24 June 2018

Final solution

Last week I tweeted a link to an article in The New Yorker.

The Government Has No Plan For Reuniting the Immigrant Families It is Tearing Apart

In the past two months, under the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy, the government has taken some two thousand immigrant children away from their parents.

I captioned it thus:

I am sure they will come up with a solution, finally

A few people have warily told me that the comparison to the Nazis' genocidal Final Solution is too rhetorically strong. I understand why they would say that; we should keep our powder dry on accusations of genocide.

Let me expand on my allusion.

There are two major schools of how the Nazis came to the point that they were building murder factories.

One is that their leadership fundamentally had mass murder in mind all along, and it only took them time to secure sufficient control that they could implement their designs. Many scholars hold to this view, and it was my own for a long time.

But many others have another read, and seeing events in the US unfold in the last year has me leaning more to it.

The other thesis says that the Nazis effectively painted themselves into a corner. They want to rid the nation of undesirables — Jews, communists, homosexuals, Roma, et cetera — and they hoped that just making life difficult enough for them would mean that the undesirables would emigrate and the problem would solve itself. But that doesn't work, or at least not fast enough. So the Nazis start rounding people up to keep them from poisoning the society: kill off a few along the way, throw some in jail. But we are talking about a lot of people, so that doesn't scale well. The Nazis start building specialized facilities, to pack undesirables in a few areas while figuring out what to do. Hence “concentration camps”: concentrating unwanted people out of the way, in a camp. They use the people in the camps as slave labor, because so long as you are going to the trouble to manage a facility full of monsters you cannot expose to the populace, you might as well, right?

But again, this doesn't scale well. And by this time the Nazis are hard at work conquering Eastern Europe, so the they end up with even more Jews and communists and other undesirables on their hands. All of this gets to be more elaborate and expensive to run. Concentration camps prove not to be much of a solution, they are themselves a problem. They drain resources that should be devoted to winning the war and building autobahns and monumental architecture and developing scientific wonders and so forth. The attempt to get Jews to emigrate has already shown that repatriating millions of people to some other country is no kind of solution, either. Heck, other countries have been sending shiploads of Jewish refugees back for years and you're stuck in this stupid war because the British stubbornly refuse to help you to claim the space you need. Maybe you can quarantine all those undesirables on the island of Madagascar when you're done conquering Africa, but the war is taking a long time, and even that is not a real solution; then you have an island full of Jews plotting to overthrow you.

Golly, you just hadn't thought it through.

These partial, temporary solutions are no good. You need a final solution.

And there you are.

Knowing this, reading this article about the lack of a plan gave me a chill. The architects of this policy aren't thinking ahead. What do they do when they have camps and prisons with millions of undesirables? What do they do next?

03 June 2018

David Brooks

I have been meaning to compile a proper index of critiques of New York Times columnist David Brooks. This improper one will have to do.

Driftglass, who is a master of David Brooks takedowns, sums it up:

I will remain one of those cynical, vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers of the Left who does not trust Republicans like Mr. Brooks as far as I can throw an angel food cake on a neutron star. Because having examined Mr. Brooks' work in detail for more than 13 years now, I can say with absolute confidence that whatever bunting and balloons Mr. Brooks may pick out during any given week to adorn his awful column, the real subject of virtually every single David Brooks column going back to the almost the beginning of recorded history is always the same: Both Sides Do It.

Everything else but his consistent, core message -- that Both Sides are to blame for all excesses and atrocities, and that the entire, well-documented history of his Republican party simply does not exist -- is nothing but Beltway gingerbread and sleight-of-hand.

And not even competent sleight-of-hand!

Driftglass again:

Because when Mr. Brooks' Whig fantasies go all sideways and another one of his beloved elite hierarchies goes horribly wrong or his Crazy Biggit Jebus Party once again decides to smash something precious to make some ludicrous point, David Brooks always, always, always weasels up a way to unload half or all of the blame for the catastrophe onto imaginary hippies or “the 60s” or Al Gore or woman or Barack Obama or some-damn-body else who is a not a member in good standing of Mr. Brooks' Invisible Army of Reasonable Conservatives.

Jonathan Chait:

Note that solving actual problems is besides the point here. Brooks is almost explicit about this. He begins with the need for initiatives that he thinks will lead to happiness and comity between the parties in Washington, and then comes up with policies that might fit the bill. Not surprisingly, viewed from the standpoint of an agenda designed to make life better for Americans in some way, shape or form, Brooks’s proposed agenda is strange.

Me, back in 2005, offering a quote from one of his articles and a set of vigorous takedowns of that one in particular.

We hate him because he has a knack for somehow sounding reasonable, thoughtful, and concilliatory when in fact, if you take a minute and walk through his reasoning carefully, you see that his comments are full of poison.

Brad DeLong (echoing a critique of conservative thought described in John Holbo's long, instructive essay about David Frum)

The worst of all is his closing line: “This is a moment to feel deeply bad, for the dead and for those of us who have no explanation [for why the tsunami happened].” No. This is not a moment to feel bad for those of us who have no explanation for the tsunami and so wallow in existential despair. This is not a moment for that at all.

Charles P Pierce on Brooks' oblique prose:

David Brooks concocted what may be “The Perfect David Brooks Paragraph.”
Most of the advocates understand data is a tool, not a worldview. My worries mostly concentrate on the cultural impact of the big data vogue. If you adopt a mind-set that replaces the narrative with the empirical, you have problems thinking about personal responsibility and morality, which are based on causation. You wind up with a demoralized society. But that's a subject for another day.

Pierce again:

This may be the most shameless passage of political journalism I have ever read. It contains more of the elements of passive-aggression, self-absolution, historical amnesia, and outright falsehood in the same place than any other single location this side of the author's own frontal lobes.

Corey Robin, who knows as much about the history of conservatism as anybody in the world, on Brooks lamenting the state of contemporary conservatism.

So let’s take it apart, piece by piece. Brooks says the rot set in 30 years ago, in the wake of Reagan. Let’s see how today’s conservatism compares to those loamy vintages of more than three decades past. The bolded passages are all from Brooks’ column.

Jon Schwarz, in The 10 Most Appalling Articles in the Weekly Standard’s Short and Dreadful Life, describing his #1 pick, Brooks' The Collapse of the Dream Palaces.

From the Weekly Standard’s April 28, 2003 issue — that is, a month after the U.S. invasion of Iraq — this may simultaneously be the worst, funniest, and most terrifying writing ever published in the English language. For instance, its opening paragraph includes the phrase, “Now that the war in Iraq is over.” You must read it for yourself; it cannot be explained, only experienced.


When you’re finished reading the piece, remember that this was published just five months before the New York Times hired David Brooks as an op-ed writer. In other words, the Times saw this gibbering, so disconnected from reality it is functionally insane, and thought: This is exactly who we want explaining the world to our readers.

What exactly does David Brooks want “anti-Trumpers” to do?

Here’s another tell that Brooks’ analysis is missing a few key angles of the Trump phenomenon: The only time Brooks mentions race is within a quote from a political scientist that he immediately rebuts. The people without college degrees who are turning to Trump have something very important in common beyond their educational background—they are overwhelmingly white.
This helps to explain why these white people who purportedly resent society’s elite have rallied around a candidate who is obsessed with credentials and the trappings of elitism.
As I read Brooks’ piece, I found myself wondering—because he stopped short of proposing any productive way forward—what does he want “we anti-Trumpers” to do? How can we right the wrongs we have perpetrated against Americans without college degrees? What possible solutions could we bring to bear on the problems he identifies?

The capstone: Brooks lying outright: