Good Friday Morning, and welcome to the 200th newsletter I’ve written and sent out. I began this as an exercise as an attempt to start writing again after meeting some success in college. Since then, this has grown into a place to share published pieces at various places and a more intimate place to share my thoughts. What started out as something for family and friends has slowly developed a broader audience and I’m grateful to have you along.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever encountered in writing is this: writer’s write. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. The only way to get better is to exercise the craft, accept feedback, and realize your best idea is never your best idea. It’s true of many things but doubly true of writing. Winston Churchill is the G.O.A.T. in this regard, he generated 10,079,850 total words, through a litany of books, pamphlets, speeches, and more. That partly explains, in my view, why he was such a powerful orator and writer — he had ample experience. Not including the vast mountains of information, he read and synthesized.
The very first thing I wrote and published on this site, which I’d consider the start of my professional writing (side?) career was in February 2016, answering the simple question: why write? I believe I’ve tried to hue as close to those standards as possible. And the more I research, read, and write, the more I’m convinced that holding to objective, universal, and everlasting truths is the best path forward.
This week, I’m writing about all the things we don’t know about the 2020 election, pushing back on the conventional wisdom on the presidential election. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Cancel culture is auto-tune for political belief – The Conservative Institute.
Can Americans find a new ending for the country’s direction? – The Conservative Institute.
The uncertainty game; or we’re blinded by the fog of war created by 2020
How do you game out the future right now? That’s a question I keep asking myself while watching current events. Long-time readers know I thoroughly enjoy elections and horse-race politics and figuring out which trendlines will dominate a race. And right now, the conventional wisdom for the presidential election is that Trump is going to get blown out in epic proportions. I even talked about some of these data points on the latest podcast.
The problem with so many elections analysts is that they’re trying to apply “normal cycle” statistical knowledge onto a wildly unpredictable year. While understandable, we need to check out assumptions. I agree that Trump would lose an election held today. But it won’t get held today, this week, or even this month. And the amount of time and variables between us and voting is still significant.
There is a litany of storylines with big impacts and little resolution soon. If it feels like one of my refrains is that we need to be mindful about what we don’t know — you’d be right. Humanity’s predictive powers are not as great as we think.
People want to draw straight-line projections for events. Point A to point B. Those projections rarely occur. Donald Trump won the 2016 election despite getting nuked — utterly obliterated — by the Access Hollywood tape. That October surprise is one of the worst that’s ever befallen a campaign. And he won. He won because Hilary Clinton’s emails came back, unanticipated by the media, in the last week of the election. When analysts talk about the poll averages of 2016, I just laugh, because those averages don’t matter. What mattered was the news cycle and public opinion shifts with it. Those last-minute turns determined the election.
“I am most often irritated by those who attack the bishop but somehow fall for the securities analyst–those who exercise their skepticism against religion but not against economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, these people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquisition and various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalin or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don’t go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor’s. But we stop by the offices of many pseudoscientists and “experts” without alternative. We no longer believe in papal infallibility; we seem to believe in the infallibility of the Nobel, though…”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
We are infallible. We don’t know how things are going to turn out. But the modern era of statistical models — which are invaluable when used correctly — has bred a belief we have more predictive capacity than exists. The coronavirus is the best evidence that we are not in control and cannot predict the future.
Predicting the future
That’s a long-winded way of working towards what I’ve been thinking about this week: gaming out the future, specifically the next four to five months. A couple of tweets by a book editor at Harper Collins, Eric Nelson (give him a follow on Twitter) prompted this. He said:
As a book editor, I have to imagine what the world will be like when the books come out in 6-18 months. Here’s what I’m planning my list around: 100,000 more deaths. Limited vaccine access. Global recession. Massive unrest over the 2020 election winners.
State and school budgets hemorrhaging. Stocks panic when massive stimulus doesn’t do enough. More Americans turn to alternative news. Not much police reform or aid for missed rent payment. Colleges folding. College towns feeling like steel towns.
Book publishers are trying to figure out what people will buy in that time frame. It’s not about politics; it’s a fundamental capitalist impulse. Is he right? Maybe. Is he wrong? Maybe. Either way, a lot of money is on the line for the predictions of an editor. It reminds me of a National Review writer/supporter, David Bahnsen, who wrote a book published in January on the topic of an Elizabeth Warren Presidency. Warren ended up losing her state in the primaries (she still has a slim shot at Vice President). It’s a bad time for a book on Warren’s presidency.
Consider a story that (finally) broke while I was working on this newsletter. The Washington (formerly known as) Redskins got hammered by a report of sexual assault/misconduct. ESPN:
Fifteen women who previously worked for the Washington Redskins organization have alleged sexual harassment and verbal abuse by former scouts and members of owner Daniel Snyder’s inner circle, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Among those accused of misconduct are former director of pro personnel Alex Santos and former assistant director of pro personnel Richard Mann II, as well as radio play-by-play announcer Larry Michael. All three departed the organization within the past week.
