Donald Trump is a weak president on the path to what can only be described as a failed presidency. I won't bore you with the extended "Neustadt is still the best" dive into the political science, especially since Matt Glassman already covered that exhaustively and there's little I can add to it.

That is not to say, Donald Trump's ideas are bad (they are) or that he is a terrible person (he is). It is to say that he is really, really bad at being president. He is an almost comically bad negotiator, and the one absolutely unassailable conclusion Neustadt drew is that bargaining and negotiation are the keys to a president getting anything he wants. Since the president lacks power to simply command Congress and other actors to obey him, he has to find a way to convince them that his interests are worth pursuing.

In that way and by any other measure, he simply is awful at this. A guy the media uncritically allowed to pitch himself as some kind of master Deal Maker is, in reality, so bad at negotiating that it's getting a little hard to believe. Alternating between braying invective and transparently insincere appeals for "unity" is a sign of how weak and ineffectual he is. Neustadt is an old piece of political science and many other interpretations of presidential power have since been written, but I am one of the many who believe he fundamentally got it right (if not in every detail). Presidents who can't negotiate are failures.

That said, I've been thinking a lot lately about how – now and in the future – to incorporate Trump into the minor national pastime of evaluating and ranking presidents. That's unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But other than looking at the small data set, declaring Trump an outlier, and pretending these four years didn't happen I see his presidency as incompatible with any attempt at analysis – including Glassman's (wholly accurate) application of Neustadt.

Here's the thing: Donald Trump isn't even trying to be president in any sense that the job of the president is understood. An analogy might illustrate my point best. Imagine you wanted to rank the (53 x 2) 106 quarterback performances in the Super Bowl. But you didn't have 106 quarterbacks – you had 105, and then this one guy who showed up on game day wearing a loincloth, swinging around a baseball bat, and making no effort to play the game at all. He simply showed up, preened for the crowd, and screamed "Fuck you!" at the referees for three hours.

In one sense, you could easily look at that list and say he is 106th of 106. But in another sense you can't even rank him on the same list as the others. It's not merely that he played a bad game (as players 104 and 105 obviously did). It's that he was playing an entirely different game that nobody else during, before, or since was playing. His goals and motives were wholly his own and largely inscrutable.

It is entirely possible that aside from Trump's commitment to rapacious tax cuts for the wealthy and his puerile obsession with The Wall, there is nothing he is even trying to do. In that light it is incorrect to say he's a weak, crappy president. He simply isn't the president at all in any meaningful sense. He spends most of his day doing nothing. He is on vacation more than he is in the White House. His goal seems to be nothing more than getting attention (at which he is very good, thus he probably considers himself a success by that criterion).

In the end it's an apples / oranges problem. Forty-four presidents were attempting to drive a bus, and then you have this other guy who wanted to blow up the bus and refused to drive it. It's not clear at all that the 45th guy even belongs in the conversation. There's a difference between doing something poorly and simply not doing it at all.


Liberals spook easily, a reasonable response to a political lifetime of limited success in elections and – notably – some defeat snatched from the jaws of victory experiences like 2016. I get it. The sky is always falling, everything will turn out badly somehow, and the worst will inevitably happen. Frankly that's not a bad set of expectations; at least it turns the successes into pleasant surprises.

But listen. Just try to trust me on this one, even though you won't and possibly can't trust me or anyone else who tells you this: Howard Schultz's candidacy is a joke. And not in the way Trump's candidacy was a joke that appealed really strongly to a demographic that actually exists. It's the kind of joke everyone will forget about rapidly and will get more embarrassing the longer it is drawn out.

If you don't want to read any further arguments, just remember this: a man with billions of dollars, one week into a heavily covered media rollout of his supposed presidential campaign, has fewer than 60,000 followers on Twitter and 30,000 on Facebook. And half of that is journalists. The other half is people making fun of him. In another context, that's 60,000 fewer followers than *I* have on Facebook. Think about that. And this guy claims that what he's proposing to do is a thing people are clamoring for. Social media follows are a very cheap and easy thing to buy, but also to grow organically. Post literally anything people find funny, interesting, cute, etc and follows will grow because it costs the user literally nothing. Oh, this seems interesting I guess (Click!) And he can't even do that.

