Archive for the ‘Bruni’ Category

Bruni, solo

July 6, 2016

In “Barack Obama’s Final Fight” Mr. Bruni says it’s not simply for Hillary Clinton. It’s for an optimism and a set of values at the very core of his own story.  Here he is:

You introduce yourself to voters as a son of Kansas and Kenya, an emblem of this country’s openness to outsiders and its embrace of difference. Your election and re-election affirm the distance that the United States has traveled, or so you believe. So you hope.

Then you look up toward the end of your second term to behold a Republican presidential nominee who is cynically exploiting racism and xenophobia to put the White House within his own reach. He’s not merely your adversary; he’s your antithesis. And his victory would do more than endanger your policies. It would question the very moral of your journey, the very bend of the arc you frequently invoke.

That’s what Barack Obama confronts right now, and that’s why he hit the campaign trail on Tuesday, appearing onstage with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina and proclaiming without reservation that “there has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office” than she. That’s why he’ll say words like those again and again, with the same fire, in the months ahead.

For the nation’s first black president, Clinton isn’t just the better candidate. She’s the better America. She wins and he holds on to his rosiest convictions about what he and his presidency symbolize. Donald Trump wins and that’s a tricky thing to do.

Trump forged his bond with bigots by essentially calling Obama an impostor and demanding to see his birth certificate. But that particular stunt weighs less on Obama than Trump’s sustained behavior during the 2016 presidential race does, according to people close to the president.

“The thing that I’m sure aggravates him — enrages him — is the invocation of race and ethnicity in our politics,” David Axelrod, a former White House aide, told me. “Obama’s message is about the emerging America and the strength of our diversity. He represents it. And when Trump says ‘Make America great again,’ there’s an element of turning the clock back to the days when minorities were at the back of the bus.”

“That goes to the character of our country,” Axelrod added. “The president is someone who would be uniquely sensitive to that.”

Uniquely sensitive and utterly impassioned. In North Carolina he didn’t so much urge voters as command them, with a testimonial about Clinton that was gushing and epic. I swear I saw her blush.

Was Trump on Obama’s mind? I suspect. “Everybody can tweet,” he said, adding that it’s no preparation or qualification for the presidency. He brought up his younger daughter. “Sasha tweets, but she doesn’t think that she thereby should be sitting behind the desk.”

Was Trump on Clinton’s mind? Clearly. She complimented Obama as “someone who has never forgotten where he came from — and Donald, if you’re out there tweeting, it’s Hawaii.”

The 2016 campaign keeps showing us things that we’re not accustomed to, and a second-term president campaigning with unfettered vigor for his desired successor is another of those. George W. Bush didn’t do it: He was so toxic at this point in his administration that John McCain’s most fervent wish was to tuck him into a broom closet.

Bill Clinton didn’t do it, because Al Gore was intent on coming across as his own, less priapic man. Neither did Ronald Reagan, because Bush’s father similarly felt the need to flex his own muscle, outside of anyone’s shadow, and Reagan’s energy was flagging anyway.

Dwight Eisenhower? When asked what Richard Nixon had accomplished as his vice president, he said that he needed a week to think about it.

Obama and Hillary Clinton have arrived at a place of obvious respect for each other, and of palpable fondness. His high approval ratings put him in a position to help. Her stature puts her in a position not to be eclipsed by his presence or belittled by that assistance.

Campaigning together is an imperfect arrangement, inasmuch as she may seem to be arguing for the status quo instead of a better tomorrow. But Americans hold Obama in significantly higher esteem than they do her or Trump. There are far riskier things than letting the president carry the ball.

And he’s a player in this regardless, given the larger context, which was clear when Clinton asked the North Carolina audience to think of “the early patriots who met in Philadelphia” in 1776.

“Nobody who looked like Barack Obama or me would have been included back then,” she said. “But we’re here today because the story of America is the story of hard-fought, hard-won progress.”

That’s the tale that Obama has always told. It’s the narrative that so many of us cling to. Where does Trump fit into it, and does it survive him? Instead of just wondering and worrying, the departing president has joined the fight.

Friedman and Bruni

June 29, 2016

In “You Break It, You Own It” The Moustache of Wisdom says that the British vote by a narrow majority to leave the European Union is not the end of the world — but it does show us how we can get there.  Hmmm…  If only Tommy had thought about “you break it, you own it” before he was banging his wee tin drum celebrating the fustercluck in Iraq…  Mr. Bruni takes a look at “A Bachelor Named Britain, Looking for Love” and says the U.K. is due for some serious matchmaking. Albania, anyone?  Here’s TMOW:

The British vote by a narrow majority to leave the European Union is not the end of the world — but it does show us how we can get there.

A major European power, a longtime defender of liberal democracy, pluralism and free markets, falls under the sway of a few cynical politicians who see a chance to exploit public fears of immigration to advance their careers. They create a stark binary choice on an incredibly complex issue, of which few people understand the full scope — stay in or quit the E.U.

These politicians assume that the dog will never catch the car and they will have the best of all worlds — opposing something unpopular but not having to deal with the implications of the public actually voting to get rid of it. But they so dumb down the debate with lies, fear-mongering and misdirection, and with only a simple majority required to win, that the leave-the-E.U. crowd carries the day by a small margin. Presto: the dog catches the car. And, of course, it has no idea now what to do with this car. There is no plan. There is just barking.

Like I said, not the end of the world yet, but if a few more E.U. countries try this trick we’ll have quite a little mess on our hands. Attention Donald Trump voters: this is what happens to a country that falls for hucksters who think that life can just imitate Twitter — that there are simple answers to hard questions — and that small men can rearrange big complex systems by just erecting a wall and everything will be peachy.

But I digress.

Because although withdrawing from the E.U. is not the right answer for Britain, the fact that this argument won, albeit with lies, tells you that people are feeling deeply anxious about something. It’s the story of our time: the pace of change in technology, globalization and climate have started to outrun the ability of our political systems to build the social, educational, community, workplace and political innovations needed for some citizens to keep up.

We have globalized trade and manufacturing, and we have introduced robots and artificial intelligent systems, far faster than we have designed the social safety nets, trade surge protectors and educational advancement options that would allow people caught in this transition to have the time, space and tools to thrive. It’s left a lot of people dizzy and dislocated.

At the same time, we have opened borders deliberately — or experienced the influx of illegal migration from failing states at an unprecedented scale — and this too has left some people feeling culturally unanchored, that they are losing their “home” in the deepest sense of that word. The physical reality of immigration, particularly in Europe, has run ahead of not only the host countries’ ability to integrate people but also of the immigrants’ ability to integrate themselves — and both are necessary for social stability.

And these rapid changes are taking place when our politics has never been more gridlocked and unable to respond with just common sense — like governments borrowing money at near zero interest to invest in much-needed infrastructure that creates jobs and enables us to better exploit these technologies.

“Political power in the West has been failing its own test of legitimacy and accountability since 2008 — and in its desperation has chosen to erode it further by unforgivably abdicating responsibility through the use of a referendum on the E.U.,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who co-leads the London-based global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.

But we need to understand that “the issue before us is ‘integration’ not ‘immigration,’” Mousavizadeh added. The lived experience in most cities in Europe today, is the fact that “a pluralistic, multiethnic society has grown up here, actually rather peacefully, and it has brought enormous benefits and prosperity. We need to change the focus of the problem — and the solution — from the physical reality of immigration to the political and economic challenge of integration.” Schools, hospitals and public institutions generally will not rise to the challenge of the 21st century “if social integration is failing.”

Indeed, in my view, the countries that nurture pluralism the best will be the ones that thrive the most in the 21st century. They will have the most political stability, attract the most talent and be able to collaborate with the most people. But it’s hard work.

Yet in an age when technology is integrating us more tightly together and delivering tremendous flows of innovation, knowledge, connectivity and commerce, the future belongs to those who build webs not walls, who can integrate not separate, to get the most out of these flows. Britain leaving the E.U. is a lose-lose proposition. I hope the “Regrexit” campaign can reverse Brexit and that Americans will dump Trump.

Never forget, after the destruction of World War II, the E.U. project “emerged as a force for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom in the world,” noted Eric Beinhocker, the executive director of the Institute for New Economic Thinking at Oxford. “This is one of humankind’s great achievements. Rather than let it be destroyed we must use the shock of the Brexit vote to reimagine, reform, and rebuild a new Europe.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

It has been forever since Britain was single, and there will be many lonesome and disorienting nights ahead.

Maybe we should fix it up with Switzerland.

Not immediately, of course. The divorce from the European Union was just announced. The paperwork hasn’t been filed. There could be a loss of nerve, a relaxing of conjugal rules, tulips from Holland, chocolates from Belgium. Greece and Portugal could promise to stop leaving dirty dishes in the sink, Germany to quit hogging the remote.

But as things stand now, Britain will soon stand apart, and we all know how that goes: exhilaration, followed by panic, leading to an age-inappropriate Tinder account. Oh, look, here’s Iceland, flashing its most voluptuous volcanoes. Nah, too stony and lugubrious, and you can listen to only so much Björk. Swipe left.

Britain on its own is unfathomable. Think of its relationship history: epic trans-Atlantic romances, audacious trans-Pacific affairs, flings in this jungle, hookups on that dune. It was usually dominant, occasionally submissive but always coupled — if not tripled, quadrupled or quintupled. It had a lust for entanglement if no talent for fidelity.

But it’s not the overlord it once was. Those imperial pheromones are gone. Where a crown once rested, a bald spot spreads. Britain’s going to need primping, prodding, perhaps a prescription.

And introductions. So: Switzerland?

If marrying rich is the goal, marrying Switzerland is the jackpot. And Switzerland won’t do what Britain loathed in its current spouse and encourage poorer, darker people to drop in for fondue.

But it’s so worryingly petite. So wearyingly standoffish, resisting the E.U. even while enveloped and protected by it. And it’s sure to insist on a prenup longer than all of the Harry Potter novels combined. Britain needs freer and easier love than that, especially as its jowls sag and its pound droops.

Maybe that means Albania, Montenegro or Macedonia. They’re the mail-order brides of the continent, dreaming of an “I do” from the E.U. Surely they’d settle for Britain.

