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Updated: 2018-03-22T00:00:00-04:00


Don't Count on Institutions to Stop Trump


Donald Trump is a Rorschach blot on the office of the presidency. Some people look at him and see a dangerous authoritarian. Some see a leader too weak to be authoritarian. Some see a weak leader who nonetheless has an authoritarian heart. And that's just the people who don't like the guy. Still, pretty much everyone who isn't paid to pretend otherwise agrees that he's been hemmed in by Washington's permanent institutions. Trump has signed just one major piece of legislation, and his executive orders have frequently landed with a splat. From his stab at banning transgender soldiers to his efforts to defund sanctuary cities, Trump has hit one wall after another. That has led some anti-Trump pundits to a quietly optimistic take on the state of the country. "America's core institutions may not be in perfect health," Zack Beauchamp summed it up in Vox, "but they seem to be functioning well enough to constrain a president who's gone after essential parts of its democratic system." Yet if institutions have largely kept Trump from pushing presidential power in new directions, they have also let him intensify authoritarian policies that already exist. While some institutions have kept Trump in check, others have empowered him. In some ways, immigration is the great success story for the institutions-will-save-us crowd. Thanks to the courts, Trump's travel ban has been both narrowed and delayed. State and local governments have refused to cooperate with some elements of Trump's deportation drive, and so far the Justice Department has been impotent in its efforts to bring them in line. Trump hasn't even had much luck yet in getting Congress to cough up funds for his border wall. But courts, federalism and an opposition party aren't the only institutions at work here. Trump inherited a powerful raids-and-deportation apparatus, and he hasn't been shy about using it. And so while deportations themselves have receded somewhat in the last year, deportation arrests have surged—and they're much more likely to take place far from the border. The American Civil Liberties Union reports a "notable increase" in "arrests of people who don't have criminal records, those who show up to routine check-in meetings with agents, and even people previously offered humanitarian exceptions." That apparatus is an institution. It was built up by prior presidents of both parties, along with Congress and the bureaucracy. They assembled a weapon, and then they left it on the Oval Office desk. Speaking of weapons: Trump has escalated the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and his war with Islamic State killed more civilians in just over half a year than Barack Obama's did in three years. He's been able to do such things because he inherited a strong institution: an increasingly unaccountable system for raining death from the air. Obama got away with claiming that the authorization to use military force to fight the perpetrators of Sept. 11, 2001, covers all manner of battles around the world. Naturally, Trump's team has embraced the argument. And if the president decides to launch nuclear missiles at North Korea this evening, it would take a full-fledged mutiny to stop him. Thank a decades-old policy of giving the president unilateral control of the nuclear arsenal. Institutions haven't just empowered Trump; he's empowered institutions. He has allowed the military to make its own decisions on a host of war-making matters without White House input—including, in some theaters, whether to launch a raid or airstrike. He has also reportedly given the CIA the right to conduct its own covert drone strikes in Syria, and there has been talk of letting it exercise that authority elsewhere. Power isn't flowing to the executive so much as it's flowing to whole swaths of the executive branch. (That has been true in some ways of the immigration crackdown too. When the slipshod first version of the travel ban came down, Customs and Border Protection field agents were left to make their own choices about how to interpret and enforce it.) As I write, Donald Trump i[...]

Soul of Cash


(image) It doesn't matter how many country bros dip into the hip-hop well and rap about dirt-road memories or honky-tonk badonkadonks: In the popular imagination, country music scans as white music. So if I tell you a soul singer has just put out a collection of Johnny Cash songs, a lot of you will imagine a novelty record—something along the lines of a polka-disco album or a Cajun rap.

Resist the thought. Even in the age of Jim Crow, America's ears found ways to evade segregation: Behind those allegedly rigid color lines, generations of black and white musicians have been listening to each other and absorbing the sounds they hear. Brian Owens' fine new album Soul of Cash belongs to a long tradition of country-soul crossovers—a tradition so long, in fact, that more than one of these songs have been covered by other R&B acts in the past.

That's not to say that the new tracks are retreads. Owens' arrangement of "Ring of Fire," with an easygoing guitar playing the notes that Cash assigned to some Mariachi horns, is worlds removed from Ray Charles' explosive take on the tune. And where Slim Harpo turned "Folsom Prison Blues" into something as slow and heavy as the train in the lyrics, Owens speeds the song up; if you don't listen to the words, it sounds almost joyful. The borderland between country and R&B is large, offering plenty of space to explore.

