The Run.

            A “run” is an old-timey word for a creek or stream, like Bull Run.  Kingsbury Run is a winding creek and valley in southeastern Cleveland, Ohio.  It fed into the Cuyahoga River near the city’s main industrial and railroad area, the “Flats.”  The valley had served as a transportation route, an industrial site, a drainage route for rainwater, and as a kind of boundary between different communities on the higher ground.  By the late 1920s, it had returned to Nature to some extent.  Up on the east side above the “run,” there grew up a working-class entertainment district: bars and brothels, gambling joints and cheap hotels.  When the Depression hit, Kingsbury Run became home to one of Cleveland’s shanty towns housing poor people. 

            Between 23 September 1935 and 16 August 1938, all or parts of ten dismembered bodies were discovered.  Most were in the area of Kingsbury Run, one on the city’s west side, and one in Columbus, Ohio.  Only three of them could even be tentatively identified.  Six men and four women who shared anonymity in a grisly fate.[1] 

            To make matters worse, other murders in other places and at other times bore a marked resemblance to the Cleveland killings.  In September 1934, part of a dismembered woman’s body had been fished out of Lake Erie outside the Cleveland city limits.  At various times between 1921 and 1942, dismembered or decapitated bodies were found in waste ground near railroad yards in western Pennsylvania.  A Baltimore and Ohio Railroad line (B&O) connected Pittsburg with Cleveland (and with Columbus).  The police were willing to consider the possibility that all these were the handywork of one person.[2]  All things considered, it might be better for the public’s peace of mind if only one uncatchable demented killer existed. 

            The manhunt for the killer dragged on.  Although the police never caught the killer, their investigation solved 1,000 other crimes.[3]  Perhaps reasonably, perhaps out of desperation, some detectives focused on Dr. Francis Sweeney (1894-1964).  He fit the bill for a demented disassembler of humans.  Sweeney was a doctor who had worked at a hospital near the Run; an apparently “shell-shocked” (PTSD) veteran of the First World War, where he had served in a medical unit doing lots of amputations; a gas casualty suffering nerve damage; a severe alcoholic who had ruptured many relationships; and the cousin of a bitter critic of Cleveland Public Safety Director Eliot Ness.[4]  Confronted by Ness in 1938, Sweeney checked himself into a veterans hospital.  The killings specific to Kingsbury Run stopped. 

            One of the lead detectives wasn’t so sure.  Both the murders in Cleveland and the similar ones elsewhere along the B&O lines suggested to him that the killer might be one of the many hobos or tramps “riding the rails” during the Depression.[5]  Equally possibly, the killer might have been a railroad man, the “Headless Brakeman of Demon Run” so to speak. 

[1] Daniel Stashower, American Demon: Eliot Ness and the Hunt for America’s Jack the Ripper (2022). 

[2] Elizabeth Short–the “Black Dahlia”–killed in Los Angeles in 1947, also suffered wounds very similar to those of the Cleveland victims.  Perhaps the killer, like so many other people, had gone West to help with the war effort. 

[3] Sort of like in “M” (dir. Fritz Lang, 1930). 

[4] Ness had made a name for himself fighting Al Capone and organized crime in Chicago in the 1930s.  In 1936, Ness became the Public Safety Director in Cleveland.  Cleveland wasn’t Chicago, but it was bad enough and in the same ways.  There was multi-ethnic organized crime running gambling and prostitution, while both the police and the city government were riddled with corruption.  Ness got to work on all fronts, making many enemies. 

[5] On “Tramps,” see: Tramp – Wikipedia; on “Hobos,” see: Hobo – Wikipedia 

Adjusting the Overton Window.

            Joe Overton,–“he of the Overton window,” as Howard Cosell would have said—saw “think-tanks” as a prime mover of the range of acceptable ideas.  They advocate for opening, closing, and moving or not moving the “window.” 

