn even further in the direction of antipolitics.

The antipolitics people refuse compromise and so block the legislative process. The absence of accomplishment destroys public trust. The decline in trust makes deal-making harder.

We’re now at a point where the Senate says it won’t even hold hearings on a presidential Supreme Court nominee, in clear defiance of custom and the Constitution. We’re now at a point in which politicians live in fear if they try to compromise and legislate. We’re now at a point in which normal political conversation has broken down. People feel unheard, which makes them shout even louder, which further destroys conversation.

And in walks Donald Trump. People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means.

Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser. The implied promise of his campaign is that he will come to Washington and bully his way through.

Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero. As the political scientist Matthew MacWilliams found, the one trait that best predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter is how high you score on tests that measure authoritarianism.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon. Politics is in retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide. The answer to Trump is politics. It’s acknowledging other people exist. It’s taking pleasure in that difference and hammering out workable arrangements. As Harold Laski put it, “We shall make the basis of our state consent to disagreement. Therein shall we ensure its deepest harmony.”

Next up we have Mr. Bruni:

Were Brakes Just Put on the Trump Juggernaut?

Something profound happened on the stage in Houston on Thursday night. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz stopped focusing on each other long enough to turn toward the person who is actually beating both of them and at this point favored to win the Republican nomination: Donald Trump.

Cruz dismissed Trump as someone who’d discovered certain concerns — who’d discovered conservatism, really — only when he became a candidate. Cruz said that while he was working to combat the illegal immigration that so inflames Trump now, “Where was Donald? He was firing Dennis Rodman on ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’”

But Rubio turned in Trump’s direction with particular force. Withferociousness, in fact. He recited a meticulously memorized litany of Trump’s transgressions, especially those that contradict Trump’s words now: the illegal immigrants that Trump reportedly hired for his construction projects, the litigation against a college bearing his name, multiple bankruptcies associated with him.

Referring to Trump’s promised barrier along the Mexican border, Rubio sniped: “If he builds the wall the way he built Trump Towers, he’ll be using illegal immigrant labor to do it.”

He went after the notion that Trump is a good businessman. He went after the idea that Trump is a straight talker. He called Trump a liar — repeatedly.

In other words, he finally hit Trump where Trump lives: image-wise. Thishad to happen, because one explanation for Trump’s success is how reluctant his adversaries have been to confront him as they quarreled with one another instead.

And this had to hurt Trump, because he was shown in a harsher light than he’d been shown in at any previous debate, and his face reddened in the glare.

But Thursday night may well have been too late, and Trump has been made to mimic a ripe tomato before — with minimal political damage to him.

Besides which, Trump at times pushed back as effectively as possible, brushing off charges of hypocrisy and painting Rubio as a pipsqueak with no knowledge of business, and Cruz as an obnoxious scold despised by his Senate colleagues. Those were the smart colors to apply to them.

Did Rubio Go Too Far?

Almost each of his attacks on Trump made good sense. All were entirely fair. But as they piled up higher than even the most majestic Trump-envisioned border wall could ever reach, he came across as strident, mocking, condescending, bratty.

And it was impossible not to wonder if he was doing precisely what Chris Christie had when he tried to take Rubio down in the debate just before the New Hampshire primary: bloodying his adversary at a cost of seriously wounding himself.

He talked over Trump. Trump talked over him. He talked louder over Trump. Trump talked even louder over him. There was one extended exchange, with each of them accusing the other of being more robotic and programmed, that will live on in highlight reels forevermore.

“Now he’s repeating himself,” Rubio pointed out, referring to Trump.

“I don’t repeat myself,” said Trump.

“You don’t repeat yourself,” Rubio responded — disbelievingly, facetiously.

And so it went. Rubio’s hectoring melody overlapped Trump’s exasperated harmony.

But when music gets that ugly, everyone involved can wind up sounding equally bad. And the flip side of Rubio’s — and Cruz’s — assertiveness was desperation. They were both on the offensive on Thursday night because they were both on the ropes. Some viewers undoubtedly perceived it that way.

What’s more, Rubio undercut his considerable efforts so far to be — and to label himself as — the candidate of optimism, uplift, positivity. He took another risk as well. He incurred Trump’s wrath, and while Trump has savaged Cruz and Jeb Bush during this campaign, he hasn’t vilified Rubio to the same extent.

Tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, he will.

How Much Does the Vagueness of Trump’s Proposals Matter?