But would Britain settle for them? The bloated pride that brought it to this juncture won’t allow for a significant other that’s too other and insignificant, and most outsiders can’t locate Albania on a map. (Go south to the heel of Italy, turn left, cross the Adriatic, hope for the best.) There are better charted, more ego-salving corners of Europe that haven’t bedded down with Brussels and are still on the market.

Like Norway. It and Britain have plenty in common — they’re both wintry, watery, fishy, boozy — but also bring different, complementary assets to the table. In Norway’s case, oil. In Britain’s, Adele. If that’s not a recipe for global domination, what is?

Britain isn’t a bachelor like most. It has been married so many times that it has pretty much run through the available options.

Its predicament reminds me of the movie “What’s Your Number?,” which I saw so that you wouldn’t have to. Anna Faris plays a Bostonian who believes that she has reached her maximum allotment of sexual partners and that her only hope for a husband is to circle back and reconnect with someone she disconnected from previously.

For Britain that could be India. Australia. Much of Africa. Some of the Middle East. Its exes are everywhere, though approaching any of them would require a new humility, as the Britain of yesteryear wasn’t a particularly modest or accommodating suitor. It typically got the better end of the deal, until the E.U. came along and the arrangement wasn’t so lopsided.

America is Britain’s most prominent ex of all: the Elizabeth Taylor to its Richard Burton. Should our onetime colonial master become our 51st state? If we acted quickly enough, Boris Johnson could be tapped as Donald Trump’s running mate, creating a tandem of tresses so perversely dazzling that it alone makes the case. This may have been Johnson’s plan all along.

Britain is no more geographically nonsensical for us than Hawaii or Alaska, though it’s probably too long a cultural stretch. It simply lacks the requisite prevalence of gun ownership.

Which makes it a better fit for Canada. Canada is saner, except about ice hockey. It’s Britain’s obvious match: comparably affluent, sufficiently English-speaking. Together Britain and Canada can laugh at the crudeness of us Americans, a favorite shared pastime and an understandable one.

Britain is suddenly leaderless, while Canada suddenly has a leader, Justin Trudeau, who’s an international heartthrob. He can expand his portfolio to two continents, and has tidy hair. Sorry, Boris.

And the monarchy survives! Canada never ceased its ceremonial fealty to it, and bows before Queen Elizabeth II much as Britain does. It’s a source of puzzlement, but it’s a bridge to Britain, which is going to need the love.

Friedman and Bruni

June 15, 2016

In “Lessons of Hiroshima and Orlando” The Moustache of Wisdom says we need to think about the moral implications of where technology is taking us.  In “A Time to Stand With Gay Americans” Mr. Bruni says don’t scrub the letters L.G.B.T. from what happened in Orlando.  Here’s TMOW:

I want to talk today about the horrific human tragedy of Orlando. But first I want to talk about Hiroshima — or, more precisely, the profound speech that President Obama gave there on May 27 that got lost in all the campaign noise here.

Hiroshima, Obama suggested, represents a world in which for the first time ever a country possessed the power to kill all of us — and if it had to be any country, I am glad it was America. But today, he said, we’re entering a world where small groups — maybe even soon a single super-empowered person — will be able to kill all of us; therefore we’d better start thinking about the moral implications of where technology is taking us.

“Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines,” the president noted. “The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.”

What the president was describing is the central strategic issue of our time: the growing mismatch between the combined rapid evolution of our technological prowess and the powers this gives to a single individual or group to destroy at scale (you can make your own gun now with a 3-D-printer), and the pace of our moral and social evolution to govern and use these powers responsibly.

And that brings me to the Orlando massacre — to what happens when, on a smaller scale, we refuse to reimagine the social and legal changes we need to manage a world where one loser can now kill so many innocent people. The notion that such a person — any person — should be able to buy a military-style assault rifle is insane. That the Republican Party cannot see the wisdom of common-sense guns laws is just begging for bigger massacres.

At the same time, year after year, we keep seeing young Muslim men drawing inspiration and permission from Islam to kill large numbers of civilians in the West and, even more so, killing other Muslims in Muslim lands.

I’ve lived too long in the Muslim world, and experienced the decency of Muslim communities, to believe that this is the essence of Islam. But I have seen too much of this suicidal violence for too long to believe that it has nothing to do with the puritanical, anti-gay, anti-transgender, anti-female, anti-religious-pluralism versions of Islam that are too often promoted by sources in the Arab world, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The websites, social networks and mosques that promote these intolerant ideas can “light up” lost souls anywhere in the world. Until that stops, we’re just waiting around for the next Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino or Orlando.

And the only thing that can stop them is from the inside: a meaningful mass movement by Muslim governments, clergymen and citizens to delegitimize this behavior. It takes a village and only stops when the village clearly says, “No more!” And that has not happened at the scale and consistency it needs to happen.

Finally, in an age when individuals can become super-empowered, we need to ensure our government has all the surveillance powers it needs — under appropriate judicial review — to monitor and arrest violent extremists of all stripes. The bad guys now have too many tools to elude detection.

Obama closed his speech at Hiroshima with words that could easily have been said of Orlando: “Those who died, they are like us. … They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.”

We need to make choices appropriate for our age when technology can so amplify the power of one. We need common-sense gun laws, common-sense gender equality and religious pluralism and common-sense privacy laws.

But that takes common-sense leaders, not ones who think the complexities of this age can be bombed away, walled away, willed away or insulted away. Stop for a moment and reflect on what this week would have been like had Donald Trump been president — the carpet-bombing he’d have ordered in the Middle East, the fear and isolation his Muslim ban would have engendered in every Muslim-American, the joy that ISIS would have taken from being at war with all of America, the license this would have given to crazies in our own society to firebomb a mosque. And the backlash that would engender among Muslims around the world, the most radical of whom would be firebombing our embassies. When America goes nuts, the world goes nuts.

I don’t agree with Obama on all aspects of this issue, but the guy is thinking deeply and acting responsibly. Trump is shooting from the hip, spraying insults 360 degrees, telling lies, stoking fears and making threats that many in our military and the F.B.I. would refuse to implement. If you Republican senators and congressmen support Trump for president, he will own you — and you will own everything he does.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Some of June’s gay pride celebrations happened last weekend, but many are still ahead. The one in Louisville, Ky., is among them. There’s a parade scheduled for Friday.

That’s your state, Mitch McConnell. You should go.

If you’re not comfortable marching, mingle on the sidelines. If parades aren’t your thing, make an appearance at one of the other pride events in Kentucky in coming days.

Just show up. And by doing so, show that the absence of “gay” or “L.G.B.T.” in your statements immediately following the Orlando massacre — and in the statements of so many other prominent Republicans — isn’t because you place us and our concerns behind some thick pane of glass with a Do Not Touch sign that stays up even when blood and tears pool beneath it.

For more than 48 hours, Paul Ryan also seemed to avoid any mention of the kind of nightclub that the Orlando gunman chose and one of the reasons its revelers were marked for death.

On Tuesday morning that silence finally ended, as Ryan told journalists in Washington that he wanted to “be clear.”

“Members of the L.G.B.T. community were the targets,” he said. “They were simply attacked for who they are.”

He thus joined his 2012 running mate, Mitt Romney, who sent out a tweet midday Monday offering “a special prayer for the L.G.B.T. community that was the focus of this attack.”

Ryan also joined Donald Trump, who mentioned L.G.B.T. Americans repeatedly in his formal remarks on Monday afternoon, expressing “solidarity with the members of Orlando’s L.G.B.T. community” and asserting that the gunman wanted “to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation.”

But more conspicuous than what Romney and Trump said was what so many other Republicans didn’t.

Bemoaning the carnage, they justly condemned the Islamic State and violent extremists. They rightly paid tribute to “first responders.”

But this specificity didn’t extend to the lives and loves of the people killed. Even Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, initially sidestepped the subject, failing to emphasize that many of them spent their final terrified minutes in a place where they had sought precisely the comfort and belonging that they didn’t always feel on the other side of its walls.

We still have much to learn about the exact mix of the gunman’s motives. There are reports that he cased other locations. His unhinged diatribes apparently extended to women, blacks and Jews as well as gays.

His past behavior and his call to 911 demonstrated an overarching hatred of America, with its celebration of diversity and individual liberty. The revelers in Pulse epitomized that liberty, and what happened to them is part of a bigger story and a bigger struggle that affect all Americans.

But that doesn’t preclude an acknowledgment of their sexual orientations, and it doesn’t excuse any reluctance to discuss that.

Roman Catholic leaders, too, shied away. Statements by the bishop of Orlando and by the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said nothing about a gay nightclub or gays.

Such omissions so troubled the Rev. James Martin, a best-selling Jesuit author, that he posted a video commentary about them on Facebook on Monday afternoon. Twenty-four hours later, it had been viewed about 700,000 times.

“If the murders had happened, God forbid, in a church of a particular Christian denomination, Catholic leaders would decry the murders and then naturally express their solidarity with members of that denomination,” he said in the video, adding that for the most part, “this was not done for the grieving L.G.B.T. community.”

He told me on Tuesday that there were exceptions, including Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla., who wrote a blog post in which he conceded that religion, including Catholicism, “often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,” and that this contempt can lead to violence. Lynch stressed that the Orlando victims “were all made in the image and likeness of God.”

“We teach that,” Lynch wrote. “We should believe that. We must stand for that.”

“We” includes leaders of both parties. If Ted Cruz can mourn Orlando as an attack on gay people — which, in fact, he did — then every other Republican can, too.

This is one of those moments, in the wake of terror, when we find the most apt and evocative ways to underscore our oneness and renounce our fear. When we make grand gestures. When we make pointed ones.

So Majority Leader McConnell, pick your rally. Speaker Ryan, accompany him. Governor Scott, attend the funerals of gay victims. Other Republicans and Democrats, recognize L.G.B.T. Americans with both your words and your presence at gay pride celebrations.

You want to show our enemies what America stands for? Then stand with us.

