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There’s Your Problem Right There, Elena


Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (Princeton, Oxford, Harvard) is reported to have said, during oral arguments in the recent affirmative action admissions case, that universities are “the pipelines to leadership in our society.” She was joined by her colleagues Sonia Sotomayor (Princeton, Yale) and Ketanji Brown Jackson (Harvard) in trying to rescue the universities’ arguments from skeptical questioning from John Roberts (Harvard) and the conservative justices Clarence Thomas (Yale), Samuel Alito (Princeton, Yale), Neil Gorsuch (Columbia, Harvard, Oxford), and Brett Kavanaugh (Yale). Apparently, Amy Coney Barrett (Notre Dame) was also present.

If your argument in favor of racial discrimination is that “leadership in our society” inevitably comes from a handful of historically elitist institutions then, I humbly submit, you’re looking at the wrong part of the plumbing.

The Uniparty and Its Discontents: French Lessons


Emmanuel Macron, the recently re-elected president of France, faces a bit of a challenge in gaining a majority in the upcoming legislative elections. Readers will recall that when he burst onto the scene in the previous presidential election it was as a young, dynamic communicator with a good line in soaring if empty rhetoric and a strange spouse, and was something of a blank canvas upon which the chattering classes could project their own desires. Unlike Obama, who was a creation of his party, Macron created his own.

A vast array of “centrist” or “moderate” politicians, seeing which way the wind was blowing, flocked to join his creation, abandoning the traditional parties. Macron appointed ministers using a mixture of stunt-casting, rewarding treachery, and an eye for style over substance. It is now clear that he has all but succeeded in destroying the (French version of) the center-left and center-right institutions, absorbing those members of the political class more interested in power than principle – that is, most of them. Seizing the historical moment, he created the Uniparty. Mission accomplished?

Not so fast. It will not come as a surprise that the policies of the Uniparty — globalisation, multiculturalism and a phobic rejection of nation, family, religion and transcendent truth — are not universally popular. Those discontented with the policies or their implementation no longer have ‘sensible’ parties — that is, different flavours of the Uniparty with some principled elements for garnish — to vote for, leaving Macron facing a contest where his party is facing severe challenges from national socialists (Marine Le Pen) and islamo-socialists (Jean-Luc Melenchon), with the remnants of the center-right hoping for a miracle. (The scattered forces of the left bent the knee to Melenchon creating a Frankenstein’s monster of a party called ‘Nupes’ for short — really; the right remains scattered.)

In the case of France, even having a revolutionary socialist supported by islamo-fascists as Prime Minister wouldn’t necessarily make much difference in the way things are governed, since Macron (arguably) didn’t manage much beyond press releases in his first term, anyway. So you might not care about the Uniparty.

But the Uniparty cares about you. Who can doubt that Cheney, Romney, and Evan McMuffin dream of a party that could crush any dissent from the Deep State agenda? How many more of the ‘elite’ would sign on if it became possible? You can already see the grip-and-grin between Schumer and McConnell as they inaugurate ‘The American Party’, with the press rallying behind the uniting force of the dream ticket of Michelle Obama and Dan Crenshaw… What could go wrong?

A Putin-Stopping Speech


Donald Trump obviously didn’t write his own speeches. And he was pretty bad at delivering them. But they are also clearly his – no one else would have dared to say the things he did. Because the speeches came, if not from his pen, from his heart, they were received as not mere words but an indication of what he, as President, would actually do, would have the US do, and would have his allies do.

So when Donald Trump stood in front of the monument to the Warsaw Uprising in Krasiński Square and said:

Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.

We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.


We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values [ed: see below…] and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.


we are committed to securing your access to alternate sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy

you know he was taken seriously in Moscow. Particularly as these remarks followed a moving recounting of the history of the Polish nation.

For two centuries, Poland suffered constant and brutal attacks.  But while Poland could be invaded and occupied, and its borders even erased from the map, it could never be erased from history or from your hearts.  In those dark days, you have lost your land but you never lost your pride.

And when the day came on June 2nd, 1979, and one million Poles gathered around Victory Square for their very first mass with their Polish Pope, that day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down.  They must have known it at the exact moment during Pope John Paul II’s sermon when a million Polish men, women, and children suddenly raised their voices in a single prayer.  A million Polish people did not ask for wealth.  They did not ask for privilege.  Instead, one million Poles sang three simple words:  “We Want God.”

And it was at this point the Western establishment in general, and the US establishment in particular, spat the dummy. The values of the US, Europe, and the West that Trump was lauding were not diversity, inclusion, and equity, not George H. W. Bush’s open borders, open markets and open minds, but something more serious:

As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history.  Their message is as true today as ever.  The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out “We want God.”

You can’t say that!

But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail.  And we do, indeed, want them to fail.  They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched.  …  Our adversaries … are doomed because we will never forget who we are. …  We pursue innovation.  We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.

We reward brilliance.  We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God.  We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.

We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success.  We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives.  And we debate everything.  We challenge everything.  We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.

And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.  That is who we are.  Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.

Our citizens did not win freedom together, did not survive horrors together, did not face down evil together, only to lose our freedom to a lack of pride and confidence in our values.  We did not and we will not.  We will never back down.

A strong leader. A sense of purpose. An eye to the long term. And a vigorous policy of actions to back that up:

Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.  That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation.

Words are easy, but actions are what matters.  And for its own protection … Europe must do more.  Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future by investing its money to secure that future.

Materiel, and morale:

We can have the largest economies and the most lethal weapons anywhere on Earth, but if we do not have strong families and strong values, then we will be weak and we will not survive.

