Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Mead’s Model of Foreign Policy Attitudes

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Walter Russell Mead began an examination American attitudes toward foreign affairs in 1999. He published an article in the Winter 1999/2000 issue of The National Interest titled “The Jacksonian Tradition”, which he further developed in the book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World.

Mead decomposed attitudes among the public toward foreign policy into four basic approaches. Arranging them from most realist to most idealist, they are:

  • Hamiltonians emphasize trade and economic development for America and see economic policy as an agent for global peace. They are the most elitist of the groups, seeing nothing wrong with engaging in covert operations to achieve policy objectives. They have historically been the most Anglophile, and in recent decades have been the most enthusiastic promoters of global free trade.
  • Jacksonians see the most limited continuous role for the US in foreign affairs. They don’t want to be “the world’s policeman.” However, when the country is attacked or provoked, as it was in 1941 at Pearl Harbor or in 1979 when the Iranian students took Americans hostage, they want us to do whatever it takes to prevail.
  • Jeffersonians focus on the preservation of democracy and civil liberties in America. They are deeply distrustful of military adventures and the attendant cloaking of government action under the guise of national security. They are predominantly isolationist; pacifists can find a home here.
  • Wilsonians are the most idealistic, seeking to spread democracy, as they conceive of it, throughout the world. These are the people who want to engage in “nation building.” They are also the most opposed to nationalism, favoring world government organizations such as the League of Nations or United Nations, and the most willing to cede sovereignty to such organizations.

The majority of Americans can be considered Jacksonian in their approach to foreign affairs. Theirs is the fire brigade approach to foreign conflict: do what it takes to put the fire out, then go home and go about your business. Thus, in World War II, they had no compunction about sowing destruction from the air on Germany and Japan. Once they surrendered, however, Jacksonians wanted the hostilities to be over. There was no support among Jacksonians for plans to keep Germany in penury forever, such as the Morgenthau Plan.

Mead wrote in “The Jacksonian Tradition”:

For foreigners and for some Americans, the Jacksonian tradition is the least impressive in American politics. It is the most deplored abroad, the most denounced at home. Jacksonian chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are the despair of high-minded people everywhere, as they hold up adhesion to the Kyoto Protocol, starve the UN and the IMF, cut foreign aid, and ban the use of U.S. funds for population control programs abroad. [pp. 8-9]

However, in the same paragraph, Mead goes on to observe that, “without Jacksonians, the United States would be a much weaker power.”

Although the Jacksonians are least likely to publish articles, promote pundits or otherwise engage in conventional thought leadership, Mead identifies several cornerstone principles of the Jacksonian outlook. Jacksonians demand self-reliance of themselves and others. Among those who are self-reliant, all persons are created equal. Jacksonians are individualistic, but adhere to traditional moral standards. They consider the virtue of courage to be paramount, and many have no problem getting physical when they perceive offense.

Jacksonian culture values firearms, and the freedom to own and use them. The right to bear arms is a mark of civic and social equality, and knowing how to care for firearms is an important part of life.”
— Mead, p. 14.

Because of the values Mead identifies, the influence of Jacksonian thinking is not confined to foreign policy. Mead has some interesting observations about attitudes toward debt and consumption, where “credit is a right and that money, especially borrowed money, is less a sacred trust than a means for self-discovery and expression.” He traces this back before the advent of ready consumer credit, and it does help look at 19th-century Populism in a new way. Mead cites the traditional support for “loose monetary policy and looser bankruptcy laws.”

The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his.
— General George S. Patton

For Jacksonians, wars must be fought with all available force. If you don’t like the force we unleash on you, you should have thought of that before you picked a fight with us. Our casualties are to be minimized; our opponents’ casualties are not our problem. Jacksonians since Grant and Sherman have understood Clausewitz: it is not sufficient to defeat the enemy army; you must break his ability to raise another. You must break his spirit and prove to him the futility of resistance. General Philip Sheridan, when an observer with the Prussian Army in 1870, expressed his opinion that the Prussians were insufficiently fierce. Sheridan observed that the Prussians knew “how to defeat an enemy,” but not “how to annihilate one.”

The proper strategy consists in the first place in inflicting as telling blows as possible upon the enemy’s army, and then causing the inhabitants so much suffering that they must long for peace, and force their government to demand it. The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.
— Sheridan to Bismarck, 1871.

The rest of the country has recognized the existence, if not the specific nature, of the Jacksonians, and confronted the need to enlist their support in projects in which there was no clear and present danger to the US, such as World War I, Vietnam and Iraq. The result has often been that dangers were oversold to mobilize this population, resulting in a big crash after the discovery of the oversell.

