How Paranoia about the ‘Deep State’ Brought down a President

WASHINGTON POST: President Donald Trump’s notion of “draining the swamp” suggests a centripetal force, an ever-tightening circle that feeds on itself. For RIchard Nixon, that spiraling conspiracism led him to commit crimes that cost him his base of support and, ultimately, his presidency. It is unclear whether Trump can escape the same fate…

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The Irrational Rationality of Conservative Conspiracism

WASHINGTON POST: It is tempting to think of conspiracism as a rejection of reason, part of the faith- or instinct-based anti-intellectualism of Trump and the right more broadly. And yet such a characterization misses the very nature of political conspiracy. For conspiracism does not reject rational thought, but actually metastasizes reason itself. Conspiracies are based on vast trails of evidence…

[FULL ARTICLE]

Speaking President

WASHINGTON POST: Republican leaders’ focus on Trump’s rhetoric is a striking deviation from how we are used to thinking of the power of the bully pulpit.

The key–whether taboo or embraced–has been an unflagging view, a through-line in American history that maintains just how powerful the act of presidential speech is...[FULL ARTICLE]

The Putin Paradox

VOX: It is perhaps a distinctly American faith that authoritarians like Russian President Vladimir Putin rule purely by force, corruption, or trickery…How unctuous to agree with the Russian state media’s contention that Putin is ‘wildly popular’…” [FULL ARTICLE]

The Case for Trump’s Nobel

WASHINGTON POST: Despite the popular association of the Nobel with great thinkers, diplomats and statesmen, the prize has also routinely rewarded the undeserving, the frauds and the criminals. By its very nature, the dogged determination to reward “great men” of their time has led to a list of recipients that is a mixture of the laudable and the lamented. Indeed, “mistaken” awards are routine in the prize process. A Nobel’d Trump would surprisingly find himself in some bad company…  [FULL ARTICLE]

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Little Little Lies

WASHINGTON POST: The Big Lie was a product of a specific historical period, a totalizing scheme for national conformity, first imagined in Nazi Germany and then feared en masse throughout the Cold War. The Cold War was a superpower standoff formed specifically over the fear of each empire’s seductive idea. It was an era dominated by dueling ideologies, a battle between two faiths in capitalism and communism that each strove for global control through (in theory) force of thought. It was an era built for, if not by, the idea of the enemies’ Big Lie.

But the Big Lie cannot function in a global climate of mass information flow and supranational concern…

[FULL ARTICLE]

The March for Our Live Will Last a Few Hours…

WASHINGTON POST: On Oct. 15, 1969, in 10,000 high schools across the United States, students skipped classes to demand a halt to the Vietnam War. The mass demonstration, dubbed the Moratorium, was “a march against death.” Protesting a war that seemed all but lost, yet still cost more than $2 billion each month, activists called for a nationwide general strike to stop “business as usual.”

Streets filled with rallies and prayer vigils. Church bells tolled and workers struck. Municipal buildings were draped in black crepe, and American flags flew at half-staff. The best estimate was that 2 million Americans demonstrated that day. Life magazine judged the protest “the largest expression of public dissent ever seen in this country.” [FULL ARTICLE ]

The Class of ‘Black Panther’…

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Most of the now-18 Marvel superhero movies can be described as comic confections. Perhaps overdone desserts. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther serves far richer fare. Perhaps a Marvel meal. Some have hailed it a “masterpiece”, others have called the now-much-laud-laden work a “triumph”, a crowning piece in a “21-st century Black Renaissance”. And with such a dense film follows readings: sociopolitical, racial, cinematic and particularly allegorical. None should collapse the meaning of Coogler and Joe Cole’s story into a singular message. But let me offer one about class.

In high fictive fashion, the plot of Black Panther turns on the slaying of one brother by another. The conquering brother, for decades, rules the rich land of Wakanda hidden in the heart of Africa. The slain brother leaves behind a son. That son suffers the poverty of the American ghetto, climbs the ranks of the US marines and then the super-hero underworld. He returns to Wakanda, on behalf of his dead father, to avenge that death and conquer the hermit kingdom. He vows to disperse its natural wealth out of Africa, outsourcing the riches for all those not-as-fortunate slum-dwellers like himself (and presumably for some bad guys.)

At the heart of the tale rests an enigmatic bind. The Wakandans come to believe that their power, their store of priceless vibranium, is both too much and too little. They fear that their alien element will overwhelm the world with its destructive potential. At the same time, they fear that they are not powerful enough, that they will be plundered and destroyed by that same fragile world. To skirt this paradox, these twin nightmares of strength and weakness, they isolate. They hide, looking after themselves, developing a hyper-advanced but insular culture. They ignore the plight of other cultures not so materially blessed.

Such quandary suggests other allegories for other times. Here I underline one: Within the African American experience, the unfolding stakes speak not just to race but to class. Will elite Africans or African Anglo-Americans (the Wakandans) help those poor who have fallen behind? Or, by extension, must those successful in the black diaspora stay hidden? Have they hidden? In a white-dominated society have fortunate African Americans been forced to don the cloak of the exceptional Negros? Have they felt compelled to pull up the ladder once they have climbed? Must the Erik Killmongers (or the Wire’s Wallaces) be abandoned so that at least a few may achieve? And when is it time? When will the riches of the few be shared with the many?

It is a seductive set of questions. And, perhaps, a dangerous one. The suggestion that one’s success is contingent on leaving others behind bares a cruel zero-sum logic. It denies the cumulative and often multiplier effect of success and progress. Such limited reasoning, such reason of limits, plays heavy on an older model of development. It is a model now discarded. It is a model, perhaps not coincidentally, that ruled during mercantilist days when empires were built on resources like vibranium and slaves, on mine and not yours. Such dreary logic emphasized that one’s gain rested on another’s lost. It denied the fruits of free trade, invention and group advancement that have been the staple of modern society. In Black Panther, by implication, the corruption in Wakanda, the isolationist path that the Wakandans choose, comes from it being a single-resource state. Isolated, they remain the kind of power over-reliant on material and not human capital, the type of state that ruled during those darker mercantilist times.black-panther-mask

And yet, for all the flash and spark, the true royalty the film displays are its unequaled cast: Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker and Letitia Wright. They are indeed as fine a cast as has been recently assembled. And they are joined in direction and design by Coogler and Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter. They represent (and make up) an Anglo-American artistic elite. Like the vibranium ore the Wakandans’ mine, this luminescent ensemble is pooled to peak power and grace, not a note misplayed. But, to follow the film’s logic, they represent the kind of elite, an upper class, that, like the Wakandans, must decide whether they will pool their own resources or sacrifice for the many, as Mary Church Terrell preached, lift as they climb.

In answer, in the final grace note of the movie, amidst the confines of a [bit ratchety] United Nations assembly, Boseman as King T’Challa promises to come out of hiding. He pledges to share his people’s gift of vibranium with the despairing world. And just so, like an Inceptive spiral the completion of the film fulfills the very promise of its teaser. So far from hiding, the film Black Panther presents full-throatedly the pooled glory of the black diaspora for all to see, poor and rich—in defiance and for our troubled times. It is no comic confection.

The Decline of Ideas

In the second half of the 20th century, the United States underwent a fundamental political shift. Traditional party loyalties weakened. Ideological identification gained preeminence. The Grand Old Party became the party of the Right just as the party of FDR and JFK turned to the Left.yet today that great historical pivot toward ideological stratification between the two partisan powers has shown signs of reversing.partisan In the Trump Era, loyalty to a man (and not loyalty to a cause) has become the measure.

Over the last half-century, driven significantly by the battles over African Americans’ civil rights and the decline of the American manufacturing sector and its unions, Conservative Democrats in the South and Southwest broke from the once-steady New Deal coalition to become Republicans. Even in the last two decade the seats held by most of the so-called Blue-Dog Democrats of the (mostly) mid-Atlantic, the center-right politicians of the party, have flipped to red. At the same time the liberal Republicans of the Northeast and West Coast were replaced by a solid block of Democratic politicians. The Blue-State-Red-State American divide of many-an-election-night “magic wall” was set, seemingly intransigent, ideologically impregnable.