Brooks and Bruni

June 7, 2016

Oh, now it’s getting VERY tiresome.  Bobo suggests “Let’s Have a Better Culture War.”  He whines that instead of fighting endless losing battles over sexual identity, we need a new traditionalism, one fueled by love and contact with the transcendent.  Bobo, what party is “fighting endless losing battles over sexual identity?”  In the comments “James Landi” of Salisbury, MD had this to say:  “Sometimes I wonder about the alternate dimension Mr. Brooks inhabits. As post WW II America has grown in to the leadership position of the free world, we have had to face social challenges to our constitutional ideals about just how to protect the individual and the concept of “pluralism” in our free society from the ravages and crushing forces of majoritarian “mores and norms.” Does not Brooks recall how unthinkable that black people should be permitted use a white bathroom, attend a white school, join a white country club?… How can Brooks not see that the “Culture Wars” are simply an alignment of what remains of white supremacy– the last vestiges of angry white baby boomers who feel cheated and manipulated by a federal government that has a constitutional responsibility to protect the rights of the minority. This latest set of wedge issues/ culture wars are special ingredients and an “octane boost” that is helping to fuel a new American dictator and bigot in waiting. Mr. Brooks, wake up please.”  That I doubt will happen.  Mr. Bruni considers “An Obama Nominee’s Crushed Hopes” and says that she was ready. She was qualified. But she was forced to wait and wait — until it was too late.  Gee — I wonder why?  Maybe Bobo could explain it all to us…  Speaking of Bobo, here, FSM save us, he is:

The recent fight over transgender bathrooms represents the reductio ad absurdum of the culture war.

We argue about cultural and moral matters in the first place because we care about our characters and the characters of our children. We understand that a free society requires individuals who are capable of handling that freedom — people who can be counted on to play their social roles as caring parents, responsible workers and dependable neighbors.

Further, we know that this sort of character formation can’t be done just individually. It’s carried out in families, schools and communities. It depends on some common assumptions about what’s right and wrong, admired and not admired — a common moral ecosystem.

So we care intensely about the health of that ecosystem and we argue about how to improve it.

The laws commanding where transgender people go to the bathroom, on the other hand, show how the culture war has devolved into an overpoliticized set of gestures designed to push people’s emotional hot buttons.

These laws are in response to a problem that doesn’t seem to exist. They are in response to a threat of sexual predators that has no relation to the existence of transgender people. They are about legislating a group, not about what constitutes good behavior. They are an attempt to erect crude barriers when a little local consideration and accommodation could get the job done.

For some reason, some defenders of traditional values are addicted to sideshows that end with the whiff of intolerance. At the same time, the larger culture itself has become morally empty, and therefore marked by fragmentation, distrust and powermongering.

The larger culture itself needs to be revived in four distinct ways: We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.

Rather than fighting endless losing battles over sexual identity, we need a better culture war. We need a new traditionalism.

A tradition, whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner, an annual family reunion or a burial ceremony, takes a physical activity and infuses it with enchantment. There’s a warmth to our traditions and rituals that is fueled by love and contact with the transcendent.

That has to be the opening assertion of a new traditionalism — that we’re not primarily physical creatures. There’s a ghost in the machine. We have souls or consciousness or whatever you want to call it. The first step of a new traditionalism would be to put the spiritual and moral implications of everyday life front and center.

If public life were truly infused with the sense that people have souls, we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us.

We’d see cloning and the death penalty as reckless acts that tamper with something mysterious. When we talked about foreign policy we’d talk not just about our material interests but also about what purpose we’ve been called to play in history.

If we talked as if people had souls, then we’d have a thick view of what is at stake in everyday activities. The soul can be elevated and degraded at every second, even when you’re alone not hurting anybody. Each thought or act etches a new line into the core piece of oneself.

The awareness of that constant process of elevation and degradation adds urgency to a bunch of questions. For example, what are we doing to a prisoner’s soul when we throw him in solitary? Can we really tolerate having so many people falling out of the labor force and unable to realize the dignity that comes with steady work? In what ways do our phones lead to attachment or isolation? When is shopping fun and when is it degrading?

We’d also need a new political science. The old one was based on the model that we’re utility-maximizing individuals, seeking power. That’s true, but love is the elemental desire of the spirit. People are desperately motivated to love something well, and be loved. A core task of communities is to arouse and educate the loves, to widen and deepen the opportunities for love and to appraise people by how well and what they love.

Our culture is overpoliticized and undermoralized. This new traditionalism would shift the debate and involve a thicker way of seeing and talking about public life. The debates that would follow would not be divided along the conventional lines.

Bobo, if you believed 0.001% of that you’d flee the Republican party and declare yourself a Democrat.  Since you haven’t one must decide that you continue to be a pearl-clutching hypocrite.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

In early 2014, after decades of government and nonprofit work that reflected a passion for public service, Cassandra Butts got a reward — or so she thought. She was nominated by President Obama to be the next United States ambassador to the Bahamas.

It wasn’t an especially high-profile gig at the crossroads of the day’s most urgent issues, but it was a longstanding diplomatic post that needed to be filled, and she had concrete ideas about how best to do the job.

“She was very excited,” her sister, Deidra Abbott, told me.

The Senate held a hearing about her nomination in May 2014, and then … nothing. Summer came and went. So did fall. A new year arrived. Then another new year after that.

When I met her last month, she’d been waiting more than 820 days to be confirmed. She died suddenly two weeks later, still waiting. She was 50 years old.

The delay had nothing to do with her qualifications, which were impeccable. It had everything to do with Washington. She was a pawn in its power games and partisanship.

At one point Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, had a “hold” on all political nominees for State Department positions, partly as a way of punishing President Obama for the Iran nuclear deal.

At another point Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, put a hold specifically on Butts and on nominees for the ambassadorships to Sweden and Norway. He had a legitimate gripe with the Obama administration over a Secret Service leak of private information about a fellow member of Congress, and he was trying to pressure Obama to take punitive action. But that issue was unrelated to Butts and the Bahamas.

Cotton eventually released the two other holds, but not the one on Butts. She told me that she once went to see him about it, and he explained that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s — the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates — and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.

Cotton’s spokeswoman did not dispute Butts’s characterization of that meeting, and stressed, in separate emails, that Cotton had enormous respect for her and her career.

That’s Washington for you. Deeply admiring someone is supposed to be a consolation for — and not a contradiction of — using him or her as a weapon.

Senators from both parties have long employed short holds on nominations for leverage with the White House. But right now the practice is extreme and egregious: a tactic that’s turned into a tantrum.

Because of such holds, Norway didn’t have an ambassador for more than 850 days, and confirmation of the new ambassador to Sweden took nearly 500 days.

When Butts died on May 25 — she had acute leukemia, but didn’t know it and hadn’t felt ill until just beforehand — the Bahamas had gone without an ambassador for 1,647 days.

“All Cassandra wanted to do was serve her country,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, told me. “Looking back, it is devastating to think that through no fault of her own, she spent the last 835 days of her life waiting for confirmation.”

Maybe the Bahamas, Norway and Sweden aren’t pivotal to us. But we have relations with each. We have ambassadors — or mean to. How do we guarantee the country’s security and get its business effectively done when the Senate shows such disregard for that? How do we look on the world stage?

And how do we attract the best people to government if they’re subject to the crazy crosswinds that Butts found herself in?

With her Harvard degree and, later, her connection to Obama, she could have turned to the private sector and really cashed in. That wasn’t her way. She worked for various Democratic office holders on Capitol Hill, for the N.A.A.C.P.’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for the Center for American Progress and for Obama, including as deputy White House counsel.

Butts knew that she wouldn’t be instantly confirmed as an ambassador, her sister told me, but never expected such an enduring limbo. Some friends advised her to give up. That wasn’t her way, either.

I learned the details of her situation when I found myself at a dinner with her in Chapel Hill, N.C., where we both attended college. As she told the story, I kept looking for signs of anger and disgust, but she’d clearly worked past any such emotions.

Instead she communicated something like bemused resignation. I was glad for her that she’d reached that point. I was sorry for the rest of us. We should never be resigned to this dysfunctional pettiness, and there’s nothing amusing about it.

Go have a talk with Bobo and see if he can explain why that had to happen.

Friedman and Bruni

May 25, 2016

In “Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that in his scheme, his country may suffer but he survives.  Mr. Bruni ponders a question in “Trumping on Eggshells:”  Do his relatives support Donald Trump? He doesn’t want to know.  Here’s TMOW:

Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (B.D.S.) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique. But a lot of it is also driven by Israel’s desire to destroy itself — thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady elimination of any possibility that Israel will separate itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Netanyahu is a man who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never crossing it, always teasing you (“I’m coming your way — I’m going to make a decision”), only to remain right where he is, balancing between all his rivals, so that he alone survives. Meanwhile, Israel sinks ever deeper into a de facto binational state controlled by Jewish extremists.

Soon, this newspaper will have to call Netanyahu what he’s made himself into: “Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine.”

I raise this now because Israel under Netanyahu has gone from bad to worse. He just forced out Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. Yaalon, a former army chief of staff, is a very decent man — a soldier’s soldier, determined to preserve the Israeli Army as a people’s army that aspires to the highest standards of integrity in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood.

Netanyahu plans to replace Yaalon with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman, who boasts he could not care less what American Jews think about how Israel is behaving and a man whom, Haaretz reported, was only recently dismissed by Bibi’s team as “a petty prattler,” unfit to be even a military analyst, and whose closest brush with a real battle was dodging a “tennis ball.”

Lieberman, when he has not been under investigation for corruption, has mused about blowing up Egypt’s Aswan Dam, denounced Israelis who want Israel to get out of the West Bank as traitors and praised an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Elor Azaria, who fatally shot a wounded Palestinian assailant in the head as he was lying on the ground awaiting medical attention.

Describing Netanyahu’s dumping of Yaalon for Lieberman, Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea wrote, “Instead of presenting to the world a more moderate government ahead of the diplomatic battles to come in the fall, Netanyahu is presenting the most radical government to ever exist in Israeli history.”