The memories of those who perished in the Warsaw Uprising cry out across the decades… Those heroes remind us that the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense and that every foot of ground, and every last inch of civilization, is worth defending with your life.

Our own fight for the West does not begin on the battlefield — it begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls. Today, the ties that unite our civilization are no less vital, and demand no less defense, than that bare shred of land on which the hope of Poland once … rested.  Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.

And today as ever, Poland is in our heart, and its people are in that fight.  Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken.  Our values will prevail.  Our people will thrive.  And our civilization will triumph.

So, together, let us all fight like the Poles — for family, for freedom, for country, and for God.

To Moscow, the message must have been clear: a leader not out to pick a fight, but not afraid to warn of the consequences, a believer in national self-determination and absolutely convinced that the West will win in the long term. Someone who would and could strong-arm putative allies into being actual allies, and who understood the strategic necessity of reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas. Someone who praised centuries of resistance to foreign invaders. The calculus was: don’t invade Ukraine and don’t court regime change; invade Ukraine, and anything is possible – and not just for the next news cycle.

The US establishment saw something different: The Racial and Religious Paranoia of Trump’s Warsaw Speech, screeched The Atlantic:

The most shocking sentence in Trump’s speech—perhaps the most shocking sentence in any presidential speech delivered on foreign soil in my [Peter Beinart’s] lifetime—was his claim that “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” On its face, that’s absurd. Jihadist terrorists can kill people in the West, but unlike Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, they cannot topple even the weakest European government. Jihadists control no great armies. Their ideologies have limited appeal even among the Muslims they target with their propaganda. ISIS has all but lost Mosul and could lose Raqqa later this year.

Trump’s sentence only makes sense as a statement of racial and religious paranoia. The “south” and “east” only threaten the West’s “survival” if you see non-white, non-Christian immigrants as invaders. They only threaten the West’s “survival” if by “West” you mean white, Christian hegemony.

Or, of course, Trump might have been referring to the Russian military now actually coming from the east and actually invading a sovereign nation actually to their west. No white, Christian hegemony involved.

As the forces of the establishment submerged Trump and his message of hope, the view from Moscow changed significantly. No longer faced with a serious leader with serious thoughts and a serious commitment to serious things, the light was green.

Following Through


For an administration that lurches from crisis to crisis, sowing chaos throughout the settled international order and threatening us all with imminent Armageddon, the Trump foreign policy is awfully predictable. Exhibit 1, candidate Trump’s speech of April 27, 2016. You might not agree with it, but you can’t say he didn’t warn you.

He begins with a brief tour of history, and where things went wrong:

It all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western Democracy.

We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism; thousands of American lives, and many trillions of dollars, were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill the void, much to their unjust enrichment.

He lists five problems with the existing policy:

First, Our Resources Are Overextended

… Our manufacturing trade deficit with the world is now approaching $1 trillion a year. We’re rebuilding other countries while weakening our own.

Ending the theft of American jobs will give us the resources we need to rebuild our military and regain our financial independence and strength.

Secondly, our allies are not paying their fair share.

Our allies must contribute toward the financial, political and human costs of our tremendous security burden. …

The whole world will be safer if our allies do their part to support our common defense and security.

Thirdly, our friends are beginning to think they can’t depend on us.

… Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon and, under a Trump Administration, will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. …

Israel, our great friend and the one true Democracy in the Middle East, has been snubbed and criticized by an Administration that lacks moral clarity.

Fourth, our rivals no longer respect us.

… President Obama watches helplessly as North Korea increases its aggression and expands even further with its nuclear reach.

Our president has allowed China to continue its economic assault on American jobs and wealth, refusing to enforce trade rules – or apply the leverage on China necessary to rein in North Korea.

He has even allowed China to steal government secrets with cyber attacks and engage in industrial espionage against the United States and its companies.

Finally, America no longer has a clear understanding of our foreign policy goals.

Then he summarizes his proposed approach:

This will change when I am president.

To all our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again. America is going to be a reliable friend and ally again.

We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests, and the shared interests of our allies.

We are getting out of the nation-building business, and instead focusing on creating stability in the world.

And gives some details:

First, we need a long-term plan to halt the spread and reach of radical Islam.

… In this we’re going to be working very closely with our allies in the Muslim world, all of which are at risk from radical Islamic violence. …

We must stop importing extremism through senseless immigration policies. …

And then there’s ISIS. I have a simple message for them. Their days are numbered. I won’t tell them where and I won’t tell them how. We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable. But they’re going to be gone. And soon.

Secondly, we have to rebuild our military and our economy.

… We will spend what we need to rebuild our military. It is the cheapest investment we can make. We will develop, build and purchase the best equipment known to mankind. Our military dominance must be unquestioned.

But we will look for savings and spend our money wisely. In this time of mounting debt, not one dollar can be wasted.

We are also going to have to change our trade, immigration and economic policies to make our economy strong again – and to put Americans first again. This will ensure that our own workers, right here in America, get the jobs and higher pay that will grow our tax revenue and increase our economic might as a nation.

Finally, we must develop a foreign policy based on American interests.


In the Middle East, our goals must be to defeat terrorists and promote regional stability, not radical change. We need to be clear-sighted about the groups that will never be anything other than enemies.

And we must only be generous to those that prove they are our friends. …

I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia – from a position of strength – is possible. Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a good deal for America, then we will quickly walk from the table.

Fixing our relations with China is another important step towards a prosperous century. China respects strength, and by letting them take advantage of us economically, we have lost all of their respect. We have a massive trade deficit with China, a deficit we must find a way, quickly, to balance.

