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I haven’t written about last week–which was about the most miserable week which American democracy has endured since 2016 (or maybe since the 1960s…or the 1930s).  Like most good-hearted people, I have been feeling quite depressed about the sordid Senatorial acquittal of our very-obviously-criminal president…and about said criminal president’s ridiculous State of the Union speech…and about the disastrous Iowa caucuses…and about the reprisals and threats against witnesses and career civil servants coming from the White House (and its lapdog GOP)…and about, sigh, about the galloping authoritarian rot which is destroying the nation.  The only way to stop the gangrene in our political body is to cut off the afflicted parts (ahem, any GOP politician other than Mitt Romney) by sweeping the bounders, liars, traitors, thieves, and enablers of the Republican Party out of office in November’s election.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: this troubling article which is worth reading in its entirety at The Week.  To quickly summarize, the author believes that Bernie Sanders is unelectable because greedy Wall Street bankers dislike him.  However even if he (Sanders) were somehow elected and Democrats also swept both houses of the legislature, still nothing would change.  The fact that Sanders is doing well in the primaries and yet the market has not crashed proves this point!  It is sort of a peculiar and vacuous argument, yet it makes me furious.  The author asks whether successful business lords and fiance moguls are worried about the possibility of a Sanders presidency upsetting their cozy financial plantation and he answers:

…that’s not how Big Money sees things playing out. “A whopping 80-90 percent of participants at our client conferences thought that President Trump would win re-election in November,” Goldman Sachs noted in a recent report. With the unemployment rate at a half-century low and economic confidence at a 20-year high, it seems inconceivable to many investors that voters wouldn’t return Trump to office. For this crowd, prediction markets are as important, if not more so, than polling. And they show Trump as the favorite over the Democrats, with the exception of Mike Bloomberg.

The author is from the American Enterprise Institute (a right-wing economic think tank) and therefore he doesn’t believe in democracy unless it is a rubber stamp for some elaborate rent-seeking project from his paymasters in high finance.  I was going to excoriate him more about cultural and foreign affairs issues, but he seems indifferent to such things, and mostly concentrates on economic policy. In fact, in many ways he and I have disturbingly similar points of view: we believe that the nation’s largest problem is underinvestment in research and infrastucture.  We are both technophiles. He is even an enthusiatic supporter of space exploration!

But there the similarities end. Pethokoukis believes that medical care should cost as much (and be as ineffectual) as possible.  He believes that monopolies should run rampant and unchecked.  He believes that white collar crime should go unpunished and giant multinational companies should not be regulated by the government. In short he is a pro-business enthusiast of the status quo.

So why does this silly short article make me so angry?

I have some friends in the Wall Street world, and after they have had a few drinks, they confide that a shocking number of their fellow finance titans and hedge fund folks support Donald Trump at the ballot box (and with huge donations).  These are not under-educated people who have been dazzled by the bits of Hollywood tinsel or false piety which Trump wears as a costume (albeit a costume which is even less believable than that awful fake tan ).  They fully understand the President’s incompetence, ignorance, corruption, and racism.  They also can see the damage that this fascist dolt is doing to the nation’s well being and future prospects.  Yet they simply don’t care.  Since they are getting such astronomical kickbacks…er tax cuts, the idea of the degradation or collapse of the United States doesn’t bother them:  they will simply fly off to Zurich in their helicopters and private jets. They are willing to pay to keep Donald Trump in place even though they know he is extremely detrimental to society.

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So what the author doesn’t quite say openly is that Wall Street IS Donald Trump. They have the same interests: (1) making as much money as possible through any means; and (2) ensuring that they “win” no matter what the cost to other people or the world.  The market makers don’t really care about the long term, or the medium term, or anything at all other than their bank balance in the immediate present. They don’t even care about the free market–it is “free” only in name and is really a done deal where the winners have already been chosen by collusion, insider deals, and price-fixing.

I simply have no idea about whether Sanders can win either the Democratic nomination or the presidency.  I don’t agree with everything he supports, but he is earnest, hard-working, and concerned about the serious degradation of our nation which has happened during the last few decades.  His sympathy for the working class is not a sham, like Trump’s pretend love for coal miners, factory workers and farmers (although I worry that Trump somehow intuits how to communicate with wage-slaves better than Sanders does). One would think that such things will appeal to anyone not wearing political blinders but our ongoing political crisis is making it difficult to predict or even understand how voters (or anyone) will react to things.  Also, everyone older than I am remembers communists and socialists as despised national enemies.  We will get back to Sanders in future posts.  I don’t think he is the real subject of Pethokoukis’s article.  The real premise is that the market (and market makers) are infallible.

