How does Trump actually compare with Hitler?

Donald Trump is not Hitler.

Lots and lots of people on the Left go on and on about how he is Hitler, about how fighting Trump is as righteous as fighting Hitler, about how he’s fascist, about how he’s a white supremacist, yada yada yada.  Sorry, no.  Not even close.

Hitler published a book of his intentions before coming to power in which he said what he was going to do, and by and large it was a good guide for what he tried to do.  Donald Trump has a couple of mediocre and probably ghostwritten books about business, which talk chiefly about dealmaking.  If you were going to try to find the least Hitleresque approach to forming relationships that there is, “negotiation” would surely have to be up there at the top.  Can you imagine Hitler writing a book titled The Art of the Deal?  No, it was the narcissistic “My Struggle” (that’s what Mein Kampf means).  Can you imagine Hitler negotiating with Mexico?  No, sir– he took over weak neighbors.  The only negotiating he did was with strong ones, like Russia or England.

Hitler made German law more or less whatever he willed, becoming supreme dictator.  Donald Trump has done nothing at all to take away the power of Congress or state and local governments.  Hitler militarized Germany and created new secret police loyal to him.  Trump can’t even control the FBI.  Hitler otherized Jews, gay people, Gypsies, Christian Scientists and so on, took their property away, took their rights away, had them rounded up and put in concentration camps, and butchered them in vast numbers.  Trump kissed black babies, put a gay-pride banner on his lectern, loves Mexican food, and so on.  (Try imagining Hitler doing that to the people least like himself in 1930s Germany.)  Trump has done absolutely nothing to persecute Americans.  True, he has pushed for the Wall and urged a strong stance on illegal immigration, but that’s pretty mainstream, to the point where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were urging it not that long ago.  (Both voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, establishing a physical barrier along hundreds of miles of our border with Mexico.)  Sure, his government has separated illegal-immigrant families temporarily, but there aren’t many, it caused a scandal, and at that rate he’ll only catch up to Hitler in a couple hundred years.

The ironic thing is that in the thing that has caused all this hyperbole– a superficial extrapolation of the historical situation that led to his rise– there is a valid parallel: the degree of populist rage with the powerful.

Even in the years leading up to the 2016 election you could see that sort of thing in the rise of Occupy Wall Street on the Left and the Tea Party on the Right, though it shocked a lot of people that it would go as far as Brexit or Trump’s election.  (Nor do we now know how far it will go.)  In shock, 2016 itself resembled nothing so much as the Great Peasants’ Revolt that followed the Reformation, though thankfully without violence.  Released by Martin Luther’s fracture of the Catholic Church from hundreds of years’ worth of tension created by “a corrupt Latin-droning popery”, as Herman Wouk put it, hundreds of thousands of German peasants rioted and pillaged, before being put down violently.  “Only Luther, before Hitler,” wrote Wouk, “ever so wholly spoke with the national voice to release plugged-up national rage”.  But today, instead of raging against some modern-day analogue to the perennial scapegoats of Europe, the Jews, who were demonized by both Luther and Hitler, or some analogue to the victors of World War I, who had imposed swingeing reparations requirements on Germany in punishment for the first war, the Trumpist rebels were revolting against the rulers of their own country: corrupt -ism-spouting Mandarins imposing both a morality artificial and alien to many ordinary Americans, and self-serving economic arrangements on a country that in a two-party system captured by elites had never really had the opportunity to vote in a referendum about either.  Popular culture managed to sell this arrangement for a while, but could not maintain it in the face of technological change and the Left’s neverending ambition.


Trump himself will pass from the scene in one way or another, but the Overton Window is well and truly broken, and the elites will not be able to fix it any time soon.  Including at some point among people on the Left who despise and oppose Trump, America will be on its guard against attempts to steer talk away from “undiscussable” issues.  The Left’s best chance to recapture the cultural hegemony it enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century will be by influencing companies like Google or Facebook– but there is already pushback against their influence there.  The Democrats will return to power at some point, because that’s just the way it works.  But, as is always the case in democratic history, the real question will be “who won the arguments?”

