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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Ayn Rand
Posted: January 25, 2017 at 6:10 am
You can find iterations of this worldview and this moral judgment everywhere on the right. Consider a few samples of the rhetoric. In an op-ed piece last spring, Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, called for conservatives to wage a “culture war” over capitalism. “Social Democrats are working to create a society where the majority are net recipients of the sharing economy,'” he wrote. “Advocates of free enterprise … have to declare that it is a moral issue to confiscate more income from the minority simply because the government can.” Brooks identified the constituency for his beliefs as “the people who were doing the important things right–and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.” Senator Jim DeMintechoed this analysis when he lamented that “there are two Americas but not the kind John Edwards was talking about. It’s not so much the haves and the have-nots. It’s those who are paying for government and those who are getting government.”
Pat Toomey, the former president of the Club for Growth and a Republican candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania, has recently expressed an allegorical version of this idea, in the form of an altered version of the tale of the Little Red Hen. In Toomey’s rendering, the hen tries to persuade the other animals to help her plant some wheat seeds, and then reap the wheat, and then bake it into bread. The animals refuse each time. But when the bread is done, they demand a share. The government seizes the bread from the hen and distributes it to the “not productive” fellow animals. After that, the hen stops baking bread.
This view of society and social justice appeared also in the bitter commentary on the economic crisis offered up by various Wall Street types, and recorded by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine last April. One hedge-fund analyst thundered that “the government wants me to be a slave!” Another fantasized, “JP Morgan and all these guys should go on strike–see what happens to the country without Wall Street.” And the most attention-getting manifestation of this line of thought certainly belonged to the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli, whose rant against government intervention transformed him into a cult hero. In a burst of angry verbiage, Santelli exclaimed: “Why don’t you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages, or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water!”
Most recently the worldview that I am describing has colored much of the conservative outrage at the prospect of health care reform, which some have called a “redistribution of health” from those wise enough to have secured health insurance to those who have not. “President Obama says he will cover thirty to forty to fifty million people who are not covered now–without it costing any money,” fumed Rudolph Giuliani. “They will have to cut other services, cut programs. They will have to be making decisions about people who are elderly.” At a health care town hall in Kokomo, Indiana, one protester framed the case against health care reform positively, as an open defense of the virtues of selfishness. “I’m responsible for myself and I’m not responsible for other people,” he explained in his turn at the microphone, to applause. “I should get the fruits of my labor and I shouldn’t have to divvy it up with other people.” (The speaker turned out to be unemployed, but still determined to keep for himself the fruits of his currently non-existent labors.)
In these disparate comments we can see the outlines of a coherent view of society. It expresses its opposition to redistribution not in practical terms–that taking from the rich harms the economy–but in moral absolutes, that taking from the rich is wrong. It likewise glorifies selfishness as a virtue. It denies any basis, other than raw force, for using government to reduce economic inequality. It holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure, and thus concludes that when government helps the disadvantaged, it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth. And it indulges the hopeful prospect that the rich will revolt against their ill treatment by going on strike, simultaneously punishing the inferiors who have exploited them while teaching them the folly of their ways.
There is another way to describe this conservative idea. It is the ideology of Ayn Rand. Some, though not all, of the conservatives protesting against redistribution and conferring the highest moral prestige upon material success explicitly identify themselves as acolytes of Rand. (As Santelli later explained, “I know this may not sound very humanitarian, but at the end of the day I’m an Ayn Rand-er.”) Rand is everywhere in this right-wing mood. Her novels are enjoying a huge boost in sales. Popular conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have touted her vision as a prophetic analysis of the present crisis. “Many of us who know Rand’s work,” wrote Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal last January, “have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that Atlas Shrugged parodied in 1957.”
Christopher Hayes of The Nation recently recalled one of his first days in high school, when he met a tall, geeky kid named Phil Kerpen, who asked him, “Have you ever read Ayn Rand?” Kerpen is now the director of policy for the conservative lobby Americans for Prosperity and an occasional right-wing talking head on cable television. He represents a now-familiar type. The young, especially young men, thrill to Rand’s black-and-white ethics and her veneration of the alienated outsider, shunned by a world that does not understand his gifts. (It is one of the ironies, and the attractions, of Rand’s capitalists that they are depicted as heroes of alienation.) Her novels tend to strike their readers with the power of revelation, and they are read less like fiction and more like self-help literature, like spiritual guidance. Again and again, readers would write Rand to tell her that their encounter with her work felt like having their eyes open for the first time in their lives. “For over half a century,” writes Jennifer Burns in her new biography of this strange and rather sinister figure, “Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right.”
The likes of Gale Norton, George Gilder, Charles Murray, and many others have cited Rand as an influence. Rand acolytes such as Alan Greenspan and Martin Anderson have held important positions in Republican politics. “What she did–through long discussions and lots of arguments into the night–was to make me think why capitalism is not only efficient and practical, but also moral,” attested Greenspan. In 1987, The New York Times called Rand the “novelist laureate” of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary, C. William Verity Jr., kept a passage from Atlas Shrugged on his desk, including the line “How well you do your work … [is] the only measure of human value.”
Today numerous CEOs swear by Rand. One of them is John Allison, the outspoken head of BB&T, who has made large grants to several universities contingent upon their making Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading for their students. In 1991, the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club polled readers on what book had influenced them the most. Atlas Shrugged finished second, behind only the Bible. There is now talk of filming the book again, possibly as a miniseries, possibly with Charlize Theron. Rand’s books still sell more than half a million copies a year. Her ideas have swirled below the surface of conservative thought for half a century, but now the particulars of our moment–the economic predicament, the Democratic control of government–have drawn them suddenly to the foreground.
Rand’s early life mirrored the experience of her most devoted readers. A bright but socially awkward woman, she harbored the suspicion early on that her intellectual gifts caused classmates to shun her. She was born Alissa Rosenbaum in 1905 in St. Petersburg. Her Russian-Jewish family faced severe state discrimination, first for being Jewish under the czars, and then for being wealthy merchants under the Bolsheviks, who stole her family’s home and business for the alleged benefit of the people.
Anne C. Heller, in her skillful life of Rand, traces the roots of Rand’s philosophy to an even earlier age. (Heller paints a more detailed and engaging portrait of Rand’s interior life, while Burns more thoroughly analyzes her ideas.) Around the age of five, Alissa Rosenbaum’s mother instructed her to put away some of her toys for a year. She offered up her favorite possessions, thinking of the joy that she would feel when she got them back after a long wait. When the year had passed, she asked her mother for the toys, only to be told she had given them away to an orphanage. Heller remarks that “this may have been Rand’s first encounter with injustice masquerading as what she would later acidly call altruism.” (The anti-government activist Grover Norquist has told a similar story from childhood, in which his father would steal bites of his ice cream cone, labelling each bite “sales tax” or “income tax.” The psychological link between a certain form of childhood deprivation and extreme libertarianism awaits serious study.)
Rosenbaum dreamed of fame as a novelist and a scriptwriter, and fled to the United States in 1926, at the age of twenty-one. There she adopted her new name, for reasons that remain unclear. Rand found relatives to support her temporarily in Chicago, before making her way to Hollywood. Her timing was perfect: the industry was booming, and she happened to have a chance encounter with the director Cecil B. DeMille–who, amazingly, gave a script-reading job to the young immigrant who had not yet quite mastered the English language. Rand used her perch as a launching pad for a career as a writer for the stage and the screen.
Rands political philosophy remained amorphous in her early years. Aside from a revulsion at communism, her primary influence was Nietzsche, whose exaltation of the superior individual spoke to her personally. She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people”; and she meant this as praise. Her political worldview began to crystallize during the New Deal, which she immediately interpreted as a straight imitation of Bolshevism. Rand threw herself into advocacy for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, and after Wilkies defeat she bitterly predicted “a Totalitarian America, a world of slavery, of starvation, of concentration camps and of firing squads.” Her campaign work brought her into closer contact with conservative intellectuals and pro-business organizations, and helped to refine her generalized anti-communist and crudely Nietzschean worldview into a moral defense of the individual will and unrestrained capitalism.
Rand expressed her philosophy primarily through two massive novels: The Fountainhead, which appeared in 1943, and Atlas Shrugged, which appeared in 1957. Both tomes, each a runaway best-seller, portrayed the struggle of a brilliant and ferociously individualistic man punished for his virtues by the weak-minded masses. It was Atlas Shrugged that Rand deemed the apogee of her lifes work and the definitive statement of her philosophy. She believed that the principle of trade governed all human relationships–that in a free market one earned money only by creating value for others. Hence, ones value to society could be measured by his income. History largely consisted of “looters and moochers” stealing from societys productive elements.
In essence, Rand advocated an inverted Marxism. In the Marxist analysis, workers produce all value, and capitalists merely leech off their labor. Rand posited the opposite. In Atlas Shrugged, her hero, John Galt, leads a capitalist strike, in which the brilliant business leaders who drive all progress decide that they will no longer tolerate the parasitic workers exploiting their talent, and so they withdraw from society to create their own capitalistic paradise free of the ungrateful, incompetent masses. Galt articulates Rands philosophy:
The bifurcated class analysis did not end the similarities between Rands worldview and Marxism. Rands Russian youth imprinted upon her a belief in the polemical influence of fiction. She once wrote to a friend that “its time we realize–as the Reds do–that spreading our ideas in the form of fiction is a great weapon, because it arouses the public to an emotional, as well as intellectual response to our cause.” She worked both to propagate her own views and to eliminate opposing views. In 1947 she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee, arguing that the film Song of Russia, a paean to the Soviet Union made in 1944, represented communist propaganda rather than propaganda for World War II, which is what it really supported. (Rand, like most rightists of her day, opposed American entry into the war.)
In 1950, Rand wrote the influential Screen Guide for Americans, the Motion Picture Alliances industry guidebook for avoiding subtle communist influence in its films. The directives, which neatly summarize Rands worldview, included such categories as “Dont Smear The Free Enterprise System,” “Dont Smear Industrialists” (“it is they who created the opportunities for achieving the unprecedented material wealth of the industrial age”), “Dont Smear Wealth,” and “Dont Deify The Common Man” (“if anyone is classified as common–he can be called common only in regard to his personal qualities. It then means that he has no outstanding abilities, no outstanding virtues, no outstanding intelligence. Is that an object of glorification?”). Like her old idol Nietzsche, she denounced a transvaluation of values according to which the strong had been made weak and the weak were praised as the strong.
Rands hotly pro-capitalist novels oddly mirrored the Socialist Realist style, with two-dimensional characters serving as ideological props. Burns notes some of the horrifying implications of Atlas Shrugged. “In one scene,” she reports, “[Rand] describes in careful detail the characteristics of passengers doomed to perish in a violent railroad clash, making it clear their deaths are warranted by their ideological errors.” The subculture that formed around her–a cult of the personality if ever there was one–likewise came to resemble a Soviet state in miniature. Beginning with the publication of The Fountainhead, Rand began to attract worshipful followers. She cultivated these (mostly) young people interested in her work, and as her fame grew she spent less time engaged in any way with the outside world, and increasingly surrounded herself with her acolytes, who communicated in concepts and terms that the outside world could not comprehend.