Trump Turns One


The 45th president does not tend to elicit measured evaluations. Since even before his formal entry into national politics in 2015, Trump has acted as a powerful magnet on the body politic—attracting and repelling onlookers with equal force. A year ago, as we prepared to see a former reality television star sworn into the highest office on Earth, predictions abounded regarding the effects he was about to have on the country and the world. On one side were confident assertions that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, bring back manufacturing jobs, and end political correctness once and for all. On the other were fears that he was a racist and a dimwit who would certainly abuse the powers of his station and might well start a nuclear war. On the Trump presidency's first birthday, the reality is less extreme than either set of prognosticators envisioned. The Republican Party under his leadership managed one major legislative accomplishment—tax reform that cut the corporate rate and is projected to add nearly $1.5 trillion to the debt—and failed after months of wrangling to enact an Obamacare replacement. Tensions with foreign governments from Iran to Russia to North Korea continue to simmer. The stock market has followed a dramatic upward trajectory, yet anger continues to grow over perceived wealth and income inequality. With the midterm elections now 10 months away, political polarization seems to hit new highs daily, but in many ways the checks and balances of our federalist system are working to keep even the current unscrupulous White House occupant from actualizing his most ambitious plans. As the 365-day mark approaches, have we reached a milestone worth celebrating or taken just another step in our national descent to unthinkable places? Reason asked 11 experts to weigh in on Trump's record so far. From positive signs on transportation policy and regulatory rollback to a worrying rise in nationalist sentiments and redoubled efforts to cleanse the United States of undocumented immigrants, the answers were a mixed bag, highlighting just how much uncertainty awaits the country in the year to come. —Stephanie Slade TAXES AND HEALTH CARE: Victory, Sort of, Maybe Peter Suderman At the beginning of 2017, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told GOP lawmakers that the new Congress would repeal Obamacare and pass deficit-neutral tax reform by August. At summer's end, Republicans, despite holding majorities in both chambers, had accomplished neither. But eventually they would accomplish parts of each. In March, the House was set to hold a vote on legislation that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act while setting up a new system of related federal tax credits. Ryan was initially forced to pull the bill from the floor due to lack of support, but after making a series of tweaks intended to provide states with more flexibility, the body passed a health care bill in May. GOP leaders congratulated themselves for making progress on the issue, but the plaudits were premature. The bill stalled out in the Senate. By September, the Obamacare repeal effort was dead and Republicans had moved on to more comfortable territory: rewriting the tax code. At the center of the new effort was a significant cut to America's corporate tax rate, which at 35 percent was the highest in the developed world. Donald Trump had campaigned on slashing it to 15 percent. The GOP aimed for 20. At first, the tax effort went much like the health care effort. There were disagreements between the House, which hoped to partially offset any revenue losses with spending cuts, and the Senate, which gave itself permission to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion. Republican senators also disagreed among themselves: Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R–Tenn.) worried about sinking the country further into the red, for instance, while Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) and Mike Lee (R–Utah) wanted a potentially pricey increase in the child tax credit. Moderates like Sen. Susan Collins[...]

