On Paul Krugman, and a Little Bit o’ Populism

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Paul Krugman weighs in today on the subject that has to be uppermost in the minds of progressives: why did so many Trump supporters vote against their own interests?

Was it because of our message? Or because they didn’t hear our message because the news media didn’t convey our message? Because they have hate in their hearts? Or because, in their delusion, they bought into Trump’s magical thinking and his cult of personality? Some of all of these things?

Krugman concludes on a tepidly pessimistic note:

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

Aardvark begs to differ. He is unaware of the identity(ies) of those who “pretend that a big more populism would solve the problem.” My opinion is that the only course of action that might work is full throated advocacy of a program to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Not, in other words, a bit of populism, but instead, a lot of populism.

Let’s war game out the alternative, folks. Krugman focuses on coal country, where Trump has promised magically to bring back the mining jobs that he has no way in hell of actually bringing back.

What happens who he fails, and the former miners grasp that their savior has deserted them? “Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment,” Krugman writes. I don’t know whether he can do that, but I am highly confident he’s going to try–aided and abetted by his buddies in the Kremlin, who will ramp up their already successful fake news program.

Resentment? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

The question is which way the mob will march, and who will be in front of it.

Smiting the Pointy Headed Postmodernists

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A few weeks ago the Aardvarks were dining here at Happy Acres with their learned friend Iakovos Fahrbahn and Mrs. Fahrbahn. I regaled them with the story of how, many years ago, I took a course at Ivy University from Professor Richard Rorty. I think it was about metaphysics. Whatever it was about, Aardvark grasped nothing, absolutely nothing, of what Rorty was trying to convey to the unwashed. How surprised I was to learn last year that Rorty was to be found among the Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition. That discovery explained a lot about my experience back at Ivy U.

Now, after the election, Iakovos has kindly shared these observations from Rorty, writing in 1998:

[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Alas, these thoughts are all too understandable.

But here’s what we don’t understand. When—not if, but when—the unskilled workers of whom Rorty spoke grasp that they have been conned yet again in the greatest political con of all times, will they once again retire from politics? Or will they elect someone worse in 2020—a truly competent authoritarian?

No more water. The fire next time.

 

Inside Trump’s Mind—13 Working Hypotheses

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Aardvark finds it highly distasteful spending time inside Donald’s mind. If Donald lived here at Happy Acres, he is not the sort of person whom the Aardvarks would invite to sit with them in the dining room. We would not invite him to our next cocktail party. If he showed up anyway, we would both develop stomach flu and declare the party over. If we saw him walking toward us in the hallway, we would turn quickly and escape down another corridor.

All that said, he is the president of all of us, Aardvarks included, and we have to spend some time trying to figure out this disturbed person whom we have unwisely elected. So, as Aardvark writes on November 23, 2016, the day after the New York Times interview, he offers these 13 working hypotheses about the mind of Minority President-Elect Trump.

  1. Trump is a breathtakingly insecure person, who craves adulation and validation like an addict craves booze or heroin.
  2. Trump craves wealth, but mainly as a means of getting veneration.
  3. Trump craves beautiful women, but mainly, in all probability, more for the purpose of stroking his ego than for stroking his penis.
  4. Trump craves power, but mainly for the purpose of receiving adoration, as distinguished from actually doing any particular thing with that power.
  5. Trump is credulous, devoid of intellectual curiosity, and possessed of a minute attention span.
  6. In consequence of the above points, Trump has a very strong tendency to believe the last person who spoke to him.
  7. To achieve his unwisely chosen life goals, Trump views an essential tool in his toolkit as the spreading of bullshit indiscriminately and in all directions.
  8. He believes, accurately, that all “winners” (in his definition of “winners”) are bullshit artists, but inaccurately believes that all “winners” spread bullshit shamelessly and indiscriminately, 100 percent of the time. Like a color blind person who cannot tell the difference between red and green, Trump cannot tell the difference between evidence based advocacy and just making stuff up.
  9. In consequence of this mental deficiency, Trump feels shock and surprise, combined with a deep sense of grievance, when called out on his bullshit. That’s because he thinks he is just doing the same thing everyone else does—or at least what every “winner” does.
  10. Despite all of this, Trump believes some part of what he says. But because of all of this, one cannot say what part he deeply believes, what part he knows is bullshit, and what part he thinks might be true, at least based on what he was told by the last person he spoke to, before he speaks to someone else who will tell him differently. His changing views on the efficacy of waterboarding being an example of the latter.
  11. Because we cannot know what Trump will likely do, based on what has come out of his mouth, we must instead be guided by scripture. Paraphrasing Matthew 7:16, by his fruits shall ye know Trump.
  12. If a thing cannot possibly happen, then that thing will not in fact happen. Bannon, the Trump Whisperer, wants to improve the economic lot of the working class and thus build an enduring constituency for ethno-nationalism. Ryan and his merry band of Ayn Rand disciples want to adopt drastic changes in public policy whose objective effect would impoverish the working class—whatever the merry band may believe, or claim to believe. Both policies cannot happen. Therefore both policies will not be implemented.
  13. What policies will actually be adopted is unknown and unknowable at the present time. However, Trump may well figure out that the Ayn Randers would be highly counterproductive to his desire for working class adulation. If Aardvark were a betting man, he would bet on Bannon, the Trump Whisperer.

