Wisconsin’s Best & Brightest Vie for Office

Molly Beck reports that two of the three candidates for state superintendent discussed an arrangement – not illegal yet astonishingly cynical –  about one of them dropping out in exchange for a state job:

A candidate for state superintendent offered an opponent a taxpayer-funded $150,000 job if he dropped out of the race and sought the same for himself if he were the one to drop out, his challenger alleged Wednesday.

Candidate John Humphries said in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that during discussions between him and opponent Lowell Holtz, Holtz proposed in writing that either he or Humphries should drop out in exchange for the guaranteed three-year job with the Department of Public Instruction should one of them defeat incumbent Tony Evers in the general election.

But Holtz said in an interview with the State Journal that the proposal — including a driver, benefits and sweeping control over several urban school districts, including Madison — was a “rough draft” of ideas assembled at the request of business leaders he declined to name of how the two conservative candidates could work together instead of running against each other. Both candidates said the proposal went nowhere.

Holtz said the proposal was intended for consideration after the primary, but Humphries said Holtz meant for it to be weighed before the race even began and contemplated scenarios under which one or the other candidate would drop out.

Each sought to make his case with dueling documents released Wednesday, although it was impossible to ascertain whether either had been altered.

Via State superintendent candidate: Challenger offered 6-figure job to drop out of race @ Wisconsin State Journal.

Credit where credit is due: this is industrial-grade jackassery.

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An Eminent Psychiatrist on Trump

Dr. Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, who served as chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV), on 2.14.17 sent a letter to the New York Times in which he addresses questions about Donald Trump’s mental state. (SeeAn Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump’s Mental State.)

Frances is addressing a debate about whether Trump is mentally ill (Andrew Sullivan, The Madness of King Donald) or is simply a lifelong conniver who has profited from his misconduct (Eric Posner, Is Trump Mentally Unstable?)

Dr. Frances concludes that Trump’s behavior is worse than a person with mental illness, that Trump shows no signs of distress from his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy” (as a clinically-ill person would), and so suggesting Trump is mentally ill only stigmatizes those who suffer from properly-diagnosed conditions.

The full text of letter appears below (emphasis mine).

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.


Coronado, Calif.

Needless to say, I’ve neither the ability nor inclination to diagnose Trump; the better course is to defer to the judgment of those properly trained for this work (as Allen Frances surely is).

Frances’s point, however – that Trump’s “psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab” – seems profoundly right. The Ancients, with a sense of psyche but without the insights of modern psychiatry, yet would have been able to understand Trump well. We are right to see him as they would have, and as Dr. Frances does, and to conclude that the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

The ‘Balls & Strikes’ View

There’s an interesting exchange between conservative Trump-critic Evan McMullin and conservative Josh Hammer worth considering. The exchange shows the divide among conservatives about Trump. (There’s also a divide among conservatives about whether anti-Trump conservatives are, in fact, conservatives. To this libertarian, they all look sufficiently conservative; that intra-tribe debate is not one in which I’m engaged.)

First the highlights of the exchange:

2:50 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer  He’s obsessed with virtue signaling to MSNBC, NYT, Shaun King, and the rest of the clown show, and is incapable of anything but Trump hatred

3:44 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @Evan_McMullin Josh, I’m sincerely disappointed that this is how you feel.

3:45 PM – 31 Jan 2017 @josh_hammer So show more nuance in actually calling balls and strikes with Trump (as most of us Trump skeptics are), instead of just blasting him 24/7.

What it shows:

  1. Hammer contends that one should call balls & strikes with Trump, but that assumes Trump is a normal political figure, playing by normal rules of the game. Those who oppose Trump don’t accept that he’s within the American political tradition. Hammer also assumes that he – and others – are in a position to play the role of umpire with Trump. If Trump’s even half so bad as those opponents believe him to be, there’s no umpire that Trump will respect.
  2. Hammer thinks that McMullin’s criticisms are virtue-signaling to particular people and institutions. I neither know nor care; the principal question is whether Trump is autocratic.
  3. Hammer call himself a Trump skeptic. Just as one needn’t be an advocate, one needn’t be a skeptic. Some of us are opponents – that others are advocates or (as Hammer sees himself) skeptics is unpersuasive to us. Nuance looks like acquiescence and appeasement.
  4. There’s likely an aspect of intra-conservative peer pressure here: who’s securely within the group, who’s too close to dreaded adversaries outside the group. The real signaling isn’t virtue-signaling to outsiders – it’s signaling to insiders, a profession of countless orthodoxies to reassure one’s fellows of an ideologically correct and pure kinship. Those outside may never notice, but one can be assured that others inside will notice and will care.

There’s a funny local aspect to this, that brings to mind a story about when I began publishing this blog. At the time, someone related to me the concerns of a town notable about my blog. It took me a while (truly) to realize that the concerns mattered to her because someone in authority had expressed them. SeeAn Anecdote About an Appeal to (but not of) Authority. The source of the concerns was unimportant to me, as it was their substantive value that was worth considering. For some, however, social pressure drives debate and discussion.

Intra-conservative or intra-liberal debates will haunt much of the consideration of Trump, at least for now. They are interesting, but unpersuasive, to those outside those particular environs.

More on Local Problems Now Gone National

I posted in November that Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One. (That post described “local fake (or low-quality)” news, but strictly speaking fake news isn’t merely of low quality or error; fake news is deliberately manufactured to deceive. See, How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News.)

Some of the worst aspects of our new national politics have been present in many small towns for years: (1) grandiosity, (2) news stories from weak reporters or indifferent stringers who are mere scribes for those in power, (3) ceaseless conflicts of interest, including news sites from incumbent politicians, (4) distortion of facts to turn crud into caviar, (5) low-quality, lazy work passed off as though it were Newton’s Principia, and (6) a top-down condescension in which a few decide that their work is ‘good enough’ and so the many should settle for that lesser standard & lesser product.

The overwhelming majority of people in these communities are sharp and capable, and deserve more than compromised standards.

Our new national scene brings myriad challenges, but there are many who’ve lived with small-scale versions of these challenges for years.

Paul Krugman Asks ‘How This Ends’

On Twitter, Paul Krugman (@PaulKrugman) has a nine-tweet chain on possibilities after Trump becomes president. The chain begins at 1:05 PM – 6 Jan 2017 and ends at 1:16 PM – 6 Jan 2017.

Here are those tweets, in order:

Some musings on the next few years: We are, I’d argue, in much deeper and more treacherous waters than even the pessimists are saying 1/

It would be one thing if voters had freely chosen a corrupt authoritarian; then we’d be following a terrible but familiar path 2/

But as it is we had a deeply tainted election, and everyone knows it; in truth the FBI was the biggest villain, but Russian involvement 3/

is just so startling, and so contrary to the usual GOP flag-waving, that 2001-type whitewashing of illegitimacy isn’t taking hold 4/

A clever, self-controlled Trump would be careful now to preserve appearances and wait for revenge; but instead he’s confirming his status 5/

as Putin’s poodle/stooge with every tweet. Pretty soon everyone will think of him as a Manchurian candidate, even those pretending not to 6/

Yet there is no normal political mechanism to deal with this reality. So what happens? The GOP decides to impeach to install Pence? 7/

Mass people-power demonstrations? He orders the military to do something illegal and we have disobedience by the national security state? 8/

Or, alternatively, overt intimidation of critics by Trump gangs? Don’t call this silly — tell me how this ends. 9/

Krugman’s last tweet asks readers to tell him how this ends, and he’d be the first to see that it’s the easiest question to answer.

We don’t yet know.

Wes Benedict Has a Book to Sell

Last month, the Libertarian Party’s executive director (Wes Benedict) sent me a tone-deaf, form email. I posted Libertarianism is Enough: Goodbye to the LP in reply, in which I argued that the Libertarian Party was an unworthy vessel for a liberty-oriented politics:

Imagine, then, after an election in which the LP did poorly, and in which libertarians now face a long struggle against radical populist advocates of state power, the surprise in reading an invitation from Wes Benedict, executive director of the national LP, that

It is time to party…

You are invited to an end of the year


2016 has been a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party!

Wes Benedict may go to hell, and celebrate there in the outer darkness for so long as he wishes.

Wes wrote again recently, and how touching it is to see that he’s concerned for me:

I see that your Libertarian Party membership has expired.

Any chance you could renew today?

You can renew your membership by clicking here

Or go to LP.org/membership

I hope all is well!


Wes Benedict

P.S. If you want a copy of my book Introduction to the Libertarian Party for renewing, you can renew at the link below for $27.53 or more.

A Trump Administration awaits, and Benedict writes “hope all is well.”  One would think Benedict had been living in a cave these last eighteen months.

Funnier still is Benedict’s offer (for a price) of his book – an introduction to a party of which his recipient had already been a member for many years. 

I’m from a movement family (those who have been liberty-oriented long before there was a party, and even before the term libertarian was coined), and from that vantage Benedict’s emails are instructive but have no emotional impact. If anything, they seem silly, almost absurd.

For one who recently joined, however, and let his or her membership momentarily lapse, Benedict’s message might seem different, as an insult to someone who sought meaning through party membership. 

Odd that he’s too clueless to see how silly his message seems to some, and how insulting it may be to others. 

Benedict’s book? No, the enduring works of the last three thousand years are the ones we’ve need of reading and reading again.

Benedict’s party? We need more than a single, small party now. 

Libertarianism has a long road ahead, and those devoted to it have much work ahead, in a grand coalition with those of different but friendly ideologies, to preserve free institutions in this country.

That may be the task of our time, and membership in the LP contributes nothing to it.

Priebus and Conway as Inside & Outside Apologists

Update, 12.22.16 – for Conway, it’s inside after all (Kellyanne Conway, ‘Trump Whisperer,’ Will Be Counselor to President).

Jennifer Rubin accurately describes (in Trump’s own ‘truther’ act is frightening) the roles that Reince Priebus (house apologist) and Kellyanne Conway (field apologist) play for Trump:

As they fanned out across the Sunday shows, President-elect Donald Trump’s closest aides and a number of GOP spinners evidenced a frightful willingness to deny the existence of a cyberattack on American sovereignty and democracy because it might make Trump feel less like a winner….the Trump camp insists we must believe — contrary to the overwhelming mound of evidence from all intelligence entities — that Russian responsibility is unproved, for to do otherwise would make Trump’s win seem less convincing. And if U.S. national security interests are harmed, well, that’s a small price to pay for supporting the frail ego of a narcissist.

Priebus and Conway play a similar role as apologists for anything Trump does or says, but to my mind Conway is more skillful. Priebus is a dull company man, in a position he’ll find it hard to keep once Trump needs him for a scapegoat after the new administration’s first (of many) inevitable blunders.

By contrast, Conway, without an official position, has a freedom of action that matches her dishonesty: she lies and distorts with an abandon that only the smartest and most shameless people possess. Priebus is just a forgettable apparatchik by comparison.

One will be able to gauge the success of Trump’s efforts through Conway’s own: when even she’s at a loss for words to defend him, he will have exceeded even the most extreme capacity for dishonesty and deception on his behalf.

In a Principled Opposition, the Basis for a Grand Coalition

Writing at The Week, Jeff Spross nicely summarizes Why Trump’s Cabinet poses a unique threat to the working class.  Spross both explains Trump perceptively & succinctly, and in the same post implicitly holds out the prospect of a grand coalition (principled liberals, conservatives, and libertarians) to oppose him. (For an explicit call for broad opposition, from a conservative, see Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism.)

Libertarians can easily agree with both Spross & McMullin.

First, Spross’s spot-on description of Trump, someone far from the traditional American political spectrum:

Trump is an authoritarian. And like all authoritarians, he wants the adulation of the masses. So he’s happy to ditch GOP ideological orthodoxy to throw voters the occasional scrap of economic populism. But being an authoritarian, he also wants zero democratic accountability. And unions are one of the most powerful and effective institutions Western society has yet devised for making both the economic and political powers-that-be answerable to working people. Trump wants nothing to do with that. His combination of reactionary populist rhetoric with a Cabinet and agenda that looks set to smash the American labor movement to smithereens is not some mistake or oversight. It’s a perfectly logical outgrowth of Trump’s specific worldview.

It wasn’t long ago, truly, that almost all libertarians saw that freedom of association was in the very fiber of a free society, and that anyone (including public employees) should be able to form associations to bargain against an employer, whether government or business.  There are many of us who yet feel this way, and will never yield our wider view to a narrower one.

Spross does more, however, than describe Trump accurately.  He implicitly recognizes the possibility of a grand coalition of left, right, and libertarian against Trump:

Trump’s goal is neither a coherent set of pro-worker social values and policies, nor a coherent set of free-market social values and policies. Rather, his goal is the obedience of both realms to a central strongman — namely, himself.

