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Donald Trump as Lightning McQueen

Watching Donald Trump struggle to make good on his extravagant campaign promises, I am reminded of the opening scene in Pixar's Cars. Hot rod Lightning McQueen attempts to win the Dinoco 400 by ignoring the advice of his "expert" pit crew, who demand that McQueen change his tires. Announcers Darrel Cartrip and Bob...

Imagining Trump’s End

I'm teaching Socialism and Transitions to the Market this semester, and we're reading Francis Spufford's excellent Red Plenty. Here he is on Khrushchev's end: e was starting to frighten them…He had made alarmingly specific, alarmingly verifiable economic promises…He had tried to stick his thumb in the scales of the strategic balance by putting the...

The Parable of Vladimir Meciar

I received a message this morning from a friend unable to start the day, so in despair was she over recent events. My response was curt: "Get out of bed and write a check to the ACLU. Then find a protest to join or a refugee center where you can volunteer. This is no time to be defeatist. This...

Sean Spicer is no Joseph Goebbels

Donald Trump's first full day in office was marked by an all-out assault on the press. Standing in front of the CIA's memorial wall, the president called journalists "the most dishonest human beings on earth" and made false claims about the size of...um, the crowds at his inauguration. White House press secretary Sean Spicer continued the theme, telling reporters...

Lin-Manuel Mayakovsky

Blogging took a back seat over the holidays, but I'm back and ready to talk...Hamilton. I've been hooked since hearing the soundtrack for the first time last summer, and earlier this week we saw the show in Chicago. Seeing Hamilton on the stage definitely brought out a few elements not obvious from the...

How Propaganda Works, U.S. edition

The New York Times reports that Rush Limbaugh and company have decided to turn the label "fake news" against the mainstream media: Until now, that term had been widely understood to refer to fabricated news accounts that are meant to spread virally online. But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr....

The Illegitimate President

Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election is the stain on Donald Trump’s presidency that will not go away. Trump will emerge from January’s inauguration viewed as an “illegitimate” president by large segments of the American population. But what does it mean to lack legitimacy? And does it matter? Any discussion of legitimacy begins with Max Weber, of course, and...

Watch the Borders (GIS pro tip)

Speaking of the countryside, Evgeny Finkel, Dmitrii Kofanov (UW grad student), and I are writing a short paper on peasant unrest in 1917 for a special issue of Slavic Review on the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. There are limits to what you can do in a 3000-word essay for an interdisciplinary audience—data description, a couple of maps...

A Field in Search of a Name

Still catching up after a fun weekend at Harvard for a Political Institutions and Economic Policy conference. By pure coincidence, this year’s papers were all on the political economy of nineteenth-century agricultural societies: my work with Paul Dower, Evgeny Finkel, and Steve Nafziger on peasant unrest and local self-government in Imperial Russia; a paper by Bryan Leonard and Gary...

Who Believes Fake News? A Bayesian Perspective, and a Lesson from Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a minefield, but I've always enjoyed discussing the world with friends and family gathered around the holiday table. This year was no exception. One of my friends—let's call him Dan—is a keen observer of human behavior. We were talking about fake news and why so many people believe it. Dan said that the problem was not...