Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

January 20, 2017

In “The Internal Invasion” Bobo babbles that America can unite by containing the new president.  And “gemli” from Boston is pissed, and tells Bobo a thing or two.  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Unready,” says the new president will be corrupt and crazy, but he’ll also be incompetent.  Here’s Bobo:

This is a remarkable day in the history of our country. We have never over our centuries inaugurated a man like Donald Trump as president of the United States. You can select any random group of former presidents — Madison, Lincoln, Hoover, Carter — and none of them are like Trump.

We’ve never had a major national leader as professionally unprepared, intellectually ill informed, morally compromised and temperamentally unfit as the man taking the oath on Friday. So let’s not lessen the shock factor that should reverberate across this extraordinary moment.

It took a lot to get us here. It took a once-in-a-century societal challenge — the stresses and strains brought by the global information age — and it took a political system that was too detached and sclerotic to understand and deal with them.

There are many ways to capture this massive failure, but I’d rely on the old sociological distinction between gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. All across the world, we have masses of voters who live in a world of gemeinschaft: where relationships are personal, organic and fused by particular affections. These people define their loyalty to community, faith and nation in personal, in-the-gut sort of ways.

But we have a leadership class and an experience of globalization that is from the world of gesellschaft: where systems are impersonal, rule based, abstract, indirect and formal.

Many people in Europe love their particular country with a vestigial affection that is like family England, Holland or France. But meritocratic elites of Europe gave them an abstract intellectual construct called the European Union.

Many Americans think their families and their neighborhoods are being denuded by the impersonal forces of globalization, finance and technology. All the Republican establishment could offer was abstract paeans to the free market. All the Democrats could offer was Hillary Clinton, the ultimate cautious, remote, calculating, gesellschaft thinker.

It was the right moment for Trump, the ultimate gemeinschaft man. He is all gut instinct, all blood and soil, all about loyalty over detached reason. His business is a pre-modern family clan, not an impersonal corporation, and he is staffing his White House as a pre-modern family monarchy, with his relatives and a few royal retainers. In his business and political dealings, he simply doesn’t acknowledge the difference between private and public, personal and impersonal. Everything is personal, pulsating outward from his needy core.

The very thing that made him right electorally for this moment will probably make him an incompetent president. He is the ultimate anti-institutional man, but the president sits at the nerve center of a routinized, regularized four-million-person institution. If the figure at the center can’t give consistent, clear and informed direction, the whole system goes haywire, with vicious infighting and creeping anarchy.

Some on the left worry that we are seeing the rise of fascism, a new authoritarian age. That gets things exactly backward. The real fear in the Trump era should be that everything will become disorganized, chaotic, degenerate, clownish and incompetent.

The real fear should be that Trump is Captain Chaos, the ignorant dauphin of disorder. All the standard practices, norms, ways of speaking and interacting will be degraded and shredded. The political system and the economy will grind to a battered crawl.

That’s ultimately why this could be a pivotal day. For the past few decades our leadership class has been polarized. We’ve wondered if there is some opponent out there that could force us to unite and work together. Well, that opponent is being inaugurated, not in the form of Trump the man, but in the form of the chaos and incompetence that will likely radiate from him, month after month. For America to thrive, people across government will have to cooperate and build arrangements to quarantine and work around the president.

People in the defense, diplomatic and intelligence communities will have to build systems to prevent him from intentionally or unintentionally bumbling into a global crisis. People in his administration and in Congress will have to create systems so his ill-informed verbal spasms don’t derail coherent legislation.

If Trump’s opponents behave as clownishly as he does — like the congressmen who are narcissistically boycotting the inaugural — the whole government will get further delegitimized. But if people redouble their commitment to constitutional norms and practices, to substance and dignity, this thing is survivable.

Already you see the political system uniting to contain Trump. In negotiations on the Hill, administration officials feel free to ignore his verbiage on health care and other issues. Members of his team are already good at pretending that Trump doesn’t mean what he clearly does mean, on matters of NATO and much else.

I’ve been rewatching “Yes, Minister” these days. That was a hilarious British sitcom about a permanent government apparatus that contained and overruled a bumbling political master. America will need a beneficent version of that sort of clever cooperation.

With Trump it’s not the ideology, it’s the disorder. Containing that could be the patriotic cause that brings us together.

Shove it, Bobo.  And while you’re at it, here’s a YOOGE plate of salted rat dicks for you, and a comment from “gemli:”

“Congressman John Lewis is boycotting the inauguration. Does he strike anyone as clownish? Maybe the humor is lost on a man who had his head bashed in by ignorant racist thugs. Maybe he wants to send the signal that things are not normal by refusing to show tacit approval of a man who has appointed similar thugs, ideologues and incompetent fools to his cabinet.

We’re not obligated to make a pact with the devil. We needn’t listen to conservatives like Mr. Brooks, who spent years preparing the political soil in which a malignant weed has taken root. We should be stunned by the bitter irony of the claim that Lewis and his cohort are behaving narcissistically when they refuse to watch a power-hungry, ignorant and psychologically unstable narcissist grope the bible and befoul the oath of office.

Brooks says we should pretend that things are normal. He says we should work within the system that obstructed an honorable man like Barack Obama, and that has promised to undo everything he stood for. We should embrace the decision of clueless voters who had no idea where their self-interests lay. We should bend our knee to the Bannons and the Carsons and the Ryans and to the Wall Street thieves who now guard the economy we depend on to survive.

We’re not getting the gemeinschaft or the gesellschaft. We’re getting the frickenshaft, and we’re not obliged to kneel before these idiots and take it.”  Amen.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Betsy DeVos, whom Donald Trump has nominated as education secretary, doesn’t know basic education terms, doesn’t know about federal statutes governing special education, but thinks school officials should carry guns to defend against grizzly bears.

Monica Crowley, selected as deputy national security adviser, withdrew after it was revealed that much of her past writing was plagiarized. Many other national security positions remain unfilled, and it’s unclear how much if any of the briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration have even been read.

