Trump –> Armageddon: A Few Scenarios

 

The Sweet Meteor of Death. Credit: @smod2016Yesterday Genferei made a request:

Claire: Try to write a scenario where Trump causes Armageddon. Don’t leave out any steps or resort to hand-waving or amateur psychology or appeals to authority. Don’t forget there are a squillion hangers-on, advisers and career civil servants and/or soldiers involved. Perhaps you’ll convince us. The “I don’t know but it feels scary” isn’t convincing me.

Great question, and exactly why I love Ricochet: Sooner or later, someone’s going to point out exactly where your argument’s a little vague or flabby, and you’ll either tighten up your argument or change your mind, both or which are good outcomes.

It’s going to take me a couple of weeks to make this case, because I want to do this carefully. I don’t want to write a book in a single post, then come back to see all the tl;drs at the end. So here are the the argument I’ll make in the coming weeks, not necessarily exactly in this order:

  1. I’ll argue that a nuclear war, even a limited one, would be a catastrophe for the United States, as would a major global war like the First or Second World War. I’ll also note that we now face a number of other, very serious, national security threats.
  2. I’ll argue that the probability of the outbreak of such a war in the next president’s term or terms is greater than it has been since the end of the Cold War, and greater than at many points during the Cold War. I believe the probability will be unusually high no matter who’s elected president. My argument will be based on fairly standard and widely-accepted theories about why wars among great powers break out.
  3. To draw analogies that may be relevant, I’ll look at the origins of previous great-power conflicts, particularly the First and Second World Wars, but also at other unusually catastrophic and costly wars that broke out among powers akin to the United States and its present-day competitors. (I’ll also explain why I think they’re relevantly similar.)
  4. I may also consider the risk of civil war, and why it might be slightly higher under Trump than other presidents, although I still think it’s quite unlikely.
  5. I’ll describe in some detail the nuclear near-misses of the Cold War, some of which may still be unknown to all of you, and more of which, I’d assume, are unknown to all of us. I’ll see if we can draw relevant conclusions about why these near-misses didn’t become misses. (Tangential: Why do we call it a “near-miss?” Surely we mean a “near-launch?” Anyone know?) I’ll argue that because we’ve been very lucky from 1945 to the present, we tend to underestimate the risk and see such a war as impossible. I’ll argue that it’s not.
  6. I’ll make the argument that in matters of foreign policy and war, the US president is far less constrained by institutional checks and balances than he is in matters of domestic policy. Moreover, the powers of the executive during wartime were markedly enlarged after September 11, and few of these powers have been withdrawn.
  7. I’ll ask how many advisors, staffers, bureaucrats, hangers-on, advisers, or DoD officials truly have the power to interfere with the commander-in-chief should he make a decision they think unwise. I’ll ask, for example, “How many steps does it take to launch a nuclear weapon?” (fewer than you’d think), and ask as well what we know, historically speaking, about the willingness of soldiers to follow illegal or unwise orders. I’ll try to come up with an estimate — based on what we know of similar situations in the past — of the likelihood that his bad judgment would be questioned or his orders disobeyed in an ambiguous situation that’s widely and plausibly perceived as a great threat.
  8. I’ll walk you through several plausible scenarios in which the president would have to make very quick decisions in response to an emergency, scenarios in which the making the wrong decision would be catastrophic.
  9. I’ll sketch out what the president might do using several hypothetical versions of Donald Trump, all based on things he’s said during the campaign or my observations of him in “The Apprentice.” We don’t know which things he really means, and they often contradict each other, so I’ll try creating a number of plausible Donalds. They’ll range from “Secret-Churchill Donald” — someone who campaigns as a lying fool because he knows this is effective, but unknown to the public has an alter-ego who’s a highly-informed strategic genius surrounded by competent and experienced foreign policy advisors who challenge his assumptions ruthlessly. For this Donald I’ll assume he and his advisors share the goal of furthering American interests. On the other end of the spectrum might be “Psychopath Donald,” a man who would score a full 40 on Hare’s Psychopathy test (click the link to read what that is), and who would neither surround himself with competent advisers, nor take anyone’s advice, nor act toward any goal save that of keeping himself entertained and stimulated. I’ll then try to estimate the odds of his being or behaving as these different alters, and I’ll ask how these alters would be apt to handle the scenarios I’ve suggested in Step 7. I’ll try to sketch out a more rigorous way of calculating “odds of Armageddon” based on that.
  10. I’ll also sketch out what the world might look like if he followed through with various things he’s said he’ll do, using the most common-sensical, plain-English interpretation of his words, and argue that some of these things would be likely to raise the risk of global or thermonuclear war even higher than it already is. Some of the things he’s said are contradictory, so I’ll sketch out both or all three or four scenarios. I’ll predict the effect these actions would be apt to have based on the best historical analogies I can find. I’ll offer some evidence of how these statements, even if he has no intention of acting on them, have already changed the perception of America among its allies, enemies, non-aligned states, and terrorist entities, making us less secure. I’ll outline how they would change even more dramatically if in office he acts on his campaign promises (as best I understand them), and what the implications of this would be. I’ll make the case that even if judgements such as these are incorrect or unfair, other states will be obliged, out of an abundance of caution, to prepare for worst-case scenarios, and thus their fear of him will tend to be self-fulfilling.
  11. I’ll look at two ways he could end up making decisions, good or bad, unconstrained by the usual checks on a president’s power. The first is the “sudden shock” scenario — something like September 11, or another highly traumatic event, after which the checks on his power might literally be gone (a plane hits Congress while it’s in session, or a bomb takes out the Supreme Court), or easily overridden (think of Trump’s gift for demagoguery, of our known willingness to accede to all kinds of liberty-killing legislation in the wake of a terrorist attack, our generally poor understanding of how our government is supposed to work and the importance of checks and balances, and how easily that combination could be exploited if Americans were even more frightened than they were on September 11.).
  12. The second is the “slow accretion of untrammelled power” scenario to which I alluded in a comment yesterday. As I wrote, “His personality reminds me [not so much as Hitler but of] Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. … If you look at the last line [of a piece I wrote for City Journal about Istanbul in 2010], you’ll see I wrote it when we didn’t yet know what would happen next. That what happened next has been catastrophic makes me all the more uneasy about Trump’s personality. We may have checks and balances sufficient to contain him for a while, but over the course of two terms, even enormously secure restraints can wear thin. Tayyip managed seriatum to discredit the military and imprison the top brass, stack the courts, stack the bureaucracy, quash the press, transform the Constitution, and ultimately make it impossible to get rid of him. It’s easier to do than you’d think.” In other words, I’ll sketch out the way I’ve personally seen a charismatic, shrewd and power-hungry leader undermine checks on his power that were widely believed to be nearly-failsafe.

