Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Normalizing Trump The Douthat Way

A long time ago our favorite pundits chose a side and sold themselves to the 1%. Since then they have steadily and publicly debased and humiliated themselves in the name of passing on their masters' propaganda. These pundits demonstrated that they hoped to keep on grifting the public under Trump. They could bide their time, pin every disaster on liberals or Trump, and benefit from the tax windfall that Paul Ryan was about to grant them. Even now, Ross Douthat is still trying to benefit from the disasters Trump will inflict.

Douthat wrote a hasty-produced-looking post today that attempts to normalize the abnormal so Trump can continue to wreak havoc and Paul Ryan et al can continue to pillage and punish--and so Ross can continue to live in luxury. Let's take a look at the language he employs in his efforts.
Normally at the end of a new administration’s tumultuous first week, it’s the pundit’s job to sit back and chin-stroke and explain everything that the president and his aides are doing right or wrong. In the Donald Trump era, though, there’s a distinctive problem: Before he can be defended or criticized, we have to figure out what’s actually happening. And for several reasons, that’s going to be harder in this presidency than ever before.
Douthat presents the Trump Administration as eccentric but essentially normal. His policies should be analyzed and supported/criticized just like every other president's policies. By refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of our situation and Trump's actions, Douthat normalizes them.
First: This is clearly going to be an administration with multiple centers of gravity, with more fractiousness and freelancing than in the relatively-tight ships that Barack Obama and George W. Bush ran. The Trump White House has a weak chief of staff surrounded by rivalrous advisers. The Trump cabinet is not necessarily on the same ideological page as the president’s inner circle. Trump himself is famous for agreeing with the last person who bent his ear. So there is no trustworthy voice providing public clarity — least of all poor Sean Spicer — in cases where multiple balls and trial balloons are airborne.
Douthat immediately jumps to lying in support of Trump.  The Chief of Staff is a white supremacist and he seems to be running the show, rather than being a weak man surrounded by rivals. [Error: correction in comments.] The Cabinet is run by people chosen specifically for their desires to destroy their departments and the inner circle is Trump's children. "Poor" Sean Spicer is a despicable toady. The "balls" are unconstitutional orders and the "trial balloons" are executive orders.
Second: The establishment press, as I warned last week, is being pressured to lead the resistance to Trumpism, which makes it more likely to run with the most shocking interpretations (muzzled bureaucrats! mass resignations!) of whatever the White House happens to be doing. At the same time, the Trump inner circle clearly intends to lean into this phenomenon, to encourage the press-as-opposition narrative, seeing mainstream-media mistakes as a way of shoring up its own base’s loyalty. And then the technological forces shaping media coverage also encourage errors and overreach — a dubious story or even a misleading live-tweet of a press conference can go around the online world long before the more prosaic truth has reached your Facebook feed. (A self-serving suggestion: In such a climate, the discerning citizen may come to appreciate anew the tortoise-like pace of print journalism.)
Douthat is nothing if not self-serving, as well as Trump-serving. He is trying to accuse the press of hysterical over-reaction to Trump to intimidate them into silence and persuade people to ignore them. He treats Trump's trampling of the press as typical beltway give-and-take and calls the facts "a narrative." Douthat drops little hints such as "mistakes," "error," "overreach," "dubious," "misleading," and over-interpretation. Like every conservative ever, no matter how young, he blames advances in technology for whatever he seeks to excuse. Finally he attempts to flatter the vanity of supposedly ego-centric New York Times readers. Douthat is an incredibly clumsy propagandist and also greatly admired for his supposed skill and nuanced intellectual superiority, which is yet another reason why we have Trump.
Third: Trumpism is an ideological cocktail that doesn’t fit the patterns we’re used to in American politics, and Trump has arrayed himself against bipartisan habits of mind on all sorts of issues. This means, as The Week columnist Damon Linker notes perceptively, that he’s guaranteed to do things that seem “abnormal” and that take both the press corps and D.C. mandarins aback —– like, say, actually enforcing already on-the-books immigration laws. The trick for the public will be figuring where what’s “abnormal” is obviously “alarming” and where it makes more sense to wait and see. Which will be hard for reasons one and two, and also because …
It's not that Trump is abnormal, it's just that the DC liberal mandarins, with their effete long fingernails and robes, are taken aback by someone who actually follows the law--Trump. Therefore we should do nothing.
… Trump himself is a loose cannon whose public interventions tend to make his own policies harder to interpret. Is his administration planning a trade war with Mexico, as his tweets suggest, or just pushing a wonky border-adjustment tax that’s been part of G.O.P. proposals for a while? Are we actually considering reviving waterboarding, or is that just an empty executive order left over from the Romney transition that James Mattis and Mike Pompeo have no intention of operationalizing? Is the administration about to embark on a racially-coded war against phantom voter fraud based on random anecdotes and conspiracy theories … or is this just a “Twitter promise,” not a real one? Of course time will bring a certain clarity. We’ll find out whether Trump’s refugee and visa freezes from Muslim countries are actually temporary, a means to stricter screening, or whether they become permanent. We’ll move from speculation to reality on Russia policy. We’ll find out how far the president intends to run with the voter-fraud nonsense. We’ll see how often his angry tweets and behind-the-scenes obsessions cash out, and how often they’re just a way of venting.
Trump's erratic behavior is "venting." Trump's hints of purging voter rolls are "nonsense." He's not playing chicken with Mexico, he's a wonk pushing an old tax. He says he's in favor of torture and that torture works, but that's just empty words. Ignore the Muslim ban-which Ross cleans up to be no big deal. Time will tell. Don't do anything hasty, like have a spontaneous demonstration at a dozen airports, converge dozens of lawyers, and have the ACLU sue Trump to stop him. That would be silly and useless.
But if the fog lifts in some cases, it’s likely to chronically shroud the policy-making process on issues (health care, taxes, infrastructure, more) where Trump needs his congressional allies to have certainty about their shared objectives. And it threatens to descend more dramatically — with Stephen King-style monsters screaming in the mist — with every unexpected event, every unlooked-for crisis, in which what the White House says in real time will matter much more than it does right now.
We must work together to achieve Trump's objectives. We must not shriek hysterically at fictional monsters, like racist travel bans or Nazi-era laws. We must let the good, misunderstood people working for Trump and Bannon achieve their goals unimpeded.
I ended last week’s column with a warning for the press corps, about their potential contribution to a climate of political hysteria. But this column’s warning is for the president and his advisers, some of whom clearly like the fog and seem to imagine that it will help them govern just as it probably helped them win.
They shouldn’t be so confident. For legislators, too much fog is paralyzing. For voters, it’s a recipe for nervous exhaustion. For allies, it’s confusing; for enemies, it looks like an opportunity.
Trump is not a popular president, he has not actually built an electoral majority, his team is not particularly experienced. If he can’t provide clarity and reassurance and a little light around his agenda, it will be very easy for a fog-bound presidency to simply run aground.
He is perfect clear. We know what he wants. And we know what Douthat wants: a Republican party that can run rampant, committing as much destruction to human life as it desires, as long as Ross Douthat can imagine himself rising up in the party with it. He's a Good German.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Bitch Is Back

Megan McArdle has finally given us Part II of her earth-shattering takedown of Elizabeth Warren but I need to ease back into the McArdle Death Spiral Watch gradually. If I plunge in head-first I might crack my head on concrete.

Before I continue, I would like to remind the reader that McArdle is about to see her years of work come to fruition: she'll be able to take health care away from my kids. Nothing personal, I'm sure. It's just that stepping on my children was necessary to climb the ladder of success.

Today's amuse bouche is another glimpse into the crystal skull of Mrs. McSuderman. In these interesting times of Trump, market rumblings, Davos, and cabinet nominees, McArdle inexplicably takes time off from stabbing Obamacare to opine about divorce. She is very much against it, as any woman would be who has a husband who's surrounded by libertarian interns who believe that Great Women sleep from Ubermensch to Ubermensch until they end up in Galt's Gulch, sleeping with its Aryan king. Or New York, sleeping with the son of somebody important, whichever comes first.

McArdle, who is 43, is very happily married to P. Suderman, 34, and is strongly convinced that men and women would remain happy if they never divorced. You might think you want to divorce your spouse and take up with someone who spends less time calculating the amount of interest she is accruing daily and more time spending her money while you are still young but you don't. You stay right where you are, mister, happily married to the ball and chain.

Conservative women accept the price they are told to pay to belong to the tribe with money and power: they must think of themselves as produce with a limited shelf life, who must advantageously trade their assets for a husband's assets. Naturally, being conservative, they consider their assets to be youth, beauty, reproduction, and income ability.

Rich spouses are one of nature's greatest gifts and of course every male conservative wants his elite wife to have an elite income; it's a sign of social status and personal worth for them both. When you are the richer spouse, however, there is a danger of looting and mooching during a divorce. He can take half of your assets and blow them all on interns, Uber rides during snowstorms, and grass! But income is merely one of the problems resulting from divorce.

The older a conservative woman become, the further down the Marriageability Ladder she slides. Personal income is always a great consolation but conservative women have internalized their group's sexism and can't really be happy unless they fit in with the group and its mores, decorating themselves with cosmetics and pink linen and acquiring a husband and progeny. Therefore conservative women are deeply vested in the pipe dream of eliminating divorce, and McArdle is already at a disadvantage.

Let's look at her assets and judge their quality.

Youth-like the famed parrot, her youth has ceased to be.
Beauty- pining for the fjords
Reproductive Willingness-shuffled off 'is mortal coil
Income Ability-excellent, which is a negative, not a plus

So yes, Megan McArdle thinks that you should not be able to get a divorce, and by "you" she means you, Peter.
Unbeknownst to me, family lawyers apparently call January “divorce month.” As the Christmas tree is thrown out and the wrapping paper cleared away, the empty Champagne bottles taken out behind the garage, Google searches for terms like “divorce lawyer” and “file for divorce” spike. Many of the people researching how to untie the knot will probably not do so. But some will.
That's true. December is slim pickings, since most people don't want to give their kids a divorce for Christmas.
Brad Wilcox and Samuel Sturgeon of the Institute for Family Studies suggest that there might be good reason to hold off, particularly if you have kids. Of course, there might be good reason not to hold off! But the majority of divorces involving kids don’t come from “high conflict” marriages or situations involving abuse; Wilcox and Sturgeon point to data indicating that most divorces come from couples who are still basically functioning as parents.
This is McArdle so I assume that the Institute for Family Studies is comprised of the usual right-wing suspects and lo and behold, it is. Fortunately for me, someone has already done the legwork: Philip N. Cohen.
The new kid in the right-wing foundation sandbox is the Institute for Family Studies. They are “dedicated to strengthening marriage and family life, and advancing the well-being of children, through research and public education.”
IFStudies gives off a distinct Brad Wilcox essence. That’s not just because its mailing address is the same as that of the Ridge Foundation (which you’d have to describe as “shadowy”), whose 1099 filings list Wilcox as its president. It’s also that one of Ridge’s directors was one Ernest “Skip” Burzumato, who is the managing director of IFStudies, program director at Wilcox’s National Marriage Project, and an adjunct professor of sociology at Bridgewater College. (Aside: at Ridge, Wilcox in 2011 paid himself $35,000 — a little more than Ridge got from the Bradley Foundation “to support the National Marriage Project.”)
Mr. Wilcox is also "a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute." Of course.

 Billionaires, like the clergy of old, profit when the lower classes are trusting and biddable. They would far rather have the lower classes pitted against each other than have the lower classes united against the upper classes. If people begin to blame billionaires for their killer capitalism, something untoward could happen. It would be far better for all concerned if the poor believed that their poverty was entirely their own fault and if they would only marry and work hard, they would be successful and happy. And that takes propaganda.
Counterintuitively, kids whose parents divorce amid flying crockery and lurid accusations may actually do better, post-divorce, than kids whose parents unhappily fizzle out. But if you think about it for a while, that’s not all that surprising. In homes with major conflict, divorce brings a certain measure of peace and stability. But if your parents are basically civil to each other, divorce could come as an unwelcome surprise.
This construct is typical of McArdle; she uses it often to seem smarter. You won't believe this obvious thing that most people already understand, but after I explain it to you, you will!
Our parents, our family unit, are the first and most bedrock fact of our lives. Suddenly breaking that apart -- for no reason apparent to the children involved -- shakes a faith in the world that will never be rebuilt in quite the same way. Moreover, divorce often means downward economic mobility. Unless you are hugely wealthy, splitting your income across two households means that sacrifices have to be made by both parties, and often, that financial stress is added to the emotional upheaval of unraveling two lives.
McArdle's parents are divorced.  Based on information that McArdle has let drop, the West Side apartment was sold at some time, her father bought a sea-side cottage somewhere nearby that must have been very expensive and is about to slide into the rising sea/sinking shore, and I assume her mother also acquired a residence.

Poof! There went McArdle's only hope of ever living on the Upper West Side and running into Jonah Goldberg while walking her dog, not that she's bitter that he nabbed a liquor and grocery store heiress and she didn't. Now she will never run into celebrities while picking up coffee. Nobody would gasp with envy when she casually revealed her address. Eckington is appreciating nicely but it just isn't the same. Damn you, divorce!!

And let's not even talk about the drain of a divorce and two households on her rightful inheritance.
Small wonder, then, that the children of divorce tend to have worse outcomes on various measures than the children whose parents stay together: According to Wilcox and Sturgeon, “Divorce typically doubles or triples the odds that children will experience depression, delinquency, school failure, or future relationship difficulties.”
But children aren’t the only reason to consider sticking it out. Divorce may be emotionally and financially traumatic for children, but it is also, of course, emotionally and financially traumatic for adults.
::nods wisely::
And it’s not clear that in the end, people who leave low-conflict marriages end up any happier than those who stick it out through a rough patch -- even a years-long rough patch. Some people consider divorce at one point but don't go through with it. When they are asked about it later, most of them say they’re glad they didn’t do it. One study compared people who divorced with people who didn’t, finding that the people who didn’t divorce ended up as happy as those who did. Sixty-four percent of them even reported that they were happily married.
You think you're home free and then the Mater and Pater decided that after 40 years of marriage they can't stand a couple more decades for the sake of the children and throw in the towel. It's beyond selfish. They already wasted 40 years, they couldn't tough it out for another decade or two? Sunk costs!
Of course, there’s a risk that some of this finding is what social scientists call “selection effect.” The people who considered divorce, but didn’t do it, might not have been as unhappy as the people who took action.
It would be surprising if selection effects didn’t account for at least some of these findings. It would be even more surprising if selection effects accounted for all of them.
We have a script in our heads about what divorce does, much of it lifted from the divorce revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Two people meet … they fall in love … they develop irreconcilable differences, or they grow apart, and must split so that at least one of the parties can develop into their truest, highest self.
Another McArdle technique is to parrot a conservative cliché about liberal behavior and pretend to vanquish her strawman.
But more recent research suggests a very different truth about happiness. As Daniel Gilbert argues in the brilliant book "Stumbling on Happiness," unless our circumstances are truly unbearable, our brains will seek to find their natural level of happiness, like floodwater evening out across a plain. Whatever we are stuck with … whatever we commit to … we will find ways to make it work -- and we will be just as happy with it as we would have been with any other outcome.
I have not read Mr. Gilbert's book but after looking at its Amazon page and remembering every other book McArdle discussed, I suspect she misinterpreted the book through her own blinkered ideology, which is pretty funny because the book is about "the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions."
Under this theory, all other forces being equal, those who avoid divorce end up with the same long-term level of happiness that they would have had post-divorce … and they skip the short-term financial and emotional pains of separation.
Picture McArdle in thirty years. Picture leaving McArdle in thirty years. Some things are worth short-term pain.
So a lot of people who are thinking about observing National Divorce Month might be better off if they delayed the festivities for a while and started hunting for reasons to celebrate their marriage instead.
You hear that, Peter? You have been warned.