Inspired by Overton, political scientist Daniel Drezner examined the development of this “ideas industry” with regard to his own academic specialty, international relations.[1] 

            Drezner argues that times have changed.  Once upon a time, the general public received enlightenment and guidance from “public intellectuals.”  Commonly, these were subject-area experts, often academics who wrote fluently.  What they wrote provided a kind of small-ball explanation of the events at the center of attention and controversy at any given moment.[2]  Newspapers and journals of opinion read by the next several tiers of regional and local opinion-leaders received the fruits of this expertise, then communicated it to the larger readership.  Generally, various levels of the public could respond through “Letters to the Editor.” 

            Those days are, to an extent, gone the way of the Blackberry.  The “public intellectuals” have been shouldered into the second rank by what Drezner calls “thought leaders.”  They differ from their predecessors in two ways.  First, commonly they are not generalists with opinions on all sorts of things.  They are One Big Idea people.[3]  They provide a context for thinking about “all the frequent troubles of our days”[4] within some framework.  Examples of such thought leaders would include Francis Fukuyama and Tom Friedman.[5]  Second, they reach their audiences in new venues: TED talks, blogs, Twitter.  Experienced editors don’t make a selection of reader responses to illustrate the diversity of reactions.  You just get Likes and much yelling. 

            Drezner argues that the creation and dissemination of Ideas now reflects several decades of accumulating changes.  The era of globalization and tech booms created immense new fortunes.  Once upon a time, much of that wealth might have flowed to building libraries or art galleries.  Now, privately-funded–and to a degree opaque–“think tanks” adopt the ideological perspective of their patrons.  Finally, there’s been a general decline of Authority in favor of individual Liberty.[6]  Arguably, audiences on left and right seek voices who tell them what they want to hear, regardless of competence or wisdom.  Arguably, there are far too many people who tailor their commentary to what people want to hear.[7] 

            Thee are symptoms, more than causes, of America’s bitter partisan quarrels. 

[1] Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas (2017). 

[2] It’s not completely fair to offer Walter Lippman as the “beau-ideal” of the public intellectual as described above.   On Lippmann, see Ronald Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century (1980).

[3] This is not so different from what historians do when they write books on the “Age of…” this, that, or the other period.  It’s just that Thought Leaders are writing mid-stream without any knowledge of how things will play out. 

[4] Stole that from the title of Rachel Donner’s biography of Mildred Harnack. 

[5] See, for example, Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (1992); Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (1999); The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (2005). 

[6] I’m not sure that Drezner understands how pervasive the change has been.  He is preoccupied with subject-area expertise.  Much of this disdain springs from revelations of incompetence and corruption on the part of Authorities. 

[7] For an example from one side, but readers can find the same stuff on the Right: Robert Reich – The goal is to deflect and distract – to use… | Facebook

Just asking.

Can we distinguish between laws that receive universal or near-universal approval/assent and laws which are contested by a large share–even if a minority–of the population? Murder and drunk driving happen, but they are pretty much universally condemned. And commonly repented by people who do them. Prohibition and the War on Drugs did not enjoy such broad support. As a result, they didn’t/haven’t worked. Abortion seems to me to fall into the same category. So do Second Amendment issues. These all can be seen as attempts to police cultural divisions. Nineteenth Century “temperance” campaigns did a lot to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. Much more effective than Prohibition and getting the cops into the question. They were persuasive, not coercive, in nature. Perhaps those campaigns, like the very successful one that reduced smoking in the late 20th Century, offer a better path forward. 

The Overton Window.

            Joe Overton (1960-2003) died young, but left a durable legacy in American practical political thought.  His Dad worked for Dow Chemical, so the family ended up in Midland, Michigan.  Joe got a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (Michigan Technological University).  Like his Dad, he went to work for Dow Chemical, as an engineer and project manager.  Later on, he earned a J.D. from Western Michigan University.[1] 

            Overton was a Libertarian.  He went to work for the recently founded think-tank The Mackinac Center for Public Policy.  The Center describes itself as “socially tolerant, economically sophisticated, desiring little government intervention in either their personal or economic affairs.”  It advocates for lower taxes, less government regulation, school choice (i.e. charter schools), and right to work laws.  On the other hand, it will not involve itself in socially conservative causes like abortion (ending legal abortion), marriage (i.e. marriage equality), or book-banning. 

