Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Anomie Factor

Now, Alison Gopnik joins those who have taken Steven Pinker to task for the distortions and confusions in his book Enlightenment Now. However much you want to buy Pinker’s fascination with gauzy ideals like reason and humanity, he is wrong to blame an optimism deficit for the fact that people are not lining up to become atheists. In truth, people have paid a price for progress.

Gopnik places it on the Enlightenment’s account. For my part I prefer to say, as I have long said, that the Industrial Revolution produced the social turmoil and dislocations. Transformations in the way nations produced goods and services, added to advances in transportation and communication broke communities, causing a loss of social capital and a pervasive anomie.

Gopnik does not use the terms. Yet, she grasps the problem in an example. She shows what happens when she, a scientist, tries to encourage young women to enter her field. They all understood that that career path will detach them from home and hearth, from family and community. If I wanted to be churlish I would add that these functioning small town communities barely exist anymore, but I will leave that for another day.

She writes:

The young woman replies, “That sounds fantastic! But there’s just one thing. I love this town. I have a boyfriend who also wants to be a scientist, and I’d like to get married and have a bunch of kids here soon. My parents are looking forward so much to being grandparents, and my own grandparents need me to look after them. My family and friends are all nearby, and I’d like my kids to live in my community and take part in the same traditions I grew up with. Can I do that and be a scientist too?”

She continues:

The honest answer? “If you join us, the chances are very slim that you’ll end up living in your hometown. You’ll move around from place to place unpredictably, from college to graduate school to postdoc research to professorship, until you’re 40 or so. You’ll be separated from your partner for long stretches of time. You’ll have to wait to have kids, and you may not have them at all. If you do, they almost certainly won’t be able to grow up with their grandparents. But there’s always Skype.”

To be more honest, we would note that this scenario has been generated by the advent of contemporary feminism. It assumes that the young woman wants to have a career equal to that of her husband and that she will willingly risking losing domestic harmony and children in order to follow that rainbow.

Gopnik is brutally honest. And it’s well and good that young women hear the price of having a career just like a man. I would have preferred that she identify feminist theory as one of the causes of the pervasive social anomie. 

From there she continues to critique Pinker’s book:

The weakness of the book is that it doesn’t seriously consider the second part of the conversation—the human values that the young woman from the small town talks about. Our local, particular connections to just one specific family, community, place, or tradition can seem irrational. Why stay in one town instead of chasing better opportunities? Why feel compelled to sacrifice your own well-being to care for your profoundly disabled child or fragile, dying grandparent, when you would never do the same for a stranger? And yet, psychologically and philosophically, those attachments are as central to human life as the individualist, rationalist, universalist values of classic Enlightenment utilitarianism. If the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress is really going to be convincing—if it’s going to amount to more than preaching to the choir—it will have to speak to a wider spectrum of listeners, a more inclusive conception of flourishing, a broader palette of values.

One understands that serious intellectuals feel obliged to use awkward locutions like “a more inclusive conception of flourishing,” but Gopnik is really concerned about the social anomie produced by rapid industrialization. I think that she is arguing, correctly, that Enlightenment idealism has failed to provide the moral basis for new forms of community, new ways to solidify community ties.

Where Pinker believes that people are simply blinded by their own pessimism—a theory debunked in other places, and even on this blog—Gopnik suggests that if people feel pessimistic perhaps they are reacting to something that Pinker ignores. Rather than address the problem, Pinker blames a few convenient scapegoats:

But if things are so much better, why do they feel, for so many people, so much worse? Why don’t people experience the progress that Pinker describes? Pinker doesn’t spend much time focusing on this question, and he gets a little tetchy when he does. Skepticism about Enlightenment values, in his view, comes from leftist humanities professors and highbrow-magazine editors who have read too much Nietzsche, or from theocrats on the right.

