Thoughts on Michael Anton and Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli

Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent interview, Mr Anton said that he knew “Nick”, his short hand for Niccolo Machiavelli, for over 30 years. He qualified his support by saying he followed the Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli.[1] For his interviewer, this made sense. Leo Strauss is a famous scholar with a well-known book about Machiavelli’s teaching–Thoughts on Machiavelli. Why else would someone speak proudly, publicly, and unapologetically of Machiavelli? For his listeners, it would sound rather intellectual, hip, and a bit “edgy”. For the public audience, a presidential advisor at the centre of political power who cites Machiavelli will sound like they know what they doing. Only serious, scholarly, sophisticated people would be able to drop his name so casually. Yet, there is also a deeper message attached to Machiavelli’s name. For Trump’s white nationalist followers, Mr Anton would appear to hit the right notes when he referred to Machiavelli’s revival of Western Philosophy and with it Western Civilization. Such followers are not interested in philosophy but they do want to defend the West for they see it under attack. Thus, Mr Anton has done his mentor proud for he has spoken to many audiences simultaneously. However, with all things Machiavelli, we have to look beneath the surface. The surface often hides a deeper meaning that explains the surface since we cannot begin to understand the surface until we understand the depths. We have to consider whether Mr Anton intended a deeper meaning or whether the surface view is sufficient.

In that spirit, to learn and be instructed by those who know and test whether our understanding is sufficient, I raise the following points and questions. For it is in questioning those with superior knowledge that the less experienced may gain some hope to have an opinion about the truth. If we are lucky with such questions, we receive a glimpse of the truth. I beg the reader’s indulgence if my remarks and comments appear obvious or simplistic. If they do, please correct me so that I may learn. I ask Mr Anton’s indulgence if I misunderstand him or if my understanding of his intent distorts what he meant. If he or any of his friends could correct me on these points, I would be grateful.

As Mr Anton has spent 30 years studying and reading Machiavelli, I hope he can help me understand him. There are two issues, out of many, to consider when Mr Anton speaks to a select audience when he refers to his Machiavelli. The first is his reference to Publius Decius Mus (the Elder). The second is his reference to the Leo Strauss’s Machiavelli.

In this interview and elsewhere, Mr Anton discusses why he chose Publius Decius Mus (the elder) as a pen name. He says that he was attracted to his self-sacrifice that won a decisive battle that would determine Rome’s fate. I am curious to understand, though, whether he intended that we understand Decius as Machiavelli intended[2] or as Livy intended. When we read Machiavelli or Livy, we see that Mr Anton seems to overlook or at least leave unstated issues that would qualify Decius’s sacrifice effectiveness. The first is how Livy and Machiavelli understood the religious context for the sacrifice. He refers to the divinatory sacrifices before the battle which Decius followed, but he seems to forget how Livy, according to Machiavelli, dismissed such auspices. Harvey Mansfield argues Machiavelli makes a bold attack on Christianity with this episode. Machiavelli had a deep, abiding, hatred for Christianity because he believed it eroded the virtu needed to rule.[3] This sections within the Discourses refers frequently to the weakness of Christian armies. Earlier in the Discourses, Machiavelli refers to the way the auspices offered by the chicken men (religious augurs) are dismissed as required by necessity (see Discourses on Livy (I, 14)) so that they fit what is needed. The second point is that Machiavelli and Livy, contrast Decius’ self-sacrifice with Torquatas’ sacrifice of his son. From the Christian perspective, as Mansfield points out, the sacrifice of self, in this context suicide, is an atrocity while sacrifice of the son is the laudable.[4] Livy appears to suggest that Decius’ sacrifice was of secondary importance. He indicates (Book 8, Chapter 7, sections 8-22) that the success was due more to Titus Manlius Torquatus. Torquatus understood that with both armies, and virtues, being equal, he needed to give his side an advantage. To strengthen his army, he brought back the ancient military discipline. To demonstrate the ancient discipline, he killed his own son when he disobeyed orders. Livy argues that example instilled the soldiers with the obstinacy needed to defeat the Latins. What remained after the battle and contributed to the Roman army’s continued success was the ancient discipline rekindled by Torquatus not Publius Decius Mus’s sacrifice.

One would hope that Mr Anton does not share Machiavelli’s hatred of Christianity or America’s religion which is reverence for the law. Perhaps he means to suggest that one can excuse Machiavelli this trait, in much the same way we are told we must excuse President’s various traits because the current false religion has weakened America. When POTUS talked publicly and unashamedly that he would date his daughter or how she could make a lot of money with her body, we are to excuse these as inconsequential since they show us how far we have been debased by the false religion that rules America. Yet, we know that President Trump shares a disdain for Christian beliefs with his frequent fornication, infidelity, and disdain for Christ’s example as a guide for his personal or professional behaviour so we are puzzled as to how we are to understand him or those who defend him. Instead, Trump appears to practice a different religion. He gives lip service to Christ, acts worldly in other ways and in this he appears like Machiavelli’s Prince for he appears to adapt himself to the public morality. One would hope that Publius Decius Mus the Elder is more than a veneer of the apparently virtuous as a shield for the secretly sinful. These questions bring us to the second issue—Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli.

Mr Anton defends his love for Nick (it is curious he uses this familiar name) by referring to Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli.

I mean Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli, the great mind who revived Western philosophy in the 16th century.[5]

For the casual listener, this sounds honourable and enlightened. Leo Strauss wrote a famous book about Machiavelli and a seminal article about Machiavelli’s intention. On the surface, Mr Anton associates his love of Machiavelli with Leo Strauss’ reputation as a Machiavellian scholar. Yet, like the reference to the Publius Decius Mus (the Elder), we need to look beneath the surface to see whether the depths reflect the surface. If we look beneath the surface, it appears Mr Anton has shaped Leo Strauss’ legacy to support his position. What did he intend? In much the same way that the Pepe crowd signal their allegiance with gestures and language so too it appears Mr Anton signalled something with his reference to Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli. In this instance, I fear he has confused me.

I believe he meant to refer to Harvey C Mansfield Jr.’s Machiavelli for the Machiavelli that Mr Anton describes reflects what Professor Mansfield has said publicly while Leo Strauss never said such things publicly.[6] In particular, Machiavelli is proud of his supremacist credentials. Such a view is acceptable as a matter of intellectual probity. Is this the heritage that Mr Anton seeks to support? As Strauss said in Thoughts on Machiavelli, Machiavelli “is one of the two fundamental alternatives of political thought.” (p.14). Is Mr Anton suggesting that Strauss chose Machiavelli? If so, it would seem to undermine what Strauss wrote in On Tyranny when he explained that “tyranny is the danger coeval with political life.” (p.22). Is Mr Anton suggesting that Strauss shared Machiavelli’s supremacist ethos, which he argued against in Thoughts on Machiavelli? I would be grateful if he could show me where or how Strauss embraces that alternative of political thought in Thoughts on Machiavelli or any of his other works. If that is his intent, which I hope it is not, it dishonours a great teacher, thinker, and gentle soul. Mr Anton should know better and refrain from using a great man’s reputation to further Machiavelli’s supremacist agenda. I raise this tentative objection because Mr Anton appears to overlook what Leo Strauss wrote about Machiavelli.

Leo Strauss wrote famously that Machiavelli was a teacher of evil.[7]

“We shall not shock anyone, we shall merely exposes ourselves to good-natured or at any rate harmless ridicule, if we profess ourselves inclined to old-fashioned and simple opinion according to which Machiavelli was a teacher of evil.”


“If it is true that only an evil man will stoop to teach maxims of public and private gangsterism, we are forced to say that Machiavelli was an evil man.”

He never qualified this opinion nor did he change it. Strauss paid homage to Machiavelli as a thinker if not a philosopher, just as he accepted that Heidegger was a great thinker, but he never accepted his political acts or their consequences. Strauss would never accept Machiavelli’s political project just as he would never accept Heidegger’s. It is noteworthy that despite writing a seminal work on Machiavelli he never taught a course on him. (14 March 2018 (This is a mistake Strauss did teach courses on Machiavelli)) Unlike Harvey Mansfield, Leo Strauss never went beyond what he wrote in Thoughts on Machiavelli to celebrate Machiavelli, advocate his broad acceptance, or show how he had been made safe for liberal democracy. It would follow that if you thought someone was a teacher of evil, you would refrain from public praise. Strauss never tried to make Machiavelli “safe” or “respectable” for America or American democracy. Perhaps he saw Machiavelli as a lesser threat than Heidegger since he never published anything on Heidegger in his lifetime.

Mansfield, by contrast, has written extensively on Machiavelli’s teachings. He appears to introduce him to American public as someone acceptable and necessary for American regime or any political regime. His book Taming the Prince appears to justify Machiavelli as if he has been “made safe” for liberal democracy. In this light, it is understandable that Mr Anton would refer to Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli in an attempt to refer to a safer version. Yet, neither Mansfield nor Anton can explain how Machiavelli can be made “safe” for America especially as his teaching represents the danger coeval with politics. In particular, I am puzzled as to how Mr Anton can discuss Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli in the White House, when Strauss wrote that the United States of America may be said to be the only country in the world founded in direct opposition to Machiavelli.[8] Strauss follows that claim by pointing out that Machiavelli argued the “foundation of political greatness is necessarily laid in crime”. Perhaps Mr Anton is trying to signal something about the Trump administration for as he says Machiavelli would approve of Trump.[9] To understand why or how America is founded in direct opposition to Machiavelli, we have to understand that it is founded in the principle of equality, the belief in the natural rights that all men are created equal.[10] Machiavelli wrote explicitly and emphatically against that belief. To put it bluntly, Machiavelli promoted a supremacist agenda for what is imperialism but supremacism? Trying to cover this up by referring to a safer Machiavelli, Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli, seems disingenuous. If Mr Anton is suggesting that Leo Strauss would promote or endorse supremacism, Machiavellian or otherwise, he does him a grave injustice.

To be sure, other commentators might note that Strauss sometimes referred to Plato’s discussion of the philosopher’s superiority and the need for philosopher kings who could transcend the law. Yet, these references would further distort his legacy. Strauss always qualified those as the Ancient view of political philosophy that would have no place within the modern era. He noted that such views were unachievable politically in an age where consent is required for political rule. Further, if Mr Anton were to make these references he would need to show the context for such remark. When we find these references in Plato’s work, they are in a private not a public setting. Strauss was clear, especially in Thoughts on Machiavelli, that the Ancients would never state such political things publicly. He understood directly that such public teaching has consequences that were deleterious for the common good that is needed for decent politics. One wonders if Harvey Mansfield misunderstood Strauss’ warnings about the perverted prince that followed from Heidegger’s teaching if he believed that a return to Machiavelli or a Machiavelli made safe for liberal democracy would offer a suitable constraint or prophylactic for those who indulge a knowing irreverence for America’s reverence for the laws.

One aspect of Trump that Mr Anton believes that Machiavelli would approve is his unpredictability, especially in foreign policy. In such unpredictability, we are reminded that another avid reader of Machiavelli was Benito Mussolini. In 1924, he wrote a Prelude to the Prince where he dismisses the idea of popular sovereignty or democracy with a clear disdain for power derived from consent. In this, he is faithful to Machiavelli. One wonders if it is this view that Mr Anton understands as Machiavelli’s defence of Western Philosophy. In a curious twist, Mr Anton sees President Trump’s unpredictability as a virtue[11], which is something he has in common with Mussolini. Unpredictability is also synonymous with arbitrary which is a trait that Strauss noted defined a tyrant.[12]

As Strauss noted, Machiavelli separates wisdom from moderation for he rejected classical political philosophy. When he rejected that moderation, he encouraged an immoderate approach to politics and statesmanship. His political project threatens any constitutional regime. The immoderate approach champions virtu at the expense of moderate thought and acts that sustain the constitutional order with its reverence for the laws. Perhaps Mr Anton would have been better served, as a citizen and a man, if he had read and reflected on Xenophon’s Hiero with the same attention he gives Machiavelli. Yet, if his or Trump’s success comes from such immoderate thought and behaviour is it any surprise he is attracted to a captain who will best embodies what he desires?

Two things emerge from this interview. First, Mr Anton’s admires Publius Decius Mus the elder. Second, he believes there is such a thing as Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli. From these two facts, I would speculate tentatively about his intent. If my analysis is incorrect or incomplete, I would be grateful if he would clarify his intent. I base this analysis on my limited understanding of his writings, Strauss’ writings, and Machiavelli’s writings. First, he intends to show he shares Machiavelli’s views about Christianity although this could be seen to suggest he embraces Epicureanism, the deeper intent is to show that the false religion that holds sway over America has weakened it. Second, he uses Leo Strauss to conceal Machiavelli’s problematic character and teaching so that Machiavelli can be made safe for the White House. Third, Mr Anton seems to have embraced as necessary the separation of wisdom from moderation since our age requires an unpredictable, or arbitrary, chief executive who will be freed from constitutional framework. We must accept such an approach to deal with a normal state that is warfare not peace. I would note in passing when considering this analysis that Mr Anton would do well to reflect that Strauss warned about a thinker who was contemptuous of reasonableness and praised resoluteness. If this analysis misunderstands his intent, then I would ask him what he meant when he referred to his love for “Nick” and Leo Strauss’ Machiavelli. One could accept that he follows Trump out of opportunism. Machiavelli would understand as a seasoned political operative, since one cannot practice politics effectively from the kitchen. As Mr Anton appears to follow Trump from a deep passion, a reasoned choice, and political judgement we may be led to the fearful conclusion, which I hope he can reassure is not the case, that suggests he prefers the political alternative that Machiavelli proposes and Trump attempts to embody. Whatever the intent, Mr Anton is to be lauded for his rhetorical skills for he has surpassed Machiavelli as his job application succeeded whereas Machiavelli’s failed.



[1] See the full text of the interview is here:

[2] The attentive reader will note that the Publius Decius Mus (the elder) story occurs near the centre of Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy as well as in the centre of book 2, the central book.

[3] I will leave it to readers more perspicuous than I to determine whether Mr Anton is attacking the current religion. What is the American religion that he is attacking? Is the American religion progressivism, at least within the elites, or is it equality, or is the civil religion that binds America together the Constitution?

[4] See Harvey C. Mansfield, Machiavelli’s New Modes and Orders: a study of the Discourses on Livy University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2001 pp233-235.


[6] Harvey C. Mansfield Jr has written extensively on Machiavelli with the following books:  Machiavelli’s Virtue (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1996), Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power John Hopkins University Press, 1989) as well as Machiavelli’s new modes and orders: a study of the Discourses on Livy (Cornell University Press, Ithaca 1979). He has published translations of Machiavelli’s Prince, Discourses on Livy, and Florentine Histories.

I leave to others to consider why Mansfield felt that the time was right within America to make explicit what Strauss, at best, alluded to and why he thought it would be healthy to expose American democracy to Machiavelli’s thought in such an immodest fashion. I would also leave to readers to consider Professor Mansfield’s timing.

[7] See Leo Strauss Thoughts on Machiavelli p. 9 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1978 (paperback edition)

[8] See Leo Strauss Thoughts on Machiavelli p. 13

[9] We have to be cautious of such signals since the comments may only be for Mr Anton’s benefit not for enlightening others about himself or Trump.

[10] Here it is not surprising that Mr Anton overlooks Harry Jaffa’s work. Jaffa would want to know why he is praising Niccolo Machiavelli in the White House especially as Machiavelli’s praise of supremacism suggests that the truth that all men are created equal is simply a half-truth or a noble lie. It is also noteworthy that Harry Jaffa wrote on Lincoln rather than Machiavelli. Perhaps this is a sub-theme to the dispute between Jaffa and Mansfield as captured by Thomas West.

[11] By contrast, the Athenians had no need for Machiavellianism because they were so powerful. In the Melian Dialogue, the Athenians are unapologetically clear and consistent in their approach to the Melians. It is the Melian oligarchs who rely on Machiavellian like methods in the hopes they can avoid what Athens says they will deliver. See Harry Neumann Socrates and the Tragedy of Athens,Social Research, Vol. 35, No. 3 (AUTUMN 1968), p427

[12] See Leo Strauss On Tyranny Corrected and Expanded edition Including the Strauss-Kojeve correspondence, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2013) p

Posted in good writing, Government, justice, philosophy, republicanism, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , ,

Trump’s Syrian missile strike was a strategic blunder with Xi

English: Celebrity Apprentice star Dennis Rodm...

English: Celebrity Apprentice star Dennis Rodman and Donald Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dedicated to the memory of Dean Rusk; a Southern gentleman, an American patriot, and a public servant who understood what is at stake with China.

In statecraft, there are three types of blunders or sins. Two are punished and one brings rewards. The first is the sin of commission. The basic blunder where you do something wrong or you execute a plan or act poorly. No matter how well-intentioned, a blunder is something that does not work. Churchill’s ill-fated Dardanelles proposal is an example of a blunder. The second type of blunder is the sin of omission. Such a blunder is the failure to seize an opportunity or an opening. In this blunder, the leader does not see the chance they could take or they seize the wrong option as they have misunderstood the strategic opportunity. The final type of blunder is very rare but it does occur. It is the intentional blunder. Here, the leader does something that appears to the casual or uninformed view to be a blunder but has a deeper intent, something to lure in an opponent, so that the larger opportunity can be realized. These are very rare and difficult to arrange let alone execute. For example, a leader might blurt out what he appeared to want to keep secret or allow someone to see information because they know it will be leaked. The target believes that they can capitalize on the mistake as they cannot perceive the intent that guides it.[1]

Donald Trump appears to have committed the second type of blunder. What is surprising is that commentators have not picked up on this blunder. Why they have overlooked it is a question to be answered another time. To understand this blunder, we have to consider the context.

In a recent fawning interview, Donald Trump revealed when he told President Xi that he had launched the missile strike on Syria.[2] Here is the relevant section from the interview transcript.

BARTIROMO:  When you were with the president of China, you’re launching these military strikes.

TRUMP:  Yes.

BARTIROMO:  Was that planned?

How did that come about that it’s happening right then, because right there, you’re saying a reminder, here’s who the superpower in the world is, right?

TRUMP:  You have no idea how many people want to hear the answer to this.  I have had — I have watched speculation for three days now on what that was like (INAUDIBLE).

BARTIROMO:  When did you tell him?

TRUMP:  But I’ll tell you (INAUDIBLE)…

BARTIROMO:  Before dessert or what?

TRUMP:  But I will tell you, only because you’ve treated me so good for so long, I have to (INAUDIBLE) right?

I was sitting at the table.  We had finished dinner.  We’re now having dessert.  And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.

And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded, what do you do?

And we made a determination to do it, so the missiles were on the way.  And I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you.  This was during dessert.

We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing.

BARTIROMO:  Unmanned?


TRUMP:  It’s so incredible.  It’s brilliant.  It’s genius.  Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five.  I mean look, we have, in terms of technology, nobody can even come close to competing.

Now we’re going to start getting it, because, you know, the military has been cut back and depleted so badly by the past administration and by the war in Iraq, which was another disaster.

So what happens is I said we’ve just launched 59 missiles heading to Iraq and I wanted you to know this. And he was eating his cake. And he was silent.[3]


What is noteworthy is that Trump seemed genuinely pleased to have had an interviewer be “good” to him.[4] I suppose that as long as interviewers are “good” to him Trump will reward them with exclusives. If this is all it takes to receive a scoop [sic], then we can expect other reporters to commence the fluff interviews. In this effort, the Fox News interviewers seem to excel at this.[5] However, the interviewer who elicited this scoop [sic] failed to understand its importance, but this is not surprising since other commentators have focused on the wrong thing or simply misunderstood what was at stake.

The chocolate cake is not the issue.

From the transcript, most commentators have focused on the chocolate cake and Trump’s self-satisfaction that Xi appeared to approve of the missile strikes. What Trump missed is an opportunity that other presidents would have worked their whole lives to achieve. President Nixon, had he been given such a golden opportunity, would have seized it with both hands. He had to work for decades to reach such an opportunity. What was this opportunity and what was Trump’s response?

Without a strategic intent, a strategic act is meaningless.

Trump was able to get Xi to a meeting in the US. During his visit, he was able to strike Syria with Tomahawk missiles in response to a chemical weapons attack by Syria. Trump appeared to have seized an opportunity to do what Obama could not or would not do. Moreover, Trump was able to announce it to Xi and thus impress him with America’s military technological prowess. For Trump, it is important to impress others so that he can feel in charge as he believes that such behaviour is impressive and one that carries more than a symbolic effect. When a strategic event, such as the missile strike, is done without a strategic effect or intent, it is reduced to a symbolic act, an event “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Trump’s blunder shows that it was an empty gesture.

What was the blunder?

When Trump told Xi he had hit Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack, he asked him what he thought. If Trump was aware of Chinese history he would have known that China are one of the few countries to have suffered severe and sustained chemical and biological warfare. China’s hatred for Japan is derived in no small part from Japan’s chemical weapons attacks, biological attacks, and experiments on Chinese during Japan’s war against China.[6] If Trump knew this, then he would know Xi’s likely response. It is Xi’s response that offered the amazing strategic opportunity that Trump appears to have missed.

But Xi apparently told Trump that he “agreed with” the attack.

“He said to me, anybody that uses gases — you could almost say or anything else — but anybody that was so brutal and uses gases to do that to young children and babies, it’s OK … he was OK with it, he was OK,” Trump said.[7]

What Trump had was the chance to put Xi on the spot and force him into a strategic decision or lose serious face. Alternatively, he could have put Xi on the backfoot and gained a strategic advantage on him. Trump did neither. Trump failed to take advantage of the strategic opportunity. At some point, he and his advisors will have to explain why.

Trump had many options that he let slip away.

Trump could have followed up Xi’s statement with the following or something like the following.

“Mr President, I am glad you agree. What would you propose I should do to a country that supports such a leader who is willing to use chemical weapons? Should countries that support such behaviour be seen as complicit in such attacks? I am sure you would agree with me that any decent country, such as yours, that opposes chemical weapons attacks would publicly condemn such attacks and stop supporting such a country. Would you stop supporting Assad so that we can stop these chemical weapons?”

Alternatively, he could have said the following.

“Mr President, I am glad you approve and endorse my approach to chemical weapons. As a decent country who has suffered the scourge of chemical weapons attacks from a monstrous regime, will you join with me to convene a summit between America, China, and Syria, to remove Assad and end the chemical weapons attacks?”

If Trump had wanted to drive a wedge between China and Russia over their support for Assad and resistance to sanctions against Syria[8], he could have said something like the following.

“Mr President, you and I know it is in our interests to avoid military action over Syria so let us agree on sanctions against Syria with America and China standing together against chemical weapons as your country has suffered greatly from chemical weapons attacks in the past. Let us take a stand against Syria. If we stand together, then only one country remains a clear supporter of chemical weapons attacks. Let this be the start of our strategic relationship.”

Even if this language is not used, Trump had an opportunity to contrast publicly China’s opposition to chemical weapons, its history as a victim of chemical weapons, against its continued support for Syria and Assad. Trump never made that public connection and with it he lost a unique moment that will never return.

Trump was given what most statesmen work their lives to achieve and he wasted it.

Faced with a unique opportunity that most statesmen work and wait a lifetime to create or exploit, Trump chose instead to brag about his shiny military toys and bask in Xi’s apparent approval. Instead of creating a strategic opportunity with China, the missile strike has become an empty symbolic gesture that far from showing Obama to be indecisive, showed that military action without a strategic goal is a sign of bluster, insecurity, and incoherence. Perhaps this is the deeper lesson that Xi took from Trump who now talks excitedly about impressing Xi and chocolate cake.


Analysis: Xi has humiliated Trump and Trump does not even know it. First Trump allowed Xi to explain that North Korea was complicated to such a degree that China had little influence. Trump accepted this story and said publicly that Xi taught him a history lesson. Trump placed himself as a student to Xi as a teacher. In China, such a relationship is between a superior, the teacher, and the inferior, the student. Trump, the President of the United States, has publicly made himself Xi’s inferior. For Xi, and China, this is a huge success and will have great consequences across Asia given the historical and cultural meaning of teacher and pupil.[9] No president, even Obama, has done such a thing. Yet, here is Trump stating it publicly and proudly. If he had staffed the State Department properly, he would have known about North Korea and called “Bullshit” when Xi told him such nonsense. China has great control over North Korea’s energy supply and its food supply.[10] Moreover, China has a large military force on the border and has likely co-opted or penetrated the North Korean military and the North Korean intelligence services. To say that China has limited influence over North Korea is laughable.[11] It is embarrassing. Yet, there is Trump proudly saying “North Korea is complicated” as if discovering a new idea.[12] One shudders to think that if North Korea collapsed that Trump would accede to the Korean peninsula being neutralized and thus erasing a major strategic and geopolitical vulnerability for China because Xi Jinping tells him it is a good idea.[13]

Playing games with the call readout has global consequences.

To add insult to injury, China releases a call readout from the telephone call between Xi and Trump. The White House, inspired by Bannon and Miller who like petulant, vindictive children want to annoy the press, released a 28-word statement about the call.[14] The most powerful nation during a crucial summit with the threat of war in the Middle East and increased tension in Korea, issues a 28-word statement. By contrast, China released a 6 paragraph copy of 420 words.[15] Their statement is balanced, measured, and comprehensive. The call readout makes Xi and China appear the competent, dignified, and confident power. If a reader did not know the context, it would appear that China was the more powerful state responsible for the status quo and America the weaker, revisionist power closed to itself, insecure, and defensive. You would think that China had an open, vibrant, independent media and America had a state controlled press.

By thwarting American media, the White House surrenders status to China.

By releasing a 28-word statement, Bannon and Miller think they are being cute. They think they are controlling the American media and winning the “media game.” What they do not realize is that they are losing the statecraft game and literally surrendering world leadership to the Chinese. China’s allies will read this communique and trust China’s views. To world opinion, China appears to be in charge. What are America’s allies to make of this? What is South Korea, Japan, and Australia to make of this? They will be embarrassed. They will be worried. It is China’s account that they will have to read to know what is happening in the United States and on the issues discussed by Xi and Trump. This is the sign of an American administration that is incompetent and does not even know it.

Americans have the luxury of decent politics without realizing what that means.

The White House, perhaps echoing the attitude shown by Bannon and Miller, provided a brief call readout. In this, they act like children. I don’t blame them because they really don’t know any better. They know little about statecraft for despite their claims to being “tough”, they accept the liberal-democratic myths about statecraft. They live in a smug, self-satisfied, protected bubble where politics is a pastime, a game, where the loser gets to retire and make money as a consultant. In the rest of the world, in places like China, if you lose you are lucky if you only end up in a corruption trial where a death sentence is a possibility.[16] China and Russia do not live within a self-satisfied bubble because for them politics is a serious business with life or death consequences.[17] I do blame someone like Michael Anton who should know better.[18] If he had attended James H. Nichols, Jr’s Thucydides course at Claremont, he would have understood statecraft, the need to maintain honour and most of all to manage the appearance as the reality of power. He spent time in Bush’s NSC so he should know better. To allow this humiliation to occur on his watch is shameful. What is truly worrying is that despite his claims to be a “thinker” about politics and statecraft, he really does not know what is going on and what needs to be done.[19] Trump’s ignorance is compounded by his advisors’ incompetence. They are burning through the legacy created by honourable, competent, decent men like Dean Rusk who knew what was at stake and would never have allowed something like this to happen. They dishonour his memory and they threaten America’s safety.

Xi has taken Trump’s measure and found him wanting.

What did Xi and his advisors learn from this summit? Xi and his advisors have learned that Trump and his advisors lack the competence to be feared, respected, or even insulted. What Xi and his advisors will be telling themselves is: “We will have no difficulty with this president.” For the first time since China entered international politics it is now more competent, confident, and composed than America. Xi and his advisors will patiently and ruthlessly exploit this advantage. Having convinced Trump that North Korea is difficult for China to influence, they will encourage North Korea’s intransigence so that they can exploit it, and most importantly they will continue to support Assad as they patiently expand their role in the Middle East and North Africa while America acts like a paper tiger with strategically meaningless missile strikes that lack a strategic goal beyond “doing something decisive.” Xi and China would never be so foolish as to waste their power, reputation, and status in this way, but Trump and his advisors are quite content to do so.

China continues to support Syria and Assad without cost or consequence.

When the next chemical weapons attack occurs, what will Trump do? Another missile strike? To achieve what end? Trump has now engaged America’s military and reputation in Syria. Xi and his advisors continue to support Assad without cost and they can humiliate Trump by encouraging Assad in his attacks and coordinating that with North Korea activity. Trump becomes a child who is being taught a lesson in statecraft by his Chinese teacher. China call readout shows Xi continuing to condemn the use of chemical weapons and asking the matter be resolved through the United Nations *even though* China has vetoed attempts to hold Syria to account in the United Nations.[20] At no point during the summit was China held to account for opposing sanctions for chemical weapons nor was its legacy as a victim of chemical weapons attacks used as public leverage to show China’s hypocrisy. Trump ends his summit with Xi without any progress on North Korea or Syria. By contrast, Xi comes away without having conceded anything and had Trump publicly tell the world Xi taught Trump a lesson about North Korea. What does Trump tell the American public? “we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen and President Xi was enjoying it.”


