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Grading on a curve

[ 136 ] July 22, 2016 |

curve

Donald Trump hasn’t lowered the bar in regard to political discourse in America: he’s drilled a hole halfway to the center of the Earth and thrown that bar down it.

So last night, when he didn’t call Obama the N word, or grab the ass of his daughter who he has more than once said he would like to have sex with (he just came awfully close), or suggest rounding up American Muslims and deporting them to Madagascar, he got a kind of credit for showing some restraint.

Although pretty much everybody agreed that as delivered the speech was interminable and boring and way too shouty, plenty of not-stupid people also described it as “powerful,” at least in its paper form.

This is grading on the Trump curve. Here’s a characteristic passage:

Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims. I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon, and I mean very soon, come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored.

This is pure cult of personality stuff. Besides relying on an exact inversion of the truth (violent crime in America is at historically low levels), it also indulges in unabashed magical thinking: the speech did not include any indication of how this miraculous overnight transformation of the world’s third-largest country was going to be achieved.

The whole thing was like that. The speech’s only message was: you are scared children, I am your stern but lovable daddy, and I will make it all better, don’t ask me how. Authoritarianism for Dummies, in other words.

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The big speech

[ 175 ] July 21, 2016 |

There’s a draft of Trump’s speech making the rounds, and according to both Chris Hayes and Ross Douthat it’s something of a straight reboot of Pat Buchanan’s infamous “cultural war” speech from the 1992 convention:

Trump speech tonight is the *full* Buchanan. Very very dark, dystopic. Straight up nationalism no chaser.

Ross Douthat ‏@DouthatNYT 34m34 minutes ago
If the draft I’m seeing is right, the speech is basically Buchananism without religion.

A couple of thoughts:

I’m actually surprised by this. What I expected was for at least Trump’s script to be somewhat toned down, so that whoever is currently playing David Broder in this bad political novel we’re now living in could burble about DJT’s new mature and statesman-like approach, his timely pivot toward the center, and so forth. Whether he would stick to that script during the speech would be another matter, as Trump obviously has trouble doing so — he gets bored very easily, he wants nothing less than pure adulation from his most rabid admirers, he loves to ad-lib etc.

But apparently even the prepared script is pretty hair-raising. If that’s correct, it would be irresponsible not to speculate regarding what’s really going on. I’m just throwing this out there: Could Trump be trying to extort the GOP powers that be to get him quit the race for the right price? If he gives a speech that makes it perfectly obvious that he’s not going to even try to pursue an electoral strategy that will be anything less than a full-on disaster, could this be interpreted as a kind of opening bid?

The reason I don’t think this is impossible is that I think there’s a non-trivial chance that Trump doesn’t even really want to be POTUS when you get right down to it (It is a real job after all, which requires sitting in meetings all day and other things he has no patience for).

Of course there are lots of alternative explanations, such as that Trump is stupid and vain enough to think that what works with the most unhinged elements of the GOP base will work well in the general. Or maybe it’s all a bait and switch and the “real” speech will be all semi-moderate and stuff, after he has caused a panic with a fake leaked document. Really anything is possible with this guy, so who knows? But everybody will be watching, which at bottom is no doubt ultimately what this has always been about.

You give *one* Nazi salute to a national television audience and the PC crowd is all over you

[ 139 ] July 21, 2016 |

li

I mean come on, it’s not like she explicitly called for the extermination of the untermenschen. (I didn’t see the speech but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt).

BTW it turns out the Nazis more or less lifted that concept from this guy, immortalized in The Great Gatsby:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we ——”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California —” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and ——” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “— And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more.