We can – and should – form alliances from diverse parts of American politics.  There is not a single political difference between the principled left, right, or libertarian that matters more than the assurance of a free society and the defeat of its authoritarian enemies.

We’ve much good work to do.

Philosophy or Identity?

Imagine a choice between living in a universally free society where one was of the racial or ethnic minority, or living as a member of the racial or ethnic majority in a universally oppressive society. Which society should one choose?

A man or woman, committed first to liberty, would choose to live in a free society, regardless of race or ethnicity. A man or woman, committed first to majoritarian identity, would choose to live in an oppressive society, for the sake of identification with the racial or ethnic majority.

It should be clear – but perhaps it’s not commonly so – that a policy of blut und boden does not bring prosperity.

A recent study finds that telling voters for whom membership in an ethnic or racial majority is important that their numbers were in decline pushed them to support an authoritarian, anti-immigrant candidate. (As is turns out, party identification didn’t change this: “Reminders of the changing racial demographics had comparable effects for Democrats and Republicans.”)

As a local equivalent of this effect, in a place like Whitewater, I’d guess that reminding some non-student residents that college students are a majority of this small town’s population rankles them similarly. Some of these non-student residents are willing to suggest that those who are different might think about moving away, or hiding away on campus, but that won’t be happening. (If an identity politics matters so much, those who are disappointed with their declining numbers may decamp at their earliest convenience.)

For the rest of us, who would choose philosophy over an identity politics, who would choose liberty over race or ethnicity, there will be neither going nor yielding, in America, Wisconsin, or Whitewater.

The Simplest Explanation for Whitewater, Wisconsin’s Politics

In my last post, I mentioned Noah Rothman’s perceptive post on the failings – and they are many – of a non-ideological politics, a politics without principle.

Whitewater’s politics, unlike that which Rothman describes, certainly isn’t a politics of radical populism; there’s no radicalism in Whitewater whatever. (Those who see radicalism here likely see unicorns and pink elephants, too.)

Whitewater’s politics is, however, non-ideological (with a few exceptions). So-called stakeholder politics here is primarily an identity politics, of some cohorts over others, where the town is imagined in terms of identity: students, non-student whites, non-student Hispanics, elderly whites, etc. Old Whitewater – a state of mind, not a person or chronological age – very much sees the city this way.

In fact, Old Whitewater mostly sees one group (non-student whites).  Others, by this narrow way of thinking, aren’t really here, or should think about moving away, etc.  Occasionally newcomers who want to advance quickly will parrot the worst of this thinking, to ingratiate themselves as truer than true, so to speak.  Reminding that a majority of the city’s residents are students, and that many others are Hispanic, for example, only rankles those who think the town belongs to one ‘true’ cohort. (There are some who find a Census table too much to bear.)

When Old Whitewater looks for influential stakeholders, it’s really looking for familiar, leading members of particular identity groups.

That’s why Whitewater has had, for well over a generation, a paradoxical big-government conservatism: precisely because ideological and principled views matter less than what particular identity groups insist that they want and need.  Millions for this, millions for that, without an ideological framework to any of it.

The irony is that this spending is not championed by the poorest residents of the city, but by a parochial, mostly-mediocre (but well-fed) clique aching for The Big Thing.  (No matter how few the Next Big Thing helps, any more than the Last Big Thing helped, this small faction must have as an ornament to its pride yet one more project.)

They are sure they are owed these things, as self-appointed guardians of a particular identity group, as the real residents within a city of many kinds of residents.

Arguments for multiculturalism and diversity are arguments, in this context, of a city without a fixed identity politics, where many groups will combine in ideological & principled ways, without barriers to participation based on identity, but instead based on clear views.

Look around, and one sees the rack and ruin from an identity politics, as the city stagnates, and thus declines relatively.  See The Local Economic Context of It All, Offer, Cooperation, Gentrification, and Stability and Stagnation, Differently Experienced.

This sort of politics cannot succeed, and so descriptions of it will, at bottom, be descriptions of error and loss.

Jennifer Rubin on ‘Four ideas for surviving in the Trump era’

Jennifer Rubin’s a principled conservative, and her writing is both insightful and clear. Rubin’s blog and Twitter feed have been must reading for years (including her posts when she was blogging at Commentary; she’s now at the Washington Post).  In a time when it would be easy to speak lies to power, she’s remained honest.