Jacksonians are united in a social compact. Outside that compact is chaos and darkness. The criminal who commits what, in the Jacksonian code, constitute unforgivable sins (cold-blooded murder, rape, the murder or sexual abuse of a child, murder or attempted murder of a peace officer) can justly be killed by the victims’ families, colleagues or society at large — with or without the formalities of law.
— Mead [p. 14]

Mead has made a significant contribution to our ability to understand ourselves. The attitudes he identifies go a long way to help us understand both events in our past and trends in our present. His analysis has explanatory power.


Written by srojak

April 8, 2018 at 10:41 am

Whatever Happened to the New Overtime Rules?

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Back in 2016, President Barack Obama wielded his pen to sign a Presidential Memorandum (= executive order) to change the labor laws by which eligibility for overtime was determined. I described them in this essay.

Before the new rules went into effect, a group of plaintiffs went to federal district court and obtained a temporary injunction blocking the implementation. The lead plaintiff was the State of Nevada, whose finances were also affected by the change.

In August 2017, Judge Amos Mazzant made the temporary stay a permanent invalidation. The judge concluded that the intent of Congress was to apply eligibility for overtime based on duties, whereas the proposed rule change would change the basis to pay rate. Here is a more detailed summary of the ruling.

As I have previously discussed, I do not object to raising the pay threshold for overtime eligibility on principle. Employers should not be able to defeat the spirit of labor law through arbitrary reclassification of employees.

Nevertheless, I take the point that Judge Mazzant makes in his opinion:

As explored above, the plain meaning of the words in Section 213(a)(1) indicates Congress defined the EAP exemption with regard to duties. In other words, Congress intended for employees who perform “bona fide executive,  administrative, or professional capacity” duties to be exempt from overtime pay. Congress delegated authority to the Department to not only define and delimit the EAP exemption but also to stay consistent with Congress’s intent.

The judge was true to the intent of the Constitution that Congress, not the President, is vested with the authority to make law. What should have happened is the President should have gone back to Congress for a revision of the rules. He needed the assent of Congress to revise the law to raise the importance of pay rate and reduce the importance of job duties.

Obama had a deteriorating relationship with Congress. The reason is not material; I don’t want to play “who shot John.” The point is that if the President can’t get his initiative through Congress, then constitutionally, he doesn’t get to act. It matters not how noble he believes his purpose is.

I also consider it noteworthy how I have heard absolutely nothing about this issue in the media. I found about the planned revisions at work, in an email from Human Resources. Thereafter, I followed up on my own.

Journalists spend thousands of air minutes and column-inches every day rehashing how abnormal the current President and his administration are. Even if we accept their findings, they are no longer news. Today is day 426 of the Trump presidency. The man is over 70 years old, he’s not going to change and he’s not going to adapt to standards of behavior he doesn’t accept. Get over it.

The problem here is news selection, not fake news. The fact that journalists spend so much time at the circus and so little time on issues of real life importance is not trivial. We depend on journalists to find news for us, because we have day jobs. This is an issue that affects thousands of employers and millions of workers. It should not be crowded out by the latest executive tantrum.

Written by srojak

March 22, 2018 at 1:38 pm

It’s Not Your Soapbox, Margaret

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Yesterday on Face the Nation, Margaret Brennan was interviewing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript:

BRENNAN: Well, the CIA is looking at declassifying the details of exactly what her job was. They have not confirmed that she ran that black site, but why don’t you withhold your judgment on her until you see the details of her 33-year career?

SEN. PAUL: Because I think there’s ample information out there and it’s not disputed that she ran the black ops operation in Thailand, that she did oversee enhanced interrogation. In fact, her colleagues have said that she was an enthusiastic supporter of these enhanced interrogation or waterboarding or torture as most of us have come to believe it. There is also evidence that she signed a cable to destroy the evidence. There were videotapes which I’m sure were ghastly of the simulated drowning and these were destroyed with her support and advocacy when she returned home to Washington.

So I think there’s got to be plenty of good people at the CIA who weren’t involved with torture and really we, you know, we’re supposed to be the symbol of hope for the world and people who want freedom from totalitarianism. They want freedom from torture. They don’t want the freedom to torture–

BRENNAN: But that was–

SEN. PAUL: — so I think this sets a terrible, this sets a terrible example for the world.

