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Sunday, April 12, 2020


These are hard times, and we must take such comfort as we can find.  Yesterday I watched a segment on MSNBC in which Nicole Wallace interviewed Joe Biden by phone, she in her basement and he in his.  As a mental exercise, I stifled my dislike of Biden and tried to listen to him as I imagined most MSNBC viewers, and by extension most Americans, might hear him, and after a bit I realized that on the day before Easter, his homely, stumbling, aw shucks expression of faith was exactly what most Americans would want to hear.  Next fall, America will probably be experiencing a resurgence of the virus, and Trump, if he has not already come totally unglued, will be blustering and congratulating himself and repeating his absurd claim that he kept the virus away by banning Chinese from coming to the United States [never mind that since his ban, 40,000 people have come from China to America.]  I think Biden will have just the anodyne persona for that moment.

Then, if he can get through the oath of office without forgetting his lines, we can turn our attention to the real needs of the country.


Jerry Brown said...

I doubt most Americans watch MSNBC. I don't- but then I don't have cable tv either. Biden is going to have to up his game if he is going to beat Trump. Terrible as Trump is- he apparently knows how to get elected. And DNC is not going to be able to bail Joe out in the general election. On the contrary, I would expect red states to throw all kinds of roadblocks to his election. Can't believe what they made Wisconsin voters go through to even vote in the primary under these circumstances. And Wisconsin is not really what I would call a red state. I hope those brave enough to vote don't suffer for it.

Anonymous said...

While the presidency is an office with much power, there is a wonderful panoply of offices from local to on high in which power resides and much of the needed work is getting done up and down the levels of power. This is a good reminder that the worship of a regal presidency is misplaced. The founders set up divisions among the three branches of government and even split up power among these powers to try and combat the return of a brutal authoritarian king.

Biden has a long history of making bad decisions. But the real hope in November will be the election of people at all levels of government who can take up roles of countervailing power.

Hopefully the real lesson to be learned from the current plague is how social a species we truly are and that handing power to somebody "on top" is a bad strategy. It is far healthier to distribute power and put up formal and informal barriers to prevent an egomanic from grabbing the reins of power. The good news is that while Trump is an authoritarian, he isn't the calculating fanatic that Hitler was. Trump is too busy preening and enjoying browbeathing those around him. Hitler also had a "government" that was disorganized. But Hitler was a fanatic who consciously drove toward an ideological end. Trump has no ideology other than "le roi, c'est moi!"

I follow the historian David E. Kaiser. He uses the Strauss & Howe theory of cyclic history. Consequently he has been desperately looking for signs of the "next" turning point. I think we've found it. This plague will change the political landscape. And it will indelibly impress upon the youth of today that the savage libertarian "I'm in it for #1" attitude that has reigned since the over-the-top idealism of the 1960s was replaced by the cult of self with "primal therapy" and other pseudo-science psychology centred on "the Self". The 1970s turned into the setting up of Wall Street and "greed is good" as the icon to which people strived, the 1990s blossomed into an unmitigated adulation of "lifestyles of the rich and famous", and the 2000s gave us the apotheosis of the neoconservatives who rose to power with Bush 43. Obama was a false spring who sold the snake oil of "hope" and "change" but in his heart-of-hearts was deeply conservative and struggled hard to "make whole" the Wall Street financiers while promising "relief" for mortgage holders and the unemployed. While banks & CEOs got to "keep" their bonuses, the bottom two-thirds got nothing but "gestures". The revenge of "the little people", the "despicables" was to put Trump on the throne. But hopefully, this plague will ignite a new era. One that is based on over-throwing the self appointed "stable geniuses" (not just in the White House, but holding court in corporations and banks where they pay themselves obscene salaries).

I was tricked by a false dawn post 9/11 when journalists happily ran around with stories of "ordinary heroes" and people stood and clapped as police, fire, and first responders rushed in to help. But that didn't last long. Maybe this time it will... we can always hope...

Anonymous said...

Speak and it appears...