Pinker recommends that we all identify as members of the human species. Yet, this detaches us from social organizations. Humanity is not a social group. It does not have rules for entry and rules that cause expulsion. Being a member of the human species is a biological fact, but it does not confer group membership:

Pinker’s graphs, and the utilitarian moral views that accompany and underlie them, are explicitly about the welfare of humanity as a whole. But values are rooted in emotion and experience as well as reason, in the local as well as the universal.

What does it mean to belong to a group? Gopnik explains her reasoning:

In most mammals, a “tend and befriend” brain system—which involves the neurotransmitter oxytocin, among others—plays an important role in the bonding between mothers and babies. In humans, with our distinctive capacity for cooperation, this system of attachment has been expanded to apply to a much broader range of relationships, from pair-bonded partners to friends and collaborators.

Of course, to have a community you cannot keep it all in the family. Communities are alliances between families. Moreover, you cannot have a community that interacts with other communities if you see them all as dangerous strangers. The thought, for the record, comes to us from the Book of Leviticus and the Gospels—it’s presented as the injunction to befriend strangers and to love you enemy.

Anyway, Gopnik suggests:

In fact, the economist Robert Frank and the philosopher Kim Sterelny have proposed exactly the opposite view. The feelings that go with attachment—such as love, trust, and loyalty—allow people who have different capacities and clashing short-term interests to cooperate in a way that benefits everyone in the long run. Parents versus children, wives versus husbands, hunters versus gatherers—all of these relationships inevitably involve tension and conflict. Rationality and contractual negotiation alone can’t resolve the differences that arise. If individuals all just pursue their own interests, even in coordination with others, they may end up worse off. But emotions can help. Sterelny argues that attachments act as “commitment mechanisms.” They ensure that partners won’t just walk out of an argument or renege on an agreement when it becomes inconvenient.

In other words, it’s not just about oxytocin and empathy. It’s about rules and precepts, ethical principles, the sort that have been taught by religions. But that do not belong to the notably atheistic Enlightenment.

In the absence of religion we have far more difficulty dealing with the social dislocations caused by the Industrial Revolution. The more detached we feel the more we will be drawn to cults… now called tribes.

In Gopnik's words:

But scientific as well as intuitive evidence suggests that tribalism can be seductive when people feel that their local connections are under threat. At the same time, the Enlightenment emphasis on the autonomous, rational individual can also lead to alienation and isolation, which make tribalist mythology all the more appealing.

Feminists for Sex Segregation

Perhaps you were thinking that it couldn’t get any crazier? You were wrong. On the British side of the pond, transgender activism has provoked a feminist reaction. Transgenderists want to be able to swim in swimming pools that only allow members of one sex. Normally, this has meant, one's biological sex. In our brave new world transgenderists want it to include anyone who has identified as a member of their chosen sex. Evidently, this has seemed to many people to attack one-sex only swimming pools. One can only imagine how Britain's large Muslim population is going to greet this.

Anyway, feminists are now protesting against the transgenderists. They want to bring back sexual segregation.

How are they protesting? Simple: they are declaring themselves to be male identified, are swimming in male-only pools, are changing in male only lockers and are going topless. Since men never wear tops to their swimsuits, ergo.

You can’t make this stuff up?

The Daily Mail has the story:

First transgender activists made a splash when men identifying as female invaded the women-only pond on Hampstead Heath.

Now feminists have hit back by attending a men-only swimming session in protest over proposals that would make it easier for people to change gender.

Amy Desir, 30 – one of two women to gain access to the South London pool last Friday – caused particular consternation by wearing just trunks and a pink swimming cap.

Another woman, who would only give her name as Hannah because she is afraid of reprisals from trans activists, told staff at Dulwich Leisure Centre that they had every right to join the session because they ‘identified as male’.

Both women used the male changing rooms before joining around 20 men in the 25-metre pool. Ms Desir, a mother of two from Luton, said: ‘We are doing it to highlight the ridiculous and dangerous move towards self-identification.