A strong and smart America is an America that will find a better friend in China. We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways. …

I will also be prepared to deploy America’s economic resources. Financial leverage and sanctions can be very persuasive – but we need to use them selectively and with determination. Our power will be used if others do not play by the rules.

Our friends and enemies must know that if I draw a line in the sand, I will enforce it. …

Finally, I will work with our allies to reinvigorate Western values and institutions. Instead of trying to spread “universal values” that not everyone shares, we should understand that strengthening and promoting Western civilization and its accomplishments will do more to inspire positive reforms around the world than military interventions.

And so it has come to pass.

Except possibly the last point. After all, who would want to play with that unpredictable buffoon Donald Trump?

Bought and Paid For


The scales have fallen from my eyes. Ricochetti will know me for a staunch believer in the important role the media plays ensuring the uninterrupted flow of facts and non-partisan commentary to the electorate.

Others may accuse journalists of having a thumb on the scale, or perhaps unconsciously ever-so-slightly tilting in a very lightly mainstream liberal way, but I defended the noble profession; I believed Jake Tapper and others when they told me that, even after decades working alongside their fellow scribes, they could not tell who they might have voted for; I knew that up until the moment someone joined an administration as a flack or spinner, their integrity was complete, and the moment they left that administration to return to their newspaper or network they reverted to their natural impartial state; I dismissed claims that links of blood or marriage between senior media and political figures were anything but irrelevant.

But now The Guardian — the standard bearer for “quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth” (I know, because they told me) has established a US nonprofit (of course, they are a giant money-losing organisation so it could hardly be otherwise) whereby donors can pay for “journalism” supporting their case. As they brazenly put it themselves:

The connection between powerful story-telling and social cause has never been more vital. Across the past six years, philanthropy has played an increasingly significant role in supporting Guardian journalism on issues that critically inform the public–climate change, inequality, women’s rights, and more. The creation of makes it possible for us to forge key strategic partnerships, and engage a wider range of individuals and philanthropic organizations in supporting our global ground-breaking storytelling and reporting.

This is the end of the illusion. No longer will I be the innocent supporter of the profession of journalism I have been to date. No longer will I uncritically believe what I read and hear. No longer will I pull my punches when it comes to the poison reporters drip in the ear of democracy. No longer will I forgive Claire, Mollie, and Jon their good intentions in the face of an institution that is objectively evil.

Journalism, you have been warned: no more Mr. Nice Genferei.

Marine Le Pen Is not Donald Trump in a Dress


The race for President of France continues to be fascinating. The early leader and (surprise) winner of the center-right primary, the socially conservative, entitlements reforming, state shrinking, tough-love Francois Fillon is tanking in the polls over a scandal involving his employing his wife at government expense (“Penelopegate”). The largely unknown, and fairly cooky, Benoit Hamon was the (surprise) winner of the Socialist Party primary, which may well lead to the final death of that rather strange animal. The current darling of the (center) left is Emmanuel Macron, who is a sort of Third Way (Blair? Clinton?) figure operating outside the normal (such as it is) political channels.

You will recall that the French Presidential election operates in two rounds. The first round features everyone. The second round features the top two from the first round. It is a good bet that Marine Le Pen will be one of those top two, thus the action is to see who will oppose her in the second round. And win. Although voters on the right are slightly less likely to support a left-wing candidate against a National Front candidate in the second round than left-wing voters to support a candidate on the right opposing a National Front candidate in the second round, the effect is (highly likely to be) the same. Unless things go differently this time. And why, in the era of Brexit and Trump, wouldn’t they?

One reason is that Marine Le Pen is the product of an earlier time. Another is that she really doesn’t stand for anything terribly tangible. She is trying on the mantle of the French Trump today. A few months ago she was auditioning for the French Farage. Her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen) used to like being the French Reagan in the 80’s, when being for deregulation and free markets was counter-cultural. Insofar as she has policies (largely yet to come for this election) they are protectionist, welfarist, and statist. Her nationalism is not Donald Trump’s nationalism: that there is no room for prejudice in patriotism is not a sentiment that would come easily to her. Although she may well adopt it in the weeks ahead.

That her positions and policies are difficult to pin down is not so much a fault as the very essence of the Front National. It was invented to be the acceptable face of the extreme right (although I don’t think that conventional description is terribly useful), and the (then) young and (relatively) high-profile Jean Le Pen (as he was at the time) was recruited to become its face. A cast of rogues – former resistance fighters, former Nazis, former communists etc. – was involved in the founding. Over time the FN became a subsidiary of Le Pen, and the Le Pen brand (arguably) more valuable than the FN one. But political parties don’t live on votes, they live on engaged volunteers (particularly in places where there is little money in politics). And engaged folks at the extremes of the political spectrum have strongly held, and strongly differentiated, views. Cue the Monty Python skit. The FN sort of floats over an ever-mutating sea of fissioning and fusing groupuscules, careful never to have too defined an ideology that could set the whole of the right of the right against it.

Of course, the sort of people who take extreme politics seriously are hardly likely to appeal to the median voter, so the FN has a practice of recruiting non-party-members – local celebrities, for example – to actually stand in elections. It is highly successful – in getting into the second round, where it is usually (although not always) beaten by the left rallying behind the candidate of the (center) right, or vice versa.

