When the populist tide ebbs: What’s left behind? (H. W. BRANDS, FEB 24, 2024, A User’s Guide to History)

Populists in the 1890s attacked globalization, particularly international finance. Populists today are equally anti-globalist. As president, Trump launched tariff wars against America’s foreign competitors, and as a candidate again, he has promised more of the same. The 1890s attack hardly slowed the growth of international trade. Today’s attack has been equally unsuccessful. After a covid dip, world trade resumed its steady growth of around five percent per year. It’s more than twice as large as it was when the 1999 Battle of Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization kicked off the current anti-globalist campaign.

Populism is as much a mood as it is an agenda. Sometimes parts of the agenda stick. The mood always passes.


Donald Trump Meets the Supreme Court (PETER J WALLISON, FEB 1, 2024, Peter’s Substack)

This was a constitutional democracy protecting itself—in this case from a person or persons who are so untrustworthy that their oaths were worthless.

It happens that Section 3 applies to Mr. Trump, because he took an oath to support the Constitution when he was inaugurated as President in 2017, and violated that oath by attempting to overthrow the Constitution’s electoral principles in 2021. He does not even have to be convicted of that; he has already admitted that he tried to change the electoral rules in 2021, but argues that he was only doing what he was required to do as President. It is likely that the Supreme Court will find otherwise.

For the reasons stated earlier, Mr. Trump poses a particular risk for this country, and it is fortuitous that his case falls within the terms of a constitutional amendment that Congress enacted over 150 years ago to protect the United States against unscrupulous people who would violate their oaths to attain and hold power.

In my view, considering each of these elements, the Supreme Court will uphold this constitutional restriction by disqualifying Donald Trump.


The Trump-Biden Consensus on the Economy Is Bad for Business (Michael R. Strain, 1/30/24, Financial Times)

Donald Trump and Joe Biden differ in many important ways, but both reject the broad consensus that largely governed economic policy in the decades before Trump’s 2016 election — one that is generally supportive of business and in favour of free enterprise. This is bad for businesses, workers and consumers.

Take free trade and industrial policy. Senior officials from both administrations have explicitly argued for abandoning the international economic order built after the second world war in favour of a new consensus that relies more on government planning and less on market outcomes.

But Trump and Biden’s break with the past goes beyond protectionism. Ronald Reagan chose to use his last speech as president to praise immigrants. “We lead the world,” he said, “because, unique among nations, we draw our people — our strength — from every country and every corner of the world. And by doing so we continuously renew and enrich our nation.” Trump, in contrast, charges immigrants with “poisoning the blood” of America. Biden, though much less extreme, has surprised his supporters by not being friendlier to migrants and the businesses that rely on them.

Of course, opposition to immigration comes naturally to Democrats, who view the migrants as labor competition, for Republicans it’s disgraceful.


Stupidity as Moral Negligence (J.P. de Ruiter, 10 Jan 2024, Quillette)

For instance, in debates about the safety of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, opponents will often claim that “the science is new.” This is demonstrably false. The science is not new, and abundant data now show that mRNA vaccines are not only highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19, but that these vaccines are also very safe. Nevertheless, while “the science is new” is a stupid argument against vaccination, it requires mature and advanced cognitive skills.

First, the vaccine skeptic displays awareness that their decision not to get vaccinated needs to be defended at all. If the question were “Why don’t you get a dog?”, an expression of preference—such as “I don’t like dogs”—would be sufficient to end the discussion. There is, after all, no social pressure to own a dog. Vaccination campaigns, on the other hand, produce clear societal benefits, including protection of the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable from potentially fatal infection, slowing and containing the spread of disease, preventing the overloading of medical facilities, and so on. Skeptics, therefore, realize that the refusal to get vaccinated demands justification. This requires a level of social intelligence that would be very challenging to achieve for people with genuine cognitive limitations.

Second, the claim that “the science is new” appeals to a chain of four inferential assumptions, each of which requires complex reasoning skills:

Invocations of “the science” in these discussions are invariably vague, but the skeptic appeals to a common understanding of the term—“the scientific research that underlies the development and testing of mRNA vaccines”—so they can be confident that its meaning is intelligible to opponents. This requires reflexive reasoning and taking an interlocutor’s perspective into account.

The skeptic assumes that new or inadequately tested medical science may be unreliable, which requires some knowledge of how such science works.

If the science that underlies the development and testing of the new vaccine is unreliable, the vaccine might harm the recipient.

If it is potentially dangerous to take the vaccine, this is a legitimate reason for refusing to get vaccinated, on the grounds that it is reasonable to avoid doing things that might cause harm to oneself.

