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The Cult of Personality


From Bret Stephens at The Wall Street Journal, The Donald and Demagogues:

If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.

And so forth and so on—a parade of semi-sophisticated theories that act as bathroom deodorizer to mask the stench of this candidacy. Mr. Trump is a loudmouth vulgarian appealing to quieter vulgarians. These vulgarians comprise a significant percentage of the GOP base. The leader isn’t the problem. The people are. It takes the demos to make the demagogue.

It says that many of the same people who have bellyached nonstop for the past seven years about the cult-of-personality president currently in the Oval Office are seriously willing to consider another cult-of-personality figure on the off-chance he’s peddling the cure America needs. Focus group testing by pollster Frank Luntz suggests that Mr. Trump’s fans could care less about his flip-flopping political views but responded almost rapturously to his apparently magnetic persona.

When people become indifferent to the ideas of their would-be leaders, those leaders become prone to dangerous ideas. Democracies that trade policy substance for personal charisma tend not to last as democracies. They become Bolivarian republics. Donald Trump may be America’s Hugo Chávez, minus the political consistency.


Populists need demons, because without demons there is no savior.  Bret’s criticism is harsh, as has much of the commentary from the thinkers on the right.

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False Armageddon

Earth 2100 from ABC

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Logic and Wisdom

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Reading 2015 08 24

What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know about U.S. Trade

Trump fancies himself an ace negotiator, a skill that he has had some chance to hone in an embarrassing series of corporate bankruptcies, and he proposes to employ those skills to ensure trade that is “fair” by whatever ethical standards occur to this particular serial adulterer/crony capitalist/pathological liar/reality-television grotesque. While Trump himself is fundamentally unserious, the Right has witnessed a destructive reemergence of the old anti-trade populism articulated by Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot.

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Economic liberty, free speech spook the American left

When Bernie Sanders, President Obama, or the New York Times editorial page advocate big government, it’s usually on the premise that big government is needed to protect the powerless. But look carefully, and the pattern becomes clearer. When big government oppresses the powerless, the Left is equally likely to defend big government.

John Cochrane on Too Much Debt

I had hoped the world learned this lesson in the financial crisis. Equity is great. When things go bad, shareholders lose value by prices falling, but they cannot run and the firm cannot fail if it does not pay equity holders.

Financial crises are always and everywhere about debt, especially short term debt. Lending more, encouraging more bank leverage, reducing reserves and margin requirements, means that when the downturn comes a needless wave of runs and defaults follows.

Inevitably, it seems, another downturn will come, another set of books will have been found to have been cooked, and then we will find out who lent too much money to whom. US investment banks, 2008, strike one. Greece, 2010, strike 2. China, 2015, strike 3? Do we no longer bother closing the barn doors even after the horse leaves?

This story should also give one pause about the wisdom of “macro-prudential” policy, by which wise central bankers are supposed to presciently open and close the spigots of leverage to manage asset prices.

Trump’s Worst Argument

Campaign money also increases political competition. Without donations, politicians who aren’t wealthy or well known would never be able to wage a competitive campaign for the White House. A major reason this year’s Republican field is so wide and deep is because candidates have access to more donations via super PACs. Americans should want a system in which middle-class candidates like Marco Rubio or Scott Walker have a chance to be President.

But it’s naive to examine his career and conclude that he lives only to serve others. It’s not clear to us why the agenda of one rich guy in Manhattan is superior to one that incorporates the views of a thousand rich guys across the U.S.

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Reading 2015 08 21

Who Will Get The Dreary Economy Going

Put Fannie and Freddie Out of Taxpayer’s Misery

Debt is Good