What If Our Slacker Totalitarian Starts Eating Kale And Exercising?

Theorists of tyranny have compiled taxonomies: aristocracy (and its shadow side, oligarchy), democracy (and ochlocracy, or mob rule), and monarchy (and tyranny).  Plato’s interlocutors in Republic book 8 discuss the various types of regime but Book 9 dives deep into the most dangerous form of government, tyranny.  Aristotle was seemingly more sanguine in his Politics, giving more equal time to each type.  Madison and Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers, defended the possibility of energetic yet non-monarchical and non-tyrannical government via separated powers and checks and balances (see #47 and #51).  Twentieth-century totalitarianism (see Hannah Arendt’s Origins) appeared to be a new type of regime, in its erasure of any boundary between private and public life; also in that, unlike the pairs democracy/mob rule, aristocracy/oligarchy, and monarchy/tyranny, totalitarian rule has no “neutral” or non-abusive twin.

If American voters manage to check Trump’s power while there is still time to limit the damage, it may be because they sense that with his relentless tweeting and headline-grabbing, he is just not going to leave us alone and let us ignore him for awhile while we pursue our own happiness.  If the Republicans, in spite of all their gerrymandering and efforts to suppress voter turnout, do lose control of one or both houses of Congress, it may be because enough of us have gotten irritated and embarrassed enough to bother to vote in a midterm for a change, and limit the damage from the presidential bull-with-his-very-own-china-shop-all-the-time.

So far I believe we have been fairly lucky that our slacker totalitarian president apparently spends a great deal of his time sitting around eating unhealthy food and tweeting at his TV, though he and his minions have made plenty of messes by  sabotaging healthcare, environmental regulation, etc.  But what if he (trigger alert, plug ears, la la la la la) has a learning curve?  What if he actually reads article II of the Constitution and realizes just how much more he can do, and takes Admiral Ronny Jackson’s advice to adopt healthier lifestyle choices?  Where will we be able to hide then?

 

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It’s Time For Sumptuary Laws To Regulate Facebook And Make Us Truly Happy And Free

I am old enough to remember the utopian hopes for the internet.  Sadly, the era of friendly little chat rooms (I exaggerate a bit) has given way to the era of dystopian fears: of Big Social Media, of the Deep State, and of our semi-voluntary servitude to the cookies and trackers.

I have a fine solution to all of our problems!  Bring back the sumptuary laws that served for many centuries and on multiple continents to enforce norms and hierarchies and proper social behavior.  If we had held onto rigorous sumptuary laws, Facebook’s motto, “move fast and break things,” would have put Zuckerberg in the stocks years ago.  Would that have been a bad thing?

Do not be fooled by whatever damage control statements Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg put out today and in the coming days.  They can raise the trifling objection that what happened with Cambridge Analytica was not technically a data breach.  They can promise to work closely with regulatory agencies.  They can abase themselves all they like.  Actually, their self-abasement is a sort of voluntary admission that some kind of sumptuary law to control their behavior is needed.

The hard part of this is that we need to regulate not only the destructively transgressive behaviors of Silicon Valley elites.  It’s not just that the people who are indulging themselves by consuming “cartons of multi-colored eggs pooped out of rare, expensive chickens who have been raised on diets of organic watermelon and steak” (according to Willamette Week and Washington Post) need to be shamed and then imprisoned.  The really hard part is that we, the people–we the relatively privileged people–need to accept that we cannot control ourselves.  We must impose binding regulations on ourselves.  This may be particularly difficult with a President who desperately needs and even more desperately resists sumptuary restrictions on his very own self.  Not to mention a Congress in thrall to the fantasy that deregulation always and everywhere means true freedom.  The way forward is clear.  As distasteful as it may be to many, we need a new leader right away.  A leader who understands the true value of sumptuary regulations.  A man who feels deeply the evils of bad habits and the danger of ruffles and silks and extravagance and deviance.  I refer of course to our next president, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions.  Or Mike Pence, if you like.

Sarah Sanders: “Russia Will Have To Decide Whether To Be A Good Actor Or A Bad Actor”; Russia Clings To Maskirovka, Defying Sanders’ False Binary

Sarah Sanders said yesterday that the US “stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom.”  Today she put on her most resolute voice and stated that Russia will have to decide whether it wants to be a good actor or a bad actor.  Meanwhile, the president has said little to nothing publicly about the Salisbury poisoning, which sickened dozens of British citizens, not just the former Russian spy and his daughter.  (Of course some say you can never quit being a Chekist, just as there are no true ex-Catholics.)

