Today’s Shared Post_Link: 08 March 2017

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Published Date: 03.08.2017 

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“The major villains of movies and TV shows alike are invariably brilliant masterminds.” …

“There’s a good reason for this: brilliant villains make for excellent storytelling. They’re much more interesting than the ones in real life, where crooks are generally looking for the quickest way to get ahead, murders are committed by angry idiots with poor impulse control, and ancient tombs are mostly full of pot-shards.” …

Super-Villains!

“Responses to my essay Trial Balloon for a Coup? have ranged from the thoughtful to the slightly nutty, and if you’ve seen them, you may be wondering what to think: Is this a conspiracy theory? Are our choices limited to “Donald Trump (or maybe Steve Bannon) is a super-villain” or “everything bad happened by accident and Donald Trump is really a nice guy?” …

“There’s a whole class of responses to the essay (both pro and con) which start from the idea that for Donald Trump to really be trying to undermine American democracy, someone, maybe him, or Steve Bannon, or Vladimir Putin, must be a Machiavellian genius, playing “11-dimensional super-chess” (as John Scalzi put it) with the country. Ben Shapiro argues that these people are clearly not geniuses of any stripe, and so the idea that they’re trying to overthrow anything is outrageous; at the other extreme, Katy Perry tells us to educate ourselves about this “evil chess game.” Between those two poles, Jake Fuentes doesn’t argue that they’re super-geniuses, but does give them credit for a fairly sophisticated and long-term plan. David Roberts gives perhaps the most insightful answer, talking about a balance between the two.” …

“Inventing effective authoritarianism from scratch may require an evil brilliance, but copying existing techniques requires only amorality. While these techniques may seem radical and shocking to people who are unfamiliar with them, for all too many people around the world, they are sadly commonplace.” …


What we forget is just how fragile democracy really is… Democracies have turned into dictatorships not only through violent revolutions, but through elected officials seizing power and nobody stopping them… You don’t need to be brilliant to be a danger to democracy; quite literally, an idiot could do it.


“The most important thing you need to do is simply ignore the social norms by which others are playing. If people expect you to talk to the press, ignore the press; if they expect what you say to have meaning, speak nonsense; if they expect you to obey the law, ignore it. Rules are for suckers, the autocrat believes, and power is what you can get away with. (Masha Gessen’s essays on how to survive in an autocracy should be required reading for all Americans)

Note also that (a) Trump was elected (in no small part) on the basis of his pervasive norm-breaking, his refusal to obey any rules set for him, and (b) as noted above, norms are precisely what holds democracy together. The likely result of this is left as an exercise for the reader.” …

Malice or Incompetence?

“An important critique of Trial Balloon was Tom Pepinsky’s “Weak and Incompetent Leaders Act Like Strong Leaders.” …

“While he concludes that the evidence supports Trump being weak (by contrast to, e.g., Indonesia’s President Suharto, who could have half a million people killed in relatively short order), he says that “we cannot infer what someone wants… based on outcomes alone.” …

David Auerbach takes a stronger position: he argues that there is clear evidence of incompetence (such as the poor drafting of the order), … Pointing to a legal analysis by Steve Vladeck, he argues that “we should be highly skeptical of any organized, top-down order for defiance of injunctions.” That is, Auerbach takes a strong position in favor of incompetence explaining this particular event.” …


It doesn’t answer the question of what threshold you should use before you believe in malice.


“As a practical matter, even though certainty as to someone’s motives is rare, we tend to reach significant suspicion based on things like patterns of behavior. If you told me, for example, that Donald Trump was going to try to ignore court judgments until he was absolutely forced to obey them, or that he would lie about something he had done in public just the day before if it suited him, I would say “So, what else is new?” We’ve been watching him do these things for years, and he’s never made any secret of the fact.

The difference is that when a businessman does this, it has the potential to ruin individual vendors and contractors who can’t be paid, sour business deals, or harm his reputation. When the President does the same things, it has the potential to damage democracy itself.” …

“since the difference between malice and incompetence is always hard to tell, you should not predicate your life on being able to accurately tell the difference.” …

“But the best summary of all of this came from Twitter user @nomikkh, who put it well: “Prepare for malice; hope for incompetence.” …

Systems or Rights?

“A third critique came from Sam Kriss, who argued¹ that this focus on harm to systems — e.g., the collapse of the rule of law — is a distraction from the much more important issue of harm to human rights.” …

“I believe that this argument is both right and wrong, in important ways. The most important thing that’s right about it is that human welfare is the fundamental goal which all of our laws and systems are trying to achieve.” …

“However, I also believe in the profound importance of systems, because they are the main thing which maintain human welfare on a day-to-day basis.” …


There are many examples like this. Courts can only work because most people obey the law; elections only work because both sides agree to accept if they lose. Democracy’s day-to-day is run by systems, but those systems are held up by mutual agreement, not a more stable bulwark.


“Without these systems, both formal and informal, our lives really would be a continuous battle of all against all.” …

“The systems of government, both the formal checks and balances and the informal social norms which power them on a daily basis, are particularly crucial, because they limit what we have (to our sorrow) discovered to be one of the greatest destroyers of human welfare and life that there is: absolute power.” …

“Unfortunately, America’s checks and balances have been allowed to fall into grave disrepair in the past few years. Congress has increasingly abdicated its role as a lawmaker ever since the mid-1990’s, preferring partisan posturing to making compromises and legislating.” …

“A car with poorly maintained brakes is merely a nuisance, until the moment when you really need those brakes. We have let the country’s brakes run dry, and now we have a sharp curve ahead.

We do not fight for these systems instead of human welfare; we fight for these systems because they are among the greatest guarantors of human welfare which have ever existed.” …

Read complete article in: 

When Villains Aren’t Super (Further Reflections on “Trial Balloon for a Coup?”) by Yonatan Zunger at extra news feed.com

Yonatan Zunger

Photo Credit: Photos are collected from author’s article and hollywood: cynical quotes
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