Schroedinger’s Trump

IN MY ARTICLE of yesterday, I treated the question of Trump’s Syria strike from the conventional point of view—which is to say, the superficial point of view; for the conventional in politics treats commonly of the surface alone. So far as Trump goes, this, put briefly, is the conventional view: Trump is a kind of grandiose simpleton, who, pushed this way and that by the merest breeze of his vagary, changes his mind with mercurial ease, and cannot be relied on to hold nor even to chart a single course. His strike in Syria was the result of mere hyper-reactivity, and the spur-of-the-moment decision to utterly reverse the entire basis of his foreign policy, on account of being exposed to a handful of tragic photographs.
      So much for the conventional view. Today I would like to introduce some complicating reflections on this score.

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Trump’s Syrian Strategem

MUCH SURPRISE has already been spent on Donald Trump’s decision to order a strike on a Syrian airbase. Frankly, I marvel at this surprise. I do not know what might have been expected from a man of Trump’s character. What else do you want from your strong man, than that he acts his part when the opportunity arises? Those who fall back on various Trumpian campaign promises which suggested isolationism to narrow ears, have already forgotten the plethora of more militant remarks he also made. Trump is a wide-speaking man, and it works well to his advantage; there are few promises he can break without thereby upholding any number of others.
      Certainly, he might have “stood up to the establishment,” and put an end to decades of frivolous American involvement in the business of foreign powers. I might pose a simple question in response to this observation: in ordering this strike, what did Trump really have to lose? The respect of his opponents? He has enjoyed precious little of that. The support of a wide base in the American public? From the start he has perched, not certainly on any such generous foundation, but rather on a dangerously narrow pedestal. Then perhaps he risks losing the esteem of his constituency? And which constituency, pray tell? The constituency which elected him because he appeared willful enough to stand against all the powers of the world? Do you think that the main portion of this constituency will really be long troubled by the sight of him exerting his will in the international theater? Particularly in so focused, relatively restrained, and clear a manner as this!
      Better question would be, what does Trump stand to gain? I will hazard a few guesses. For one thing, his word can no longer be doubted; all nations will hesitate before “calling his bluff” from here on out. To a man like Trump, who thinks of everything in the same terms that he considers deal-making in business, that is a bargaining chip of priceless value. At very little expense (thus far, at least!) he has demonstrated that he is not afraid of using force, and that is a lesson that everyone will rapidly learn.
      More—he has proven again that he cannot be pinned onto any particular political doctrine. This gives him liberty of movement and a certain unpredictable quality which can well serve him in days to come. He has even done something which Obama promised and failed to do—fact which, I do not doubt, he will recall to the Democrats repeatedly in coming days.
      More again—and I have yet to see this mentioned even peripherally in the articles speaking of his decision to order the strike—Trump has effectively put to bed the more sinister half of the charges that he is in the pocket of the Kremlin. No one can any longer claim that he is Putin’s puppet. He has dispersed the darkest cloud now hovering over his presidency, and reestablished his free independence from all powers, be they foreign or domestic, and all of this in the course of a single day.
      I might agree altogether that the United States has a dozen excellent reasons for abandoning its present foreign policies, and I might lament as much as anyone the absence of a political figure who is really willing to extricate us from the Middle Eastern tangle into which we have so deeply embroiled ourselves. However it seems to me that anyone who expected such miracles from Donald Trump was at best gambling, and at worst was blind.
      As for the outrage that has attended his decision, from both sides of the aisle—but really! The Democrats have no right to complain—Obama wanted to do as much as Trump has done, and Hillary Clinton would have done more yet. Nor do the Republicans have any right to complain: he who beds with the tiger can hardly be amazed when he awakes with some scratches.
      I will exempt those few conservatives who have maintained from the start a stance hostile to Trump, and those few liberals who are clear-sighted enough to recognize that the Democrats’ hands are anything but clean when it comes to foreign meddling. As for the rest, I say: it is really time you accustom yourself to the natural consequences of this politics you have built.

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Social Welfare and Procrustean Statecraft

THERE IS an argument I come across often enough, which runs something like this: nation X has an advanced, efficient, and evidently sustainable system of social welfare; therefore, nation W, Y, and Z should also be able to instate such a system. Comes then the inevitable conservative or libertarian to argue against the same, and to conclude instead that no nation should ever employ systems of social welfare, at the risk of grave injustices or catastrophic economic failure.
      I call these, both answer and response, examples of Procrustean statecraft. Procrustes in Greek mythology was a sort of bizarre highwayman, who kidnapped persons from off the street and forced them to be his guests in his home. Each of his unwilling guests would be made to sleep in a bed of a single size; and because his guests, being of different dimensions, could not all fit it, he had to stretch some and cut others down until their bodies were appropriate to his hospitality. In the same way, we like to propose a single system of good government, and to foist it upon each and every nation, with the expectation that the results will be in all cases identical. This kind of political thinking is endemic to our day, and has been since the earliest of our modern classic liberal thinkers. And I say that Procrustean statecraft like this is bound to embroil us in confusions and contradictions—as exemplified, for instance, in our debilitating and interminable attempts to establish democracy in the Middle East, or our continual insistence that all the nations of the world should adopt liberal values and policies, regardless of their native customs and traditions.
      It is high time we outgrew Procrustes’ simple, brutal logic, and began to think with a better subtlety on the relation between a given political policy, and the specific and unique people and territory to which it must be applied. Consider the question of social welfare: I can well imagine that a system of universal healthcare, for instance, might be adopted by a proud and healthy and energetic people, a people able to provide the funds necessary to pay for it, a people which possessed in its very fibers a sense of the nobility of sustaining its weak and fragile members. I can imagine such a people desiring such a thing from out of the same sense of national pride which led the Romans to proclaim, at the height of their power, that a Roman citizen could traverse the entire Empire from border to border without fear of violence or misuse. Indeed, I can imagine a people which possessed both the means and the will to accomplish such a program, and which would regard such a work as a mark of its honor.
      Yet I cannot be brought to believe that a nation, like the United States, in which better than two-thirds of the population is unhealthily obese; in which the general quality of our diet is a wretched bad joke; in which half of all citizens will contract cancer, and at least one-fifth will die from it; in which another fourth will die of heart disease; in which the median style of life is absolutely incommensurate with the median income; in which massive immigration increasingly burdens state welfare programs, through the presence of poor individuals who were not even born within the country’s borders; in which birth-rates of native-born Americans sink year by year; in which the idea of a unified “American people” increasingly appears absurd; and in which the work ethic which once governed so much of our lives is fading fast, and a complacent sense of idle entitlement comes as its substitute—I say, I cannot believe that such a nation can long sustain a system of universal healthcare, without utterly collapsing under this weight thrust upon such shaky legs.
      When—better say if—America can ever again boast a strong, self-reliant, hale, prosperous, and unified people, then I will happily revisit this issue, and in all likelihood I myself will become an enthusiastic subscriber of the very idea of American welfare, for I will regard such programs as being an excellent adornment to the virtue of our people. Prior to such a day as that, I will continue to hold that all systems of social welfare in the United States, and especially of socialized healthcare—whether it bears the name of Obama or Ryan or Trump or whatever politician you please—is nothing but a bed in which our nation’s shrunken body, if it will fit, must be pulled well past the point of snapping.

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Be as little children…

TRULY, ours is an age of wonders. Even here in so unlikely a place as the Huffington Post I come across sign of it, in an article discussing a nice little shop in Chicago called Tykables. This shop dedicates itself, as the article itself informs us, to

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