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kottke.org posts about politics

What Would a Truly Representational US Congress Look Like?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2018

Even though the diversity of the US Congress has increased in recent years, a trend that looks to continue after the midterm elections in November, overall the 538 people who serve in Congress are not actually that representative of the US population as a whole. Congress is still way more white, male, and Christian than the US as a whole.

In 2016, Ken Flerlage looked at the gender, religious, and racial diversity of the United States and compared it to that of Congress.

Congress has 104 women (19%) and 431 men (81%) while the United States population is 51% female and 49% male. In order to be truly representative, in terms of gender, 168 seats currently held by men would need to be won by women (taking the number to 272 women and 263 men). It is also worth noting that, of the 104 women, 76 are Democrat (73%), while only 28 are Republican (27%).

And here is the visualization for religion:

Religion Diversity Congress

7.1% of the population are atheist or agnostic and 2.4% ascribe to “other” religions (this includes “don’t know”, other world religions, Pagan, Wiccan, Native American religions, and numerous others), yet not a single member of Congress falls into any of these categories.

When you hear people saying that America is still largely a patriarchal & white supremacist society, this is what they are talking about. It’s not just people being hyperbolic.

You could easily expand on this analysis by breaking it down by age, income, education, urban vs rural, sexual orientation, and occupation. You could guess that a truly representational Congress would be younger, waaaay more poor, less accredited, more urban, less straight, more working class, and, when you consider the gender & racial factors, much more politically progressive, but it would be illuminating to see the actual numbers. I’d love to see the NY Times (maybe The Upshot?), FiveThirtyEight, or The Pudding tackle this analysis.

P.S. It’s also worth noting a truly representational Congress would include full voting members from Puerto Rico and Washington DC as well as from other US territories. And maybe separate Native American representation?

How Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

Dwayne Johnson The Rock.jpg

My friend, the novelist/fabulist/media inventor Robin Sloan, has a charming new short story that imagines how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will become President, first by playing the role in an imaginary movie. Along the way, there are some poignant thoughts about the nature of our political imaginations, the role of new media like Instagram in shaping public perception, and the ways leadership can, spell-like, be brought into being.

Here is the meager gift tucked into the disaster that is Donald Trump: now, anyone can be elected president, so anyone will be elected president. We might never have another lawyer in that office again. Donald Trump broke the seal, but Dwayne Johnson will fulfill the prophecy.

Can you imagine him on the debate stage? The way he’ll look alongside his opponents in the primary? A line of normal, rumpled humans, and then this towering figure. A political revolution: his suit will fit.

If he runs, he will win, and he will run, so the question isn’t, will Dwayne Johnson be president; rather, it’s: what kind of president will Dwayne Johnson be?

“Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth,” said Archimedes, maybe. With this book, we’ll set our feet and push.

The story and its narrator are so cynical and idealistic at once that it’s hard to characterize. Wasn’t the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” a self-invention of sorts? the story’s narrator asks. Couldn’t a new myth, a new colossus, reanimate that central idea, that openness to all peoples and possibilities, again?

The fact that on the one hand, America is “a nation of Presidents,” creating its own institutions, rules, and leaders, and a nation that could swoon for The Scorpion King because his Instagram videos are just so damned good, just illustrates one of hundreds of central contradictions about this place.

Are those contradictions hindrances to us? Do they fuel us? Or are they just unavoidable, constituent elements to the place and its peoples?

I don’t know. But I’m glad this story is poking those contradictions with a stick.

Rituals of democracy

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2018

At The Atlantic, Yoni Applebaum argues that a decline in democracy isn’t just about voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and radical inequality, but also the decline of smaller civic institutions. The 19th century saw a boom in democratic governance of public/private associations, not just local and federal government:

By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more of these associations mirrored the federal government in form: Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies. “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.

The model proved remarkably adaptable. In business, shareholders elected boards of directors in accordance with corporate charters, while trade associations bound together independent firms. Labor unions chartered locals that elected officers and dispatched delegates to national gatherings. From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives…

This nation of presidents—and judges, representatives, and recording secretaries—obsessed over rules and procedures. Offices turned over at the end of fixed terms; new organizations were constantly formed. Ordinary Americans could expect to find themselves suddenly asked to join a committee or chair a meeting. In 1876, an army engineer named Henry Robert published his Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies, and it improbably became a best seller; within four decades, more than 500,000 copies were in print. It was, a Boston newspaper declared, “as indispensable as was the Catechism in more ecclesiastical times.”

We were, as the University of Georgia’s Walter Hill said in 1892, “a nation of Presidents.” And the decline of those traditions, those rituals of democracy, tracks a corresponding decline in respect for and interest in political democracy. That, at least, is Applebaum’s take.

I’m less sure. I think the history and sociology of these voluntary associations is fascinating, and deserves to be part of what we talk about when we talk about democracy writ large. But I think (and I would guess this would probably be taken as a friendly amendment) we also have to think about the transformations in other institutions we know are connected to democracy, like the media, public schools, and public institutions like libraries. Places that don’t necessarily have elected officers, but likewise help preserve certain rituals of democracy that we all have to learn in order to interact in a democratic society. How we read, how we think, how we share space — all of this matters, the anthropology as much as the law.

In other words, there’s a formal and informal side to democracy, and neither one of them is necessarily more important than the other. Not to mention that elections and officers are features of only a certain kind of democracy, and there are other, more radical forms of democracy that are available to us — all of which were experimented with in the 18th and 19th centuries too, by anarchists, socialists, and other people who didn’t take the US’s electoral model has having definitively solved the question of what a democratic society might look like.

The broader truth I take from this is that, to borrow from Aristotle, we are what we do repeatedly. If we’re not a nation of Presidents any more, it means we’ve become a different kind of democracy, not necessarily an un-democracy. And that’s significant. We’ve mutated into something else: a different kind of mass democracy, linked together by a different set of institutions with a different set of principles, leading to a different set of possibilities.

Fear and Loathing in the Trump White House

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2018

Bob Woodward’s much-anticipated book, Fear: Trump in the White House, comes out next week. The Washington Post somehow “obtained” a copy (did they swipe it off Woodward’s desk?) and provided a summary of some of the book’s main points.

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

The degree to which the people around Trump handle and describe him like a small child is still, after more than a year and a half of this nightmare, completely batshit insane and unbelievable. Arrested development.

Update: All other considerations about the anonymous NY Times opinion piece written by “a senior official in the Trump administration” aside, it’s another example of Trump being treated like a toddler by his staff.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

“Half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back” … “literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next” — is he 3 or 72?

Offering a more progressive definition of freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2018

Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He is a progressive Democrat, Rhodes scholar, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan during his time as mayor, and is openly gay. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Buttigieg talked about the need for progressives to recast concepts that conservatives have traditionally “owned” — like freedom, family, and patriotism — in more progressive terms.

You’ll hear me talk all the time about freedom. Because I think there is a failure on our side if we allow conservatives to monopolize the idea of freedom — especially now that they’ve produced an authoritarian president. But what actually gives people freedom in their lives? The most profound freedoms of my everyday existence have been safeguarded by progressive policies, mostly. The freedom to marry who I choose, for one, but also the freedom that comes with paved roads and stop lights. Freedom from some obscure regulation is so much more abstract. But that’s the freedom that conservatism has now come down to.

Or think about the idea of family, in the context of everyday life. It’s one thing to talk about family values as a theme, or a wedge — but what’s it actually like to have a family? Your family does better if you get a fair wage, if there’s good public education, if there’s good health care when you need it. These things intuitively make sense, but we’re out of practice talking about them.

I also think we need to talk about a different kind of patriotism: a fidelity to American greatness in its truest sense. You think about this as a local official, of course, but a truly great country is made of great communities. What makes a country great isn’t chauvinism. It’s the kinds of lives you enable people to lead. I think about wastewater management as freedom. If a resident of our city doesn’t have to give it a second thought, she’s freer.

Clean drinking water is freedom. Good public education is freedom. Universal healthcare is freedom. Fair wages are freedom. Policing by consent is freedom. Gun control is freedom. Fighting climate change is freedom. A non-punitive criminal justice system is freedom. Affirmative action is freedom. Decriminalizing poverty is freedom. Easy & secure voting is freedom. This is an idea of freedom I can get behind.

Every US President at their worst

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

On Twitter, @InstantSunrise wrote an entertaining thread “in which I drag every single US president in order”. She starts off with The Founding Fathers:

Thomas Jefferson: Motherfucker owned slaves, and was a rapist, committed forced removal against Native Americans. Started an actual war in North Africa and a trade war with Britain that would eventually escalate into an actual war.

Andrew Jackson is deservedly dragged more than most:

Ohhhhhh my god. This absolute motherfucker garbage president. Literally committed genocide. Owned slaves, gave govt. jobs to people who gave him money. Decided that a central bank was a bad idea and closed it in 1837, breaking the entire economy.

Teddy Roosevelt gets a B/B-:

Did some good busting trusts and monopolies with his big dick energy. Discovered that if you bait the media with “access” they’ll eat up whatever shit you say. Had a lot of policies that were racist as shit, like banning all Japanese ppl from entering the US.

Woodrow Wilson gets a Jackson-esque OMG:

Ohhhhhh my god. Dude was like super fucking racist. So racist that his election emboldened racists enough where they literally revived the KKK. His AG, Palmer, loved to deport leftists for no reason. There’s so much shit about Wilson I can’t fit it into 280 chars.

I think she could have gone in on Nixon a bit harder (for creating the war on drugs for example):

Created the southern strategy and stoked racial tensions. Sabotaged the peace negotiations for Vietnam in order to get elected, then prolonged the war. Bombed the shit out of Laos and Cambodia for no real reason. Also watergate.

Only Lincoln and John Quincy Adams get off relatively unscathed.

“I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

Beto O’Rourke is running against Ted Cruz for one of Texas’ two Senate seats. At a recent event, he was asked if he thought that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people was disrespectful.

I kind of wanted to know how you personally felt about how disrespectful it is — like, you have the NFL players kneeling during the national anthems. I wanted to know if you found that disrespectful to our country, to our veterans, and anybody related to that.

O’Rourke’s answer, which connects this protest to past non-violent protests undertaken by black Americans, is pitch-perfect — honest, respectful of the questioner & the audience, and inclusive.

I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.

That’s how you politic.

P.S. In his campaign against Cruz, O’Rourke is relying solely on individual donors, no PAC money. If you’d like to help him out, you can donate to his campaign here.

The Economist: “America’s electoral system gives the Republicans advantages over Democrats”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2018

The Economist writes about how the US Constitution, our first-past-the-post voting system, and demographic changes have combined to give Republicans a significant advantage in legislative elections.

The source of this discrepancy is that Democrats will win their seats with big majorities in fewer districts, whereas Republicans will prevail by narrower margins in a larger number of districts. In 2016 Democrats who beat Republican opponents won an average of 67.4% of the two-party vote in their districts, whereas Republicans who defeated Democrats received an average of 63.8%. This imbalance is partly due to deliberate attempts to create districts that provide such results, and partly just down to the fact that Democrats tend to live more tightly bunched together in cities. Together, these two factors put up quite an obstacle. According to our model, the Democrats need to win 53.5% of all votes cast for the two major parties just to have a 50/50 chance of winning a majority in the House.