It was predictable that Rubio and Cruz would portray Trump as someone whose campaign contributions over time, comments from yesteryear and herky-jerky swerves in the present all call into question how committed and trustworthy a conservative he is.

But they lavished nearly as much energy on revealing Trump as an empty suit — as someone who cannot provide any policy details because he doesn’t have any detailed policies. They asked for those details. Again and again. He responded with insults and boasts.

The moderators pressed him for those details. He responded with boasts and insults. And at one cringe-inducing moment, he batted away a question from Hugh Hewitt by saying: “Very few people listen to your radio show.”

Trump never got around to explaining how his health care plan would keep people from dying in the streets without committing the government to significantly increased spending. He never got around to explaining much of anything.

And in the context of that void — and of Rubio’s imitation of a typical Trump answer — his most shopworn, banal phrases stood out.

“We’re going to win a lot,” Trump said, for the millionth time.

And now we finally get to Prof. Krugman:

Lack of self-awareness can be fatal. The haplessness of the Republican establishment in the face of Trumpism is a case in point.

As many have noted, it’s remarkable how shocked — shocked! — that establishment has been at the success of Donald Trump’s racist, xenophobic campaign. Who knew that this kind of thing would appeal to the party’s base? Isn’t the G.O.P. the party of Ronald Reagan, who sold conservatism with high-minded philosophical messages, like talking about a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks?

Seriously, Republican political strategy has been exploiting racial antagonism, getting working-class whites to despise government because it dares to help Those People, for almost half a century. So it’s amazing to see the party’s elite utterly astonished by the success of a candidate who is just saying outright what they have consistently tried to convey with dog whistles.

What I find even more amazing, however, are the Republican establishment’s delusions about what its own voters are for. You see, all indications are that the party elite imagines that base voters share its own faith in conservative principles, when that not only isn’t true, it never has been.

Here’s an example: Last summer, back when Mr. Trump was just beginning his rise, he promised not to cut Social Security, and insiders like William Kristol gleefully declared that he was “willing to lose the primary to win the general.” In reality, however, Republican voters don’t at all share the elite’s enthusiasm for entitlement cuts — remember, George W. Bush’s attempt to privatize Social Security ran aground in the face of disapproval from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Yet the Republican establishment still seems unable to understand that hardly any of its own voters, let alone the voters it would need to win in the general election, are committed to free-market, small-government ideology. Indeed, although Marco Rubio — the establishment’s last hope — has finally started to go after the front-runner, so far his attack seems to rest almost entirely on questioning the coiffed one’s ideological purity. Why does he imagine that voters care?

Oh, and the G.O.P. establishment was also sure that Mr. Trump would pay a heavy price for asserting that we were misled into Iraq — evidently unaware just how widespread that (correct) belief is among Americans of all political persuasions.

So what’s the source of this obliviousness? The answer, I’d suggest, is that in recent years — and, in fact, for the past couple of decades — becoming a conservative activist has actually been a low-risk, comfortable career choice. Most Republican officeholders hold safe seats, which they can count on keeping if they are sufficiently orthodox. Moreover, if they should stumble, they can fall back on “wingnut welfare,” the array of positions at right-wing media organizations, think tanks and so on that are always there for loyal spear carriers.

And loyalty is almost the only thing that matters. Does an economist at a right-wing think tank have a remarkable record of embarrassing mistakes? Does a pundit have an almost surreal history of bad calls? No matter, as long as they hew to the orthodox line.

There is, by the way, nothing comparable on the Democratic side. Of course there’s an establishment, but it’s much more diffuse, much less lavishly funded, much less insistent on orthodoxy and forgiving of loyal incompetence.

But back to the hermetic world of the Republican elite: This world has, as I said, existed for decades. The result is an establishment comprising apparatchiks, men (mainly) who have spent their entire professional lives in an environment where repeating approved orthodoxy guarantees an easy life, while any deviation from that orthodoxy means excommunication. They know that people outside their party disagree, but that doesn’t matter much for their careers.

Now, however, they face the reality that most voters inside their party don’t agree with the orthodoxy, either. And all signs are that they still can’t wrap their minds around that fact. They just keep waiting for Donald Trump to suffer the fall from grace that, in their world, always happens to anyone who questions the eternal truth of supply-side economics or the gospel of 9/11. Even now, when it’s almost too late to stop the Trump Express, they still imagine that “But he’s not a true conservative!” is an effective attack.

