Donald Trump Jr., Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the chain-email presidency

Donald Trump Jr. the next day tweeted a picture of his 4-year-old daughter in a Halloween costume, ostensibly to illustrate the downsides of alternative economic systems. “I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight & give it to some kid who sat at home. It’s never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism.”

.. The president appears to get all his news and policy advice from “Fox & Friends,” a morning show that traffics in unsubstantiated rumor and echo-chamber thinking. On Twitter, he retweets bogus crime statistics and memes from alt-right message boards.
.. We’re in the era of the chain-letter administration. 
.. Instead of justifying policy through facts and data (which are being deleted from government websites as we speak), the administration and its allies rely on viral stories and dubious parables to inform the public. And while allegory, anecdote and analogy can be useful in explaining complex policy issues, this administration uses them in all the worst ways. 
.. Except, that’s not socialism. The term has a specific meaning: government control of the means of production and of the distribution of goods and services. It’s not the same thing as coerced sharing.  
.. But the story conveniently elided both the mathematics of income distribution and Trump’s original promise that tax reform would focus on helping the middle class rather than the wealthy.
.. Trump Jr.’s socialism tweet is meant to darken the public perception of any sort of redistribution, associating it with stealing candy from babies rather than undergirding a functioning health insurance system or social-welfare programs to help the less fortunate.

Sanders’s beer story was less an explanation of how taxation works than an attempt to garner sympathy for the wealthy. The end goal is to persuade anyone listening in from the middle class not to grumble when the tax cut for those in higher brackets is larger than for them.

.. When all news is fake and all reporting is leaks and lies, people still need to be informed. That vacuum is filled by folk wisdom shared by family and friends, or rumors and information shortcuts circulated by those who seem as though they’re in the know.

Why historians would make bad policy advisers

Although few today would endorse Thucydides’ view that the Peloponnesian War was the greatest event in human history, the idea that his account has lasting relevance and importance beyond the war is widely accepted. This explains why he is one of the most cited classical authors, evoked in media discussions of topics as varied as the Brexit vote, the Greek economic crisis, the Russian annexation of Crimea and, most persistently in recent years, the tensions between the United States and China, in the form of the so-called ‘Thucydides Trap’

.. But widespread acceptance of Thucydides’ authority disguises the fact that his approach to the past, and to the lessons that can be drawn from it, can be understood in very different ways, with radically different implications for modern history.

.. It’s time for them to start listening to historians as well as to economists – and for historians to develop a new discipline of applied history

.. The problem for any would-be applied historian lies in converting this necessary corrective of over-confident social-scientific assertions or politicians’ simplistic assumptions – the historian’s reflex ‘actually, it’s rather more complicated than that’ – into anything resembling the sort of practical policy advice that politicians or civil servants will ever take seriously.

.. faced constant demands for definitive statements about ‘the German character’ and whether ‘Germans’ could be trusted. Nuance and ambiguity are clearly regarded as an impediment to decision-making but they are the stock-in trade of the historian.

.. Their case for putting historians at the heart of government opens with recent examples of historical ignorance and naïve assumptions, about Islam, Iraq and Russia, which led to unnecessary mistakes; better knowledge of history would have revealed the complexity of those situations and, presumably, encouraged greater caution.

.. historical analogies are easy to get wrong

.. Some events are more familiar than others and come pre-loaded with meaning, which is why Nazi analogies are so popular and so invariably unhelpful.

.. His narrative is driven not by abstract and inhuman laws but by the deliberations and decisions of people, and so by the power of rhetoric, the rhetoric of power, and human susceptibility to emotion and self-delusion. Far from endorsing a search for simplistic historical analogies as a basis for policy recommendations, Thucydides would most likely regard this habit as further evidence of our limited capabilities for self-knowledge, deliberation and anticipation – another facet of the ‘human thing’ that leads us to make similar mistakes again and again.

Scott Adams: A Voter’s Guide to Thinking

1. If you are comparing Plan A to Plan B, you might be doing a good job of thinking. But if you are comparing Plan A to an imaginary situation in which there are no tradeoffs in life, you are not thinking.

.. 6. Analogies are not an element of reason. Analogies are good for explaining things to people who are new to a topic. If I am busy as a beaver, that does not imply that I also build dams by gnawing on wood. It just means I’m busy.

Obama’s Bay of Pigs

Eighteen months after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy was confronted with the Cuban missile crisis. Once again, the generals in the Pentagon wanted him to respond militarily, a route that was likely to lead to war with the Soviet Union. But this time, he trusted his own judgment, took a different path and defused the crisis. He had applied the lessons he had learned from the Bay of Pigs to the Cuban missile crisis.

As President Obama tries to turn Obamacare around, that is the looming question: Can he learn?