Category Archives: quatrevingtans

Igor, Is this you now?

Hey Igor, It seems to me that when I knew you in Moscow  in the spring of 1991, the time of the Gulf War that we listened to on your radio, you did keep up a healthy lifestyle.  What did you do? Tennis was it, or perhaps jogging, although that’s not what I remember most about you. No, what I remember is drinking a lot of vodka which was plentiful at that time right at the end of the Soviet Union. while sitting there at your kitchen table à la Sakarov and chewing on the remains of a fish that had been hanging outside on what I think was also your clothesline.

Good times! I hope what you’ve sent us on FB is not a true image of Igor today.

Also, you might check my translation. Do you remember my old pocket dictionary that always accompanied me during our Moscow walks? Well I still have it, out today and on my desk as I translate: Рано или поздно наступает такоӣ возраст…



Рано или поздно наступает такоӣ возраст, когда
Sooner or later there comes such an age, when
больше нет смысла вести здоровый образ жизни
there is no longer any sense to lead a healthy lifestyle
Но ещё пока вести интересный
But still while leading an interesting (life)

Trumpism, towards a definition

Charles Pierce:

For three years now, we all have been entertained by the spectacle of the anti-Trump Republicans who, we are to believe, awoke on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 to discover that their party was a massive conglomerate rock of all the worst impulses in American politics and that somebody had thrown it through the window of American democracy and put an ignorant monster in the White House. There were those of us who had been warning the GOP for decades that it was making bargains with a whole battalion of devils—the bigots, the religious yahoos, the conspiracy-drunk, and the lordly thieves of incipient plutocracy—and that, if the party didn’t up helm and come about, it was headed for the shoals, and the country along with it. We were ignored, when we weren’t actively ridiculed, when we were not accused of disloyalty and of being a Fifth Column behind the country’s innate and genteel imperial ambitions. Meanwhile, the Republicans slid further and further down the political taxonomic scale until they entered an entirely different phylum and produced nothing but monsters. And here we are.
Esquire, April 6, 2019

Fred Hiatt:

When Trump told us he could cut taxes, protect Social Security and Medicare, and erase the debt, he was lying. If candidates tell you now that they can give you free college and free health care and no one — or, maybe, only billionaires — will have to pay, be nervous.
●Scapegoats over solutions. When simple remedies fail, and giveaways prove impossible, the demagogue’s fallback is to find someone else to blame. For Trump, the list is always growing: Muslims, Nancy Pelosi, globalist Jews, Central American gangs, Central Americans in general, John McCain (alive or dead), the media, Jeff Sessions, James B. Comey, Jay Powell, Canada, Paul Ryan, NATO allies…
No candidate is likely to match Trump’s preternatural ability to see the traitor lurking within every friend while never, ever holding himself accountable. But if your candidate starts telling you that everything would be fine if we just went after billionaires, or big banks, or big tech, or . . . be nervous.
●Winner-take-all over compromise. Democracies work when people can hold strong views but accept that others may disagree in good faith; form coalitions on some issues with people who on other issues remain in opposing camps; and, even on those other unreconciled issues, find points of common ground.
Trumpism scorns compromise. He could have had $25 billion for his wall in exchange for legal status for the “dreamers”; he preferred no deal at all.
Trump did not introduce this phenomenon to Washington, of course. (See: Harry Reid and the nuclear option; Mitch McConnell and the Merrick Garland stonewall.) But he accelerated the trend; for Trump, every adversary is an enemy.
Washington Post, March 24, 2019

Frank Rich:

Republicans in general, who continue to give Trump a 90 percent approval rating, and the Vichy Republicans in Congress in particular, have not remotely turned against their dear leader. Yes, a dozen GOP senators voted to express disapproval of Trump’s faux declaration of a national emergency, but almost all of them are in locked-down Republican seats or retiring. Even Ben Sasse, the Nebraska senator who has marketed himself as something of a principled conservative Trump critic, capitulated, coming up with a Rube Goldberg-esque argument that blamed his pro-Trump vote on Nancy Pelosi. If nothing else, he’s now certified his status as a successor to the insufferable, now mercifully departed, Jeff Flake. What’s most telling is that of the half dozen senators up for reelection in 2020 in states that are purple or purple-ish — that is, the endangered Republican incumbents who could benefit by dissing Trump on what was fated to be only a symbolic vote — only one defied him: Susan Collins of Maine. If Collins is the party’s sole profile in courage, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.
The most notorious among Collins’s Trump-bootlicking colleagues is by default Thom Tillis of North Carolina. He took the trouble to publish a Washington Post op-ed declaration that he would sacrifice his “intellectual honesty” if he voted to ratify an Executive branch power grab like Trump’s, then flipped and voted to uphold Trump’s power grab anyway. Why? He is terrified of a possible primary challenge by a far-right loon back home. That could be Mark Meadows, whom many will recall from his indignant performance in the Michael Cohen hearing, where he proved he was not a racist by having a silent black woman, Lynne Patton, pose wordlessly and inanimately behind him. Truly, the term “intellectual honesty” and “Republican member of Congress” should never be used in the same sentence.
NY Magazine, March 2019

Patricia Mazzei:

A Trump voter hurt by the shutdown reveals the real reason the president attracts hardcore supporters. On Monday, the New York Times’s Patricia Mazzei published a dispatch from Marianna, Florida — a small, politically conservative town that depends on jobs from a federal prison and thus has been deeply hurt by the government shutdown. In the piece, Marianna residents grapple with the fact that President Donald Trump, who most residents support, is playing a role in the pain created by lost wages.
Most Marianna residents support Trump’s border wall, his key demand in the shutdown fight, and don’t blame him for the fight. But Crystal Minton, a secretary at the prison who is also a single mother caring for disabled parents, had a somewhat different reaction — one that reveals an essential truth about the core Trump’s political appeal.
“I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this,” Minton told Mazzei. “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.
Think about that line for a second. Roll it over in your head. In essence, Minton is declaring that one aim of the Trump administration is to hurt people — the right people. Making America great again, in her mind, involves inflicting pain.
This is not an accident. Trump’s political victory and continuing appeal depend on a brand of politics that marginalizes and targets groups disliked by his supporters. Trump supporters don’t so much love the Republican party as they hate Democrats, a phenomenon political scientists call “negative partisanship.” They like Trump not because he sells them on the GOP, but because they believe he’ll stick it to the Democrats harder than anyone else.
The president’s particular brand of identity politics — the racist attacks on blacks and Latinos, the Muslim ban, his cruel treatment of women — similarly depends on negative rather than positive appeals. Antoine Banks, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland, wrote a book on the connection between anger as an emotion and racial politics. When politicians gin up anger, an emotion that necessarily has a negative target, voters tend to think about the world in more racial (and racist) terms. Trump makes his voters angry, he centers that anger on hated targets, and that makes them want to take his side.
This is what makes Trumpism work. This is the dark heart of our political moment. Even people who are tremendously vulnerable themselves, like Crystal Minton, support Trump because of his capacity to inflict pain on others they detest. The cruelty, as the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer says, is the point.
NY Times, January 2019

Adam Serwer:

Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright. The president’s ability to execute that cruelty through word and deed makes them euphoric. It makes them feel good, it makes them feel proud, it makes them feel happy, it makes them feel united. And as long as he makes them feel that way, they will let him get away with anything, no matter what it costs them.Trump’s political victory and continuing appeal depend on a brand of politics that marginalizes and targets groups disliked by his supporters. Trump supporters don’t so much love the Republican party as they hate Democrats, a phenomenon political scientists call “negative partisanship.” They like Trump not because he sells them on the GOP, but because they believe he’ll stick it to the Democrats harder than anyone else.
The Atlantic, October 3, 2018

Can Trump be in stopped in 2020? Yes, I think so.

What is worse? Global Warming, or another four years of Donald Trump? Well if we elect Trump we’ll have both, and that together is much worse by an order of magnitude than anything we have now.

The 2016  Election

Trump of course, as he tells us over and over again, won the election with some 31 states and 304 electoral votes. Hillary’s 19 states with 227 electoral votes came in second. What about 2020?

What changes might we expect in the electoral vote totals? Things look good for us, the noTrumpists, because while the Democratic candidate can count on almost the whole of Hillary’s electoral vote total, there being few if any “battle ground” states among them. Trump’s 31 states are now, because of his constantly waging war with his opponents throughout the country, and while doing so making frequent and extravagant and unsupported statements and tweets, many of which will come back to hurt his chances, and losing thereby base supporters, and turning at least some of states into real battle grounds for the 2020 election. Even the big ones, Texas and Florida, as evidenced by the Democrats having almost won, in these two deeply red states in 2018 races for Senator and Governor.

But here’s the Democrats’ big problem. Their opponent is a known vote getter, a classic demagogue, meaning a leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational arguments. Wow does Trump do being a demagogue well!

Not the greatest president as he is so fond of saying, but as he never says the greatest demagogue. Trump will literally say anything at all, regardless of its truth or worth in order to attract to his own positions, baseless and as little thought out as most of them are, the large numbers of voters, who like himself, are ignorant of American government and American history. Yes, those of his base are in their majority the “deplorables.” The best chance of the not Trumpists is that the deplorables are not yet a majority in the country.

If you don’t agree with my conclusions about the deplorables you ought to attend one of the President’s rallies, where what you will witness is not reasonable persuasion and argument but screaming crowds of Trump adoring followers wearing MEGA caps and holding up signs of “lock her up,” or “build (finish) that wall,” or something similar.

Crowds of people seemingly uninterested and unable to follow an argument on one or more critical issues, such as global warming, immigration, executive overreach, or plain old corruption in government. Or if you still don’t agree read Dave Egger’s account in the Guardian of the recent Trump and O’Rourke rallies in El Paso, TX,  “Why Donald Trump could win again.”

Yes it is discouraging to meet up with Trump’s mindless base at the rallies, or to be reminded day after day of Trump’s spineless enablers in the Congress. Historical knowledge does give us ample evidence to conclude that not always will the right and the just and the strong win out. At the rallies the wrong, the unjust, the weak do seem to be winning, or at least for the moment shouting louder than their opponents.

So what should the Democrats do, and right away as the 2020  election is not even 20 months away? The Democrats should and need to look at the candidates, some 15 of them at this time, in regard to how they are seen or will be seen in the battle ground states, how effectively they can do battle, because Trump, is little of anything else if not a battler. I don’t get the impression that the Democrats are doing enough of that.

Texas, Florida, and also Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, represent 121 electoral votes.  In 2016 they were all won by Trump. The election of 2020 will probably by won by whoever comes out on top in a winning combination of these five states plus a few more. Why go anywhere else than in these battle ground states during the months leading up to the election in November of 2020?

The choice of candidate for the Democrats is, of course, all important. If they lose in 2020, as in 2016, it will be. I think, because they will have chosen the wrong candidate. With the right candidate I believe that the conditions on the “ground” are good for a Democratic win.

At the moment there are some 15 candidates that are being talked about. Some have already declared themselves, and a few of them, plus a number of others probably, haven’t yet done so. The 15 are, Eric Holder, Terry McAuliffe, Jay Inslee, Julián Castro, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Sherrod Brown , Amy Klobuchar,  Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala D. Harris.

Among them are 8 present or former Senators, one Attorney General, two Governors, a former Vice-President, a former Congressman, a former NY mayor and billionaire , a former Obama cabinet member.

So  the question for the Democrats has to be, who would out fight, out perform Trump in the battle ground states? Who are the fighters among the 15? My own very preliminary choices would be at this moment, of the women, Harris and Warren, of the governors, have no idea yet, of the male Senators, Brown and Booker, and perhaps old and reliable Bernie Sanders (although the socialist card played by the Republicans will probably undo his candidacy), and finally, of the “former” category, a Congressman and a Mayor, both of them fighters.

There you have it. Let’s go for it.

