Trump Could Be Nominee and That’s Not Good

Donald TrumpAlan Abramowitz emailed Paul Krugman with nine reasons why he now thinks that Donald Trump just might become the Republican nominee for president. The details don’t much matter. Really it comes down to this: Trump is way ahead in the polls. The only “establishment” candidate likely to be able to catch him is Marco Rubio. No one really takes Ben Carson seriously — and for very good reason: he is a nutcase, and that becomes clearer and clearer every day. Other than the Christian nationalists, he has no base. So it really does look like a race between Trump and the even worse Ted Cruz.

Krugman noted this should come as no surprise. Why should the Republican establishment think that its base of voters would “be reasonable” about who they flock to. That very establishment has pushed a domestic policy of “death panels!” and a foreign policy of “Benghazi!” Thus, we have two kinds of Republican candidates: people who are crazy and people who pretend to be crazy to get elected. As Krugman said, “Primary voters are expected to respect that?” Actually, I think it is worse. How are primary voters even supposed to know the difference. From their perspective, the “establishment” candidates are just the ones who seem less authentic.

Ted CruzUnder normal circumstances, a Trump or Cruz Republican nominee would be a good thing for Democrats. But I can’t help remembering that a lot of liberals were pleased when the Republicans nominated Ronald Reagan in 1980. “The people will never elect a McCarthyite freak like that!” Well, they did. And in a landslide. Will the American people, in their good sense, elect Donald Trump or Ted Cruz? Under the right circumstances, absolutely. This is one of the reasons I’ve been saying for years that the best thing for the Democratic Party is if the Republican Party started acting like a normal political party and less like a revolutionary power.

Let’s look at the political science of it. I expect the economy to continue to improve for the next year. The Federal Reserve may screw that up, but I’m betting not. Given that, the Democrats have a huge advantage in winning the presidency. If the economy tanks, the election will be the Republicans to lose — pretty much regardless of who they nominate. But my great concern is how the Democrats could lose the 2016 election, even with an improving economy. Sadly, it wouldn’t be that hard.

Political scientist Lynn Vavreck explains what needs to happen in her book, The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns. Most presidential elections are about the economy. So if the 2016 election is about the economy and it is doing well, the Democrats win the election. I’ll bet a thousands dollars on that right now, and I am neither a rich nor a betting man. But if Trump or Cruz become the Republican nominee, they may not make the election about the economy. Obviously, what an election is about is not entirely up to the candidates. But they would both push immigration and terrorism. And if they could get the country to care about that and talk about that, they could win. It wouldn’t be a large win — it would be a squeaker. But it wouldn’t matter; it would still be a win.

Still, would that work? There is a second part of Vavreck’s analysis: the issue that Trump or Cruz would run on would have to be one that the Democrat would be vulnerable on. Let’s assume the Democrat is Clinton. I don’t see her all that vulnerable. Sure, when ten Republican candidates stand on a stage by themselves, they take it for granted that she’s been a terrible Secretary of State. But I don’t think that’s generally believed. If anything, most Americans think Clinton is a bit too much of a hawk.

The main thing is that a Trump or Cruz candidacy throws a random element into the campaign. Regardless who the Republicans nominate, I will be nervous for the next year.

Why Do We Take Sam Harris Seriously?

Sam HarrisOver at Raw Story, Tom Boggioni reported on an amazing interview that Sam Harris recently gave. We all knew that the Paris attacks would make Harris more offensive than usual. But he is definitely upping his game. You’d almost think that he was running for president as a Republican. You may remember back a few years, Harris claimed that the Europeans “who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.” He likes these kinds of claims and then nitpicks those who claim that he is siding with fascists or whoever it is he is talking about at that point.

Well, in this recent interview with Douglas Murray, Harris asked and answered his own question, “What percentage of Christians will be jihadists or want to live under Sharia law? Zero.” Well, given that Sharia law is the basic Islamic legal system, that’s not too surprising. There are lots and lots of American Christians who want to implement Biblical law. This is the kind of sloppy mistake that Harris would never make if discussing an issue that he was not blinded by because of his hatred and fear. In general, I’ve found Harris to be a fairly smart guy. I found his article length book Free Will quite good. But if the discussion is Islam, there is no amount of nonsense that he won’t haul out to achieve his predetermined conclusions.

This was said in defense of Ted Cruz and his preference for Christians. But as is always the case with Harris, he claims to be making a fine tuned argument, “I hope you understand that I am expressing no sympathy at all with Ted Cruz’s politics or with Ted Cruz.” Yes, no sympathy for Ted Cruz’s politics — just his policies regarding Muslims? I’m not sure what to make of that. I think what he is really getting at is that the process by which Ted Cruz gets to his bigotry is different from the process Sam Harris uses. Cruz gets there by being a “religious maniac.” Harris gets there through his special blend of pure logic and fearlessness in the face of PC criticism. Because if you listen to him, his argument for why other intellectuals don’t agree with him is always just that his detractors let their manners get in the way of their clarity of thought.