If this imbalance were limited to a single chamber of the legislature, or a single election cycle, the Democrats’ frequent carping about a stacked electoral deck might sound like sour grapes. All electoral systems have their oddities. But changes in where Americans live and contradictions in their constitution — a document designed to work with many weak factions that has instead encouraged and entrenched an increasingly polarised two-party system — have opened gaps between what the voters choose and the representation they get in every arm of the federal government. In recent decades these disparities have consistently favoured the Republicans, and there is no reason to think that trend is going to change on its own.

In the past three House elections, Republicans’ share of House seats has been 4-5 percentage points greater than their share of the two-party vote. In 2012 they won a comfortable 54% of the chamber despite receiving fewer votes than their Democratic opponents; in 2014 they converted a 51% two-party-vote share into 55% of the seats.

Such comparisons are harder for the Senate, where only a third of the 100 seats are contested in any election. But adding together all the votes from the most recent election of each senator, Republicans got only 46% of them, and they hold 51 of the seats.

And let’s not even talk about the presidential elections…

In all the world’s other 58 fully presidential democracies — those in which the president is both head of state and head of government — the winning candidate gets the most votes in the final, or only, round of voting. But due to the “electoral college” system that America’s founders jury-rigged in part to square the needs of democracy with the demography of slavery, this does not hold true for America. States vote in the college in proportion to their combined representation in both houses of Congress. This set-up means that a candidate who wins narrowly in many small and smallish states can beat one who gets more votes overall, but racks most of them up in big majorities in a few big states.

During almost all of the 20th century this did not matter much; the candidate who got the most votes won every election from 1896 to 1996. But both of the past two Republicans to win the presidency have received fewer votes when first elected than their Democratic opponents did. In the contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000, this margin was a modest 0.5 percentage points. In 2016, however, it was substantial: Hillary Clinton’s lead of 2.1 percentage points was larger than those enjoyed by the victorious John F. Kennedy in 1960, Richard Nixon in 1968 and Jimmy Carter in 1976.

We almost stopped climate change in the 80s. What happened?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Steinmetz Desert

The New York Times Magazine has devoted its entire issue this weekend to a single article by Nathanial Rich: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Photo by George Steinmetz, who did the photography for the Times piece.

Update: For a critical reading of Rich’s piece, check out this Twitter thread by Alex Steffen.

I notice that reactions to “Losing Earth” seem divided along a pretty straight-forward line: Those who work in climate science, journalism or advocacy-and those who don’t.

Folks who don’t work on climate for a living seem more positive about the piece than those who do.

There’s a reason for that: It’s a long essay that gets its subject wrong, and the ways it goes wrong are ways many of us who work on climate have seen again and again. It’s work that doesn’t know its history, and so makes old mistakes.

Weirdly central in Nathaniel Rich’s story is the claim that there existed a time before politics, when climate change was not hampered by opposition: “The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way…”

This is simply untrue.

He doubles down on the idea by explicitly exonerating high-CO2 industries + the GOP

“A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. …Nor can the Republican Party be blamed.”

Robinson Meyer makes a similar point at The Atlantic.

The thrust of this history seems to suggest that powerful figures in the Republican Party were already skeptical of human-caused climate change by 1980. These leaders had not yet converted most Republican rank-and-file voters to their view, and indeed there may have been a few supporters of climate action in the party. But by and large, the most influential administration officials muddied climate science and weakened climate policy.

If Rich seems a little too charitable to the G.O.P, he lets fossil-fuel interests off the hook entirely. It’s likely that oil executives knew humans were triggering climate change before Rich’s story even picks up.

Remembering the girls of the Leesburg Stockade

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

In Georgia in 1963, 15 African-American girls aged 12 to 15 were arrested for trying to buy movie tickets at the whites-only theater entrance. They were arrested and held without charge for up to 45 days, their parents unaware of their whereabouts.

Instead of forming a line to enter from the back alley as was customary, the marchers attempted to purchase tickets at the front entrance. Law enforcement soon arrived and viciously attacked and arrested the girls. Never formally charged, they were jailed in squalid conditions for forty-five days in the Leesburg Stockade, a Civil War era structure situated in the back woods of Leesburg, Georgia. Only twenty miles away, parents had no knowledge of where authorities were holding their children. Nor were parents aware of their inhumane treatment.

Leesburg Stockade

Sickening. And to top it off, their parents each had to pay a $2 boarding fee when the girls were finally released. The Leesburg Stockade incident is a timely reminder that tyrants in America on the wrong side of justice have often separated children from their parents for political leverage. It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now.

The constructive-destructive axis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

In his biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson reports on some comments Jobs made over dinner to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch about Fox News in 2010.

In return for speaking at the retreat, Jobs got Murdoch to hear him out on Fox News, which he believed was destructive, harmful to the nation, and a blot on Murdoch’s reputation. “You’re blowing it with Fox News,” Jobs told him over dinner. “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you’ve cast your lot with the destructive people. Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society. You can be better, and this is going to be your legacy if you’re not careful.” Jobs said he thought Murdoch did not really like how far Fox had gone. “Rupert’s a builder, not a tearer-downer,” he said. “I’ve had some meetings with James, and I think he agrees with me. I can just tell.”

Such an insightful comment by Jobs. As John Gruber notes:

This line from Jobs — “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive” — is truly the best summary of Trumpism I’ve seen.

It’s been eight years since that conversation and the Republican Party & their voters have doubled down in destroying opportunities for people (particularly those with little power), driven by the likes of Fox News. This destruction will be felt for generations to come.

Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Obama Shade Souza

Pete Souza spent 8 years photographing President Obama as the official White House photographer. Souza compiled some of the best of those photos (including the ones with kids) into a book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Since Trump took office in January 2017, Souza has used his Instagram account to post photos of Obama in response to Trump’s actions — for instance, when Trump initiated the travel ban against Muslim nations, Souza posted a photo of Obama meeting with a refugee girl.