            Being economically “free market” and socially liberal, this particular mix of policies fell neither within the Democratic or Republican ideological camps.  In short, it couldn’t get a hearing.[2]  As a part of his work, Overton worked up a brochure that explained how think-tanks could alter public attitudes toward public policies.  He argued that policies were characterized in public discussion roughly on a range from “Unthinkable” to “Acceptable” to “Popular.”  Only policies described as “Acceptable” got any discussion; only policies that could be discussed could become “Popular.”  Anything that achieved sufficient “Popular” support could become “Policy.”  This narrowed range of possibility became known as the “Overton window.”[3] 

The resolution of the debt ceiling stand-off leaves the United States on course for a financial catastrophe at some point in the future.[4]  With the deficit at 5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) the United States has the highest ratio of the seven largest advanced economies.[5]  Total debt amounts to 97 percent of GDP; in a decade it will increase to about 115 percent.  The rise in interest rates that is being used to combat inflation is expanding the weight of government debt on public finances.  Those rates have increased the cost of government borrowing from a long period of near zero to five percent; the higher rates may last for a while. 

            How did we get into this mess?  Fundamentally, the country itself is both united on some things and divided on others.  It is united on the untouchability of the big drivers of government spending: Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid.  It is divided over reducing spending, or increasing taxation, or both as a solution to the problem.  Clearly, this combination of policies cannot be sustained over the long term. 

In short, solving our problems will require shifting or widening the “Overton window.”  Neither party seems interested in doing that.  It may take “the prospect of being hanged.”

[1] Reportedly “the worst law school in America.”  Michael Cohen (yes that Michael Cohen) went there.  See: Western Michigan University Cooley Law School – Wikipedia 

[2] “Why am I short of attention?/Got a short little span of attention”—Paul Simon, “You Can Call Me Al” (1986).

[3] For two takes, see: How the Politically Unthinkable Can Become Mainstream – The New York Times ( and An Introduction to the Overton Window of Political Possibility – 101 Recommendations to Revitalize Michigan – Mackinac Center 

[4] Greg Ip, “A Debt Deal That Doesn’t Deal With Debt,” WSJ, 1 June 2023. 

[5] Britain is at 3.5 percent, Japan at about 2.5 percent; and Germany has a surplus of about 0.5 percent. 

A Modern National Industrial Strategy.

Historians ask three essential questions.  First, What happened?  This question is about assembling a richly detailed Chronology of events.  Second, Why did it happen?  This is about Causation and historians never accept single-factor explanations for why things happened.  Third, What difference did it make that it happened?  This is about Consequence and, as with Causation, there is never just one result.  This can be mantra-fied as either What?/Why?/So What? Or as Chronology/Causation/Consequence. 

William Galston provides a good example of historical thinking in a rapid overview of the politics and economics of the last thirty years.[1] 

What Happened?  From 1990 through 2000, the American economy expanded rapidly and the fruits of growth received a wide distribution as real wages increased.  Growing industrial productivity did not reduce the manufacturing labor force; instead it raised wages. On New Year’s Day 2001, there were about 17 million people holding down manufacturing jobs in the United States.[2]  Between January 2001 and June 2009, the United States lost 5.4 million manufacturing jobs.  That’s just shy of one-third of the industrial manufacturing jobs.  Gone in less than a decade.  American manufacturing had long been dispersed into smaller cities and rural areas.  The biggest shocks were felt in areas outside the main media consumer markets. 

Why did it happen?  First, the Clinton Administration (1992-2000) adopted a policy mix of extending the open world market economy that had been created under American leadership after the Second World War.  It would reach out from its core American, Western European, and East Asian strongholds to the lands where Marxist economics had been discredited.  In practice, this meant Eastern Europe and Russia, China, and leftist governments inthe Developing World. 

Second, contrary to their intent, these policies actually harmed American interests.  Capitalists didn’t invest in ways that were entirely productive and efficient; industries that were essential for American national security and/or supply chains languished or were off-shored; and China, in particular, took advantage of its favored position in the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The result of these policies came in a “hollow[ing] out” of American manufacturing. 