The emperor of the world

[ 217 ] July 21, 2016 |

trump

Jane Mayer’s portrait of Donald Trump via an in-depth interview with Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, is must reading. What emerges is a genuinely terrifying picture of a narcissistic sociopath with severe attention deficit issues to boot:

“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

Schwartz sees Trump’s presidential run as the logical endpoint of the junkie’s search for ever-higher doses for his fix:

Schwartz reminded himself that he was being paid to tell Trump’s story, not his own, but the more he worked on the project the more disturbing he found it. In his journal, he describes the hours he spent with Trump as “draining” and “deadening.” Schwartz told me that Trump’s need for attention is “completely compulsive,” and that his bid for the Presidency is part of a continuum. “He’s managed to keep increasing the dose for forty years,” Schwartz said. After he’d spent decades as a tabloid titan, “the only thing left was running for President. If he could run for emperor of the world, he would.”

Trump emerges as a compulsive liar and an ignorant, utterly out of control narcissist, who reads nothing but his own press clippings (it’s doubtful that he’s ever read a book as an adult). He does watch a lot of TV though.

In a perfect denouement to Mayer’s story, Trump took the time in the midst of the convention that is crowning him king of the Republican party to order one of his lawyers fire off a ludicrous cease and desist letter to Schwartz. In his typical fashion, Trump had his mouthpiece bluster about Schwartz’s supposedly defamatory statements, without bothering to specify any, while making farcical demands that the lawyer, assuming he has a triple digit IQ, is well aware are both legally frivolous and have zero chance of drawing any response other than derision.

As a few Russian novelists have observed, people can get used to anything with time, but we shouldn’t get inured to the astounding fact that this disgraceful joke of a human being is now the Republican candidate for president of the United States, and therefore has a non-trivial chance of becoming the most powerful man in world.

Mystery science theater 2016

[ 49 ] July 20, 2016 |

cheshire cat

After reading Shakezula’s post regarding Meredith McIver’s self-defenestration in re Melania Trump’s speech I was curious about what sort of person would be employed to “write” this sort of text. I don’t claim to have ninja-like Google skills but . . . does Meredith McIver actually, you know, exist? I can’t find any real evidence that she does. Perhaps others can.

Does the party of Trump have a future?

[ 229 ] July 20, 2016 |

gyre

Jeet Heer points out that the GOP is now the party of Trump:

Trump likes to claim that his campaign isn’t just about himself, but is now a “movement” beyond his control. This is accurate. While Trump has displayed remarkable political instincts in figuring out what GOP voters wanted in their heart of hearts, he hasn’t created those voters. To borrow a distinction from the philosopher Sidney Hook, Trump is not an event-making man so much an eventful one: a man who caught the rising tide of a moment.

The rising tide that Trump caught was a wave of anger within a GOP base that is infuriated by the direction America is heading in and by the way party elites promise to reverse trends like Obamacare, but never do. Among these angry GOP voters, it’s an article of faith that Democratic presidents have no legitimacy, that the Clintons are corrupt and Obama is a foreigner. What makes the base implacably petulant is the fact that these illegitimate politicians keep winning elections. And the best explanation for why they win is that the GOP elite is craven, that they were unwilling to challenge Obama on his supposed foreign birth or to jail the Clintons for their corruption. . .

Trump’s approach to politics has become squarely mainstream in his party. The Trumpification of the GOP is not likely to go away soon. It’s rooted in some fundamental demographic facts that the party has been struggling with for decades: that it’s increasingly a party of old white people in a nation that is becoming more diverse. Even if Trump loses by a blowout in November, the party is likely to become even more Trumpified because the #NeverTrump people will have left the party—or at least become inactive—while the politicians and activists who are most responsive to his message will have stayed on. That’s how Barry Goldwater conservatism continued to be a force after his epic defeat of 1964, and it’s likely to replicate itself with Trumpism. Like it or not, the GOP will be the Party of Trump for many years to come.

