The surprising science of alpha males | Frans de Waal

In this fascinating look at the “alpha male,” primatologist Frans de Waal explores the privileges and costs of power while drawing surprising parallels between how humans and primates choose their leaders. His research reveals some of the unexpected capacities of alpha males — generosity, empathy, even peacekeeping — and sheds light on the power struggles of human politicians. “Someone who is big and strong and intimidates and insults everyone is not necessarily an alpha male,” de Waal says.

Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Excellence

A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.

Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.

Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullieddenounceddemotedthreatenedsued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.

But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.

Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.

So why all the rage?

The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.

But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.

Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.

All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.

I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.

Trump’s reliance on pressure tactics is showing diminishing returns

President Trump’s brinkmanship with Mexico over immigration has opened a new and risky front in his global campaign to pressure other nations to capitulate to his demands, a strategy that has paid few dividends over 2½ years and left his major foreign policy initiatives in doubt.

From his “fire and fury” rhetoric against a nuclear-armed North Korea to an escalating trade war with China to new ultimatums aimed at Mexico, Trump has wielded threats, insults and punishments against his foreign counterparts with diminishing returns.

Though he lured Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table through a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions, Trump’s historic summits with the young dictator ended in failure after talks collapsed in February.

President Trump’s brinkmanship with Mexico over immigration has opened a new and risky front in his global campaign to pressure other nations to capitulate to his demands, a strategy that has paid few dividends over 2½ years and left his major foreign policy initiatives in doubt.

From his “fire and fury” rhetoric against a nuclear-armed North Korea to an escalating trade war with China to new ultimatums aimed at Mexico, Trump has wielded threats, insults and punishments against his foreign counterparts with diminishing returns.

Though he lured Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table through a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions, Trump’s historic summits with the young dictator ended in failure after talks collapsed in February.

And although Mexico took steps to comply with Trump’s hard-line immigration policies — allowing Central American asylum seekers to the United States a temporary haven — Trump’s vow this week to impose sweeping tariffs unless that nation curbs unauthorized immigration into the United States stirred a public backlash.

For Trump, who campaigned on achieving “peace through strength,” the consistent application of a tool kit of toughness has limited his options and left him in a precarious position as he accelerates his campaign for a second term.

Despite his pressure tactics, unauthorized immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border is at a 12-year peak, the tariff wars have sent jitters through Wall Street, and Pyongyang has resumed testing of short-range missiles, a sign that Kim is growing impatient.

“It strikes me that we are in the middle of an unprecedented and multifaceted experiment in the application of brute force,” said Daniel Russel, who served as an assistant secretary of state on Asian affairs in the Obama administration. “President Trump has been extraordinarily effective at generating leverage . . . but it has yet to be shown that he has the ability to translate that leverage into results that are advantageous to the United States or are durable.”

Trump campaigned on the theme that the rest of the world was taking advantage of the United States because of weak political leaders who valued multilateral partnerships over the unapologetic pursuit of national self-interest. He pledged that, as president, he would not hesitate to pressure rivals and allies alike to win a better deal for Americans.

“Mexico must take back their country from the drug lords and cartels,” Trump tweeted Friday. “The Tariff is about stopping drugs as well as illegals!”

Foreign leaders initially sought to placate him by offering modest concessions, hopeful that it would satisfy Trump’s domestic political imperatives by allowing him to trumpet small victories.

The Trump administration renegotiated a bilateral trade deal with South Korea and, after ripping up the 25-year old North American Free Trade Agreement, crafted a new accord with Mexico and Canada that experts said included valuable modernizations of some trade rules.

In Europe, some NATO members moved to accelerate previous pledges to increase their own national defense budgets amid Trump’s complaints that they were freeloading off the United States’ security umbrella — and his vague threats, first issued during his 2016 campaign, that he would pull out the United States of the alliance.

But on his signature initiatives, Trump’s go-to tactics have faltered and the president has grown increasingly frustrated, prompting him in recent weeks to escalate his threats and punitive actions.

In early May, for example, after U.S. negotiators accused Beijing of attempting to backtrack on agreements after months of trade talks, Trump responded by raising tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods that he enacted last year from 10 percent to 25 percent.

That prompted Beijing to announce it would “fight to the end” and raise duties on $60 billion of American goods on June 1.

Trump administration officials have said the president feels emboldened by the strength of the U.S. economy and believes he can outlast his rivals in a showdown that could harm both economies. But some analysts said that the president could be dangerously miscalculating his position given the uncertainty of his own political prospects.

