The Best Words

“Four score and seven years ago….”

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people…”

“The world must be made safe for democracy.”

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

“The buck stops here.”

“Ask not what you’re country can do for you….”

“Tear down this wall…”

“We are the change that we seek.”

A few words can define a presidency.

Thus, when asked if he took responsibility for America’s inability to test enough of us for COVID-19, the president said:

I don’t take responsibility at all.

In Conclusion: On Corruption

From “The Golden Age of White Collar Crime by Michael Hobbes:

Over the last two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.

And why wouldn’t they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. In January 2019, white-collar prosecutions fell to their lowest level since researchers started tracking them in 1998. Even within the dwindling number of prosecutions, most are cases against low-level con artists and small-fry financial schemes. Since 2015, criminal penalties levied by the Justice Department have fallen from $3.6 billion to roughly $110 million. Illicit profits seized by the Securities and Exchange Commission have reportedly dropped by more than half. In 2018, a year when nearly 19,000 people were sentenced in federal court for drug crimes alone, prosecutors convicted just 37 corporate criminals who worked at firms with more than 50 employees.

Unquote.

But we had a presidential candidate focused on corruption.

From “Elizabeth Warren Was More of a Threat to the Money Power Than Bernie Sanders” by Charles Pierce:

… I’m not going to dwell on the sexism that so regularly cropped up during Elizabeth Warren’s now-suspended presidential campaign. Proud, accomplished women, writing about what happened to this proud and accomplished woman, already have done so thoroughly enough that what little I could add would have to walk a tightrope between repetition and presumption that I am not able to navigate. This one hurts them in ways I can’t even imagine….

Instead, and accepting that sexism and misogyny were marbled throughout everything about the campaign, I think what did her in was her ideas. She committed herself to a campaign specifically to fight political corruption, both the legal and illegal kind. As an adjunct to that, she marshaled her long fight against the power of money in our politics and monopoly in our economy. And, opposed to Bernie Sanders, whose answer to how to wage the fight is always the power of his “movement,” which so far hasn’t been able to break through against Joe Biden, she put out detailed plans on how to do it. That made her much more of a threat to the money power than Sanders, who is easily dismissed as a fringe socialist by the people who buy elections and own the country.

If I were Jeff Bezos, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how monopoly can distort an economy, I’d have been worried. If I were Mark Zuckerberg, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how the concentration of social media perverts our public ideals, I’d have been worried. If I were the folks at Comcast, and I heard Elizabeth Warren talk about how media concentration damages the national dialogue, I’d have been worried. I’d have been worried not simply because a presidential candidate was saying this, but because she was able to make people understand it, and because she was able to show people how she would do it. That would keep me up nights.

There always has been a touch of Cassandra to her career. As she said on Thursday, “Ten years ago, I was teaching a few blocks from here, and talking about what was broken in America and how to fix it, and pretty much nobody wanted to hear it.” Along with several other proud and accomplished women, whose advice was ignored by the likes of Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, Warren sounded the alarm on the mortgage crisis years before it crashed the economy. She was then brought in to help clean up the damage. There’s an obvious life lesson in there that I hope I need not explain. However, if she says something is breaking in the economy, listen to her next time, OK? This was most obvious in the campaign’s most curious episode—how she was “disappeared” from news coverage after finishing third in Iowa. This was the period in which an NBC poll refused to even include her because, basically, the pollster didn’t want to. Amy Klobuchar was included, but Amy Klobuchar wasn’t going around explaining how media monopolies gouge their consumers and marginalize certain issues and the people fighting for them.

However, this is not a country that is ready for what she called … “big, structural change”. This is a country fearful of any kind of change at all, a country longing for a simpler time—which, these days, does not mean the flush 1950s or the pastoral 1850s, but 2015. The election of D— T—- has lodged in so many minds a longing for the status quo ante that there’s no room for intelligent experimentation….

The problem is that the damage done by this administration* is so deep and lasting that the last thing we need to follow this president* is a humble president with a humble agenda. For example, Joe Biden has no desire to break the monopoly power, and Bernie Sanders doesn’t have the first idea how to do it. But it’s still going to be there, distorting the economy and perverting the public discourse, no matter who gets elected in the fall. You might be frightened by the idea of Big, Structural Change but, without it, the deterioration of the republic will continue apace. We have been rendered such a timorous people that even someone as open and lively and welcoming as Elizabeth Warren was considered too much of a risk.

