Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

January 8, 2016

In “The Self-Reliant Generation” Bobo gurgles that millennials lean to the left, but because of several other characteristics, they may not help the Democratic ticket in November.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “What does Mr. Brooks expect young people to do when they see what is happening all around them? Millennials haven’t detached from “solid supporting structures,” like religion, marriage and government. These supporting structures have crumbled like the rest of our country’s infrastructure. … Brooks makes a dire prediction: there will be change in the future. This may come as a shock to conservatives, but considering the shambles in which they’ve left the social and political institutions, we can only hope he’s right.”  Prof. Krugman, in “When China Stumbles,” says Beijing’s financial troubles shouldn’t add up to global devastation. But more than math is involved in economics.  Here’s Bobo:

Last month Fox News released a poll showing Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders in Iowa by 14 points. But the amazing part of the poll was the generation gap. Among likely caucusgoers under 45, Sanders was crushing Clinton 56 to 34 percent. Among the older voters, Clinton was leading 59 to 24.

When you look at numbers like that you get the impression that this millennial generation, having endured the financial crash and stagnant wages, is ready to lead a big leftward push.

Indeed, a Harvard Institute of Politics poll of Americans 18 to 29 found that 56 percent want a Democrat to win the White House while only 36 percent favor a Republican. The leftward shift is striking even within the G.O.P. According to the Pew Research Center, young Republicans are much more moderate than older Republicans. Among millennials who lean Republican, only 31 percent have consistently conservative views. About 51 percent have a mixture of liberal and conservative views.

But philosophically millennials are harder to pin down. According to the Harvard Public Opinion Project, 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds identify as liberal and 35 percent identify as conservative.

If you look at how millennials actually live, you certainly don’t see a progressive counterculture. In fact, you see what you’d expect from a generation that lived through a financial crisis, family instability and political dysfunction. You see an abstract celebration of creative transformation but a concrete hunger for order, security and stability.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials change jobs less frequently than people in other generations. And a study of 25,000 millennials in 22 countries by Jennifer J. Deal and Alec Levenson found that at least 40 percent expect to stay with their current employer for at least nine years. Forty-four percent said they would be happy to spend the rest of their career at their current organization.

Millennials travel and move less than earlier generations. They are less likely to have cars, and their relative lack of driving time is not compensated for by the use of other modes of transportation.

Another glaring feature of millennial culture is they have been forced to be self-reliant and to take a loosely networked individualism as the normal order of the universe. Millennials have extremely low social trust. According to Pew Research, just 19 percent say most people can be trusted, compared with 40 percent of boomers.

This leads to detachment from large entities. Just 32 percent of millennialssay America is the greatest country on earth, compared with 50 percent of boomers. Millennials are very suspicious of organized religion. Thirty-five percent say they are unaffiliated with any religious group, compared with 23 percent of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980).

Just 26 percent of millennials are married, compared with 48 percent of boomers at that age. Only 42 percent plan to have kids. They are also having less sex. A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior projected that millennials would have eight sexual partners by middle age while boomers had 10 or 11. According to a survey from the online dating service Match, 49 percent of people in their 20s have not had sex in the past year.

The general impression one gets is of a generation that is stressed, energetic, creative, skeptical and in the middle of redefining, and thinning out, the nature of affiliation. Its members have been thrust into a harsher world where it is necessary to be guarded, and sensitive to risk. They want systemic change but there is no compelling form of collective action available. Their only alternative, which is their genius, is to try to fix their lives themselves, through technology and new forms of social interaction, rather than mass movements.

Their attitudes toward Social Security perfectly reflect this stance. Most millennials expect to see no Social Security benefits by the time they retire. But they oppose reforms to take money away from older workers to distribute it downward. They just figure they’ll take care of retirement individually, often using algorithm-based investment vehicles like Wealthfront.

Politically, this means that millennials may lean Democratic, but unless Barack Obama (or Bernie Sanders) is on the ticket, they don’t strongly attach to the party and it is not clear that they will vote. They didn’t in the 2014 midterm elections. It could be they are more interested in improving their lives by having richer experiences, and not through the sort of income transfers that come out of Washington.

My own guess is that millennials will be a muted political force, at least in 2016. But there will be some giant cultural explosion down the road. You just can’t be as detached from solid supporting structures as millennials now are and lead a happy middle-aged life. Something is going to change.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So, will China’s problems cause a global crisis? The good news is that the numbers, as I read them, don’t seem big enough. The bad news is that I could be wrong, because global contagion often seems to end up being worse than hard numbers say it should. And the worse news is that if China does deliver a bad shock to the rest of the world, we are remarkably unready to deal with the consequences.

For those just starting to pay attention: It has been obvious for a while that China’s economy is in big trouble. How big is hard to say, because nobody believes official Chinese statistics.

The basic problem is that China’s economic model, which involves very high saving and very low consumption, was only sustainable as long as the country could grow extremely fast, justifying high investment. This in turn was possible when China had vast reserves of underemployed rural labor. But that’s no longer true, and China now faces the tricky task of transitioning to much lower growth without stumbling into recession.

A reasonable strategy would have been to buy time with credit expansion and infrastructure spending while reforming the economy in ways that put more purchasing power into families’ hands. Unfortunately, China pursued only the first half of that strategy, buying time and then squandering it. The result has been rapidly rising debt, much of it owed to poorly regulated “shadow banks,” and a threat of financial meltdown.

So the Chinese situation looks fairly grim — and new numbers have reinforced fears of a hard landing, leading not just to a plunge in Chinese stocks but to sharp declines in stock prices worldwide.

O.K., so far so bad. And some smart people think that the global implications are really scary; George Soros is comparing it to 2008.

As I suggested above, however, I have a hard time making the numbers for that kind of catastrophe work. Yes, China is a big economy, accounting in particular for about a quarter of world manufacturing, so what happens there has implications for all of us. And China buys more than $2 trillion worth of goods and services from the rest of the world each year. But it’s a big world, with a total gross domestic product excluding China of more than $60 trillion. Even a drastic fall in Chinese imports would be only a modest hit to world spending.

What about financial linkages? One reason America’s subprime crisis turned global in 2008 was that foreigners in general, and European banks in particular, turned out to be badly exposed to losses on U.S. securities. But China has capital controls — that is, it isn’t very open to foreign investors — so there’s very little direct spillover from plunging stocks or even domestic debt defaults.

All of this says that while China itself is in big trouble, the consequences for the rest of us should be manageable. But I have to admit that I’m not as relaxed about this as the above analysis says I should be. If you like, I lack the courage of my complacency. Why?

Part of the answer is that business cycles across nations often seem to be more synchronized than they “should” be. For example, Europe and the United States export to each other only a small fraction of what they produce, yet they often have recessions and recoveries at the same time. Financial linkages may be part of the story, but one also suspects that there is psychological contagion: Good or bad news in one major economy affects animal spirits in others.

So I worry that China may export its woes in ways back-of-the-envelope calculations miss, that the Middle Kingdom’s troubles will one way or another have the effect of depressing investment spending in America and Europe as well as in other emerging markets. And if my worries come true, we are woefully unready to deal with the shock.

After all, who would respond to a China shock, and how? Monetary policy would probably be of little help. With interest rates still close to zero and inflation still below target, the Fed would have limited ability to fight an economic downdraft in any case, and it has probably reduced its effectiveness further by signaling its eagerness to raise rates at the first excuse. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is already pushing to the limits of its political mandate in its own so far unsuccessful effort to raise inflation.

And while fiscal policy — essentially, spending more to offset the effects of China spending less — would surely work, how many people believe that Republicans would be receptive to a new Obama stimulus plan, or that German politicians would look kindly on a proposal for bigger deficits in Europe?

