Archive for the Category Social trends


One remaining man of principle

It’s hard not to be dismayed went you look at what’s happened to society.  We now live in a country where almost everyone, including those in the elite media, has a view of reality that is completely shaped by their politics.  Thus whether people believe decades-old accusations of sexual assault depends almost entirely on the relationship between the political party of the observer and the political party of the accused.  There are days when I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off if a giant asteroid hit Earth and put us out of our hypocrisy, er, misery.

But then I recall that there is one moral giant with a long and consistent record on sexual assault, regardless of the politics of the accused.  I speak, of course, of Donald Trump:

Days after President Clinton admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Trump said Clinton was a “victim” and critiqued the physical appearances of various women with whom Clinton had been accused of having extramarital relations at different times.

“It’s like it’s from hell, it’s a terrible group of people,” Trump said in an interview with FOX News’ Neil Cavuto on Aug. 19, 1998. . . .

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing in terms of what Starr has done or a terrible thing, I think it’s a terrible thing, actually,” Trump added, presumably referring to the former Whitewater independent counsel who expanded his investigation into the Lewinsky affair.

As far as his personal opinion of Clinton, Trump gave Clinton a strong rating.

My only quibble is that when Trump discussed Starr’s persecution of Clinton, he left out his sidekick, Brett Kavanaugh.  Today, Trump continues to relentlessly defend any and all men accused of sexual misconduct; Rob Porter, Roger Ailes, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly and one other name I can’t recall.

Unlike 99% of Americans, he doesn’t let politics affect his moral compass, which never deviates from his core beliefs:

Trump: And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

But Trump doesn’t stop there, he also understands the need for America’s President to mock and shame women who come forth with accusations of sexual abuse:

Playing to the crowd of thousands gathered to cheer him on, the president pretended to be Dr. Blasey testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday. “Thirty-six years ago this happened. I had one beer, right? I had one beer,” said Mr. Trump, channeling his version of Dr. Blasey. He then imitated one of her questioners, followed by her responses about what she could not recall about the alleged attack.

“How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get home? I don’t remember. Where was the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said, as the crowd applauded. “I don’t know — but I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”

Trump and his crowd of supporters must have had so much fun!  But there’s also a serious side to Trump; he understands the suffering endured by so many  . . .  er, people:

Asked if he had a message to men, the president said: “Well, I say that it’s a very scary time for young men in America when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time.” . . .

Asked if he had a message for young women, he said, “Women are doing great.”

(BTW, I want to reassure readers that I’m doing OK, despite being male.)

Trump has also reached out to foreign leaders who share his moral principles, like Philippine President Duterte:

Mr Duterte once joked about the gang rape and murder of an Australian missionary, suggesting that, because he was mayor of the town it took place in, he should have been allowed to go first. (US president Donald Trump has since said that he has a “great relationship” with the Filipino leader.)

In contrast to Obama, who preferred polite, wimpy leaders like Merkel and Trudeau, Trump likes tough guys like Italy’s Salvini:

Mr Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and a Trump admirer, has also taunted female politicians. In 2016, at a political rally, he pointed to a sex doll on the stage and claimed that it was a “double” of Laura Boldrini, who was then president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies. In a recent interview with Politico, Ms Boldrini said that she has received numerous rape and death threats in recent years, adding that Italy’s populists had targeted her because “I was a woman and I was advocating for refugees, for human rights, for women’s rights”.

And of course Putin:

Vladimir Putin’s international image was tainted today after it emerged he had let slip another of his infamous remarks – this time praising the president of Israel for alleged sex offences.”He turned out to be a strong man, raped 10 women,” the Russian president was quoted by Russian media as saying at a meeting in Moscow with Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. “I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!”

Israeli police announced on Sunday that the president, Moshe Katsav, could be charged with the rape and sexual harassment of several women.

Soon, Trump will be joined by a fellow traveller in Brazil:

Mr Bolsonaro has exploited their fury brilliantly. Until the Lava Jato scandals, he was an undistinguished seven-term congressman from the state of Rio de Janeiro. He has a long history of being grossly offensive. He said he would not rape a congresswoman because she was “very ugly”; he said he would prefer a dead son to a gay one; and he suggested that people who live in settlements founded by escaped slaves are fat and lazy. Suddenly that willingness to break taboos is being taken as evidence that he is different from the political hacks in the capital city, Brasília.