Why does it matter?  For one thing, these developments stimulated a “populist revolt” in the United States.  This ran from the “Tea Party” dissidence within the Republican Party during the Obama Administration to Trumpism.  In Democratic rhetoric, this threatens democracy. 

For another thing, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, has announced a new “modern national industrial strategy.”  The goals of that strategy will be to strengthen the industrial foundations of national security, promote economic growth, and create a lot of well-paying jobs to replace those lost in the lost decades that began this century.  The instruments will be strategic, rather than general, agreements on tariffs and trade, and subsidies.  Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s shepherdessing of the Biden Administration’s semi-conductor manufacturing efforts foreshadows these larger intentions. 

            It’s an honest piece of History.  It is far from being a complete account of what happened or why it happened.  It endorses, perhaps too easily, one party’s program of great consequence. 

[1] William Galston, “Biden’s ‘Foreign Policy for the Middle Class’,” WSJ, 31 May 2023.  The customary American blurring of middle-class and working-class is here on display. 

[2] Total civilian labor force was 143 million.  See: U.S. labor force 1990-2022 | Statista 

Ukraine and a Larger Crisis.

            Walter Russell Mead argues American and European aid for Ukraine is neither “a charity project,” nor a distraction from the even-more-important Indo-Pacific region.[1]  Instead, it is “a golden opportunity” that we should seize “with both hands.”  He spells out some of what he means and leaves it to readers to understand other parts.  Not all of his argument is persuasive, but it is worth considering. 

Mead argues that Putin’s war against Ukraine “has ignited a national awakening.”  Post-war Ukraine, he predicts, “will be a formidable new force in Europe whose interests and outlook place it firmly in alignment with the U.S.”  Maybe, but also maybe not. 

            He seems to be on target about the “national awakening.”  Two qualifications need to be made.  First, that revival began well before the Russian invasion in February 2022.  The 2013-2014 “Euromaidan” grass-roots protests evicted the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.[2]  Russia’s reoccupation of Crimea and its sponsorship of pro-Russian movements in the Donbas followed.  Second, that revival has two fronts.  In 2019, voters elected Volodymyr Zelensky as President in a revolt against the endemic corruption in post-Soviet Ukraine.  Russia’s out-right invasion has diverted attention from the corruption issue, but some Ukrainian oligarchs don’t seem to have felt the same nationalist pride coursing through the veins of ordinary Ukrainians. 

            Mead may or may not be on target about a “formidable” post-war Ukraine.  He foresees a country with a “battle-tested army” that will “join Poland, the Baltic republics, and the Scandinavian countries” in a barricade against Russian expansion. 

Any future event can become the focus of present hopes and fears.  So all predictions should be taken with a grain of salt.  In the case of a formidable post-war Ukraine, other examples drawn from history urge caution.  In 1783, the new United States emerged from the War for Independence exhausted and with its people eager to turn their attention to other pressing concerns.  After the Second World War, the British people voted for domestic reforms, rather than the preservation of empire.  Defense spending fell sharply.  “Battle-tested armies” shrank mightily in both cases. 

Ukraine’s army largely consists of patriotic volunteers who rushed to the colors when Russia attacked.  They’re going to want to go back to civilian life when the war ends.  Americans estimate Ukrainian military casualties at 20,000 killed and 130,000 wounded; civilian deaths are estimated above 40,000.[3]  Much of the country has been physically devastated into the bargain.  Bouncing back from such losses will not be easy. 

            How will this redound to the benefit of the West elsewhere?  In two ways.  First, an exhausted, perhaps even defeated Russia will be no useful partner to Xi Jinping.  Mead argues that the Eastern bloc in NATO and the European Union will resist any post-war (or wartime, come to that) appeasement of Russia by the Western Europeans. 

            A defeat for Russia will revive the credibility of an American alliance, eroded by decades of mismanagement.  South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and countries in Southeast Asia may all take heart in facing the Chinese danger.  Americans shouldn’t take a victory lap.  We’re just starting. 

[1] Walter Russell Mead, “Putin’s War Is America’s Opportunity,” WSJ, 30 May 2023. 

[2] See: “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” (dir. Evgeny Afineevsky, 2015).  Excellent documentary. 