So what truly infuriates me about this article is its smug faith in a free market which doesn’t exist.  Pethokoukis pretends the market is all-knowing (and that it has completely dismissed Sanders before he has even secured the nomination!) but what he is really writing about is a cabal among the management elite who control the system grasp for short-term profit.  Of course such people are fine with Donald Trump (just as the latter is unable to see how extorting foreign aid to win the election is problematic).  It is maddening!  The people who have subalterned free competition,  smugly assure us that everything is very fair, unless someone with different ideas has any chance of winning.  then they threaten to upend the system and destroy everything.  I guess this article strikes me as the real Wall Street response to the the impeachment debacle. Yes Trump is as guilty as possible but that is fine because it benefits us personally.  Just as the Senate’s terrible impeachment acquittal vote left American voters as prey to dark money and foreign interference, Pethokoukis attitude leaves small investors at the mercy of finance titans who can and will punish us if they aren’t guaranteed carte blanche to do exactly as they like.

 

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Today’s newspapers, op-ed websites, and blather channels are filled with agonizing editorials and Pollyanna-ish laments about how Democrats have made a terrible political miscalculation and now Donald Trump will win the election of 2020 (and probably ultimately fulfill his Fascist quest towards becoming the first Emperor of America).  I am indeed troubled by the large minority of Americans who seem incapable of understanding just how terrible the President’s actions are.  If selling out the United States and our allies to our enemies in order to win an election is acceptable behavior in the myopic eyes of Trump’s supporters, then what exactly would be impeachable?  Obviously, nothing will ever cause 38% of voters to turn against this criminal buffoon.

However, it is a bit of a mistake to blame the Democrats for how events have unfolded and then give in utterly to despair.  Knowing what we now know, Democrats must impeach Trump or else they will also be accomplices to this criminal administration.  In the future, when Trump is finally gone (a day which will ineluctably arrive, no matter what today’s Chicken Little pundits say) we will pore through all the records and unravel all of Trumps corrupt webs and confidence schemes. Undoubtedly when everything is laid bare, everyone will then ask why the Democrats didn’t push harder to impeach this scoundrel much earlier.

The unexpected results of the disastrous 2016 election were such a shock that many journalists and opinion-makers now have Stockholm syndrome and secretly believe Trump can never be removed from office no matter what. This victim-blaming mentality needs to stop.  Democrats are not the problem and are doing the best they can in a disastrous political landscape where the GOP has abandoned all standards of decency and Constitutional responsibility. The Republicans are knowingly abetting the President’s brazen criminality.  Nobody should ever vote for a Republican for any office until they renounce Trumpism completely (and maybe cease their other norm-destroying, anti-Democratic misbehavior as well).

Today is a sad day for our democracy.  Our various failsafes have failed. Our secondary education system has likewise failed (and obviously it has been a failure for a long time): nobody other than crooked multi-millionaire oligarchs should ever have voted for Trump.  The fact that millions of otherwise normal people are so scared and lost within the PR blitz of lies that they embrace this American Mussolini illustrates that we have huge ground level educational reforms to add to our to-do-list of breaking up monopolies and reforming our sclerotic electoral system.

But these reforms will not be accomplished right now, and the best Democrats can do at this moment is their constitutional duty (you know, to counterbalance a dangerous demagogic grifter).  Cheating and lying might gain the Republicans a few poll points in the short term, but it will come back to haunt hem (so long as the republic holds together).  It is also worth remembering that tyrants (and Trump is definitely a tyrant–albeit a stupid, incurious, and unambitious tyrant) tend to fall with exponential speed.  To those who love liberty and justice, it may seem that his world of bribery, coercion, harassment, intimidation, extortion, and treachery will always guarantee his victory.  It doesn’t.  Once cracks begin to appear in a tyrant’s carefully spackled façade of mendacity, the fissures tend to widen rapidly exposing the rot within.  Trump’s rotten world of fiscal corruption and subservience to Russia is not hidden very deep.  It will bring him crashing to his true level (exile in Russia? Prison?) before too much time has passed.  On that day Republicans will regret their cowardice and trembling toadyism.  Democrats will be glad they didn’t listen to today’s hyperventilating pundits but instead did what was right and impeached this corrupt president.

Have courage! Do not give in to despair and fatigue.  Pundits who despise the president yet demand legislators never call him to account are dangerous.  Whereas we know the president is a knave and his supporters will not be swayed by actual evidence, these journalists (who see no path to victory for the 60% of the electorate who despise the president!) are sowing discord and confusion among their own side.  They are bringing their worst fears alive with panicky words.

Being afraid is why we are in the mess we are in.  Becoming more afraid is not the solution.

Today’s news is good.  Trump is a criminal who needs to be impeached and removed from office.  He may not be removed right away, but putting the evidence we currently have on the record (and carefully recording the astonishing perfidy of the GOP for the history books) is a painful but necessary step to being rid of him for good.  Even more importantly, acknowledging the truth in accordance with the dictates of the Constitution is the best way to start digging our way out of the political crisis which we are all trapped in.

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Fifty years ago marked the height of the Cuban missile crisis.  The entire US military was operating at DEFCON 3–and Strategic Air Command had moved up to DEFCON 2 (a readiness condition which indicates that “nuclear war is eminent”).  As part of these protocols, the Air Force moved nuclear armed interceptor aircraft to smaller airports along the northern border in preparation for a Russian strike.

A F-106A with a Russian TU-95M

On the night of October 25, 1962, a guard at the Duluth Sector Direction Center spotted a commando stealthily climbing over the perimeter fence to sabotage the base.  The guard fired at the intruder but missed all his shots. He then sounded the alarm.  The proper alarm rang at several nearby bases, but at Volk field in Wisconsin, the alarm system was wired incorrectly.  Instead of an intruder alarm, the klaxon for nuclear war sounded.  The pilots duly got in their F106-A jets (each of which was equipped with a nuclear rocket) and prepared to fly north for the last battle.

Just as the planes were taking off, a truck sped onto the field flashing its lights.  The false alarm had been caught in time and the interceptors did not launch.  Decades later the Air Force declassified documents relating to the incident.  The shadowy saboteur was revealed to have been a bear.

American black bear (Ursus americanus)

The incident was quickly forgotten because it was only one of an astonishing number of near misses in the subsequent days of the crisis.  On October 27th, 1962 alone there were multiple live-fire accidents and misunderstandings: the world nearly ended several times that day.   That morning, a U-2F spy plane was shot down over Cuba by means of a Soviet surface-to-air missile and the pilot was killed.  Later that day a US Navy RF-8A Crusader aircraft was fired on and one was hit by a 37 mm shell.  The US Navy dropped a series of “signaling depth charges” on Soviet submarine B-59 which was armed with nuclear torpedoes (however one of the three Soviet fire officers objected to launching the weapons).   Over the Bering Sea the Soviets scrambled their MIGs in response to a U2 spy plane and the Air Force in return launched their F-102 fighter aircraft.

After a bewildering storm of desperate diplomatic negotiations which were interspersed with apocalyptic bluster, the American and Soviet administrations began to back down from the confrontation.  The Kennedy administration dispatched negotiators to meet with representatives of the Soviet Union at Yenching Palace Chinese restaurant, and a deal was reached over the fortune cookies and chopsticks.   The Soviets removed their nuclear missiles from Cuba and America, in turn, pulled nuclear weapons out of Turkey and southern Italy.

It’s easy to look at the news today and feel a sense of despair about the world and its inhabitants, but it is worth looking back a half a century to the sixties when the world was a much more stupid and dangerous place.  Everyone drove giant unsafe cars with big fins.  Lobotomy was a common medical procedure.  China and India were actively fighting a war.  But, above all other concerns, the Soviet Union and the United States eyed each other beadily and prepared to destroy the world in response to a bear or a spy plane or an insult in a Chinese restaurant.

After the Cuban missile crisis ended, the STRATCOM stood down from DEFCON 2 on November 15, 1962.  Although the armed forces have returned to DEFCON 3—medium readiness— a few times since then (notably during the Yom Kippur war and on September 11th) the nation has never again gone to DEFCON 2.

Last year I wrote about generational cohorts: the idea that America’s current population can be roughly divided and characterized by age.  The essay provoked a philosophical backlash from my contrarian friend Mike, who was opposed to the idea that large groups of people can be broadly characterized in such a manner (or “stereotyped” would be the pejorative way of saying it).  I still firmly believe that groups of people do fit in to larger categories—that is why we have nations and tribes and professions and classes.  It is why history is a meaningful discipline rather than an incoherent babble of individual voices. Characterizing what those categories are and what they mean is the goal of the social sciences and the humanities.  However, my friend raised some legitimate points too.  To defend his side of the argument–at least as I imagine it–I am going to write about a wholly unsatisfactory (albeit immensely entertaining) interpretation of generational cohorts, the Strauss-Howe generational theory, which is a ridiculous magical prophecy pretending to be a historical interpretation of seceding generations.