There simply is no audience for this outside of campaign consultants (neatly divided into two camps: people who think the West Wing was real, and people who know Schultz is a moron but are happy to take his money) and the small portion of the electorate that actually has centrist politics (which, in reality rather than in imaginations, is not many). The Democratic primary field already offers an array of options for Ned Flanders types who just want everyone to get along but don't want any policy changes, with the exception of gun control, to the left of like, John Kasich. Bloomberg. Biden. Gillibrand, probably. Maybe Booker soon. Aside from calling themselves Democrats, what is the difference between these people and Schultz?

What Schultz is banking on is someone like Sanders winning the Democratic nomination – because if that doesn't happen, his "Oh my god, look how extreme and partisan both of the choices are!" message is dead on arrival. Even if that does happen (which is unlikely) he can't answer the obvious question: in a "Far right vs. far left" election theoretically crying out for some moderate Voice of Sanity independent, why would it be him? Why wouldn't established figures with name recognition and political experience (Bloomberg? Kasich?) fill that void? Why wouldn't some billionaire who actually has a personality and isn't some forgettable, boring, cliche-spouting guy who looks like your dentist run for it? If there's one thing this country is not short on, it's rich guys who seem to think they'd be great as elected officials. Some of them can even speak in a way that doesn't make everyone sleepy.

I can't tell if this guy has the energy to make until the Spring of 2020 – until he knows who the Democratic nominee is – but if anyone around him is being honest with him this will be over quickly and he'll go slinking back to the Aspen Ideas Festival and Davos where rooms full of people will nod politely at the kind of pabulum he's selling. He is reportedly paying his consultants obscene amounts of money, so unfortunately that guarantees that at least one group of people will continue to tell him this is a great idea.

We are likely to start seeing more of this in the future, as the rich get obscenely richer and they realize that while a presidential campaign is an expensive thing, it's the kind of expensive thing that a billionaire can easily buy. But of all the world's billionaires, I can't think of one less interesting and less likely to garner any support beyond the tepid praise of Chuck Todd and Jeff Flake. Not only is Schultz the answer to a question nobody is asking, he's not even a good answer.


I went to a Catholic high school. It wasn't my choice. Like most people of the pre-millennial generations, I didn't have those "You go ahead and decide what you want" parents. My dad went to Catholic schools in Chicago as a young Polack, and such would be my lot as well.

The Covington Catholic story prompted me to think about the place I went a little more fondly. I have no memories at all of getting right-wing political messaging from the priests, nuns, or lay teachers there. Conversely, there are many clear memories of adults telling us things like "You are all very sheltered" and "You're here because your parents can afford to send you here." Our "World Religions" course, often a propaganda nightmare at Catholic schools, actually taught me some things about the world's major religions.

The thing is, it wasn't overall a Good School in any meaningful sense even though adults constantly referred to it as a Good School. I graduated barely knowing any math. It offered 3 AP classes, while the nearby public schools had a dozen. One of the teachers told us (in 1995) her salary was under $20,000. Many of the teachers were priests or nuns who had no formal training in teaching. The sports-first culture of the school was cloying.

What was clear throughout, even to people as young and naive as we were, was that going to Catholic school was above all about whiteness. Parents (not only my own, but the peer parents as well) were explicit about this. Because while I have no memories of getting right-wing indoctrination from adults at school, I remember a lot of it coming from my classmates' parents. We were sandwiched between Joliet and Chicago, and my high school was "safe" unlike the public schools (which, statistically or subjectively, are not dangerous schools by any measure). Those schools had "gangs," were "dangerous," or simply were "bad," all of which were such transparent code words that even 14 year-olds knew what they meant: they had black kids, Hispanic kids, poor kids, etc.

