We’ve just about finished the first week of the Trump presidency. Just 208 more to go.
(I appreciate that it is anything but determined that Trump will be stepping down on January 20, 2021. I’m just guessing that, when future historians come to write about this period, January 2021 will mark the transition from the Presidency to the Imperial Reign.)
Nautilus just published my new article, a nontechnical introduction to large deviations: The theory of how unlikely rare events are, and which way a rare event chooses to occur, given that it occurs.
It seems Theresa May has found her strategy for rescuing the British economy from the political damage the Tories are planning to inflict:
The prime minister will publish the strategy at a cabinet meeting in the north-west of England, setting out five sectors that could receive special government support: life sciences, low-carbon-emission vehicles, industrial digitalisation, creative industries and nuclear.
She will say the government would be prepared to deregulate, help with trade deals or create new institutions to boost skills or research if any sector can show this would address specific problems.
Great idea! As one of the people working on developing “skills and research”, I’d like to suggest that it might be a good idea to arrange an agreement to share students, workers, and researchers with our neighbours, who are similarly technologically-developed and share common scientific and educational traditions. We could call it the Anglo-European Union, or something like that.
But no, that would help “old institutions” like my own. The Westminster Pharaoh is only interested in boosting skills or research if it can create “new institutions” as a monument to her greatness.
I pointed out a few days ago that we need to take seriously the idea that Trump’s British mother* indoctrinated him with radical colonialist ideologies. Now Trump has installed a bust of an arch British colonialist in a prominent place of honour in the Oval Office.
Imagine if Barack Obama had, as one of his first acts as president, installed a bust of Jomo Kenyatta in the Oval Office.
* An English colleague to whom I mentioned this theory said, “No, she was Scottish.”
This is probably the best title for a reality TV show ever proposed in a presidential inaugural address. And then there’s this.
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories, scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.
And you have to admit, most of us really are tired of our education system being flush with cash. Such a burden, and what do you get for it? Early-onset gout from the rich cafeteria food, and gold-plated textbooks that give the children scoliosis from having to lug them around, that’s what. And the rest of the economy starved for talent as the best and the brightest compete for the overpaid classroom posts. We really don’t know what to do with all that money, and our young and beautiful students won’t learn anything anyway. (We don’t care much what happens to the non-beautiful…)
That’s why we need Trump as president: Someone who has learned his whole life to cope with the burden of extreme wealth, and is willing to lift it from us.
From the new Brexit sequel to The Life of Brian:
Theresa May: If you want to join the parliamentary front benches, you have to really hate foreigners.
Jeremy Corbyn: I do.
TM: Oh yeah? How much?
JC: A lot.
TM: Right, you’re in.
I don’t know if it’s better or worse that he probably isn’t really xenophobic. But as I observed when I first arrived in this country,
In the U.K. context, it’s barely controversial to bash legal immigrants, much less illegal immigrants. In the most recent prime ministerial debate, the one thing David Cameron and Gordon Brown agreed on was that the Liberal Democrats’ proposal of an amnesty for long-term illegal residents was simply insane and indefensible. They didn’t even have to respond to his counter-arguments, pretend that they had an alternative solution for the problem. It’s the putatively left-wing party in power for the past 13 years in the U.K. that can’t think of enough new ways to attack foreigners, that they have to invent bizarrely creative ways to attack foreigners, like the law banning foreigners from marrying without Home Office approval, or instituting new proposals that immigrants need to perform “volunteer” work to earn citizenship.
Former Muppets understudy and current foreign secretary Boris Johnson reported yesterday
“That means – crucially – that we will be able to do new free trade deals with countries around the world. They are already queuing up.
The whole world is queueing up! That’s what they mean by spreading British values.
In some formal sense the answer is yes: His mother was Scottish, after all. But I’m thinking of two pathologies that are dominant in British politics, and observable in the purest form yet seen in Trump:
- Viewing all human interactions as sporting competitions.
- The delusion that they are brilliant master negotiators (“deal”-makers, would be Trump’s expression).
I’ve written before about the British compulsion to turn everything into a sport, so that it is impossible to imagine anyone winning without someone else losing. This is, at least, modulated by a charmingly deep-seated concern with “fair play” and being a “good sport”. (It is no coincidence that modern German has adopted the English word “fairness”. It is a peculiarly Anglo-American construct, not well covered by such overlapping concepts as Gerechtigkeit.)
But this interacts in peculiar ways with the peculiar conviction that they are particularly skilled at business and diplomatic negotiation. What they did have was an idiosyncratic blend of ruthlessness, geographic advantage, and technological prowess that they parlayed into a position of global dominance. Through stubbornness and admiration of their own idiosyncracies (“British values”) they have managed since then to turn their dominant position into a position of a weak, economically mediocre nation on the fringes of Europe, plagued by extreme inequality. But they think they’ve been winning or, where they have lost, it has been because of the perfidy of foreigners.
With Brexit, this delusion has entered its perhaps final stage. The UK has an incredibly weak hand in Brexit negotiations. They could appeal to comity and sentiment, but that doesn’t fit their vision of themselves as tough guys. They believe they know how to get what they want haggling with the lesser races — you have to show them you’re willing to walk away, and destroy both parties. That’s why the foreign secretary is threatening to turn the UK into an offshore tax haven saying the UK would “do whatever we have to do” if the EU doesn’t cave in to British demands.
Of course, that makes no sense for the UK economy, even if it wouldn’t be likely to result in crushingly punitive measures from Europe. But they think they’re brilliant, and by showing their willingness to damage themselves in order to punish Europe, the EU will agree to a “fair” deal (i.e., benefitting Britain). What is really likely happen is that the EU will be more inclined to bolt the doors against the lunatic, and leave Britain to complete its destiny as an offshore colony of Donald Trump’s America.
This is Donald Trump’s opinion of NATO. And possibly of the U.S. constitution.
My 8-year-old was telling me about a recent school lesson. The teacher was telling them (for some reason) about the use of the term P.S. Her explanation began “In the old times people didn’t have computers, so they had to write letters on paper…”
Of course, I know that my children have lived entirely in the age of personal computing, but it was still striking to hear it presented in such stark terms. I actually experienced the transformation exactly during my university studies. When I arrived at Yale in the fall of 1983 I had my Apple IIe, my roommate had a Compaq, and otherwise pretty much no one had a personal computer. Everyone else seemed to be writing their papers on a typewriter. (It was kind of unreasonable of me, actually, to expect the professors to read the low-resolution dot-matrix output that I turned in, but I wasn’t very considerate at the time.) The Macintosh appeared the next year, and by 1986-7 everyone was writing their senior essays on the Macintoshes in the college’s computer room.