Reason's 2017 Gift Guide


As 2017 comes to an end, we've asked our staff to select some of the best books, movies, music, and other media released this year. Our picks range from a faux-communist cop show to a history of food and empire, from a collection of evangelical rock songs to a novel set on the moon—plus items about biodiversity, mythology, political partisanship, pro wrestling, and more. —Jesse Walker Ronald BaileyScience Correspondent Humanity isn't destroying the natural world; we're changing it. In many ways, our changes are creating richer and more vibrant ecosystems. That's the persuasive and liberating argument advanced by the York University conservation biologist Chris D. Thomas in his riveting new book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. "It is time for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement—of which I am a life-long member—to throw off the shackles of pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world," he writes. As an increasingly wealthy and more technologically adept humanity continues to withdraw from nature, Thomas shows, wild creatures are returning to landscapes from which they once had been extirpated. This trend will strengthen as the 21st century unfolds. Humanity is also creating a new Pangaea by moving thousands of species around the globe and thereby increasing local biodiversity almost everywhere. For example, New Zealand's 2,000 native plant species have been joined by 2,000 from elsewhere, doubling the plant biodiversity of the islands. As plants and animals populate new regions, they start down different evolutionary paths that are already differentiating into new species. Meanwhile, only three of New Zealand's native plants have gone extinct. Thomas cogently argues that a thriving world of exotic ecosystems and biological renewal is at hand. By the time most readers have finished this well-written and carefully researched book, they should agree. Eric BoehmReporter If the best album of the year is the best album to sing along with on a long road trip—and isn't it, really?—then the contest isn't even close in 2017. Japandroids' Near to the Wild Heart of Life is itself a road trip: one that reverses a rock 'n' roll cliché by aiming ever homeward, hungry for a love left behind. Neither robots nor Japanese imports, Japandroids take us on an alliterative ride from the noise of a New York night to the sweltering stink of a sinking city (New Orleans). The album's third track deserves a place on the admittedly short list of libertarian love songs for its title alone ("True Love and a Free Life of Free Will"), if not for its hazy scenes of cabarets and cantinas full of cigarette smoke, through which guitarist Brian King ruminates that love is the joining of mutual passions. "And I'll love you, if you love me," he sings—a punk rock version of a wedding vow. The Canadian duo's followup to 2012's Celebration Rock is more reflective lyrically and more experimental musically than its predecessor. The screaming guitar loops and hammering drums of the band's earlier work is still here in places, but King and drummer David Prowse pull out their synthesizers and slow the pace a bit in the middle of the album, as if giving their fans a moment to catch their breaths before another bombastic singalong. It works, and it's particularly enjoyable live, where screaming along to the driving chorus leaves you feeling like hitting the open road. Elizabeth Nolan BrownAssociate Editor "Fake" is our president's favorite rallying cry. "Feminism" is Merriam-Webster's word of the year. Devious Russians dominate half the country's political fears. Passionate fights rage over "political correctness" and cultural representation. In this atmosphere, GLOW—a campy, hilarious, and heartwarming Netflix series about women's wrestling in mid-'80s Los Angeles—hardly seems like a historical piece at all, at least if you can look beyond all the big hair and legwarmers. But somehow the veneer of [...]



(image) The most famous individualist anarchist journal of 19th century America was Liberty, edited by the fiery polemicist Benjamin Tucker. But Liberty wasn't the movement's only periodical, and anyone interested in that period of libertarian history should welcome any chance to examine the outlets edited by figures with different sensibilities. So it's good to see Georgia and Henry Replogle's journal Egoism reprinted in a hefty new book, Egoism: The First Two Volumes, 1890–1892 (Union of Egoists).

In some ways Tucker and the Replogles were peas in a pod: Each mixed the radical egoism of Max Stirner with the monetary schemes of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. But there are differences here too, with Egoism putting a stronger stress on feminism and free love. Neither Replogle was as talented a writer as Tucker, and the range of contributors here isn't as large as Tucker's stable. But if Egoism wasn't ultimately as good a publication as Liberty, it's still interesting in its own right.

Some introductory material provides historical context for the journal, including the entertaining tale of the editors' brief stay in the town of Liberal, Missouri. Founded as an alleged haven for free thought by George Walser, a man who hoped to ban both churches and saloons from his city, Liberal attracted and then repelled the Replogles, who were driven out for espousing free love. Walser later converted to spiritualism, and in time the town would host vast conventions of people hoping to speak with the dead.