Rand called her doctrine “Objectivism,” and it eventually expanded well beyond politics and economics to psychology, culture, science (she considered the entire field of physics “corrupt”), and sundry other fields. Objectivism was premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavors. Emotion and taste had no place. When Rand condemned a piece of literature, art, or music (she favored Romantic Russian melodies from her youth and detested Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms), her followers adopted the judgment. Since Rand disliked facial hair, her admirers went clean-shaven. When she bought a new dining room table, several of them rushed to find the same model for themselves.
Rands most important acolyte was Nathan Blumenthal, who first met her as a student infatuated with The Fountainhead. Blumenthal was born in Canada in 1930. In 1949 he wrote to Rand, and began to visit her extensively, and fell under her spell. He eventually changed his name to Nathaniel Branden, signifying in the ancient manner of all converts that he had repudiated his old self and was reborn in the image of Rand, from whom he adapted his new surname. She designated Branden as her intellectual heir.
She allowed him to run the Nathaniel Branden Institute, a small society dedicated to promoting Objectivism through lectures, therapy sessions, and social activities. The courses, he later wrote, began with the premises that “Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived” and “Atlas Shrugged is the greatest human achievement in the history of the world.” Rand also presided over a more select circle of followers in meetings every Saturday night, invitations to which were highly coveted among the Objectivist faithful. These meetings themselves were frequently ruthless cult-like exercises, with Rand singling out members one at a time for various personality failings, subjecting them to therapy by herself or Branden, or expelling them from the charmed circle altogether.
So strong was the organizations hold on its members that even those completely excommunicated often maintained their faith. In 1967, for example, the journalist Edith Efron was, in Hellers account, “tried in absentia and purged, for gossiping, or lying, or refusing to lie, or flirting; surviving witnesses couldnt agree on exactly what she did.” Upon her expulsion, Efron wrote to Rand that “I fully and profoundly agree with the moral judgment you have made of me, and with the action you have taken to end social relations.” One of the Institutes therapists counseled Efrons eighteen-year-old son, also an Objectivist, to cut all ties with his mother, and made him feel unwelcome in the group when he refused to do so. (Efrons brother, another Objectivist, did temporarily disown her.)
Sex and romance loomed unusually large in Rands worldview. Objectivism taught that intellectual parity is the sole legitimate basis for romantic or sexual attraction. Coincidentally enough, this doctrine cleared the way for Rand–a woman possessed of looks that could be charitably described as unusual, along with abysmal personal hygiene and grooming habits–to seduce young men in her orbit. Rand not only persuaded Branden, who was twenty-five years her junior, to undertake a long-term sexual relationship with her, she also persuaded both her husband and Brandens wife to consent to this arrangement. (They had no rational basis on which to object, she argued.) But she prudently instructed them to keep the affair secret from the other members of the Objectivist inner circle.
At some point, inevitably, the arrangement began to go very badly. Brandens wife began to break down–Rand diagnosed her with “emotionalism,” never imagining that her sexual adventures might have contributed to the young womans distraught state. Branden himself found the affair ever more burdensome and grew emotionally and sexually withdrawn from Rand. At one point Branden suggested to Rand that a second affair with another woman closer to his age might revive his lust. Alas, Rand–whose intellectual adjudications once again eerily tracked her self-interest–determined that doing so would “destroy his mind.” He would have to remain with her. Eventually Branden confessed to Rand that he could no longer muster any sexual attraction for her, and later that he actually had undertaken an affair with another woman despite Rands denying him permission. After raging at Branden, Rand excommunicated him fully. The two agreed not to divulge their affair. Branden told his followers only that he had “betrayed the principles of Objectivism” in an “unforgiveable” manner and renounced his role within the organization.
Rands inner circle turned quickly and viciously on their former superior. Alan Greenspan, a cherished Rand confidant, signed a letter eschewing any future contact with Branden or his wife. Objectivist students were forced to sign loyalty oaths, which included the promise never to contact Branden, or to buy his forthcoming book or any future books that he might write. Rands loyalists expelled those who refused these orders, and also expelled anyone who complained about the tactics used against dissidents. Some of the expelled students, desperate to retain their lifeline to their guru, used pseudonyms to re-enroll in the courses or re-subscribe to her newsletter. But many just drifted away, and over time the Rand cult dwindled to a hardened few.
Ultimately the Objectivist movement failed for the same reason that communism failed: it tried to make its people live by the dictates of a totalizing ideology that failed to honor the realities of human existence. Rands movement devolved into a corrupt and cruel parody of itself. She herself never won sustained personal influence within mainstream conservatism or the Republican Party. Her ideological purity and her unstable personality prevented her from forming lasting coalitions with anybody who disagreed with any element of her catechism.
Moreover, her fierce attacks on religion–she derided Christianity, again in a Nietzschean manner, as a religion celebrating victimhood–made her politically radioactive on the right. The Goldwater campaign in 1964 echoed distinctly Randian themes–“profits,” the candidate proclaimed, “are the surest sign of responsible behavior”–but he ignored Rands overtures to serve as his intellectual guru. He was troubled by her atheism. In an essay in National Review ten years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, M. Stanton Evans summarized the conservative view on Rand. She “has an excellent grasp of the way capitalism is supposed to work, the efficiencies of free enterprise, the central role of private property and the profit motive, the social and political costs of welfare schemes which seek to compel a false benevolence,” he wrote, but unfortunately she rejects “the Christian culture which has given birth to all our freedoms.”
The idiosyncracies of Objectivism never extended beyond the Rand cult, though it was a large cult with influential members–and yet her central contribution to right-wing thought has retained enormous influence. That contribution was to express the opposition to economic redistribution in moral terms, as a moral depravity. A long and deep strand of classical liberal thought, stretching back to Locke, placed the individual in sole possession of his own economic destiny. The political scientist C.B. MacPherson called this idea “possessive individualism,” or “making the individual the sole proprietor of his own person and capacities, owing nothing to society for them.” The theory of possessive individualism came under attack in the Marxist tradition, but until the era of the New Deal it was generally accepted as a more or less accurate depiction of the actual social and economic order. But beginning in the mid-1930s, and continuing into the postwar years, American society saw widespread transfers of wealth from the rich to the poor and the middle class. In this context, the theory of possessive individualism could easily evolve into a complaint against the exploitation of the rich. Rand pioneered this leap of logic–the ideological pity of the rich for the oppression that they suffer as a class.
There was more to Rands appeal. In the wake of a depression that undermined the prestige of business, and then a postwar economy that was characterized by the impersonal corporation, her revival of the capitalist as a romantic hero, even a superhuman figure, naturally flattered the business elite. Here was a woman saying what so many of them understood instinctively. “For twenty-five years,” gushed a steel executive to Rand, “I have been yelling my head off about the little-realized fact that eggheads, socialists, communists, professors, and so-called liberals do not understand how goods are produced. Even the men who work at the machines do not understand it.” Rand, finally, restored the boss to his rightful mythic place.
On top of all these philosophical compliments to success and business, Rand tapped into a latent elitism that had fallen into political disrepute but never disappeared from the economic right. Ludwig von Mises once enthused to Rand, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” Rand articulated the terror that conservatives felt at the rapid leveling of incomes in that era–their sense of being singled out by a raging mob. She depicted the world in apocalyptic terms. Even slow encroachments of the welfare state, such as the minimum wage or public housing, struck her as totalitarian. She lashed out at John Kennedy in a polemical nonfiction tome entitled The Fascist New Frontier, anticipating by several decades Jonah Goldbergs equally wild Liberal Fascism.
Rands most enduring accomplishment was to infuse laissez-faire economics with the sort of moralistic passion that had once been found only on the left. Prior to Rands time, two theories undergirded economic conservatism. The first was Social Darwinism, the notion that the advancement of the human race, like other natural species, relied on the propagation of successful traits from one generation to the next, and that the free market served as the equivalent of natural selection, in which government interference would retard progress. The second was neoclassical economics, which, in its most simplistic form, described the marketplace as a perfectly self-correcting instrument. These two theories had in common a practical quality. They described a laissez-faire system that worked to the benefit of all, and warned that intervention would bring harmful consequences. But Rand, by contrast, argued for laissez-faire capitalism as an ethical system. She did believe that the rich pulled forward society for the benefit of one and all, but beyond that, she portrayed the act of taxing the rich to aid the poor as a moral offense.
Countless conservatives and libertarians have adopted this premise as an ideological foundation for the promotion of their own interests. They may believe the consequentialist arguments against redistribution–that Bill Clintons move to render the tax code slightly more progressive would induce economic calamity, or that George W. Bushs making the tax code somewhat less progressive would usher in a boom; but the utter failure of those predictions to come to pass provoked no re-thinking whatever on the economic right. For it harbored a deeper belief in the immorality of redistribution, a righteous sense that the federal tax code and budget represent a form of organized looting aimed at societys most virtuous–and this sense, which remains unshakeable, was owed in good measure to Ayn Rand.
The economic right may believe religiously in their moral view of wealth, but we do not have to respect it as we might respect religious faith. For it does not transcend–perhaps no religion should transcend–empirical scrutiny. On the contrary, this conservative view, the Randian inversion of the Marxist worldview, rests upon a series of propositions that can be falsified by data.
Let us begin with the premise that wealth represents a sign of personal virtue–thrift, hard work, and the rest–and poverty the lack thereof. Many Republicans consider the link between income and the work ethic so self-evident that they use the terms “rich” and “hard-working” interchangeably, and likewise “poor” and “lazy.” The conservative pundit Dick Morris accuses Obama of “rewarding failure and penalizing hard work” through his tax plan. His comrade Bill OReilly complains that progressive taxation benefits “folks who dropped out of school, who are too lazy to hold a job, who smoke reefers 24/7.”
A related complaint against redistribution holds that the rich earn their higher pay because of their nonstop devotion to office work–a grueling marathon of meetings and emails that makes the working life of the typical nine-to-five middle-class drone a vacation by comparison. “People just dont get it. Im attached to my BlackBerry,” complained one Wall Streeter to Sherman. “I get calls at two in the morning, when the market moves. That costs money.
Now, it is certainly true that working hard can increase ones chances of growing rich. It does not necessarily follow, however, that the rich work harder than the poor. Indeed, there are many ways in which the poor work harder than the rich. As the economist Daniel Hamermesh discovered, low-income workers are more likely to work the night shift and more prone to suffering workplace injuries than high-income workers. White-collar workers put in those longer hours because their jobs are not physically exhausting. Few titans of finance would care to trade their fifteen-hour day sitting in a mesh chair working out complex problems behind a computer for an eight-hour day on their feet behind a sales counter.
For conservatives, the causal connection between virtue and success is not merely ideological, it is also deeply personal. It forms the basis of their admiration of themselves. If you ask a rich person whether he ascribes his success to good fortune or his own merit, the answer will probably tell you whether that person inhabits the economic left or the economic right. Rand held up her own meteoric rise from penniless immigrant to wealthy author as a case study of the individualist ethos. “No one helped me,” she wrote, “nor did I think at any time that it was anyones duty to help me.”
But this was false. Rand spent her first months in this country subsisting on loans from relatives in Chicago, which she promised to repay lavishly when she struck it rich. (She reneged, never speaking to her Chicago family again.) She also enjoyed the great fortune of breaking into Hollywood at the moment it was exploding in size, and of bumping into DeMille. Many writers equal to her in their talents never got the chance to develop their abilities. That was not because they were bad or delinquent people. They were merely the victims of the commonplace phenomenon that Bernard Williams described as “moral luck.”