BRENNAN: To be clear, though that was U.S. policy at that time. That wasn’t her individual policy, but just to quickly fact check you on something there, sir, the investigator who looked into some of what you’re talking about with those tapes, the CBS News senior security contributor, the former number two at the CIA, Mike Morell, did clear Haspel saying she didn’t order the destruction. Her superior, did she just drafted the cable. Does that change your view of her?

I have added emphasis to highly the critical point of the interview, where Brennan starts talking over Paul to make her own point. It does not really come through as clearly in the transcript as it does in the original video, which is linked to the transcript.

It is out of scope for this essay to consider the merits of the arguments the Senator is making. It is clear from his presentation that, even though “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal and authorized at the time Haspel was involved in their conduct, Paul finds them immoral and challenges the morality of persons who were engaged in executing them. It is not my purpose to support or refute his position here.

The problem is that Brennan’s conduct of the interview strongly suggests that she has a position, which is to exonerate Haspel because her actions were legal at the time. That is a potentially valid argument, and as a citizen herself, she is entitled to her viewpoint. But we are not here to watch Margaret Brennan interview herself. The people of Kentucky elected Rand Paul to the Senate; who elected Margaret Brennan to anything?

As a citizen, what I want Brennan to do is to draw out and clarify her interviewee’s arguments in favor of his planned course of action. In this case, her interviewee is Sen. Paul and his planned course of action is to object to the confirmation of Gina Haspel.

Brennan could have asked Paul a question such as, “Why do you believe that, even though the actions in which we know Haspel to have been involved with were legal at the time, her participation in them disqualifies her from consideration for the position she has been nominated for?” Had she done this, and let him answer, she would have been doing good journalism.

Instead, in the part of the transcript I emphasized, she cut him off and inserted advocacy for her own point of view. Then she changed the subject so that she could have the last word. If she was running out of time for the segment, she should have said so and not taken the last word. He’s the person being interviewed; he gets the last word.

The earlier paragraph, in which Brennan asked Paul why he would not withhold his judgement until further information is made available, is also a questionable insertion of perspective. Senators are there to make judgments, not withhold them. Particularly where black operations are involved, withholding judgment until you have all the facts is just a license for people to withhold the facts. Paul is within his rights to basically say, “Here is my current position based on what I know; you persuade me to change it.”

I don’t mean to pick on Margaret Brennan. She didn’t do anything plenty of other journalists are not also doing. She is the person CBS has chosen to lead Face the Nation. I watch the show regularly and I want her to succeed; look what happened to Meet the Press after Tim Russert died. I just caught Brennan in flagrante delicto and I knew within a few days I would have a transcript.

But what this incident illustrates is part of the problem journalists have, and they have to fix it. You can’t take sides and then claim to just be reporting the facts. Furthermore, it is not enough to tell yourself and your friends you are not taking sides; you cannot give the appearance of taking sides.

I don’t agree with the claim that mainstream media is presenting fake news. This is a gross oversimplification, shallow and easy to refute. Journalists, editors and media executives know their credibility is on the line. They are rather vigilant about policing themselves in that regard. When The New York Times discovered that they had a problem with reporting done by Jayson Blair, they took action to clean up the mess and keep the initiative in tending their reputation.

The problem is that journalists fluidly flip back and forth over the line between advocacy and impartiality. As a citizen, I want to understand the positions of my elected representatives. There is really little difference between journalists inserting their own opinions and athletes, actors or musicians using their celebrity status to pontificate to the rest of us. They are citizens just like the rest of us. They just have more access. Having access does not confer expertise, nor does it gives you more votes than any other citizen.

This flipping back and forth impairs effective journalism, because people who disagree with your agenda start to distrust you. They start looking for you to insert your agenda, even where you really haven’t. They start preferring the most cynical interpretation of everything you say. They start discounting your reporting. This is already happening.

Journalists, being people, can’t avoid having their own viewpoints. They are not going to be robots and always report the facts without color of their own biases. However, in order for us to have effective journalism, those practicing it have to make an honest attempt to square this circle. It is difficult, but we are heading into increasingly rough weather. We haven’t even got to the difficult part yet.

Written by srojak

March 19, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Journalism Foul

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Follow the Trump Money

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At an early age, I learned that control comes from the sources of financing. Donald Trump has had six corporation bankruptcies (note that Trump himself has never personally filed for bankruptcy), yet he retains a business empire and, unlike many other who enter government service, has refused to put his business interests at arms’ length while serving as President. From where does he obtain his financing?

