Sunday, December 29, 2019

Educated Idiots

Yesterday commenter Anonymous linked to a tweet by one John Sipher:

Sipher describes himself as:

Former CIA Clandestine Service. Sometimes writes and talks about stuff. Good Father, Decent Husband and Excellent dog owner. Much nicer than my picture suggests

Which suggests that he treats his dog better than his wife and kids. Or maybe that he simply likes his dog better. Whatever!

Does it disturb you to learn that a former member of the CIA Clandestine Service would espouse such a naively idiotic opinion? After all, doesn't the CIA recruit mainly in the Ivy Leagues? Of course, that same idiotic opinion was palmed off by coup plotter extraordinaire SSA Joe Pientka [is that Joe Friday in Polish?] to DoJ's Office of "Intelligence". Lawyers are supposed to be educated, in a sorta way, I guess. And presumably DoJ accepted the goofball suggestion that foreigners, just because they're foreigners, have no interest in or preference as to whom Americans elect as our president. Go figure, eh? Educated idiots!

So I was already sensitized--or triggered?--to the whole idea of educated idiocy when, this morning, I read Byron York's fascinating No, the Senate is not a jury, and other misconceptions about impeachment. The article wasn't fascinating because I learned anything new by reading it--I didn't, and I doubt, I hope, that any reader of this blog will learn anything new from York's article. Even though I recommend it. Rather, it was fascinating because it afforded a remarkable insight into the mentality of educated idiots.

The article centers around the views of one Timothy Snyder. Here is York's description of Snyder:

Timothy Snyder is a historian at Yale University. He has written books of varying critical reception on Russia and Eastern Europe. Lately, he has taken to warning Americans of what he sees as the danger the United States will fall into totalitarianism under President Trump. In the past few days, Snyder has turned his attention, not in a scholarly work but in a series of tweets, to a Trump impeachment trial in the Senate. His tweets were notable mostly because Snyder managed to pack a large number of misconceptions about impeachment into a very small space.

York doesn't demand that you take his word for his characterization of Snyder's tweets--he provides the text of Snyder's tweets, with corrective explanations drawn from--you guessed it--the US Constitution! What a concept, eh?

To get a more nuanced idea of the rarefied intellectual circles Snyder moves in, however, we turn to Wikipedia (where you can also find samples of the "varying critical reception" his books have received):

Timothy David Snyder (born August 18, 1969) is an American author and historian specializing in the history of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Holocaust. He is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. 
Snyder is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from Brown University and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in modern history in 1995 at the University of Oxford, supervised by Timothy Garton Ash and Jerzy Jedlicki. He was a Marshall Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1991 to 1994. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from Brown University and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in modern history in 1995 at the University of Oxford, supervised by Timothy Garton Ash and Jerzy Jedlicki. He was a Marshall Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1991 to 1994.
Snyder has held fellowships at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Paris from 1994 to 1995, the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna in 1996, the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University in 1997, and was an Academy Scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University from 1998 to 2001.
He has also been an instructor at the College of Europe Natolin Campus, the Baron Velge Chair at the Université libre de Bruxelles, the Cleveringa Chair at the University of Leiden, Philippe Romain Chair at the London School of Economics, and the 2013 René Girard Lecturer at Stanford University. Prior to assuming the Richard C. Levin Professorship of History, Snyder was the Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale University. 
Snyder can speak and write French, German, Polish, and Ukrainian in addition to English, and read Czech, Slovak, Russian, and Belarusian. He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Can you say "eminent"?

Oh, Snyder is married to Marci Shore, another professor of "intellectual" history at Yale. Marci's speciality is

History of literary and political engagement with Marxism and phenomenology.

My guess is that at home they just sit around agreeing with each other.

Anyway, you get the picture. But I ask you, is it simply nitpicking on my part to expect an historian as smart as Timothy Snyder--never mind what his, apparently rather numerous, detractors say--to take time from his very busy intellectual life to, like, learn something about the US Constitution and US history? Before he publishes ten tweets about it? You'd think that by this point in his life he'd have learned that popping off ignorantly is not a recipe for gaining the respect of people who actually know something about the topics he pops off about. But perhaps I'm missing the point of Snyder's tweeting?

Wikipedia's Snyder page has a section titled Views on the Trump administration. Try not to be surprised:

Asked how the agenda of the Trump administration compared with the Adolf Hitler's rise to power, Snyder said that: 
    [H]istory does not repeat. But it does offer us examples and patterns, and thereby enlarges our imaginations and creates more possibilities for anticipation and resistance. 
In a May 2017 interview with Salon, he warned that the Trump administration would attempt to subvert democracy by declaring a state of emergency and take full control of the government, similar to Hitler's Reichstag fire: "it’s pretty much inevitable that they will try." According to Snyder, "Trump's campaign for president of the United States was basically a Russian operation."