I expect Russians will laugh and think: heck no we are not about to choose between being bad or good; the whole point of maskirovska is to sow FUD.  Meanwhile, Trump boasts of making up trade deficits with Canada.  Justin Trudeau knew Trump was wrong, Trump knew he had no idea whether he was speaking the truth, and Trudeau and every other foreign leader already knew Trump is talking smack 99% of the time.

American presidents have not always told the truth in public or private, but Trump is not the master of maskirovka that Putin is, even though he can still befuddle the mainstream media some of the time.  Most of us here in the US have become embarrassed by our transparently lying leader, discount every word he says as dubious, and I expect it’ll show in the elections coming up soon.

Is Secretary Mattis About To Get His Shot To Protect The Constitution And Our Way Of Life?

Secretary of Defense James Mattis (I don’t say “General” because he has retired from active duty and is a civilian employee of the U.S. government) has done a better job of maintaining his dignity than most other Cabinet officers this past year.  Mattis has said more than once that his job is to “protect the Constitution and our way of life.”  Well, he is likely to get a chance to prove himself soon, if reports that the president is about to get rid of Attorney General Sessions are true.  Trump is apparently starting to realize that he actually can ignore the so-called adults in the room and do all kinds of not-normal and very likely illegal and unconstitutional things that he has been itching to do.  The Constitution, as Trump may be realizing, is a dead letter if it isn’t enforced by Congress or the courts.  And if pushback from free assembly and free speech aren’t enough to convince those other branches to restrain the president, the Constitution won’t save us.

If the president removes Sessions, installs (for example) Scott Pruitt, and Pruitt removes Mueller, then we are on the edge of constitutional crisis (I say “edge” advisedly because I don’t believe a president can succeed in trashing our freedoms unless we acquiesce).  Congress could intervene by passing, with veto-proof majorities, a new independent counsel statute; alternatively, Congressional committees could actually get serious about enforcing subpoenas against Trump and his minions; or, of course, the House could impeach.  What does Mattis have to do with any of this?  If Trump does move to shut down Mueller’s investigation, Mattis’s only honorable move, in my opinion, will be to resign and furthermore tell us why he will not be a party to subversion of our Constitution and our traditions of freedom.  If Mattis can’t move the needle of public opinion among Trump supporters and on-the-fence Americans, we are in trouble.  But he will have done what he can to preserve what he says he cares about most.

Will Kim Jong Un Succeed In Legitimizing The President?

“Why would the US president ever want to legitimize a brutal dictator” is, in all seriousness, no longer the question on the table.  Maybe W was a bonehead to say he had “looked into Putin’s eyes” and gotten a sense of his soul.  Maybe Obama should have been less eager to press “reset” with Russia, and more willing to walk away from the Iran deal.  And Trump is unlikely to know as much as he thinks he does about Kim Jong Un and North Korea.  Do we even have an ambassador to South Korea in place?  Has Trump learned anything at all about Korea that he wasn’t spoonfed by Xi Jinping when they met in Beijing last year?

Trump’s rush to announce a meeting with Kim may yet be countermanded or undermined or sabotaged by the “Deep State.”  And I don’t blame the Deep Staters.  They are concerned, perhaps beside themselves, for good reason.  At this point, sad and almost unthinkable to say, Trump looks more desperate to meet with Kim than Kim is to meet with Trump.  Is it too much to ask an American president to stop trying to prove that he is bigger and better than all other presidents?

Of Course The President Doesn’t Believe In Free Trade–He Doesn’t Believe In Freedom, Period.

Wake up, Paul Ryan!  Of course Trump doesn’t believe in free trade.  Can you imagine?  In fact he doesn’t believe in freedom at all.  Except for himself, to be president-for-life like Mr. Xi.

Ever since grade-school-Trump was reportedly caught throwing rocks into the crib of a toddler next door in Queens, he has been, shall we see, less than fully committed to freedom in any sense normal people can recognize.  Paul Ryan, meanwhile, has not troubled himself to condemn Trump’s many other assaults on American freedom and rule of law, but is suddenly horrified that the president shows no respect for free trade.  Really?  Will Paul Ryan sit Trump down and read aloud to him from David Ricardo’s writings on “comparative advantage”?  Will Paul Ryan persuade our president that global trade is a win-win proposition in which voluntary mutually beneficial transactions shine the light of freedom into every corner of America (and the rest of the world)?