[3] See: Casualties of the Russo-Ukrainian War – Wikipedia 

One Man One Vote, One Man One Tax Rate.

            There are about 180 million taxpayers in the United States.  At the national level, the United States has a highly progressive income tax.[1]  Who pays what share of taxes? 

            About 43 percent of taxpayers earn less than $50,000 a year.  That’s a little north of 72.5 million people.  Their share of the total income is 10.5 percent.  They pay -4.8 percent of the income tax.  That is, through one tax “credit” or another, they get a “refund” check from the IRS.  The median income—half above, half below—is just a hair under $50,000 a year. 

            About 27 percent of taxpayers earn between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.  They account for about 18.6 percent of total income.  They pay 6.3 percent of the income tax. 

            About 20 percent of taxpayers earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year.  They account for 26.6 percent of total income.  They pay 19.8 percent of the income tax. 

            About 10 percent of taxpayers earn more than $200,000.  Their share of the total income is 44.3 percent.  They pay 78.7 percent of the income tax.  Those earning $1 million or more receive 16.1 percent of total income.  They pay 39 percent of the taxes.  There are about 900,000 taxpayers in this group.  That’s about 0.5 percent of the taxpaying population. 

            Several different things are going on around progressive tax rates and the debt ceiling. 

            First, the United States also has a highly “progressive” distribution of income.  It is even more “progressive” than is the tax system.  About 70 percent of taxpayers account for 29.1 percent of total income.  About 30 percent of taxpayers account for 70.9 percent of income.  As Willy Sutton said, “That’s where the money is.”  

Second, taxation and spending are explicitly a transfer from the few rich to the many not-rich.  According to one author, “Democrats have a huge advantage (63 percent) with voters earning less than $15,000 per year. This advantage carries forward for individuals earning up to $50,000 per year, and then turns in the Republicans’ favor — with just 36 percent of individuals earning more than $200,000 per year supporting Democrats.  Interestingly, the median household income in the United States is $49,777 — right near the point where the Democratic advantage disappears and the Republicans take over.” Moreover, “About half of Democrats express satisfaction with their personal financial situation, compared with 61 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Independents.”[2]  Democratic voters may respond enthusiastically to government action to address their dissatisfaction. 

Third, the rich don’t see this transfer system as legitimate beyond a now-uncertain point.  From the 1930s through the 1960s, the American economy was dominated by well-established industries whose entrepreneurial founders had long since handed over control to professional managers.  These companies were highly-unionized.  The American economy felt little foreign competition.  Content with their trust funds, sinecures, and charities, the “owners” had gone off to Harvard and Palm Beach.  Then came the upheavals of the 1970s and the rise of many new entrepreneurs building new industries.  They had earned, not inherited, their money.  They wanted to keep it.  Since the Reagan era, they have been fighting back to good effect.  Democrats now pine for the “Good Old Days.”[3]  Complexity and nuance are lost in this ugly fight. 

[1] Laura Saunders, “It’s Tax Time.  Here’s Who Paid the Most,” WSJ, 15-16 April 2023. 

[2] See: Economic Demographics of Democrats & Liberals – Politics & Debt 

[3] Walter Russell Mead, “”Progressives’ Want to Go Back to the 1950s,” WSJ, 2 May 2023.  Who doesn’t? 

Tell the Truth as You See It 1

            The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis says “Try to tell the truth as you see it.”  OK, here goes. 

I think that Donald Trump is an appalling human being.  I voted against him in 2016 because I believed him unfit to be president, even in comparison to the lamentable Hillary Clinton.  I voted against him in 2020 specifically because of his abuse of the Vindman brothers.  “Support the troops.”  I’m going to vote against him in 2024, if that becomes necessary, because of 6 January 2021.  

I think that Donald Trump was a far more consequential—even “better”—president than Joe Biden, Barack Obama, George W. Bush,[1] or Bill Clinton.  More consequential–and even “better”–than would have been Hillary Clinton.[2] 

Trump recognized the reality of massive unrestricted immigration through the Southern border.  He recognized—and tried to act on—the failure of the North Korea policy of previous administrations.  He took real action to deal with the Chinese challenge.  He recognized the uselessness of the NATO allies.  He halted the flood of government by bureaucratic rule-writing and executive orders.  All Trump’s policies on these matters were good things.  Many of them have been maintained by the Biden administration. 

