Your Loyalties Are Your Life

In 1900, there were two great philosophers working side by side at Harvard, William James and Josiah Royce. James was from an eminent Boston family and had all the grace, brilliance and sophistication that his class aspired to. Royce, as the historian Allen Guelzo points out, was the first major American philosopher born west of the Mississippi. His parents were Forty-Niners who moved to California but failed to find gold. He grew up in squalor, was stocky, lonely and probably knew more about despair and the brooding shadows that can come in life.

James and Royce admired and learned from each other, but their philosophies were different, too. James was pragmatic and tough-minded, looking for empirical truth. Royce was more idealistic and tender-minded, more spiritual and abstract.

They differed on the individual’s role in society. As David Lamberth of Harvard notes, James’s emphasis was on tolerance. We live in a pluralistic society and we each know only a fragment of the truth. People should give one another enough social space so they can be themselves. For Royce the good life meant tightly binding yourself to others — giving yourself away with others for the sake of a noble cause. Tolerance is not enough.

James’s influence is now enormous — deservedly so. Royce is almost entirely forgotten. And yet I would say that Royce is the philosopher we need today. In an age of division, fragmentation and isolation, Royce is the philosopher we don’t know we have. He is the philosopher of binding and connection.

Royce argued that meaningful lives are marked, above all, by loyalty. Out on the frontier, he had seen the chaos and anarchy that ensues when it’s every man for himself, when society is just a bunch of individuals searching for gain. He concluded that people make themselves miserable when they pursue nothing more than their “fleeting, capricious and insatiable” desires.

So for him the good human life meant loyalty, “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”

A person doesn’t have to invent a cause, or find it deep within herself. You are born into a world of causes, which existed before you were born and will be there after you die. You just have to become gripped by one, to give yourself away to it realizing that the cause is more important than your individual pleasure or pain.

You’re never going to find a cause if you are working in a bland office; you have to go out to where the problems are. Loyalty is not just emotion. It is action.

“The loyal man serves. That is, he does not merely follow his own impulses. He looks to his cause for guidance. This cause tells him what to do,” Royce wrote in “The Philosophy of Loyalty.”

In such a community, people submit themselves to their institution, say to a university. They discover how good it is by serving it, and they allow themselves to be formed by it. According to Royce, communities find their voice when they own their own betrayals; evil exists so we can struggle to overcome it.

Royce took his philosophy one more crucial step: Though we have our different communities, underneath there is an absolute unity to life. He believed that all separate individuals and all separate loyalties are mere fragments of a spiritual unity — an Absolute Knower, a moral truth.

That sense of an ultimate unity at the end things, shines back on us, because it means all our diverse loyalties are actually parts of the same loyalty. We all, he wrote, “seek a city out of sight.” This sense of ultimate unity, of human brotherhood and sisterhood, is what is missing in a lot of the current pessimism and divisiveness.

Royce’s philosophy is helpful with the problem we have today. How does the individual fit into the community and how does each community fit into the whole? He offered a shift in perspective. When evaluating your life, don’t ask, “How happy am I?” Ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?

Macron-Trump, a Friendship That Must Deliver

I hear that they speak all the time. Trump follows Macron’s labor-market reforms and calls to congratulate him. The first state visit of his administration will be Macron’s to Washington next month, a special honor for “a great guy.” The French president is Trump’s best friend in Europe ..

.. Both understood the fact that voters were bored as well as angry, mistrustful of the liberal consensus, angry at globalization’s predations, restive for grandeur, thirsty for the outspoken rather than the dutiful warnings of experts.

.. Both men came from nowhere, mavericks hoisted to the highest offices of their lands by a wave of disgust at politics-as-usual. They are, in their way, accidents of history, thrust to power at the passing of an era. Longing for disruption produced these two disrupters.

.. Macron, who at 40 could be Trump’s son, has honed a grandiose theater of the center, thereby giving centrist politics new vigor at a time of extremist temptation. He’s tough on immigration because he knows his survival depends on it. Trump’s is the theater of the zigzagging bully, nonstop noise often drowning out meaning. For both men, movement and action are essential.

.. Gaullist pomp, shunned by Macron’s predecessor, is back. If that’s what it takes to defeat the racist National Front, bring it on. Macron celebrated his victory last year with an address to the French people at the Louvre, greeted Putin at Versailles

.. “It’s not ‘Make France Great Again’ — except that it is, sort of,” a French friend observed.

The ‘genius’ of Trump: What the president means when he touts his smarts

The genius in the White House has always believed that what makes him special is his ability to get things done without going through the steps others must take.

In school, he bragged that he’d do well without cracking a book. As a young real estate developer, his junior executives recalled, he skipped the studying and winged his way through meetings with politicians, bankers and union bosses. And as a novice politician, he scoffed at the notion that he might suffer from any lack of experience or knowledge.

.. doubled down on his belief that smashing conventions is the path to success but underscored his lifelong conviction that he wins when he’s the center of attention.

.. “To go into those campaign rallies with just a few notes and connect with people he wasn’t at all like, that takes a certain genius. His genius is he’ll say anything to connect with people. He won by telling the rally crowds that the people who didn’t like them also didn’t like him.”

.. familiar tactics: a bold, even brazen, drive to put on a show and make himself the star.

..  he tweeted that he did use “tough” language — a long-standing point of pride for the president, whose political ascent was fueled by his argument that, as a billionaire, he is liberated to say what some other Americans only think.

.. “He needed to be stroked all the time and told how smart he was,”

..  The way we got things done was to approach him with an idea and make him think it was his. It was so easy.”

.. “Donald was always a forest person; he never knew anything about the trees. He knew concrete was brought in on trucks, but he really didn’t know how to run a project. What he had was street smarts — good instincts about people.”

.. he has always encouraged people around him to view him as someone who could see things that others could not.

.. “He means, okay, he didn’t hit the brains lottery, but he’s brilliant and cunning in the way he operates. He’s amazing at taking the temperature of the room and knowing how to appease everyone. You want that kind of instinct in your quarterbacks, in your generals. It’s not what we’ve ever thought of as what makes a great president, but he’s never going to be the guy who makes great speeches. This is who he is.”

.. Being something of a genius was central to Trump’s self-image
.. Everyone around him learned to cater to that — even his father
.. In the first major newspaper profile of Trump, in the New York Times in 1976, his father, Fred Trump, describes his son as “the smartest person I know.”
.. Throughout his life, Trump has believed that his instincts and street smarts positioned him to succeed where others might struggle.
.. His father often told Trump that “you are a king,” instructing him to “be a killer.”
.. Fred Trump was a student of Dale Carnegie
.. and an acolyte of Norman Vincent Peale .. who preached a gospel of positive thinking.
.. “I know in my gut,” he said in an interview last year. “I know in 30 seconds what the right move is.”
.. “He can’t collaborate with anybody because he doesn’t listen to anybody,”
.. “He doesn’t trust anybody, except his family. That’s why [his former wife] Ivana was involved in everything and why now his children are too.”
.. also believed he had something more: a genius for showmanship, a knack for surrounding himself with the trappings of success, thereby creating the perception that he was uniquely capable of big, bold action.
.. Genius and ego were both essential elements of success on a grand scale, Trump said
.. every great person, including Jesus and Mother Teresa, found the path to success via ego:
.. In Trump’s vocabulary, “genius” is perhaps the highest praise, and it refers to a street-level ability to get things done.
.. Trump often referred to his lawyer and early mentor Roy Cohn as “a total genius” or a “political genius,” even if he was also “a lousy lawyer.”
.. Trump explained in one of his books that his own true “genius” was for public relations: Rather than spending money on advertising, he said, he put his efforts toward winning news coverage of himself as a “genius.”
.. Trump has also had moments of extreme self-doubt. Biographer Harry Hurt described a period around 1990 when, as his marriage to Ivana Trump was breaking up, he occasionally spoke about suicide

 

The Peril of Trump’s Populist Foreign Policy

His style of deal-making prizes uncertainty and brinkmanship, without a plan for what comes next.

Mr. Trump’s foreign policy reflects his instinct for political realignment at home, based on celebrity populism.

Populist movements feed off grievances and impatience with traditional politics. Frustrations—whether generated by economic distress, social displacement, or cultural challenges—fuel skepticism about institutions and elites. Challengers (who want to become the new elite) attack traditional leaders as out of touch, incompetent and corrupt.

.. First, it professes to reflect the will of a scorned people.

.. Second, populism finds and blames enemies, domestic or foreign, who thwart the people’s will. Mr. Trump has mastered insulting such scapegoats.

.. Third, populism needs “the leader,” who can identify with and embody the will of the people. Like other populist leaders, Mr. Trump attacks the allegedly illegitimate institutions that come between him and the people. His solutions, like those of other populists, are simple. He contends that the establishment uses complexity to obfuscate and cover up misdeeds and mistakes. He claims he will use his deal-making know-how to get results without asking the public to bear costs.

.. Mr. Trump’s foreign policies serve his political purposes, not the nation’s interests

  • .. He says the U.S. needs to build a wall to keep Mexicans at bay—and Mexico will pay for it. He asserted he would
  • block Muslims from coming to America to harm us.
  • His protectionist trade policies are supposed to stop foreigners from creating deficits, stealing jobs, and enriching the corporate elite.
  • Mr. Trump also asserts that U.S. allies have been sponging off America. T
  • he U.S. military is supposed to hammer enemies and not bother with the cleanup—even if the result, for example in Syria, is an empowered axis of Iran, Shiite militias, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad’s regime.

.. The president’s emphasis on discontinuity—breaking things—demonstrates action while disparaging his predecessors.

.. His style of deal-making prizes uncertainty and brinkmanship, which risks escalation, without a plan for what comes next.

..  Other presidents led an alliance system that recognizes U.S. security is connected to mutual interests in Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. Past presidents believed that the U.S. economy would prosper in a world of expanding capitalism

..  Mr. Trump dismisses this U.S.-led international system as outdated, too costly and too restrictive of his case-by-case deal-making.

Institutions:

  • .. Trump disdains America’s intelligence agencies and is
  • dismantling the State Department. His foils at home are
  • the courts,
  • the press, a clumsy
  • Congress beholden to antiquated procedures, and even
  • his own Justice Department.

.. Mr. Trump’s recent trip to Asia reveals that foreigners have taken his measure. They play to his narcissism. He in turn basks in their attention, diminishes his own country by blaming past presidents, and preens with promises of great but unspecified things to come. 

.. The president’s need to project an image of personal power—for his domestic audience and his ego—makes him more comfortable with authoritarian leaders. Presidents Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte have noticed, as has part of the Saudi royal family. 

.. Sixty percent say alliances with Europe and East Asia either are mutually beneficial or mostly benefit the U.S. Record numbers say international trade is good for consumers (78%), the economy (72%) and job creation (57%). Some 65% support providing illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and only 37% characterize immigration as a critical threat. All these numbers have shifted against Mr. Trump’s positions since the election.

 .. Democratic leaders face a challenge as well. Their voters, especially younger ones, increasingly support trade

Trump Tries to Build a ‘Different Party’

The Democrats have no playbook for dealing with a Republican who’s a populist.

.. the central assertion of President Trump’s inaugural address: I am a populist independent, allied not with the two major parties but with the working men and women of America.

.. But those orders — even though their use makes the presidency more imperial, even though it’s no way to govern, even though Mr. Obama did it, too — will likely not be unpopular in the country. It actually looked as if someone was doing something.

.. More important still — the most important moment of the first week — was the meeting with union leaders. Mr. Trump gave them almost an hour and a half. “The president treated us with respect, not only our organization but our members,” said Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, by telephone. Liuna had not endorsed Trump in the campaign, but Mr. O’Sullivan saw the meeting’s timing as an expression of respect: “He’s inaugurated on Friday and we’re invited in Monday to have a substantial conversation.” The entire Trump top staff was there, including the vice president: “His whole team — we were very impressed.” They talked infrastructure, trade and energy. “The whole meeting was about middle class jobs, how do we create more?” Mr. O’Sullivan believes the Keystone pipeline will eventually generate more than 40,000 jobs. Mr. O’Sullivan said he hopes fixing “our crumbling transportation infrastructure” will be “the largest jobs program in the country.”

.. The Trump White House was showing the Democratic Party that one of its traditional constituent groups is up for grabs and happy to do business with a new friend. It was also telling those Republicans too stupid to twig onto it yet that the GOP is going to be something it’s actually been within living memory: the party of working men and women, a friend of those who feel besieged.

.. It’s a mistake for observers in Washington and New York to fixate on Mr. Trump’s daily faux pas at the expense of the political meaning of what he’s doing. He’s changing the face of the GOP.

.. Mr. Trump suggested to Mr. Green his stands were not as ad hoc and ideologically jumbled as they seemed, that they were in fact intentional. He was creating “a worker’s party,” a “party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years.” “Five, 10 years from now — different party,” he said of the GOP.

.. And here is the important political point: Democrats don’t have a playbook for this. They have a playbook to use against normal Republicans: You’re cold, greedy, racist, sexist elitists who hate the little guy.

.. They don’t have a playbook to use against a political figure like Mr. Trump yet, because he jumbles all the categories. Democrats will wobble around, see what works. For now they’ll stick with saying he’s scary, unstable, right-wing.

It’s going to take them a while to develop a playbook against an independent populist, some of whose advisers hate Republicans more than they do.