Now, my best guess is still that things won’t be that bad — nasty in China, but just a bit of turbulence elsewhere. And I really, really hope that guess is right, because we don’t seem to have a plan B anywhere in sight.

Bobo, solo

January 5, 2016

In “The Age of Small Terror” Bobo gurgles that we must wage an intellectual battle against the subtle corrosion of open society that results from frequent small threatening acts.  In the comments “Left of the Dial” from the USA had this to say:  “What you are calling for requires leaders. Leaders who do not pander but appeal to our “better angels.” Obama is essentially that type but he has been thwarted by your party, vilified, demeaned, wholly mischaracterized. To what end? The pursuit of power. Why else deny facts and statistics on climate, health care, the economy, guns, and the Middle East? These politicians, if not the cause of our small terrors, aid and abet them, sacrificing the well being of our citizens on the altar of self interest and self regard.”  Here’s Bobo:

On New Year’s Eve some friends and family members had a drink at a bar in Tel Aviv. The next day a gunman shot up the place, killing two people and wounding at least five. When I heard about the shooting I was horrified, of course, but there was no special emotion caused by the proximity 16 hours before.

These days, we all live at risk of random terror, whether we are in Paris, San Bernardino, Boston or Fort Hood. Many of us have had brushes with these sorts of attacks. It’s partly randomness that determines whether you happen to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

But there is something important about the accumulation of these random killing sprees — the way it affects the social psychology and the culture we all inhabit. We are living in the age of small terror.

In Israel, there’s the wave of stabbings. In this country we have shooting sprees in schools and in theaters. In cities there are police killings. In other places there are suicide bombings. This violence is the daily diet of the global news channels.

Many of the attacks have religious or political overtones. But there’s always a psychological element, too. Some young adults have separated from their parents but they have not developed an independent self of their own. In order to escape the terror of their own formlessness or insignificance, a few commit to some fanatical belief system. They perform some horrific act they believe will give their life shape, meaning and glory. Creeds like radical Islam offer the illusion that murder and self-annihilation is the noblest form of sacrifice.

These self-motivated attacks have become a worldwide social contagion. These diverse acts of small terror have combined to create a general state of anxiety.

Fear is an emotion directed at a specific threat, but anxiety is an unfocused corrosive uneasiness. In the age of small terror this anxiety induces a sense that the basic systems of authority are not working, that those in charge are not keeping people safe.

People are more likely to have a background sense that life is nastier and more precarious — red in tooth and claw. They pull in the tribal walls and distrust the outsider. This anxiety makes everybody a little less humane.

In country after country this anxiety is challenging the liberal order. I mean philosophic Enlightenment liberalism, not partisan liberalism. It’s the basic belief in open society, free speech, egalitarianism and meliorism (gradual progress). It’s a belief that through reasoned conversation values cohere and fanaticism recedes. It’s the belief that people of all creeds merit tolerance and respect.

These liberal assumptions have been challenged from the top for years — by dictators. But now they are challenged from the bottom, by populist anti-liberals who support the National Front in France, UKIP in Britain, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia and, in some guises, Donald Trump in the U.S.

The surge of anti-liberalism has meant one of the most important political fissures is now between those who support an open society and those who support a closed society. Back in the 1990s, openness and the withering of borders was all the rage, but now parts of the left embrace closed trade policies and parts of the right embrace closed cultural and migration policies.

Anti-liberalism has been most noticeable on the right. Classically liberal conservatives are in retreat, as voters look for strongmen who will close borders and stultify the demographic and social fabric. It’s too soon to tell if the Republican Party will have fewer evangelical voters this year, but the tenor of debate has certainly been less Christian — less charitable, less hospitable to the stranger.

It’s up to us who believe in open society to wage an intellectual counterattack. This can’t be done be repeating 1990s bromides about free choice and the natural harmony among peoples. You can’t beat moral fanaticism with weak tea moral relativism.

You can only beat it with commitment pluralism. People are only fulfilled when they make deep moral commitments. The danger comes when they are fanatically and monopolistically committed to only one thing.

The pluralist is committed to a philosophy or faith, but also to an ethnicity and also to a city, and also to a job and also to diverse interests and fascinating foreign cultures. These different commitments balance and moderate one another. A life in diverse worlds with diverse people weaves together into one humane, multifaceted existence. The rigidity of one belief system is forced to confront the messiness of work relationships or a neighborhood association.

The anxiety caused by small terror can produce nasty mental habits. Mental resilience becomes as important as physical resilience. That means remaking the case for open society, open cultures and a basic commitment to moral pluralism. Openness is worth the occasional horror fanatics cause.

And I’m sure that all the Yokel Haram buttheads in Oregon are members of Bobo’s political party.  I’d love to hear what he has to say about them.

Brooks and Cohen

December 22, 2015

Bobo gives us “The 2015 Sidney Awards, Part 2,” which is the second set of the year’s best essays focuses on community and isolation, from New Orleans to Syria.  In “Germany, Refugee Nation” Mr. Cohen says there’s a new can-do nation. It’s called Germany. Merkel has redeemed the Europe that once closed its frontiers to Jews fleeing Germany.  Here’s Bobo:

This second batch of Sidney Awards, given for some of the year’s best long-form essays, congregate, coincidentally, around a theme: the excessive individualism of American society, and the ways human beings try to create community for good or ill.

The first winner is Sebastian Junger’s piece “How PTSD Became a Problem Far Beyond the Battlefield,” from Vanity Fair. Junger starts by stating the American military has the highest post-traumatic stress disorder rate in its history, and probably the world. But then he notes there is no statistical relationship between suicide and combat. Vets who worked far from the violence are just as likely to commit suicide. Over the decades, combat deaths have dropped while PTSD rates have risen. The Israeli Army, which sees a lot of trauma, has a rate as low as 1 percent.

Junger concludes, “The problem doesn’t seem to be trauma on the battlefield so much as re-entry into society.” People in military service are surrounded by close comradeship. When they are thrust back into American society they are often isolated. The problem is with our lack of community back home.

For centuries Americans have been reading the hyper-individualistic purity of Henry David Thoreau’s life on Walden Pond — the way he cut himself off from crass commercialism and lived on a pure spiritual plane. Writing in The New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz points out in “Pond Scum” that Thoreau was a misanthropic, arrogant, self-righteous prig. He was coldhearted in the face of others’ suffering. Highly ascetic, he sustained the shallow American tendency to equate eating habits with moral health.

He tried philanthropic enterprises but found they did “not agree with my constitution.” Schulz accurately notes that Thoreau’s most famous sentence, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” is at once insufferable and absurd.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a series of pieces for The New Yorker, describing how community cultures influence our decision-making in ways we are unaware. His piece “The Engineer’s Lament” describes how engineers think.

He retells an old joke about an engineer, a priest and a doctor who are playing golf, but held up by a slow foursome ahead of them who turn out to be blind firefighters.

“I will say a prayer for them tonight,” the priest says.

“Let me ask my ophthalmologist colleagues if anything can be done for them,” the doctor says.

The engineer says, “Why can’t they play at night?”

Gladwell’s piece “Thresholds of Violence” describes how school shootings are in some ways like riots, complex dialogues of violence between far-flung killers.

Brooks and Krugman

December 18, 2015

It’s that time of year again.  In “The 2015 Sidney Awards” Bobo presents us with Part I of  a selection of the year’s best long-form essays.  Prof. Krugman, in “‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies,” says the enemies of financial regulation hope you won’t see a new movie, or believe it.  Hmmm…  I’ve stopped going to the movies because the theaters are air conditioned to Arctic levels and I need ear plugs to tolerate the sound levels, but I may have to make an exception for this one.  Here’s Bobo:

It is time once again for the Sidney Awards, when I pick out some of the best long-form essays that you might download for your holiday reading pleasure. This year there were so many fine pieces it’s impossible to read them all without totally ignoring your family.

