Matt Levine wrote the best paragraph I read today

by on November 8, 2016 at 10:45 am in Current Affairs, History, Political Science | Permalink

The 18th Brumaire of Donald Trump.

Is it really possible that today is the 18th of Brumaire in the French Republican calendar? (Apparently yes!) That’s a little on the nose. The date gives its name to Napoleon’s coup of 18 Brumaire, in which he seized power and ended the French Revolution. It also gives its name to Marx’s essay “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,” which famously opens: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Hegel of course usually worked in threes, and if tragedy is the thesis and farce the antithesis, then surely the synthesis is Trump, who is at every point a perfect superposition of tragedy and farce. Anyway! It will all be over soon, maybe.

Here is the link, the pointer is from @PEG.

1 Ray Lopez November 8, 2016 at 10:54 am

Good one. Francis Fukuyama in his book “End of History” also wrote a neo-Hegelian tract.

2 Thor November 8, 2016 at 8:35 pm

I’m gonna go with … Ray did not read that book.

3 charlie November 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

Matt Levine has be the most underrated writer* working today.

* At Bloomberg.

4 Jeff R. November 8, 2016 at 10:58 am

Seconded. He’s good people.

5 Doug November 8, 2016 at 11:11 am


6 ant1900 November 8, 2016 at 11:59 am

He is a must-read and has a writing style similar to Tyler’s. That’s a good thing!

7 The Other Jim November 8, 2016 at 10:55 am

This election could be America’s 18 Brumaire because Hillary may attempt to seize power by vote rigging the the major US cities. Prove me wrong Dems but if she wins tonight there really is only one explanation. We are VERY close to a Banana Republic – or would be if the same thing hadn’t already happened in 2012.

8 Thor November 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

Relax. Either way, it’s just a short wait til “Chelsea Clinton ’24”

9 dearieme November 8, 2016 at 11:03 am

Or Clinton/Clinton ’20.

10 Thor November 8, 2016 at 8:37 pm

You know, Dearie, I like you. I read you and I learn from you. So pointing that out possibility — and ruining my day — is really not nice.

11 Moo cow November 8, 2016 at 10:59 am

Hahahahaaaaaahaha. Derp.

12 Dude Man November 8, 2016 at 11:08 am

“Prove me wrong Dems but if she wins tonight there really is only one explanation.”

Hasn’t she been leading in almost all of the polls? Or is Gallup in on the conspiracy?

13 The Other Jim November 8, 2016 at 11:08 am

She has not been leading in the unskewed polls. Most polls you see on TV or in newspapers actually over-sample Democrats

14 jason y November 8, 2016 at 11:20 am

it isn’t the oversampling that’s the problem, it’s likely voter models. 538 and the other aggregators assume the errors of pollsters will cancel out, but since it’s 2016 there are good reasons to think many have been systemically overestimating black turnout and underestimating white turnout.

15 Dude Man November 8, 2016 at 11:21 am

“unskewed polls”

How did that work out in 2012

16 Art Deco November 8, 2016 at 11:30 am

Worked fine, no poll model can account for large-scale voter fraud perpetrated by minority “voters”

17 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 11:51 am

The plastic surgeon says there’s no way to remove cystic acne scars and he told me to lose weight before he’ll consider me for liposuction.

18 Tony November 8, 2016 at 11:51 am

Hard to model what doesn’t exist.

19 mr mcknuckles November 8, 2016 at 2:15 pm

You should really try a trip outside your bubble. Lots of people live in big cities (about two-thirds of the population lives in 5% of the land in the US), and Trump is not popular in heavily urban areas.

This reminds me of people who I talked to in 2000 and 2004. They were absolutely, 100% convinced the votes had been rigged to elect Bush.

It’s much easier to think there’s a vast conspiracy than to realize people can look at the same facts and come up to a different opinion.

20 The Other Jim November 8, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Democrats control big cities and routinely rig the polls there. A lot of people live in big cities, seems like a LOT more live there on election days.

21 November 8, 2016 at 2:55 pm

Ok, what would change your mind?

Some possible thoughts:
Majority of swing states are controlled by GOP – if they vote for Hillary, would you accept that maybe people think differently than you, rather than fraud?

Lots of GOP members are not planning to vote for Trump – do you think this could lower turnout for Trump?

Over 50% of the US population is female. About 18% are hispanic. About 12 percent are black. And 6% or so are Asian. Clinton has huge leads in all of these populations. Do you think this could reasonably mean the default assumption should be that Clinton will win?

22 jason y November 8, 2016 at 11:14 am

she has been, but there’s weak evidence that pollsters have been using likely voter models that overestimated black turnout and underestimated white turnout. see racial breakdown of early and mail-in voters in FL and NC. if the assumption that the electorate would resemble 2012 more than 2000 was shared by many pollsters, and it probably was, Trump’s chances are much better than 538 (and certainly PEC) have them.

23 reed E Hundt November 8, 2016 at 11:18 am

Perhaps Tyler’s distance only appears to show a lack of caring about the fate of the Republic.