Souza has collected all of that shade into another book of Presidential photos: Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.

Shade is a portrait in Presidential contrasts, telling the tale of the Obama and Trump administrations through a series of visual juxtapositions. Here, more than one hundred of Souza’s unforgettable images of President Obama deliver new power and meaning when framed by the tweets, news headlines, and quotes that defined the first 500 days of the Trump White House.

The book comes out in October, but you can preorder it now from Amazon.

The Ten Stages of Genocide

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2018

From Dr. Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University, a list of the ten stages of genocide that all societies move through when the group in power decides to murder a large group of people, typically on the basis of ethnicity. For each stage, Stanton has helpfully listed preventative measures.

4. Dehumanization: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. The majority group is taught to regard the other group as less than human, and even alien to their society. They are indoctrinated to believe that “We are better off without them.” The powerless group can become so depersonalized that they are actually given numbers rather than names, as Jews were in the death camps. They are equated with filth, impurity, and immorality. Hate speech fills the propaganda of official radio, newspapers, and speeches.

To combat dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be jammed or shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.

(via @libyaliberty)

What made the Nazis possible? Why didn’t anyone stop them?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 20, 2018

With an eye on the current political situations in the US, Turkey, Russia, and China, Cass Sunstein reviews three books that shed light on how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s: They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century by Konrad Jarausch, and Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner.

Mayer’s book was published in 1955 and consisted of post-war interviews with normal German people (janitor, baker, teacher) who had been Nazi party members. Their recollection of what had happened differed somewhat from the rest of the world’s.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we — you and I — saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

They also denied the Holocaust had happened. They didn’t see it because their lives were just fine (up until the war started).

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

This reminded me of how ISIS improved the lives of many in Iraq & Syria by fixing electrical problems, regularly collecting garbage, and focusing on law & order. The quotes around “everybody” in the last line of that paragraph also reminded me of the criticism1 directed at people like Steven Pinker, Bill Gates, or Hans Rosling who insist the world is getting better. Better for whom? Everybody?

See also the Sunstein-edited Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America.

  1. It’s interesting that this post was deleted from the TED blog. I wonder why?

America’s inhumane child separation policy & our border concentration camps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

Child Separation

No use sugar-coating it: the federal government of the United States of America now has a policy of taking children away from their families when they attempt to enter the US to request political asylum from violence & hardship in their native countries. These children and their parents are placed into concentration camps. The government is doing this as a deterrent for further immigration and for political leverage.

But Mr. Miller has expressed none of the president’s misgivings. “No nation can have the policy that whole classes of people are immune from immigration law or enforcement,” he said during an interview in his West Wing office this past week. “It was a simple decision by the administration to have a zero tolerance policy for illegal entry, period. The message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Texas Monthly interviewed Anne Chandler, the director of a nonprofit that focuses on helping immigrant women and children. She spoke about what the zero tolerance policy means:

TM: So, just so I make sure I understand: the parents come in and say, “We’re persecuted” or give some reason for asylum. They come in. And then their child or children are taken away and they’re in lockup for at least six weeks away from the kids and often don’t know where the kids are. Is that what’s happening under zero tolerance?

AC: So the idea of zero tolerance under the stated policy is that we don’t care why you’re afraid. We don’t care if it’s religion, political, gangs, anything. For all asylum seekers, you are going to be put in jail, in a detention center, and you’re going to have your children taken away from you. That’s the policy.

Children and their parents are being held in private jails1 built and operated at the US government’s behest.

Colleagues at a government-contracted shelter in Arizona had a specific request for Antar Davidson when three Brazilian migrant children arrived: “Tell them they can’t hug.”

Davidson, 32, is of Brazilian descent and speaks Portuguese. He said the siblings — ages 16, 10 and 6 — were distraught after being separated from their parents at the border. The children were “huddled together, tears streaming down their faces,” he said.

Officials had told them their parents were “lost,” which they interpreted to mean dead. Davidson said he told the children he didn’t know where their parents were, but that they had to be strong.

“The 16-year-old, he looks at me and says, ‘How?’” Davidson said. As he watched the youth cry, he thought, “This is not healthy.”

Yesterday, some reporters were allowed a brief look inside one of these jails in Texas:

Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.

One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she didn’t know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she had to show others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.

The traumatic effects of being kept away from parents are deep and long lasting. Dell Cameron shares his story of being separated from his parents as a child.

The trauma came from being separated from parents, who I knew were out there, and when I saw them, would tell me they were doing everything to get me home. But it took years. Hope is what I lost as a child. It was destroyed by the state.

When on occasion my dad was allowed to visit, watching him leave utterly destroyed me. I mean, I’d fly into insanity. I would pick up things and smash windows once his truck drove around the corner. Then I’d be punished, very harshly.

When I was 10 or 11 I got out. I was in custody for damn, most of my childhood. It was impossible to acclimate. I didn’t fit anywhere. I had no comprehension of freedom, as my dad’s step kids understood it. I didn’t understand I could walk outside without permission… for months

When this Guatemalan woman and her son tried to enter the United States, they were separated and she was sent back to Guatemala while her 8-year-old son remains in one of the camps in the US. This is going to do unimaginable harm to this child, not to mention to his mother and everyone else in the family.

They’d had a plan: Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez packed up what little she had in Guatemala and traveled across Mexico with her 8-year-old son, Anthony. In a group, they rafted across the Rio Grande into Texas. From there they intended to join her boyfriend, Edgar, who had found a construction job in the United States.

Except it all went wrong. The Border Patrol was waiting as they made their way from the border on May 26, and soon mother and son were in a teeming detention center in southern Texas. The next part unfolded so swiftly that, even now, Ms. Ortiz cannot grasp it: Anthony was sent to a shelter for migrant children. And she was put on a plane back to Guatemala.

