Untruth in the Age of Trump

Michiko Kakutani’s book, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, begins:

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the twentieth century, and both were predicated upon the violation and despoiling of truth, upon the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” What’s alarming to the contemporary reader is that Arendt’s words increasingly sound less like a dispatch from another century than a chilling mirror of the political and cultural landscape we inhabit today—a world in which fake news and lies are pumped out in industrial volume by Russian troll factories, emitted in an endless stream from the mouth and Twitter feed of the president of the United States, and sent flying across the world through social media accounts at lightning speed. Nationalism, tribalism, dislocation, fears of social change, and the hatred of outsiders are on the rise again as people, locked in their partisan silos and filter bubbles, are losing a sense of shared reality and the ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines.

Has anyone of you ever attended a Trump rally? If you have, or have not, you can read about them here and here and here and at any number of other uTube and internet sites.

What interests me is who are the people who attend the rallies? They’re Americans, helas, but Americans for whom, in the words of Michiko Kakutani, “the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. And if ever these people were to become a majority in our country we would surely lose our freedom no less than did the Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was brutally murdered on the orders of his Crown Prince and King.

Fred Barbash on the Rule of Law

I’ve written any number of times of the importance of the Rule of Law, along with the importance of the Enlightenment, or what is now referred to as Classical Liberalism:

“Classical liberalism” is the term used to designate the ideology advocating private property, an unhampered market economy, the rule of law guaranteeing the rights of the individual, constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and international peace based on free trade.

Well here are good examples of the Rule of Law in the America of Donald Trump, when the Judges are ruling, following the Law against the President, and thank goodness for that. —

The Trump administration’s crazy losing streak in the courts: No, Jeff Sessions, it’s not about the judges.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions attends a Trump Administration cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House on Wednesday. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
October 19
Litigation is like everything else in life, including sports and perhaps dating. You win some and you lose some. You can blame the refs, or the date, or the judge if things go bad a few times. If losing lawsuits becomes a pattern, especially when you’re the government, which is supposed to win, you have to start wondering: Is it you?

The Trump administration is on a staggering litigation losing streak, with restraining orders littering the legal battlefield from coast to coast. To be sure, some of these fights are not over. Most of the rulings have found plausible cases of constitutional or statutory violations, with trials and possible appeals yet to come. But getting that far against the government used to be a big hurdle. Now, not so much.

And in many instances, it’s not just one judge ruling on one issue. It’s a pile-on, in which multiple judges arrive at the same conclusion about the same issue.

Among those issues, for example, are the administration’s “sanctuary cities” crackdown, blocked by at least four courts; its attempt to rescind DACA, also held up by at least four courts; the proposed ban on transgender people in the military, blocked by no fewer than four judges, with two of the rulings upheld by appeals courts.

And not to be forgotten, the Trump administration’s travel ban, enjoined repeatedly by multiple rulings until the Supreme Court finally allowed its third iteration to go forward.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is blaming the judges.

In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday he bemoaned the losses, but attributed them to rampant “judicial activism,” and  judges who have forgotten about “the rule of law” and the “guardrails” that limit them.

Their activism, he said, “is a threat to our freedom and the democratic process.”

Some legal experts do believe that the judiciary is feeling bolder than it once did, perhaps because of what they see as presidential overreach, perhaps because of Trump’s open hostility to the federal courts, reflected in his comment in 2017 about the “so called” judge who first ruled against his travel ban and his reference to U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” when he was presiding over a case against Trump University. “Context matters,” as former federal judge and now Harvard Law School’s Nancy Gertner wrote in an article called “Judging in a Time of Trump.” And some of the language in the rulings does indeed show a fired-up sense of mission. “It falls to us, the judiciary…to act as a check on such usurpation of power,” wrote Ronald Reagan appointee Judge Ilana Rovner in April as the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld an injunction against Sessions’s sanctuary cities policy on the grounds that it assumed authority delegated to Congress alone.

But there wasn’t a hint in Sessions’s speech of any fault with the administration, the way it does business and the impulsiveness of the president. No “mistakes were made” crossed his lips.

But reading the many rulings, from Republican and Democratic appointees alike, the decoupling of the Trump administration from the requirements of the law is clear.

When the government makes a decision, that law demands, at the very least, a legitimate explanation and some facts, studies and statutes to support it. Judges call it “considered reason” and “deliberation.”

It’s not complicated. If an agency gets its act together before making decisions, bringing in lawyers and experts to bulletproof it from lawsuits, it may still get sued. But it will stand a much better chance of prevailing. In most cases, the courts defer to solid judgments by the government.

But “considered reason,” “deliberation” and facts have not been hallmarks of the Trump administration, in the view of the judges in these cases.

Perhaps the most glaring example was the abrupt decision by President Trump to announce a ban on transgender people from serving in the military, reversing a carefully studied decision to the contrary by the Obama administration.

The news of the reversal came in a series of tweets by Trump on July 26, 2017, saying he was acting after consultation with top brass and “military experts,” followed by a presidential memorandum a full month later directing the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security t “return” to the military’s policy to discharge openly transgender service members and prohibit the admission of new ones.

Top military officials, who had indeed not been consulted, were taken by surprise.

What followed were lawsuits and courtroom scenes that have become all too familiar to the government lawyers into whose laps the cases fall after these decisions are made.

Wearing his good suit, and earnest, deferential courtroom demeanor, one such lawyer stood before U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman in Seattle four months after the Trump tweets attempting to defend the action.