The first two winners are just great narratives. In “The Man Who Tried to Redeem the World With Logic” in Nautilus, Amanda Gefter described the partnership between Walter Pitts and Warren McCulloch. These two geniuses fit together perfectly. They performed amazing intellectual feats, the first of which was coming up with a working model for how the brain works and laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence.

They also developed an amazing friendship. At one point when they were apart, Pitts wrote McCulloch, “About once a week now I become violently homesick to talk all evening and all night to you.”

Only one person was unhappy with this arrangement: the wife of a third colleague who was jealous of her husband’s academic relationships. She told her husband, falsely, that their daughter had been seduced by his colleagues. That ruptured the whole network of ties.

Pitts was abandoned. He began drinking heavily. He withdrew from most social contact. As Gefter writes, “On May 14, 1969 Walter Pitts died alone in a boarding house in Cambridge, of bleeding esophageal varices, a condition associated with cirrhosis of the liver. Four months later, McCulloch passed away, as if the existence of one without the other were simply illogical, a reverberating loop wrenched open.”

The Zero Armed Bandit,” published in Damn Interesting by Alan Bellows, opens with an amazing problem. In 1980, a security guard finds an ingenious bomb with 28 mysterious toggles in a Lake Tahoe casino. An accompanying note says that any attempt to tilt the bomb or take it apart will set it off. The bomb will apparently wreak destruction within a 1,200-foot radius, including the Harrah’s hotel across the street.

The essay tells two stories — of the father and sons who built the bomb and engineered an equally complex ransom drop-off scheme, and the local officials who had to figure out how to defuse the thing.

The essay shows two groups of bold and creative people, on both sides of the law, competing to solve opposite but wickedly complex problems.

I guess our theme here is the intersection between psychology and intellect. Let me quickly mention two pieces that brilliantly marry psychology, intellect and technology. The first is “What Is Code?” which Paul Ford wrote in Bloomberg Business. We’re surrounded by computer code. Ford gives us a one-stop primer for what it is, how it works, who writes it, the nature of the people who write it and what makes them angry. If you want to understand this ubiquitous stuff, this is the place to go.

If you want a glimpse of technology’s next face, I’d hold up Connie Chan’s post, “When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China,” on the Andreessan Horowitz site. In America we use different apps for different functions. But China has overleapt us. The Chinese app WeChat basically does everything from texting to dating to banking to accessing city services. It is an app that contains millions of apps within it. As Chan says, it shows what happens when an entire country skips the PC and goes straight to mobile. It suggests a completely unified technological life. As Tyler Cowen noted on his Marginal Revolution blog, this is one of China’s first major innovations in the tech era.

Let us close this first column on the annual awards, named for the philosopher Sidney Hook, with two looks at campus culture. The first is the much-discussed “The Coddling of the American Mind” in The Atlantic by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. This was the most important article this year on student hypersensitivity, the way some students seek safe spaces in case they are assaulted by microaggressions. The authors invent the apt term “vindictive protectiveness” to capture this mind-set and describe how this mental state leads to depression and leaves students unprepared for the real world.

Students may by offended by the slightest infringement in identity, but as Michael J. Lewis points out in “How Art Became Irrelevant” in Commentary, many are utterly unmoved by art. Lewis writes, “Placing things in context is what contemporary students do best. What they do not do is judge. Instead there was the same frozen polite reserve one observes in the faces of those attending an unfamiliar religious service — the expression that says, I have no say in this.”

Hyper-judgmentalism about self sits side by side with widespread non-judgmentalism about art, philosophy and even literature. This is a weird set of affairs. Fortunately there’s another batch of fine essays coming on Tuesday, which I’m sure will explain all things. ”

Brooks and Cohen

December 15, 2015

In “The Year of Unearthed Memories” Bobo gurgles that healing from traumatic memories is an intensely difficult and complex process, but it is possible, for nations as well as individuals.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “The time to talk about healing old wounds is not while fresh ones are being created. We can’t discuss past racism and oppression while we watch black men being gunned down on the nightly news. Old ugly truths about slavery will have to wait until we process the more immediate ugliness of choke holds, or death meted out at traffic stops.  We can’t heal the wounds of Sandy Hook when the response has been to double down on of gun rights. If a cortege of twenty tiny coffins couldn’t slow the mindless juggernaut of gun worship, then nothing will.  Neither can we slice up the Middle East and then lament that the wounds won’t close.”  Mr. Cohen considers “Trump’s Weimar America” and says it would be foolish not to take Trump seriously. The unthinkable has happened in Europe. It’s not impossible in America.  Here’s Bobo:

Childhood fears and adult traumas are stored differently in the brain than happy memories. They are buried like porous capsules deep in the primitive regions, below awareness and beyond easy reach of conscious thinking and talking. They are buried so deep that they are separated from the normal flow of life, and so time cannot work its natural healing powers.

There is a vast psychological literature on the diverse ways people are held back by these hidden capsules. Often, they don’t feel fully grounded or empowered. Some people experience a longstanding but vague sense of unease about the crucial matters of life, a tangled, inchoate sense of depression in the heart that is hard to pinpoint and articulate.

The symptoms differ according to the nature of the hidden memories. Some people dissociate from their experiences, detaching themselves emotionally from their surroundings. Some feel compartmentalized, as though they are actors trapped in many roles at once. Some fear making commitments because of the ways past bonds have been simultaneously loving and frightening. Some suffer from nightmares, or numb themselves through substance abuse, or have their emotions powerfully undone by certain triggers.

There are hundreds of psychological methods that try to unearth the memory capsules and restore a sense of empowerment. The process is hard. As Judith Herman writes in “Trauma and Recovery,” “The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.”

But people with patience and resolve can look forward to a life in the sunshine. They face their fears, integrate the good and bad memories — recognizing that many different truths lie side by side. After years, many build a sturdy sense of self and make lasting commitments that bring joy, strength and peace.

The parallel is inexact, but peoples and cultures also have to deal with the power of hard memories. Painful traumas and experiences can be passed down generation to generation, whether it is exile, defeat or oppression. These memories affect both the victims’ and the victimizers’ cultures.

Many of the issues we have been dealing with in 2015 revolve around unhealed cultural memories: how to acknowledge past wrongs and move forward into the light.

The most obvious case involves American race relations. So much of the national conversation this year has concerned how to think about past racism and oppression, and the power of that past to shape present realities: the Confederate flag, Woodrow Wilson, the unmarked sights of the lynching grounds. Fortunately, many people have found the courage to tell the ugly truths about slavery, Jim Crow and current racism that were repressed by the wider culture.

Many of the protests on campus and other places have been about unearthing memory or asserting a narrative, or, at their worst, coercing other narratives into silence. There have been pleasant and unpleasant episodes during all this, but over all, you’d have to say this has been a good and necessary stage in the nation’s journey.

Unhealed cultural memories have shaped other policy areas. In the Middle East, Sunnis and Shiites are battling bloodily over competing pasts. In its sick way, ISIS is driven by historical humiliation.

Thus, we find ourselves involved at all levels in the therapy of memory. I’d only mention three concepts that might be useful going forward. The first is Miroslav Volf’s notion of soft difference. The person who feels that diversity is filled with hard differences sees the world divided between his group and the alien. A demagogue like Donald Trump offers the following bigoted choice: Submit or be rejected. The person who sees diversity as characterized by soft differences allows others the space to be themselves and sees her mission as one of witness and constant invitation.