Things would be very different, obviously, if Mr. Trump were in fact to lock in the Republican nomination (which could happen in a few weeks). Would his raw appeal to white Americans’ baser instincts continue to work? I don’t think so. But given the ineffectuality of his party’s elite, my guess is that we will get a chance to find out.

Bobo solo

February 23, 2016

Oh, fergawdsake, today we have the divorced Bobo giving us “Three Views of Marriage” in which he babbles that we make our decisions about matrimony by looking through several lenses: the psychological, the romantic and the moral.  There are two brief comments that are worth sharing.  The first is from “Arun Gupta” in NJ:  “Fiddling while the GOP burns.”  The second is from “Scott Douglas” from South Portland, ME:  “Sometimes it feels like Brooks is taking an evening course at the local community college, and he uses his column to fulfill his class assignments.”  Welp, here’s Bobo’s latest class assignment:

Two years ago the Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel had anarticle in The Times describing how marriage is polarizing: The best marriages today are better than the best marriages of generations ago; the worst marriages now are worse; over all, the average marriage is weaker than the average marriage in days of yore.

Expectations about marriage have risen, Finkel wrote. People now want marriage to satisfy their financial, emotional and spiritual needs. But while some people spend a lot of one-on-one time working on their marriage, and reap the benefits, most people spend less time, and things slowly decay.

The way we talk about marriage is polarizing, too. If you read the popular literature, there are three different but not mutually exclusive lenses through which to think about marriage decisions.

Most of the popular advice books adopt a psychological lens. These books start with the premise that getting married is a daunting prospect. Forty-five percent of marriages end in divorce; 10 percent of couples separate but do not divorce.

The psychologists want you to think analytically as well as romantically about whom to marry. Pay attention to traits. As Ty Tashiro wrote in “The Science of Happily Ever After,” you want to marry someone who scores high in “agreeableness,” someone who has a high concern for social harmony, who is good at empathy, who is nice. You want to avoid people who score high in neuroticism — who are emotionally unstable or prone to anger.

Don’t think negative traits will change over time, Tashiro wrote, because they are constant across a lifetime. Don’t focus on irrelevant factors, like looks. Don’t filter out or rationalize away negative information about a partner or relationship.

The second lens is the romantic lens. This is the dominant lens in movie and song. More than people in many other countries, Americans want to marry the person they are passionately in love with.

Their logic is that you need a few years of passionate love to fuse you together so you’ll stay together when times get hard. It’s a process beautifully described by a character in Louis de Bernières’s novel “Corelli’s Mandolin”:

“Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”

In “The Good Marriage,” Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee concluded that 15 percent of couples maintain lifelong romantic marriages.

The third lens is the moral lens. In this lens a marriage doesn’t exist just to exist or even just for procreation. It exists to serve some higher purpose, whether it is seeking God’s kingdom for the religious or in service to some joint cause or humanity-enhancing project for the secular.

In “The Meaning of Marriage,” Tim Keller argued that marriage introduces you to yourself; you realize you’re not as noble and easy to live with as you thought when alone. In many marriages there’s an unspoken agreement not to talk about what you don’t admire in the other, because the truth from a loved one can be so painful. But in a good marriage you identify your own selfishness and see it as the fundamental problem. You treat it more seriously than your spouse’s selfishness.

The everyday tasks of marriage are opportunities to cultivate a more selfless love. Everyday there’s a chance to inspire and encourage your partner to become his or her best self. In this lens, marriage isn’t about two individuals trying to satisfy their own needs; it’s a partnership of mutual self-giving for the purpose of moral growth and to make their corner of the world a little better.

It’s probably best to use all three lenses when entering into or living in a marriage. But there are differences among them. The psychological lens emphasizes that people don’t change much over a lifetime. Especially after age 30, people may get a little more conscientious and agreeable, but improvements are modest.

In the romantic view, the heart is transformed by love, at any age. In the moral view, spiritual transformation — over a lifetime, not just over two passionate years — is the whole point. People have great power to go against their own natures and uplift their spouses, by showing a willingness to change, by supporting their journey from an old crippled self to a new more beautiful self.

The three lenses are operating at different levels: personality, emotions, the level of the virtues and the vices. The first two lenses are very common in our culture — in bookstores, songs and in movies. But the moral lens, with its view of marriage as a binding moral project, is less common. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the quality of the average marriage is in decline.