One arguably Trumpian aspect of the FN is the co-dependent relationship it has with the media. Ever since President Mitterand encouraged the state-owned TV stations to include Jean-Marie Le Pen in their coverage, there hasn’t been a political phenomenon covered with more assiduity, one might say obsession, anywhere in the world. This sick fascination consistently gives the FN a media profile well in excess of its actual importance – until it becomes important precisely because of its media profile. The coverage tends to be of the “aren’t they awful” sort when it isn’t telling the soap opera story of the Le Pen family. The FN responds by providing the media with an ongoing narrative of “normalisation”, expelling a member here, excommunicating a splinter-group there.

The consistent failure of the media to treat the FN as a (fringe) political party, preferring to treat it as an abnormal sociological phenomenon, gives it and Marine Le Pen the perfect cover. Nothing the media says now about how awful the FN is has much resonance any more, because it has been saying so at the top of its voice for decades. The media is the opposition party – along with every other party, of course. (At least, usually.) So Le Pen is free to be wildly inconsistent. And she is.

Could Marine Le Pen win the Presidency? Perhaps. It would need the left to coalesce around a candidate so massively unacceptable to the right that they stayed away in vast numbers or pulled the lever for the FN candidate just to screw them. Alternatively, it would require the candidate standing against her in the second round to have a complete meltdown between the rounds – a scandal so compromising no-one of good conscience could vote for such a person. Putting it another way, for Marine Le Pen to win, she would have to be competing with someone worse than Bernie Sanders, or someone worse than Hillary Clinton.

Would a Le Pen victory be good for France? Almost certainly not. There are no Rex Tillersons, Mad Dog Mattis’s or Jeff Sessions’s waiting to form her government. There is (as yet?) no clear vision of what France is, or what making it great again might mean, that could unite the people – or any substantial group of them – behind her. Enacting (what is likely to be) her program would entrench welfarism and statism even further. Even on the Euro and the EU her position is fatally fuzzy.

Would a Le Pen victory be good for the US? Unlikely. A France distracted by the peculiar and competing nationalisms of the FN’s milieu is unlikely to be a steady ally. (This is not so say a Macron or Hamon victory would be good for the US, either. Perhaps on balance they would be better – but I am wary of this sort of argument.) The National Front does not share values with the GOP or with Donald Trump. Even if Steve Bannon wishes they did.

Watching what happens in France will be fascinating. It may even be important. But rooting for Marine Le Pen in the hope that we – or they – get Donald Trump would be terribly misconceived.

Steve Bannon in his Own Words


Buzfeed (I know, right?) has published a transcript of remarks made by Steve Bannon – via Skype – to an event organised at the Vatican by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute in the summer of 2014 entitled “Poverty and the Common Good: Putting the ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ at the Service of Human Dignity.” Bannon was the speaker for a module called “Should Christians impose limits on wealth creation?” Both the timing (the exact date was 27 June 2014) and the topics need to be borne in mind. I urge you to read — or, at least, skim — the transcript. (Or listen to the recording linked at the bottom of the Buzzfeed piece.) To whet your appetite, here is my summary:

Capitalism, in its enlightened form, gave the Judaeo-Christian West the wherewithal to defeat the atheists in the Second World War. This capitalism generated great wealth, and spread it to the working-cum-middle classes, enabling a decades-long Pax Americana. Or, as Bannon puts it:

And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.

We’re now on the edge of losing everything that was built up in the last 2,000 to 2,500 years unless we bind together to fight the new barbarism.

Bannon identifies three kinds of converging tendencies:

  1. “[A] form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief,” being replaced by:
    1. crony or state-sponsored capitalism (see China, Russia, Argentina, the bank bail-outs, ExIm bank etc.) and/or
    2. “the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism”
  2. Immense secularization of the West.
  3. “[A]n outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism” (see ISIS)

So I think the discussion of, should we put a cap on wealth creation and distribution? It’s something that should be at the heart of every Christian that is a capitalist — “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us, that divine providence has given us to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”

I think it really behooves all of us to really take a hard look and make sure that we are reinvesting that back into positive things. But also to make sure that we understand that we’re at the very beginning stages of a global conflict, and if we do not bind together as partners with others in other countries that this conflict is only going to metastasize.

On enlightened (one might say, traditional) capitalism:

One thing I want to make sure of, if you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did.

On a “global tea party movement”:

The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos. … I think you’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government, whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington, DC, or that government is in Brussels.

On Wall Street:

I think you really need to go back and make banks do what they do: Commercial banks lend money, and investment banks invest in entrepreneurs and to get away from this trading — you know, the hedge fund securitization, which they’ve all become basically trading operations and securitizations and not put capital back and really grow businesses and to grow the economy. … the way that the people who ran the banks and ran the hedge funds have never really been held accountable for what they did, has fueled much of the anger in the tea party movement in the United States.

On right-wing extremists:

[E]ven in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we’ve been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it’s not. But there’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more.

I believe that you’ll see this in the center-right populist movement in continental Europe. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with UKIP, and I can say to you that I’ve never seen anything at all with UKIP that even comes close to that. I think they’ve done a very good job of policing themselves to really make sure that people including the British National Front and others were not included in the party, and I think you’ve seen that also with tea party groups, where some people would show up and were kind of marginal members of the tea party, and the tea party did a great job of policing themselves early on. And I think that’s why when you hear charges of racism against the tea party, it doesn’t stick with the American people, because they really understand.

I think when you look at any kind of revolution — and this is a revolution — you always have some groups that are disparate. I think that will all burn away over time and you’ll see more of a mainstream center-right populist movement.

On Putin:

When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism. A lot of people that are traditionalists are attracted to that.

One of the reasons is that they believe that at least Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism — and I think that people, particularly in certain countries, want to see the sovereignty for their country, they want to see nationalism for their country. They don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States. They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up where freedoms were controlled at the local level.

