Monday, January 23, 2017

"Obamandias"

An anonymous commenter posted this poem in the comments section of a prior post. It is based on Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem: Ozymandias. It is too good not to share. With my thanks to Anon.


OBAMANDIAS

I met a blogger from a Beltway land, who said
Two cracked and polished screens of glass
Lie in a Rose Garden. Near them, in an Oval office
Half stunned, a shattered redeemer sits, whose lies
And upturned nose, and sneer of cold disdain
Tell that this Messiah ill his nation's spirit read
Which yet survive, clingd to time honored things
The hands that prayed for her and the sons who bled
And on the prompter these words inscribed
"My name is Obamandias, Bringer of Hope
Look upon my Change, ye righties, and despair"
Nothing besides remains. Round the wreck
Of that colossal Self, unbounded and malign
The vain and empty dream didst fritter away 

Is There Method in the Madness?

Donald Trump has never been a foreign policy thinker. Never having been in government his knowledge of the complexities of foreign policy is, at best, lacking.

And yet, he has presented a vision of a future American foreign policy. He has not fleshed out the vision. And he is not very good at providing a persuasive rationale for the new direction. Since Trump’s vision departs radically from much of the conventional foreign policy wisdom, his detractors have taxed him with incoherence and madness.

Now, George Friedman has examined the Trump vision to see whether it makes sense. (via Maggie’s Farm) Friedman was the founder of the Stratfor think tank and foreign policy shop. He is currently the proprietor of the Geopolitical Futures site. He is widely recognized as a non-partisan student of the field. He provides objective and fact-based analysis. Truth be told, he’s the only Friedman I read.

One understands that Friedman is not offering his own views or his own foreign policy vision. He is looking for the coherence behind Trump’s views. He does not just seek, as Picasso said, he finds.

In Friedman’s terms:

Trump’s core strategic argument is that the United States is overextended. The core reason for this overextension is that the United States has substituted a system of multilateral relationships for a careful analysis of the national interest. In this reading, Washington is entangled in complex relationships that place risks and burdens on the United States to come to the aid of some countries. However, its commitments are not matched by those countries in capability, nor in intent.

American foreign policy has allowed American interests to be shortchanged. The relationships have been one-sided. America gives more than it receives in return.

Friedman says that Trump sees the NATO alliance as one-sided:

The United States has been involved in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Islamic world. NATO has not provided decisive strategic support to these efforts. Many have provided what support they could or what support they wanted, but that level of support was far below the abilities of NATO members.

NATO members have allowed Washington to bear the brunt of the military burden, while refusing to aid America in its wars against Islamic terrorism. It is their right, by treaty, not to come to America’s aid. From that Trump has concluded that our best interests have not been served by the treaty in its current form.

Friedman argues:

Europe is well beyond where it was when NATO was founded, when it was incapable of collective defense without the United States. NATO members have taken for granted that Washington will bear the primary burden for defense, measured not only in terms of dollars spent, but also in the development of military capabilities.

He continues:

Their reasonable argument that the 28-member alliance makes no commitment to out-of-area engagements not undertaken under Article 5 raises the question of what, then, NATO’s value is to the United States. In sum, NATO lacks significant strategic capabilities, and the alliance is defined in such a way that its members can and do elect to avoid those conflicts that matter most to America.

Is America being exploited and used by European nations? Friedman suggests that one might well draw such a conclusion:

The United States is liable for the defense of Europe. Europe is not liable for defending American interests, which today lie outside of Europe. Trump believes this relationship must be mutually renegotiated. If the Europeans are unwilling to renegotiate, the United States should exit NATO and develop bilateral relations with countries that are capable and are prepared to work with the United States in areas of its national interest in return for guarantees from Washington.

As for free trade, Friedman argues that it cannot merely be defended as an abstract ideal. It needs to serve the best interests of the United States. It’s one thing to say that we believe in free trade. It’s quite another to say that we have not negotiated our trade deals well, in our national interest. Free trade cannot be the mask for a welfare program.