Meanwhile Rex Tillerson, selected as secretary of state, casually declared that America would block Chinese access to bases in the South China Sea, apparently unaware that he was in effect threatening to go to war if China called his bluff.

Do you see a pattern here?

It was obvious to anyone paying attention that the incoming administration would be blatantly corrupt. But would it at least be efficient in its corruption?

Many Trump voters certainly thought they were choosing a smart businessman who would get things done. And even those who knew better may have hoped that the president-elect, his ego finally sated, would settle down to running the country — or at least delegate the boring business of governing America to people actually capable of doing the job.

But it’s not happening. Mr. Trump hasn’t pivoted, matured, whatever term you prefer. He’s still the insecure, short-attention-span egomaniac he always was. Worse, he is surrounding himself with people who share many of his flaws — perhaps because they’re the sort of people with whom he is comfortable.

So the typical Trump nominee, in everything from economics to diplomacy to national security, is ethically challenged, ignorant about the area of policy he or she is supposed to manage and deeply incurious. Some, like Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s choice as national security adviser, are even as addicted as their boss to internet conspiracy theories. This isn’t a team that will compensate for the commander in chief’s weaknesses; on the contrary, it’s a team that will amplify them.

Why does this matter? If you want a model for how the Trump-Putin administration is likely to function (or malfunction), it’s helpful to recall what happened during the Bush-Cheney years.

People tend to forget the extent to which the last Republican administration was also characterized by cronyism, the appointment of unqualified but well-connected people to key positions. It wasn’t as extreme as what we’re seeing now, but it was striking at the time. Remember “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job”? And it caused very real damage.

In particular, if you want some notion of what Trump governance is likely to look like, consider the botched occupation of Iraq. People who knew anything about nation-building weren’t wanted; party loyalists — and corporate profiteers — took their place. There’s even a little-known connection: Betsy DeVos’s brother, Erik Prince, founded Blackwater, the mercenary outfit that, among other things, helped destabilize Iraq by firing into a crowd of civilians.

Now the conditions that prevailed in Iraq — blind ideology, contempt for expertise, effective absence of any enforcement of ethics rules — have come to America, but in a far more acute form.

And what will happen when we face a crisis? Remember, Katrina was the event that finally revealed the costs of Bush-era cronyism to all.

Crises of some kind are bound to occur on any president’s watch. They appear especially likely given the crew that’s coming in and their allies in Congress: Given the stated priorities of the people about to take charge, we could very well see collapsing health care, a trade war and a military standoff with China just in the next year.

But even if we somehow skirt those dangers, stuff always happens. Maybe there will be a new economic crisis, helped along by the rush to undo financial regulation. Maybe there will be a foreign affairs crisis, say over adventurism in the Baltics by Mr. Trump’s good friend Vladimir. Maybe it will be something we’re not thinking about. Then what?

Real crises need real solutions. They can’t be resolved with a killer tweet, or by having your friends in the F.B.I. or the Kremlin feed the media stories that take your problems off the front page. What the situation demands are knowledgeable, levelheaded people in positions of authority.

But as far as we know, almost no people meeting that description will be in the new administration, except possibly the nominee for defense secretary — whose nickname just happens to be “Mad Dog.”

So there you have it: an administration unprecedented in its corruption, but also completely unprepared to govern. It’s going to be terrific, let me tell you.

Solo Bobo

January 17, 2017

Bobo seems to be suffering from buyer’s remorse.  In “Lord of Misrule” he whines that we’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king.  Um, what’s this “we” shit, Bobo?  The “we” to which I belong racked up 3 million more votes for our candidate.  It’s your crowd that saddled us with the Trumpocalypse.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say about this as well.  Here’s Bobo:

King David was most compelling when he danced. Overcome by gratitude to God, he stripped down to his linens and whirled about before the ark of the covenant — his love and joy spilling beyond the boundaries of normal decorum.

His wife, Michal, the daughter of King Saul, was repulsed by his behavior, especially because he was doing it in front of the commoners. She snarked at him when he got home for exposing himself in front of the servants’ slave girls like some scurrilous fellow.

The early Christians seem to have worshiped the way David did, with ecstatic dancing, communal joy and what Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence.” In her book “Dancing in the Streets,” Barbara Ehrenreich argues that in the first centuries of Christianity, worship of Jesus overlapped with worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry. Both Jesus and Dionysus upended class categories. Both turned water into wine. Second- and third-century statuettes show Dionysus hanging on a cross.

But when the church became more hierarchical, the Michals took over. Somber priest-led rituals began to replace direct access to the divine. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus urged, “Let us sing hymns instead of striking drums, have psalms instead of frivolous music and song, … modesty instead of laughter, wise contemplation instead of intoxication, seriousness instead of delirium.”

When elites try to quash the manners and impulses of the people, those impulses are bound to spill out in some other way. By the Middle Ages the cathedrals were strictly hierarchical, so the people created carnivals where everything was turned on its head. During carnival (Purim is the Jewish version), men dressed like women, the people could insult the king and bishops, drunkenness and ribaldry was prized over sober propriety.

As Ehrenreich puts it, “Whatever social category you had been boxed into — male or female, rich or poor — carnival was a chance to escape from it.”

Sometimes the celebration took on an enthusiasm that is hard for us to fathom. In 1278, 200 people kept dancing on a bridge in Utrecht until it collapsed and all were drowned.

The carnivals were partly a way to blow off steam, but in hard times they served as occasions for genuine populist revolts. In 1511, a carnival in Udine, Italy, turned into a riot that led to the murder of 50 nobles and the sacking of more than 20 palaces.

Carnival culture was raw, lascivious and disgraceful, and it elevated a certain social type, the fool.

There were many different kinds of fools: holy fools, hapless fools, vicious fools. Fools were rude and frequently unabashed liars. They were willing to make idiots of themselves. The point of the fool was not to be admirable in himself, but to be the class clown who had the guts to talk back to the teacher. People enjoyed carnival culture, the feast of fools, as a way to take a whack at the status quo.