The second is the distinction between blame and responsibility. Where there is blame, there must be atonement and change. If you emigrated from Norway to the United States last year, you’re not to blame for the history of racism, but as a new American, you probably have a responsibility to address it. An ethos of responsibility is less defensive than an ethos of blame and provides a better context for cooperation, common action and radical acceptance.

The third is the danger of asymmetric rhetoric. If one person in a conversation takes the rhetorical level up to 10 every time, the other person has to rebut at Level 10 and turn monstrous, or retreat into resentful silence. Rhetorical passion, which feels so good, can destroy conversation and mar truth and reconciliation.

Even after a tough year, we are born into a story that has a happy ending. Wrongs can be recognized, memories unearthed, old hurts recognized and put into context. What’s the point of doing this unless you’re fueled by hope and comforted by grace?

Bobo has the cojones to say a new immigrant from Norway has a responsibility to address racism?  Dear, sweet baby Jesus on a tricycle…  Bobo, when’s the last time YOU addressed racism?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Welcome to Weimar America: It’s getting restive in the beer halls. People are sick of politics as usual. They want blunt talk. They want answers.

Welcome to an angry nation stung by two lost wars, its politics veering to the extremes, its mood vengeful, beset by decades of stagnant real wages for most people, tempted by a strongman who would keep all Muslims out and vows to restore American greatness.

“We’re going to be so tough and so mean and so nasty,” Donald Trump says in response to the San Bernardino massacre. People roar. He calls for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” People roar. “People want strength,” he says. People roar. His poll numbers go up. Pundits, even the longtime guru of Republican political branding, Karl Rove, shake their heads.

Trump is a clown. No, he is not. He is in earnest. And he’s onto something. It is foolish not to take him seriously.

A near perfect storm for his rabble-rousing is upon the United States. China is rising. American power is ebbing. The tectonic plates of global security are shifting. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the graveyards of glory. There is fear, after the killing in California inspired by the Islamic State, of an enemy within.

Over more than a decade, American blood and treasure have been expended, to little avail. President Obama claims his strategy against Islamist jihadist terrorism, which he often sugarcoats as “violent extremism,” is working. There is little or no evidence of that.

A lot of Americans struggle to get by, their pay no match for prices.

Along comes Trump, the high-energy guy. He promises an American revival, a reinvention, even a renaissance. He insults Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, women. His words are hateful and scurrilous. They play on fears. They are subjected to horrified analysis. Yet they do not hurt him. He gets people’s blood up. He says what others whisper. He cuts through touchy-feely all-enveloping political correctness. This guy will give Putin a run for his money! His poll numbers rise.

It would be foolish and dangerous not to take him seriously. His bombast is attuned to Weimar America. The United States is not paying reparations, as Weimar Germany was after World War I. Hyperinflation does not loom. But the Europeanization of American politics is unmistakable.

America, like Europe, is rattled by Islamic State terrorism and unsure how to respond to the black-flagged death merchants. Its polarized politics seem broken. The right of Donald Trump and the right of France’s Marine Le Pen overlap on terrorism and immigration. On the American left, Bernie Sanders sounds like nothing so much as a European social democrat. But that’s another story.

Le Pen is now a serious candidate for the French presidency in 2017. Her strong first-round performance in regional elections was not matched in the second round. She faded. But as with Trump, she answers the popular call for an end to business as usual after two Paris massacres this year in which the Islamic State had a role. The three jihadists who killed 90 Friday-night revelers in the Bataclan club were French citizens believed to have been trained in Syria.

“Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated,” Le Pen says. People roar. “France must ban Islamist organizations,” she says. People roar. It must “expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.” People roar.

There is no question Le Pen is being taken seriously in France. Europe’s watchword is vigilance. Its entire postwar reconstruction has been premised on the conviction that peace, integration, economic union and the welfare state were the best insurance against the return to power of the fascist right.

That conviction is shaken. The rise of the Islamic State, and the Western inability to contain it, leads straight to the Islamophobia in which Trump and Le Pen traffic with success. It would be hard to imagine an atmosphere better suited to the politics of fear. Americans say they are more fearful of terrorism than at any time since 9/11.

“Every time things get worse, I do better,” Trump says. He does. They may get still worse.

The Europeanization of American politics is also the Europeanization of American political risk. The unthinkable has happened in Europe. It is not impossible in America.

It would be wrong not to take Trump very seriously. It would be irresponsible. It would be to forget European history, from whose fascist example he borrows. In Weimar America politics are not what they were. The establishment looks tired. The establishment has not understood the fact-lite theater of the contemporary world.

The Weimar Republic ended with a clown’s ascent to power, a high-energy buffoon who shouted loudest, a bully from the beer halls, a racist and a bigot. He was an outsider given to theatrics and pageantry. He seduced the nation of Beethoven. He took the world down with him.

Brooks and Krugman

December 11, 2015

Bobo is going to explain “The Ted Cruz Establishment” to us all.  He says Ted Cruz has fooled most of America into thinking he’s anti-establishment, when in fact he just has his own.  And he’s the scariest thing any of us have seen in decades.  Prof. Krugman, in “Empowering the Ugliness,” says the Republican establishment helped to pave the way for the Trump phenomenon with decades of appeals to white anger.  Here’s Bobo:

There are two types of Machiavellians in politics, Selfish Machiavellians and Kind Machiavellians. The Selfish ones are the ones we usually think of — the nakedly ambitious people who are always strategizing, sometimes ruthlessly, for their own personal advantage. The Kind Machiavellians realize that it’s smart to get along with people, so they pick their friendships strategically, feigning affection toward those who might be useful.

In Washington and maybe in life, there are many more Kind Machiavellians than Selfish ones. But Ted Cruz has always stood out for being nakedly ambitious for himself.

He was always drawn to establishment institutions: Princeton, Harvard Law. His personal drive to gain elite posts was noted, even by the standards of such places. He learned tennis to get a clerkship with Justice William Rehnquist. According to The Boston Globe, a female law student who was giving him a ride was shocked when he quickly asked her about her I.Q. and SAT scores.

He joined the Republican establishment while young, working for George W. Bush, though he was marginalized when administration jobs were handed out, reportedly because his ambition was off-putting. Yet Cruz is intelligent, and knows that sometimes you have to switch tactics in order to climb. Over the past few years, Cruz has become a team player. In fact, he’s become a central member of the conservative establishment.

A little history lesson is in order. During the 1970s conservatives self-consciously built establishment institutions to counter the liberal establishment. But with the election of Ronald Reagan, the conservative establishment split into two. There was the regular conservative establishment, filled with mainstream conservatives who wanted to use the inside levers of power that Republicans now controlled.

But there was also a conservative counter-establishment. This was populated with people like Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie, Brent Bozell and others who were temperamentally incapable of governance. Many of these Old Right people broke with Reagan because he wasn’t ideologically pure on this or that policy matter.

Today the conservative community still has at least two establishments, or three if you want to throw in the young Reform Conservatives. The mainstream establishment tends to side with party leaders like Paul Ryan and whoever the presidential nominee is. The Old Right Counter Conservative Establishment has grown in recent years. For example, the Heritage Foundation, which used to be more or less conservative establishment, has gone more Counter Establishment.

The difference is the establishment wants to use the levers of power to practically pass reforms. The Counter Establishment believes that Washington is pervasively corrupt and is implacably hostile to the G.O.P. leadership.

Since he came to Washington, Ted Cruz has meticulously aligned himself with the rising and rich conservative Counter Establishment. He’s called his party leader a liar on the Senate floor. In another recent floor speech he accused every Republican but him and Mike Lee of selling out their principles for money. His efforts to shut down the government did enormous harm to the Republican Party and to the country, but they cemented his relationship with the members of the Counter Establishment. Crucially, those battles enabled him to amass the email lists that are a large part of his donor base.