This seems to me correct: the National Review types who view Trump as some sort of momentary cultural aberration — a product of a nation perversely besotted by reality TV celebrities or what have you — are delusional. Indeed, Trump’s takeover of the GOP is overwhelmingly ideological, rather than a product of slick marketing and/or personal charisma. Trump himself is a horrible politician in every technical sense of the word, as illustrated by the farcical mess in Cleveland this week. He is an amateurish buffoon, a walking series of punch lines, an ignoramus of staggering proportions — it’s doubtful he could pass a high school civics exam — and so obviously unqualified by any conceivable metric for the presidency that his nomination continues to feel like a surreal joke.

But for the moment the joke’s on America. Which leads to the question of where all this is going, historically speaking

In this regard, it’s important not to over-emphasize what happens in November. Whether Trump gets blown out, loses a reasonably close election, or actually wins will be in large part a product of idiosyncratic factors such as the identity of his opponent, salient current events, etc., that won’t be repeated in future presidential elections, let alone in other national and local contests. Heer’s allusion to Goldwater in 1964 is a reminder that a blowout presidential loss provides an opportunity to draw exactly the wrong conclusion about the long term significance of a single presidential election.

So, does a movement that at the moment is largely driven by resentful old white people have a long term electoral future? The relevant demographics would suggest that it doesn’t, at least not in regard to presidential politics.

There is, however, a very big on the other hand, which is precisely that Trump has gotten this far despite being by all conventional measures a complete joke of a candidate. What happens when a real politician decides to try to step into the Donald’s oversized clown shoes?

Now the counter to this I suppose is that a large part of Trump’s appeal may be related to the fact that he’s not a politician at all. So perhaps Paul Ryan et. al. can’t just hijack Trump’s remarkably successful exploitation of ethno-nationalist rage and fear, while adding conventional features such as a campaign infrastructure and a candidate who knows what an administrative agency is. But it’s still a disturbing possibility that Trumpism without Trump himself could be considerably more dangerous to the country.

So the Republican party is now the party of Trump, but does that party have a real future in presidential and/or national politics? Or will the GOP go the way of the Whigs before some other rough beast slouches toward Washington to be born?

The theme of tonight’s festivities is “Make America Work Again”

[ 93 ] July 19, 2016 |

trainwreck

And that’s an order. Headlining the all-star roster of speakers:

Tiffany Trump

Kerry Woolard

Donald Trump Jr.

Dr. Ben Carson

Shelley Moore Capito

Kimberlin Brown

Consider this an open thread.

This is actually happening

[ 142 ] July 19, 2016 |

Plagiarism? What about Rick Rolling???

Sure, Melania did not follow up with “he will never run around or desert you,” but if the allusion to Rick Astley’s classic “Never Gonna Give You Up” was accidental, that’s one hell of a coincidence.

The most symptomatic feature of all this is the sheer laziness involved. It’s like the “team of speechwriters” — probably one pretty drunk guy at 11:45 Sunday night — realized at the last second that the paper was due and he hadn’t written a word. So he literally googled “first lady speeches,” and threw some 80s MTV heavy rotation lyrics in for filler when he needed to punch things up a little.

Also, Chris Christie:

“You heard the speech from Melania Trump and you heard portions and remember portions of Michelle Obama‘s speech from 2008. You’re a former prosecutor, could you make the case for plagiarism?” asked Today show host Matt Lauer

Not when 93% of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama’s speech, and they expressed some common thoughts,” Christie argued.

OK they’re definitely throwing this thing.

Some LGMers under oh I don’t know 50 might not remember Scott Baio

[ 224 ] July 18, 2016 |

scott baio

Those of us on the wrong side of that number might recall him as the star of the Happy Days spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi, although I confess I never saw that show myself, to the best of my recollection, as they used to say at the HUAC hearings. I do have a (extremely fuzzy) memory of seeing this however:

And if you’re wondering how that happened, you might want to review this text:

Anyway I don’t know about you but I’m going to watch this, or at least DVR it. I suspect Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair may turn out to be the Gettysburg Address by comparison, but it could be great in its own special way.

What counts as a terrorist attack?