Not surprisingly, the argument that getting rich often entails a great deal of luck tends to drive conservatives to apoplexy. This spring the Cornell economist Robert Frank, writing in The New York Times, made the seemingly banal point that luck, in addition to talent and hard work, usually plays a role in an individuals success. Franks blasphemy earned him an invitation on Fox News, where he would play the role of the loony liberal spitting in the face of middle-class values. The interview offers a remarkable testament to the belligerence with which conservatives cling to the mythology of heroic capitalist individualism. As the Fox host, Stuart Varney, restated Franks outrageous claims, a voice in the studio can actually be heard laughing off-camera. Varney treated Franks argument with total incredulity, offering up ripostes such as “Thats outrageous! That is outrageous!” and “Thats nonsense! That is nonsense!” Turning the topic to his own inspiring rags-to-riches tale, Varney asked: “Do you know what risk is involved in trying to work for a major American network with a British accent?”
There seems to be something almost inherent in the right-wing psychology that drives its rich adherents to dismiss the role of luck–all the circumstances that must break right for even the most inspired entrepreneur–in their own success. They would rather be vain than grateful. So seductive do they find this mythology that they omit major episodes of their own life, or furnish themselves with preposterous explanations (such as the supposed handicap of making it in American television with a British accent–are there any Brits in this country who have not been invited to appear on television?) to tailor reality to fit the requirements of the fantasy.
The association of wealth with virtue necessarily requires the free marketer to play down the role of class. Arthur Brooks, in his book Gross National Happiness, concedes that “the gap between the richest and poorest members of society is far wider than in many other developed countries. But there is also far more opportunity … there is in fact an amazing amount of economic mobility in America.” In reality, as a study earlier this year by the Brookings Institution and Pew Charitable Trusts reported, the United States ranks near the bottom of advanced countries in its economic mobility. The study found that family background exerts a stronger influence on a persons income than even his education level. And its most striking finding revealed that you are more likely to make your way into the highest-earning one-fifth of the population if you were born into the top fifth and did not attain a college degree than if you were born into the bottom fifth and did. In other words, if you regard a college degree as a rough proxy for intelligence or hard work, then you are economically better off to be born rich, dumb, and lazy than poor, smart, and industrious.
In addition to describing the rich as “hard-working,” conservatives also have the regular habit of describing them as “productive.” Gregory Mankiw describes Obamas plan to make the tax code more progressive as allowing a person to “lay claim to the wealth of his more productive neighbor.” In the same vein, George Will laments that progressive taxes “reduce the role of merit in the allocation of social rewards–merit as markets measure it, in terms of value added to the economy.” The assumption here is that ones income level reflects ones productivity or contribution to the economy.
Is income really a measure of productivity? Of course not. Consider your own profession. Do your colleagues who demonstrate the greatest skill unfailingly earn the most money, and those with the most meager skill the least money? I certainly cannot say that of my profession. Nor do I know anybody who would say that of his own line of work. Most of us perceive a world with its share of overpaid incompetents and underpaid talents. Which is to say, we rightly reject the notion of the market as the perfect gauge of social value.
Now assume that this principle were to apply not only within a profession–that a dentist earning $200,000 a year must be contributing exactly twice as much to society as a dentist earning $100,000 a year–but also between professions. Then you are left with the assertion that Donald Trump contributes more to society than a thousand teachers, nurses, or police officers. It is Wall Street, of course, that offers the ultimate rebuttal of the assumption that the market determines social value. An enormous proportion of upper-income growth over the last twenty-five years accrued to an industry that created massive negative social value–enriching itself through the creation of a massive bubble, the deflation of which has brought about worldwide suffering.
If ones income reflects ones contribution to society, then why has the distribution of income changed so radically over the last three decades? While we ponder that question, consider a defense of inequality from the perspective of three decades ago. In 1972, Irving Kristol wrote that
Human talents and abilities, as measured, do tend to distribute themselves along a bell-shaped curve, with most people clustered around the middle, and with much smaller percentages at the lower and higher ends…. This explains one of the most extraordinary (and little-noticed) features of 20th-century societies: how relatively invulnerable the distribution of income is to the efforts of politicians and ideologues to manipulate it. In all the Western nations–the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom, France, Germany–despite the varieties of social and economic policies of their governments, the distribution of income is strikingly similar.
So Kristol thought the bell-shaped distribution of income in the United States, and the similarly shaped distributions among our economic peers, proved that income inequality merely followed the natural inequality of human talent. As it happens, Kristol wrote that passage shortly before a boom in inequality, one that drove the income share of the highest-earning 1 percent of the population from around 8 percent (when he was writing) to 24 percent today, and which stretched the bell curve of the income distribution into a distended sloping curve with a lengthy right tail. At the same time, America has also grown vastly more unequal in comparison with the European countries cited by Kristol.
This suggests one of two possibilities. The first is that the inherent human talent of Americas economic elite has massively increased over the last generation, relative to that of the American middle class and that of the European economic elite. The second is that bargaining power, political power, and other circumstances can effect the distribution of income–which is to say, again, that ones income level is not a good indicator of a persons ability, let alone of a persons social value.
The final feature of Randian thought that has come to dominate the right is its apocalyptic thinking about redistribution. Rand taught hysteria. The expressions of terror at the “confiscation” and “looting” of wealth, and the loose talk of the rich going on strike, stands in sharp contrast to the decidedly non-Bolshevik measures that they claim to describe. The reality of the contemporary United States is that, even as income inequality has exploded, the average tax rate paid by the top 1 percent has fallen by about one-third over the last twenty-five years. Again: it has fallen. The rich have gotten unimaginably richer, and at the same time their tax burden has dropped significantly. And yet conservatives routinely describe this state of affairs as intolerably oppressive to the rich. Since the share of the national income accruing to the rich has grown faster than their average tax rate has shrunk, they have paid an ever-rising share of the federal tax burden. This is the fact that so vexes the right.
Most of the right-wing commentary purporting to prove that the rich bear the overwhelming burden of government relies upon the simple trick of citing only the income tax, which is progressive, while ignoring more regressive levies. A brief overview of the facts lends some perspective to the fears of a new Red Terror. Our government divides its functions between the federal, state, and local levels. State and local governments tend to raise revenue in ways that tax the poor at higher rates than the rich. (It is difficult for a state or a locality to maintain higher rates on the rich, who can easily move to another town or state that offers lower rates.) The federal government raises some of its revenue from progressive sources, such as the income tax, but also healthy chunks from regressive levies, such as the payroll tax.
The sum total of these taxes levies a slightly higher rate on the rich. The bottom 99 percent of taxpayers pay 29.4 percent of their income in local, state, and federal taxes. The top 1 percent pay an average total tax rate of 30.9 percent–slightly higher, but hardly the sort of punishment that ought to prompt thoughts of withdrawing from society to create a secret realm of capitalistic bermenschen. These numbers tend to bounce back and forth, depending upon which party controls the government at any given time. If Obama succeeds in enacting his tax policies, the tax burden on the rich will bump up slightly, just as it bumped down under George W. Bush.
What is so striking, and serves as the clearest mark of Rands lasting influence, is the language of moral absolutism applied by the right to these questions. Conservatives define the see-sawing of the federal tax-and-transfer system between slightly redistributive and very slightly redistributive as a culture war over capitalism, or a final battle to save the free enterprise system from the hoard of free-riders. And Obama certainly is expanding the role of the federal government, though probably less than George W. Bush did. (The Democratic health care bills would add considerably less net expenditure to the federal budget than Bushs prescription drug benefit.) The hysteria lies in the realization that Obama would make the government more redistributive–that he would steal from the virtuous (them) and give to the undeserving.
Like many other followers of Rand, John Allison of BB&T has taken to claiming vindication in the convulsive events of the past year. “Rand predicted what would happen fifty years ago, he told The New York Times. “Its a nightmare for anyone who supports individual rights.” If Rand was truly right, of course, then Allison will flee his home and join his fellow supermen in some distant capitalist nirvana. So perhaps the economic crisis may bring some good after all.
Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic.
Posted: December 16, 2016 at 12:20 pm
Ayn Rand was a terrible person who wove a philosophy of selfishness and greed out of the threads of her own psychopathy. Rands writings and speeches should be recognized as rantings suited for an audience of a well-trained therapist, instead of inflicted upon millions of English students.
Rand, whodeclared altruism a national disease, wroteadmiringlyof child-murderer William Edward Hickmans callous indifference toward others and his immense, explicit egotism. Her contempt for the poor and middle-class are pronounced byanti-Robin Hoods who brag about stealing from the thieving poor to give to the productive rich. Rand defended Native American genocide and murderous white supremacy, once stating any white person who [brought] the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent. Objectivism, Rands refutation of basic human decency in favor of pathological self-interest and ruthless capitalism, was correctly identified as perfect in its immorality by Gore Vidal more than half a century ago. Today its the prevailing ethos of the GOP, embraced by Republicans going back to Ronald Reaganand especially beloved among the incoming Trump administration.
As James Hohmann of the Washington Post notes, Trump pledged his affection to Rand in an interview earlier this year with Kirsten Powers. Trump, who proudly admits he doesnt readneither books nor intelligence briefings that might slow his roll toward starting a nuclear wartold Powers he relates to Howard Roark, the architect protagonist ofThe Fountainhead. Roark espouses the warped belief that selfishness is a virtue (Mans first duty is to himself) and commits a violentsexual assault. Without specifics, its hard to know precisely where Trump thinks the resemblance begins and ends.
Trump shares an affinity for Rand with several other members of his cabinetthough thats not the worst thing you can say about them, considering the group is a motley assortment of Islamophobes, white supremacists, alleged wifebeaters, and anti-worker .1 percenters.
Hohmann writes that Trumps labor secretary pick Andy Puzder is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by Roark Capital Group, a private equity fund named after Howard Roark. When the New York Times asked for a few personal insights about Puzder from one of his business cohorts, the fast-food titan was described only as an avid reader who love[s] Ayn Rand. Puzder recently told the Wall Street Journals Jennifer Grossman that hes advised all six of his kids to read The Fountainhead, in the hope theyll lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels.
Trumps choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, whos as famous for being the CEO of ExxonMobil as for hiscozinesswithVladimir Putin, is also a Rand adherent. Hohmann discovered the oil baron listed [Atlas Shrugged] as his favorite book in a 2008 feature for Scouting Magazine. Trumps choice to head the CIA, Mike Pompeo, previously indicated to theWashington Post that many of his political views are the result of a long interest in libertarian and conservative thought, first formed at age 15 when he read Ayn Rands novel The Fountainhead. John A. Allison IV, the former CEO of BB&T Bank and Cato Institute who had a closed-door meeting with Trump late last month, reportedly gave his executive staffers copies of Atlas Shrugged, calling it the best defense of capitalism ever written. Paul Ryan and Donald Trump have had some friction, but maybe now they can now bond over their mutual love of Rand and the beliefthat money is the creation of the best power within you. After years of saying Rand inspired his whole career, Ryan has more recentlyclaimedhe no subscribes to objectivist philosophy. His policy proposals beg to differ.
The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing, Hohmann writes. They will now run our government.