“Good afternoon, your honor, may it please the court. Brinton Lucas for the United States,” he began in the case of Karnoski v. Trump.

A good afternoon it would not be.

His opening gambit was to try to convince Pechman that there was no ban, just a memorandum and a study of a ban. Nobody had been thrown out of the military yet, so there was no case to consider. The lawyer’s argument was routine and perfectly normal in regular circumstances.

But the Trump administration is not normal.

Roughly four minutes into his argument, Pechman interrupted.

“You’re gonna need to back up,” she said. You’re going to need to “address the president’s words,” in this case a tweet, “when he said that ‘after consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

She added: “There’s nothing ambiguous about that statement….I mean, what am I supposed to do with the president’s tweet if that’s not something you can rely upon?” At one point she made reference to “bone spurs,” the ailment which reportedly kept Trump from being drafted.

Nor was the decision entitled to any deference, she wrote. “The prohibition on military service by transgender individuals was announced by President Trump on Twitter, abruptly and without any evidence of considered reason or deliberation,” she added. She then issued a preliminary injunction against the ban, concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits and show that the policy was an unconstitutional act of discrimination.

She was not the first judge to act. A court in the District had done the same three weeks before the hearing. Another in Maryland had done the same even as the hearing was underway. By September of this year, at least four district court judges agreed in separate cases. Pechman’s order had been upheld by a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had upheld the District ruling.

By a very rough count, a grand total of some 40 to 50 federal judges have weighted in against the Trump administration in cases. Could they all be off-the-rails judicial activists?

The problem is not the judges, said Anthony S. Winer, a professor at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law who wrote recently about some of these cases in the Hamline Law Review.

“It’s a commentary on the legal methods” of the Trump administration, he told The Washington Post. The administration “advances policy goals on the basis of ‘things to be frightened of, and things to be wary of’….It relies on the emotional reaction of its audience and the emotional identification of its audience.

But when you’re in a courtroom, what matters is facts on the record,” he said, and those facts “don’t support the government’s justifications for what it has done.”

As for the lawyers for the U.S. government, Winer said they “probably did the best they could in defending these executive orders.”

Consider the litigation over the sanctuary cities crackdown, a favorite of Sessions.

Acting under a Trump executive order, Sessions has determined that the government will withhold funds from jurisdictions that are in his view insufficiently cooperative in handing over information about illegal immigrants they encounter in law enforcement. Sessions was backed up by Thomas Homan, then the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who went on Fox News in January and threatened to start “charging some of these politicians with crimes” for failing to cooperate with his agency. He was also supported by the president, who that same month accused California of protecting “horrible criminals” with it sanctuary policies, and said he was contemplating pulling ICE agents out of the state, saying California would then become a “crime nest.”

They then sent government lawyers into court when the state of California, the city of San Francisco and other jurisdictions sued. Like the lawyers in the transgender case, they argued that nothing was happening.

“Good afternoon, Your Honor. Chad Readler, on Behalf of the United States,” said one of the Justice Department’s top lawyers when he appeared in court in February to defend the administration.  

“Welcome back to San Francisco,” responded Judge William H. Orrick of the U.S. District Court.

Three minutes into Readler’s argument, however, Orrick interrupted.

What did Readler mean when he said there was no threat to these jurisdictions, he said. What about “the statements of the President last week threatening to take ICE enforcement out of the State, or the Acting ICE director’s threat to prosecute criminally public officials….?”

To which Readler replied that the comments weren’t relevant.

Orrick issued an order temporarily blocking the sanctuary cities policy and ultimately, on Oct. 5, an opinion declaring unconstitutional the law being used by the administration to block funds.

Nine judges have either issued or upheld opinions and/or temporary restraining orders against the administration’s sanctuary cities crackdown.

At least two, in California and the District of Columbia, have rejected its asylum and family separation policies.

Earlier this month, Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California blocked the decision to end temporary protected status for immigrants from selected countries. and six have ruled against the government in the census cases.

Some judges are openly astonished at what they’re seeing.

Again a refresher: when a typical federal agency makes a decision, particularly one abruptly reversing course, it owes an explanation. That’s the law. So when newly-installed Trump administration officials at a Department of Health and Human Services agency, suddenly under the sway of officials who championed abstinence as the best way to prevent teen pregnancy, suddenly cut off funding to 81 pregnancy prevention programs in July 2017, it was asking for lawsuits. The Office of Adolescent Health had provided no notice to the programs and no explanation.

Suits erupted across the country, aided by advocacy groups and local governments. Four government lawyers then found themselves in the courtroom of Judge Ketanji B. Jackson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on April 18 for a hearing.

“Good morning, Your Honor, Michael Gerardi on behalf of Health and Human Services,” said the lead trial attorney. But it would not be a good morning for Gerardi either.

Jackson pressed him.

“So is it your position,” the judge asked incredulously, that “the agency can suddenly decide, ‘We’re not giving you this money anymore ….Too bad. So sad. Regardless of whether there’s cause or anything else….?”

To which Gerardi, replied at some length, yes, that was the position.

That’s “kind of weird,” replied Jackson. “Right?”

She joined at least four judges in separate courts around the country in rulings against the agency under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The case, she wrote, was “quite easy. Under the most elementary precepts of administrative law, an agency has no choice but to provide a reasoned explanation for its actions….”

With the Trump administration now filling scores of federal judicial vacancies, it’s luck may improve. But if history is any guide, Sessions shouldn’t count on it.


How relevant and helpful is the liberal/conservative polarity?