My school was not exclusively white, of course, but the cost of entry ensured that the black and Hispanic kids were sufficiently "good kids" from "good families." The Covington example seems to be one in which school officials – one priest in particular – were indeed giving the kids a heavily MAGA political message. But among Catholic schools around the country I'd be stunned if that was the norm. The Fox News rhetoric isn't coming from priests and teachers; it comes – in unbelievably heavy and consistent doses – from the kind of parent who insists that their kids attend a Catholic school. A scattered few probably have deeply held Catholic beliefs behind that motivation, and those become apparent as students get to know one another and the families. Much more common are the families who don't seem to know or care that the nearby public schools have better facilities, more "college prep" options, and in some areas far more funding. They simply want to make sure their kids, who are very Good, go to school exclusively with other Good Kids instead of the riff-raff and "Gang Bangers."

Your experience may vary. Mine was unambiguous.


Although it seems like six months have passed, it is barely a week since Trump gave his live address from the Oval Office on immigration. You've already forgotten it, no doubt. And that's not your fault. It was incredibly forgettable.

Pre-address speculation swirled around Trump making some kind of bold power move like declaring a "national emergency" to build his monument to racism and vanity. What we got instead was one of the rare occasions on which Sedated Trump shows up. Once in a great while, for reasons that only he could guess at, Trump just reads the teleprompter. He doesn't act normal per se, but he doesn't act like he acts at his rallies, for example.

And when you take Donald Trump and filter out the off-cuff insanity, when the people in the White House somehow prevail upon him to just read the goddamn speech and not go off half-cocked, you get a pretty boring result. The speech was boring. Stupid. Just a rehash of 2018 midterm election scare tactic talking points. Ooh, scary immigrants. Coming to commit crimes. Big danger. Crisis. Only a big wall can stop them.

I realized by the end of the extremely brief, extremely uninteresting address that I have grown used to the spectacle of Trump. I have grown to expect the Crazy Antics, and I do not think I am alone in that regard. When the Antics disappear and he reads straight off the prompter while looking directly and awkwardly into the camera, Donald Trump is not worth watching. He's not smart. He's not eloquent. He's not interesting. And he's so boring that I found myself in the same frame of mind I am in when I'm forced to watch NASCAR; "This is boring. Somebody crash already. Why aren't they crashing. C'mon."

That's scary. Perhaps it's just me, but to some extent I think we all (and certainly the media) have gotten hooked on the high of this guy doing crazy, random shit. When we go back, god willing, to having a normal person as president in the future, there is going to be one hell of an adjustment period. Do you even remember what it was like to have a news cycle that didn't involve Donald Trump every minute of the day? To live in a world where there isn't a new crisis in the White House every 12 hours? I'll never say I'm going to miss it, because every aspect of this has been terrible. Let me simply say that when it's finally gone, the difference will be noticeable.

The awful speech was a useful reminder of what presidential addresses used to be like – dull. Some day things may be dull again. These days, however, it's hard to remember a time when they ever were.


The explosion of conspiratorial thinking, including among liberals and the far left, is one of the most troubling developments of the last few years. There are many reasons people are attracted to conspiracy theories, not the least of which is the way they make the world vastly more interesting than it really is. "9/11 happened because the U.S. made the terrible decision to throw money and weapons at every radical jihadist willing to fight the USSR in Afghanistan, plus nobody realized the incredibly obvious fact that cockpit doors should be locked" is, if simplified, a 100% correct explanation. But it has a number of drawbacks.

For one, it requires a half-decent knowledge of history. By "history" I mean anything that happened more than a week ago, and I think we can agree without undue cynicism that most Americans' (most people, really) grasp of history is tenuous at best. The percentage of people who could give a half-accurate summary of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the US role in it, is in the low single digits. And most of those few people got their understanding from one half-awake viewing of the highly fictionalized version in Charlie Wilson's War with Tom Hanks.

More importantly, though, it's just boring. It's a boring story when it's told this way. "Some well-educated potential terrorists realized that cockpit doors are unlocked and that, as long as you aren't interested in taking off or landing, flying a modern commercial airliner can be done adequately without too much training" is not satisfying. When things happen, especially traumatic things, we want there to be some Big Plot to explain it. There isn't. There rarely is.

