Trump’s latest hastening of the apocalypse

Nov 09 2019
Newsworthy

Apocalypse approach update

Keeping track of Donald Trump’s contributions to the coming of the apocalypse is a job too big for any one person. The best I can do is check in every month or so and list a few of the latest highlights. 

During the past 10 days: 

  1. The Trump administration notified the UN that the US will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement in a year, the earliest withdrawal date permitted by the accord.
  2. A Russian arms control official warned that the prospects for sustaining the most important US-Russia arms control treaty after its expiration date in February of 2020 have been dimmed by Trump’s refusal to discuss the matter.
  3. Iran announced that, as a result of Trump’s abandonment of the 2015 nuclear deal, and his ensuing imposition of draconian sanctions, it has reactivated centrifuges in a uranium processing plant that lies deep underground, resistant to military attack (but perhaps not resistant to the bunker-busting megabombs that President Obama gave Israel and that Israel may now be tempted to use).   

There’s a unifying theme here, and it isn’t just the increasingly plausible end of Planet Earth as we know it. It’s Trump’s apparent aversion to playing non-zero-sum games with other countries—that is, games that can have a win-win or lose-lose outcome (such as, respectively, avoiding a nuclear war or having one). Or at least, it’s his failure to play them well, to get win-win outcomes—and sometimes, it seems, his failure to even see that such outcomes are possible, that we live in a non-zero-sum world. 

This is no news flash. Ever since the earliest days of Trump’s presidency, he’s been referred to by some as “the zero-sum president.” The label has its merits (I’ve riffed on it myself), but it has one important, even dangerous, downside.

Psychology Of Tribalism

How empathy intensifies political polarization

There are people who believe that the political polarization now afflicting the United States might finally start to subside if Americans of both parties could somehow become more empathetic. If you’re one of these people, the American Political Science Review has sobering news for you.

Last week APSR—one of the alpha journals in political science—published a study which found that “empathic concern does not reduce partisan animosity in the electorate and in some respects even exacerbates it.”

The study had two parts. In the first part, Americans who scored high on an empathy scale showed higher levels of “affective polarization”—defined as the difference between the favorability rating they gave their political party and the rating they gave the opposing party. In the second part, undergraduates were shown a news story about a controversial speaker from the opposing party visiting a college campus. Students who had scored higher on the empathy scale were more likely to applaud efforts to deny the speaker a platform.

It gets worse. These high-empathy students were also more likely to be amused by reports that students protesting the speech had injured a bystander sympathetic to the speaker. That’s right: according to this study, people prone to empathy are prone to schadenfreude.

Readings
In Aeon, Dutch psychologist Jan-Willem van Prooijen argues that the tendency to build conspiracy theories is rooted in our genes, and had survival value in the social environment in which human evolution took place. 

On Stratfor Worldview, journalist Charles Glass writes that Turkish President Erdogan’s intervention in Syria—which started with the arming of proxies and now features Turkish troops in Syria—is turning into Turkey’s forever war. Glass writes, “When President Barack Obama considered the covert operation to train and equip Syrian rebels in 2013, code-named Operation Timber Sycamore, he said to his aides, ‘Tell me how this ends.’ As Turkey is discovering, it doesn't.”

A ProPublica piece by Yeganeh Torbati shows how Vice President Mike Pence has been steering foreign aid to Christian groups and away from non-Christian groups that had been designated for aid by career USAID officials.

In Scientific American, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman riffs on the empathy study that I riff on above—the one which found that empathy exacerbates political polarization. Scott has a pretty consistently different perspective from mine—his glass is half full and mine is half empty—so his take on things is often a good complement to mine. (But trust me: the glass is half empty.)

In the wake of the recent implosion of the edgy sports website Deadspin, Phillip Maciak, writing in The Week, offers a requiem for "the good internet"—websites that emerged from the blogosphere a decade ago, created a home for sharp and sometimes strange writing, and then met the fate of all things mortal.

Tweet of the week: After former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed this week to enter a Democratic presidential primary, GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini tweeted a graph that would seem to spell Bloomberg doom. It arrays 2016 voters along two dimensions—their position on economic issues and on social/identity issues. And the lower-right quadrant of the graph, where Bloomberg would seem to belong (being progressive on social issues but not so much on economic issues), is pretty much devoid of voters. (For elaboration on the meaning of “social/identity,” see this interesting 2017 analysis by Lee Drutman, who created the graph that Ruffini tweeted.)

This week, after a black cat entertainingly intruded on Monday Night Football, the Atlantic promptly trotted out a photo spread of animals that have shown up, uninvited, at sporting events. It’s entertaining, and it includes the requisite alligator-on-a-golf course shot, but I personally prefer the video of a professional golfer manually expelling an alligator from the course—to say nothing of the video montage of 10 great golf course animal encounters, which features killer bees