That’s twelve posts, which I’ll work through over the coming two weeks. Genferei, would you consider the challenge met if by this line of reasoning I derive, “Armageddon is a higher risk with Donald Trump in office than it is with any other plausible aspirant to the presidency?” If not, does this mean that no argument would convince you, or does it mean you’re looking for a different kind of argument? If so, what kind of argument would that be?

(A closing thought: I’ll make the argument more fully and seriously in days to come, but how do you reckon Donald would score on the Hare Psychopathy test? Genferei asked me to eschew amateur psychology — as would Hare himself — but I reckon Trump won’t be sitting down with a professional psychologist anytime soon, so what choice have we but to practice amateur psychology? Run Trump through the scale as dispassionately as you can. What number do you get, roughly?)

Published in Foreign Policy, General, History
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  1. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    • #61
  2. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I’m dismayed. This kind of over-the-top conjecture and pearl-clutching is not helpful at all. I don’t even like coming on here anymore.

    • #62
  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Tim Wright: I get not supporting Trump. But how could you justify even considering Clinton?

    Because if it’s a choice between her and Trump, I think she’d be a less dangerous president.

    It’s clearly going to be a lousy four years, no matter what. That we’re seriously contemplating Clinton and Trump as frontrunning candidates suggests to me that something’s so damaged about our culture and political life that it may be irreparable.

    But only one of them seems to think there’s no use having a triad if we never use it.

