David French — When the Pursuit of Happiness Becomes the Flight from Pain


Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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112 Responses

  1. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I would like that piece a lot more if it weren’t for its suggestion that this is something that those people are doing.

    Writing articles about how terrible those people are for offering crayons to college students doesn’t seem like it’s likely to move the needle much.

    Three times a week I go to class and as an instructor or assistant instructor, I try to help martial arts students engage with situations that are scary and dangerous with agency and optimism. We need this, it’s clear. I needed it, even though my biography is full of things like “moving” and “starting a business” and stuff that might be called “taking risks”.

    We very much need people who can and will engage with difficult situations. And at the same time, corporate America, abetted by the “drown the government” crowd, have been shifting risk away from corporations and onto private citizens. Corporations were created to bear risk, that’s their purpose.

    We really need to be asking ourselves, “What are the systemic reasons for this? How am I participating in that system? How can I change my behavior to reduce or alter the issue?”

    I don’t think crayons are a big problem, in and of themselves. People need to learn how to increase their capacity for difficult situations. That’s valuable to them, and valuable to the rest of us. If crayons are a stop along that journey, so be it.Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    I never had crayons or puppies when I was stressing out about COBOL 1 programming or Intro to Price Theory. I did have Sid Meyer’s Pirates, women, and beer.

    WHAT’S WRONG WITH TODAY’S YOUTH? /sarchasmReport

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Sigh this seems to be an endless cycle of people saying the same things over and over again.

    As Doctor Jay pointed out, there is always an undercurrent in these right-wing essays (and it is almost always right-wingers who write them) of “You move first and become more like us.”

    I don’t think anyone doubts that Americans don’t form companies as much anymore but we keep on arguing about why with liberals stating that it is easier to form a company if you know the welfare state and safety net have got your back and conservatives sticking to their preferred talking points of too much regulation.

    Here both sides are probably wrong. The reason why most people don’t want to form their own companies is that even under optimal conditions or whatever you perceive those to be, starting your own company is highly risky and likely to fail. This includes everyone from working class people to well-educated and high-salaried professionals. The reason a lot of doctors in CA are willing to work for companies like Kaiser is that it allows them to stick with the medicine and not manage a staff and/or get into a hassle with insurance companies over payments.

    Even Rick Santorum was able to figure out that most Americans just want a good job with decent pay and benefits.

    The self-sufficient yeoman thing is largely a myth.

    My response to these essays is usually to decry the pompousness of it all.Report

  4. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Maybe David French and Michael Williamson can do some sort of Blue Collar Comedy Tour, where they go through the Rust Belt telling these economically anxious Trump voters to suck it up, move to where the jobs are, stop drinking and popping opiods and maybe, oh, I don’t know, move to San Francisco and become coders.Report

    • Avatar veronica d says:

      @chip-daniels — Right. I didn’t even want to say it, but honestly, the idea that we “coastal elites” are somehow “clustered” in a way that the xenophobic Trump crowd is not — doctor, heal thyself.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        We aren’t any more siloed than the rest of the country, but I’m here to tell you we are definitely clustered. Social media makes it worse, not better. And if we’re the ones with more money, and perhaps more power, it kind of means that we might want to do something about it. The Blue Collar Comedy Tour is obviously not going to work, but what is, and who’s in a position to do something about it?

        This is the thing I admire about J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. He’s actually gonna move to rural Ohio, and see what he can come up with.

        We have a cultural problem with failure and that is second guessing has become so amplified and prevalent, it makes taking a risk much, much harder.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        This post, when placed side by side with the one at Zero Hedge about Wendy’s kiosks, really lays bare the schism within the right,as it struggles with the issue of economic insecurity.

        Look at the Zero Hedge post, and the commentary over at Legal Insurrection, John Hawkins, and a few other rightwing sites.
        The general takeaway is one of laughing and mocking those silly fast food workers and minimum wage advocates.
        Who, presumably, should suck it up and work cheaper than the machines.

        Meanwhile, how many other posts have we seen lamenting the economic anxiety of the Rust Belt Trumpists, those folks at Carrier who were so outraged when the “elites” shipped their jobs off to Mexico?

        Not a lot of laughing and mocking on the right then, was there? Not much talk about sucking it up and working cheaper than Mexicans?

        The Trump fans have invoked the cliches of populism but really want to isolate only a certain specific slice of the working class; manufacturing workers are part of the group, fast food workers are not.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck says:

          “Not a lot of laughing and mocking on the right then, was there? Not much talk about sucking it up and working cheaper than Mexicans?”

          Welp. Due to minimum-wage laws and requirements about workplace safety, it’s illegal for Americans to work cheaper than Mexicans, and that’s why the jobs were going to Mexico in the first place. So it’s not actually true that there’s some whiny redneck thing going on here.