The Strauss-Howe Generational Theory (Artist’s Conception)

The Strauss-Howe generational theory is a bizarre amalgamation of historical perspective, Jungian archetypes, and craziness.  The “theory” categorizes generational cohorts into four repeating archetypes: hero, artist, prophet, and nomad.  Each generation has one of these characteristics (for example the World War II generation–the “Greatest” generation–was a “hero” generation).  According to Strauss-Howe, the pattern sequentially repeats, and has done so throughout Western history! The World War II generation was made up of heroes who came of age as pragmatic civic-minded optimists during a period of crisis.  They were able to work together as a team to overcome the disasters of their time. The Silent Generation grew up in a crisis and afterwards were overprotected and controlled.  In middle-life they synthesized the values of the previous generation into an institutionalized canon of ideas and philosophies. The Baby-Boom generation was a counter-cultural revolutionary generation who eschewed the heavy handed group-think of the previous two generations.  Generation X is a nomad generation, forever adrift, lost, and worthless.  The Millennial Generation is a group of pragmatic civic-minded optimists growing up in an era of crisis. They are destined to work together as a team to overcome the disasters of their time…and so on.

They are destined to return?

Strauss and Howe flesh out their theories in their book “Generations: The History of America’s Future” which adds a longer historical context to the paradigm.   Each generation must contend with a historical progression of “Unraveling”, “Crisis”,“High”, and “Awakening”.  For example: the Great Depression & World War II provided the crisis; the Great Power era marked a high; the culture clash and protests of the youth movement were an awakening;  the culture wars and 9/11 represent an age of unraveling.  Then the pattern begins anew: the Global Financial Crisis we are now living through is another full-blown crisis (until the Millennials come of age and fix it).  The generational cohorts repeat this cycle again and again (with one exception below).

Here is a list of each generational cohort by birth year and archetypical temperament:

Enlightenment Generation (1674-1700): Artist

Awakening Generation (1701-1723): Prophet

Liberty Generation (1724-1741): Nomad

Republican Generation (1742-1766): Hero

Compromise Generation (1767-1791): Artist

Transcendental Generation (1792-1821): Prophet

Gilded Generation (1822-1842): Nomad

Progressive Generation (1843-1859): Artist

Missionary Generation (1860-1882): Prophet

Lost Generation (1883-1900): Nomad

Greatest Generation (1901-1924): Hero

Silent Generation (1925-1945): Artist

Baby Boom (1946-1960): Prophet

Generation X (1961-1981): Nomad

Millennial Generation (1982-2004): Hero

“Homeland” Generation (2005-?): Artist

I have only included the familiar American Generations.  Hilariously, Strauss & Howe continued back through the English Civil War, the Reformation, the War of the Roses…all the way to the Hundred Years War.  Coincidentally, sharp-eyed observers will note the absence of a heroic generation around the time of the Civil War.  The authors of “Generations” believed that the Transcendental Generation and the Gilded Generation were so debased, fractious, and incompetent that the war came about ten years too early.  The Progressive generation was broken and disabused rather than ennobled. It became a bitter generation of introspective artists rather than battle-scarred heroes (although of course they did, you know, fight the Civil War).  The lack of Civil War heroes however is the only break in the 500 year long continuum of the 4 part cycle–according to Strauss & Howe.

Pictured: Artists (apparently)

Anyway, I think that provides you with enough of an overview of the Strauss & Howe theory.  If you are interested, there is more information out there (the Wikipedia page lays everything out nicely in tables). The book, coincidentally, was a best-seller. It particularly appealed to marketers and politicians of the Baby Boomer generation—both Al Gore and Newt Gingrich cite it as fundamental to their beliefs.

Clap if you love Pseudohistory!

And so we come back to my friend’s point: that the behavioral characteristics of generational cohorts are arbitrary categories made up by academics (or frauds) in order to aggrandize themselves. The Strauss-Howe theory does indeed seem to be such a model.  The cohort breakdown presented above might have some merit, but the four repeating archetypes do not.  If we took out all of Strauss & Howe’s terminology and replaced it with random animal names (and then attributed selected characteristics of those animals to each era) we would have an equally valid paradigm.  In fact astrologers have done exactly that for millennia. We can project Strauss and Howe’s model forward and learn…what? That there will be a crisis in the near future and that the current generation will solve it to the best of their abilities (presuming they aren’t screw-ups like the Civil War generation).  That doesn’t seem very profound or useful.  Macrohistory is a treacherous window.  It is so large that a well-meaning scholar can find anything in it.  I haven’t given up on differentiating groups of people by age, but seeing how silly such a game can quickly become provides a salutary lesson to proceed through the ages with care.

George Washington (1732 – 1799) “Nomad”

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