The false dichotomy of mythologies that underlies political polarization

I recently came across Anne Applebaum’s 2018 article in the Atlantic, “A warning from Europe: The worst is yet to come,” in which she describes the politics in Poland as reminiscent of Viktor Orbán’s competitive authoritarian regime in Hungary, posing it in a false dichotomy with meritocratic, cosmopolitan, and capitalist “liberalism.”[1] It’s not ideologically quite a match for white Christian nationalism, as indeed are not structurally similar regimes in Turkey and India, and as indeed would not be a similar regime which might arise in Italy[2] and might have arisen in France.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Anne Applebaum, “A warning from Europe: The worst is yet to come,” Atlantic, October 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/poland-polarization/568324/
  2. [2]Archie Bland, “Italy’s political dysfunction opens the door to a far-right government,” Guardian, August 22, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/22/first-edition-giorgia-meloni-italy-election
  3. [3]Arthur Goldhammer, “Yes, Be Worried: Marine Le Pen Could Finally Come to Power in France,” New Republic, April 7, 2022, https://newrepublic.com/article/166041/marine-le-pen-win-president-france-2022-elections

The really, really, really wild wildcards in the 2022 and 2024 elections

It seems Donald Trump’s entourage is perceiving a need for him to lawyer up[1] as the legal ramifications[2] of the search of Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago[3] become more apparent, but

One lawyer told a story from early in Trump’s presidency of his legal team urging him against tweeting about the Mueller probe, only to find he’d tweeted about it before they got to the end of the West Wing driveway. Several people said Trump was nearly impossible to represent and that it would be unclear if they would ever get paid.[4]

Read more

  1. [1]Isaac Arnsdorf et al., “Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers — but he keeps hearing ‘No,’” Washington Post, August 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/16/trump-lawyers-fbi-raid/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “I cannot yet tell you my 2024 forecast was wrong,” Not Housebroken, August 16, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/08/13/i-cannot-yet-tell-you-my-2024-forecast-was-wrong/
  3. [3]Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo, “Trump says FBI conducting search of Mar-a-Lago estate,” Associated Press, August 8, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-mar-a-lago-government-and-politics-9e8d683afe87389407950af7ccfdbdd6; Scott R. Anderson et al., “What We Do and Don’t Know About the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago Search,” Lawfare, August 9, 2022, https://www.lawfareblog.com/what-we-do-and-dont-know-about-fbis-mar-lago-search
  4. [4]Isaac Arnsdorf et al., “Trump is rushing to hire seasoned lawyers — but he keeps hearing ‘No,’” Washington Post, August 16, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/16/trump-lawyers-fbi-raid/

I cannot yet tell you my 2024 forecast was wrong


Fig. 1. “Handmaids protest abortion restrictions at a recent rally,” undated photograph by John O’Connor for the Associated Press, via The Well,[1] fair use.

See updates through September 10, 2022, at end of post.


If there is, hopefully, a scenario in which my 2024 forecast, in which I saw nothing stopping Donald Trump’s return to the presidency and the culmination of a longstanding project to establish what, in jargon, is called a competitive authoritarian regime,[2] might be derailed, it may lie in developments of the last few days, in which Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was searched[3] and allegedly classified materials were retrieved.[4] While support for Trump appears to have solidified among Republicans,[5] the search warrant indicates that he is under investigation for, among other things, violations of the Espionage Act.[6] Read more

  1. [1]Kate Michael, “Attorneys General Heat Up as Reproductive Rights Cases Take Center Stage,” The Well, February 24, 2022, https://www.thewellnews.com/in-the-states/attorneys-general-heat-up-as-reproductive-rights-cases-take-center-stage/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “My 2024 forecast,” Not Housebroken, July 28, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/03/10/my-2024-forecast/
  3. [3]Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo, “Trump says FBI conducting search of Mar-a-Lago estate,” Associated Press, August 8, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-mar-a-lago-government-and-politics-9e8d683afe87389407950af7ccfdbdd6
  4. [4]Devlin Barrett et al., “FBI searched Trump’s home to look for nuclear documents and other items, sources say,” Washington Post, August 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/11/garland-trump-mar-a-lago/; Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey, “Agents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago seized 11 sets of classified documents, court filing shows,” Washington Post, August 12, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/12/trump-warrant-release/; Alex Leary, Aruna Viswanatha, and Sadie Gurman, “FBI Recovered Eleven Sets of Classified Documents in Trump Search, Inventory Shows,” Washington Post, August 12, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/fbi-recovered-eleven-sets-of-classified-documents-in-trump-search-inventory-shows-11660324501
  5. [5]Clyde Hughes, “Rep. Greene files articles of impeachment against Attorney General Garland,” United Press International, August 13, 2022, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2022/08/13/-Marjorie-Taylor-Greene-articles-impeachment-Merrick-Garland-Attorney-General/4231660394406/; Julia Ioffe, “Defund… the F.B.I.?” Puck News, August 9, 2022, https://puck.news/defund-the-f-b-i/; Tina Nguyen, “‘The DeSantasy Is Over,’” Puck News, August 10, 2022, https://puck.news/the-desantasy-is-over/; Steve Peoples, “GOP rallies around Trump following FBI search of his estate,” Associated Press, August 10, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/gop-rallies-around-donald-trump-a0f20a219b1090fd02f529acf744f246
  6. [6]Betsy Woodruff Swan, Kyle Cheney, and Nicholas Wu, “FBI search warrant shows Trump under investigation for potential obstruction of justice, Espionage Act violations,” Politico, August 12, 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/08/12/search-warrant-shows-trump-under-investigation-for-potential-obstruction-of-justice-espionage-act-violations-00051507

In Alice’s Wonderland, or, rather, its Gilead equivalent, a bluff is not a bluff

See updates through August 14, 2022, at end of post.


Our story today begins with a search. Conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate,[1] apparently for nuclear secrets that should have been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration when Trump left office,[2] it has provoked the entirely predictable white Christian nationalist outrage[3] and reunified the Republican Party around Trump.[4] Read more

  1. [1]Scott R. Anderson et al., “What We Do and Don’t Know About the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago Search,” Lawfare, August 9, 2022, https://www.lawfareblog.com/what-we-do-and-dont-know-about-fbis-mar-lago-search; Devlin Barrett et al., “Mar-a-Lago search appears focused on whether Trump, aides withheld items,” Washington Post, August 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/09/trump-fbi-search-mar-a-lago/; Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo, “Trump says FBI conducting search of Mar-a-Lago estate,” Associated Press, August 8, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-mar-a-lago-government-and-politics-9e8d683afe87389407950af7ccfdbdd6
  2. [2]Devlin Barrett et al., “FBI searched Trump’s home to look for nuclear documents and other items, sources say,” Washington Post, August 11, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/11/garland-trump-mar-a-lago/
  3. [3]Julia Ioffe, “Defund… the F.B.I.?” Puck News, August 9, 2022, https://puck.news/defund-the-f-b-i/; Perry Stein, “Garland vowed to depoliticize Justice. Then the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago,” Washington Post, August 9, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2022/08/09/garland-trump-raid-politics/
  4. [4]Tina Nguyen, “‘The DeSantasy Is Over,’” Puck News, August 10, 2022, https://puck.news/the-desantasy-is-over/; Steve Peoples, “GOP rallies around Trump following FBI search of his estate,” Associated Press, August 10, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/gop-rallies-around-donald-trump-a0f20a219b1090fd02f529acf744f246

A theory of conservative epistemology

See update for August 19, 2022, at end of post.


Honestly, I had not planned on traversing Kansas two days after, as it turned out, voters there rejected a constitutional amendment that would have cleared the way for further abortion restrictions in the state.[1]

The first sign I noticed along Interstate 70 said, “Kill Relativism, Not Babies.” Okay, I thought to myself, how many people will even know what that means? Read more

  1. [1]Annie Gowen and Colby Itkowitz, “Kansans resoundingly reject amendment aimed at restricting abortion rights,” Washington Post, August 3, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/08/02/kansas-abortion-referendum/

To be a monster

See update for July 27, 2022, at end of post.

Moving to Pittsburgh, as I did a little over three years ago, has been an eye-opening experience.

Not only have I witnessed a remarkable toxically masculine viciousness and a shamelessly blatant racism I certainly never expected to encounter in the 21st century, but as I have driven around, revisiting the places of my childhood—I lived in Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb, and walked to my grandparents’ house in nearby Dormont for a couple years—I have had an intensive look at a vignette of that experience. Read more

Elon Musk’s Achilles’ heel

See updates through October 4, 2022, at end of post.


Unlike Boris Johnson, who is having to resign as British prime minister,[1] Elon Musk has not yet met his comeuppance. In the long and annoying saga of Musk’s agreement to buy Twitter,[2] we’re seeing yet again that Musk, like Johnson,[3] believes he is invincible, in no small part on a profoundly defective personality.[4] Even to the unbelievably rich, this world is a harsher place: Read more

  1. [1]Max Colchester, “U.K.’s Boris Johnson to Resign After Scandals Grow Too Great to Handle,” Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-k-s-boris-johnson-quits-after-scandals-grow-too-great-to-handle-11657183819
  2. [2]William D. Cohan, “The Twitter Board’s Panic Room,” Puck News, April 14, 2022, https://puck.news/the-twitter-boards-panic-room/; William D. Cohan, “How Elon Can Get That $40B,” Puck News, April 20, 2022, https://puck.news/how-elon-can-get-that-40b/; William D. Cohan, “Elon’s Gamble: Imagining Tesla Stock Judgment Day,” Puck News, April 27, 2022, https://puck.news/elons-gamble-imagining-the-tesla-stock-judgment-day/; Rob Copeland, Rebecca Elliott, and Cara Lombardo, “Elon Musk Makes $43 Billion Bid for Twitter, Says ‘Civilization’ At Stake,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-offers-to-buy-rest-of-twitter-for-54-20-a-share-11649932296; Rebecca Elliott, “Elon Musk Says He Would Reverse Donald Trump’s Twitter Ban,” Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-would-reverse-twitters-donald-trump-ban-11652204279; Dan Gallagher, “Musk Gives Twitter’s Board an Expensive Out,” Wall Street Journal, April 14, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/musk-gives-twitters-board-an-expensive-out-11649954729; Spencer Jakab and Dan Gallagher, “Musk’s Twitter Deal Is No Sure Thing,” Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/musks-twitter-deal-is-no-sure-thing-11652287373; Cara Lombardo and Will Feuer, “Elon Musk Says He Has Commitments for $46.5 Billion in Financing for Twitter Deal,” Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musk-says-he-has-commitments-for-46-5-billion-in-financing-for-twitter-deal-11650549097; Douglas MacMillan et al., “Elon Musk acquires Twitter for roughly $44 billion,” Washington Post, April 25, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/04/25/twitter-elon-musk-deal/; Dan Milmo and Mark Sweney, “Twitter takeover: EU and UK warn Elon Musk must comply or face sanctions,” Guardian, April 26, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/apr/26/twitter-takeover-jack-dorsey-elon-musk
  3. [3]Tim Shipman, “Boris the cat with nine lives has finally been neutered,&rduo; Times, July 9, 2022, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/boris-the-cat-with-nine-lives-has-finally-been-neutered-nq7hnwndv
  4. [4]William D. Cohan, “Elon’s Next Moves,” Puck News, May 18, 2022, https://puck.news/elons-next-moves/

The lesson of Boris Johnson: apologizing, moralizing, and finger-pointing

See update for July 7, 2022, at end of post.


The thing about apologies is that they should be genuine. And to be genuine, they should mean a commitment not to repeat the mistakes that have led to the apologies.

By such criteria, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s apologies have not been genuine, and a whole bunch of Tories are pissed.[1] But all this is not quite as simple as Johnson’s ego. Read more

  1. [1]Heather Stewart, Rowena Mason, and Jessica Elgot, “Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak quit – throwing Boris Johnson’s future into doubt,” Guardian, July 5, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/05/sajid-javid-and-rishi-sunak-quit-throwing-boris-johnsons-future-into-doubt

Glad all you gun nuts are feeling safer now

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision expanding gun “rights,”[1] we have yet another mass shooting, not really ironically at a Fourth of July celebration celebrating “freedom.” At least six are dead;[2] I guess they’re free now. Read more

  1. [1]Saul Cornell, “Clarence Thomas’ Latest Guns Decision Is Ahistorical and Anti-Originalist,” Slate, June 24, 2022, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/06/clarence-thomas-gun-decision-bruen-anti-originalist.html; Jon Healy, “Supreme Court throws out New York’s concealed weapons law. Here’s what it means for California,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-23/supreme-court-concealed-carry-ruling-what-it-means-for-california; Jay Michaelson, “The Future of Gun Control Is in Danger,” New York, June 23, 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/06/supreme-court-gun-case-endangers-the-future-of-gun-control.html; David G. Savage, “Supreme Court bolsters gun owners’ right to carry a weapon in public,” Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2022, https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-06-23/supreme-court-gun-owners-right-to-carry-a-weapon-in-public; Mark Joseph Stern, “Clarence Thomas’ Maximalist Second Amendment Ruling Is a Nightmare for Gun Control,” Slate, June 23, 2022, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/06/supreme-court-new-york-concealed-carry-law-gun-control-bruen.html; Ariane de Vogue, “Samuel Alito lashes out at liberals in guns case as tensions boil over at SCOTUS,” CNN, June 23, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/23/politics/samuel-alito-stephen-breyer-guns/index.html
  2. [2]Michael Tarm, Kathleen Foody, and Roger Schneider, “6 dead, 30 hurt in shooting at Chicago-area July 4 parade,” Associated Press, July 5, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/chicago-july-4-parade-shooting-92b50feb80c19afe7842b9caf08545cb