Friedman summarizes the Trump vision:

It is not clear that the current international trade regime has benefited the United States. International trade is not an end in itself; it must serve the interests of each party. At this point in history, the primary economic need in the United States is to create trade relations that build jobs in the United States. The previous goal of aggregate growth of an economy without regard to societal consequences is no longer acceptable. The terms under which most international trade agreements have been structured are now therefore unacceptable….

Large multilateral free-trade agreements are therefore far too complex to fine-tune to the American interest. They need to be avoided in favor of bilateral treaties, or of smaller ones such as NAFTA, that can be reshaped to serve the current American interest. In these negotiations, the United States, producing about 25 percent of the world’s GDP, holds the strong hand. The United States’ primary concern must be the same as that of other countries: trade relations that are beneficial to it, and not an abstract commitment to free trade.

This is not quite the same thing as being against free trade. Friedman does not envision what would happen if we entered into a trade war. One assumes that he believes that Trump would never enter into such self-defeating actions.

And, Trump takes Islamic terrorism seriously. Friedman analyzes Trump’s position:

ISIS poses a terrorist threat that has been minimized by some but is regarded by Trump as an intolerable menace for two reasons. First, as 9/11 demonstrated, attacks can be escalated. Second, the psychological burden of terrorism is enormous. The terrorist threat cannot be defeated without overwhelming power being brought to bear on the Middle East. Living with terrorism indefinitely is not an option. Therefore, the United States and its allies must bring overwhelming force to bear.

Echoing the views of Stephen Cohen and Henry Kissinger and rejecting the rants of the new Russia hawks—the senator who called Vladimir Putin a war criminal comes to mind-- Friedman suggests that there is room for cooperation between the United States and Russia, on several fronts:

Trump sees U.S. and Russian interests as coinciding. Washington and Moscow could agree on the neutralization of Ukraine: Kyiv would have economic and political ties with the West, but Ukraine would not be part of any alliance system, nor would it be a base for Western forces. The United States wants a buffer to protect allies in Eastern Europe, but beyond that it has no overriding interest in Ukraine. Russia wants a degree of autonomy in Eastern Ukraine and retention of its interests in Crimea, where it has treaty rights in Sevastopol anyway. The Ukrainian issue can be managed in the context of joint anti-Islamist operations. Trump is of course aware of economic problems in Russia, and he sees therein a lever to achieve his goal.

Friedman notes that if NATO members are unwilling to commit to the fight against ISIS and other Islamic terrorists, Trump will try to form alliances with other nations, like Russia.

He concludes:

Trump is proposing a redefinition of U.S. foreign policies based on current realities, not those of 40 years ago. It is a foreign policy in which American strength is maximized in order to achieve American ends.

Whether he will pursue this once in office, or whether it is a good policy, is not the key point; that there is a very real policy embedded in his statements is. It is also not a foolish one. U.S. policy has been reflexively committed to arrangements that are three-quarters of a century old. The world has changed, but the shape of U.S. policy has not. Translating this into reality will be, for Trump, another matter. 

Should She Quit?

What time is it?

It’s time to glance again at what passes for wisdom in today’s therapy world. For that we turn to New York Magazine’s “Ask Polly” column. You would think that such a fine magazine could find someone who could even pretend to know something about the field, but, alas, such is not the case.

As it happens, with today's case, we are probably dealing with a millennial, a bundle of emotions and questions of indeterminate gender, age, sexual orientation and talent. The letter writer dubs herself: Window on the Void.

I am assuming that WOV is a woman, because I cannot imagine that any male could have written the letter. She writing from the depths of her despair, because she gave up a job she did not like to pursue a graduate degree in an indeterminate subject. Now, the program’s rigors have caused her life to implode. She asks a relevant question: Should she quit?

None of us can answer the question because we do not know how old she is, what her life goals are, where she is, what she is studying in graduate school and whether there are any jobs in her field.

In other words, we know none of the relevant facts of the case. Therefore we do not know whether or not her despair is a function of reality or is a bad habit.