    • #63
  4. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    Hillary has both policy statements and a track record. And yes, these are not (to put it mildly) encouraging. But they exist. You can point to them and say “in such-and-such a situation, she has said she would do X… in such-and-such a situation, she actually did X…” She can and will name the people who advise her, and because she has a track record, we can look to see whether, in fact, her advisors advised.

    I think the reason Charles Murray said Hillary would be better when it comes to foreign policy than Trump is that she actually has some foreign policy experience. She’s actually done foreign policy. I’m not saying she’s terrific—nor was Murray. Just better than Trump.

    Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney,  or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

    • #64
  5. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Because if it’s a choice between her and Trump, I think she’d be a less dangerous president.

    Why do you believe that? Other than a gut feeling? Has Trump compromised national security? Clinton has. Has Trump attempted to jail opponents? Clinton has. Can you point to a single accomplishment of Hillary Clinton which justifies your belief Clinton will be a less danger president?

    I believe Trump would make a bad president, but I have yet to be convinced Trump would be worse than Clinton.

    My main reservations about Trump lie in the damage he will do to the Republican Party rather than to the United States. If he is elected President he will complete the transformation of the Republicans from a limited-government/free market party to a slightly saner version of the Democrats’ big government/crony capitalism organization. It will take over a generation to fix that, and may lead to a split (between the big government and conservative wings of the Republican Party) which allow a permanent majority of the moon-bat version of the Democrat Party.

    Despite that, I feel at the end of four years of a Trump administration the country would be better off than it would have been at the end of a Clinton administration.

    Seawriter

    • #65
  6. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Because if it’s a choice between her and Trump, I think she’d be a less dangerous president.

    See here: then explain why you don’t want that man appointing those Justices.

    • #66
  7. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

    Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

    • #67
  8. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    RightAngles:

    Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

    Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

    Not trying to dis Dick: I’d rather have Dick Cheney with me on a hunt than someone who is enthusiastic about guns but has absolutely no experience with them. But you’re right, sometimes the residual lefty-ism does peep forth…is there a right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

    • #68
  9. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Kate Braestrup:

    RightAngles:

    Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

    Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

    Not trying to dis Dick: I’d rather have Dick Cheney with me on a hunt than someone who is enthusiastic about guns but has absolutely no experience with them. But you’re right, sometimes the residual lefty-ism does peep forth…is there a right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

    It was an accident. We do not pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. ACCIDENT.

    • #69
  10. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Kate Braestrup: right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

    The man way sprayed, not shot. I think your point is a good one, however. I’m sure Cheney learned from the experience.

    • #70
  11. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    RightAngles:

    Kate Braestrup:

    RightAngles:

    Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

    Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

    Not trying to dis Dick: I’d rather have Dick Cheney with me on a hunt than someone who is enthusiastic about guns but has absolutely no experience with them. But you’re right, sometimes the residual lefty-ism does peep forth…is there a right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

    It was an accident. We do not pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. ACCIDENT.

    I didn’t pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. I used it as an analogy; an imperfect but at least somewhat experienced person engaging in an inherently dangerous activity versus an enthusiastic but completely inexperienced person doing so— which is scarier?

    Honestly, there is some serious P/C on the right. I’ve found I get in big trouble if I mention Bristol Palin’s accident(s) too.

    • #71
  12. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Seawriter: I believe Trump would make a bad president, but I have yet to be convinced Trump would be worse than Clinton.

    Absolutely.

    • #72
  13. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Kate Braestrup: Honestly, there is some serious P/C on the right.

    Hey, we’re sensitive, like whipped dogs.  You made a reasonable point, IMHO.

    • #73
  14. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Tuck:

    Kate Braestrup: Honestly, there is some serious P/C on the right.

    Hey, we’re sensitive, like whipped dogs. You made a reasonable point, IMHO.

    I know, Tuck, and often with good reason. Besides, it’s good for me to get called on this sort of thing—it really could be an old lefty reflex making me kick when I oughtn’t.

    • #74
  15. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Kate Braestrup

    • Kate Braestrup

      RightAngles:

      Kate Braestrup:

      RightAngles:

      Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

      Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

      Not trying to dis Dick: I’d rather have Dick Cheney with me on a hunt than someone who is enthusiastic about guns but has absolutely no experience with them. But you’re right, sometimes the residual lefty-ism does peep forth…is there a right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

      It was an accident. We do not pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. ACCIDENT.