Breaking News! Breaking News!

crooked-money

From God’s lips to Morning Joe’s ears: TRUMP WON’T PROSECUTE CROOKED HILLARY!

Here’s a thought for progressives. We need to do what we can to separate Trump from his base. So, this Thanksgiving, when your crazy uncle Bill starts basking in Trump’s triumph as he chows down, ask him about Trump’s breaking his promise to appoint a special prosector.

Remind him that Marco Rubio said that Trump is a con man. Remind him that Little Marco was right: Trump is a con man.

Ask uncle Bill how many more of Trump’s promises are likely to be broken. Ask him how many broken promises he would forgive—and which broken promises he would not accept.

While you’re at it, ask uncle Bill if it’s OK for Trump, Giuliani, and Flynn to make money from their dealings with foreign governments. Ask him why they’re not like Crooked Hillary. Does he think maybe Trump was concerned that sauce for the goose might turn out to be sauce for the dander?

If he yells, don’t yell back. Listen. And check out Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening.)

Tell uncle Bill you look forward to continuing the conversation.

George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport

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Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

What Do We Tell the Children?

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After the election my old friend Lobo Loup sent an email blast containing A Special Message for the Children of America, giving a sarcastic earful of advice from Trump on how to become president. I reproduce it below.

Thinking along the same lines, my friend Vasari shared this Post-Election College Paper Grading Rubric by Daveena Tauber. It’s a hoot, and a must read.

With no children of their own, Aardvark and Dr. Aardvark are, naturally, great experts on child rearing. So here is my opinion. When all else fails, tell the truth, even to children.

And here is the truth, or at least I think it is the truth. Lying, bullying, and other despicable behavior can sometimes lead to great success, at least for a time. But people like that will inevitably wear out their welcome. And the problem with habitual lying is that in time no one will believe you, even when you are telling the truth.

Not only is truth telling the right thing to do, but it is also, as Lincoln liked to say, the best policy.

* * *

Dear Children of America,

Gather round and heed my words, for now we have seen they are true. 

As you go through life:

DO:

  • lie
  • cheat
  • exploit your fellow man, including people you might hire
  • spew racist venom and carry out/promote/enforce racist policies, as an employee or employer
  • engage in illegal sexual predatory behavior
  • consort with and welcome the support of anti-Semites, anti-Muslims, anti-ANYBODY ‘OTHER’
  • encourage your supporters, if you ever run for an election — even in school! — when they cry out, “kill [the opponent], string [him/her] up” because that will whip them up into a fury and drive up your vote
  • declaim your views in sound bites with absolutely no substance, verification or regard for the truth, because winning at all costs is ‘all’
  • hold yourself above the law in all other respects, and aspire to one day loudly declaim that you ‘could stand on Fifth Avenue and kill somebody and get away with it’, because people will admire that as a sign of strength
  • blithely ignore the disastrous warming of the planet and promote policies to make it worse
  • surround yourself with ‘yes-men’ (and maybe a few women)
  • con, con, con everyone around you, because it’s all about you
  • suck up to the rich while paying lip-service to the needs and cares of the rest of society

DO NOT

  • study hard and learn your subjects
  • read deeply and grapple with complexity 
  • pay taxes or
  • really give a damn about anything or anybody except yourself, as long as you can FAKE IT and pretend that you do 

AND YOU, TOO, CAN BECOME PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

And if all this advice seems to contradict everything your parents ever taught you, just tell them — “Hey!  I’m just following the example of Donald Trump, President of the United States!”