His campaign is uniting the Counter Establishment. According to some excellent reporting in the National Journal, he was rapturously received by members of the Council for National Policy, an important Counter Establishment gathering. He’s been endorsed by the old guard, Viguerie and Bozell.

The Counter Establishment is now nearly as financially flush and institutionally entrenched as the mainstream establishment. Cruz has been able to tap into it to raise gobs of money. In the third quarter, Cruz raised $12.2 million, about twice what rival Marco Rubio raised over the same period. His super PACs raised $31 million in the few weeks of his campaign, largely from hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. He’s had fund-raisers hosted by Joseph Konzelmann, a managing director at Goldman Sachs.

He’s won over the Counter Establishment and even some of the regular establishment by being tactical in his policy positions, shifting his views most notoriously on trade promotion authority and foreign policy generally. He savages Republicans habitually but initially refused to criticize Donald Trump. As Eliana Johnson of National Review put it, the paradox of Cruz is that “The man who boasts of his ideological purity is perhaps the most obviously tactical candidate.”

Cruz is riding the shift in the conservative activist establishment, the way groups like the Club for Growth now provide a power base for someone who wants to run against the G.O.P. leadership.

A friend once joked that the journalist has the ultimate power: The power to choose who he wants to be co-opted by. Ted Cruz is surging as the figurehead of the rich and interlocked Counter Establishment. And he gets to do it while pretending that he is antiestablishment. That’s a nice trick. Even a Machiavellian one.

Sow the wind…  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Mr. Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

Let me start with what is happening in Europe, both because it’s probably less familiar to American readers and because it is, in a way, a simpler story than what is happening here.

My European friends will no doubt say that I’m oversimplifying, but from an American perspective it looks as if Europe’s establishment has tried to freeze the xenophobic right, not just out of political power, but out of any role in acceptable discourse. To be a respectable European politician, whether of the left or of the right, you have had to accept the European project of ever-closer union, of free movement of people, open borders, and harmonized regulations. This leaves no room for right-wing nationalists, even though right-wing nationalism has always had substantial popular support.

What the European establishment may not have realized, however, is that its ability to define the limits of discourse rests on the perception that it knows what it is doing. Even admirers and supporters of the European project (like me) have to admit that it has never had deep popular support or a lot of democratic legitimacy. It is, instead, an elite project sold largely on the claim that there is no alternative, that it is the path of wisdom.

And there’s nothing quite like sustained poor economic performance – the kind of poor performance brought on by Europe’s austerity and hard-money obsessions — to undermine the elite’s reputation for competence. That’s probably why one recent study found a consistent historical relationship between financial crises and the rise of right-wing extremism. And history is repeating itself.

The story is quite different in America, because the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.

But there is a strong element of bait-and-switch to this strategy. Whatever dog whistles get sent during the campaign, once in power the G.O.P. has made serving the interests of a small, wealthy economic elite, especially through big tax cuts, its main priority — a priority that remains intact, as you can see if you look at the tax plans of the establishment presidential candidates this cycle.

Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch. They seem, for example, to imagine that the base supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare, an elite priority that has nothing to do with the reasons working-class whites vote Republican.

So along comes Donald Trump, saying bluntly the things establishment candidates try to convey in coded, deniable hints, and sounding as if he really means them. And he shoots to the top of the polls. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising.

Just to be clear: In offering these explanations of the rise of Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen, I am not making excuses for what they say, which remains surpassingly ugly and very much at odds with the values of two great democratic nations.

What I am saying, however, is that this ugliness has been empowered by the very establishments that now act so horrified at the seemingly sudden turn of events. In Europe the problem is the arrogance and rigidity of elite figures who refuse to learn from economic failure; in the U.S. it’s the cynicism of Republicans who summoned up prejudice to support their electoral prospects. And now both are facing the monsters they helped create.

And I’ll say it again…  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Brooks and Krugman

December 4, 2015

Bobo, drenched in flop sweat, is whistling past the graveyard.  In “No, Donald Trump Won’t Win” he tries to convince us that in the voting booth, responsible will top exciting but risky.  Bobo, I wouldn’t bet on that if I were you.  Y’all have spent 40 years creating the monster, and now you seem to be terrified of it.  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.  My schadens are freuded…  Prof. Krugman, in “Republican’s Climate Change Denial Denial,” says elected Republicans deny climate change and moderate unelected Republicans who recognize it are in denial that the deniers will smarten up.  Here’s Bobo:

A little while ago I went rug shopping. Four rugs were laid out on the floor and among them was one with a pink motif that was dazzlingly beautiful. It was complex and sophisticated. If you had asked me at that moment which rug I wanted, I would have said the pink one.

This conviction lasted about five minutes. But then my mentality flipped and I started asking some questions. Would the furniture go with this rug? Would this rug clash with the wall hangings? Would I get tired of its electric vibrancy?

Suddenly a subtler and more prosaic blue rug grabbed center stage. The rugs had not changed, but suddenly I wanted the blue rug. The pink rug had done an excellent job of being eye-popping on its own. The blue rug was doing an excellent job of being a rug I could enjoy living with.

For many Republicans, Donald Trump is their pink rug. He does the job that they want done at this moment. He reflects their disgust with the political establishment. He gives them the pleasurable sensation that somebody can come to Washington, kick some tail and shake things up.

But decision-making is a journey, not an early December snapshot. It goes in stages.

The campaign may seem old, but we are still in the casual attention stage. Every four years pollsters ask Iowa and New Hampshire voters when they made up their minds. Roughly 70 or 80 percent make up their minds in the final month of the race. Up until then they are busy with life and work and just glancing at the campaign. If you ask them which candidate they support, that question may generate an answer, but that doesn’t mean they are actually committed to electing the name they happen to utter.

Over at the FiveThirtyEight blog, Nate Silver looked at campaign-related Google searches in past years in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Until a week or two before the caucuses very few people are doing any serious investigations of the candidates. Then just before and after the caucuses voters get engaged and Google searches surge.

Silver produced a chart showing what this year’s polling would look like if we actually took the current levels of casual attention and uncertainty seriously. In that chart “Undecided” had 80 percent support. Trump had 5 percent support; Carson, 4; Cruz, 3; and Rubio, 2.

That’s about the best description of where the Republican race is right now.

Just because voters aren’t making final decisions doesn’t mean they are passive. They’re in the dressing room. They’re trying on different outfits. Most of them are finding they like a lot of different conflicting choices.

Human beings have multiple selves. The mind dances from this module to that module. When Montaigne tried to describe his mind, he wrote, “I cannot keep my subject still. It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.” In one mood Trump seems pretty attractive to some people. In another it’s Carson, or Cruz or Rubio.

But in the final month the mentality shifts. The question is no longer, What shiny object makes me feel good? The question is, Who do I need at this moment to do the job? Different sorts of decision-making styles kick in.

For example, there are two contrasting types of decision-making mentalities, maximizing and satisficing. If you’re choosing a marriage partner, you probably want to maximize. You want to find the very best person you are totally in love with. You’ll need that passion to fuse you two together so you can survive the tough times. You want somebody who can inspire and be a messenger to your best future.

But politics is not like that. Politics is a prosaic activity most of the time. You probably want to satisfice, pick the person who’s good enough, who seems reasonably responsible.

When campaigns enter that final month, voters tend to gravitate toward the person who seems most orderly. As the primary season advances, voters’ tolerance for risk declines. They focus on the potential downsides of each contender and wonder, Could this person make things even worse?