Ayn Rand finally hit a wall through which her delusions could no longer pass; by the time of her death in 1982, she was enrolled in both Medicare and Social Security. After a lifetime of pushing a fever-dreamed philosophy, she was forced to reconcile with reality by old age, illness, and the boundaries of her own personal wealth. The GOP was all too happy to pick up the torch. Trumps team of millionaires and billionaires, bonded by a philosophy of cruelty, are now running with it.
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Posted: December 15, 2016 at 12:13 am
Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American novelist, is seen in Manhattan in 1962. That’s Grand Central station behind her. (AP)
THE BIG IDEA:Donald Trump has decided to risk a confirmation fight, officially nominating ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state this morning.Tillerson and Trump had no previous relationship, but the Texas oilman and the New York developer hit it off when they met face to face. One of the things that they have in common is their shared affection for the works of Ayn Rand, the libertarian heroine who celebrated laissez-faire capitalism.
The president-elect said this spring that hes a fan of Rand and identifies with Howard Roark, the main character in The Fountainhead. Roark, played by Gary Cooper in the film adaptation, is an architect who dynamites a housing project he designed because the builders did not precisely follow his blueprints. It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything, Trump told Kirsten Powersfor a piece in USA Today.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin cracks a very rare smile as he signs a huge oil exploration deal with Rex Tillerson. (Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti via AP)
— Tillerson prefers Atlas Shrugged, Rands novel about John Galt secretly organizing a strike of the creative class to hasten the collapse of the bureaucratic society. The CEO listed it as his favorite book in a 2008 feature for Scouting Magazine, according to biographer Steve Coll.
Andy Puzderleaves a meeting with Trump in Bedminster, N.J., last month. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
— This has now officially become a trend. Trump is turning not just to billionaires but Randians to fill the cabinet:
Andy Puzder, tapped by Trump last week to be secretary of labor, is an avid and outspoken fan of Rands books. One profiler last week asked what he does in his free time, and a friend replied that he reads Ayn Rand. He is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which is owned by Roark Capital Group, a private equity fund named after Howard Roark. Puzder, who opposes increases in the minimum wage and wants to automate fast food jobs, was quoted just last month saying that he encouraged his six children to read Fountainhead first and Atlas Shrugged later.
Mike Pompeo sits through a hearing on Capitol Hill. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Mike Pompeo, who will have the now-very-difficult job of directing the Central Intelligence Agency for Trump, has often said that Rands works inspired him. One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged, and it really had an impact on me, the Kansas congressman told Human Events in 2011.
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel arrives with his private security detail at Trump Tower last week. (Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
— Trump has been huddling with and consulting several other Rand followers for advice as he fills out his cabinet. John A. Allison IV, for example, met with Trump for about 90 minutes the week before last. As chief executive of BB&T Corp., he distributed copies of Atlas Shrugged to senior officers and influenced BB&Ts charitable arm to fund classes about the moral foundations of capitalism at a number of colleges, the Journal noted in a piece about him. Mr. Allisons worldview was shaped when he was a college student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and stumbled across a collection of essays by Ms. Rand.
Trump Tower (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
— Ayn Rand was perhaps the leading literary voice in 20th century America for the notion that, in society, there are makers and takers, and that the takers are parasitic moochers who get in the way of the morally-superior innovators. Her books portray the federal government as an evil force, trying to stop hard-working men from accumulating the wealth that she believes they deserve. The author was also an outspoken atheist, something that oozes through in her writing. Rand explained that the essence of objectivism, as she called her ideology, is that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.
— Some of Rands scenes also dont hold up well in a culture thats become more intolerant of sexual assault and skeptical of patriarchy. Roark, the character Trump says he identifies with, rapes a woman in The Fountainhead, for example.
— For many Republican elites, Rand is someone whose books they read one summer in high school or college and got super excited about but then grew out of once they were exposed to more sophisticated intellectual influences and/or tried to reconcile her world view with the precepts of the Christian faith. (Former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson wrote about this rite of passage in a 2011 column for The Post.)
— Though many would agree that Christianity and objectivism are incompatible, this is not a consensus view: Theres no contradiction between raising my children in the church, and urging them to lead the kind of lives of achievement, integrity and independence that Ayn Rand celebrated in her novels, Puzder, the incoming labor secretary, argued on the Journal opinion page last month, adding that he also had his kids read C.S. Lewiss Mere Christianity.
— Remember that scene in Dirty Dancing when Baby tries to get that waiter who knocked up Johnnys dance partner to pay for her abortion? He refuses and instead pulls out a weathered copy of The Fountainhead, urging her to read it. Some people count, and some people dont, he tells her. Jennifer Greys character responds by pouring a pitcher of water on him. In popular culture, the Rand acolytes are that guy.
The fact that all of these men, so late in life, are such fans of works that celebrate individuals who consistently put themselves before others is therefore deeply revealing. They will now run our government.
Paul Ryan speaks very briefly to the press after his meeting with Trump at Trump Tower last week. (AudeGuerrucci/EPA/Pool)
— Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also used to be an outspoken booster of Rand, but he distanced himselfin order to advance his political ambitions.
In a 2005 speech, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand, he told a group called the Atlas Society, according to a New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza.
By 2012, looking beyond his safely-red House district to the national stage, the Wisconsin congressman claimed that the idea he was inspired by Rand is an urban legend. I reject her philosophy, Ryan told National Review. Its an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a persons view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas AquinasDont give me Ayn Rand!
Stephen Bannon and Jason Miller, the communications director of the Trump transition team, disembark from Trump’s plane in Hebron, Ky., earlier this month. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
— An interesting wrinkle: Stephen Bannon, who will be Trumps chief strategist in the White House, has been sharply critical of Rand. He outlined his world view in a 2014 speech delivered by Skype to a conference held inside the Vatican. In it, he said that there are two strands of capitalism which he finds very disturbing.
One is state-sponsored capitalism. And thats the capitalism you see in China and Russia, he said, according to a transcript posted by BuzzFeed last month. The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, Im a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many, many friends that are a very big part of the conservative movement However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it (compared) to what I call the enlightened capitalism of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost.
— In 2014, when no one anticipated that Trump would actually go through with running for president, John Olivers HBO show produced a four-minute segment making fun of Rands enduring appeal to so many conservatives and rich people. After sound bites of Rand ripping into Ronald Reagan and explaining why she supports abortion rights, the narrator asks: Why would conservatives hold up as their idol someone who says things like that? Especially when there are so many other advocates for selfishness they could choose, like Donald Trump
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
Trump’s children at the Oct. 9 debate. (Tasos KatopodisAFP/Getty Images)
— Trump canceled his speech, promised for this week, on how he’ll deal with his many conflicts of interest. But last night in a pair of tweets he vowed vaguelyto make “no new deals” while he is in the White House and said he will hand over control of his businesses to his sons before inauguration. Elise Viebeck reports:Trumps tweets gave no indication that he will give up his ownership stake in his global real estate and licensing empire, which experts have advocated as the only way to ensure Trump could not profit from the impact of his own policies. [He also] gave no details on how his businesses would operate without embarking on new business deals, nor how transparency would be provided so the public could judge whether that pledge is being upheld.”
Rick Perry arrives at Trump Tower to meet with Trump. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
— Trump has settled on Rick Perry to be energy secretary, according to CBS News. He tapped the former Texas governor over a pool of contenders including Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and fundraiser Ray Washburne. Major Garrett has more: Perry sits on two corporate boards – one of them is Energy Transfer Partners – and that may present a confirmation issue. Energy Transfer Partners has a subsidiary known as Dakota Access LLC, which is attempting to build the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recently, the Obama administration blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline easement through Lake Oahe, a move that jeopardized the 1,172-mile underground pipeline. The incoming Trump administration has said it will review the decision. Mr. Trump once invested in Energy Transfer Partners and supports completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Tom Perez speaks on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
— The DNC candidate that Team Obama hoped for: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said he intends to run for party chairman, throwing his hat in the ring alongside Rep. Keith Ellison, who had emerged as an early favorite in the race. TheNew York Times Jonathan Martinreports:Mr. Perez, who had also been considering a run for Maryland governor, is expected to reveal his plan to seek the D.N.C. chairmanship this week. He has been wooed by prominent Democrats for weeks to seek the party post, a lobbying campaign that included entreaties from high-level allies of Mr. Obama. Mr. Perez, who has been on the phone with a number of Democratic governors and other party leaders, is expected to meet with the president himself to discuss the position this week. Mr. Perezs entry into the race could start a proxy battle between Democrats loyal to the Mr. Obama and those from the more liberal wing of the party represented by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is backing Mr. Ellison, a Minnesota progressive, for party chairman.The new narrative, via the AP: Ellisons star falling as Clinton, Obama allies seek DNC alternative.
A man carries a child with an IV drip as he flees deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria, yesterday. (Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters)
THE WORLD NEEDS TO PAY ATTENTION TO THIS:
— Syrian forces, with the help of the Russians, have pushed rebel fighters to the brink in Aleppo, pinning them to just a sliver of remaining territory as they continuetheir push for full control of the northern Syrian city. Aleppos fall would deliver amajor setback to rebel factions, leaving them struggling for ways to keep the anti-Assad rebellion alive without theirterritorial stronghold. The humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. (Louisa Loveluck has more.)
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said they received reports that government forces have killed at least 82 civilians, sometimes entering homes and killing people on the spot. Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian spokesman, said that it looked like a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo.
From The Posts Syria reporter:
On Monday night, the phones of most civilians contacted by The Washington Post appeared to have fallen silent, Louisa writes in her latest dispatch. Their fate remains unknown.
From the New York Times’s Beirut bureau chief:
Bana Alabed, a seven-year-old girl in Aleppo who has been called the Anne Frank of our era, tweeted that her father was injured shortly before her account went silent:
It is unclear whether Bana or her family survived the blasts:
A teacher and activist recorded his final words as Assads militia closed in. No place now to go now, he says, ducking to hide on a bombed-out street corner. It’s the last place.”
From a search and rescue volunteer group in the area:
Chaka Fattahexits the federal courthouse after his sentencing hearing in Philadelphia yesterday. (Matt Rourke/AP)
GET SMART FAST:
Rex Tillersontestifies before a House committee in 2010. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
THE TILLERSON ROLLOUT:
–The Trump team is planning an aggressive public relations campaign to win confirmation forTillersonand dispel what it sees as a false narrative about his ties to Russia,”Steven Mufson, Philip Rucker and Karoun Demirjian report: “Former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker are planning to go public [this morning] with their support for Tillerson, as is former defense secretary Robert Gates. Former vice president Richard B. Cheney also is supportive and may advocate for his confirmation. Gates was the first person to raise Tillerson as a secretary of state possibility. … Trump did not know much about Tillerson but started chewing over the idea. He invited Tillerson for a meeting and the two global dealmakers hit it off. They recognized similarities in each other, and the more they talked, the more they liked each other.”
— At least four Republican senators have now publicly expressed their concerns with Tillersons Russia ties: Sen. Lindsey Graham called the fact that Putin gave Tillerson the Kremlins Order of Friendship award in 2012 unnerving, while Sen. John McCain questioned Tillersons judgment. I dont see how anybody could be a friend of this old time KGB agent, he said in a CNN interview, referring to Putin. (Marco Rubio criticized Tillerson in a tweet this weekend, and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford said he has a lot of questions about the oil businessman.)
