Former Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich is almost unquestionably the hardest-left Clinton-era Democrat still maintaining a public profile.
His politics are a shrieky and hysterical blend of far left dogmatism topped with an apocalyptic foam of raw hatred for conservatives and conservatism.
That all-consuming hatred and obsessive fanaticism, coupled with his stunted size, bring to mind comparisons to Wagner’s Alberich and Tolkien’s Gollum. He’s a vicious little dwarf-troll whose insatiable hunger for ideological victory at all costs has twisted and deformed his soul to the point where it’s no longer recognizably human.
Some of that’s hyperbole. But only some of it.
Putin and Trump have convinced me: I was wrong about the 21st century
Robert Reich, The Guardian, Mar 13
Robert Reich is not the kind of man—or dwarf-troll—to concede errors of any kind, so the “I was wrong” part of the headline caught my attention.
He walks us through seven fundamental assumptions about the world that he believes to have been disproven by the examples of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Those seven assumptions are so childishly naive and disconnected from reality, however, that what’s striking about the column isn’t the grotesque way in which he’s constantly equating the Russian despot with the former American president—forget it, Jake, it’s Reichtown—but the blithe way in which he spells out the particulars of his infantile understanding of the world.
It’s like a grown man thoughtfully enumerating the carefully collected observations that have finally convinced him there is no longer a Santa Claus. And blaming it at least partially on Donald Trump.
Robert Reich is no commonplace lunatic, however: he’s a member in good standing of the establishment cognoscenti (the elites, the anointed, the cathedral, the machine, whatever you want to call them). His ideas are therefore worth examination by anyone seeking to understand the pathologies of the establishment left.
“I used to believe,” Reich begins, “several things about the 21st century that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 have shown me are false.”
And then he ticks them off one by one, with compact explanations of what each belief entailed and how he came to realize it was untrue. So let’s examine them each in turn.
Nationalism is disappearing.
I expected globalization would blur borders, create economic interdependence among nations and regions and extend a modern consumer and artistic culture worldwide.
I was wrong. Both Putin and Trump have exploited xenophobic nationalism to build their power. (Putin’s aggression has also ignited an inspiring patriotism in Ukraine.)
Nationalism is a tricky term, as Reich’s second sentence there makes plain: to the shrunken minds of the left, it’s a phenomenon with a deeply negative connotation. The courage of the Ukrainians appears to have come as a shock to the left because it so vividly illustrates the natural and healthy nationalism a people should feel for their homeland. Reich therefore has to differentiate it from the “xenophobic nationalism” that was “exploited” by Putin and Trump.
He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s actually making an argument against “nationalism” as something that should disappear. He’s not actually saying anything about nationalism: he’s saying xenophobia is bad and patriotism is inspiring: the former because it’s a baleful influence on nationalism, the latter because it’s one of its virtues. I find nothing to object to in any of that (although obviously the idea that Donald Trump was “xenophobic” is here as always offered without evidence, because there is none)—but Reich has done nothing to help us understand what he means by nationalism or why he thinks it should disappear.
With that in mind, Reich’s first sentence is all the more interesting: he thought “globalization” (another word he tosses out without defining) would do wonders for the world. What kind of grotesque thinking wants to blur borders? Here is the line where Russia ends and Ukraine begins: oh look, it’s blurry. Hooray?
The idea of “economic interpendence” as a cure-all for international strife is mostly based in the example of the historically hostile nations of France and Germany having been bound to peace by means of mutual economic reliance in the EC—but that’s something their neighbors (and the rest of the world) imposed on them. Anyone feeling good about our “economic interdependence” with China right now? Anyone sleep better at night knowing that our supply of antibiotics depends on China?
