68 Comments

I'll be interested to see your substack. I'm trying to exercise more forbearance as I age as a way to get along with people. It's an interesting mental challenge I'm not naturally trained for.

I think most people are narcissistic and self serving in some ways and one man's lunatic is another's freedom fighter. It seems to me that Trump's problem is that he compounds the criticism of him, rightly or wrongly, because he fights back. Others in the limelight who were constanly criticized, say Bush and Obama, didn't fight back overtly which to some degree neutralized the antagonism. Trump had success in 2016 with his strategy. I don't think he'll be able to pull it off again.

Expand full comment

"This is a classic authoritarian scheme. Target the bureaucracy, stack it with loyalists, stifle dissent, reward friends, punish enemies..."

I was told, prior to the 2016 election, that my name had been placed on a list, and once the election was over, I'd be "dealt with." Now I was told this by someone who could easily put me on any list they liked, but would be hard pressed to "deal with" me. I say it simply as an indicator of where their heads are. And I don't think it's changed much.

Expand full comment

" She sees evidence for brokenism in the number of parents who home-school their children, watch YouTube instead of CNN, and move to states with more attractive tax regimes. But those are weak arguments."

I find myself wanting to respond to things in real time. Like comments in a Word document. I'm reading along and thinking "Why is parents wanting to homeschool a sign of things being broken?" Then you, Claire, respond saying "These are weak arguments." They are, and I'm glad you pointed it out.

Sorry, I have been reading your piece in fits and starts as I was travelling around the Puget Sound with my wife as it's canoe journey and she had some things to do.

https://muckleshootcanoejourney.com/

I took a really cool photo coming in to Seattle on the Bremerton ferry that I'd post if I could!

Expand full comment

Brilliant. Burke always the touchstone, angers the impatient, or, as Tom Nichols refers to them, the bored and indulged. Thank you!

Expand full comment
Jul 31, 2023·edited Jul 31, 2023

Out of all the analyses and opinions I've heard about Trump, probably the best (and by far the most accurate in my opinion) is Victor Davis Hanson's view of him as the "tragic hero".

I won't expand on all the cultural and political examples, but consider this: before Trump became president, being called a racist was a big deal. Now, who cares? Of course I'm a "racist". I voted for Trump, didn't I? Also, during the 2018 UN general assembly, Trump said the Germans shouldn't rely on Russian oil. They laughed at him. Who's laughing now?

Also, if Trump really was a wannabe authoritarian who was trying to seize power, what a golden opportunity he was handed! The COVID-19 pandemic was the perfect opportunity for him to create another administrative agency, or vastly reduce people's civil rights, or you name it! All in the name of public safety, of course. Instead, he was excoriated for encouraging states to open up sooner and to not limit citizen's rights.

Also, out of the past 20 years of Russian-American relations, I believe Trump is the only president we've had where Russia didn't invade another country (Bush->Georgia, Obama->Crimea, Trump->___, Biden->Ukraine).

Expand full comment

Regarding Trump's grand design to MAGA-ize the federal bureaucracy, it wouldn't work. It's a fantasy along the lines of his claim that if elected, he would instantly bring an end to the Russo-Ukrainian War.

On the value of our existing expert class, in and out of the bureaucracy, I'm of two minds. Claire is of course right that expertise is necessary to keep modern government operational. But that's a general principle only, and it doesn't address what I see as the real problem: the collapse of faith in expertise and institutions. Expertise is only effective if it's respected and trusted. But in many areas, that respect and trust has been undermined, not so much by incompetence as by disinformation, gaslighting, noble lies, and political bias. Why, it may be asked, should the American people respect and trust the public health establishment, which utterly botched the country's response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Why should they trust public education? Why should they trust the administration of justice? In these and other areas, the expert class, broadly defined, has demonstrated its dishonesty and bad faith.