When this mental shift happens, I suspect Trump will slide. All the traits that seem charming will suddenly seem risky. The voters’ hopes for transformation will give way to a fear of chaos. When the polls shift from registered voters to likely voters, cautious party loyalists will make up a greater share of those counted.

The voting booth focuses the mind. The experience is no longer about self-expression and feeling good in the moment. It’s about the finger on the nuclear trigger for the next four years. In an era of high anxiety, I doubt Republican voters will take a flyer on their party’s future — or their country’s future.

Bobo seems to forget that the entire Republican party has lost its collective mind.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Future historians — if there are any future historians — will almost surely say that the most important thing happening in the world during December 2015 was the climate talks in Paris. True, nothing agreed to in Paris will be enough, by itself, to solve the problem of global warming. But the talks could mark a turning point, the beginning of the kind of international action needed to avert catastrophe.

Then again, they might not; we may be doomed. And if we are, you know who will be responsible: the Republican Party.

O.K., I know the reaction of many readers: How partisan! How over the top! But what I said is, in fact, the obvious truth. And the inability of our news media, our pundits and our political establishment in general to face up to that truth is an important contributing factor to the danger we face.

Anyone who follows U.S. political debates on the environment knows that Republican politicians overwhelmingly oppose any action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, and that the great majority reject the scientific consensus on climate change. Last year PolitiFact could find only eight Republicans in Congress, out of 278 in the caucus, who had made on-the-record comments accepting the reality of man-made global warming. And most of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination aresolidly in the anti-science camp.

What people may not realize, however, is how extraordinary the G.O.P.’s wall of denial is, both in the U.S. context and on the global scene.

I often hear from people claiming that the American left is just as bad as the right on scientific issues, citing, say, hysteria over genetically modified food or nuclear power. But even if you think such views are really comparable to climate denial (which they aren’t), they’re views held by only some people on the left, not orthodoxies enforced on a whole party by what even my conservative colleague David Brooks calls the “thought police.”

And climate-denial orthodoxy doesn’t just say that the scientific consensus is wrong. Senior Republican members of Congress routinely indulge in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. And they do all they can to harass and intimidate individual scientists.

In a way, this is part of a long tradition: Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay“The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was published half a century ago. But having that style completely take over one of our two major parties is something new.

It’s also something with no counterpart abroad.

It’s true that conservative parties across the West tend to be less favorable to climate action than parties to their left. But in most countries — actually, everywhere except America and Australia — these parties nonetheless support measures to limit emissions. And U.S. Republicans are unique in refusing to accept that there is even a problem. Unfortunately, given the importance of the United States, the extremism of one party in one country has enormous global implications.

By rights, then, the 2016 election should be seen as a referendum on that extremism. But it probably won’t be reported that way. Which brings me to what you might call the problem of climate denial denial.

Some of this denial comes from moderate Republicans, who do still exist — just not in elected office. These moderates may admit that their party has gone off the deep end on the climate issue, but they tend to argue that it won’t last, that the party will start talking sense any day now. (And they will, of course, find reasons to support whatever climate-denier the G.O.P. nominates for president.)

Everything we know about the process that brought Republicans to this point says that this is pure fantasy. But it’s a fantasy that will cloud public perception.

More important, probably, is the denial inherent in the conventions of political journalism, which say that you must always portray the parties as symmetric — that any report on extreme positions taken by one side must be framed in a way that makes it sound as if both sides do it. We saw this on budget issues, where some self-proclaimed centrist commentators, while criticizing Republicans for their absolute refusal to consider tax hikes, also made a point of criticizing President Obama for opposing spending cuts that he actually supported. My guess is that climate disputes will receive the same treatment.

But I hope I’m wrong, and I’d urge everyone outside the climate-denial bubble to frankly acknowledge the awesome, terrifying reality. We’re looking at a party that has turned its back on science at a time when doing so puts the very future of civilization at risk. That’s the truth, and it needs to be faced head-on.

Bobo, solo

December 1, 2015

Bobo is channeling MoDo again, and trying to be “cute.”  In “The Green Tech Solution” he says he was unsure what to make of the Paris climate talks, so he asked our hippest Founding Father for advice.  When Bobo starts using words like “hippest” you know you’re in trouble…  Here he is:

I’ve been confused about this Paris climate conference and how the world should move forward to ameliorate climate change, so I séanced up my hero Alexander Hamilton to see what he thought. I was sad to be reminded that he doesn’t actually talk in hip-hop, but he still had some interesting things to say.

First, he was struck by the fact that on this issue the G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship — a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.

This week’s Paris conference, I observed, seems like a giant Weight Watchers meeting. A bunch of national leaders get together and make some resolutions to cut their carbon emissions over the next few decades. You hope some sort of peer pressure will kick in and they will actually follow through.

I’m afraid Hamilton snorted.

The co-author of the Federalist papers is the opposite of naïve about human nature. He said the conference is nothing like a Weight Watchers meeting. Unlike weight loss, the pain in reducing carbon emissions is individual but the good is only achieved collectively.

You’re asking people to impose costs on themselves today for some future benefit they will never see. You’re asking developing countries to forswear growth now to compensate for a legacy of pollution from richer countries that they didn’t benefit from. You’re asking richer countries that are facing severe economic strain to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in “reparations” to India and such places that can go on and burn mountains of coal and take away American jobs. And you’re asking for all this top-down coercion to last a century, without any enforcement mechanism. Are the Chinese really going to police a local coal plant efficiently?

This is perfectly designed to ensure cheating. Already, the Chinese government made a grandiose climate change announcement but then was forced to admit that its country was burning 17 percent more coal than it had previously disclosed. The cheating will create a cycle of resentment that will dissolve any sense of common purpose.

I countered by pointing out that policy makers have come up with some clever ways to make carbon reductions more efficient, like cap and trade, permit trading and carbon taxing.

The former Treasury secretary pointed out that these ideas are good in theory but haven’t worked in reality. Cap and trade has not worked out so well in Europe. Over all, the Europeans have spent $280 billion on climate change with very little measurable impact on global temperatures. And as for carbon taxes, even if the U.S. imposed one on itself, it would have virtually no effect on the global climate.

Hamilton steered me to an article by James Manzi and Peter Wehner in his favorite magazine, National Affairs. The authors point out that according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the expected economic costs of unaddressed global warming over the next century are likely to be about 3 percent of world gross domestic product. This is a big, gradual problem, but not the sort of cataclysmic immediate threat that’s likely to lead people to suspend their immediate self-interest.

Well, I ventured, if you’re skeptical about our own policies, Mr. Founding Father, what would you do?

Look at what you’re already doing, he countered. The U.S. has the fastest rate of reduction of CO2 emissions of any major nation on earth, back to pre-1996 levels.

That’s in part because of fracking. Natural gas is replacing coal, and natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide.

The larger lesson is that innovation is the key. Green energy will beat dirty energy only when it makes technical and economic sense.

Hamilton reminded me that he often used government money to stoke innovation. Manzi and Wehner suggest that one of our great national science labs could work on geoengineering problems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Another could investigate cogeneration and small-scale energy reduction systems. We could increase funding on battery and smart-grid research. If we move to mainly solar power, we’ll need much more efficient national transmission methods. Maybe there’s a partial answer in increased vegetation.

Hamilton pointed out that when America was just a bunch of scraggly colonies, he was already envisioning it as a great world power. He used government to incite, arouse, energize and stir up great enterprise. The global warming problem can be addressed, ineffectively, by global communiqués. Or, with the right government boost, it presents an opportunity to arouse and incite entrepreneurs, innovators and investors and foment a new technological revolution.

Sometimes like your country you got to be young, scrappy and hungry and not throw away your shot.

