Now is the Winter of our Discontent


Dr. Aardvark is discouraged, and the sounds of rending garments are heard throughout the land: there is palpable danger that Trump will be reelected, our guys and gals are “too week to stand on the stage” with him, our base is fractured and disillusioned, and we are about to go down the crapper.

I do not deny there is cause for concern. On the other hand, there is always cause for concern.

How to win? Sunzi died 2516 years ago. It was true 2516 years ago, and it’s true now: you win by knowing your enemy and then by knowing yourself.

Know the Enemy

Someone has apparently given Trump this sound strategic advice:

Mr. President, I know you are not one for subtlety or nuance, so let me break it down for you in a simple way. You enjoy the support of a coalition of the Deplorables and of the Very Affluent. You need both to win.

Right now, you have locked in the votes of every single white racist, misogynist, immigrant-fearing voter. Every single mother’s son and daughter of them. Plus which, I am happy to say, the Very Affluent are tending to look favorably on you, because their taxes are low and their stock portfolios are high.

Now, Mr. President, I know just how much you enjoy trolling the Democrats, and just how much the Deplorable part of your base likes to cheer you on. But that tactic has reached the point of severely diminishing marginal returns—if that isn’t too abstract a concept for you.

Trolling gains you not a single vote, because you already have all the pro-trolling vote. And it really pisses off the other side.

And since there are more of them than there are of us, it really makes no sense to piss them off royally, and motivate all of them to come out and vote for the Democratic candidate.

And so, Mr. President, what you need to do is lay off the trolling and keep reminding the Very Affluent about how very affluent they are.

And let the Democrats wallow in that sense of despair toward which they are so naturally prone.

It’s a really good plan, if we let it work.

Know Yourself

There are two ways of thinking, fast and slow. The first relies on stereotypes to “leap to conclusions.” The second relies on reasoning, and often involves probing and testing the initial conclusions to which the fast kind of thinking lept.

Trump is incapable of slow thinking, and largely incapable of appealing to people with the ability to think slowly.

Our candidate must be capable of both kinds of thinking, and she must be able to appeal to both kinds of thinking. She must be inspirational, and he must effectively appeal to rationality as well. Indeed, she must effectively appeal to the rationality of some of the people whose fast thinking would have led them to support Trump.

And, though it may pain you to hear me say this: he needs to avoid scaring the pants off the Very Affluent.

Climate Change as a Means to Break Through

How to implement all this sage advice? It seems to me that the one argument we have that is best calculated to break through Trump supports’ fast thinking and get them to do some reasoning, for a change. It is this:

The world is on fire. The Climate Change Deniers have been shown up for being the fraudsters they are. No one believes them any longer, except Donald Trump. And the time for collective action is fast running out. The next four years will seal the world’s fate.

So you have a choice. Either reelect Trump see the world burn to a crisp. Or elect the Democrat and begin to do something to mitigate climate change.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there are many other things to talk about, beginning with inequality. But it seems to me that the increasingly pressing issue of climate change is the one issue most likely to break through the skulls of some of those on the other side.

And Don’t Forget to Pray for Trump

Aside from that, I propose that we all pray for Trump—specifically, that he should ignore the good advice outlined above, and do everything he can in the coming months to demonstrate what a jerk he really is. By this means, he will gain not a single new Deplorable vote, he will scare off some of the Very Affluent, and he will motivate the hell out of our side.

There You Go Again, Joe

money bags

Paul Waldman, Biden’s comments about segregationists and the rich are deeply problematic

Jonathan Chait, Joe Biden’s Segregationist Nostalgia Is Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds

This afternoon, the talking heads are talking about Joe Biden’s eyebrow-raising comments to a bunch of rich supporters in New York. There are many things that might be said—see, for example, the two sources cited above—but let me just make two quick points.

How to Pitch the Rich

Waldman remarks,

Biden knows his audience. His pitch to them is not that we must reduce inequality because it’s a fundamental wrong, but because if we don’t, the masses will rise up in anger and you never know what might happen then.

My observation: it’s true that inequality has gotten way out of hand, and if it isn’t reduced, the poor are likely to rise up at some point and make things very uncomfortable for the rich. In other words, narrow, amoral economic self-interest on the part of the plutocracy would dictate that the plutocracy do something to let the pressure cooker vent, before it’s too late.

Biden was advocating that some rich people should give him some money. When you’re advocating, you don’t make the argument that is the best and most noble. You make the (true) argument that is most likely to appeal to your audience.

Biden is not to be faulted for telling his audience something that is true and is likely to appeal to them, rather than telling them something else that is also true, but will have less appeal. At least that’s my opinion.

But Biden’s viewpoint suffers, in my view, from quite a different, and very fundamental, defect.

Failing the Sunzi Test

Know yourself, know your enemy, hundred battles, hundred victories. Hillary Clinton lost for many reasons, but among the most important was her failure to understand what political currents she was dealing with. I very much fear that Joe Biden suffers from the same mental defect: you can make nice all you want with Mitch McConnell and his ilk, but they are not going to make nice with you.

If you do not understand whether the battlefield is hilly or level, you are likely to make big mistakes. I am very much afraid Biden does not understand where he is. And, lacking an understanding of the most fundamental facts about the current political environment, any success he may have will largely come as a matter of accident.

I do not like to depend just on dumb luck. An appropriate strategy, along with well-chosen and skillfully implemented tactics, are much to be preferred.

A Lunchtime Discussion

Today, I had the privilege of eating lunch with a person whom I greatly admire—one who has walked with princes and presidents, whose wisdom has been sought by foreign heads of state, but who has remained grounded through it all.

As we finished our lunch, my friend allowed as how Elizabeth Warren is looking better and better. I agree.

I’m still concerned that she told the Texas Bar Association that she was an Indian. I’m tempted to say that we have all done some squirrely things in our time, but, to tell the truth, I really can’t think of anything comparable that I might have done.

Still, nobody’s perfect.