And this has been going on for a long time. I'm old enough to remember the AIDS epidemic, when too the public health establishment caved to political pressure from gay rights activists and suppressed information concerning the transmission of that virus—information that could have saved many lives. Common-sense measures of disease control such as the closure of gay bath houses were characterized by activists as homophobia, and the experts went along. The same experts promoted a myth of heterosexual AIDS under the slogan WE ARE ALL AT RISK, even though they knew that the virus was far more dangerous to specific groups, especially homosexual men, than it was to the general population. Recalling all that now, I realize that I shouldn't have been surprised by what happened during the pandemic, e.g. when public health experts suddenly discovered that it was OK for people to forego social distancing and gather in large crowds to protest the murder of George Floyd. Once again, politics was injected into what is supposed to be a nonpartisan, fact-based matter.

I recently published a piece on scientific fraud, which is frighteningly common. By one estimate, half—yes, half—of all published, peer-reviewed scientific papers may be false.

https://unwokeindianaag.substack.com/p/science-is-sometimes-unreal

Given the frequency with which ideologues appeal to The Science, that's an alarming estimate indeed.

In short, the distrust of our expert class has been fairly earned, and that distrust is a major factor in the rise of populist demagogues like Trump. He didn't just happen. The corruption of expertise smoothed his path to power. And frankly, I see no easy way of restoring the respect and trust that the expert class has so recklessly squandered.

Expand full comment

"These days I don’t much use that description, because it’s been appropriated by radicals."

Piss on the radicals.

Expand full comment

I forgive and absolve you Mister Egg, now go in peace, and sin no more. But that irrelevant dig on the "VN vet" part was definitely over-ripe. You wouldn't have liked but accidentally deleted unsent what I had to say on that.

Expand full comment
Jul 30, 2023·edited Jul 30, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

Opened the comments on this with some trepidation, but a gentle "well done", American cousins, you've so far stayed reasonably civil if passionate. Keep it up!

I'd prefer not to weigh into the specifics of who it's safe/desirable/ok to vote for in an American presidential election - it's your liberal democracy, whatever its influence and impact on the rest of us - but I like America and I like most Americans I've met, so when it comes to it, I hope you all choose wisely.

Instead I'll go off on one of my tangents...

The observations about the left/right dichotomy no longer being terribly relevant are true up to a point, and the "broken-ist/staus-quo-ist" model fits a lot of the observed facts. However, I think looking at it that way mistakes the slogan for the group. What is important here is that societies ('cause similar things are happening all over, not just in the US) that previously were relatively coherent are fragmenting into smaller groups.

Some anthropologists and psychologists have been pointing out for a while that what human beings seem to be really good at is forming and maintaining cultural groups, and that this is actually our killer advantage over other species (for a variety of reasons - I can't do it justice in a short post, but think of such things as knowledge transfer and maintaining larger groups). On this view, cultural evolution is a thing - our history of progress is a history of evolving cultures. The corollary to all this is that evolution requires competition. So, cultural groups compete - nothing surprising there. However, if there's an evolutionary advantage in grouping, there will also be times when there is evolutionary advantage in splitting the group.

Take the example of a hunter/gatherer group in pre-agricultural Europe. Over a period of years, the supply of game and the plants they use for food starts to dry up. The group has no insight into whatever causal chain - climate fluctuations, pressures from other human groups, over-harvesting, etc - is actually behind this. Their explanations will be cultural - maybe religious. But whatever they think, they are faced with a choice. Either they stay and rely on things getting better, or they move and try to find a better food supply.

Either choice may work out, but both will have risks - their evolved methods for hunting and gathering may not be suited to other geographies, other kinds of prey; there may be other predators or hostile human groups in other locations; if they stay the food may run out completely and they may no longer have the option of moving. There's no guaranteed outcome. So, there is an evolutionary advantage in splitting the group - some stay, some move. Both groups may survive, neither may survive, but if they split it is more likely that at least one will survive.

It is reasonable therefore to think that we may have a built-in mechanism for generating cultural fissures, encouraging us to create and join groups with different ideas about the problem whenever we feel sufficient existential pressure. Not because any specific solution is necessarily better or worse, but because a spread of solutions increases the chance that at least one group will stumble through the crisis sufficiently intact to carry on.