‘We are clearly not men but by saying we are, we were allowed to join in men-only activities.’…

Hannah, 39, a former civil servant, was accompanied by her husband David, 46, an accountant. She said: ‘I’ve never been an activist and I’m incredibly nervous about doing this but the issue prompted me to take action. It is about safety and dignity – people have a right to segregated areas. It is not enough to say I am a man and use male changing rooms or vice versa.’

For our further edification the Daily Mail provides a picture of Amy Desir in her swimsuit— her towel strategically placed to preserve her modesty.

Amy Desir, 30, wore just trunks and a pink swimming cap to attend a men-only swimming session at a south London pool

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Muslim Migrants in Germany

The problem of Muslim refugees in Germany is so bad that it has become impossible to ignore. Or perhaps, now that Angela Merkel has escaped political oblivion, it’s a good time to discuss it.

The New York Times account of the situation in the German city of Essen is compelling, fair and balanced. Naturally, it’s about food, in particular, about feeding the migrant population. After all, the German word Essen means: to eat.

Before looking at the story, I would note, and I would emphasize, that such stories never ask what the migrants are contributing to their host countries. Everyone seems to have accepted that the migrants cannot contribute anything. This makes them parasites, and it explains the chagrin of those German citizens whose labor is paying to feed them. I will not emphasize the fact that the migrants are all Muslim and that news stories always neglect this salient fact. You know this already.

Another part of the problem is that these migrants do not have any manners. It’s bad enough that they are bringing a crime wave to their host countries. As they overwhelm the resources of the local food bank, they do not even know how to queue up. As you know, queuing up is basic, one would say, essential to civilization, especially in places like Great Britain. People who refuse to queue up, to take their turn and to contribute fairly should not expect to be well treated.

The Times reports on the situation:

Jörg Sartor does not like to turn newcomers away from his food bank, especially single mothers like the young Syrian woman with her 5-year-old son who had waited outside since before dawn.

But rules are rules. And for the moment, it is Germans only.

“Come here,” said Mr. Sartor, waving the boy over. Mr. Sartor disappeared into a storage room and re-emerged with a wooden toy. Then the boy and his mother were shown the door, which for the past two weeks has had five letters scrawled across the outside: “Nazis.”

The decision of one food bank in the western city of Essen to stop signing up more foreigners after migrants gradually became the majority of its users has prompted a storm of reaction in Essen, a former coal town in Germany’s rust belt, and across the country. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in: “You shouldn’t categorize people like this.”

But the controversy has highlighted an uncomfortable reality: Three years after Germany welcomed more than a million refugees, much of the burden of integrating the newcomers has fallen on the poorest, whose neighborhoods have changed and who have to compete for subsidized apartments, school places and, in the case of the food bank, a free meal.

Ask any of the Germans lined up outside the former water tower that houses the food bank one recent morning and they will call Mr. Sartor a “people’s hero.”

“He stands up for us,” said Peggy Lohse, 36, a single mother of three.

Until recently, groups of young migrant men had sometimes elbowed their way to the front of the line, Ms. Lohse recalled. She went home empty-handed more than once. Some older women were so intimidated that they stopped coming altogether, she said.

It is hard to imagine that Frau Merkel is still incapable of accepting that she made a gigantic mistake, one that has seriously damaged her country. And yet, it’s true.

Many of the Essen migrants are Syrian. They have affected the character of the city:

Essen, a city of 600,000 people, has seen its Syrian community grow to nearly 11,000 from 1,300 in 2015, said Peter Renzel, who is in charge of social policy at City Hall. Most of them live in the working-class districts of the north.

And also:

The image of a line in which some wait their turn and others unfairly push to the front is a familiar one for Karlheinz Endruschat, a local Social Democrat, who represents the northern district of Altenessen.

Apartments have become scarcer. Schools report that nine out of 10 of their students are non-German. Some German residents feel alienated by the number of newcomers.