My greatest anger and frustration while experiencing the recent confirmation battle over the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court arose from having to listen to the conservative Republican Senators whose only interest seemed to be, not in getting at the truth of the allegations whatever they might be, past or present, but in blindly supporting their President, and turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a win for Trump. And in that way, of course, assuring their own eventual reelection to the Senate often from Trump country.



Were they even ever thinking that the Court ought to reflect the interests of the people. For example, the country by a large majority supports abortion and same sex marriage rights, (not to mention voting rights for minorities), and the Republican Senators would do away with both while clinging to the narrow interests of the Republican Party.

Did the Republican Senators consider anything other than their own selfish career goals while blindly supporting a demagogue president who admittedly doesn’t read and clearly doesn’t think?  Other than Kavanaugh being a conservative like them (whatever that may mean, and we were not told by the Senators what their being conservative means), and even minimally  qualified for the position given his 12 years as a judge on the US Court of Appeals DC circuit, and of course being a favorite of Donald Trump, what did Mitch McConnell et al. ever say of substance in support of Kavanaugh’s nomination? We know only that they did frequent the same social circles.

Now I ask myself, and have for years, is the liberal/conservative polarity, that which at least seems to separate the Senators into two political parties, still important, vital to the country, still somehow relevant to the functioning of our democracy?

I’m coming around to thinking it’s not but rather a Red Herring, something that keeps us away from addressing what’s much more important. In this case what’s more important than the  liberal/conservative differences, to the extent that they are even real, are not those differences but that which we share, that which we all, for some tens of thousands of years, have, with a preponderance of evidence revealed by the legions of evolutionary scientists, in common.

For from the time of the Enlightenment, if not before, aren’t there  liberal and conservative shared values, more or less,  those of a free press, free elections, representative government, individual rights and freedoms, freedom of religion while at the same time maintaining a wall of separation between church and state?

And I could go on with any number of others, tolerance of individual  differences, a respect for others with different views, and then one particularly important in the world today, given the huge movements of peoples looking for greater security, safety, homes and jobs, our supporting these movements of larger and larger numbers of immigrants, not turning away and excluding them as so many would now do, following the demagogic lead of Donald Trump .

In any case the  movements  of people are going on in spite of Trump and other leaders who would return us to the closed societies of the past.  And in fact today in the present time Trump is not making us great again, far from it, but by sealing off our borders to others he is making us not great but little, much less than we were through most of our history. Immigration, open societies, that sort of thing should be at the heart of both liberal and conservative discussions and programs. Why aren’t they?

And finally back to Kavanaugh, there is the great value of a federal court system staffed with strong and independent minded judges. Did the Senators ever tell us about how strong and independent minded was Brett Kavanaugh?  Are there liberals and conservatives, those freed from the unhealthy attachment to Trump, who wouldn’t agree about these kinds of things?

Aren’t the Enlightenment values shared by all of us, although the Republican Senators for their own selfish reasons, while publicly professing to be the only true conservatives (and again not saying what that means) have in fact bound themselves at the hip to an intolerant and thoroughly bigoted president who is probably without any personal knowledge of the historical movement called the Enlightenment, let alone the particular liberal and conservative values contained therein. This is apparently true for most if not all of the Republican Senators, certainly for Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, John Thune, Roy Blount, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz to mention just the first few Trump followers that come to mind.

Let’s look a bit now (although I’ll have more to say in a subsequent blog) at what we’re told are the real differences between liberals and conservatives, to determine  if they are in fact real and relevant to our public lives. I think we’ll see that other than single issues, such as the death penalty, same sex marriage, abortion, etc. about which people do strongly disagree, even liberals among themselves and conservatives also among themselves, that in fact, there are no substantial differences.

Take the size of the government. Don’t both liberals and conservatives agree that governments are too large, have taken on more than they can possibly chew, and need  to be cut down to a more manageable size? And taxes, don’t they all want to reduce taxes, and don’t they all want not to wage wars and not to increase the national debt? But, and alas, don’t they all go on waging wars and increasing our nation’s debt?

Equality and inequality. Do conservatives not believe that there are societal forces at work that make opportunities fundamentally unequal for certain classes of people? They would have to be blind like the President not to believe that. For instance, a student who has to work a job to support his family and goes hungry every night can’t reasonably be expected to make the grades and acquire whatever else he or she might need to get into a prestigious college or University.

On the importance of work, and individual effort. Do liberals not believe that people should be free to succeed and fail according to their own actions and choices, and in particular that with the free schooling, subsidized housing, college scholarships, medicaid, and the many other services established by the liberals in the government that one will still only succeed by one’s hard work?  And don’t liberals believe that successful people have mostly earned their success and should reap the benefits without being overly burdened by taxes….

To be continued.

Lke what we have done to the chickens…

Thriller writers, I like them, I read them, I read alot of them. While reading them have I ever lost control, blacked out? No! Not yet anyway.

There are some that I especially like, in particular Louis Lamour (OK, he’s a Western writer but he still thrills me), John Macdonald, Robert Parker, and Frederick Forsyth,  of these four Forsyth is the only one still alive. Still living also, are others that I read, detective fiction writers, Michael Connelly and Robert Crais being two of them.

