Time to meet meet the new boss
Inauguration day yesterday – and in a sea of hysteria & hyperbole @Jon Snow’s ‘less is more’ interview caught my eye – calm, rational, easy to see another’s point of view. Getting the Twitter link there for Jon Snow, his tweet from this arvo’ says: “The challenge in reporting Trump is that at times telling the truth sounds so far-fetched that it looks like editorial bias”…
Intellectualising Trump looks quite a task. Here’s some more on Julius Krein – from Politico
Meet the Harvard whiz kid who wants to explain Trumpism
A new journal aims to lay the intellectual foundation for the Trump movement.
By ELIANA JOHNSON 01/03/17
Some are skeptical of whether it’s possible to make sense, ideologically, of President-elect Donald Trump’s ad hoc approach to decision making. | AP Photo
A 30-year-old conservative wunderkind is out to intellectualize Trumpism, the amorphous ideology that lifted its namesake to the presidency in November.
Until recently, the idea itself was an oxymoron, since Trumpism has consisted in large part of the President-elect’s ruthless evisceration of the country’s intellectual elite. But next month, Julius Krein, a 2008 Harvard graduate who has spent most of his admittedly short career in finance, is launching a journal of public policy and political philosophy with an eye toward laying the intellectual foundation for the Trump movement. If his nerdy swagger is any indication, he has big ambitions: He noted wryly that he is — “coincidentally”— the same age that William F. Buckley Jr. was six decades ago when he founded National Review, the magazine that became the flagship of the conservative movement.
If National Review was for many years a movement without a candidate — it wasn’t until nine years after its founding that it enthusiastically endorsed Barry Goldwater for president — Trumpism is working in the opposite direction. The man himself gained a following despite little support from the academics and journalists who have populated conservative magazines and think tanks in the modern era. In the wake of his victory, a group of intellectuals are emerging to make sense of worldview and to advocate for it.
Just as Buckley positioned National Review against the Republican establishment of his day, Krein’s journal, American Affairs, will take aim at today’s conservative establishment — the one Buckley did so much to build.
“We hope not only to encourage a rethinking of the theoretical foundations of ‘conservatism’ but also to promote a broader realignment of American politics,” Krein said. It will launch in both a print and digital version, and a substantial portion of the funding will come from Krein himself. He said donors to traditional conservative institutions have been “surprisingly” receptive to his pitch, though he declined to name the additional contributors.
The various strains of conservatism have historically been anchored in journals and magazines. Buckley’s National Review gave birth to the modern conservative movement; Irving Kristol’s The Public Interest provided a home for neoconservatives in the 1970s and 80s; and Yuval Levin’s National Affairs has incubated reform-conservative policy proposals for the past several years. Krein’s journal marks the first attempt to build an intellectual home for the Trump movement and to generate ideas and policy proposals that the new president can tap. “Not nearly enough of that is happening around the changes we’ve seen in this election,” said Levin.
Some are skeptical of whether it’s possible to make sense, ideologically, of Trump’s ad hoc approach to decision making. “It will take a good deal of time for even Trump’s most gifted apologists to craft an intellectually or ideologically coherent theme or narrative to his program,” said Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review. “Trump boasts that he wants to be unpredictable and insists that he will make all decisions on a case-by-case basis. That’s a hard approach for an intellectual journal to defend in every particular.”
Trump won largely without the support of the ideas-men who have populated right-leaning magazines and think tanks for the past six decades, advancing the philosophical arguments and generating the policy proposals that have served as the lifeblood of successful political movements. The leading conservative magazines, National Review and the Weekly Standard, opposed his nomination. American Affairs will try to fill the void, particularly in the realm of trade and international economics, where Trump generated an upswell of support during the campaign but around which there has been little deep thinking on the right.
Krein isn’t starting from scratch. During the campaign, the most muscular and controversial defense of Trump came from an anonymous author calling himself Publius Decius Mus in a piece titled “The Flight 93 Election,” published in the Claremont Review of Books. He argued that there was actually some intellectual coherence to Trump’s views, even “if incompletely and inconsistently” articulated. Trump, he wrote, had taken “the right stances on the right issues — immigration, trade, and war — right from the beginning.”
Before he published the article, Decius was writing for an obscure, now-defunct blog, the Journal for American Greatness, where a band of reprobate conservative academics loosely affiliated with the Claremont Institute, a California-based conservative think tank, had gathered to mount a case for Trump.
Krein served as the blog’s day-to-day administrator while holding down a job at a Boston-based hedge fund until the site’s editors shut it down, telling readers that their audience for what was mostly intended as “an inside joke” had “expanded beyond any of our expectations.” Krein deleted all off the archives. But the Journal’s unexpected popularity, the editors said, made it clear that “many others similarly felt the desirability of breaking out of conservatism’s self-imposed intellectual stagnation.”
Krein said American Affairs will be an extension of the Journal, and that several of the blog’s heretofore anonymous contributors will write for him under their own names. He fleshed out the idea for the journal on a phone call in early December with Charles Kesler, the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, and Decius himself, though the latter said he will not be involved with the new publication. They determined that American Affairs would aim to be a crossbreed of the Claremont Institute, which concerns itself more with literature and philosophy than with public policy, and Levin’s National Affairs, which is devoted exclusively to public policy.
Gladden Pappin, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, will be the journal’s assistant editor. Krein emphasized that the journal will include both well-known authors and new voices from the the right and left.
“Our goal is to provide a forum for people who believe that the conventional ideological categories and policy prescriptions of recent decades are no longer relevant to the most pressing problems and debates facing our country,” he said.
And a piece Krein wrote – a lifetime ago, in September ’16
From the September 7 Issue
Traitor to His Class
To begin with, his positions, as Josh Barro has written in the New York Times, are rather moderate. As Barro points out, Trump is willing to contemplate tax increases to achieve spending cuts. He supports some exceptions to abortion bans and has gone so far as to defend funding Planned Parenthood. He has called for protective tariffs, a position heretical for Republicans, who are typically free traders. Although opposed to Obamacare, he has asserted that single-payer health care works in other countries. Even on the issue of immigration, despite his frequently strident rhetoric, his positions are neither unique—securing the border with some kind of wall is a fairly standard Republican plank by now—nor especially rigid.
With respect to his rhetoric, whether one characterizes his delivery as candid or rude, it is hard to ascribe his popularity to colorful invective alone. Chris Christie, who never misses an opportunity to harangue an opponent, languishes near the bottom of the polls. Or ask Rick Santorum, as well as Mitt “47 percent” Romney, whether outrageous comments offer an infallible way to win friends and influence voters. Trump’s outré style, like his celebrity, helps him gain attention but just as certainly fails to explain his frontrunner status.
Most candidates seek to define themselves by their policies and platforms. What differentiates Trump is not what he says, or how he says it, but why he says it. The unifying thread running through his seemingly incoherent policies, what defines him as a candidate and forms the essence of his appeal, is that he seeks to speak for America. He speaks, that is, not for America as an abstraction but for real, living Americans and for their interests as distinct from those of people in other places. He does not apologize for having interests as an American, and he does not apologize for demanding that the American government vigorously prosecute those interests.
What Trump offers is permission to conceive of an American interest as a national interest separate from the “international community” and permission to wish to see that interest triumph. What makes him popular on immigration is not how extreme his policies are, but the emphasis he puts on the interests of Americans rather than everyone else. His slogan is “Make America Great Again,” and he is not ashamed of the fact that this means making it better than other places, perhaps even at their expense.
His least practical suggestion—making Mexico pay for the border wall—is precisely the most significant: It shows that a President Trump would be willing to take something from someone else in order to give it to the American people. Whether he could achieve this is of secondary importance; the fact that he is willing to say it is everything. Nothing is more terrifying to the business and donor class—as well as the media and the entire elite—than Trump’s embrace of a tangible American nationalism. The fact that Trump should by all rights be a member of this class and is in fact a traitor to it makes him all the more attractive to his supporters and all the more baffling to pundits.