–ChrisCillizzaanalysis: What Trump offered in the course of the campaign was a radical change in the way of doing the business of the American public.That change included and, in many ways, was typified by the sort of people he said he would surround himself with if he were elected. He is, quite literally, making good on a central campaign promise by favoring people like Tillerson. And yet, there is a general sense of shock within the political establishment about the idea that someone with Tillerson’s background [was tapped to head the State Department] Much of this consternation is built on the political establishment’s inability to fully grasp that the old rules of how things are done in politics are simply not operative with Trump. As he has made clear over and over again, Trump simply see no rules or, if he does see them, he chooses not to acknowledge that he is governed by them.”
— Trumps long-time adviser Roger Stone acknowledged that the secretary of state job was dangled in front of Mitt Romney primarily to torture him for previously opposing the president-elect. During an appearance on InfoWars with Alex Jones, the conspiratorial media outlet that says 9/11 was an inside job and which has become a mouthpiece for the next president (hes appeared on the show), Trumps informal adviser called Romney a choker. Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for Secretary of State in order to torture him, Stone said. To toy with him! And given the history, thats completely understandable. Mitt Romney crossed a line. He didnt just oppose Trump, which is his democratic right, he called him a phony and a fraud. And a con man. And thats not the kind of man you want as Secretary of State. (Daily Beasts Gideon Resnick)
Vladimir and Rex shake hands at a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil at the Black Sea port of Tuapse in 2012. (RIA-Novosti/AP)
THERE’S A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— The CIA assessment that Russia waged a cyber-campaign to help elect [Trump] is based in part on intelligence suggesting that Moscows hacking efforts were disproportionately aimed at targets tied to the Democratic Party and [Hillary Clinton], Greg Miller and Adam Entous report.U.S. officials said that both parties were repeatedly targeted as part of a months-long cyber-operation linked to Moscow, but that Democratic institutions and operatives came under a more sustained and determined online assault. [They also] said the Republican National Committees computer systems were also probed and possibly penetrated by hackers tied to Russian intelligence services, but that it remains unclear how much material if any was taken from the RNC. U.S. intelligence officials said that the Russian government appears to have succeeded in penetrating computer systems associated with both parties, but prioritized Democratic institutions Other officials familiar with the CIAs assessment said there is high confidence that the RNC was targeted but less certainty that the Russians got inside the committee and stole material.
— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber plans to investigate Russias suspected election interference, but he stopped short of calling for a bipartisan select committee to investigate the hack. The Russians are not our friends, McConnell declared at a year-end news conference. This simply cannot be a partisan issue, he said, adding that the Intelligence Committee is more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter. (Ed O’Keefe and Paul Kane)
— Paul Ryan also dismissed calls for a special panel, saying that the House Intelligence Committee is already working diligently on the cyber threats posed by foreign governments and terrorist organizations.
— House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), meanwhile, sent a letter to National Intelligence Director James Clapper demanding answers about why lawmakers werent told about conflicting CIA and FBI reports on Russian hacking before reports on the topic appeared in the press. Karoun Demirjian reports: Nunes took issue with the DNI over some of the details from [reports] accusing the CIA of changing its tune about Russias role in hacking emails from the DNC and Hillary Clintons campaign chairman . Nunes pointed out that Clapper himself had told his committee during an open November hearing that the intelligence community lacked strong evidence connecting Russian government cyber-attacks and WikiLeaks disclosures. He asked Clapper to brief the committee by Friday about the CIA and FBIs latest intelligence of what role Russia played in hacks related to the election, including a coordinated, written assessment of the intelligence communitys current position and update them on the presidents plans to review allegations of Russian hacking.
— Harry Reid accused Trumps campaign of colluding with WikiLeaks in the months preceding the presidential election. The outgoing Senate Minority Leader saidsomeone in the president-elects orbit was certainly aware of the activity. Someone in the Trump campaign organization was in on the deal. I have no doubt. Now, whether they told [Trump] or not, I dont know. I assume they did. But there is no question about that, Reid told theHuffington Posts Ryan Grim and Sam Stein. So there is collusion there, clearly. … Dont put blindfolds on. Here is the deal: We have a situation where during the campaign WikiLeaks was heavily involved in trying to hurt Hillary Clinton and it helped Trump. And you have Trump who said he likes Putin better than he likes Obama.
— Trump pushed back on Twitter:
(All the experts agree that Trump is wrong on this point.)
— Escalation: Last night on TV, Trump’s campaign manager questioned whether the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee (Rep. Adam Schiff) has actually been briefed on Russia’s meddling (which he, of course, has). That led to this back-and-forth:
The congressman from Los Angeles engaged:
To which Conway replied:
— Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta backed a group of Electoral College electors who are asking to receive an intelligence briefing on foreign interventioninto the 2016 election ahead of their December 19 vote. FromCNN: The 10 electors from five states asked James Clapper for information on “whether there are ongoing investigations into ties between Donald Trump, his campaign or associates, and Russian government interference in the election, the scope of those investigations, how far those investigations may have reached, and who was involved in those investigations.” They also asked for “all investigative findings” from the intelligence community on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. (One of the signatories is Nancy Pelosi’s daughter.)
— Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden writes in a Post op-edabout why it is such a big problem that Trump isalready antagonizing the intelligence community: How does the intelligence community break through and explain itself to the incoming team? Can it convincingly make a case that an evidence-based description of Russian actions is not the same thing as an attack on the legitimacy of the president-elect? Can it explain that, unlike law enforcement that seeks to prove things beyond any reasonable doubt, the purpose of intelligence is to enable meaningful policy and action even in the face of lingering doubt? And can it demonstrate that the incoming administration should want rather than discourage this to better anticipate global trends and adversarial moves in time to reflect and decide on its own actions? As I wrote last month, intelligence should be called on to create the basis, and set the boundaries, for rational policy choices. Thats still true. The odds that it will happen, though, seem a little bleaker after this past week. And we are moving in the wrong direction.
— Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, calls Russias interference “the political equivalent of 9/11. The first is, we need to see this for what it is. It is an attack on our very democracy, he said in an interview with The Cipher Brief. Its an attack on who we are as a people. A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11. It is huge and the fact that it hasnt gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me. But whats important to me is, its less important that they had picked the winner and loser, which I thought all along they had done. Whats most important is that they did indeed meddle. I think the implications of that are just absolutely huge
— We will never know for sure if Russian espionage caused Trump to win, Post columnist and former Bush adviser Michael Gerson writes. With Clinton losing by an 80,000-vote margin in three key states, everything her poor messaging, her consistently bungled response to the email controversy, [James] Comeys untimely letter can be posited as the reason she lost. A hypothetical outcome minus Russian involvement is not just unknown, it is unknowable. [BUT] Trumps blanket attack on the intelligence community for incompetence as though he were still going after Little Marco or Lyin Ted is an insanely dangerous antic that materially undermines American security. Given the extraordinary range of threats faced by the United States a mutual trust between the president and American intelligence services is essential. That relationship has already been seriously damaged.
Goldman Sachs COO Gary Cohn talks on his phone as he waits for the start of a meeting with Trump at Trump Tower. (Evan Vucci/AP)
MORE TRUMP STAFFING DECISIONS:
— Trump confirmed that he will appoint Goldman Sachs veteran Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council, adding another former Wall Street executive to his administration. From CNN Money: Trump, in a statement, said Cohn will design and coordinate his administration’s economic policy, working closely with the Treasury and Commerce departments. The post does not require Senate approval. Cohn, a 25-year Goldman Sachs veteran, made at least $123 million in total compensation since becoming the bank’s sole president and chief operating officer in 2009 He had been rumored to be a candidate for a number of jobs within the Trump administration, including to head up the powerful Office of Management and Budget.”
— Some of Trumps closest rural advisers are attempting to torpedo efforts to make Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) the next Agriculture secretary, telling him they feel betrayed even at the thought of a Democrat getting the position over a deep bench of Republicans who campaigned on his behalf in rural areas. In the past 48 hours, since Heitkamp was [reported as] the front-runner for the position, leaders of Trumps agricultural advisory committee say theyve been flooded with furious phone calls from influential farmers around the country, and have reached out to the transition team to fight the consideration of Heitkamp, Politicos Ian Kullgren and Catherine Boudreau report. I was blindsided, as was everyone on the Trump agricultural advisory committee whos contacted me, said Gary Baise, a Washington-based lawyer who helped the Trump campaign build a network of rural supporters. The anger is personal [and] Trumps rural allies say tapping Heitkamp would be a slap in the face to farm-state Republicans who stuck by the real estate mogul through the darkest days of his campaign.
— Michigan Republican Party leader Ronna Romney, niece to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is said to be Trump’s pick for RNC chair. CNN reports that an announcement is expected as soon as this week.
— Kellyanne Conway said she will not serve as Trumps press secretary, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt in a radio interview that she turned down the high-profile White House gig. “I have politely declined that job,” she said. “I think it’s an incredibly important position to fill.” She has floated the possibility of working outside Trumps administration to steer a network of political organizations supporting the president-elect and his agenda.
— Trump has begun to shift his focus from the cabinet to White House senior staff.Politicos Shane Goldmacher reports that some jobs are now seen as near-locks:
— The press is bulking up to cover Trump, as well: Fox News announced that John Roberts will be its White House correspondent, an important role because of the network’s influence and how much time Trump spends watching cable. Both The Post and the New York Times also announced yesterday that they will devote six reporters full-time to the White House beat, more than when Obama took office.(Erik Wemple)
Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions waves to reporters after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Nov. 30. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
— The Boston Globes Annie Linskey exploresthe episode that brought Jeff Sessions and Trump together for the first time: The year was 2005, and Sessions was astonished by a sensational news report: A project to overhaul the United Nations headquarters in New York would cost more than $1 billion. He was just as stunned that a celebrity New York developer quoted in the article claimed it could be done for about half the cost. Suddenly the junior senator from Alabama took an interest in the New York billionaire. Mr. Trump is very outraged! Sessions informed his colleagues in an April floor speech that year. This would lead to a high-profile Senate hearing that, at Sessionss request, featured Trump as the star witness
Indeed, the July 2005 hearing was classic Trump: Some straight talk laced with braggadocio. The developer boasted about his nearby property, he bragged about his smarts negotiating with New York contractors (whom he called major slime), and railed against a decision by the UN to hire an Italian design firm to do the work. I love Italy. I love the Italians. How do you hire an Italian architect? Trump said. What happens? Every time he wants to check the building, he gets on a plane and flies for 8 hours, and he goes to the New York City Building Department and he does not even speak English? I mean it is ridiculous. Sessions loved it. Mr. Trump is a breath of fresh air for this Senate, Sessions said at the time. The UN ended up completing the project, about three years late and costing nearly $400 million more than its budget, even though the scope of the project was reduced vastly.
Flashback: What Ted Kennedy said during Sessionss last confirmation hearing before the Judiciary committee: He was rejected by the Senate judiciary panel in 1986 for a federal judgeship at the behest of opponents including Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy, who were both members of the panel. Kennedy, the Massachusetts senator, pilloried Sessions for indicting three well-known black civil rights leaders on counts of voter fraud. They were later cleared of the charges. Mr. Sessions is a throwback to a shameful era which I know both black and white Americans thought was in our past, Kennedy said in the March 1986 hearing. He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination.