      I didn’t pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. I used it as an analogy; an imperfect but at least somewhat experienced person engaging in an inherently dangerous activity versus an enthusiastic but completely inexperienced person doing so— which is scarier?

      Honestly, there is some serious P/C on the right. I’ve found I get in big trouble if I mention Bristol Palin’s accident(s) too.

    I understood what you meant, and I thought that it was a fair comment although I will point out what I see as the big flaw in the analogy.

    (Bristol Palin is fair game.)

    The flaw in the Dick Cheney vs. neophyte behind me with the loaded shotgun analogy is this:  Dick Cheney’s accident was an accident, in that he truly did not intend to shoot his friend.  Whereas, from my point of view, in the realm of foreign policy – it looks very much as though Hillary Clinton deliberately chose to promote the overthrow of a bad-actor (Muammar Qaddafi) who had given up his efforts toward a nuclear program, thus sending the message that it is a bad idea to give up your nukes – and in spite of the recent example of the 2003 Iraq invasion and aftermath, she promoted doing this in such a way as to not even try to affect the results (“nation building not good” but ignoring the high probability of chaos is even worse).  And she apparently still thinks that this was all a really wonderful idea.  So, to me, the appropriate analogy would contain an alternate-universe version of Dick Cheney who shot his friend while trying Annie Oakley stunts, and who continues to think he is the most amazing trick shooter the world has ever seen.

    • #75
  16. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    So our marriage is hitting the rocks.

    Here is a gentleman who has special insight into this.

    https://youtu.be/upC8pX3RY0A

    “Get yourself a different woman.” Just brilliant even Freud never thought of that.

    Regards,

    Jim

    [PS As I have been forced to explain before, “Rosebud” is the hand painted name on the sled that Charlie Kane’s father hand made for him as a present. It represents his father’s unconditional love that has been stolen from him by his judgemental mother and banker keeper Mr. Thatcher. Kane has lost this and nothing material can replace it. It represents all that is good in the world. – Now please get off my lawn and don’t bother me anymore. – Uncle Max]

    • #76
  17. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    TG:Kate Braestrup

    • Kate Braestrup

      RightAngles:

      Kate Braestrup:

      RightAngles:

      Kate Braestrup:Who would you rather have walking up the trail behind you with a shotgun in his hands—Dick Cheney, or your neighbor who has lots of opinions about guns but has never actually held one before this very moment?

      Sometimes your leftyism shows. That was an accident. I cannot believe you wrote that.

      Not trying to dis Dick: I’d rather have Dick Cheney with me on a hunt than someone who is enthusiastic about guns but has absolutely no experience with them. But you’re right, sometimes the residual lefty-ism does peep forth…is there a right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

      It was an accident. We do not pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. ACCIDENT.

      I didn’t pounce on it triumphantly as a way to bolster the idea that Republicans are loony gun nuts. I used it as an analogy; an imperfect but at least somewhat experienced person engaging in an inherently dangerous activity versus an enthusiastic but completely inexperienced person doing so— which is scarier?

      Honestly, there is some serious P/C on the right. I’ve found I get in big trouble if I mention Bristol Palin’s accident(s) too.

    I understood what you meant, and I thought that it was a fair comment although I will point out what I see as the big flaw in the analogy.

    (Bristol Palin is fair game.)

    The flaw in the Dick Cheney vs. neophyte behind me with the loaded shotgun analogy is this: Dick Cheney’s accident was an accident, in that he truly did not intend to shoot his friend. Whereas, from my point of view, in the realm of foreign policy – it looks very much as though Hillary Clinton deliberately chose to promote the overthrow of a bad-actor (Muammar Qaddafi) who had given up his efforts toward a nuclear program, thus sending the message that it is a bad idea to give up your nukes – and in spite of the recent example of the 2003 Iraq invasion and aftermath, she promoted doing this in such a way as to not even try to affect the results (“nation building not good” but ignoring the high probability of chaos is even worse). And she apparently still thinks that this was all a really wonderful idea. So, to me, the appropriate analogy would contain an alternate-universe version of Dick Cheney who shot his friend while trying Annie Oakley stunts, and who continues to think he is the most amazing trick shooter the world has ever seen.