It’s good that Bobo seems to be trying to find out why his marriage cratered, but I’m sure that we’d all prefer that he took on that problem with a licensed professional instead of slopping it all over the NYT.

Brooks and Cohen

February 16, 2016

Bobo continues to ooze flop sweat.  In “The Roosevelt Approach” he whines that you candidates running against Trump and Sanders, you need a new emotional tone, one appealing to comradeship, not anger.  Sometimes it takes someone from away to point out the obvious.  In the comments “Expat Annie” from Germany has this to say:  “No, Mr. Brooks, what has happened in America is not a “natural” disaster. Rather, it is a disaster purposefully brought about by 35 years of trickle-down economics and relentless tax-cutting that has benefited only those at the very top–while the rest of the country has been left with reduced services, underfunded schools, a crumbling infrastructure, unaffordable higher education, etc.  After supporting all of these Republican policies over the years, your attempt now to exhort the Republican candidates to “emphasize the warm bonds of neighbor helping neighbor” and to get to work on repairing the social fabric seems patently absurd. And given the way the Republicans have treated President Obama over the past 7 years, the complete disrespect they have shown him and, by extension,   the people who voted for him, where in the world do you get the idea that they would now be interested in restoring “the basic respect diverse Americans have for one another?””  Mr. Cohen has a question:  “Will Merkel Pay for Doing the Right Thing?”  He says the German chancellor needs to set limits on the number of refugees, but she also needs help from her Western allies.  Here’s Bobo:

Dear Hillary, Jeb, Marco and John,

You all find yourselves running against a whirlwind. Hillary, for you the whirlwind is Bernie Sanders. For the rest of you it’s Donald Trump.

Either way, you’re running against a candidate who generates passionate intensity. At some level those candidates’ followers must know that there’s something wildly impractical about the candidacy they are fervently supporting. Trump has no actual policies and Sanders has little chance of getting his passed.

And yet the supporters don’t care. Sanders and Trump make them feel known. Finally, somebody is saying what they feel. Finally, somebody is outraged by the things that outrage them. There’s a deep passion embedded in the Trump and Sanders phenomena, arousing energy, magical thinking and some suspension of disbelief.

And the rest of you are basically asking voters to snap out of it. All of you, but especially you, Hillary, are asking voters to calm down and be pragmatic: Consider electability! Vote for the one who can get laws passed!

And it’s not working. In debates Sanders is uninhibited by the constraints of reality, so his answers are always bolder. Trump speaks from the id, not from any policy paper, so his answers are always more vivid.

The brute fact is you can’t beat passion with pragmatism. The human heart is not built that way. You can’t beat angry passion with bloodless calculation. If you’re going to have any chance against these hotheads, you have to set a rival and stronger emotional tone. I’d ask you to think of the ancient ideal of comradeship.

Many Americans feel like they are the victims of a slow-moving natural disaster. Sanders and Trump try to put the blame for this disaster on discrete groups of people — Wall Street or immigrants. But in reality it’s a natural disaster caused by structural forces — globalization, technological change, the dissolution of the family, racism.

A great nation doesn’t divide in times of natural disaster. It doesn’t choose leaders who angrily tear it apart. Instead, it chooses leaders like Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, leaders who radiate sunny confidence, joy and neighborliness.

You may think of neighborliness as a sentimental, soft virtue. And I suppose in times of peace, prosperity and ease it is a sweet and tender thing.

But look at what happens to neighbors when one friend is threatened or when times are hard. Then neighborliness takes on a different hue. Friends become comrades in arms.

That is what F.D.R. and Ike were able to do with their leadership styles. With fireside chats and golf jokes, they were neighborly even in times of great difficulty and stress. But they were also able to set an emotional tone that brought people together and changed the nature of Americans’ relationships with one another.

During their presidencies, the bonds of solidarity grew stronger and the country more formidable. They were able to cultivate a deep sense of unity, responsibility and sacrifice. They didn’t call for sacrifice as something painful, but as what one did for one’s friends.

I’d love to see one of you counter the Trump and Sanders emotional tones with a bold shift in psychology. This would be a shift toward the cheerful resolve of an F.D.R. or an Eisenhower.

Let Trump and Sanders shout, harangue and lecture. You respond to difficulty with warmth, confidence and optimism.

Let them deliver long, repetitive and uninterrupted lectures. You converse, interact, chat and listen.