“There are times when you walk down the street and you are in the minority,” Mr. Endruschat said.
Until three years ago, roughly one in three food bank users were foreigners, he said. By last November, it was three in four.

For the record, the Social Democrats are the German version of our progressive parties.

Migrants notwithstanding, the German economy is forging ahead. It even has a budget surplus:

The nationwide head of the charity, Jochen Brühl, said the debate currently animating the country was largely missing the point. Germany is Europe’s richest country and has a budget surplus of more than 40 billion euros ($55 billion), he pointed out.

“The whole country is up in arms about this one little food bank in Essen,” he said, “when the real scandal is that in this rich country we have this kind of poverty.”

Apparently, the cure for poverty is government handouts.

America's Colleges and Universities Fall into Disrepute

American institutions of higher learning increasingly function within an ideological bubble. When it comes to the humanities and social sciences they have given up the pretense of teaching students and have embraced a more radical agenda. They want to produce waves of social justice warriors. The junior Red Guards who walked out of school a few days ago are now readying themselves to join the march.

Of course, professors and college presidents are so enthralled with their own great ideas that they pay no attention to how it all looks to the public at large. Increasingly, the public is looking askance at institutions that have lost their mission and have become tools of radical leftist ideologues.

Reputation matters. It matters even for institutions of higher education. As more colleges and universities close and as other schools eliminate majors that students no longer consider to be worth the time and expense, a sea change is under way. Perhaps slowly, but surely.

The Washington Times reports the story and adds some remarks about the way college presidents see their current condition:

Soaring tuition costs, degrees of dubious value and nonstop student activism have combined to bring public confidence in the ivory tower tumbling down.

Even college and university presidents acknowledge that the country is becoming disillusioned with higher education. In a recent survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, 51 percent of institution leaders said the 2016 election “exposed that academe is disconnected from much of American society.”

The erosion of higher education’s brand comes as no surprise to Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson. He said the public’s negative perception of academia reflects the “reality of left-wing bias disconnected from American society.”

“Particularly in the humanities and social sciences, many faculty view political activism and indoctrination as a core part of their academic mission,” said Mr. Jacobson, who runs the Legal Insurrection blog. “While they may have the academic freedom to do so, there is a price to pay for the higher educational system.”

When asked to assess which factors are responsible for the negative view of higher education, 86 percent of college and university presidents cited the perception of liberal bias on campus.

Let us be clear. The problem is not liberal bias. The problem is radical leftist bias. Liberal used to mean open minded, willing to discuss ideas freely. The current wave of campus repression is aimed at shutting down debate and discussion. And in punishing anyone who would dare offering a discordant opinion.

As for the question of preparing students for careers, the college presidents have a point:

Ninety-eight percent of college presidents said concerns about affordability and student debt are factors contributing to higher education’s image problem, and 95 percent pointed to concerns about whether college education adequately prepares students for careers.

As for their point, it ought to be clear that the more these institutions teach the art of protest and the virtue of fighting for social justice, the less their students will be prepared to work in the real world. If a student walks into a job interview with a resume filled with courses in social justice and culture warfare, in ethnic studies and the Marxist fairy tales of the Frankfurt school, any hiring officer will understand immediately that this young person has been so thoroughly deformed, mentally, that he or she will not be capable of showing the requisite loyalty to the company or even to do a creditable job. It's not just ideas that have been drummed out of them. They have also overcome their work ethic. And they certainly do not believe in any jobs that would create wealth. If the job involves redistributing wealth that someone else has earned, they might be on board. After all, it assuages the guilt they feel over their white privilege. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Dumbing America Down

Arthur Brooks is relinquishing his post as president of the American Enterprise Institute. Having led the conservative think tank for ten years he has decided that it’s time to hand over the baton.

To announce his upcoming departure he offered some thoughts on the state of American intellectual life. Obviously, it is bad. It is very bad. We all know, because we see examples of it every day, that far too many American universities have become indoctrination mills, force-feeding students with a single correct opinion, punishing or silencing those who think differently. Increasingly, media outlets have joined the dumbed-down chorus.

Of  course this is tribalism. As Andrew Sullivan pointed out:

One of the great attractions of tribalism is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on. You pick up signals from everyone around you, you slowly winnow your acquaintances to those who will reinforce your worldview, a tribal leader calls the shots, and everything slips into place. After a while, your immersion in tribal loyalty makes the activities of another tribe not just alien but close to incomprehensible. It has been noticed, for example, that primitive tribes can sometimes call their members simply “people” while describing others as some kind of alien. So the word Inuit means people, but a rival indigenous people, the Ojibwe, call them Eskimos, which, according to lore, means “eaters of raw meat.”

Obviously, this refers to those who direct the marketplace of ideas. The worlds of science and technology seem, for now, immune to the lure of tribalism. We face the spectacle of universities and even high schools teaching students how not to think, but how to emote and how to identify as a member of a tribe. Effectively, we saw evidence of it in the student protest marches against guns these last days and weeks.

If there is only one correct opinion, then you need not question or challenge your own. You must accept the tribe’s dogmatic beliefs, unthinkingly.

Brooks expresses it thusly:

… the competition of ideas is under attack. Many would rather shut down debate than participate in it. Politicians from both parties try to discredit their opponents with name-calling and ad hominem attacks. On too many college campuses, people with the “wrong” viewpoints and ideas are unwelcome. Much of the mass media has become polarized, meaning readers and viewers on the right and left are never challenged in their conviction that the other side is made up of knaves and fools.

Part of this stance is pragmatic—no one has ever been insulted into agreement. Further, we need opposing viewpoints to challenge our own. If we’re wrong, the best way to learn it is through challenges from our friends on the other side of the issue.

Why is this awful? If you only care about knowing what you must believe in order to remain a member of  your tribe, you will lose the habit of compromise and the habit of negotiation. If you do not know how to consider different points of view on a political or cultural topic and do not know how to find common ground with an opponent and do not know to engage in the give and take of negotiation, what will you do when you are sitting around with your friends, trying to decide where to go for dinner or which movie to see? 

If you do not know how to negotiate, you will turn any disagreement into open warfare or high drama. We practice negotiation every day in our exchanges and transactions with friend and foe alike. Either you know how to do it or you do not. If you learn in college that you must never compromise or negotiate, you will be ill equipped to conduct any meaningful relationships.

Anyway, our young American intellectuals, having been disembarrassed of their ability to exercise their rational faculties have been ranting and raving about bigotry, all the while defending a bigot like Louis Farrakhan. And let’s not forget the eight year tenure of Jeremiah Wright’s protégé in the White House. Did you notice that throughout the Obama years, any criticism or even questioning of the Savior would cause you to be shunned from polite society? 

The Obama years seriously damaged Democratic debate because any criticism of Obama counted as blasphemy. Today, any praise of Trump similarly counts as blasphemy. If you were wondering why Gary Cohn resigned from the White House, perhaps the tariff policy played a part, but, if I were to speculate, I would suggest that the weight of public opinion in the higher reaches of New York society pressured him out. How did it pressure him: by telling him, his wife, his friends and family that he was colluding with Hitler. After a while, it gets to you.

Brooks makes another salient point, namely that the culture has been so completely flooded with bad ideas that they have driven out good ideas. I had not heard this before and I find it very useful. He compares it to Gresham’s law, whereby bad money drives out good, that is, people are more likely to keep bad money in circulation and to keep good money for themselves:
Another threat to the world of ideas is arguably even more insidious: mediocrity through trivialization, largely from misuse of new media. To understand this, remember Gresham’s law: “Bad money drives out good.” If one form of currency is inherently more valuable than another in circulation, the better one will be hoarded and thus disappear.

