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Sunday, May 22, 2022

A touch of class

This has been a very busy weekend, and during the week increasing amounts of my time and nervous energy have gone into a zoning battle with my home town that I am fighting along with the co-owner of our condo.  The issue is parking, and town officials are attempting to exercise extraordinary arbitrary power to take some of ours away--why I do not know.  I also participated in a conference in Dallas, about which more later, and I'm preparing to join in an online conference on Watergate early next month.  On top of all that, I started a piece here this morning, wrote a few paragraphs, and decided that I didn't like it.  So I'm going to let someone else do most of the work this week.

That someone is Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.  He has done a lot to make partisanship worse in this country and has shown very little respect for the last two Democratic presidents.  He also made a very historic mistake last January when he decided not to round up enough Republican votes to convict Donald Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors and eliminate the possibility of his making another presidential run.  Yet last week, he suddenly decided to step into the shoes of Arthur Vandenberg, the conservative Republican Senate heavyweight of the late 1940s who cast key votes for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall plan.  McConnell gave an interview to a New York Times reporter which I actually enjoyed reading, and I am going to share it for non-commercial use only.  The reporter begins by asking about the trip that McConnell and several other senators made to Europe.

Why did you decide to make the trip to Europe last weekend?

One was to try to convey to the Europeans that skepticism about NATO itself, expressed by the previous president, was not the view of Republicans in the Senate. And I also was trying to minimize the vote against the package in my own party.

We have sort of an isolationist wing, and I think some of the Trump supporters are sort of linked up with the isolationists — a lot of talk out in the primaries about this sort of thing. And I felt this would help diminish the number of votes against the package. I think that worked out well.

I’d had a private dinner with the president of Finland back in March, right after the invasion, so we’d sort of developed a relationship. So we decided to head up to Stockholm and Helsinki. These are incredibly important admissions to NATO. They both have great militaries. They’re both independent of Russian energy. If anybody’s ready to be a part of NATO, these two countries are, so it was exciting to be there.

I think the trip helped convince Europeans that Republicans are the way we used to be on NATO.


Did you personally lobby individual senators to try to allay some of their concerns about the aid bill?

I certainly was talking about it for the last two weeks to my own colleagues. I said, No. 1, this is a pittance compared to the $2 trillion the Democrats dumped on the economy last year, producing 40-year-high inflation. If ever there were a reason where for an expenditure of this amount, this is it. And if the Russians succeeded, it would cost us a lot more. So yes, I was arguing for support for the package.

There are not many things we agree with this administration on. And that’s been pretty widely on display the last year and a half. I thought they were a little bit slow to get started, a little bit too intimidated by the thought of provoking the Russians, and we did criticize the slowness. However, I think they’ve stepped up their game. I think they are fully engaged. And I think the administration shares my view that the outcome of this ought to be victory.

What’s the definition of victory? I can tell you that [President Volodymyr] Zelensky [of Ukraine] believes victory is getting his country back. All of it.

The Ukrainians are trying to get on offense. And I believe this weapons package is crafted in such a way to give them what they need now, not only to win the ground war, but hopefully to have some impact on getting the Odessa port back open again, because the absence of Ukrainian food is going to resonate throughout the Middle East and Africa as well.

Our intelligence community says they believe that President [Vladimir V.] Putin [of Russia] is counting on American resolve flagging. As the conflict drags on, do you think it’s going to be harder to maintain support from Republicans for sending aid to Ukraine?

Well, we’ll see how much pain he can sustain. All indications are, they’re sustaining significantly more pain than we are. He’s counting on us kind of running out of interest and losing steam, not having a staying power — and I think he’s wrong about that. And I think he’s underestimating the amount of pain he’s getting.

You probably can’t fool the Russian people, like the mothers of the people who’ve been killed and maimed. They lost more people in the first two weeks of this war than we lost in Afghanistan plus Iraq in 20 years. We’ll see how long he can sustain it.

You’ve noted that isolationism among Republicans is nothing new. But does what we’re currently seeing in some corners of your party feel different or more dangerous to you than what we’ve seen in the past?

I don’t feel it’s dangerous. You know, I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve watched a lot of campaign rhetoric that seems to disappear once you’re sworn in, and you actually are responsible for governing and confronted with the facts and reality. So I have a tendency not to get overexcited about what A or B may be saying in some primary somewhere in America. I think this is one of those issues where, right and wrong — it’s pretty clear.