[ 141 ] July 15, 2016 |

nice

Apparently if you’re Muslim, that’s now enough evidence for even the staid and cautious New York Times:

The toll of a terrorist attack on a Bastille Day fireworks celebration in the southern French city of Nice rose on Friday to 84 dead and 202 injured, as the government identified the attacker as a 31-year-old native of Tunisia, extended a national state of emergency and absorbed the shock of a third major terrorist attack in 19 months.

“We will not give in to the terrorist threat,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Friday morning after a cabinet meeting led by President François Hollande. “The times have changed, and France is going to have to live with terrorism.” . . .,

Mr. Bouhlel had a history of petty crime, including burglary and theft, and received a six-month suspended sentence in March for assaulting a motorist during an altercation. “He is totally unknown to the intelligence services, both locally and nationally,” Mr. Molins said, and he had never appeared in any terrorism-related government database. [emphasis supplied]

French television station BFM TV reported that he was a divorced father-of-three who had become depressed following the breakdown of his marriage. . .

Neighbours described Bouhel as a depressed – sometimes aggressive – man who was not particularly interested in religion, and kept to himself.

They said that he had been unhappy since he divorced his wife two years ago, and that he suffered from financial problems.

Those who lived near him said he had been “depressed and unstable, even aggressive” of late. They put this down to his “marital and financial problems”.

One told BFM TV he was “more into women than religion”.

“He (didn’t) pray and like(d) girls and Salsa,” according to BFM’s crime correspondent.

One 40-year-old neighbour, who would only give her first name Jasmine, said: “He was rude and bit weird.

“We would hold the door open for him and he would just blank [us]. He kept himself to himself but would always rant about his wife. He had marital problems and would tell people in the local cafe. He scared my children though.”

Of course it’s possible that this will end up being terrorism-related, but at this point the evidence for that “fact” seems to consist of the killer’s name.

Remedial Econ 101 For Dummies, Special Legal Academic Edition

[ 64 ] July 15, 2016 |

Updated below

gilded age

You may remember University of Chicago law professor Todd Henderson from such classic essays as “Why it’s really hard for an upper middle class family to scrape by on $400,000 per year in Hyde Park [Spoiler: Thanks Obama!].”

Now Henderson is explaining why lawyer salaries are skyrocketing:

In early June, the prestigious Manhattan law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, announced it was raising the average salary for newly minted law graduates by nearly 13% to $180,000 per year. As expected, many of its competitors have followed suit, with some, such as Washington, D.C.-based Kellogg Huber, offering as much as $225,000. That 25-year-old lawyers with no experience can immediately be in the top 5% of U.S. earners (and within ten years in the top 1%) has generated some outrage, as well as claims that such salaries are needed to help overcome the high cost of law school.

But don’t blame these lawyers or the law schools. Lawyer salaries are driven by supply and demand, just like everything else. According to data from CEB, the average hourly rate charged by major law firm partners nearly doubled since 2000, while average hourly wages for both blue-collar and white-collar workers have increased less than 20%. Lawyer pay has also outpaced economic growth, which has averaged less than 1% per year in real terms over this period.

So what’s wrong? On the supply side, the American Bar Association operates a state-approved cartel, which uses a licensing regime to artificially limit the supply of legal services. In a recent white paper, the White House came out against occupational licensing in general, and breaking the ABA cartel would be a good first step in addressing the staggering growth in lawyer pay.

This is followed by a bunch of bog-standard glibertarian musings about how, in addition to the ABA cartel propping up lawyer salaries, Dodd-Frank etc. is driving up the cost of doing business, “perhaps” unnecessarily. How seriously should this sort of critique be taken?

It amazes me that at this late date people like Henderson (and there are still a lot of legal academics like him) can opine so confidently on things that they know nothing about. His views do tell us something about why the cost of legal education is so out of control, however.