Let them stand angry and solitary. You run as part of a team, a band of brothers, with diverse advisers and buddies joining you onstage at event after event.

Let them assert that all our problems can be solved if other people sacrifice — the immigrants or the top 1 percent. You call for shared sacrifice. The rich can give more in taxes, but the rich, the middle class and the poor can all give more in civic engagement.

Let them emphasize the cold relations of business (Trump) or of the state (Sanders). You emphasize the warm bonds of neighbor helping neighbor. While they dwell in the land of impersonal bureaucracies, you point out that the primary task before us to repair the social fabric — the basic respect diverse Americans have for one another.

Let them preach pessimism. You emphasize a warm nationalism — a basic confidence that America is not going down in decline, that it is still the nation best positioned to dominate the 21st century, that confidence is a better guide than anger or fear.

Sanders and Trump have adopted emotional tones that are going to offend and exhaust people over time. Watching the G.O.P. South Carolina debate I got the impression that Trump’s exhaustion moment is at hand.

The candidate who has the audacity to change the emotional tone of this whole election will win the White House and have a shot at rebinding the civic fabric of this nation.

We won’t even address how he conflates Trump and Sanders…  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Berlin:

A former German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, recently calledAngela Merkel’s decision to open the door to an unlimited number of refugees a “mistake” and offered this verdict: Merkel had a “heart, but no plan.”

This view of the German leader, who is beloved but now begrudged, is gaining ground as refugees from a ravaged Syria and elsewhere pour in. Local authorities are strained to the limit. Billions of euros have been spent with no end in sight. Many people came in whose identities are unknown; they have to register if they want handouts, but some have not and there are security concerns. Cologne has become a byword for concern over how a large influx of Muslim men will affect the place and security of women in German society.

Three important state elections loom next month. It seems inevitable the far-right Alternative for Germany Party will surge. Merkel will be blamed. Her support has already tumbled. One poll this month showed 46 percent of Germans support her, compared with 75 percent in April last year — and that’s with a strong economy. She could be vulnerable if her Christian Democratic Party turns on her. Europe without Merkel will sink.

So why did this customarily prudent chancellor do it? Because she is a German, and to be German is to carry a special responsibility for those terrorized in their homeland and forced into flight. Because she once lived in a country, East Germany, that shot people who tried to cross its border. Because a united Europe ushered Germany from its darkest hour to prosperity, and she is not about to let the European Union pitch into mayhem on her watch — as it would with more than a million ragged refugees adrift. And, yes, because she has a heart.

Merkel did the right thing. The question now is how she handles the consequences. Management involves setting limits. After taking in more than one million refugees last year, Germany cannot take in that number again in 2016. As Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, said recently: “A limitation strategy may even be both morally and politically necessary in order to preserve the state’s ability to function.” He added, “If democrats refuse to talk about limits, they leave the field open to populists and xenophobes.”

But setting limits is not a just a German issue. It’s a Syrian issue. It’s a Turkish issue. It’s a Russian issue. It’s an American issue. It’s a European issue. Merkel needs Europe to have a functioning external border if it is to remain borderless within the 20-plus-nation Schengen zone. Otherwise national borders will go up. The European Union will unmake itself. “No European border, no Schengen!” Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Gauck’s chief adviser, told me.

Merkel’s domestic dilemma demands international answers.

She needs the Syrian war, the main source of the refugee outflow, to end, but the latest American-Russian plan for a cessation of hostilities almost looks more likely to unravel in the weeks ahead than hold. She needs Turkey, in exchange for billions of euros, to tighten its borders and stop the refugee exodus. But Turkey is playing an extortion game, and is not above a little schadenfreude at seeing the Europe that rejected it fray.

In Russia, she needs President Vladimir Putin’s cooperation, but his strategy is the undermining of a united Europe; a “weaponized” refugee flow achieves just that. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, declared in Munich this weekend that, “We are rapidly rolling into a period of a new cold war.” He asked: “Is this 2016 or 1962?” Around Aleppo, a world war in miniature unfolds.

Merkel needs the United States to exercise its power in a way President Obama has refused to do through the inexorable spread of the Syrian crisis. Unless the United States is prepared to establish a safe area in northern Syria and put pressure on Turkey to turn a chaotic refugee flow into an orderly process, the current untenable situation will persist. If America is unprepared to reverse Russian-Iranian gains in Syria, it must at least show commitment to managing the consequences. She needs European countries like Poland and Hungary — recipients of huge injections of cash from the European Union — to snap out of their ungrateful moods of nationalist xenophobia, but that’s not going to happen soon.