– Donald Trump, Making America Great Again.

 

What Democrats Owe the Country

crumbling-infrastructure

That’s the topic E.J. Dionne addresses this morning. He has many interesting things to say, but I find his overall message a little muddy—and understandably so.

Dionne argues that Democrats need relentlessly to oppose racists, racism, and Trump’s other nastiness. That is clear, and among people of good will there is no controversy about it.

But what if Trump proposes programs that might actually improve the economic lives of working class Americans—programs that would almost surely sew discord between the Trumpistas and the establishment Republicans?

Should Democrats work with Trump? Or should they adopt the same strategy that Mitch McConnell employed, and oppose him on all things, including the things they would endorse if the president were a Democrat?

Dionne doesn’t quite say it, but implies that if something Trump proposes actually does improve the economic position of the working class, he will grab all the credit for it and use his credit grab to further entrench his racist nonsense.

All understood. Democrats are indeed damned if they do cooperate and damned if they don’t. But I think they are damned to a lower portion of Hell If they don’t cooperate than if they do, because failure to cooperate will be presented, and understood by many, as cynicism trumping a desire to promote the public good.

Of course, the whole discussion is premised on the assumption that Trump might present proposals on infrastructure and health care that would actually help his base of supporters. Maybe he won’t. In which case E.J. Dionne and Chuck Schumer can breathe a sigh of relief, as they climb down from the horns of a dilemma.

A Basket of Deplorable Appointees

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The night The Donald won, he said he wanted to be President of all the people. Only the highly gullible would have been certain that he was speaking his mind. But, at that moment, to entertain the thought that he actually did aspire to national reconciliation was a metaphysical possibility. That’s because we did not yet know for sure whether he was an actual crazy person, or a fairly sane person putting on a crazy act.

As the days go by, the evidence for actual craziness becomes more apparent. Many have made the case. As always, Jonathan Chait lays it out most persuasively: Donald Trump Building Team of Racists.

Bannon, Flynn, Sessions. They are not a credit to their race.

Democrats in the Senate must oppose Sessions to the last bullet. Because they no longer have the filibuster for presidential appointees, they will probably lose. So be it. Republicans will have broken the justice system, and having broken it, they will own the consequences of their actions.

A 12-Step Program

Nicholas Kristof offers us A 12-Step Program for Responding to President-Elect Trump.  Social justice work consists of direct service, advocacy, education, outreach, and personal witness. Kristof has a number of interesting ideas on all of these modes of reacting to Trump. Some of his suggestions are interesting initiatives that you probably would not have thought of on your own.

As one act of personal witness, I have donned an American flag pin. As the occasion arises, I explain why I’m wearing it.

This morning it occurred to me that I need to get back on Facebook and reconnect with some of my very mixed bag of family members, former classmates, and other connections. Initially, I plan to do a lot of listening. For those who supported Trump, I want to find out more about what itch they thought they were scratching.

If someone wanted to restore white supremacy, then I am afraid we don’t have much to talk about. If someone wanted a skilled businessman to restore the American economy, then we have the basis for a discussion.

Will Trump Turn into an Establishment Republican—or will we get Kaiser Donald?

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I don’t have a reasoned expectation one way or the other, but I hope the establishment coopts him.

First, if the Republican establishment coopts Trump, and more or less fences him in,  then he will not blow up the international order.

Second, if they coopt him, then those desperately frustrated voters who are said to have formed a crucial part of his voters will not get what they thought they were voting for. (For a very chartable take on what the Trumpistas thought they wanted, see For Trump voters, there is no left or right.) Instead, they will get what they richly deserve, for exercising such poor judgment. That will be bupkus, zilch, nada in the way of anything that will solve their economic problems, coupled with a lot of stuff that will help Richy Rich and hurt them.

