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Is Trump Destroying the GOP?

Of all the concerns raised about President Donald Trump and his behavior in the Oval Office, perhaps one of the more sobering one is the way he and his allies have elevated a minority position within the GOP to a dominant policy agenda at the national level. Throughout his primary campaign, Trump spoke to…
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Why North Korea and the United States are Near War

You might have heard that North Korea and the United States are not getting along. We mock their lack of electricity, they threaten to annihilate us with thermonuclear weapons, that sort of thing.

But why are we enemies?

I’ll sort it all out for you here.

Obviously the largest source of friction is that the United States and North Korea want very different things. And those different things are mutually exclusive. For example, we want to avoid nuclear war and they… okay, they also want to avoid nuclear war. But on most other issues, we want different things.

For example, North Korea doesn’t want the U.S. to invade their country. The United States, on the other hand, wants to invade North Korea about as much as we want rabid porcupines shoved up our asses. I guess you could say we’re on the same page on that too. But that’s only two points of agreement in this whole mess. You have to look at the big picture.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to establish himself as a credible nuclear power, partly for defense, and partly as a vehicle for national pride. So far, they have succeeded on the national pride part. The United States wishes they had not, but we agree it was an impressive achievement. So we’re on the same page about the national pride. They earned it.

Where we differ is that the United States and its ally, South Korea, would like to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but we realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in our lifetimes. North Korea, on the other hand, wants to see a unified Korean peninsula someday, but they realize there is no-way-in-hell it can happen in their lifetimes. If you strip away the magical thinking and hard-wishing, we’re of the same opinion on unification: Nice, but not gonna happen while we’re alive.

Okay, okay, we’re mostly on the same page about all of the stuff I mentioned so far. But consider that North Korea would like to feed its people and grow its economy. The United States would like for them to do that too, so long as they leave us alone. Okay, I guess we’re on the same page there too.

The biggest problem the United States has with North Korea is that Kim Jong Un wants to avoid being killed or deposed and we don’t give a shit about him one way or another so long as he leaves us alone. So I guess we aren’t too far apart on that either, unless we want to be total dicks about it and kill him just for fun. 

One of the biggest sticking points is that the United States has massive military assets in South Korea. North Korea doesn’t like that. Contrast that opinion to the normal citizen in the United States who doesn’t understand why-the-hell we have even one soldier in South Korea. What is the point of it? Are we preparing for the big push to conquer China? (Probably not.) Is South Korea unable to deter an attack from the North? (Not as long as they can afford American weapons systems, and the U.S. still has a navy.) So I guess Kim Jong Un and American voters are mostly on the same side about our presence in South Korea. We all understand that American military presence in South Korea once had a purpose, but not so much in 2017. 

I confess to being under-informed about the situation with North Korea, but it seems to me that the issue boils down to magical thinking about future unification. North Korea wants to be on the winning side of any unification and so does South Korea. The problem is that no one knows how both sides could be the winners

Except for me. This is right in my wheelhouse.

Let me reframe this for you. I won’t change any of the data, just the filter you apply to it.

The situation in North Korea involves a number of what I’d call “real” problems, such as the very real risk of nuclear war, and the very real artillery batteries in North Korea pointed at South Korea. When your security risks are the “real” kind, you hire an experienced military person to deal with it. General Mattis seems to have a good handle on the “real” risks.

Now let’s talk about the stuff that isn’t “real” in any physical sense. The first issue is North Korean national pride. I’m sure any negotiated settlement could keep that intact. For example, having direct talks with the United States would be a point of honor. And one can imagine a negotiated agreement that lets them keep nuclear power for energy while not building any ICBMs. Everyone’s pride stays intact.

But what about all the magical thinking about unification? That requires a magical-thinking solution. That’s where I come in. As a trained persuader, I have a suggested solution. I call it the hundred-year-plan for unification. Both sides would simply agree to work out the details over the next hundred years. The details might include loosening travel, establishing trade, eventual amnesty for leaders, that sort of thing. That way, both sides could claim victory. The victory would be in the imagination of both sides, not in the real world. But it still works, because a change in imagination is all you need to cure magical thinking. And unification in our lifetimes is, for all practical purposes, just magical thinking.

For more details on my 100-year-plan for Korean unification, see this blog post.

For my regular readers, recall that a year ago I was one of the few voices saying Kim Jong Un was rational while most pundits and “experts” were saying he was a total nut job. Today, most “experts” have evolved to my view that Kim Jong Un is a rational player.