Donald Trump definitely qualifies as someone who was born on third base and tells everyone he hit a triple. He not only had his father’s wealth to draw on, but his father’s relationships with lenders. His record in business is checkered, to say the least. He has a long record of disputing his bills to suppliers; even if the suppliers were delivering substandard products and services, as the Trump attorneys allege, it would suggest a problem in the selection process within the Trump organization. A less charitable — but more believable — interpretation would be that he uses his lawyers to strong-arm suppliers out of what he owes them. Now, thanks to Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti, we have further insight into how Trump uses lawyers and courts as weapons against people who don’t have his resources to fight back.

Others have done the investigation for how Trump’s presidential campaign was financed. The Center for Responsive Politics has provided this summary of funding for efforts both to support and to oppose the election of Donald Trump.

The more interesting story is where his business financing is coming from. This is especially true given both his continued direct involvement in his business interests while in the White House, and his proven record of inability to distinguish his person from his office. This last is one of the most menacing aspects of his behavior in office, as it would set politics back four hundred years.

Who would lend money to an entrepreneur with six business bankruptcies under his belt? In June 2017, Francine McKenna reported that Trump has still been able been able to obtain substantial loans without facing penalizing interest premiums. Her article suggests that many lenders are supplying credit to Trump’s business, but only names Deutsche Bank and Ladder Capital, the latter of which is a real estate investment trust (REIT). In December 2017, Wendy Siegelman did some further investigation into these two organizations. Siegelman observed:

The various overlapping connections among these companies and developers is likely representative of common intersections in the finance and real-estate world. However, given the significant leverage Ladder Capital and Deutsche Bank have as holders of hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt, it’s important to bring these business connections and potential conflicts of interest to light.

The relationship with Deutsche Bank may present some problems. Trump has already fallen out with one arm of the bank, only to cozy up to another. For its part, Deutsche Bank has its own murky issues. In 2016, Federal regulators went after it to the tune of $14 billion for securities fraud during the 2008 mortgage crisis; the final settlement was a $7.2 billion penalty, split between fines and community service. In 2017, the bank paid $41 million to settle claims by the Federal Reserve that Deutsche Bank failed to maintain adequate controls against money laundering.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) got on the trail of Deutsche Bank in late 2017, demanding that the Justice Department get moving on a investigation of the $10 million money-laundering operation that the bank is alleged to have organized. This may be the true source of Trump’s recent Twitter outbursts against Waters. Yes, Waters has her own issues, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Trump has a long history of seeking business in Russia, going back before the fall of the Soviet Union. He has actively pursued business ventures in Russia. He has working relationships with Russian oligarchs. Many of these relationships are tended by son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is in way over his head. Michael Wolff, in his book Fire and Fury, quoted Steve Bannon predicting that Robert Muller would be coming after Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., and Paul Manafort. Per Wolff, Bannon made the observation that Robert Mueller chose Andrew Weissmann, who has a reputation flipping witnesses to build cases against mobsters and white-collar criminals, as a top aide. Mueller has by now already brought charges against Manafort.

Deustche Bank could also be fertile ground for Weissman to find candidate canaries. Martin Sheil wrote this report in which he went through the various smells emanating from the bank’s closet. This two-part report is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the meat of the matter. He explained the mechanics of how the money laundering technique worked; the Russians call this action “konvert”, as in to convert subterranean assets into legitimate assets. Sheil also cited a prosecution conducted by Weissmann and Preet Bharara against an important Deutsche Bank client in 2016. Yes, that is the same Preet Bharara whom Donald Trump fired as U.S. attorney in early 2017.

Sheil also specifically identified the Mercer family, funders of Breitbart News, as deeply involved with questionable bank activities. Patriarch Robert Mercer ran a hedge fund, Renaissance Technology (RenTec), that received favored trading relationships from the bank, to the extent that the IRS has challenged them. A risk management executive whose area of responsibility included the bank’s relationship with RenTec committed suicide in January 2014.  Mercer, for his part, has elsewhere been on record for claiming that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was “a major mistake.” We may not have heard the last about the Mercer family.

If, reading this, you conclude that there is nothing but innuendo here, consider this: Donald Trump ran his entire campaign on innuendo. He didn’t really mock a reporter for his disability, right? And what was that about Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her wherever“, if not innuendo he could walk back from? So I don’t want to hear the complaints. Live by the innuendo, die by the innuendo.

The point is that there is that there is a large potential to mine here. Robert Mueller has already subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank. As Christopher Brennan wrote in the Daily News, money laundering requires the prosecutor to prove both that the original funds are illegal and the people involved knew that they were illegal. The latter requires more than hard records of transfers; the prosecutor needs witnesses and testimony. That is why Weissmann is there.