Now there are thousands, tens of thousands of thriller writers. More than anyone of us could ever read in a lifetime of thriller reading. And there are millions, hundreds of millions of thriller readers. I give the thrillers only a small spot in my day or week, for otherwise I would never read or do anything else. The books I’m reading right now, all on my iPhone, at least the first 15 most recent of them, “recent” being a helpful Kindle category are:


  • John MacDonald’s A Purple Place for Dying,
  • Mikhail B Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita,
  • Martha Raddatz’s The Long Road Home.
  • Noah Feldman’s The Three Lives of James Madison,
  • Paul Davies’ The Goldilocks Enigma,
  • Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws,
  • Martin Rees’ Just Six  Numbers that shape the universe,
  • John Irving’s The Cider House Rules,
  • Jack Higgins’Solo,
  • Simone de Beauvoir’s Pour une morale de l’ambiguité,
  • Edmond Taylor’s The Fall of the Dynasties,
  • Treasure Island (with my grandson),
  • Kenneth Miller’s Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul,
  • On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,
  • Noah Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

No I haven’t yet read them all.  And in fact, if I look at my own past reading history, I’ll never go beyond a chapter or two or an introduction. (Actually my own experience has shown me that non-fiction would do better to be not of book, but of essay length, and then I at least would have read many more of them.)

There are the thousands, not yet ten thousand, hard copy books here at home on our bookshelves most of which I haven’t read through. These few thousand books have for the most part stuck close to us, have “followed” us throughout our now long lifetimes (not followed rather but hauled along after us) from Paris to New York then to St John’s College in Annapolis and Santa Fe, 4 years later back to Rockport, MA, then onto Beverly, MA to the school that my wife and I founded in Rockport in 1972, and now, for the past ten years or so, since 2006, the books are here with us in Tampa, Fl. where we are helping to homeschool our grandkids.

While I recognize them, probably could say even when and where I purchased them, what they’re really doing now, at least from often passing their spines quite visible on my shelves, (where they stay since I no longer read them) is reminding me daily of what I would like to forget, the fact that I have never really read right through most of them, and that now in my 80s I never will. They remind me also that they will soon need a new home. I’m working on that.

So what is all this about? What am I saying? Yes I like books, I like to read books. But most books I acquire I don’t finish. Although I never tire of going back and reading the thrillers a second, third and fourth time, in particular Louis Lamour and John MacDonald, I’ve never read through even one time, Kant, Hegel, or more recently John Dewey. In fact probably the only books that I read from one end to the other are the thrillers. While I don’t think I’m alone in this way of doing things, I’m sure there are many also who do read the non-fiction books right through from beginning to end, or actually may even work on a good number of the problems in the calculus texts of which I have a good number and with which I no longer struggle. I admire them.

During my lifetime I have never stopped buying books and mostly not reading them. We don’t do that with clothes and technology and cars, and such, or at least not to the extent that we do so with books. If I had my life to do over would I do it any differently? Probably.

John Macdonald’s Travis McGee series is a favorite of mine. I’ve finished all his books, probably some 60 or 70 of them (ditto for Louis Lamour). Sure I’m caught up in the story, as with MacDonald and Lamour, and Parker, and Crais, and others, but it’s often from MacDonald that I also grow in my understanding, from his own powerful way of describing and seeing life. I felt this very strongly just today when I read the passage below (for at least the third time!).

In any case I don’t think we should get too hung up on our ways of classifying books, even as fiction and non-fiction, and that a more interesting and more helpful separation, would be that between the good writers and bad writers, and we have to decide, each one of us, those who are the good ones and read them, and avoid the others.

In my life MacDonald has been one of the good ones, and he gives us his profound thoughts and observations about much in our lives, as for example about what he calls the “why question,” as in the following passage from Chapter 3 of his A Purple Place for Dying.


State Western was one of those new institutions they keep slapping up to take care of the increasing flood of kids. It was beyond the sleepy-looking town. Hundreds of cars winked in the mid-morning sun on huge parking lots. The university buildings were giant brown shoeboxes in random pattern over substantial acreage. It was ten o’clock and kids were hurrying on their long treks from building to building.

Off to the right was the housing complex of dormitories, and a big garden apartment layout which I imagined housed faculty and administrative personnel. A sign at the entrance drive to the campus buildings read: NO STUDENT CARS. The blind sides of the big buildings held big bright murals made of ceramic tile, in a stodgy treatment of such verities as Industry, Freedom, Peace, etc.

The paths crisscrossed the baked earth. There were some tiny areas of green, lovingly nurtured, but it would be years before it all looked like the architect’s rendering. The kids hustled to their ten-o’clocks, little and young, intent on their obscure purposes. Khakis and jeans, cottons and colors.

Vague glances, empty as camera lenses, moved across me as I drove slowly by. I was on the other side of the fence of years. They could relate and react to adults with whom they had a forced personal contact. But strangers were as meaningless to them as were the rocks and scrubby trees. They were in the vivid tug and flex of life, and we were faded pictures on the corridor walls—drab, ended and slightly spooky. I noticed a goodly sprinkling of Latin blood among them, the tawny cushiony girls and the bullfighter boys. They all seemed to have an urgency about them, that strained harried trimester look. It would cram them through sooner, and feed them out into the corporations and the tract houses, breeding and hurrying, organized for all the time and money budgets, binary systems, recreation funds, taxi transports, group adjustments, tenure, constructive hobbies.

They were being structured to life on the run, and by the time they would become what is now known as senior citizens, they could fit nicely into planned communities where recreation is scheduled on such a tight and competitive basis that they could continue to run, plan, organize, until, falling at last into silence, the grief-therapist would gather them in, rosy their cheeks, close the box and lower them to the only rest they had ever known.

