Noted & Quoted

2017FebruaryWeek of February 13 to February 19
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The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.

In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.
They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right.

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The precarious feeling of uncertainty will nonetheless persist, at least until U.S. authority, in Europe or anywhere else, is seriously challenged. And there are signs that a challenge is coming. In the past few days, the Russian government has recognized passports from the phony “republics” that Russian-armed, Russian-controlled “separatists” have created in eastern Ukraine — perhaps, as one Russian official suggested, as a prelude to granting them Russian passports or even annexing the territories outright. Russian planes repeatedly buzzed a U.S. destroyer on patrol in the Black Sea. Most ominously, Russia has reportedly deployed a new generation of cruise missiles, a move that violates existing arms treaties and could make it easier for Russian bombs to reach European capitals.

There is no reason to think that these small “tests” will not be repeated. And if any one of them explodes into something worse, then talk of “shared values” will not help. Nor will repeated reassurances from Cabinet members. At some point, the enforced ambiguity will fall away, it will not be possible to disguise reality with “Swedish incidents” and we will learn what the president actually believes. I just hope that we are all prepared.

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Our partners in the international order we created - some of whom we conquered to make it possible - are now seeking to defend it from us. Let's say that again, Defend it from us. How do we now as loyal Americans look at the warnings of the French and the Germans, as well as the British and our other erstwhile allies' warnings? This is a complicated question which different people, depending on their professions and governmental responsibilities and personal dispositions, must answer in different ways. But we cannot ignore the fact that the American experiment is now in a kind of exile - taken refuge elsewhere - and the executive power of the American state now under a kind of, hopefully temporary, occupation.

We face a comparable dynamic at home. I have been thinking for weeks that the central challenge and reality of the Trump Era is what do you do as an institutionalist when the central institutions of the state have been taken over, albeit democratically, by what amount to pirates, people who want to destroy them? To put it another way, do the institutions and norms which Trump and his gang are trying to destroy become shackles and obstacles in the way of those trying to defend them? There['re] no easy answers to these questions.

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We are on numerous fronts in an unprecedented and perilous situation. No government likes leaks. Sometimes leaks are illegal. This is something that can be addressed on its own. The key here is the substance of what we're learning. It speaks for itself. That's why it's been so damaging. Even Republicans, who have been remarkably willing to give Trump a pass on virtually anything as long as he will sign key legislation, have been unable to ignore this. This is no 'political assassination'. That is a ridiculous and preposterous claim. The facts we are learning speak for themselves. When leaks are this damaging and this tied to the fundamental operations of government, it's not about the leaks or the motives. It's about what we're learning and what we need to know.

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Stuff in Space is a realtime 3D map of objects in Earth orbit, visualized using WebGL.

The website updates daily with orbit data from Space-Track.org and uses the excellent satellite.js Javascript library to calculate satellite positions.

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Satirizing war—condemning war—is easy. What’s not easy is extending the tragedy of war beyond the politicians, beyond the world leaders, beyond those higher-ups that are typically held responsible and laying some of that blame on our shoulders—us watching at home—as well. To great effect, Verhoeven uses news footage to give context to the world beyond the story, showing us the broader strokes of the war—the galactic politics, and so on. It’s a technique he similarly deployed in Robocop, using media not only to further develop the world, but to establish a sense of voyeurism that brings us closer to the act. As a viewer, you become complicit with the mayhem plaguing Detroit, or the war machine that grinds out pointless death after pointless death. Famously, one of the newsreels in Starship Troopers asks “would you like to know more?” Well, yes. Of course we would. We have news streaming into our brainpieces 24/7, assuring us that things are terrible somewhere, if not everywhere. This question that Starship Troopers poses is almost rhetorical because there’s at least part of us that loves the mayhem, that loves the war machine.

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“By oath, intelligence officials’ first duty is to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ “ Evan McMullin, the former C.I.A. operative and Republican congressional aide, who ran for President last year as an independent, pointed out on Twitter. In the cases of Flynn and the Trump campaign aides who reportedly were intercepted speaking numerous times with Russian intelligence agents, a case can be made that the leaks were driven primarily by alarm about the possible infiltration and subversion of the U.S. political system. In other words, the leakers were motivated by patriotism, not politics. To quote another of McMullin’s tweets: “So, the real scandal isn’t that the President of the United States of America appears to have been co-opted by America’s greatest adversary?”

From a constitutional and moral perspective, the country now faces a momentous question: How far did the Russian penetration of Trump’s campaign go, and what is the real basis of his desire to team up with Putin? From a political perspective, the urgent issue is a more prosaic one: How many Republicans on Capitol Hill will break with the White House and demand a proper independent investigation of the entire Russia/Trump imbroglio, either by a specially formed select committee or, even better, a 9/11-style commission?

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Week of February 6 to February 12
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Infrastructure. Tax cuts for workers and parents. A better tax code for business.

Not a war with the judiciary. Tax cuts. Not CNN or Nordstrom’s perfidy. Jobs. Not Bannon’s theories about Islam or the crisis of the West. (And you know I like theories about the crisis of the West!) Bridges and roads and tunnels.

This isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s kind of easy.

Which is good advice for anyone in crisis, new presidents included. If you can’t figure out how to handle the hardest stuff, try something simple for a while.

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I've been thinking about this sequence of events all day—and it's a disturbing one, albeit in an amusing and harmless context:

  • The President saw a single line of an article on a television show.
  • He tweeted that single line with apparently no idea who the author was or what the publication was, and indeed without reading the rest of the article.
  • Nobody in the White House vetted the tweet to discover the readily apparent fact that the article in question sharply criticized the President and supported the decision about which he was angrily complaining.
  • Nobody warned the President that the article was written by an author who had written numerous other articles ungraced by pleasant words about him—indeed, an author who has been calling him a threat to national security for nearly a year.
  • Nobody warned the President that the site he was about to praise has had a great deal of such writing by other writers as well.

It is a portrait in inconsequential and comical miniature of the incompetence and dysfunction we've been seeing since day one of the Trump Administration.

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Comments often serve as identity badges, said Joseph Reagle, the author of “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web” and a professor of communication studies at Northeastern University. “You see this particularly on social media,” he told me. The comment is meant to tell the world, “This is who I am.” People may also comment to gain approval and solidarity with their social group, he said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘I am like you.’” Of course, offering a correction can also be a means of propping up one’s own ego.

Entering the comments fray can seem futile. “What I have learned from the little commenting I have done is that it accomplishes nothing and provokes the very opposite of rational, thoughtful discourse,” wrote Elisabeth Carroll.

After reading all the survey data and talking to some commenters by phone, my views of comments and commenters have come full circle. Setting aside the trolls, who should, as a rule, be ignored or blocked, I can’t help thinking that on a certain level, commenters want the same thing I do — to have our ideas heard and carefully considered. We all want to have a say, if only we could find a way to stop shouting.

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“An iconic moment from the Trump era: Canadian Mounties, on a freezing winter day, helping a refugee family flee over the US border. https://t.co/mQNZ07eOvk”

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The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect. They acknowledged only a handful of text messages and calls exchanged between Flynn and Kislyak late last year and denied that either ever raised the subject of sanctions.

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, “is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

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If you came across someone in your everyday life who repeatedly said fantastically and demonstrably untrue things, what would you think of him? If you showed up at a neighbor’s, say, and your host showed you his newly painted living room, which was a deep blue, and then insisted repeatedly — manically — that it was a lovely shade of scarlet, what would your reaction be? If he then dragged out a member of his family and insisted she repeat this obvious untruth in front of you, how would you respond? If the next time you dropped by, he was still raving about his gorgeous new red walls, what would you think? Here’s what I’d think: This man is off his rocker. He’s deranged; he’s bizarrely living in an alternative universe; he’s delusional. If he kept this up, at some point you’d excuse yourself and edge slowly out of the room and the house and never return. You’d warn your other neighbors. You’d keep your distance. If you saw him, you’d be polite but keep your distance.