You can see where I’m going with this. We live at a time of wide social inequality. The intellectual straitjackets have been getting tighter. The universities have become modern cathedrals, where social hierarchies are defined and reinforced.

We’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king. Donald Trump exists on two levels: the presidential level and the fool level. On one level he makes personnel and other decisions. On the other he tweets. (I honestly don’t know which level is more important to him.)

His tweets are classic fool behavior. They are raw, ridiculous and frequently self-destructive. He takes on an icon of the official culture and he throws mud at it. The point is not the message of the tweet. It’s to symbolically upend hierarchy, to be oppositional.

The assault on Representative John Lewis was classic. He picked one of the most officially admired people in the country and he leveled the most ridiculous possible charge (all talk and no action). It was a tweet devilishly well crafted to create the maximum official uproar. Anybody who writes for a living knows how to manipulate an outraged response, and Trump is a fool puppet master.

The sad part is that so many people treat Trump’s tweets as if they are arguments when in fact they are carnival. With their conniption fits, Trump’s responders feed into the dynamic he needs. They contribute to carnival culture.

The first problem with today’s carnival culture is that there’s an ocean of sadism lurking just below the surface. The second is that it’s not real. It doesn’t really address the inequalities that give rise to it. It’s just combative display.

This is a resolution I’m probably going to break, but I resolve to write about Trump only on the presidential level, not on the carnival level. I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets. I really wish some of my media confreres would do the same.

Well.  That was an especially rancid pile.  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

Wait just a second—if electing a Fool King is a reaction to social injustice and rigid hierarchies, then why elect a Republican? Democrats have been fighting to loosen the chains for the last century. Republicans are the ones locking up the population, thumping the Bible, dragging us into wars and legislating bathroom behavior.

So what is this Fool King a protest against? He’s marching under a banner that says Down with Affordable Medical Care! Keep Salaries Low! Build a Wall! Fight the Nazis in the FBI! All Hail Mother Russia!

He tweets like a disturbed adolescent Internet troll. And yet David Brooks says that those of us who react to his foolish tweets are feeding into his dynamic. That’s just shifting the blame onto sensible people who point out that the emperor has no clothes. Possibly in a Russian hotel room. With two leaky hookers.

I can see why Mr. Brooks may want to disown his party’s chosen champion, but the rest of us aren’t obliged to pretend that things are normal.

The Fool King is not remotely presidential, so it’s not possible to write about him only on the presidential level. That’s what got us to this incomprehensible mess: millions of Americans looked at this festering blister of a candidate and thought that he was presidential.

The inauguration will not only be a victory for an illegitimate president. It will also be a victory for the illegitimate voter.”

Brooks and Krugman

January 13, 2017

This is lovely.  Both Bobo and Prof. Krugman have addressed the same problem today.  And Bobo thinks he has a thing or two to say about the economics of health care…  He asks “Do Markets Work in Health Care?” and says that there’s psychology as well as economics in a consumer-based system.  “Gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Prof. Krugman, who actually KNOWS a thing or three about economics, addresses “Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions” and says magical thinking won’t work on health care.  Here’s Bobo:

Believe it or not, we’re not really going to have to spend the next four years wading through wonky drudgery of Russian spy dossiers and hotel sex cameras. At some point we’re going to have a thrilling debate over the most scintillating question in health care policy.

The Republicans are going to try to replace Obamacare. They’re probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms.

As you know, the American health care system is not like a normal market. When you make most health care decisions you don’t get much information on comparative cost and quality; the personal bill you get is only vaguely related to the services; the expense is often determined by how many procedures are done, not whether the problem is fixed.

You wouldn’t buy a phone this way.

The Republicans are going to try to introduce more normal market incentives into the process. They are probably going to rely on refundable tax credits and health savings accounts so everybody can afford to shop for their own insurance and care.

This would still be nothing like a free-market system — it would still be a highly regulated, largely public benefit — but it would rely more on consumer incentives.

The crucial question is: Do market incentives work in health care?

This is really two questions. The economic one: Would market mechanisms improve quality and reduce costs? The psychological one: Do people want the extra cognitive burden of shopping for health care, or would they rather offload those decisions to someone else?

Most progressives say markets don’t work. They point back to a famous essay the economist Kenneth Arrow wrote in 1963, which is the same year the Beach Boys had a huge hit with “Surfer Girl.”

Arrow argued that there are several features that make health care unlike normal markets. People’s needs for health care are unpredictable, unlike food and clothing. The doctor-patient relationship is unique and demands a high level of trust, empathy and care. Providers know much more about medicine than patients do, so the information is hopelessly asymmetric. Patients on a gurney can’t really make normal choices, and payment comes after care, not before.

These are all solid points, especially the doctor-patient one. But health care has become less exceptional over time. The internet and other mechanisms help customers acquire a lot more information. Sophisticated modeling helps with unpredictability in a bunch of fields.

We put our lives in the hands of for-profit companies all the time. I spent part of my week learning from an aviation mechanic how hard manufacturers work to prevent pieces of metal from shredding through the cabin if an engine explodes. Airplanes are ridiculously safe.

Proponents of market-based health care rely less on theory and more on data. The most fair-minded review of the evidence I’ve read comes from a McKinsey report written by Penelope Dash and David Meredith. They noted that sometimes market forces lead to worse outcomes, but “we have been most struck by health systems in which provider competition, managed effectively, has improved outcomes and patient choice significantly, while at the same time reducing system costs.”

There’s much research to suggest that people are able to behave like intelligent health care consumers. Work by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard and others found higher-performing hospitals do gain greater market share over time. People know quality and flock to it.

Furthermore, health care providers work hard to keep up with the competitors. When one provider becomes more productive, the neighboring ones tend to as well.

There are plenty of examples where market competition has improved health care delivery. The Medicare Part D program, passed under President George W. Bush, created competition around drug benefits. The program has provided coverage for millions while coming in at 57 percent under the cost of what the Congressional Budget Office initially projected. A study of Indiana’s health savings accounts found the state’s expenses were reduced by 11 percent.

Laser eye surgery produces more patient satisfaction than any other surgery. But it’s generally not covered by insurance, so it’s a free market. Twenty years ago it cost about $2,200 per eye. Now I see ads starting at $250 an eye.

There’s a big chunk of evidence that market incentives would work in health care, especially in non-acute care. The harder problem for Republicans may be political. This is a harried society. People may not want the added burdens of making health care decisions on top of all the others. This is a distrustful society. People may not trust themselves or others to make decisions. This is an insecure society. People may not want what they perceive as another risk factor in their lives.

The policy case for the Republican plans is solid. Will they persuade in this psychological environment? I doubt it.

Bobo doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that Lasix surgery is optional, and can be considered in the same camp as plastic surgery.  I doubt that many cancer patients will defer treatment until the price comes down…  But then again, Bobo is a maroon.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“The reason we have Obamacare is because the market-friendly days of old were not friendly to sick people. They were friendly to the markets at the expense of the sick. John Boehner went into a purple-tongued apoplectic rage when Obamacare was passed, not because it would help millions of the uninsured sick, but because it would inconvenience the ability of the free market to prey on them.

Health care is not a commodity, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity, and the richest nation in the world should have found a way to provide medical care to the people whose lifetime of labor made it so. Instead of worrying about how health care will impact insurance companies, we should wonder how other advanced nations manage to provide low-cost, quality care to their citizens, and why we can’t.

Martin Shkreli is the poster boy for the free-market approach to health care. He may have seemed like an extreme example, but he was a piker when it came to robbing people blind for what were inexpensive drugs. How does his strategy differ from our current system, in which the U.S. isn’t allowed to negotiate drug prices?

There is one definitive and fool-proof test for determining the most compassionate and cost-effective health-care system that will support the needs of all our citizens: if Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress are for it, run screaming in the other direction. You’ll always be right.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Thanks, Comey.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is now investigating the way the F.B.I. director conveyed the false impression of an emerging Clinton scandal just days before the election, even as he said nothing about ongoing investigations into Russian intervention and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That action very probably installed Donald Trump in the White House. And it’s already obvious that the incoming commander in chief will be a walking, tweeting ethical disaster.

On the other hand, he’s also dangerously delusional about policy.

Some Republicans appear to be realizing that their long con on Obamacare has reached its limit. Chanting “repeal and replace” may have worked as a political strategy, but coming up with a conservative replacement for the Affordable Care Act — one that doesn’t take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans — isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible.

But it seems that nobody told Mr. Trump. In Wednesday’s news conference, he asserted that he would submit a replacement plan, “probably the same day” as Obamacare’s repeal — “could be the same hour” — that will be “far less expensive and far better”; also, with much lower deductibles.

This is crazy, on multiple levels.

The truth is that even if Republicans were settled on the broad outlines of a health care plan — the way Democrats were when President Obama took office — turning such an outline into real legislation is a time-consuming process.

In any case, however, the G.O.P. has spent seven years denouncing the Affordable Care Act without ever producing even the ghost of an alternative. That’s not going to change in the next few weeks, or ever. For the anti-Obamacare campaign has always been based on lies that can’t survive actual repeal.

A prime example is the pretense that health reform hasn’t helped anyone. “Things are only getting worse under Obamacare,” declared Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, last week. Yet the reality is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without insurance since reform went into effect — and an overwhelming majority of those covered by the new health exchanges are satisfied with their coverage.

How have Republicans nonetheless been able to get away with this lie? Part of the answer is that many of the newly insured don’t know that they’re being covered via Obamacare, or at any rate don’t realize that they will lose coverage if it’s repealed.

But that will change if repeal proceeds. For example, the percentage of nonelderly white adults without insurance fell by almost half from 2010 to 2016, from 16.4 to 8.7, a gain surely concentrated in the Trump-supporting white working class. Repeal would send that number right back up, and there would be no hiding the damage.

Meanwhile, Republicans have made hay over this year’s increase in insurance premiums. But this looks very much like a one-time adjustment; and the broader picture is that health costs have actually gone up much more slowly since Obamacare was enacted than they did before, in part due to the law’s cost-control features, which have worked far better than most expected.

And if the Affordable Care Act is killed, myths about its costs will be replaced by the reality of soaring bills for millions of Americans who don’t realize how much the act has helped them.

But won’t Trumpcare solve all these problems, by offering something much better and cheaper? Not a chance.

Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do have a philosophy — and it’s all about less. Less regulation, so that insurers can turn you down if you have a pre-existing condition. Less government support, so if you can’t afford coverage, too bad. And less coverage in general: Republican ideas about cost control are all about “skin in the game,” requiring people to pay more out of pocket (which somehow doesn’t stop them from complaining about high deductibles).

Implementing this philosophy would deliver a big windfall to the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut from Obamacare repeal, and it would mean lower premiums for a relatively small number of currently healthy individuals — especially if they’re rich enough that they don’t need to worry about high deductibles.

But the idea that it would lead to big cost savings over all is pure fantasy, and it would have a devastating effect on the millions who have gained coverage during the Obama years.

As I said, it looks as if some Republicans realize this. They may go ahead with repeal-but-don’t-replace anyway, but they’ll probably do it because they believe they can find some way to blame Democrats for the ensuing disaster.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, gives every impression of having no idea whatsoever what the issues are. But then, is there any area of policy where he does?

No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.

Brooks and Rosenthal

January 10, 2017

In “Bannon Versus Trump” Bobo gurgles that the larger battle is over whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party.  Will become?  Really, Bobo?  WILL become?  With Sessions as the possible new Attorney General?  Mr. Rosenthal, in “Republican Hypocrisy on Trump’s Nominees,” says Mitch McConnell used to be demanding when it came to presidential nominees. How times have changed.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment by “soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, IL:

It’s becoming clear that for the next few years American foreign policy will be shaped by the struggle among Republican regulars, populist ethno-nationalists and the forces of perpetual chaos unleashed by Donald Trump’s attention span.