I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.

You know, Putin’s been quite an interesting character. He’s also very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the United States where he’s playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it’s something that we have to be very much on guard of. Because at the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand. However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.

So there you go. A bit of something for everyone. The Putinophobes will see him as dangerously naive. The libertarians will see him as a social-con wannabe dictator. The klansman-under-the-bed types will see him refusing to police the conservative movement urgently enough. The isolationists will see a bloodthirsty meddler in the middle east and elsewhere. The militant atheists will see a theocrat in waiting. And so on.

Have a look — there’s lots more.

Ignorant, Calculated, or Just Weird?


PepePipeHillary Clinton’s website has published an “explainer” about Pepe the Frog, an omnipresent character in the meme-verse. Despite being used in every possible way for years — many highly unsavory, this being the Age of the Internet — the Clinton machine explains that poor Pepe is “a symbol associated with white supremacy.” But how?

Pepe is a cartoon frog who began his internet life as an innocent meme enjoyed by teenagers and pop stars alike. But in recent months, Pepe’s been almost entirely co-opted by the white supremacists who call themselves the “alt-right.” They’ve decided to take back Pepe by adding swastikas and other symbols of anti-semitism and white supremacy.

Sounds legit, if you ignore the “almost entirely” and the equivalence of “white supremacists” and “the Alt-Right.” But what about the cooption? The source is described as “a prominent white-supremacist” via the Daily Beast. Although it turns out that rather than “prominent,” the source is better described as “anonymous.” The name? Maybe it’s @JaredTSwift or, perhaps, @PaulTown_, both of whom are referenced elsewhere in the piece. Or perhaps not.

It is, of course, easy to find offensive Pepe memes. But to ask people to think that every Pepe reference is always and necessarily an invocation or approval of white supremacy is an idea so ridiculous that only a Democrat or a journalist (but I repeat myself) could believe it.

Saving the Republic from the Heckler’s Veto: The Moral Imperative to Elect Trump


Photo credit: Russell Contreras.

We know that freedom of speech is under attack in America. Whole areas of discourse are off limits in the public square; wrongthink is punished by federal or state investigation; and any attempt to puncture the illusions of the unhinged Far-Left is increasingly met by violence which — in the classical statist two-step — leads to official censorship on the grounds of public safety.

It’s disgraceful when it happens on a college campus. It is another — one might almost call it an extinction-level event — when it occurs during a presidential election campaign. What happened at the Trump event in Albuquerque is just the first taste of what promises to be a long summer of hate directed at the heart of the Republic: freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom tout court.

Do not be misled by the protesters attacking the police and shouting down the Man; the Man has their back. At their direction, the circle of acceptable thought will be shrunk. The definition of racism will be expanded. “Authoritarian” and similar terms will be defined down and used as an excuse to suppress any speech, any behavior — indeed, any thought — that does not lead to the expansion and glorification of the state.

And America will die. Maybe with a bang. Perhaps with a whimper. But all that makes America positively different will be gone. You may hate what Donald Trump has to say, but your moral duty is to vote for him for saying it.

Hyperbole? Ask the #NeverTrumps.

Post-Convention Cruz


DecisionTreeLet us assume, for the sake of argument, that Ted Cruz is not the GOP nominee for the presidential election. What does he do? This breaks into two, interlinked, questions: what does he do between the convention and November, and what does he do after the election?

If Trump is the GOP nominee, then Cruz could:

  • Actively support him in the general (and there is that pledge to think about)
  • Actively oppose him in the general (at the limit, running a third-party campaign — but I don’t see it)
  • Seek to avoid doing either thing, for example concentrating on supporting down-ballot candidates (“I’m not here to talk about Donald, I’m here to talk about my good friend Homer, who will be the best darn dog-catcher Springfield has ever seen!”)

(If Trump is not the GOP nominee, then presumably the first option would be favored.)

Whether Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Ryan, Mattis, Boehner, or Kasich is President, Sen. Cruz will presumably continue his course as a principled constitutional conservative dedicated to the transparent administration of government with a view to keeping his promises to his constituents.

Or will he?

Having been the last best hope of the bitter-ender #NeverTrumpers, including the establishment groupuscule of that faction, Cruz may feel he has some favors in the bank he can use. But for what? A congressional leadership position? Perhaps. A seat on the Supreme Court? Doesn’t seem nearly ambitious enough. A place as the anointed next-in-line come 2020/2024? Four and eight years is a long time. A talk-show? While traditional, this doesn’t seem to play to his (evident) organizational strengths. A real kingmaker, in the way Palin never became? Seems hard to arrange in such a fluid political climate; and to what further end?

What should Ted do? And how does he get to do it?

Cruz on Foreign Policy


jeanekirkpatrickMuch to the chagrin of a media that had been enjoying an almost entirely content-free election, Senator Ted Cruz has had occasion to speak and write about foreign policy. He has also announced, rather than an adviser or two, a vast “National Security Coalition” of almost two dozen names (immediately denounced by the media as neocons, Islamaphobes, and Likudniks). I don’t know enough about the Kremlinology of the foreign policy establishment to draw any conclusions from this array of names, but I trust other Ricochetti will be able to shine some light.

One influence Cruz has mentioned explicitly is Jeane Kirkpatrick, and, in particular, her (in)famous 1979 “Dictatorships and Double Standards” essay in Commentary. The lesson he appears to draw from it is that the US does not win by replacing dictators with terrorists. He views with favour, for example, Netanyahu’s stance on the civil war in Syria: i.e., don’t support either side.

