Jon Chait Shoots at all the Ducks in a Row — and Manages to Miss (once)

Lifted from Robert’s Stochastic  Thoughts
Jon Chait Shoots at all the Ducks in a Row — and Manages to Miss (once)

I admire both Jon Chait and Glenn Greenwald. They do not admire each other. I enjoy it when they debate. Sometimes they both make fools of themselves.

Jon Chait wrote a blog post “The Alt-Right and Glenn Greenwald Versus H.R. McMaster”. The chance to simultaneously critique the right and the left must have delighted him. The post is a critique of this column in The Intercept

Chait has many convincing criticisms of Greenwald. However he also wrote these paragraphs (bolding mine)

Trump “advocated a slew of policies that attacked the most sacred prongs of long-standing bipartisan Washington consensus,” argues Greenwald. “As a result, he was (and continues to be) viewed as uniquely repellent by the neoliberal and neoconservative guardians of that consensus, along with their sprawling network of agencies, think tanks, financial policy organs, and media outlets used to implement their agenda (CIA, NSA, the Brookings/AEI think tank axis, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, etc.).”

It is certainly true that all manner of elites disdain Trump. What’s striking is Greenwald’s uncharitable reading of their motives, which closely tracks Trump’s own portrayal of the situation. Many elites consider Trump too ignorant, lazy, impulsive, and bigoted for the job. Instead Greenwald presents their opposition as reflecting a fear that Trump threatens their wealth and power. (This despite the pro-elite tilt of his tax and regulatory policies — which, in particular, make it astonishing that Greenwald would take at face value Trump’s claim to threaten the interests of “Wall Street” and its “financial policy organs.”)

This is a very odd critique.

Chait doesn’t misquote Greenwald. Nor does he remove necessary context. he just quoted Greenwald writing one thing and then asserted that Greenwald had written something else. Greenwald wrote about a “consensus” — that is about shared beliefs. for some reason, Chait asserted that Greenwald asserted that he was discussing people’s concerns about their “wealth”. Chait prsented no evidence at all in support of his claim. The passages he quoted say somethign completely different from the words near them which are presented as paraphrases.

This is crazy. Now it isn’t as if Greenwald didn’t preseent an easy target — he too wrote silly things. But Chait presented no evidence that he ascribed venal motives to McMaster’s defenders. His specific accusation (about a brief document) is not supported by any trace of evidence.

Later in the column Greenwald wrote “his policy and personal instability only compounded elites’ fears that he could not be relied upon to safeguard their lucrative, power-vesting agenda. ” Chait was too sloppy to quote the word “lucrative” which does support his claim. However, the quoted passage clearly ascribes the force to “consensus”, ideology, beliefs, dogmas. Greenwald also refers to the “most sacred pieties” of neoconservatives — strongly suggesting other than mercenary motives.

As I mentioned Greenwald also wrote silly things. His conclusion, that both Trump and the deep state are dangerous, potential threats to US Democracy and probably sources of war and suffering is reasonably supported by the limited evidence he presented. It certainly is a widespread view (Greenwald asserts with no evidence that it isn’t).

He argues that most Democrats are unconcerned by the policy making roles of Generals. He quotes no examples of rejection of such concern by Democratic elected officials (not one). He quoted Barbara Lee “By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres Trump is militarizing the White House & putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist.” Then asserts (presenting no evidence at all) that “But hers was clearly the minority view: The military triumvirate of Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster has been cast as the noble defender of American democracy,”

The passive voice was used to assert that someone of some sort who is not quoted said something which proves Greenwald correct. This reminds me of something I like about Chait — he insists that criticisms of allegedly existing arguments be directed at people who are named and quoted and not at vaguely described groups which might be made up of made up straw men.

Greenwald presents himself as a bold dissenter. He quotes Jeet Heer, Brian Buetler, Barbara Lee, Dana Priest, Bill Arkin, Marc Ambinder, D.B. Grady, Peter Dale Scott, and Mike Lofgren who agree with him. Good thing so many establishment liberals are willing to join the tiny minority with Greenwald. On the other side, he quotes no Democrat or liberal. He asserts that someone somewhere claimed that Trump invented the concept of the deep state. He ascribes this nonsensical view to lots of people who aren’t Glenn Greenwald. He names none of them. I can’t name anyone who believes that — I was very familiar with the phrase back in the good old days of of 2014.

Sen Schumer is only elected Democrat other than Lee quoted by Greenwald who quoted a tweet by Kyle Griffin quoting him “Chuck Schumer on Trump’s tweet hitting intel community: “He’s being really dumb to do this.”” That is Schumer said there are permanent government employees who can hurt presidents if they so wish. Greenwald continues “Although it is now common to assert — as a form of in-the-know mockery — that the notion of a “Deep State” in the U.S. was invented by Trump supporters only in the last year, ” right after he quoted Griffin quoting Schumer noting that there is a deep state. Greenwald doesn’t see the contradiction, because he knows, somehow, that Schumer’s accurate statement of fact constituted enthusiasm for the CIA harming presidents. I have quoted all he quoted (that being Griffin quoting). Greenwald just knows that the fact that Schumer agrees with Greenwald about the power and respect for elected officials of CIA employees proves that Schumer is a terrible enemy of Greenwald and Democracy.

Worst of all, Greenwald argues that the proposals Trump made during the campaign were ratified by the public. This is nonsense. The electoral college decides who is president but the votes of a minority can’t be a mandate. Also, as Greenwald notes, not only has Trump broken the promises Greenwald ascribes to him, he also contradicted himself during the campaign (on Syria he proposed doing nothing and considering using nuclear weapons). It makes no sense to try to find out what Trump voters had in mind (although I am sure they have minds).

In the end, I mostly agree with Greenwald and Chait. Chait made one silly claim without evidence. He pointed out many cases in which Greenwald claimed to be able to read peoples’ minds so that the true meaning of their statements can de deduced without reference to the words they said. Greenwald concludes that Trump isn’t the only threat to peace and Democracy. The odd thing is their polemical enthusiasm causes both of them to go beyond the evidence in very similar ways.

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