But the big moment was when Harris compared Ben Carson and Noam Chomsky:

Given a choice between Noam Chomsky and Ben Carson, in terms of the totality of their understanding of what’s happening now in the world, I’d vote for Ben Carson every time. Ben Carson is a dangerously deluded religious imbecile, Ben Carson does not — the fact that he is a candidate for president is a scandal — but at the very least he can be counted on to sort of get this one right. He understands that jihadists are the enemy.

This is typical of Harris in that he isn’t actually saying that he would vote for Carson over Chomsky. He’s saying that regarding this one issue. But given how much Harris cares about this stuff, you would have to wonder. Regardless, I know that Harris will make a big deal out of people claiming that he said he would vote for Carson over Chomsky, and he clearly did not say that. I don’t care. The issue is not who he would or wouldn’t vote for. He said that that Carson understands these geopolitics better than Noam Chomsky. That’s one of the most fatuous claims I’ve ever heard. You don’t have to agree with Chomsky to see that.

Noam ChomskyWhat’s more, he’s simply wrong to say that Chomsky doesn’t understand that the jihadists are the enemy. Chomsky’s been very clear about that. The fact that Chomsky sees the jihadists in a broader context that is nuanced is only a reflection of the fact that Harris is wrong to say that Carson understands what is happening now better than Chomsky. It’s all just amazing and I do not think I have ever thought so lowly of Sam Harris. I didn’t think he was capable of making such an obviously unjustified claim.

This raises a really important question for me, “Why does anyone listen to Sam Harris on such matters?” He has nothing more to say on geopolitics than Dick Cheney does. In fact, he has the same things to say, as well. He shouldn’t be taken seriously. He’s nothing but an ideologue who continues to push us to do things that have not only hurt us internationally but also domestically. The opportunity costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars — not to mention the “war on terror” — have been enormous. We have wasted trillions of dollars that we could have invested in our people and our infrastructure. And the result of wasting all that money has probably been worse than a wash in terms of the state of terrorism in the world.

I could go on and on. Harris’ reasoning is totally messed up. His ideology is bankrupt. I think there is a lot of psychology going on here, because in his highly publicized email “debate” with Chomsky, Sam Harris came off as an idiot except to all his worshipful fans. But the main thing is that I see no reason to pay attention to Sam Harris anymore. I’m sure he won’t miss me. There’s a lot more money in appealing to people’s hatred and fear. Appealing to people like me would lose him far more readers. But it’s sad for a man who certainly thinks of himself as a serious intellectual.

Morning Music: Over the River…

Lydia Maria ChildThis is a very hard week for me. For one thing, I have to go out of town and I’m super busy even while feeling under the weather. And then we have a week’s worth of songs that I don’t especially like. Today I thought I would feature, “Over the River and Through the Wood.” It is based on a poem by Lydia Maria Child. She was an amazing person and so we ought to honor her. But the poem does not exactly inspire me.

Since I am the son of two black sheep, I don’t exactly relate to the song. We almost never visited relatives when I was a kid. And when we did, I mostly remember people arguing. But that is the way of my people. There is nothing worth saying that it is not worth saying loudly and angrily. This may be how it is that I developed a feisty writing style, but am in person very quiet and non-confrontational.

Anyway, I went through dozens of versions of this song and could find almost nothing that didn’t make me suicidal. But I did find this very nice and short ukulele version from Fingerstyle Ukulele Uke Channel. It’s actually pleasant. It could have gone on for another few minutes:

Anniversary Post: Battle of Triangle Hill

Battle of Triangle HillOn this day in 1952, the Battle of Triangle Hill was ended. It had been going on for a month and a half and the end result was: nothing. No territorial gains on either side. Well, nothing! Thousands dead. It’s kind of like the war as a whole. It ended pretty much where it started. Yet when I was growing up, it was presented as a war that we had won. That was when we were still fighting the Vietnam War and victor was just another bombing raid away.

It’s surreal to look back and see how in grammar school, we were all taught these lies of American supremacy. I’m sure that the Soviet Union was not teaching its children any more propaganda than we were getting fed. I mean, what was the War of 1812? It was at best a standoff, and that’s just because England was involved in a far bigger fight. It’s all so crazy. Most of our wars ended in muddles. Yet today, conservatives look back on World War II as though it were the way wars are supposed to be. And let’s be frank, if it weren’t for Stalin, that war in the Pacific would have ended in a muddle.

The entire history of humanity shows that we should do everything we can to avoid war. The world is too filled with people like Michael Gerson who want war at all cost — but for other people. So keep the Battle of Triangle Hill in mind the next time you think we ought to go to war. It is the perfect reminder that war accomplishes very little but death.