Add in ideology and motivated reasoning – our inherent want for certain things to be sinister because we dislike them – and the widespread seeding of ideas on the internet and we are living in the golden age of crackpot theories. QAnon might end up being the most representative aspect of this era when people study it in the future.

There is a certain subset of center-left or center-liberal people who have hatched a million strange conspiracy theories about Bernie Sanders, almost all of which have to do with Russian Propaganda, the Kremlin, Russia, Russians, and some sort of orchestrated (Russian) effort (by Russia) to create the impression that (Russian Operative) Mr. Sanders (a Russian) has a fan base when in reality he has none. In fairness to these folks, Sanders is not being treated differently – everything, in their new worldview, is a Russian plot. If something happens that is not fundamentally in line with their understanding of the world, Russia is behind it.

This manner of thinking struck me when I saw this dull Tweet from Mr. Sen. Sanders a few days ago:

If you are interested in understanding why Bernie Sanders has the dedicated following he does, that is your explanation. Unlike any other Democratic could-be with a national profile, he regularly makes reference to organized labor. No one else with a similar level of visibility does. In fact, most other possible candidates or nationally recognized leaders in the party – even Warren, who is pretty far left – run away from labor (which current orthodoxy holds is a dinosaur from earlier days) or just pays lip service to it. They mention "unions" in the abstract when they want union donations, and that's about it.

It strikes me as funny, but not incredible, that some people choose to ignore the very simple, obvious explanation – He talks about a thing some people like, and other people don't talk about it! – in favor of something convoluted and sinister. Maybe it's just more exciting that way. Maybe it helps them make sense of the world in some way I don't understand.

These things simply do not need complicated explanations unless you go looking for one. Why do people like Beto? Well, he's good looking, he's good speaking to crowds, he's pleasantly neutral (which allows people to project their own beliefs onto him), and he raised a lot of money. Why do people like Bernie? Despite his complete lack of personal charisma, he talks about things other candidates don't, and there is a subset of voters who don't care about candidate personality at all. Pretty simple.

My point is not – since I can already see people reading four sentences and rushing to the comments – that Bernie is awesome and you should love him. I simply do not think it should be – can be – any kind of mystery to understand why he has a following. He does some simple things that other candidates and national political figures don't. If other people did those things and were sincere about it, his fans would likely gravitate to those candidates as well. This isn't complicated.


Nothing is more profoundly depressing to journalists, or anyone who writes for a living, than looking at the kind of shit The Market rewards and comparing it to one's own attempts to put something decent and useful out into the world. I imagine every fiction writer slaving away on what they believe is the very best novel they can produce feels a cold, bitter spite welling up inside of themselves every time they realize EL James and her "The vampire fucked the other vampire very erotically, with his erect vampire member" fanfic are worth a billion dollars.

There are a lot of bad opinion columnists in the world, but none as bad as Bari Weiss. The reason Bari Weiss infuriates writers so much is not simple jealousy – she writes for the New York Times and she's terrible! – because a lot of shitty writers have good, high-paying jobs for major media outlets. Half of her NYT colleagues could be described the same way. It is the fact that aside from having terrible opinions, her writing literally is indistinguishable from a college newspaper opinion writer. You could go to any campus in the United States, pluck out the eagerest sophomore from the Opinion page, and stick that person in the NYT and not miss a beat. Her writing is so thick with the tropes one thought were clever and edgy at age 20 that, unless you were an undergrad journalism major at some point, I'm not sure I can explain it to you.

This week her column for the Newspaper of Record, the hallowed Gray Lady, is literally "How I spent my summer vacation." Woman goes on vacation, comes back from vacation, writes a piece about how the place she went on vacation "has a lot to teach us."

I don't know about you, but the last time I wrote "What I did on my vacation" I was 10.