Yaalon himself warned, “Extremist and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement and are destabilizing our home and threatening to harm its inhabitants.” Former Labor Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “What has happened is a hostile takeover of the Israeli government by dangerous elements.” Former Likud Defense Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Haaretz that Bibi and his far-right cronies “insulted not only Yaalon, they insulted the I.D.F. [Israeli Army]. It’s a people’s army.”

This whole episode started March 24 when Azaria, a medic, was caught on video shooting the wounded Palestinian. He was one of two Palestinians armed with knives who had stabbed an Israeli soldier, lightly wounding him. Azaria just decided on his own to kill him.

Yaalon and the Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, reacted swiftly, saying this is not how the Israeli Army behaves. Azaria was charged with manslaughter and inappropriate military conduct. At first Netanyahu, too, said the killing violated the army’s values, but when his settler base came out in favor of the killing, Netanyahu shifted, urging the court to take a balanced view of what happened. Lieberman actually went to the court to show support for Azaria.

All of this deeply troubled Yaalon and the army leadership, and it erupted on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day when the army’s deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, speaking to the nation, said, “It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.” Yes, you read that right.

Netanyahu slammed Golan, but Yaalon, in an address to the army’s top generals, said, “Keep acting in accordance with your humane conscience and moral compass, and not according to which way the winds are blowing.”

So Netanyahu, who only acts the way the wind blows, purged Yaalon. With that move, said the Hebrew University religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal, we are witnessing “Israel’s ruling party being transformed from a hawkish nationalist party that used to have a humanitarian and democratic base, into an ultranationalist party that is now defined by turning against the ‘enemies’ from within — the courts, the NGOs, the education system, the Arab minority and now, the army — anyone who stands in the way of their project of permanent occupation of the West Bank. Having failed to deliver a solution for the enemies on the outside, so now Likud is focused on the enemies inside. This is a major transformation in Israel and should be looked upon with great concern.” The army’s leadership, added Halbertal, “is trying to transcend this war of all against all and impose moral order on chaos rather than inflame it for narrow political gains.”

Netanyahu does just the opposite. For those of us who care about Israel’s future, this is a dark hour.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I recently asked a good friend where her boss stood on Donald Trump.

This wasn’t an idle question. Her boss gives big money to Republican candidates. He’s both power broker and weather vane. And she talks politics with him all the time.

But she has no idea about him and Trump. She hasn’t inquired, because she doesn’t want to know. She’s fond of her boss. She respects him. But what if he’s made peace with a candidate who called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, mocked a disabled journalist, belittled John McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war, praised Vladimir Putin’s thuggish leadership style, complimented the Chinese government on its brutal handling of the uprising in Tiananmen Square, made misogynistic remarks galore and boasted during a debate about the size of his penis?

She can’t go there.

I understand.

I have many relatives who loyally vote Republican, regardless of their excitement about the particular nominee. There’s a definite chance that some of them back Trump. So I steer clear of talk about this election, though we’ve spoken plenty — and placidly — about every other election.

One of these relatives routinely pushes back at any Trump-negative columns I write, and I’ve convinced myself that he’s just baiting me and playing devil’s advocate. I’ve never said to him, point blank, “Are you actually voting for Trump?” And I won’t. It’s my goal to get to and through Election Day without learning the truth.

There are various measures of the chilling singularity of Trump’s candidacy, including the last two Republican presidents’ announcement that they won’t be attending their party’s convention, all the prominent G.O.P. donors who have publicly rejected Trump and the stubborn drumbeat among some Republicans for a third-party challenger, if only as a means to assure Hillary Clinton’s victory. These are extraordinary developments. We mustn’t forget that.

But another gauge of this freaky interlude is the number of us who are steadfastly avoiding conversations we’d normally have. We pride ourselves on not letting political arguments disrupt personal relationships. We have friends across the ideological spectrum. We esteem leaders from both parties. We value a healthy give-and-take.

But we can’t fit Trump into that. He’s a disagreement too far, an enthusiasm too bizarre. So we’re treading lightly and maneuvering around him. We’re Trumping on eggshells.

That’s not the same as burying our heads in the sand, and it’s not a squandered opportunity to dissuade someone from Trump. Most Trump supporters aren’t ignorant of the litany I presented above. They’ve decided not to be bothered by it. They’ve crafted a counterargument. I’ve heard it.

At least he’s not Clinton, they say. True. Neither is Kim Kardashian. Shall we elect her? Her husband, Kanye West, has said that he might run in 2020. Let’s accelerate the timetable and speed the couple to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump has a furtive decency and unsung sensitive side, or so his boosters claim. They cite his relationship with his grown children. You know who else is an obviously loving and beloved parent? Clinton. You know who had a strained relationship with his kids? Ronald Reagan. If that wasn’t a mark against him, why is the opposite a gold star for Trump?

But Trump will be a competent executive! Let’s assume that’s so. Will he be executing a Muslim ban? In that case, wouldn’t incompetence be preferable?

Enough about the Muslim ban, his accommodators respond: He doesn’t believe in three-quarters of what he puts out there. It’s all theater.

Great! So what does he believe in? Are we supposed to guess and hope for the best? And will his theatrical impulse dissipate when he takes the oath of office? Or will it flare now and again, sending markets into turmoil and ships into battle?

With Clinton, they say, we get the status quo. With Trump we get disruption.

Possibly. But disruption cuts many different ways. And Trump’s particular disruption could leave us in shreds.

To some of us, Trump is a fundamentally unserious person, and thus a dangerous one. To others, he’s a vessel of grievance and protest, and that’s enough. The chasm between those viewpoints isn’t easily bridged. So we take detours around it. They’re as elaborate as cloverleafs.

Friends have asked me about the leanings of other friends, because they shudder to find out for themselves. Relatives have grilled me on other relatives. I’m acquainted with anti-Trump Republicans who have purged the billionaire from their discourse with Trump-acquiescent Republicans, simply so they can press on.

There will be epic ugliness in the foreground of this election. But pockets of silence in the background will be just as unsettling, because they’ll reflect a despair and bafflement beyond words.

Friedman and Bruni

May 18, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom has some advice for Teh Donald.  In “Donald, Save Your Golf Greens, and the Planet” he says Trump could protect his financial interest, America’s interest and his grandkids’ if he embraced the reality of climate change.  Yeah, like that’s going to happen.  If it doesn’t involve tweeting or insulting someone Teh Donald ain’t interested.  Mr. Bruni, in “Where Republican Dreams Die?”, says in a tumultuous patch of the South, some of 2016’s biggest themes and questions will play out.  Here’s TMOW:

MEMO TO: DONALD TRUMP

FROM: TOM FRIEDMAN

SUBJECT: GOLF COURSES

Dear Donald,

It’s been a while since we talked on the practice tee at Doral. (Nice course you built.) I am only going to do this once, but I am going to offer you some free advice — and it’s about all the things you love most: yourself, your kids, winning, money and golf. Have I got a deal for you …

You see, Donald, I was looking at all the golf courses you own. Some of them are real gems, like Doral, Turnberry, Doonbeg, Palm Beach, Aberdeenshire. But you know what else I noticed? How many of them are on or near coastlines. And do you know what’s going to happen to those golf courses, Donald, if the climate scientists are even half right? They’re going to go from oceanfront property to ocean-floor property. Because ice melt and sea level rise are going to threaten all of them. Here’s a July 21, 2015, story from Weather.com:

“As our seas continue to rise, some cities, like Miami, are planning to spend billions on revamping infrastructure. But some scientists say sea level rise will lead to another phenomenon in South Florida, and local leaders need to start preparing for it now. The region that’s home to thousands of high-priced homes nestled against the water is expected to be threatened directly by the rising seas in the coming decades, and when the harsh reality sets in, a mass exodus could commence. … In short, there’s no way to save South Florida, and lawmakers should start to prepare for millions to move north. … More than 2.4 million people live within 4 feet of the local high-tide line, and according to Climate Central, the risk of storm surge flooding will be far higher by 2030. … ‘This is not a future problem. It’s a current problem,’ Leonard Berry, director of the Florida Center for Environmental Studies at Florida Atlantic University, told PBS.”

In other words, Donald, there is no candidate in this race who is more exposed to climate change than … you. And I am not talking only about your coastal golf courses. Global warming doesn’t mean the weather, on average, just gets hotter. It means the weather gets weirder. You get more weather extremes — hotter hot days, wetter wet ones, longer droughts, fiercer storms, heavier snows.

The Climate Wire quoted a United States Golf Association turf expert in August 2014 as saying that “individual golfers and club leadership are becoming aware that these are real issues.” I can only imagine what this will mean for insurance rates for golf course. And that was before Nature magazine published a new study in March indicating that sea levels could rise almost twice as much as previously predicted by the end of the century — “an outcome that could devastate coastal communities around the globe,” as The Washington Post noted, unless we curb emissions of greenhouse gases. Ask your golf course greens keepers how many of them think climate change is a hoax?

So here’s the advice: I know that you’ve tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (Just as an aside, Donald, that’s incredibly stupid. The Chinese are ahead of us in putting a price on carbon because they can’t breathe.) But let’s put that aside. We both know that you know as much about climate change as you did about abortion rights and the nuclear triad. It was just one of those things you put out there to keep you looking like a Republican good ol’ boy.

Donald, you’ve done something truly revolutionary: You’ve single-handedly reshaped the agenda of the Republican Party, mixing some left-of-center and centrist positions with the G.O.P.’s traditional right-of-center stuff. You should do the same now, embrace the reality of climate change and vow as president that you will be “huge, huuuuuge” on this issue — that “I’ll make the whole planet great again.”

It would be in your financial interest, America’s interest and your grandkids’ interest. Nobody who voted for you in the primaries did so because of climate, except maybe coal miners in West Virginia. Your base does not care about this issue, and, by the way, all their kids are telling them climate change is real. The reason the G.O.P. has its head in the sand on climate is the oil companies force it to. But you don’t need Big Oil’s money.

Here’s what you need: some Bernie Sanders voters. You can’t win without some of them. And they’re all greens. If you promised to take climate change seriously, you’d make it much easier for some of them, who dislike Hillary, to hold their noses and vote for you. You’d also get a lot of other people to give you a second look. Most important, it would tip the G.O.P. on this issue.