The title of Rubin’s post is Four ideas for surviving in the Trump era (emphasis mine), but she’s writing not merely about surviving, but about prevailing.

She offers four points:

1.Right and left must end their sworn allegiance to economic determinism…We can reject Trump’s message of xenophobia, sexism and racism and the urge from populists to infantilize white, working-class voters as helpless victims. We are left, however, with an acute need to cultivate a sense of belonging — to nation, community and shared values….

2. Government likely won’t get better, so look elsewhere…. [Trump] presents us with the opportunity not only to rebalance power between the executive and legislative branches and between the federal and state governments, but between the public and private sector. The latter includes philanthropy, civil society and business. We all have looked too frequently to the government for fixes and mandates; now is the time to look to voluntary efforts, persuasion and advocacy aimed directly at business. (One silver lining to Trump’s election: An outpouring of donations and volunteer offers to charitable and public advocacy groups.)….

3. We need massive civic education. If we learned anything in the 2016 election, it is that a slick charismatic figure can trash the First Amendment, threaten all sorts of unconstitutional actions, incite violence and appeal to naked prejudice with nary a peep from the majority of voters. In fact, the more disrespectful of our democratic institutions and civil liberties Trump became, the louder they cheered….

4. The sane center has to be supported. If the left goes the way of democratic socialists and the right in the direction of European national front parties, we are going to need a coalition from center-left to center-right to support democratic norms and reasoned proposals for education, criminal justice and immigration reform….

There’s need for a grand coalition of which libertarians will be one part, and along the way we will have use of inspirational suggestions for opposition, tactical steps one can take (such as Rubin’s), a brief reference guide of renowned writings to which we can refer, and particular techniques to combat Trump’s ceaseless lying and his surrogates’ ceaseless sophistry.

Our success is not in doubt, and we have reason to agree with Rubin that “[w]ould it have been better to elect a prepared, stable and intellectually coherent president? Sure, but in the meantime, there is plenty of good work to be done.”

Anecdotes About Politics in a Small Town

I posted last week about how it’s mistaken to think that most leaders in a small town are direct, forthright (see Plain-Spoken in a Small Town? Not Most Leaders).

Here are two stories about how politics sometimes works in a small town.

At a candidates’ forum last year, I had the pleasure of seeing a few residents speaking about their candidacies for a local office. One of the questions for each candidate was what he or she thought of Act 10. (For new readers visiting from out-of state, first a welcome, and second an explanation that Act 10 is the provision of Wisconsin law by which, among other provisions, Wisconsin restricts the collective bargaining rights of most public workers.)

Act 10 has been controversial, and so there’s really no one in the state who doesn’t have an opinion, one way or the other. Among candidates for office – those who are actually thinking about politics – anyone should have a clear opinion, whether favorable or unfavorable. (I opposed Act 10 as I doubted it would save money, and more fundamentally because I believe that anyone, in any vocation, should be able to organize vigorously against government for any lawful reason. That, by the way, would be the traditional libertarian view. My opposition has been clear.)

As it turns out, the oldest of the three candidates, having been in local politics for decades, couldn’t give a straight answer. Instead, he ventured that he once supported Act 10, before the felt that perhaps it might have gone a bit too far, before his voice trailed off and he had nothing more to say on the matter.

All those decades in office, so eager to be a town notable, and on one of the biggest political topics of state politics – affecting every community in Wisconsin – nothing but an ambiguous, let’s-not-make-waves answer.

That’s a scene from small-town politics.

(An aside: After the forum, this same candidate saw me in the audience, noticed that I had a notebook, and walked over to speak to me. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, but he did point to the notebook and ask, “where are you from?” One could guess his meaning, but I decided to give an unexpected answer, so I told him the name of the street on which I live, to see how he would react. He showed no sign that I was teasing him, not the slightest sense of humor or irony, and instead replied, “No, I mean what paper are you from?”

I smiled, and told him that I wasn’t from a newspaper, but was merely taking notes. He politely reassured me that it was okay to take notes during a public candidates forum. For a moment I thought that I would thank him for his gracious reassurance, but I decided against it, as he might have taken that, too, as a literal reply.)

Here’s my second anecdote, from public ceremony, a few years ago. While introducing a guest speaker, a local politician stopped to ask how long that speaker had lived in the community, and the speaker replied that he had been in Whitewater for (if I recall) about thirty years or so.  On hearing this, the politician approvingly replied that he guessed the townies (a term I don’t use) must have thought that after so much time he was one of their own.