“I am completely devastated,” Ms. Ortiz, 25, said in one of a series of video interviews last week from her family home in Guatemala. Her eyes swollen from weeping and her voice subdued, she said she had no idea when or how she would see her son again.

As the federal government continues to separate families as part of a stepped-up enforcement program against those who cross the border illegally, the authorities say that parents are not supposed to be deported without their children. But immigration lawyers say that has happened in several cases. And the separations can be traumatic for parents who now have no clear path to recovering their children.

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch recently visited a “processing facility” (the scare quotes are his) and declared it to be “nothing short of a prison”.

I just exited a border patrol “processing facility” known as the “icebox.” It is nothing short of a prison.

I saw chain link cages full of unaccompanied children. They sat on metal benches and stared straight ahead silently

And I met a woman named Reina who was being extorted in Guatemala. She traveled 14 days with her 13 year old daughter and turned herself in at the border for asylum.

She hasn’t seen her daughter in two days and didn’t know where she was. No one had told her that her daughter had been taken to a shelter.

Today, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called for the US to stop the practice of separating children from parents.

The United Nations’ top human rights official on Monday entered the mounting furor over the Trump administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents, calling for an immediate halt to a practice he condemned as abuse.

United States immigration authorities have detained almost 2,000 children in the past six weeks, which may cause them irreparable harm with lifelong consequences, said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

He cited anobservation by the president of the American Association of Pediatrics that locking the children up separately from their parents constituted “government-sanctioned child abuse.”

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Mr. al-Hussein said.

If you’re feeling helpless and powerless about this (and I admit that I very much do), Slate and The Cut have listed some ways that you can help the families and children involved and fight for a more humane policy for those seeking a better life here in America.

Photo above by Getty photographer John Moore.

Update: From ProPublica, Listen to Children Who’ve Just Been Separated From Their Parents at the Border.

The desperate sobbing of 10 Central American children, separated from their parents one day last week by immigration authorities at the border, makes for excruciating listening. Many of them sound like they’re crying so hard, they can barely breathe. They scream “Mami” and “Papá” over and over again, as if those are the only words they know.

The baritone voice of a Border Patrol agent booms above the crying. “Well, we have an orchestra here,” he jokes. “What’s missing is a conductor.”

Holy hell.

Update: Drs. Margaret Sheridan and Charles Nelson writing for the NY Times about a study they conducted that shows how adversely family separation affects children.

As members of a team of researchers who have investigated the impact of separating children from their parents during early childhood, we were struck by another aspect of this news: In an effort to increase security, the Trump administration has hit upon a policy that we know is actually likely to increase delinquency and criminality among these children in the future. While trying to protect American citizens, the administration may be placing them in greater jeopardy.

If we have learned nothing else in the past 50 years of research on child development, it is that children do best in families and that violating this norm has terrible effects.

  1. Many news organizations are using the words “facility” or “shelter” but that terminology implies that people are free to leave, which they are not, and this definitely isn’t sheltering. These are jails and concentration camps (so says a women who wrote a history of concentration camps) and I will refer to them as such. Language is important.

The Language of the Trump Administration Is the Language of Domestic Violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 12, 2018

Jessica Winter writing for the New Yorker:

In the final scene of Frederick Wiseman’s landmark documentary “Domestic Violence,” police in Tampa arrive late at night to the home of a man who is drunk and a woman who is sick. The man has called the police because he is angry that the woman, who is desperate to sleep, is “neglecting” him. Minute by minute, it becomes chillingly clear that the man wants her removed from the house before his anger turns into physical violence. In his mind, the woman’s misdeeds — to be ill; to need rest; to wish to remain in her own home — transform him into an instrument of pain, one that she is choosing to wield against herself. He raises his hands over his head in a gesture of surrender. It’s all her fault. He can’t help it. One of the abuser’s most effective tricks is this inversion of power, at the exact moment that his victim is most frightened and degraded: Look what you made me do.

Look what you made me do has emerged as the dominant ethos of the current White House. During the 2016 Presidential race, many observers drew parallels between the language of abusers and that of Trump on the campaign trail. Since his election, members of the Trump Administration have learned that language, too, and nowhere is this more vivid than in the rhetoric they use to discuss the Administration’s policies toward the Central American immigrants crossing the U.S. border.

As Tim tweeted the day after Inauguration Day in 2017, “The President is an abuser. A lot of us are (re)discovering, and (re)deciding, how we react to being abused.”

Ten guidelines for nurturing a thriving democracy by Bertrand Russell

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 05, 2018

In December 1951, British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a piece for the NY Times Magazine titled The Best Answer to Fanaticism — Liberalism with a subhead that says “Its calm search for truth, viewed as dangerous in many places, remains the hope of humanity.” At the end of the article, he offers a list of ten commandments for living in the spirit of liberalism:

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Over the past few years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep an open mind about many issues, particularly on those related to politics. Remaining curious and generous about new & different ideas, especially in public, is perhaps more challenging than it was in Russell’s time. We are bombarded on all sides by propaganda, conspiracy theories, and broadly discredited theories from the past pushed upon us by entertainment news outlets and social media algorithms — we’re under a constant denial-of-service attack on our ability to think and reason.

We can’t reasonably be expected to give serious consideration to ideas like “the Holocaust didn’t happen”, “the Earth is flat”, “the Newtown massacre was faked”, “let’s try slavery again”, “vaccines cause autism”, and “anthropogenic climate change is a myth” — the evidence just doesn’t support any of it — but playing constant defense against all this crap makes it difficult to have good & important discussions with those we might disagree with about things like education, the role of national borders in a extremely mobile world, how to address our changing climate, systemic racism & discrimination, gun violence, healthcare, and dozens of other important issues. Perhaps with Russell’s guidelines in mind, we can make some progress on that front.