We do not know what to say when WOV asks whether she should continue to pursue her degree. She tells us that she has lost two romantic partners, but that tells us very little. Does she want to marry… with a man or a woman or neither? Does she want children… with or without a partner of indeterminate gender?

More saliently, we do not know whether WOV has any talent to do the work in her field. You cannot know whether to soldier on or whether to try a different career path if you do not know whether you are any good at what you are doing. If she is studying philosophy and stands to become a serious thinker, it’s one thing. If she is studying neurobiology and has no talent for science, it’s a different story.

As it happens WOV does have a therapist. She has been put on medication. She must have read Polly before and knows that Polly always recommends therapy. So, WOV has a therapist and naturally the therapist is not sufficiently competent to help her to decide an important issue. Obviously, this feeds her anxiety and depression.

So, WOV writes in to a newspaper columnist who is not a therapist and who knows less than nothing about the field. Talk about the blind leading the blind. And what does Polly offer: she tells WOV to try having her meds adjusted!  How does Polly, who has no medical training, come off giving anyone advice about medication? 

Besides, doesn't this sound like a therapist and a columnist not taking a woman's question seriously?

Of course, Polly has no more of an idea of what is going on in this case than we do, but she is happy to offer up a mindless pep talk, to the effect that this woman, who is seriously depressed about her life, ought to stop asking questions and should work harder.

As long as you do not know whether WOV is any good at the work she is doing, you cannot say. Polly should know better. Unfortunately, she does not.

WOV has absorbed enough psychobabble to believe that the only relevant question is whether or not she really, really wants to be doing what she is doing.

She writes:

I have been in therapy for a while and started taking meds a few months ago. So far, neither has helped much. How can I keep hanging on to what I have when I feel existentially exhausted? How do I avoid losing everything I’ve worked for before I have a chance to appreciate (and actually want) it?

Polly does not really know what to say, so she tells WOV to stop asking the question. In what surely must count as one of the most lame analogies ever promoted by someone who is supposedly giving advice, Polly describes the human brain as so much Jello, with a few morsels of fruit thrown in, for taste.

No kidding:

Relying on your bad brain to solve this problem, mostly by asking big, important questions like “Should I really finish grad school?” and “Is this career meant for a lazy sack of shit like me?,” is destined to send your brain spinning in circles, buzzing and throwing off sparks until you’re panicked but no closer to an answer than when you started.

It’s time to let your brain off the hook. Let’s imagine it as a Jell-O mold, melon-flavored with little red grapes jiggling and glistening throughout. Let it just sit there and jiggle, looking pretty. Give your sweet melon-flavored brain some credit for doing nothing. “You don’t have to work hard right now,” you can say. “Be gorgeous and empty for once.” Let your brain stop adding and subtracting and just lie like a glistening melon-hued jellyfish in the middle of the beach.

As though that were not enough:

And once your brain is an inert gelatinous blob, listen: You’re going to be fine. You’ve made it this far. You have entered a period of questioning, that’s all. You are plagued by big, looming questions and small, chafing questions and irrational self-doubt and slow, sinking depression. It’s hard to separate these things from each other.

One does not understand how major publications publish such stuff. WOV is suffering because she is trying to ask a life-changing question and no one will even help her to address the issue. Her therapist has her on medication and Polly tells her to imagine that her brain is Jello. Now, that will surely inspire confidence. In effect, WOV needs help asking these relevant and pertinent questions.

But, Polly thinks that she knows the answer because she thinks that WOV’s situation is like hers or her husband’s. In the therapy world, there's a word for people who relate everything to their personal experience. It's narcissism. Again, Polly believes that is all about how much WOV wants or does not want to be doing what she is doing:

You’re just exhausted because you’ve moved a ton, and you’ve been through a lot, and you want a break. You want to know that you’re in the right place. You want to believe. You want to feel good about the big picture. You want to be loved and supported. You want to live somewhere you like. You want close friends who tell you to keep going, you can do it, you’re the best.