Return of the 1950s

In putting it on Twitter, I was just rereading a recent post, in which I said, “I get the feeling that what the 1950s are to economic liberals– a supposed golden era that will surely never return– the 2000s will be to social liberals.”

The problem with that is that if Trump’s supporters get their way and high tariffs become a regular thing, the 1950s will in some limited degree return.

The 1950s were a unique time.  The world was still recovering from the destruction of World War II, leaving us the main supplier of finished goods for the world.  In other countries, the knowledge of manufacturing techniques was limited; they were not yet the competitors they now are.  But that decade was also before the effects of free trade on law.  International capital flows was one effect of globalization.  Even countries that did not, like England, try to prevent people from taking capital out of the country were not terribly friendly to international capital flows.  But law was also much more direct and ancient about trade: tariffs were much more common and better thought-of back then.  So were unions, which are in their essence a form of protectionism.

Even if anyone wanted to destroy the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world, even if anyone could, and less still could be done to take away the rest of the world’s knowledge of manufacturing.  But free trade is very much on its heels right now.  No one has discussed restricting international flows of capital yet, since it’s too dry and Byzantine for populism, but it might happen.  If so, and if tariffs do return to their mid-century popularity, the circles of politics and economics in a Venn diagram of America will return toward the high degree of overlap they had in the 1950s.

And when that happens, the impact of votes upon economics will rise– and unions are likely to return to some degree.

History’s greatest emotional spat

I was just having a debate online about Brexit.  My opponent’s position was that Brexiteers were stupid because the economic consequences of it were far more complex than anyone thought they would be, and yet they voted for it anyway.

Rationality deals poorly with emotions, especially when it thinks it shouldn’t have to deal with them at all.  By my argument opponent’s train of logic, all you would have to do to make some union permanent would be to make things so intertwined, so complex, that they could not be un-done without extreme measures and sophistication, on a par with that which created it.  Eternal victory through mandarinism!  But it makes no sense.  In a revolution, whether peaceful or violent, you don’t have to have all the details worked out for the new government before you pull down the old.  It might be better to, and the new one might turn out to be worse than what it replaced– the Czars didn’t kill tens of millions of their own people– but revolutions– the build-up and release of previously unseen or underestimated economic, social or political forces– are sudden by nature.

Now, Brexit was a fight over policy, and major arguments about policy usually boil down to first principles.  The first principle in question here is “what is the public good?”  If good means low prices, then at first free trade is nothing but good, because everyone has the low prices with their existing incomes, and everyone feels a lot richer.  But soon the economy shifts and reaches a new point of equilibrium.  People who were producing things that are now produced much more cheaply outside the country have so much more competition.  Their incomes drop, and so does their happiness, unless equivalent jobs appear to make up the difference.  They haven’t.

But if by contrast “good” means the greatest happiness of the most people, though, that calls for a more complex set of governmental policies.  Apart from lifestyle factors like exercise, watching what you eat and avoiding excesses in drugs, happiness seems to be evoked– to the extent that it can be– by social trust and human connections and meaningful work paying enough.  Almost never do free traders acknowledge that free trade in goods supports those ends unevenly at best.  Free trade enriches people whose jobs aren’t subject to overseas competition.  Same income + lower cost of living = increase in net margin = increase in wealth.  But as mentioned above, it impoverishes those people whose incomes, after all economic adjustments, have gone down by a greater percentage than the cost of living has.   Lower cost of living (at first) + much lower income = decrease in net margin = major political problem.