I think this is a fundamental reason why so many of us have been so unsettled, anxious, and near panic these past few months. It is not so much this president’s agenda. That always changes from administration to administration. It is that when the linchpin of an entire country is literally delusional, clinically deceptive, and responds to any attempt to correct the record with rage and vengeance, everyone is always on edge.

There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.

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You don't need to be a nationalist to understand that voters will expect policies to be made in their interest.

You can even think of this as identity politics, as applied to the whole electorate. How can something be identity politics if it applies to the whole electorate? Well, the whole American electorate has a shared identity characteristic: They are all American citizens.

Yet on immigration, Democrats have somehow ended up with policies premised heavily on their benefits to non-citizens, and therefore with an identity politics aimed at people who aren't eligible to vote.

In other words, they are doing identity politics badly, and will have to do it better — and rethink their ideas to put more of a focus on American citizens' interests — to beat Trump on immigration.

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When Ratcliff and his team mixed two strains of Vibrio cholerae bacteria with different T6SS toxins on petri dishes, one strain or the other always killed off its opponent at any given place. The two strains gradually separated into patches of one strain or the other, just like a thin film of oil and water separates into pure droplets.

This separation, or population structure, should allow cooperators to share their secretions only with other similar cells, which would increase the survival of those cells and mean cooperation would be evolutionarily advantageous.

To probe whether that is true in the real world, the team examined the genomes of 439 species of bacteria, counting both the number of T6SS toxins – a measure of how aggressively they kill bacteria unlike themselves – and the number of secreted gene products, a measure of their level of cooperation. Sure enough, species with more T6SS produce more secreted products.

Lethal competition may make cooperation more likely to evolve in other organisms as well, such as plants that secrete toxins into the surrounding soil. “Localised warfare is a pretty general route to generating structured populations, which itself is a general route to evolving cooperation with relatives,” says Ratcliff.

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...[L]iberalism, under pressure from the left, has become steadily more anxious about its political and cultural progenitors, with Woodrow Wilson joining Jackson and Jefferson in the dock. Meanwhile the right’s narrative has become steadily more exclusionary — religious-conservative outreach to Muslims has given way to Islamophobia, racial optimism has been replaced by white resentment.

Maybe no unifying story is really possible. Maybe the gap between a heroic founders-and-settlers narrative and the truth about what befell blacks and Indians and others cannot be adequately bridged.

But any leader who wants to bury Trumpism (as opposed to just beating Trump) would need to reach for one — for a story about who we are and were, not just what we’re not, that the people who still believe in yesterday’s American story can recognize as their own.

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[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Tunis 2011 - Chris Belsten/Flickr[/caption]

Looking farther into the more distant future, had democratic transition been successful, one could envisage the creation of what might have become known as the United States of the Middle East, a formidable power with enormous resources, both human and material, and with considerable potential.

The impact of such transformation would have been unprecedented. It would have been no less significant and history-making than the American and the French revolutions. The emergence of such a magnificent regional power would have immediately put an end to Iranian expansionist and imperial ambitions in the region. It is no wonder that Iran, which today has a regime that claims to have been itself the product of a popular revolution against tyranny, was a staunch opponent of the popular Arab Spring revolutions. The emerging power would not have just been more genuinely democratic but it would have also been Sunni. It would have had the immediate impact of inciting the oppressed peoples of Iran, many of whom happen to be Sunnis or Arab Shiites, to rise and seek emancipation from a Shiite theocracy disguised as some kind of ‘democracy’. Iran’s endeavour to self-promote as the model for the oppressed peoples of Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East to follow would have been dealt a fatal blow. The emergence of a successful Sunni democratic model would have signalled the beginning of the end of the self-proclaimed role of global Muslim leadership by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

...The pressure cooker will once again explode and a new generation of young men and women will take to the streets to resume the dynamic. Just like before, they will look for leadership and will find it nowhere but with those who have been truthful to the cause, those who paid with their lives and wealth, in order to bring about a new Arab dawn.

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Germany must stand up in opposition to the 45th president of the United States and his government. That's difficult enough already for two reasons: Because it is from the Americans that we obtained our liberal democracy in the first place; and because it is unclear how the brute and choleric man on the other side will react to diplomatic pressure. The fact that opposition to the American government can only succeed when mounted together with Asian and African partners -- and no doubt with our partners in Europe, with the EU -- doesn't make the situation any easier.