No, he won’t, because Donald J. Trump understands better than Paul Ryan that what America great in the first place was not the fantasy spontaneous-order world of Hayek and Mises.  Nope, it was the zero-sum world of baksheesh and Ndrangheta and omerta and Maskirovka and grease.  The whole point of the art of the deal is to fool and screw somebody else, not to find mutually beneficial transactions.  (The complex truth is other than either of these simple options; another post another day).

And if Trump appointed a “religious freedom” ambassador, that was for the “evangelical” suckers.  If he speaks of “God,” it is a God of wrath and vengeance, not the God who promises and brings good news of Christian freedom.  If he ever butters up members of the press in private, it’s only so as to catch them off guard when he calls them “enemies of the people” in public and tweets violent anti-CNN images to rile up his loyalists.

Paul, admit it: your president and ours doesn’t give a fig for “freedom.”  You at least make a big show out of promoting “freedom,” even if it is, IMO, a dystopian kind of freedom disconnected from the actual experiences of millions of hard-working and economically and otherwise not-completely-secure Americans–Americans who might want to look into FDR’s Second Bill of Rights to discover a version of freedom that might make a positive difference. If you want to know what the president really thinks of freedom, just look at his envious praise of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and Erdogan and–you get the idea, Paul.

Imputable Me? No, Imputable You!

Why am I not surprised that “due process” was never a priority for this president?  I am a little sad for the sad trombone snowflakes commenting on Breitbart.com that their Trump votes are now hanging by a thread!  A thread having nothing whatsoever to do with due process, of course, but everything to do with happiness always being a warm gun.

Under no circumstances, in his own mind, will the president ever be blamed for anything.  He is not a puppet of the NRA–but you are, even if you are a Republican Senator who stuck your neck out to challenge the NRA.  He does not have conflicts of interest.  He cannot be bought.  Correction: he won’t stay bought.  Further update: we’re not quite sure if he can stay bought, stay tuned.

But by all means he will never be the subject of imputation.  There may or may not be collusion.  In fact collusion might turn out to be awesome.  But imputability, that’s never ever gonna happen.

Will The Supreme Court Get Tough On Unions And Reinstate The 1351 “Statute Of Laborers”?

The Supreme Court looks ready to crush public-sector unions with their upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME.  Anthony Kennedy, to his credit, decided in Obergefell that “animus” against same-sex relationships was unconstitutional (though he did not, in my judgment, get to the heart of the matter by declaring that bans on gay marriage violate the 14th Amendment due process guarantee) but in the oral argument Monday in Janus he showed open animus against collective bargaining as such.  Kennedy asked whether unions would have less political influence if they lose the case.  Hearing “yes,” he said, “isn’t that the end of the case?”  Yes, it probably is the end of this case.  I hadn’t expected Justice Kennedy to go so feudalistic on us in public, but it’s a new day in Washington.

But Tony–and Neil, Clarence, John, and Sam–why not set your sights higher?  The 1351 Statute of Laborers beckons.  Don’t be so low energy, just trying to demolish the New Deal and return to the days of William McKinley.  After the “Black Death” of 1347-1351, the workers who survived realized they had unaccustomed bargaining power.  As the 1351 Statute of Laborers acknowledged, this caused “grave inconveniences” for the lords and ladies and ruling classes of the time.  And so King Edward declared that “cherishing” laborers “in their sloth” was unacceptable.  His Statute declared that workers could no longer move to other towns in search of better conditions, but had to stay put and keep working for pre-plague wages.  (More anti-worker-freedom, anti-voluntary-transactions laws were passed in subsequent years, as the 1351 statute was hard to enforce–supply and demand, you know).

Consider yourself on notice now, Justice Kennedy.  When your hometown of Sacramento, and the rest of the Central Valley, floods and then sinks and then burns and the nation’s food supply dries up and anarchy really breaks out–are you ready to set things right by bringing us back to the glory days of 1351?  You won’t go squishy and start cherishing sloth, will you?  But you do know, don’t you, that all your empty talk about “voluntary transactions” and “freedom” is headed for the dumpster.