Blow and Brooks

November 24, 2015

Mr. Blow has a question in “A Year Without Tamir:”  What has America become if we must have a sisterhood of mourning?  Bobo has extruded an extraordinary turd called “Tales of the Super Survivors” in which he gurgles that many people bounce back from traumatic events to be even stronger than before, and that there are reasons.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Conservatives are always looking for ways to sell war to the general public, but this pep talk borders on the bizarre. To say that we emerge from attacks better than before makes it sound as though we’re embarking on a kind of cleansing ritual that weeds out the weak. We clean up the mess with parables and bandages, and soldier on.  We should recall that more U.S. soldiers died from suicide in the waning years of the Bush wars than from combat, and the toll continues to mount. Such wars began with a flagrant exercise of storytelling infused with moral purpose, but it’s the moral hazards that ultimately left their mark.”  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Cleveland:

On a cold, dreary Sunday morning, grayness envelops the city. Tiny pellets of snow and ice fall like crumbs of Styrofoam.

I enter through the back of Mt. Zion Congregational Church in East Cleveland, and there she sits, wearing combat boots and jeans, long braids framing her face. A pin commemorating her dead son is attached to her jacket. This is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by a police officer last year while playing with a toy gun in a park.

Samaria sits with a friend — another mother who lost a child following an interaction with the police — while her son, Tavon, towers over her like a sentinel. She had agreed to allow me to accompany her this somber day, the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.

I ask her how she’s holding up. “I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed,” she says, “and I just want to go to bed.”

The church service seems to cheer her up a bit, as she claps and nods and rocks her body to the songs and the message. That is, until the pastor asks the mothers who have lost children to come to the altar. Nearly 10 of them stand before it, all black. Then he invites the congregation to come forward, to lay hands on them, to “touch and agree” as they pray.

The tears begin to flow. I pass Samaria a tissue as she takes her seat.

This emotional vacillation is quite familiar to me now, this sadness periodically breaking the surface before submerging again.

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, I have interviewed many — too many! — of these mothers with holes in their hearts. There is an eerie sameness to the arc and articulation of their sorrow.

On top of this, these mothers are forced to share their children with the world, to suppress some of their own grief so that they can be a composed instrument to serve a message. There is also the disconcerting feeling of being famous because of another’s infamy, of being exalted for extreme loss, of having your voice amplified while your personal space feels invaded.

The impulse of people wanting to express their sympathy is understandable, but constant reminders of these mothers’ losses, particularly from strangers, can sometimes make them feel as if they’re drowning under continuously crashing waves.

I would meet more of these mothers through the course of this day.

There was Deanna Joseph, who said that last year her 14-year-old son, Andrew, was wrongfully arrested at the Florida State Fair, illegally transported — “kidnapped” was the word she used — then released in a strange area with only directions for how to walk back to the fair. Deanna said he was not allowed to call a parent to come get him. Andrew was killed when he was struck trying to cross Interstate 4.

According to Deanna, no one was charged in Andrew’s death.

There was Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones of Detroit, who was killed in 2010 by a single gunshot as she slept at home on a sofa. Officers had targeted the home for an arrest by mistake. With an A&E crew filming outside, they launched a flash-bang grenade into the house, and Aiyana’s blanket caught fire. Seconds after the entering the home, Officer Joseph Weekley fired the fatal shot. As The Guardian put it, “It went straight through the child’s head.”

After juries twice failed to reach a verdict in the case, criminal charges against Weekley were dropped.

Meanwhile, even after a year, the officers involved in Tamir’s killing havenot been charged.

These women have become a sort of sisterhood of traveling pain. They support each other and commiserate in their shared grief, a grief that only they can truly know. But as a country we must ask ourselves if we can call this a decent society if such a morbid sorority is necessary.

Still, of all the cases that shake my soul, Tamir’s case shakes it the most. It is an American tragedy of epic proportions.

After church, we travel to the gazebo near the Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir was gunned down. Samaria shows me how far it was from her front door, “about 100 yards.” She shows me the path that the police cruiser took when approaching Tamir across the grassy park, steering clear of a tree and a swing set — “like the Dukes of Hazzard,” as she puts it — not using the paved parking lot that we used.

Samaria freely discusses her own troubled past. She had a drug-addicted mother who killed a man with whom she was in an abusive relationship. Samaria had to testify at the trial. She was 12. (Her mother served 15 years in the penitentiary for manslaughter, Samaria says.) From 12 on, Samaria bounced around among caregivers, some of whom didn’t seem to know what the term meant. She discusses her strained relationship with her father and her own run-ins with the law. Through it all, she endured. She points to a tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Only the Strong Survive.”

It was because of her own troubled past, she says, that she tried desperately to protect her own children from trouble.

But the woman who experienced so much trauma at 12 couldn’t protect her son from an even worse fate at 12.

She recounted the events of the fateful day Tamir was shot. Two teenage boys she didn’t recognize ran from the rec center to her house to tell her that Tamir had been shot in the park. She says that she was initially in denial. “I was like, ‘no, my kids are at the park playing.’” But Tavon didn’t share her denial. He bolted from the house, racing to the park.

Samaria says that she put on her shoes and jacket and walked over to the park only to find out that the boys had told the truth. She arrived on the scene at the same time as the ambulance. “At that point, I went into shock, because at that point I’m trying to figure out: ‘What is going on? What happened? What did he do?’ In my head it’s like: ‘What did he do bad enough for you guys to shoot him?’”

She also realized that Tavon and her daughter Tajai, both of whom had raced to Tamir’s aid, had been detained by the police.

Then she had to make a nearly impossible decision: stay with the two children who had been detained, or travel to the hospital with the child who had a bullet in his belly. She went to the hospital, where Tamir died of his wound the next day.

Soon the vigil for Tamir begins in the park. I stand near the family. I try to imagine what it must be like to lose a child in that way, but I shake the thought loose before it sinks in. It’s too much to contemplate. Yet, as I glance over at Samaria, I realize that the unfathomable is her everyday companion.

Now the world waits along with Samaria to see what, if anything, will be done to the officers who killed her son, both the one who fired the fatal shot and the one who drove the car.

As Samaria put it, “I just want them to tell me what happened.”

And now, God help us, comes Bobo who I’m sure never read Mr. Blow’s piece.  Otherwise he never could have created this appalling POS:

The age of terror is an age of shocks. Individuals, families and whole societies get torn apart by unexpected stabbings, shootings and bombings.

It’s horrible, of course, but over the past few years the findings of academic research into the effects of these traumas have shifted in a more positive direction. Human beings are more resilient than we’d earlier thought. Many people bounce back from hard knocks and experience surges of post-traumatic growth.

In the first place, post-traumatic stress disorder rates are lower than many of us imagine. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 13 percent of the first responders on 9/11 had symptoms that would qualify as a stress disorder. Only about 13 percent of the people who saw the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in person experienced PTSDin the next six months. The best general rule for all of society seems to be that at least 75 percent of the people who experience a life-threatening or violent event emerge without a stress disorder.

Even many of those who are unlucky enough to fall victim to the horrific pain of PTSD are able to recover and rebuild better lives. These are people you sometimes meet who have experienced the worst in life but still radiate love and joy. They get to live a second life and correct the mistakes they made before the earthquake shook everything loose.

As Philip A. Fisher, a University of Oregon psychology professor, noted in an email, the big background factor that nurtures resilience is unconditional love. The people who survive and rebound from trauma frequently had an early caregiver who pumped unshakable love into them, and that built a rock of inner security they could stand on for the rest of their lives.