Imagine how Snyder views the people who voted for Trump! "Deplorable" probably isn't the half of it! By the way, if you want to delve more deeply into the fever swamp Snyder inhabits, here are links to those articles:

Historian Timothy Snyder: "It's pretty much inevitable" that Trump will try to stage a coup and overthrow democracy
Historian Timothy Snyder: Trump's lies are creeping tyranny

Speaking of inevitabilities, I suppose it was "pretty much inevitable" that a certifiable educated idiot like Snyder would weigh in--can I say "lightweight in"?--on the subject of impeachment. Here, at last, are his ten tweets, which reveal for all the world to see that Timothy Snyder, eminent Yale historian, knows bugger all about the US Constitution:

Why does Senator McConnell talk about how he will run the impeachment trial, and why do we listen? He has zero constitutional authority to decide its shape. 
John Roberts is in charge of the impeachment trial. The Constitution clearly states that if the president is impeached, the chief justice presides. 
Constitution: "The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside." 
The impeachment trial is a trial and the senators are all sworn jurors. No special role is foreseen in the Constitution for any specific senator. 
When you are a juror, you set aside your normal concerns and swear to be impartial. If you are a juror your obligation is to try a case, not advance your interests. The same is true of senators acting as jurors. 
Senators in an impeachment trial therefore have an exclusively legal responsibility, just as any citizen serving as a juror in a trial would. 
If we treat the impeachment trial as anything but a trial, we disregard the Constitution and endanger the rule of law and the Republic. 
If senators say that they regard an impeachment trial as political rather than legal, they have disqualified themselves as jurors. 
If senators reveal how they will vote before the impeachment trial has taken place, they have disqualified themselves as jurors. 
Senator McConnell has no constitutional authority to lead an impeachment trial. His constitutional responsibility is to serve as a juror. From that he has disqualified himself.

In retrospect, I suppose it was--to borrow a phrase--"pretty much inevitable" that an educated idiot like Snyder, totally without a clue about the Constitution, would fail to understand the Trump phenomenon and would regard Trump as a threat. To something. To Snyder's universe--I suspect "world" would be an insufficiently grandiose word to use to describe Snyder's view of his own importance.

I won't spoil York's critique by quoting too much, but here are a few choice quotes. Follow the link for lots more:

If the Senate has the "sole power" to try the impeachment of Trump, how could Chief Justice John Roberts be "in charge" of the trial? It seems obvious, especially to anyone who watched the President Bill Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, that the chief justice's role in the trial will actually be quite limited. Does anyone believe that on any matter of great import, on which a majority of the Senate disagrees with Roberts, that the majority will defer to the chief justice? That the majority will meekly do what the chief justice says because he is "in charge" of the trial? That is not going to happen. After the Clinton trial, Chief Justice William Rehnquist described his role this way: "I did nothing in particular, and I did it very well." 
During the Clinton impeachment, Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin objected to the use of the word "juror" to describe senators. Harkin had a variety of reasons but basically believed Republican House managers were trying "to put parameters on what we could do in the Senate, that all we could do was to take the facts and decide." In Harkin's view, senators could, in fact, "be expansive." Rehnquist, in the kind of inconsequential decision left to the chief justice, agreed. "The objection of the senator from Iowa is well taken," he said, "that the Senate is not simply a jury; it is a court in this case. Therefore, counsel should refrain from referring to the senators as jurors." 
Snyder, like many, many others in the impeachment debate, appears to view the impeachment trial as the exact equivalent of a criminal trial in the justice system. ... An impeachment trial is simply not like a trial in the justice system. Throughout, the Senate acts as a body. It can set the rules for the trial. It can stop the trial. It can start it again. It can pause the trial. It can rule out witnesses. It can call witnesses. It can dismiss the articles of impeachment altogether. It can do what the chief justice suggests, or it can ignore him altogether. Each senator can decide what evidence he or she wants to consider or reject. Each senator can vote guilty or not guilty or make up some kooky verdict based on Scottish law. All of that is part of having the "sole power" to try all impeachments.


  1. Sipher strikes me as a first-class jerk.

    1. I won't argue with you about that. But he says he's not. :-)

  2. In Forbes magazine there was a quote, which I'm paraphrasing from an uncertain memory. "In all your learning, get wisdom."

    Honestly, I'm tired of all these entitled, selfish brats who think that they are self-made, come from privilege, run in the same circles, live off the fat of the land and preach at us from their lofty perches. The rules are for the rest of us, whom they despise. They virtue signal how much better they are than the rest of us.

    Of course we're supposed to pay taxes so that they can run publicly-funded museums, school districts, universities, the military, and other 'prestigious' institutions. All the while, they could never make it in the private sector.

  3. "My guess is that at home they just sit around agreeing with each other.

    This is one of your best quips of the year. Just in time for the 2019 end of the year review.

  4. When Snyder posts about Trump being a fascist, he's looking in the mirror and seeing his own reflection.

    The tragedy is that people actually listen to and believe the things that he says.

    Like I said regarding Sipher, he strikes me as a first-class jerk.

    I'm just tired of all these elitists running everything and then running everything into the ground. The Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, the media, etc.

  5. I believe "contempt" is not one of the 7 deadly sins, so I enjoy it quietly.

  6. My parents met picking strawberries in Salinas, California and my first home was in a labor camp in the San Joaquin Valley. My people were always suspicious of "educated" people and when I left to go to Harvard my mother told me 2 things. First, "don't lose your good heart." Second, "DON'T BECOME AN EDUCATED IGNORANT." Quote, unquote!

  7. Snyder is credentialed. That he is educated, or not, is revealed by his own testimony. Given the available evidence, he appears not to be educated in the matters of which he speaks.

    Snyder appears to meet my definition of an expert: Someone who knows more and more about less and less such that he knows everything about nothing.