This may be the biggest war of them all

War of ideas between Andrew Sullivan at NY Magazine and Ezra Klein at Vox.

Andrew Sullivan at New York Magazine Dec 7, 2018.

America’s New Religions

Political cults are filling the space left by the decline of organized faiths.                              Photo: Loren Elliott/Getty Images

Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.
By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion. Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God, and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer. (There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)

In his highly entertaining book, The Seven Types of Atheism, released in October in the U.S., philosopher John Gray puts it this way: “Religion is an attempt to find meaning in events, not a theory that tries to explain the universe.” It exists because we humans are the only species, so far as we can know, who have evolved to know explicitly that, one day in the future, we will die. And this existential fact requires some way of reconciling us to it while we are alive.

This is why science cannot replace it. Science does not tell you how to live, or what life is about; it can provide hypotheses and tentative explanations, but no ultimate meaning. Art can provide an escape from the deadliness of our daily doing, but, again, appreciating great art or music is ultimately an act of wonder and contemplation, and has almost nothing to say about morality and life.

Ditto history. My late friend, Christopher Hitchens, with a certain glee, gave me a copy of his book, God Is Not Great, a fabulous grab bag of religious insanity and evil over time, which I enjoyed immensely and agreed with almost entirely. But the fact that religion has been so often abused for nefarious purposes — from burning people at the stake to enabling child rape to crashing airplanes into towers — does not resolve the question of whether the meaning of that religion is true. It is perfectly possible to see and record the absurdities and abuses of man-made institutions and rituals, especially religious ones, while embracing a way of life that these evil or deluded people preached but didn’t practice. Fanaticism is not synonymous with faith; it is merely faith at its worst. That’s what I told Hitch: great book, made no difference to my understanding of my own faith or anyone else’s. Sorry, old bean, but try again.

Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning. In this respect, Steven Pinker is one of the most religious writers I’ve ever admired. His faith in reason is as complete as any fundamentalist’s belief in God.

But none of this material progress beckons humans to a way of life beyond mere satisfaction of our wants and needs. And this matters. We are a meaning-seeking species. Gray recounts the experiences of two extraordinarily brilliant nonbelievers, John Stuart Mill and Bertrand Russell, who grappled with this deep problem. Here’s Mill describing the nature of what he called “A Crisis in My Mental History”:
“I had what might truly be called an object in life: to be a reformer of the world. … This did very well for several years, during which the general improvement going on in the world and the idea of myself as engaged with others in struggling to promote it, seemed enough to fill up an interesting and animated existence. But the time came when I awakened from this as from a dream … In this frame of mind it occurred to me to put the question directly to myself: ‘Suppose that all your objects in life were realized; that all the changes in institutions and opinions that you are looking forward to, could be completely effected at this very instant; would this be a great joy and happiness to you?’ And an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered: ‘No!’”

At that point, this architect of our liberal order, this most penetrating of minds, came to the conclusion: “I seemed to have nothing left to live for.” It took a while for him to recover.

Russell, for his part, abandoned Christianity at the age of 18, for the usual modern reasons, but the question of ultimate meaning still nagged at him. One day, while visiting the sick wife of a colleague, he described what happened: “Suddenly the ground seemed to give away beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless.”

I suspect that most thinking beings end up with this notion of intense love as a form of salvation and solace as a kind of instinct. Those whose minds have been opened by psychedelics affirm this truth even further. I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It said “Loving kindness is my religion.” But the salient question is: why?
Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper.

Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.

For many, especially the young, discovering a new meaning in the midst of the fallen world is thrilling. And social-justice ideology does everything a religion should. It offers an account of the whole: that human life and society and any kind of truth must be seen entirely as a function of social power structures, in which various groups have spent all of human existence oppressing other groups. And it provides a set of practices to resist and reverse this interlocking web of oppression — from regulating the workplace and policing the classroom to checking your own sin and even seeking to control language itself. I think of non-PC gaffes as the equivalent of old swear words. Like the puritans who were agape when someone said “goddamn,” the new faithful are scandalized when someone says something “problematic.” Another commonality of the zealot then and now: humorlessness.

And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.

The same cultish dynamic can be seen on the right. There, many profess nominal Christianity and yet demonstrate every day that they have left it far behind. Some exist in a world without meaning altogether, and that fate is never pretty. I saw this most vividly when examining the opioid epidemic. People who have lost religion and are coasting along on materialism find they have few interior resources to keep going when crisis hits. They have no place of refuge, no spiritual safe space from which to gain perspective, no God to turn to. Many have responded to the collapse of meaning in dark times by simply and logically numbing themselves to death, extinguishing existential pain through ever-stronger painkillers that ultimately kill the pain of life itself.

Yes, many Evangelicals are among the holiest and most quietly devoted people out there. Some have bravely resisted the cult. But their leaders have turned Christianity into a political and social identity, not a lived faith, and much of their flock — a staggering 81 percent voted for Trump — has signed on. They have tribalized a religion explicitly built by Jesus as anti-tribal. They have turned to idols — including their blasphemous belief in America as God’s chosen country. They have embraced wealth and nationalism as core goods, two ideas utterly anathema to Christ. They are indifferent to the destruction of the creation they say they believe God made. And because their faith is unmoored but their religious impulse is strong, they seek a replacement for religion. This is why they could suddenly rally to a cult called Trump. He may be the least Christian person in America, but his persona met the religious need their own faiths had ceased to provide. The terrible truth of the last three years is that the fresh appeal of a leader-cult has overwhelmed the fading truths of Christianity.

This is why they are so hard to reach or to persuade and why nothing that Trump does or could do changes their minds. You cannot argue logically with a religion — which is why you cannot really argue with social-justice activists either. And what’s interesting is how support for Trump is greater among those who do not regularly attend church than among those who do.

And so we’re mistaken if we believe that the collapse of Christianity in America has led to a decline in religion. It has merely led to religious impulses being expressed by political cults. Like almost all new cultish impulses, they see no boundary between politics and their religion. And both cults really do minimize the importance of the individual in favor of either the oppressed group or the leader.

And this is how they threaten liberal democracy. They do not believe in the primacy of the individual, they believe the ends justify the means, they do not allow for doubt or reason, and their religious politics can brook no compromise. They demonstrate, to my mind, how profoundly liberal democracy has actually depended on the complement of a tolerant Christianity to sustain itself — as many earlier liberals (Tocqueville, for example) understood.

It is Christianity that came to champion the individual conscience against the collective, which paved the way for individual rights. It is in Christianity that the seeds of Western religious toleration were first sown. Christianity is the only monotheism that seeks no sway over Caesar, that is content with the ultimate truth over the immediate satisfaction of power. It was Christianity that gave us successive social movements, which enabled more people to be included in the liberal project, thus renewing it. It was on these foundations that liberalism was built, and it is by these foundations it has endured. The question we face in contemporary times is whether a political system built upon such a religion can endure when belief in that religion has become a shadow of its future self. Will the house still stand when its ramparts are taken away? I’m beginning to suspect it can’t.  And won’t.

To read the full article go HERE


Ezra Klein at Vox, Dec 12, 2018

The political tribalism of Andrew Sullivan

Sullivan’s essay on political tribalism  shows he’s blinded by his own.

Andrew Sullivan
The problem with Andrew Sullivan’s diagnosis of political tribalism.
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

I knew when we launched Vox that there would be criticisms I didn’t anticipate, but I’ll admit, I never foresaw one of them being that “writing explainers” doesn’t satisfyingly replace the role of religion in people’s lives. Yet here we are:

“But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper.”

Rats. Foiled again!

That was Andrew Sullivan writing in New York magazine, and while the column caught my attention for that line, which I will now have needle pointed on a pillow, the broader piece is wrong in more important, less amusing, ways.

Sullivan claims that the modern West has lost Christian practice and gained, in its place, a monstrous political tribalism. It’s a looping, strange argument in which he stitches together eloquent reflections on the hollowness of human existence, musings about electronic distraction, and concerns that an ethos of materialist progress has replaced an appreciation of metaphysical awe, all to end in a slashing justification of his own political resentments.

To be clear, I have no interest in litigating anyone’s faith. What I am interested in is American politics, and in this essay, Sullivan offers a nostalgic analysis of our current problems that has become popular among a certain class of pundits — David Brooks calls Sullivan’s essay a shoe-in for his annual Sidney Awards — but that doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny, and in fact displays the very biases it laments.

Let’s begin here, with Sullivan’s thesis:  Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

To put this more simply, Sullivan is saying that Christianity lowers the stakes of political conflict. A politics moderated by Christianity is merely procedural because the fundamental questions of human dignity have been answered elsewhere.
Absent the calming effects of Christianity, he continues, Americans look to politics to find their meaning, and that escalates the stakes of political conflict. Politics ceases to be procedural and becomes fundamental. Boundaries must be drawn and tribal membership policed. This is Sullivan’s diagnosis of our current divisions. He writes:
Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.

This is a relentlessly ahistorical read of American politics. America’s political past was not more procedural and restrained than its present, and religion does not, in general, calm political divides. What Sullivan is missing in these sections is precisely the perspective of the groups he’s dismissing.

But if Sullivan’s essay fails as historical analysis, it succeeds as a metaphor for our times. What he has done is come up with a tribal explanation for political tribalism: The problem is not enough people like him, too many people unlike him. Speaking of what he calls American’s “political cults,” Sullivan writes: “They do not believe in the primacy of the individual, they believe the ends justify the means, they do not allow for doubt or reason, and their religious politics can brook no compromise.
Political tribalism is first and foremost a psychological phenomenon, a way of looking at what you’ve defined as your out-groups and seeing in them something very different from what you see in your allies.”

Yet even as Sullivan decries political tribalism, here is his theory of it: A decline in people practicing his form of Christian faith has led to a rise in “political cultists” who find their ultimate meaning in politics, who will stop at nothing to achieve their political goals, and who cannot be reasoned or compromised with. This is not an analysis of the thinking deepening our political divides, but a demonstration of it.

When was American politics merely procedural? The simplest objection to Sullivan’s narrative is that American politics has never been merely procedural — and, indeed, the more procedural it has felt, the more fundamental its internal conflicts have often been. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it well in our podcast conversation. “A lot of what people nostalgically consider eras without tribalism are in fact moments in American history where people of color, particularly black people, have been deprived of political power, and so things like ethnic and racial lines became less salient.”

I have written about this before, but politics was certainly not mere proceduralism in the country’s early years, when new arrivals from Europe drove out the Native Americans, brought over millions of enslaved Africans, and wrote laws making women second-class citizens.

Presumably, Sullivan isn’t thinking of the runup to the Civil War, either. He can’t possibly be describing the Civil War itself as a period of procedural politics calmed by Christian practice. There’s no way it could’ve been the bloody aftermath of the Civil War, when Southern whites reestablished control of their territory through a campaign of state violence and political repression.

That brings us to the 20th century, when partisanship did indeed ebb as the Dixiecrats’ commitment to white supremacy scrambled the parties ideologically. But this was hardly a calm era in American politics. For much of the 20th century, the right to vote was, for African Americans, no right at all. Lynchings were common. Freedom Riders were murdered across the American South. Suffragists were beaten and tortured for seeking the franchise. National Guard members fired on, and killed, student protesters at Kent State. Police had to escort young African-American children into schools as jeering crowds shouted racial epithets and threatened to attack.

“What happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed?” asks Sullivan. “I think what happens is illiberal politics.”

Here, too, the evidence contradicts his thesis. The consensus is that American politics was far more illiberal in our past than in our present. The Varieties of Democracy project, which has been surveying experts on the state of global democracies since 1900, gave the US political system a 48 on a 1-to-100 scale in 1945 and a 59 in 1965. It was only after the civil rights movement that America began scoring in the 70s and 80s, marking it as a largely successful democracy.

The US has lost a couple points in the past few years, to be sure, but its 2017 rating was still 73. The era Sullivan looks back on fondly was, by almost any measure, more illiberal in its politics and more fundamental in its conflicts, in part because the meaning of America — who got to participate in it, and whose claims it heard — was so deeply contested.