Richard Nixon campaigns in Missouri in 1968. (AP)
— THE NEW NIXON? Trumps speech at the Republican National Convention was inspired by and modeled after Richard Nixons 1968 speech. Now Trump is going to hang a reminder of Nixon in the Oval Office. Politico has sources saying that Trump has told multiple people he plans to prominently display a 1987 letter that the former president, who resigned in scandal, sent him. Dear Donald, it reads, I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me that you were great on the Donahue Show. As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!
Detectives are investigating a vandalism and theft that happened at a Silver Spring home in the 200 block of Williamsburg Drive. It is among numerous incidents of reported hate graffiti throughout Montgomery County, and in the schools, in recent weeks. (Montgomery County Police Department)
AMERICAIS DIVIDED, AND THE ALT-RIGHT IS ASCENDANT:
— When tyranny takes hold, by The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos: What is the precise moment, in the life of a country, when tyranny takes hold? It rarely happens in an instant; it arrives like twilight, and, at first, the eyes adjust. Tyranny does not begin with violence; it begins with the first gesture of collaboration … Its most enduring crime is drawing decent men and women into its siege of the truth.
— Montgomery County educators report a massive spike in hate graffiti since Trumps victory. In the past month, officials said, theyve found more on-campus drawings of swastikas and other racist insults then they encountered during an entire one-year span in 2015. (Donna St. George)
— The grotesque slurs and threats that Jewish political journalists face has only increased since the election. The AP’s Lisa Lerer shared this one last night:
— When even Frosted Flakes are political, where does that leave us as a country? by Monica Hesse: Everything is political these days. Every single decision. Five weeks after the end of a bitter presidential election, it hasnt ended at all: Its merely reached a new phase in which the things we buy are seen as surrogates for the people we voted for. Consider: A new app, Boycott Trump, allows users to weed out businesses that have even loose ties to [Trumps] empire. Boycott Trump has a counterpart in the conservative American Family Associations Naughty or Nice list, which offers shopping guidance based on which retailers are Merry Christmas-friendly. Avoid PetSmart, the list suggests. Choose Banana Republic over the Gap. Setting aside whether these boycotts are effective in terms of sales one wonders whether they are effective in terms of our national future. In this fractured, limping mess of a country, whose inhabitants are struggling to not punch one anothers lights out, much less to have a civil conversation if we cant even eat the same cereal, then where does that leave us?”
Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, joins Hillary Clinton on stage after the Democratic candidate spoke to supporters of the group in June. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
— Planned Parenthood fears it may be first casualty of rekindled abortion war, by Sandhya Somashekhar and Katie Zezima: Planned Parenthood officials are scrambling to prepare for the likelihood that Congress next year will cut off more than a half-billion dollars in federal funding to the group, fulfilling the wishes of abortion foes who are planning an aggressive push to roll back abortion rights under [Trump]. Officials with the 100-year-old womens health nonprofit organization are leaning on donors, new and old, and preparing to lobby friendly lawmakers at the state and local level to stem some of the loss. They have started gaming out which communities might be able to withstand a loss of services. They are asking supporters to get their medical care at Planned Parenthood clinics to increase the proportion of privately insured patients. The federal dollars to Planned Parenthood make up more than 40 percent of its budget. Such a loss, Planned Parenthood officials say, would force them to close many programs and turn away many of the 2.5 million patients their clinics see annually.”
Harry and Terri Welch talk to the Postafter their son, Edgar Maddison Welch, was arrested in a “pizzagate” shooting in D.C.(Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
— The parents of pizzagate gunman Edgar Maddison Welch said they were stunned by the news that their son had driven to Washington and opened fire at a D.C. pizzeria, and they believe he may be showing signs of PTSD after a car crash he was involved in earlier this year. My heart just stopped and stomach just dropped, Terri Welch said in an interview with The Posts Keith L. Alexander and Susan Svrluga, recalling the moment she found out her son had been arrested. They also said they noticed a change in Welchs personality after he hit and injured a 13-year-old boy on his way to work earlier this year. Maddison, who hopes to be an EMT, stayed with the teen until help arrived and worried a lot about long-term effects for the child, they said. He was very traumatized. We feel that accident changed him, Harry Welch said, adding that his usually outgoing and energetic son became melancholy and quiet.
A man takes a selfie in front of placard with a picture of Melania Trump in her hometown of Sevnica, Slovenia. The banner reads, “Welcome in hometown of first lady of U.S.” (Srdjan Zivulovic/Reuters)
–MelaniaTrump appeared in a Maryland courtroom on Monday for a status hearing in her defamation case against a Montgomery County blogger and a British tabloid.Mrs. Trump was not required to attend the court conference but chose to do so to meet the judge, meet opposing counsel and show her commitment to the case, said her attorney, Charles Harder, adding that she looks forward to seeing the case to a successful conclusion. The case stems from false assertions that she had once worked as a high-end escort. (Dan Morse)
The Obamas pose for a family portrait on Easter. (Pete Souza/The White House/Getty)
OBAMA’S LEGACY — THREE GREAT WAPO STORIES ON THE FIRST FAMILY:
— The Obamas came from a place we all came from, byWil Haygood: If, at times, the everyday presence of a black American family in the nations mind-set has seemed to unleash forces both good and not so good, there are some things that will resonate and be spoken of for generations to come: A black father as president walked his girls hand-in-hand across the lawn of the most powerful address in the world. A black mother gazed at that tableau and took herself back to the stories of beaten-down slaves who once tilled the White House lawns where her husband and daughters loped As Barack, Michelle, Sasha and Malia Obama depart the White House, it is worth looking back at their visage. What did it mean to have a black family, for eight years, astride the political and cultural colossus of American society? How much did the African in African American resonate? President Obamas post-presidency plans are bountiful. But his prayed-for attention to black America will be robust In a nation that has never had a candid conversation about race unlike South Africa after apartheid, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission he will find himself expected to play the role of shaman, poet, conciliator and statesman.
— How Michelle Obama became a singular American voice, by Peter Slevin: Obamas ascendance as mother, mentor, leader and critic carries many meanings in American culture, particularly as an African American woman For all the grief Michelle Obama took from critics who conjured radicalism, grievance or, bizarrely, racism from her finely tuned remarks, her messages were fundamentally timeless and conservative. More than anything, she used the strength of her own Chicago-to-Princeton-to-the-White-House narrative to urge kids to believe in themselves and never quit. In reaching the most rarefied of tables, she figured she had four years, maybe eight, to make something happen, to move the needle, as she put it. As the media made a fuss over a new hairstyle, she once explained how she saw the role of first lady: We take our bangs and we stand in front of important things that the world needs to see. And, eventually, people stop looking at the bangs and they start looking at what were standing in front of.
Obama, Biden and Claire Duncan, Arne Duncan’s daughter, watch a tennis match at Camp David in 2010. (White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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Posted: at 12:13 am
For a man who ran for president on a supposedly populist platform, Donald Trump sure has appointed a lot of extremely wealthy businesspeople to his administration.He explains to his followersat his ostentatious victory rallies that hes doing this because he wants people that made a fortune because now theyre negotiating with you, adding, Its not different than a great baseball player or a great golfer.
The truth is that nobody really understands why Trump is choosing the people hes choosing, not even him. Reports indicate thatits a capricious process,and no one is sure if theres even a cursory vetting of the choices. Because so many of these people have no government experience there is little sense of the worldviews and philosophies that guide them.
On Tuesday, however,James Hohmann of The Washington Post identified a common threadamong the businessmen, including Trump, which should have been obvious from the beginning. They are fanboys of Ayn Rand, the patron saint of selfish adolescents and titans of industry. Hohmann reported that Trumps choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who bears a Randian name if there ever was one, is a big fan of the Objectivist magnum opus Atlas Shrugged, whichhe told Scouting magazine was his favorite book. Tillerson explained that he believes volunteering is not just good for the individual but good PR for acompany,a notion thatRands manly hero John Galt would undoubtedly approve of.
Andy Puzder, the nominee to be secretary of labor, is also a Rand fanatic who reportedly reads the bodice-ripping novels over and over again in his spare time. The parent corporation of his fast food restaurant company, CKE Enterprises, is calledRoark Capital Group, in tribute to Howard Roark, the hero of Rands The Fountainhead.
And Rep.Mike Pompeo, Trumps choice to head the CIA, has said, One of the very first serious books I read when I was growing up was Atlas Shrugged, and it really had an impact on me.
Then there is Trumps new BFF, House Speaker Paul Ryan,a well-known Rand acolytewho makes all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged when theygo to work for him.
Finally, Trump himself has claimedto be a Rand follower, as he discussed with Kirsten Powers in aUSA Today interview:
Trump described himself as an Ayn Rand fan. He said of her novel The Fountainhead, It relates to business (and) beauty (and) life and inner emotions. That book relates to . . .everything. He identified with Howard Roark, the novels idealistic protagonist who designs skyscrapers and rages against the establishment.
The macho architect-builder and anti-Establishment hero also rapes the female protagonist. So you can see why Trump would relate to him.
You will have to pardon my skepticism that Trump has ever read that book. Its not just the puerile description, but the fact that there is no sign anywhere in his homes or offices that books even exist except forthe story that Paramounts Marvin Davis once gave him a volume of Hitlers speeches,which his first wife claimed he kept by the bed. (Id still bet that he never read them.) The only thing he reads are stories about himself in the newspapers. That doesnt mean, however, that he doesnt subscribe to Rands philosophy; its just unlikely that heknowshe does.
Hohmann also mentioned that Trump has huddled with one of the most important Rand propagandists in the country, John A. Allison IV, chief executive of the banking company BB&T Corp. The Wall St Journal blandly describedAllison as distributing copies of Atlas Shrugged to his senior officers and funding classes about the moral foundation of capitalism at various colleges. In fact,Allison has given more than $30 millionto various academic institutions, with the demand that they include Rands turgid fiction as part of the required curriculum. What role Allison might play in the Trump administration is unknown, but you can be sure that he will bring his dog-eared copy of Atlas Shruggedto the office with him.
Of course, Ayn Rand aficionados are hardly unknown in the high reaches of government. The most powerful one of all was the man who bears much of the responsibility for the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed, former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan. He was even a member of Rands inner circle in his youth andfamously wrote a letter to The New York Timesduring that period expressing his anger at a negative review of Atlas Shrugged:
Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.
Many young people are taken with Rands books when they first read them, for obvious reasons. Her novels offer a romantic glorification of self-centered narcissism, a perfect adolescent worldview. Some people never grow out of that and quite a few of them end up running businesses.
Rand believed that the government was basically an evil force that stood in the way of mans destiny and only existed to take from the creators to give to the parasites and moochers. A businessperson who has imbibed that philosophy can want to join the government only in order to destroy it from within.
Paul Ryan is a perfect example of someone who is systematically working to dismantle the redistributive functions of government and end all regulations that protect the common good.He once declared, The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.
As I said earlier, I seriously doubt that Donald Trump is really a fan of Ayn Rand. Her books may be juvenile and shallow, but theyre way too deep for him. Still, Trump is definitely narcissistic and almost pathologically self-confident hes like John Galts id, without knowing it. He certainly subscribes to Ayn Rands personal credo: What is good for me is Good! It appears hes found a group of like minds to help him ruin the country.
