Tuesday, December 26, 2017

American Visigothic

After a chaotic start, the Roman Senate—sometimes working with Emperor Honorius holed up in Ravenna, sometimes against him—racked up a solid record of conservative accomplishment in 409, firmly letting their British colony know that it would have to defend itself from here on (Italia First!); improving troubled relations with Alaric the Visigoth by making him commander-in-chief of the Western Empire (magister utriusque militiae), paying him a substantial bribe, and naming an alternative local emperor, Priscus Attalus, more to Alaric's liking; not to mention passing an edict forbidding anybody to wear trousers within the city walls.

Actually the edict on the trousers dated back to 399, but you see what I mean.

Evariste-Vital Luminais (1821-96), Alaric's forces in the sack of Rome, 410.

Well, on this subject, my old lady knows one genuinely wealthy guy who owns two or three Manhattan boutique hotels, who told her the secret of getting rich: that you can't care about anything but the money. In particular you can't be distracted by the content of the work you do, the purpose of hotels, or television shows, or whatever. You must focus remorselessly on that bottom line.

This is the skill of the successful psychopath (of whom there are a lot: psychopathy being, as we learned last year, before the election, twenty times as common among CEOs as it is among the general population. Psychopaths often do very well, precisely because of that exclusive focus on the abstract goal without regard to the subject matter, as forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks told The Australian in August 2016:
“Typically psychopaths create a lot of chaos and generally tend to play people off against each other,” he said.
“For psychopaths,  it [corporate success] is a game and they don’t mind if they violate morals. It is about getting where they want in the company and having dominance over others.”
At least until the chaos of internal conflict and criminality they typically create becomes too much for an organization to tolerate, when they explode. Yglesias is absolutely right to remind us that Trump has succeeded so far in his central goal of being at the top, but he's done it by ignoring all the content of the job—he'd hardly be able to comprehend any of the technical details anyway, but he doesn't try, rarely learning what is going on in his own government unless he sees it discussed on TV—while he devotes his energy to seeding dissension and mutual fear in the ranks below him.

It is indeed remarkable, but it's not sustainable. It's true that as that Times story notes Congress has approved 12 federal appeals court judges, which is apparently quite a lot, but they're finally starting to push back against the terrible quality of the nominees, and it's true that this terrible grab bag of a tax bill, with its lashings out at everything from government-backed health insurance to the possible fossil fuels of the Arctic, has been signed into law, but none of its parts are connected to each other, and it will never have the durability of (say) the Affordable Care Act. Trump's people have worked with some success at unmaking things, like our environmental law and immigration system, but they haven't made anything other than his own fragile position. It's amazing, as Yglesias says, but so is every bubble, while it lasts.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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