Now I’ve lived in Whitewater for many years, have been an American all my life, from a family that was American before there was an America (so to speak), but it would never have occur to me to think what others thought on the matter should ever matter to me.

To think otherwise is to be mired in an identity politics.  Identity politics is strong in a place like Whitewater, but such strength as that only leads to a weak economy of empty streets, empty stores, low-wage jobs, and deteriorating buildings.

If someone came here a lifetime, a year, or a day ago, my first thought would be the same: what does one believe, and how will one carry on in advancement of those beliefs?  What does one think, and what will one do?

The proper question isn’t where or when, but what.   Where should be about what, about those principles that uplift and improve.

The gap between successful and unsuccessful towns is measured in the distance between where and what, each additional inch of separation being a community loss.

Berlusconi’s Political Career as a Partial Analog for Trump’s

One reads much these days about how similar Trump and Silvio Berlusconi supposedly are. There’s something tempting about comparing Trump’s political situation to Silvio Berlusconi’s: both are businessmen, held no earlier office before winning a national election, are admirers of Putin, crude, anti-intellectual, and lecherous.

There’s reason to look at parallels between the two; one needn’t look at those parallels exclusively, or with high confidence.

In The Dangers of Anti-Trumpism, Cinzia Arruzza argues that “Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Italian prime minister shows how not to resist an authoritarian demagogue.”  She’s careful, however, about the strength and weakness of comparing the two:

Trump’s very resistible rise to power is, to a certain extent, more astonishing than Berlusconi’s more predictable first electoral victory. While Trump hijacked the Republican Party, running up against opposition from a large part of the Republican establishment and from the media, Berlusconi used his media empire to both control information and create a new political party, accordingly reshaping the political spectrum….

Moreover, Berlusconi did not agitate for isolationism and protectionism, did not challenge international market agreements, and did not question Italy’s participation in the creation of the European Union and the eurozone — at least not until 2011. Finally, Italy does not play any hegemonic geopolitical role comparable to that of the United States.

These differences are significant enough to caution against facile predictions about the course of Trump’s presidency based on Italian vicissitudes. They do not, however, mean that nothing can be learned from the Italian experience….

That seems right: that there is something to learn, but that something offers a limited, partial understanding.

(In any event, I’ve no confidence whatever that a move toward Arruzza’s suggestion of a “radical and credible alternative” [emphasis added] would be a sound alternative to Trump.  Arruzza contends that “it was thanks to the neoliberal and austerity policies carried out by the center-left in the subsequent six years [after Berlusconi was first ousted] that Berlusconi’s power was consolidated [in his return to office].

I’ll not question her sense of the Italian scene, and how a traditional approach only allowed Berlusconi to return to office.  It’s enough to observe that Trump is, simply put, a radical populist, and Americans will find nothing but hardship in replacing one radicalism with another.  Running away from constitutional and political norms in a different direction won’t make us stronger.)

So for us, of Berlusconi’s example, one can say that there are lessons, but only partial ones.

Stakeholder’s Just Another Word for Special Interest

local In a small town like Whitewater, there’s much emphasis on finding and listening to stakeholders. In fact, local policymaking is mostly stakeholder policymaking.

As stakeholders aren’t merely and exclusively residents, but are more often influential residents and local special interests (business groups, business people, etc.) there’s a double-counting of connected residents, as though one gets a vote as a resident and again as a resident business person, for example. Stakeholders are mostly longstanding incumbents. A stakeholder politics is like nepotism, with longstanding, cozy connections instead of blood ties.

Officials in Whitewater will complain about a same-ten-people problem, but stakeholder politics rests on the same ten people, not as problem, but as a cardinal feature.

The benefit to officials is that the same ten people are well-known, and unlikely to present surprises. The disadvantage is that the same ten people exercise authority under conditions of dirigisme and so of stagnation. Familiarity brings a price tag of insularity, stagnation, and relative decline. See, along these lines, The People in the Room.

To get a sense of how addled stakeholder politics is, consider an account of a meeting two years ago to find a new chancellor for UW-Whitewater. (See, from a local newspaper, UW-Whitewater chancellor session held.)   The story – written not by a reporter but a ‘correspondent’ with university ties – describes a search consultant’s question to the assembled town notables:

[Search Consultant] Kozloff stated, “We really want to get a sense from all the various stakeholders of what you’re looking for in this new leader.”