Finally, the idea that a “modern consumer and artistic culture” could, should, or would be shared worldwide sounds inoffensive only until you poke a little at the idea. What kind of consumer culture? A global marketplace of free and fair trade would indeed be wonderful, but it would also go against almost every economic principle that the “economist” Reich has supported over the course of his long career, so I suspect that’s not what he has in mind. As for a “global artistic culture,” what does that even mean? Art is a product of individuals, each of whom is a product of his or her time and place: what kind of grotesque hive-mind “art” does Reich envision here?
Nations can no longer control what their citizens know.
I assumed that emerging digital technologies, including the internet, would make it impossible to control worldwide flows of information and knowledge. Tyrants could no longer keep their people in the dark or hoodwink them with propaganda.
Wrong again. Trump filled the media with lies, as has Putin. Putin has also cut off Russian citizens from the truth about what’s occurring in Ukraine.
This, from Reich, is rich.
Let’s assume Trump “filled the media with lies.” What has that got to do with a nation being able to control what its citizens know? Trump did not control the media. Trump did not block information from a single American soul—which is more than you can say for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. This is a massive category error. In fact, new media were able to control the flow of information by throwing the president offline.
Trump neither kept anyone in the dark nor hoodwinked anyone with propaganda. He put his stuff out there, like thousands of other politicians before and after him. If Reich wants to call his tweets and nonsense “propaganda,” very well. Then let’s call all political rhetoric propaganda… and let’s not overlook that this entire column is Robert Reich’s own propaganda.
Ironically—and horribly—emerging digital technologies have for the last ten or fifteen years been homogenizing the contours of “permissible” information, thereby centralizing control of what can and cannot be said. Tyrants can’t keep their people in the dark anymore, but they hardly need to: they partner with Big Tech, mutter a few leftist platitudes, and have their enemies purged from the public square. Easy-peasy. Look at all the western tech companies in China, helping that communist dictatorship enforce conformity on their population.
If Robert Reich weren’t such a grotesque human being, he’d realize that Trump’s example is that nations genuinely can’t control what their citizens know—but Big Tech can, and does, to all of our detriment.
Advanced nations will no longer war over geographic territory.
I thought that in the “new economy,” land was becoming less valuable than technological knowhow and innovation. Competition among nations would therefore be over the development of cutting-edge inventions.
I was only partly right. While skills and innovation are critical, land still provides access to critical raw materials and buffers against potential foreign aggressors.
Yes, wise person. It must have been quite a shock to realize that something that has been true for all of human history didn’t suddenly become untrue.
This is a highly-praised economist acknowledging that it had somehow eluded him that “land still provides access to critical raw materials and buffers against potential foreign aggressors.”
Hadn’t dawned on him before.
Major nuclear powers will never risk war against each other because of the certainty of “mutually assured destruction.”
I bought the conventional wisdom that nuclear war was unthinkable.
I fear I was wrong. Putin is now resorting to dangerous nuclear brinksmanship.
The “conventional wisdom” he cites is not the “conventional wisdom” I grew up with, and he’s considerably older than me, so either he doesn’t understand the phrase or he’s spent most of his adult life under a rock.
The “conventional wisdom” was not that nuclear war was “unthinkable,” but that it would be absolutely horrible and therefore had to be avoided at almost any cost.
That “almost” carries a lot of weight—and Putin is indeed testing just how much it can carry.
It’s actually the naivete of an assumption like this—the belief that major nuclear powers would never risk war against eachother—that’s brought us to Putin’s brinkmanship.
The reason he can glibly threaten the use of nukes is that he knows that hysterical neurotics like Robert Reich will never allow that bluff to be called. Any bad actor willing to threaten the use of nukes thereby has carte blanche to do whatever they like with their conventional weapons. Putin’s not exploiting his nukes: he’s exploiting our naivete.
And that’s a large part of the reason he rolled into Ukraine under the Biden administration, and not the Trump administration: with Biden he knows there is no risk of his nuclear bluff being called because Biden share’s Reich’s belief that the use of nukes is “unthinkable.” With Trump there was always a little uncertainty: maybe that crazy American with the orange hair won’t just call my bluff, but will raise me, too.