Then, at last, maybe they will wake up and smell the coffee.

But, as I said, I have no expectation one way or the other, only a hope. As of this writing, the known facts give reason to predict an erratic and unpredictable ride.

On that topic, I am in debt to my old friend Hans Jungfreud for sending along some insights on the similarity between Donald and Kaiser Wilhelm II. (Several decades ago, when Vasari and I were in high school at the Dixieland White Kids School, Hans was our German exchange student. We are happy to have reconnected, although we wish the reconnection could have been made in better circumstances.)

As I was saying, the Kaiser. The Kaiser did not start the Great War all by himself. He had a lot of help. But he certainly did his part. My friend Hans calls our attention to this article on the Kaiser’s temperament:

The kaiser wasn’t just indiscreet. He was also impulsive and unbalanced. He was prone to adopting a self-righteous and contemptuous tone. He showed an unhealthy interest in the sexual behaviour of his royal colleagues. He was self-absorbed and often had fits of anger.

He was not stupid, however. Contemporaries testify that he was quick to grasp complex subject matter or to pick up the thread of a conversation. The problem was not his intellect as such, but his lack of judgement. He would overshoot the mark, admixing facts with fantasies born of anger or paranoid speculations about the future.

So frequent were the kaiser’s verbal gaffes that historians have wondered whether he was in his right mind. The Freudian psycho­historian Thomas A Kohut argued that emotional deficiencies in the young Wilhelm’s relationship with his parents might have induced a narcissistic personality disorder. The kaiser’s most authoritative biographer, John Röhl, proposed that the roots of the problem were neurological and grew from an insufficiency of oxygen during birth. The resulting minor cerebral damage, Röhl argued, though asymptomatic when Wilhelm was born, laid the foundations for a “secondary neuroticisation” in his childhood and adolescence.

Neither of these hypotheses can be verified and both may be false, but they offer explanations for some of the most striking traits of the adult Wilhelm II: a tendency to respond to even measured criticism with vengeful rage, a compulsion to associate things and persons with himself and to view the world in excessively personal terms, irascibility and incoherence under stress, extreme vanity, an alarming lack of empathy and the inability to discern the boundary between fact and speculation.

World war, anyone?

What Congressional Democrats Should Do—And How to Get them to Do It

What Democratic Congresspeople Should Do

The debate about how far Democrats should go in imitating McConnell’s mindless obstruction strategy continues: Why Democrats need to fight Donald Trump from the moment he takes office. The article gets into the weeds about the merits and demerits of Trump’s inchoate infrastructure plan, and about the public perceptions that arise from cooperation versus fighting.

For what it’s worth, and that’s maybe not much, Aardvark’s simplistic view is that progressives should (1) see whether Trump’s proposal on infrastructure, or on anything else, actually has merit, or can be negotiated to a point that it is worth passing, and then (2) do the right thing, whatever that turns out to be.

The basis for this simplistic approach? (1) Doing the right thing for the people is better than doing the wrong thing. And (2) in a situation where cynicism about the political process is already ingrained in the populace, it is unwise to add to that cynicism by doing the wrong thing now in the name of a better right thing tomorrow.

How Progressives Should Get Democratic Congresspeople to do it

How to Make Your Congressman Listen to You

Thanks once again to Vasari, who advises that he follows Emily Ellsworth on Twitter. (As to Aardvark, he twerks not, neither does he tweet. He presses words on WordPress.)

 

The Difference between Donald Trump and George Wallace

Aardvark’s good friend Vasari reminds him that we have seen this movie before. In fact, the two of us saw it together in the 1960s.

But there is this difference: George Wallace knew that he needed forgiveness. From the Washington Post, March 17, 1995:

In the annals of religious and political conversions, few shiftings were as unlikely as George Wallace’s. In Montgomery, Ala., last week, the once irrepressible governor – now 75, infirm, pain-wracked and in a wheelchair since his 1972 shooting – held hands with black southerners and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

What Wallace overcame is his past hatred that made him both the symbol and enforcer of anti-black racism in the 1960s. On March 10, Wallace went to St. Jude’s church to be with some 200 others marking the 30th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march.