To be certain, all that differentiates Weiss from other bad writers like David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Megan McArdle, and the like is her total lack of polish and erudite "New York Timesy" writing skill. The others share her dumb, juvenile opinions but their employers pay them for their ability to write up dumb, juvenile opinions in an Ivy Leagueish, Upper Crust, Country Club sort of way. It's the George Will trick – they are paid to say things a certain audience wants to hear in a language and manner that allows them to consider it an intelligent, worldly point of view. They want someone to make the opinions sound respectable. Thoughtful, even.

That is the whole point of someone like David Brooks or Ross Douthat, or older, less relevant past stars of the printed word like Mr. Will or Peggy Noonan. They are to modern politics what courtiers were to the courts of European monarchs; they exist to flatter. To tell people of a certain worldview that said worldview is proper, correct, respectable, intelligent and – importantly – widely shared. Yes m'lord, you are most wise! The people certainly agree with you!

And I don't understand how Weiss fits into that world. She writes literally like a child. What is the audience for this? Tech Bros want to read Megan McArdle, not Tomi Lahren. Bankers want Ross Douthat, not Charlie Kirk. People of a certain level of wealth and cultural awareness / class want to feel smart, so I understand the lucrative market for writers who can tell them that the things they believe are good and correct and widely shared in a way that makes them feel smart. What they don't want is someone who failed to progress out of writerly adolescence making them feel like they're in high school listening to a moron soft-sell upper class authoritarianism.

I get the grift. But even in the context of the grift Bari Weiss makes no sense.


(Editor's note: The Lieberman Award is given annually to the worst example of a human being over a twelve month period. Click the tag at the end of the post to review past winners.)

medalOne of my goals with year-end stuff is to avoid low hanging fruit, choosing someone like Donald Trump (who, in an act bordering on prescience, I awarded the Lieberman back in 2015), Sarah Huckabee Sanders, or Dinesh D'Souza. It's so easy to make the case that such people are terrible that it doesn't even seem interesting or worthwhile to do. As a result, the Lieberman Award more often gravitates toward people like its namesake…sanctimonious Centrist Types who like to be lavished with Sunday talk show invites and talked about as a very important person in a town already crowded with big egos.

It was extremely tempting to give the award, for the first time ever, to a woman and choose Susan Collins, but in the end I could not think of a good reason to differentiate her from Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, or any of the other "Gosh, I sure am disappointed in Trump but I intend to do nothing whatsoever about it and I'll vote in lockstep for everything he wants" types. It was equally tempting to pick Georgia governor-elect Brian Kemp for his egregious attempts (as Secretary of State) to game his own election. Knowing Georgia politics, though, he could have been the nicest, most honest guy on Earth and he would have won that race anyway, which renders all his chicanery somewhat pointless in practice.

Instead, I think it's time to talk about how utterly terrible Chuck Schumer is at his job, and what a shame that someone holding a Senate seat in a state Democrats can't conceivably lose – someone who could be an actual liberal pushing actual left policy ideas without being punished at the ballot box – is held until death by such a ineffectual, stuck-in-2002 guy like him.

The final straw was that Nancy Pelosi gets a lot of criticism from the left for being too centrist and an uninspiring, ineffectual leader. Some of that criticism has come from me. Yet Schumer is demonstrably much worse at his job, and he's not getting leadership challenges or an equal amount of bad press. It's patently false to say "Well nobody criticizes Schumer, only Pelosi!" because people (again, including me) shit on Chuckie all the time. But watching him sail through another confirmation while Pelosi received an actual challenge (albeit from the center, as if being TOO LIBERAL is her problem) clinched it.

Chuck Schumer is forever performing for an audience that, with the possible exception of the national media, does not exist: the person whose primary interest in politics is to see everyone play nice. Outcomes are irrelevant, so long as everyone is nice to one another while the sausage is being made.

OK, that person does exist. I've had the misfortune of attracting some of them on occasion – people whose politics are somehow simultaneously "Donald Trump is the greatest monster who ever lived" and "I value bipartisanship and decorum so Democrats should work together with the monster." I no longer try to make sense of it other than to assume that West Wing melted their brains.

