Tom Nichols Profile picture
Professor, author of "Our Own Worst Enemy." Curmudgeon. Cat guy. Democracy enthusiast. Board of Contributors, @USAToday, Contributing Writer, @TheAtlantic.
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31 Jul
So, for those keeping tabs on tonight's @FoxNews soap opera:

@BretBaier claims to read a random viewer question that links travel bans and illegal immigration

@ellencarmichael admits it was her, not a random viewer - i.e., a planted question, but not about immigration

@FoxNews @BretBaier @ellencarmichael Baier, apparently not realizing Carmichael has already owned the planted question and said so publicly on Twitter, doubles down:


@FoxNews @BretBaier @ellencarmichael Carmichael, unfortunately, now inadvertently rats out Baier - or whoever tacked on the immigration bullshit - and plays the victim (which is a very savvy political consultant move, I guess).


Read 6 tweets
19 Jul
A couple of comments on this. Yeah, I don’t like it when expert groups don’t talk to each other. Right now this is a competition between “cautious“ and “super cautious“ and some professional associations like the APA look at a very narrow mandate. /1
One of the dilemmas facing professionals is that anything less than “super cautious” creates recriminations from the public if something goes wrong later - Even if it’s something different than the original issue. /2
I also worry about professional associations responding to what they think will placate their public constituency, in this case, jumpy parents. In that case they think: “what could it hurt to do more than necessary?“ /3
Read 10 tweets
15 Jul
I'm going to explain, in one tweet - coming up - why people on the left who think "they saw it coming" became part of the problem.
You ready? It's in the next tweet. Here we go.
Because the CJCS used "Reichstag fire" and it's *not even close to the top story tonight because of five years of REICHSTAG FIRE! from political hysterics*, and now Milley's comment is lost when it should be *the thing we're talking about*.
That's it. But there's more. /2
Instead of saying "Whoa, the CJCS was worried about Trump ginning up some kind of soft coup inside DoD," the reaction from some here is "see, I was right to say dumb shit five years ago, like the way my grandma was sure she had cancer every day until she finally had cancer." /3
Read 4 tweets
15 Jul
But you were. Many of you were. When you start yelling HITLER on day 1, you're burning out the ability of people to take seriously the threat when it actually arrives. You're like hypochondriacs who wear out the doctors who then won't believe they're truly sick later. /1
Yelling REICHSTAG! every day because you hated Trump is not the same as the CJCS saying he was worried about it after years of appointments of toadies. That does not make you prescient; it makes you complicit in creating noise that drowns out the signal in a moment of peril. /2
Even now, the takeaway from the story about Milley should not be "we were right! He was Hitler!" but rather "we should be cold as ice about what and who is a threat instead of a mass of hysterics." Choose your battles and win them. /3
Read 4 tweets
4 Jul
People on the left ask me how the left contributed to where we are. That's a long answer that includes "read Mark Lilla," but I'd add:

- much of postmodernism was and is an undermining of basic knowledge and reason
- recasting everything in politics in terms of race/gender

- years of obsession with the White House combined with ignoring local and state politics
- an intolerance bred on campuses that has escaped into mainstream Dem politics that alienates the normals
- cultishness that is in many cases nearly as bad as Trumpism