I bet Xi was enjoying it. I bet he was enjoying it more than Trump will ever realize.




[1] I cannot overlook the possibility that this is what Trump and his advisors have done with Xi Jinping. In this strategy, Trump intends to look foolish to give Xi status. In return, Xi will help him solve the Korean problem. The challenge is to see how Xi or any China leader would accept a unified Korea that is not beholden to them. Why would Xi accept a unified Korea that put a US ally right on its border? If Trump a strategy to unify Korea, maintain US strategic interests, and create a wedge between China and Russia, it is so well hidden that it reflects a strategic vision and patience that would put Nixon and Obama to shame. Time will tell.

[2] The full interview can be found here:


[4] Most worryingly is that Trump publicly assesses other leaders on whether they “like him”. It matters very little if a leader is liked since that is immaterial to statecraft as the leader must be respected for their word is their bond. It matters not whether someone is liked, it matters what they can or cannot do, what they will or will not do. Xi will be nice to Trump and be his friend if that gets him what he wants from America. By stating his desire to be “liked”, Trump puts himself at a disadvantage since he can be manipulated for he believes in the appearance of being liked.

[5] Jesse Watters received high praise from Trump for “being so nice to me.” See 11:26-11:34 for reference. Curiously, Rupert Murdoch’s papers in the UK always appear to menace politicians with the ever present inference that they will be “monstered”.




[9] See for example how Xi Jinping draws on Confucianism with the role of teacher and ruler. In this we see echoes of Mao’s Great Teacher, Great Leader claims. At the same time, by drawing on Confucianism with the five relationships, Trump assumes an inferior relationship to Xi Jinping’s leadership. See David Elstein, Beyond the Five Relationships: Teachers and Worthies in Early Chinese Thought. Philosophy East and West,  Vol. 62, No. 3 (JULY 2012), pp. 375-391 Published by: University of Hawai’i Press

[10] China accounts for over 60% of North Korea’s exports and 68% of its imports. To say that China has little influence over North Korea beggars belief. That Trump would proudly accept and repeat the line that China has little influence over North Korea is astounding. It is unprecedented for an American president to say this publicly.



[13] China knows that with the Korean Peninsula neutralized, it would accept the fall of North Korea to achieve that outcome, it would be a gigantic strategic and geopolitical success that would undermine America’s geopolitical capacity to contain its naval power. Does Trump understand what is at stake? Do his advisors? Do any of them even read about geopolitics? If Mr Anton had attended Bill Rood’s courses at Claremont he would have understood why the Korean Peninsula is vital for America’s geopolitical security.

[14] Bannon told the media they needed to shut up and listen. Miller told the media and the world that the president’s powers “will not be questioned.”




[18] Especially as he claims to be devoted scholar of Machiavelli’s treatises on statecraft.

[19] Mr Anton talks of prestige and he is party to this humiliation. One wonders what prestige means when it is given away without even realizing it? He wants America to avoid contempt, yet what can Xi Jinping have for Trump after this meeting? What will he do when a serious crisis emerges if Trump cannot even manage to keep from abasing himself before Xi Jinping?


Posted in Government, statesmanship, strategy | Tagged , , , , ,

To salvage his presidency Trump must defeat himself to escape the wilderness of mirrors

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rick Wilson has written something that every member of the Trump White House, including Trump, needs to read.[1] They need to read this if they want to salvage Trump’s presidency. Unlike Mr Wilson, I believe that the Trump presidency can be salvaged. Will it be salvaged is another question. Does Trump want to manage it is a question for another time. However, it cannot be salvaged unless they read Mr Wilson’s analysis. If they dismiss it as a partisan or a Never Trump attack, they will fail. Our enemies often tell us the deepest truths about ourselves.

Only your enemies will tell you the truth, but will you listen?

At the same time, our friends, our true friends tell us the same truths. It is rare to have a true friend like Mr Wilson. He does not want Trump to succeed so he is not friends with President Trump. Instead, he is friends with America, the American regime, and it is for their benefit that he tells the truth. If Mr Wilson did not care about America, he would not offer this advice. What he would be doing is telling President and his staff that everything was going well, it could not be better. He would encourage them on their self-destructive path. However, he has hit the root cause of Trump’s problem, he is not self-aware, he does not know what political success looks like or what it requires.

Trump’s character is his fate and now he has revealed it to the world.

Mr Wilson is correct to focus on Trump’s character. Trump cannot change his character. He can develop self-awareness and he can learn what political success is and what it requires. At the moment, Trump believes appearances matter more than substance. He has to rely on what other people tell him about political success and failure. During the campaign, what mattered was popularity, the attention, the buzz. Governing, as many have already noted, is different from campaigning. It is here that Trump’s weaknesses are revealed. A statesman, which is the standard against which we measure the presidency, is defined by their judgement and their ability to weave together the disparate political strands to create a shared political good. In this, though, any ruler has to adapt to the community they wish to shape. The statesman and the good ruler, the one who succeeds for he improves or helps his people, does this for all, not for his party, and not for himself. He and his party might benefit, but they can only benefit if they put the larger or greater shared good first.

A statesman must use judgement to link interdependent events

To achieve this success, a statesman must exercise their judgement. Unlike a politician, the statesman must act prudently to reconcile competing demands where the best choice is still a politically unsuccessful one. When the statesman does this, though, he understands the consequences within the decision and for his larger political project. Trump does not appear, yet, to be aware of how his various choices are influencing his larger political project. He does recognize this weakness for he has brought in Ivanka and Jared to tell him the “truth” that he needs to hear. However, this solution can only be temporary since it does not avoid his responsibility it only displaces onto their judgement. If he uses them as a “sense check” for the advice and information that he receives, that will help him. In this approach, we might see his attempt to learn in the job. However, they are only helpful to the extent that they help him move beyond political appearances to political reality.

Can Trump stop watching TV? Even to save his Presidency?

What Trump has to do, which is perhaps the supreme test, is to stop watching TV for his political intelligence or his political understanding. The television is a mediated experience, it acts as a mirror instead of a window to the political reality. To the extent that Trump accepts their appearances as a political reality, he has not escape the wilderness of mirrors. As a mirror, it is already digested and packaged to be consumed by him and others so their views can be confirmed or affirmed.  He is not simply second-hand from the political thing, he is third hand. Moreover, as the television network he appears to watch most is Fox News, he must be aware it exists to confirm his views, or at least affirm them. In that regard, it presents an inbuilt bias that distorts his political intelligence. If he accepts their views he is captured by appearances, and the statesman above all else has to work with political reality so that he can manage political appearances. Trump appears to be working backwards from appearances to reality since he has mastered one form of appearances, the Hollywood variety. What he is unaware of how to manage is Washington’s appearances.

In the wilderness of appearances can Trump find political reality?

Only one city can rival Washington for the way that appearances determine success—Hollywood. In Hollywood, like Washington, you can succeed if you appear successful. You can even succeed if you are incompetent. What you cannot do, though, what both cities punish with a maniacal ruthless, is to lacks self-awareness. The appearance of success or incompetence can be overcome. If the person is aware of these, then they can take steps to shore up the weakness. One only need look at how Bush handled Katrina. The initial response showed that “Brownie” was doing “ok”, as soon as the White House became aware that he was not they started to take steps to replace him and fix the issue. The fix might not have been ideal or as successful as critics charged, but what is clear is that Bush was self-aware enough to act when something was not working. He was able to adapt to the changed situation.

Foreign policy deals with a political reality that cannot be escaped.

Where Trump appears to be learning most quickly is in foreign policy since it provides a clear political reality. The challenge, though, is he learning the wrong lessons or rather lessons that distort his understanding if he equates military acts with approval or behaviour that will define political success. In the missile strike decision meeting, we saw a man desperately trying to figure out what was happening and what it would mean since he had never experienced it or thought about it before he became president. All presidents start with domestic policy and become consumed by their foreign policy because that is their sole responsibility. They cannot delegate it nor can they rely on institutional responses to cover their inactivity. Trump has confronted this moment and the effects are yet to be felt, but they provide the moment of self-awareness needed to adapt.

To escape appearances Trump must accept a reality that he doesn’t understand

For someone like Trump, he is at a double disadvantage. He appears to lack self-awareness because he has not filled key institutions. In turn, those institutions are unable to provide the political intelligence about the political reality. He may believe that he is saving money or sending a signal that the White House runs foreign policy, but these beliefs misunderstand the political reality. He has accepted the appearances he has been provided about the political thing that is the State Department. Like any institution, it exists to survive. Like all human beings, an organisation is driven by self-preservation. As part of that survival mechanism, it possesses an inbuilt self-awareness, a bureaucratic system to provide institutional truths that will protect an organisation from its leader and from itself if necessary. Trump has taken away that institutional response and until he restores it he will lack the institutional support that provide the political intelligence he needs to understand the political reality not political appearances.

Without a plan Trump cannot innovate or take advantage of opportunities.

Trump will not be able to salvage his attempt to repeal Obamacare. To the extent that his other legislative projects were based on the success of that bill, Trump has placed himself in a double bind. If he continues his attempt to repeal it, he delays other legislation. If he does not repeal it, he cannot finance his other projects and he will have failed on a major campaign promise. He seems to lack the interest or capacity to reconfigure his legislative package to work without having repealed Obamacare. His claim that he continues to negotiate a bill to repeal Obamacare shows how far he has to go to develop self-awareness. He seems unaware of what political success requires and the way the 2018 mid-term elections will affect his ability to pass legislation. All of this is already known within the White House. Moreover, everything that Mr Wilson has written is known within the White House. What remains to be seen is whether they and Trump have the self-awareness to adapt. If they can adapt, they can salvage Trump’s president from a disaster to mediocre. If they are very lucky, they just might win a second term. The problem, though, is that to exploit any luck, they have to be self-aware and adapt. What is clear, though, is political reality is unforgiving. The 2018 mid-term election results provide a political realty that cannot be spun or hidden by political appearances no matter how powerful or desired.

Trump must defeat Trump to save himself, can he?

Trump cannot change his character. He can develop self-awareness. If he does the latter, he can mitigate the former and potentially salvage his presidency. However, as Mr Wilson noted, it all depends on Trump and if he fails, he has no one to blame but himself. It is this fate that his family want to avoid because they recognize the catastrophic effect such failure will have on his brand and their future fortunes. They are now in a race to save Trump from himself.


Afterword: On could see a scenario where Trump does not want a second term. He may simply engage in a democratic Gotterdammerung where he welcomes a victory by the Democrats in the mid-term election so that he can blame them for his failure. When he leaves office in 2020 he can claim that no one expected him to win and he proved them wrong so anything else was a bonus. He will insist that he could have done more but for the Democrats and the Media which conspired against him. He will claim he left on his own terms as he achieved what he set out to do. What he did not achieve is because Republicans betrayed him and Democrats blocked him. If anything goes wrong it is his successor’s incompetence to blame. In this scenario, Trump simply loses interest in being President as a politician. He only holds office to enjoy the perks, privileges, and publicity. He continues to visit Mar-a-Lago every week-end, he set up deals for his corporations, and he enhance his brand to reap post-presidency riches. For Trump, what is most important is Trump and leaving in 2020 could be a way to save his brand. In this scenario, we would see that America and the American people only ever existed to serve his ends. He was never there to serve them. To the extent that he was there to serve them, it was to allow him greater freedom to enrich himself and his family. If Trump cannot leave on his own terms, he loses the 2020 election, his brand will suffer catastrophic damage. Who wants to work with a failed president who promised so much and delivered so little?


Posted in Government, philosophy, privacy, statesmanship | Tagged , , , ,

Why Scarlett Johansson does not understand Ivanka Trump’s public silence

Ivanka Trump

Ivanka Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a recent interview, Scarlett Johansson criticized Ivanka Trump. She said that Ivanka’s failure to challenge her father’s public betrayed her claims to be an advocate for women.[1] In response, Ivanka explained that her influence was hidden from the public. She argued that a private criticism was more effective than a public one.[2] Although Ms Johansson did accept that Ivanka was in an awkward situation with her father and touched on the potential family dynamics that restrained Ivanka, she seemed uncertain as to why Ivanka could not speak publicly and preferred to work behind the scenes. What Ms Johansson lacked was an understanding of Ivanka as she understands herself. This essay attempts to create that understanding.

Can you criticize publicly that which provides you with luxuries?

For all of her power, status, and privileges Ivanka is in an invidious position. She cannot publicly rebuke her father because she lives in his shadow. As Trump runs his empire, like a patriarch of old, Ivanka knows that to cross him publicly would be sever herself from the family. The family and business are blurred to the point where there is no difference.[3] As a friend commented, the Trump empire rotates around Donald. It is all about him with the children accessories to his success.[4] A break with her father would endanger all of it. Is it a relationship she is free to criticize publicly?

Ivanka has always worked this way, why would she change it?

If we look at Ivanka’s previous behaviour, we see a pattern that reflects her precarious situation. The pattern does reveal to some extent how she understands herself and her relationship to her father. Even when her father’s comments bordered on sexual harassment, she did not criticise him directly. Even when asked directly “Have you challenged your father”, she gave an indirect answer that provides the impression she does without saying it.

“On whether she ever admonishes her father for his more outrageous assertions and personal insults: “Well, I’m his daughter. In a political capacity, I don’t. It’s his campaign. I don’t feel that’s my role. But I would challenge him as a child. That’s what children do. [My daughter] Arabella challenges me every day. People ask me, do I ever disagree with my father? It would be a little strange if I didn’t.”” [5]

She also responded indirectly when the issue was raised directly on the View in 2006. In the video, she is an outfit that to put it modestly puts her modelling assets on display.[6]

“Notoriously, appearing on the View in 2006 with Ivanka sitting beside him, Trump announced: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Ivanka gamely shook her head, tongue firmly in cheek, as if to say, “Yep, that’s my dad!” (This was before she became someone who tweeted out #ITWiseWords, including quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt about self-worth).” [7]

Ivanka is modelling a behaviour as old as Rome

To understand Ivanka’s behaviour we need to go back to ancient Rome. Tacitus, a famous Roman orator, described in his work the Annales how virtuous courtiers survived within a Caesar’s court. They survived by finding a mean, a path, between servile obedience and rash resistance.