A good statesman knows there’s no such thing as “unthinkable.” Everything is thinkable, and good statesmen don’t shy away from thinking.
Had Joe Biden said plainly and forcefully that any use of a nuclear weapon by Russia would result in the immedate vaporization of Vladimir Putin and anyone and anything within a 10-kilometer radius of him, Putin might not still be steamrolling Ukraine.
Civilization will never again be held hostage by crazy isolated men with the power to wreak havoc.
I assumed this was a phenomenon of the 20th century and that 21st-century governments, even totalitarian ones, would constrain tyrants.
Trump and Putin have convinced me I was mistaken.
First, this belief is just historically illiterate. Nothing has changed about the composition of the human character, and our institutions continue to be staffed (for better or worse) entirely by human beings. The idea that “crazy isolated men with the power to wreak havoc” will ever become a thing of the past is not just naive but stupid.
Second, Reich “assumed” that 21st-century governments would constrain tyrants.
What magical spell was cast at the turn of the century to make all governments (even the worst of them) immune from tyranny? Reich doesn’t tell us why he held this childish belief. He’s not acknowledging his own impenetrable stupidity, though: he’s saying this as though it were a normal and rational belief that was turned on its head by sudden surprising events.
Lastly, of course, look at what Reich is doing here: he’s calling Donald Trump a crazy isolated man who held civilization hostage.
Alone among American presidents of this century, Trump got America into zero wars. He brought America its lowest unemployment rates ever for women and minorities. He made America energy independent. Russia invaded neighbors under the Obama and Biden administrations, but sat still during Trump’s. Trump was in fact advocating and implementing policies to constrain Putin and Xi that were blocked and mocked by the left at every turn—policies so crazy that the entire western world is now finally adopting them, and we can only hope it’s not too little too late.
Advances in warfare, such as cyber-warfare and precision weapons, will minimize civilian casualties.
I was persuaded by specialists in defense strategy that it no longer made sense for sophisticated powers to target civilians.
Utterly wrong. Civilian casualties in Ukraine are mounting.
Advances in weaponry always and inevitably produce less bloodshed, said nobody ever.
The 21st century has however illustrated that the use of advanced weaponry by nations seeking to avoid civilian casualities at all costs will indeed minimize civilian losses. It will also lose a war. Every single time. The record is crystal clear. (And notice Reich is quoting “specialists in defense strategy” about what “made sense,” rather than talking to actual soldiers about what wins a war.)
If you want to win a war—and if you engage in one, you had better be trying to win it—civilians are going to die. The bigger the war, the more civilians are going to die. Period. Not pleasant, not good, but true. Yes, we in the west can and do avoid targeting civilians, and even go to enormous lengths to avoid their being hit accidentally… which is probably not unrelated to our long and ignominous losing streak. So we just end up destroying countries and then abandoning them to enemies who don’t share our nice ideas about protecting civilians.
Democracy is inevitable.
I formed this belief in the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union had imploded and China was still poor. It seemed to me that totalitarian regimes didn’t stand a chance in the new technologically driven, globalized world. Sure, petty dictatorships would remain in some retrograde regions of the world. But modernity came with democracy, and democracy with modernity.
Both Trump and Putin have shown how wrong I was on this, too.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians are showing that Trump’s and Putin’s efforts to turn back the clock on the 21st century can only be addressed with a democracy powerful enough to counteract autocrats like them.
They are also displaying with inspiring clarity that democracy cannot be taken for granted. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s not what governments do. Democracy is what people do.
It takes him four paragraphs to get to “democracy cannot be taken for granted.”
Which is something even the dullest of Americans ever to have cracked a civics textbook ought to have been able to tell him in about fourth grade.
Liberty and self-government aren’t fruits we sashay out into the orchard to pluck from trees whose boughs are sagging with them: they’re things we fight like hell to achieve and preserve. People have willingly died to give Robert Reich the privilege of airing his vicious inanities without the fear of being silenced by a government sniper’s bullet or dragged off to a gulag or tossed into a dungeon and forgotten.