Oh, and she wasn’t “likable” either. Remember? God, what a load of bollocks that is.

As if to prove that Fate is the ultimate troll, this story broke in The New York Times on the morning that Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign.

House Democrats say the bank found an ally in Eric Blankenstein, a political appointee high up in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created to guard against the abuse of mom-and-pop customers. Mr. Blankenstein, an enforcement official at the agency, privately offered reassurances to Wells Fargo’s chief executive at the time that there would be “political oversight” of its enforcement actions, according to a report issued Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee. The report said the agency had promised that the unresolved regulatory matters, such as an inquiry into the bank’s aggressive practice of closing customers’ accounts, would be settled in private, without further fines.

For those of you who may be joining politics late, the CFPB is the agency created by Elizabeth Warren and Wells Fargo is her personal bete noire. (Here she is, telling its CEO that he ought to be clapped in irons.) My guess? She already knows about this bit of news and she’s gearing up—one might even say “planning”—to chew someone out over it. Stay buckled up, America. Senator Professor Warren is not through with you yet.

Unquote.

So Long Twitter and Senator Warren

I’ve closed my Twitter account, because I no longer require up-to-the-minute news and commentary on these subjects (and others): 

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Bernie Sanders
  3. House Democrats
  4. Senate Republicans
  5. The Supreme Court
  6. The Department of Justice
  7. COVID-19
  8. Voter Suppression
  9. Climate Change
  10. D—- Fucking T—- and His Crime Family

Here’s the invaluable Paul Waldman of The Washington Post to sum up:

Is it enough, as a presidential candidate, to have smarts and charisma, to have a clear and concise message, to even be the best debater, and most of all to be the best prepared to do the job effectively?

No, it is not. Which is why so often during this primary campaign, we’ve heard supporters of Elizabeth Warren ask plaintively, “Hey, what if we got behind the person who’d actually be the best president? Why not do that?”

They asked because the number of voters willing to do that was not what it might have been, which is why Warren has announced that she’s ending her bid for the White House.

There is a temptation to say the presidential primary process is brutal and unsparing but ultimately fair. It tests you in the way no other campaign can. If you don’t win, it’s because you didn’t have what it takes. Lots of it may be out of your control, but if you were a once-in-a-generation talent like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, you could have overcome any obstacle cast before you. Nobody deserves the nomination; either you win it or you don’t.

Which is true as far as it goes. But we can’t consider Warren’s candidacy without seeing sexism, both in fact and in perception, for the hindrance it was for her.

To be clear, sexism isn’t the only reason Warren will not be the Democratic nominee. There are many reasons. She had a few stumbles along the way, as every campaign does. There were some decisions she could have made differently.

But her campaign and the particular way it failed tell us a lot about how gender operates in presidential politics.

Let’s consider that Joe Biden is the likeliest candidate to be the Democratic nominee, despite the fact that he has run an absolutely abysmal campaign and is so erratic that sympathetic Democrats regularly tell one another, “I saw Biden give an interview, and he was completely coherent!” as though they were praising a toddler. Biden won a sweeping victory on Super Tuesday even in states where he did not campaign for a single day or have an organization. There has never in my lifetime been a winning presidential campaign that was so weak on so many dimensions.

And yet Biden is cruising toward the nomination. Why?

Because of a collective decision among a significant portion of the Democratic electorate that he is “electable,” i.e., that other people will find him inoffensive enough to vote for. As Michelle Cottle noted, one poll last year asked Democrats who they were supporting, and Biden was in the lead; when they asked who they’d rather see as president if they could wave a magic wand, Warren was in front.

You’ve probably heard that again and again: Voters saying Warren is the one they liked the best, but because they didn’t think she was electable, they were supporting someone else, most often Biden.

That perception didn’t just come of nowhere. Yes, people might be thinking of their sexist uncle or their “traditional” parents, but they also heard it again and again from the media, creating a self-reinforcing loop. Sure, Warren can put policy issues into terms people can understand like no other candidate; sure, she has thought more seriously about the powers of the government than anyone else; sure, her anti-corruption message resonates with all kinds of voters. But she just can’t win.