So far, Germany has viewed its leadership role -- at least the leadership understanding of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble -- as one that is by all means in opposition to the interests of other European countries. Whether Schäuble's austerity policies or Merkel's migration policies, it all happened without much co-coordination and with considerable force. It is thus somewhat ironical that it is Germany, the country that is politically and economically dominant in Europe, that will now have to fill in many of the gaps created by America's withdrawal from the old world order, the one referred to by former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as "Pax Americana." At the same time, Germany must build an alliance against Donald Trump, because it otherwise won't take shape. It is, however, absolutely necessary.

It is literally painful to write this sentence, but the president of the United States is a pathological liar. The president of the U.S. is a racist (it also hurts to write this). He is attempting a coup from the top; he wants to establish an illiberal democracy, or worse; he wants to undermine the balance of power. He fired an acting attorney general who held a differing opinion from his own and accused her of "betrayal." This is the vocabulary used by Nero, the emperor and destroyer of Rome. It is the way tyrants think.

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As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.

But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.

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I’m not suggesting that Trump’s next move will be drone strikes targeting his journalist critics. But I am suggesting that we are no longer living in a time of normal politics. Trump and Bannon have told us as much.

This makes it more important than ever for the rest of us to keep asking hard questions and having uncomfortable conversations, no matter how many filthy and threatening emails and tweets we get. The alternative is worse: If journalists and commentators let themselves be intimidated into silence; if Trump’s attacks on judges and civil servants lead them to back away from their commitment to the rule of law; if the FBI and Secret Service become tools of executive vengeance rather than impartial instruments of justice; if military leaders become too cowed to recall that their most fundamental duty is to the U.S. Constitution, not to Donald Trump….

Well, then Trump will be right that America is no better than Putin’s Russia.

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Perhaps because judges are the greatest impediments to autocratic rule, Trump has singled them out most insidiously. Having inflamed global tensions by antagonizing millions of Muslims in a legally dubious way, Trump not only seeks to attack those who accurately describe the steps he’s taken, but to set up anyone standing in his way for blame when the backlash occurs.

Trump is courting terrorism to gain political power at the expense of his power rivals. He doesn’t need a masterplan or even a high level of consciousness about it for us to recognize that this is what’s happening.

In the absence of a major crisis, this has the effect of pitting his most committed supporters against a broad opposition: The significant majority of Americans, who find his political style unappealing, alarming, or grotesque. Trump cannot render the country’s massive democratic institutions impotent when most Americans will make common cause with them over him. If the attack Trump is courting comes, the ensuing battle for narrative control will determine whether he, or his opposition, is held responsible for it, and thus, how durable the resistance to authoritarianism will be. His opponents will have facts on their side, but he will have the largest bully pulpit and the means of retribution at his disposal. If at some point, without changing tactics, Trump wins over a broader swath of the public, the real damage to democracy will begin.

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In the 1930s, economic crisis and rising nationalism led many to doubt whether either democracy or capitalism was preferable to alternatives such as fascism and communism. And it is no coincidence that the crisis of confidence in liberalism accompanied a simultaneous breakdown of the strategic order. Then, the question was whether the United States as the outside power would step in and save or remake an order that Britain and France were no longer able or willing to sustain. Now, the question is whether the United States is willing to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power or whether Americans are prepared to take the risk — if they even understand the risk — of letting the order collapse into chaos and conflict.

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Trump wants to identify all opposition to him with the black-masked crowbar thugs who smashed windows and burned a limo on his inauguration day. Remember Trump’s tweet about stripping citizenship from flag burners? It’s beyond audacious that a candidate who publicly requested help from Russian espionage services against his opponent would claim the flag as his own. But Trump is trying. Don’t let him get away with it. Carry the flag. Open with the Pledge of Allegiance. Close by singing the Star Spangled Banner––like these protesters at LAX, in video posted by The Atlantic’s own Conor Friedersdorf. Trump’s presidency is itself one long flag-burning, an attack on the principles and institutions of the American republic. That republic’s symbols are your symbols. You should cherish them and brandish them.