I’m not trying to be rude here, but citing the growth in starting salaries at Cravath and the average hourly rate charged by major law firm partners for the proposition that ABA-created barriers to entry are propping up lawyer salaries is just astoundingly ignorant. It’s the equivalent of citing the growth in starting salaries for tenure track professors at Princeton and compensation packages of university presidents for the proposition that requiring university faculty to have doctorates is propping up academic salaries.

Henderson is using 2000 as his baseline, so let’s take a quick look at the numbers:

Median wage for all workers, 2000 (2014$): $28,811

Median wage for all workers, 2014: $28,851

So median wages for American workers have been completely flat over the past 15 years, while those of lawyers have seen staggering growth, because of a cartel that makes Ayn Rand cry. Not quite:

Median wage for lawyers, 2000 (2015$): $121,509

Median wage for lawyers, 2015: $115,820

Note that these are the numbers for wage-earning lawyers. For the majority of self-employed lawyers, earnings have declined more: the mean wage — the median is certainly a lot lower — for solo practitioners (half of all lawyers in private practice are solos) fell from $71,000 to $49,000 between 1989 and 2012, in constant dollars.

And note further that these two groups together don’t represent the earnings of law school graduates, 40% of which never have any sort of career practicing law.

Henderson’s perspective comes from assuming that the short-term economic prospects of the graduates of elite law schools provide a good guide to the state of lawyer compensation, which in turn provides evidence for the effects of regulatory licensing regimes on salaries. It’s nonsense piled on nonsense in other words.

It does help explain why law schools keep jacking up tuition three times faster than the rate of inflation year after year, however. I mean why not, if everybody is going to be a partner at Cravath?

Updated: Prof. Henderson has tweeted:

Sad response to @Forbes piece: ad hominem attack; arguing against position I didnt take http://goo.gl/0ES4ny U can do better @PaulFCampos
8:13 AM – 15 Jul 2016

The position in his piece is that over the past 15 years salaries for lawyers have gone up far faster than those of American workers in general, because of the supposed cartel power of the ABA (and too many regulations).

The problem with this argument is that lawyer salaries over that time frame have declined in constant dollars, and also relative to those of American workers in general. I’m not sure how pointing that out is an ad hominem attack, unless reminding people about his absurd whinging about his own salary counts.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs

[ 417 ] July 14, 2016 |

moreno

. . . then maybe you don’t quite understand the nature of the situation:

Hillary Clinton has emerged from the F.B.I. investigation into her email practices as secretary of state a wounded candidate with a large and growing majority of voters saying she cannot be trusted, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

As Mrs. Clinton prepares to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination at the convention in Philadelphia this month, she will confront an electorate in which 67 percent of voters say she is not honest and trustworthy. That number is up five percentage points from a CBS News poll conducted last month, before the F.B.I. released its findings.

Mrs. Clinton’s six-percentage-point lead over the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, in a CBS News poll last month has evaporated. The two candidates are now tied in a general election matchup, the new poll indicates, with each receiving the support of 40 percent of voters.

Mr. Trump is also distrusted by a large number of voters — 62 percent — but that number has stayed constant despite increased scrutiny on his business record and falsehoods in his public statements and Twitter messages.

But Mrs. Clinton’s shifting and inaccurate explanations of her email practices at the State Department appear to have resonated more deeply with the electorate.

I’m not saying it’s time to panic (polls four months before the election generally don’t mean much; the electoral map is still very favorable to Clinton etc.), but:

(1) Assume Trump has a 25% chance of winning, which is probably in the ballpark. In one sense those are long shot odds for a major party candidate. In another sense, a 25% chance of your house burning down in the next four months is . . . worrisome.

(2) The email “scandal” is largely if not completely fake, but it’s also incredibly exasperating (much like the Clintons themselves), because it was such a totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound.

(3) The fact that Donald Trump has a non-trivial chance of being the next president of the United States is still too surreal of a fact for this correspondent to absorb, even though I was calling this a year ago.

Oh well there’s always beer. Also I’m eligible for EU citizenship so there’s that.

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