Famous academics spend big parts of their days trading insults on Twitter . Respected journalists who suppress their own biases in their formal reporting show no such restraint on social media, hurting their and their organizations’ reputations. When half-baked 280-character opinions and tiny hits of click-fueled dopamine displace one’s hard-earned training and vocation, it’s a lousy trade.

If you add this to the point about tribalism, you arrive at the conclusion that the American mind is being dumbed down.

Brooks suggests that social media competition for clicks contributes massively to this dumbing down. Clickbait must be short, pithy and shocking. It need not be reasoned or even well written. It need but engage your mind... like a train wreck. Perhaps more important, it is never really edited. 

Imagine that in the past, editors selected what was worth reading and what was worth ignoring. The role of these gatekeepers has diminished with the blogosphere and the twitterverse. Thus, the free market in ideas has become something of a free-for-all, where quality does not necessarily rise to the top. If quality involves thoughtful arguments written in pellucid prose, then the new free-for-all market makes it far more difficult to publish, if not to find such work.

Looking for an immediate stimulus, especially one that affirms your belief and that makes you feel like a member of the right tribe, does not correlate with serious thought or good writing.

Of course, it would be wonderful if the custodians of serious thought and good writing were still at working. In large part they are not. Academic intellectuals, like those Brooks refers to, have often been lured into twitter feuds, the better to express their deep feelings. It would be nice to think that these people are our best and brightest, but, given today’s academic world, they are more often been hired for their ideological conformity or to fill a diversity quota. The destitution of the American academy has produced a situation where serious thought has been exiled… to where, we would like to know?

And this impacts the world of the media and publishing. To some extent serious intellectuals are still writing and still being published. And yet, the media requires clickbait and twitter feuds to keep itself alive. Even if leftist media did not want to cover the Trump administration fairly, its readers would simply tune out. Their minds have been so completely taken over by leftist dogma that they will get literally ill if they hear a discouraging word.

And one can only wonder whether the keepers of the media flame are the best and the brightest. In the past, careers in journalism conferred high prestige. Is that any longer the case? How many young intellectuals avoid a career in an industry that seems to be like a sinking ocean liner? How many of those who do join are capable of recognizing serious thought and excellent writing? In part, they judge work by the criteria imposed by identity politics. In larger part, they do not know any better.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Wit and Wisdom of Hillary Clinton

We would all have understood if the girl just needed to get away from it all. Losing her one great chance at the brass ring, and losing to Donald Trump must have taxed her delicate psyche. After all, she made the ultimate sacrifice, she married Bill Clinton. And she stayed married to Bill Clinton. Surely, the American people owed her the presidency.

So, we would have understood if she needed a vacation. We would have been happy to see her touring India with her girlfriend. And yet, Hillary Clinton, being Hillary Clinton, could not keep her foot out of her mouth. And, she could not keep her balance while walking down a flight of stairs. That too is not surprising.

And, she cannot stop complaining about the election. Shouldn’t someone run a tape through her headphones, with the message: What difference at this point does it make?

Anyway, Hillary managed to tell an audience in India that she lost the election because Republican women are tools of the patriarchy. But, why did this make news? True believing feminists have always divided their sex according to ideological commitment. A woman who accepted feminist ideology was thinking for herself. A woman who was not doing so—and worse yet, was voting Republican—was a tool of the patriarchy.

Hillary being Hillary she could not restrain herself from offering her own back-of-the-envelope political analysis. People in diverse and advanced states voted for her. The rubes and the deplorables voted for the Donald. After all, places like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut… states that are in serious decline because of stifling taxation, voted for her. 

Meaning what exactly? True enough, New York City is filled with the very rich and the very poor. No middle ground there. Those who are in high tech or finance are holding up the city. The poor are being pushed out. New York City is a living monument to income inequality.

As is, for that matter, California. It’s the worst state for business, the worst state for taxes, the worst state for qualify of life. It has gross income inequality. Its major cities sport disgusting and dangerous homeless encampments. It is overrun by illegal immigrants who are not contributing to the state’s prosperity.