When Cruz can restrain himself, he refuses to be drawn on the specifics of military intervention: being Commander-in-Chief is not a game of Risk, but a matter of setting an objective (“kill the terrorists and come home”) and letting the relevant folks suggest whatever is necessary and required. When he can’t restrain himself, he talks of arming the Pershmerga, including Jordanian and Egyptian military in operations, ordering “non-photo-op airstrikes” (or even the notorious “carpet-bombing”), and giving South Korea missile defences. Additionally, he says Putin is a KGB thug with a simple goal of re-establishing the Soviet Union (geographically rather than ideologically), and embarrassing the US whenever opportunity presents.

Generally, Cruz sees the present moment as being as dangerous for the world as the one the it faced after Munich in 1938. Cruz’s formula for a “truly conservative foreign policy” is:

  • Preserve the country by exerting leadership on the global stage, not withdraw from it.
  • Fiercely defend allies and interests.
  • Judge each challenge through the simple test of what is best for America. Because what is best for America is best for the world.

I could speculate on what all this might mean for a “Cruz Doctrine” — and I encourage you to do so — but I think this gives a flavour of an approach somewhere between Obama, George W. Bush, and Ron Paul. I look forward to the experts enlightening me on where I am horribly wrong.

Panama Papers: “Journalism” in the Service of the Omniscient State


shutterstock_397698664As you’ve likely heard, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published a tell-all about heads of state, their associates, and their families using offshore companies to hide their assets. But while you’re being inundated with innuendo the evil of wanting privacy, remember these things:

There are legitimate uses for offshore companies, foundations, and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Power Players interactive application have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.

That’s from the ICIJ site. Although they clearly are suggesting and implying these things.

The desire to minimize one’s taxes is relied upon by governments (at the same time as they seek to criminalise it). It is a natural desire. After all, taxation is theft; legalized theft, but theft nonetheless.

The desire to live your life without intrusion — leaving the room when you receive a personal call on your mobile phone, putting a letter inside an opaque envelope, having curtains, wearing clothes — is also natural. And the basis of true human agency. Which is to say, being human.

This is not about corruption. This is not about morality. This is not about people paying their fair share. This is not about the dictators and the criminals. This is about state control over every aspect of your life. Don’t let lazy journalists and the envious commentariat distract you from that fact.

What Would You Hope for from a Reformicon President?


PresidentialLecternImagine it’s January 2017, and the Republican presidential candidate has triumphed while the GOP retains its congressional majorities. Upon being sworn in, the new president governs in a thoroughly ReformiCon manner. (I put it this way because everyone knows that what a candidate says on the campaign trail often bears little resemblance to how he governs.)

What do you hope for? What would count, for you, as success after four or eight years of a president Reformicon administration?

In order to avoid tying this question to any particular candidate I take the lawnmower book as a reasonable indication of a ReformiCon agenda. For example:

  • A replacement for ObamaCare that provides subsidies to low-income Americans, leaves middle-class health plans substantially in place, leaves insurers unable to take into account pre-existing conditions, promotes consumer choice in the Medicare Part D sense, caps tax deductions for employer-provided insurance, and imposes less regulation on States (but requires them to integrate the new Federal tax credits with Medicaid).
  • Tax reform by way of a new child tax credit to encourage/reward child-raising.
  • Use the Federal education bureaucracy to promote school choice (including “course choice”), increase reporting requirements on school performance, pay Top People to research education, and allow school districts to declare bankruptcy (so they can start over).
  • For higher education, require colleges to have skin in the game for student loans, allow private investors to fund students, bust the existing accreditation trust, support apprenticeships and job training, and collect and publish more statistics on college outcomes (e.g. job prospects and pay performance).
  • Consolidate welfare programs into something that allows for experimentation at the State level, and/or provides some kind of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)-ish benefit, and provide vouchers for early childhood education.
  • Roll back oppressive occupational licensing, help the long-term unemployed with information and travel grants, temporarily lower the minimum wage for the long term unemployed, and fix the perverse incentives of the EITC.
  • Eliminate Too Big To Fail, nudge mega-banks to shrink by requiring extensive asset coverage, reform [not entirely clear how] patent and copyright protection.
  • Replace Depression-era labor regulations with regulations adapted to the flexible work practices of the modern world, consolidate child-centered tax credits and spending into one tax-credit for parents, etc.
  • Eliminate the “marriage penalty” in tax and benefit regulation.

Now these are policy tools for the achievement of goals. My question is really about how one would measure the success of these proposals.

How do you tell if Reformicare is better than Obamacare?

What should the marriage rate be in 2024 (it was 6.9 per thousand population in 2014, down from 8.2 in 2000)?

What should the birth rate be? (It was 62.9 for every thousand women of childbearing age in 2014.)

What should the experience of unemployment be like? (The average duration of unemployment was 28.9 weeks in January. Is this a relevant measurement?)

What should the experience of employment be?

How many young people should be in college? (The percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled in colleges was 41 percent in 2012; 2.9 million students were postgrads.)

At the end of president ReformiCon’s time in office, would you hope to care less about what was going on in DC than you do today, more, or the same?

Speaker Ryan’s Common Ground


lossy-page1-640px-Speaker_Ryan_1.tifPaul Ryan “outlined his vision for a confident America at home and abroad, pledging that his top priority as Speaker in 2016 will be offering the country a bold, pro-growth agenda” (to quote the page on his website that features the full text of the remarks, hosts a video of the address and, inexplicably, contains a comments section on a par with the non-Ricochet parts of the interwebs).

True to his reform icon roots, the Speaker wants to retain Social Security and Medicare, but then goes on to lay out a vision more-or-less compatible with that offered by the various Presidential candidates: more growth, simpler tax code, smaller government, stronger military. This is presumably by design.

He has some great lines that should become staples of conservative discourse. Discussing how bureaucracy is doomed to failure in today’s world (more than a hint of Fiorina here), he says:

More bureaucracy means less opportunity—because big government and big business don’t fight each other so much as feed each other. … And so round and round the revolving door goes, all while the people stand on the sidelines. … That’s how today’s experts become tomorrow’s cronies. … Don’t outsource [problems] to the bureaucracy. Crowdsource [them to the people].

He also has some gestures towards why supporting trade agreements should be conservative policy:

We believe in free enterprise. We believe, if you have a good idea, you should have a fair chance to make it happen. That means Americans should not have to pay unnecessary costs or wait and wait and wait just to get a permit. They should compete on a level playing field with everybody else. I don’t know why we would not fight for every job out there. I don’t know why we would accept—or even worse, adopt—other countries’ corporate welfare when we know our way is better. There won’t be a level playing field—there won’t be free and fair trade—unless we work for it. China is out there every day pushing for crony capitalism. So it all comes down to this question: Are we going to write the rules of the global economy—or is China?

To my mind, he doesn’t quite seal the deal, here. (And to be fair, he makes a couple more half-arguments than this one.) But it is only one point in what is really a speech about “watch this space”.

He ends with an appeal to… I’m not quite sure. Who is Speaker Ryan addressing with this peroration?

So what it all comes down to is whether we conservatives have confidence in ourselves. Do we really believe our philosophy is true? Do we have the best ideas? If so, then I don’t see any reason why we should hold back. The truth is, the Left wants to make the debate about personalities. They want to paint us as irresponsible. That’s because we all know what the Left stands for. We all know what another progressive presidency would mean: just more of the same.

So don’t take the bait. Don’t play their game. Don’t give them a win by default. Put together a positive agenda, and take it to the American people. Give people the choice they are yearning for. And if next year, this House can say we have done that, then we will have done our job. Then the people will know that we stand for a more prosperous, a more secure, a more confident America. And the rest? Well, the rest will be up to the people—as it should be.

Oh, yeah. The hook is supposed to be ‘a confident America’ (or as the kids say these days, #ConfidentAmerica). This requires harping on the anxious, fearful America of today, which I wonder about.

Speaker Ryan” by Office of Speaker Paul D. Ryan via Wikimedia Commons.

Mike Murphy Doesn’t Know Why People Vote the Way They Do. And Neither Do You. Nor I.


murphy-mccainBecause nobody knows why people vote the way they do. At least, not in any useful sense. The four main theories of voter behavior — micro-sociological, macro-sociological, socio-psychological, and economically-rational — are as narratively compelling as sociology, psychology, and economics at explaining why something happened, but (like those disciplines) are basically useless as prediction tools.

You can read some of this between the lines of a revealing, month-old, twopart interview with Mike Murphy on his plan to cinch the nomination for Jeb Bush through the mega-bucks of the Right to Rise SuperPAC. Amongst the various details that may or may not be misdirection — that the 45 days leading up to March 15 are key; that targeting the southern states for 10 days coming out of New Hampshire could cost $35 million in media buys; that Right to Rise’s war chest is funded by a few thousand donors; how they’re looking to link your mobile phone location data to your voting history; etc. — Murphy refers to his “theories about the Iowa caucus electorate, the New Hampshire electorate, and the South Carolina electorate.”

“Theories.” Because even in a piece that is part advertisement, part disinformation, and part application for his next job, Murphy knows he doesn’t know why people vote the way they do because none of us do. So any argument about “electability” is an exercise in rhetoric, not science. And should therefore be treated with an appropriate level of seriousness: none.

Putin vs Erdoğan – Who Wins?


In times of confused international crisis — say, when one party in a multi-sided war shoots down the warplane of another party — it is instructive to view the propaganda outlets. Which explains why I was watching the RT (formerly, Russia Today) coverage of Turkey’s downing of an Su-24 near the Turkish-Syrian border (on precisely which side is in dispute).

I was not surprised by the rather desultory protest outside the Turkish embassy. I was rather surprised to read that, according to RT, Putin said:

Turkey backstabbed Russia by downing the Russian warplane and acted as accomplices of the terrorists … the plane was targeting terrorist targets in the Latakia province of Syria, many of whom came from Russia.

Russia noticed of the flow of oil from Syrian territory under the control of terrorists to Turkey… Apparently, IS now not only receives revenue from the smuggling of oil, but also has the protection of a nation’s military. … This may explain why the terrorist group is so bold in taking acts of terrorism across the world …

The incident will have grave consequences for Russia’s relations with Turkey… Russia respects the regional interests of other nations, … the atrocity committed by Turkey would not go without an answer.

Now what?

And If Hillary Wins? Then What?


hillary-clinton-as-presidentI take it for granted that President Hillary Clinton will abuse her position to enrich herself and her cronies and run a disastrous foreign policy. But while mud is being tracked through the Oval Office, the legislative branch can’t spend another four to eight years doing nothing. Or, it ought not to. But what should it do? Some suggestions:

Reform the budgeting process. Or lay as much groundwork for that as can be done without signed legislation. This plays to Speaker Paul Ryan’s strength, and goodness knows there is work to be done to move the Federal budget out of fantasy-land and towards some real numbers.

Give a voice to reformers in the armed services. Not everyone in (or near) uniform wants to degrade warfighting to the benefit of political correctness, or thinks the battlefield should be run by lawyers. Give these folks a pulpit.

Embarrass the TSA into shutting down. This should be shooting fish in a barrel. What does the TSA do apart from funneling tax money via union donations to the Democrats, inconvenience every voter, and give anti-terrorism a bad name?

Give the intelligence services a platform to win back public trust. For good or bad reasons the public’s trust in the intelligence services has been damaged. Although it goes against their nature, they need to explain themselves to win back that trust. If they deserve it.

Ignore the MSM. That includes Fox News and the WSJ. Take the news – and the messages – directly to the people via YouTube, podcasts and blogs. Paul Ryan used to do this well.

One thing I wouldn’t bother to do is spend time and energy indicting Obama and Hillary. Let’s let history do that.

Why Have the Governors Stopped Campaigning?


Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 10.12.48 AMWalker has now joined Perry in dropping out of the race for the GOP nomination. And yet, not a single vote has been cast. Not even a notoriously bad-at-predicting-the-final-outcome early primary vote, nor a single caucus. We’ve had a couple of debates that everyone agrees are meaningless to any final result, and there has been a constant drum beat of polls that could mean anything, and about which no one has any tested theory to predict the nomination in many months’ time. But nothing has actually been decided, or is decidable at this point.

Can someone please explain the mechanism by which these serious and intelligent men — surrounded by the best political consultants money can buy and, more importantly, by other sober and intelligent people — have, in the absence of any plausible evidence as to the likely outcome, decided to stand down?

Image Credits: “Gov. Perry CPAC February 2015” by Gage Skidmore . Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons and “Scott Walker AZ Chamber of Commerce 2015” by Gage Skidmore. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

A VirtuCon Manifesto


shutterstock_244246870That’s VirtuCon manifesto, not the VirtuCon manifesto. I suspect there are more visions of how virtue theory and conservatism could interact than there are actual VirtuCons. This rough first draft is a contribution to the conversation Rachel Lu rekindled last week — see Tom Meyer’s response and the conversation that followed it as well — about what an emphasis on virtue means for other parts of the conservative worldview.

Please note: The word “virtue” has recently (in the last century or so) undergone something of a change in meaning. The “virtue” in virtue theory harks back to the older meaning. Do not be misled by this choice of vocabulary, imposed by some 2,000 years of philosophical reflection.

  1. There is such a thing as human nature.
  2. There is such a thing as a form of life that promotes human flourishing. In the past this was also referred to as “happiness.”
  3. Virtues are those habits of character that tend to human flourishing. In the past, the development of these habits was also referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.”
  4. Virtues are not general understandings, but the application of general understandings to particular cases. This is known as practical wisdom.
  5. The virtues are inculcated in childhood through the enforcement of rules, in adulthood through deliberative practice, and in both stages of life through example. Enforcement by — and examples found in — family, local church, and one’s immediate community are better (more effective) than those enforced by or demonstrated in more distant institutions.
  6. Politics is an important area of human flourishing. Real participation in the life of a community requires that the rules and norms of that community are decided by its members, not imposed from afar.
  7. For these reasons, virtue requires a “hard” subsidiarity, where power is (sparingly) delegated upwards from the local to the general polity. (This contrasts with ‘soft’ subsidiarity, where the higher power delegates downwards, but always maintains real control, usually disguised as “support”).
  8. In the past, this was also referred to as “liberty.”
  9. Poverty, ignorance, and dishonour are the enemies of virtue. All three are opposed by the voluntary institution of the free market. Free markets create wealth, spread knowledge, and do not require social position to succeed. A free market requires the exercise of virtues, and assists in promoting them.
  10. In the past, this was also referred to as “life.”
  11. The realization of a continent-spanning republic amenable to human flourishing is a daunting task, but it requires an exquisite modesty. Fortunately, that modesty is the sure route to success, eschewing all temptation to tyranny. We need only have regard to three things:
  • Life – adequate means of existence, provided by the voluntary interactions of persons making choices in a condition of freedom.
  • Liberty – the room to learn and grow in practical wisdom.
  • The pursuit of happiness – the exercise of wisdom and the road to human flourishing.

American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone – a Review


AmericanDreamsIn this campaign book Marco Rubio sets out his stall as the unapologetic Reformicon candidate. He writes clearly and with verve about his plans for tax, education, and entitlement reform, if somewhat less clearly about why he should be the one to execute them.

Being something of a Reformicon skeptic, however, I found it hard to get excited. There are the usual anecdotes about “Marge and Homer of Springfield” who have been done down by the system – or, at least, the parts of it he wants to change – and how his (or Mike Lee’s and his, or Paul Ryan’s and his, or Yuval Levin’s and his) policy prescriptions will make things all right again for them and the middle class. If you’ve read the lawnmower book you know the drill. If you’ve read much of Ricochet you also know the usual objections.

(Some of the anecdotes seem rather strange choices. Jennifer, in the first chapter, has failed to reach her American Dream despite going to college and getting a four-year degree in – public administration…)

Would Marco Rubio make a good president? If you think the right thing to do is to save Social Security and Medicare for all time by reaching across the aisle then, sure. If you think the most important thing about a president is his or her instincts on foreign affairs (America must be strong) then, why not? If you think an attractive and articulate spokesman for social conservatism is vital at this trying time in the Republic’s life then, absolutely. Otherwise (and despite my sneaking suspicion Rubio would like to be more radically small-government) you might legitimately conclude there are other candidates out there with a more compelling vision.

This is the third of my campaign book review series, the others being for Ted Cruz’s A Time for Truth, and Carly Fiorina’s Rising to the Challenge. I may have the energy to do another one. What should I read next?


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