It is all functional, of course. But it is like what we have done to chickens. Forced growth under optimum conditions, so that in eight weeks they are ready for the mechanical picker. The most forlorn and comical statements are the ones made by the grateful young who say, Now I can be ready in two years and nine months to go out and earn a living rather than wasting four years in college.

Education is something which should be apart from the necessities of earning a living, not a tool therefor. It needs contemplation, fallow periods, the measured and guided study of the history of man’s reiteration of the most agonizing question of all: Why? Today the good ones, the ones who want to ask why, find no one around with any interest in answering the question, so they drop out, because theirs is the type of mind which becomes monstrously bored at the trade-school concept. A devoted technician is seldom an educated man. He can be a useful man, a contented man, a busy man. But he has no more sense of the mystery and wonder and paradox of existence than does one of those chickens fattening itself for the mechanical plucking, freezing and packaging.


About the Author John D. MacDonald was an American novelist and short story writer. His works include the Travis McGee series and the novel The Executioners, which was adapted into the film Cape Fear. In 1962 MacDonald was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America; in 1980 he won a National Book Award. In print he delighted in smashing the bad guys, deflating the pompous, and exposing the venal. In life he was a truly empathetic man; his friends, family, and colleagues found him to be loyal, generous, and practical. In business he was fastidiously ethical. About being a writer, he once expressed with gleeful astonishment, “They pay me to do this! They don’t realize, I would pay them.” He spent the later part of his life in Florida with his wife and son. He died in 1986.

Seizing the words of others, and not wanting to let go, Two

Karl Popper (1902-1994) wrote, perhaps first, about Open and Closed societies. Why is this so important right now? Because our president would, if allowed his way, close us off from the world. Whether a society is classified as a Closed Society or an Open Society (Patriotism speaks to the one, globalism to the other) is directly related to the types of freedoms available.

In a Closed Society, its values, rules and traditions are more important than the individuals which live in it. Members of the society are not independent-minded; they are only part of a circle of the larger society. They have to live, behave and think according to the rules of their society. [the Senate Republicans for example –we have just heard from Dr. Ford and Brett Cavanaugh!, September 28, 2018]
In contrast, in an Open Society, personal beliefs and freedoms are more important than the rules of the society.

[See The Economist, Jan 31, 2016]

The first book in English by Professor Sir Karl Popper was accepted for publication in London while Hitler’s bombs were falling, and was published in 1945 under the title ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’. 


“MY THEORY of democracy is very simple and easy for everybody to understand. But its fundamental problem is so different from the age-old theory of democracy which everybody takes for granted that it seems that this difference has not been grasped, just because of the simplicity of the theory. My theory avoids high-sounding, abstract words like “rule”, “freedom” and “reason”. I do believe in freedom and reason, but I do not think that one can construct a simple, practical and fruitful theory in these terms….The classical theory is, in brief, the theory that democracy is the rule of the people, and that the people have a right to rule.”

And in fact those who would hold onto their own powerful positions will sooner or later take away the freedom of movement of others  [North Korea, Israel, China, Turkey, and Donald Trump’s America] or go even further and take away the freedom of thought and of the press [China, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, North Korea and Donald Trump’s America].

Freedom of movement and thinking is threatened in probably most of  the 54 countries of Africa. The irony here being that man, Homo sapiens, began his journey in Africa some tens of thousands of years ago, travelled without restrictions to all the continents of the earth, and today the movement out of Africa continues but everywhere is obstructed and restricted.
Am I correct to say that Donald Trump would make of what has always been an open society a closed society of those with the same beliefs? I don’t think even as president he can do this. But from his perch at  Mar-a-Lago he’s sure trying.

Samuel Scheffler, Death and the After Life.  My argument has been that personal survival already does matter to us less than we tend to suppose, and that the survival of humanity matters to us more. In saying this, I am not underestimating our powerful impulses to personal survival or the deep terror that many people feel when contemplating their own deaths. Nor am I denying the importance of self-interested motivations in ordinary human behavior. My point is that despite the power of these attitudes, there is a very specific sense in which our own survival is less important to us than the survival of the human race.
The fact that we and everyone we love will cease to exist matters less to us than would the nonexistence of future people who we do not know and who, indeed, have no determinate identities. Or to put it more positively, the coming into existence of people we do not know and love matters more to us than our own survival and the survival of the people we do know and love. . . .
This is a remarkable fact which should get more attention than it does in thinking about the nature and limits of our personal egoism. Yet the prospect of the imminent disappearance of the race poses a far greater threat to our ability to treat other things as mattering to us and, in so doing, it poses a far greater threat to our continued ability to lead value-laden lives.

Well, yes, I can agree with Scheffler, but it is still a question for me, as to just how the survival of the race is a greater threat to us than our own survival.

 Klaus Scharioth: “For me, the key thing is the Enlightenment. I think that’s what keeps the E.U. together, the values of the Enlightenment — a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free judiciary independent of all the other branches of government, tolerance, respect for others. I’m afraid the United States might no longer be speaking out for these values. And that makes me very anxious.

Klaus Scharioth, born in 1946, the year after Germany’s surrender in World War II, served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States during both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations. His earliest impressions of America were of a magnanimous, generous country.


Why does Bret Stephens despise Ted Cruz?

In an op-ed piece,  Supreme Confusion, by Bret Stephens and Gail Collins, Bret among other things has this to say about Ted Cruz (btw he likes Beto O’Rourke, Cruz’s challenger in the Texas Senate race).

“The big reason (that I’m drawn to the Texas Senate race) is that I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough. Would you like to know why?”

Gail: Oh, gosh, please go on.

“Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.”