It’s so refreshing that politicians are now able to ignore taboos against racism and rape jokes.

PS.  Do I have to say the preceding was a pathetic attempt at satire?  I suppose so. If you want some seriously good satire, read Will Wilkinson’s set of tweets on Trump as a Shakespearean figure—it’s great.  If you don’t understand the context, you may need to look at the NYT’s recent demolition of Trump’s entire business career.  Yes, it was also built on a pack of lies and fraud, plus frequent bailouts from daddy.  I know; how can you demolish a reputation that is already a mere pile of rubble?

PPS.  And let’s not forget the National Review, who seems to think the biggest problem with the GOP is Jeff Flake.  Or CNN News, which never met a female accuser they did not believe.  Or the “trendy” parts of the academy, which was again discredited in an hilarious update of the Sokal Hoax.

I feel I’m overdosing on cynicism.  I need some sort of medication to deal with those 6-hour lulls in the news cycle where nothing Onion-level insane happens in the world.  Perhaps if I go kayaking in New Zealand and get slapped in the face by an octopus wielding seal, it will shake me out of my ennui.

Do you remember when . . .

The GOP favored free trade

Democrats worried about immigration

The GOP favored tight money

Liberals favored free speech

Conservatives thought it was naive to claim that North Korean nukes are no threat to the US

Liberals supported Israel

Conservatives worried about the Russian threat

Liberals mocked the conservative fear of Russia

Conservatives worried about sex scandals

Liberals thought it was hip to ignore sex scandals

The GOP opposed increasing government spending faster than GDP

Liberals opposed Harvard admission quotas on high achieving minority groups.

Conservatives were skeptical of antitrust laws

Liberals favored a colorblind society

Conservatives wanted to ban non-PC art

Liberals liked activist judges

Conservatives thought the President should be forced to testify under oath, and get impeached if he lied

Liberals liked Al Franken, Woody Allen, Garrison Keillor, Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose and Bill Clinton

Conservatives liked George Bush, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and John McCain

Republicans “believed the women”, and Democrats did not.

Just to be clear, I’m in favor of some of these changes and opposed to others.  It’s sad that I have to make this disclaimer.  But it’s the internet.

PS.  File this story under Trump Derangement Syndrome

All things must pass

This post is highly speculative; take it with a grain of salt.

Traumatic events such as wars are often followed by a backlash. The side that feels vindicated will lash out against those seen as being on the other side. After the Civil War, the radical Republicans went after (moderate) President Andrew Johnson. After WWI, the statists went after the anarchists and pacifists. After WWII (and Korea) you had a wave of anti-communism.  After Vietnam, liberal Democrats went after Nixon.

Don’t get bogged down in the details; there are generally broader trends at work. Thus Nixon’s downfall is directly linked to the Watergate break-in, but Nixon was actually attacked for a wide range of abuses, involving domestic spying, war crimes in Southeast Asia, and lots of other stuff. Congress passed laws reining in institutions such as the CIA.

I wonder if the Trump era will fall into this pattern. Obviously there is no major war going on, but at a psychological level it feels a bit like a civil war. Perhaps the Trump era will be followed by the same sort of “reign of terror” as followed earlier traumatic events. Eventually Trump will fall, and the establishment (led by the Democrats) will at some point seek to punish Trump and the administration officials that implemented his policies.

I suspect the “political correctness” movement will play the same role in the 2020s as the anti-communist movement played in the 1950s. Let’s think about some parallels. These backlash movements are often tied to very justified causes, but occasionally overreach. Thus the Confederacy really was evil, but there was overreach in trying to impeach Johnson for not being sufficiently punitive toward the South. Communism really was evil, but there was overreach in going after Hollywood screenwriters. Trump really is evil, but there is occasional overreach in going after people not deemed sufficiently “politically correct”.

Let me use an example that may at first seem off topic, but is actually linked to all the current craziness. The Me-Too movement is a long overdo attack on powerful men who abuse women. And I’d also argue:

1. Trump is a sort of anti-Me-Too figure. (The same could be said for substantial parts of the GOP.)
2. Some liberal anti-Trumpers who are mildly supportive of Me-Too are getting attacked for not being sufficiently closely allied with the Me-Too movement.

The first point is pretty obvious. Trump himself has been accused of abuse by many women, and he frequently defends other men who have been accused of abuse. Many of the women that support Trump are themselves skeptical of Me-Too, and of feminism more broadly.

On the second point, a good example occurred recently with the New York Review of Books.  Ian Buruma (editor of the NYRB) agreed to publish a piece by a Canadian media figure that had been accused of abusing 23 women. Buruma was interested in publishing an account of what it was like to be publicly shamed.  Not surprisingly, many people were outraged, as they viewed this decision as Buruma allowing the abuser to whitewash his actions in a prestigious media outlet.

I think you can make a good argument that Buruma used poor judgment in this case. On the other hand, the firing of Buruma was clear overreach and not justified by his decision, even if mistaken. Honest people can disagree about how to reconcile the public’s interest in learning the perspective of shamed people, with the public interest in shaming bad people.

I expect the eventual downfall of Trump to unleash a huge wave of political correctness across the country. It’s important to put these sorts of waves into perspective, and not overreact either way. Thus the McCarthy era persecution of the Rosenbergs was justified, whereas the attacks on the Hollywood screenwriters were not. The underlying “cause” of anti-communism was of course quite justified, right up there with the anti-slavery movement of the 1800s and the war on fascism during the 1940s. But, as with any movement full of passionate, self-righteous people, there will be occasional overreach.

It’s quite likely that I’ll eventually become caught in the anti-Trump backlash, as “collateral damage”. This might seem surprising, as I’m among the most outspoken anti-Trumpers in the econ blogosphere. If you are surprised, then you’ve never studied the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where even the devout communists eventually became shamed and persecuted.  I’ll eventually become seen as a Trumpian old white male, who just doesn’t “get it”.  Someone will dig up my old posts where I mock certain tenets of political correctness, such as the recent hysteria over cultural appropriation.

So why am I not worried about my likely fate? Let’s go back to Trump for a moment. Trump clearly has fascist instincts, and idolizes strong authoritarian leaders. But he’s also enmeshed in an American constitutional system that gives him relatively little power. So he governs as a fairly conventional Republican, except for a few symbolic actions such as the recent trade war. I’ve consistently argued that not much would change under Trump, and so far I’ve been right.

Similarly, although the eventual overreach of anti-Trump political correctness will resemble the Chinese Cultural Revolution on a stylistic level, in fact it will be mostly empty theatre—not mass murder. I’m in the fortunate position where I’m not vulnerable to public shaming. It makes no difference to me if I lose my job–heck I’d love an excuse to retire! I don’t care what others think of my political views; indeed I’ve always been a contrarian thinker.  And I don’t follow Twitter, which is where the shaming often occurs.  (Others will not be so lucky.)

In the post-Trump era, I’ll cheer the attacks on Trump officials who did abuse government power and I’ll attack the excesses of left-wing PCism where appropriate. Classical liberalism is my lodestar, an ideal that never needs replacement. Both the left and the right have periods where they reject classical liberalism. Right now, the biggest threat in the world is right wing, xenophobic, misogynistic, authoritarian nationalism. And that’s where I focus my attacks. But there will come a day where the biggest threat will be left-wing PCism run amuck, and when that occurs I’ll focus my attacks on that group.

BTW, one aspect of the current moment that is often overlooked is that there is a sort of generational war simmering below the surface. During the 1960s, the hippies were not just horrified by the Vietnam War and racism; they were horrified by the older generation. After all, the older generation had produced the system that the hippies despised. Something similar is occurring with the Me-Too movement. The younger generation is clearly contemptuous of the older generation, at least regarding the sexual harassment issue. And how could it be otherwise? The older generation tolerated these abuses for decades. Indeed someone recently dug up a tape of a “roast” at one of the major networks, where several participants made fun of Matt Lauer’s practice of abusing women. To my generation, this stuff was just a big joke—the “casting couch” phenomenon. How could the younger generation not be horrified by us old fogies, who just don’t get it?

