Aardvark’s New Home Page, or, The Limits of Human Reason


As we learn from Elizabeth Kolbert, Steve Bannon is conducting a big experiment in social psychology in an effort to falsify Lincoln’s hypothesis.

The reference to Kolbert’s article, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, comes from the estimable Hans Jungfreud (who assures me he is neither a Freudian nor a Jungian). Hans calls it this morning’s lesson in social psychology.

It’s a fine article. Please go read it right now. Hint: the answer to the question posed by the title is said to be found in evolution.

Kolbert concludes,

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring.

That may well be the case, but, personally, I will take Lincoln’s quote, above, over the literature.

Hans may well see this, and much else I have written, as evidence of confirmation bias and/or any of a variety of other mental defects.

But you, gentle reader, protest: the headline speaks of Aardvark’s new home page. When will we get to the new home page, you wonder.

Right now.

I have revised the home page to collect, and link to, a number of voices that address the question: what can progressives do, and what should they be doing, in the age of Trump?

A fair number of these materials give advice on how to interact with rabid Trump supporters. Generally, they do not claim that facts and logic are likely to be effective tools, at least in the immediate present.

We have to wait a little while, and wait for the facts on the ground to become clear. If, for example, you are a coal miner who voted for Trump because your fondest desire is for the resurgence of the coal industry, there will come a time when the coal industry remains in stagnation, long into Trump’s presidency. At some point you will have two simultaneous epiphanies: one, that the coal industry really is not coming back, and two, that the emperor is in fact naked.


“He’ll Seal His Own Fate.”

In a recent post I looked at two contrasting views on whether Trump would get away with Putinizing America. Yesterday, David Brooks made this reassuring observation:

The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.

Aardvak loves David Brooks, but he would feel better about this reassurance if Brooks had not confidently observed that no great political party would nominate a clown like Trump.

Oh, wait, maybe I need to read those words about a great political party more carefully.

But I digress. To return to the main message:

Amidst his casual reassurance on the topic of fate sealing, Brooks marshals a horrifying array of factoids about the social conditions that let Trumpism happen.

  • Between 1985 and 2000, the total hours of paid work in America increased by 35 percent. Over the next 15 years, they increased by only 4 percent.
  • For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force.
  • These labor dropouts spend 2,000 hours a year watching screens—and we all know what’s on those screens, don’t we?
  • Lots of the labor dropouts are taking opioids.
  • We have become an immobile society, migrating across state lines at half the level of the 50s and 60s.
  • We have become less entrepreneurial.
  • We have become less innovative.

In sum, ours is

a country that is decelerating, detaching, losing hope, getting sadder. Economic slowdown, social disaffection and risk aversion reinforce one another.

Of course nothing is foreordained. But where is the social movement that is thinking about the fundamentals of this century’s bad start and envisions an alternate path? Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?

That’s Brooks’ summary. My own take on the facts Brooks marshals is that next time we might do a lot worse than Trump.

No more water. The fire next time.

A Cluster of Clusterfucks


The Immigration Clusterfuck

Why Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Could Sink U.S. Home Prices

 President Donald Trump’s immigration policies threaten to crack a foundation of the American economy. … “If Trump gets the immigration plan he wants, the housing market will get hit harder than any other,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute. If “millions of people get deported and more people don’t come in to take their place, then you’ll have downward pressure on home prices, especially in urban areas.”

The Infrastructure Clusterfuck

Here’s One Reason Why Trump’s Legislative Agenda Is Flailing

 In a December interview with The New York Times, Trump confessed that he was still figuring out exactly what he wanted to do ― and that he hadn’t realized FDR-style infrastructure building might alienate conservatives. “That’s not a very Republican thing ― I didn’t even know that, frankly.”

The Empty Government Clusterfuck

Cabinet picks clash with White House over hiring

Many Cabinet nominees joined the administration believing they’d have wide latitude to pick lieutenants, but they’re beginning to realize Trump’s powerful advisers are looking over their shoulders. The White House’s approach has already slowed hiring — and the dozens of vacancies at key agencies could make it more difficult to implement some of Trump’s policy proposals.

So far, Trump has nominated fewer than three dozen of the 550 most important Senate-confirmed jobs, according to an analysis by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit group that advised Trump officials during the presidential transition.