Better yet, this monument to income inequality and squalor gave Hillary the entirety of her vote advantage. The Trump campaign figured out that it did not matter how many votes they lost by in California. So, they didn’t bother to campaign there. Hillary Clinton ran up the vote and lost the election. It’s enough to restore your faith in God.

To Hillary’s mind, California is the most diverse and dynamic place in the country. In truth, it is seeing a grand exodus of businesses. Most of them are moving to places that voted for Trump. How can Hillary explain that? Don’t hold your breath. Being Hillary means never having to explain anything.

Today, we have it on the authority of the Dallas Business Journal (via Maggie’s Farm) that 9,000 businesses have debarked from California over the past seven years… mostly to Texas.

Here is the story:

Roughly 9,000 California companies moved their headquarters or diverted projects to out-of-state locations in the last seven years, and Dallas-Fort Worth has been a prime beneficiary of the Golden State’s “hostile” business environment.

That’s the conclusion of study by Joseph Vranich, a site selection consultant and president of Irvine, California-based Spectrum Location Solutions.

Of the 9,000 businesses that he estimates disinvested in California, some relocated completely while others kept their headquarters in California but targeted out-of-state locations for expansions, Vranich found. The report did not count instances of companies opening a new out-of-state facility to tap a growing market, an act unrelated to California’s business environment.

As a for instance, take Toyota Motors:

Japanese automaker Toyota, which is consolidating its North American headquarters in Plano over the next couple of years, is one of those companies. The company is leaving Torrance, California, and two other locations to set up shop in Plano, where it will employ 4,000.

It’s typical for companies leaving California to experience operating cost savings of 20 up to 35 percent, Vranich said. He said in an email to the Dallas Business Journal that he considers the results of the seven-year, 378-page study “astonishing.”

“I even wonder if some kind of ‘business migration history’ has been made,” Vranich wrote in his note.

While business is leaving, illegal immigrants are arriving. While the state government makes it increasingly difficult to do business, it does everything it can to retain illegal immigrants. No sanctuary for business. Sanctuary for people who have no business being there.

It’s a Hillary kind of place.

Will You Miss Rex Tillerson?

I don’t know about you, but I will not miss Rex Tillerson. By now the people who have had nothing good to say about him have come out from under their rocks to praise him… and to declare that he did not deserve to be fired by Tweet. Not one of them can resist the chance to spin a story to make Trump look bad.

Of course, we do not really know whether he was fired by Tweet. We can hypothesize that he was given the opportunity to resign and to say that he wanted to spend more time with his family. If he refused the offer, the president would have had no other option but to fire him.

By all appearances, Tillerson proved to be an incompetent manager at the State Department. Worse yet, he was pursuing his own private foreign policy, a policy that was at variance with the administration’s policy.

It is nearly impossible to understand how Tillerson thought he had the authority to do as he pleased in his work with foreign governments, but apparently he did. So much for the notion that Donald Trump is some kind of autocrat. In truth, Trump seems to allow his cabinet appointees some considerable latitude in doing their jobs. He does not allow them to go off on their own, to go rogue.

At the very least, it meant that Tillerson held Trump in contempt and did not feel any need to execute administration policy. That being the case, firing Tillerson via Tweet seems an appropriate gesture.

Tillerson had had a distinguished career as a corporate executive. Plaudits for that. He had had experience dealing with heads of state and had done so successfully. Plaudits for that too. Yet, he did not know very much about foreign policy. It was his downfall. People who do not know very much about a topic become vulnerable to the conventional wisdom. If you know nothing about a topic and want to appear to know a lot about it—otherwise, why would you be Secretary of State—you will most likely absorb the views that count as sophisticated and intelligent. When it came to policy, Tillerson was in way over his head.

Apparently, Tillerson differed with the president on numerous foreign policy issues. Worse yet, he made his disagreements public. He contradicted the president. He conducted policy with foreign governments on the basis of his views, not the president’s views.

