American Politics

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

The US has no prospects for improving the stability of Afghan politics through military force.

The US army, through a combination of historical ignorance and disastrous blundering, failed to populate Afghanistan’s post-invasion government with the people who could have given it a chance at real stability. The US pretended as though the Afghan civil war had never occurred, and allowed mujahedeen and warlords who had terrorized the country throughout the 1990s to assume positions of political power, which did not endear Afghans to their new rulers.

Isn’t America a Dream?

Isn’t America a Dream?

Book Tour Diary

Something is always breaking down on the New York subway, and when the loudspeaker announces it to the ladies and gentlemen, you have to invent a new route to your destination. On one occasion, I found myself walking back and forth through a subway station with a group of Chinese people, Latin Americans, and Europeans. None of us could manage to figure out a new way to get to Queens, where not a single train seemed to be going.

Just the Beginning, Yale

On graduate labor and the Yale commencement protest

On Monday, Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, strode down the tree-lined streets of downtown New Haven, garbed in voluminous robes, a massive pendant, and a velvet cap with a gold, dangling tassel. Before him walked a scowling bulldog puppy that strained against its leash. Handsome Dan XVIII, the university’s mascot, was processing in his first commencement, and both figureheads were being very, very good boys.

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations

H.R. McMaster and the tragedy of American empire

H.R. McMaster is one of the United States’ most astute theorists of modern warfare. Unlike so many other military thinkers, he understands that history is complex, contingent, and irrational, and that no amount of technological superiority could tame the real world’s unpredictable dynamism. So how could he have gotten it so wrong? Why, in spite of his sophistication, did his solutions to the American disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately fail to produce even medium-term victory?

Business Is Bad for Business

Business Is Bad for Business

Why aren't American companies spending money?

For forty-years American management has leveraged capital mobility to demand concessions from organized labor. Holders of sovereign debt do the same to demand reductions in public spending and shrinking the public sector. This has severely strained liberals’ willingness to stimulate private investment through taxes and transfers. Meanwhile, corporate boards of directors continue to refuse to invest on any but their own terms. Loosening their grip on investment decisions is the only way through this impasse.

Mirror Stage President

Mirror Stage President

No amount of coverage seems to be enough, and what coverage there is always falls short.

Compared to every other human on earth, Trump may occupy a singular position in the circuit of television production and consumption—at once its object, referent, and subject—but this doesn’t liberate him from being dominated by the merciless regime of the image; in fact, it binds him to it all the more.

Lobby Day in Albany

Lobby Day in Albany

Single payer’s moment has arrived in New York.

There are many good reasons for citizens to understand the finer points of policymaking. But in this room, we were at our most powerful and effective when we put aside the urges to be experts (we are not) and to show off our sophisticated political analysis (we didn’t have one). The organization that had put together the lobbying meetings needed us to be warm bodies who live in the right districts, people willing to simply show up and say what we want.

What We Do Best

What We Do Best

War has become a given in American political life. In the process it has become depoliticized.

It might seem ludicrous that only hours after many of us called Trump a Russian spy, a new Hitler, a feckless idiot, a psychopath, a sun-downing, pill-popping monster, we fell in line and rallied behind him and our troops because, after all, he is our President and Presidents lead and the troops must be supported.

The Syria Catastrophe

The Syria Catastrophe

The response required at this late, desperate stage is neither anti-Assad nor anti-ISIS nor even anti-imperialist — it is antiwar.

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.

Democracy Without the People

Democracy Without the People

Left populism vs. insipid pluralism

Among the confounded political analysts, what followed Trump’s victory was an epidemic of self-castigation. “We” had failed to “listen” to “white working-class” voters. Since the inauguration, however, elitism in the guise of centrism is once again on the move. Democracy, they say, is under threat from populism, and only a defense of norms and institutions can exorcise the specter of a reckless citizenry. But what if the truth is the opposite, and populism is not the problem but the solution? 

The Syria Catastrophe

The Syria Catastrophe

The response required at this late, desperate stage is neither anti-Assad nor anti-ISIS nor even anti-imperialist — it is antiwar.

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.

Party Foul

Party Foul

What do we do about the Democrats?

Is now, more than ever, our moment to yank the Democrats back from decades of rightward drift? It’s an old, even farcical question for the left. Keith Ellison’s lead for DNC chair gave us momentary hope: when Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and much of organized labor endorsed him, it seemed as though the Democrats were finally coming around. But then Obama deputized labor secretary Tom Perez to stop the Ellison wave — a signal to cool our hopes.

The Gentrification of Standing Rock

The Gentrification of Standing Rock

As allies flooded in, indigenous leadership was increasingly drowned out in a sea of noise.

As yurts were built left and right and kale arrived by the truckload, I began to see that Standing Rock was gentrifying. White people had arrived in a space that was not our own and tried to improve it according to our standards. We ate foods cooked by our poorer, browner neighbors and learned a few words in their language. We improved the housing stock and brought newer, greener technologies. But as we tried to help, we simply got in the way.

Descent into Liberalism

Descent into Liberalism

You’re rooting for Cold War II. The FBI is your BFF.

So far right did politics float that Richard Nixon is now a moderate and Pat Leahy looks like Che Guevara. The furthest-left there is to be is what conservatives call “radical liberal.” This should be an oxymoron, but given the span of the possible, it is not. With political possibility, language too is squeezed.

While the Iron Is Hot

While the Iron Is Hot

The case for the Women’s Strike.

