Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Category: Politics

Trump’s First Year Was Really Quite Pedestrian

I’m no great fan of state of the union addresses (as long-time readers are sure to know). They are platitudinous affairs in which presidents tell a long series of anecdotes about particular people they claim their policies have helped. The responses from the opposition are no better, full of vague rhetoric that sounds as if it were recycled from old 90s stump speeches. I won’t review all this nonsense–it’s a waste of your time and mine. But I will offer you my review of Donald Trump’s first year. It’s a review focused on what the president has done, not on what he’s said. My interest is in large-scale policy that affects real people–not in scandals and tweets. If that still sounds interesting to you, come along for the ride.

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Jordan Peterson is a Garden Variety Christian Existentialist

A few people have asked me lately–what do I think of Jordan Peterson? Peterson is a Canadian psychologist who has written a book called 12 Rules for Life. He’s become very popular on YouTube and generated something of a following. I can see why–the particular kind of philosophy he’s advocating is unfamiliar to many people and feels transgressive in a modern context. But it’s an old kind of philosophy which dates back to the 19th century and takes its inspiration from Soren Kierkegaard. It’s called “Christian Existentialism”. Here’s how it works.

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Don’t Fear Trump–Fear the Next Republican President

I’ve long argued that the Democratic Party needs to use its time in the wilderness to remake itself so it can pursue and deliver real benefits for poor and working class voters and be seen to do so in its campaigns. This remaking necessarily requires a period of disunity and chaos within the Democratic Party–central questions about what being a Democrat is for need to be asked, and different people will and should give different answers. Those differences should be resolved in blood-soaked primaries. But I’m increasingly concerned it’s not going to happen–too many Democrats seem to believe that the party needs to unify at all costs to present the strongest possible electoral challenge to Trump in 2018 and 2020. This is a dangerous misreading of the historical situation. The biggest threat to the United States is not the Trump presidency–it is the next Republican presidency, or perhaps the one after that. Let me explain…

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#MeToo Needs to be about Principles, Not Celebrity Shaming

One of the inherent difficulties the #MeToo movement faces is the strong incentives the media has to ruin the whole thing. The initial incidents–the abuses of power by people like Trump, Weinstein, and C.K.–are useful insofar as they start a conversation about policy and principles. But the risk is that #MeToo will be reduced to the little more than the quest for more high-profile allegations, because nothing sells ads like celebrity gossip. And in that quest for more exciting allegations principles are lost in a sea of particularities–we forget about the forest and gaze longingly into the trees. And so we’ve come to the Aziz Ansari moment, a moment which was inevitable–some media outlet publishes some allegations which seem to some people to be much less serious than the allegations that have gone before, and yet seem to another group of people to warrant the same response those previously accused received. We’re reduced to a debate over whether our response to the specific Ansari allegation is reasonable, and then that debate is projected onto everything else. If Ansari is the victim of a witch hunt, is the whole thing a witch hunt? The appropriate response is to refuse to play this game in the first place–#MeToo isn’t really about exposing guilty people and publicly shaming them. It has, to this point, often been conducted in that way. But it’s really about getting people to treat each other better. To do that, we have to know what “better” involves. We have to talk about principles, not people.

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An American Class Divide: The Aristocrats v. The Professionals

In the United States we usually don’t like to think about ourselves as members of economic classes. Most of us, when asked, identify as middle or upper-middle class. But of course there are class differences, and in recent years we’ve started to talk about them a little more. People like Thomas Frank have drawn attention to “the professional class” as distinct from “the working class”. The professionals go to college and get degrees in things like engineering, medicine, law, finance, business, or computer science. They get access to those prized STEM and management careers, to the jobs in the court rooms, on Wall Street, and in Silicon Valley. In contrast, members of the working class often don’t go to college. In recent years they sometimes get uneconomical degrees and end up underemployed with lots of debt. But while the professional/working distinction is important and needs to be drawn more often, I’d like to take some time today to draw another distinction, between the professional class and what I’d like to call the “aristocrats”.

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