A stronger President than we realise

It did not look good for him. Though the centre of a scrum of adulation amounting almost to worship, and the honeymoon period the press are determined to keep going, President Biden’s political position is in a fine balance. That counter-intuitively may make him all the stronger.

The American system is hard to get a flavour of from British preconceptions: a Prime Minister’s strength depends on the size of his majority, if any, and the relative rebelliousness of the members in their party, and he or she may be tumbled out of his office at a moment. Australian Prime Ministers are with indecent frequency. In America though the Presidency is winner-takes-all and he is emplaced ,practically immovably for four years.

Even so, the Congress cannot be ignored, and he does not control it. The Senate is teetering with Mr Biden’s party in control only by the Vice-President’s casting vote. The House of Representatives is his party’s, but not overwhelmingly, and even in that unfortunate country’s state of angry bifurcation, party discipline is not so strong, nor need it be as their behaviour does not determine the rise and fall of the President’s government.

This may be an advantage to the new President. His opposition is not just from the Republican Party: his most dangerous opposition is from his own party. In that struggle, the presence of resistance from Congress is an ally.

President Biden’s first actions are in the immediate spotlight in the way his future actions may not be, and here he sets the tone, or what he wants to appear to be the tone for the next four years. Wisely, he has struck with a string of orders overturning his predecessor’s legacy, and that has generated the headlines he wanted. The orders in question may be quite ordinary and as expected, reversing Donald Trump’s isolationism and with a good deal of symbolism laid on. This will be an important impression of himself to lay down to the voting public and also to his own party, seething at his heels.

You see, his party has become filled with radicals quite opposed to the old values of the party (and by old values I am not going back to the days when it was the party of slavery, but what it established in more recent ages) and those radicals will be disappointed if he does to impose their wild, foolish, unconstitutional visions. The accusation is waiting, hovering waiting to drop: ‘Vote Biden; Get Trump’. He must deflect that accusation before it falls; firstly by projecting himself within the halo he currently enjoys, and secondly by resisting radical action because it cannot get through Congress.

The balanced Senate is an ally in particular: as the Senate must confirm many of his important appointments, knowing they will not approve a nutcase (to use the technical term) will allow Mr Biden to appoint moderates.

The Supreme Court is another opportunity disguised as a threat. It is said now to be dominated by conservative justices, and this has infuriate radical Democrats. That is not a logical fury though: while liberal justices have been active in overturning Acts of Congress to impose their personal vision, the ideology of conservative justices is the opposite: the prevailing doctrine is to read the Constitution as it is written and not to make rules up from their own preferences. In that case, when Mr Biden gets his legislation through Congress, he wants conservative justices there who will not interfere with it.

It is the radical Democrats who have more of an interest in trying to appoint a court which overrules the democratically elected Houses of Congress – which sheds a great deal of doubt on their being entitled to be called ‘democrats’ at all.

The tensions then and the blind hatred of the extremes, making a mockery of the pleas for unity, should ensure (if handled wisely) that the moderate path in all endeavours is the surest route to follow. That may be how Joe Biden can defeat both sides and be his own man.

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What did You do in the Culture War?

It has to come to this: action or defeat. Act, and wisely. First realise that this is not a two-sided fight: the new-left and alt-right are both the enemy to the values of good sense and freedom; the ideals of the English-speaking world.

What to though: what can be done by someone with no influence nor any real desire to be shunned at social gatherings, when they are finally allowed?

For one thing, ask yourself why you think you would be shunned for acting as you must or expressing opinions which are actually those of the great majority of people. What actual power do the new-left have over you or polite society?  They have none but the power your fear gives them. The first enemies to defeat are your own lack of confidence and your fear of shadows.

The left-wing, the woke mob, whatever you call the general tendency, do not have a monopoly of spoken opinion. Even if they have the numbers, they cannot dominate because modern media does not work like that. Looking at America, it has in this generation few journalists worthy of the name, but a variety of online media which has broken the dull conformity. The mainstream channels can pump out lazy platitudes and woke nonsense all they like, but Ben Shapiro on his own can have just as much reach alone in a studio. That is how opinion balances in the open market: one young man can beat ten thousand hardened journalists.

Then again, Ben Shapiro is a genius. Were he not there, we would be in trouble. He has the reach with others do not have, and he can do more. Recently his company even launched a film studio, specifically to break the dominance of the woke-bound big players.

Jordan Peterson is another, calling out nonsense on both sides: who would imagine that a university lecture series on clinical psychology would be getting million+ hits on YouTube? It works because he speaks plainly and truthfully. A lecture series full of mendacious left-wing platitudes would fall flat.

A hundred years ago there were Marxists feeling frustrated that whatever they did, the Establishment institutions were in other hands and they would make no progress in breaking and remaking society until they could achieve a Long March through the Institutions. Well, now they have achieved that and are in command of the heights. Now it needs a Long March of common sense to drive them off.

Most of us are not capable of doing such great works as those like Ben Shapiro, but there must be things to do – the left-wing do not stop just because they are incapable.

First then, I will look at where those with power get that power, and how they pretend to power they do not have. There will be articles to follow. That is my target. What is yours?

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We cannot win on social media

Social media belongs to the angry, the malicious, the conspiracists, the unreasoning corner of the brain. There is no point in discussing how to convert it to rationality any more than to moderate a rabid dog. Rage beyond the edge of sanity is fundamental to its nature.

Nutters will dominate social media because they are less likely to have settled jobs and responsibilities.  They have the time and presumably little sense or they would have jobs (or they are academics, which comes to much the same thing).

There is no need to recite yet again the ills of social media; the slanders, the wounding insults, the depersonalising expressions of hatred, the incitements to hatred or to violence (which are not the same thing), the threats. The conspiracy theories, well, those are a whole new topic. We know all this. There are articles aplenty on it, electronic jeremiads, bewailing the contents of YouTwitFace or whatever.

The big players of social media take the overwhelming bulk of traffic, though a discussion board or social exchange medium may turn up anywhere, for local groups. Where it is among friends, they will write rationally because they are known and judged by their peers; or there is the wilder tavern gossip we love which goes far beyond any moderation, because we are liberated from talking sense, and we know we do not mean a word. The internet takes it beyond even this. An anonymous board is licence for every explosion of the brain, and that dominates – be it on Twitter, Facebook, the BBC HYS columns, and many more.

This does not apply to profession fora where contributions are from those who putting their professional reputations and those of their companies on line in front of their potential customers and suppliers. You won’t get ‘Q’ trying to whip up crowds on LinkedIn, There is the distinction: the constraint of enforced respectability against the liberating sense given by anonymity.

There are many articles asking what can be done to clean up social media. My answer is ‘little or nothing’. We know what goes on, and what we also know, but do not want to admit is that all this is just a reflection of humanity. It Twitter is a sewer, it is simply because it reflects mankind.

Nutters will dominate because they are less likely to have settled jobs and responsibilities. The Devil makes work for idle hands: so does ‘Q’ apparently. Things said online have no consequences so there is no limit to what can be said, whether you believe it or not, and it could become addictive. Actions without consequences can be a dizzying liberation, as they were to the Washington crowd last week, right up to the moment that a shot rang out and Ashli Babbitt fell dead. That moment marked a sudden change in their dynamic, as it was the first time that a real world consequence struck, and with deadly force.

A way then to moderate, control or even eliminate the abuse of social media? There is none, while it lasts in its current form. The platforms might try to become active publishers, picking and choosing contributions, and they know that would kill their customer base and their business model.

Regulation of some sort would be barely different, and drawing the distinction between vigorous free speech and dangerous incitement is not something which I would entrust to any politician, frightened official or social media magnate.

(You must also ask yourself what sort of person would volunteer to be ‘Controller of the Internet’, and whether you would allow a person of those characteristics anywhere near the levers of power.)

If anyone wants to start fighting falsehood and conspiracy theories on social media, go ahead, if you have the time and resilience. Do not start though with things like QAnon, which is just too ridiculous, but with the most pernicious and commonplace conspiracy theory; the one which preaches that all your misfortunes are caused by rich people hoarding all the wealth to keep you down. Sometimes there is a racial slur added to it, and we all know where that leads. Can the champion of truth react to every post or tweet about ‘fat-cats’ and ‘Tories’, and who should do it? What fact-checker sites can be established to direct those caught in the delusion? It is a political issue, for politicians, and that is how they should be working.

Social media will continue though to belong to those who have too much time on their hands and no responsibilities. Bringing calm reason to bear with the aim of creating a space for respectful collaborative development of ideas is an impossible dream.

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Books

Gorged Washington

If it was an insurrection, it was a pretty pathetic one. It was a demo gone wild in the last fling of a movement with pretended power.

I saw the scenes from across the pond and I was shocked as we all were that a seething mob could overwhelm the seat of American democracy in the form of a rebellion as if to overthrow the pillars of the state. A great, excoriating narration began to form with which I would blast the mob that defiled the soul of that nation. However in the cool light of the morning, it was nothing.

Washington still stands. There are broken windows and scuffed furniture, but otherwise you would not know. No one set the buildings alight or strung aged senators from lampposts. The riot was in the United States, where even children carry guns, but these were an unarmed crowd just rampaging in sheer joy through buildings which they could have visited any day with an admission ticket. It is not an attempted coup; more a “coo-ee!

Even so, there were deaths, and they are not anonymous figures – all lives matter remember. (Ashli Elizabeth Babbitt, since you ask, or should – 35 years old, ex-Air Force; victim of a conspiracy theory as much as a policeman’s bullet; unarmed; leaves a grieving husband. Also Brian Sicknick, police officer; died of wounds suffered in action.)

If it had been a coup or a rebellion, we would know about it. There would be blood on the streets and hundreds weeping for lost children. As the riot seemed to be led by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, it matched it in form: much chatter, symbolism, oaths to take action, but no reality.

Did we not warn of this, when the integrity of elections is questioned and their validity is challenged? On this very website we foresaw the dangers:

A comparison has been made with 1814, and they say it is the only time since that fateful year that the Capitol has been overrun; but it was not 1814 and these protestors were not General Ross. There were no flames to douse this time.

I will condemn utterly the actions of the mob that day, because I can. It turns the stomach thought to see people like the high officials of Sinn Fein daring to condemn political violence without burning with the shameful hypocrisy of it, and the shock at this protest from France, whose streets still reek from the smoke of riots far, far worse.

Some things from my discarded excoriation remain. This was a disgraceful action, astounding, shocking and an assault upon the very pillars of democracy. The rioters need to face trial and those who encouraged or excused it have morally disqualified themselves from high office, and Donald J Trump, I mean you in particular – I can giggle at your playacting when you use empty words just to position yourself to achieve good things, as you have, but when it comes to that rhetoric playing out in this mob violence, there is no respect remaining to you. This was an exuberant play-rebellion, but in the land of guns it could have been very, very different. You did not know it would not be that way.

Who will feel kindly ever again towards the US Republican Party, after this, which their shenanigans encouraged? They will need to do some serious repair work and reinvention of what they are all about. That said, the Democratic Party did worse: they started the Civil War, all because they could not accept a Republican president or the abolition of slavery, and on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line they endeavoured to defeat the Union. They came back, eventually.

Things should calm down. In a week and a half a new President will take office, and the old establishment will reassert itself. It may be uncomfortable for that establishment though as a more radical fringe has invaded and occupied much of their party. Revenge will be in the air just as consensus is needed.

If there can be calm, then many guilty men will have to apologise and try to rebuild the mythology on which democracy must be built, and have the humility to yield their forfeited leadership to those who did not endanger the foundations of the state.

There is no avoiding a reckoning, in which the actions and words of those in positions of responsibility and influence have undermined the very system which gave them position and salary.

However, it is not just those you are thinking of who face that reckoning in the court of public opinion and at the harsh judgment of the ballot box. Those who without sufficient cause sought to undermine this election or to overturn the election by refusing to do their duty in Congress must answer for the damage they have done to the stability of the democratic settlement. Those who whipped up the mob, yes, they will be named. It is beyond party though; it must be.

  • Those who tried to subvert the Electoral College are guilty – and so are those who tried the same subversion in 2016.
  • Those who cat-called at Joe Biden that they did not accept him as a legitimate President are at enmity with democracy; as are those who called ‘Not My President’ at Donald J Trump, who shunned his inauguration and publicly tore up his speeches.
  • Those who tried to overthrow Barack Obama are guilty; and also those who laid knowingly false charges against Donald Trump to unseat him.
  • Those who refused to do their duty according to the American Constitution are culpable, but also those who conspired to disaffect appointed officials from performing their duties to the sitting President.
  • Those who propagated the QAnon idea, who whipped up and then excused the mob – they must face the consequences. Also though, those who excused the mobs which rampaged through the cities of America in the summer. They declared from their high positions that violence by a mob, when carried out in the name of a cause firmly believed in is a good and noble action. They set the tone, the landscape and the rules by which others led their own riot, and they should be thankful that those who rampaged over Capitol did not even approach the rage of the mobs in the cities. Such a one must be named, howsoever high she may have climbed, and face the like judgment.

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The new challenges for 2021

Happy New Year to all; and now we roll our sleeves up to achieve what the opportunities of the year put before us.

Few were sad to see the end of 2020. It has been a bad year, which is one reason for not doing a jaunty end-of-year round-up yesterday.

There have been happy things: Britain came out of the European Union at last on 31 January 2020 and the hang-over transition period ended as the new year fireworks were bursting, and with a good, new trade treaty agreed, not a cliff-edge. However the dominant theme of the year has been the plague from Wuhan.

The worst thing has not been the disease but the lockdown imposed to try to control it, which failed, lengthening pain. I found it hard to celebrate the New Year – when they end the lockdown, then I can celebrate.

In the meantime, we look ahead. There is work to be done.

For all of us, the priority is to work, and work hard, at whatever we do that is economically active, or social. The lockdown has trashed the economy and bankrupted many, but the overall structure is sound, when allowed to work, and hard work will revive the engines of prosperity. Work is there, fundamentally, to create value, as Adam Smith explains. There can be forms of work which are valuable in one sense but create no lasting value, such as the work of civil servants, judges, stage actors and the like: the priority is value-creation as all prosperity depends on it. (If that means sending unnecessary civil servants out to work in factories and shopfloors, I am all for it.)

Society too has taken a body-blow: we have got unused to congregating together, attending church, organising social gatherings and attending and organising the clubs and societies which form the sinews of active society, and it will take an effort to convince anyone to come off the computer screen, stop watching daft YouTube videos (guilty as charged) and to step outside the house and into those social groups. It has even got to the basic level of decay that many have found they do not have to give a friendly greeting or to smile.

Within government too, action is needed, and it must not be driven by professors on a power-trip. Indeed after this period of utter negation of liberty, we need to see a major drive to boost individual freedom. Politically it will be important to be seen to champion freedom and personal responsibility, but then any politician can make the right noises: Tony Blair was hailed as a champion of civil liberty but in the event was an enemy to it. Society suffers and the economy suffers when its members are not free. We can thrive economically and in our mental state when we have personal responsibility and the freedom to pursue our personal goals. I feel more specific articles coming on.

In a few days’ time the country with the world’s biggest national debt will have a new President, and we must see how he swings America’s weight around.

Liz Truss for one will be busy, signing even more trade deals across the globe. Fascinatingly, her bouncy confidence and speed of action have driven even the glacially slow European Union to up their game in signing deals in the wider world. They are being overtaken though.

Then the loneliest man of them all is Rishi Sunak, with an empty Treasury and knowing that he if he raises taxes to fill the gap, it would bring no more cash in anyway, and would put another wrecking ball into the economy.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2021, but it is not going to be easy. We cab look for politicians to acct wisely, but really the hard work is for the rest of us. We must all work hard.