This probably worked well (at least from an overall species view - it's probably mostly sucked to be in the "wrong" group when a major split occurs) when the existential problems were mostly external and geographic in nature, but it's more of an issue when the problems are about how we organise ourselves and how we distribute resources in societies of the scale we have now, because just splitting a society like the USA in two is a pretty shattering event, as we saw the first time.

Radical reorganisation is also likely to be very disruptive, and we don't actually have any historical examples of better organisational models for this scale of society - late 20th C western society is literally as good as it gets, for all its flaws. Maybe you have a revolution and luck into something better, but I wouldn't bet on it - and I don't want to be around during the "finding out" phase.

In this model, the key is the existential angst - we all (humanity, not just this substack!) need to calm the heck down if we're going to get through this. Radical change is not going to do that.

When you look around with this lens, people are very often like this - when we get steamed up, and especially when we're afraid, our smaller group identities become more important and the groups become more militant, and when we're happy and confident, the reverse happens.

My favourite historical comparison for this kind of thing is Britain between the end of the 18th C and the political reforms of the mid 19th C. It blew my mind when I read that during Wellington's peninsula campaign there were actually more British troops stationed in the English midlands - due to the fear of insurrection - than there were on the continent. Britain had serious problems with political and social and economic inequality. People wanted change, and the French revolution provided a superficially attractive model. Somehow, Britain got through that time without a major revolt. A big part of that was people on all sides finding ways to sufficiently lower the temperature, allowing the broader connections across society to naturally reassert themselves over narrower partisan interest. British political and economic models - key parts of the overall cultural package - did change, but it happened sufficiently gradually that the changes took. After all, revolution also invites counter-revolution.

(I first came across the cultural evolution idea in Joseph Henrich's "The Secret of our Success" - fascinating read, for all that the title makes it sound like a self-help book).

Expand full comment

Generally I find your essay cogent. I abhor Executive Orders, and for that matter Executive Agencies. Congress is supposed to be the heavy part of our government, however, for decades they have abdicated their responsibilities. Neither party has acted to 'conserve' our republic.

However, I do not see a viable alternative that is less interested in coordinating everything into the central government.

Do you see a viable, electable alternative in either party?

I guess I'm a brokenist, but I would prefer to conserve what we had.

Expand full comment

Claire, thanks for your very thoughtful response to the Newhouse thesis and my comments about it. I didn’t expect you to go to so much trouble but I appreciate that you did.

There’s quite a bit to unpack in your post but a few things jump off the page at me.

1) I disagree that the French Revolution (and it’s excesses) is a good metaphor for the debate between status-quoists and brokenists. The French Revolution was inspired by a desire to totally change the French mode of government. The point was that all that was old would be swept away. Burke’s book (which resides not in my attack or my mind’s attack but on my Kindle) is a classic for all the reasons that you mention.

What American brokenists want is not to sweep away everything that came before; all brokenists that I know have reverence for the American Constitution. What brokenists are yearning for is a restoration of constitutional values that have been abridged by our current cadre of elites.

You know what I mean; simple things like the right to say things, (especially when they’re true) without the Government bullying private companies to act as it’s surrogate censor.

Then there’s the right to have our daughters change in locker rooms without the peering eyes of boys who think they’re girls or, worse yet, are pretending to be girls. Our elites insist the Federal Government is empowered to enforce these new-fangled customs; brokenists strongly disagree while status-quoists shrug their shoulders and advocate letting the lawyers work it out. Biden and the establishment Republicans are all either happy or resigned to this state of affairs. In light of this, Trump’s promise to banish these elites is music to the ears of the brokenists including me.

A better metaphor than the French Revolution for the dispute between brokenists and status-quoists is the American Revolution which had little in common with the French Revolution (other than Thomas Jefferson who admired both) because our Revolution was conservative in nature. The colonists were enraged by the British King and Parliament taking away their rights; rights that they believed were enshrined in British history since the Glorious Revolution. It’s not that things in the colonies were so bad that they couldn’t get any worse, it was that the dignity of the colonists was being assaulted. Just as the colonists fought to have their rights restored, today’s brokenists merely want to return to an imperfect but somewhat better state of affairs that characterized much of American history. The status-quoists aren’t the conservatives here, the brokenists are.