The question Rosemary Fanelli asked in Forbes is critical: do the Russians hold and control the debt of Donald Trump’s businesses? “Why was Trump able to borrow additional funds even after he defaulted on his prior loans? Does this mean the President is compromised and beholden to a foreign government?” Russians understand capitalism well enough to know that, when you have people by the financing, their hearts and minds will follow.

I found all these links in less than a day, sitting alone on my computer in Texas. Robert Mueller has lawyers, subpoena power and a no-limit special prosecutor credit card. What do you think he’s doing? Why do you think his investigation is taking so long?

I predict that, if the Democrats win the House this November, Trump will have Mueller fired before the end of the year. Trump has to know that a Democrat-controlled House will rain impeachment motions into the hopper, anyway. Trump will figure, “What have I got to lose?”




No King in Israel

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In the current month of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson has written about the conflicted relationship between many evangelical Christians and President Donald Trump. Gerson has included a partial history of the political challenges evangelicals have faced in America over the past 150 years. He’s an evangelical himself, and I do not dispute his direct experience. I like context, and appreciate the history. But it is incomplete in several respects, and I am taking up the task of filling it out.

The Book of Judges has many instances of Israel being led by people whom most people would not have chosen. Ehud was a murderer. Deborah was a woman living at a time and place where women were not considered worthy wielders of power. Gideon was the runt of the family. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute, exiled from his father’s house. The people always visualize their leader as a great king, who will drive their enemies before them, but God has other ideas. The ultimate example is Jesus himself, who, instead of leading the people to victory over and freedom from the occupying Romans, died on the cross.

The Third Great Awakening

Tom Wolfe wrote that the 1970s were seeing the Third Great Awakening, but he was off by one. The actual Third Great Awakening started shortly after the Civil War. It had mostly sputtered out by 1900.

In many respects, the period was full of solutions looking for problems. The Civil War had brought about the bloody end of legalized slavery. What great achievement would be left to the successor generation? For some, the call was to convert the rest of the world to the person’s accepted form of Christianity. There was a great burst of missionary activity, both within the US and around the world. The 1842 Treaty of Nanking, which ended the Second Opium War, opened China to missionaries. After the Civil War, American missionaries joined their British brethren in China. Henry W. Luce was an important American missionary in China; he was the father of the Henry Luce who started Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines.

Another important movement was the Social Gospel movement, which Gerson also mentions. The Social Gospel declared that the focus of salvation must be at the community level, rather than the individual level. I have previously addressed the problems of the Social Gospel in a previous essay.


The third important outgrowth of the time was Prohibition. Although it was not achieved until 1919 when the 18th Amendment was ratified, Prohibition was an important goal that was taken up by many of the faithful. Prohibition would become their greatest short-term success and hang a millstone around their necks for decades.

Evangelicals went all-in on Prohibition. As late as 1933, C. Oscar Johnson, president of the Northern Baptist Convention, told FDR:

Baptists are back of you 96.8 percent. We cannot go the other 3.2 percent.

The 3.2 percent was an allusion to 3.2% beer that was already available in many states.

Evangelicals thus made themselves outcast for a generation, gaining a reputation as national prigs, indifferent to the failure of a well-intentioned national crusade that had only served to benefit violent crime syndicates. David Frum would later write:

For all that, a Christian who in 1955 applied an “In Case of Rapture This Car Will Be Unoccupied” bumper sticker to his car would attract puzzled looks from his neighbors.
How We Got Here, p. 156.

The majority of the GI generation was cold toward evangelicals, who were politically marginalized in America in the 1950s.


Gerson also mentions fundamentalism. This arose from a series of challenges posed by modern society to orthodox belief, including evolution and biblical scholarship.

The immediate source of fundamentalist doctrine was a series of documents published between 1910 and 1915, titled The Fundamentals. The core beliefs that fundamentalists identified to distinguish themselves were:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible;
  2. The literal truth of the biblical accounts;
  3. The virgin birth of Christ;
  4. The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ;
  5. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross.

The publication of The Fundamentals started the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in American Protestantism. In 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick launched a counterattack with his sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?“.

At the same time, there was the controversy over evolution, which Gerson discusses. Secular, sophisticated America considers the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial to have been the decisive milestone that, once and for all, made the opponents of evolution look ridiculous. But this is also a tenet of faith; evangelicals do not share it. Writing in 1963, Richard Hofstadter reported with some degree of evident mortification:

A few years ago, when the Scopes trial was dramatized in Inherit the Wind, the play seemed on Broadway more like a quaint period piece than a stirring call for freedom of thought. But when the road company took the play to a small town in Montana, a member of the audience rose and shouted “Amen!” at one of the speeches of the character representing Bryan.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, p. 129.