We do not know why WOV is exhausted. Polly doesn’t either. But, she pretends to offer advice. Not knowing any of the relevant details, addressing only a muddle of emotion, Polly steps forth:

I would not decide to quit school right now if I were you. In fact, I wouldn’t make any big decisions while you’re feeling discouraged and depressed. I would adjust your meds, work out more if that tends to help, turn off your brain, and do your fucking work without questioning it. If you ask me, this is not your big moment to redefine everything you want and need in your life. This is your big moment to get ’er done.

I don’t know the answer here. Polly doesn’t know the answer. No one knows why WOV is depressed and anxious. The only thing we do know is that neither her therapist nor Polly is willing to help her to make a decision. In itself, that is depressing.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Good-bye, Therapist in Chief

It was not about the politics. It was not about the economy. It was not about social harmony. It was not about foreign policy, war and peace or competing in the world. The Obama administration was all about therapy. With thanks to the commenter who sent me the link, I offer Brendan O’Neill’s remarkable analysis of Barack Obama as our therapist-in-chief. What could be more apt and more apposite for this blog.

O’Neill explains that the Obama presidency made politics into therapy. In a time when no one believes in God, when atheism is afoot throughout the land, Obama offered a religious experience, a spiritual uplift, the kind that many people seek in therapy.

What Obama did counts less, O’Neill writes, than how he made us feel. One notes that political leaders who make a living stirring up emotion are normally called demagogues.

Their followers do not care about what happened or about concrete accomplishments. They are convinced that they will eventually gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven. All that matters is whether you and I will be there or will be consigned to the other place.

If you were wondering why the nation is so divided and why so many people are emotionally unhinged by Donald Trump, one reason lies in the fact that Obama taught them to emote but not to think. Obama did not teach them how to get along in the world, how to compete in the world, how to function in the world. He taught them how to feel, deeply and longingly. And he taught them how to tell stories about it all.

O’Neill writes:

No, the extraordinariness of Obama’s presidency lay in its replacement of politics with therapy. Its transformation of the president from a politician who does things for people into a person who makes people feel things. Its turning of the commander-in-chief into therapist-in-chief. Its confirmation that politics is no longer about wealth and things and the concrete stuff of daily and national life, but is about self-esteem, cultural images, being a ‘catalyst for psychological change’, as one appraisal of Obama puts it. The Obama era was striking because it confirmed the decommissioning of the political citizen, and of politics itself, and its replacement by an empire of emotion in which leaders speak and the citizenry feels and nothing much else happens.

Now, our proudly secular media is treating Obama as a saint.

O’Neill explains:

The response of the media and much of the political set to Obama’s leaving has been intensely emotional. Not since Princess Diana died have respectable newspapers been so stuffed with gushing photo-spreads and memorials and over-the-top comparisons (Di was a secular Virgin Mother; Obama is an amalgamate of Lincoln, Gandhi and King). Observers and the Twitterati are expressing a sense of loss entirely out of proportion to a politician leaving office, which is a regular occurrence in the adult realm of politics. That’s because they’re losing more than a politician. They’re losing a healer (of history’s wounds); a voice of ‘wisdom and grace’, as every gushing editorial describes him; a man who applied ‘balm’ to our personal and political ‘traumas’, as one observer sees it; someone who in recent months had become ‘therapist for those suffering from Trump anxiety’, in the words of the Guardian. The turning of Obama, of the institution of president, from commander of a nation into shaper of feelings, into provider of historical medicine and guarantor of self-esteem, means his leaving is experienced as a profound loss, a mourning. It opens a psychological gap. Some observers claim they feel genuinely ill. The usurping of politics by therapy, and of the citizen by the patient, is complete.

A healer is a saint. A healer is a redeemer. A healer is a savior. A healer works magic and miracles. He offers spiritual solace and makes you forget about what is wrong with the world. At the least, he teaches you to blame anyone but him for what is wrong with the world.

In O’Neill’s words:

Obama, it has been made clear, is not to be judged by such earthly matters as industry or liberty or war and peace, but rather by how he made people feel; by what one author has described as ‘the profound shift in the American psyche’ he brought about. Obama’s impact is mental, not political; curative, not concrete. Even newspaper pieces on his legacy that include discussion of Obamacare and his decisions on the Middle East swiftly move back to the realm of character and emotion, to his grace and style and wisdom. His legacy is judged psychologically rather than politically.