Conservative pundits have complained for years about the base and its desire for “ideological purity.” Trump shows that what is most in demand, however, is not ideological purity but patriotic zeal. Only a fool would believe that the fate of the Export-Import Bank could motivate millions of voters. It is not a minor and complicated organ of trade promotion that motivates but whether the ruling elite is seen to care more about actual national interests or campaign dollars and textbook abstractions like free trade.
Trump’s critics misunderstand his political appeal just as they fail to comprehend his business appeal. Indeed, Trump is almost certainly not as rich as he claims he is, nor is his record as glittering as others’, nor is his a rags-to-riches story. What he offers instead is a portrait of business as a fully human struggle filled with almost romantic jousting competitions. For Mitt Romney, corporations may be people and capital the invisible hand, but for Donald Trump business success is about human battles and visible victories. When asked if he feared a backlash against rich candidates like the one that damaged Romney, Trump responded, “Romney isn’t that rich.” If listening to Bizet made Nietzsche want to be a composer, listening to Trump makes one want to buy real estate. He imbues business with glory. For Trump, business is about winning and losing, and for real human beings, that’s what gives it life.
It is the same in politics. Our election discourse, though increasingly mawkish and sentimental, has become almost Kantian when it does have a theoretical orientation. “Serious politics” is believed to bethe politics of rational beings on the path to perpetual peace—not men, and certainly not Americans, with real interests that sometimes conflict with those of other nations. Questions of basic policy, if not argued from some victim narrative, are inevitably situated in arcane disputes over economic theory. The words victory and defeat have been banished from our discourse. “Serious politics” is now confined to detached rationality.
Trump, however, is eros and thumos incarnate, and his very candidacy represents the suggestion that these human qualities should have a role in our political life beyond quivering sentimentalism. Trump alone appears to understand that politics is more than policy and ideology. Beneath the bluster, he offers an image of Machiavellian virtù long absent from American politics.
Nothing in our politics seems worthy of being taken seriously anymore. The White House takes to Twitter with Straight Outta Compton memes about the Iran deal. We no longer know what political seriousness is—or we are afraid to pursue it, for fear of offending. We have reached a stage of decadence where we fear everything except frivolity. This is precisely the precondition for Trump’s popularity, and his unapologetic mockery of more conventional forms of political theater makes him in some ways the most serious candidate in the race.
Julius Krein is a writer in Boston.
THIS MONTH, the forty-fifth president of the United States will be sworn into office—but not on the Bible. Indeed, no sacred text or tome is required to administer the oath of the presidency, and this time, for this man, the only playbook is that of spectacle.
People who study politics have long used two basic models of explaining how the world works. The first is realpolitik, whereby a group or state acts in its own interest, that is, in the interest of amassing power. The second is ideology, according to which a group or state acts based on a belief or cultural more, whether a religion or an ethics or mere zeal. The difference with Donald J. Trump is that he seems motivated by neither model. He has no consistent ideology; he appears to contradict his every word almost immediately after uttering it. He does not evince any rational decision-making based on strategic goals. He is instead motivated by one thing: media.
The West’s incoming leader is driven, in other words, by the image. His regime is built on visual and perceptual culture (complete with an old-school minister of propaganda, Stephen Bannon). This is by no means new, of course, on the stage of world politics. Since time immemorial, real conflict has arisen because of perception and the escalation of perception—one example is what political scientist Graham Allison has called “the Thucydides Trap”: when an ascending power is seen as a threat to the dominant power, and that spiraling fear leads to war. (Thucydides wrote, “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”) One watches this dynamic at work in Trump’s cultivation of fear and trigger-happy—or Twitter-happy—responses, just as one saw it in the Iraq war itself, a fraudulent response to a perceived threat.