For that small portion of the electorate, though, Schumer is a godsend. The man has literally no spine. He could get shot and his last words when the police asked who shot him would be "Both sides did it." He "both sides-ed" someone yelling at Mitch McConnell in a restaurant the same week a lunatic was mailing bombs – literal bombs – to prominent Democrats. In advance of the Kavanaugh hearings, he agreed to fast-track a dozen Republican judicial appointees ostensibly so Democratic Senate candidates could have more time to campaign.

In the eyes of Chuck Schumer, twelve hardcore Federalist Society conservatives on the court for life is a good trade-off for Claire McCaskill to get an extra week at home for her obviously doomed re-election bid. It's as though he sees his job as caving to Mitch McConnell in the hopes that if he does it enough times, the Senate GOP will eventually play nice in return. It's beyond naive and well into delusional.

When McConnell was the minority leader, he did every single dirty trick, procedural or otherwise, to delay, obstruct, and derail the majority. Schumer is of the breed of centrist yahoos who think that the most important thing to do is to play nice and then score nonexistent electoral points from pointing out that the GOP is not being nice in return. The end result – the one we've been living in for nearly three decades now – is that the Republicans get what they want when in power and Democrats never do. Air Bud dunks the ball over and over again while Coach Schumer points at the rule book and shouts "But a dog isn't allowed to play basketball!"

Chuck Schumer doesn't get this award because he's the worst person. He gets it because he is so completely useless. If he is your negotiator, you don't have a negotiator. You have a guy who comes back to tell you what the other side wants and explains why you need to give it to them.

No, it's not solely his fault. This is an institutional problem in the Democratic Party, which since Bill Clinton's departure has internalized losing and defines victory as getting anything slightly better than the very worst possible outcome. But the guy is in a leadership position and has been for a not-insignificant amount of time. What does he have to show for it? What have been Chuck Schumer's legislative accomplishments? What has he done to make his GOP counterpart so much as break a sweat to enact his own agenda?

And this is apparently the best leader the Senate Democrats are capable of imagining. They look at this guy and think, well this is the best we've got. It's not just a failure of politics; it's a failure of imagination. They've been without a leader for so long that none of them even recognizes that this isn't it.


Even as we try to cheer ourselves up and enjoy the holiday season, one of the realities that has been lurking just beneath the surface throughout Trump's presidency is becoming clearer: As miserable as the first two years were by any conceivable measure, this has been the *good* part. We haven't even started the bad part yet.

Though the president's actions in no way contributed to it, the national economy maintained its pedestrian growth rate since the end of the Obama era. Employment has remained pretty high, with the important caveat that much of the job market consists of low wage, no benefit service industry type jobs and Gig Economy things like Uber driving taking people out of job-seeking. The stock market, for the rarefied slice of Americans who get to benefit from such things, has performed well. It's not an economic track record anyone should crow about (not that anything could stop Trump from credit-claiming) but it certainly hasn't been an unmitigated disaster. Remember the last year of W Bush and the first year of Obama? THAT was bad. This has been just kinda mediocre.

But as you no doubt have noticed, the inevitable "correction" of the stock market is well underway (and overdue). While the stock market is not the economy or vice-versa, bear markets like this historically are a reliable indicator of economic trouble ahead.

Some critics have pointed out (correctly) that the mystery of why Trump's approval rating is so high (that is, in the low 40s instead of like 15% where it logically should be) is better understood as: Why is his approval rating so *low* given the overall positive to decent economic indicators? And that's what I mean when I say the bad part is still to come. Trump has coasted on a lot of "Well, the economy's going up so who cares!" cynicism and callousness so far. As we have seen clearly, those white suburban middle class types will put up with just about anything is the 401(k) performs. When that support softens, what do you think Trump is going to do? If this is how he behaves now, how will he behave when his approval is in the 20s like fin de si├Ęcle GWB?

Authoritarians don't have any strategy for digging themselves out of a hole except to do everything they're doing, but harder. Changing course is not a thing they're emotionally capable of doing. Authoritarianism is an endless string of doubling-downs until they're removed from power.