Cards on the table, Donald, I won’t be voting for you. But if you really want to make this race interesting, continue to reshape the G.O.P., raise the odds of winning Florida, preserve your wealth and do something to make America great again, tweet this: “Talked to some scientists, smartest in the world, changing position on climate change. Feeling the burn. Gotta protect our kids.”

After all, Donald, you don’t want to be remembered as the politician who’ll be the answer to the question, “Who lost Florida?”

If TMOW thinks any Sanders supporters will go to Trump I’d love to have some of what he’s smoking.  Here’s Mr. Bruni, writing from Raleigh, NC:

Ohio and Florida. Florida and Ohio. What a pair of election-year divas, always preening for the pundits. Enough. There are other comely swing states on the stage.

Let’s gawk at North Carolina.

If Donald Trump drags down Republicans across the board, this is one of the places where they’ll flail. Its Republican governor, nearing the end of a tumultuous first term, is in trouble. One of the state’s two Republican senators is facing a tougher re-election battle than was predicted just months ago. Democrats are circling. Make that drooling.

Although purple, North Carolina turned deceptively red over the last few years, and Republican lawmakers have behaved with a potentially suicidal swagger. In the process they’ve managed to enrage corporate America, exposing a newly profound tension in the G.O.P. between its business-minded wing and the religious right.

Some of the most interesting crosswinds of American politics blow through this state.

In 2008 it voted for Barack Obama — by a margin of just .32 percent. Enthusiasm for him helped to propel Democratic women to the Senate and the governor’s office.

Both are gone now, replaced by Republican men, and Mitt Romney won the state narrowly in 2012. But the more sweeping change has been in the state legislature, where an overwhelming Republican majority took hold and hurtled forward (or, rather, backward).

Take the recently passed measure known as H.B. 2. It’s the law that mandates that people use bathrooms corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory, gambled that it would energize elements of the party’s base.

But it went much, much further than that supposed solution to a nonexistent problem, overriding local anti-discrimination statutes. Many prominent companies denounced it. Some withdrew business from the state — or are threatening to. Conventions have been canceled. Tourism has declined. By some estimates, the state has already lost tens of millions of dollars.

“I’m talking to businesspeople all the time,” Deborah Ross told me when I sat down with her in Raleigh last week. “They are livid.”

Ross is the Democratic challenger to Senator Richard Burr. She’s a fierce underdog: an articulate, energetic lawyer who served for decades in the legislature. She’d be the third woman sent to the Senate by North Carolinians, after Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan.

But her résumé also includes work for the A.C.L.U., and Republicans detect a gold mine of negative ads. I wager that the Koch brothers and other big G.O.P. donors will flood this state with money. How much could be decisive.

There are other pivotal questions, reflecting crucial dynamics around the country.

Will new voter-identification laws hurt Democrats? Since the last presidential election, Republicans here significantly tightened rules and requirements — and not out of the goodness of their hearts.

Which demographic and economic trends will hold the greatest sway? North Carolina is America in miniature: Its minority population has grown and it has urbanized, developments that favor Democrats, but it has also hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs, so it brims with the sorts of displaced workers who’ve rallied to Trump.

A recent Pew Research Center study listed three of North Carolina’s metropolitan areas among the 10 nationally that had “lost the most in economic status” between 2000 and 2014. By that measure, it fared worse than any Rust Belt state.

“There’s a lot of economic anxiety here, mixed with race and cultural change, that will keep Trump and other Republicans viable,” said Ferrel Guillory, a longtime analyst of state politics who is now a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Can Republicans profit from a culture war? They failed with H.B. 2. But the Obama administration’s new directive advising schools to let transgender students use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity may scramble the situation, allowing the G.O.P. to pin the charge of overreach on the federal government.

“There’s a possibility that the Obama directive is something of a lifeline to Republicans,” said Pope McCorkle, a former Democratic consultant who teaches at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Just how toxic is Trump? McCorkle noted, with a chuckle, that the state’s Democrats have usually been the ones fretting about their party’s presidential nominee: “Do you go to the airport to greet him? Touch him? Allow a picture?”

“What’s interesting,” he added, “is how much the shoe is on the other foot this time.” Burr hasn’t said whether he’ll campaign with Trump.

Perhaps he noticed several polls that showed Hillary Clinton with a lead over Trump in a head-to-head matchup in this state, which has 15 electoral votes, just three fewer than Ohio. It matters. And it’s ready for its close-up.

Friedman and Bruni

May 11, 2016

In “Trump’s Miss Universe Foreign Policy” The Moustache of Wisdom says he based it on a beauty pageant, a convenience store and statements of fiction.  Mr. Bruni, in “Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye,” says as he prepares to exit, the president makes a final plea about cooperation and common purpose.  Here’s TMOW:

O.K., it’s easy to pick on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. But just because he recently referred to the attack on the World Trade Center as happening on “7/11” — which is a convenience store — instead of 9/11, and just because he claimed that “I know Russia well” because he held a “major event in Russia two or three years ago — [the] Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event” — doesn’t make him unqualified.

I’m sure you can learn a lot schmoozing with Miss Argentina. You can also learn a lot eating at the International House of Pancakes. I never fully understood Arab politics until I ate hummus — or was it Hamas?

And, by the way, just because Trump’s big foreign policy speech was salted with falsehoods — like “ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libyan oil” — it doesn’t make him unqualified.

The New York Times Magazine just profiled one of the president’s deputy national security advisers, Ben Rhodes, reporting how he and his aides boasted of using social media, what the writer called a “largely manufactured” narrative, and a pliant press to, in essence, dupe the country into supporting the Iran nuclear deal. The Donald is not the only one given to knuckleheaded bluster and misrepresentation on foreign policy.

Life is imitating Twitter everywhere now.

Indeed, criticizing Trump for inconsistency when it comes to foreign policy is a bit rich when you consider that both Democrats and Republicans have treated Pakistan as an ally, knowing full well that its secret service has trucked with terrorists and coddled the Taliban — the people killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan; they’ve both treated Saudi Arabia as an ally because we needed its oil, knowing full well that its export of Salafist Islam has fueled jihadists; they both supported decapitating Libya and then not staying around to support a new security order, thus opening a gaping hole on the African coast for migrants to flow into Europe; they’ve both supported NATO expansion into Russia’s face and then wondered aloud why the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is so truculent.

No, if I were critiquing Trump’s foreign policy views it would not be on inconsistency, hypocrisy or lying. It would be that he shows no sign of having asked the most important question: What are the real foreign policy challenges the next president will face? I don’t think he has a clue, because if he did, he wouldn’t want the job. This is one of the worst times to be conducting U.S. foreign policy.

Consider some of the questions that will greet the Oval Office’s next occupant. For starters, what does the new president do when the necessary is impossible but the impossible is necessary? Yes, we’ve proved in Iraq and Afghanistan that we don’t know how to do nation-building in other people’s countries. But just leaving Libya, Syria and parts of Iraq and Yemen ungoverned, and spewing out refugees, has led to a flood of migrants hitting Europe and stressing the cohesion of the European Union; that refugee flood could very well lead to Britain’s exit from the E.U.

President Obama has been patting himself on the back a lot lately for not intervening in Syria. I truly sympathized with how hard that call was — until I heard the president and his aides boasting about how smart their decision was and how stupid all their critics are. The human and geopolitical spillover from Syria is not over. It’s destabilizing the E.U., Lebanon, Iraq, Kurdistan and Jordan. The choices are hellish. I would not want the responsibility for making them. But nobody has a monopoly on genius here, and neither Obama’s victory lap around this smoldering ruin nor Trump’s bombastic and simplistic solutions are pretty to watch.

And there are more of these stressors coming: Falling oil prices, climate change and population bombs are going to blow up more weak states, hemorrhaging refugees in all directions.

There’s also the question of what you should do about the networked nihilists? Ever since the rise of Osama bin Laden, super-empowered angry men have challenged us. But at least Bin Laden had an identifiable cause and set of demands: cleansing the Arabian Peninsula of Western influence. But now we are seeing a mutation. Can anyone tell me what the terrorists who killed all those people in Brussels, Paris or San Bernardino wanted? They didn’t even leave a note; their act was their note. These suicidal jihadist-nihilists are not trying to win; they just want to make us lose. That’s a tough foe. They can’t destroy us — now — but they will ratchet up the pain if they get the ammo. Curbing them while maintaining an open society, with personal privacy on your cellphone and the Internet, will be a challenge.

And then there are Russia and China. They’re back in the game of traditional sphere-of-influence geopolitics. But both Russia and China face huge economic strains that will tempt their leaders to distract attention at home with nationalist adventures abroad.

The days of clear-cut, satisfying victories overseas, like opening up China or tearing down the Berlin Wall, are over. U.S. foreign policy now is all about containing disorder and messes. It is the exact opposite of running a beauty pageant. There’s no winner, and each contestant is uglier than the last.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

In this twilight of his presidency, Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver much in the way of meaningful legislation.

But he’s giving us a pointed, powerful civics lesson.

Consider his speech to new graduates of Howard University last weekend. While it brimmed with the usual kudos for hard work, it also bristled with caveats about the mistakes that he sees some young people making.

He chided them for demonizing enemies and silencing opponents. He cautioned them against a sense of grievance too exaggerated and an outrage bereft of perspective. “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now,” he said. “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”

He was by no means telling them to be satisfied, and he wasn’t talking only or even chiefly to them. He was talking to all of us — to America — and saying: enough. Enough with a kind of identity politics that can shove aside common purpose. Enough with a partisanship so caustic that it bleeds into hatred.

Enough with such deafening sound and blinding fury in our public debate. They make for entertainment, not enlightenment, and stand in the way of progress.

His remarks at Howard were an extension of those in his final State of the Union address in January and of those to the Illinois General Assembly in February, nine years to the day after he announced his history-making bid for the presidency. The Illinois speech, wise and gorgeous, received less attention than it deserved.

“We’ve got to build a better politics — one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas,” he said then. Otherwise, he warned, “Extreme voices fill the void.” This current presidential campaign has borne him out.