By 1940, the Protestant churches we generally identify as “mainline” went modernist, and the evangelicals predominantly took up fundamentalism. The Baptists actually cease to be considered “mainline” to the extent they support fundamentalism.

The Remnant

There is a constant tension in Christianity between beliefs that assert salvation is open to all and those that maintain only a remnant of the people can be saved. After World War II, evangelicals took the remnant position and retreated into their own communities, where they could be true to their faith as they understood it.

However, the forces of secular modernism followed them. Let the evangelicals speak for themselves on this:

The 1960s ushered in another set of rapid cultural and political changes. Local controversies over textbooks and sex education in public schools, the tax-exempt status of religious schools, and gay rights raised concerns. Activists motivated by their religious beliefs began grassroots efforts to promote their causes locally, and their efforts eventually captured national attention.
— Amy Black, “Evangelicals and Politics: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed” []

Challenged by the twin attack vectors of public policy and television, it was becoming harder for evangelicals to maintain their own values in their own communities. By 1980, many evangelicals felt like they were colonists in their own nation, dictated to by faraway people who do not share their values and seek to impose their own norms upon the evangelicals. If only out of self-defense, evangelicals had to mobilize politically.

The Abusive Boyfriend

So evangelicals get involved in politics. As I outlined in this article, they found themselves in the Republican party, in coalition with libertarians, right-corporatists and Republican “wets” who want everyone to get along. What generally happens is that the donors get the policies they want and the rest of us get a lot of sunshine blown at us.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. Evangelicals detest it, because they believe it to be contrary to scripture. Libertarians think it’s a great idea, and why don’t we legalize polygamy while we’re at it? Corporate types need this as an issue like they need holes in their heads; gay people have money to spend that is just as green as anyone else’s, and the corporate people are not anxious to alienate that market. So what happens is that elected officials generally make inconsequential noises to keep the various coalition members interested, making sure that nothing meaningful ever really happens.

I quoted Amy Sullivan in the referenced essay, but her observations are worth repeating:

Like an abusive boyfriend, Republicans keep moderate evangelicals in the coalition by alternating between painting their options as bleak and wooing them with sweet talk. You can’t leave me-where are you going to go? To them? They think you’re stupid, they hate religion. Besides, you know I love you-I’m a compassionate conservative. The tactic works as long as evangelicals don’t call the GOP’s bluff and as long as Democrats are viewed as hostile to religion.
“Why Evangelicals Are Bolting the GOP”  []

Republicans were correct in their belief that most of the evangelicals were not going to go over to the Democrats, but they never dreamed that a Democrat would come over to them.

Enter the Serpent

Donald Trump promised to be like no other politician, and he has definitely delivered on that. Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, evangelical leaders were rather clear on their criteria. They were looking for a President, not a youth pastor. They wanted someone who would get in the political arena and fight for what they wanted.

Trump has been very busy appointing federal judges. Given the scope judges currently have to take an activist role in laying down black-letter law, there is a lot for evangelicals to like.

Also consider how willing Trump is to take the political initiative. Look at his State of the Union speech. No other Republican since Reagan has been willing to take the fight to the opposition like that.

I can understand why evangelicals might look at Trump as their last, best hope. They certainly would not be alone in that regard. There is no Republican on the horizon who has demonstrated any readiness to seize the favorable terrain on messaging.

Note that I did not say, “take the high ground,” because where Trump is involved, that would be laughable. That is the problem facing all Trump supporters, particularly those who want an intact reputation after the Trump era ends.

It is remarkable to hear religious leaders defend profanity, ridicule, and cruelty as hallmarks of authenticity and dismiss decency as a dead language. Whatever Trump’s policy legacy ends up being, his presidency has been a disaster in the realm of norms.
— Michael Gerson, “The Last Temptation”

Gerson documents how the evangelicals are doing it again. Just like with Prohibition, they are going all-in for Trump. It is not enough for them to like what Trump is doing for them; they feel this need to like him. They have to like, or at least excuse, everything he does. By doing so, they are prostituting themselves.