You may have noted that “at first” part of the last two paragraphs.  Being my usual heretical self, I think free trade in goods isn’t nearly as good as it at first seems to be.  At first glance it seems like nothing but good, right?  Fewer hours worked for everyone, to pay for any given good!  The problem with this is that in the end what people compete for is other people’s labor, or the labor that goods represent.  That eternal truth is not changed by free trade.  If the labor inherent in goods is lower, both from automation and from the cheaper-overseas-cost-of-living component of goods prices, it doesn’t reduce competition.  It shifts it.  Like squeezing one end of a balloon and seeing the other end bulge out, it forces competition into areas of labor intensity that aren’t subject to overseas competition, such as education and health care (both of which have recently and repeatedly been called bubbles, no surprise).  In the poorest areas of the world where a lack of basic goods is a significant part of their poverty, there’s no trouble– it’s a vast and very real reduction of poverty, and it’s glorious– but in rich places it’s a different kettle of fish.

International free trade in in-person services is even more dubious.  The free migration of workers that Brexiteers could not stomach was that.  Say one thing about free trade in goods; your Chinese-made toaster does not change the character of your neighborhood.  Those families of Polish construction workers and Yugoslav nannies that moved in down the block, on the other hand, do.  Diversity, for all its good qualities, decreases social trust, and that helps destroy happiness.  Equals major political problem.

And that was basically my argument in the debate I mentioned at the beginning.  You can argue about economics.  But you can’t argue about whether people get to have this or that emotion, such as about neighborhood change, and you don’t get to insist that they must not weight their desires more highly than your economics arguments.  And when with bias, erudition and self-serving logic you’ve forced all their arguments into emotional areas, you don’t get to scream at them for their irrationality without being guilty of a lot, yourself.

Swedish democracy

Quillette, which is a publication I’m increasingly fond of for its quality journalism, has published a new piece on Sweden’s election turmoil by one Paulina Neuding.

Basically, the social turmoil that began earlier this decade begot, surprise surprise, an anti-EU and anti-immigrant party called the Sweden Democrats.  As seems to have happened everywhere, the cosmopolitan elite was initially appalled.  The left-wing party, the Social Democrats and the center-right party, the Moderates, are the other two parties there.  Amazingly, what they did in response to a populist but democratic uprising based around ideas that the elites had connived to keep down and out of discussability was…to connive further to keep them out of power.  “The largest of the two minority blocs,” Neuding wrote, “would get to form a government with the passive support of the opposition. [The Sweden Democrats] would thus be kept from influence.”

What the hell are elites thinking?  That all this populism is some sort of temporary spasm, surely– an aberration that will soon go away.  That would be a relief to them.  It’s attractive for other reasons, too.  It would mean that they were right all along, and that they don’t have to change, and it means that they’ll soon get to continue to be ambitious in terraforming Western societies into something that could be approved by your average Women’s Studies program.

There is no evidence that this is anything but 190-proof wishful thinking.  Mismanaged reactions to the grievances of a minority of a population have historically driven unaffiliated people in the population to the other side.  Tories and moderates during the American Revolution were shocked to discover that George III and the elites in his government did not think of them as the Englishmen they considered themselves to be, with all the rights of Englishmen.  They were instead painted with the same brush as the rebels, and were told to shut up and be grateful.  We took the side of the corrupt South Vietnamese government, and lost to a guerrilla movement that could not have operated if ordinary people hadn’t supported it.  Elites today seem to be hosing around “Nazi” and “white supremacist” labels, and that will surely not end well.

The Swedish governing agreement described above was an attempt to disenfranchise a large section of people, instead of compromising with them, and it seems to have shocked more and more people into realizing that there’s some serious substance to the complaints about the elites by the populists.  The Moderates went along with the Social Democrats’ socialist policies.  And outraged conservative Swedes began defecting…to the Sweden Democrats.

Somehow I get the feeling that what the 1950s are to economic liberals– a supposed golden era that will surely never return– the 2000s will be to social liberals.

How many microaggressions can dance on the head of a pin?

It seems to me that the core dilemma of the Western world– let’s assume that many people on the Left still are in favor of freedom of speech and freedom of opinion, no matter how hateful– is how to ditch the extremists on their side without degrading, also, the ideals they began with.  For the Left, that’s fighting racism, sexism, et cetera– in their original definitions.  For sure as anything, the new definitions of those things– the definitions and ever-tinier distinctions, trending toward the question of how many microaggressions can dance on the head of a pin– is corrupting that ideology, and I think the more thoughtful people on the Left can sense that.