Recall also that in 2015 I was one of the first public voices to proclaim candidate Trump was far more than the “clown” the public and pundits widely believed him to be. I mention both cases to bolster my credibility.

In summary, if you have “real” security problems, call General Mattis. But if your problems are in the realm of imagination and magical thinking, call a Master Persuader.

Better yet, elect him president.

Check!

You’re in better hands than you know. 

That doesn’t mean everything will turn out well with North Korea, but it does mean you have the right team in place for the first time, capable of managing both the “real” and the imaginary dimensions. And in Kim Jong Un I suspect we have a negotiating partner who understands all dimensions. 

We are closer to war with North Korea than at any time in recent memory. But we are also closer than we have ever been to a permanent solution. My optimism about North Korea is that for the first time in history we have players on the field who understand the nature of the problem as partly real and partly imaginary, and they have the tools to deal with all of it. I don’t think we’ve had the right people on the job until now.

Have you noticed that our Insulter-in-Chief has been going easy on Kim Jong Un in the verbal sparring? President Trump has been downright respectful.

It isn’t an accident. 

My startup’s app, Approach by WhenHub, is helping hurricane Harvey families and emergency responders in the area locate each other. Our analytics show the app picking up popularity in the flood zone.

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The Magical Thinking Opposition

My hypothesis is that the political side that is out of power is the one that hallucinates the most – and needs to – in order to keep their worldview intact. For example, when President Obama was in office, I saw all kinds of hallucinations on the right about his intentions to destroy America from the inside because he “hates” it. 

That was a mass hysteria. If President Obama wanted to destroy America, he failed miserably. We’re stronger than ever.

The birther issue started as ordinary political shenanigans to delegitimize the president. I call it ordinary because you see the trick used whenever it is an option, as it was with “Canadian” Ted Cruz in the primaries. Eventually it morphed into a full-blown hallucination that President Obama was a Muslim sleeper cell from Kenya, or something like that. That was mass hysteria. 

Now that Democrats are out of power, we should expect them to hallucinate like crazy (literally) because the election results of 2016 shattered their expectations. Do we see signs of their hallucinations? I’ll walk you through a few examples. 

Hallucination:

Based on President Trump’s tweets and speeches, I can see into his soul, and it is all darkness and racism in there.

Real:

If the President of the United States tries anything racist in the real world, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the voters would shut him down in a heartbeat. For example, the Courts modified President Trump’s immigration ban to remove even the perception of racism. That’s a sensitive filter for racism, and I think we like it that way.

Society’s standard is that you are judged for what you do, not what you privately think. That’s good because humans are terrible at knowing what other people think, while at the same time we think we are good at it. I know this first-hand because dozens of people misinterpret what I write on social media every day. If you don’t have my type of experience  – of being routinely misinterpreted – you might think humans are good at reading minds based on subtle clues. We are not good at that. We might be slightly better than random chance, at best. The problem is that we are dead-certain we are champions of evidence-based mindreading. That is a hallucination.

Hallucination:

I can spot a racist by how long it takes them to properly disavow other racists.

Real:

That isn’t a thing. The first rule of communicating is that people only hear what they think you intend to say. They don’t hear what you actually say. If you think someone is a racist, you will perceive their disavowals of racism as too late and too inadequate. If you think someone is not a racist, you might see their statements as politically incorrect and nothing worse. This phenomenon is most pronounced when strong emotions are involved. The topic of racism stirs our strongest emotions. So according to everything we know about brains, we should expect the highest level of hallucinations when racism is the topic. And that is exactly what we observe. 

To be clear, racism itself is very real. The hallucination is limited to seeing it under every bed and behind every couch.

Hallucination:

The president has accomplished nothing!

Real:

The president has accomplished a long list of things.

That said, we are 13% into President Trump’s first term, and Congress has created no major bills worthy of signing. Congress is tasked with working out the details of bills. The president can’t do his job until they do theirs.

We observe that the president has not shown leadership on any major legislation. But keep in mind that Congress produced nothing worthy of leadership. Would any leader be able to fix that? Yes, but I assume it takes longer than simply signing bills that come to your desk. Especially in this hyper-polarized environment.

Hallucination:

President Trump is performing poorly!

Real:

Compared to what? The imaginary president in your head? There is no base case with which to compare any president’s performance. Would Hillary Clinton have passed major legislation with a Republican Congress in less than six months? It seems unlikely. But we can’t know because she isn’t president.

We are terrible at judging how well a stranger performs compared to the imaginary person in our minds. We just think we are good at it. 