Obama detractors and skeptics probably hear in all of this a professorial haughtiness that has plagued him and alienated them before. And there’s legitimate disagreement about the degree to which he has been an agent as well as a casualty of the poisoned environment he rues. His administration’s actions haven’t always been as high-minded as his words.

But we should all listen to him nonetheless, for several reasons.

One is that he’s not just taking jabs at opponents. He’s issuing challenges to groups — African-Americans, college students — from whom he has drawn strong support and with whom he has real credibility.

“We must expand our moral imaginations,” he told black students at Howard, imploring them to recognize “the middle-aged white guy who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several decades has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change, and feels powerless to stop it. You got to get in his head, too.”

Just two weeks earlier, at a town-hall-style meeting in London, hevolunteered a critique of the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that once “elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.”

Another reason to listen to Obama is the accuracy and eloquence with which he’s diagnosing current ills. In Illinois he noted that while ugly partisanship has always existed, it’s fed in our digital era by voters’ ability to curate information from only those news sources and social-media feeds that echo and amplify their prejudices.

“We can choose our own facts,” he lamented. “We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.” Advocacy groups often make matters worse, he added, by “keeping their members agitated as much as possible, assured of the righteousness of their cause.”

At Howard, Obama insisted that change “requires listening to those with whom you disagree, and being prepared to compromise.”

“If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want,” he continued. “So don’t try to shut folks out. Don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them.”

At this late point, his message isn’t a self-serving one about the political climate that he personally wants to operate in and benefit from. It’s about the climate that would serve everyone best. If it draws attention to the improvements that he pledged but couldn’t accomplish, he’s O.K. with that. It still needs saying.

And so he’s fashioning this blunt, soulful goodbye, a reflection on our troubled democracy that, I fear, will be lost in the din of the Trump-Clinton death match. It brings him full circle, from the audacity to the tenacity of hope.

Friedman and Bruni

May 4, 2016

In “Trump and the Lord’s Work” The Moustache of Wisdom says that in order to get the nation’s politics unstuck, the intransigent version of the Republican Party had to be destroyed.  Mr. Bruni considers “Ted Cruz’s Bitter End” and says sour, smug and nakedly ambitious, the Texas senator was never built to go the distance.  To which I say “Thank God!”  Here’s TMOW:

Like many others, I watched the video that President Obama showed at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday of him inviting former House Speaker John Boehner over to solicit his advice on what Obama should do post-presidency. It was remarkable to see the real Boehner and the real Obama acting like best buddies in the White House movie theater. Boehner even tells Obama that he finally got a “grand bargain” — only it was on a Chevy Tahoe, not the one they tried to negotiate on the economy.

I watched that video with Chuck Todd, the host of “Meet the Press,” and he had the exact same reaction I had: “Where was that brotherly love when America needed it” for a real grand bargain?

That scene plucked the deepest emotional chord in the country today: The nonstop fighting between our two political parties has left many Americans feeling like the children of two permanently divorcing parents. The country is starved to see its two major parties do big hard things together again. And getting a glimpse — even just a pretend one — of Obama and Boehner teaming up reminds you what’s been lost.

I think what’s propelling Donald Trump’s success more than anything is the feeling of many Americans that our politics are totally stuck. There is an overwhelming sense of “stuckness” — and the fantasy that Trump plays to, and plays up, is that he can pull the sword from the stone and do deals. No one was more responsible for this “stuckness,” though, than today’s Republican Party. When Mitch McConnell, the G.O.P. leader in the Senate, said in October 2010 that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” he described the Republicans’ dominant strategy since 2008. The party stopped thinking seriously about market-based alternatives. Into that emptiness entered Trump, like an invasive species.

This was a really bad time for us to be stuck. I’m just finishing writing a new book, which is partly about the inflection point we hit around 2007. In 2007, Apple came out with the iPhone, beginning the smartphone/apps revolution; in late 2006 Facebook opened its doors to anyone, not just college and high school students, and took off like a rocket; Google came out with the Android operating system in 2007; Hadoop launched in 2007, helping create the storage/processing power for the big data revolution; Github, launched in 2007, scaling open-source software; Twitter was spun off as its own separate platform in 2007. Amazon came out with the Kindle in 2007. Airbnb started in 2007.

In short, on the eve of Obama’s presidency, something big happened:Everything started getting digitized and made mobile — work, commerce, billing, finance, education — reshaping the economy. A lot of things started to get very fast all at once. It was precisely when we needed to double down on our formula for success and update it for a new era — more lifelong learning opportunities for every worker, better infrastructure (roads, airports, rails and bandwidth) to promote the flow of commerce, better rules to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, better immigration policies to attract the world’s smartest minds, and more government-funded research to push out the boundaries of science and sow the seeds for the next generation of start-ups.

That was the real grand bargain we needed. Instead, we had the 2008 economic meltdown, which set off more polarization, and way too much gridlock, given how much rethinking, reimagining and retooling we needed to do. In this vortex a lot of the public got unmoored and disoriented, opening the way for populists with simple answers. Get rid of immigrants, end trade with China or eliminate big banks and all will be fine. It’s nonsense.

We got strong as a country through democracy and capitalism. We got rich as a country through trade. We got smart and powerful as a country through immigration. We got fair as a country through Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare. They all lead to vastly more winners than losers. This is no time to lose confidence in what got us here. If you’re running for president and are not for all these things, you’re wrong — and I hope you lose.

But if you’re for these things only as they now exist, you’re also wrong. Each one needs retooling. It’s clear: Free trade with China has hurt more people than originally thought. It’s clear: Low-skilled illegal immigration has hurt more American workers than we’ve fully understood. (And more high-skilled immigration in a knowledge age would enhance our economy more than most people understand.) It’s clear: Social Security, Medicare and Obamacare all need fixes to remain sustainable. It’s clear: Capitalism driven more by machines and robots poses new challenges for both white-collar and blue-collar workers.

Every one of these challenges can be met if we put our heads and hands together. For that to happen, though, this version of the Republican Party had to be destroyed, so a thinking center-right party can emerge. If that is what Trump has done, he’s done the Lord’s work. We also need Democrats to be a center-left party, though, and not let Bernie Sanders pull them to the far left. If both happen, maybe something good can actually emerge from this crazy election.

Oh, FFS…  Bernie Sanders is about as “far left” as FDR.  And Eisenhower.  And I wonder how many Friedman Units it will take before what’s left of the Republican party comes to its senses.  I doubt that I’ll be alive to see it…  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you listened much to Ted Cruz over these last furious months, you heard him talk frequently about “the abyss,” as in what this country was teetering on the edge of. If you listened to him over these last furious hours, you heard him mention the “yawning cavern of insecurity” that motivates Donald Trump and other bullies.

Cruz should take up spelunking. He’s obviously fascinated by unfathomable depths, and with his loss in Indiana on Tuesday, his candidacy for the presidency is finished, giving him a whole lot of extra time. A new hobby is definitely in order.

As we bid Cruz adieu, we should give him his due: He took a mien and manner spectacularly ill suited to the art of seducing voters about as far as they could go. He outlasted the likes of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. He outperformed Rick Santorum in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008.

Like him, Santorum and Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and built from there, courting the religious right with particular fervor. But they lacked the intensity of Cruz’s professed disdain for Washington, which was his other big sales pitch, made at its moment of maximum potency. He peddled extravagant piety and extreme contempt in equal measure.

If that sounds paradoxical, it is, and the tension between contradictory Cruzes is what ultimately did him in.

He spoke out of both sides of his scowl, itching to be the voice of the common man but equally eager to demonstrate what a highfalutin, Harvard-trained intellect he possessed. He wed a populist message to a plummy vocabulary. And while the line separating smart and smart aleck isn’t all that thin or blurry, he never could stay on the winning side of it.

He wore cowboy boots, but his favorites are made of ostrich.

Two peacocks in a pod, he and Trump, and what ghastly plumage they showed on Tuesday.

Trump somehow saw fit to bring up a National Enquirer story linking Cruz’s father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Cruz exploded, branding Trump a “pathological liar” and “serial philanderer.” He also brought up an interview from many years ago in which Trump told Howard Stern that his effort to steer clear of sexually transmitted diseases was his “personal Vietnam.”

Where was this rant six months ago, when the Republican field was crowded and Cruz played footsie with Trump? Back then he was wagering that Trump would fade, and he wanted to be in a friendly position to inherit the billionaire’s supporters.

But by Tuesday, Trump was the main obstacle between Cruz and the Republican presidential nomination, and Cruz has just one true compass: his own advancement.

The nakedness of his vanity and transparency of his ambition were always his biggest problem. He routinely excoriated other politicians for self-centeredness while repeatedly hogging center stage, his remarks interminable — after his Iowa victory, for example, or when he presumptuously introduced Carly Fiorina as his running mate — and his pauses so theatrically drawn out that you could watch the entirety of “The Revenant” during some of them.

He trashed “the establishment” and wore its rejection of him as a badge of honor only until it stopped rejecting him and its help was his best hope to wrest the nomination away from Trump. At that point he did dizzy cartwheels over every prominent endorsement that came his way.

He took great pride in an adversarial relationship with the media, decreeing us irrelevant, until he went in hunt of a fresh excuse for losing to Trump and decided over the last few days that it was all our fault. We didn’t matter and then we did, depending on which estimation flattered him.

He purported to be more high-minded than his peers but pettily mocked Michelle Obama for urging schoolchildren to eat leafy greens. When Heidi Cruz is first lady, he pledged, “French fries are coming back to the cafeteria.” Heidi Cruz is not going to be first lady, so she’ll need some other platform for the promotion of calorie bombs and second chins.

And where in her husband was the humility that a Christian faith as frequently proclaimed as his should encompass? It wasn’t evident when he stormed into the Senate in early 2013, an upstart intent on upstaging the veterans.

There were flickers of it on Tuesday night, as he conceded defeat not just in Indiana but in the presidential contest, announcing that he was suspending his campaign “with a heavy heart.” He articulated gratitude to those Americans — no small number of them — who had buoyed him.

He went overboard in his praise of Fiorina, merely reminding us all of what an odd and oddly timed alliance theirs was. “An incredible, phenomenal running mate,” he called her, as if they’d been on some epic journey. It was less than a week long. How many phenomena could she accomplish in that time?

He left Trump out of his remarks. There were no congratulations. There was no indication of whether he’d publicly back Trump in the months to come. There was nothing to purge the memory of what he’d said earlier Tuesday, when he described Trump as “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.” Yes, we have, and so has he, every day, in the mirror.

That’s why he’ll undoubtedly be back to try for the presidency again. But this bid is moribund. It’s time for Cruz to rest in peevishness.

As far as I’m concerned it’s past time for the Lord to call him home…

Friedman and Bruni

April 27, 2016

The Moustache of Wisdom is in Dakar, Senegal.  In “Out of Africa, Part III” he says that in Senegal, a rap artist and a weatherman both worry for their nation’s future.  Mr. Bruni considers “The Cult of Sore Losers” and moans that in 2016, there’s seemingly no legitimate victory or gracious defeat.   He says that spells trouble for all of us.  Here’s TMOW:

You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman. They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.

The rapper, Babacar Niang, known simply as Matador, the 40-year-old voice of the voiceless and one of the pioneers of African rap, emerged from the oft-flooded Thiaroye slum of Dakar to become the godfather of the underground hip-hop scene here. I attended his concert at a cultural center a few nights ago. I confess it was my first hip-hop concert and it took a little getting used to. The guy behind me had a big can of bug repellent that he would spray and light the plume, creating a makeshift flamethrower, which he used to express his approval of key lyrics — and heat up the back of my neck.

But it never distracted from the hypnotic beat of Matador’s rap, which appeals to young Senegalese not to join the migration to Europe — now driven by a toxic brew of government failures, overpopulation and extreme floods and droughts — but to stay home and build their country.

The weatherman is Ousmane Ndiaye, head of the climate unit for the National Civil Aviation and Meteorology Agency. He trained at Columbia in climate science. His stage is a drab office at Dakar Airport. His voice is a monotone. His audience of one was me. His flamethrower is his graphs, displaying the recent extreme weather patterns and the oscillating beat of parched and drenched soils from which Matador and his followers emerged.

I met them both while filming a documentary, “Years of Living Dangerously,” on climate change that is to air in the fall on National Geographic Television.

Matador showed me the Thiaroye slum, where he grew up and began rapping with his pals. Starting with the droughts of the 1970s, many rural migrants moved to Dakar for work, and many settled in the only open space: marshland dried up by the drought. But around 2000 the rains returned, often torrential, and Thiaroye became uninhabitable — but fully inhabited. Today it’s one of those grim intersections where climate, migration, population and the lack of urban planning all meet.

The home where Matador got his start is literally engulfed by giant weeds. Putrid sewage and standing water abound. But people are living anywhere there are four walls and a dry enough floor. He notes that Senegal’s government recently spent millions on a new sports stadium but has no money to properly drain his old neighborhood. One of his biggest hits — rapped in Wolof, the local language — is a homage to this place. It’s called “Catastrophe,” and here’s some of it:

Clouds piling up from the north announce the rain to come.
People’s faces read worry first, then fear
With the first rains come the first wave of departures
Those who prayed for rain sure got their prayers answered
Long gone are the days where we would beg the spirits for water
Today the rain is falling and it won’t stop
The stagnant waters keep piling up
And soon the floods will sweep away our homes
The torrent chases us out to reclaim its bed
You can try to keep nature out, it will always return
After the drought, now we face the rain.
Wading in the mud, day in, day out
Using the flood as a pretext, some empty their septic tanks at night
As the tanks overflow, it’s neighbor against neighbor
Puddles become streams and rivers in which crocodiles and snakes swim
At night, the hum of mosquitoes and frogs turns into a racket
A drowned newborn is pulled from the muddy flow
Then malaria and cholera finish off the survivors
If there was aid money on its way, we never saw it

Standing next to a broken drainage pipe, Matador says to me: “It pains me because the people, they’re forced to leave. To build Senegal we need those young people. But how can we keep them here in these conditions?” No wonder Matador has a popular rap lyric, which plays on an alliteration, that describes the choice for too many of his generation: “Barça or Barsak” — either catch a boat to Barcelona or to the beyond — i.e., die.

Out at the airport, Ndiaye, the climate expert, click, click, clicks through his climate graphs for me on his Dell desktop, providing his own backup beat to Matador’s rap.

“Last week the weather was five degrees Celsius above the normal average temperature, which is a very extreme temperature for this time of year,” he explains. Click to Graph 2. “From 1950 to 2015 average temperature in Senegal has gone up two degrees Celsius,” says Ndiaye, adding that the whole Paris U.N. climate conference was about how to avoid a two-degree rise in the global average temperature since the Industrial Revolution … and Senegal is already there.

Click. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “in 2010 gave four scenarios for Senegal, and the worst was unbelievable — and now,” he says, “the observation says we’re following that path even faster than we imagined, and it leads to four degrees Celsius rise in average temperature by 2100. People are still doubting climate change, and we are living it.” Click.

Matador’s most famous rap song is called “Tukki,” which means “trip.” It’s a migrant’s lament — the story of life as a tumbleweed. Africans have a long history of migration, but mostly within Africa and their own countries.

But the land and the climate cannot sustain enough of them anymore. And they don’t want a benefit concert in Central Park or Hyde Park. They want what they see on their cellphones — Europe, which involves a trek across the desert and a boat across the sea. But who can blame them?

Matador is torn between understanding his generation’s need to find work and money to send home and his gut instinct that it is better to be poor in one’s home than a stranger in a strange land — so stay and build Senegal. Some of the “Tukki” verses are:

Go to France to Belgium to Italy
To Spain to Switzerland to go to Denmark to the Netherlands
One must go to Germany
Norway Sweden China Japan Portugal go to Brazil
Mexico and Great Britain
All these places are great to earn a living
All work is noble all means are good to survive
Master the system and assert yourself
Play hide-and-seek with the police
In the blistering cold, one fights how one can …
Eating the leftovers from restaurants
You cannot return and you don’t know when you’ll get back
Illegal and undocumented who makes you think you’ll go back to your country
Everyone for himself and God for us all
Headphones screwed on your head ears blocked
A stare that reminds you that no one wants you here …
Ready to leave for better tomorrows and without hope
One ends up discouraged
A lot of money for a distant tomb
You won’t even end up in a cemetery
Setting sail or passing through the desert
Our scarce savings for a visa
Face the borders …
Calls from the home country multiply
Everyone has a request not a moment’s rest
When will you sign up for your return? When will you send the money?

The weatherman can’t rap as well, but he sure can annotate the lyrics. “The only hope is that humankind will see we are one body,” says Ndiaye, “because if it goes the other way and everyone is for themselves — and just builds a wall — this will be really, really crazy. People will just get out of here.”

When human beings are under stress, he adds, “they will do anything to survive. You live here and you see on TV people having a good life, and democracy [in Europe], and here you are in a poor life, people have to do something — people now are taking any kind of boat to get to Europe. And even if they see people dying, they are still going. They don’t have the tools to survive here. The human being is just a more intelligent animal, and if [he or she] is pushed to the extreme, the animal instinct will come out to survive. Everyone wants a better life.”

Click.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Bernie Sanders isn’t losing. Just ask many of his backers or listen to some of his own complaints. He’s being robbed, a victim of antiquated rules, voter suppression, shady arithmetic and a corrupt Democratic establishment. The swindle includes the South’s getting inordinate sway and the poor none at all. If Americans really had a voice, they would shout “Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!” until too hoarse to shout anymore.

Donald Trump isn’t winning. Just ask Ted Cruz, by whose strange and self-serving logic it is “the will of the people” (his actual words) that he and John Kasich collude to prevent Trump from amassing a majority of delegates so that some runner-up with less demonstrable support can leapfrog past him to become the Republican presidential nominee. Democracy in action!

I agree that Trump’s nomination would be frightening. I disagree that Cruz’s would be better. It certainly wouldn’t be more justified, but such rational thinking has gone missing in this year of losing gracelessly.

And in this era of irresolution. All too often, contests don’t yield accepted conclusions and a grudging acquiescence by those who didn’t get their way. They prompt accusations of thievery, cries of illegitimacy and a determination to neuter the victor, nullify the results or reverse them as soon as possible.

Elections don’t settle disputes, not even for some fleeting honeymoon. They accelerate them, because there’s a pernicious insistence that they’re not referendums on the public mood but elaborate board games in which the triumphant player used the wickedest skulduggery.

When you honestly believe or disingenuously assert that you’ve been outmaneuvered rather than outvoted, why declare a truce, let alone cooperate, in the aftermath?

The process has never been smooth and the defeated seldom docile. To pluck just one example from the annals of acrimony, Teddy Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party in 1912 as a revolt against the Republicans’ nomination of the incumbent president, William Howard Taft, rather than him.

But an epoch of unrelieved mutual suspicion between competitors — and especially between Republicans and Democrats — took hold somewhere on a timeline that runs through Watergate; the confirmation hearings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas; the serial investigations into the Clintons; and Mitch McConnell’s vow to thwart President Obama at every turn.

In the midst of that came Bush v. Gore, in which a majority of Republican appointees on the Supreme Court decided a presidential election in the Republican candidate’s favor.

All trust, most etiquette and many rules went out the window. And while Republicans have been more audacious than Democrats, the manifold accusations made by Sanders supporters show that the effort to delegitimize winners is a pan-partisan tic.

The pro-Sanders actor Tim Robbins fired off a tweet this week with the charge that “this election is being stolen,” the hashtag #VoterFraud and the insinuation that The Times and CNN were essentially conspiring with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The Sanders camp is right to raise questions about voting irregularities in a few places, including New York, where there’s an investigation underway, and about the odd patchwork of closed and open primaries across the country.

But all of the candidates knew about that patchwork going in, and Clinton’s successful navigation of it — she has a multi-million-vote lead over Sanders — is more persuasive than any dark claims of dastardly tricks.

On the Republican side, Trump and Cruz have each bellowed about the other’s supposedly unfair advantages at a volume that’s hardly constructive. It’s self-promotion with a side of cynicism.