I find, Lepidus to have been a serious [gravem] and wise [sapientem] man in those times. For often he bent aside the cruel adulations of others into a better [course] Nevertheless he was not lacking in moderation [temperament!] either, since he flourished with constant authority and influence with Tiberius. Thence I am compelled to be uncertain [dubitare] whether the inclination of First Citizens toward some and their ill will toward others comes by fate and the lot of being born, as other things, or whether there is some [room] for our own counsels, and it is permitted to follow a course devoid of ambition and dangers, between rash obstinacy [abruptam contumaciam] and servile obedience [deforme obsequium] (iv.20.2-3).[8]

Scarlett Johansson has the luxury of not having Trump as her father. Ivanka does not have that luxury. In a sense, she lives within a tyranny, a wider network of relationships that exists for one purpose—to server her father.

Ivanka serves he father because it serves her.

Ivanka knows that she must serve her father. She does so because she also serves herself. Her success is derived from her father and her father’s name. At times, she acts as his surrogate.[9] If his brand fails, so does hers. She has no existence beyond the name Trump. Moreover, her husband is no longer independent of her father. Although they might have carved out a life beyond his immediate circle, had they wanted to, they would have needed to do it when they first married. Instead, they have embedded themselves within the family. Perhaps there was no conscious choice for to have a choice one must understand the alternatives. If you have been conditioned since birth to rely on your father and to live within his shadow, you would find it hard to challenge it or question it especially when all that is good in your life is derived from it.

The Presidency magnifies the president’s psychological characteristics

The relationship appears psychologically complex. Yet Trump is not the first president to come to the White House with psychologically complex relationships. One recalls that Bill Clinton’s relationship with his mother was similarly complex. One effect was it appeared to help him empathize with other people. In a curious parallel, Chelsea Clinton remarked that Ivanka had a similar trait.

“Chelsea Clinton and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky. “She’s always aware of everyone around her and ensuring that everyone is enjoying the moment,” says Chelsea. “It’s an awareness that in some ways reminds me of my dad, and his ability to increase the joy of the room.”” [10]

Consider this view of Bill Clinton’s behaviour and his success as a politician who could “feel your pain” because he had lived with such pain.

“”He was abused,” Clinton told Franks. “When a mother does what she does, it affects you forever.”

Clinton continued: “I am not going into it, but I’ll say that when this happens in children, it scars you. You keep looking in all the wrong places for the parent who abused you.”

Franks does not specify the nature of the abuse in the book passage and writes that the then-first lady “declined to give me details.””[11]

Trump’s public comments shape his private relationships

Trump’s public comments about his daughter’s sexual allure and sexual availability indicate that their relationship is complex.[12] What is certain is that what we see publicly may not reflect what occurs privately. If the public behaviour reflects the private relationship, then it would be difficult to speak publicly. Yet, if the relationship allows for private criticism, why does Ivanka need to speak publicly? Either way, the relationship does not allow for the easy independence Ms Johansson demands. She may have it, but to demand it of someone else seems obtuse. She misunderstands Ivanka’s position. If we understand that Ivanka might be acting prudently by seeking a middle path between servile obedience and publicly obstinacy, her behaviour makes sense. Today’s social media age, which Ms Johansson reflects, works on public appearances so that public displays become our standard for public and private behaviour. Such a belief, though, reverses the public-private relationship and removes the chance to act modestly and moderately.

Do we have an author who can capture this family’s complexities?

What is overlooked by many commentators, though, is that the relationship is mutual and it shapes Donald Trump’s behaviour. Trump relies heavily on his children and Jared for he trusts them for the loyalty they have is not found elsewhere in the White House. What we need are writers who can capture this complex family dynamic as it shapes our lives. If Shakespeare were alive we might see him reprise King Lear to capture the Trump presidency. If Faulkner were alive, we would have a writer who do justice to the relationship between the Trumps and the Kushners for he which he would have to reprise the Snopes Trilogy.[13] Perhaps nothing better demonstrates the decline in oratory and the servility of our thought that there is no living writer who can write something half as good with such rich material. For now, we will have to settle for writers who celebrate Ms Johansson’s indignation at being unable to understand Ivanka Trump.




[3] “The Trump Organization has a unique culture. Everyone calls the boss “Mr. Trump.” Employees often eat lunch at the Trump Grill, in the lobby of Trump Tower, which offers a dish called Ivanka’s Salad. The higher you get in the company, the more the family and business blur. Michael Cohen, the executive vice-president of the Trump Organization, told the Jewish Chronicle, “To those of us who are close to Mr. Trump, he is more than our boss. He is our patriarch.””

[4] A Trump family friend told me, “It’s a close family in many ways—except it’s all about Donald all the time.” He went on, “Donald only thinks of himself. When you say, ‘Donald, it’s raining today,’ he says, ‘It doesn’t matter, I’m indoors.’”




[8] Cited in James C Leake’s Tacitus’ Teaching and the Decline of Liberty at Rome (Chapters 3 to 7) 15 (2) Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 73, 242 (1987). For anyone who wants to understand oratory, writing, or life under a tyranny, this work is essential. In the United States, as evidenced by the extent to which Ms Johansson misunderstands Ivanka Trump, we believe that our freedom of speech represents a liberty without realizing the appearance of liberty is not the same as freedom from tyranny.






Posted in philosophy, privacy, public opinion | Tagged , , , , ,

Milo, nihilism, and conservatism’s decayed soul (revised)

Recently, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) withdrew their offer to Milo Yiannapolous to speak at their event. They withdrew their offer after a video was found that showed him explaining how sex between an older man and a 13yr old boy could be good for the boy. In the furore that followed, Milo lost the CPAC invite, his book deal with Simon & Schuster, and his job with Breitbart. It also forced Milo to apologize for what he had said.

Milo, who had built his recent career as a fearless advocate for free speech, reached the limit of free speech. We should not be surprised that he arrived at this point for he has always been less interested in the defence of free speech, as free speech, and more interested in it as a method to provoke others. As a provocateur, he was quite successful. The angrier the targeted group became, the more attention he attracted, the more he succeeded. He would say whatever he thought, or others told him was not being said, in the public domain, the university, or the home. He would say it and justify it as defending free speech. The targets for his “free speech” were often those associated with the political things that American society, and by extension Western society, held in esteem. In particular, he would speak on Islam, Feminism, Racism, and Homosexuality to attack the accepted opinions about what Harry Neumann, in a different context, called liberalism’s “gods”. These “gods” are the accepted opinions that order the public domain and thereby tell people how to live.[1] You should be tolerant of other religions. You should respect women as politically and socially equal. You should tolerate people on the basis of their race, ethnicity, or sexuality. In his attacks on these opinions and those that held them, he was less concerned with; exploring their meaning, how they fit within American regime, or what would replace them, than he was concerned to attract publicity. Yet, these attacks served a deeper purpose; a purpose Milo may not have even understood.

Milo appeared to give voice to those who hated those “gods” and those that appeared to defend them, identify with them or support their role in society. His attacks appeared to serve those who would depose these “gods” or at least change the opinions about them. To his supporters, he appeared to speak the truth they wanted to hear about these opinions. He was not just saying outrageous things, he was speaking the “Truth”. If he was not speaking the “Truth” he was at least speaking the truth that his audience wanted to hear or could understand. Like rhetoricians of old, he understood the audience better than they understood themselves for he was able to appeal to what would convince them, confirm their views, make them feel better about it. At the same time, he would rile up those who held those opinions so he understood them, in that sense, better than they understood themselves. Islam wants to rape women and kill all Westerners. Feminism hurts men. Homosexuality is not persecuted. Racism is just minorities who whine. All of these claims confirmed what many conservatives believed or wanted to believe was what weakened America and the West. In a sense, they became like an intellectual eunuch watching someone else do what they dared not or could not do. They still feared public rebuke or the power of the gods to rule their lives.

What remains uncertain is the basis of Milo’s appeal to conservatives. Was it that conservatives are so corrupted by liberalism that they no longer possess the intellectual resources to offer an alternative to liberalism? Have they been conditioned by liberalism so they cannot offer a coherent alternative? As they no longer offer an alternative, they play their role within the political contests that decide who gets access to the patronage from the new Caesar. It would appear to explain why they desire someone like Milo or Trump who will “punch back” in the “culture war”. The culture war does not exist so much as it is a device to decide which Caesar rules. For those conservatives habituated and conditioned by liberalism they will tell stories of a 1000 year liberal progressive Reich that will destroy them which they narrowly and only temporarily avoided when Trump was elected.[2] The story teller knows this is not true yet like a good rhetorician he knows he needs a deliberative speech to excite his audience to believe it to be true since it would be too difficult and dangerous to admit they are simply liberals [3]with a different tax shelter preference. Thus, the promise to “punch back” and defeat the 1000-year liberal progressivist Reich appears to offers an alternative, or at least keeps them from having to think about an alternative. Instead, the deeper truth is darker for it is not conservativism to which Milo appealed. Instead, he pandered to a secret desire held by those conservatives who embrace Trump, but dared not speak aloud.

Once upon a time, a conservative scholar claimed that equality was a conservative principle. Today that is an inconvenient reminder that conservativism seeks to offer an alternative within liberalism. To accept such an idea, we are told by a famous Roman general would mean conservatives would lose the election and be exterminated. With such febrile language mind, to talk of equality is to talk of surrender and surrender=death. If conservatives accept equality as a conservative principle, they might be forced to rebuild the American common good, but this seems to be too much hard work. The effort would require the intellectual honesty, and effort, to understand and develop an alternative within liberalism that reminds people what self-government requires. Instead, it appears conservatives now understand self-government to mean that welfare is cut and the size of government reduced to force people to fend for themselves in the market. In such an outlook, we hear and echo of Thucydides who wrote “The strong do what they want; the weak do as they must”. The market is only concerned with an equality that can be enforced and if you subvert the rules there is no equality. If there is no equality, there is no justice. Without justice, we find the common good becomes a particular good that benefits the few at the expense of the many. With this approach to the common good, we can see why conservatives would rather celebrate people like Milo for his ability to punish those who speak of a belief in equality, than they would celebrate those who seek to build a common good based on equality. Yet, it was not these people that caused his downfall.

Milo did not fall because of free speech or being caught out by “social justice warriors” defending liberalism, or following liberalism to its logical conclusion. Instead he chose a topic that showed the limit of free speech within any community. He crossed the liberal divide between public and private spheres, when he decided to talk of a translegal desire.

“Translegal desires”, “are desires that violate the fundamental requirements of the city and acknowledge fully the fiction of the city.”[4]

By talking of pederasty, Milo undermined the core element of the family, society, and most fundamentally the political opinion which animates America. In this he had reached more than the limits of free speech; he reached the end of the political community. He was not simply attacking a political opinion or the opinions that act as “gods” within America, he was attacking an opinion derived from nature and nature’s god. At that moment, he and his brand were revealed both as something popularly unpalatable, pederasty, and something politically unpalatable. Even as he apologised, he undermined what had been his unique selling point. In that moment, his brand collapsed. For someone who was willing to talk about anything to demonstrate “political correctness” had taken over society, schools, the media, and the family, he demonstrated why the limits to free speech exist.

Milo revealed that what many had suspected, he was simply an outrage hustler who prostituted himself for the powerful all the while claiming to defend the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless. Like a modern day sophist he found that free speech was a profitable business. Yet, Milo’s success was more than his “exoteric” message. Instead, it is his other message, his “esoteric” message, that resonated with people, in particular certain conservatives, who resented liberalism. His esoteric message is supremacism. He may not believe his own message, but Milo’s profound emptiness, unceasing desire for approval, constant claims that his “success” validates him, result from a disordered eros similar to what animates a tyrant. His disordered eros reflects a deeper disordered eros within American conservatism that Trump has excited–the appeal to supremacism. Milo shared the translegal desire, the esoteric message, with another provocateur–Richard Spencer.

Milo and Richard Spencer are closer in their outlook than either would admit publicly or to themselves in their appeal to the same translegal desire. They are both “political catamites” kept for the shock value who are desired to the extent that the conservative movement wants to shake off Lincoln and the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as a burden or barrier to their electoral success. The past shackles these conservatives as Milo and Richard Spencer say publicly what they often only thought or said privately. To those imbued with the founding principles and Lincoln’s re-founding, Milo and Richard Spencer are politically unnatural.

Both Milo and Richard Spencer appeal to the translegal desire of tyranny—the danger coeval with politics. They express and excite the deep-seated desire to dominate others. Richard Spencer is explicit in this desire. He knows who and what he is. He does not want to ridicule liberals for fun and profit. He has no desire to reform liberalism. He will not spend his time in political debate over the limits of equality within liberal democracy. He wants one thing-supremacy. The strong will rule the weak; the weak will suffer as they must. By contrast, Milo does not know who he is or what he wants. Yet, he shares the same outlook even as he tries to hide it by proclaiming his virtue as free speech defender.[5] When he spoke of how a grown man seducing a young boy could be good for the boy, he reiterated a situation described in Plato’s Symposium. In that dialogue, Pausanias talks of the benefits of an older man seducing a young boy where the older man imparts wisdom in return for sexual favours. We hear the same logic and language that Milo used. It is good for the boy, he gains virtue or wisdom, and it is good for the older man who satisfies his erotic longings. Milo though is not concerned with imparting wisdom for what is valued today is to develop a sexual identity which is what defines you and is more important than wisdom or virtue. In political terms, Pausanias’s homosexual pederasty indicates tyranny not democracy. His claim to virtue (free speech and it is for the boy’s own good) only masks his vice (the stronger to rule the weak).[6] In much the same way that a child ruling an adult is unnatural, so an adult “seducing” a child is unnatural. To conservatives imbued with a belief in nature and nature’s god, such an approach is politically unnatural. They would see that Milo and Richard Spencer for what they are. However, to the extent that they can gain attention if not acceptance within the public domain shows how far America political thought, in particular American conservative thought, if not its soul, has decayed.

The decay is unsurprising. America is the midst of its 15th year of its imperial war. America conservativism, seduced by an imperial ethos, serves the imperial purpose both home and abroad. How else to explain that it would embrace, celebrate, defend and most importantly serve a president who most embodies the disordered eros[7] of a tyrant.[8] It is as if On Tyranny is a forgotten text and Tacitus is a forgotten author for conservatives. Perhaps On Tyranny is only read or understood for the forceful critique of Kojeve as if by dispelling, or embracing, the end of history proves that conservatives have succeeded in the “big ideas”. Yet even that should have given conservatives pause. Do they avoid the threat of a world state when they embracing an alternative that rejects Lincoln?

Instead of Lincoln, one hears Heidegger as conservative scholars have embraced Trump. No, Trump is not Hitler. However, he is a harbinger. Perhaps more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt, he expresses the institutional and personal problem coeval with American politics. The problem, though, is not simply an imperial presidency or academics gleefully prostituting themselves to him as they sell their virtue to be bask in the political glow of their “Daddy”. America and the West faces a crisis for liberalism has run its course and they are intellectually bereft as they focus on “punching back” in the “culture war”. What Heidegger embraced or propounded is slowly emerging from its long sleep as the preferred alternative within conservatism. Conservatives appear unaware they are embracing it. Heidegger may have withdrawn from politics and never again engaged with political philosophy, without ever having disavowed being a Nazi, but his single political philosophical message, what he proposed, is not dead for its spectre now emerges within the West in liberalism’s wreckage.

The West, and conservatives in particular, no longer have an answer to Heidegger for they believed that what defeated his politics defeated what his political philosophy supported. In the unfolding wreckage of the American republic, we have to ask whether the life of virtue is possible. Is it even worth living? Americans, and conservatives in particular, have willingly become the standing reserve. They blindly blunder into Heidegger’s alternative to the West’s technological fate. Is this a life of virtue, the basis for the public life, simply to hustle for outrage, “punch back” in the culture war, and pander to the powerful? Milo appears to embody what American conservatives want the regime to encourage if not produce.

We see someone who jettison’s any principles to become a tool for the powerful, someone who appears to do the bidding of his powerful mentors, such as Steve Bannon. Such a role suggests that for all his talk to defend free speech, to say what others will not say, he simply conforms to the expected role. In reality he and conservatives only seek to promote what satisfies those who will give them fame, wealth, or the appearance of political power. His unique selling point, what differentiates him, is that he appears to be the lack of dignity, restraint or moderation, the characteristics of the tyrant or those that would nurture the tyrant. The disordered eros that marks Milo and the tyrant was once considered antithetical to virtues that animated conservatism where moderation based on a politics that can harness consent and wisdom to act as an antidote to the twin threats of tyranny or political utopianism.

Milo will not speak truth to power nor will he force power to speak the truth for he will not challenge the powerful. He wants to serve. He wants to be used. He is the standing reserve. As long as he can reassure himself, among his adoring entourage, that he is relevant, he will behave as required. He will do as they ask for they appear to treat him with approval. Like a trained pet, he reacts to their praise for that tells him he is “ok”. Perhaps he realizes all of this and does not care for he has what passes for success today-celebrity, infamy, and name recognition simply masks nihilism. What he lacks, restraint, gravitas, honour used to be what defined conservatism. Instead what he does have, a belief in nothing, his nihilism now seems to be what animates conservatism. Heidegger’s question has returned and neither Trump nor Milo have the answer. Does conservativism have an answer? Does it even recognize the question? Or is it content to become the standing reserve so long as it wins elections? Perhaps it is time for conservatism to confront technology and tyranny if still retains any intellectual dignity, rigour or what was once considered virtue.[9]

[1] Harry Neumann’s _Liberalism_ Carolina Academic Press 1991)

[2] This essay is simply a job application posed as a critical essay. Had Trump failed, the author could simply point out “Hey, look, I *told you* he was not going to win.” Now that he has won and the author is serving the administration, it has served its other purpose. Perhaps Claremont no longer teaches political philosophy, but it certainly teaches the rhetorician’s art. One wonders if the Gorgias is studied at Claremont.

[3]I am leaving aside the obvious point that the speech existed to show the author would be a loyal servant for Trump which means the author endorses Trump to secure a job even though he gives a knowing wink to his friends that he isn’t really endorsing him.

[4] Seth Benardete Plato’s Second Sailing 1989 p. 205

[5] “Even his preference for Athenian customs arises from a desire to use culture and civilization as a cloak for his vice.” Harry Neumann On the Sophistry of Plato’s Pausanias, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 95 (1964), pp. 261-267 Accessed: 25-02-2017

[6] “Given the concealed antinomian character of pederasty and its close association not with democratic public spiritedness but a tyrant and a private dispute, one is compelled to entertain the suggestion that at the core of homosexual pederasty as Pausanias understands it is not democracy and law, but tyranny. “ Eros and the intoxications of enlightenment On Plato’s Symposium Steven Berg 2010 p32


[8] In the 15th year of the Peloponnesian War, we find the Melian Dialogue.

[9] I doubt it does for we are told that all that ails conservatism in America is 1. The media are against it so the people are against it. 2 Self-censorship keeps us from convincing people of conservativism’s virtue or policies. 3. Foreigners who come and dilute America and make it democratic. (Which begs the strange question that most Muslims are conservatives by nature so we are simply importing the wrong immigrants and should welcome fundamentalist Muslims for they are truly “conservative”. Yes, this is where the logic leads.)

What is simply embarrassing is that not one conservative has yet to muster anything publicly that is more coherent than name calling in response to such analysis. What is simply embarrassing is that not one conservative has yet to muster anything publicly that is more coherent than name calling in response to such analysis or beyond reiterating their policy preferences as if a “Yeah, but…” or a “No, but…”. The merry-go-round continues to enrich the essay’s author and his “interlocutors” without offering a response that addresses the core problem.

No, this essay is not a response to that essay.

Posted in corruption, Government, justice, philosophy | Tagged , , , , ,

Trump, Murdoch and digital tabloids: from media bodyguards to Praetorian Guards

U.S. President George H. W. Bush awards former...

U.S. President George H. W. Bush awards former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded by the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For I know that some human beings are like horses—the more they get what they want, the more unruly they are apt to become. [3] The way to manage men like that is to put the fear of the bodyguard into them. Xenophon Hiero 10, 1-3

All politicians need publicity, preferably good publicity, to be elected. Without publicity, they will find it difficult to promote their messages and policies. To promote their message, they have to work with those institutions, like the mainstream media, that help bring their message to the public. As the press mediate, or transmit, their message, they can help or hinder depending on the issue and the public’s view of it. When they are under threat from political opponents, critics, or a dissatisfied public, they want the press to be on their side. Donald Trump is no different. During his campaign, he received a lot of “free media” that helped him gain a wider exposure to voters and drain coverage of his opponents. His abusive language and campaign promises made him popular with television news programmes eager to profit from covering his campaign.[1]

As President, he and his advisors know that they need the media to broadcast the administration’s policies and proposals. Without that coverage, it is harder to ensure the public support needed to pass legislation, explain difficult decisions, or defend unsuccessful policies. When the president governs, unlike campaigning, he and his policies are held to account for decision rather than promises because the decisions no matter how generous always leave someone dissatisfied. Each decision attracts the media’s attention as the public want to know how they are being governed and what it means for them. Although scrutiny comes from the other branches of government, the public turn to the press for their information. With that information, the public can hold the president to account. As a result, such coverage can appear critical or even negative, as the public are always interested in what they will lose or will hurt them more than what they might gain from a government policy or decision.

Politicians and presidents respond with various strategies that help them to manage public opinion as they mitigate the worst effects from negative or critical coverage. Some might alter their policies or at least the tone of the policies often time softening the messages they use to explain it so that it is acceptable to the public. Others will court reporters, editors, and proprietors to encourage their support or provide them additional insight so that they modify their coverage. In some cases, a politician, or their party, will buy television advertisements to promote or defend their message. The oldest way to do this is to make public speeches directly to the public. These are positive or persuasive methods, but there are negative or coercive methods. Some will attack the media or berate individual reporters or outlets for their coverage. We saw this under President Trump when he said CNN, which had criticized him, was “fake news”[2]. However, what is common to all of these is the power of access.

The politician, especially the President, knows that access is important for the press, which means by rationing it they can influence, to a large extent, their coverage. If they can influence the coverage, they can shape public opinion. By these methods, the president can mitigate or avoid the public’s attempts to hold him account or limit his policies especially ones that will hurt them. Despite the power of access, presidents know that it alone will not ensure positive coverage so they need to have other ways to manage the coverage effectively.

To manage public opinion, a politician needs to have the media, or at least some of the media, and by extension the public, support his message or policy to some extent. However, the support, like access, can always be withdrawn or can quickly turn to criticism as the media and public disagree with the policies or the message. Instead the attempts to manage the press through access or the attempt to manage the public opinion by attempts to gain support from the media, a politician and a president, especially one who dislikes the press, will need something more.[3] What a politician, even a president, wants is to be able to manage the process by which opinions are made and the press report or respond to those opinions. What the politician wants is an equalizer, someone within the media, who will regularly defend them, promote their message, and most importantly attack their critics either in the media or in the public. What they need is a media bodyguard.

Margaret Thatcher was the first to employ a media bodyguard

Margaret Thatcher was the first political leader to engage a media bodyguard. Early in her first term as Prime Minister (PM), Thatcher was under threat; she was behind in the polls and increasingly unpopular. She needed help. To improve her media coverage, she made a secret deal with Rupert Murdoch for media support.[4] He came to her privately with an offer she could not refuse. He needed her to support his plan to expand his control of UK media. In return, she needed, and would receive, his support through his newspapers. However, Thatcher wanted more than a cheerleader or a partisan supporter, what she needed was someone who would attack her political and media enemies inside and outside the party. Murdoch and his journalists obliged with unrestrained vigour and enthusiasm. In addition to their own targets, they tried to destroy or “monster” anyone who incurred their disfavour through any means, legal or illegal. As a result, Murdoch and Thatcher changed and debased British democracy as no PM has been elected without Murdoch’s support.[5] For his part in the bargain, Murdoch and his editors, and journalists, have had preferential access to the PM and their governments.[6] Neither outcome reflected a healthy or transparency democracy as neither reflected a decision that the public could hold to account.

Those who claim to fight tyranny are often those who secretly desire it.

Despite Thatcher’s claim to support freedom and by extension freedom of the press and its ability to inform the public to hold the powerful to account; she acted to influence, if not control, what people read through her alliance with Murdoch.

“It has been the guiding sentiment of tyrants in every age who believe that if you can control what people read and thereby what they think then you can control them.”[7]

Even though Thatcher used this statement to criticise governments that did not tolerate a free press, she showed a similar attitude, if not a similar approach. In this she was being consistent for she behaved as she believed. Like many ancient rulers, she undermined the common good to promote her personal or private good.[8] As she famously argued, there is no such thing as society or a common good, there are only individuals or individual goods.[9] She ensured that Murdoch served; her, her party, and her supporters. If the public interest was served, it was only to the extent that it reflected those interests. She used her media bodyguard to protect her, her party, and her supporters at the public’s expense. With Trump, Rupert Murdoch has brought that idea to America.

How did anyone survive without a media bodyguard?

With the rise of Trump, Murdoch has brought a similar deal to Donald Trump. What is different, though, is that while Trump continues Thatcher’s legacy, he and his advisors have updated and expand on this relationship. They have transformed the idea of the media bodyguard. During the campaign, Donald Trump gained great media exposure from the large media corporations, especially through television news coverage. This wider coverage, was supplemented by social media blogs and digital tabloids such as Breitbart News and Gateway Pundit, which carried his messages, enhanced them, and attacked his opponents and critics with them. The digital platforms and outlets provided vociferous support and enthusiastic attacks on Hillary Clinton and her supporters.[10] The digital media’s most important role was their ability to create the fear, uncertainty, doubt needed to make Trump’s messages sound hopeful. Trump was able to mix fear, of immigrants and terrorists, with his ability to ensure safety and restore the country’s “lost greatness”. Yet, for Trump, this was not enough; he wanted Rupert Murdoch’s support since he has to counter any threat from cable news.[11]

How Trump has transcended Murdoch’s media bodyguard business model.

Trump, like any president, knows he needs the mainstream media to broadcast his messages. To influence, if not control them, especially when they criticize him, he needs to be able to do more than deny them access. He has to be able to be able to manage them as well as bypass them to render them less effective or needed. He needs an ability to speak directly to the public and provide the information he wants to be seen. If a president can do this regularly then his contact with supporters and the public, unmediated by the mainstream media outlets, enables to him to choose when and how to rely on the mainstream media. If he can choose when and how he engages with the mainstream press, he can influence, if not control, them. If he can control or manage them, he can manage public opinion.

What tools does he have for this work?

He can bypass the press with public speeches and rallies, but these only reach a limited or local audience. He can bypass them through online or radio platforms, like Infowars, but this only reaches a slightly larger audience. These platforms may dilute or distort his message simply from their reputation or audience demographics. These methods help him to bypass the media but they do not reach as large of audience, which is where Murdoch becomes important. Murdoch helps Trump reach a wider audience through his outlets. For many commentators, it appeared that Trump needed Murdoch more than Murdoch needed Trump. Recent events have suggested that the relationship is more complex.[12] Even though Murdoch provides critical support through Fox News and his newspapers, he only solves one part of the problem because negate or mitigate other cable news programmes. Unlike in the UK, Murdoch cannot control or coordinate his US news corporations as clearly or as effectively. Even without that control, Murdoch and the other platforms and outlets gave Trump a way to bypass the mainstream media during the campaign. To govern, though, Trump needs something more than the type of media bodyguard that Murdoch can offer. Trump has transformed the media bodyguard relationship to deal with the problem of the White House press corps.

If you can’t convince the press, then you can sure try to coerce them or punish them.

The White House press corps (WHPC) present one of the toughest media challenges for a president. As they literally live in the White House, they are available to help him broadcast his messages or to hold him and his message to account with an immediate and direct challenge to his message and policies. At their most effective, the press, in particular the WHPC can almost act as another branch of government checking or balancing his authority. When the president’s party, controls both the House and the Senate, the WHPC and the press can become like a default “opposition” party. For the president to succeed, he knows he has to manage the WHPC differently since access is almost guaranteed even with the threat of physically removing reporters. To deal with the WHPC, Trump has diluted them, intimidated them, and undermined them.

Trump has diluted the White House press corps in three ways.[13] First, he opened the questions up to a Skype questions from journalists outside the WHPC or the DC area.[14] The Skype questions can be used to dilute or avoid the WHPC. Second, through his alliance with Murdoch, he can field questions solely from Murdoch owned outlets. He did this when Japan’s Prime Minister visited.[15] With these methods, a president can to avoid questions[16], but his most important strategic device moves beyond avoiding questions or requiring a basic media bodyguard. Trump has diluted the WHPC, in a third way, by adding partisan media organisations that support his message. By giving Gateway Pundit press credentials,[17] Trump has changed the White House press corps forever. He has shown that if he, or a future president, wants their messages undiluted by the mainstream media, they can go to a partisan news outlet.[18] Trump can overcome media “bias” by turning to platforms and outlets that are biased for him or will say what he wants them to say to further his (and their) agenda. Any future president can bring in a media outlet that reflects their partisan group and answer its questions without reference to the mainstream media. He can access, and through that access legitimate, an outlet or platform that will attack or undermine the mainstream media. He has brought a media bodyguard to supplement his physical bodyguards so he can attack the media, journalists, or stories he finds disagreeable. He can influence the process by which the media mediate his message. Trump and his operatives use of psychological and physical intimidation aided by his media bodyguards creates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the mainstream press and the WHPC in particular. They know that if they appear too disagreeable Trump will have his private security eject them from the meeting. Even if these methods appear successful or satisfying to Trump and his supporters, especially as they protect and assuage his ego, they will create a deep problem that will harm Trump more than it will help him.

Once you have a media bodyguard, you cannot do without it.

During the campaign, Trump and his admirers worked to undermine the mainstream media. For his supporters, they have a candidate, and a president who will “punch back”. However, this is more than “punching back” it is an attempt to disrupt how the how the WHPC and the mainstream media mediate his message. Trump and his advisor behaviour suggests a plan that is radical and daring for it relies on physical and psychological coercion to habituate the press (and by extension) the public to accept his message uncritically since any critics or analysis will be undermined as “fake news”. Such a strategy, to undermine the system, and enable his media bodyguards is fraught with danger not only to the president and the presidency but to democracy. We have moved beyond Thatcher and Murdoch making a hidden deal, one hidden because it was morally and politically ugly (both participants knew it was ugly and immoral which is why neither has ever spoken about it publicly), to what is done openly and brazenly in the name of “free speech”, “free press”, and even “national security”. Instead, Trump has awakened us to an ancient problem, one long thought to have been banished by modern democracy and the modern free press, that will prove problematic for his presidency with a risk greater than any benefit it might create.

Leo Strauss writing in a different context describes their problem.

“Thus no tyrant can dispense with a bodyguard which is more loyal to him than to the city and which enables him to maintain his power against the wishes of the city.”[19]

What Trump and his advisors have done by their effort to dilute the WHPC and attempts to bypass the mainstream media, and intimidate journalists, is they create a media Praetorian Guard. Once in place, they may help Trump achieve his ambitions as well as allow him to shape the political landscape to determine his successor. In effect, such a change in the regime would allow him rule in a way that can reshape the previous constitutional structures that depend on an informed public holding the president to account. However, his plans contain a great risk since they require him to him to keep the media bodyguards satisfied so that they continue to support him or he will find they and the mainstream media are both opposed to him at the same time.

For the moment, he believes that he can play them off of each other, but can he do this indefinitely? Can he convince the public this will improve the country’s democratic health by dealing with what appears to ail it? He may find that instead of remaining as bodyguards, they become Praetorian guards who determine the message and take control of his plans. He would do well to remember the Aesop’s tale of the horse and the stag.[20]

If he continues, then his idea, if not its principle, will suggest that future presidents can bring in their partisan blog, outlet, or platform to dilute the mainstream media and determine the message that the public will receive without the previous checks and balances offered by the existing system. In such a system, the media bodyguard becomes the “official” media, then begins to escape the normal constitutional bonds that check the president’s power. In a word, the president starts to appear as a tyrant for the media serves his interest not the public interest. The media bodyguard model becomes transformed into a Praetorian Guard model. From the UK, which has to be seen as the cautionary example, we can see that such a relationship will be at a minimum problematic for it will encourage excesses that will quickly and easily become criminal.[21]

[1] One estimate suggested that the media coverage was worth Two billion dollars to Trump’s campaign.


[3] Something more can be as extreme as bribery or physical coercion. It is no accident that Sean Spicer threatened to have a reporter ejected from a presidential press conference or that Trump employs private security for the sole purpose of dealing with protestors or journalists he finds disagreeable. On Sean Spicer see: and on Trump’s private security see and his approach to difficult journalists. United Secret Service are there to protect the president from threats not to deal with protestors. One is reminded that tyrants have always sought bodyguards. see also

[4] [1]  “She was trailing in the polls, caught in a recession she had inherited, eager for an assured cheerleader at a difficult time.”

[5] For example see this article  and this analysis of the coverage



[8] This is not surprising at all. In all of her public statements from 1945 she only mentions the term “The common good” 16 times. In nearly 60 years of public statements this seems surprising. Rupert Murdoch is mentioned 19 times (although in some cases he is mentioned by her interlocutor)

This is found at this site

With this search

However, this should not come as a surprise given her antipathy to the idea of the common good. She believed in the individual and the individual good. She believed that if the individual pursued their own good, then the public would benefit as it would be automatic that they would act for the common good to achieve their personal good. Yet, this seems to ignore or forget the famous book by Mandeville The Fable of the Bees: Or, Private Vices create Public Virtues  She knew that individuals have unequal talents and unequal access to opportunities so her proposals would privilege the few at the expense of the many. Her approach would undermine the common good upon which justice depends. Like a classical tyrant, she pursued her individual good at the expense of the common good and justice.


[10] The public or exoteric efforts were supplemented by private or esoteric efforts such as through Cambridge Analytica. In this approach, people who used Facebook to gather their news were manipulated through algorithms that promoted articles that reinforced their existing views or could be adjusted to promote the messages being promoted or more worryingly to suppress ideas and messages.

“Much of this is done through Facebook dark posts, which are only visible to those being targeted.

Based on users’ response to these posts, Cambridge Analytica was able to identify which of Trump’s messages were resonating and where. ….

Dark posts were also used to depress voter turnout among key groups of democratic voters. “In this election, dark posts were used to try to suppress the African-American vote,” wrote journalist and Open Society fellow McKenzie Funk in a New York Times editorial. “According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign sent ads reminding certain selected black voters of Hillary Clinton’s infamous ‘super predator’ line. It targeted Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood with messages about the Clinton Foundation’s troubles in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.’”

Because dark posts are only visible to the targeted users, there’s no way for anyone outside of Analytica or the Trump campaign to track the content of these ads. In this case, there was no SEC oversight, no public scrutiny of Trump’s attack ads. Just the rapid-eye-movement of millions of individual users scanning their Facebook feeds.”  For a related article on the EU referendum see


[12] If Murdoch knows he is in trouble over US phone hacking allegations, then he would need Trump as an ally to restrain such investigations.

[13] President Obama was the first to include web only outlets such as Yahoo News and Real Clear Politics as well as Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. Yet, none of these was openly partisan for the president’s messages or openly opposed to the mainstream media.






[19] See Leo Strauss On Tyranny Corrected and Expanded Edition eds Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth University of Chicago Press, 2013 London) p. 75

[20] Consider the following Aesop Fable of the horse and the stag as quoted by Aristotle. Rhetoric Book 2 Chapter 20 section 5

“The horse agreed to the terms and the man mounted him, but instead of obtaining vengeance on the stag, the horse from that time became the man’s slave. So then,” said he, “do you take care lest, in your desire to avenge yourselves on the enemy, you be treated like the horse. You already have the bit, since you have chosen a dictator; if you give him a body-guard and allow him to mount you, you will at once be the slaves of Phalaris.”


[21] The problematic relationship between the media, politicians, and the police was explored in the Leveson Inquiry.  This inquiry was trigged by the Phone Hacking scandal. where the newspaper News of the World, which as closed as a result of the phone hacking scandal was described as a criminal enterprise. What is central to all of this is Rupert Murdoch who has nurtured his media bodyguard relationship with these news outlets. In particular, the Sun Newspaper keeps safe which holds compromising information on a number of individuals. What we find is that journalism becomes a form of blackmail where the process creates morally disfigured employees who have no compunction in attempting to use private information against a Home Secretary.

Posted in good writing, justice, philosophy, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , ,

An ancient fable to explain the 2016 election

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“A horse was in sole occupation of a meadow. A stag having come and done much damage to the pasture, the horse, wishing to avenge himself on the stag, asked a man whether he could help him to punish the stag.

The man consented, on condition that the horse submitted to the bit and allowed him to mount him javelins in hand.

The horse agreed to the terms and the man mounted him, but instead of obtaining vengeance on the stag, the horse from that time became the man’s slave.

So then,” said he, “do you take care lest, in your desire to avenge yourselves on the enemy, you be treated like the horse.

You already have the bit, since you have chosen a dictator; if you give him a body-guard and allow him to mount you, you will at once be the slaves of Phalaris.”[1]

[1] Aristotle. Rhetoric Book 2 Chapter 20 section 5

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Obama, Christie and Trump: a study in statesmanship (revised)**

English: , U.S. Attorney, Governor-elect of Ne...

English: , U.S. Attorney, Governor-elect of New Jersey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(This is a revised version of the post. For the reasons see the bottom of the post)

In ancient Greece, the statesman was often contrasted with the tyrant. A statesman ruled for the common good; the tyrant ruled for a private good.[1] The statesman has a valid title to rule; the tyrant lacks such a title or legitimacy.[2] The statesman is a friend to those he governs; the tyrant rules more by coercion than persuasion and is content to view those he dominates as enemies.[3] The statesman seeks justice; the tyrant embodies injustice. The statesman acts moderately as he controls his appetites; the tyrant is marked by extremism with an inability to control his appetites. Beyond these broad themes, there is a specific difference with how these two types of rulers act in a particular situation–who they befriend while in office.

Plato’s Gorgias offers an insight into friendship and justice.

In the Gorgias, Plato describes the way rulers seek to avoid injustice by seeking justice whereby the moderate seek to befriend the moderate and avoid the immoderate. Moreover, they seek to encourage the immoderate to be moderate and treat each other, with equality. For democratic politicians, like the president, this is an almost daily task. They meet with their constituents, fellow politicians, or those they want to become their followers. Their constituents are not necessarily their supporters nor are they their opponents. Often, they are people who meet the president on some special occasion or through his official duties. In these small moments, often out of the view of the press but sometimes captured by them, we see how presidents treat those who are not like them. The president often makes friends most easily with those he understands or sees as his equals and treats as his equals. Sometimes, but not always, they may not share his vision, or they simply seek to benefit from him. A president who is comfortable with the public can make friends equally with the powerful as well as the weakest or most vulnerable for he sees no difference between them. For others, though, the strong are to be courted and the weak to be avoided since the former can hurt them and the latter cannot help them. How a president approaches the strong, the weak, and their equals reflects their character and indicates whether they are closer to being statesman or a tyrant.

Plato’s Gorgias tells us more about Trump than we may want to know.

A particular passage in the Gorgias (510c-d)[4] illustrates this point. Plato describes, through an exchange between Socrates and Callicles, how, in contrast to a statesman, the tyrant behaves. In this exchange, we learn some lessons about how Obama ruled and see the potential for how Trump is likely to rule.

Socrates: Then wherever a brutal and uneducated tyrant is the rule, won’t he surely be afraid of anyone in the city who is far better than him, and wont he be quite unable to become a friend to him with all his mind?

Callicles: That’s so.

Socrates: And if someone is far worse than himself, he won’t be a friend either; for the tyrant, will despise him, and never treat him seriously as he would treat a friend.

Callicles: That’s true too.

Socrates: Then the only friend to such a man worth consideration who’s left is whoever has a similar character, blames and praises the same things, and is willing to be ruled by the ruler and to be subject to him. This man will have great power in this city; no one will do injustice against him without being sorry for it. Isn’t it so?

Callicles: Yes.

Socrates: then suppose some young man in this city thought “how might I win great power so that no one does injustice to me?” Apparently, this is the road for him; he must accustom himself from you to enjoy and hate the same things as the tyrant, and manage to be as like the tyrant as possible. Is that the way?

Callicles: Yes

If we consider this exchange and compare it with how Obama, Chris Christie, and Trump interacted, we see a lesson in the difference between statesmanship and tyranny. In the differences, we get an insight into their character and how they rule. Moreover, we see a lesson for Trump’s son Barron.

Obama is Trump’s superior.

The first exchange describes Obama and Trump’s meeting after Trump’s victory. In the videos of the meeting, Trump looked ill at ease. As many commentators noted, Trump had a lot to learn about the presidency.[5] Trump recognized that Obama was his superior[6] and Trump didn’t want to be Obama’s friend. Trump’s failure to intimidate him with his Roy Cohn’s methods, showed Obama’s character.[7] Obama showed what Trump lacks–grace under pressure.[8]

Christie is Trump’s inferior and Trump humiliates him for it.

The second exchange captures how Trump treated Chris Christie. Trump humiliated him on several occasions.[9] Trump did not see him as an equal. [10] Christie was rival who had lost. Moreover, other Republicans disdained him. As Mike Kelly explained, many Republicans believed that Christie had betrayed his party and his country when he appeared to support Obama. Christie needed Obama’s help after Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey.[11] When Obama’s visited, he treated Christie as an equal. He treated him as a friend in need. In response, Christie’s relief was plain to see.[12] The photos appeared to capture an embrace between the men, for which Christie was seen as a traitor.[13] Republican critics argued he should have put party loyalty and loyalty to Mitt Romney before his people or his country.

Birds of a feather flock together especially when they can settle scores.

The third exchange we see the way that Bannon, Kushner, and Flynn have joined with Trump for they see this as a way to gain power. They are men of a similar character who praise what he praises and blame what he blames. Above all, this role, allows them to indulge the most tyrannical desire—to dominate others. They want to have the power to harm their enemies and help their friends. In their respective roles, they can wield great power for they become an extension of the President. They can use, or usurp, the office’s power and prestige, and the ingrained institutional legitimacy, to pursue their feuds, deals, and schemes. Trump learned these lessons from Roy Cohn who taught him how to be an unjust man and do it legally. Trump remains proud of the way that Cohn would brutalize people on his behalf[14]. If we look closely, we can see a similar approach by Trump’s inner circle although they seek less publicity. Take, for example, Jared Kushner and his relationship with Chris Christie. Once we understand the background, we can see that the Christie humiliations come into sharp relief. Chris Christie was a U. S. Attorney who helped to prosecute Charles Kushner, Jared Kushner’s father.[15] Trump will have humiliated Christie to settle the score for Kushner. The same can be seen with Lt. General, Michael Flynn who is the president’s National Security Advisor. He has scores to settle in Washington.[16] To be sure, politics has always been a way to settle scores without recourse to violence.[17] However, what is different here is that it appears an overriding aim of Trump and his inner circle. Their first concern is with revenge and only secondarily, if at all, to understand the common good or to see justice.

Barron has a chance to save his democratic soul.

In the final section, we see the lesson for Barron. For Trump’s other children, the lesson is impractical as they are already initiated into his life. Their characters are already formed. For Eric and Don Jr, they already believe they have great power so they are less worried someone will try to inflict an injustice on them. In New York, they have grown up within their father’s domain so they already know privilege, power, and the ability to hurt their enemies. They are Roy Cohn’s stepsons for they already know how to wield a certain type of power.[18] The lesson here is for Barron. In this case, it refers to any child of America’s powerful.