Delaware's Odd, Beautiful, Contentious, Private Utopia


They held a town pageant in Arden, Delaware, on September 5, 1910: a medieval procession with performers dressed as knights, troubadours, pages, and squires. One Ardenite, an anarchist shoemaker named George Brown, played a beggar. This annoyed some of the other players, because no such role had actually been written. But Brown decided to add it to the program anyway, so he dressed in rags, caked himself with mud, and invaded the proceedings, taunting the other characters and demanding alms from the audience. Many "onlookers needed assurance," The Single Tax Review reported, that Brown "was only 'part of the show.'" This was a pattern: Brown liked to talk, and not everyone liked to listen to him. According to the novelist Upton Sinclair, who lived at the time in a little Arden house that his neighbors had dubbed the Jungalow, Brown insisted on "discussing sex questions" at the Arden Economic Club. When the club asked him to cut it out, Brown declared his free-speech right to continue and kept talking until he'd broken up the meeting. He broke up the next meeting too, and finally, Sinclair wrote, "declared it his intention to break up all future meetings." At this point some of the locals wanted to have him arrested for disturbing the peace. But that required outside help, because the town of Arden did not have a police force. In fact, the town of Arden didn't have a government at all. Not, at least, in the usual sense of the word. I should back up and explain a few things. Arden's origins go back to the Delaware Invasion of 1895 and '96, when the Single Tax movement tried to take over the state. The Single Taxers were followers of Henry George, a 19th century economist who argued that government should be financed solely by a tax on land values. No income tax, no sales tax, no tax on the improvements to a property—just one tax on land. The campaigners crisscrossed the state in armbands, knapsacks, and Union Army uniforms, delivering streetcorner speeches and singing Single Tax songs ("Get the landlords off your backs/With our little Single Tax/And there's lots of fun ahead for Delaware!"). More than a few got tossed in jail for their efforts. The invasion was a flop. A disaster, really. Not only did their gubernatorial candidate get only 2.4 percent of the vote, but within a year the movement's foes would insert a provision into the state constitution that made a George-style tax impossible. Unable to achieve their ideas at the ballot box, a group of Georgists decided to take another approach. In 1900 they acquired some farmland outside Wilmington, created what amounted to a community land trust, leased out plots to anyone who wanted to move in, levied rents based on the value of the unimproved land, and used the rent money to pay for public goods. In other words, they set up a private town and enacted the Single Tax program contractually. And with that double experiment in communalism and privatization, Arden was born. I just called Arden a "town," but for its first few years it was essentially a summer resort. (Or a summer camp—many of the part-time residents slept in tents.) But by the end of the decade, particularly after the founders made some tweaks to the lease agreement in 1908, a year-round community had formed. It was a largely lower-middle-class crowd, with a high number of artists and craftsmen; it attracted not just Georgists but other sorts of nonconformists, from socialists to vegetarians. And anarchists, like our sexually explicit friend George Brown, who kept a cottage there with his common-law wife. The Ardenfolk had institutions—the trustees who set the rents had a certain degree of power, and there were regular town meetings too—but they weren't a municipality and they didn't have any police. So in July 1911, aggravated by the shoemaker's antics, a group left the town limits, found the appropriate authorities, and swore out a warrant for Brown's [...]

Secret Hitler


(image) Five to 10 people sit around a table. Most of them are liberals, in the broad sense of favoring civil liberties and self-government. Some of them are fascists. And one of them is, as the kids say, literally Hitler.

They're playing Secret Hitler, a board-and-card game for anyone eager to conjure the spirit of late Weimar Germany in the comfort of his living room. The fascists want to install a dictatorship; the liberals want to stop them. And the fascists are all posing as liberals, a fact that can make the liberals as paranoid and purge-happy as their opponents.

One of the designers behind Secret Hitler is Max Temkin, co-creator of the card game Cards Against Humanity, and like his previous project this one has attracted accusations of bad taste. But this isn't some simple-mindedly transgressive entertainment that tosses around words like Hitler to get a rise out of people. To the extent that it's possible for a strategy game to engage real issues, this one deals seriously with political power, political fear, and—in its creators' words—"the disastrous temptation to solve systemic problems by giving more power to the 'right people.'"

And it does all that without preaching. Indeed, like any good game, it does it while being fun.