The Health Care Clusterfuck

Here you go: Pick a politician, watch them get yelled at

 Pick a politician on our YELL-O-MATIC™ and watch them get yelled at.

Neighbor, How Stands the Union?

Yes, Dan’l Webster’s dead–or, at least, they buried him. But every time there’s a thunder storm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, “Dan’l Webster–Dan’l Webster!” the ground’ll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you’ll hear a deep voice saying, “Neighbor, how stands the Union?” Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible, or he’s liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that’s what I was told when I was a youngster.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

Writing today in The Russification of America, Roger Cohen asks a damn good question:

The Russian system under Putin is a false democracy based on a Potemkin village of props — political parties, media, judiciary — that are the fig leaf covering repression or elimination of opponents. Russia runs on lies. It’s alternative-fact central (you know, there are no Russian troops in Ukraine). But what happens when the United States begins to be infected with Russian disease?

Pence’s speech [at the Munich Security Conference] may not have been precisely a barefaced whopping lie, but it certainly showed barefaced whopping disdain for the intelligence of the audience (you know, nothing has changed with Trump, ha-ha.) By comparison, Lavrov was blunt. He announced the dawn of the “post-West world order.” That became a theme. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, announced the “post-Western global order.”

I wonder what that means — perhaps a world of lies, repression, unreason and violence. It advances as America offers only incoherence. To counter the drift, what is needed? A functioning American State Department would be a start.

But is this Russsification gaining much headway in America? The indispensable Jonathan Chait addresses this question in Donald Trump, Pseudoauthoritarian.

“Donald Trump is an authoritarian by instinct,” Chait writes. Chait knows that a good topic sentence needs to be followed by elaboration and illustrations of the main point; he has no shortage of material to prove his case.

That said, will Trump actually be able to “degrade or destroy American democracy”? Well, he has tried to hype or fabricate stories of violence by enemies “while downplaying or ignoring violence or threats from friendlier sources.”  He has “obsessively fabricated a narrative in which he is the incarnate … will of the people,” while calling the press the “enemy of the American people.”

But so far it’s all talk—and it appears to be backfiring. The press is standing up. The courts are standing up. Some of the Republicans are standing up. His tactic of intimidating large corporations has backfired.

Firms whose leaders make favorable statements about the president have seen their stock get hammered. A long list of prominent CEOs has openly criticized Trump. The reason for this is obvious. Trump’s supporters may have disproportionate power in the Electoral College, but his opponents have disproportionate power in the marketplace. Firms cater in their advertising to the young, who overwhelming oppose Trump, rather than to the old, who strongly support him.

If Trump has a plan to crush his adversaries, he has not yet revealed it. His authoritarian rage thus far is mostly impotent, the president as angry Fox-News-watching grandfather screaming threats at his television that he never carries out. The danger to the republic may come later, or never. In the first month of Trump’s presidency, the resistance has the upper hand.

Making America Great Again


Thanks to Mitzie for directing Aardvark to this from Diane Ravitch’s blog:

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it looks like Trump is actually making America great again. Just look at the progress made since the election …

Millions of Americans are exercising more. They’re holding signs and marching every week. …

Likewise, the pharmaceutical industry is enjoying record growth in sales of anti-depressants. …

Tens of millions of people are now correctly spelling words like emoluments, narcissist, fascist, misogynist, holocaust and cognitive dissonance.

Everyone knows more about the rise of Hitler than they did last year. …

Travel ban protesters put $24 million into ACLU coffers in just 48 hours, enabling them to hire 200 more attorneys. Lawyers are now heroes. …

Now, more than anytime in history, everyone believes that anyone can be President. Seriously, anyone.

– Susan Keller

Well, This Is Sort of Reassuring, I Guess


In McMaster will be a good teammate as national security advisor, Jennifer Rubin writes,

Without his own axes to grind and with good working relations with Mattis, [McMaster] has the opportunity to be an effective conduit between the president and the various foreign policy agencies and departments. If the strategy for surviving the Trump years and quarantining Stephen K. Bannon is to provide coherent, unified and persuasive advice without political interference, you’d want someone like McMaster, a no-nonsense manager who can create whenever possible a united front with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, director of national intelligence nominee Dan Coats, CIA director Mike Pompeo and others. That still leaves the problem of Trump’s judgment, conflicts of interest, honesty and impulsivity, but at least the foreign policy apparatus won’t be a cause of his failures.