Then there are all the people who said they didn’t like Warren but couldn’t quite put their finger on why. Maybe it was her voice, or that she seemed too aggressive, or that she wasn’t “authentic” enough. Not because she’s a woman, though! I’d support a woman, I would! Just not her.

Throughout the campaign, Warren tried to find subtle ways to deal with a problem she couldn’t have been more aware of (just as Obama carefully crafted a strategy to deal with voters’ reaction to a black candidate). But nothing seemed to work in the face of the relentless obsession with electability.

Late in the campaign, she reacted to the question of whether sexism was hampering her by noting that just answering the question put her in an inescapable double bind:

“And, you know, there are only two answers and they’re both bad. The first one is, ‘Uh, yeah,’ in which case everybody says, ‘Oh, whiner.’”

“The second is to say, ‘Oh, no,’ in which case, at least every other woman looks at you and thinks, ‘What planet is she living on?’”

Yes, female candidates have been more and more successful at running for all levels of government; this was particularly true in the 2018 midterm elections. But the presidency is different. It’s about authority, and power, and command. And still, in 2020, millions of Americans simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea of a woman in that job.

So unlike Biden or any other male candidate, being better wasn’t good enough. Warren had to be perfect, and of course she wasn’t. As writer Jill Filipovic asked:

How many times, in how many contexts, have we seen a smart, competent, dynamic woman who is so head & shoulders above everyone else in the room get ignored or pushed out? How many times have we wondered – was I that woman?

Think back to Hillary Clinton, who after a lifetime of being bludgeoned and battered by every sexist preconception, trope and backlash, finally got within reach of the ultimate reward and opportunity only to have to face her exact opposite, an utterly unprepared buffoon and raging misogynist who was literally on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And even after getting 3 million more votes than him, she still lost.

Four years later, we had a presidential field full of talented and accomplished women, and surely, so many of us thought, one of them might prevail. Yet they fell, one after another, until only the most talented and accomplished among them was left. And in the end she too was judged inadequate….

Unquote.

The title of Waldman’s column is “Warren’s Wrenching Downfall Says Something Terrible About 2020”.

It’s many of us who were inadequate. Not her.

Unapologetic Aggression Is Required

Hearing that his National Intelligence staff told a Democratic congressman that the Russians are already interfering in the election to help him (because they want him to win) and that they’re helping Bernie Sanders too (because that will divide the Democrats and they don’t think Sanders would win), President Toddler fired the head of his National Intelligence staff and replaced him with an unqualified boob. It’s part of his ongoing purge to remove from the Executive Branch anyone who isn’t loyal to him and the rest of his crime family.  That is part of the Republicans’ ongoing refusal to fight back against Russian interference.

From CNN:

The accounts being described by sources suggest that T—- was more interested in suppressing the information for his own political gain than acting to protect the election. And the drama raises the question of whether his replacement of the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire with a political acolyte, Richard Grenell, this week is an attempt to appoint an ally to ensure such politically damaging information doesn’t get out.

Does this “raise the question” whether T—- is trying to suppress information? There is no question about it! It’s one more reason we need to aggressively fight back before it’s too late.

That brings us to an interesting article in The New Republic called “The Radicalism of Warren’s Unapologetic Aggression”.

Quote:

Mike Bloomberg has proposed to buy American votes with $400 million (and counting) in advertisements. Elizabeth Warren walked onto Wednesday’s debate stage proposing to buy American votes with the body of Mike Bloomberg. It was quality television. It was “Big Dick Energy.” And it could mark the end of an era in American politics.

Four years ago, pundits were blaming Hillary Clinton’s poor early primary showings on her overly cerebral, pragmatic approach. There were many substantive differences between the two candidates, but a surprising amount of criticism focused on Clinton’s detachment, in contrast with Bernie Sanders’s passion and dynamism. [But] female aggression is often perceived as shrill, which has created something of a bind for female candidates: One has to attack one’s opponents at some point. But how can one do that—against a male opponent in particular—without being seen as undesirable to voters (and pundits)?

Warren’s unbridled bellicosity Wednesday night offered an unconventional answer to that question….

As countless post-debate write-ups have already pointed out, it was a return to the “fighter” identity that Massachusetts voted for in 2012. But that’s underselling its novelty.
“Fighter” is by no means an established identity for a woman seeking the highest office in the United States….Not until this week has a female politician at this level been quite so unapologetic about aggression—without offering any of the typical excuses or cover for female emotion in public life.

Acceptable female passion and aggression in American culture is typically cloaked in the language of motherhood. That’s particularly true for presidential and vice-presidential candidates—as though a role that has never been female can only be attained by leaning into an identity that has always been female….

No moms advertised their motherhood in Nevada on Wednesday night. While Amy Klobuchar nodded toward convention by positioning herself as the candidate with “heart,” Warren unsheathed her scimitar, aimed for the trouser break, and proceeded to stack bodies by her lectern like an outdoor cat leaving neighborhood mouse carcasses on progressives’ doormat.

Closing statements are a revealing little exercise, each candidate trying and sometimes failing to boil down their pitch to a single word…. Warren sold herself as a “fighter.” No maternal overtones tempered the identity presented in this final statement. Warren did not describe herself as a “mama grizzly.” She did not mention her children at all. And the “mother” she mentioned was not herself, but her own mother. “I watched my mother fight to save our family. And I grew up fighting to save our family, my family,” she said. “Give me a chance, I’ll go to the White House, and I’ll fight for your family.”

… You could easily miss the bait-and-switch. As a female candidate, you’re supposed to ground any aggression you might have in your motherhood, not the childhood that people of all genders share. But Warren, at the end of the debate, didn’t grin sheepishly and say, “Well, I’m a mom after all.” She claimed her kills, and promised American families to go out and fell fresh targets in their name. Here was an assassin, bathed in the blood of her enemies, turning steady eyes to the TV camera and offering her talents to the public: For the small price of a primary vote, this assassin will work for you.

It was a sales pitch unlike any ever attempted by a woman running for president in America. If voters buy it, our political conventions could break wide open.

Unquote.

This Matters, Although It’s Not the Only Thing

From Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

“Wednesday’s Democratic debate was far more informative than previous debates. What we learned, in particular, was that as a presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg is a great businessman — and that Elizabeth Warren remains a force to be reckoned with.

Both lessons ran very much counter to the narrative that the news media has been telling in recent weeks. On one side, there has been a palpable eagerness on the part of some news organizations and many pundits to elevate Bloomberg; on the other side, complaints by Warren supporters about her “erasure” from news coverage and polling aren’t wrong.

What does all this mean for the nomination? I have no idea. But maybe the Warren-Bloomberg confrontation will help refocus discussion away from so-called Medicare for all — which isn’t going to be enacted, no matter who wins — to an issue where it matters a lot which Democrat prevails. Namely, are we going to do anything to rein in the financialization of the U.S. economy?

During the U.S. economy’s greatest generation — the era of rapid, broadly shared growth that followed World War II — Wall Street was a fairly peripheral part of the picture. When people thought about business leaders, they thought about people running companies that actually made things, not people who got rich through wheeling and dealing.

But that all changed in the 1980s, largely thanks to financial deregulation. Suddenly the big bucks came from buying and selling companies as opposed to running them.

In many cases, these financial deals saddled companies with crippling levels of debt, often ending in bankruptcy and job destruction — a process that continues to this day. There was also an epidemic of financial fraud and racketeering, exemplified by the career of Michael Milken, the junk-bond king Donald Trump just pardoned.

And the financial sector itself doubled as a share of the economy, which meant that it was pulling lots of capital and many smart people away from productive activities.

For there is no evidence that Wall Street’s mega-expansion made the rest of the economy more efficient. On the contrary, growth in family incomes slowed down as finance rose — although a few people became immensely rich. And the runaway growth of finance set the stage for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

It also made Michael Bloomberg a billionaire.

Now, I wasn’t being sarcastic in calling Bloomberg a great businessman. He is. And to his credit, he himself hasn’t, as far as I know, engaged in destructive financial wheeling and dealing. Instead, he got rich by selling equipment to destructive wheeler-dealers.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to the famous Bloomberg Terminal, a proprietary computer system that gives subscribers real-time access to large quantities of financial data. This access is incredibly expensive — a subscription costs around $24,000 a year. But it’s a must-have in the financial industry, because traders with Bloomberg Terminals can react to market events a few minutes faster than those without.