There are some foreground factors, too, traits super survivors tend to have that enable them to come back stronger then ever. These people are often deluded in good ways about their own abilities, but completely realistic about their situations. That is to say, they have positive illusions about their own talents, and an optimist’s faith in their own abilities to control the future. But they have no illusions about the world around them. They accept what they have lost quickly. They see problems clearly. They work hard. Work is the reliable cure for sorrow.

Recovering from trauma is mainly an exercise in storytelling. As Richard Tedeschi, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has pointed out, trauma is a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life. The recurring patterns that make up life are disrupted. The sense of safety is lost. Having faced death, people in these circumstances are forced to confront the elemental questions of life.

But some people are able to write a new story. As Tedeschi writes, post-traumatic growth comes not from the event but from the struggle afterward to write a new story that imagines a life better than before. Researchers have found that people who thrive after a shock are able to tell clear, forward-looking stories about themselves, while those who don’t thrive get stuck ruminating darkly about the past.

Book 1 is life before the event. Book 2 is the event that shattered the old story. But Book 3 is reintegration, a reframing new story that incorporates what happened and then points to a more virtuous and meaningful life than the one before.

These are intensely moral narratives that describe a life of higher purpose. Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and concluded that those who could best survive the camps were those who could satisfy their hunger for lives of meaning. Even if they were suffering, they could direct their attention toward those they loved and those they would serve in their future lives.

Frankl, who went on to become a professor of neurology and psychiatry, cited Nietzsche’s dictum that he who has a why to live for can endure almost any how. The stories super survivors tell have two big themes: optimism and altruism.

It’s interesting that this age of terrorism calls forth certain practical skills — the ability to tell stories, the ability to philosophize and define a meaning to your life. Just as individuals need moral stories if they are going to recover, so probably do nations. France will most likely need a parable to make sense of what happened, just as the United States still has competing parables about the meaning of 9/11.

This is why foreign policies that pursue amoral realpolitik are always impractical. If a country can’t discern a moral purpose in its foreign policy, it will lack resilience. It will lack the capacity to bounce back from an attack. It will lack a satisfying narrative and lose the ability to thrive in terror’s wake.

The good news is there is no reason to be pessimistic during the war on terrorism. Individuals and societies are tough and resilient, and usually emerge from attacks better than before.

He should be horsewhipped in Macy’s window on Thanksgiving day.  By Santa…

Brooks and Krugman

November 20, 2015

Yowzah…  All bets are off…  In “Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS” Bobo says she just became the first of the presidential candidates to put forward a comprehensive, mature plan to fight ISIS and Assad.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “When David Brooks starts praising Hillary Clinton over the Republicans he’s devoted his life to supporting, you know we’re in uncharted territory. Normal rules of engagement don’t apply.”  In “The Farce Awakens” Prof. Krugman says Republicans’ panic over Syrian refugees fits a pattern.  Here’s Bobo:

This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.

For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007.

That will not happen while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide. As long as they find themselves in the grips of a horrific civil war, even sensible Sunnis will feel that they need ISIS as a counterpoint to the butchery coming out of Damascus.

Clinton therefore gestured to the reality that you can’t really deal with ISIS unless you are also willing to deal with Assad. Assad is not some secondary threat who we can deal with after we’ve tamed the ISIS monster. Assad created the failed state and the power vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. Assad serves as chief recruiter for ISIS every time he drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market. Assad, as Clinton pointed out, has murdered even more Syrians than ISIS has.

Dealing with both Assad and ISIS simultaneously throws you into the bitter and complex jockeying between Sunni and Shiite, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It puts pressure on your Ukraine policy (Vladimir Putin will want concessions as a price for backing off his aggression in the Middle East). Everything is connected. Which is why the presidency is for grown-ups, not rank outsiders.

Some of Clinton’s specific prescriptions were a little too limited and Obamaesque for my taste (she didn’t even call for more American Special Operations forces to improve the bombing campaigns, though she said she would be open to it). But she is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward. She seems to understand that if we end up allying with Russia in a common fight against terrorism, we will end up preserving Assad, preserving ISIS and making everything worse.

Some Republicans have stained themselves with refugee xenophobia, but there’s a bigger story here: For a time, the Middle East was held together by Arab nation-states and a belief in Arab nationalisms. Recently Arab nationalisms have withered and Arab nation-states have begun to dissolve from their own decrepitude.

Along comes ISIS filling that vacuum and trying to destroy what’s left of Arab nations. ISIS dreams of a caliphate. It erases borders. It destroys order.

The Arab nation-states were not great. But the nation-state system did preserve a certain order. National identities and boundaries enabled Sunnis and Shiites to live together peaceably. If nations go away in the region we’ll get a sectarian war of all against all, radiating terrorism like we’ve never seen.

The grand strategy of American policy in the Middle East, therefore, should be to do what we can to revive and reform Arab nations, to help them become functioning governing units.

That means confronting the forces that thrive in failed states. That begins with stepped-up military pressure on ISIS. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations proposes a campaign like the one that allowed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 — a light footprint campaign using Special Operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries to direct allied bombing in support of locals on the ground. Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.

But it also means going hard on Assad, creating no-fly zones for sanctuaries for Syrian refugees to limit his power, ratcheting up pressure on Iran and Russia to force his departure. And it also means supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom.

Before Paris it was possible to argue that time was on our side, that we could sit back and let ISIS collapse under the weight of its own craziness. The Paris attacks refuted that. ISIS is becoming an ever more aggressive threat. The F.B.I. already has over 900 active Islamic State investigations ongoing. Lord knows what sort of biological or other weapons the group can get its hands on.

Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach. The next president will have to provide the action.

Okay.  We’re officially down the rabbit hole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website RedState.com, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState’s annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.

So it’s worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn’t think highly of President Obama’s antiterrorism policies.

Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won’t be going to see the new “Star Wars” movie on opening day, because “there are no metal detectors at American theaters.”

It’s a bizarre reaction — but when you think about it, it’s part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.

Consider first the reaction to the Paris attacks. Lightsabers aside, are Mr. Erickson’s fears any sillier than those of the dozens of governors — almost all Republicans — who want to ban Syrian refugees from their states?

Mr. Obama certainly thinks they’re being ridiculous; he mocked politicians who claim that they’re so tough that they could stare down America’s enemies, but are “scared of widows and orphans.” (He was probably talking in particular about Chris Christie, who has said that he even wants to ban young children.) Again, the contrast with France, where President François Hollande has reaffirmed the nation’s willingness to take in refugees, is striking.

And it’s pretty hard to find anyone on that side of the aisle, even among seemingly respectable voices, showing the slightest hint of perspective. Jeb Bush, the erstwhile establishment candidate, wants to clamp down on accepting refugees unless “you can prove you’re a Christian.” The historian Niall Ferguson, a right-wing favorite, says the Paris attacks were exactly like the sack of Rome by the Goths. Hmm: Were ancient Romans back in the cafes a few days later?

But we shouldn’t really be surprised, because we’ve seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What’s more, the supposed “solutions” were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that “the plague will start and spread” in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control — but it’s unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right’s propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it’s also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.

Given this context, it’s only natural that the right would seize on a terrorist attack in France as proof that Mr. Obama has left America undefended and vulnerable. Ted Cruz, who has a real chance of becoming the Republican nominee, goes so far as to declare that the president “does not wish to defend this country.”

The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump’s candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security.

Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Sure enough, polling since the Paris attack suggests that Mr. Trump has actually gained ground.

The point is that at this point panic is what the right is all about, and the Republican nomination will go to whoever can most effectively channel that panic. Will the same hold true in the general election? Stay tuned.

All they’ve got to peddle at this point is pants-piddling panic.  And the mindless Faux Noise watching knuckle walkers eat it up with a spoon.


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