    Yeah, I thought of that too late. (Not the whole thing—you know far more about the Libya story than I—but the “accident” vs. “hold my beer and watch this!”)

    Bristol might make a better analogy, now that you mention it…

    • #77
  18. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    Kate Braestrup: right-y p.c. reason why it’s not okay to recall that Dick Cheney shot a fellow hunter in the face?

    The man way sprayed, not shot. I think your point is a good one, however. I’m sure Cheney learned from the experience.

    No, he was shot. Face, Neck and Chest – it just wasn’t aimed at him.

    • #78
  19. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    The King Prawn:

    Kate Braestrup:

    Tuck:Oh brother. Has Trump showed a hint of being a warmonger during his entire life? He’s on the isolationist side of things, isn’t he?

    And has there ever been a case of a businessman getting elected to high office late in life and then starting a war? Ever?

    I think the problem isn’t so much that Trump would initiate a war, but that he would react unpredictably and dangerously to events. I wouldn’t have said GWB was a warmonger and indeed, he sounded a pretty cautious, anti-interventionist note while on the campaign trail…and then came 9/11.

    Way too many people forget how hard Bush campaigned against Clinton’s adventurism and interventions around the world. I remember him specifically saying we would no long be the world police and that the military would only be used in our interests against active threats to our security.

    And FDR campaigned in 1940 saying he’d keep the US out of European wars.

    “Events, dear boy, events”.

    • #79
  20. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Claire, that’s an impressive list of points to accomplish [from the OP].

    However, to truly make the case that Trump would be “objectively” worse than Clinton, wouldn’t you have to run through the entire series for her as well, to see how they compare?

    • #80
  21. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    I agree, so I’ll do that afterward. It will be a long, depressing month. Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way? Or is this just an exercise in expressing my own horror?

    • #81
  22. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    I agree, so I’ll do that afterward. It will be a long, depressing month. Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way? Or is this just an exercise in expressing my own horror?

    Could be both!

    • #82
  23. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: …Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way?…

    No, because it will be an exercise in pure speculation.

    • #83
  24. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
     

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    I agree, so I’ll do that afterward. It will be a long, depressing month. Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way? Or is this just an exercise in expressing my own horror?

    It will be “good,” in spite of the pain.  In applying your analytical skills to your horror, you will clarify your own thinking and either reinforce your current stance or soften it; either will be good, because your reasons (reasoning) will be strong.  You will also help others clarify their own thinking.  Onward, Dr. B!

    • #84
  25. Hypatia Inactive
    Hypatia
    @Hypatia

    Trump is not going to cause ARmageddon. He has a bigger stake in the future than any other candidate, with five brilliantly successful children. And furthermore, he has repeatedly said we should build up our military so we won’t have to use it, and that we would have been better off not getting involved in Iraq but spending that money on our own crumbling infrastructure. No, our best shot at Apocalypse Now! is nuclear Iran, nuclear North Korea….I can’t understand this hostility to the only guy who seems to see where the real threats lie.

    • #85
  26. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    I think Trump’s success in the Republican primary will inevitably result in a “Morton Downey Jr.” type candidate in the Republican Primary every cycle.

    This will not be good for the Republican Party or America.

    • #86
  27. Tim Wright Inactive
    Tim Wright
    @TimWright

    Claire…. Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you are not going to save the republic, but instead are fated to chronicle its demise. As Bush said of the stock market crash…”This sucker’s going down.” So strap on your seatbelt, and think of the people a thousand years from now puzzling over our crackup. Just think, they might come across stories about the pipes in Flint, Michigan, and say, “Eureka, it was lead poisoning that led them to abandon the constitution.” You need to leave a record to set them straight.

    Tim

    • #87
  28. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    I agree, so I’ll do that afterward. It will be a long, depressing month. Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way? Or is this just an exercise in expressing my own horror?

    Since I’m assuming that you’re not using any rigorous measure of probability, no inventory that could conceivably be applied by two different people to arrive at the same conclusion, the same numeric estimate of the probability of an event, this would have to be the latter.