          But keep going with that thing where everyone who disagrees with you is a moral failure, it really seems to be working for you.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            I’m not saying rednecks are whiny.
            What I’m pointing out is how the conservative movement has traditionally used “Bootstraps” as the cure-all for unemployment and low wages.

            “Just work harder, create more marginal value, and you will move ahead!”

            Yet…Look at Trump’s winning argument that swept millions of conservative base voters to his camp.
            It wasn’t about bootstraps, was it?
            He didn’t go around telling Carrier workers to buckle down and work harder for less pay, did he?

            But we do have conservative pro-Trump blogs telling fast food workers that very message, that instead of asking for more money, they should work harder and for less.

            I think the right wing is having a hard time reconciling their past and present messages.
            The big fork is coming with automated trucks; when millions of white working class guys get replaced by machines, it will be interesting to see how this plays out.
            I’m betting the “bootstraps!” crowd will be very quiet.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck says:

              “He didn’t go around telling Carrier workers to buckle down and work harder for less pay, did he?”

              Did they ever get asked that by Carrier?Report

        • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

          I think that we on the left could stand to struggle with economic insecurity a bit more, actually. Job-training programs are a cliche now, and they might help a little, but they really come across as “I got nothing” to people who are in dire straits.

          Off the top of my head, I can think of a few ideas:

          1. Relocation benefits for laid-off workers. Paid for by some sort of fee or tax on factories. This would likely not be very expensive. Despite the news, individual factory lifespans are fairly long.

          2. Exurban redevelopment. I think there are a bunch of people in the Rust Belt who really do know how to make things, and could be put to work in smallish groups doing custom manufacturing, especially in this day and age of the Internet and overnight shipping. These areas seem ripe for this kind of thing, what are the missing elements. Just like we have county Ag agents in farm territory, maybe we could establish resource points for this kind of thing. Small is beautiful. These people really can make great stuff.

          3. I think that some areas would be ripe to establish islands of software development. I support a program to introduce programming as a topic in every American High School. This is similar to #2 but asks also how we might convince small teams to relocate to areas because property is cheap and the lifestyle is attractive. I know lots of programmers that are very outdoorsy and would be more so given the chance.

          These are just a few ideas. We should be able to come up with more. I mean, we’re really angry at the Trump voters, especially the Ds who switched to Trump. My guess, though, is that their patience isn’t infinite, and will run out in a year or less. We should be ready with some ideas.Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            Agree totally.

            As long as we are experiencing a surging tide of activism on our side of the fence, my suggestion would be a full-throated assertion of direct government action to help displaced or underemployed workers.

            If having the chief executive personally intervene to block Carrier didn’t bother Trump voters, having the federal government craft some sort of direct job training/ direct employment shouldn’t either.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              50% of our CURRENT jobs will vanish in the next 10-20 years.
              What the FUCK is direct job training going to do???

              Automate, Automate, Automate, there will NOT be enough jobs for most people.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Doctor Jay,
            WHY do people insist on being stuck in the 1990s mindset? Programming is a dead end nowadays, and already outsourced to a large degree (insourced as well).Report

            • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

              Good lord, Kim, you could not be more wrong about this. Outsourcing was a big threat in the oughts here in Silicon Valley, but it isn’t now. People just need more coders wherever they can get them.

              It is not easy for someone to get to a level where they are really useful as a coder. That’s part of the problem. The overseas people often ended up cheap, but not very productive. And functionality per dollar is the important metric.

              Where we stand now is that most of the best programmers are engaged in very large scale projects, because the multiplier effect is the largest there. And by that I mean the observation that the work one programmer does can be scaled up to serve a billion people fairly easily. That gives enormous value to that person’s work.

              With more programmers available, we could focus more on smaller-scale projects with multipliers that are good, but not ginormous. There’s a whole cottage industry out there building one-off websites already. I know some people who do this, and they never lack for work. There’s a lot more that could be done in the long tail. A lot, lot more.Report

  5. Avatar trizzlor says:

    Christ, what an asshole.

    People aren’t turning to opiates because they got crayons at exam time, they’re turning to opiates because they have no idea if they’ll be employed six months from now, they’re in debt up to their eyeballs, and whatever community they had has been decimated by the financial crisis. Do you want people to move around more? Give them some certainty that they’ll still be able to have an unforeseen health event and not die in bankruptcy if they leave their employer. Or that the town they move to won’t turn into a wasteland because some broker a million miles away did a pivot table wrong. It takes a real sociopath to look at the statistics on men literally dying earlier than their parents did like this is some 3rd world country, and cluck about “taking the hard and risky path”.