There are no allegations against Snyder or former long-time general manager Bruce Allen, who was fired last December after 10 years with the franchise.
This story, which was alluded to for days/weeks by beat reporters for the team is terrible. It probably explains why the team was suddenly willing to change its name. The tactic is similar to the one Harvey Weinstein employed when he got accused, saying he planned on going after the NRA and other conservative groups.
The potential storylines for the rest of 2020
But will it end there? The #MeToo movement ended, at least I thought, when Joe Biden got accused of sexual assault. The media did its best to sweep that story under the rug. But what if its revealed other teams have similar allegations? What if these events cause a resurgence of #MeToo, starting in the sports world?
Related to that story is the ongoing saga of Jeffrey Epstein’s empire. Ghislaine Maxwell, widely thought as the mastermind behind Epstein, is now in custody. One of the alleged victims told CBS News:
Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend who is accused of helping him sexually abuse underage girls, could incriminate “very well-known” people, said Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein’s alleged victims. Giuffre called Maxwell “the mastermind” behind the alleged sex trafficking.
Maxwell is facing criminal charges arising from allegations that she facilitated and participated in some of Epstein’s alleged sex crimes. These are the first criminal charges lodged against her, and they come after repeated accusations by alleged victims that extend back more than two decades. She was denied bail this week.
Giuffre says Maxwell, along with Epstein, groomed and abused her and forced her to have sex with Britain’s Prince Andrew when she was 17. Prince Andrew says he has no recollection of meeting Giuffre and denies having sex with her.
The NYPost noted that Prince Andrew’s official website had gotten scrubbed from the internet — very quietly. I bring up the Epstein case because even after his death, I had a strong feeling he’d come back to haunt the 2020 election somehow. Right in the thick of the summer before the election, Ghislaine Maxwell is finally in custody. Does she reveal anything? If the Feds offer some form of immunity, how loud does she sing?
It’s long been rumored that Epstein kept tapes of his debauchery on his private island, which involved the rich and famous who were in his web. Does Maxwell spill everything she knows? If that happens, it could upend the upper echelons of elite society — especially if the rumors are anything close to reality. Prince Andrew was only one of the elites who ran with Epstein.
But back closer to what we know could happen as we get closer to the election: the virus continues to dominate everything. If you’re in Congress, this point is especially apparent. Senators and Representatives are returning to DC this next week with one big question looming: what comes next in COVID-19 relief?
The answer to that question will get informed by the November elections as much as anything. It’s likely the last chance Congress has to impact the election via legislation. The big questions surround business liability, vaccines, and more. But as case counts, hospitalizations, and the death rate climb up again — Congress will have to deal with whether or not more stimulus is needed to support the economy. No one wants another shutdown. But the trendlines are worse right now in many states than they were in March/April.
Add to this the story of sports. Many leagues are making a comeback in August – September. If those attempts struggle, that’s going to impact the nation’s psyche as will the ongoing debate over reopening schools. The country needs schools to reopen. Poor and single-parent households beat the brunt of the burden if public schools are closed. America is not ready for that possibility, either psychologically or economically.
And don’t forget the dry tinder the country is sitting on with regards to race relations and police conduct. We’re one more viral video away from everything exploding — again.
The point I’m trying to make here is to show the level of uncertainty between now and November. Is it possible things smooth out with nothing new between now and the election? Sure. Is it possible we have more disruptive events that overwhelm our predictive capabilities? Yes.
Donald Trump could very well lose. But the election season doesn’t start until September when VP running slots get filled, and the country tunes into political coverage. Joe Biden’s decision to stay out of the public eye is wise, for now. The problem is this: when/if he’s called on to make an appearance and have a public moment that counts, the risk-reward factor is significantly higher than that of Trump. If Biden flops, it’ll matter more because he’s trying to run on the idea of Joe Biden in people’s heads, and not the actual product.
The statistical uncertainty we face in the back-half of 2020 is much higher than the prognosticators are letting on. If we understand that now, it’s going to seem less like a black swan moment when the “unexpected” happens. Because the thing about most unexpected events is that the signs were there if you were looking. People are always too blinded by the circumstances encompassing them at the moment to see the future developing in front of their eyes.
Links of the week
The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility: The popular book aims to combat racism but talks down to Black people. – John McWhorter, The Atlantic
Woke America Is a Russian Novel: The metaphysical gap between mid-19th-century Russia and early-21st-century America is narrowing – Peter Savodnik, Tablet Magazine
The Hagia Sophia Should Remain a Beacon to All – Lars Bronworth, Quillette
Guns Flew Off the Shelves. Now Dealers Face an Inventory Crisis: Business has never been better for the gun industry. But store owners say they’re still struggling. “If you sell 50 guns but only can bring 25 in, it’s gonna catch up to you.” – Champe Barton, The Trace
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Walmart Now Requires All Shoppers To Wear Pants – Babylon Bee
Mood after writing 200 of these newsletters
Thanks for reading!