And of course, the best salesman against isolationism in America is President Zelensky. As you heard others say, Winston Churchill in a T-shirt. He’s an inspiration, not only to his own people, but to us as well.

For a lot of younger people in America, this is the first time they’ve ever seen a clear battle between right and wrong. To a lot of people, Afghanistan was murky. Iraq was murky. It just didn’t seem like a clear choice. I thought both those wars were necessary, by the way, but it was confusing to people. I don’t think anybody’s confused about this.

We’ve seen the bodies, we’ve seen the destroyed buildings. I don’t think anybody’s confused about who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, and whether or not America really ought to play that kind of role it has traditionally since World War II: being the leader of the free world in opposition to this kind of authoritarianism.

How important do you think the China factor was in all of this?

Huge. You’ve got both the prime minister of Japan and the defense minister of Japan saying if you want to push back against the Chinese, the single most important thing to do is beat Putin in Ukraine. That’s from the Japanese, whose biggest worry is not Putin but Xi [Jinping, China’s leader].

Senator Ted Cruz’s vote for the aid bill was interesting. He gave a very long speech explaining why, and one of the reasons was to counter China.

It was an excellent speech, I thought. And since he is among our most conservative members, I thought it was courageous and correct for him to say what he did, to people who follow him carefully. And in fact, I mentioned to him today, I thought it was really excellently crafted and an important message for someone like him to say. He’s clearly chosen a different path from another of our members who has presidential aspirations.

You said it was courageous — why?

Well, if you think of the brand of Republicans that you would typically think Senator Cruz would appeal to, this is not what they want to hear. That’s why I applied the word “courage” to it, because I think he was educating his supporters rather than mirroring them.

You seem confident that the Senate will ratify adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. Is there any concern about the level of risk that would entail for the United States and our allies, particularly given that Finland has 800 miles of shared border with Russia?

Did you read or hear about what the Finns did to the Russians in 1939? They had a hell of a war. The Soviets tried to take over Finland, and the Finns fought them to a draw.


I don’t think the Russians want to mess with the Finns. They’ve got a great military; they already spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Sweden will be up to 2 percent shortly but already has a good military. So I’m not worried about it.

Their concern was, how long will it take for us to ratify? Chuck [Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader] feels the same way I do: We’re trying to expedite this process and get this treaty or treaties — however they decide to send it up to us — approved as quickly as possible.

[end interview]

McConnell exaggerated Finland's 1939-40 success somewhat. The Finns did brilliantly in the early stages of the campaign, inflicting enormous casualties, but in the spring the Russians broke through their main defense line and forced them to surrender about 1/3 of their territory, which they regained only temporarily after Hitler attacked the Soviets the next year and they joined in. That's my only quibble about the interview.

I am sure some readers are angry at me for giving McConnell any credibility at all.  As it happens, I always enjoy finding a point of agreement with some one who is almost always opposed to what I believe. Finding such issues may be the only way that we can get our politics out of the mess that they are in.  Five years older even than I, McConnell still remembers Cold War bipartisan foreign policy.  And some bipartisanship is better than none.



Friday, May 13, 2022

Harvard and Slavery

 This week's post appears here.  My thanks to editor Christina Xiao '24.  Other editors might not have been interested.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

A different perspective on Roe v. Wade

In an attempt to keep my head while many others are losing theirs in the aftermath of the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, I am going to begin by reposting a long article I wrote about eighteen months ago on the broader issue of the power of the Supreme Court.  It anticipated the moment at which we find ourselves, and suggested that over-reliance by both parties on Supreme Court decisions to secure their goals has done very grave harm to American democracy.  At the end of the post I will make some more comments about the current situation.


 On both sides of the political aisle, Americans see the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court as a potential turning point in our history.  A 6-3 majority for the well-organized conservative bloc may overturn the Affordable Care Act, reverse the decision in Roe v. Wade, and possibly (although I think this is less likely), undo federal protection of gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.  Any of these steps would give an anti-democratic Republican Party huge victories in major national issues--but I do not think the situation can be blamed on the Republicans alone.  It reflects a long-standing desire of both sides to use the court system in general and the Supreme Court in particular to accomplish goals that the ordinary political process will not allow them to reach.  Rather than try to pack the court if the Democratic Party regains control of the government next month--a precedent that could make the whole situation worse, not better--it might be better to reconsider the proper limits of the court's role.

The Supreme Court's power to test both state and federal laws against the text of our Constitution, and to strike down laws it finds in conflict with that text, was, I think, inherent in the text of the Constitution itself.  For most of the pre-Civil War era, however, the court used that power very sparingly.  The great exception was the Dred Scott decision of 1857, which, as I tried to show in a much earlier post, used an ahistorical reading of precedent to try to stop all regulation of slavery in the territories, and implied that slavery was legal all over the United States.  The modern era of legislative jurisprudence, as one might call it, began after the Civil War, when conservative justices (and they were all conservative for much of the late 19th century) began using the 14th Amendment's guarantee of due process to outlaw state attempts to regulate their economy, including wages and hours legislation.  Such rulings continued through the first four years of the New Deal, when they took down major New Deal laws, and they led to FDR's court packing plan, which failed dismally in Congress but convinced some moderate justices, led by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, to help affirm the Wagner Act and the Social Security Act to forestall a greater constitutional crisis.

The broadening of the court's power entered a new phase, however, in Brown vs. Board of Education, when in 1954 the Warren Court ruled that school desegregation was an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  While the definitive work on that case, Richard Kluger's Simple Justice, showed pretty clearly that the authors of that amendment had not intended to outlaw segregated schools, the decision certainly reflected the broader purpose of that amendment, namely, to secure truly equal status for former slaves, which it defined specifically as citizens.  In addition, Kluger showed that Chief Justice Warren, recognizing the gravity of the decision and the enormous impact that it would have, worked very hard, and successfully, to insure that the decision would be unanimous, even though the court at that time included several white southerners.  The subsequent history of school desegregation in this country, however, shows how hard it is to impose such a change by judicial fiat.  After decades of litigation, including 1970s decisions that approved school busing in some cases to promote integration, 69% of black children attend schools that are predominantly nonwhite.  In parts of the Deep South, integration led almost immediately to the creation of a separate system of private "Christian" schools for white students, leaving the public schools almost completely segregated, and often underfunded as a result.

During the next 15 years, the Warren Court issued a series of decisions that extended the reach of judicial power to try to transform various aspects of American life along more liberal lines.  Several were based on the relatively new idea that all state legislation might be tested against the Bill of Rights, and at least one critical decision, on reapportionment, relied on relatively abstract ideas of justice.  In the realm of criminal justice, Mapp vs. Ohio (1961) excluded evidence that had been seized without a warrant, Gideon vs. Wainwright guaranteed every defendant a lawyer, and Miranda vs. Arizona forced law enforcement agencies to inform defendants of their right to counsel and protection against self-incrimination.  Reynolds vs. Sims and Baker v. Carr ordered states to apportion all their legislative districts according to population, rather than to favor rural districts against urban ones.  Engel vs. Vitale (1962) outlawed organized prayer in public schools.  New York Times v. Sullivan (1964) made it almost impossible for public figures to win libel suits in state court.  While I certainly agree with the goals of all these decisions, every of them aroused considerable resentment against the courts because they bypassed or overruled the political process within states, and started the Republican assault upon the independence of the judiciary.  These precedents had another impact.  By continuing to test various specific state laws and practices against broad provisions of the U.S. Constitution, they encouraged a whole new style of litigation to which several generations of activist lawyers have devoted their lives.  Rather than organize politically or run for office to try to achieve worthy goals, they look for ways to secure them in the federal courts, and thereby weaken our democratic processes.

The expansion of judicial power took a new step forward in 1973, when the court handed down Roe v. Wade, making abortion legal all around the country.  I personally regard that decision as tragic, even though I agree with its goal, because, when it happened, the political process was already attacking this issue with some success. The nation's two most populous states, New York and California, had already legalized abortion.  That was beginning to trigger a nationwide political fight over the issue, but I think it's very likely that they would have maintained that right and that other states would have followed suit.  Instead, Roe v. Wade made abortion advocates complacent, energized at least three generations of opponents to an extraordinary extent, and turned abortion into a critical national political issue that has distorted our politics ever since. Furthermore, new state laws and new federal court decisions have narrowed the right it decreed to such an extent that in much of the country it is almost impossible to secure a legal abortion, and a market for back-alley abortions has been created once again.