The European idea has not been this weak since the march to unity began in the 1950s. Germany is awash in so-called Putinversteher — broadly Putin sympathizers like Schröder — who admire him for his strong assertion of Russian national interests. Michael Naumann, a former minister of culture, told me: “The United States has left us, we are the orphaned kids in the playground, and there’s one tough guy, Putin. It’s really that simple.”

Germany is Europe’s core, its dominant power. If Merkel’s refugee gambit implodes, the reverberations will be felt everywhere. The country feels restive, placid on the surface, tense beneath. A woman told me of how a 15-year-old Syrian refugee was admitted to her daughter’s class. The girl’s cellphone rang, the ring tone was a muezzin’s call to prayer, and the teacher burst out: “So next you’ll have a suicide belt!” There was embarrassment all around, apologies and parental letters. “The situation’s out of control,” the woman said.

At the Berlin state office for health and social affairs, a sprawling maze of buildings, white tents have gone up. Long lines of refugees make their way through the various bureaucratic hurdles to identity cards. They huddle in the rain, their sneakers muddy, their jackets too flimsy for the cold.

Mustafa Dilaneh left Latakia, Syria’s main port, in August, and paid $6,000 for his passage to Germany. He has been granted German residency until Feb. 22; he hopes for a passport after that. He is learning German. He wants to return home, but first, he says, President Bashar al-Assad “must go or die.” Failing that, he has a dream of America. “I love New York so much,” he told me. “The city no sleep.”

A Facebook friend taught Dilaneh that phrase. This is the world’s first massive smartphone coordinated migration. Syrians don’t see the West as alien; they know it through countless images, brands and tunes. But for some Germans, these Middle Eastern refugees are an alien threat.

I went out to Nauen, a small dismal town near Berlin where unemployment is high. Signs brandished at rightist demonstrations last year said, “Nauen will stay white.” In August, a gymnasium that was to have housed refugees was burned down in an unsolved act of arson. The charred skeleton of the building with its blackened pillars and piles of rubble still stands. It cost about four million euros to build and will need at least that amount to replace.

A new emergency center for several hundred refugees is planned nearby, with a view of this stark symbol of hatred. To say Nauen is combustible would be an understatement. “There will more protests,” Volker Müller, who works to promote intercultural understanding, told me. “In some ways this feels like a bigger problem than German reunification.”

The scale of Germany’s challenge is evident at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, built to last by the Nazis, and used in 1948 and 1949 for the Berlin Airlift that, at its height, saw American C-47s landing every 90 seconds to bring the supplies essential for the preservation of freedom in part of the divided German capital. Now the vast 52-foot high hangars are being converted into shelters for thousands of refugees who sleep, 12 to each screened white rectangular bedroom unit, where aircraft were once housed. Already there are 2,600 or so refugees; there may eventually be 7,000. “It’s our duty to find a place for them,” Sascha Langenbach, a spokesman on Berlin social issues, told me. He predicted another 60,000 may come to the capital this year.

I spoke to a couple of young refugees from Aleppo, Mahmoud Sultan and Mulham (he preferred not to give his family name out of concern for his family’s safety). They complained about the food, about the noise, about the difficulty of studying German, about how weeks stretched into months at this “emergency” center.

They had not wanted to leave Aleppo. But, as Mulham put it: “You have this hope the war will end. For one year, two years, three years, you keep this hope. You think, I owe my country something and I will stay. Until in the fifth year you realize there are five wars! The rebels against Assad, ISIS against the Free Syrian Army, the Saudis against Iran, the Kurds against ISIS, and Russia against America! And you lose hope.”

The refugees did not leave because they had a choice. They left because they concluded they had none. Merkel, given her personal history and her nation’s, had little choice but to take them in.

Now she needs those five wars to abate, and Western allies to come together with something of the resolve that Tempelhof symbolizes, if she is to calm a strained Germany, hold Europe together, and survive. That will require leadership and determination of a kind she demonstrated but that is in short supply in the social-media echo chamber of our times.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

Brooks and Krugman

February 12, 2016

Bobo’s at it again.  In “Livin’ Bernie Sanders’s Danish Dream” he babbles that his policies would give several of our systems northern European characteristics, including some that could surprise some of his supporters.  Izzat so, Bobo?  Let’s see what “Lise Mielsen” who actually lives in Copenhagen has to say in the comments:  “I live in Denmark and belong to the lower middle-class. We pay high taxes but we never have to worry about healthcare cost. My son has a PHD in chemistry – with no expense for me. My daughter-in- law had 52 weeks paid maternity leave after she gave birth to my grandchildren. We all have 6 weeks paid vacation each year. The minimum wage is 20$ per hour. We work 37 hour a week. When I grow old – there will be a nursing home for me.  If I loose my job I will get poor according to Danish standards – but I will never have to live on the street or worry about getting food.  We still have rich in Denmark, and Forbes finds Denmark to be among the best places to do business.  I bet the middle class has more freedom and Liberty in Denmark than in the US.”  Damn, doesn’t actually sound like a dystopia to me…  In “On Economic Stupidity” Prof. Krugman says many of the presidential wannabes haven’t learned much about economic risks in the past eight years.  Color me amazed…  Here’s Bobo:

American capitalism has always been distinct from continental European capitalism. We’ve had more entrepreneurial creativity but less security. Our system has favored higher living standards for consumers while theirs has favored stability for employees and producers.

For the past several decades, the United States has had a bipartisan consensus that we should stick to our style of capitalism and our style of welfare state. There has always been a broad consensus that a continent-size nation like ours had to be diverse and decentralized, with a vibrant charitable sector and a great variety of spending patterns and lifestyles.

American values have always been biased toward individualism, achievement and flexibility — nurturing disruptive dynamos like Bell Labs, Walmart, Whole Foods, Google and Apple — and less toward dirigisme, order and economic equality.

It’s amazing that a large part of the millennial generation has rejected this consensus. In supporting Bernie Sanders they are not just supporting a guy who is mad at Wall Street. They are supporting a guy who fundamentally wants to reshape the American economic system, and thus reshape American culture and values. As he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, he wants to make us more like northern Europe.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Sanders would add $18 trillion to the federal budget over the next 10 years. Currently, total government spending is about 36 percent of G.D.P. Under Sanders it would rise to about 47.5 percent of G.D.P., putting us comfortably in the European range.

First, Sanders would centralize power in Washington. If you radically increase the amount of money going to the Washington establishment, as Sanders would, you’re giving that establishment greater resources to control American life.

Second, Sanders would weaken the ability of members of the middle class to make choices about their own lives. He would raise taxes on the rich, but there is only so much money you can squeeze out of such a small group of people. European welfare states generally rely on a highly regressive value-added/sales tax — usually around 20 to 25 percent.

Middle classes across Europe bear a much higher tax load than the American middle class. As Austan Goolsbee, a former economic adviser to President Obama, has noted, you really can’t have a Swedish-style welfare state without a broad high tax burden. That means less spending power for most Americans, and fewer resources to choose one’s own lifestyle.

Third, Sanders would change the incentive structure for the country’s most successful people. He proposes raising the top tax rate to 52 percent. As Josh Barro noted in The Times, when you add in state, local and other taxes, top earners would be paying a combined tax rate over 73 percent. In high-tax locales like New York City and California, it would be even more.

It’s possible that entrepreneurs, company founders and others would pay these rates without changing their behavior, but I wouldn’t count on it. When you make risk-taking less rewarding, you get fewer risk-takers, which is exactly what you see across the Atlantic. When you raise taxes that high, the Elon Musks of the world find other places to build their companies.

Fourth, Sanders would Europeanize American public universities. It sounds great to make college free. In fact, it’s a hugely expensive program that would mostly benefit the already affluent.

It would create, as in Germany, a legion of eternal students who have little incentive to leave school because the costs are so low. It would give Washington officials greater control over state universities, determining what sort of faculty they could hire and what sort of programs they could run. It would threaten hundreds of private colleges, which could no longer compete against the completely subsidized state system. It would reduce the pressures universities now feel to reform themselves because it would cushion them with federal largess. Slowly, American universities would look more like their European counterparts. They’d be less good.

The changes in the health care system would be along the same lines. Sanders would create a centralized and streamlined system. His approach would also, as in Europe, reduce the rate of medical progress, increase the rationing of care, increase the wait times for patients, induce many doctors to retire and centralize decision-making. He might reduce health care costs by $6 trillion over the next decade, but his proposal to do this gives new meaning to the word vagueness.