The whole world is The Onion now

posted by Tim Carmody   May 25, 2018

(A version of this story is an excerpt from this week’s Noticing newsletter. You can read more about Noticing here.)

In a rare interview, Italian author Elena Ferrante observes that between corruption, poverty, violence, fear, and the deterioration of democracy, “today it seems to me that the whole world is Naples and that Naples has the merit of having always presented itself without a mask.” The world of Ferrante’s novels is the world in which we’ve all been living; the rest of us are just catching up to what Neapolitans have known all along.

It seems you could make a similar case for The Onion in the time of Trump: the world was already absurd and buffoonish, and now it’s taken off its mask. It does make telling jokes a touch more tricky. Editor-in-chief Chad Nackers explains the site’s approach, admitting that the writers’ job would probably be easier if Hillary Clinton had been elected.

What strikes me is how much he attributes to the site’s changes over the years isn’t to the administration, but to the atmosphere, which has changed since the days of Bill Clinton (and not just because of who’s been elected since).

When I started, there weren’t really too many humor sites. There definitely weren’t any humor news sites. A lot of times, nobody else was going to get their comment out as fast as we were going to get it out, by virtue of us having a website. Now it almost seems like on Twitter there are people who are professional comedians who are online all day. A story breaks and they’re making jokes about it.

Andy Baio recently posted a link that shows you your Twitter timeline as it would have looked ten years ago if you followed all the same people that you do today. For me, at least, it’s amazing how different the tone is — even in the middle of an historic election, in the early stages of an enormous economic meltdown, there’s a lot less politics, a lot less sniping, and a lot more diaristic writing. It’s not necessarily better; it’s just very different. And all of those things were happening then — it’s just that Twitter wasn’t understood as the venue where every stance was to be articulated, every statement was to be critiqued, and every line was to be drawn. There were fewer people around, it was a lot more homogenous, and far fewer people were paying attention.

I wonder often how future historians will think about this time (you know, with the usual grisly caveat that people survive to do history in the future): how much of today’s ugliness, violence, and corruption they will think of as an aberration of one man, or one family, one political party, one social media network, one television network, etc.

Or will they see it as an interlocking, self-contradictory system, all of which had a history, and all of whose parts shaped and enabled what happened — hopefully, good and bad things. I mean, even the people who’ve argued that the coup has already happened can’t agree on whether it began with the election, with Congress, or some time long before.

Maybe the future historians will be better at disentangling these things than we are. Or maybe we’re just all hopelessly tangled.

The political alignments of Mario Kart characters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 22, 2018

In this short video, Art House Politics goes through all of the characters in Mario Kart 8 and describes their political alignments.

Mario is just your average working class guy, like “oh get the government off my back” kinda guy. Luigi is a Republican, like a nerdy technocratic…like he cares about the debt to GDP ratio. Princess Peach: monarchist. Daisy is an environmentalist. Rosalina is a flat-earther. Tanooki Mario would only care about kink shaming. Cat Peach is alt-right, but one of those female alt-right YouTube personalities that are really popular.

The coup has already happened

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2018

I’ve been thinking about Trump’s presidency in terms of a coup to come, but Rebecca Solnit makes a compelling case for that event already being in our rear view mirror.

A lot of people are waiting for something dramatic to happen, some line to be crossed, an epic event like the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller III that will allow them to say that now we have had a coup and now we are ready to do something about it.

We already had the coup.

It happened on November 8, 2016, when an unqualified candidate won a minority victory in a corrupted election thanks in part to foreign intervention. Any time is the right time to pour into the streets and demand that it all grinds to a halt and the country change direction. The evidence that the candidate and his goons were aided by and enthusiastically collaborating with a foreign power was pretty clear before that election, and at this point, they are so entangled there isn’t really a reason to regard the born-again alt-right Republican Party and the Putin Regime as separate entities.

Update: A site called No Package Deals argues that the coup took place earlier than the 2016 election and began with the obstruction by Senate Republicans in not seating any judges, including Scalia’s replacement to the Supreme Court.

In February of 2016, after the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Mitch McConnell announced that the President no longer had the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, period. For some years now the President has not had the power to appoint judges, but nobody much noticed because it wasn’t the Supreme Court. The Republicans just said, Nope. Not seating your judges. End of discussion.

When McConnell said, Nope, not seating your Supreme Court justice either, we’ve already told you we’re not seating your judges, most people noticed. President Obama nominated someone anyway. McConnell stood firm: Mr. President, we have stripped that power from you. You are not going to seat any judges. Nobody did anything. The coup stood.

There’s also this little tidbit concerning Iran:

On March 9th of that same year 47 Republican members of the Senate wrote a letter denying in plain terms the President’s power to negotiate with a specific foreign power. They sent their letter to the government of Iran. Paraphrased they said, Don’t make any deals with our President, because we’ll weasel out of them as soon as he’s not looking. Iran took a chance and made the deal with the President. We will see how it comes out.

Well, it turned out pretty much like No Package Deals expected. (via @heatherhollick)

Against political analogies

posted by Tim Carmody   May 18, 2018

It’s a common and (on its face) rhetorical move: take something that’s happening now and map it onto the past. Better yet, take something atrocious that’s happening now and show how it maps onto something atrocious in the past, ideally affecting the very people who are now supporting the atrocities. “See?” this trope says: “what you’re doing to other people is exactly what was done to you.”

That’s the basic structure of “resistance genealogy,” as seen in clashes over immigration. “Tomi Lahren’s great-great-grandfather forged citizenship papers; Mike Pence’s family benefited from “chain migration”; James Woods’ ancestors fled famine and moved to Britain as refugees,” etc.