I stumbled on this just after I posted the above.

I'm 100% confident that the glitterati and self-appointed "geniuses" who act as the commentariat of this blog will sneer at the above. Not "Marxist" enough. Not "politically orthodox". I guess one reason I call myself an anarchist is because I don't worship idols. I find truths everywhere. I'm open to being convinced I was wrong. I've never thought I had the "final word" on anything unlike so many self-appointed "commissars of comments" who busy themselves on this blog.

I don't claim that David E. Kaiser is some "genius" who is the final word on "historical process". But I do find his ideas and his elaborations of Strauss & Howe worthy of consideration. Of course I will be shot down for my impertinence! I'm not orthodox. I'm proudly heterodox. I'm not an academic. I earned by bread by actually creating things that people use. (I'm not anti-intellectual. I truly enjoy ideas. But I certainly despise preening "intellectuals" who would hold court and despise anybody forced to earn a living in "the marketplace" instead of the groves of academe.)

OK... now you can throw you shit at me...

Anonymous said...

I learn graphically.

Videos of deserted streets push home to me that we are living "in a time of plague".

These four graphs push home the idea of just how "hard hit" the economy truly is:

What I don't hear "leadership" addressing is how to get people back to work.

Call me crass, but I believe in "cost benefit analysis". The idea that "every life is precious" and "no dollar figure can be put on human life" is just silly to me. The insurance industry puts dollar figures of loss of limb and life every single day. Political and military leaders have to think in terms of "acceptable losses".

What the media is not talking about is the cost of the lockdown in terms of rising suicide rates, depression, those with mental problems being pushed to the edge and beyond, the fact that if you are a small business owner you are staring into the abyss and will have lost a life's work, and the very many -- the bottom 50% to 70% -- who have no savings and this shutdown has thrown many of them out of work and the paltry sums being offered up with not "tide them over".

One of the people I read is the autodidact Willis Eschenbach and I find his series of comments on the plague worthy of consideration. Towards the end of this essay he raises -- yet again -- the "cost benefit analysis" that needs to be done:

I see precious little discussion of the "hidden" costs of this all out medical response which is so clearly ignoring the economic side. I can only guess that since the "leaders" are from the affluent classes and have stores of cash, the idea that many are willing to go out an "take their chances" rather than huddle in a lockdown that is bringing its own kind of Black Death via starvation, debt, loss of apartment/home/car due to debts that keep piling up in the face of a stalled economy. I've always found it "amusing" how those in power simply have no clue how the bottom half of society live. Hmm... the famous words of Marie Antoinette come to mind: "let them eat cake!"

LFC said...

I don't follow David Kaiser's blog but I have read it occasionally, though not for quite a long time now.

I've also read one of Kaiser's books: Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler (1990). He's written a lot, and from what I can tell is a talented, well-trained historian, a good researcher and good writer with a lot of energy (to have published as many books as he has, that's necessary). He's recently written a memoir, which I haven't read.

I am, I must admit, a little puzzled about why Kaiser is so enamored of Strauss & Howe's "generational" thesis. There's probably something in it, sure, but from what I can gather it seems too simplistic. All perspectives on history necessarily simplify to impose some order on what would otherwise be a chaos of facts and events, but I'm not sure S&H are self-conscious enough about their simplifications.

Despite his devotion to the Strauss & Howe thesis, I'm pretty sure David Kaiser is worth reading, though it's been a while since I've looked at his blog. So much for anonymous's (false) prediction that he (or she) would be "sneered at" for reading Kaiser.

Btw, I don't recognize, for the most part, anonymous's description of the commenters here. Most of them don't seem to think they have the final word or the final "truth". But probably I should just speak for myself: I don't think I'm in possession of "the final word" about anything, and indeed the whole idea of being in possession of "the final word" strikes me as strange. Maybe anonymous wants every comment here to be swathed in caveats about its "non-finality," but that would make the comments section close to unreadable. So one just assumes that those caveats, while not always explicit, are there. At least, I do.