But with all that said, the center-left does have a kind of rule-based, good-government foundation to it that I prefer over the win-at-all-costs rightist culture warriors. I have said repeatedly that the Democrats are the better stewards of the Constitution now.
Read 5 tweets
4 Jul
I am going to take issue with this @nytdavidbrooks piece because I think Brooks, and many others, are missing a crucial piece of the puzzle in the "death of truth" and the "unwinding of demcracy problem. Thread follows. /1…
Brooks writes that Trumpers buy Trump's lies "because he tells stories of dispossession that feel true to many of them," and that kids on campuses are intolerant because they "feel entrapped by a moral order that feels unsafe and unjust." Maybe. But that's not the core issue. /2
What so many intellectuals miss is how bored and listless these people on both the right and left feel, and how energizing and *good* it feels to believe the lies, no matter what side they come from. It's ennobling. It's heroic. It's self-actualizing. /3
Read 13 tweets
30 Jun
So, it's been a long time since I dealt with Guard issues (which I did briefly many years ago), but what I think happened is that Noem is not funding this privately. This is Boob Bait for Bubba. I'll speculate here.
How this works - I think - is that Noem is just responding to the request from TX. The State of SD says "this deployment will cost X dollars."
Some wealthy jackass says "oh, btw, I would like to contribute X dollars to the State of SD, no strings attached." /2
So Noem says "Well, lucky coincidence, but I woulda done it anyway - but isn't it nice that Rich Jackass is donating exactly that much to the state!"
It's all legally clean - no quid pro quo - but it's still a contrary to the notion of civil political control. /3
Read 5 tweets
28 Jun
Now, I'm not going to post @asatarbair's links, because the point, I suspect, of all this hooey is to bait people into debating him so others will see those links.
If they are as turgid as the 1960-ish Soviet level of his tweets, you are not missing anything. /1
@asatarbair My advice, however, to Dr. Bair, as a colleague, is that creating a stir on Twitter - and, ahem, I have created many - is not a substitute for basic competence in the scholarly field he has chosen to argue. /2
@asatarbair There's nothing wrong with pissing people off about music, food, and which James Bond was the best.
But teachers have a responsibility to know at least *something* about a scholarly matter before weighing in on it.
This is where Dr. Bair has gone very wrong. /3
Read 6 tweets
27 Jun
Okay, so a short thread on terrorism.
Basic idea is: Scaring civilians into demanding changes in government policy. But that's not enough.
For example, has to be non-state actors. If a *state* attacks civilians, we have a term for that: "War," or sometimes, "war crimes." /1
Also, the attacks have to be indiscriminate. They have to be aimed at *terrorizing*, in the sense that ordinary people fear for their lives. Attacking a military vessel overseas isn't even in the ballpark of "terrorism." Military people are armed and accept that risk. /2
All political violence is not terrorism. An anti-Vietnam riot outside the Pentagon is not "terror," in the way that the Weathermen planting a bomb in a post office was. One of them is violent protest; the other makes you afraid to mail a letter. /3
Read 10 tweets
23 Jun
Unrelated to anything: I finished listening to the unabridged version of "A Clockwork Orange," with the final chapter that U.S. editors cut from the original issue. Burgess was pissed, but having heard it now, I'm going to say: The editors were right. *no spoilers* /1
Burgess apparently felt that the U.S. ending - the version you see in the film - was incomplete and thus made the book a parable rather than a real novel. Far be it from me to disagree with a genius, but it seemed like a raggedy, tacked-on final chapter. /2
The U.S. editors felt the UK ending wouldn't fly with American audiences, and at least for me, it didn't. I can't see it really landing with anyone, but it seems anti-climactic. /3
Read 5 tweets
4 Jun
@dcherring I have Republican friends, too. It's easy to be sociable but as I said to a friend who quoted Hannity to me: You can believe me, or you can believe Hannity. But not both. And it's okay not to talk about it after that and move on to other stuff. /1
@dcherring In other cases - like with a longtime friend who has become an OAN zombie - I just said: "You're wrong. You're being lied to." (I broke off the friendship when I was getting swarmed on FB with threats and he basically said: Well, you know, you caused this.) /2
@dcherring I guess my point is: I don't treat their views as sacred. They wanna talk politics with me, they get what they get. When it gets crazy or I think they've crossed a line, I walk, but up till then, I tell them what I think if they ask me - and I don't care if they like it. /3
Read 4 tweets
29 May
So, to amplify on a point in my @TheAtlantic piece today. There are a lot of objections to my argument that whether you loved or hated what conservatives were back 40 years ago, they believed in certain things and reflected that in policy. /1…
I think this howling about the eternal evil of conservatives is dumb, and worse, it's myopic and misses the point about the danger of the GOP as it stands today. Conservatives are not extinct - nor will they ever be. But that's not what Trumpers are and that's not the point. /2
People keep raising comments by @SykesCharlie or @stuartpstevens to say "see, it was all just lying nonsense," but having read both their books, I think people misunderstand something they (and I) are saying, and miss something important about conservatism back in the day. /3
Read 10 tweets
26 May
I'm tired of Tom Cotton getting away with the motte-and-bailey maneuver he pulled.
People citing his Fox interview are ignoring Bartiromo, who said "bioweapon," and then Cotton carefully said "well, no one knows."
This was a "you think might that, I couldn't comment" moment. /1
Then, Cotton went on Twitter to list "possibilities," including a bioweapon. He put it out there, let others run with it, then said "well, it's not *likely*" - because Cotton knows exactly how the Fox and right-wing info swamp works. /2
This is a recurring tactic on the right. Imply it, let the echo chamber run with it, then deny it, then say you were right all along. Because the goal, as always, is to plant the idea in the heads of stupid people who will not bother with later nuance or explanations. /3
Read 5 tweets
25 May
Liberals are being too quick to apologize for not accepting the "lab accident" theory. While I am not a liberal, I accepted the lab accident idea as totally possible back in April 2020. But I warned at the time that people like Tom Cotton were poisoning the well. /1
"Oh, Cotton never said 'bioweapon,' his defenders said, but as I pointed out at the time, this was a motte-and-bailey maneuver, where he played along with Bartiromo and implied that "We have similar labs run by the military." Cotton knew exactly what he was doing. /2
And I was concerned at the time that making off the wall accusations (and quitting WHO) would let China off the hook and complicate our ability to investigate this was a lab leak. But yet, liberals were too quick to just take the opposite of whatever Trump and Cotton said. /3
Read 5 tweets
15 May
So, I'm so exasperated by the lack of logic around here that I'm going to present you all with a thought exercise and limit the replies because I don't care what your responses are. When people say "well, I'm vaccinated, but I'm afraid of the people who aren't," consider this. /1
Imagine you live in Russia and vodka is free and alcoholism reaches social saturation levels, and everyone is drunk driving. You stay off the road at night and in your house. It's a pain in the ass and keeps you from doing things; you drive rarely to avoid death or injury. /2
And imagine that the U.S. government ships you a car with a system that has nearly perfect ability to sense and automatically avoid collisions. As long as that's your car, you're safe. Other cars no longer matter. The system will engage and you'll be fine. You can go back out. /3
Read 8 tweets
13 May
Man, I am so tired of Twitter's idiocy on this that I'm going to post this screenshot, delete it, and then say it again in a way that will make you all just as mad, but maybe with less *willful mischaracterization* of what I said. /1
1. The CDC says that unvaccinated people are not a threat to you if you are fully vaccinated.
2. If you are vaccinated but say "but I will wear a mask anyway because of unvaccinated people" then you are not accepting this basic fact
3. Not accepting facts is irrational.