2) In terms of your class loyalty, Claire, it’s not really about how much money you earn or the size of your investment portfolio. What you benefit from is the one thing that all members of your class (including me) benefit from; choices and options. Earning a living, however meager, sitting in front of a computer screen is a real privilege; a privilege few have. The fact that our elites have set up a system which provides them with both choices and material comfort at the same time that they’ve assiduously and lovingly tended a system that has ruined the lives of millions of Americans is motivation enough for people to cheer Trump on while he belligerently threatens to upend the apple-cart.

As I read your description of how Trump is planning to eviscerate the civil service system I could barely contain my joy. I would be ecstatic if he accomplished only a third of the items that you listed. Cutting the security state down to size; I can’t wait. Finally accomplishing what JFK promised-smashing the CIA into a thousand pieces and scattering it to the wind; that would be wonderful. Downsizing the federal bureaucracy and the administrative superstructure it curates; if only. Impounding money appropriated by Congress; that might be good too.

3) Finally, Claire, the single best thing about Trump is his disdain for our elite class empowered by education but lacking common sense and wisdom. Two examples come to mind:

For decades we were told by foreign policy mandarins that it was impossible to forge peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors without first forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s what Democratic foreign policy experts said; it was what Republican foreign policy experts said. When John Kerry was Secretary of State he was unequivocal. He called the idea a pipe dream.

Next thing you know, Donald Trump is elected and appoints his idiot son-in-law as a peace emissary between Israel and the Arab nations. His son-in-law was a moron who nearly bankrupted his family real estate company and who’s father bought him into Harvard. The kid was basically devoid of accomplishment. Despite this, in about two years he accomplished what every single foreign policy expert said was impossible. If a dolt like Trump’s son-in-law could negotiate the Abraham Accords when all the experts thought even trying was a waste of time, what does that tell you about how valuable foreign policy expertise is?

But there’s a more recent example of the mindless idiocy of our expert class and I’m quite sure, Claire, that your familiar with it.

Since the onslaught of COVID there’s been a debate about the origins of the virus. Those who suspected a lab-leak were tarred as conspiracy theorists. Who insisted that the virus could only have a natural origin? Why it was the scientific experts who were lionized for their leadership during the pandemic. Famous virologists, experts among experts, insisted in public and in scientific papers that a lab-leak was not plausible.

Sadly for them, their emails and texts have become public. We now know that these experts were lying. All along they believed a lab-leak was either possible or likely. These are America’s scientific leaders, experts all, in action. Their behavior was despicable.

It’s not that we don’t need experts, Claire. When my drain becomes clogged, or I spring a leak in my shower, I call an expert to solve the problem. If I need my gall bladder removed I call an expert for that too.

Our mistake was eviscerating the constitutional system bequeathed to us by our founders and allowing experts in a variety of fields to mediate our views of what’s true and what’s not true.

Trump is an oaf but he gets this. The Democrats are hopeless. What I like about Trump is that he’s single-handedly destroying the traditional Republican Party. For that alone he should be canonized.