The Republican regulars build their grand strategies upon the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace. The regulars seek to preserve and extend this order, and see Vladimir Putin as a wolf who tears away at it.

The populist ethno-nationalists in the Trump White House do not believe in this order. Their critique — which is simultaneously moral, religious, economic, political and racial — is nicely summarized in the remarks Steve Bannon made to a Vatican conference in 2014.

Once there was a collection of Judeo-Christian nation-states, Bannon argued, that practiced a humane form of biblical capitalism and fostered culturally coherent communities. But in the past few decades, the party of Davos — with its globalism, relativism, pluralism and diversity — has sapped away the moral foundations of this Judeo-Christian way of life.

Humane capitalism has been replaced by the savage capitalism that brought us the financial crisis. National democracy has been replaced by a crony-capitalist network of global elites. Traditional virtue has been replaced by abortion and gay marriage. Sovereign nation-states are being replaced by hapless multilateral organizations like the E.U.

Decadent and enervated, the West lies vulnerable in the face of a confident and convicted Islamofascism, which is the cosmic threat of our time.

In this view, Putin is a valuable ally precisely because he also seeks to replace the multiracial, multilingual global order with strong nation-states. Putin ardently defends traditional values. He knows how to take the fight to radical Islam.

It’s actually interesting to read Donald Trump’s ideologist, Bannon, next to Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin. It’s like going back to the 20th century and reading two versions of Marxism.

One is American Christian and the other orthodox Russian, but both have grandiose, sweeping theories of world history, both believe we’re in an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, both seamlessly combine economic, moral and political analysis. Both self-consciously see themselves as part of a loosely affiliated international populist movement, including the National Front in France, Nigel Farage in Britain and many others. Dugin wrote positively about Trump last winter, and Bannon referred to Dugin in his Vatican remarks.

“We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things,” Dugin has written, “of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy and political correctness — everything that is the face of the Beast, the Antichrist.”

“We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said, “particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”

Last week’s intelligence report on Russian hacking brought the Republican regulars, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, into direct conflict with the ethno-nationalist populists. Trump planted himself firmly in the latter camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him.

If Trump were as effective as Putin, we’d probably see a radical shift in American grand strategy, a shift away from the postwar global consensus and toward an alliance with various right-wing populist movements simmering around the globe.

But Trump is no Putin. Putin is theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable. When Bannon, Michael Flynn and others try to make Trump into a revolutionary foreign policy president, they will be taking on the entire foreign policy establishment under a leader who may sympathize with them, but is inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.

I’m personally betting the foreign policy apparatus, including the secretaries of state and defense, will grind down the populists around Trump. Frictions will explode within the insanely confusing lines of authority in the White House. Trump will find he likes hanging around the global establishment the way he liked having the Clintons at his wedding. In office he won’t be able to fixate on ISIS but will face a blizzard of problems, and thus be dependent on the established institutions.

The result may be a million astounding tweets, but substantively no fundamental strategic shift — not terrible policy-making, but not good policy-making, either.

The larger battle is over ideas, whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party like the National Front or the U.K. Independence Party. In this fight the populists might do better. There’s something malevolently forceful about their ideology, which does remind you of Marxism in its early days. There’s something flaccid about globalism, which is de-spiritualized and which doesn’t really have an answer for our economic and cultural problems.

In short, I suspect Steve Bannon is going to fail to corral the peripatetic brain of Donald Trump. But he may have more influence on the next generation.

If Bannon influences the next generation then I’m profoundly glad that I only have a few more years to live.  Here’s the comment from “soxared, 04-07-13:”

“Mr. Brooks, this column defines the utter chaos to come. And when Stephen Bannon is the architect of the next president’s worldview, well, we’re not at the lip of the abyss, we’re already plummeting.

Bannon, quite frankly, is a white nationalist. He’s Dylann Roof without the rap sheet of nine souls destroyed. Bannon is the lieutenant in the army of the “Judeo-Christian West” that has drawn a line in the sand against multiculturalism. As I read this devil’s script for international anarchy, all I could think of was that Bannon and Vladimir Putin’s own Bannon, Aleksandr Dugin have in mind a joint dual national program to eliminate Islam from the world’s face and, in the process, begin the systematic subjugation of mankind, those peoples not to their liking. Bannon, please recall, will be at Trump’s elbow in the Oval Office.

The absolutism of both Bannon and Dugan, are quite terrifying. The danger to our Republic, though, is the next president. It has been amply documented that his infinitesimal attention span is the last link in the chain of sanity. Its end is perilously close.

Leavening the loaf in the hellish oven until it is ripe are your GOP “ethno-nationalist populists.” Start with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the Senate and House leaders, who worked assiduously to mine President Obama’s tenure with failure; both are viciously hostile to democracy. Putin is their soul mate, all things considered.

The “cosmic threat of our time” is the looming Trump administration.”

And now here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Constitution and American tradition provide lots of ways for a president to exercise executive power.

The president can, for example, create an agenda and propose legislation to Congress to carry it out; appoint cabinet members, with the Senate providing its advice and consent, and use the platform of the presidency to talk to Americans about important issues.

When the modern-day Republicans are in charge of the White House and Congress, of course, law, tradition and principle have little meaning.

Senator Mitch McConnell once said his party’s most important task was to deny Obama a second term. In February 2009, he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid, then the majority leader, saying there could be no action on Obama’s nominees pending a long list of demands, including completion of reviews by the Office of Government Ethics. McConnell only escalated when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014 and by last year he was refusing even to consider any Supreme Court nomination Obama might make.

So how will things be with our new Republican president?

We don’t really know what agenda Donald Trump will pursue, since he didn’t offer anything like a realistic one to voters. He takes office thanks to the obsolete and undemocratic Electoral College, as the second Republican president in a row to be rejected by a substantial majority of voters.