But if Sullivan’s sense of history is wrong, it’s not unusual. He looks back on American history and sees a politics of becalmed proceduralism, which was often — though certainly not always — true for white men. He looks around now and he sees identity politics everywhere, political cults warring over fundamental questions of dignity and belonging.

This speaks to a paradox of American politics: It often feels most stable when it is least just, and it often feels least stable when progress is being made. This is a point Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt make powerfully in their book How Democracies Die:
The norms sustaining our political system rested, to a considerable degree, on racial exclusion. The stability of the period between the end of Reconstruction and the 1980s was rooted in an original sin: the Compromise of 1877 and its aftermath, which permitted the de-democratization of the South and the consolidation of Jim Crow. Racial exclusion contributed directly to the partisan civility and cooperation that came to characterize twentieth-century American politics. The “solid South” emerged as a powerful conservative force within the Democratic Party, simultaneously vetoing civil rights and serving as a bridge to Republicans. Southern Democrats’ ideological proximity to conservative Republicans reduced polarization and facilitated bipartisanship. But it did so at the great cost of keeping civil rights — and America’s full democratization — off the political agenda.

Sullivan’s essay is animated by animus at the “woke” warriors he loathes. “‘Social justice’ theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin,” he writes. That’s one way to put it.
Another way to put it is that social justice theory encourages the consideration of privilege in order to prevent people from being so blinded by their own perspective that they look at America’s political past and declaim this the era in which we departed from political proceduralism and collapsed into illiberalism.

To read the full article go HERE.


Now, if you are still with me I would ask are you with Sullivan or with Klein?

What do you feel about the times we live in, are our times different from past times in being primarily, as Sullivan would have them, procedural, that is battles of procedure rather than differences of underlying beliefs, our beliefs disappearing? Our times, and lives of course, if  without an underlying meaning or religion become as a result tribal wars of “procedure,” characterized by, for example, the endless shouting and tweeting of differences by the Trumpists on one side and the fake news journalists on the other.
Even as I write this I realize just how little I’m with Sullivan whose diagnosis of our times as being the “flowering” of an ugly political tribalism resulting from our being no longer under the restraining influence of Christianity. And just how much I’m with Klein who reminds us that this country’s past, while it did seem more serene, this was only because the no less real and sharp underlying political differences of then were kept well bottled up — blacks, women, native Americans, and any number of others, Japanese during the second world war for example, were confined to the barracks, to the reservations, were kept working long days in the cotton fields.

While in the past there were no fewer “procedural differences,” the disagreements over the theft of the land from the native Americans, the enslavement of the Blacks, later the second enslavement by the creation of Jim Crow laws in the South, were closeted. Kept out of sight by Christianity, and even more, probably, by attendance at the only one church, all of which served to create a superficial serenity (Sullivan’s restraining influence of Christianity). Many of the real differences, the places held by native Americans, blacks, and yes, women, greater differences than those of today, were not yet out in the open, not easily seen. They would be much more visible later,in our time, but not then.

Yes bottling up of huge numbers of Americans did make things calmer then than they seem to be today, at least for those at the top. Today’s unruly tribalism, as one group after another seeks to find its rightful place in the scheme of things, while this does bother Andrew Sullivan, is, I think, a good thing. For aren’t we finally overcoming our prejudices, giving room to our differences, allowing these differences to come out and be seen and heard?

In this sense compared to past times when blacks, women, native Americans, immigrants, the “other” as it were, were put down, held down. That is no longer the case and ours in comparison to then is a good time. Why, no longer do white males lord it over everyone else. And none of this has anything to do, as Sullivan would have it, with the declining influence of Christianity, or of any religion at all. It’s today that the diverse peoples who make up America who are bringing about the changes. Perhaps the declining place of religion in our lives has also helped to bring these good things about.

Andrew Sullivan’s “new religions” may very well make up a new awakening, or as they now say an “awokening.” And if these new “religions” were to address some of the real problems confronting us, global warming, inequalities, and the degradation of the environment and the extinction of more and more life forms, well then we might look to a future without religion with renewed confidence.


Eric Zemmour

I’m not nostalgic,” Jacques, (a fan of Zemmour’s)  said. “I think there’s a lot that’s not working in modernity. But we have to say that when you come to a country you have to integrate and assimilate.” A lawyer friend of his had recently defended an immigrant against domestic-violence charges, and his friend advised the client not to say that he thought what he did was right. But during the trial, the wife testified that her husband was angry that she went to see her friends, and so he was right to beat her. “That’s what happens when you accept all cultures and you refuse to force people to accept certain norms,” Jacques said. “We’ve really gone somewhere irrational, out of fear of shocking or provoking. But we’re creating a horrible world.”

Melvin Konner,

 When i was studying for my doctorate, in the late 1960s, we budding anthropologists read a book called  Ideas on Human Evolution, a collection of then-recent papers in the field. With typical graduate-student arrogance, I pronounced it “too many ideas chasing too little data.” Half a century and thousands of fossil finds later, we have a far more complete—and also more puzzling—view of the human past. The ever-growing fossil record fills in one missing link in the quest for evidence of protohumans, only to expose another. Meanwhile, no single line emerges to connect these antecedents to Homo sapiens, whose origins date back about 300,000 years. Instead, parallel and divergent lines reveal a variety of now-extinct hominids that display traits once considered distinctive to our lineage. For example, traces of little “Hobbits” found in Indonesia in 2003 show that they walked upright and made tools; less than four feet tall, with brains about a third the size of ours, they may have persisted until modern humans arrived in the area some 50,000 years ago.

Jennifer Rubin

When Trump’s voters finally get hit, then they may finally abandon him. (His support among key groups such as suburban men and white, non-college educated men dropped significantly.) We’d like to think all Americans care about one another, want to point to the president as a role model for their kids and fret when bad policies hurt the most vulnerable. Many Americans do operate that way — just not Trump’s hardcore base. This is a zero-sum ground — immigrants or them, elevation of Christianity or its eradication, white nationalism or white victimhood.



Louis L'Amour
Louis L’Amour

All he had to do was saddle up and ride out of the country. It sounded easy, but it was not that easy, even if a man could leave behind his sense of guilt at having deserted a cause. To be a man was to be responsible. It was as simple as that. To be a man was to build something, to try to make the world about him a bit easier to live in for himself and those who followed. You could sneer at that, you could scoff, you could refuse to acknowledge it, but when it came right down to it, Conn decided it was the man who planted a tree, dug a well, or graded a road who mattered.


Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett (One of the 26 billionaires whose wealth when pooled is as much as half the world’s)

WarrenBuffett —  Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”





Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature

Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review.

Well I grabbed this one, just for the title, insect extinction threatens the collapse of nature! Wow I thought. And I thought about the insects with which (whom) I’m most familiar, right here on Santiago Street in Tampa Florida. And, placed in order of their threat to me, these are termites, cockroaches, and mosquitoes. I’m sure there are millions, tens of millions of these little creatures here in Tampa, and since I’ve been here, and inspite of “tenting” my home, and innumerable trips to Home Deport to purchase insect sprays, I don’t have the feeling they are any more at risk today than when I came here some 10 years ago. But the article does grab my attention.

And just think what great fun that would be if the 2020 Democratic and Republican candidates for president began to talk about that threat of insect losses. And would there be those among them, Republicans probably, who would reject this threat much as they reject global warming?

Why are insects in decline, and can we do anything about it?

By Damian Carrington.   The Guardian, February 10, 2019

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.


One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death.” Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places….

OK, I get the writer’s point. Insects are a big part of the sixth major extinction currently taking place on the earth (the others were the first, second… through fifth) although I don’t feel it happening among my insects. OK, once again I’m taken up by the trees and not the forest. Also I forgot to say it, but probably the largest number of insects I encounter on a daily basis just has to be the ants, and they seem to be multiplying without restraint. If I didn’t mention them it’s probably because they mostly stay out of my way, and out of our home.

But I have a couple of questions for the writers of the Guardian article. What is an insect, and why should we regret the deaths of so many insect species that are clearly still today a threat us? Aren’t there good and bad insects? The writer seems to assume that all living things are somehow precious, and that a threat to any one of them is a threat to all of us. Again, termites, cockroaches, and mosquitoes? He may be right. I’m not a scientist.

For what is an insect I go to Google.and from there to where  Debbie Hadley answers our question, What is an Insect?
May 02, 2018

Insects are the largest group in the animal kingdom. Scientists estimate there are over 1 million insect species on the planet, living in every conceivable environment from volcanoes to glaciers.

Insects help us by pollinating our food crops, decomposing organic matter, providing researchers with clues to a cancer cure, and even solving crimes. They can also harm us, such as by spreading diseases and damaging plants and structures.

Insects are classified as arthropods. All animals in the phylum Arthropoda have exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and at least three pairs of legs. Other classes that belong to the phylum Arthropoda include: Arachnida (spiders), Diplopoda (millipedes) and Chilopoda (centipedes). The class Insecta encompasses all of the insects on the earth. It is most often divided into 29 orders….

And I leave you with just one example of just how precious insects, or some insects, are at least to me:


Note Cards and Walls between Peoples

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 9.22.48 AM

We began a process in our school some 40 or more years ago, a process by which we wanted to make it possible, at least for us in the school, including myself and my wife, to hold onto the things we liked, in particular our thoughts and ideas. And in the early years of the school we would hold on to our thoughts by writing them down on index cards.

Would I be correct to say that we divide up the past centuries into the thoughts and pictures coming from these centuries, the ideas that came to people then and which they must have written down? The ideas of motion from the scientists of the 17th. c. , the enlightenment ideas from the 18th. c., the ideas of liberty and equality and brotherhood coming from the French Revolution and the 19th c., and then from the 20th c, when everything one could possibly think was out there on the table if not written down on our cards. And now?? Now in the 21st c, aren’t we confused about what is happening and where we’re going? 
What are we writing, if anything, on our note cards?

The ideas when they do survive their beginnings at best become part of a much bigger whole, such as we see now by the evidence of man’s hidden treasures, if not hidden probably not seen by many, by enough, what I would call the ideas of history and science, of art and music and the humanities, … And if now we can experience some of these treasures in the so-called great books, get closer to them in our great universities, it’s probably because some of them did begin on something like a note card, because someone jotted down his thought or idea. If you proceed to read the great books and delve into the humanities, you will be reading or otherwise meeting one or more of the best of those ideas, treasures of thought that men did not want to lose.

Now I’m starting to wonder is this how we make progress? I’m talking about progress in our thinking, but it could be no less true of progress than in our doing, as in our agriculture, our industries, our technologies, the whole nine yards of what makes up the modern economy. (It is no longer hunting and gathering, although it was that at one time and for a much longer time than our time.)

We are progressing, although making progress may still be for some in question, but not for most of us, at least in terms of our knowledge of and our ability to shape and alter the natural environment, the whole earth, to our own ends. But this process is, as we now recognize, putting us at risk, by us I mean Homo sapiens. While going after our own ends we are extinguishing other forms of life, while exploiting the riches of the earth we are leaving the earth impoverished. And we do this without seeming to know  whether or not we are thereby dooming ourselves…..

Now I look up over these paragraphs, to the picture at the top of this page. That’s what I was going to write about. —A fence that uniformed men are arming with razor wire. —Why? What’s going on in the picture? Is there an idea there? Perhaps the idea or combination of ideas meaning that we have to keep people out, in this case out of the little town we see over the top of the fence, or keep the people of the town shut in, keep them from coming to where we are.

Division by fences. Whose idea was that? This wasn’t something that was supported by the greatest ideas of the past centuries. Not by the early scientists certainly, not by the enlightenment thinkers, not even by the leaders of our modern economies, who depend on having people, all kinds of people, to purchase and use their productions….. All of these people probably swear by open borders, open to the passage of people and goods.

