The Road to Trump

reconstructed by Timothy Shenk, very persuasively. There can be little doubt that it gets the story basically right.

This passage sounds more encouraging than it is, when pulled out of context:

“The conservative movement’s mission has become providing comfortable professional livelihoods to literally hundreds of people,” David Frum told me recently. Although this behemoth has proved effective at turning a profit, the intellectual returns on the investment have been paltry. “Conservatism was a lot more creative and effective when it had less money,” Frum said. […] This narrowing of intellectual ambitions has coincided with a crisis of authority. When asked to name the dominant theme of the right’s intellectual history since George W Bush left office, conservative journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty responded with one word: “disintegration”.

Disintegration would be good.

Quotable (#179)

Union and its discontents:

The founders believed horizontal and vertical federalism was the salve for … factionalism and regionalism. The federal government should have the limited powers necessary to unite the various factions for national ends, but otherwise should leave people alone. Those who wanted a liberal paradise should be able to live together and those who wanted a conservative stronghold should be able to have it. But now everyone is vying for a one size fits all homogen[e]ous tyranny where we are a truly diverse, heterogen[e]ous republic and all that does is drive up the stakes.

Twitter cuts (#120)


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Geopolitics > Ideology

George Friedman places recent US-Vietnam engagement within the history of balance-of-power diplomacy going back to the 1960s, in order to make a simple but compelling point. US relations with the USSR, China, and Vietnam have been only trivially inflected by ideological differences:

… look at the whole story and see how little ideology matters. The entire story is one of three Marxist regimes hostile to each other, and a Western capitalist regime using that hostility to balance the power. […] From the point of view of geopolitical analysis, the unimportance of ideology in all that happened is clear. The importance of the nation-state, regardless of its official ideology is equally clear. None of these four nations behaved as their ideology demanded. All behaved as their national interest did. […] This is why I find geopolitics an enormously more important method for understanding the world than beliefs and principles. These may matter in personal life. But the Marxism that defined Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev – and they were very much believers – could not resist geopolitical imperatives. And therefore, the president of the United States went to a Marxist country and set the stage for arming it. This should not surprise us.

Quotable (#154)

In the end, the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed more than eighteen thousand people, devastated northeast Japan, triggered the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant, and cost an estimated two hundred and twenty billion dollars. The shaking earlier in the week turned out to be the foreshocks of the largest earthquake in the nation’s recorded history. But for Chris Goldfinger, a paleoseismologist at Oregon State University and one of the world’s leading experts on a little-known fault line, the main quake was itself a kind of foreshock: a preview of another earthquake still to come. …

From Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story about extreme quake risk.

Quotable (#150)

Morozov on legimation crisis:

… technology firms are rapidly becoming the default background condition in which our politics itself is conducted. Once Google and Facebook take over the management of essential services, Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum that “there is no alternative” would no longer be a mere slogan but an accurate description of reality.

The worst is that today’s legitimation crisis could be our last. Any discussion of legitimacy presupposes not just the ability to sense injustice but also to imagine and implement a political alternative. Imagination would never be in short supply but the ability to implement things on a large scale is increasingly limited to technology giants. Once this transfer of power is complete, there won’t be a need to buy time any more – the democratic alternative will simply no longer be a feasible option.

Carlota Perez grasps the larger framework of this crisis with more historical realism than Morozov can muster, and thus judges its proportions more accurately. His entire argument is enveloped within hers as a predictable symptom of long-wave rhythms (down to its details of hyper-financialization, de-financialization, and concurrent socio-political upheaval). With that context noted, it’s still worth a read.