Thugs, Near and Far

Four great reads this week — three from the FT, and one from the Scholar’s Stage:

First, “‘To Be Near Trump is Toxic:’ Covid-19, Chaos, and the Election:”

On Monday, Mr Trump returned to the White House by helicopter and made his way up the steps to the South Portico before dramatically ripping his mask off “like a burlesque artist,” as [presidential historian Donald] Brinkley puts it.

Meanwhile, inside the White House itself, some seem to be betting on science:

Inside the Oval Office, only two officials were allowed access to the president — Mark Meadows, chief of staff, and Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s director of social media [!]. Both men had to dress head-to-toe in protective garb.

Meanwhile, in the real America, we’re still suffering at least two 9/11s a week in terms of Covid deaths, apparently due to a lack of will, or faith, or miracle cures.

It’s been said before, but it bears saying again as the election — and winter — bears down: economic recovery will and must follow epidemiology, not the other way around.


Zooming way out, Janan Ganesh has a long, detailed, and extremely perceptive look at the United States’ “re-pivot to the Pacific” in “Why America No Longer Looks to Europe.”

Kudos, as always, to him for looking deeper and taking a longer view than most other columnists — especially the famous ones born, bred, and stuck here. The United States is consistently surprised by the world, even as we continue to shape it.


Janan’s piece is best read together with at least one piece of the FT‘s weeklong series on “the new Cold War” between the United States and China. If you think Trump’s policy program was totally incoherent or a merely a passing fad, you’ve got another think coming.

Here’s “‘This is a Guy Who is a Thug:’ How U.S. Elite Became Hawks on Xi’s China.” Note that “‘This is a guy who is a thug'” is Joe Biden speaking — as you no doubt already guessed by the highbrow syntax.


Finally, from late August at the Scholar’s Stage, T. Greer writes up a New York magazine interview with “electoral whiz kid” David Shor.

The whole thing is worth your while, but, if you’re a typical reader of this blog, it’s worth meditating on this observation [Greer, quoting Shor, as quoted in NY mag]:

The single biggest way that highly educated people who follow politics closely are different from everyone else is that we have much more ideological coherence in our views. […] There’s a paper by the political scientist David Broockman that made this point really famous — that “moderate” voters don’t have moderate views, just ideologically inconsistent ones.

Further, “whenever we talk about a given issue, that increases the extent to which voters will cast their ballots on the basis of that issue” [Shor again, as quoted by Greer] — and so, after an immigration-themed campaign, we see a lot of people switch their votes from Obama to Trump not because of substance or style differences between Obama/Clinton or Romney/Trump, but because of relative issue salience.

And so to the kicker, which still bewilders so many, um, ideologically coherent people:

The way that racially charged issues generally get brought up in the U.S. is in the context of crime, which is a very Republican-loaded issue (in terms of which party the median voter trusts on it). Or it comes up in terms of immigration, which is itself a Republican-loaded issue. So even if voters acknowledge the massive systemic inequities that exist in the U.S., discussion of them normally happens in a context where conservatives can posit a trade-off with safety, or all these other things people trust Republicans on.

Shor, qtd. by Greer, emphasis Greer’s [and I’d agree]