“I know that Trump considers the 2020 campaign as a triumphant march to the inevitable [reelection], but that’s not the way the rest of the world is looking at it,” said Christopher R. Hill, who served as a U.S. ambassador under the four presidents who preceded Trump. “You’re already seeing the Chinese holding back and saying, ‘We’ll see what will happen over the next 18 months to see if he’s still around and then maybe we’ll do something.’ To some extent, Trump does not have the self-awareness to understand that people are looking at the window closing on him.”

For Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a liberal who took office in December, Trump’s threats are a serious concern, given that 80 percent of Mexico’s exports enter the U.S. market. But López Obrador, who dispatched diplomats to visit Washington on Friday, is facing increasing calls from the public and political columnists to take a tougher line with the White House.

Trump, frustrated by Mexico’s refusal to pay for a border wall, flirted with a plan to seal the southern border to trade and tourism in April before backing off over concerns from advisers about the effect on the American economy. This week, however, amid reports that U.S. authorities apprehended nearly 120,000 unauthorized immigrants at the border last month, Trump overrode similar warnings from aides.

What’s so striking with him is his willingness to pick multiple fights without thinking through the consequences,” said Eliot Cohen, a former State Department adviser in the George W. Bush administration who organized a “Never Trump” coalition of foreign policy experts during the 2016 campaign. “The Mexico thing is a great example. It could really hurt him domestically.”

Other analysts noted that Trump’s trade war with China could harm his efforts to negotiate a nuclear weapons disarmament pact with North Korea, given that the president has counted on Beijing maintaining tough economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

But Trump has shown few signs of second-guessing himself. He has threatened new auto tariffs on Japan to win leverage in ongoing trade talks, although he announced during a state visit to Tokyo last week that he would delay any action for six months.

And Trump’s reputation for hostility has preceded him. In London, where Trump will arrive next week on a state visit to meet Queen Elizabeth, Sky News broadcast a promotional video featuring a Trump baby balloon, flown by protesters during Trump’s visit last summer, darkening the skies with the ominous tag­line, “He’s back.”

“One of Trump’s major failings is that he only has a hammer,” said Andrea Schneider, a professor of law at Marquette University who focuses on negotiations and has studied Trump’s tactics. “He has no capacity of looking at the long term and recognizing that the vast majority of our interactions in life are repeat interactions. I joke with my students that if you treat negotiations as a one-shot deal, it will be. No one will ever want to deal with you again.”

America the Cowardly Bully

What the world has learned from Trump’s trade war.

This is the way the trade war ends. Not with a bang but with empty bombast.

According to multiple news organizations, the U.S. and China are close to a deal that would effectively end trade hostilities. Under the reported deal, America would remove most of the tariffs it imposed last year. China, for its part, would end its retaliatory tariffs, make some changes to its investment and competition policies and direct state enterprises to buy specified amounts of U.S. agricultural and energy products.

The Trump administration will, of course, trumpet the deal as a triumph. In reality, however, it’s much ado about nothing much.

As described, the deal would do little to address real complaints about Chinese policy, which mainly involve China’s systematic expropriation of intellectual property. Nor would it do much to address Donald Trump’s pet although misguided peeve, the imbalance in U.S.-China trade. Basically, Trump will have backed down.

If this is the story, it will repeat what we saw on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump denounced as the “worst trade deal ever made.” In the end, what Trump negotiated — the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or U.S.M.C.A. — was very similar to the previous status quo. Trade experts I know, when not referring to it as the Village People agreement, call it “Nafta 0.8”: fundamentally the same as Nafta, but a bit worse.

Why is the president who famously declared that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” effectively waving the white flag? Mainly because winning turns out not to be easy, at all.

Trump’s beloved stock market hates talk of trade war. There is no broad constituency for protectionism — in fact, public opinion has become much more pro-free trade under Trump. And Chinese retaliation has hit hard at voting blocs Trump depends on, especially in farm states.

Now, agreement with China isn’t a done deal. Trump may also yet open another front in the trade war, against European automobiles. And the Village People agreement awaits congressional approval, and it’s not clear what Trump will do if that isn’t forthcoming.

Still, it looks possible, even likely, that within a few months most though not all of the trade war will have been unwound. So will it all look in retrospect like a passing storm, with few long-term consequences?