With the inauguration less than two weeks away, it’s certainly looking as if McConnell’s Republican Senate majority will do a complete about-face and rush through Trump’s appointments without the process on which senators used to insist.

McConnell and his cronies have crammed the Senate schedule full of confirmation hearings for Trump’s selections for major cabinet officials, including several of the biggest positions for this Wednesday.

Unfortunately, not all of these candidates have been through the customary vetting process. Last week, the Office of Government Ethics informed congressional Democrats that it had not yet had time to screen all of the Trump appointees, which created “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.” Democrats want to delay some hearings until the candidates can be vetted.

McConnell’s response to Democrats’ concerns has been typically cynical and hypocritical.

This year, he’s telling Democrats to “grow up.” “All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” he said on Sunday.

Ethics review is hardly a “little procedural complaint,” especially since the Trump camp reportedly did far less than previous presidential transition teams to vet candidates before nominating them. Of course, since Trump won’t clear up the endless conflicts of interest involving his business interests and those of his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom he is appointing to a senior White House role, why should we expect him to be concerned about his appointees’ conflicts?

If you think Trump’s partisan handmaidens in Congress are going to do the vetting for him, then you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics. What you can expect is a once-over-lightly review by the Republicans and efforts to thwart any Democrats who try to do the vetting.

So what about the “bully pulpit” that the presidency is going to give Trump once he takes office? The problem is that we are not supposed to take anything that Trump says seriously.

On Monday, Trump tore into Meryl Streep for mentioning in her Golden Globes speech that he had mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during the campaign. Trump said, as he had before, that he had never mocked Kovaleski, despite videos viewed millions of times online that show him doing exactly that.

The problem, according to Trump’s chief propagandist, Kellyanne Conway, is that people are actually paying attention to what Trump says.

“You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth,” Conway sneered. Instead, she said, we should all “look at what’s in his heart.”

After Trump was elected, he told Times editors, reporters and business executives that he wasn’t interested in prosecuting Hillary Clinton anymore. The next day, he was smirking triumphantly while his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”

Does he believe in his heart that Clinton should be behind bars? Or does he believe what he said in a crowded conference room at The Times the day before? Or neither?

The sad truth is, we’re never going to know. We will never be able to trust what Trump tells us about his principles, his policies and his intentions as president — if he bothers to tell us anything at all. Mostly, we’re all just supposed to read his mind.

Solo Bobo

January 3, 2017

In “The Snapchat Presidency of Donald Trump” Bobo says the next occupant (at least part time) of the White House won’t lead or communicate policy like a normal leader.  Might that be because he’s NOT NORMAL, Bobo?  And “gemli” from Boston will have a thing or two to say in rebuttal.  Here’s Bobo:

Normal leaders come up with policy proposals in a certain conventional way. They gather their advisers around them and they debate alternatives — with briefing papers, intelligence briefings and implementation strategies.

Donald Trump doesn’t do that. He’s tweeted out policy gestures in recent weeks, say about the future of America’s nuclear arsenal. But these gestures aren’t attached to anything. They emerged from no analytic process and point to no implemental effects. Trump’s statements seem to spring spontaneously from his middle-of-night feelings. They are astoundingly ambiguous and defy interpretation.

Normal leaders serve an office. They understand that the president isn’t a lone monarch. He is the temporary occupant of a powerful public post. He’s the top piece of a big system, and his ability to create change depends on his ability to leverage and mobilize the system. His statements are carefully parsed around the world because presidential shifts in verbal emphasis are not personal shifts; they are national shifts that signal changes in a superpower’s actual behavior.

Donald Trump doesn’t think in that way, either. He is anti-system. As my “PBS NewsHour” colleague Mark Shields points out, he has no experience being accountable to anybody, to a board of directors or an owner. As president-elect, he has not begun attaching himself to the system of governance he’ll soon oversee.

If anything, Trump is detaching himself. In a very public way, he’s detached himself from the intelligence community that normally serves as the president’s eyes and ears. He’s talked about not really moving to the White House, the nerve center of the executive branch. He’s sided with a foreign leader, Vladimir Putin, against his own governmental structures.

Finally, normal leaders promulgate policies. They measure their days by how they propose and champion actions and legislation.

Trump doesn’t think in this way, either. He is a creature of the parts of TV and media where display is an end in itself. He is not really interested in power; his entire life has been about winning attention and status to build the Trump image for low-class prestige. The posture is the product.

When Trump issues a statement, it may look superficially like a policy statement, but it’s usually just a symbolic assault in some dominance-submission male rivalry game. It’s trash-talking against a rival, Barack Obama, or a media critic like CNN. Trump may be bashing Obama on Russia or the Mideast, but it’s not because he has implementable policies in those realms. The primary thing is bashing enemies.

Over the past weeks, we’ve treated the president-elect’s comments as normal policy statements uttered by a normal president-elect. Each time Trump says or tweets something, squads of experts leap into action, trying to interpret what he could have meant, or how his intention could lead to changes in American policy.

But this is probably the wrong way to read Trump. He is more postmodern. He does not operate by an if-then logic. His mode is not decision, implementation, consequence.

His statements should probably be treated less like policy declarations and more like Snapchat. They exist to win attention at the moment, but then they disappear.

To read Trump correctly, it’s probably best to dig up old French deconstructionists like Jean Baudrillard, who treated words not as things that have meanings in themselves but as displays in an oppositional power struggle. Trump is not a national leader; he is a national show.

If this is all true, it could be that the governing Trump will be a White House holograph. When it comes to the substance of actual governance, it could be that President Trump is the man who isn’t there.

The crucial question of the Trump administration could be: Who will fill the void left by a leader who is all facade?

It could be the senior staff. Trump will spew out a stream of ambiguous tweets, then the hypermacho tough guys Trump has selected will battle viciously with one another to determine which way the administration will really go.

It could be congressional Republicans. They have an off-the-shelf agenda they are hoping that figurehead Trump will sign, though it has nothing to do with the issues that drove the presidential campaign.

It could be the permanent bureaucracy, which has an impressive passive-aggressive ability to let the politicians have their press conference fun and then ignore everything that’s “decided.”

I’ll be curious to see if Trump’s public rhetoric becomes operationalized in any way. For example, I bet his bromance with Putin will end badly. The two men are both such blustery, insecure, aggressive public posturers, sooner or later they will get in a schoolyard fight.

It will be interesting to see if that brawl is just an escalating but ultimately harmless volley of verbiage, or whether it affects the substance of government policy and leads to nuclear war.

Happy New Year!

Brooks and Krugman

December 30, 2016

In “The Sidney Awards, Part Deux” Bobo presents a second batch of what he thinks are the year’s best essays.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Snatching Health Care Away From Millions:”  Will Trump really kill Obamacare?  I’ll bet if he does the 2018 midterms ought to be very interesting.  Here’s Bobo:

Every December I read hundreds of long-form essays to select the Sidney Awards, and every year I regret that I spend so much of the other 11 months reading online trivia. Then, every January, I revert to Twitter.

Andrew Sullivan got sucked into the online addiction in a big way, yanked himself away from it and wrote a brilliant essay on the process for New York magazine called “I Used to Be a Human Being.”

Sullivan was the superstar of what I guess we can call the blogging era, consumed with online volleying all day, every day. Everything else — health, friendships — atrophied: “Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality.” He also came to understand that we don’t really control our time online. Our clicks are seduced by technologists superbly able to suck us in.

There is also something emotionally comforting, if cowardly, about life through the screen: “An entire universe of intimate responses is flattened to a single, distant swipe. We hide our vulnerabilities, airbrushing our flaws and quirks; we project our fantasies onto the images before us.”

Sullivan cut the cord, went to a silent retreat center and promptly collapsed. Issues from his traumatic childhood flooded back. “It was as if, having slowly and progressively removed every distraction from my life, I was suddenly faced with what I had been distracting myself from. Resting for a moment against the trunk of a tree, I stopped, and suddenly found myself bent over, convulsed with the newly present pain, sobbing.”

Sullivan’s essay marks an important turning point as more people realize that smartphones have made online life so consuming as to become a monster.

Martha Nussbaum is one of America’s most brilliant philosophers, her work often focusing on the content and nature of emotions. Rachel Aviv’s wonderful New Yorker profile, “The Philosopher of Feelings,” opens with Nussbaum writing a lecture while flying to see her dying mother:

“In the lecture, she described how the Roman philosopher Seneca, at the end of each day, reflected on his misdeeds before saying to himself, ‘This time I pardon you.’ The sentence brought Nussbaum to tears. She worried that her ability to work was an act of subconscious aggression, a sign that she didn’t love her mother enough. I shouldn’t be away lecturing, she thought. I shouldn’t have been a philosopher. Nussbaum sensed that her mother saw her work as cold and detached, a posture of invulnerability. ‘We aren’t very loving creatures, apparently, when we philosophize,’ Nussbaum has written.”

The profile is a subtle exploration of a woman who is extreme at both ends of the sense and sensibility spectrum, who is almost fanatically organized and professionally accomplished, but also deeply emotional and open to the things in the world that can leave you shattered.

I have left the election largely out of the awards, named for the philosopher Sidney Hook, since we’ve been so consumed by the madness all year. But I should mention a few deserving political essays:

In “How American Politics Went Insane,” in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch argues that generations of well-intentioned reformers have destroyed the informal structures of politics, like parties, congressional hierarchies and pork barrel spending, that make government work. The reformers saw insiderish corruption, but these mediating structures held leaders accountable to one another. Without them, we are left in a world of chaos, political dysfunction, atomization and demagogy.

The economist Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution blog excellently suggested that I include a pro-Trump essay, to give the winning side its due. I’ve picked “The Flight 93 Election,” from The Claremont Review of Books, by the person who writes under the name Publius Decius Mus. The core argument is that modern conservatism has failed at everything except its self-preservation, that a figure like Donald Trump could arise only in deeply corrupt times and that only the radical shift he offers can protect the nation from utter destruction.

Some sort of prognostication prize should go to Ronald Brownstein for “Is Donald Trump Outflanking Hillary Clinton,” also in The Atlantic. One week before the election, Brownstein wondered why the Clinton campaign was spending its energies on states it didn’t need to win, like Florida, while neglecting the “Blue Wall” states it absolutely had to win, like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Finally, to lift our eyes to the heavens, let’s throw in Alan Lightman’s “What Came Before the Big Bang?,” in Harper’s. Lightman describes current thinking about the creation of the universe. He suggests that the universe moves from tidiness to messiness, that the entire universe may have once been like a subatomic particle, that before-and-after, cause-and-effect thinking might be a human construct that prevents us from understanding cosmic events.

Lightman’s account of cosmology explodes our mental frameworks and normal categories, and thus serves as a good preparation for 2017.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If James Comey, the F.B.I. director, hadn’t tipped the scales in the campaign’s final days with that grotesquely misleading letter, right now an incoming Clinton administration would be celebrating some very good news. Because health reform, President Obama’s signature achievement, is stabilizing after a bumpy year.

This means that the huge gains achieved so far — tens of millions of newly insured Americans and dramatic reductions in the number of people skipping treatment or facing financial hardship because of cost — look as if they’re here to stay.

Or they would be here to stay if the man who squeaked into power thanks to Mr. Comey and Vladimir Putin wasn’t determined to betray his supporters, and snatch away the health care they need.

To appreciate the good news about Obamacare you need to understand where the earlier bad news came from. Premiums on the exchanges, the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, did indeed rise sharply this year, because insurers were losing money. But this wasn’t because of a surge in overall medical costs, which have risen much more slowly since the act was passed than they did before. It reflected, instead, the mix of people signing up — fewer healthy, low-cost people than expected, more people with chronic health issues.

