Proud Nationalist? Seriously?

Just over 6 years ago I wrote this post about my concerns of the rising tide of nationalism in the United States.

And then on Monday, Trump says, “All I want is for our country is to be treated well, to be treated with respect, so in that sense I’m absolutely a nationalist, and I’m proud of it.”

Either he is a proud nationalist, which should be terrifying to anyone who has even cursorily studied early-to-mid 20th-century geopolitics (he certainly exhibits all the hallmarks).  Or he’s an ignorant fool who doesn’t understand why saying that is a dangerous precedent to set.

Of course, he tried to present a softer, gentler nationalism (be treated well, with respect).  I’m not sure if there’s a term for the rhetorical device, but it allows “nationalism” to re-enter the language “safely” because proponents can now pretend it just means “be treated well and with respect.”  But that’s not what “nationalism” means.  Any pretense that nationalists just want respect will eventually drop and we’ll end up closer and closer to actual nationalism.

Historically, to be openly espousing nationalism and embracing it is not a good thing.  If it continues unchecked it will lead to violence in our borders.  This has always been the end result of one group saying, “Our group is the best” which leads to “We deserve to have these things” which leads to “You aren’t part of our group” which leads to you “So you don’t deserve to have these things” which leads to “So we’re going to take them from you.”

Unfortunately, today we’re passing by the “So you don’t deserve to have these things” phase.  This is evident in policies that close U.S. borders to refugees, animosity about welfare programs, and attempts to stifle legal immigration.  And we’re quickly tilting towards “So we’re going to take them from you.”  This is evident in the process of cutting taxes for the wealthy and then paying for it by cutting social programs for the poor as well as taking children from parents and indefinitely detaining them in camps.

With history as our guide, if left unchecked it will get worse.

If this is not a narrative you’d like to see played out, please vote for politicians who oppose this course.  We do have a chance in 13 days to send a message as a nation about what we stand for.  Many candidates are on ballots openly supporting this agenda of nationalism.  Don’t let them win.

Update 10/24:

After I wrote this piece, there are news reports of explosives being sent to left-of-center politicians and media outlets.  I’m not going to claim the motives of the person(s) responsible, but I will say the identification of out-groups to label as enemies is fundamental to the nationalist agenda.

Hateful rhetoric towards these out-groups is amped up at every opportunity.  They’re blamed for everything wrong in the lives of the followers.  And it’s trivial for such rhetoric to become action.  The President’s message (spoken and otherwise) to his followers in response to today’s events will be crucial in shaping the behavioral norms in the nationalist camp.

And let me be abundantly clear:  When I say “Don’t let them win” I mean vote against them, support their opponents, and encourage your friends to vote.

Update 2, 10/30:

NPR reports today that Trump thinks he can change citizenship laws with an executive order and deny children born on U.S. soil from being U.S. citizens.

This is nationalism at work.  This is “so you don’t deserve these things” in action.

The next step will be to start casually suggesting that we should revoke the citizenship of anyone born in the U.S. by a mother who entered illegally.  Which will be “so we’re going to take them from you.”  We need to stop nationalism now before it gets wholly out of control.

Nip this in the bud

“I have the absolute right to PARDON myself” – Donald Trump, June 4, 2018

Those are the words of a dictator–not something an elected leader of a democratic republic should ever speak.

When the President says something this insane, Congress should have a Constitutional Amendment ready by the afternoon to assert that, no, the President cannot pardon himself.

We should also include that a President cannot pardon persons being investigated, convicted, or sentenced for crimes that resulted in, would have resulted in, or attempted to create a personal benefit for the President involved.

Do We Really Care?

In September of 2001 the band P.O.D. released their song “Youth of the Nation” which begins with the lyrics:

Last day of the rest of my life
I wish I would’ve known
‘Cause I would’ve kissed my mama goodbye

I didn’t tell her that I loved her and how much I care
Or thank my pops for all the talks
And all the wisdom he shared

Unaware, I just did what I always do
Everyday, the same routine
Before I skate off to school

But who knew that this day wasn’t like the rest
Instead of taking a test
I took two to the chest

Call me blind, but I didn’t see it coming
Everybody was running
But I couldn’t hear nothing

Except gun blasts, it happened so fast
I didn’t really know this kid
He wasn’t part of the class

Maybe this kid was reaching out for love
Or maybe for a moment
He forgot who he was
Or maybe this kid just wanted to be hugged

Towards the end of the song is this stanza

Who’s to blame for the lives that tragedies claim
No matter what you say
It don’t take away the pain

When this song came out I was in high school.  I could still remember the reaction to Columbine which occurred when I was in middle school.  How could I have envisioned then that 16 years later we, as a nation, would have paid lip service over hundreds of bodies of adults and children about “never again” and then done precisely nothing to actually change the course of our society?

Honestly, I’m getting tired of trying to be nuanced about which gun owners are responsible and which aren’t, it’s about people not guns, it’s a mental-health issue, did the Founding Fathers intend for an armed population as a hedge against tyranny, blah, blah, blah, blah.  The endless blathering only seems to amount to yet another dead child, yet another dead mother, yet another dead father.

What we’re doing now, which is nothing, is not making the situation any better.

People who want to have continued access to firearms as part of their lifestyle need to stop hiding behind rhetoric and start proposing and implementing solutions.  I’m getting tired of holding a nuanced view on the matter while more people senselessly die.  I imagine there are more like me who, as time goes on, think that a “repeal and replace” of the 2nd Amendment might be the only way anything actually changes.

Research available options, pick a potential solution, plan and fund an implementation, study the outcome.  It really isn’t that hard.

Do we really care?

The answer seems to be, “No.”

Undermining the Credibility of an Investigation – A Game-Theoretic Analysis

Let’s suppose you were the subject of a serious criminal investigation.  Further suppose you were also a prominent and influential public figure.  You know a priori whether there’s anything damning that the investigation may find.  Should you choose to use your influence to affect the credibility of the investigation?  Should you bolster the credibility or undermine it?  Let’s take a game-theoretic approach.

Like almost all game theory analyses we’ll construct a payoff matrix to guide our analysis.  I suggest one axis capture the eventual outcome of the investigation: evidence of wrongdoing found (guilty) vs. no evidence of wrongdoing found (innocent).  The other axis will capture the subject’s three possible actions regarding using their influence: bolster credibility (bolster), do nothing (null), undermine credibility (undermine).

Payoff matrix for subject using influence to affect credibility of investigation – Empty
Bolster Null Undermine
Innocent
Guilty

We now need to consider each possibility in the matrix and assign a relative payoff.  The payoff value represents the utility of the scenario to the subject, that is, how much does the subject benefit based on the scenario represented by each cell.

I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to argue that any “Innocent” outcome will be good for the subject.  Better if the credibility has been bolstered, but slightly worse if the credibility is undermined.

Payoff matrix for subject using influence to affect credibility of investigation – Partial
Bolster Null Undermine
Innocent 20 10 7
Guilty

Again, it shouldn’t be controversial to assume that a “Guilty” outcome will be bad for the subject.  Worse if the credibility is bolstered, but slightly better if the credibility is undermined.

Payoff matrix for subject using influence to affect credibility of investigation – Complete
Bolster Null Undermine
Innocent 20 10 7
Guilty -20 -10 -7

At a global view, it seems like the only reason to actively undermine the credibility of the investigation is if you believe the outcome will be “Guilty” as it will increase your utility.  That should be concerning to anyone paying attention to current U.S. politics.

I think there is one potential argument for modifying the “Undermine” payoffs.  If the undermining is an attack on the biases and motivations of the investigation, the supporters of the subject may see an “Innocent/Undermine” outcome as better than “Innocent/Null” because “even the biased investigation couldn’t find anything.”  A similar argument could be made about the “Guilty/Undermine” payoff.  The increased nuance becomes important if you think that the subject’s actions are more directly tuned to either the supporters or opposers.

Payoff matrix for subject using influence to affect credibility of investigation – Supporters/Opposers
Bolster Null Undermine
Supporters Opposers
Innocent 20 10 14 0
Guilty -20 -10 0 -14

These supporter/opposer payoffs are probably up for much debate, but I think this is probably a good ballpark.

With an “Innocent/Undermine” outcome, opposers will use the attacks on the credibility of the investigation against the subject.  But, supporters will see it as stronger evidence of innocence (“even the biased investigation couldn’t find anything”).

With a “Guilty/Undermine” outcome, supporters will see it as “proof” that the investigation was biased and not valid.  Opposers will see it as an attempt to evade justice.

What’s interesting is if the subject cares only about supporters then the only better possible outcome than undermining the investigation is to bolster an investigation that finds the subject innocent.  If the subject, knowing a priori the truth of their actions, believes that the likelihood of the investigation concluding “Innocence” is almost zero and cares most about their supporters’ response then undermining the investigation becomes overwhelmingly the best action to take.

Does the President care so little about those who oppose him that he’s willing to take another hit from them in the event that the Mueller investigation finds nothing?  Or is he expecting the investigation to find evidence of wrong-doing and he’s laying the groundwork to salvage the only group possible?  Or is my analysis completely wrong?

Stop the Escalation of Stupidity

New reports over the weekend discussed that the U.S. Air Force is making preparations to return the global strike force of nuclear-weapon bombers to a 24-hour alert deployment schedule (which hasn’t been done since 1991).  This follows weeks of inane bluster from the U.S. President about raining down “fire and fury like the world has never seen” upon North Korea.

Can we please stop with this escalation of stupidity already?

Even a cursory analysis of the situation between North Korea and the United States reveals that North Korea literally has nothing to gain by launching a first strike of nuclear weapons against the United States.  Not only would doing so guarantee their own annihilation, no other country in the world would feel particularly bad about it happening–and many would help carry it out.

For a country in North Korea’s position, nuclear weapons can only serve as an insurance policy to encourage other countries (namely, the U.S.) to leave them alone.  If we briefly look at all the nations that have been invaded or bombed by the U.S. in the last 50 years (a disturbingly large number), you’ll notice a pretty clear trend that we haven’t touched any nation with a nuclear arsenal.  North Korea developing a nuclear arsenal, especially one that can threaten mainland U.S. cities, is an eminently rational move.

I am not remotely concerned about a first-strike nuclear attack from North Korea.

Unfortunately, I am concerned the U.S. President will create a situation where he feels compelled to do something stupid in order to save face.  Or will create a situation where North Korea feels like they are being existentially threatened and decide to take a few million people with them as punishment.

Acting irrationally and unpredictably can be a rational strategy.  North Korea has a good reason for appearing to be irrational and unpredictable because it can keep countries like the U.S. from engaging in overly threatening actions (like say, flying a squadron of nuclear-armed B-52s toward North Korea).  Such an aggressive act could be misinterpreted as an attack and a seemingly irrational and unpredictable leader in North Korea may order a retaliation rather than waiting to see where the planes are going.

Acting irrationally and unpredictably as the leader of the a country like the United States is foolish.  You have nothing to gain.  Instead, you stand to lose credibility on the international stage.  Allies will become reluctant to support your cause if they believe your big mouth is what got you there in the first place.  No one feels particularly bad when the bully is waving his finger in someone’s face, yelling, screaming, and threatening and the victim decides to punch them in the nose first.

I have no idea whether Trump really is a petulant child with a short temper and over-inflated sense of self-importance or not.  But acting like it is not making our country or the world a better place to live in.