Here is the original post:
Posted: at 12:13 am
A lot of CEOs have terrible taste in literature, and some of them like Ayn Rand a great deal. A few of those are true-believing libertarians and theres the odd nutty Objectivist, but many people are attracted to Rand not because of her politics but because they have heroic conceptions of themselves and thrill to Rands heroic aesthetic.
Theres just something about executives and celebrities. Mark Cuban is a fan of The Fountainhead, and Angelina Jolie sings the praises of Atlas Shrugged. Eva Mendes is an admirer of Barack Obamas, but she says she wont date a man who isnt a Rand fan. Billie Jean King isnt what youd call an arch conservative, but shes a Rand fan. It might be related to working in dramatically competitive enterprises.
Where you dont meet a lot of Randians is in the conservative world. Theyre out there if you go looking: A fellow from one of the Rand groups (the factions divide and subdivide, being essentially Protestant in spite of their atheism) once approached me at a gathering and began haranguing me about Whittaker Chamberss 1957 review of Atlas Shrugged in National Review. (That sort of thing is what professional libertarians substitute for sexual intercourse.) I wasnt born until a few decades after that was published, and didnt start working at National Review for several decades more (William F. Buckley Jr. inexplicably did not take me up on my offer to come work for him when I was a teenager), but the fine art of bearing a grudge has not been lost. Not on the Randians.
Bring up your undying love of Atlas Shrugged at the typical conservative gathering and people will smile at you and try very hard not to roll their eyes. Some people think of her novels as a kind of guilty adolescent enthusiasm now grown out-of-date, an intellectual mullet, a stage one goes through between the ages of 14 and 20. Some people use Atlas Shrugged as a totem it had a moment at the cresting of the Tea Party phenomenon. But it is rare to meet actual adult human beings who organize their politics views (or, for pitys sake, their lives) around Ayn Rand and her views. I dont think National Review has a single Randian in the house; Id be surprised if the Weekly Standard did, and if one showed up at Commentary then John Podhoretz would simply mock him out of existence.
Strangely, our progressive friends insist that the Right is entirely in thrall to the ideas of Ayn Rand. Left-leaning writers in places such as New York and Washington tend to be culturally insular parochial, even and many of them do not know very many conservatives. I cannot tell you how many times I have met some well-meaning lefty who tells me (thinking it is a compliment!) that I do not seem like one of those people. A young woman once insisted that, as a conservative, I simply must hate homosexuals. At the time, I was living in TriBeCa and working as a theater critic, which is not a very good gay-evasion strategy. People know what they know.
But I dont think that Jonathan Chait insists that conservatives are intellectual hostages to Ayn Rand because he doesnt know better; hes just intellectually dishonest.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who once said that reading Rand is what got him into politics, is usually trotted out as Exhibit A in the case of the closet Randian. But Paul Ryan is not a Randian. Paul Ryan is a Roman Catholic Crossfit bro. (He has been officially categorized as a non-believer by the Ayn Rand Institute.) There isnt anything particularly Randian about his politics. And, contrary to the cartoon version, he and his allies are not anti-government as such. They believe that our current government is too large, too expensive, and too intrusive. There are many people who believe that, and they are not Rand cultists. They are ordinary people who pay taxes and stand in line at the drivers-license office.
The Left tries to create a false dilemma that opposes progressivism to Rand-ism or what they imagine to be Rand-ism, a blend of authentically Randian moralizing about moochers and takers with a kind of Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, an atomistic society that denies community and despises the philanthropic impulse. Actual conservatives are more likely to be found in church, where, among other things, they exercise the philanthropic impulse in community.
Chait is worried that Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trumps nominee for secretary of state, once named Atlas Shrugged his favorite book. He says so under the headline How Ayn Rands theories destroyed Never Trump conservatism, and the essay is a work of truly acrobatic stupidity. I dont think that the worrisome thing about Rex Tillerson is that he doesnt have better taste in literature than Rob Lowe.
Strange that a Randian cabal would take Donald Trump as its mascot. Trump, an incompetent casino operator and hotelier who boasted of buying political favors, is practically a Rand villain. He even has the name for it.
Perhaps that is not what is happening.
I myself am not much of a Rand admirer. I think Atlas Shrugged is a better novel than The Grapes of Wrath, but The Grapes of Wrath is a terrible novel. Say this for the old bat, though: It is difficult to imagine a modern writer in the English-speaking world having a cultural footprint so large that an entire stream of American politics might be (wrongly and stupidly) attributed to his thinking.
I happen to be in New York City while writing this, surrounded by a whos-who of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. I dont expect to meet any Randians. But Ill let you know if I do.
Kevin D. Williamson is National Reviews roving correspondent.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 12:13 am
Who is Donald Trump?Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
During the Republican presidential primary, the conservative columnist and talk-show host Ross Kaminsky, like many members of the right-wing intelligentsia, looked at Donald Trump with horror and dismay. Not only was the front-runner a near-certain loser with dubious loyalty to the party agenda, but he was something far more disturbing, an authoritarian bully, even arguably a fascist. One need not violate Godwins Law to recognize that theres something deeply troubling about a leading presidential candidate having no objection to his supporters roughing up a vocal dissenter, he wrote, bemoaning the noxious blend of bile and tripe that emerges, as so much political vomitus, from his big and always-moving mouth. Kaminsky identified Trumps campaign as being about bullying and xenophobia, and the man himself as not quite ready to be president of Delta Tau Chi, and warned Republicans thinking of voting for him anyway that they could never explain such a choice to their children.
As the authoritarian bully prepares to assume control of the powers of the presidency, Kamnisky has not exactly disavowed these previous sentiments as he has moved on to an even more serious threat to the health of the Republic: namely, the tax and regulatory policies of the Obama administration. Kaminskys latest column carries the headline, Trump Election Saves Us From the Evil Party. Evil a word that appears 13 more times in his column applies to such policies as Dodd-Frank, environmental regulations, and the partial expiration of the Bush tax cuts. This, not Trumps pee-wee strongman act, represented the more serious threat to liberty, justifying an alliance with a figure as noxious as Trump.
An honorable handful of conservative opponents of Trump have maintained their opposition since his election. The vast majority have returned to the party fold. The path taken by many of them has focused on the alleged hypocrisy or excess of Trumps liberal critics. Now that the man considered by many conservative intellectuals as a peril to democracy itself has assumed the most powerful position on the planet, once staunchly anti-Trump conservatives like Charles C.W. Cooke, Oren Cass, or David French (who so fervently opposed Trump that he considered running against him for president) find themselves preoccupied with what they see as liberal hysteria against him. As Trump himself gleefully noted, Never Trump conservatives are on a respirator now. Theyre almost gone.
The Never Trump movement, like the vast majority of the political elite, yours truly included, pegged Trump from the outset as a surefire loser. When they refused to support his candidacy after he locked up the nomination in the spring, they anticipated a period of exile from mainstream Republican politics lasting most of the year, followed by a return to the fold, where they would wage a contest for the soul of the party, bolstered by the I-told-you-so evidence of Trumps crushing defeat. Few of them bargained for a period of exile that would last four years, or eight, or perhaps even longer. Professional and personal incentives dictate a retreat back to the safety of the herd via mockery of the pro- and anti-Trump rights shared enemy.
But to dismiss the Never Trumpers mass surrender as nothing but mere cowardice or expediency is to miss the dead-serious ideas undergirding their behavior. To liberals, it may sound baffling and incomprehensible that ordinary political arguments about taxes and regulation could outweigh his authoritarianism. Liberals generally see economic policy as a normal disagreement, apart from and subordinate to larger questions about democracy and structure of government.
Most conservatives, however, do not see these issues this way. The conservative movement treats small government as a first-order question of liberty, alongside or even above political liberty. Liberals treat economic policy on pragmatic grounds the point of Medicaid is to help poor people get health care, and the point of the Clean Air Act is to create more breathable air. Expanding government is the means toward those discrete ends. Conservatives have discrete goals, like economic growth, but also larger ideological ones. As Milton Friedman once put it, freedom in economic arrangements is itself a component of freedom broadly understood, so economic freedom is an end in itself to a believer in freedom. While it may seem strange to liberals, for economic conservatives, the fight to slash down the size of government is itself tantamount to a fight against authoritarianism.
Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist William McGurn sneers at liberals who have raised alarms over Trumps authoritarian tendencies. Whats striking here is that the same folks who see in Mr. Trump a Mussolini in waiting are blind to the soft despotism that has already taken root in our government, he writes. This is the unelected and increasingly assertive class that populates our federal bureaucracies and substitutes rule by regulation for the rule of law. McGurn goes on to cite such injustices as the Environmental Protection Agencys wetlands laws or the departments deliberate attempt to destroy the market for coal and the Labor Departments overtime rule.
A liberal would consider McGurns suggestion, that theyre hypocritical to support wetlands preservation while opposing a strongman-president, insane. From McGurns standpoint, it makes perfect sense. McGurn isnt coming out and defending Trumps habitual praise for dictators who crush their opposition, or his calls to imprison his political opponents. He simply sees the struggle for liberty as being of a piece, and the governments eagerness to eliminate business regulations and taxes on the rich suggests to him that freedom on the whole is moving forward.
The most uncompromising theorist of this philosophy is, of course, Ayn Rand. And while Rand had many beliefs, the core of her vision is that politics consists of a class struggle between makers and takers. This is inverted Marxism politics pitting a virtuous class of producers against a parasite class that exploits the wealth they create, the difference being that Rand saw the makers as the capitalists and the takers as the workers. (The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time, explained her character, John Galt. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.) Also like the Marxists, her vision of a free society depended not on the strength of liberal institutions like fair elections and a free press but the triumph of the hero class.
Marxists have no important role in politics at the national level, but Randians do. Rex Tillerson, Trumps nominee for secretary of State, has listed her tome Atlas Shrugged as his favorite book. Andy Puzder, Trumps secretary of Labor nominee, has said the same. Trump has called himself a fan of Rands work, though it is fair to question whether he has actually made it through books of such length. Of course, Paul Ryan is a longtime devotee who once called Rand the reason he got into public service.
None of these figures is an Objectivist (the name for followers of Rands cultlike philosophy). They have, however, absorbed its central message of politics as a class war to liberate the makers from the takers. Shortly after the election, the president of the Atlas Society, a pro-Rand group, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed making the case for Randians like Paul Ryan to embrace her vision even if they didnt share all its idiosyncratic details, ending with this rousing conclusion: As John Galt says in the closing lines of Atlas Shrugged: The road is cleared. It is up to us, believers and nonbelievers, to take up her message and spread the news.
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The agency is no longer comfortable asserting that hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.
Forget about this crazy scheme to flip the Electoral College.
The president of the Philippines doesnt just encourage vigilantism, hes done it himself.
Because we get under Trumps skin. Because Chumleys is back. Because weirdos, artists, and immigrants will never stop calling this city home.
The effort to deny Trump 270 votes can highlight election abnormalities and provide a boost to the opposition.
Well still sell them helicopters, provide intelligence, and help train their pilots.
The 30-year-old is a populist firebrand, and an outspoken conspiracy-theory booster.
The New York National Guard is claiming that the flight was part of a training exercise.
Other prospects were better known and more experienced, but this former Navy SEAL was more to Trumps liking.