4. No one is saying you can't wear a mask, and some people - with medical issues - *should* wear a mask, not just for COVID, but for any number of reasons.

5. But if you are doing it, fully vaxxed, because "someone isn't vaxxed," you're not "believing in the science."

Read 5 tweets
7 May
So we now have a landing page at Oxford U. Press, and this is my first of many pitches asking The Radio Free Tom Twitter Family to pre-order "Our Own Worst Enemy." (Pre-orders are an author's friend.) Short elevator pitch follows. /1…
I haven't monetized anything here on my feed, especially during the last campaign. You can read me at @USATODAY and @TheAtlantic and other places, but mostly I hang and inundate you with my terrible takes on everything - for free! I'm employed and can do that, so it works. /2
But as an author, I hope you'll appreciate a longer treatment of a lot of the stuff we talk about here regarding democracy and our civic environment. If you've enjoyed those discussions, I think you'll like the book. (If you liked Death of Expertise, you likely will.) /3
Read 5 tweets
6 May
The Republicans, for all their screaming about socialism and Biden, have decided to let other people run the country. They have no agenda to overturn or replace anything. They don't really care about defeating Democratic policies. This should scare you more than anything. /1
Sure, they'd take being a majority because it means power and money and security, but they don't really care about policy - beyond tax cuts for favored patrons and donors. Other than that, their goal is *never to have to live among their own voters, whom they clearly hate.* /2
Cotton, Hawley, Stefanik, Cruz didn't get top-notch educations and climb the greasy pole of power just to end up as the top attorney in Bumblefuck County or the Majority Whip in Albany or Jeff City. They're better than that, you see. Better than you. Deserving of greatness. /3
Read 6 tweets
2 May
This is like when people tell me about their friends who are engineers who are dedicated Trumpists. You can be skilled at something but in terms of emotional intelligence be a cinder block. Or you can be a street sweeper and still know right from wrong and truth from bullshit. /1
One of the things you learn when you examine "foxes" (broad knowledge) vs "hedgehogs" (deep but narrow learning) is that hedgehogs are often the wrongest people there are once outside their own field. /2
Recommending the book here by @PTetlock on this, but in general, people with super-deep but narrow knowledge can be a lot dumber about a lot of other things because all they know is that one thing they're good at. /3
Read 8 tweets
1 May
A couple of comments on this important piece by Flounoy, from a military education perspective. And remember, I don't speak for the war college or DoD or anyone but me. I don't disagree with anything here, but I want to amplify a point about personnel and education. /1
Every time we realize that our thinking is too hidebound, we get all kinds of trendy demands from the DoD: Do stuff in Chinese! Or Arabic! More high-tech education! Learn about technology! And culture! And it's a lot of band-aids that say: "Teach engineers to be strategic." /2
The problem is that when educators say: "Not only should our guys read 'The Thucydides Trap,' they maybe should read, you know, Thucydides first," the answer is: "No, not that old dusty crap, something relevant and hip! About technology and stuff!" It's a constant pressure. /3
Read 14 tweets
25 Apr
Today when we were picking arbitrary "best 10 or 20 years of pop music," we all disagreed of course, but I don't think it's just that you pick the years of your youth. Rock was born in the 50s, and has had life stages. Not an expert, but will opine for a sec.
cc @dcherring

@dcherring I totally get that people might point to 1955 to 1965 as the greatest period of ferment and change, going from Perry Como to the Beatles in just ten years. It's an amazing time. "She Loves You" still sounds ...revolutionary to me, as music. Dylan. Elvis. I get it. /2
But that music is still tentative and commercial and produced in mono by old guys. From 1965 onward rock goes from a youth yawp to a no-shit art form. Soon the acts that are big are guys who wanted to be the Beatles or Elvis when they were kids. It's the next generation. /2
Read 13 tweets