            I think that there is a good way to reduce poverty.[3] 

            Stay in school, even if it’s a lousy one.  Don’t disrupt class.  You can learn something even in a deficient school system.[4] 

            Graduate from high school, then get some more education.  The four-year college residential education is over-valued by American society.  Community colleges and trade schools are fine.  Students can live at home and commute, pay lower tuition, not pay for dorms and dining halls, and work part time.  Costs a lot less and it isn’t on a four-year schedule. 

            Get a job, any job.  Work is better than charity or crime.  Hundreds of millions of people—immigrant and native-born, black and white and read all over, knew this in the past and still know it today. 

            Work hard.  At some point, you may get a promotion or a pay raise. 

            Don’t get married until you have steady work. 

            Don’t have kids until you’re married.  Condoms are $1 each at CVS/Walgreens/RiteAid.  For many decades, they worked for most people who were determined to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  “But men don’t like using rubbers.”  You never heard the expression “I got the pussy, so I make the rules”? 

            We should stop paying people to be poor.  It’s a capitalist economy. If you create a market for something, someone will fill it.

[1] Trump may not be more “consequential” than George W. Bush.  The invasion of Iraq is the gift that just keeps on giving.  Kind of like an antibiotic-resistant flesh-eating infection.  Trump was certainly a better president than Bush.  Equally certainly not a better man.  Such are the paradoxes of life. 

[2] Never mind breaking the “glass ceiling.”  We’ve already had one woman president.  Her name was Edith Wilson.  We’re likely to have another.  Her name is Dr. Jill Biden. “Jill Biden and the Inner Circle.” Sounds like a band.

[3] Juan William’s prescription, lightly amended. 

[4] See Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) for proof. 

Defeating Trump for the Republican Nomination.

            Frank Luntz is an important, sometimes controversial Republican pollster and focus group leader.[1]  Recently, he shared his thoughts on a post-Trump Republican presidential candidate.[2]    

Luntz offers a bald assessment of elements of the American political scene.  On the one hand, “many Trump supporters” are people who were “knocked down, got back up and are now helping others to do the same.”  On the other hand, there is the country’s political elite: “politicians, political hacks, lobbyists, and out-of-touch elites who have ignored, forgotten and betrayed the people they represent.” Trump was originally “elected to destroy” this existing political order.  Now, in the eyes of this large minority of the core Trump constituency, he has become part of the problem. 

            According to Luntz, about a third of Trump voters “prioritize the character of the country and the people who run it.”  Doubtless any Democrat will scoff at this statement.  However, these voters are estranged from Trump himself, but not from his policies. 

            How can Republican rivals win over these voters?  (No Democrat ever will, although a bunch of the Trump base voters are former Democrats.) 

First, the successful contestant will be someone “who champions Mr. Trump’s agenda but with decency, civility, and a commitment to personal responsibility and accountability.”  People reject President Trump’s boorish, bullying behavior even as they continue to support policies like actually confronting China.  During and after his presidency, Trump provided many examples of self-indulgence, irresponsibility, and hypocrisy.  Reminding voters of these faults, while celebrating the many real achievements of his administration[3] can win over voters. 

Second, a candidate should have some kind of track record of actually putting conservative policies into practice.  That argues for a governor, rather than a senator.  Luntz isn’t playing favorites here.  Nikki Haley, Asa Hutchinson, and Ron DeSantis all have this credential. 

Third, be aware that many Trump supporters are older people worried about the future of their children and grandchildren.  Candidates need to talk clearly about solving current problems with grave future implications.  Here, the national debt gets a lot more traction than does climate change. 

Fourth, a candidate will have to win over Republican-leaning independents, not drive them into the Democratic camp. 

Fifth, if candidates are seeking campaign endorsements, those endorsements should come from “the average farmer, small business owner and veteran.”  They most definitely should not come from the “famous and powerful.”  None of the Trump base respects these people.  (The same is probably true of many Democrats.) Nor should they, sad to say. 