The question was whether this was a one-time adjustment or the start of a “death spiral,” in which higher premiums would drive healthy Americans out of the market, further worsening the mix, leading to even higher premiums, and so on.

And the answer is that it looks like a one-shot affair. Despite higher premiums, enrollments in the exchanges are running ahead of their levels a year ago; no death spiral here. Meanwhile, analysts are reporting substantial financial improvement for insurers: The premium hikes are doing the job, ending their losses.

In other words, Obamacare hit a bump in the road, but appears to be back on track.

But will it be killed anyway?

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Why do the Republicans hate health reform? Some of the answer is that Obamacare was paid for in part with taxes on the wealthy, who will reap a huge windfall if it’s repealed, even as many middle-income families face tax hikes.

More broadly, Obamacare must die precisely because it’s working, showing that government action really can improve people’s lives — a truth they don’t want anyone to know.

How will Republicans try to contain the political fallout if they go ahead with repeal, and tens of millions lose access to health care? No doubt they’ll try to distract the public — and the all-too-compliant news media — with shiny objects of various kinds.

But surely a central aspect of their damage control will be an attempt to push a false narrative about Obamacare’s past. Health reform, they’ll claim, was always a failure, and it was already collapsing on the eve of the G.O.P. takeover. When the number of uninsured Americans skyrockets on their watch, they’ll claim that it’s not their fault — like everything, it’s the fault of liberal elites.

So let’s refute that narrative in advance. Obamacare has, in fact, been a big success — imperfect, yes, but it has greatly improved (and saved) many lives. And all indications are that this success is sustainable, that the teething problems of health reform weren’t fatal and were well on their way to being solved at the end of 2016.

If, as seems all too likely, a health care debacle is imminent, blame must be placed where it belongs: on Donald Trump and the people who put him over the top.

Bobo, solo

December 27, 2016

In “The 2016 Sidney Awards, Part I” Bobo tells us about some of what he thought were some of the year’s most readable essays.  Here he is:

Perry Link once noticed that Chinese writers use more verbs in their sentences whereas English writers use more nouns. For example, in one passage from the 18th-century Chinese novel “Dream of the Red Chamber,” Cao Xueqin uses 130 nouns and 166 verbs. In a similar passage from “Oliver Twist,” Charles Dickens uses 96 nouns and 38 verbs.

This observation is at the core of his New York Review of Books essay “The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?” which is the first winner of this year’s Sidney Awards. I give out the awards, named for the philosopher Sidney Hook, to celebrate some of the best long-form essays of each year.

Link notes that Indo-European languages tend to use nouns even when verbs might be more appropriate. Think of the economic concept inflation. We describe it as a thing we can combat, or whip or fight. But it’s really a process.

Link takes this thought in a very philosophical direction, but it set me wondering how much our thinking is muddled because we describe actions as things. For example, we say someone has knowledge, happiness or faith (a lot of faith or a little faith, a strong faith or a weak faith); but faith, knowledge and happiness are activities, not objects.

If that last point needed underlining, go to Christian Wiman’s beautiful essay “I Will Love You in the Summertime,” in The American Scholar. As a small child, Wiman used to sneak into his parents’ room in the middle of the night and peel open their eyelids in the hopes that he could see what they were dreaming.

But the essay is mostly about the things children know, the things adults know and the process of reaching beyond everyday perception. It’s better to quote a few passages:

“People who have been away from God tend to come back by one of two ways: destitution or abundance, an overmastering sorrow or a strangely disabling joy. Either the world is not enough for the hole that has opened in you, or it is too much.”

“I suggested she pray to God. This was either a moment of tremendous grace or brazen hypocrisy (not that the two can’t coincide), since I am not a great pray-er myself and tend to be either undermined by irony or overwhelmed by my own chaotic consciousness.”

“As for myself, I have found faith not to be a comfort but a provocation to a life I never seem to live up to, an eruption of joy that evaporates the instant I recognize it as such, an agony of absence that assaults me like a psychic wound. As for my children, I would like them to be free of whatever particular kink there is in me that turns every spiritual impulse into anguish.”

Wiman also nicely quotes the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel: “I asked for wonders instead of happiness, Lord, and you gave them to me.”

These two essays are not about the events that shook the world in 2016. I’ll get to more of them in the next batch of Sidneys, but in the meantime, the most important — and best crafted — essay of the year was probably Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” in The Atlantic. It’s a classic not only on Barack Obama’s mind and the world situation today, but also about the act of foreign policy making.

Nathan Heller’s “Letter from Oberlin: The Big Uneasy,” in The New Yorker, captured the moral awakening (or mania) that is sweeping college campuses. That essay, too, generated an enormous amount of conversation and is worth revisiting.

I’ll end this batch of Sidneys with another perception-altering essay, Charles Foster’s “In Which I Try to Become a Swift,” from Nautilus. Foster writes about swifts, a family of birds a bit like swallows.

Swifts are violent, acrobatic and ethereal. They eat 5,000 or more insects a day. When they hunt for bees they select only the stingless ones. They can select the wasp mimics from actual wasps, even while traveling 50 feet a second.

But the essay is really about Foster’s efforts to enter into the swift experience. Once while driving to a day care center, he saw a group of them exploding from some tree tops. He scrambled up a tree, where “I swayed in a fork just below the top and pushed my head out into the killing zone of the delta. I saw a tongue, squat, gray, and dry; I saw myself, pinched and saucer-eyed. … I snapped a mouthful of nymphs and spat them onto the roof of a brand new Mercedes dropping off a child from a house 300 yards away. It was the closest I ever got.”

Foster enters into the different ways swifts experience air and time, and like all these writers, undercuts the normal way we see the world.

More winners are coming Friday. If you want essays like this all year, I have to again recommend the website The Browser, edited by Robert Cottrell, which gathers eloquence from far and wide day after day.

Bobo, solo

November 29, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

November 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobo, solo

November 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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