By JONATHAN STEINBERG
What is the role of personality in shaping history? Shortly before the beginning of the First World War, the German sociologist Max Weber puzzled over this question. He was sure that there was a kind of authority that drew strength from character itself. He called this authority “charismatic,” a type of legitimate political power that rested “on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” The charismatic leader is not like us. In fact, he is not like anyone. He is sui generis, a mysterious force of nature, a sort of political demiurge.
According to Jonathan Steinberg, Weber may well have had Otto von Bismarck in mind when he defined charismatic authority. In his wonderful Bismarck: A Life (Oxford UP, 2011), Steinberg argues that Bismarck’s successes (and some of his failures) can be largely attributed to the awesome force of his personality. Not “social structures.” Not “historical patterns.” Not “underlying forces.” But charisma pure and simple. Time and again Steinberg finds those around Bismarck attesting to the fact that he just wasn’t like everyone else. He was smarter, wittier, stronger, more willful, more cunning, more temperamental, and in most ways larger than life. And this was the nearly uniform (though not always positive) assessment of the some of the most impressive figures of his day. It’s a compelling case.
And it provokes a question about German political culture, for Bismarck was not the first or the last “genius” to rule some or all of the Reich. Fredrick the Great preceded him, and Hitler followed. What are we to make of that? I’ll leave it to you to decide.Audio Player
Quotes to find:
- Bismark planned to engage in 2 wars with the goal of uniting the country.
- Bismark found antisemitism useful against his Liberal opponents.
The idea that proponents of greater electoral equity have to quiet down because we live in a ‘republic’ is absurd.
It’s worth asking where this quip — “we’re a republic, not a democracy” — even came from. Nicole Hemmer, a historian of American politics and the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics,” traces it to the 1930s and 40s. “When Franklin Roosevelt made defending democracy a core component of his argument for preparing for, and then intervening in, the war in Europe, opponents of U.S. intervention began to push back by arguing that the U.S. was not, in fact, a democracy,” she wrote in an email.
One Roosevelt opponent, for example — Boake Carter, a newspaper columnist who supported the America First Committee (which opposed American entry into World War II) — wrote a column in October 1940 called “A Republic Not a Democracy,” in which he strongly rebuked the president for using the word “democracy” to describe the country. “The United States was never a democracy, isn’t a democracy, and I hope it will never be a democracy,” Carter wrote.
The term went from conservative complaint to right-wing slogan in the 1960s, when Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, used it in a September 1961 speech, “Republics and Democracies.” In a democracy, Welch protested, “there is a centralization of governmental power in a simple majority. And that, visibly, is the system of government which the enemies of our republic are seeking to impose on us today.”
“This is a Republic, not a Democracy,” Welch said in conclusion, “Let’s keep it that way!”
These origins are important. If there’s substance behind “We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government. There’s really no difference, in the present, between a “republic” and a “democracy”: Both connote systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.
The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics — to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things. What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select, privileged few.
Have you heard the one about the lawbreaker who got pardoned by President Trump?
It’s so funny it’s criminal.
As The Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report, Trump has told his subordinates to seize private land and disregard environmental rules as they build a border wall, offering to pardon them for breaking the law. The White House response? Trump is joking.
Hahahahahahaha. My sides are totally splitting.
That was almost as funny as the time when — stop me if you’ve heard this one — Trump told Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. “He was joking,” the White House said.
So deadpan was Trump’s humor then that the Russians didn’t get the joke; they began acting on Trump’s request within hours, special counsel Robert Mueller found. Now that’s funny.
And who can forget the hilarious time when Trump told law enforcement officers that they should feel free to rough up the people they arrest?“He was making a joke,” the White House said.
The incorrigible cutup! Even the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration was fooled by the president’s wickedly subtle humor. He issued a statement warning agents not to follow the president’s advice.
Trump’s emergence as a comedic genius is a recent development. Back during the campaign, Trump said he didn’t joke around: “Mexico is going to pay for the wall — believe me,” he said. “Politicians think we’re joking. We don’t joke. This is a movement, and movements don’t joke.”
That made sense, because here’s the funny thing: Trump isn’t very funny. His humor is cutting and coarse, rarely lighthearted. His unsmiling supporters took him “seriously but not literally.”
But apparently we shouldn’t take him seriously, either — because he and his aides have recast a series of ominous statements as jokes that the rest of us just didn’t get:
● Asking then-FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
● Telling a campaign crowd to take a loyalty pledge to him.
