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Kevin Williamson on the college debt debate

You’ll notice we are not having a national debate about paying off poor people’s mortgages. We could do that just as easily if the self-declared champions of the poor had any interest in anything other than their own status and their own appetites.

They don’t.

The College-Debt Debate Is a Culture-War Battle

Make Russia Great Again by Christopher Buckley

The bad news is I am back from vacation in Michigan and no longer have access to a lake simply by stepping out of my tent and choosing the form of my water transportation (pontoon boat, row boat, or kayak). The good news is I read another political satire and am here to report back.

First, the basics:

Make Russia Great Again Book Cover
Make Russia Great Again Fiction Simon & Schuster Kindle 288 NetGalley

The award-winning and bestselling author of Thank You for Smoking delivers a hilarious and whipsmart fake memoir by Herb Nutterman—Donald Trump’s seventh chief of staff—who has written the ultimate tell-all about Trump and Russia. Herb Nutterman never intended to become Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff. Herb served the Trump Organization for twenty-seven years, holding jobs in everything from a food and beverage manager at the Trump Magnifica to being the first general manager of the Trump Bloody Run Golf Course. And when his old boss asks “his favorite Jew” to take on the daunting role of chief of staff, Herb, spurred on by loyalty, agrees. But being the chief of staff is a lot different from being a former hospitality expert. Soon, Herb finds himself deeply involved in Russian intrigue, deflecting rumors about Mike Pence’s high school involvement in a Satanic cult, and leading President Trump’s reelection campaign. What Nutterman experiences is outrageous, outlandish, and otherwise unbelievable—therefore making it a deadly accurate account of being the chief of staff during the Trump administration. With hilarious jabs at the biggest world leaders and Washington politics overall, Make Russia Great Again is a timely political satire from “one of the funniest writers in the English language” (Tom Wolfe).

Of the recent political satire books I have read Make Russia Great Again was by far the best.

Christopher Buckley makes the White House activity all too believable and doesn’t go so far over the top as to spoil the humor. The dry humor works with just enough absurdity to add spice. Sure, it is at times sophomoric and crude, but given the subject matter what do you expect?

Why the three stars? I guess there is a fine line between humor that is funny and that which is depressing. So even as I smiled wryly at the humor, I was shaking my head at the reality that makes satire of the Trump era so difficult.

And this is where judging this book becomes difficult. If you WANT to laugh at/with Trump World, Buckley provides the opportunity. But in some ways it seems to normalize the absurdities involved. Ironically, the humor works in important ways because Buckley gets at the absurdity that lies close to any form of politics and celebrity culture and plays it straight. And he highlights how Trump turns this all up to 11. There isn’t a seething anger or a bitterness either.

Celebrity Culture, Elected Officials & Leadership

Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt looks at the other side of the issue raised by Leonard Reed: leadership. He offers some wise words on interpreting what you see on TV or on social media:

Not every crime leads back to the suspect you already disliked. Sometimes the trail leads back to the people you thought better of, who you thought were on the right path, the people who you thought weren’t capable of this.

But this section on what it means to serve in elected office is important too:

The combination of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread urban violence should be reinforcing to all Americans the hard lesson that elected office is not about being a celebrity. It is not about looking good on television, or an opportunity to manipulate and control the lives of human beings like moving pawns on a chess board. It is not about soaring rhetoric and pretty words.

Leadership in elected office is often about telling people difficult truths that they don’t want to hear, making hard decisions that will fully satisfy no one, and accepting the responsibility for making those decisions. If you are not willing to accept that, don’t run for the job.

For more insight on celebrity platform versus character building institutions and leadership, I highly recommend A Time To Build by Yuval Levin which I hope to review here soon. Recent events have only highlighted how important these issues are to a vision for moving forward.

On Thinking for Self – Leonard E. Reed

A conversation on Twitter prompted me to think about the dozens of books on conservatism I have and further to actually pull some of them off the shelf.  This in turn induced in me both despair and desire.  Despair at the time it would take to even make a dent in this collection but also a desire to dive into this sea of knowledge in the hopes of rekindling the love and wonder I had in college and grad school.

All of this by way of introduction to why I stumbled on Accent on the Right by Leonard E. Reed (famous for the essay I, Pencil and for founding the Foundation for Economic Education) and decided to finally read the slim volume.  I did so today and found it an odd but still insightful libertarian essay on freedom, progress and persuasion.

There was a chapter, On Thinking for Self, however, that I thought was worth sharing.

Reed starts with, to him at the time, a frightening thought:

What a fearful thought-if this situation is general: a nation of people the vast majority of whom do no thinking for themselves in the area political economy! Positions on matters of the deepest social import formed from nothing more profound than radio, TV, and newspaper commentaries, or casual, off-the-cuff opinions, or the outpourings of popularity seekers!

Reed than explores the impact of such a climate on politics:

Assume a people who do no thinking for themselves.  Theirs is a stunted skepticism.  Such people only react and are easy prey of the cliche, the plausibility, the shallow promise, the lie.  Emotional appeals, and petty words are their only guidelines. The market is made up of no-thinks. Statesmen-men of integrity and intellectual stature-are hopelessly out of demand.  When this is the situation, such statesmen will not be found among the politically active.

And who may we expect to respond to a market where thinking for self is absent?  Charlatans! Word mongers! Power seekers! Deception artists! They come out of their obscurity as termites out of a rotten stump; the worst rise to the political top.  And when our only choice is “the lesser of two evils,” voting is a sham.

[…]

When thinking for self is declining, more charlatans and fewer statesmen will vie for office.  Look at the political horizon to learn what the thinking is, just as you look at a thermometer to learn what the temperature is.  So blame not the political opportunists for the state of the nation.  Our failure to think for ourselves put them there-indeed, brought them into being. For we are the market; they are but the reflections!

An interesting fact intrudes itself into this analysis: approximately 50 percent of those who do not think for themselves are furious with what they see on the political horizon-which is but their own reflections! And to assuage their discontent they exert vigorous effort to change the reflections from Republican to Democrat, or vice versa.  As should be expected, they get no more for their pains than new face making mentalities remarkably similar to those unseated. It cannot be otherwise.

I will leave it to the reader whether any of this is applicable to our time…

The Corruption Before Trump

We are where we are in American politics, in part, because all these big-picture projects succeeded in enriching private interests … but failed to achieve their stated public goals. The “shock therapy” delivered to Russia midwifed Putinism instead of a prosperous American ally. The war in Iraq ushered in a regional conflict that’s still burning to this day. Chimerica worked out better for the Chinese than for many working-class Americans, and far better for the Chinese Politburo than for the cause of liberty. And the self-justifying doctrine of the present elite — that you can serve the common good while in office and do well for yourself afterward — became far more implausible when the elite’s projects kept failing even as the officeholders kept on cashing in. – Ross Douthat

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