Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

Posts tagged ‘authoritarianism’

White House samsara

Is there some cosmic law of recurrence that decreed that as soon as Donald Trump had decided to go full-Nixon by firing the FBI director who was investigating his crimes, Henry Kissinger would pop up in the Oval Office?

Was he really there in the flesh, or were the photographers astonished to find his image appear on the film negatives? “Where two or three are gathered to subvert the Constitution, there am I among you.”

The serious point is, this shows how Trump’s impulsiveness (fortunately) gets in the way of his authoritarian showmanship. Presumably, a competent would-be strongman would have found a moment to subvert the rule of law for reasons that HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH TREASONOUS CONTACTS WITH MOSCOW (which didn’t happen anyway), when he wasn’t scheduled to meet the next day with his handler the Russian ambassador and with Nixon’s Watergate henchman National Security Advisor.

The unexpected autocracy

One of my favourite logic paradoxes (does everyone have favourite logic paradoxes?) goes by the name of The Unexpected Hanging. There are numerous versions, but a standard story is: A man has been condemned to death for some crime. The judge tells him, “Today is Monday. You are to be hanged at noon some day in the next week, but you will not know until the morning of the day of the hanging which day it will be.” The man then reasons, it can’t be Sunday, because if I haven’t been hanged by Saturday noon, I’ll know it must be Sunday, which would contradict the judge’s order. Since it can’t be Sunday, if we get to Friday afternoon, I’ll know it must be Saturday. Again a contradiction. So it can’t be Saturday. Working backward in this way, he is confident that he cannot be hanged at all. But then Thursday dawns, and he is hanged, and he never anticipated it.

I was thinking about this, particularly in the light of this comment by Josh Marshall:

One thing we can say in Donald Trump’s favor, there was no bait and switch. They told us they would do all of this and more.

It’s true, and I’m not surprised. And yet… Trump did say he would ban Muslims. He would build a wall. He would ban abortion. He would revoke the Affordable Care Act. And yet, at the same time, he was saying over and over again, I’m going to be unpredictable. I won’t say what I’m really going to do. More than that, his whole demeanor suggested that you couldn’t believe the specifics of what he was saying. So, in the end, he does exactly what he said he would do, and it actually is somewhat surprising. (more…)

Land of the frei

Trends in rejecting democracy

This plot from the Financial Times has been getting a lot of attention online. The data come from the World Values Survey (slightly incorrectly cited in the plot).

I don’t know what to make of it exactly, except to say that it supports my gut belief that Germany, more than any other country, understood after the Second World War, what it takes to cultivate a spirit of freedom and democracy. It was a long struggle, and they didn’t shy away from it. Education, the legal system, journalism: It’s the famous German thoroughness, applied to the problem of creating free citizens. The British, the Americans, and the French, each in their own way, considered democracy to be their inevitable birthright, and so have allowed relevant institutional arrangements and, even more importantly, the democratic spirit, to decay.

Maybe the Americans are just being more honest — in a Trumpian anti-PC way. Taboos are important. One important lessons that the Nazis understood was: Before you can commit unspeakable horrors, you need to find a way to make them speakable.

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