It’s an extremely profitable business. But is it good for the economy? No.

After all, does getting financial information a few minutes earlier do anything significant to improve real-world business decisions that affect jobs and productivity? Surely not. Bloomberg has, in effect, made his billions off a financial arms race that costs vast sums but leaves everyone pretty much back where they started.

Which brings me to Elizabeth Warren.

Warren stumbled badly, making herself a long shot for the nomination, by trying to appease supporters of Bernie Sanders. She endorsed proposals for radical health care reform that have almost no chance of becoming reality, and she was raked over the coals about paying for those proposals even though Sanders himself has offered few clues about his own plans.

But before all that, Warren had made a name for herself as a crusader against financial industry fraud and excess.

It wasn’t just talk. One key piece of the reforms instituted after the 2008 financial crisis, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was Warren’s brainchild. Furthermore, by all accounts the bureau was wildly successful, saving ordinary families billions, until the Trump administration set about eviscerating it.

And here’s the thing: Financial reform, unlike health care, is an area in which it might make a big difference which Democrat becomes president. It’s true that other candidates — including Bloomberg! — have endorsed Warren-type reforms. But it is, I think, fair to ask how committed they would be in practice, and also whether they would squander their political capital on unwinnable fights, which is my big concern about Sanders.

Again, aside from the clear damage to Bloomberg, I have no idea how or if Wednesday’s debate will affect the Democratic race. But it may have helped remind Democrats that corruption, fraud and the excesses of Wall Street in particular can be potent political issues — especially against a president who is both personally corrupt and so obviously a friend to fraudsters.”

Unquote.

The title of Professor Krugman’s column is “Warren, Bloomberg and What Really Matters”. I’m sure he’d agree that issues like climate change and poverty really matter too, but he makes an excellent point that relates to Warren’s fundamental message: we will only make progress on things that really matter if we make our democracy stronger and address the corruption in Washington.

Those were the goals of the first bill the House Democrats passed in 2019, H. R. 1, a bill “to expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics and strengthen ethics rules for public servants”. They are also the goals at the top of the list of plans on Warren’s site: “End Washington corruption and fix our democracy”.

Little will get done unless we fix and enforce the rules. After we elect enough people who want to.

Donald the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) was a very bad person. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when a review (behind a paywall) of a new biography reminded me of another cruel, mentally ill ruler whose behavior is often rationalized by people who should know better (such as reporters for The New York Times):

Ivan complains that as a boy he was treated as a sovereign only on ceremonial occasions, but that otherwise there was no “element of servility to be found” in those looking after him. “How can I enumerate such countless sore sufferings as I put up with in my youth?” he asks….. “Many a time did I eat late, not in accordance with my will.” Even when he was old enough to understand, others presumed to instruct him. “And so neither in external [state] affairs, nor in internal [personal] affairs, nor in the smallest and pettiest things (and [I refer to such things as] footwear and sleeping)—was anything according to my will…while we remained, as it were, a child.” Ivan also complains that [Prince Andrei Kurbsky] once hurt his feelings by giving presents to a nobleman’s daughters while forgetting to give any to Ivan’s. The childhood hurt, and the child’s whining response, can still be heard in the thirty-four-year-old ruler….

Around 1560 he began seizing property and ordering executions….[He demanded] that he receive a free hand to punish anyone in any way he chose without delay, legal process, the traditional consent of the boyars [aristocrats], or the clergy’s right of intercession on behalf of the accused. As he later explained … although he had always felt he should be “free to reward and punish,” he had to follow judicial procedures and endure the clergy’s interference. That was all very well for lesser rulers, like Elizabeth I, whose power was limited, or the Holy Roman Emperor, who was elected, but Ivan found it infuriating that his power, while absolute in theory, was not unlimited in practice. He insisted not on the power to do anything specific but on the absolute freedom to exert his untrammeled will….

Ivan’s oprichniki—a terrifying army … —dressed in black and wore a uniform featuring a dog’s head and a broom, to show they would sniff out treason and sweep it away…. noble ladies were forced to give birth in the snow, and “any peasant who attempted to assist them on the way was promptly executed.” The dead were left unburied, a special horror at a time when Christian burial was supremely important.