Additionally, while I don't recommend hanging on the every turn of Mueller's investigation it appears (as anyone with half a brain predicted from the beginning) that the news will continue to get worse on that front. The mass exodus of cabinet and White House officials appears to be accelerating, which is a reliable sign that people who know something we don't know are starting to give Trump a wide berth.

The traditional authoritarian move when the walls close in is to start a war and double down on persecuting minority populations internally. The latter is bound to keep ratcheting up until Trump is gone; at this point my hope is simply that we can get to the endpoint without the former.


As the brief marketing campaign to make Tulsi Gabbard 2020 a thing flares up (but before it dies out in approximately a week) it's as good a time as any to talk about the most glaring weakness shared by all of the factions to the left of the Republican Party: foreign policy. Depending on where you're focusing the spotlight, the foreign policy across the left spectrum today is either nonexistent, totally incoherent, or coherent but terrible. Take your pick.

Broadly speaking, there are three very bad categories.

One, more popular among leftist-progressive types, is essentially a repackaged version of Gilded Age and Interwar isolationism. War is bad (which is true, but not a foreign policy). Any outcome that does not involve the United States engaging in military action is good (usually true, but not universally). Picking sides is bad, because without any real thought about what American goals are – Humanitarian? Strategic? Public relations? – everything gets reduced to Philosophy 101 guy-who-didn't-do-the-readings logic: Who's to say who's right here? There's also an alarming tendency for people of this mindset to be manipulated by obviously bad actors – Jill Stein and Glenn Greenwald and their "What's so bad about Russia Today? It's just like the BBC!" shtick, or Gabbard and her "I went and talked to Assad and he agrees with me" stunt. When no goal or policy beyond "Let's stay out of it" can be articulated, you make yourself pretty easy to manipulate.

The second, represented by center types like Biden or Hillary Clinton (and Bill for that matter), is basically neoconservatism. This strain is a remnant of Democrats old enough to remember the Carter-Mondale-Dukakis era in which Republicans seemed to score endless political points by accusing Democrats of being Weak. Weak on defense, Weak on crime, Weak on everything. So the reaction, spearheaded by Bill Clinton, was to go full hawk to preempt the right. Out-hawk the hawks; brilliant! This kind of "Who will be tougher on the Soviets," put-Dukakis-in-the-tank mindset is out of date by about 30 years and gives live ammunition to the cynical "There's no difference between the parties" worldview.

Finally, there is this younger (Beto, Booker, etc) set that seems not to want to talk about foreign policy at all. They believe, right or wrong, that voters want to hear about the $15 minimum wage or Medicare for All and since nobody cares about foreign policy anyway it is best dealt with as little effort or commitment as possible. Address it in platitudes, say some stuff nobody can really disagree with, praise The Troops, and be done with it. This of course leads to a status quo bias because candidates who don't care about foreign policy have a huge incentive simply to placate the power players and walk away. Kiss AIPAC's ass, promise the defense contractors that you won't mess with the Pentagon budget except around the edges, and say some generic "Let's be strong, also let's end the wars" kind of stuff that you have no intention of thinking about again after getting elected.

Those are three bad options. The first is basically Trumpism, with its underlying belief that authoritarians around the world really aren't so bad. The second is George W. Bush foreign policy, the whole "I voted for the Iraq War but I was also critical in some vague way that affected nothing." The third is effectively punting and admitting that the Pentagon and military-industrial complex can kind of do whatever they want as long as it happens in the background.

I have no answers. If I did I certainly wouldn't give them away for free. The situation seems to boil down to whether the center, liberals, and the far left collectively or individually decide this is important enough to devote time and energy to. Quite a few far-left Bernard Brother types have been writing about this actively since 2016, but it doesn't gain much traction. The mainstream Democratic Party seems content to pull an Obama and basically promise to do what neocons propose but, uh, you know, do it better or nicer or smarter or something. And the young progressive-adjacent mainstream types do not appear to care at all, which I can't imagine working out well in the long run. Because when they achieve some kind of position of power and there's no coherent policy, they will default to "Find some Generals who seem like they know what they're doing and delegate everything."

