...for caves in Tarn as much as Trump...
LAST weekend we drove down to the South of France for a birthday party, writes Bill Bonner in his Diary of a Rogue Economist.
It was in the Tarn area, famous for its ancient grottoes, its wars and massacres, and its food.
Poor Brunhilda. She founded the castle at Bruniquel, which we visited. A Visigoth princess, she married a king of the Franks (one of Clovis I's grandsons) and became queen.
Her sister Galswintha married Brunhilda's brother-in-law, becoming queen of the Kingdom of Soissons.
Alas, the 6th century was a treacherous time. Galswintha's husband also had a mistress, Fredegund, who was eager to get the new wife out of the way. She had Galswintha strangled by an assassin.
War, assassinations, and suspicious deaths – Brunhilda and Fredegund were Christians, but neither turned the other cheek.
Instead, they went at each other for the rest of their lives. Finally, during the reign of Brunhilda's great-grandson, Fredegund died. But that didn't stop the bloodletting.
Fredegund's son, Clothar II, eventually got his hands on Brunhilda and had her executed. Some reports say she was tied to the tail of a wild horse and dragged to her death. Others say she was pulled apart by two horses.
Also in Bruniquel is a remarkable cave, which was discovered by a 13-year-old boy in 1990. He noticed a small hole – scarcely big enough for a hare to enter – in the side of a hill.
But air flowed from the hole, indicating that it must be connected to one or more of the grottoes which are extensive in the area. The boy wiggled his way through a narrow passage and found himself in a large cave.
When an expert finally examined the cave years later, he made one of the most intriguing discoveries ever. Broken-off stalagmites had been arranged in a series of circles. Why? When? By whom?
The "why" is still a mystery. But new dating techniques have answered the other questions.
The circles were made about 176,000 years ago – making the site one of the oldest constructions in the world. At that time, there were no humans in Europe; so it must have been made by ancient Neanderthals, the forerunners of the Neanderthals who lived in Europe when humans arrived.
Excavations have not been done. And no Neanderthal bones have been found. But traces of fire are visible.
But let us skip ahead, from the past...to the present and the future...pausing only to remind ourselves that we are the same people – more or less – born of the same Brunhildas and Fredegunds as our ancestors.
"I've been following your Diary," began a conversation at the birthday party on Friday night. "I see the problem you're having...It's rather amusing, watching you try to measure Trump's actions with conservative principles, and seeing the kind of extreme reaction you get.
"You're right, of course...The Donald is not in any way a conservative. And he's not really going to make America great again. But there's more to it.
"This is not the beginning of an empire. It's closer to the end of one. You don't need a Jefferson or a Washington at this stage. That is, you don't need a builder. You need a barbarian."
More than 60 Americans had made the trip for the party, an extraordinary group of scholars, lawyers, judges, former ambassadors, writers, and entrepreneurs.
Many had wrestled with the same heavyweight question: What is it about the Donald J.Trump phenomenon? What does it mean?
Herewith, we offer one opinion on the subject.
"He's doing the world a great service," continued a fellow guest.
"I voted for him. And I'm not sorry I did. Yes, he's surrounded himself with morons and yes-men. And he's doing some pretty nasty things – like separating children from their parents. I mean, why punish the children?
"But as you say, he's wrecking the furniture. And at some point in history, you have to do it.
"Since World War II, the US has been a builder. The Marshall Plan...Bretton Woods...Vietnam...Iraq. It is responsible for all these institutions like the TPP, NAFTA, the UN, the WTO, the ICJ, and so on.
"Even the European Union is an imitation of the United States...eliminating the trade barriers between member states.
"All around the world, an elite has arisen to run these organizations. They also run major corporations and universities. They all learn the same things and believe the same things. They run governments and central banks. They want to control everything. And, as you say, they mostly want to shift more and more power and money to themselves.
"Overseas, they want wars, treaties, and transnational organizations where they can feel like big shots and make a lot of money.
"And at home, these are the people that want to force bakers to make cakes for gay couples...and that take down the Confederate monuments...They're the ones who think that people who don't share their ideas are deplorable.
"These elites have become predatory. They're looking out for themselves, not for the average person. And they've lost contact with the voters. The Democrats lost their blue-collar base. And the Republicans lost their traditional conservative base. And here comes Donald Trump, like a bull in a china shop, and he's stomping all over them.
"Of course, he has his tweets and his comments. And his theories about things. And they're mostly nonsensical. But that doesn't matter.
"Everyone has gotten the message. We're not building anything anymore. We don't know how. We're out of business.
"I wouldn't have said it that way, but it needed to be said."
"The system itself is fundamentally corrupt," continued the guest.
"It needs to be broken up. That's why so many people are backing Trump. They feel cheated. They just don't understand how or why...but they can see him busting things up, and they like it.
"Yes, in a way, it's too bad that Trump doesn't understand what's going on. He thinks all you have to do is talk tough, negotiate deals, organize photoshoots with foreign dictators...and prevent competition from Canada and Mexico.
"But even if Trump knew what he was doing, would it really make any difference? That's what you're missing.
"Suppose he had announced a coherent plan that really might make America great again. Suppose he had said that he was going to bring the troops home, balance the budget, put the CIA and the NSA out of business, and cut both the Pentagon budget and the social welfare budget.
"How long would he last? He'd have everybody against him. The zombies. The cronies. The press. The neocons. The leftists. The rightists.
"That was not an option. That Eisenhower world is gone. It's too late. The Deep State rules. And no election is going to stop it.
"That's why your critics are partially right. There were only two real choices. The Donald or The Hillary. Hillary wouldn't be breaking up the furniture. She'd be polishing it. They want it broken."
Breaking the furniture won't make America great again. And Donald J.Trump's tastes in interior design may not be ours.
But it's clearly time to redecorate.