So, even though “the science is new” is a stupid argument, employing it to defend one’s refusal to get vaccinated requires mature and sophisticated cognitive skills. Other anti-vax arguments follow the same pattern. A conspiracy theorist who believes that Big Pharma wants to subdue the human population by putting microchips in their blood would need to make use of the same sophisticated cognitive skills. That arguments like these are often provided by and copied from opinion leaders (bloggers, podcasters, and social-media influencers) does not substantially alter this analysis. Most of us get most of our arguments from others, but we must still judge whether, when, and how they can be used to defend our own beliefs.

Generally, the ability to recognize how and why a certain argument threatens (or supports) one’s belief, and to choose the most effective and energy-efficient way to counter (or employ) it, requires highly developed cognitive skills. Any Artificial Intelligence researcher attempting to implement these reasoning skills in an artificial agent would emphatically agree. Individuals with true cognitive limitations would not be able to chain these inferences together and come up with the counterargument “the science is new” in this context.

So, the claim that people who employ stupid arguments “can’t help it” because of their limited intelligence is not only condescending, it is also inaccurate.


Moms for Liberty Is Tearing Itself Apart (DAVID GILBERT, DEC 14, 2023, Wired)

Experts have questioned the claims about the size of the group’s membership, and individual members have been exposed as sex offenders and acolytes of the Proud Boys. Then, last month, Moms for Liberty cofounder Bridget Ziegler admitted in a police interview to being in a relationship with her husband and another woman. The interview was conducted after the woman in question alleged that Ziegler’s husband, Florida GOP chair Christian Ziegler, had raped her.

Ziegler’s husband has denied the allegations and refused to resign from his position as GOP chair, despite calls from Florida governor Ron DeSantis and other state Republicans to do so. Ziegler is also a member of the Sarasota County School Board, and has been instrumental in ushering in Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, pushing a Christian agenda in public schools, and banning the teaching of critical race theory. On Tuesday night, the board voted 4–1 in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling for her to resign, marking a rapid fall from grace for Ziegler and a potential fatal blow to Moms for Liberty.


Jack Smith reveals sweeping scope of bid to debunk Trump election machine claims (KYLE CHENEY, 12/09/2023, Politico)

Special counsel Jack Smith on Saturday sharply rejected Donald Trump’s contention that foreign governments may have changed votes in the 2020 election, laying bare new details about his team’s extensive probe of the matter and its access to a vast array of senior intelligence officials in Trump’s administration.

In a 45-page filing, Smith’s team describes interviewing more than a dozen of the top intelligence officials in Trump’s administration — from his director of national intelligence to the administrator of the NSA to Trump’s personal intelligence briefer — about any evidence that foreign governments had penetrated systems that counted votes in 2020.

“The answer from every single official was no,” senior assistant special counsel Thomas Windom writes in the filing.


Yes, They’re Pro-Confederacy. But They’re Just the Nicest Ladies.: You can call the United Daughters of the Confederacy a lot of things. But racist? Why, some of their best friends … (Anna Venarchik, December 5, 2023, New Republic)

“The time has come when the South, the true home of the Anglo-Saxon race, which has stood for truth and honesty and righteousness in the past, should come back to the faith and principles for which their forefathers stood.” This 1925 call to make Dixie Confederate again came from Mildred Lewis Rutherford, a prominent historian general of the UDC. A decade prior, a Daughter published The Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire, a children’s textbook that exonerated the Klan. The “heroes” protected white women from “ignorant and vicious negroes” who “considered freedom synonymous with equality” and only wanted “to marry a white wife.” The UDC pledged to disseminate the book to schools and libraries.

These texts are excellent primers of the Lost Cause, a successful, and dangerous, rebranding campaign. The ideology claims the Confederacy fought patriotically for states’ rights, not the right to own Black people as property. It claims the South was the real victim of the war, and that enslaved people appreciated bondage. The belief system disentangled the causes and effects of postwar inequities; it ensured that white supremacy continued to organize the South’s social hierarchy with or without the slave system. Myths supplanted fact in the mind of the white South; heritage became history. This was largely thanks to the Daughters.