By the time of Roe v. Wade, Richard Nixon, who in 1968 had campaigned explicitly against many of the Warren Court's decisions, had appointed four new members of the Supreme Court.  By 1976, a conservative majority was using the Bill of Rights to invalidate major liberal legislation.  In that year, Buckley v. Valeo held that the federal government could restrict a candidate's use of his own money in his election campaign, and two years later, in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, the court struck down a Massachusetts law designed to keep corporate money out of politics. These decisions laid the foundation for even more sweeping ones down the road.

In 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, the court struck down laws against sexual relations between gay people, and twelve years later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, it established a right of gay marriage in every state.  The former decision strikes me as a straightforward application of the equal protection clause, allowing consenting adults to choose their sexual partners.  The latter, while just in my opinion, remains open to the same criticism as Roe v. Wade.  By the time it was handed down the political processes in many states had already legalized gay marriage and that would have continued.  As it is, gay marriage, as we shall see, is now under attack from another Constitutional angle.

The appointment of two members of a new generation of conservative justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, by George W. Bush--who was forced by his own party to abandon what would probably have been a more moderate appointment--allowed the court to move three critical areas of policy in a conservative direction, each time by a 5-4 vote.  In District of Columbia v. Heller, the court overruled more than two centuries of precedent and almost completely eliminated a state's right to regulate the possession of firearms.  Citizens United v. FEC (2010) essentially ended any restrictions on corporate spending on election campaigns, overturning a century of federal laws.  And in Shelby County v. Holder(2013), the same 5-4 majority invalidated the key preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act--perhaps the most obvious judicial usurpation of legislative power in the history of the Republic.  The 15th Amendment explicitly gave Congress the right to enforce itself by appropriate legislation, and the Voting Rights Act had repeatedly been renewed by large Congressional majorities.  The court majority threw out the provision simply because they, in contrast to Congress, did not regard as fair or necessary any longer.  Numerous states have passed legislation attempting to reduce voting in response.

No one, really, should be surprised that both political parties have tried to bend the enormous power of the Supreme Court as it has evolved since the Second World War to their own purposes.  Democrats are especially frustrated at this moment, first, because luck as well as electoral politics have given Republicans so many more court appointments than Democrats over the last 50 years, and secondly, because the Republican Senate majority shamelessly used its power four years ago to deny President Obama an appointment that rightfully belonged to him, and having made sure then that Justice Scalia would be replaced by another conservative, they are making sure now that Justice Ginsburg will be, as well.  The situation we are in, however--in which the appointment and confirmation of federal justices may well have become the single most important thing that the President and the Senate do--reflects a long deterioration of American democracy, which has taken so many decisions out of the voters' hands.  

Eleven years ago, the political scientist James MacGregor Burns--then 92 years old--published a remarkable history of the politics of the Supreme Court, Packing the Courtwhich I reviewed at the time.  Burns as a college student had lived through the battle between the Court and the New Deal, and that had left him with a firm belief that the Court should not be allowed to invalidate acts of Congress. That book railed against the enormous role of the Court in our political life, and looked forward to the day when a President might defy its attempt to invalidate a law. That, it seems to me, might be a more effective step for a new President Biden to take than a new attempt to add justices to the Court, if the Roberts Court, as seems fairly likely, does confirm the argument that Roberts himself made when the ACA first came before it, and tries to invalidate the ACA on the grounds that without the tax that went along with the individual mandate, it is now unconstitutional.  [end old post].

The history of abortion rights over the last 50 years, it seems to me, resembles the history of civil rights for black Americans in the South after reconstruction.  Just as the Republican Congress declared equal rights for former slaves during Reconstruction, the Supreme Court in 1973 declared abortion in the first trimester (and potentially in the second) legal throughout the United States.  In the first case, most of the white South simply refused to accept equal rights for black citizens, and began  undoing the Reconstruction acts as soon as they could.  Fifty years later--that is, around 1920--most black people in the southern states could not vote or enter into hotels, restaurants, schools and railroad cars reserved for whites.  In the half century since Roe v. Wade red states have severely cut back access to abortion in quite a few states, and abortion rates in some blue states are at least five times higher than in some red ones.  A Supreme Court majority can find a right in the Constitution--be it abortion or an individual right to bear arms--but it cannot compel a large majority of all Americans to agree.

