Thursday, January 26, 2017

Diary

I'm sorry to say that even I am finding the Trump presidency somewhat disturbing. Ordinarily it has been easier for me to ignore politicians who seem disagreeable or incompetent, but Trump is off the scale when it comes to bad judgment. His style is reminiscent of politicians during the McCarthy era, which had ended by the time I arrived in the U.S. and I never witnessed firsthand. In his case it is as if a gorilla has escaped from the local zoo, and, due to confusion and jurisdictional disputes among the authorities, the gorilla remains at large, terrorizing old ladies and children. Trump's repeated denial of proven facts brings to mind the worst dictators and can only be resolved either by the establishment of a de facto dictatorship or by his voluntary or involuntary departure from office. Unfortunately it may take as many as four years to be rid of him. Since I don't believe in nationalism or think that Trump's long-term effect will be significant, I am less concerned than others whom I know. However, his behavior is always attention-grabbing, and one would have to avoid the news entirely in order to escape his daily offenses.

This atmosphere has caused me to curtail my reading, but I've managed to read a little of The American Enemy, by Philippe Roger, which was mentioned by Tony Judt. It is written in a scholarly style that flunks my concision test, because Roger repeats himself and takes forever to get to the point. He also, like many scholars, neglects to tell you up front the dates associated with various people, which makes it more difficult for the reader to piece together the fragments of information. As far as I've read, he has discussed Georges Louis Leclerc, compte de Buffon (1707-1788), the French naturalist; Cornelius De Pauw (1739-1799), the Dutch geographer; and Guillaume Thomas Raynal (1719-1796), the French writer. These three, despite never having traveled to the Americas, wrote extensively about them and spread misinformation that lasted for several decades. Somehow they thought that all growth here was stunted, and that humans accordingly never developed properly and had low reproductive rates. They concluded that any Europeans who settled in the Americas would also degenerate physically. To support their ideas they came up with some real doozies, such as that the Biblical flood had left salt on the land, which inhibited growth. Thomas Jefferson became the defender of his country and wrote extensively to counter these claims; he even had a moose shot, stuffed and sent to Buffon in Paris in order to prove that large animals exist here. This book is filled with entertaining information covering several centuries, and I may read it intermittently. Up to a point, reading about national hubris of the past can be amusing, but when you have to live with it in the present it can become depressing.

I've ordered a copy of How Will Capitalism End?, by Wolfgang Streeck, which is more up my alley and is a more serious subject which I think we'll be hearing about increasingly in the years ahead.

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