In this, they are discovering anew the dilemma that religious people have been struggling with for millennia.  How do you maintain idealism, protecting it from diversion, cooption or perversion by people interested mainly in power, or in getting to feel superior and righteous…or worst of all, both?  (It’s akin to the dilemma of stupid people in a democracy.)

Reheating a soufflé

One thing I am sure of.  Even if the Democrats get their way somehow and get Trump out, regardless of how, there’s not going to be peace so long as the core issues that led to his election remain not satisfactorily addressed.

I do think that if that were to happen, Trump’s supporters would try to find a neo-Trump.  A replacement.  That would be a mistake.  Trump was the right man at the right time for them in 2016, and you can’t just recreate that, like reheating a soufflé.  That’s both the strongest and the weakest part of Trumpism– its ad hoc quality.  It means it’s hard to plan for and hard to know how to defeat, but it’s also a power difficult to focus so as to accomplish precise goals– and it would be hard, if not impossible, to recreate.

The Erebor of Socialism

I was just watching The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.  You know the one.  The dwarves in the Company of Thorin Oakinshield awake and provoke the dragon, and after the dragon dies, shot by a human, a mad violent scramble ensues to get the leavings of his power– the gold and other treasure in Erebor.  Hence the battle.

It’s a very good movie.  It’s perfectly cast (Billy Connolly as Dáin II Ironfoot is my favorite choice specific to this movie– “Would ye consider…JUST SODDING OFF?”), beautifully directed, shot and edited.  This wasn’t my first time watching it.

Most everyone knows, though, that the more you watch a movie, the more you notice different aspects that were obscured by the pure experience of the film that occurs the first time you watch.  Like the way one of the stormtroopers rushing into the Death Star control chamber to confront Threepio and Artoo hits his forehead on the ascending door.  Though the power dynamic in BotFA is just right, with a scramble for pickings after the fall of a major power, the economic contradictions in Tolkien’s whole story, and perhaps most fantasy fiction, are amazing.

It’s assumed– by everyone— that gold is a constant.  It’s treasure.  It’s prosperity.  It’s security.  A perfect MacGuffin.  And yet it never occurs to anyone that the only way it’s any of those things is if other people will provide food, drink, security, comfort, et cetera, in exchange for it.  No one asks, where in this movie are the crops to buy?  Who can the people of Laketown hire to help rebuild their lives?  Fields of grain, lumberyards and vineyards are nowhere in sight in these gorgeous, unspoiled, New Zealandish landscapes.  Nor does their leader Bard think, “Well, what is the use of this much gold when a vast amount more gold lies in that mountain to outcompete whatever share of the gold that we have for the available comforts?  The dwarves are going to outbid us for wine, iron and timber.”  The gold flowing into Spain’s economy from the New World in the 16th and 17th centuries did not increase the economic output– the comforts produced– in Europe.  All it did was increase the amount of gold chasing them.  Which had the predictable effect of a bubble– too much money chasing too few opportunities, as the classic definition runs– and inflation.

In that sense, then, socialism is like the treasure of Erebor, or of Montezuma.  It’s the illusion that a perceived arbitrage exists by which YOU, the voter, can get yourself someone else’s gold (whether by your own violence or the implied violence of government power), someone else’s time and work– but they can’t get yours.

That, after all, would be Unfair.  Just ask any politician of the Left.

The meaning of Trumpism

The meaning of Trumpism is clear.  It’s a paradigm fight.  (How’s that for an unburied lede?)

Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans have been agog and aghast at the degree of enthusiasm generally displayed for Donald Trump by a huge percentage of Americans, and have been mystified by it.  How, they think, apart from mass psychosis, could it be possible that people they thought they knew could so strongly support someone so repulsive on so many levels?  Poor, rural,  working-class voters hailed as one of their own an arrogant New York multimillionaire and hard-edged businessman, a boss.  Evangelicals showed up en masse to strongly support their Satan.   Horses rode men and grass ate cows and cats were chased into holes by the mouse.

Trump’s unique fractal chaos is their desire.  A brutally honest policy platform of theirs might go something like this: “Nothing else can cut apart the Horsemen of our Apocalypse: the cozy political modus vivendi; the rotten previous political parties; the administrative ossification; the Deep State; the self-dealing by elites; the liberal ratchet and the Left’s gleichschaltung over higher education, the media and Hollywood.”  This description does not imply agreement or disagreement by me.  But into their lives, through the rent that 2016 tore in the American polity, the sweet air of ambition has swept.  It’s not only the ambition to decimate the foregoing supposed catalog of the elite paradigm, but the ambition for ambitions of their own.

If you think about it, that’s something the grassroots Right hasn’t had, hasn’t gotten to have, in a long, long time.  The last real ambition I remember them having is school prayer, which is a hope (of theirs, not mine) which hasn’t existed in a long time.  The Left would respond, “But what about tax cuts, regulation cuts and wars?”  Those are things which aren’t actually that conservative, from a grass-roots point of view.  They’re things favored by the Republican leadership, as influenced by Madison Avenue.  Anger at the Republican leadership for having allowed major donors to suck off most of the political capital is, I think, one of the reasons Trump won the nomination, and it took someone as heedless of political donations as Trump to defeat the influence of those donors over Republican policy.  You could argue abortion– but that’s a rollback of the Left’s achieved ambition, and mainly resurgent in the set of “this might actually happen” as a result of the same wave that shattered the previous Overton Window and brought Trump into the Oval Office.

Will they get their ambitions?  Hard to say.  Despite its power Trumpism is an amorphous cloud of discontent, not a precise policy tool.  (As a paradigm it’s no more coherent than he is.)  Some, probably.  Trumpism does have an effect of reversion to the mean, which means the Left will lose (and has lost) some ground.  Nothing, however, is controlling which issues it’ll lose on, or how much.  Entropy may be the Democrats’ friend, as the energy of Trumpist discontent spins off into the Void.

Just because you’re paranoid…

All this talk about Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist that Facebook recently banned from its site, makes me think of Ernest Hemingway.

In his later years Hemingway could not be made to shut up about the conspiracies about himself.  He was being persecuted, he said, by the FBI.  They had gotten the IRS to pursue and harass him.  They had bugged his house and his car.  They were following him and dwelling on his every word and action.  Out at a restaurant, he told embarrassed friends that a couple of strangers there were actually FBI agents who had been watching him for years, though the restaurant owner said they were only hunters who returned to Idaho, and his eatery, every year.  Hemingway’s wife finally started him on electroshock treatments to try to help.  As the world knows, Hemingway took his own life not long afterwards.

In the 1990s, however, the FBI coughed up Hemingway’s file in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.  Shockingly, it revealed that Hemingway was being persecuted by the FBI, which had sicced the IRS on him.  His house was bugged.  His car was not, though probably if technology had permitted it it would have been.

The two strangers?  FBI agents, who had been posing as hunters for years.  Because they’d been following him for years.  Hoover was guilty of so, so much.

Which is not to say that Alex Jones is right…about anything.  Theories are by definition frequently wrong.  It is to say that, in one of modern life’s more “meta” moments, conspiracy-theorism can itself become a tool of conspirators eager to deflect interest in themselves by mocking the idea.  Probability, on which conspiracy-theorism-as-pejorative relies, often gets it wrong.

Blue Tribe

The Founders wouldn’t want Kavanaugh’s nomination to continue,” argues Laurence Tribe.  Briefly, his argument runs that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh might, if confirmed, be called upon to help decide about evidentiary matters that might affect whether Trump is, if impeached, convicted.

This is a weak argument for several reasons.