● Threatening to fire then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
● Saying “I love WikiLeaks” when it released stolen Democratic emails.
● Saying Democrats who didn’t applaud his State of the Union address were “TREASONOUS.”
● Calling himself the “Chosen One,” among other messianic claims.
● Wishing he were “president for life” or serving another “10 or 14 years.”
● Thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats.
Trump is so dry that even he has difficulty determining when he’s joking. When he says his White House runs well, it’s said “jokingly, but meaning it.” His claim that former president Barack Obama founded the Islamic State is “sarcastic but not that sarcastic.”
Trump’s “joking,” therefore, is less ha-ha funny than his funny little way of blunting the damage when he says something particularly outrageous or is caught in a lie.Now comes Axios’s report that Trump has asked aides about the efficacy of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes. This one has the virtue of actually sounding like a joke.
So far, Trump denies it, but with such frequent, frantic and doth-protest-too-much denials (“The media in our Country is totally out of control!” he tweeted Tuesday night) that the report is almost certainly true.
In public and in private, Trump has long raised questions about the point of stockpiling nuclear weapons if you never use them. The real question is why he didn’t come out with a hurricane-nuking plan earlier. It fits perfectly with his strategic thinking in its thorough lack of regard for consequences or collateral damage.
Trump isn’t fooling anyone, so he might as well take ownership of the nukes-you-can-use position. There are many ways to get more bang for the buck from our nuclear arsenal. All it takes is some out-of-the-silo thinking by the commander in chief.
After dropping one in the eye of Hurricane Dorian, he could use another one to deforest the Amazon, thereby eliminating the threat of future forest fires. A string of nuclear explosions along the southern border would prove a more effective deterrent than a wall. Nuclear fallout would swiftly eliminate the alleged bedbug infestation at Trump’s Doral club in Florida. Nuking Greenland would likely bring down the purchase price.
There’s hardly a problem Trump couldn’t eliminate with a controlled nuclear detonation. He could nuke his tax returns, nuke the Fed, nuke Obamacare, nuke the federal debt, nuke 40 pounds of body fat, nuke rare steaks, nuke opioid stockpiles, nuke measles outbreaks, nuke Democratic precincts and nuke the leech with three jaws and 59 teeth just discovered in Washington.
In the unlikely event anything were to go awry, Trump has a well-tested excuse for pressing the button: I was just joking.
Here is the source document for the comments Congressman King recently made regarding his “no exceptions” pro-life position.
View the footage for yourselves to see what King actually said.
Here’s a hint: King’s remarks were not accurately portrayed by the Des Moines Register or The Associated Press. In fact, each entity has subsequently issued corrections for their coverage of King’s speech.
Here is a transcript of King’s remarks that provides accuracy and context left out of much of the media coverage.
“We moved this along to 174 co-sponsors. I had solid promises that we would get a mark-up in Judiciary Committee. I kept getting messages to accept an amendment for exceptions for rape and incest.
“I’ve got 174 people who say they don’t want exceptions for rape and incest because they understand it is not the baby’s fault, to abort the baby, because of the sin of the father, and maybe sometimes the sin of the mother too, and so I refused to do that. I just kept pushing the pressure up. We had the votes in the judiciary committee to peel off every amendment and put that bill on the floor, and pass it on the floor. And put the marker down that exceptions are not going to be part of the dialogue any further because this is about the sanctity of human life.
And so I refused to do that and down to the last couple days of our lame duck session, that order came back out of leadership – ‘no mark-up, no floor action!’ Boom. And so, all right, I held the ground on principle. Maybe we could have gotten that to the floor if I compromised, it wasn’t going to move through the Senate anyway, but we still stand on these principles of life.
Since then, I started to think. We know the reasons why we don’t want the exceptions, for the most of us, for rape and incest – because it is not the baby’s fault. And I started to wonder about this, what if it was OK and what if we went back through all of our family trees and just pulled those people out who were products of rape and incest, would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all of the wars, all of the rape and pillage that has taken place, whatever happened with culture after society, I know I can’t certify that I’m not part of a product of that.
And I would like to think that every one of the lives of us are as precious as any other life, and that is our measure. Human life cannot be measured. It is the measure itself against which all things are weighed. Human life, not a qualifier there, it’s not about whether you are one day after conception or one day after birth or one day before your 100th birthday, all life has equal value according to the law and equal value according to God.”