Solzhenitsyn wrote about the message Soviet culture was constantly drumming into their heads: “The result is what counts.” But he saw through it:

But that is a lie! Here we have been breaking our backs for years at All-Union hard labor. Here in slow annual spirals we have been climbing up to an understanding of life—and from this height it can all be seen so clearly: It is not the result that counts! It is not the result — but the spirit! Not what — but how. Not what has been attained — but at what price.
The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. II, p. 609.

Spiritual leaders are supposed to know this. They will pay a high price for ignoring this truth.

Written by srojak

March 12, 2018 at 5:58 pm

What Took Him So Long

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Gary Cohn announced his intention to resign as the Director of the National Economic Council yesterday. His announcement is being generally attributed to his opposition to Trump’s plans to impose tarriffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The editorial board of The New York Times, predictably, found little to lament about his departure other than the fact that he was the devil they knew. You can read it here if you want to; I found their editorial generated more heat than light.

Writing in The Week, Scott Lemieux asked what took Cohn so long to quit:

Cohn was well aware of Trump’s penchant for economic nationalism, so it’s a little odd that this, of all things, was what pushed him to his breaking point. Personally, I would be more offended by, say, Trump firing the FBI director to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian interference into the 2016 election, or his travel ban plainly targeted at Muslims, or his assertion that some of the neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville were “very fine people.”

This is worth exploring, even if it requires speculation.

Lemieux continued:

Of course, I never would have joined the administration of an unprecedentedly corrupt and dishonest president who began his ascension within the Republican Party by popularizing the racist conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Africa, and started his nomination campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” It’s always been clear that nobody who goes to work for Trump is going to come out looking better.

OK, so we have established that Lemieux is going to have limited insight into the viewpoint of someone who would join the administration. I have been on the inside of some unwell organizations, and seen how people react under stress. So I am going to put the value positing on hiatus and try to examine this from Cohn’s perspective.

There is a school of thought that says that when the President calls you to serve, you go. For people holding this belief, working in the White House is more than an opportunistic run on a career ladder. This, I believe, is why Mitt Romney allowed himself to be jerked around when Trump dangled the job of Secretary of State in front of him (wait, the Russians quashed this?).

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt decomposes human activity into labor, work and action. Action is the creation of change in human affairs. People who want to engage in action want to have influence. Public service attracts many of them. Most of them are thick-skinned; they had better be.

Gary Cohn had a net worth of at least $250 million when he accepted his White House role, according to this article in Fortune. If he had wanted to make more money, there were other places for him to go. It is reasonable to believe that he preferred to go where he could, ideally, influence economic policy at the national level.

So he gets there; what does he find? He finds he has a boss who does not intend to be influenced when he gets an idea in his head. Now what?

We will probably never know the truth about when Cohn began to sour on his job. He may not even know. I have worked with people who were sold a bill of goods when they were hired. Then they find, once they are in the door, that they don’t have the influence they were led to believe they would have. It’s a difficult adjustment. There is a grief cycle one has to go through.

Do not discount the importance of cognitive dissonance. You took the job to have influence. You were promised influence. Yet, the behavioral facts indicate that you have no influence. You’re a pilot strapped to a guided missile. This is a bitter pill. It is hard to admit to yourself that you have been had. Know any project managers? How are they dealing with this?

So, maybe at the time of the Charlottesville clash, Cohn was still in the bargaining phase of his grief cycle (or possibly the denial phase, but let’s be charitable). Possibly, as Lemieux wrote, Cohn prioritized influencing economic policy over protesting the racist pronouncements of his boss.

You can argue with his prioritization, but sneering at it is not called for. People in positions of responsibility pick their battles. People who don’t pick their battles never make it to positions of responsibility and influence. Anybody can sit in the bushes and throw rocks at the person who is making himself visible by taking action. Arendt mentioned that, too.

There are a lot of miserable people in the White House these days. Sarah Huckabee Sanders looks like an abused puppy. Jeff Sessions appears to be hanging on out of spite; some kind of perverse endurance rally. And whatever happened to Kellyanne Conway?

I have worked with people who have been kicked around for much less of a job than a White House position. They tell themselves they can take it, they are not going to give in and quit. They start developing Stockholm syndrome, making excuses for the people being abusive to them. At one company, we used to debate whether it was really any better anywhere else. I am coming round to believe that, if you have to ask the question, the answer is yes.

Not everyone who leaves the White House wants to write a tell-all book describing how the management sucked. It is possible that Cohn was eyeing the exit for some time, and this issue gave him the pretext he needed to have “peace with honor.” He might prefer a narrative where he left over a visible policy difference to one where he left because working there was beyond unpleasant. Some people really don’t reveal everything — hard to believe these days, but there it is.

With the information available to us at this time, it looks like Gary Cohn has called in well. Boss, I’m too well to come to work and be made miserable. It’s been a slice.

How many of the people criticizing him are jealous?

Written by srojak

March 7, 2018 at 6:27 pm

The Bad Family Business

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I have some experience with badly run family businesses, both direct and through the stories of people I have known. My mother did not want to work for a large company when I was a teenager, so she went to work for small, owner-managed companies. As I grew up and got real-world experience, I was able to reflect upon how some of her employers qualified as bad family businesses. I can recognize some patterns. I am in a position to make a few generalizations about the bad family business.

Many privately-held small businesses feature some interesting owner behaviors. The owner often does not want to become the next GE; he just wants to be in business, set his own hours and have the business landscape his house. He has no plans to take the company public; he wants to retain control of the company, as his position confers status, power and perquisites. Thus, the behaviors of the firm you study in economics are not the behaviors of this firm, not because the owner is irrational, but because his primary goals are not market expansion or profit maximization.

The owner reasons that, without him, there would be no business, which is usually true. Therefore, in the reasoning of many owners, it logically follows that he is at liberty to impose any policies that please him, or none at all. After all, who signs your paycheck? He may decide he doesn’t have to tolerate disagreement or indulge in wasteful or unnecessary practices such as progressive discipline. If he wanted to put up with that stuff, he could work in a corporation and not have to worry about making payroll. The day he’s sick of looking at you, you can be gone. Don’t count on getting warnings like you would in a large corporation.

The bad small business does not distribute ownership of work. Micromanagement is common. If the owner thinks sentences cannot end in prepositions, no correspondence had better go out the door with a preposition on the end of a sentence. Never mind that his letters look like they were scrawled in crayon; he’s the boss, so he gets to do that. If you, his employee, do not do what he wants the way he visualizes you ought to do it, you may lose his trust forever. This will not end well for you. There is a right way, a wrong way and the boss’s way; guess which two don’t count.

The bad family business overlays a badly managed business with a governance structure heavily dependent upon members of the owner’s family. Of course, this leads to nepotism, but that is not the half of it. The family culture becomes the corporate culture. The interpersonal pathologies of the family move into the company, bag and baggage. The way the other family members deal with the owner — or don’t, as the case may be — becomes the norm for the organization. Any kind of conflict that the family can’t resolve becomes a kind of conflict the company can’t resolve. If you can’t relate to the family the way his family members relate to one another, you are not going to fit in.

Periodically, the owner of the bad family business will respond to some problem by bringing in a manager from outside. This manager will have credentials and experience that the owner believes he needs. The manager will start making changes. He will begin to have conflicts with the owner’s family members who participate in the business. He will believe that, because he was brought in to fix a problem, that he has the political clout to prevail over the family members in a conflict. Usually, the manager will be dead wrong. He will go into the owner’s office for a showdown, and come out unemployed.

It is easy to understand how these managers go wrong. They allow themselves to believe that, because the big boss complains about something, that his top priority is to get that something fixed at any cost. But when the cost reveals itself as family members losing influence, the big boss recoils. Blood is thicker than water.

The kids may not know how to build a sales force. They may not know the difference between debits and credits. They may not know all sorts of business stuff. But they know how to push Daddy’s buttons. They’re really good at that, having practiced all their lives.

On 20 January, 2017, the Executive branch of the US Government was taken over by a bad family business. It was a hostile takeover. Nobody wants to hear how things used to be done. Have you not heard? The people who did things the way they used to be done are losers. There is a new President and a new set of norms.

Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are family. Steve Bannon found out what happens when you clash with the kids. He won a few rounds, such as with the Paris Climate Accord, but ultimately he was cut off at the knees. Now, it looks like John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is on the road to ruin.

Sources tell the news network that Kelly believes Trump is blurring the lines between first daughter and senior adviser to the president.
Kelly has reportedly said privately that the first daughter is “playing government,” and referred to her child tax credit as “a pet project.”
— Julia Manchester, The Hill, 27 Feb []

In badly run family businesses, kids get to have pet projects. You, who are outside the family circle, disparage them at your peril.

Even better: Jared Kushner received a downgrade to his security clearance, from top secret to secret [].

Jarvanka, as the two are commonly known, are reported to be preparing for a “death match” with Kelly []. I have seen this movie before. It does not end well for Kelly.

The employer generally gets the employees he deserves.
— J. Paul Getty

So does a President.

Written by srojak

February 28, 2018 at 6:43 pm