Rebecca Onion argues, convincingly, that this doesn’t work:

The chasm between the life and experiences of a white American, even one who’s descended from desperate immigrants of decades past, and the life of this Honduran mother is the entire point of racist anti-immigration thought. Diminishment of the human qualities of entering immigrants (“unskilled” and “unmodern” immigrants coming from “shithole” countries) reinforces the distance between the two. People who support the Trump administration’s immigration policies want fewer Honduran mothers and their 18-month-olds to enter the country. If you start from this position, nothing you hear about illiterate Germans coming to the United States in the 19th century will change your mind.

Besides underestimating racism, it flattens out history, and assumes that if people only knew more about patterns of historical racism, they might be convinced or at least shamed into changing how they talk about it. Everything we’ve seen suggests that isn’t the case.

I’m going to take this one step further and say this is a weakness in most resorts to historical and political analogies deployed as a tool to understand or persuade people about the present.

For example, consider Donald Trump saying, regarding immigrants trying to enter the United States, “these aren’t people, these are animals.” This is a disgusting thing to say and way to think — and not just because German Nazis and Rwandan perpetrators of genocide used similar language in a different context, and regardless of whether he was using it to refer to immigrants in general or members of a specific gang. It’s bad, it’s racist, it’s shitty, and you really don’t need the added leverage of the historical analogy in order to see why. But that leverage is tempting, because it shows off how much we know, it underlines the stakes, and it converts bad into ultra-bad.

This hurts me to say, because I love history and analogies both. But there’s a limit to how much they can tell us and how well they work. And playing “gotcha!” is usually well beyond the limits of both.

The respect of personhood vs the respect of authority

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

In April 2015, Autistic Abby wrote on their Tumblr about how people mistakenly conflate two distinct definitions of “respect” when relating to and communicating with others.

Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority”

and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person”

and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.

This is an amazing & astute observation and applies readily to many aspects of our current political moment, i.e. the highest status group in the US for the past two centuries (white males) experiencing a steep decline in their status relative to other groups. This effect plays out in relation to gender, race, sexual orientation, age, and class. An almost cartoonishly on-the-nose example is Trump referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals” and then whining about the press giving him a hard time. You can also see it when conservative intellectuals with abundant social standing and privilege complain that their ideas about hanging women or the innate inferiority of non-whites are being censored.

Men who abuse their partners do this…and then sometimes parlay their authoritarian frustrations & easily available assault weapons into mass shootings. There are ample examples of law enforcement — the ultimate embodiment of authority in America — treating immigrants, women, black men, etc. like less than human. A perfect example is the “incel” movement, a group of typically young, white, straight men who feel they have a right to sex and therefore treat women who won’t oblige them like garbage.

You can see it happening in smaller, everyday ways too: never trust anyone who treats restaurant servers like shit because what they’re really doing is abusing their authority as a paying customer to treat another person as subhuman.

“I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2018

Kanye West has a new solo album coming out soon (as well as a collaborative album with Kid Cudi) and so has been out in the world saying things, things like expressing his admiration for Donald Trump and suggesting that slavery was a choice. In a piece at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates, an admitted fan of his music, writes that West’s search for white freedom — “freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant” — is troubling.

Nothing is new here. The tragedy is so old, but even within it there are actors — some who’ve chosen resistance, and some, like West, who, however blithely, have chosen collaboration.

West might plead ignorance — “I don’t have all the answers that a celebrity is supposed to have,” he told Charlamagne [Tha God]. But no citizen claiming such a large portion of the public square as West can be granted reprieve. The planks of Trumpism are clear — the better banning of Muslims, the improved scapegoating of Latinos, the endorsement of racist conspiracy, the denialism of science, the cheering of economic charlatans, the urging on of barbarian cops and barbarian bosses, the cheering of torture, and the condemnation of whole countries. The pain of these policies is not equally distributed. Indeed the rule of Donald Trump is predicated on the infliction of maximum misery of West’s most ardent parishioners, the portions of America, the muck, that made the god Kanye possible.

Coates suggests that Kanye, also like Trump, has been telling us who he is all along:

Everything is darker now and one is forced to conclude that an ethos of “light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands,” of “mutts” and “thirty white bitches,” deserved more scrutiny, that the embrace of a slaveholder’s flag warranted more inquiry, that a blustering illiteracy should have given pause, that the telethon was not wholly born of keen insight, and the bumrushing of Taylor Swift was not solely righteous anger, but was something more spastic and troubling, evidence of an emerging theme — a paucity of wisdom, and more, a paucity of loved ones powerful enough to perform the most essential function of love itself, protecting the beloved from destruction.

David Foster Wallace on John McCain’s 2000 Presidential campaign

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2018

As I said recently in the newsletter and in my media diet post for March, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace’s 2005 collection of nonfiction. Each story I listen to is somehow been better than the last, and Wallace’s piece on John McCain’s failed run for the Republican nomination in 2000 was no exception. You can the as-published article in Rolling Stone, but it’s worth seeking out the much longer unabridged version in Consider the Lobster or stand-alone in McCain’s Promise.

While the piece is a time capsule of circa 2000 Republican politics — which politics seem totally quaint by today’s standards; for instance, Wallace describes McCain as one of the most right-wing members of Congress — what makes it so great and relevant is the timelessness of Wallace’s conclusions about politics, why politicians run, why people vote (and don’t vote), and why anyone should care about all of this in the first place.