    And I swear to God if I read another article at NRO that blames no-fault divorce I’m going on their fucking cruise and putting ipecac in all the buffet meals.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      Take healthcare.

      I have a good job, well-paying at a Fortune 500 company. They switched to all HDHP a few years back (like 2013). Didn’t even bother to kickstart their HSA’s with a company donation or anything. It coincided with the most expensive medical year of my life. (Three surgeries for my wife).

      I blew through my deductible by Spring Break, and hit my OOP max by the end of the year. I had a maxed out HSA which covered roughly half my costs, and didn’t max out until the end of the year of course.

      The next year was…better. I didn’t come close to my OOP max, but of course met my deductible — which is almost as much as a maxed out HSA.

      This year is, strangely, even worse. I lowered my deductible as much as possible (and unfortunately had to lower my HSA contribution to match — although I still save almost 1500 over the deductible).

      Year after year, since switching to this plan, I have been constantly squeezed by healthcare costs and constantly weighing whether an illness, injury, or recommended procedure could be ignored or put off.

      And the GOP’s solution to this*? 2000 dollar’s tax credit, which will not even cover the cheaped HDHP premiums (and that’s just MY share) and doubling the HSA contribution — as if I could afford to put more in my HSA than I do now.

      And make no mistakes — I am in a good job, with good benefits, and make good money. If I’m feeling this stressed out and screwed, at 40, I cannot imagine how bad it’s got to be for others.

      So yeah, my lily-white, sheltered, upper-middle-class butt understands exactly why people might turn to drugs and alcohol over this kind of stress. Because I’m getting the easy mode version of it, and that is difficult enough to deal with.

      *Seriously, if they think their plan is going to do anything other than infuriate millions of voters, they’re delusional. Their base expects a replacement that’s better than the ACA, not something that takes away what they got then twists the knife extra hard for kicks.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor says:

        … it sounds like what you’re saying is you want more catastrophic plans, a block-grant on medicare that sends it back to the states, and new tax cuts on carried interest to unshackle the American economy. Because it’s either that or we build a time machine to go and take away all those participation trophies you got in your youth so you stop getting sick all the time.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      It doesn’t matter how much you don’t like the answer. A person living a virtuous life is far more likely to avoid the traps described in the article.Report

    • Mississippi stands up for marriage:

      Tuesday morning, on a deadline for bills to pass out of committee or die, the House Judiciary B Committee took up several routine bills before Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, announced that he would not take up Senate Bill 2703, which would have made domestic violence the 13th ground for divorce in Mississippi.Report

  6. Avatar Joe Sal says:

    Ha, an OT piñata.
    (thanks for adding the diversity Burt, good stuff)Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Meanwhile Trump is accusing Jews of planting bomb threats at their own JCCs.


    When I discussed Paying for the Party a few years ago on this blog, I mentioned that the authors of the book said that the first target for the poor girls lost at Indiana University were not the really rich girls who inadvertently made their lives miserable but Jewish-Americans (who tended to be well-off but not super wealthy and tended to focus on professional studies that led to a JD, MD, and MBA) and LBGT students. The Jews and LBGT were easy targets for the economically marginalized students because they were unknown. One girl’s small town briefly had a Jewish music teacher but he was driven out by anti-Semitic attacks before the year was over.

    I am probably a bit harsh on this issue with you Burt. I think your concern about the fraying of the commonwealth is sincere. Maybe it is sincere for Mr. French as well. But the tone I always get from pieces like French’s essay or even from the current front page story is “Blue State Americans, you first, you make the concessions first” and then maybe some hope for some sitcom esque misunderstandings and hugs at the end. The world is not like this. This shit is real for many Americans and is going on an uptick. 100s of threats to JCCs across the nation, hundreds of Jewish graves vandalized. And more but different for other minority groups.

    *Before anyone calls bomb threats harmless pranks. The JCCs don’t have the luxury of determining whether they are pranks or not because JCCs often have programming for seniors and children during the day and afterschool. These places needed to be evacuated and Trump is treating it like an inside middle school prank.


    Tell me why I should move Mr. French?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      My sons goto a JCC daycare. We have received three emails informing us that they have received no threats but have taken extra security measures and developed a variety of response plans.