There’s nothing wrong with living in northern Europe. I’ve lived there myself. It’s just not the homeland we’ve always known. Bernie Sanders’s America is starkly different from Alexander Hamilton’s or Alexis de Tocqueville’s America or even Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s America.

It’s amazing that so many young people want to mimic a continent that has been sluggish for decades. It’s amazing that so many look to the future and want a country that would be a lot less vibrant.

Bobo should be forced to live as one of the hoi polloi for a year or three and then see what he has to say.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign famously focused on “the economy, stupid.” But macroeconomic policy — what to do about recessions — has been largely absent from this year’s election discussion.

Yet economic risks have by no means been banished from the world. And you should be frightened by how little many of the people who would be president have learned from the past eight years.

If you’ve been following the financial news, you know that there’s a lot of market turmoil out there. It’s nothing like 2008, at least so far, but it’s worrisome.

Once again we have a substantial amount of troubled debt, this time not home mortgages but loans to energy companies, hit hard by plunging oil prices. Meanwhile, formerly trendy emerging economies like Brazil are suddenly doing very badly, and China is stumbling. And while the U.S. economy is doing better than almost anyone else’s, we’re definitely not immune to contagion.

Nobody really knows how bad it will be, but financial markets are flashing warnings. Bond markets, in particular, are behaving as if investors expect many years of extreme economic weakness. Long-term U.S. rates are near record lows, but that’s nothing compared with what’s happening overseas, where many interest rates have gone negative.

And super-low interest rates, which mainly reflect market forces, not policy, are creating problems for banks, whose profits depend on being able to lend money for substantially more than they pay on deposits. European banks are in the biggest trouble, but U.S. bank stocks have fallen a lot, too.

It looks, in other words, as if we’re still living in the economic era we entered in 2008 — an era of persistent weakness, in which deflation and depression, not inflation and deficits, are the key challenges. So how well do we think the various presidential wannabes would deal with those challenges?

Well, on the Republican side, the answer is basically, God help us. Economic views on that side of the aisle range from fairly crazy to utterly crazy.

Leading the charge of the utterly crazy is, you won’t be surprised to hear, Donald Trump, who has accused the Fed of being in the tank for Democrats. A few months ago he asserted that Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the Fed, hadn’t raised rates “because Obama told her not to.” Never mind the fact that inflation remains below the Fed’s target and that in the light of current events even the Fed’s small December rate hike now looks like a mistake, as a number of us warned it was.

Yet the truth is that Mr. Trump’s position isn’t that far from the Republican mainstream. After all, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, not only berated Ben Bernanke, Ms. Yellen’s predecessor, for policies that allegedly risked inflation (which never materialized), but he also dabbled in conspiracy theorizing, accusing Mr. Bernanke of acting to “bail out fiscal policy.”

And even superficially sensible-sounding Republicans go off the deep end on macroeconomic policy. John Kasich’s signature initiative is a balanced-budget amendment that would cripple the economy in a recession, but he’s also a monetary hawk, arguing, bizarrely, that the Fed’s low-interest-rate policy is responsible for wage stagnation.

On the Democratic side, both contenders talk sensibly about macroeconomic policy, with Mr. Sanders rightly declaring that the recent rate hike was a bad move. But Mr. Sanders has also attacked the Federal Reserve in a way Mrs. Clinton has not — and that difference illustrates in miniature both the reasons for his appeal and the reasons to be very worried about his approach.

You see, Mr. Sanders argues that the financial industry has too much influence on the Fed, which is surely true. But his solution is more congressional oversight — and he was one of the few non-Republican senators to vote for a bill, sponsored by Rand Paul, that called for “audits” of Fed monetary policy decisions. (In case you’re wondering, the Fed is already audited regularly in the normal sense of the word.)

Now, the idea of making the Fed accountable sounds good. But Wall Street isn’t the only source of malign pressure on the Fed, and in the actually existing U.S. political situation, such a bill would essentially empower the cranks — the gold-standard-loving, hyperinflation-is-coming types who dominate the modern G.O.P., and have spent the past five or six years trying to bully monetary policy makers into ceasing and desisting from their efforts to prevent economic disaster. Given the economic risks we face, it’s a very good thing that Mr. Sanders’s support wasn’t enough to push the bill over the top.

But even without Mr. Paul’s bill, one shudders to think about how U.S. policy would respond to another downturn if any of the surviving Republican candidates make it to the Oval Office.


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