[1] On Luntz, see: Frank Luntz – Wikipedia  For televised appearance where you can get a sense of his reasoning, see: Frank I. Luntz | 

[2] Frank Luntz, “How to Make Trump Go Away,” NYT, 10 April 2023. 

[3] Slamming tariffs on China, harassing its major corporations, recognizing that the long campaign to change North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons had failed, insisting upon the importance of mass illegal immigration, treating the NATO allies as the free-riders that they have long been, halting the flood of government by Executive orders, Executive agreements, and bureaucratic rule-writing, and launching “Operation Warp Speed” to rapidly produce Covid vaccines for those who wanted them.  You could watch “Dopesick” for insight into why some did not. 


            The once great Ottoman Empire went into a prolonged decline.  Rulers of peripheral territories attempted to make themselves functionally independent.  The most successful of these hustlers was Muhammad Ali, nominally the governor of Egypt.[1]  Among his other ventures, he launched an Egyptian conquest of the neighboring Muslim states south along the Nile.  That territory is called Sudan.  After his death, this “khedivate” went into decline, the British occupied Egypt to safeguard their own interest in the Suez Canal,[2] and an Islamist rebellion in Sudan got out of hand (from the Anglo-Egyptian perspective).[3]  Afterward, things cooked along very unhappily until Britain’s retreat from empire after the Second World War.  Over Egyptian protests, Sudan got its independence in 1956. 

            Independent Sudan has not had a happy history.  For one thing, hardly anyone had any notion of “democracy.”  There have been half a dozen military coups d’etat, but the reality is that two dictators ruled the country, one from 1969 to 1985 and the other from 1989 to 2019.  Army officers have entrenched themselves as the key government institution, raking in wealth along the way.  They aren’t much inclined to surrender their advantages.  Under external pressure they have been willing to make occasional cosmetic gestures toward a “democratic transition.” 

For another thing, British rule had papered over the conflicts between Arabs and non-Arabs, Muslims and non-Muslims, Arab Muslims dominated the North, non-Arabs occupied the western territory of Darfur, and the South is peopled by Christians and Animists.  Between 1955 and 1972, and then again between 1983 and 2005, civil war pitted North against South.  Overlapping this struggle, between 2004 and—to be honest—the present, the Khartoum government has waged war in the western territory of Darfur.  The North-South war ended with the creation of the new country of South Sudan in 2011.  Both conflicts were deadly in an extreme.  Huge numbers of refugees fled the conflict. 

Under very heavy pressure, the Muslim military leaders agreed to surrender territory to rebels as part of “peace processes.”  As is the case with “democratic transition,” the soldiers don’ttake these commitments seriously over the long run.  In both cases, they are just waiting for some other crisis in some other far-away place to divert the attention of foreign meddlers. 

At the end of 2018, an internal economic crisis led to huge demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum.  In April 2019, the soldiers tossed overboard the long-ruling dictator, Omar al-Bashir; in Summer 2019, they struck a deal with civilian opponents of the government.  Since then, Western governments, especially the United States, have been supporting a democratic transition.  Earlier in April 2023, two different factions of the soldiers fell out over who would actually rule. 

Is “Democracy” something that can be established in any culture?[4] The answer to that question rests with the choices of the “men with guns.”  Whether Washington likes it or not. 

[1] On this fascinating, complicated man, see: Muhammad Ali Pasha – Wikipedia 

[2] On their other activities, see: The Perils of Adventure 2 | waroftheworldblog 

[3] The movie “Khartoum” (dir. Basil Dearden, 1966) manages to make the whole thing dull.  The several versions of “The Four Feathers: (dir. Zoltan Korda, 1939; dir. Shekhar Kapur, 2002) are rather better movies without throwing more light on the subject.  See Rudyard Kipling, “Fuzzy Wuzzy.”  Fuzzy-Wuzzy by Rudyard Kipling (

[4] Walter Russell Mead, “In Sudan, Another ‘Democracy’ Push Fails,” WSJ, 25 April 2023, is seething.