This is what is meant by the phrase “the feminization of labor”: not simply that men are handed more jobs that seem effeminate in nature (menial, slogging work like data-entry or cleaning), but that men are treated poorly as workers—that is, like women. The more people find themselves indirectly employed, for instance by tech companies and temp agencies, the more they can learn from the women’s labor movements of the past, in sectors once believed to be “unorganizable” such as domestic work. In degrading women’s labor, we degrade all labor.

Etched into Eternity

Etched into Eternity

Donald Trump’s disdain for heroism has been replaced by a passionate commitment to its exact opposite.

Trump’s florid hero worship represents a new liturgical moment in the political theology of American power—and a major shift in Trump’s rhetorical posture, which has previously made very little room for accomplishments other than his own. Yet it is far from unfamiliar in the world history of demagoguery.

Turf-guarding

Turf-guarding

The Democrats give the left the middle finger.

As is well known, Perez only became a candidate at the behest of Barack Obama, picked explicitly to scuttle Ellison’s otherwise smooth path to the chairmanship. This turned the contest into a referendum on how the party feels about the Sanders activists. Evidently it feels quite hostile.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation Bias

Did big data sink the Clinton campaign?

Why did Ada fail in Michigan? The primary and the general election were different contests, but both suggest that the failure lay in Ada’s model of the electorate—or more precisely, her inability to update her model of the electorate. In the general election, Ada told Clinton that Wisconsin was a lock, that Michigan was not a problem. But it wasn’t so much that Ada’s cake arbitrarily failed to rise; the failure was in the recipe. In an election where a great realignment took place—where thousands of voters in Rust Belt states who had voted for Obama twice now turned to Trump—Ada had not been programmed to detect the possibility of that realignment. The oracle had been hamstrung from the start.

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

A Combination of Historical Ignorance and Disastrous Blundering

The US has no prospects for improving the stability of Afghan politics through military force.

The US army, through a combination of historical ignorance and disastrous blundering, failed to populate Afghanistan’s post-invasion government with the people who could have given it a chance at real stability. The US pretended as though the Afghan civil war had never occurred, and allowed mujahedeen and warlords who had terrorized the country throughout the 1990s to assume positions of political power, which did not endear Afghans to their new rulers.

Isn’t America a Dream?

Isn’t America a Dream?

Book Tour Diary

Something is always breaking down on the New York subway, and when the loudspeaker announces it to the ladies and gentlemen, you have to invent a new route to your destination. On one occasion, I found myself walking back and forth through a subway station with a group of Chinese people, Latin Americans, and Europeans. None of us could manage to figure out a new way to get to Queens, where not a single train seemed to be going.

Just the Beginning, Yale

On graduate labor and the Yale commencement protest

On Monday, Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, strode down the tree-lined streets of downtown New Haven, garbed in voluminous robes, a massive pendant, and a velvet cap with a gold, dangling tassel. Before him walked a scowling bulldog puppy that strained against its leash. Handsome Dan XVIII, the university’s mascot, was processing in his first commencement, and both figureheads were being very, very good boys.

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations

H.R. McMaster and the tragedy of American empire

H.R. McMaster is one of the United States’ most astute theorists of modern warfare. Unlike so many other military thinkers, he understands that history is complex, contingent, and irrational, and that no amount of technological superiority could tame the real world’s unpredictable dynamism. So how could he have gotten it so wrong? Why, in spite of his sophistication, did his solutions to the American disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan ultimately fail to produce even medium-term victory?

Business Is Bad for Business

Business Is Bad for Business

Why aren't American companies spending money?

For forty-years American management has leveraged capital mobility to demand concessions from organized labor. Holders of sovereign debt do the same to demand reductions in public spending and shrinking the public sector. This has severely strained liberals’ willingness to stimulate private investment through taxes and transfers. Meanwhile, corporate boards of directors continue to refuse to invest on any but their own terms. Loosening their grip on investment decisions is the only way through this impasse.

Mirror Stage President

Mirror Stage President

No amount of coverage seems to be enough, and what coverage there is always falls short.

Compared to every other human on earth, Trump may occupy a singular position in the circuit of television production and consumption—at once its object, referent, and subject—but this doesn’t liberate him from being dominated by the merciless regime of the image; in fact, it binds him to it all the more.

Lobby Day in Albany

Lobby Day in Albany

Single payer’s moment has arrived in New York.

There are many good reasons for citizens to understand the finer points of policymaking. But in this room, we were at our most powerful and effective when we put aside the urges to be experts (we are not) and to show off our sophisticated political analysis (we didn’t have one). The organization that had put together the lobbying meetings needed us to be warm bodies who live in the right districts, people willing to simply show up and say what we want.

What We Do Best

What We Do Best

War has become a given in American political life. In the process it has become depoliticized.

It might seem ludicrous that only hours after many of us called Trump a Russian spy, a new Hitler, a feckless idiot, a psychopath, a sun-downing, pill-popping monster, we fell in line and rallied behind him and our troops because, after all, he is our President and Presidents lead and the troops must be supported.

The Syria Catastrophe

The Syria Catastrophe

The response required at this late, desperate stage is neither anti-Assad nor anti-ISIS nor even anti-imperialist — it is antiwar.

Again and again, countries across and outside the Middle East have decided that escalating the war by military means is justified by whatever little sliver of national interest they feel is at stake. The US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, China, France, and Britain have all pumped military resources into the conflict, increasing not only the war’s capacity for destructive violence but also its duration.