In that story of open societies, there’s much more of our history than in the accounts of closed societies, of peoples who have somehow put a wall between themselves and the world, between themselves and others. Now perhaps the last wall remaining to us from earlier times, the Great Wall of china, should not be remembered as a separation to keep peoples apart, to keep the northern invaders away, but should be spoken of as a powerful attraction, attracting people on both sides of the wall to come together….

America First, or rather the First Americans.

Our President, if he wants another four years in the Oval Office, would do well to forget America First, and talk (tweet) about the First Americans. They are much more what our country is all about.

first americans

Time was – and it wasn’t long ago in geologic terms – when the vast territory of the Americas contained no people at all. A lush wilderness of prairies, mountains, and woodlands, sparkling with lakes and rivers, teeming with wildlife, the lands of North, Central, and South America were unmarred by humankind. Then the ancestors of the people later called Indians arrived – crossing from what is now Siberia to Alaska over a land bridge created by the glaciers of the last Ice Age. Those First Americans remain shadowy figures; their lives are mostly a mystery. The record they left must be stitched together from their tools, their bones, and the other fragmentary traces that remain of their existence. But in recent years, scholars and scientists have made discoveries that dramatically change the story of how humans first entered, explored, and populated the Americas. And the more we know about the First Americans, the more we must marvel at the monumental achievements of their many cultures. The First Americans arrived as nomadic, Stone Age hunter-gatherers, dependent for everything, including life itself, on the herds they followed and their success in killing and butchering such formidable prey as mammoths and giant bison. As the glaciers melted and the sea rose, their descendants were cut off from other cultures, with no knowledge of civilizations blooming in Africa and Asia. Over time, the First Americans adjusted to changing climates and environments and independently developed tools, weapons, and hunting techniques, improving on those that their ancestors had used. They learned to trade with other tribes, to farm and store food, to weave baskets and cloth, and to fire pottery. They moved vast quantities of earth to create irrigation systems and build sacred temples, monumental earthworks, and entire cities. They developed rich languages and used them to create myths, poetry, religions, systems of government, and political alliances. They created art that still has the power to dazzle and inspire. It’s a common misconception that the First Americans were little more than savages when compared with the great civilizations of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley – cultures that took root long after America’s first people arrived. In truth, men and women all over the world were living as nomadic hunter-gatherers until the first vestiges of agriculture made their appearance, and two of the six “cradles of civilization” had their origins in the New World. For at least 50,000 years, before people learned to farm, change was painfully slow. Generation after generation of hunter-gatherers lived the same lives, hunted the same prey with the same stone weapons, built the same flimsy shelters, and moved constantly in the quest for game. Then, about 9,000 years ago, things changed. Almost simultaneously, people in six regions around the world learned that if they stuck seeds into the ground, plants would grow and produce more seeds, which they could eat. At first, this was a haphazard business. They would plant in the spring, let the crop take care of itself, then collect whatever survived after three or four months. The results were marginal, and the fruits of their efforts could not have been more than a dietary supplement. But, slowly, people learned they could produce bigger crops if they tended the plants and defended them from weeds and pests. In time, they improved the quantity and quality of their crops by setting aside the seeds of the best plants to sow the following year. Farming forced the hunter-gatherers to settle down in permanent villages, where bigger crops and more leisure time led to the development of weaving, basketry, pottery, and other arts and crafts – and the slow evolution of religious, political, and social organizations. This process began, spontaneously and more or less concurrently, along the Nile in Egypt, the Yellow River in China, the Tigris and Euphrates in ancient Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley in South Asia – places we have come to call cradles of civilization. In the New World, two more cradles of civilization developed independently on roughly the same schedule: Norte Chico along the coast of Peru, and Mesoamerica in southern Mexico and Guatemala. Even after people first learned to farm, it took another 5,000 years – 250 generations of humans – for that change to give birth to true civilizations with complex cultures, cities, monumental architecture, and powerful dynasties. Details of the cultures differed from one cradle of civilization to the next: The people of Norte Chico never discovered ceramics, and although Mesoamericans knew about the wheel, it played no major role in their daily lives. But their accomplishments were nonetheless monumental. About 5,400 years ago, fully 1,000 years before the first pyramid was built in Egypt, people in Norte Chico were erecting huge earthen platforms rivaling the pyramids at Giza in size and scope. And the progress continued. In Mexico, the Spanish conquistadors arriving in 1521 were dazzled by the beauty and grandeur of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, a city with ten times the population of Madrid at the time. The vast canal system of the Sonoran people in the American Southwest irrigated tens of thousands of acres, and the grand Anasazi dwellings in Chaco Canyon stood as the biggest structures north of Mexico for hundreds of years after the Europeans arrived. And it wasn’t until Philadelphia grew to 40,000 people in the 1780s that any city in the United States surpassed the population, five centuries earlier of the mound builders’ great metropolis on the Mississippi, Cahokia. No single book can do justice to a saga dating back at least 15,000 years and encompassing such a range of challenges, crises, and accomplishments. This account will explore how the First Americans arrived and spread across the continents, and go on to detail four of the vastly different civilizations they created: the desert society of the North American Southwest, the mound-building communities of the Mississippi Valley, the whale-hunting culture of the Northwest Coast, and the dazzlingly complex city-states of the peoples of Central America.

Donald Trump, quack, charlatan, and jingo. adds unhistory to his well known untruths.

The Decline of Historical Thinking

Donald Trump well known for his wealth of untruths, is also no less known for his ignorance of history. A nation whose citizens have no knowledge of history will be led by quacks, charlatans, and jingos.

Having ignored questions of economic inequality for decades, economists and other scholars have recently discovered a panoply of effects that go well beyond the fact that some people have too much money and many don’t have enough. Inequality affects our physical and mental health, our ability to get along with one another and to make our voices heard and our political system accountable, and, of course, the futures that we can offer our children. Lately, I’ve noticed a feature of economic inequality that has not received the attention it deserves. I call it “intellectual inequality.”

I do not refer to the obvious and ineluctable fact that some people are smarter than others but, rather, to the fact that some people have the resources to try to understand our society while most do not. Late last year, Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, published a study demonstrating that, for the past decade, history has been declining more rapidly than any other major, even as more and more students attend college. With slightly more than twenty-four thousand current history majors, it accounts for between one and two per cent of bachelor’s degrees, a drop of about a third since 2011. The decline can be found in almost all ethnic and racial groups, and among both men and women. Geographically, it is most pronounced in the Midwest, but it is present virtually everywhere.

There’s a catch, however. It’s boom time for history at Yale, where it is the third most popular major, and at other élite schools, including Brown, Princeton, and Columbia, where it continues to be among the top declared majors. The Yale history department intends to hire more than a half-dozen faculty members this year alone. Meanwhile, the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, Bernie L. Patterson, recently proposed that the school’s history major be eliminated, and that at least one member of its tenured faculty be dismissed. Of course, everything gets more complicated when you look at the fine print. Lee L. Willis, the chair of the history department, told me that the chancellor’s proposal is a budget-cutting measure in response to the steadily declining number of declared majors, but it’s really about the need to reduce the faculty from fourteen to ten, and this means getting rid of at least one tenured member. To do that, it’s necessary to disband the department. (A spokesperson for the university said that “UW-Stevens Point is exploring every option to avoid laying off faculty and staff members.”) The remaining professors will be placed in new departments that combine history with other topics.

Stevens Point, in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, educates many first-generation college students, and, in the past, the history department has focussed on training teachers. Willis pointed out that, after Scott Walker, the former governor, led an assault on the state’s teachers’ unions, gutting benefits and driving around ten per cent of public-school teachers out of the profession, a teaching career understandably looks considerably less attractive to students. “I am hearing a lot, ‘What kind of a job am I going to get with this? My parents made me switch,’ ” Willis said. “There is a lot of pressure on this particular generation.” But he also noted a rise in declared history majors this past semester, from seventy-six to a hundred and twenty. “This perception of a one-way trend and we’ll whittle down to nothing is not what I am seeing,” he said.

The steep decline in history graduates is most visible beginning in 2011 and 2012. Evidently, after the 2008 financial crisis, students (and their parents) felt a need to pick a major in a field that might place them on a secure career path. Almost all of the majors that have seen growth since 2011, Schmidt noted in a previous study, are in the STEM disciplines, and include nursing, engineering, computer science, and biology. (A recent Times story noted that the number of computer-science majors more than doubled between 2013 and 2017.) “M.I.T. and Stanford are making a big push in the sciences,” Alan Mikhail, the chair of the history department at Yale, told me. Other universities have tended to emulate them, no doubt because that’s what excites the big funders these days—and with their money comes the prestige that gives a university its national reputation. David Blight, a professor of history at Yale and the director of its Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, tells a similar story when it comes to funding. In a recent meeting with a school administrator, he was told that individual funders were all looking to fund STEM programs—and, Blight said, “It’s the funders that drive things.”

Nonetheless, the history major continues to thrive at Yale, in part because it’s a great department with a number of nationally known stars, all of whom are expected to teach at an undergraduate level, and in part because it is Yale, where even a liberal-arts degree opens almost all professional doors. As Mikhail said, “The very real economic pressure students feel today is lessened at Yale. Need-blind admissions make a big difference, together with the sense that a Yale degree in anything will get them the job they want, even at places like Goldman or medical school.” The school’s public-relations department recently made a promotional video about Fernando Rojas, the son of Mexican immigrants, who made national news a few years ago when he was admitted to all eight Ivy League schools. Rojas, who found an intellectual home at Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, intends to pursue a Ph.D. in history.

The reason that students at Yale and places like it can “afford” to major in history is that they have the luxury of seeing college as a chance to learn about the world beyond the confines of their home towns, and to try to understand where they might fit in. That’s what history does best. It locates us and helps us understand how we got here and why things are the way they are. “History instills a sense of citizenship, and reminds you of questions to ask, especially about evidence,” Willis told me. In a follow-up e-mail after our conversation, Mikhail wrote, “A study of the past shows us that the only way to understand the present is to embrace the messiness of politics, culture, and economics. There are never easy answers to pressing questions about the world and public life.” Bruce Springsteen famously developed a profound political consciousness after happening upon Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager’s “A Pocket History of the United States,” first published in 1942. In his recent Broadway show, Springsteen explained, “I wanted to know the whole American story. . . . I felt like I needed to understand as much of it as I could in order to understand myself.”

Donald Trump is the king not only of lies but also of ahistorical assertions. It’s hard to pick a favorite among the thousands of falsehoods that Trump has told as President, but one recent shocker was when he insisted, ignoring everything we know about the Soviet Union’s lawless behavior, that “the reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”

(The usually Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page claimed, “We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President.”) Republicans, for the past few decades, have depended on Americans’ inability to make sense of history in judging their policies. How else to explain the fact that, under Trump, they have succeeded in turning legal immigration into the excuse for all the country’s ills, when any clear historical analysis would demonstrate that it has been the fount of the lion’s share of America’s innovation, creativity, and economic production?

“Yes, we have a responsibility to train for the world of employment, but are we educating for life, and without historical knowledge you are not ready for life,” Blight told me. As our political discourse is increasingly dominated by sources who care nothing for truth or credibility, we come closer and closer to the situation that Walter Lippmann warned about a century ago, in his seminal “Liberty and the News.”

“Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo (Trump is all three.). . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.” Walter Lippmann, 1920

“Men who have lost their grip upon the relevant facts of their environment are the inevitable victims of agitation and propaganda. The quack, the charlatan, the jingo . . . can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information,” A nation whose citizens have no knowledge of history is asking to be led by quacks, charlatans, and jingos. As he has proved ever since he rode to political prominence on the lie of Barack Obama’s birthplace, Trump is all three. And, without more history majors, we are doomed to repeat him.

  • Eric Alterman is The Nation’s media columnist, a CUNY distinguished professor of English at Brooklyn College, and a history Ph.D.