A poll reported today shows that while only 9 percent of Americans think that abortion should be illegal in all cases, just 19 percent think that it should be legal in all cases.  Although one would not know it from a lot of the liberal rhetoric flying around this week, Alito's opinion will not ban abortion in the United States.  Based on maps that have been published I have found that it would leave abortion rights in place in states containing slightly more than 1/3 of our population, that it would lead to a ban or near-ban in states with a little less than 1/3, and that the status of abortion would be at least temporarily unclear in the rest.  I continue to believe, as  I wrote 18 months ago, that both abortion rights and American politics generally would be in much better shape today had the court not handed down Roe v. Wade in 1973 and left the issue to the political process within states. A number of them, including the two largest, had already legalized abortion then, and I think many more would have.  The issue would not have become such a big part of the glue that holds both our political parties together.  If the court hands down the Alito opinion or a similar one, we will face a new test of our democratic process in much of the country.  Meeting that test successfully could help get the country back on track.


Sunday, May 01, 2022

Psychology and Politics

 Yesterday I listened to this very interesting conversation between Glenn Loury (who has become a friend of mine) and Jordan Peterson.  Peterson, as many will know, is another centrist-iconoclast who has drawn a lot of criticism for unwoke positions on varoius topics.  Until now, I had never enjoyed listening to him as much as I had hoped to.  He was in top form in this interview, and Loury does very well too.  Peterson is a clinical psychologist who has become something of a social psychologist, and he tried to use some psychological insights to explain our growing inequality and its political consequences.

I cannot do justice to the full range of their discussion here, and will confine myself to a few of their most salient points.  Peterson talked about the G factor, a general measure of intelligence that was developed more than 100 years ago.  Tests have shown that it correlates very significantly with educational achievement, job performance, and income.  This means that since we no longer use high marginal tax rates to limit individual income, the rewards of high performance have become enormous.  He also talked about the low IQ population and its problems.  The US Army, he noted, decided long ago not to take anyone (including draftees) with an IQ of 80 or lower, because such people, they found, could not be trained to perform any military task effectively.  According to this chart,  that cohort includes 8 percent of the population, and a full 25 percent of the population have IQs of 90 or less. 8 percent of the US population includes about 26 million people--people who simply cannot perform effectively in today's economy.  Many of them, Loury speculated, are either homeless or prison inmates.  Most academics who study these questions, Peterson noted aptly, have never had any contact with such a person.  And such people will benefit neither from the left wing view that anyone can be trained and educated, or the right wing view that anyone willing to work hard will do just fine in our society.  And the additional 60 million people with IQs of 90 or less are surely having more and more trouble finding renumerative work as well.

Peterson is not afraid of data showing differences between men and women--to put it mildly--and he said a good deal about the consequences of poor economic prospects for young men. Most of them want to attract young women, and income and status remain critical variables for success in that enterprise.  Without them, some of them will become violent.  That could eventually have major political consequences, as it might well have had in France in 1792, Russia in 1917-18, Italy in the early 1920s, Germany in 1930-33, and China in the late 1940s.  I think it is having some consequences in US politics today.

Peterson and Loury did not talk about an important political development in the western world that I think is making this problem much worse: the collapse of the economic left.  During the mid-century crisis of the western world, the Labour Party in Britain, the Social Democrats in Germany, France, and elsewhere, and the Democratic Party in the US formed alliances with organized labor and became spokesmen for the working class.  The generation of young adults during the Depression and the Second World War produced a number of very effective leaders for those parties.  The postwar generations, however--American Boomers and their European counterparts--struck up new alliances with the economic elite.  Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in Britain led the way, and the German Social Democrats weren't far behind.  Organized labor lost most of its power in the English-speaking nations although it still retains a great deal in Germany.  That left the working class without effective political representation, and large segments of it have turned against the political establishment altogether in the US, Britain, and  France.  Five years ago Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine LePen by 66 percent to 34 percent.  Last week his margin fell to 58-42.  LePen's party  has firmly established itself as one half of a modified-two party systems, and sooner or later such parties have a way of getting into power.   That already happened in the United States in 2016 and it may happen again in 2022 and 2024--and today's Republican Party is just as right wing as LePen's National Front is.