People Robert Reich himself would surely spit on: the rough men and women ready to do violence on his behalf.
But let’s dig a little into this idea that not just Putin, but also Trump “proved him wrong” on the inevitability of democracy.
It would be nice if Robert Reich could point to the democracy doll and show us the place where the Dread Tyrant Trump hurt it.
Reich feels no need to back up his assertion that a duly-elected president of the United States somehow damaged democracy because Robert Reich knows that his hallelujah chorus of hive-mind establishmentarians will swallow it whole. Because everyone knows that Trump was a despot and a tyrant and a dictator and that in allowing himself to be repeatedly impeached by the opposition party and crucified by the establishment press, and in letting his executive orders be shot down by circuit court justices, and in failing to start any wars, and in walking away from the White House at the appointed hour, Trump simply proved himself a foe of democracy.
And how about the idea that: “Ukrainians are showing that Trump’s and Putin’s efforts to turn back the clock on the 21st century can only be addressed with a democracy powerful enough to counteract autocrats like them.”
The entire premise of that sentence is retarded—literally retarded, in that it can only be the product of someone whose grasp of the relevant concepts is stunted, someone whose understanding of the world reached a point of arrested development at about the second-grade level.
Is Reich suggesting that Americans ought to have armed themselves to the gills and taken to the streets to overthrow the duly fucking elected president of the United States? If not, how are we supposed to interpret what he’s saying here? And does he realize it’s not the power of Ukraine’s democracy that’s “counteracting Putin’s autocracy,” but the guns in their hands?
Robert Reich is a fervent supporter of gun control measures that, if enacted in Ukraine, would leave them entirely helpless agains the current Russian invasion. And he just told us how wrong he had been not to realize that democracy had to be defended, had to be fought for. Will that change his thinking on gun control in America? Oh, certainly, certainly.
But he’s not done. He goes right into this:
Ukrainians are reminding us that democracy survives only if people are willing to sacrifice for it. Some sacrifices are smaller than others. You may have to stand in line for hours to vote, as did tens of thousands of Black people in America’s 2020 election.
Every American who lives in a densely populated area has to stand in line to vote, whether they’re black or white or brown or polka-dotted. I’ve stood in long lines to vote myself, in several different cities—even here in Denmark. But more Americans voted in 2020 than had ever voted in any American election in history, and black turnout in 2020 was higher than it had been in 2016. So Reich’s insinuation that American blacks were engaged in some kind of heroic struggle for the survival of democracy itself is every bit as oily, dishonest, and despicable as the dwarf-troll himself.
Here’s Gollum-Alberich’s conclusion:
Putin and Trump have convinced me I was wrong about how far we had come in the 21st century. Technology, globalization and modern systems of governance haven’t altered the ways of tyranny. But I, like millions of others around the world, have been inspired by the Ukrainian people—who are reteaching us lessons we once knew.
I, too, have been inspired by the Ukrainian people.
By their nationalism: their love for and willingness to fight for their country, their culture, their sovereignty.
By their understanding that civilian possession of firearms is a guarantor of liberty.
By their willingness to defend their national borders.
I have never for a moment been fool enough to imagine that tyranny was a thing of the past.
I have never been hysterical enough a bedwetter to assume that democracy was imperiled every time a member of the opposition party had control of the executive branch.
I have never believed that national borders could, would, or should “blur.”
I was never under the impression that any advances in weaponry would mean anything more than more effective ways to kill people.
Before you write Reich’s column off as irrelevant idiocy, remember that he’s in the mainstream of leftist thought right now. (Because the far left has become the mainstream.) This is how most leftists think. It’s a fair representation of the thinking of most of our western leaders right now, and our corporate titans, and our media overlords, and our university presidents and faculties—the people, that is, who are more or less running western civilization right now.
We’re in deep trouble.