This is not news. The media has been talking up Obama as therapist from the beginning. O’Neill has collected some comments:

Back in 2008, in the run-up to his election, the Chicago Sun-Times said the most important thing about Obama was the emotion he evoked in sections of the populace. And it refused to be defensive about this: ‘Yes, this newspaper is endorsing a man because of how he makes us feel [my italics], because of the hope he evokes within us’. With Obama, feeling and imagery have always trumped achievement.

How did we get to this place? Think back to 2008. With America in the midst of a financial crisis and the world facing the threat of Islamic terrorism, many people were happy to believe that we were getting what we deserved, that we were being punished for our sins, and that by electing Obama we could atone for our sins and be freed from the world’s troubles and travails. Obama’s magical presence would solve all of our problems:

As the left-wing author Sasha Abramsky put it in 2009, ‘simply by virtue of who he is’, Obama can bring about ‘psychological shifts in how America understands itself’. Never mind what this politician says or does; it’s who he is that counts, and it counts in terms of changing psychology, not infrastructure.

And also:

Under Obama, history came to be discussed as a wound, a trauma, and it was Obama’s job to heal it. Obama was discussed as ‘the balm that would finally salve the festering wounds’ of American history, in particular slavery and Jim Crow. He was the ‘salve for [the] racist scars’ of history, as John Wilson put it in Barack Obama: The Improbable Quest. From this perspective, history is a kind of curse, a source of horror and sorrow, and Obama is here to cure it, and end it. This speaks profoundly to the Obama era’s replacement of social change with mental mending — the political, historic actions of man are judged too dangerous, causing centuries-long PTSD, and Obamaism is about keeping such actions in check. 

We as a nation just spent eight years in bad therapy. We detached from reality in order to get in touch with our feelings. Once the spell was broken, some people recognized that they had been conned. Others could not cope with the loss. They are crying out in pain.

Still, O’Neill writes, no one is allowed to judge Obama in terms of what he did or did not accomplish:

This is striking; clearly what matters is not whether Obama tangibly improved African-American people’s lives or really, physically expanded social opportunity, but that he cultivated new images of African-Americans — that is, his own image — and created a perception of opportunity. Because politics isn’t now about things; it’s about feeling.

Of course, anyone who dares criticize Obama will be denounced as racist. And thus, will be seen as an obstacle to the healing presence of Obama:

Raise criticisms of Obama’s actions in the Middle East and his supporters will say ‘he inherited this, it’s not his fault’. The rush to protect Obama from the normal thrust of political critique leads to his sometimes being absolved of agency, as if nothing is really his doing — it simply happens, around him.

If Obama was a god, he could never be responsible for anything bad that happened on his watch. And yet, if it was all an illusion, what Shakespeare called an “insubstantial pageant,” losing it has thrown many people into a moral crisis. Naturally, many of them have sought out the healing words of great spiritual leaders like Madonna and Ashley Judd.  It's like finishing therapy and discovering that you have spent all that time and all that money only to find yourself back where you were when you began.

The notion that a Donald Trump can erase the Obama presidency by an act of his executive pen horrifies those who chose to live the fiction. They are more than unhappy at the prospect of the Obama presidency fading into insignificance, leaving, as the bard put it, “not a rack behind.”

What better coda for the Obama presidency than this:

Distorting the News

I imagine that The New York Times was offering Alyssa Rubin's article  about the political situation in France as news analysis. By her lights the old socialist left is about to suffer an abysmal defeat in upcoming presidential elections. She sees formerly socialist voters gravitating to the far right, anti-Europe candidate, Marine Le Pen.

Unfortunately, Rubin has distorted the story beyond recognition. She is offering propaganda, not news analysis.

Several points stand out.

Rubin has nothing to say about France’s Muslim population. She does not even mention Islam. (As you know, some people believe that we ought to be fighting against Islamphobia, not Islamic terrorism.) French Muslims are more than 10% of the population. They cause an inordinate amount of trouble. Last summer, one of their members ran down and murdered dozens of revelers in Nice on Bastille Day. The nation was horrified and it has tended to hold the Socialist president and his party accountable. After all, 90% the votes of French Muslims went Socialist.

Rubin says that it’s partly about “anti-immigrant” anger, but she downplays the importance of immigration and the sense in France that the French are losing their country. As I said, she says nothing about Islam.

Note how she downplays the threat of immigration. And makes it appear as though the problem in France is Eastern European immigration. Obviously, she says nothing about the role that German Chancellor Angela Merkel played in precipitating the crisis.

Rubin wrote this:

Compounding the sense of a changing world, even a modest wave of immigration disturbed many local residents. Beginning about six years ago, a small number of sub-Saharan Africans arrived in Limoges, soon followed by bigger numbers of Eastern Europeans.

And she added this:

“So, here in our street, we had principally Bulgarians, afterwards Romanians and then Albanians,” Mr. GĂ©rard said. “Why? This I know, because Europe no longer has any borders.”

At the same time, many affluent people began moving to the suburbs for bigger houses and left the city center to older people and newcomers, many of whom were migrants.

Mr. Rodet, the mayor who was toppled, said that just weeks before the election, there had been a rumor that an abandoned military base near the center of Limoges would become a home for “3,000 Kosovars.”

Rubin notes that the story was untrue. She does not mention that most Kosovars are Muslim.

Also, Rubin ignored the center-right candidate who is most likely going to become France’s next president.  She did not mention the name of Francois Fillon, a Thatcherite conservative who will likely be in a runoff against Marine Le Pen. And who will no doubt win.

Why does Rubin ignore the most obvious political reality, if not to set up a dialectic between the left and the far right. It’s called distorting the news.

Of course, Rubin wants to make the story resemble the current situation in the United States. So she says that the nation’s labor unionists are rebelling against globalization.

She does not mention the fact that France has been governed by statist politicians for decades now. She does not mention that France has a bloated public sector whose tax and regulatory policies have made it nearly impossible for French companies to compete in the world market. That is why the nation is turning toward a Francois Fillon. And she does not mention the hundreds of thousands of young French men and women who have immigrated to England, to pursue economic opportunity.

French Socialists have made it extremely difficult to do business in France. In fairness, the current president, Francois Hollande has been trying to overturn some of the labor laws that make it impossible to fire anyone. And the labor unions have been opposing his efforts. About this Rubin has nothing to say.

If you want to know the party line, Rubin offers it up: it’s all about income inequality:

Across Europe, the old Socialist blocs have fractured into smaller parties, partly because their voting bases have changed but also because rampant inequality and the decline of the middle class have created fertile ground for more extreme parties.

As you know, the standard socialist solution to income inequality is more taxes and more regulation. A good journalist would have enough integrity to present the story, warts and all. Rubin presents what amounts to a political propaganda piece that distorts reality beyond recognition and leaves Times readers choking on a fairy tale.

[One should compare the Times piece with a recent article from the Gatestone Institute. It is entitled The Islamization of France. It suggests that someone is living in an alternate reality.]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trump Comes Out Swinging

It’s a boy/girl thing. It’s a weak/strong thing.

Yesterday, to the horror of his opponents, Donald Trump came out swinging. He went at them, directly, unapologetically. He sounded steroidal. 

Unsubtlely, he attacked his predecessor for being weak and cowardly, for refusing to name the enemy as “radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump pronounced the words, not quite to Obama’s face, but clearly and forthrightly. The media was horrified.

Trump declared that he wanted to unite the nation under the banner of patriotism. He declared that there was no room for prejudice when we were all Americans. He wanted to fight against the divisiveness engendered by his predecessor. The media was more than horrified. It was apoplectic.

Barack Obama had submitted to Iran, had surrendered to Islamic terrorism, had happily declared himself to be a citizen of the world, and embraced Angela Merkel’s cosmopolitan “open arms” madness. Trump retorted with an assertion of manliness, toughness and an aggressive posture. He declared that he would destroy ISIS and reclaim America’s inner cities from gangs and drugs.

