Mueller finally proves it: Hillary Clinton is guilty!

Though not abandoning the there-is-no-collusion defense, the White House is already elevating a secondary position — the okay-maybe-we-colluded-but-Clinton-colluded-more defense.

.. Trump, who often accuses others of the exact thing he stands accused of

.. The evidence of Clinton’s alleged “collusion” with Russia? She and the Democrats hired an opposition-research firm that wrote a dossier on, um, Trump’s collusion with Russia. She also colluded with Russia by being secretary of state at a time when another arm of the U.S. government approved a uranium deal with a Russian-owned company that had given money to her husband and his foundation.

Where microaggressions really come from: A sociological account

.. We’re beginning a second transition of moral cultures. The first major transition happened in the 18th and 19th centuries when most Western societies moved away from cultures of honor (where people must earn honor and must therefore avenge insults on their own) to cultures of dignity in which people are assumed to have dignity and don’t need to earn it. They foreswear violence, turn to courts or administrative bodies to respond to major transgressions, and for minor transgressions they either ignore them or attempt to resolve them by social means. There’s no more dueling.

.. Campbell and Manning describe how this culture of dignity is now giving way to a new culture of victimhood in which people are encouraged to respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, as in an honor culture. But they must not obtain redress on their own; they must appeal for help to powerful others or administrative bodies, to whom they must make the case that they have been victimized. It is the very presence of such administrative bodies, within a culture that is highly egalitarian and diverse (i.e., many college campuses) that gives rise to intense efforts to identify oneself as a fragile and aggrieved victim.


.. The key idea is that the new moral culture of victimhood fosters “moral dependence” and an atrophying of the ability to handle small interpersonal matters on one’s own. At the same time that it weakens individuals, it creates a society of constant and intense moral conflict as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of victims.


.. We argue that the social conditions that promote complaints of oppression and victimization overlap with those that promote case-building attempts to attract third parties. When such social conditions are all present in high degrees, the result is a culture of victimhood in which individuals and groups display high sensitivity to slight, have a tendency to handle conflicts through complaints to third parties, and seek to cultivate an image of being victims who deserve assistance. [See DeScioli & Kurzban for more on the urgency of appealing to third parties] We contrast the culture of victimhood with cultures of honor and cultures of dignity.[p.695]

.. Indeed, the core of much modern activism, from protest rallies to leaflet campaigns to publicizing offenses on websites, appears to be concerned with rallying enough public support to convince authorities to act. [p.698]


.. A second notable feature of microaggression websites is that they do not merely call attention to a single offense, but seek to document a series of offenses that, taken together, are more severe than any individual incident. As the term “micro” implies, the slights and insults are acts that many would consider to be only minor offenses and that others might not deem offensive at all. As noted on the Oberlin Microaggressions site, for example, its purpose is to show that acts of “racist, heterosexist/ homophobic, anti-Semitic, classist, ableists, sexist/cissexist speech etc.” are “not simply isolated incidents, but rather part of structural inequalities” (Oberlin Microaggressions 2013). These sites hope to mobilize and sustain support for a moral crusade against such injustice by showing that the injustices are more severe than observers might realize.


.. Rather, such forms as microaggression complaints and protest demonstrations appear to flourish among the relatively educated and affluent populations of American colleges and universities


.. Microaggression complaints are largely about changes in stratification. They document actions said to increase the level of inequality in a social relationship – actions Black refers to as “overstratification.” Overstratification offenses occur whenever anyone rises above or falls below others in status. [Therefore…] a morality that privileges equality and condemns oppression is most likely to arise precisely in settings that already have relatively high degrees of equality

.. [In other words, as progress is made toward a more equal and humane society, it takes a smaller and smaller offense to trigger a high level of outrage. The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimization.]

..  It is in egalitarian and diverse settings – such as at modern American universities – that equality and diversity are most valued, and it is in these settings that perceived offenses against these values are most deviant. [p.707]. [Again, the paradox: places that make the most progress toward equality and diversity can expect to have the “lowest bar” for what counts as an offense against equality and inclusivity. Some colleges have lowered the bar so far that an innocent question, motivated by curiosity, such as “where are you from” is now branded as an act of aggression.]