The Indestructible Idea of the Basic Income


Andy Stern is a former president of the Service Employees International Union. Charles Murray may be America's most prominent right-wing critic of the welfare state. So when they appeared onstage together in Washington, D.C., last fall to discuss the basic income—the idea of keeping people out of poverty by giving them regular unconditional cash payments—the most striking thing about the event was that they kept agreeing with each other. It isn't necessarily surprising that Stern and Murray both back some version of the concept. It has supporters across the political spectrum, from Silicon Valley capitalists to academic communists. But this diverse support leads naturally to diverse versions of the proposal, not all of which are compatible with one another. Some people want to means-test the checks so that only Americans below a certain income threshold receive them; others want a fully universal program, given without exceptions. Some want to replace the existing welfare state; others want to tack a basic income onto it. There have been tons of suggestions for how to fund the payments and for how big they should be. When it comes to the basic income, superficial agreement is common but actual convergence can be fleeting. In Stern's case, the central issue driving his interest in the idea is the turmoil he expects automation to bring to the economy. In the future, he and Lee Kravitz predict in their 2016 book Raising the Floor, tens of millions of jobs will disappear, leaving much of the country stuck with work that is "contingent, part-time, and driven largely by people's own motivation, creativity, and the ability to make a job out of 'nothing.'" A basic income, he hopes, would bring some economic security to their lives. Read Murray's first detailed pitch for a guaranteed income, the 2006 book In Our Hands, and you won't see anything like that. Its chief concern is shifting power from government bureaucracies to civil society. It doesn't just propose a new transfer program; it calls for repealing every other transfer program. And automation isn't a part of its argument at all. But onstage at the Cato Institute in D.C., Murray was as worried as Stern about technological job loss, warning that "we are going to be carving out millions of white-collar jobs, because artificial intelligence, after years of being overhyped, has finally come of age." Meanwhile, Stern signaled that he was open not just to replacing welfare programs for the disadvantaged but possibly even to rethinking Social Security, provided that people still have to contribute money to some sort of retirement system and that Americans who have already paid in don't get shortchanged. He drew the line at eliminating the government's health insurance programs—but the other guy on the stage agreed that health care was different. Under Murray's plan, citizens would be required to use part of their grant to buy health insurance, and insurance companies would be required to treat the population as a single pool. The Murray/Stern convergence comes as the basic income is enjoying a wave of interest and enthusiasm. The concept comes up in debates over everything from unemployment to climate change. Pilot programs testing various versions of the idea are in the works everywhere from Oakland to Kenya, and last year Swiss voters considered a plan to introduce a guaranteed income nationwide. (They wound up rejecting the referendum overwhelmingly, with only 23 percent voting in favor. I didn't say everyone was enthusiastic.) This isn't the first time the basic income or an idea like it has edged its way onto the agenda. It isn't even the first time we've seemed to see an ideological convergence. This patchwork of sometimes-overlapping movements with sometimes-overlapping proposals has a history that stretches back centuries. It Usually Begins with Tom Paine Just wh[...]

Theft: A History of Music


"Classical musicians borrowed from each other all the time!" a historian declares. "It's like an insane game of musical Chutes and Ladders." An actual game of Chutes and Ladders follows, with annotations explaining where Beethoven borrowed from Handel, Brahms from Beethoven, Mahler from Brahms. Sampling and remixing, we're reminded, are a lot older than hip-hop.

That sequence comes about a fifth of the way through Theft: A History of Music, a 259-page comic about an art form's evolving interactions with markets, technology, and the law. With a scope that stretches from medieval troubadours to modern rappers, Theft shows not just how common borrowing has been but how music is shaped by the social context that produces it. In the baroque era, for example, composers created pieces for particular occasions, so it was widely seen as acceptable to revise an old tune for a new setting. Later composers started to make money from sales of sheet music, and—in a related development—"original genius" became more prized.

The text does its share of borrowing itself: There are allusions to everything from Kafka to The Jetsons. Some of the jokes fall flat, but the book has only one big drawback: It can't play the music it describes. Some creative borrower should turn it into an animated movie.

The Realist Cartoons


(image) It's 1967, and an old woman is handing an "End the Draft" sign to a young man. "Take it, Norbert," she says, "and bear it well: your great-grandfather carried it against the Lincoln administration."

So goes one of the gags collected in The Realist Cartoons (Fantagraphics), an anthology drawn from Paul Krassner's great satiric magazine The Realist. The mag originally ran from 1958 to 1974, with a return engagement in the '80s and '90s; inevitably, some stuff here that once seemed daring now hardly feels bold at all. (Several of the cartoons about religion no longer look particularly brave. And we're long past the days when a four-letter word could carry a joke all by itself.) But the book's best material holds up. In one cartoon, a white liberal decides a civil rights march is the right place to hire a cleaning lady. In another, Woody Allen, having married Soon-Yi, starts doing mother-in-law jokes. One infamous illustration stars the Disney characters in an elaborately detailed orgy.

Some of these cartoons are angry; some are wry. Some critique the country's most powerful institutions; some just seem happy breaking taboos (including, at times, the taboos of the typical Realist reader). They all exude irreverence, just like the journal that published them.

The Best Books, Films, Music, and Television of 2016


As the year drew to a close, we asked Reason's staff to select some of the best books, movies, and other media released in 2016. Our picks range from a novel about economic apocalypse to a sitcom about aliens, from a book about cocktails to a film about Hannah Arendt. Dig in. —Jesse Walker Eric Boehm, reporter With Painkillers, former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon leaves his Springsteen-meets-the-Replacements roots for a folksy-rock exploration of failed relationships, nostalgic romances, and the freedom that comes from letting go of the past, even if you'll never be rid of it. "You can't make me whole, I have to do that on my own," Fallon sings on the album's introspective closing number, a reference in equal parts to his recent divorce and to the breakup of his band. The simple Americana arrangements here put Fallon's skills as a songwriter—and he's one of the best out there right now—in the spotlight, particularly on "Rosemary," "Among Other Foolish Things," and "Smoke." He may be going in a new direction, but Fallon spends most of Painkillers looking back, examining hazy memories or half-remembered dreams of what might have been. There's borrowed cars, girls who love whiskey, and Rites of Spring. The good times, Fallon sings, are "lost in the songs they don't write anymore." Shikha Dalmia, senior analyst Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, a documentary by the Israeli director Ada Ushpiz, may not be the best offering of 2016, but it is arguably the most relevant. The West is experiencing a rise of demagogues, fuelled partly by right-wing populist movements. It is possible that in resisting them, Western liberalism will strengthen itself. It could also collapse into something horrible, as Weimar Germany did. The film, which hit select American theaters this year, offers a glimpse into the mass psychology that would allow that to happen. Arendt, a Jewish philosopher, fled to America from Nazi Germany. The documentary delves into her thought to understand how the land that produced the greatest minds in philosophy, literature, and music collapsed into the barbarism of Auschwitz. It excavates rare footage of Germany during Hitler's rule to show the campaign to dehumanize Jews that preceded the Holocaust. But the more crucial step, per Arendt, was the triumph of what Frankfurt School philosophers call instrumental or technocratic rationality over critical rationality. The film depicts Arendt's 1961 journey to Israel for The New Yorker to cover the famous trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi accused of war crimes. After observing months of testimony, Arendt coined her phrase "banality of evil" to convey that Eichmann, a diminutive and soft-spoken man, wasn't motivated so much by hatred of Jews. Rather, he believed that his job was to find the most efficient way to execute his assigned tasks, not raise big questions. Arendt was condemned for soft-peddling the Satanic nature of the Nazi regime. But the documentary shows that she was laying bare something still more horrible: how ordinary people can stumble into unspeakable evil when they let their civilizational guard down. Anthony Fisher, associate editor Louis CK blew up the concept of the 30-minute sitcom with his FX show Louie, where the main character's backstory would change without explanation and where excruciatingly painful situations could be both hilarious and cathartic. Now he may have blown up the episodic television show itself with the eight-part miniseries Horace and Pete, originally released on his own website but now available on Hulu. Though occasionally funny, this is no comedy—in fact, it's as much of a horror show as a drama. Set in the hellscape of a 100-year-old Irish bar in Brooklyn, the show's depiction of boredom, dumb arguments, sexism, familial abuse[...]

Christmas Horrors


(image) Over the last decade or so, American pop culture has discovered the Krampus: a demonic Austrian counterpart to St. Nicholas who threatens kids with cruel punishments while the saint promises them rewards. In The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas (Feral House), Al Ridenour explores the Old World's spooky, raucous Krampus festivities, with side trips that cover Yuletide witches, Yuletide werewolves, and other signs of "a deep-rooted European understanding of Christmas as a time of supernatural mayhem."

In theory, Ridenour writes, the Krampus today is "an enforcer of social norms," punishing children who misbehave. But any close look at Krampus practices reveals a rather different impulse at work as well: In these carnivalesque traditions, participants are "freed to act out" and to "create tumult wherever they go." Over the centuries, anxious authorities have tried to ban or tightly regulate these anarchic rites. But whatever short-term victories they won, the idea of the Krampus kept thriving.

Seeing Trump on the Silver Screen


In the year of Trump, the 1957 film A Face in the Crowd has had more cameos in the political columns than any other revival-house staple. Pundit after pundit has pointed to the picture to explain the rise of the Republican nominee. That may say more about a certain segment of Donald Trump's foes than it does about Trump or his following. The movie traces its roots to a tipsy conversation screenwriter Budd Schulberg once had with Will Rogers Jr., the son of the folksy cowboy humorist. "My father was so full of shit," Rogers declared, "because he pretends he's just one of the people, just one of the guys...but in our house the only people that ever came as guests were the richest people in town, the bankers and the power brokers of L.A." That comment inspired Schulberg's short story "Your Arkansas Traveler," and that story became the seed of A Face in the Crowd, scripted by Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan. The picture has long been popular with people who fear the place where populism meets pop culture. The movie begins with Marcia Jeffries visiting a county jail in Arkansas. Jeffries is a starry-eyed Sarah Lawrence grad who works for her uncle's rural radio station; she learned in college that "real American music comes from the bottom up," and she's delighted to discover a singing and storytelling drifter doing time for drunk and disorderly conduct. The prisoner is Lonesome Rhodes, played by Andy Griffith as a magnetic bundle of appetites, and his mix of country music and unfiltered philosophizing becomes popular on her uncle's radio outlet, and then on a larger-market television outlet, and finally on a national TV show transmitted from New York. Rhodes turns out to be not just a natural entertainer but a natural advertiser: Between his charisma and his frenzied fan base, he boosts the sales of everything from mattresses to energy supplements. The story takes a turn when Rhodes starts applying his techniques to politics, pitching an ultraconservative senator with the talents he'd been using to pitch consumer goods. (The movie signals that the senator is a bad guy by calling him "the last of the isolationists" and by having him criticize Social Security.) Just as the dark night of reaction is about to fall upon the land, Jeffries sabotages Rhodes by flicking his mic back on when he thinks a TV broadcast is over. Suddenly his audience hears him mocking them: "Those morons out there? Shucks, I sell them chicken fertilizer as caviar....They're a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they'll flap their flippers." His former fans rebel and the republic is saved. The movie wasn't a hit when it came out, but it has had a long shelf life. That's partly because of Griffith, who gave the best performance of his career: a vortex of villainous charm that can shock viewers used to the genial TV sheriff he played later. But it's also because the picture speaks to a set of social anxieties that haven't disappeared: fears of television, advertising, popular culture, and demotic demagoguery. If a politician wanders over from the entertainment industry, and if his views even superficially resemble Rhodes', someone is bound to bring up Kazan and Schulberg's picture. (Kazan himself declared that it "anticipated Ronald Reagan.") It's no surprise that we've been hearing about it throughout this election season. "Rarely and perhaps not in modern times has a presidential campaign more resembled the classic 1957 film, A Face in the Crowd," the conservative columnist Cal Thomas announced. At the other end of the spectrum, a scribe at The Nation informed us that "Lonesome Rhodes has come to life in the form of Donald Trump." CNN ran a story headlined "Did this movie predict Trump's rise?" The Was[...]

Disaster Progressivism


Spontaneous cooperation, not social chaos, is the norm after a natural or technological disaster. That fact looms large in Jacob Remes' Disaster Citizenship (University of Illinois Press), a book that looks at two devastating events—a 1914 fire in Salem, Massachusetts, and a 1917 shipyard explosion in Halifax, Nova Scotia—and shows what happened when that grassroots mutual aid ran headfirst into the Progressive Era's passion for rule by "expert" professionals.

Remes examines everything from ethnic networks to labor politics to the battle for control of government aid. (The people of Salem and Halifax were often happy to take the help, but only on their own terms.) As an undergrad at Yale, Remes took a class from Seeing Like a State author James C. Scott, and a very Scottian theme runs through all of the book's nuances and distinctions: the clash between an "organic, emergent order" and a power structure for whom that order was "inherently illegible and unknowable."

Traffic Court Piracy


Many Missouri towns, especially in the St. Louis area, are infamous for using speed traps, draconian court fees, and other types of traffic-court piracy to keep their budgets in the black. A recent reform was aimed at reining in these abuses, but in March a judge struck down several aspects of the law.

Before the bill took effect earlier this year, towns could get as much as 30 percent of their revenue from traffic enforcement. Under the new order, the ceiling in most of the state was lowered to 20 percent. But in "any county with a charter form of government and with more than nine hundred fifty thousand inhabitants"—that is, in St. Louis County only—it was pushed much lower, to 12.5 percent.

The law was clearly having an effect. St. Ann, a tiny town that relied on a speed trap for much of its revenue, responded by laying off 10 cops. Another mini-city, Charlack, dissolved its force entirely and contracted instead with a local police cooperative. But on March 28, Circuit Judge Jon E. Beetem ruled that the provisions singling out St. Louis County were forbidden under the Missouri constitution. The 20 percent cap will now be imposed across the state evenly.

Beetem also struck down a statewide requirement that towns submit annual reports on the revenues they receive from traffic violations and related court costs, deeming this an unfunded mandate. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster plans to appeal the ruling.