…. there followed “a veritable orgy of arrests and killings, in which it is difficult to detect a specific policy.” Historians have struggled to find a rationale for Ivan’s [behavior]. If his goal was to plunder in order to finance his war on Livonia, as some have suggested, then why the wanton destruction of taxable assets? Why the indiscriminate killing of servitors when soldiers were needed? Some have argued that Ivan’s actions resemble those taken by contemporaneous Western rulers consolidating central power, and that his repression of the boyars was “progressive.” But no Western ruler ever thought of dividing his realm in half so that one part could prey on the other….

…. historians seem to have combed the evidence for support for their belief that Ivan must have acted in a rational way: “Hence theories had to be devised, according to the intellectual fashions current at the time, which made it possible to interpret events as having been planned with a view to well defined and positive outcomes.” In the twentieth century, that meant describing a struggle with the tsar and lower-ranking gentry on one side and the “reactionary” upper nobility on the other. When explanatory fashion shifts, some other narrative will doubtless be found to explain what happened.

Russians were especially shocked that along with massacring the elite, Ivan executed their families and followers. For the first time in Russia, it became common to kill a condemned man’s wife and small children—as well as his peasants—and to devise imaginative forms of torture…. Entire families were summarily killed, some by Ivan himself. “Even the wives of the peasants were stripped naked and driven ‘like beasts’ into the forests, where they were cut to pieces…

The oprichniki were free to do anything they liked. Courts were instructed to find them not guilty of any charges. Pillage, rape, and seizure of property were the obvious consequences….

Heinrich von Staden, a repulsive foreign adventurer who joined the oprichniki, describes in his memoir one of his plundering expeditions. Staden explains matter-of-factly that “if a prisoner did not want to respond nicely” by revealing the location of his wealth, men “held him and tortured him until he told.” Running up some stairs during a raid, Staden was “met by a princess who wanted to throw herself at my feet. Seeing my angry face, she turned to go back into the room. I struck her in the back with the axe and she fell through the doorway.” He boasts that he set off on Ivan’s expedition against Novgorod in 1570 sharing a horse with two other men but returned with forty-nine horses and twenty-two wagonloads of goods.

The attack on Novgorod began by devastating towns on the way. Ivan’s men sacked Tver for five days. Arriving in Novgorod, Ivan piously attended the Epiphany service before resuming the mayhem. Humiliation was a crucial part of his repertoire: he married Archbishop Pimen to a mare and drove him out of town seated backward on the animal. Then Ivan conducted treason hearings. The population of Novgorod, the realm’s second-largest city, was about 30,000; Ivan’s hearings led to the executions of some 2,200 people, but that number includes neither the oprichniki’s own victims nor deaths from starvation and freezing occasioned by the destruction.

Worse soon followed. On July 25, 1570, Ivan began his executions on Moscow’s Pagan Square. He appeared, armed and dressed in black, as the public looked on at huge stakes in the ground and cauldrons of cold and boiling water that had been set up in the plaza. Three hundred people crawled forward on broken limbs to hear their fate. Ivan pardoned 184. The rest suffered the tortures of the damned…. Nothing of this kind had ever happened in Russia. As a display of Ivan’s arbitrary will and his ability to do anything imaginable, nothing better could have been devised.

Much as Stalin concluded the Terror of 1936–1938 by purging the purgers, Ivan next turned on the leading oprichniki. Then, in 1572, he abolished the oprichnina—indeed, he forbade anyone ever to use the word. Again, no one knows why. He sprang his next surprise three years later by pretending to abdicate in favor of a baptized Tatar, Semyon Bekbulatovich. Needless to say, Ivan kept the treasury and all real power in his hands, but his humble, self-denigrating, and obviously insincere petitions to the ostensible new ruler have come down to us. Even historians ingenious enough to discover a rationale for the oprichnina have admitted defeat in accounting for this episode….

Perhaps historians have failed to understand Ivan’s purposes because they look for a certain kind of purpose, like creating a centralized state, building a modern economy, or some other recognizable political objective. Any other purpose, even if Ivan stated it explicitly, would not look like a purpose at all…. Ivan writes [to Kurbsky], “You began still more to revolt against me…and I therefore began to stand up against you still more harshly. I wanted to subdue you to my will”—volya, a word that … can denote “total freedom to pursue one’s arbitrary will …” Could it be that Ivan’s main purpose was simply the ability to exercise his will without restraint? That would explain why he demanded not specific reforms but the right to act outside all law and tradition. If his actions seem arbitrary, it may be because arbitrariness was his primary goal.

Stalin, too, used arbitrary terror, with people arrested by quota, and achieved the ability to do anything he liked. But, unlike Ivan, he did so to accomplish ideologically driven goals. Ivan wanted unlimited power for its own sake, perhaps, so that he would never again experience anything like his childhood frustration of will—regardless of whether the object of his will was a pair of shoes or the suffering of another person. If so, the best preparation for understanding him may be Crime and PunishmentThe Brothers Karamazov, and Dostoevsky’s other great explorations of the state of mind in which “all is permitted.” Several Dostoevsky characters strive to become what Ivan Karamazov calls “the man-god,” a being whose will encounters absolutely no restraint: “There is no law for God. Where God stands the place is holy.” That was the condition to which Ivan the Terrible aspired, not to realize any specific goal but as the supreme goal in itself.

What He Does and Doesn’t Have Going For Him

People who write headlines often do a crappy job. Here’s an example from The New York Times:

Even if presidents have less sway over the economy than is widely assumed, perception can be important.

The headline implies that the economy is just about perfect. It’s not. As Steven Rattner points out:

T—- promised growth of “4, 5, 6 percent”, a tax cut that would raise workers’ wages significantly [and pay for itself!] and new trade policies that would again make the United States a manufacturing powerhouse. None of those things has happened….

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut explains the situation:

One of T—-‘s favorite tactics is taking credit for Obama’s economy. Democrats need to stop letting him get away with it. A quick thread debunking some of his favorite lies:

Job Creation:

Obama created 227K jobs a month in his last three years in office. In T—-‘s first three years, it’s only been 191K per month.

Job creation numbers were 20% higher under Obama during that three-year span.

Deficits:

T—- DOUBLED the budget deficit, creating over $3 trillion in new debt.

Where did all this money go? Mostly to tax cuts for corporations and rich people. But instead of boosting the economy, business investment has actually fallen since the tax law passed.

Wages

Real wages aka what you can buy for the amount of money you take home, are actually doing worse under T—-.

They increased just 0.8% since T—- took office, compared with 1.3 percent over a similar period under Obama.

Trade War

Trump’s self-inflicted trade war contributed to outright job declines last year in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Indiana and New York.

Overall, the trade war with China cost America 450,000 jobs in 2019.

Obama inherited the worst financial crisis since the great depression and pulled America out of it.

T—- was handed a healthy economy and has made things harder for working families while juicing corporate profits.

Don’t let his lies try to tell you otherwise.

Paul Krugman provides needed context:

[It’s] worth talking about why the economy is growing. The answer is, it’s the deficit, stupid.

T—-‘s deficitpalooza is giving the economy as much stimulus now as it was getting in 2012, when the unemployment rate was 8%. Imagine what Obama’s economy would have looked like if [Republicans] and Very Serious People had let him run deficits that big.

And of course imagine if we were using that money to build infrastructure and help children, not give corporations more money to buy back their own stock.

[In 2009] some of us were tearing our hair out over the fact that the stimulus was obviously too small. But Obama and his inner circle insisted that it was inconceivable to [get around the filibuster by using] reconciliation to enact something bigger, because norms or something.

In the end Obama [and other Democrats] paid a heavy political price because recovery was too slow, thanks to inadequate stimulus; T—- is getting a dividend because nobody, including the bond market, actually cares about budget deficits. So many bad things have followed from Obama’s caution back then. The course of history could have been very different.

… Republicans hobbled the Obama economy in the name of fiscal responsibility, which they abandoned as soon as T—- came in. But how big a deal was that?

Absent [Republican] sabotage, we would have been down to 4% unemployment in 2014. Think how different everything would look if we’d done that.

Finally, a few words from Nancy Pelosi:

Under Obama…

  • Unemployment dropped from 10% to 5%
  • Stock market went from 6,000 to 18,000
  • Deficit was reduced by a trillion dollars
  • The US gained more than 14 million private sector jobs.

[T—-] did not inherit “a mess”, he inherited a momentum.