I too despise Cruz and any number of other Republican  Senators. My reason, being in most every case, that they are “fake legislators,”  sycophants, all of them, including among them the Vice President and members of Trump’s own cabinet,  all of them acting blatantly obsequiously toward their President, why?  in order probably in each case to gain advantage for themselves.  If I open up my thesaurus, these “men” of our government might be described more or less as yes-men, bootlickers, brown-nosers, toadies, lickspittles, flatterers, flunkies, lackies, spaniels, doormats, stooges, cringers,  and suck-ups.” In particular, the ones with whom I’m most familiar being John Cornyn, John Cotton, Lindsey Graham,  Chuck Grassley, Orin Hatch, Dean Heller, James Lankford, and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, Mitch, right up there with Mike Pence,  the Senate leader of these masters of untruths.

Sub Saharan African population projected to be 4 billion in 2100

From The Economist, September 22, 2018

In 2100.the population of Africa is projected to be 4 billion, for the Rest of World, 7 billion.  The Africans don’t yet, or won’t by 2100, outnumber the rest of us, although if the new Africans are anything like the  kids pictured below the world might be a better place for their being here.


But the lives these children. What will they be like? The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report. The report points out that growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa.

According to the Economist article the 21st century, in one way at least, will be African. In 1990 sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 16% of the world’s births. Because African birth rates are so much higher than elsewhere, the proportion has risen to 27% and is expected to hit 37% in 2050. About a decade later, more babies will be born in sub-Saharan Africa than in the whole of Asia, including India and China. … There is good reason for the world to worry about Africa’s baby boom.


Seizing the words of others, and not wanting to let go, One

Sometimes I think it might be enough in order to share my own thinking on this blog, to simply post the words of others that for whatever reason have particularly impressed. For I have known for a long time that I am much more what I read than even the clothes that I wear or the food that I eat. We are to a large extent what we pick up by our contacts with others. And unflatteringly although I may live by ideas when was the last time that I had an idea all my own?

Hence a number of my recent blogs that are simply the posting on my own blog the words of others. When I think about it I might say that I live, and come alive, often by what others have  said and written, often the very things I would have liked to have said or written myself. And I’m sure I’m not alone in this. For given the miracle of the internet how easy it is to read what others are writing and thinking. Not a day goes by that I don’t jot down in my journal someone else’s words that I’ve seized as my own and don’t want to let go. But of course I forget them, don’t hold on for long, and by the dawn of the next day am onto something else no less fascinating and important.

Here I will post from time to time  the words of others that I’ve recently noted down in my journal. While these words are probably saying something that I know well from long experience they are saying it better than I ever did. Also  they may be introducing me to a new thought or idea and it’s these I try to hold onto and not let go. Does being in my blog at all lengthen their lifetime? Maybe, or maybe not.

I was struck in Haidt and Lukianoff’s book (The Coddling of the American Mind) by a quote that is almost a perfect inversion of today’s political conversation. “When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

[Two “Seasoned Nuts” from the Daily Pnut of September 19: The mention of a “charlatan come to power” in Germany  makes us think of Donald Trump, although fortunately our Trump is not in the same league as Germany’s Hitler. And we recognize our own president even more by his “hardness” becoming cruelty, and his “tendency to bluff”  becoming a seemingly endless series of untruths.]

“To some Germans and, no doubt, to most foreigners it appeared that a charlatan had come to power in Berlin. To the majority of Germans Hitler had — or would shortly assume — the aura of a truly charismatic leader. They were to follow him blindly, as if he possessed a divine judgment, for the next twelve tempestuous years.” – William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
“In his case, what had been hardness became cruelty, while a tendency to bluff became plain dishonesty. He often lied without hesitation and assumed that others lied to him.” – Ibid

[And a comment: I’ve never read Murakami but the reviewer’s well chosen words are more than enough to make me want to read him, “our ordinary lives becoming” in his work “something wondrous.”]

“Haruki Murakami is one of those rare novelists who can turn our ordinary lives… into something wondrous” (Newsweek)

[I borrow these words of Max Boot, in The Washington Post, of August 30, 2018]

Two world wars later, Europeans and Americans longed for nothing more than the return of the “lazy peacetime life.” But with the passing of the Greatest Generation and even the Silent Generation (those, like John McCain, born between 1925 and 1945), we seem to have forgotten how precious peace and prosperity can be — and how hard to maintain. I fear the West may be sleepwalking into another catastrophe out of sheer boredom as much as anything else.

[These words are really borrowed from Abraham Flexner (1866 – 1959),  an American educator, best known for his role in the 20th century reform of medical and higher education in the United States and Canada.  But I take it directly as it appears in an op ed piece of George Will,  in the Washington Post,  August 29, 2108]

It has been said that the great moments in science occur not when a scientist exclaims “Eureka!” but when he or she murmurs “That’s strange.” Flexner thought the most fertile discoveries come from scientists “driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.” He wanted to banish the word “use” to encourage institutions of learning to be devoted more to “the cultivation of curiosity” and less to “considerations of immediacy of application.” It is axiomatic that knowledge is the only resource that increases when used, and it is a paradox of prosperity that nations only reap practical innovations from science by regarding them as afterthoughts, coming long after basic science.

[Magicians & Politicians, How Trump Gets Away with Lying, as Explained by a Magician.  Ever wonder how politicians cheat without consequence? Magicians don’t. Ben Chapman, in Medium of June 27.]