As Plato wrote in book 9 of the Republic, the tyrannical man is born of a democratic father. In this case, America’s democratic sons as symbolized by Barron, have been indulged with democratic freedom, which has nourished their belief that nothing is outside of their erotic longing. We see financial, sexual, and political excesses indulged through the global economic system based on the world wide digital systems. Even though his father (the generation that still displays an oligarchic thrift) tries to restrain such indulgences, it’s not good for business, the wider society indulges the desire for lawlessness. In many ways, Trump’s advisors, such as Bannon and Conway, encourage that lawlessness for they plant in the democratic son’s (not Barron personally, Barron as America’s sons) the longing that long denied pleasures can and will be enjoyed. You can be a supremacist. Your natural and political superiority has been denied too long. Liberal laws have kept you from being a man. You no longer have to be constrained by “politically correct” manners. You have been denied your place by foreigners who threaten the global economic and digital system that feeds your luxurious consumption.

If America’s democratic sons learn the wrong lessons from Trump’s time in the White House, they will want to become politically like his father and his drones. For the Barrons (not the actual Barron Trump) the challenge will be to separate his father, as father, from his father as a political man. If they can, then they can resist the drones siren songs and develop a democratic soul.[19] To do this, though, they needs to see America as a democratic nation. They needs to see that in America equality creates justice. They need to escape the political ethos where dominance and subservience define justice.[20] Unlike the other children, they can escape Roy Cohn’s influence.[21] As Thucydides wrote over 2600 years ago, the strong rule the weak and only between political equals is there justice.[22] In 1776, America was founded on the belief, hope, experiment, that a people govern themselves as equals. America is founded on the hope that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, would ensure justice derived from political equality. America would be a nation where the strong do not rule the weak for all citizens are equal before the law. America’s democratic sons still have time to learn this lesson.[23]

**(Following criticism that the post focused on Barron Trump unfairly, I have revised the last section to clarify its meaning.)

[1] For a good discussion of the idea of statesmanship see Wendell John Coats, Statesmanship: Six Modern Illustrations of a Modified Ancient Ideal Susquehanna University Press,1995.

See also Plato Statesman translated by C. J. Rowe in Plato: Complete works edited by John M. Cooper p.294

“The ‘statesman’—in Greek the politikos, whence the Latinized title Politicus by which the dialogue is alternatively known—is understood from the outset as the possessor of the specialist, expert knowledge of how to rule justly and well—to the citizens’ best interests—in a ‘city’ or polis, directing all its public institutions and affairs.”

[2] See for example, Leo Strauss On Tyranny: Corrected and Expanded Edition, Including the Strauss-Kojève edited by Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth, p.75 fn51.

[3] See Robert W. Hall Plato Vol IX Political Thinkers edited by Geraint Perry p. 81

[4] Plato, Gorgias, Translated with Notes by Terence Irwin, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1979.


[6] Their body language tells a story. See also

[7] Trump’s insistence, despite all verifiable evidence to the contrary, that Obama lacked a valid US birth certificate is but one of the milder techniques that Roy Cohn taught Trump.

[8] In an interesting parallel, Lyndon Johnson who became president after John F Kennedy was assassinated, was often criticized for the same reasons. Johnson was criticized and felt slighted about his standing as president until he won a clear mandate at the next election.

[9] See for example, Trump’s comments here:



[12]Here Christie explains that he was doing his job to help his constituents.


[14] “If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy,” he told Newsweek in 1979.

A year later, pressed by a reporter from New York magazine to justify his association with Cohn, he was characteristically blunt: “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me.”

He elaborated in an interview in 2005. “Roy was brutal, but he was a very loyal guy,” Trump told author Tim O’Brien. “He brutalized for you.”

[15] “The motive: Christie as U.S. attorney was involved in the prosecution of Charles Kushner, who was sentenced to prison in 2005 on 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.”

[16] See for example and also



[19] See Republic 572c-573c

[20] On the issue of dominance and submission see This approach also fits the view presented by Callicles throughout Gorgias as well as Alcibiades in the Republic.


[22] See Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War 5.89.1.

[23] 1 Corinthians 15:33

Posted in corruption, education, philosophy, public opinion, statesmanship | Tagged , , ,

Las Vegas as the UK’s post Brexit business model is a bad idea, here is why.

English: Las Vegas Strip

English: Las Vegas Strip (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs[1] (IEA), argues in a Financial Times article that a post Brexit UK should emulate Las Vegas.[2] Like many tourists, Mr Littlewood appears to have been seduced by the city’s bright lights, good customer service, and overall “buzz”. The Strip is seductive. To those who live in Las Vegas, the reality is less glamourous, exciting, or promising. At times, his article reads like a tourism advertisement even as it contains an insight into what the IEA value and seek to promote. It is the latter that should give us cause for concern.

The following commentary is designed to help the reader decide if the gap between what Mr Littlewood proposes and what Las Vegas understands about itself can be bridged. There is a large gap between the vision and the reality.

If you want to get an idea of what Brexit Britain could — and probably should — look like in years to come, then you should pay a visit to Las Vegas. Sin City is an amazing tale of human endeavour and imagination overcoming apparently insuperable odds and confounding the experts at every turn.

What is strange is why Mr Littlewood chooses Las Vegas. It may be that he was inspired by his visit. People often get caught up in the euphoria of a holiday. Perhaps he was feeling rather indulgent after a good time at blackjack. In any case, he appears selective about his example since it is the one place in the United States that has made gambling and vice work. Las Vegas is the exception that proves the rule. We could hope that the UK could succeed as much as Las Vegas, but the reality is that if it seeks to be Las Vegas, it will become Atlantic City.

Atlantic City, another gambling city, has fallen onto hard times. Casinos are closed, jobs are leaving, and the growth is a memory. The city’s bet on gambling revenue was a bust. Facing bankruptcy, it was bailed out by the New Jersey state legislature.[3] Perhaps this is why Mr Littlewood avoided it.[4] It shows us everything that can go wrong with such a vision, the US version of Blackpool.

Mr Littlewood wants to praise Las Vegas for its success, yet he overlooks that it too suffered dramatically in the Great Recession and that its success is always precarious. To avoid this inconvenience, he harkens back to the city’s halcyon days to suggest that like early Las Vegas a post Brexit UK will have its best days ahead as if its mere existence guarantees good fortune.

Its mere existence, let alone its stunning growth, would have been considered a near-impossibility a century ago. Slap in the middle of a desert, the city faces unbearable heat for much of the year and has an annual rainfall barely 1 per cent of the UK’s. Organised crime, the very backbone of the creation of the city, has been eviscerated by enlightened corporate interest.

Las Vegas has a unique position within the Nevada economy, which is something that the UK cannot emulate. As such, the city has a state and regional status that gives it financial and political clout disproportionate to other cities in the area and region, which is not the UK’s comparative advantage. The UK is not comparable to this context as the UK does not have a larger state economy or a federal economy to cushion the blow or mitigate the global economy’s worst excesses.

The article betrays a certain concerning amount of hyperbole. Consider the following claim.

The disadvantages faced by Las Vegas over the years make the challenges posed by Brexit look like a tiny rounding error.

If he wasn’t so serious and earnest in his advice, it would be funny. Brexit has encouraged; a financial crisis, a social crisis, and a constitutional crisis. The UK faces an uncertain economic, political, and financial future. Even without Brexit, the UK faces serious problems. It has deepening economic inequality. A declining health infrastructure that needs reform. An equally shaky educational system that still needs direction. The environmental threats have increased. Even without these, the UK faces terrorist attacks. What are the challenges that Las Vegas faces?

Let’s look at the worst problems facing Las Vegas *as identified by Las Vegas residents*.

  • Traffic
  • Water Shortages
  • Unemployment
  • Yucca Mountain (transport of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain for disposal)
  • Growth and over population.[5]

I believe that Mr Littlewood has inverted the comparison. Las Vegas appears more of a rounding error in comparison to Brexit.

The population of Vegas has more than quadrupled since 1980 to more than two million residents, making it the fastest-growing city in the United States for much of my lifetime. It has attracted a good number of people departing the high-taxing, high-spending state of California.

The reality is that Las Vegas’s population growth while remarkable has slowed in recent years compared to its boom years.[6]

You can buy a decent three-bedroom house here for under £200,000, despite restrictive planning laws based on concerns about water usage.

The Las Vegas property is still recovering. It is only exiting a period when foreclosures were surging.[7] The same problem has beset the Strip.

The world-famous Las Vegas Strip has been completely reinvented since the late 1980s. More than a dozen super-resorts have been built from scratch since then. Commercial build completions last year alone amounted to nearly four million sq ft, creating about 7,000 jobs in the construction sector. A further three million sq ft is being built.

The glory years for Las Vegas began in the late 1980s and they stalled dramatically in in the Great Recession (2008-9). They have yet to recover with no resorts opened for over 6 years.[8] Even the recent promised “boom” has been more of a promise than a delivery.[9]

Hotels no longer seen as fit for purpose are literally blown up. The 23-storey Riviera, a famous part of the city since the mid-1950s, was destroyed in the midst of a firework display a few months ago.

The Riviera will be replaced by a large convention centre. Perhaps this is the IEA’s vision for the UK. Destroy the old institutions and turn it into Europe’s convention and tourist centre. Will the Monarchy will become a tawdry tourist attraction? Is this the future  for the UK’s most recognizable institution? Out with the old and in with the vulgar, crass, casino culture, as long as it makes money, who cares?

Yet, this is not the real issue. The focus on Las Vegas and jobs is only a prelude to the real issue. Instead, the real issue is attitude. He likes that the customer is king in Las Vegas.  If only the UK could change its “attitude”. Brexit with a smile and all will be right. We can almost hear Mr Littlewood singing “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”.

The true success story of Las Vegas is based on attitude. The customer is seen as king and there are few sacred cows. Unsurprisingly for a gambling paradise, risk is positively embraced rather than reviled.

This is surely an appropriate meme for post-Brexit Britain — and, indeed, is pretty good shorthand for the key difference in attitudes between Leave and Remain voters.

If only Las Vegas success was due to attitude. If only the key difference between Leave and Remain voters was attitude. If only the world were this simple. The right attitude, good spirit, and some good old fashion positivity and anything is possible even the impossible. Perhaps this works for selling fads, dreams, and snake oil. Nature is not to be fooled. Success comes through hard work and a bit of luck.

Las Vegans seem so enthused by the joys of life and the taking of risk that they stretch it to extreme levels. If there is a squad of public health lobbyists here, popular culture seems blind to them.

In reality, Las Vegas and gambling houses are extremely risk averse. They want the punter to take the risks. The House never loses for the simple reason that it is amazingly risk averse and looks to mitigate if not control all risks associated with gambling. The House has one goal, take your money, and if that means giving you a smile or a “good time”, then that is a small price to pay to get your money. I doubt it is a sustainable business model as it does not encourage thrift, hard work, savings, and a measured approach to invest in the future. Instead, it encourages a “live for the moment” attitude, that does not encourage growth or long term vision by the average person. As for the joys of life, nature has a nasty way of intruding. Mr Littlewood  seems to think that public health ok as long as people can do what they want. So long as they consent to the risks as if what the individual wants to do is without consequence for everyone else. The Las Vegas reality is one of addiction, crime, poverty, and hopelessness. Mr Littlewood appears to celebrate a morally questionable “success story” –The Heart Attack Grill.

The Heart Attack Grill has recently relocated to the Strip. You can eat there for free if you can prove on the machine by the front door that you’re over 25 stone in weight. Among the items on the menu is a “quadruple bypass burger”. The restaurant’s advertising slogan is that it has been combating anorexia since 2005.

Mr Littlewood glosses over some important caveats. Several people have died at the store. The first Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona closed after the first death.[10] The next one that opened in Dallas, Texas closed shortly after a customer died.[11] The Las Vegas location has had several patrons die in the restaurant. The owner has gone so far as to make their deaths part of his marketing strategy.[12] I wonder why this is something to laud as a benefit or a good thing especially as obesity among UK population increases with each year.[13] As the UK population becomes obese; the medical costs increase. I suppose when you want to harvest the financial rewards from human misery you are being faithful to Margaret Thatcher’s vision that you can make money without regard for how it affects society or the common good. As she argued, these do not exist.

The ranks of chief medical officers probably feel that such an enterprise should be banned outright, but to most people here it seems like a witty celebration of abundance rather than a crass display of gluttony.

For from being a witty celebration of abundance, it is a sad commentary on our inability to control our appetites even to save our lives. Even the owner of the restaurant says as much.

“I’m probably the only restaurateur in the entire world who is unapologetically telling you that my food is bad for you, that it will kill you, and you should stay away from it,” said Basso.

What is not surprising, though, is that Mr Littlewood fails to realize Las Vegas is designed to be crass, vulgar, and morally vicious. Being crass and vulgar are its unique selling points.[14] Las Vegas is not intended to be subtle or refined. The city’s amorality is such that solicitors for Sodom and Gomorrah have filed a legal brief asking God for an apology. Mr Littlewood wants Blackpool to become the UK’s Las Vegas.

The areas of Britain that would benefit from an injection of Las Vegas spirit aren’t the rich parts of London, but the left-behind areas that voted so substantially for Leave last June. It is fair to say that Blackpool, for all its charm, has not experienced Vegas levels of growth in recent times. In fact, its economy has shrunk by 8 per cent since the turn of the decade and it is now considered one of the ten most deprived towns in Britain. More than two thirds of Blackpool residents voted for Brexit, the highest percentage in the northwest.

Blackpool has tried to improve and it has tried to develop its own approach to Las Vegas, yet it faltered because people could travel abroad inexpensively. “Cheap flights” made sunnier locations available and drew customers away from Blackpool.[15] A super casino is not going to change that reality. Moreover, the deeper problem is that Blackpool lacks the resources, infrastructure, and most importantly the political culture to even approach such an effort. With Westminster, the UK has one of the most centralized governments in the world which the IEA should know.[16]  By contrast, Las Vegas grew in large part because power was local and decentralized as in a federal system.

To help to regenerate this city, along with the Clactons, Margates and Southends, we should equip them with the tools to become mini-versions of Vegas. This would involve a huge programme of deregulation around leisure and lifestyle activities.

The issue is not deregulation, it is about political reform to help localism thrive. Yet, Mr Littlewood wants to focus on “regulation”. All we need are less regulations and all will be well. If we just indulge, encourage, and promote more private vices, then we will have great public virtues and benefits. If only we could legalize, drugs, gambling, and prostitution, all would be well in Blackpool and the UK. One wonders if Mr Littlewood has read Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Public Benefits.[17]

In 2008, the last Labour government ditched its plans for super-casinos across Britain. Initially, 40 were suggested, but this was swiftly cut to only eight casinos, then one and then none at all. In any event, British casinos were to be prohibited from opening 24/7 or from serving free alcoholic drinks to customers, both key ingredients of the Las Vegas success story.