24 firingline November 8, 2016 at 11:18 am

And here’s Tyler indulging in bit of the ol’ smug elitism.

25 Sam Haysom November 8, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Yea Cowen’s exactly the type of guy that grinned smugly well the hard left blew up churches in Spain. Those types tend to end up eating a lot of crow. Inuit crow fricassee perhaps.

26 Simon November 8, 2016 at 11:18 am

Why do people still quote guys like Hegel? He played around with vague words like “thesis, antithesis, synth.” Wow — how profound! A thing happens, then another thing happens, then they combine. It’s like Bayesianism+Mysticism.

People will be convinced they are so scientific, than act like a rambling musings of some philosopher a few centuries ago is somehow more than looking for patterns in clouds/words.

27 chuck martel November 8, 2016 at 9:48 pm

Hegel, for sure: From Pulverized Concepts

Will Durant, in his The Story of Philosophy, 1933, Simon and Schuster, NY, NY,p.221 quotes Scottish philospher Edward Caird’s “Hegel”, Blackwood Philosophical Classics;pp.5-8: “”But the height of audacity in serving up pure nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had previously been known only in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most bare-faced general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, and will remain as a monument to German stupidity.”

In his Fooled by Randomness Random House, NY, 2004 p.74, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says:
“The Father of All Psuedothinkers

It is hard to resist discussion of artificial history without comment on the father of all pseudothinkers, Hegel. Hegel writes jargon that is meaningless outside of a chic Left Bank Parisian cafe or the humanities department of some university extremely well insulated from the real world. I suggest this passage from the German ‘philosopher’ (this passage detected, translated, and reviled by Karl Popper):

Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in the negation of this condition; merely an abstract or an ideal ideality, as it were, of that specification. But this change, accordingly, is itself immediately the negation of the material specific subsistence; which is, therefore, real ideality of specific gravity and cohesion, i.e.–heat. The heating up of the sounding bodies, just as of beaten and or rubbed ones, is the appearance of heat, originating conceptually together with sound.

. . . . Now consider that Hegelian thinking is generally linked to a ‘scientific’ approach to history; it has produced such results as Marxist regimes and even a branch called ‘neo-Hegelian’ thinking. These ‘thinkers’ should be given an undergraduate-level class on statistical sampling theory prior to their release into the open world.”

28 Doug November 8, 2016 at 11:25 am

C’mon, I love Matt Levine, but the polemics about Trump are getting a little over the top. Trump’s neither competent nor focused enough to overthrow be a dictator in modern-day American. For all its faults, America still has very robust political institutions. Say what you want about Hitler, but he had two major things going for him. One Weimar Germany was way closer to the edge (here’s a hint German stock markets weren’t at all time highs circa 1932). And two, Hitler may have been no great mind, but he did have fanatical drive. I don’t think anyone could imagine Trump, penniless and defeated, smuggling out the Art of the Deal from Bavarian prison.

No, Trump’s more like that golden retriever in the dog show video. The one who does hilariously awful at the obstacle course because he keeps getting distracted by the toys. Here’s exactly how the Trump presidency would play out. On day one he’d come in, fired up to do eighteen thousand different, often contradictory things. The first eight weeks will be him slamming into, again and again, massive bureaucratic inertia, a hostile civil service, and the extensive checks on executive power. He’ll quickly realize that the president is most decidedly *not* the CEO of America in any meaningful way. He’ll become frustrated, give up, and spend the rest of his term (and yes it will be one term) shit-posting on twitter, putting Trump brand product placements in White House press briefings, and getting into petty personal spats with various DC personalities.

29 Brian November 8, 2016 at 11:43 am

Thank you for this dose of sanity in my day. +1

30 anon November 8, 2016 at 11:54 am

I’m not really getting this one. I prefer The Economist. Not sure if it qualifies as a “polemic” or just “concern trolling” the election …

31 Wonks Anonymous November 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm

How about a comparison with Berlusconi or Rob Ford of Toronto?

32 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 12:32 pm

@Doug: exactly right, but that’s a terrible look for the president of this country. He’s a clown. Let’s send him packing.

I agree he’s no Hitler or whatever, the country survives either one of these two terrible candidates.

Also, I think there’s an excellent chance Trump quits after a couple of years due to the reasons you stated.

That said, he’s probably not going to win.

33 anon November 8, 2016 at 12:47 pm

Hillary is much better than the “crooked Hillary” slur and stigma, but if we want to get to post-post, we have to imagine the Congress she will face. I understand that the GOP is trying to organize with the only common belief they have right now. They can’t reconcile old corporate Republicanism with Wall Street hating populism, so they’ll just unite against the common enemy, Hillary. If that happens it will be a huge self-inflicted tragedy for the country. Like we need another 4 years of screwing around.

We are a constitutional republic, we have new elected representatives, we could just start governing.

We don’t have to shoot ourselves in the head with government shutdowns or worse.

34 Slocum November 8, 2016 at 3:52 pm

“Doug: exactly right, but that’s a terrible look for the president of this country. He’s a clown.”

True, it would be bad. But the blatantly corrupt Hillary who played a central role in turning the Middle East into a hot mess in the only meaningful government job she ever held doesn’t seem much of an improvement. I don’t know for sure who’s going to win, but I do know for sure that I’m going to despise the next president more than any other in my lifetime. And that’s before he or she even takes office and starts screwing things up.

35 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 4:27 pm

The Middle East would be a hot mess no matter what we do or don’t do. And US Senator seems like a meaningful government job. She’s had far more meaningful jobs of any kind than her opponent.

But I think we all agree they both suck.

36 Slocum November 8, 2016 at 5:10 pm

It’s unclear about the Middle East — she sure as hell wasn’t a voice of restraint. This really never gets less creepy. Yes, Qaddafi was bad news, but what replaced him is clearly worse. And remember, he had given up his nuclear program voluntarily — an action we surely would have liked to see elsewhere. But thanks in part to Hillary, no dictator will be fool enough to that again. And no, I didn’t count the Senate because the seat was basically gift-wrapped for her and she did nothing of note while in office.

But yes, I agree, both *really* suck.

37 prior_test2 November 8, 2016 at 11:45 am

Make Trump great again.

38 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 12:33 pm

Was he great before?

39 prior_test2 November 8, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Well, the better question might just be when was America not great?

(As distinct from perfect, of course.)

40 Art Deco November 8, 2016 at 11:48 am

Napoleon never ‘ended’ the French Revolution. He put an end to electoral institutions, undertook some salutary initiatives (codification of laws, improvement of civil administration, concordat with the Holy See, armistice with Britain) and some unsalutary ones (continuous mass mobilization and conquest after 1802).

41 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 12:34 pm

World War = an unsalutary initiative LOL

42 TallDave November 8, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Thank God this farce is almost over.

Worst. Election. Ever.

43 msgkings November 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm

The three words that sum it all up. +1.

44 Bob from Ohio November 8, 2016 at 1:24 pm

“Thank God this farce is almost over. ”

269-269 tie

270-268 with possibility of rogue elector.

45 The Anti-Gnostic November 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm

It’s all about whose ox is being gored. Democracy is worth every drop of blood shed for it in Iraq and Afghanistan but when it delivers a candidate they disagree with, all the democrats suddenly become supporters of the Ancien Regime.

46 Sam Haysom November 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm

For a supposed libertarian Cowen is acting awful smug about an election where the ideology who putatively supports just got humiliated.

47 coketown November 8, 2016 at 12:53 pm

I love Matt Levine, and that was a delightful paragraph on first read, but like a superposition itself, it collapses at the slightest scrutiny. Trump is many ignoble things, but ‘a superposition of tragedy and farce’ he is not, merely, except to his confounded critics who have consistently resorted to exaggeration and sloppy metaphor to critique him. He’s a racist, he’s a charlatan, he’s Hitler with a comb-over, he’s a superposition of tragedy and farce. Such constructions may be found universally delightful in an insular world, but they were ineffectual in the real world where skeptical voters needed convincing. I truly believe Trump’s rise could have been avoided if his high-minded critics spent more time speaking to skeptical voters and less time preening for each other.

48 anon November 8, 2016 at 1:57 pm

What if every one of those criticisms was valid, but the psychology was such that solid criticisms STILL reinforced the candidate? In a straight up “enemy of my enemy” story, every criticism of Trump convinced the tribal-right that Trump must be winning. Why? Because “elites” hated him. Never mind that elites hated him for saying things like “I like people who weren’t captured.”

49 firingline November 8, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Elites have the luxury of hating him for these silly outbursts. The rest of us pass over it because there isn’t another guy running against cultural dissolution and open borders.

50 Vᴏᴛᴇᴅ Tʀᴜᴍᴘ! November 8, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Elites are very sensitive to that issue. They don’t like being reminded of the fact that none of them ever served.

51 Vᴏᴛᴇᴅ Tʀᴜᴍᴘ! November 8, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Secret polls? Is that their explanation for why the stock market isn’t down despite a non-trivial chance of Trump’s victory, if Trump is supposedly going to be HORRIBLE for the country? If so, it’s a pretty inane conspiracy theory. Do the professional pollsters WANT Trump to appear stronger than he is? Why in the world would they?

52 anon November 8, 2016 at 11:29 pm

The NY Times is giving Trump a 95% chance of winning right now.

Can I get a “no one believes the NY Times?” Maybe not this time.

Anyway, I can’t blame the foolish who actually think Trump is a better gamble for President than Clinton, but I WILL blame those who understood the risk and stood back from fully supporting Clinton because they thought that wasn’t cool, or was abandoning the team, or some such BS.

Those of you who understood and did too little, shame.

53 Trump Secret Police November 9, 2016 at 3:56 am

Ha what a funny little man, this anon. He will dance for President Trump.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: