U.S. Grant, Artistic Genius…

…no, not some trove of still lives painted in retirement, squirreled away in the famous tomb, newly discovered by a maintenance worker, but rather the claim, in almost as many words, by esteemed military theorist James J Schneider in his 1994 book The Structure of Strategic Revolution:

Before [military historian and theorist J.F.C.] Fuller began his study of Grant, he accepted the conventional view that Grant was a “butcher and Lee one of the greatest generals this world has ever seen.” But after he completed his comparative study of the two generals he concluded: “Few generals-in-chief have suffered greater injustice than Grant. The reason for this misunderstanding is obvious…the 1864-5 campaign…was the first of the modern campaigns; it initiated a[n] epoch, and did not even resemble the wars ten years before its date.” Grant arrived at his operational vision through perceptual speed and a “gift of historic imagination,” that enabled him to “take in at a glance the whole field of war, to form a correct opinion of every suggested and possible…campaign, their logical order and sequence, their relative value, and the interdependence of one upon the other.”

Schneider pinpoints the “precise date” of “the birth of operational art” – the basis of truly modern warfare from the Civil War up to the apparent eclipse of major inter-state war – as having occurred on April 4, 1864, the date of a letter from Grant to Sherman, in which Grant, for the first time grasping the possibilities and necessities of industrial age conflict and the “distributed campaign,” described a plan working “all parts of the [entire Federal] army together.” How Schneider’s analysis of Grant’s military artistic “genius” figures in his book focusing on the Soviet Union, written and published during the years of that state’s collapse, is something beyond the scope of an OTC post – but I promised Chris on Twitter, in a sidebar to all this discussion lately of the Confederacy, that I’d dig up some quotes justifying my claims as to the world-historical significance of the Union strategy. One major quote will have to do for now. Perhaps we can discuss further in the comments or at a later time. (In part, I just wanted to test/demonstrate the new OTC archive, another event, as I’m sure will be acknowledged, of very great import.)

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Noted & Quoted

TV pundits and op-ed writers of every major newspaper epitomize how the Democratic establishment has already reached a consensus: the 2020 nominee must be a centrist, a Joe Biden, Cory Booker or Kamala Harris–type, preferably. They say that Joe Biden should "run because [his] populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation" (David Leonhardt, New York Times), and though Biden "would be far from an ideal president," he "looks most like the person who could beat Trump" (David Ignatius, Washington Post). Likewise, the same elite pundit class is working overtime to torpedo left-Democratic candidates like Sanders.

For someone who was not acquainted with Piketty's paper, the argument for a centrist Democrat might sound compelling. If the country has tilted to the right, should we elect a candidate closer to the middle than the fringe? If the electorate resembles a left-to-right line, and each voter has a bracketed range of acceptability in which they vote, this would make perfect sense. The only problem is that it doesn't work like that, as Piketty shows.

The reason is that nominating centrist Democrats who don't speak to class issues will result in a great swathe of voters simply not voting. Conversely, right-wing candidates who speak to class issues, but who do so by harnessing a false consciousness — i.e. blaming immigrants and minorities for capitalism's ills, rather than capitalists — will win those same voters who would have voted for a more class-conscious left candidate. Piketty calls this a "bifurcated" voting situation, meaning many voters will connect either with far-right xenophobic nationalists or left-egalitarian internationalists, but perhaps nothing in-between.

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Understanding Trump’s charisma offers important clues to understanding the problems that the Democrats need to address. Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking. It’s also crucial to recognise that, like Britain, America is at a turning point and must go in one direction or another. Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion. While Weber’s analysis of charisma arose from the German situation, it has special relevance to the United States of America, the first mass democracy, whose Constitution invented the institution of the presidency as a recognition of the indispensable role that unique individuals play in history.

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[E]ven Fox didn’t tout Bartiromo’s big scoops on Trump’s legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, “We’re doing a big infrastructure bill,” means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.On some level, it’s a little bit funny. On another level, Puerto Rico is still languishing in the dark without power (and in many cases without safe drinking water) with no end in sight. Trump is less popular at this point in his administration than any previous president despite a generally benign economic climate, and shows no sign of changing course. Perhaps it will all work out for the best, and someday we’ll look back and chuckle about the time when we had a president who didn’t know anything about anything that was happening and could never be counted on to make coherent, factual statements on any subject. But traditionally, we haven’t elected presidents like that — for what have always seemed like pretty good reasons — and the risks of compounding disaster are still very much out there.

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