What Mr Littlewood overlooks is that the UK has many large casinos and those areas have not seen Las Vegas style growth or success.[18] The UK has a several large casinos and the effects are not as dramatic nor does their effect suggest if they were larger, open longer, and less regulated that they would lead to greater regeneration.[19] Leaving aside the idea that UK seems bereft of large casinos, Mr Littlewood misinforms the reader by suggesting that Las Vegas succeeded because of free drinks. Nothing is free in Las Vegas. Everything has to be paid for either directly or indirectly. The “free” alcohol only occurs when you are losing gambling. Does Mr Littlewood want to encourage us to gamble our lives away, indulge our excesses, and live with copious, costly addictions?[20]

In a report at the time, showing all the detachment from reality of what we now label the “liberal metropolitan elite”, it was suggested that a better plan for regeneration might be to build museums or theatres. Opera, ballet and exhibitions of natural history all have their role, but they are not a replacement for the mass market, relatively low-brow entertainment that so many millions of us crave.

Why Mr Littlewood sees Las Vegas gambling as “entertainment” is beyond me. The House is not providing entertainment, it is designed to take money. If it is entertainment, surely there is less damaging and still profitable “low brow” entertainment. He seems to think that he must face down the “Puritans” who deny everyone fun.[21]

The government should dust off Tony Blair’s casino proposals, give them an enhanced liberal polish and reintroduce them to help to supercharge our struggling seaside resorts. The vast army of interventionist campaigners demanding stricter caps on gambling stakes, restrictions on happy-hour promotions and a wide range of other bans need to be firmly faced down. If you continue to prosecute a “war on fun”, don’t be surprised when towns that rely on producing fun experience hardship and fall into disrepair.

After all of this enthusiasm, Mr Littlewood offers a sober warning.

Of course, some people face genuine problems of addiction and need to be helped.

He offers us one sentence to limit or qualify his enthusiastic support for Las Vegas as a business model. Had he asked anyone who worked in Las Vegas, the people who live in the Strip’s shadow, he would have seen a brutal world with limited opportunity or long term growth.[22] With that briefest of caveats, he resumes his exhortations to unleash the gambling machine. How does he do it? Experts (unspecified naturally) tell us gambling is good for us.

But gambling has some measurable upside — not merely downside — risks, with academic studies showing that it can improve concentration, short-term memory and health.

If it is good for us, why not encourage children to do it? I am certain there are other activities that improve concentration, short-term memory and health, without damaging society, but these are to be avoided apparently. We need an economy that encourages excessive behaviours and bring associated crimes.[23] Unless of course Mr Littlewood believe that people only gamble in moderation or enough to improve their health.[24] In the end, it comes down to attitude and optimism as the cure to what ails the UK.

We are told that our government wants an open, confident, outward-looking Britain. So, rather than sneering at the vulgar, over-the-top nature of a city like Las Vegas, let’s see if we can capture some of its success and import its optimism to our own shores.

I am only surprised he has not yet suggested the UK import Las Vegas’s 300+ days of sunshine. What makes Las Vegas work is that it plays to its advantages and avoids its weaknesses. The UK’s strengths are not those of Las Vegas and a better attitude or optimism will not change that reality.[25] Instead of trying to capture its successes or learn from them, we should learn from its mistakes, its unique context inside a state, a region, and a federal system that allow it to thrive and chart a course for the UK that is true to its strengths. Las Vegas is the exception that proves Mandeville correct. On a small scale, private vices can create public benefits within a managed context. However, as a recipe for a whole nation, it is a recipe for disaster, a brutal, vicious disaster.[26] Curiously, Mr Littlewood did not consider this possibility. I wonder why.










[9] “Las Vegas may need some revitalization

It’s been six years since a new resort opened on the Las Vegas Strip, and that’s an eternity in a city that’s used to opening new mega-resorts on a regular basis. Maybe it’s good news that new competitors aren’t coming to town, or maybe the city needs some new blood to revitalize the region. Whatever you think of the impact new casinos can have, it looks like it’ll be at least two, if not three, years before another resort opens on the Las Vegas Strip. A boom in construction that seemed imminent a few years ago has come to a grinding halt.”




[13] Nevada has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the US while Las Vegas has one of the highest.

[14] and




[18] see also

[19] See also the research on the regeneration effect of casinos. see also The research at the time suggested that it had a negative effect.

[20] Vegas has some of the highest addiction rates in the US, which leads to large numbers of drug overdoses.

[21] In the past philistinism was embarrassed or even apologetic. Today, it is proud, bold and brash. All that matters is money; Culture is for the snobs. Perhaps this is really the IEA’s USP, they promote an ethos of philistinism and defend it behind economic theories.  Today, it appears common decency is elitist and puritanical. All that matters, is that  there is a market where you can make money no matter the consequences. In that sense, Las Vegas is the IEA’s poster child. Yet Las Vegas is not designed to encourage economically sound behaviour either from the Casinos nor from the punters.

[22] Las Vegas has three cities. There is the Strip which most people know. There is the city that supports the Strip. Finally, there is the city of Las Vegas that exists as the alternative to the Strip which is like any other city. The three cities co-exist with some difficulty but unless the reader understands that the city that feeds the Strip, the low paid, seasonal or temporary workers, they will confuse the other city, the professionals, 9-5 businesses, as the other side of the Strip. What is clear from people who live and work in the gaming industry that it is a tough place to live as addictions are high, unemployment is high, and opportunities for long term growth are limited. Instead, the city thrives on the constant churn from the young attracted to the bright lights and lifestyle who are chewed up and spit out after a few years to move on to a stable career or move out to another opportunity, if they can.

Consider this view of life in Vegas. see also All of these paint a picture that life in Vegas is closer to Hobbes’s description of the state of nature.


[24] As mentioned elsewhere Mr Littlewood criticizes the public health lobbyists except when they support his views. As long as they agree with them, he will cite them. Is this how IEA conducts all of its research and analysis?

[25] Here are the UK’s top growth sectors.  Las Vegas has different ones.

[26] “Ironically, Mandeville’s own honesty led him into trouble: he boldly claimed vice was inevitably the foundation of a thriving society, insofar as all human beings had to act viciously because their status as selfish fallen men ensured that whatever displays they affected, at bottom selfishness always dictated their actions. All social virtues are evolved from self-love, which is at the core irredeemably vicious. Mandeville also challenged conventional moral terminology by taking a term like “vice” and showing that, despite its negative connotations, it was beneficial to society at large.”

Posted in Government, justice, local government, localism, public sector | Tagged , , , , ,

Five Presidents: A picture tells a story

 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)










(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In the photographs (the one above and the one below) the various presidents provide signals of their status. Although no analysis is definitive since the context and dynamic need to be consider, this photograph captures a unique event that is worthy of detailed analysis. As the photograph is static, we need a cluster of signals, not the single or individual signals that each president reveals to understand what individual elements mean as a whole.

The signals that reveal the most about the subjects are those that are ones they control with intent, which in turn reflects what they think. The main sources of signals within the picture are Hands, Head, Position, and Clothing. Clothing is included since it represents a conscious choice, the president has to dress for a special occasion and that reflects thought and intent. If the picture contained their feet, we could consider that signal as well since how they place their feet will reveal something about their mental and emotional state. If we had a video showing the presidents shaking their feet or crossing their legs, it would provide us further insights into their emotional state and their thinking.  We start with the hands.


Which man is not yet president? Barack Obama’s crossed hands show a defensive posture that suggests he is ill at ease as he is in the presence of 4 former presidents and the current president. One explanation is that he is the only one not to occupy the Oval Office and experienced its status and cost. By contrast, George W. Bush has his hands at his sides and his stance, at the centre of the group, shows he is confident and in charge. This is his office. By contrast, Bill Clinton’s hands are hidden behind his back which suggests control and a false sense of openness. He is holding something back, which may be the fact that his wife is still in government and he has to watch his step. George H. Bush shows his relaxed and confident pose with his hands in his pockets. After all, he was president and his son is president, which would be reason enough to provide him with confidence since it is a rare feat. Jimmy Carter looks relaxed as well with his hands at his side. His pose seems similar to George W Bush’s as it reflects someone comfortable in his position. Of the presidents, he is the most outspoken and distant from the main group, which is perhaps reflected in his pose apart from the main group. He may indicate that he is comfortable with his status and is not connected to the presidents who are active political operates. His hands show he is relaxed in this mode. We have to consider that another explanation for Obama’s defensive posture may be that he is uncomfortable being positioned next to George H and George W Bush and he does not yet have the status to dictate where he wants to stand.


Presidents are professional politicians who know that when they are in the spotlight they have to control their physical and emotional behaviour. Their heads reveal much more because they are controlling how the rest of their body moves. All the men are looking forward to the camera(s) even though George W Bush has a different focus point in that moment. George H. Bush, who is on the end, has his head slightly tilted towards Barack Obama who is on his left and Jimmy Carter, on the other end, has his head slightly tilted towards Bill Clinton who is on his right. The ends are tilting to the middle which suggests a basic consensus of the group towards the incumbent President. Three head positions that are noticeable in the photo. Two are minor and one that is a major significance. The first is that Bill Clinton’s head does not tilt either towards Bush or Carter as if he is separate from either man. George H. Bush’s head tilts slightly towards Barack Obama. The major issue is how far Barack Obama’s head tilts towards George H. Bush. The difference is significant since it is whether it is away from George W or if it is towards George H. The tilt towards George H may reflects perhaps an unconscious identification Obama may have with George H. Bush as the oldest male. One could go further to suggest an unconscious father figure association. What this may reveal is that Obama, who was raised by his grandparents, may link George W to that memory or experience.


The presidents appear to be ordered from left to right, with George W Bush, the incumbent president, at the centre according to their political position. Carter on the left, with Clinton to his right, George W Bush in the centre and George H. Bush is farthest to right. What is of interest is that Obama is situated between George H. Bush and George W. Bush. Does this reflect his political inclinations or the need to fit within the hierarchy of Bush father and Bush son. It may also indicate that as George W’s successor he is literally his right hand since he takes over from him.

There are three noticeable stances to analyse when we consider their position. The first is the gap between Carter and Clinton and the rest of the Presidents. The only stance where there is a gap is between Clinton and Carter. The gap is made noticeable because Clinton has his hands behind his back and is closer to Bush and standing slightly behind him. Clinton is not trying to reach out to Carter and by placing his hands behind his back he shows his distance from him. The second noticeable stance is that Carter is the only President not to have positioned himself with his shoulders behind George W. Bush’s shoulders. Carter was and remains an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and its aftermath. By contrast, Clinton, George H. Bush, and Obama are all behind George W. Bush’s shoulders while Carter’s shoulders are level to them. The third stance that is noticeable is Barack Obama’s.  He is behind George W. Bush and in front of George H. Bush.  What is striking is that Obama’s left shoulder appears raised as if George W Bush is crowding him and Obama is trying to avoid touching him. Obama’s whole stance appears as if he is trying to move away from George W. Bush and towards George H. Bush. At the same time, it may also signify that both Bush’s want to be close to Obama to bask in his current popularity and status. They may have position themselves to exclude Clinton and Carter from that opportunity so that the public see Obama close to them in any photos that would focus on Obama.


Three men are wearing blue ties and two are wearing red. What is of interest is the following.  Carter is the most distinctive. He is wearing a gray suit and a red tie.  No one else is where a gray suit. His suit is the lightest of the group, again, perhaps to show his distance from the main group. Two presidents, Clinton and Carter, are wearing red ties. Three presidents are wearing blue ties but they are not from the same party.  George W. Bush and George H. Bush are Republicans and Barack Obama is a Democrat.  Obama appears to be trying to fit in by having the same tie and the same dark suits as George W and George H Bush. The suit colours are all dark except for Jimmy Carter has a relatively lower public profile and rarely seeks publicity.


In the photo below, we see the same situation from a slightly different angle which allows us to see each president’s feet and their full posture. What is noticeable is how relaxed George H. Bush is in his posture with his hands in his pockets and his feet comfortably apart, right foot forward. By contrast, Bill Clinton looks as if he standing at attention with his heels together, his hands behind his back, and his posture appearing almost ramrod straight. Jimmy Carter is also relaxed with his feet apart and his hands on his side. However, he doe snot appear as comfortable as George H. Bush. In a similar way Barack Obama, as the president elect, has a posture similar to Clinton’s although his heels are not touching and his hands are crossed in front. We can notice how uncomfortable, for a President in his own office, George W. Bush looks. His feet are separated but with one foot slightly raised as if resting on the side of his foot, his feet betray a sense of unease. At the same time, his posture pushes him in front of Barack Obama as if he is trying to crowd him out. The dynamic and implicit tension between the President and the President Elect is clear. One could also suggest that Bush is trying to align himself with Obama, who is the next president and clearly more charismatic, to share the spotlight and attention. In a sense, we can see one President holding on to the spotlight even as the other President emerges from their shadow as their successor.

English: In January 2009, President of the Uni...

English: In January 2009, President of the United States of America, George W. Bush invited then President-Elect Barack Obama and former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter for a Meeting and Lunch at The White House. Photo taken in the Oval Office at The White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The photos reveal an Obama that is still not comfortable with his role. What needs to be done is to have a similar photo taken in a year when Obama has been President. One would suspect that the body language will change as the position and posture change. At the same time, Obama’s discomfort may reflect that there is a Bush to either side of him and that keeps him from expressing where he wants to stand. They may be standing close to him so that they share in his current popularity.  What is striking, aside from Obama’s attempts to mask a deeper discomfort, is how far Carter is cut adrift from the rest of the group.  He is either quite comfortable in his outspoken status or the group is trying to distance themselves from him so that they are seen with Obama and not being identified as being with Carter.  One could almost imagine based upon the campaign and Obama’s own rhetoric, that he would be more comfortable standing between Clinton and Carter and not between George H and George W Bush. A last point to consider is that Obama appears the happiest of the presidents. He is uninitiated in its burdens, which may suggest why his smile is broadest and appears genuine. The other presidents, while their expressions are positive and open, do not show an openness or depth of feeling that Obama clearly expresses. The nearest expression to that of Obama is Gorge W Bush who seems almost appears giddy in being the host but also aware that he is soon to shrug off the burdens of the presidency.

As the saying, often attributed to Sigmund Freud, goes “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”, so too sometimes a picture is just a picture. We can read into situations and images what we want. Yet, what is clear is that the pictures do capture something important in the positional dynamics of powerful people. Perhaps these are sub-conscious behaviors or simply what the photographer wanted, but they do give us an opportunity to see the presidents in a way that helps us understand how they understand themselves. What will be useful is to compare this photograph with any that Obama has with Donald Trump and whether Trump would feel comfortable to be in the presence of the former presidents.

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