The power of the visual has ascended to ever-greater heights, even in a world of invisible networks of control, of flexible and tentacular streams of surveillance, biopower, and microregulation. But at the same time, the top-down dissemination of information via mass culture in the twentieth century has been hyperdiversified, splintered. Today, we confront the spectral atomization of disinformation throughout the dark reaches of the internet, the most esoteric voices flowing like microscopic particles into the lifeblood of the media apparatus. Technological networks can amplify these bits and flows—exponentially, monstrously, radically. And the most effective vehicle for these streams is the image: the appearance of truth, or of might.
Trump seems to believe that he projects an image of white male strength, but his visage is far stranger than that: No matter what words emanate from that mouth, the orange scowl is such an affront to the placid miens of the Romneys and Clintons of the world that it cannot but upset the order of things. This is no telegenic Reagan smile but the rictus grin of an anarchic troll. Trump’s image produces a reality effect like no other before it.
The unprecedented proliferation of such images, and the rise of fundamentalisms and populisms over the past several years, has demonstrated that the unthinkable can happen: that the most extreme views—the fringe, the alt—can suddenly assume the seat of world power. That statistics and polls can be extravagantly wrong. In previous essays in these pages, I have written about systems of global control that are often construed as “seamless and totalizing,” yet which are increasingly overwhelmed, thwarted. But at the time, I had no idea just how contingent the world would become. What we are experiencing is what sociologist Ulrich Beck called the “risk society,” wherein scenarios we cannot predict are constantly escalating. Unintended and unforeseeable side effects have everywhere become the main event: black swans, market crashes, floods and storms. Modern, rational institutions of regulation and control are continually upended by outcomes for which we have no model, no data, no rule.
Indeed, to believe that such institutions won’t fail—that they are infinitely powerful, adaptable, flexible—is to retain a humanistic faith in man-made systems of control. It is to presume yet another kind of determinism—one that fails to understand the unexpected risks and ruptures, the accidents, that may render received wisdom about power and agency and causality obsolete. We should by no means underestimate the consolidation of sovereign authority or the spread of surveillance today (Putin-Comey-Google, are you listening?), but we should question any simplistic assumption of an all-seeing, totalizing, monolithic governmental or financial power. That’s the kind of conspiracy theory that the alt-right embraces, and it is too easy, even comforting; it makes for simplistic critical binaries, too.
So what does this upending, the unthinkable become reality, mean for other movements and activisms, other visions of the world? Clearly, within the context of liberal democratic politics, there is practical work to be done on the ground, changing redistricting laws and fighting to restore voting rights; attempting to further the causes of social and economic justice and civil liberties, both systematically and through small acts of volunteering and organizing in local communities. Yet apart from such work, it is crucial that extreme and unprecedented thinking be realized in the name of other worldviews—whether within unraveling states or within the most autocratic governments, as have unfolded outside the West over the past decade.
Just as other disciplines have, art must think the unthinkable. Art must counter image with image—constructing pictures but also precipitating their undoing, their disruption, their unmooring. Just as Trump’s image seems to usher forth a world of risk, a state of chaotic volatility, art has long fomented the contingent, the unprecedented. Like spectacle, art seduces, frightens, incites, deranges; it glows.
In another delirious moment, facing another rise of nationalism, autocracy, and a new world order, Siegfried Kracauer wrote that the artist’s “tasks multiply in proportion to the world’s loss of reality.” The artist must ultimately take on the role of “the observer who not only sees but also prophetically foresees.” Art can and must foresee other pictures, other worlds—to which we can look, and for which we must fight.
In the same vein, I’m grateful to Charley Bolding-Smith for introducing me to Thucydides & the Peloponnesian War.
Enfin, from a cultural milieu I’m more familiar with, a favourite song – which for years I have associated with Putin. Don’t laugh, I know it’s an anti war song – but some of the words, not least the title, make me think of – patriotism & nationalism. Which, as of yesterday in now a global thing….oh dear
Analog revisited –
V pleased to see Kodak reintroducing Ektachrome in 35mm. Hopefully, if that goes well 120 will be next 🙂
Home Sweet Home
My mother will be v pleased about this piece in the paper