“Many of you have known Dick Telfer for a number of years,” Bellman said. “We’re also interested in characteristics, attributes, strengths and skills that Dick has displayed over the years … things that you felt were particularly positive in integrating and understanding what is important in the community.”

….Much of the discussion focused on characteristics of Telfer that the group believes would be essential in a new chancellor, including high energy, being approachable and a good listener, understanding that the university is one of the major economic anchors in the community, and being a visible and active member of community life.

[Whitewater City Manager] Clapper said he hoped that the new chancellor would, like Telfer, “think about not just what’s going on in the office — not just what’s going on on campus — but how those those are going to impact the community that surrounds it.”

If one read only the story, and believed it as written, one wouldn’t guess that Telfer was passed over as chancellor more than once, pushed state capitalist schemes in opposition to any evident understanding of economics or entrepreneurship, presided over a campus with a large number of sexual assaults, two of which led to federal complaints against the university, and would later find himself a defendant in a federal lawsuit from a coach who would claim defamation and that the coach’s firing was the result of reporting a sexual assault to the police.  (I’ve a link to a long list of posts describing Telfer’s disappointing career.)

It’s wholly possible that every stakeholder in the room that day believed everything that he or she said. Meaning, of course, that it’s wholly possible that every stakeholder in the room that day lacked the discernment and judgment expected of an ordinary person.

The truth of stakeholder politics is special interest politics, and the result of special interest politics is weak judgment that produces inferior results.

The Post-Truth Crowd

Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN political commentator and the political editor of Right Alerts, blithely declares that we’re in a post-truth era, where facts don’t exist apart from opinion:

“It is an idea of an opinion. On one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies but on the other half there are many people who say, no, it’s true….

One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts – they’re not really facts….

Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There are no such things, unfortunately, as facts.

So Mr Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth.”

One encounters this on Twitter frequently.  Consider the following exchange I had there recently:

Adams: Inner monologue replaces epistemology: Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally http://nyti.ms/2gvxNOi

Chutzpah (Deplorable) [his handle, not my description]: Quoting NYT defeats your purpose and makes it fiction. Journalists should prove #trump wrong not just yell falsehoods.

One sees three things here: (1) Chutzpah (Deplorable) believes that although Trump can assert what he wants, it’s not Trump’s burden of proof to confirm Trump’s own statements, (2) nothing in the New York Times can be right, and (3) it’s supposedly clever to defend Trump (whose most rabid Twitter followers include a cadre of anti-Semites) while using a Yiddish term and describing oneself as deplorable.

The big issue is that ‘Chutzpah (Deplorable)’ and his ilk (Russian trolls, nativists, etc.) think that those who assert have no obligation to prove their own contentions – it’s others who have to disprove them.  This is convenient, because by that standard if they spew twenty baseless claims per hour, they’ll tie up the discourse with no greater effort than the time it takes to make up stories.

This is an attempt to overturn millennia of reasoning by shifting the philosophical burden of proof.

Likewise, although the frequency of baseless claims during the national campaign seems new (and cumulatively vast), it’s not new at the local level, where many communities have listened to glad-handing excuse-makers for years, even as conditions decline.  See Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One.

Locally, it’s often a choice between whether one believes small-town officials & their sycophantic defenders or one’s own lying eyes.

A fact-free perspective is now a national problem, one that its defenders present as fact that there are no facts, the truth that there is no truth.

We’ll be years fighting this, but better to fight now for a few hard years, rather than many lost decades.

Saletan’s Faint Hope of Manipulating an Autocrat

Somewhere, there’s sure to be someone insisting that a hooligan who beat someone unconscious only did so from insecurity, envy, or bad toilet training.  That explanation should be of no comfort to a victim (should the victim even recover). The one thing of which one can be sure is that someone attacked another, causing severe injury.

In a similar way, William Saletan, writing at Slate, finds it reassuring to declare that Trump’s many whims and insecurities can be manipulated, in an essay entitled, Here’s how to manipulate Trump. On this reading, Trump’s a character defective man whose worst tendencies are manageable.

This is a false, silly reassurance: even if  Trump were easily manipulated, that task will only fall to a few schemers near him, not the tens of millions who will experience economic and personal loss as Trump tramples liberties and rejects sound policies.