Marc Thiessen explains that Tillerson was fired for insubordination. Especially as regards the upcoming negotiations with North Korea. Given the need to have a functioning policy shop behind the president when he negotiates with Kim Jong-un Tillerson had to go. 

He had been on the wrong page on North Korea. And he did not know enough about the issues to be of any use. He was simply mouthing the tired Obama-era views. On that issue a Mike Pompeo will be a significant upgrade. Note clearly, the issue is not merely that Pompeo thinks about these things as Trump does. Pompeo has the depth of understanding of the issues that will make him a true Secretary of State. Naturally, Democrats, accompanied by a recycled grandstanding eye surgeon, will do their best to derail the nomination. After all, they care less about the national interest than about their electoral prospects.

Thiessen offers his thesis:

Tillerson was completely out of step with Trump’s hard-line stance on North Korea, which ultimately brought Kim Jong Un to the bargaining table. Instead, Tillerson’s North Korea strategy seemed to be to beg Pyongyang for talks. Speaking at the Atlantic Council in December, Tillerson delivered this embarrassing plea: “Let’s just meet. And we can talk about the weather if you want. ... But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face? He might as well have added: Pretty please, with sugar on top?”

He adds:

By projecting weakness to Pyongyang, Tillerson was undercutting Trump’s message of strength — and thus making war more likely. The fact that Tillerson could not seem to grasp this or get on the same page as his commander in chief made his continued leadership of the State Department untenable.

As I said, Thiessen's analysis is completely plausible. But then again so is Adam Kredo's in the Washington Free Beacon. By his lights Tillerson went rogue on the Iran nuclear deal. Kredo also adds that Tillerson failed on other aspects of Mideast diplomacy, as in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.

Kredo explains that Tillerson was running around the world trying to save the Iran nuclear deal. Trump had campaigned against it. Nearly all Republicans had declared it to be a disaster. Trump wanted out of it. Tillerson was trying to keep America in it. True, getting out of it is like getting out of a tight parking spot, but still administration policy is administration policy. On Iran, Tillerson went rogue:

The abrupt firing Tuesday of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson follows months of infighting between the State Department and White House over efforts by Tillerson to save the Iran nuclear deal and ignore President Donald Trump's demands that the agreement be fixed or completely scrapped by the United States, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

In the weeks leading up to Tillerson's departure, he had been spearheading efforts to convince European allies to agree to a range of fixes to the nuclear deal that would address Iran's ongoing ballistic missile program and continued nuclear research.

While Trump had prescribed a range of fixes that he viewed as tightening the deal's flaws, Tillerson recently caved to European pressure to walk back these demands and appease Tehran while preserving the deal, according to these sources. The Free Beacon first disclosed this tension last week in a wide-ranging report.

White House allies warned Tillerson's senior staff for weeks that efforts to save the nuclear deal and balk on Trump's key demands regarding the deal could cost Tillerson his job, a warning that became reality Tuesday when Trump fired Tillerson by tweet.

Tillerson had been warned that he was risking his job by pursuing his own private policy. Apparently, he persisted:

Other White House insiders echoed this sentiment, telling the Free Beacon that Tillerson emerged as a roadblock to Trump's foreign policy strategy.

"Tillerson was an establishment figure, like Gary Cohn, and the president seems after a year to be tiring of them," said one source with knowledge of the matter. "He wants people closer to his own views. I think Tillerson's opposition on Jerusalem was a factor: it's not just that he opposed Trump but that he predicted violent reactions that didn't happen."

"I've got to figure that made the president wonder why he needed more such advice," the source said. "Same for the JCPOA and Tillerson's view that getting out of it would be a calamity."

Apparently, Tillerson became enthralled by Obama holdovers in the State Department. He had shown public defiance to the president. And he undoubtedly refused to resign gracefully. Ergo….