Expand full comment

I totally disagree that Iraq never recovered after the US invasion. It certainly recovered. It's much much safer now not even in spite of, but because we invaded. I read an article in the New York Times on the 20th anniversary months ago, where Iraqis were grateful that Iraq is where it is now, notwithstanding the war, which Iraqis still regret was so destructive. However, from a disinterested standpoint, it's indisputable Iraq was better off for Western intervention. Claire why won't you admit you're a status quoist? You certainly are. If you're a conservative and antievolutionary, you're a status quoist. It's not an idle distinction to make, because the crisis of civilization we're undergoing can be boiled down to a crisis of authority between the status quo and the public, and you have to decide what side you're on. I consider myself a status quoist. Certainly this doesn't what make the status quo, whoever it happens to be, good for its own sake, good or right. That would be aristocracy. I'm certainly not an artstocrat. The problem with populism is actually that populism is aristocracy, though it masquerades as democracy. The problem with elites under Trump and Biden is that they behave like entitled gentry, and their constituents to whom they owe all their power, the freedm caucus for example or the squad, special interests like Net Zero, or steel unions, or depolicing, or Diversity--they kiss up and beg and whine to the executive like the rabble under monarchy. The comparison to the French Revolution is spot-on by the way. During the pandemic between George Floyd and January 6th, I was telling everyone I knew that this was the French Revolution happening in America. But by the status quo I mean checks and balances, separation of powers, judicial review, an unwoke military, no censorship, and no tarriffs or antidumping quotas, bank bailouts, depolicing, or carbon emissions regulations. On the Neoliberal Standard I might rail against the aristocratic administration, and I might sound like a brokenist sometimes when I skewer our draconian immigration policy, administrative bloat, our far left FTC, or I decry the mounting $31 trillion deficit, or that the Fed and the FDIC have virtually guaranteed the whole country's deposits, but that's because I defend a STATUS QUO of free and open trade, sound money, free speech, public order, certainly no government-subsidized wokeness, and reduced deficits. It's certainly not a shameful thing to say you're a status quoist, because you neither believe in going to war with Mexico over Fentanyl, or paying a bunch of broke college kids' loans for them with half a trillion bucks. I am a proud genuine, ideologically consistent globalist, and I know the elites haven't failed as much as the people have become ungrateful and entitled because of technology, what a permissive culture has contributed to the ruination and moral decline of the personally responsible individual. I think Margaret Thatcher would agree with me. I'm a status quoist, because I know nothing changes. We think the war in Afghanistan was a failure now, but hell if we pull out, we're just going to have to go back in again to deal with Iran and the Islamic State. We thought we never had to deal with an expansionist Russia either, but here we are. And if we abandon Ukraine now, it will be like leaving Europe to Hitler all over again. Human nature doesn't change. Government never gets smarter. If the Fed keeps meddling with finance or mortgage lending, we'll just have more bank collapses and recessions. You know, elites wouldn't fail so much if the government weren't so big and people weren't habituated to depend on it in the first place. It's a noble thing to defend competence and prudence against the ungrateful and entitled.

Expand full comment
Jul 29, 2023·edited Jul 29, 2023

"Absolutely Stark Staring Nuts"?

I generally believe that psychological diagnoses require both appropriate clinical expertise and at least one first-hand examination of the patient.

Also I would re-emphasize that I'm assuredly not some zonked-out MAGA cultist, and that as I see it, neither are most of his so-called base; and that he's gotten where he is/was not due to charismatic brilliance on the Hitlerian (or more positively, the Bob Dylan) model. But rather because he calls out their wanton devaluation, denigration and abandonment of the Underclass —broadly speaking— by our /their self-serving moral and intellectual betters... and in a largely stand-up comedic style.

Expand full comment

I have probably developed the same venom towards Biden that Claire feels toward Trump.

I feel tremendous anger (and some fear) because of the DOJ's ratonnade against conservatives.

For those of you who think that I am exaggerating, compare the treatment of Manfort (an absolute scumbag) with their treatment of Hunter Biden.

Both guilty of felony tax evasion, both unregistered agents.

One got a perp walk, monetary forfeiture, and years in prison.

The other got a 6 car parade to court where a fixed deal would have given him probation (and allowed him to keep his loot without paying taxes).

Expand full comment

Claire, I agree with you about Trump.

But you can't hate in a vacuum.

Look at Biden.

The corruption, the politicization of those same bureaucrats that you defend in this column, the enormous debts being rung up, the degradation of our justice bureaucracy into a protected/unprotected system.

I could go on, but you know all this, you just chose to ignore all of Biden's sins in order to pursue your Great Orange Whale (Ahab seems less driven than you).

I am wondering why you give Biden a complete pass for the destruction that he has wrought.

Expand full comment
founding
Jul 29, 2023Liked by Claire Berlinski

Replacing the incompetent with the insane is certainly not the answer.

Expand full comment