A good place to start might be to think about what underlying values and principles – big picture stuff – should be at the heart of America's interactions with the rest of the world. What is it we want? What are we trying to do? Those are questions that the left largely has ignored since the end of the Cold War. While the Beto generation is right to point out that the average voter does not care much (and is appallingly uninformed about) foreign policy, that doesn't mean political leaders can share the same attitude.

Collectively the left can advance some pretty compelling domestic policy ideas that appeal strongly to most Americans. But it's time to admit – as the 2020 potential candidates demonstrate all too well – that foreign policy has withered on the vine and become a black hole.


It is widely recognized in academia that teaching evaluations are dumb. Let me qualify that: it is widely recognized by anyone who has bothered to look in even the most casual way at the research on teaching evaluations. If you are too lazy to Google the overwhelming evidence, I am not going to bore myself providing links to each individual piece of evidence pointing to the same conclusion.

Briefly, there is a strong bias built in based on student expectations (what they expect from you based on their other courses, the "Well my other professors do _____" problem), biases (women and people of color get evaluated differently and generally in much more critical ways), grading (magically we become better professors when we're giving higher grades!), and really basic transfer-of-affect type stuff (students are more favorable if you give them cookies or some other kind of treat like extra credit or, as one former colleague famously did, announcing that the final exam was canceled immediately before handing out evaluation forms).

No matter how the questions are worded, what evals end up measuring is some nebulous combination of Likeability factors rather than learning. We might like the students to state objectively whether they had a good learning experience but ultimately they end up telling us whether they Liked the professor and Liked the class.

Anyone who fails to recognize the above at this point is ignorant – possibly by design – of the evidence, dumb, or a university administrator.

OK, so starting from the agreement that evaluations are, if not total garbage at least unacceptably noisy, the question that nobody seems prepared to answer is: What do we use to replace them? "It's the best of a bunch of bad options" is not a good defense of anything, yet that's exactly where we are. There are broadly three alternatives:

1. Not having any sort of metric or evaluation for teaching in higher education. This would not only do a disservice to students – simply starting from the assumption that everyone is teaching well simply by being hired to teach – but it would screw faculty by eliminating any mechanism for rewarding good teaching in tenure and promotion. If there is no metric to show I'm a bad teacher, there's also no metric to demonstrate that I'm a good one. And so research and "service" become the sole determinants of T&P. Hard pass.

2. "Outcomes-based" evaluation, or the kind of stuff they do in K-12. Administrators could determine our teaching effectiveness by looking at how well students do grade-wise. This is transparently ridiculous since we control the assignment of grades in our own courses. If I am told "Lower grades mean you're bad a teaching" then obviously everyone's getting an A. If some examination from outside the course is going to be used, then I'm spending all my time "Teaching to the Test" which is exactly what's happening in K-12. We know this doesn't work.

3. Some kind of peer evaluation. Terrifyingly, I've actually heard some people suggest this. So your senior, tenured colleagues watch you teach and determine whether you're a good teacher or not. Yeah great what could go wrong? This either puts junior faculty fully at the mercy of one or more senior colleagues who could range from "Brilliant academic" to "Bitter, hate-filled deadwood Associate" or it creates some kind of self-certification system wherein faculty take turns declaring one another Outstanding Teachers.

It's not that I see any merits worth defending in student evaluations of teaching. The bigger issue, instead, is that no viable alternative exists. I'm all for doing away with student evals. Really. Cancel them tomorrow. The worrisome thing is that the things they will be replaced with have the potential to do all the things that are bad about student evals, but worse.

Sure, let's try some subjective, "holistic" approach to evaluating classroom performance. It won't take long to reveal how vulnerable that system will be to interpersonal grudges and biases. Oh, the Dean doesn't like you? Your senior colleague was opposed to hiring you because he wanted a different candidate? Awesome. Those people now get to decide whether you're a good teacher. I'm sure they'll be fair and objective.