The graceless losing of 2016 owes something to this election’s particular characters. When you’re not just a man but a revolution (Sanders), you can never quit the fight or flee the front.

When you’re the Don Quixote of extreme conservatism (Cruz), you can never ditch your armor. And it’s easy to tell yourself — because it’s easy forall of us to tell ourselves — that surrendering to Trump is surrendering your patriotism.

But there’s more at work. The refusal to grant victors legitimacy bundles together so much about America today: the coarseness of our discourse; the blind tribalism coloring our debates; the elevation of individualism far above common purpose; the ethos that everybody should and can feel like a winner on every day.

Our system for electing presidents is indeed a mess. It estranges voters and is ripe for reform. I explored that last week.

But pushing for change is different from rejecting any unwelcome outcome as the bastard fruit of a poisoned tree. If grievances are never retired, then progress has no chance. If everything is rigged, then all is fair, not just in love and war but on the banks of the Potomac, where we can look forward to four more years of inertia and ugliness.

Well, we sure can look forward to more years of inertia and ugliness as long as the current batch of Republican’ts is there.

Friedman and Bruni

April 20, 2016

In “Out of Africa, Part II” The Moustache of Wisdom tells us that a farming village too parched to sustain crops is also losing its men, who leave in search of work to support their families.  Mr. Bruni, in “No Way to Elect a President,” says beyond New York’s primary is a system and sourness we must address.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Ndiamaguene, Senegal:

I am visiting Ndiamaguene village in the far northwest of Senegal. If I were giving you directions I’d tell you that it’s the last stop after the last stop — it’s the village after the highway ends, after the paved road ends, after the gravel road ends and after the desert track ends. Turn left at the last baobab tree.

It’s worth the trek, though, if you’re looking for the headwaters of the immigration flood now flowing from Africa to Europe via Libya. It starts here.

It begins with a trickle of migrants from a thousand little villages and towns across West Africa like Ndiamaguene, a five-hour drive from the capital, Dakar. I visited with a team working on the documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the connection between climate change and human migration, which will appear this fall on the National Geographic Channel. The day we came, April 14, it was 113 degrees — far above the historical average for the day, a crazy level of extreme weather.

But there is an even bigger abnormality in Ndiamaguene, a farming village of mud-brick homes and thatch-roof huts. The village chief gathered virtually everyone in his community to receive us, and they formed a welcoming circle of women in colorful prints and cheerful boys and girls with incandescent smiles, home from school for lunch. But the second you sit down with them you realize that something is wrong with this picture.

There are almost no young or middle-aged men in this village of 300. They’re gone.

It wasn’t disease. They’ve all hit the road. The village’s climate-hammered farmlands can no longer sustain them, and with so many kids — 42 percent of Senegal’s population is under 14 years old — there are too many mouths to feed from the declining yields. So the men have scattered to the four winds in search of any job that will pay them enough to live on and send some money back to their wives or parents.

This trend is repeating itself all across West Africa, which is why every month thousands of men try to migrate to Europe by boat, bus, foot or plane. Meanwhile, refugees fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are doing the same. Together, these two flows pose a huge challenge for the future of Europe.

Tell these young African men that their odds of getting to Europe are tiny and they will tell you, as one did me, that when you don’t have enough money to buy even an aspirin for your sick mother, you don’t calculate the odds. You just go.

“We are mostly farmers, and we depend on farming, but it is not working now,” the village chief, Ndiougua Ndiaye, explained to me in Wolof, through a translator. After a series of on/off droughts in the 1970s and 1980s, the weather patterns stabilized a bit, “until about 10 years ago,” the chief added. Then, the weather got really weird.

The rainy season used to always begin in June and run to October. Now the first rains might not start until August, then they stop for a while, leaving fields to dry out, and then they begin again. But they come back as torrential downpours that create floods. “So whatever you plant, the crops get spoiled,” the chief said. “You reap no profits.”

The chief, who gave his age as 70 but didn’t know for sure, could remember one thing for certain: When he was young he could walk out to his fields any time during the planting season “and your feet would sink into” the moist earth. “The soil was slippery and oily and it would stick to your legs and feet and you would have to scrape it off.” Now, he said, picking up a fistful of hot sand, the soil “is like a powder — it is not living anymore.”

Has he ever heard of something called “climate change”? I asked. “We heard about it on the radio, and we have seen it with our own eyes,” he answered. The temperature is different. The winds are different. They’re hot when they should be cold.

The chief’s impressions are not wrong. Senegal’s national weather bureau says that from 1950 to 2015, the average temperature in the country rose two degrees Celsius, much faster than anticipated, and since 1950, the average annual rainfall has declined by about 50 millimeters (about two inches). So the men of Ndiamaguene have no choice but to migrate to bigger towns or out of the country.

The lucky few find ways to get smuggled into Spain or Germany, via Libya. Libya was like a cork on Africa, and when the U.S. and NATO toppled the Libyan dictator — but did not put troops on the ground to help secure a new order — they essentially uncorked Africa, creating a massive funnel through chaotic Libya to the Mediterranean coast.

The less lucky find work in Dakar or Libya or Algeria or Mauritania, and the least lucky get marooned somewhere along the way — caught in the humiliating twilight of having left and gained nothing and having nothing to return to. This is creating more and more tempting recruiting targets for jihadist groups like Boko Haram, which can offer a few hundred dollars a month.

The chief introduced me to Mayoro Ndiaeye, the father of a boy who left to find work. “My son left for Libya one year ago, and since then we have no news — no telephone, nothing,” he explained. “He left a wife and two children. He was a tile fixer. After he made some money [in the nearby town] he went to Mauritania and then to Niger and then up to Libya. But we have not heard from him since.”

The father started to tear up. These people live so close to the edge. One reason they have so many children is that the offspring are a safety net for aging parents. But the boys are all leaving and the edge is getting even closer.

Which means they are losing the only thing they were rich in: a deep sense of community. Here, you grow up with your family, parents look after children and children then look after parents, and everyone eats and lives together. But now with the land no longer producing enough, “everyone has a [male] family member who has had to leave,” said the chief. “When I was young, everyone in the family was together. … The mother would be in the house and the man would go to the farm. And everyone stayed with their family, and now it is not what it used to be. I am afraid of losing my community, because my people can’t live here anymore.”

Africa has always had migrants, but this time is different. There are so many more people and so much less natural capital — Lake Chad alone has lost 90 percent of its water — and with cellphones everyone can see a better world in Europe.

Gardens or walls? It’s really not a choice. We have to help them fix their gardens because no walls will keep them home.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

With Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s victories in New York, we’re one furious contest closer to the end of this spectacle. But we’ve known for a while now where we’re headed, and it isn’t anyplace good.

American voters are displeased with the candidates they’ve been given. They’re disengaged from the process that winnows the field.

And that process disregards the political center, erodes common ground and leaves us with a government that can’t build the necessary consensus for, let alone implement, sensible action in regard to taxes, to infrastructure, to immigration, to guns, to just about anything.

Make America great again? We need to start by making it functional.

This election has certainly been extraordinary for its characters, but it’s equally remarkable for its context, one of profound, paralyzing sourness.

A poll released by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal on Sunday showed that 68 percent of American voters couldn’t imagine themselves casting a vote in the general election for Trump, while 61 percent said the same about Ted Cruz and 58 percent about Clinton.

A much, much higher percentage of voters viewed each of these three unfavorably than favorably. “Unpopularity Contest” was the headline on the story on the NBC News website, which rightly asked how well any president of such polarizing effect would be able to govern.

We’ve had such presidents (and candidates) before. And pessimism isn’t new.

But there have been developments and differences in 2016 that may well be making the situation worse.

The media, for one. This election isn’t being covered so much as marketed, by news organizations whose desperation for eyeballs has turned many of them into drama queens. Each new poll is a major scoop. There are countdown clocks for events as humdrum as candidate town halls. Debates are teased with ominous soundtracks and photographs better befitting prizefights.

When you treat a campaign as if it were an athletic competition, you turn it into more of a blood sport than it already is. And when you breathlessly promote it the way you would a hit TV show’s season finale, it becomes just another piece of theater. Neither approach encourages sober-minded engagement.

Nor does the manner in which so many voters use the Internet in general and social media in particular, to curate and wallow in echo chambers that amplify their prejudices, exacerbate their tribalism and widen the fault lines between us. The online behavior of the Bernie Bros is a great example, but it’s hardly the only one.

Additionally, the precise unfolding of the Republican and Democratic races this time around, along with complaints from the candidates themselves, has exposed the undemocratic quirks and mess of the process: the peculiarity of caucuses; the seduction of delegates and superdelegates; closed versus open primaries; states that are winner-take-all as opposed to states that are winner-take-most; the possibility of a brokered convention at which an interloper could be crowned.

To prevail, a candidate doesn’t even have to persuade an especially large share of the electorate, given how splintered and detached voters are. In an important commentary published in The Hill on Monday, the Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Penn extrapolated from Trump’s and Clinton’s vote tallies to note that, in his estimation, “We now have a system in which it takes just 10 million votes out of 321 million people to seize one of the two coveted nominations.”

“The result,” he wrote, “is a democracy that is veering off course, increasingly reflecting the will of powerful activist groups and the political extremes.” Would-be nominees needn’t worry much about the roughly 40 percent of Americans who at least technically consider themselves independents — a group that’s grown over the last decade — or the 60 percent who say that a third political party is needed.

No, these candidates “can just double down on elements of their base,” Penn observed. “Rather than bring the country together, they demonize their opponents to hype turnout among select groups, targeted by race, religion or ethnicity.”

Penn suggested several smart reforms to increase voters’ participation and sense of investment, including the abolition of caucuses and a rotation of the order in which states vote, so that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina don’t always get such outsize sway.

I wish we could also find a way to shorten these presidential campaigns significantly, so that they’re not such a soul-draining, throat-ravaging turnoff to almost anyone who’s not an epic narcissist or mired in politics to the point of no return.

Then maybe we’d look up one of these years and be choosing among the greater of goods, not the lesser of evils, and the victor would be left, physically and ideologically, with a voice that still carries.