.. Honor is a kind of status attached to physical bravery and the unwillingness to be dominated by anyone. Honor in this sense is a status that depends on the evaluations of others, and members of honor societies are expected to display their bravery by engaging in violent retaliation against those who offend them (Cooney 1998:108–109; Leung and Cohen 2011). Accordingly, those who engage in such violence often say that the opinions of others left them no choice at all…. In honor cultures, it is one’s reputation that makes one honorable or not, and one must respond aggressively to insults, aggressions, and challenges or lose honor. Not to fight back is itself a kind of moral failing, such that “in honor cultures, people are shunned or criticized not for exacting vengeance but for failing to do so” 

.. Honorable people must guard their reputations, so they are highly sensitive to insult, often responding aggressively to what might seem to outsiders as minor slights (Cohen et al. 1996; Cooney 1998:115–119; Leung and Cohen 2011)… Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack

.. The prevailing culture in the modern West is one whose moral code is nearly the exact opposite of that of an honor culture. Rather than honor, a status based primarily on public opinion, people are said to have dignity, a kind of inherent worth that cannot be alienated by others

..  Insults might provoke offense, but they no longer have the same importance as a way of establishing or destroying a reputation for bravery. It is even commendable to have “thick skin” that allows one to shrug off slights and even serious insults, and in a dignity-based society parents might teach children some version of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – an idea that would be alien in a culture of honor (Leung and Cohen 2011:509). People are to avoid insulting others, too, whether intentionally or not, and in general an ethic of self-restraint prevails.

.. Unlike the honorable, the dignified approve of appeals to third parties and condemn those who “take the law into their own hands.” For offenses like theft, assault, or breach of contract, people in a dignity culture will use law without shame. But in keeping with their ethic of restraint and toleration, it is not necessarily their first resort, and they might condemn many uses of the authorities as frivolous. People might even be expected to tolerate serious but accidental personal injuries…. The ideal in dignity cultures is thus to use the courts as quickly, quietly, and rarely as possible.


.. Public complaints that advertise or even exaggerate one’s own victimization and need for sympathy would be anathema to a person of honor – tantamount to showing that one had no honor at all. Members of a dignity culture, on the other hand, would see no shame in appealing to third parties, but they would not approve of such appeals for minor and merely verbal offenses. Instead they would likely counsel either confronting the offender directly to discuss the issue, or better yet, ignoring the remarks altogether.


.. But insofar as they share a social environment, the same conditions that lead the aggrieved to use a tactic against their adversaries encourage their adversaries to use that tactic as well. For instance, hate crime hoaxes do not all come from the left. [gives examples] … Naturally, whenever victimhood (or honor, or anything else) confers status, all sorts of people will want to claim it.

.. Ley notes, the response of those labeled as oppressors is frequently to “assert that they are a victim as well.” Thus, “men criticized as sexist for challenging radical feminism defend themselves as victims of reverse sexism, [and] people criticized as being unsympathetic proclaim their own history of victimization.”[p.715] [In this way, victimhood culture causes a downward spiral of competitive victimhood.

.. What we are seeing in these controversies is the clash between dignity and victimhood, much as in earlier times there was a clash between honor and dignity…. At universities and many other environments within modern America and, increasingly, other Western nations, the clash between dignity and victimhood engenders a similar kind of moral confusion

.. Add to this mix modern communication technologies that make it easy to publicize grievances, and the result, as we have seen, is the rise of a victimhood culture.

What Moderates Believe

For some people, the warriors of the populist right must be replaced by warriors of the populist left. For these people, Trump has revealed an ugly authoritarian tendency in American society that has to be fought with relentless fervor and moral clarity.

For others, it’s Trump’s warrior mentality itself that must be replaced. Warriors on one side inevitably call forth warriors on the other, and that just means more culture war, more barbarism, more dishonesty and more dysfunction.

.. The truth is plural. There is no one and correct answer to the big political questions. Instead, politics is usually a tension between two or more views, each of which possesses a piece of the truth.

.. Leadership is about determining which viewpoint is more needed at that moment

.. Politics is a limited activity. Zealots look to the political realm for salvation and self-fulfillment. They turn politics into a secular religion and ultimately an apocalyptic war of religion because they try to impose one correct answer on all of life. Moderates believe that, at most, government can create a platform upon which the beautiful things in life can flourish. But it cannot itself provide those beautiful things.

.. Government can create economic and physical security and a just order, but meaning, joy and the good life flow from loving relationships, thick communities and wise friends. The moderate is prudent and temperate about political life because he is so passionate about emotional, spiritual and intellectual life.

.. Because they are syncretistic, they are careful to spend time in opposing camps, always opening lines of communication. The wise moderate can hold two or more opposing ideas together in her mind at the same time.

.. Beware the danger of a single identity. Before they brutalize politics, warriors brutalize themselves. Instead of living out several identities — Latina/lesbian/gun-owning/Christian — that pull in different directions, they turn themselves into monads. They prioritize one identity, one narrative and one comforting distortion.

.. Moderates are problematic members of their party. They tend to be hard on their peers and sympathetic to their foes.

Will the Blowhard Blow Us Up?

Administration officials have been trying to reassure journalists that James Mattis, John Kelly and Rex Tillerson have a pact designed to ensure that one of them is always in the country to watch over Trump in case he goes off the deep end.