It was a reaching-out moment of reconciliation, of Wallace’s asking for – and receiving – forgiveness. In a statement read for him – he was too ill to speak – Wallace told those in the crowd who had marched 30 years ago: “Much has transpired since those days. A great deal has been lost and a great deal gained, and here we are. My message to you today is, welcome to Montgomery. May your message be heard. May your lessons never be forgotten.”

In gracious and spiritual words, Jo\seph Lowery, a leader in the original march and now the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, thanked the former separatist “for coming out of your sickness to meet us. You are a different George Wallace today. We both serve a God who can make the desert bloom. We ask God’s blessing on you.”

As the Rough Beast Slouches toward Bethlehem, Take His Statements both Seriously AND Literally

Marcus Borg, the liberal Christian scholar, says that you can take the Bible seriously or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both. He advises adoption of the former approach.

Recently, speaking of Trump, Salena Zito has written in the Atlantic that “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally”—meaning that his supporters have come to believe that he will do great things for them, but understand the hyperbole as hyperbole, and forgive it.

I suppose that may be an accurate statement about the thinking process of many Trump voters, maybe the majority of them. But there is a high risk that, in so thinking, they have made a catastrophic misjudgment.

We will know more as the transition process unfolds. As I write, grossly unqualified people are apparently being considered seriously for high positions in diplomacy and the military. Right now, along with Charles Lane, I am sorry to say that I take Trump’s desire to smash the international order both very literally and very seriously.

This is not a happy conclusion. But progressives gain nothing when they forget that denial is not just a river in Egypt.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

If You Don’t Know the Causes of a Terrible Problem, Then You Probably Can’t Fix It

Whatever Hillary’s defects, Trump’s voters exhibited horrifically bad judgment in viewing him as preferable to her. Paul Waldman admirably catalogues the reasons why, in The Unpersuadables. Having done so, Waldman concludes that “racial, ethnic, and religious hatred was the foundation on which the Trump campaign was built.”

Well, no doubt white identity was one foundation of Trump’s campaign.

The Waldman piece may usefully be contrasted with Pankaj Mishra, writing in the New Yorker on The Anti-Elite, Post-Fact Worlds of Trump and Rousseau, which places great emphasis on economic, class, and educational resentment.

My own hypothesis is that the main immediate cause of the Trump voters’ massive failure of judgment was the loathing toward Hillary that had come to possess them.

Whatever the right answer—or rather, answers—may be, they likely will not be discovered by pundicts articulately contemplating their navels. We need some social science, folks

Is Jonathan Chait Right about Democratic Cooperation on Infrastructure?

For some time now, I have found Jonathan Chait, who writes for New York magazine, one of our most insightful pundits. I adhere to that view, though I cannot agree with the thrust of two recent columns: How the Loyal Opposition Will Work in Trump’s America and Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi Have a Plan to Make President Trump Popular.

The question Chait addresses is whether Democrats ought to involve themselves with, and support, Trump’s plans for massive new spending on infrastructure. (That’s assuming the project as ultimately adopted is appropriate public policy—not fundamentally marred by poorly conceived efforts to involve private capital.)

Chait trenchantly expatiates on the hypocrisy of those who oppose public spend in Democratic administrations only to fall in love with inflationary deficit spending when Republicans take office. He enlarges on how Republican opposition to everything Obama proposed helped to keep their own constituents in poverty, and primed to vote for “change” in 2016. He eloquently argues that allowing a feeling of bipartisanship to grow could tend toward legitimizing that which ought to be illegitimate.

I believe these are all fair arguments, with much to commend them.

But, in the end, aren’t we all better if progressives just do the right thing?

If (and it may be a big if) Trump can live with an infrastructure proposal similar to that offered by Obama—and rejected by McConnell and his cynical posse—wouldn’t a mirror image cynicism on our part simply lead ever wider segments of the public to shout, “A plague on both your houses”?

Wouldn’t mirror image cynicism just reinforce whatever authoritarian tendencies Trump may exhibit?