Don’t get sucked into the futile squabbling cul-de-sac of intersectionality and grievance politics. Look at this roster of speakers from the January 21 march. What is Angela Davis doing there? Where are the military women, the women police officers, the officeholders? If Planned Parenthood is on the stage, pro-life women should stand there, too. If you want somebody to speak for immigrants, invite somebody who’s in the country lawfully.

Since his acceptance speech in Cleveland, Donald Trump has made clear that he wants to wage a Nixon-style culture war: cops against criminals, soldiers against pacifists, hard hats against hippies. Don’t be complicit. If you want to beat him, you have to reject his categories.

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So far, just about the only prominent American institution that could oppose Trump's agenda, and that he has not attacked, is Congress. That may be because, thus far, the Republican-controlled body has largely deferred and acceded to his demands. The truer test will come if and when, in the context of Trump's record-setting disapproval rating, the Republicans refuse to support unpopular Administration policies, or, as happened under Barack Obama, the opposing party eventually wins control of one or both houses.

Already, Trump's sustained assault on our most important institutions raises legitimate and enormously consequential questions. One is whether he is, at his core, a (small d) democrat and intends to govern as one, or as something else entirely. Another is whether other institutions with a voice in American society, such as the private sector, artists and entertainers, professional athletes or academia, will increasingly join the fray, and at what cost? And finally, will the institutions he already seems to be systematically eroding have the fortitude to continue standing against a withering onslaught that seems likely to continue in the coming years?

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Week of January 30 to February 5

What these modern-day Jacobins don’t realize, alas, is that destroying institutions is easier than building them. If their assault on our core political traditions and institutions is successful, the United States will at best end up weaker and poorer. At worst, it will cease to be a meaningful democracy. The fact that the generally conservative Economist Intelligence Unit recently downgraded America — that’s right, the “Land of the Free” — from a “full” to a “flawed” democracy tells you just how serious this problem is. Based on the early evidence, Trump and Bannon want to accelerate that trend.

Some of Trump’s supporters may have flocked to him because they were tired of the failed strategy of liberal hegemony and worried that Hillary Clinton and her team were going to repeat the same mistakes that Obama, Bush, or her husband made. If so, it’s increasingly clear they aren’t going to get the smart and more restrained approach to the world they were hoping for. By that standard, in short, Donald J. Trump is already a failure. Didn’t take him long. I would say it was “Sad!” but it’s not. It’s tragic.

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Forfeiting the ideals of Never Trump, National Review is starting to embrace, slowly and awkwardly, the Republican president out of fealty to the party. This was perhaps an inevitable development. The magazine was born in 1955 as a revolt against the moderate Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower. When the conservative movement inspired by National Review took over the GOP, the magazine became intimately linked with the party, and started having trouble criticizing Republican administrations. As John Judis showed in his biography of William F. Buckley, the National Review founder began to forgive conservative politicians like Ronald Reagan who strayed from right-wing orthodoxy in order to win elections. The balancing act Buckley learned to perform, of being both a supporter of the party and a keeper of ideological purity, tilted increasingly in the direction of partisanship.

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What all this means, in practical terms, is that the implementation phase of Trump’s grand strategy — the period in which the ideas upon which one campaigns are translated into the day-to-day initiatives by which one governs — is likely to be far messier than is normally the case. The Trump administration will have to determine how to proceed on those issues — such as Russia, Iran, alliance relations, trade, and homeland security — where key advisors have staked out positions very different from those of the president. More fundamentally, the Trump administration will have to determine how to reconcile the president’s various promises and impulses — and where those things cannot be reconciled, how to prioritize among them.

This could be good news for the country and the world. As the Trump team realizes how intractable the contradictions are among the president’s various policy pronouncements, it may see the wisdom in backing off of some of the more problematic or dangerous ones. And the fact that there are so many profound disconnects between what Trump says and what is wise may create space for the president’s more sober advisors — such as James Mattis, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson, and Nikki Haley — to shift policy and even influence the president’s thinking. We can hope that this is the scenario that ultimately unfolds. But in the meantime, both the content and contradictions of Trump’s grand strategy make it seem likely that U.S. foreign policy and the international order are in for a rough ride.

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To paraphrase what the neoconservative intellectual Irving Kristol wrote about Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1952, there is one thing that Jacksonians know about Trump—that he is unequivocally on their side. About their country’s elites, they feel they know no such thing. And their concerns are not all illegitimate, for the United States’ global order-building project is hardly flourishing.

...In this new world disorder, the power of identity politics can no longer be denied. Western elites believed that in the twenty-first century, cosmopolitanism and globalism would triumph over atavism and tribal loyalties. They failed to understand the deep roots of identity politics in the human psyche and the necessity for those roots to find political expression in both foreign and domestic policy arenas. And they failed to understand that the very forces of economic and social development that cosmopolitanism and globalization fostered would generate turbulence and eventually resistance, as Gemeinschaft (community) fought back against the onrushing Gesellschaft (market society), in the classic terms sociologists favored a century ago.

The challenge for international politics in the days ahead is therefore less to complete the task of liberal world order building along conventional lines than to find a way to stop the liberal order’s erosion and reground the global system on a more sustainable basis. International order needs to rest not just on elite consensus and balances of power and policy but also on the free choices of national communities—communities that need to feel protected from the outside world as much as they want to benefit from engaging with it.

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January
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Our smartphone, Kosinski concluded, is a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously.

Above all, however—and this is key—it also works in reverse: not only can psychological profiles be created from your data, but your data can also be used the other way round to search for specific profiles: all anxious fathers, all angry introverts, for example—or maybe even all undecided Democrats? Essentially, what Kosinski had invented was sort of a people search engine. He started to recognize the potential—but also the inherent danger—of his work.

...

Many voices have claimed that the statisticians lost the election because their predictions were so off the mark. But what if statisticians in fact helped win the election—but only those who were using the new method? It is an irony of history that Trump, who often grumbled about scientific research, used a highly scientific approach in his campaign.

Another big winner is Cambridge Analytica. Its board member Steve Bannon, former executive chair of the right-wing online newspaper Breitbart News, has been appointed as Donald Trump’s senior counselor and chief strategist. Whilst Cambridge Analytica is not willing to comment on alleged ongoing talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Alexander Nix claims that he is building up his client base worldwide, and that he has received inquiries from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia. His company is currently touring European conferences showcasing their success in the United States. This year three core countries of the EU are facing elections with resurgent populist parties: France, Holland and Germany. The electoral successes come at an opportune time, as the company is readying for a push into commercial advertising.

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America’s adversaries are unlikely to waste much time before testing this erratic administration and pursue their interests. When America’s enemies advance, who will win out in the administration? The ironically cooler-headed “Chaos” Mattis or the astonishingly angry Bannon? 

If it’s the latter, and Trump’s “Zealots” reign supreme, America should prepare for war, which may be exactly what the inner circle seeks as conflict often brings allegiance when its against a foreign adversary — i.e., the “rally `round the flag” effect. But let’s hope it’s the former, and the “Pragmatists” can keep things calm, weigh options, and pursue for America strength through patience, partnerships, and principles. 

My guess: we’ll know which side wins the war inside the Trump administration in the summer of 2018. Past administrations with strong internal rivalries usually see the first causalities of bureaucratic war emerge during year two when they’ve lost favor with the White House. The first appointees and strategists we see exit the Trump administration because “they achieved what they set out to do” or “to spend more time with their family” will be the public sign to America as to who wins the battle between the “Pragmatists” and “Zealots.”

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Week of January 23 to January 29
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President Trump’s position on the Mexican wall is bizarre and embarrassing, but his views on Iraqi oil that he repeated during the campaign and during his first week in office are downright dangerous and illegal. Mr. Trump has been criticizing the Obama administration because it withdrew from Iraq early, and did not seize, control and exploit Iraq’s oil fields. When he visited the CIA on his second day as president he repeated the old lament but added flippantly, “so we should have kept the oil. But, okay, maybe we’ll have another chance.” Trump kept insisting on his position and claimed that his critics are “fools”. The president of the United States, circa 2017 was thinking out loud about the possibility of using America’s armed forces to violate International Law and act like pirates by occupying and stealing the natural resources of another country.

And on the seventh day, it was the Muslims’ turn to get Trump’s angry attention...

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I would wax triumphant about the mitigating effect of incompetence on this document, but alas, I can’t do it. The president’s powers in this area are vast, as I say, and while the incompetence is likely to buy the administration a world of hurt in court and in diplomacy in the short term, this order is still going take more than a few pounds of flesh out of a lot of innocent people.

Moreover, it’s a very dangerous thing to have a White House that can’t with the remotest pretense of competence and governance put together a major policy document on a crucial set of national security issues without inducing an avalanche of litigation and wide diplomatic fallout. If the incompetence mitigates the malevolence in this case, that’ll be a blessing. But given the nature of the federal immigration powers, the mitigation may be small and the blessing short-lived; the implications of having an executive this inept are not small and won’t be short-lived.

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Donald Trump’s “emotional maturity [and] stability” are being discussed in private by senior members of his own political party, according to veteran Washington journalist Carl Bernstein, in a turn of events he has described as unprecedented.Bernstein was speaking on CNN late on Wednesday night, when he revealed there was “open discussion” among Republicans about Mr Trump’s fitness to rule.

...Bernstein said discussions going on in Washington this week were “unlike anything I have seen in 50 years as a reporter”.

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Noted & Quoted

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The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.

In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.
They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right.

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The precarious feeling of uncertainty will nonetheless persist, at least until U.S. authority, in Europe or anywhere else, is seriously challenged. And there are signs that a challenge is coming. In the past few days, the Russian government has recognized passports from the phony “republics” that Russian-armed, Russian-controlled “separatists” have created in eastern Ukraine — perhaps, as one Russian official suggested, as a prelude to granting them Russian passports or even annexing the territories outright. Russian planes repeatedly buzzed a U.S. destroyer on patrol in the Black Sea. Most ominously, Russia has reportedly deployed a new generation of cruise missiles, a move that violates existing arms treaties and could make it easier for Russian bombs to reach European capitals.

There is no reason to think that these small “tests” will not be repeated. And if any one of them explodes into something worse, then talk of “shared values” will not help. Nor will repeated reassurances from Cabinet members. At some point, the enforced ambiguity will fall away, it will not be possible to disguise reality with “Swedish incidents” and we will learn what the president actually believes. I just hope that we are all prepared.

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Our partners in the international order we created - some of whom we conquered to make it possible - are now seeking to defend it from us. Let's say that again, Defend it from us. How do we now as loyal Americans look at the warnings of the French and the Germans, as well as the British and our other erstwhile allies' warnings? This is a complicated question which different people, depending on their professions and governmental responsibilities and personal dispositions, must answer in different ways. But we cannot ignore the fact that the American experiment is now in a kind of exile - taken refuge elsewhere - and the executive power of the American state now under a kind of, hopefully temporary, occupation.

We face a comparable dynamic at home. I have been thinking for weeks that the central challenge and reality of the Trump Era is what do you do as an institutionalist when the central institutions of the state have been taken over, albeit democratically, by what amount to pirates, people who want to destroy them? To put it another way, do the institutions and norms which Trump and his gang are trying to destroy become shackles and obstacles in the way of those trying to defend them? There['re] no easy answers to these questions.

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@CK_MacLeod

State of the Discussion

bob
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+ I dunno, I think a lot of people looked at the TPers not as patriotic Americans but as bat shit crazy. Their difficulty in [. . .]
On Emulating the TP vs Trump’s GOP
CK MacLeod
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+ They will still have to cope with a version of the same conflict at every stage and level. Sooner or later, or constantly, any political [. . .]
On Emulating the TP vs Trump’s GOP
bob
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+ Sure, that's a fair characterization of the discussion outlined in the tweets. My point is that the information we have about "the left" is [. . .]
On Emulating the TP vs Trump’s GOP

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