True enough, he overpromised. One suspects that he will not be able to deliver. And yet, as Chris Matthews said last night, if he makes significant progress in these arenas, he will be counted a success. Surely, it matters that we now have a president is not willing to coddle criminals and to blame crime on white police officers.

If the nation has been fighting what Christina Hoff Sommers calls “a war against boys,” Donald Trump started the counterattack yesterday. Women are going to march today to reassert more womanly values. We shall see how that works. I suspect that it will unintentionally reinforce the Trump message.

After all, how could anyone not be sickened by the spectacle of American college students, traumatized beyond endurance, crying into the towels, hugging their puppies, sucking their lolly-pops, whining, whimpering and moaning over the result of an election? By Trump’s lights, and I am sure he is not alone, the snowflake generation needs to be slapped around… metaphorically, of course.

A little forced discipline, whether by a Trump or by the Tiger Mom, is better than sending out an army of therapists to listen empathetically to their plaintive wails.

Trump would certainly have done better to avoid the discredited slogan “America first.” His nationalistic and patriotic message would have worked much better if he had not evoked a slogan that was at best pacifist and isolationist, and at worst, pro-German.

Of course, Trump now has to deliver on promises that seemed more like threats. He has to do what he said he was going to do, to attack problems and to solve them. Otherwise, we were watching macho bluster, a giant bluff.

Yet, the barely loyal opposition is continuing its fight. It will fight against Trump as it fought against the Tea Party, as it fought against conservatives, as it fought against climate change skeptics, as it fought against Republicans, and as it fought against Fox News. The American Left, the Obamified Left has always known who the enemy is. It has been more comfortable fighting the enemy within, especially the enemy within the American mind than it has been fighting the nation’s enemies.

Recently, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat offered this assessment of the Obama policy in the Middle East:

My fellow citizens, during the last eight years, the Obama administration has pushed for a settlement-building freeze, has surrendered to the Iranians and radical Islam and abandoned Israel to a hostile U.N. resolution
.
And, of course, Obama’s legions, having conceded world leadership to Russia and China now insist that Trump must declare war on Russia. Talk is cheap, especially on the pusillanimous left. For his part Trump has declared that he wants to deal with Russia and with Vladimir Putin.

He laid down another gauntlet yesterday when he repudiated the Wilsonian foreign policy that had been practiced by three prior administrations. When Trump said:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

It brings back memories of John Quincy Adams.

Last week I noted that Stephen Cohen, writing in The Nation, declared that Trump ought to resist those who don’t want him negotiate with Russia. According to Cohen, the true enemy is radical Islam and we might need Russia as an ally to fight and destroy it.

We recall that Wilson was not only the architect of the administrative state.  Winston Churchill once intimated that Wilson was the one man who could have stopped World War I. Considering that the Great War was, according to George Kennan, the defining event, that is, the defining catastrophe of the twentieth century, failing to stop it was a world historical error.

As you recall, in early 2015, when Germany sank the British ship, the Lusitania, Theodore Roosevelt argued in his op-ed columns that America should intervene in the war. To which Wilson opined that he was: “too proud to fight.” Cowardice can exact a terrible price.

One notes in passing that yesterday Trump returned the bust of Winston Churchill to the oval office. A symbolic, but meaningful gesture.

Wilson wanted to “make the world safe for democracy.” George W. Bush had a freedom agenda. Trump has rejected those policies and has discarded a moralistic, ideological foreign policy in favor of a Kissingerian Realpolitik, a balance-of-powers policy. The goal  of Realpolitik is to balance the interests of the different players, not to try to make the world into a new Jerusalem.

Fortune magazine reported on a recent Kissinger interview. I quote its report at length.

Henry Kissinger is OK with Donald Trump's bromance with Valdmir Putin. In fact, he said he hopes the two leaders get even closer.

Speaking via live stream at the World Economic Form in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, shortly before Trump's Inauguration, Kissinger said that he agrees with Trump's "general attitude" toward Russia. The former Secretary of State said America needed to be less confrontational with Russia, and that that should be a major priority for Trump.