Earlier I referred to the Buruma firing, and this seems relevant:

Were there in-house objections to the piece?

No. We had a proper office discussion and everybody expressed their views and not everybody agreed. But all views were aired and in the end, when the decision was made, the office stuck together.

Was there a gender breakdown during the discussion?

How old are you?

I’m 66

I like Buruma a lot, but he comes off poorly in this interview.  People of my generation need to spend some time rethinking their assumptions and at the very least come up with better defenses for their views, assuming they decide not to change their views.  (Of course it goes without saying that younger SJWs need to be more tolerant of views with which they disagree.)

I’m already looking past the Trump era, and even past the post-Trump backlash excesses.  Its helps to view the past, present, and future from a “timeless perspective”.  At least it’s less stressful to see things that way. All things must pass.

PS.  Here’s what the NYRB should have done.  Hire someone to write an opinion piece on Me-Too.  Have them interview a few abusers to get a sense of what it’s like to be shamed, and whether they’ve rethought their attitude toward women.  But also include interviews with the women who have suffered emotional trauma from the abuse, to put things into perspective.


Anne Applebaum on Eastern Europe

Anne Applebaum is one of America’s most distinguished conservative reporters.  (In the “classical liberal sense.)  Interestingly, in 2018 we’ve reached the point where distinguished conservatives and center-left reporters are almost identical on a wide range of foreign policy issues.  She has written the single best article I’ve ever read on the recent transformation of Eastern Europe.

Applebaum has dual citizenship with Poland, and is especially good on that country.  But the essay ranges over a wide range of topics.  For instance, until today I could never really “get” the Dreyfus Affair of 1894.  I knew that a French military officer was wrongly accused of treason.  And that the fact that he was Jewish probably played a role in this scandal.  But I never understood why this event was viewed as being so important.  It’s mentioned in almost every book I’ve ever read on French society in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  You could be reading a biography of an artist or author, and they’ll always spend a lot of time discussing that person’s opinion on the Dreyfus Affair.  Why?

After reading Applebaum’s story you’ll suddenly get it. History will start locking into place, at a psychological level. Indeed any future historian that wants to write a 21st century history of Europe should probably start with the Dreyfus Affair.

She’s also great on Hungary.  It’s long, but read the whole thing.

PS.  I see that Trump is gloating about how Nike stock dropped right after the Kaepernick ad was put out:

President Donald Trump had plenty to say about a topic he has been obsessed with, tweeting that Nike was getting “absolutely killed with anger and boycotts” and asking what the company was thinking with their divisive decision.

If the President were smart then he should have waited to see the impact on sales.  But then if he were smart . . . well a whole lot of things would be different:

Ten days after Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its “Just Do It” 30th anniversary ad campaign, the sports apparel behemoth’s stock price closed at an all-time high on Thursday at $83.47, according to a report from Bloomberg.

People seem to have tuned Trump out, which bodes well for the midterms.  And the good news keeps piling up, as the “brave” Manafort flipped today.

PPS.  Robert Shiller is in the news today:

At the same time, the president’s apparent Teflon to slough off scandals, conflicts of interest, evidence of incompetence, and other issues that would doom traditional political figures is well documented.

Shiller says this mindset is reflected in the market, which he considers overvalued.

“I think Trump encourages us to be more risk-taking” when it comes to investments, said Shiller.

Shiller’s hypothesis that this thinking may have seeped into the public consciousness.

How can I put this politely . . . umm, no.

Detroit, Orange County, and “Murica”

There are no American nationalists.  They don’t exist.  There are people like Laura Ingraham, who present themselves as American nationalists.  But they are not at all convincing.  On the other hand, there are lots of American white nationalists, including our current president.  So how can we tell the difference?  First let’s look at how Laura Ingraham perceives “the problem”:

Ingraham said on Wednesday that “in major parts of the country, it does seem that the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people and they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like.”

. . .

Ingraham said toward the end of Wednesday’s commentary that she was not talking about race and ethnicity, and complained a night later that the disclaimer was being missed.

On Thursday, she said she had “a message to those who are distorting my views, including all white nationalists and especially one racist freak whose name I won’t even mention, you don’t represent my views and you are antithetical to the beliefs I hold dear.”

Instead of race, she said she was talking about “a shared sense of keeping American safe and her citizens safe and prosperous.

We roll our eyes at her attempt to dig her way out of trouble.  Does anyone seriously think that Ingraham is horrified by blond immigrants from Norway (or Slovenia)?  Her concern about immigration is clearly linked to race, at some level.  But it’s also true that she fears crime, and that she associates crime with immigration.  The problem here is that the violent crime rate in many of the “American” parts of big cities like New York is dramatically higher than in the immigrant areas.

So let’s think about what it would take to avoid “massive demographic change”.  In America, blacks made up 14% of the population in 1860, and 12.6% today.  That ratio is now pretty stable, because the black birth rate is about equal to the overall birth rate, and the rate of black immigration as a share of the total is similar to the share of blacks in the US population.  You can think of recent immigration from Haiti and Nigeria as a way of keeping the black share of the population stable, i.e. a way of preserving traditional America. Is that how Ingraham thinks about Haitian immigration?

In this vision of “American” nationalism, Detroit is a red, white and blue, all-American city, while Orange County is a disturbing foreign place, where whites are only 41% of the population and blacks are almost non-existent.  It’s mostly Hispanic and Asian, many from first or second generation immigrant families.  Is that how Ingraham feels about these two places?  I think we all know the answer, one doesn’t have to be a dog to hear the hidden messages in the white nationalist rhetoric.

I claim there are no “American nationalists”, only “Murican nationalists”.  They believe in Murica, a mythical white country cleansed of the blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans who have lived here for centuries. Ingraham may see herself as an American nationalist, but I don’t believe it for a moment.

Those who believe in Murica blame inner city blacks for their plight (bad culture), while romanticizing the plight of opioid-addicted whites in Appalachia.  It’s all the fault of the Chinese, who stole their jobs.

When Trump asked why we should accept immigrants from “shithole” countries, many people focused on the insult to low-income countries.  That comment was certainly impolite, and not something an American president should be saying about countries we need to deal with; but the real problem was the implication that immigrants from shithole countries are not the sort of people that we want here.  Some whites have trouble seeing the implication of Trump’s comments, but African-Americans (and Central Americans) whose ancestors came from those exact countries certainly know what Trump was implying.  Trump was implicitly saying (to them) “we don’t like the fact that you are here”.  Interestingly, many of our most successful immigrants come from dysfunctional poor countries like India, and even immigrants from Nigeria do about average in terms of income.

Lots of Trump voters don’t care what Trump says about minorities.  But there are still a substantial number of people who vote GOP for tax cuts and Supreme Court nominees, but who would be very uncomfortable if Trump made explicitly racist statements.  Enough to swing a very close election.  These people would rather pretend that Trump’s not a racist, just being a bit politically incorrect on occasion.  So Trump continues to send out dog whistles to his white nationalist supporters, while the moderate, upper middle class Republican voters of Orange County can continue to look the other way.

There was recent speculation that Trump might have used the N-word in private conversation. (Admittedly not from a very credible source.)  Speaking for myself, the truth or falsity of this claim would in no way affect my view of Trump. I already know how he thinks about lower income minorities.  They are people that Trump doesn’t want in “Murica”.  I wish he’d just admit it.

PS.  I moved to Orange County a year ago.  Compared to Boston, it’s culture reminds me much more of the traditional (white) America I grew up in during the 1960s in Wisconsin.  Back then, if one saw an East Asian on the street (then called “Orientals”) the person seemed very foreign looking. Now they no longer look foreign.  Here’s a video from an Orange County 4th of July Parade last month, full of marching Chinese ladies.  Even Laura Ingraham might shed a tear.

PPS.  Play the video until it reaches a pop song, which starts out with rap, transitions to Christina Aguilera (I think), and then samples a Norwegian pop song from the 1980s.  Seeing the middle-aged Chinese ladies dancing to all of that is more than a bit surreal.