Yet today, rather than a purity of ideas, President Donald Trump has signaled ideological flexibility. He has turned away from such mainstay Republican doctrines as free trade, low tariffs, muscular internationalism and lower deficits with promises of American-foreign-policy retreat and fiscal profligacy (see e.g., $1.5 trillion of infrastructure, $25 billion for the Wall.) In Trump we have ideological confusion: a supply-side populist, a big-spending libertarian, a hawkish isolationist.

It is the “Nunes Memo”, however, that has revealed most profoundly a break away from ideological clarity and toward partisanship. And not simply for the Republicans but for the Democrats as well. Indeed, in the latest partisan spat over FISA-court decisions to surveille the one-time-Trump-aide Carter Page, it is hard to miss. The Republicans, once stalwart defenders of government intelligence and policing, have pivoted to an attack on those same institutions as assailants of civil liberties. In turn, liberal Democrats, once consistent critics of FBI and CIA investigative overreach, once outspoken opponents of “over-classification” of state’s evidence, have fallen back on calls for state secrecy. The Left has issued a whole-hearted defense of government institutions that they so frequently (and recently) distrusted. Previous issue-based affinities have been traded for party-based allegiance. The magnetic-magnate-in-the-middle attracting and repelling Republicans and Democrats alike is, of course, Trump.

Is such ideological inconsistency merely run-of-the-mill hypocrisy, corruption, political expediency? We have seen this play before in loyalties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Yet instead of exceptions, the partisan battles of the Clinton era now appear portentous of today if not tomorrow. Just as with the present president, loyalty and animosity toward Clinton split the country in two along party lines. The cries against sexual harassment now so central to the #metoo revolution were then voiced by Republicans, a party never before particular advocates of that cause. In turn Bill’s party faithful came dutifully to his aid with nary a considerate thought to his allegers. Moreover, both Clintons’ apparently corrupt campaign styles, their profligate use of fame to enrich themselves and their celebrity standing, has voiced of the kind of Wall-Street greed so often vociferously pooh-poohed by Democrats. And yet a large constituency within the party has continued to revere both Hillary and Bill.

Repelled by the Trump administration’s agenda, Republican stalwarts like Joe Scarborough and Nicole Wallace have shed their party status. Conservative mainstays like David Frum and Bill Kristol have found themselves in the ideological wilderness. Even centrists like The Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch and Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes have called for battling the White House’s agenda by “rising above our independent predilections and behav[e] like dumb-ass partisans.”

The 2018 elections may well mark this great historical reversal. Previously the mid-term was predicted to be full of primary purges. The progressive-Bernie-Sanders wing of the Democratic Party was once anticipated to push out more centrist Clinton-leaning hangers-on. In the Republican party the more radical Bannonistas, the Roy-Moore model, the Tea-Party purists were expected to unseat their more pragmatic red-state counterparts. Yet with Trump in full-partisan swing, such a shift to the ideological edges now seems quaint. Like the fight over the “Nunes Memo”, the upcoming election may well turn on who is the loyal partisan rather than who has the purist ideas. At stake will be control of the House of Representatives. In place of governing philosophy will be Trump affinity. For the opportunity to lead or block potential impeachment proceedings has taken over as the organizing partisan principle for the upcoming campaign.

Trump is the New __________

THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION: Every historian worries over presentism — the tendency for contemporary sentiment to distort the study of the past. Some call it projection. In graduate school, it’s teleology, or what the French historian Marc Bloch dubbed “the most unpardonable of sins: anachronism.” And so, lightly we tread, tippy-toed, when formulating a historical analogy: the likening of something then to something now

The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. censured such allusive fare. Analogy rips historical example free of root, context, idiosyncrasy, and counterexample. Such evidence plucked from the past suffers from “confirmation bias,” speciously corroborating contemporary-minded hypotheses for the already predisposed. “History by rationalization,” Schlesinger damned… [FULL ARTICLE]

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