The failure of any western nation to experience a successful fourth turning is also playing a huge role in all this.  The mid-century crisis forced all the western nations to mobilize enormous resources on behalf of common national objectives, including war and economic reconstruction.  Those great enterprises required high taxes on the wealthy, and the less well-off collected some of the benefits of mobilization.  They also gave whole nations a common purpose and with it, a common identity.  Elites now rule us--elites whose economic status is so exalted that they have trouble realizing how badly many of us are dong.  Tribal loyalties have replaced national loyalty among many Americans.  Anything is possible now.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

The op-ed page and its discontents

 Thomas Friedman no longer enjoys the influence that he did twenty years or so ago, but he is still turning out two or three columns a week.  He has not mellowed at age 68.  For decades he has pontificated on foreign policy and the consequences of globalization.  His full-scale endorsement of the war in Iraq did nothing to reduce his eminence within the establishment, which is chronically forgiving of its own mistakes.  Theodore Draper pointed out around 1980 that no leading official had suffered for advocating the Vietnam War or benefited from having opposed it, and that pattern has repeated itself with respect to our Middle Eastern adventures.  Friedman interests me in particular, however, because he exemplifies the approach of the modern op-ed writer--a species that takes up about three times as much space in our newspapers as it did half a century ago.  In the age of James Reston, Roland Evans and Robert Novak, and Marquis Childs, op-ed writers essentially reflected in a more relaxed fashion on the news of the day, or provided scoops of their own about who thought what.  Now they see themselves as moral arbiters who instruct political leaders about what they should do, regardless of how well their advice turned out in the past.

Friedman's most recent column--"China and Russia are giving authoritarianism a bad name"--extends his judicial reach well beyond the United States.  While expressing concern over Putin's war in Ukraine--a theme of most of his recent columns--he is more interested in using that war to make a broader point about the course of history.  He is not worried that we have entered an era in which powerful states will use force to conquer their neighbors--rather he argues that Putin undertook this war because he runs an authoritarian regime, and authoritarian regimes are on the wrong side of history.  They do not understand, as Friedman does, that only the free flow of information leads to progress.  Putin got himself into this mess because his subordinates feared telling him the truth.  The underlying tone of the column--which has become very common in op-eds in general--is that if Putin were only as smart as Thomas Friedman, the world would be a better place.  The same thing, meanwhile, has happened to historians, most of whom now discuss the past merely to show how benighted earlier generations were, how much their values differed from those of a 21st century faculty lounge. I am increasingly convinced that good history and good journalism require a certain degree of humility.  Journalists and historians should try to chronicle the present and the past, not to try to determine what they should be.  An understanding of things as they are is the first step towards thinking about how they might be improved.

Regarding China, Friedman isn't concerned that the Ukraine war might encourage Beijing to invade Taiwan (a possibility that increased, in my opinion, when the sinking of the Moskva showed how vulnerable surface ships have become.)  He merely wants to point out that China, at this moment, is having a harder time with the pandemic than the West is, because its vaccines have been less effective against new variants.  That is true, but it's equally true that China did much better than we did against COVID earlier on, because it could impose much more significant restrictions on its populace.  

Friedman's real problem is his certainty that history is moving in the direction that he has marked out.  The Ukraine war has shocked a great many westerners because we thought we had outgrown the era in which such a war could take place--even though the US began a new era of military imperialism back in 2001 in response to 9/11.  We should have learned in the last 30 years that history is not linear, and that movements towards democracy or authoritarianism still depend on a host of circumstances.  Friedman concludes by arguing, in effect, that while democracy has problems, they are not nearly so great. "I am worried sick about our own democratic system," he says.. "But as long as we can still vote out incompetent leaders and maintain information ecosystems that will expose systemic lying and defy censorship, we can adapt in an age of rapid change — and that is the single most important competitive advantage a country can have today."  Given the failure of our own government to deal seriously with immigration, climate change, inequality, and a host of other issues, that strikes me as a most optimistic reading of our own situation.

More broadly, the growth of the op-ed page has been a catastrophe for journalism.  It usually takes me less than an hour to write these posts--it wouldn't take me a day to write three of them a week.  For a comparable amount of labor, Friedman and his ilk make at least $200,000 a year these days.  Some of them write from a much more ideological perspective than he does--especially those hired to provide a particular demographic viewpoint.  The decline of newspapers--like the decline of history and serious publishing--has a great deal to do with the product that it is putting out.