First, a hypothetical U.S. v. Trump case that a Justice Kavanaugh would have to help judge relies on the veracity of the claims of someone who sounds pretty untrustworthy to begin with, who is under pressure from prosecutors and likely to be opportunistic.  And let’s be frank: campaign finance violations or paying off women to keep silent (Trump has been paying people off to keep quiet for ages) are a snooze, regardless of the legal technicalities surrounding them.  To most people, the ostensible beneficiaries of the public trust, they are malum prohibitum, in contrast to the malum in se of conniving in the burglary of an opponent’s campaign headquarters.  Is the disconnect not obvious?  Trump had already won the nomination by shocking actions that flew in the face of all the laws of modern politics.  How likely is it that he’d have started thinking these particular women’s stories would derail his election, such that he needed to go out of his usual silence-buying ways to make extra certain they keep quiet?  Buying their silence was probably force of habit.

To return to Tribe’s argument, though, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that Trump could seriously influence a Supreme Court decision with a particular nomination.  Even if Trump managed to choose from a long-established list of extraordinarily well-qualified candidates the one judge most likely to rule in his favor (which would be amazing sophistication for someone as stupid as Trump’s opponents say he is), it is only one vote.  What if otherwise the votes are 4-4?  Well, as in the 2000 and 2016 Presidential elections, your real problem is having it be that close a decision in the first place.  One wonders what Chief Justice Roberts would say to his old law school professor, Laurence Tribe.

It also seems clear that Supreme Court justices feel, if anything, a need to avoid the appearance of partiality toward the Presidents who appointed them.  In the leadup to Nixon’s impeachment, Tribe admits, three of Richard Nixon’s appointees on the Supreme Court voted with their colleagues, 8-0, to force Nixon to surrender the “subpoenaed tapes and documents” making his impeachment more likely, and his fourth appointee, Rehnquist, recused himself.

But that’s different, says Tribe, because politics have gotten so polarized that a similar case today surely would not be unanimous.  Coupled with his argument that the Senate should not take up Kavanaugh’s nomination, that’s tantamount to saying that polarization should actually have Constitutional or legislative significance in itself.  In any case, the country had already gotten pretty polarized by 1994, the year of the “Contract with America“, when Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer eleven days after Paula Jones filed her sexual-harassment lawsuit against him.  At that time there was a decent chance that a serious lawsuit against the President could wind up in the Supreme Court.  Of course, Clinton didn’t think he’d be impeached over his tomcatting, but the point is that neither this appointment nor his previous one (Ruth Bader Ginsburg) made any difference at all to the 1997 Supreme Court decision against him.  Clinton lost, 9-0.

That, in fact, is quite a common result in the Supreme Court, whether involving Presidents or not, and more common, not less, in recent years.  Max Bloom pointed out last year, “The most recent term, in fact, was the least partisan since the middle of the 20th century. Over half of the cases were unanimous, and only 14 percent were decided by a 5–3 or 5–4 split.”  Supreme Court justices are in fact famous for unpredictability and uncontrollability by the Presidents that appoint them, going back at least as far as Eisenhower’s remark that he’d made only two errors as President and both of them were on the Supreme Court.  In terms of precision tools, Supreme Court nominations make boycotts look like laser scalpels.

Furthermore, implying that things ought to be different because they have gotten so polarized begs the question.  Polarization is why Trump is in the White House to begin with, elected by an American public having full knowledge in advance that (in Salena Zito’s words) he has “the morals of an alley cat”.  (Is the policy basis for impeachment the removal of a President that the electorate didn’t intend?)  And if polarization is the bugaboo, how did we reach this sorry state?  To name one reason, because Harvard Law School professors and their logic have very little to do with most Americans these days.

It takes a special brand of Rube Goldberg thinking to go from conjecture to might to possibility to strained argument, though I suppose logical contortions and circumbendibi are an occupational hazard even for law professors who don’t share conspiracy theories about Trump.  Perhaps Tribe should have eschewed his strained logic and simply quoted the Supreme Court justice he clerked for: “I know it when I see it.