Biden, Trump and the broken clock

That even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day isn’t a matter of ideology. It’s a matter of fact.

Anyone who denies this fact will become an object of ridicule. Yet no one who asserts this fact will win any prizes: the observation is too trivial and self-evident to merit accolades.

Yet when it comes to politics, facts play second fiddle to ideologies. Getting back to our broken timepiece, if people look at it from an ideological perspective, some will say that it never shows the correct time, and some others that it always does.

Both will be wrong because an ideology is the wrong starting point of ratiocination. It blinkers the eyes, dulls the brain and turns people into jukeboxes waiting for their buttons to be pushed to bang out a tune.

This takes me back to the events I wrote about the other day: the Biden administration declassifying and releasing intelligence reports on Russia’s impending attack on the Ukraine.

Such reports should be evaluated, analysed and either believed or rejected on merits. But ideologies don’t allow dispassionate assessment. Everything has to be reflected through their own mirrors, and these are both concave and convex, guaranteed to distort reality.

Western politics has been increasingly ideological ever since 1789, when members of France’s National Assembly split into royalists on the right of the hall and revolutionaries on the left. For the first time, conciliation between political factions became impossible.

By contrast, England’s main political parties of the 18th century, the Tories and the Whigs, disagreed on some issues. But they didn’t hate one another. Both knew they fundamentally wanted the same things and only differed in the relative importance they attached to them.

Swift had nice clean fun satirising this essential kinship, with his Big-Enders and Little-Enders arguing about the more convenient way of breaking a soft-boiled egg. That was a caricature, but it was based on reality.

The arch-Tory Dr Johnson and the arch-Whig Edmund Burke were good friends. Both were champions of tradition and such relative innovations as free trade. They just put accents in different places and neither of them proceeded from an ideological premise.

Fast-forwarding a couple of centuries, do you think Trump and Biden, or indeed their ardent supporters, could be good friends? I won’t bore you with a litany of other binary impossibilities because there’s no need. You know anyway that these days politically minded individuals don’t see their opponents as honourable people they happen to disagree with. They see them as objects of hate or at best contempt.

The great adman Leo Burnett made his employees wear lapel pins saying “Maybe he is right”. This possibility is denied political opponents. Anything they say is wrong because it’s they who are saying it. Instead of evaluating facts and weighing arguments we consider the source.

This leads to appalling errors of judgement, as it did in the reaction to the intelligence report I mentioned, which turned out to be correct in every particular. But because it was the Biden administration that released it, it was roundly mocked by Trump’s fans.

They know their man was a better president than Biden is, and they are right. They know most of Trump’s policies were commonsensical and Biden’s are at best flimsy. Again they are right.

But they are wrong in not affording Biden the same courtesy as they do to a broken clock, or as Burnett’s employees afforded one another. Biden may be lacking in every faculty of mind and character, but that doesn’t mean he is always wrong.

Nobody is always wrong and nobody is always right. Hence it’s always more profitable to consider the argument, not the source. Once an argument is made, it either stands proud on its own hind legs or falls ignominiously face in the dirt. The fledgling has flown; whence it came is irrelevant.

The accurate intelligence report was ignored by the Trump-leaning public, though mercifully not by the Ukraine. Zelensky’s government wasn’t caught unawares, but indiscriminate followers of anti-Biden prophets were.

One such prophet was Andrey Illarionov, formerly Putin’s economic adviser, and now an anti-Putin, pro-Trump senior fellow at a Washington D.C. think tank.

I watched that normally sensible man mocking the aforementioned intelligence report on a streamed Russian-language interview. The date was 23 February, the day before Putin’s bandits pounced.

Rarely had I seen an analyst speaking publicly with so much conviction. People are saying the invasion is unlikely, sneered Illarionov, but they are wrong. It’s not unlikely. It’s totally, absolutely, utterly, unequivocally impossible. Read my lips: IM-POSSIBLE.

I’m not trying to say it’s wrong to be pro-Trump or anti-Biden. My point is that it’s wrong to be either, or anything else, for ideological reasons. ‘Ideology’ may be a cognate of ‘idea’, but the two concepts are antithetical.

A couple of years ago I was talking to an American pundit who was in the process of crossing the smudged line between neoconservatism and what Americans call liberalism. His attachment to these doctrines was convulsively ideological in both cases.

The subject was the EU, and I tried to present what I believed to be reasonable arguments against it. But my interlocutor wasn’t interested. Never mind the arguments, feel the ideology.

If you are against the EU, he said, you are a Putin stooge. He hates the EU too. That was an ideology speaking, loudly enough to outshout every voice of reason.

The brazen rhetorical idiocy of that response severed my already tenuous links with gentlemanly civility and I said a few things I shouldn’t have said. We haven’t spoken since. There goes another relationship, trampled underfoot by ideology.

6 thoughts on “Biden, Trump and the broken clock”

    1. I am not Mr Boot, nor was meant to be, but my opinion, speaking as an attendant lord, is that you’re begging the question. Conservatism may be an ideology, but real conservatives have no more interest in conservatism than in any other -ism. We are eccentrics, because we don’t believe in a centre. We agree about some things, disagree about others, and no two of us agree and disagree about exactly the same things. We mostly get on pretty well together because we share tastes and feelings, not because we share philosophical doctrines or five-year plans. We cultivate our gardens – like Candide, but also like Cincinnatus.

      (“Objection: But surely Christian conservatives do believe in a centre?” “Yes, but our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world.”)

    2. Conservatism is above all a matter of temperament, taste, style, manners, method of thought. Underpinning it all is a sense of realism, accepting man as he is, someone who can be saved by love, but not moulded by political passion. A conservative is defined by what he loves, whereas an ideologue only by what he preaches. I suppose I’m saying the same things as PJR below.

  1. I do not know how we got to this state (still have not read past the first chapter of “How the West was Lost” – too many books on the shelf). Perhaps you are correct that it stems from “all men are created equal” and universal franchise. What is irritating is that complete imbeciles – for example, those who cannot even name the capital of the state in which they live – are absolutely convinced of the correctness of their political opinions. Based solely on some news report they watched, no doubt. (The modern equivalent of sola scriptura?) I have tried to instill in my children certain values, among them the ability to say, “I do not know” – something severely lacking in today’s world. Somehow, without ever reading a book or composing an actual argument (not knowing what one is) everyone is an expert on everything. Progress.

  2. I have said this to myself a million times over since Don was elected President. All the hate, bitterness, anger and just bad manners behavior with big mouths has been made apparent in a way it was not so much before. What these folks have been thinking and feeling all along is now verbally expressed for all to hear. No more do you have to give these morons the benefit of the doubt as to their true intentions, ideas and thoughts. We need to thank them profusely. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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