There are many elements of the McCain2000 campaign — naming the bus “Straight Talk,” the timely publication of Faith of My Fathers, the much-hyped “openness” and “spontaneity” of the Express’s media salon, the message-disciplined way McCain thumps “Always. Tell you. The truth” — that indicate that some very shrewd, clever marketers are trying to market this candidate’s rejection of shrewd, clever marketing. Is this bad? Or just confusing? Suppose, let’s say, you’ve got a candidate who says polls are bullshit and totally refuses to tailor his campaign style to polls, and suppose then that new polls start showing that people really like this candidate’s polls-are-bullshit stance and are thinking about voting for him because of it, and suppose the candidate reads these polls (who wouldn’t?) and then starts saying even more loudly and often that polls are bullshit and that he won’t use them to decide what to say, maybe turning “Polls are bullshit” into a campaign line and repeating it in every speech and even painting Polls Are Bullshit on the side of his bus….Is he a hypocrite? Is it hypocritical that one of McCain’s ads’ lines South Carolina is “Telling the truth even when it hurts him politically,” which of course since it’s an ad means that McCain is trying to get political benefit out of his indifference to political benefits? What’s the difference between hypocrisy and paradox?

That’s just one of the many passages that reminded me of the 2016 election and the appeal to voters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (and also of a certain Barack Obama in 2008 & 2012) but also makes you think deeply about how and why millions of people decide to put their support and faith and trust into a single person to represent their interests and identity in our national government.

See also Why’s This So (Damn) Good (and Topical)? David Foster Wallace and “McCain’s Promise”.

Vladimir Putin’s “quasi-mystical beliefs” and the rebound of authoritarianism

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 11, 2018

You might remember Yale historian Timothy Snyder from his 20 lessons on fighting authoritarianism (which he turned into a short bestselling book, On Tyranny). Snyder has a new book out called The Road to Unfreedom that covers the rebound of authoritarianism first in Russia and then in Europe and America.

According to this review from The Economist, the book goes into some detail about the ideological beliefs of Vladimir Putin in his quest to undermine Western democracy. A favorite thinker of Putin’s, a Revolution-era philosopher named Ivan Ilyin, advocated for a Russian monarchy while another, Lev Gumilev, believed that nations draw their power from cosmic rays?

Also present in Mr Putin’s thinking is an even more extreme anti-liberal ideology: that of Lev Gumilev, who thought that nations draw their collective drive, or passionarnost (an invented word), from cosmic rays. In this bizarre understanding of the world, the West’s will to exist is almost exhausted, whereas Russia still has the energy and vocation to form a mighty Slavic-Turkic state, spanning Eurasia.

The result, according to Snyder:

What these ways of thinking have in common, Mr Snyder argues, is a quasi-mystical belief in the destiny of nations and rulers, which sets aside the need to observe laws or procedures, or grapple with physical realities. The spiritual imperative transcends everything, rendering politics, and the pursuit of truth in the ordinary sense, superfluous or even dangerous.

You can see where the election of Donald Trump — with his own “quasi-mystical belief in the destiny” of himself and without “the need to observe laws or procedures” — is a welcome ally/patsy for Putin.

See also Putin’s playbook for discrediting America and destabilizing the West: “Just wanna make sure you all know there is a Russian handbook from 1997 on ‘taking over the world’ and Putin is literally crossing shit off.”

Madeleine Albright: fascism is a serious global threat

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2018

Writing in the NY Times, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright writes that fascism and authoritarianism is once again on the rise in the world, bolstered by the autocratically inclined Donald Trump.

Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.

Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning, comes out next week.

See also The 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century (which became this bestselling book).

An ignored 1968 US govt report: racism & inequality are drivers of urban violence

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2018

In response to unrest and riots in urban areas across the US in the mid-to-late 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson formed a commission to find out why it was happening. As Ariel Aberg-Riger’s illustrated piece relates, the resulting report, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (more commonly known as the Kerner Report), was blunt in its conclusions: “Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”

Kerner Report

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. endorsed the report, calling it “a physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life”. You can read the entire report here (or just the summary…it’s 13 pages long) and more on its impact (or lack thereof) at the NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Atlantic.

The price of the US invasion of Iraq

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2018

Fifteen years ago, the United States invaded Iraq. In the NY Times, Sinan Antoon laments what has become of his country since then: Fifteen Years Ago, America Destroyed My Country. This is a damning final paragraph about George W. Bush and the Republican hawks who used the events of 9/11 to manufacture a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. The invasion of Iraq is often spoken of in the United States as a “blunder,” or even a “colossal mistake.” It was a crime. Those who perpetrated it are still at large. Some of them have even been rehabilitated thanks to the horrors of Trumpism and a mostly amnesiac citizenry. (A year ago, I watched Mr. Bush on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” dancing and talking about his paintings.) The pundits and “experts” who sold us the war still go on doing what they do. I never thought that Iraq could ever be worse than it was during Saddam’s reign, but that is what America’s war achieved and bequeathed to Iraqis.

The cult of Trump and America’s increasingly authoritarian government

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2018

I missed Andrew Sullivan’s review of Cass Sunstein’s Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide and Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America (also edited by Sunstein) but I think Sullivan’s twin conclusions are spot on: Trump is likely unimpeachable1 and America is steadily headed towards an authoritarian government.

The result is that an unimpeachable president is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

That is an astonishing passage, not only because of the allegation that 225+ years of American democracy is now effectively over because the Constitution does not include the necessary checks to prevent it, but also because it rings true.

  1. As I’ve said before, I don’t think Trump will resign or be impeached…or willingly leave the White House under any circumstance.

A recap and photos of National School Walkout Day

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 15, 2018

National Walkout Day

I didn’t get to follow National School Walkout Day as closely as I wanted to yesterday, but I just wanted to say on the morning after that I am very much in support of these kids, very proud of them, and deeply ashamed that ours is a country that has to regularly lean so hard on some of our most vulnerable members of society to get people and politicians to react to gross social injustice.

Buzzfeed has a great roundup of action from around the country, including 16-year-old Justin Blackman, who was the only one to walk out at his school…and ended up with millions of people supporting his efforts online. The Atlantic’s In Focus has gathered 35 photos of the walkout from around the nation.