"I hope that an effort will be made for a serious dialogue which tries to avoid the drift towards confrontation and in which Europe, America and Russia come to some agreement about the limits within which military pressure is carried out," Kissinger outlined.

Kissinger also took a jab at outgoing President Obama, saying that the he had withdrawn from areas of the world that he shouldn't have.

At one point, Kissinger said that Russia's leader Putin has "secured equilibrium in the world."

To be continued….

Friday, January 20, 2017

Calling Miss Manners

I don’t want to sound like a complete curmudgeon, so I will open this post about behavioral economics by praising Dan Ariely. Since members of his profession cannot resist the temptation to tell people how to conduct their lives, Ariely now offers an advice column in the Wall Street Journal.

Ariely’s column does not even approach the level of badness we see in New York Magazine’s Ask Polly, but, truth be told, if you are looking for advice you would do better to ask Miss Manners.

Recently, Ariely offered some sage advice. When you are facing a task that you would like to avoid, try developing a daily ritual, a consistent set of behaviors that ground you and shift your focus onto the task at hand.

For Ariely, it’s morning coffee. He makes it the same way with the same kinds of beans using the same utensils for the same mug.

He writes:

I adore my morning coffee, so I’ve transformed it into a daily ceremony by using the same mug, savoring the grinding of the beans, watching the coffee pour from the machine and smelling the aroma as it spreads throughout the room. I then take the cup to my office, sit at my desk and move to the important part: I connect this marvelous mug of coffee to a continuing task that matters deeply to me.

So far, so good. You can take that one to the bank.

But, then, we arrive at the last letter in his column. It piques our interest, and not for a good reason. Without further ado, here is Amy’s plaintive question:

Is love overrated? I am deeply in love with someone, but to be with them, I’ll have to change jobs and cities. Should I make these changes and hope that this love will last, or should I assume that this love, like most loves, is doomed to fade and not worth the risk?
—Amy

You will have noted that Amy is a mentally challenged millennial. We are all happy to discover that she is in love with someone, but we are less than thrilled—for her, of course—to discover that this “someone” is a “them.”

Unless she is in love with a group of people—as in polyamory— she is using the plural pronoun in order to show that she is politically correct. Thus, that she does not want to offend those whose love is more idiosyncratic. In short, she is hiding the gender of her inamorato. Or, is it her inamorata?

The query is shrouded in confusion. Which ought to tell us to exercise great caution before addressing it. This does not deter Ariely from offering some less than illuminating advice. In his words:

Wait a few months, and if you still feel as ardent about your partner, take the chance. In general, the odds are very much against us when we start almost anything: a business, a book, an exercise regimen. But we often encourage people to do these things anyway, so why not for love? The odds are low that your love will burn as brightly in 10 years, but some risks in life are worth taking.

In other words, what the Hell! He has nothing to offer so he goes with love. What could be wrong about that? But, what does that have to do with behavioral economics? Wherefrom derives his expertise in matters of the heart?

Following your bliss does not sound like the best rationale. If Amy will be happy in the new city without her inamorato or inamorata then she might decide to make the move. But, she ought to learn how to make better decisions. And the path to better decisions must take account of the situation at hand. About that she tells us nothing at all.

Knowing how she feels tells us nothing. We want to know the nature of the relationship and whether or not the man in question—the laws of probability being what they are this is not most likely case-- is going to make her an honest woman at any time in the future. This ought not to be limited to the question of how true her love is. What about him? What has he offered? Has he offered anything beyond a plane ticket? Will they be living together? Will they be engaged, will they marry or will she become his official concubine? Without such understanding it's a bad bet.

Unfortunately for Amy, she is describing her dilemma and her relationship only in terms of her own feelings. This tells us that she has no real sense of what it means to be in a relationship. It’s not a good sign. True enough, love is overrated. Making decisions as though you are a human monad is also overrated. Without knowing about this relationship or the state of the negotiation, we ought to not to be offering advice.