Hallucination:

If you thought some “fine people” were marching with Nazis and KKK in Charlottesville, you are a racist.

Real:

I condemn all racists and anyone who marches with them. But It turns out that some non-racists were at the event to support the absolute right of free speech, including the worst kinds of speech. In this one case, President Trump passed the fact-checking but failed miserably on the “saying the right thing” dimension.

He wisely left the facts alone after failing on the empathy.

Hallucination:

This country needs moral leadership and we are not getting it!

Real:

The country does not need moral leadership in 2017. Social media has filled that void. The country is unified (let’s say 98%) in condemning the KKK and other racists in Charlottesville. We did that without moral leadership. We want moral leadership, but there is no evidence we need it.

We would also like to know our president has the right intentions. But hallucinations on that topic are nearly unfixable. Obama never fixed it. Trump will not either.

Hallucination:

The way you worded your statement, you made a moral equivalence between the KKK and people protesting the KKK.

Real:

Literally no one but the KKK and other extreme racists has any trouble understanding that Nazis are worse than the people protesting against hate. It is a hallucination (or political tricksterism) to suggest normal citizens can’t distinguish the moral difference between Nazis and those demonstrating against racism. 

I could go on, but I think you are starting to see the picture. The party out of power has to hallucinate to make their world make sense. The people who think they are smart and morally pure don’t understand why their side lost an election. The simplest fix for that broken worldview is to imagine there are far more “secret racists” than they first assumed, and those people can be identified by the way they accidentally reveal their “moral equivalence” opinions that look exactly like law-and-order opinions to others.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Cognitive dissonance hits the losing team hardest. It has to, because only the losing side need to make sense of it all. The winning side thinks things are going exactly as expected. They have no trigger for hallucinating.

If our next president is a Democrat, expect the Right to do most of the hallucinating. The Left will think things are going as expected.

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I wrote some books you might enjoy because you love books you enjoy. 

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Checking My Six Month Prediction – Did it Age Well?

Six months ago this week, I tweeted this message:

As you might expect, anti-Trumper are saying the tweet didn’t age well. They are saying this on the same week that their side protested a free speech rally by throwing urine on cops. 

Okay, okay, I know what you are going to say. Those protestors do not represent all anti-Trump people. But I learned this past week that if you are marching with urine-hurlers, and making common cause with urine-hurlers, you’re just as bad as urine-hurlers. And if that logic doesn’t hold up, it would feel super-awkward for me to be on the team that says it does. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, Senator Schiff, a prominent anti-Trumper, spoke out today against violence. But he failed to name Antifa or White Supremacists by name, despite being prompted to do so by Jake Tapper in this interview, thus drawing a moral equivalence between Antifa and White Supremacists. And if he later mentions any hate groups by name, we still have to wonder why it took so long. We learned last week from anti-Trumpers that this sort of moral equivalence, and the peculiar pause before a full disavowal, are deeply meaningful. If this logic doesn’t make sense to you, it might feel super-awkward to be on the team that insists it does.

And what about the racist dog whistle that anti-Trumpers tell us only they and racists can hear? Is it not super-awkward that your best criticism involves hearing a secret message that only racists can detect? 

Or what if your view is that President Trump accomplished nothing in his first six months? Would this extensive list of his accomplishments make you feel super-awkward? 

Did you think that no progress in building the “wall” would be embarrassing for Trump supporters? Or did you see the New York Times confirm that progress is being made?

Perhaps you rejoiced this week about President Trump’s tweet on General Pershing’s handling of Islamic terrorists because he was so factually wrong about the pig blood thing. But maybe you didn’t know how accurate he was according to Pershing’s own words. That feels super-awkward to me, but maybe it sounds different to people who hear the secret racist beacon at the same time. 

I will take anti-Trumpers at their word that they don’t feel awkward about any of this. I got that prediction totally wrong. I recently wrote a blog post explaining why anti-Trumpers don’t feel awkward. It involves something I call the Mass Hysteria Bubble.

I will take this opportunity to publicly eat some crow and agree that six months into this presidency, anti-Trumpers do NOT feel super-awkward. But according to Julian Assange, perhaps they should:

If the only thing you haven’t lost to the GOP already is free speech, you might want to hold onto that one. 

Unless it feels super-awkward to do so.

To be fair, it was indeed a super-awkward week to be a Trump supporter of any kind. No debate on that. But that’s not what I tweeted about. I tweeted that the other side would feel super-awkward. I got that wrong. 

You might enjoy my books because you read this blog post.

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