View original post here:
Posted: December 12, 2016 at 8:15 pm
If you have any doubts that the phenomenon of Donald Trump was a long time acoming, you have only to read a piece that Gore Vidal wrote for Esquire magazine in July 1961, when the conservative movement was just beginning and even Barry Goldwater was hardly a glint in Republicans eyes.
Vidals target was Paul Ryans idol and the idol of so many modern conservatives: the trash novelist and crackpot philosopher Ayn Rand, whom Vidal quotes thusly:
It was the morality of altruism that undercut America and is now destroying her.
Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Today, the conflict has reached its ultimate climax; the choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequence of freedom or the primordial morality of altruism with its consequences of slavery, etc.
To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you, and your passkey to trade your effort for the effort of the best among men.
The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral
In most quarters, in 1961, this stuff would have been regarded as nearly sociopathic nonsense, but, as Vidal noted, Rand was already gaining adherents: She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who hate the welfare state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts.
Because he was writing at a time when there was still such a thing as right-wing guilt, Vidal couldnt possibly have foreseen what would happen: Ayn Rand became the guiding spirit of the governing party of the United States. Her values are the values of that party. Vidal couldnt have foreseen it because he still saw Christianity as a kind of ineluctable force in America, particularly among small-town conservatives, and because Rands philosophy couldnt have been more anti-Christian. But, then, Vidal couldnt have thought so many Christians would abandon Jesus teachings so quickly for Rands. Hearts hardened.
The transformation and corruption of Americas moral values didnt happen in the shadows. It happened in plain sight. The Republican Party has been the party of selfishness and the party of punishment for decades now, trashing the basic precepts not only of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also of humanity generally.
Vidal again: That it is right to help someone less fortunate is an idea that has figured in most systems of conduct since the beginning of the race. It is, one could argue, what makes us human. The opposing idea, Rands idea, that the less fortunate should be left to suffer, is what endangers our humanity now. I have previously written in this space how conservatism dismantled the concept of truth so it could fill the void with untruth. I called it an epistemological revolution. But conservatism also has dismantled traditional morality so it could fill that void. I call that a moral revolution.
To identify whats wrong with conservatism and Republicanism and now with so much of America as we are about to enter the Trump era you dont need high-blown theories or deep sociological analysis or surveys. The answer is as simple as it is sad: There is no kindness in them.
That the draining of kindness from huge swaths of the country occurred with so little resistance is, in large measure, the fault of the media. The media have long prided themselves on being value neutral. It was Dragnet journalism: Just the facts, maam. Or: We report, you decide a slogan coopted by the right-wing Fox News, ironically to underscore that they werent biased, at least not liberally biased.
Of course, not even the most scrupulous journalists were ever really value neutral. Underneath their ostensible objectivity there was a value default an unstated moral consensus, which is the one Vidal cited and the one to which most Americans subscribed throughout most of our history. But it took a lot to activate those values in the press. The mainstream white media moved ever so slowly to report on the evils of segregation. Yet when they finally did, they didnt behave as if African-Americans marching for their rights and Sheriff Bull Connor siccing dogs on them were moral equals. Value neutrality had its limits. The reporting of the movement was one of journalisms proudest moments, and you can read about it in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Race Beat by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanonff. It is a story worth telling and remembering in these frightening days a story that shows how the press can serve us.
However long it took for them to grow a conscience, those journalists who covered the civil rights movement didnt think they were violating their professional code of objectivity by exposing the heinous conduct of the Southern authorities, because they knew what they were upholding wasnt subject to debate. The morality was stark. (I have a suspicion from the way the Black Lives Matter movement is covered that it wouldnt be so stark today.)
Taking sides against the KKK and redneck sheriffs, however, was one thing, as was taking sides against lunatic fringe right-wingers like the John Birch Society who hated government. But what happens when those extremists who advocate a bizarre morality that elevates selfishness and deplores altruism commandeer one of our two major political parties? What do you do then?
We know the answer. You do nothing.
The media sat by idly while American values were transmogrified. Even the so-called good conservatives David Brooks, David Frum, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, et al. refused to speak the language of kindness, preferring the language of free markets. As far right conservatives took over the Republican Party the very same conservatives who just a few years earlier were considered crazies the media dared not question Republican opposition to anything that assisted the disempowered and dispossessed, which is how a value-neutral media wound up serving the cause of conservatism and Republicanism and how the moral consensus was allowed to be turned upside down.
Read those Ayn Rand quotes to your children as moral instruction, and you will see how far we have fallen. This is Republican morality. This is Trump morality. And the media, loath to defend traditional American values in an increasingly hostile conservative environment, let it happen. That is what value neutrality will get you.
Of course I realize there are those who believe a value-neutral press is actually a bulwark against excess, in part because they have seen the alternative. Right-wing and even left-wing media have their own values, and they have no qualms about disregarding fact or truth in pursuing their agendas. Seen this way, values dont inform journalism; they distort it. Moreover, skeptics will say that everyone has his/her own values and that a journalism that pretends otherwise threatens to create informational and even moral chaos. As my late father, an accountant, used to say, Figures dont lie, but liars do figure. Do we really want to trust the media to figure?
It is true that we dont all share the exact same values, though in the past I think our fundamental values were pretty close to one anothers. But even if values differ, all values are not created equal. Some are better than others. Most of us do know what is right. Most of us do know that we have moral obligations to others. Most of us understand kindness. It is just that we have been encouraged to forget it. That was Ayn Rands mission. Trump is proof of how well she and her acolytes, like Paul Ryan, succeeded.
This election turned on many things, but one that both the public and the press have been hesitant to acknowledge is the election as a moral referendum: the old morality against the new Randian one Republicans had advanced for years and Trump fully legitimized. There is no kindness in him. We prefer the idea that Trump voters were economic casualties, that they were frustrated with the system, that they felt marginalized and misunderstood. It lets us avoid seeming condescending.
Perhaps. But I think it behooves us to recognize that many of those voters bristled under the old morality and turned to Trump because he removed the guilt Vidal had cited when we tried to harden our hearts. Shame helped keep the old morality in force. Trump made shamelessness acceptable. We are reaping that whirlwind every day.
I dont know whether a great society can survive without kindness. Unfortunately, we shall have a chance to see. In the meantime, those of us who believe in traditional morality must mount what I would call a kindness offensive. We must redouble our kindness in our daily lives, fight for it, promote it and eventually build a political movement around it.
There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness and truth, Tolstoy said. Going forward, that could be the basis for a politics. And we must press our media to understand that they can only restore the values they once took for granted by doing what the best of them did during the civil rights era: observe events through a moral lens. Appealing to our worst selves is usually a winning strategy, as it was for Trump. The media must remind us of what it means to be our best selves. This should be their new mission: a media in opposition. It should be unrelenting, regardless of the right-wing blowback.
America is in moral crisis. Many Americans seem far more interested in making sure that those they consider undeserving basically, the poor get nothing than in making sure that they themselves get something. A friend recently told me a joke told him by a Hungarian acquaintance, who intended it as an example of Hungarian schadenfreude, but I have modified it because I think it is a harrowing parable for contemporary America and its strange moral turnabout. This is Trumps America.
There were three farmers: a German, a Hungarian and an American. Each had a cow. One day, misfortune befell them, and their cows died. Each remonstrated against God, saying God had failed him, and each lost faith. God realized he had to do something to make amends. So he came to Earth and approached the German.
What can I do to restore your faith? He asked. And the German answered, God, I lost my cow. Please give me another cow. And God did so.
What can I do to restore your faith? He asked the Hungarian. And the Hungarian answered, God, I lost my cow. Please give me that cow and another to compensate. And God did so.
And finally God came to the American, and He asked, What can I do to restore your faith? And the American answered, God, I lost my cow. Shoot my neighbors cow.
Republicans brought us here with the assistance of a passive media. Whether we can bring ourselves back is the new existential question. Until then, we are shooting our neighbors cow.
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Posted: December 2, 2016 at 12:36 pm
Ayn Rand’s two most famous novels “The Fountainhead” (1943) and “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) are among the greatest word-of-mouth hits in American publishing. Both were scorned by the critics when they came out, went on to become enormous best-sellers, and to this day sell tens of thousands of copies annually. “Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s magnum opus, is sometimes said to be the second-most influential book in American thought, next only to the Bible.
The reason for the books’ success probably has less to do with their novelistic merits, or lack of them, than with the way they package in fictional form a philosophy Rand called Objectivism, which in effect turned the Judeo-Christian system on its head. In Rand’s view, selfishness was good and altruism was evil, and the welfare of society was always subordinate to the self-interest of individuals, especially superior ones. In some ways, Objectivism is an extreme form of laissez-faire capitalism, a view that Rand came to naturally.
She was born in Russia in 1905, lived through the Russian Revolution, and by the time she emigrated to America, in 1926, determined to reinvent herself, she wanted no part of anything that resembled a state-run system. She sometimes wore a gold brooch shaped like a dollar sign, and the dollar sign is also the final image in “Atlas Shrugged,” a novel in which liberals and humanitarians are ruinously taking over the world while the intellectual elite, led by the genius industrialist John Galt, hunker down in Colorado.
For a while in the ’60s, Objectivism had almost cult status on some American campuses. Much of the fervor dwindled after Rands death in 1982, but the books continue to be rediscovered and passed from one initiate to another. Among the many people influenced by Rand are Camille Paglia, Hugh Hefner, Alan Greenspan and Angelina Jolie. — Charles McGrath, Sept. 13, 2007.
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Posted: at 12:36 pm
Its not uncommon to hear that free will is an illusion that belief in free will is incompatible with science.
Yet, the existence of free will lies at the heart of every important issue in your life. Understanding precisely what is and is not within the power of your free choice is crucial to your pursuit of knowledge, values, personal relationships and happiness.
Join us November 4 to 6 in Atlanta, GA, at the Ayn Rand Student Conference 2016 (#AynRandCon) for an in-depth exploration of the concept of free will from the perspective of Ayn Rands philosophy of Objectivism. Rand the novelist, philosopher and cultural icon famous for her bestselling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged developed a new account of free will, one that underpins the distinctive view of good and evil and of heroism that runs through her novels.
Rejecting the false alternative of nature vs. nurture, Rand advanced a radical view of man, which holds that you are a being of self-made soul, capable of exercising fundamental control over your own thinking, actions and character. Far from viewing belief in free will as a superstition incompatible with science, Rand argued that the facts support the existence of free will and that its unscientific as well as disastrous personally and culturally to dismiss free will as illusory.
At #AynRandCon youll hear leading experts on Rands philosophy discuss the nature of free will and its implications for your life and for a range of current controversies, from inequality to free speech to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Youll hear from practitioners inspired by Rands message to take control of their fates and build the kind of career and life they wanted. Youll meet other students who love Rands novels and are learning how to apply her ideas to their own lives. And youll have the chance to network with speakers, professionals and students.
The conference is brought to you by the Ayn Rand Institute in collaboration with STRIVE (STudents for Reason, Individualism, Value pursuit, and Enterprise) and is made possible by the generous support of the Michael and Andrea Leven Family Foundation, as well as by the support of the Charles Koch Foundation, Ellen and Harris Kenner, Chris J. Rufer, and Loren and Kathy Corle, RELCO LLC.
Thanks to these donors, students are able to attend this conference at little or no cost. All students will receive a scholarship covering their travel, lodging and registration expenses.
Apply to attend by October 10, 2016!