Know Yourself, Know Your Enemy, Hundred Battles, Hundred Victories


Sunzi’s wise observations direct me toward two morning reads.

Know Your Enemy

Please grit your teeth and read John F. Harris, ‘He is our O.J.’: POLITICO readers explain why they’re standing with Trump during impeachment.

There’s a great deal of information in this article, and I’m not going to try to summarize it. But let me make a few basic points.

First of all—and I hope this comes as no surprise to you—lots of people think very differently from you and me.

My second point is two-handed. On the one hand, it’s unwise on many grounds to try to win arguments with bogus facts and faulty logic. On the other hand, if you actually want to win, try to see if you can make some logical, fact based arguments that will appeal to your audience—even if they are not the arguments that seem most salient to you.

With those thoughts in mind, please reverse engineer the information in Harris’s piece, and think of arguments that might appeal to his correspondents.

Here’s a hint: if they like Trump because he’s “strong,” make a persuasive argument that he’s really ____.

If they like Trump because he’s “authentic,” then make the case that he’s really ___________.

See, that isn’t so hard, is it?

Know Yourself

To find out how to win in 2020, check out Kristee Paschall, What if Democrats Tried Real Outreach? We reached out to nonvoters and infrequent ones in the 2018 midterm elections and saw astonishing results.


Oopsy, daisy. Several readers from Russia, again.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid, It’s the Racism

sorting hat

This is an excellent article, and highly recommended reading: A new study reveals the real reason Obama voters switched to Trump.

There were between six and nine million people who voted for Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016. Does that prove that, for those voters, economic issues were more important than racial issues? No, it does not.

One reason is that Obama’s second term featured a significant amount of racial conflict. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in 2013. The 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and subsequent week of protest and unrest, kicked off a massive and racially polarizing national debate over police violence against African Americans.

A second reason is that Obama’s very presence in office was racially polarizing. Michael Tesler, a scholar at the University of California-Irvine, has documented in detail how Obama’s very presence in the White House polarized America along racial lines. It would make sense that this effect would grow stronger the longer Obama was in office, setting the stage for a major backlash in his final year.

Third, and arguably most importantly, the two candidates turned the election into a kind of referendum on American race relations. Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and vowing to build a wall between the US and Mexico. He vowed to ban Muslims, and described black life in America as a hellscape of violence and poverty. Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign was not nearly so overt, which means it was less likely to attract voters who held latent racist and anti-immigrant attitudes.

Clinton, for her part, positioned herself as a champion of racial justice. While Obama’s rhetoric on race was typically post-racial, positioning the country as more united than divided, Clinton got out front on issues like police violence and immigration. There are plenty of valid reasons for this — Clinton was more worried about failing to turn out minority voters, Obama was more worried about alienating skittish whites, and there was no way to respond to Trump’s campaign without tackling race head-on.

The result, though, is that racial issues became the key political dividing line in a way they were not in either 2008 or 2012.

Please read the whole article.

Understanding the Trumpians: The Search for Answers Goes On

foreign hordes

Ross Douthat, Conservatism After Christianity: A new survey reveals the Republican Party’s religious divide.

Relying on survey data from the Cato Institute, Douthat informs us that Republicans who go to church regularly hold generally respectable views on race—they “look more like the party many elicte conservatives wanted to believe existed before Trump came along.”

Meanwhile, secular Republicans are the ones who lap up white identity “populism.” “This seems to support the argument … that support for populism correlates with a kind of communal breakdown, in which secularization is one variable among many leaving people feeling isolated and angry, and drawing them to the ersatz solidarity of white identity politics,” Douthat writes.

The communal breakdown point dovetails nicely with

Yoni Appelbaum, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Anymore: As participation in civic life has dwindled, so has public faith in the country’s system of government.

Like most habits, democratic behavior develops slowly over time, through constant repetition. For two centuries, the United States was distinguished by its mania for democracy: From early childhood, Americans learned to be citizens by creating, joining, and participating in democratic organizations. But in recent decades, Americans have fallen out of practice, or even failed to acquire the habit of democracy in the first place.

The results have been catastrophic. As the procedures that once conferred legitimacy on organizations have grown alien to many Americans, contempt for democratic institutions has risen. In 2016, a presidential candidate who scorned established norms rode that contempt to the Republican nomination, drawing his core support from Americans who seldom participate in the rituals of democracy.

Dan Balz, A fresh look back at 2016 finds America with an identity crisis

Two years after the 2016 election, there has been no single answer to the question: What happened? In an outcome that saw the popular vote and the electoral college diverge, theories abound, opinions are many and consensus fleeting. Now, a trio of political scientists have come forth with their answer as to why Donald Trump prevailed over Hillary Clinton, summed up in the title of their forthcoming book: “Identity Crisis.”

The co-authors are John Sides of George Washington University, Michael Tesler of the University of California at Irvine and Lynn Vavreck of the University of California at Los Angeles. They have plumbed and analyzed a wealth of polling and voting data, examined surveys of attitudes taken long before, during and after the 2016 campaign. Their conclusion is straightforward. Issues of identity — race, religion, gender and ethnicity — and not economics were the driving forces that determined how people voted, particularly white voters.

The book will be available on October 23. Pre-order yours now.

A Song for the Climate Change Deniers

It is Sunday morning, September 10. Hurricane Exxon has just made landfall in the Keys. It will barrel through Florida, and then veer into Alabama.

Aardvark weeps.

I take no joy whatsoever in saying this, but it sure looks like the storms are taking direct aim at the gullible climate deniers and Trump voters.

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


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?