    You can’t argue that subjective measures of probability are objective. You have to either prove formally that the assessments are objective, or give something like legal or scientific proof, quantifiable, empirical evidence, that the assessments are reproducible by people other than the subject and therefore not subjective. Is there going to be some empirical component to the exercise?  In short, the subjective probabilities at the heart of your argument could be wildly wrong—I would bet that they are wildly wrong—and an argument starting from false premises, no matter how systematic or personally satisfying, is still false and unconvincing.

    • #88
  29. Chuck Walla Member
    Chuck Walla
    @ChuckWalla

    Joseph Kulisics:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    TG:To be completely convincing, the analysis will need to include a hard look at likely results of things a President Hillary Clinton might do to balance the speculation about President Trump.

    I agree, so I’ll do that afterward. It will be a long, depressing month. Is there any chance, do you think, that my doing this will be useful and will serve the goal of helping people decide how to vote in a more informed way? Or is this just an exercise in expressing my own horror?

    Since I’m assuming that you’re not using any rigorous measure of probability, no inventory that could conceivably be applied by two different people to arrive at the same conclusion, the same numeric estimate of the probability of an event, this would have to be the latter.

    Sometimes two different people have different probabilities.  So what?  That’s what uncertainty is often about.  I would very much like to hear Claire’s opinions, yes even her probabilities.

    I don’t imagine that there are any fully objective probabilities out there on this topic.  Why are you talking about “rigorous” final answers when the whole subject is plainly not one of proof?

    You can’t argue that subjective measures of probability are objective.

    No, but why are you arguing that they must be what is impossible—objective?

    You have to either prove formally that the assessments are objective, or give something like legal or scientific proof, quantifiable, empirical evidence, that the assessments are reproducible by people other than the subject and therefore not subjective.

    I can safely infer that you are a probability classicist and no Bayesian.  Also, you have probably never read about the extended logic of E.T. Jaynes.  (Please fix that when you get a chance.)  Moreover, you tell us that there has to exist some objective probability in the human world or we should not discuss uncertainty.  I don’t agree.  Even a probability of rain tomorrow at noon is subjective, despite the near total lack of human involvement there.

    Is there going to be some empirical component to the exercise? In short, the subjective probabilities at the heart of your argument could be wildly wrong—I would bet that they are wildly wrong—and an argument starting from false premises, no matter how systematic or personally satisfying, is still false and unconvincing.

    Please give us an example, any example, of a probability involving human interactions that has no subjective component.  Or give us an example of any empirical paper in the literature in which all probability statements have no subjective component.

    The idea that probability statements must be objective to be useful and interesting has been thoroughly discredited in my view.  Weather forecasts, safe-enough buildings, wise investments, choice of a spouse, medical diagnosis, really anything in the real world involving uncertainty, these are all cases in which probability is at once subjective, useful, and interesting.

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  30. Joseph Kulisics Inactive
    Joseph Kulisics
    @JosephKulisics

    Chuck Walla:Weather forecasts, safe-enough buildings, wise investments, choice of a spouse, medical diagnosis, really anything in the real world involving uncertainty, these are all cases in which probability is at once subjective, useful, and interesting.

    You’ve confused two different topics in your conclusion, probability as a measure of belief, section 2.7 in Ross’s, A First Course in Probability, Sixth Edition, and discrete and continuous probabilities as a long-run frequency of occurrence of outcomes of an experiment. The first is subjective, and the second is not subjective. Weather forecasting, building reliable systems, and medical diagnosis are applications of hard science, not opinions. Probabilities of system failure are derived from empirical evidence like mean times to failure, not beliefs or guesses, not subjective evidence.

    Probability as a measure of belief can be considered a probability only to the extent that it conforms to axioms of probability. Of course, sometimes, two different people have different estimates of probability. What’s the problem? They can’t both be correct—that’s the problem—and treating both estimates as equally valid likely violates any consistent construction of probability.

    Her pitch appears to be that she believes Trump to have a higher probability of doing something crazy or dangerous, which makes the entire, elaborate effort of concluding that he must do something dangerous in a given situation contingent on the correctness of her estimate of probabilities. In short, she has to justify the estimate, not the conclusions flowing from it.

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