.. a Nixon defense secretary, James Schlesinger, got so worried about a cratering Nixon — who was drinking and telling congressmen, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead” — that he told military commanders to check with him or Henry Kissinger if the president ordered up nukes.

.. In all my interviews of Trump over the years, he never seemed very chesty about foreign intervention. “If only we could have Saddam back, as bad as he was, rather than $2 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost and all these wounded warriors,” he told me during the campaign.

.. His pitch was mostly about turning inward, so America could shore up its economy, security and infrastructure. “Unlike other candidates, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech on the trail.

.. Now, in case North Korea is too far away, Trump is threatening “a possible military option” closer to home, in Venezuela.

.. Watching Trump, 71, and Kim, 33, trade taunts is particularly disturbing because they mirror each other in so many unhinged ways. Trump is a democratically elected strongman and Kim is a fratricidal despot, but they both live in bizarro fantasy worlds where lying and cheating is the norm.

They’re both spoiled scions who surpassed less ruthless older brothers to join their authoritarian fathers in the family business. They both make strange fashion statements with their hair and enjoy bullying and hyperbole. They both love military parades, expect “Dear Leader” displays of fawning and favor McDonald’s and Madonna.

They both demand allegiance. When Trump feels he isn’t getting it or paranoia takes over, he publicly mocks his lieutenants or jettisons them. Kim simply gets out his antiaircraft machine guns and calls up his nerve-agent assassins. He had his uncle killed for, among the reasons, clapping halfheartedly, The Times reported.

“Kim understands Trump better than Trump understands himself,” Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio told me. “He is only comfortable dominating and forcing others into submission. When that’s not happening, he experiences an almost physical discomfort because he feels unsafe. He doesn’t know any other way to achieve status.”

.. Proving there’s no method to his madness, Trump went after Mitch McConnell, who is literally the most important person to Trump in pushing his agenda through Congress and who, as Carl Hulse wrote in The Times, secured the president “the signature accomplishment of his young presidency” by getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed

How Would Churchill Tweet?

If Churchill tweeted, we’d be reading very different tweets from those we read from the president and other political leaders today. I don’t suggest what he would say. No one can know that. But I do know how he would go about it — and I suggest that his methods offer an excellent example for today’s leaders.

.. First, Churchill avoided repaying vilification in kind. Instead he used humor, irony, plays on words. This lowered the temperature and took the sting out of debate.

.. Blunting insults with humor let Churchill off the hook. In the ensuing laughter, people forgot that he’d never responded to the accusation. “I have to measure the length of the response to any question by the worth, meaning, and significance of that question,” he said to an angry inquisitor — which avoided any answer at all.

.. Second, Churchill rarely attacked someone personally in public, though he didn’t hesitate to lampoon their well-known traits. During a loquacious speech by an MP who questioned his veracity, judgment, and even morals, Churchill interrupted: “I can well understand the honorable member speaking for practice, which he badly needs.”

.. in avoiding jibes, he did not even defend himself. The defense would come later, in a carefully worded statement at a time of his choosing. This was much more gratifying than outbursts in the Twitterverse.

.. Third, Churchill would often use interesting allegories or images rather than vicious barbs when confronted by opponents.

.. Lastly — and perhaps most important — even though the political divide was as wide in his time as in ours, Churchill fostered respect and collegiality. Intrinsic to his methods was an underlying respect for opponents. To him they were not enemies, merely honorable people who were mistaken. 

A West Coast Plea to an Unstable President

I’ll let Leon Panetta, the wisest of West Coasters and former secretary of defense, speak for us:

“You’ve got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments,” he told Politico this week. He worried that the bully in Bedminster may feel that the bully in Pyongyang is “attacking his manhood,” an age-old trigger for war. The similarities between the two of you are unavoidable: the preening, the insecurity, the pathological narcissism, the chronic lying, the bad haircuts.

.. But we sometimes can’t tell the statements between the two of you apart. Was it Kim or your magnificence who said you would turn the other’s capital city into a “sea of fire”? Or force the other’s country to suffer “fire and fury like the world has never seen?”

.. one of your top advisers, Sebastian Gorka, has been trying to sound like you, ratcheting up the my-nukes-are-bigger-than-yours brinkmanship. “We are not just the superpower,” he said. “We are now a hyperpower.” If only he were talking about a Marvel Comics character.

And it’s equally unsettling that your evangelical adviser, the Texas pastor Robert Jeffress, is now giving you cover from the Bible. “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil,” he said, speaking for God.

.. It will take more than “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake,” more than calling President Xi Jinping of China a good guy one day, a bad guy the next. Diplomacy is hard. But it beats the alternative.