      These threats may be “pranks” insofar as they are false, but they are undoubtedly threats meant to inspire fear and are anything but harmless.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The Trump supporters are un-repentent and the Anti-Trump conservatives refuse to acknowledge that decades of their actions led to Trump. They refuse to yield on even the smallest or most minor issue but still demand complete capitulation from people in Blue America.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      Even the Daily Beast, which isn’t the least bit shy about sensationalizing or anti-Trump headlines, could only go this far: Trump Appears to Suggest Bomb Threats Against Jews Are False Flags. They based the article on a quote from a Democrat who met with Trump and couldn’t make sense out of what the president said. There just isn’t enough clarity here to to make the accusation that Saul does.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Sure, if we completely disregard everything we know about the man, the quote doesn’t do much.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Fwiw, I agree Pinky. I’ve read nothing that suggests Trump believes Jewish individuals or groups are responsible for this but rather that he thinks liberals, or at a minimum, anti-Trumpers are. The irony is that by blaming the desecrations and threats on liberals as an effort to foment anti-Trump sentiment he’s conceding that such actions would be consistent with a pro-Trump sentiment. At least according to perception, anyway. 🙂 For me, the takeaway is that his comments reveal a radical cynicism about liberals in particular but the political process in general. Basically, he’s adopted something like a Grand Conspiracy as his overarching theory of the political process, one where up is down, and true is false. And because of the times we live in, defined by distrust between the parties and distrust of government more generally, it actually works.Report

  8. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    My mother, who has morphed in her later years from an Obama voter to a die hard Fox News watcher, made a sneering comment the other day about “safe spaces” in colleges and I was really taken aback by how strange that was. She has no contact with college kids, no relatives in college or in teaching, and it couldn’t possibly affect her, but yet it’s somehow important to her. So, I’ve been thinking about why it’s so important to the conservatives I know that college kids not be sheltered and I suppose there’s a bedrock value there, but what is it? Being gimlet-eyed about the world?

    I had the same sort of response to this article. What do the rich kids who don’t join the military or who demand trigger warnings in college have to do with the members of the precariat class who are on opiates or committing suicide? And has he spent any time with the barely-working class? Trust me- they’re plenty religious. Anyway, my response was similar to Trizzlor’s, just not expressed as humorously.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      The bedrock value is free speech. College Campuses are worse now than they were during McCarthy (and I say this knowing someone who pulls all sorts of numbers about all sorts of things for policy discussions — he’s the chap I’m getting this from).

      Trigger Warnings are another example of the Powers that Be poisoning the left. Your mother is growing disaffected, not with the actual left, but with astroturf that’s designed to turn off people like her. It’s propaganda.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        I don’t think it is a principled stand on Free Speech… I don’t know Rufus’ mother, but my sense has been that that generation looks at the speech deemed unsafe and it seems to be their speech…Boomer speech… which translates: Boomers are unsafe people. And then they get indignant about the sacrifices they* made to protect free speech.

        *which can be conflated with the sacrifices their parents made or they made as a family coming out of the depression and WWII… Korea/Vietnam can also be category scramblers depending on the individual experience.

        Anyhow, just a hunch.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I don’t think it is a principled stand on Free Speech

          Or, you know, it could be? Maybe a rejection of the idea that free speech somehow entails protection from dissenting views in a public space, and so on? She finally had had enough?Report

        • Avatar Pinky says:

          Fun fact: 96% of all comments containing the phrase “I don’t know X’s mother, but…” turn ugly. 🙂Report

  9. A couple things:

    who tell their children not to play football,

    Yeah, what kind of coward takes brain injury seriously? As we’ve seen with two of the last three, it doesn’t take brains to become the president.

    people who’ve slipped entirely from the dynamic life and into an existence dominated alternately by the somnolence of the opioid “high” and the panic of opioid deprivation.

    Note how he slips with no signposts fro criticizing the coddled elites to describing the WWC.

    make marriage vows less binding than refrigerator warranties.

    What is he, 100 years old? The right comparison there is “cell phone contracts”.

    And who the hell is against puppies?Report

  10. From article: “…can’t imagine a child choosing to join the infantry…”

    Husband and I were speculating about this yesterday. Since the vast majority of those who join the armed services are “red group”, could it, on some subconscious level, make it easier for “blue groupers” in leadership and in the country as a whole, to put those lives into danger? If you know going in that the lives it costs won’t be your own – not your children, not your friend’s children, or your outgroup’s children – might it not lead to the military being used more quickly, more freely than it should?

    Historically, of course, this does seem to have been the case – children of the poor have long been used as cannon fodder for the wars of the rich.

    Not advocating a position, just curious what others think.Report

    • The Bushes both started large-scale wars. Trump may well do the same, though perhaps though blundering rather than intent. Neither Obama nor Clinton did.Report

      • Yeah, I realize now that what I wrote was confusing, I meant ongoing in the future.

        If most of “blue America” knows it’s not “their” people going to war, and most of “red America” tends to be rah-rah chickenhawks anyway, just wondering if that could have some sort of subtle effect. Just like how it’s easy for richie riches to send poor folk into wars.Report

        • Cynicism is never out of place these days.

          But Obamacare did a lot for red America, as people are starting to realize now that it’s threatened, and up until Trump, the GOP was the party that loved creative destruction. I honestly believe that there’s an asymmetry in how much each side disdains the other.Report

    • Avatar gregiank says:

      It’s the children of the rich that end up in the leadership. Poor kids join the infantry. Not completely true but pretty close. I live next to a big army/af base. The airborne kids come from working class or poor backgrounds. The people in the leadership of the gov come from well to do or rich families, whether blue or red.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        Not really. Officers aren’t moneyed, just degreed, and a lot of the officer corps are the kids of blue collar families who use military tuition benefits (e.g. ROTC) to get through college, or manage to wrangle the necessary recommendations to get into an academy.

        I bet if you polled the officer corps, you’d find many more blue collar kids than white collar ones.

        And yeah, enlisted ranks are majority blue collar or below.

        That said, military service correlates poorly with personal politics.Report

        • Avatar gregiank says:

          I meant more the upper leadership in gov tend to be the children of the wealthy. Not all of course, notably the last two D presidents weren’t. But the decisions makers who send the kids to war mostly come from the upper classes.

          I’ve met some pretty left wing current and ex military members but that doesn’t fit the “official” view that the military is all right wing.Report

    • Avatar Jesse says:

      Except of course, if you actually tracked the numbers, I bet you actual support for every major military action since Vietnam has been the reverse of that – hard blue urban areas largely opposing, hard red rural areas largely supporting.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      Some of it also might be a generational thing. I’m 36 years old and we’ve been at war for almost my entire adult life, engaged in slow grinding conflicts against IEDs and snipers. There was a time when your kid joining the infantry meant an honorable career with valuable training and a slim chance that they may go to war to defend their country. Now it means they’re likely volunteering to go into one of our multiple constantly active war zones.

      My perception of having a kid join the military would certainly be colored by the fact that I barely remember the last time an enlistment term could fit entirely within a peacetime window. This isn’t some cultural aversion. Until my generation, the majority of the men in my family line on my father’s side volunteered to serve. This is just the practical reality of living in a permanent state of war in a bunch of ill-defined conflicts.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      There is a an old cliche that a lot of kids join the Military at 18 because it is either that or work at McDonalds. There is one person from my upper-middle class school district that tried for West Point when I got in. He did not get in.

      I knew people whose parents served in Vietnam though. They did not like it and I think they did not want their children to fight in wars. So I have no idea what causes someone to say “I served. Combat is hell and horrible and I don’t want my kids to see it” and someone who served and wants their kids to serve.

      But @jesse is right and I think as James Fallows says, we are a chickenhawk nation.

      But the public use of a widow’s grief in this ceremony seemed all too close to the spectacle that was the heart of Ben Fountain’s unforgettable novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, or the phenomenon I called “Chickenhawk Nation” in my cover story two years ago. In that piece I defined a chickenhawk nation as one “willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously.” Raise military budgets, sure. “Salute the heroes” at sporting events—and big presidential speeches—yes, as well. But thinking seriously about where and how Americans will be asked to risk their lives? About exactly how the defense budget will be spent? About how the burdens of service can be more fairly shared? These topics are not so interesting.

      The problem with a lot of people like French (though IIRC he was in the military so perhaps he is different) is that they are chicken hawks in the same way that Fallows described. They will do “anything” to support the military except have a serious discussion along the lines of “maybe we shouldn’t fight this fight….”

      And I am not even a pacifist or an isolationist. I think there are times and places for the American military to exert itself into the world. But I am also a lefty and I wonder why serving in the military or being law enforcement (as in being a cop) is supposed to deserve this special form of reverence just by its existence. Nor am I the type of person who thinks my rights and liberties only exist because of the military because I am an ornery and cantankerous sort. There is a “respect my authoritah…” aspect to the military sometimes that is grating and needs to be combated.

      This has been post seven trillion in why Saul Degraw will never hold political office.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        I agree on over the top and damaging genuflection to the military. However there are many reasons people join the military. Some people even want to find the excitement and test of combat. That isn’t most military but they are there. Lots of people want structure, want to be part of something, are motivated by the noble history of the military and see it as a way to grow into a better person.

        My dad was as WW2 vet who saw a ton of combat. He had no desire for me to join the army but i know that if i was drafted, even into a war he thought was a clusterfish like viet nam, he would have wanted me to go. Being born in 65 it wasn’t an issue luckily.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          True but that doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. probably maintains a much larger military than it needs to and always has. What Troublesome Frog said above is true for me as well and also beyond. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t bombarded with military recruitment ads even in alleged peacetime.

          There are still countries with conscription but I don’t see all the gung ho recruiting all the time in the UK or France for example or in the Scandanavian countries.

          I think we can stand to cool it with the constant military recruiting.Report

          • Agree fully. Having two sons over 18 you would not believe the amount of military recruitment stuff we would get in the mail for a couple years there.

            One of my sons went to a Navy recruiter meeting to find out if he qualified for some program they had (he didn’t due to his age). They kept him for 3 hours trying to talk him into signing up as an enlisted man before he finally decided he’d had enough and walked out.

            Question – do you think that some countries simply rely on the US as their protector and thus don’t have to have strong militaries?Report

            • They kept him for 3 hours trying to talk him into signing up as an enlisted man before he finally decided he’d had enough and walked out.

              Never mind enlisting — did he buy the timeshare?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Question – do you think that some countries simply rely on the US as their protector and thus don’t have to have strong militaries?


              I mean, like Japan?Report

              • Avatar gregiank says:

                Japan does have a significant military. And the limits they kept on themselves for years were sort of influenced by history.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Most of NATO. Why bother putting together large militaries when the US is happy to do it, and develop all the cool tech, and the training, and share it with all their allies – and you know the US will send troops if the fit hits the shan.

              Most Euro militaries are there primarily to act as violent speedbumps to an invading force until the US can mobilize. And this is not meant to minimize the professionalism of those other NATO forces, almost all of them are well regarded fighting forces. They just aren’t massive like the US.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Why bother putting together large militaries when the US is happy to do it, and develop all the cool tech, and the training,

                … and happily pay for it. 🙂

                Add: which shouldn’t be construed as a negative judgment of the status quo but rather just a description. The US has benefited greatly from being the world’s international-order-imposing superpower for going on 70 years.Report

              • Yeah, I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily (certainly fewer strong national militaries is a net good – right??), it just sometimes strikes me as a bit of a misdiagnosis to mention jingoism or lack thereof in other countries in comparison to the US, when they have the luxury of not having a strong military.

                I know quite a few Australians and they do this frequently. “The US is so militaristic, blah blah blah” and even though I mostly agree and also dislike it, at the same time I’m thinking “Yeah, but who will you call during the Great Kangaroo Uprising?”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That’s just it, Kristen, I think. For US allies (or more precisely, those who the US chose to support), the fact that US self-interest compels certain actions constitutes a win-win according to lots of metrics. I mean, it’s not a controversial or even alternative fact that after WWII the US was the only remaining industrialized nation left standing. So it’s also not surprise that the post-war reconstruction was governed by US policy prerogatives which persist, perhaps as shadows of their former selves, even to this day.

                But it’s also an uncontroversial fact that the US economic dominance has declined as other nations developed their own economies leading to a situation where the US’ power, in relative terms, is radically less than it once was. Except for military power. 🙂 And even that’s changing recently, and quickly too.

                Trump’s diagnosis of a problem and hence a solution isn’t inconsistent with (what I take to be) the actual facts on the ground. Lots of other countries could pay more for the military ops and even the passive threats of preventative war – which derive from the US’ massive military power – that potentially constrain aggression across the globe than they have. The downside is that the world would no longer be governed by a sole superpower and left to determine outcomes on an individual nation-state basis and relying on the partnerships those countries could establish to achieve their own ends.

                So it’s a good and bad thing. The US doesn’t have a great record on a lot of foreign engagement, but it has maintained a relative stable world order for going on 70 years.

                And ironically, Trump wants to pull back our NATO commitments, make other countries less reliant on US power leading to more factionalization and hence more instability, even while he wants to increase military spending by 10% in the next year.

                Incoherent, ignorant, pure populism, seems to me. We end up with the worst of both worlds.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                One other thing: During the speech the other night Trump said that NATO countries and other allies are beginning to pay monies to the US for military support. I think he said “the money is coming in, it’s just flowing in” or something like that.

                Seems to me if that were actually the case we’da heard about in in the national news. It’d be a big deal. So without any fact-check on that claim or evidence to the contrary (which I’ve not seen) I’m gonna chalk it up to yet another big-ass whole-cloth Trump lie, just like almost every other empirical claim he’s made. The dude’s either delusional (my pick!) or a pathological liar (also my pick!).

                Add: his “make our allies pay for the US military defense wall” is exactly like his “make the Mexicans pay for the border wall”. It’s only true when it happens!Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                The Delian League worked swimmingly for Athens until it didn’t; you can positively extract tribute if you want to.

                I think the more interesting observation is that we already are exacting tribute in very much the indirect manner you describe; part of the problem, if there’s a problem, is that the Tribute is being distributed unequally, or, if we prefer, insufficiently broadly enough which is sparking the internal unrest that we are seeing.

                Or so I imagine it might seem to historians a few hundred years hence as they ponder how we couldn’t manage devolution to a multi-polar world.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Do you think Trump will extract tribute? That’s the question, March.

                I don’t think he will. Just the bare demand for an extraction means that the game has tilted against the payer’s interests. And so the post-WWII world order collapses, unless Trump backs off the demand.

                The confusing thing is that Trump apparently wants a bigger military precisely so he CAN extract a tribute. Which doesn’t seem like a long term recipe for success. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And of course, if Bannon is to be taken seriously the purpose of the demanding a tribute isn’t motivated by a sense of just recompense, but to “deconstruct” geopolitical institutions as we know them.

                I mean, that ain’t nothin, now is it?Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Hmmn, do I think he will?

                It hurts when I try to imagine what he might do, why do you hate me?

                But, yes, yes I do. As I say, we already exact tribute… it is just so baked in to the order of things that (charitably) we don’t notice how much we get or (uncharitably) it accrues to people and entities such that they know what we get, but we only get scraps… or (realistically) possibly both.

                I think it not unlikely that Trump will ask for, and get something tangible for our efforts. It will be mostly symbolic, but will raise morale greatly bigly; such that the political class will bemoan how we could have gotten such a thing any time we wanted, and the pundit class will opine how stupid (and maybe smug) it was never to ask.

                More seriously though, one of the legitimate criticisms of the American imperial stance is that the benefits are concentrated too narrowly. We’re doing the empire we pretend we don’t have all wrong.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                It will be mostly symbolic, but will raise morale greatly

                Ours of theirs? See, that’s where the logic breaks down, seems to me. Anti-US sentiment ain’t a foreign thing to foreigners.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Ours; the logic is fine.

                Which is worse Anti-US sentiment in the US or Anti-US sentiment in the client states? We pay a price and exact a cost for empire… the balance is always in the swing.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Honestly, what you wrote makes no sense to me. We can try to exact a cost for OUR empire, but I don’t think the payers will view it on the same terms. The reason it’s worked up till now is that we’ve voluntarily absorbed the types of costs we’re speaking about.

                Which means it was in our best interests to foot the bill for them. Once it isn’t, why would they go along for the ride except on the logic of a mafia protection racket?

                Which, not uncoincidentally, strikes me as the closest approximation one can express of Trump’s decision-making root paradigm on these issues.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                This might be another way to say the same thing, reduced to somewhat laughable tropes:

                If Trump want’s to reduce the US’ military roll in determining geopolitical outcomes, while simultaneously demanding a tribute from every ally, while ALSO saying he wants to increase military spending by 10% for the purpose of increasing the projection of US power into geopolitical outcomes …

                he’s trying to hold the rest of the world hostage to a very radical and cynical America First prioritization. Not unlike mafiosos.

                Or a Blackwater “army for hire” model, I suppose….Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                I’m surprised you don’t see it.

                We are, of course, exacting a cost for our empire… we set the agenda, we get the technology (which we may or may not share, or share a n-1 or n-2 depending on your ante or secondary bids), we have the reserve currency, and we make sure all sea roads lead to our shores… there are all sorts of costs being extracted for our hegemony.

                Your position seems to me to rely on a notion that we’re at or near perfect equilibrium for what US Hegemony requires vs. Client State options to defect.

                That’s a perfectly plausible position to hold, but not necessarily true. So, on the one hand you could be right that asking for more from various clients could introduce risk of defection… but there’s always risk of defection. But it is also true that asking too little carries with it risk as well… usually internal risk; or the risk of over-extension… which often leads to internal risk.

                But even more fundamentally, my primary position is that the benefits we extract for our Hegemony are losing (or have lost) their broad based support. That’s a problem. I’d connect the dots across things as various and seemingly disconnected as Occupy, Bernie, Trump, and possibly even the Alt-Right. Its fine to say the Empire is working, but working for whom?

                So yes, all empires exact benefits which offset the costs of maintaining the empire… it is fine for you to stipulate that the current balance is good; it is not necessarily true that the current balance is optimal.

                Trump is only incidental in that he happens to be president at the moment. This is a calculus that is always changing and always in play, no matter the president.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Maybe I haven’t made my position clear. My view is that demanding tribute for protection in a racket the US has unilaterally determined over the years is evidence that the US can’t internally justify the protection anymore. If that’s right, then why would anyone pay it? It worked in the past for both parties in the exchange because the US voluntarily assumed the financial and blood commitments of maintaining the “world order” irrespective of other nations’ concerns or interests. See, for example, Iraq.