Worse, of course, is the truth that an inner weakling who breaks another’s nose is still someone who broke another’s nose.  That he did these things from ignorance or disorder matters less than that one is covered in crimson.   The common person who suffers injury will not be able to manipulate anyone in power, shouldn’t have to do so, and would be a fool to think there’s consolation in the belief that he was injured only from another’s supposed emotional weakness.

Saletan can save his silly psychological analysis; the work of defending personal liberty will fall to those who resist transgressions without speculating about whether the transgressors are weak.

Evan McMullin’s Ten Points for Principled Opposition to Authoritarianism

On Twitter, conservative @Evan_McMullin lists ten principles for political opposition under a Trump Administration. Libertarians would do well to embrace, and live each day, all ten. McMullin’s ten tweets began on December 4th at 12:08 PM and concluded at 12:12 PM.

(Points Six and Seven are especially important: it’s a grand coalition that we’ll need, and so we should and must embrace people of all walks of life in our common political endeavor. Libertarians have much to contribute through our resolute defense of free markets, individual liberty, and peace; we will find that we have much to gain in alliances and with the support of others, ideologically different from us, who yet share a commitment to a free society.)

Listed below are all ten of McMullin’s points, useful for reviewing often to assure one stays on the right path.

1. Read and learn the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Know that our basic rights are inalienable.

2. Identify and follow many credible sources of news. Be very well informed and learn to discern truth from untruth.

3. Watch every word, decision and action of Trump and his administration extremely closely, like we have never done before in America.

4. Be very vocal in every forum available to us when we observe Trump’s violations of our rights and our democracy. Write, speak, act.

5. Support journalists, artists, academics, clergy and others who speak truth and who inform, inspire and unite us.

6. Build bridges with Americans from the other side of the traditional political spectrum and with members of diverse American communities.

7. Defend others who may be threatened by Trump even if they don’t look, think or believe like us. An attack on one is an attack on all.

8. Organize online and in person with other Americans who understand the danger Trump poses and who are also willing to speak up.

9. Hold members of Congress accountable for protecting our rights and democracy through elections and by making public demands of them now.

10. And finally, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, have “malice toward none, with charity for all” and never ever lose hope!

Lindsey Graham and Jennifer Rubin are Right About Healthcare

There’s a difference between disliking – strongly – a federal intrusion into the marketplace like the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the policy & politics of a replacement (if any).

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham outlines the policy problem with changes to the ACA:

“Once you say that everybody should be covered, can’t be denied coverage because they are sick – which most Americans would agree with that – you put yourself in a box. Insurance is about young people who are healthy buying insurance like you all to pay for me and him,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, pointing to the oldest reporter in the scrum. “If you don’t have to buy insurance until you get sick, most people won’t. That’s where the mandate becomes important.”

Graham added: “Somebody’s got to work through this problem. If we’re going to accept the proposition that you can never be denied coverage because you’ve been sick, then somebody’s got to create a system where people participate.”

The political problem is on conservative Jennifer Rubin’s mind:

If the GOP votes to end Obamacare with no concrete plan in place, it will freak out millions of people, the very working-class voters who chose President-elect Donald Trump, and hand the Democrats the perfect vehicle for regaining majorities. Indeed, it is remarkable that Hillary Clinton did not tell voters over and over again — in response to Trump’s “What do you have to lose?” argument — that one thing they risked losing was health care.

For many Republicans, the Republican House and Senate majorities’ failure to pass a comprehensive alternative to Obamacare was a never-ending source of frustration. In truth, that alternative, as a political matter, is rather difficult to achieve.

That doesn’t mean that the ACA shouldn’t be changed, or replaced. It means that for those who voted for repeal but also want key provisions of the law to continue, there’s either going to be a sacrifice of some of their desires or a lot of creative work to be done.  Promising an easy repeal and an acceptable replacement was easy only in the promising; there’s no legislative solution that won’t disappoint many.

For a look at some solutions (although ones that neither conservatives nor liberals may ever accept), see Replacing Obamacare: The Cato Institute on Health Care Reform (2012) and Cato’s more recent writings on the subject.

It has been easier to turn away from the marketplace for Democrats (2010) and Republicans (now) than it has been to find a legislative plan that won’t upset millions of people whose expectations are very high.