Founded in 1894, the UDC devoted itself to caring for veterans and vindicating the Confederacy, as historian Karen Cox chronicles in Dixie’s Daughters. As offspring of the South’s antebellum patriarchy, the Daughters coped with defeat by refusing to remember their forefathers as anything other than noble and just. Chapters proliferated across the South, and Daughters built statues to be “signposts for the future,” as Cox told me, and advocated for textbooks to teach the Lost Cause. UDC influence subsided after World War I, when membership peaked at 100,000, but America’s race-related conflicts of the twenty-first century demonstrate that the Daughters achieved their ultimate goal. By swaying how children understand the past, they built “living monuments” to the Confederacy. “A lot of the things the UDC did,” Caroline Janney, a Civil War historian at the University of Virginia, told me, “we’re still living with today.”

On a Monday afternoon in November 1957, the Daughters convened in Richmond. According to a 1994 UDC magazine, the day remains the second most important in UDC history, the first being the day the organization formed. At the site of the former R.E. Lee Camp Soldiers’ Home, with a high school orchestra performing and more than 700 in attendance, the Daughters debuted their marble headquarters. Just two months after President Eisenhower signed a Civil Rights Act into law—the first of its kind since Reconstruction—the UDC dedicated its building to the Women of the Confederacy.

The memorial also signifies the comfortable position the UDC once held in the Old Dominion. The Daughters settled in the former Confederate capital after Governor William Tuck, who spent his governorship fighting civil rights laws, offered the land. Virginia’s General Assembly approved the offer in 1950 and tacked on $10,000 toward construction fees. The deed, however, included stipulations: If the UDC doesn’t use the property for five years, it reverts to the Commonwealth. The UDC cannot sell the building, because the state controls the land; the group cannot move it, because it’s marble. If they ever couldn’t pay for upkeep, they would have to abandon the memorial.

Within the walls made of white-veined Georgia marble, the headquarters features libraries, archives, and offices for members’ work. As much as the building is a memorial to wartime women, it’s also a monument to the Daughters themselves. They wrote in the building’s 2008 application to the National Register of Historic Places that it was designed to “resemble a mausoleum,” a fitting choice for an organization preoccupied with the dead. The application also includes a more ominous detail: The Daughters iterated that the building should be fireproofed.

The decades brought civil rights to Richmond, and the marble continued to shimmer in the sun. Then in 2015, the white walls were graffitied; four years later, the street was renamed for hometown hero Arthur Ashe. The Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy is now on a boulevard that honors the first Black man to win Wimbledon. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the UDC arrived at its third most important date: In the early hours of May 31, Molotov cocktails sailed through its windows. Outrage over the murder of George Floyd had reached Richmond, and the reckonings were aimed at symbols of Confederate glory. By morning, the UDC’s library was smoldering. In messages that circulated on Facebook, the president general wrote that the office manager watched the attack remotely through security cameras. If she hadn’t called 911, the blaze could have consumed the building. Another Daughter chronicled arriving to the aftermath in a 2023 UDC magazine. She detailed that the fire chief salvaged artifacts as the women waited outside. “I asked him if the 31st Virginia Flag had survived,” she wrote, referring to (as UDC documents suggest) Stonewall Jackson’s flag. “He came back out and shook his head.” The charred, graffitied building would be saved, but the night proved the memorial was not, in fact, fireproof.

In May 2020, this was the scene at the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s headquarters in Richmond, the morning after protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Molotov cocktails had sailed through the windows of the building, which was burned, vandalized, and defaced.
In the succeeding weeks, Mayor Levar Stoney, the youngest person ever to hold the title in Richmond, ordered the removal of all Confederate statues from city property. When the last statue, of General A.P. Hill, was lowered in December 2022, Stoney said it marked “the last stand for the Lost Cause in our city.”

When I visited Richmond, I met with Stoney and asked about the statement, considering the UDC’s presence in town. As a nonprofit, it’s free to exist, he said. “But this is a divorce between the city of Richmond and the Lost Cause,” he added, “and when you have a divorce, the other person is still able to live their life, but you are making the claim that this is the end.”

Stoney isn’t the only official looking to sever ties with the Lost Cause. In 2022, General Assembly Minority Leader Don Scott, a Democrat, learned that alongside churches and hospitals, the UDC’s Virginia Division and General Organization receive a special tax exemption on real estate. He told me he was “disgusted” that the government would subsidize a “historically racist organization,” even if the organization no longer sells or purchases much real estate. In January, he proposed a bill to remove the exemption, which failed, he said, after Speaker of the House of Delegates Todd Gilbert, a Republican, “pocketed” the bill so it wasn’t brought to a vote. Gilbert didn’t respond to requests for comment; perhaps the UDC still has some allies in power. Regardless, Scott said he’d reintroduce the bill. “The fact that they still exist is tough to deal with,” he told me. “If you go to Germany, there’s no ‘Daughters of the Nazis.’”