                So the bare fact that Trump has politicized tributes, for whatever reason, signals to other countries that not only has the balance of power shifted geopolitically (since they have to figure in the tributes to their internal power calculus) but that the US either cannot or will not pay for those protections (impositions?) unilaterally anymore.

                It’s a bad signal if false, and it’s a bad signal if true.

                Defectors galore!

                Add: On the other hand, if Trump really wanted to be isolationist, he’d wouldn’t be badgering other countries about paying their fair share and trying to score tiger blood political points with counterproductive concepts like “winning!” The whole thing – internationally, geopolitically, domestically – is totally incoherent.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Thinking about that some more, it would not surprise me one bit, not one iota, to find out that Trump believes his 10% increase in military spending would be funded by tributes from our allies. Which is exactly the same type of reasoning which led to him saying out loud “who knew health care reform would be so complicated?”.

                This is a person who consistently reveals that he has absolutely no understanding of how the world actually works beyond the narrow limits of litigating contractors into accepting pennies on the dollar and scamming TrumpU enrollees into forking over cash.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Incoherent Trump is Incoherent.

                Your reading of the current empire/hegemony equation is clouded by incoherent Trump.

                That’s ok, I’m not arguing Trump’s position… just that if one wanted to argue against the status quo, one *could* argue against the status quo.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Your reading of the current empire/hegemony equation is clouded by incoherent Trump.

                It’s not tho. Those distinctions are very clear in my mind.

                My argument is that other people – most prominently Trump – are confusing the two by thinking that Tiger Blood is going to Make America Great Again.

                It won’t.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Then I guess we’ll just have to let it go because at each step you’ve moved more and more into Trump issues ending in Tiger Blood.

                I don’t know what removes Tiger Blood, I hear soda water and Lemon, but that’s just folk magic.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                March, I’d be willing to let it go if you argued anything other than that Trump’s politics on this issue resonate with the public.

                Sure they do. I get that.

                What we disagree on is whether the policies proposed are anything more than domestic, red-meat Tiger Blood. Or as you more delicately said, “folk magic”. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                I guess you get the last word, then.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Are you tired of winning yet?


              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                I saaaiiiid, you get the last word.

                But yeah, this is a bit more emphatic than I’d put it… I share a similar sentiment with MBDReport

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                Honest curiosity, what do the terms “tiger blood” and “folk magic” denote?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                “Tiger blood” refers to Charlie Sheens insane ravings about “winning” when he was on a drug-fueled, sex-crazed mania while battling it out with CBS over payments for his work in “Two and a Half Men”.

                “Folk magic” refers to religiously-based ritual practices that interact with the material world in beneficial or devastating ways.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                when he was on a drug-fueled, sex-crazed mania

                Adding: Not that there’s anything wrong with that…Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

                Forget the kanagroo uprising. They pretty much lost the Emu War. At best, they could call it a draw.

                I don’t think we want to send our sons and daughters to fight against Australian wildlife much more than most other enemies, though. There’s a lot of weird stuff in that Jurassic Park they call a countryside.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      The theory that countries with a volunteer army are more prone to military adventurism than countries with conscription or a draft does not hold up on closer inspection. France had a conscript army since the time of the French Revolution and was also prone to military adventurism from the time of the French Revolution to the Battle for Algiers. Even now France still deploys troops in Africa on a semi-regular basis. The United States started participating in military adventurism with a volunteer army during the Spanish-American War and engaged it when we had a draft and after we ended the draft.Report

    • Thanks for everyone’s input, very interesting discussion!Report

  11. Avatar Pinky says:

    French on virtue again, but the OT regulars might find this one more palatable:


    • Avatar gregiank says:

      It is interesting that French talks about Trump being good on civil rights but Sessions said his DOJ is backing off of going after PD’s with problems. That is the kind of thing that doesn’t look like good on civil rights to many of us.

      On virtue, i’ve never heard anybody actually be against it. I’m all for virtue. It’s just hard to tell the difference between virtue and policies/attitudes/presentation i prefer. If virtue is a thing, which i do think it is, then it shouldn’t be solely about style or the bastion of just one side.Report

      • I’m in favor of most of the virtues, but I pass on casino gambling.Report

      • Avatar Jesse says:

        The Republican definition on being “good” on Civil Rights is only turning the clock back to 1970 in the South when it comes to civil rights, not 1870.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        “It’s just hard to tell the difference between virtue and policies/attitudes/presentation i prefer.”

        French is talking about things like courage as virtue, things like dishonesty as vice. At least that much isn’t political, can we agree?Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Oh yeah that stuff is fine and good. I’ve just heard to many people use virtue to mean my side or my politics. But there are non-political uses of the word.Report