Magicians are the best liars in the business. Not because they tell the most lies, or the biggest lies, but because they can get away with them even when you are anticipating the lies. We all know magic doesn’t exist. We all know that magicians are somehow lying to us when they are performing. And yet, the profession of magician has been around for thousands of years. It’s the same with politicians. 

[From an old piece by Michelle Goldberg, ‘Evil Has Won.’ Pro-American Germans feel betrayed. July 13, 2008. Klaus Scharioth,  served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States during both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations…, His earliest impressions of America were of a magnanimous, generous country.]

“For me, the key thing is the Enlightenment,” Scharioth said. “I think that keeps the E.U. together, the values of the Enlightenment — a free press, religious freedom, minority protection, free elections, democracy, a free judiciary independent of all the other branches of government, tolerance, respect for others. I’m afraid the United States might no longer be speaking out for these values. And that makes me very anxious.


The Economist at 175 A manifesto

Success has turned liberals into a complacent elite. It is time to rekindle the spirit of radicalism

[Most of my own ideas, most of the things I want to say are already posted out there somewhere on the Internet. At the moment it makes a lot more sense to me to post on my blog a few of the op ed pieces that have said what I want to say but better. There are a number of publications that do this every day, (the Times, the Post) or every week (the Economist) or every month (Foreign Affairs) to mention just a few. My blog at best would direct you to these and others. PBW]

(From the Economist, September 15, 2018.)

eco 2

Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it. Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites, who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling, to solve the problems of ordinary people. Elsewhere a 25-year shift towards freedom and open markets has gone into reverse, even as China, soon to be the world’s largest economy, shows that dictatorships can thrive.

For The Economist this is profoundly worrying. We were created 175 years ago to campaign for liberalism—not the leftish “progressivism” of American university campuses or the rightish “ultraliberalism” conjured up by the French commentariat, but a universal commitment to individual dignity, open markets, limited government and a faith in human progress brought about by debate and reform.

Our founders would be astonished at how life today compares with the poverty and the misery of the 1840s. Global life expectancy in the past 175 years has risen from a little under 30 years to over 70. The share of people living below the threshold of extreme poverty has fallen from about 80% to 8% and the absolute number has halved, even as the total living above it has increased from about 100m to over 6.5bn. And literacy rates are up more than fivefold, to over 80%. Civil rights and the rule of law are incomparably more robust than they were only a few decades ago. In many countries individuals are now free to choose how to live—and with whom.

This is not all the work of liberals, obviously. But as fascism, communism and autarky failed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal societies have prospered. In one flavour or another, liberal democracy came to dominate the West and from there it started to spread around the world.

Laurels, but no rest

Yet political philosophies cannot live by their past glories: they must also promise a better future. And here liberal democracy faces a looming challenge. Western voters have started to doubt that the system works for them or that it is fair. In polling last year just 36% of Germans, 24% of Canadians and 9% of the French thought that the next generation would be better off than their parents. Only a third of Americans under 35 say that it is vital they live in a democracy; the share who would welcome military government grew from 7% in 1995 to 18% last year. Globally, according to Freedom House, an NGO, civil liberties and political rights have declined for the past 12 years—in 2017, 71 countries lost ground while only 35 made gains.

Against this current, The Economist still believes in the power of the liberal idea. Over the past six months, we have celebrated our 175th anniversary with online articles, debates, podcasts and films that explore how to respond to liberalism’s critics. In this issue we publish an essay that is a manifesto for a liberal revival—a liberalism for the people.

Our essay sets out how the state can work harder for the citizen by recasting taxation, welfare, education and immigration. The economy must be cut free from the growing power of corporate monopolies and the planning restrictions that shut people out of the most prosperous cities. And we urge the West to shore up the liberal world order through enhanced military power and reinvigorated alliances.

All these policies are designed to deal with liberalism’s central problem. In its moment of triumph after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it lost sight of its own essential values. It is with them that the liberal revival must begin.

Liberalism emerged in the late 18th century as a response to the turmoil stirred up by independence in America, revolution in France and the transformation of industry and commerce. Revolutionaries insist that, to build a better world, you first have to smash the one in front of you. By contrast, conservatives are suspicious of all revolutionary pretensions to universal truth. They seek to preserve what is best in society by managing change, usually under a ruling class or an authoritarian leader who “knows best”.

An engine of change

True liberals contend that societies can change gradually for the better and from the bottom up. They differ from revolutionaries because they reject the idea that individuals should be coerced into accepting someone else’s beliefs. They differ from conservatives because they assert that aristocracy and hierarchy, indeed all concentrations of power, tend to become sources of oppression.

Liberalism thus began as a restless, agitating world view. Yet over the past few decades liberals have become too comfortable with power. As a result, they have lost their hunger for reform. The ruling liberal elite tell themselves that they preside over a healthy meritocracy and that they have earned their privileges. The reality is not so clear-cut.

At its best, the competitive spirit of meritocracy has created extraordinary prosperity and a wealth of new ideas. In the name of efficiency and economic freedom, governments have opened up markets to competition. Race, gender and sexuality have never been less of a barrier to advancement. Globalisation has lifted hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets out of poverty.

Yet ruling liberals have often sheltered themselves from the gales of creative destruction. Cushy professions such as law are protected by fatuous regulations. University professors enjoy tenure even as they preach the virtues of the open society. Financiers were spared the worst of the financial crisis when their employers were bailed out with taxpayers’ money. Globalisation was meant to create enough gains to help the losers, but too few of them have seen the pay-off.

In all sorts of ways, the liberal meritocracy is closed and self-sustaining. A recent study found that, in 1999-2013, America’s most prestigious universities admitted more students from the top 1% of households by income than from the bottom 50%. In 1980-2015 university fees in America rose 17 times as fast as median incomes. The 50 biggest urban areas contain 7% of the world’s people and produce 40% of its output. But planning restrictions shut many out, especially the young.

Governing liberals have become so wrapped up in preserving the status quo that they have forgotten what radicalism looks like. Remember how, in her campaign to become America’s president, Hillary Clinton concealed her lack of big ideas behind a blizzard of small ones. The candidates to become leader of the Labour Party in Britain in 2015 lost to Jeremy Corbyn not because he is a dazzling political talent so much as because they were indistinguishably bland. Liberal technocrats contrive endless clever policy fixes, but they remain conspicuously aloof from the people they are supposed to be helping. This creates two classes: the doers and the done-to, the thinkers and the thought-for, the policymakers and the policytakers.

The foundations of liberty

Liberals have forgotten that their founding idea is civic respect for all. Our centenary editorial, written in 1943 as the war against fascism raged, set this out in two complementary principles. The first is freedom: that it is “not only just and wise but also profitable…to let people do what they want.” The second is the common interest: that “human society…can be an association for the welfare of all.”

Today’s liberal meritocracy sits uncomfortably with that inclusive definition of freedom. The ruling class live in a bubble. They go to the same colleges, marry each other, live in the same streets and work in the same offices. Remote from power, most people are expected to be content with growing material prosperity instead. Yet, amid stagnating productivity and the fiscal austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2008, even this promise has often been broken.

That is one reason loyalty to mainstream parties is corroding. Britain’s Conservatives, perhaps the most successful party in history, now raise more money from the wills of dead people than they do from the gifts of the living. In the first election in unified Germany, in 1990, the traditional parties won over 80% of the vote; the latest poll gives them just 45%, compared with a total of 41.5% for the far right, the far left and the Greens.

Instead people are retreating into group identities defined by race, religion or sexuality. As a result, that second principle, the common interest, has fragmented. Identity politics is a valid response to discrimination but, as identities multiply, the politics of each group collides with the politics of all the rest. Instead of generating useful compromises, debate becomes an exercise in tribal outrage. Leaders on the right, in particular, exploit the insecurity engendered by immigration as a way of whipping up support. And they use smug left-wing arguments about political correctness to feed their voters’ sense of being looked down on. The result is polarisation. Sometimes that leads to paralysis, sometimes to the tyranny of the majority. At worst it emboldens far-right authoritarians.

Liberals are losing the argument in geopolitics, too. Liberalism spread in the 19th and 20th centuries against the backdrop first of British naval hegemony and, later, the economic and military rise of the United States. Today, by contrast, the retreat of liberal democracy is taking place as Russia plays the saboteur and China asserts its growing global power. Yet rather than defend the system of alliances and liberal institutions it created after the second world war, America has been neglecting it—and even, under President Donald Trump, attacking it.

This impulse to pull back is based on a misconception. As the historian Robert Kagan points out, America did not switch from interwar isolationism to post-war engagement in order to contain the Soviet Union, as is often assumed. Instead, having seen how the chaos of the 1920s and 1930s bred fascism and Bolshevism, its post-war statesmen concluded that a leaderless world was a threat. In the words of Dean Acheson, a secretary of state, America could no longer sit “in the parlour with a loaded shotgun, waiting”.

It follows that the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 did not suddenly make America safe. If liberal ideas do not underpin the world, geopolitics risks becoming the balance-of-power, sphere-of-influence struggle that European statesmen grappled with in the 19th century. That culminated in the muddy battlefields of Flanders. Even if today’s peace holds, liberalism will suffer as growing fears of foreign foes drive people into the arms of strongmen and populists.

It is the moment for a liberal reinvention. Liberals need to spend less time dismissing their critics as fools and bigots and more fixing what is wrong. The true spirit of liberalism is not self-preserving, but radical and disruptive. The Economist was founded to campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws, which charged duties on imports of grain into Victorian Britain. Today that sounds comically small-bore. But in the 1840s, 60% of the income of factory workers went on food, a third of that on bread. We were created to take the part of the poor against the corn-cultivating gentry. Today, in that same vision, liberals need to side with a struggling precariat against the patricians.

They must rediscover their belief in individual dignity and self-reliance—by curbing their own privileges. They must stop sneering at nationalism, but claim it for themselves and fill it with their own brand of inclusive civic pride. Rather than lodging power in centralised ministries and unaccountable technocracies, they should devolve it to regions and municipalities. Instead of treating geopolitics as a zero-sum struggle between the great powers, America must draw on the self-reinforcing triad of its military might, its values and its allies.

The best liberals have always been pragmatic and adaptable. Before the first world war Theodore Roosevelt took on the robber barons who ran America’s great monopolies. Although many early liberals feared mob rule, they embraced democracy. After the Depression in the 1930s they acknowledged that government has a limited role in managing the economy. Partly in order to see off fascism and communism after the second world war, liberals designed the welfare state.

Liberals should approach today’s challenges with equal vigour. If they prevail, it will be because their ideas are unmatched for their ability to spread freedom and prosperity. Liberals should embrace criticism and welcome debate as a source of the new thinking that will rekindle their movement. They should be bold and impatient for reform. Young people, especially, have a world to claim.

When The Economist was founded 175 years ago our first editor, James Wilson, promised “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” We renew our pledge to that contest. And we ask liberals everywhere to join us.

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité