Breakdown values

by Henry on June 26, 2018

Today’s Supreme Court decision upholding the travel ban has renewed discussion of Mitch McConnell’s decision to prevent any Obama nominee to the Court from receiving consideration, and whether Democrats should run on packing the Court to redress this. If they did, they’d surely be greeted with deploring howls from centrist opinion makers in a way that Mitch McConnell was not. Michelle Goldberg points to a similar imbalance in the “civility” debate in a really great NYT piece today.

Naturally, all this has led to lots of pained disapproval from self-appointed guardians of civility. A Washington Post editorial urged the protesters to think about the precedent they are setting. “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?” it asked.

Of course, this is not hard to imagine at all, since abortion opponents have assassinated abortion providers in their homes and churches, firebombed their clinics and protested at their children’s schools. The Roman Catholic Church has shamed politicians who support abortion rights by denying them communion. The failure to acknowledge this history is a sign of the reflexive false balance that makes it hard for the mainstream media to grapple with the asymmetric extremism of the Republican Party.

One of the big disputes among liberals and the left today is over norms. Some people who hate Trump, hate him because he is trampling over the norms that have previously restrained presidents and politics, and want a return to the status quo ante. Others hate Trump because they see him as the manifestation of a problem that has been there for a very long time – that the norms governing US politics have been systematically imbalanced in ways that favor the right, and that we’d be better off without them. This dispute has plenty of political dimensions – one of them is strategic. You can think of norms, like any informal rule or institution, from a game theoretic perspective, and see them as an equilibrium that represents the relative bargaining power of the two main parties in American politics. In this kind of analysis, as per Jack Knight and others, relative bargaining power depends on the breakdown values – the payoffs that people receive in the event that no agreement is reached. The less that I care over whether an agreement is reached or a norm is maintained, the more bargaining power I will have to shape that agreement or norm, so that it favors my interests rather than the other party’s.

Much of the implicit argument of ‘normcore’ people on the liberal side of politics has been that liberals and the left need these norms more than the right, because without them, we’d be even worse off than we are. In other words, liberals and the left are in a strategically weak position. They want to reach an agreement far more than conservatives do. Accordingly, conservatives are going to be able to bargain harder, because they are more indifferent to breakdown than liberals or left-leaning people are. From the normcore perspective, even if it is going to be a pretty cruddy deal, it is better than no deal at all.

But there’s another way to think about it. The more unbearable that status quo politics are, the less value there is to liberals and the left in reaching an accommodation. Under this logic, things are pretty shit already. They might be even more shit if we refuse to play ball, but who knows? Things couldn’t be much worse than they are – so why not try something different? The more that norms become a threadbare justification for a situation that is effectively that preferred by the side that is prepared to play hardball politics, the more likely that the other side is going to want to start playing hardball politics too. Their breakdown values are going to be higher when everyday politics is visibly breaking down.

I’ve seen (although I can’t find it right now) polling data suggesting that liberals, who have historically been much more interested in reaching agreement with the other side than conservatives, have now converged upon conservative preferences. The various self-organizing groupings around the country don’t seem to me, from what time I’ve spent with them, to be particularly ideological (for better or for worse). What they do seem to be is completely uninterested in compromise with the Republican party in its current configuration. Leaders like Pelosi and Schumer seem to be more attuned to the people writing hand-wringing editorials about civility than to the people whom they’re supposed to be representing. That’s probably not going to work out too great for them.

{ 84 comments }

1

BruceJ 06.26.18 at 7:09 pm

Michelle seems to be channeling Charlie Pierce who made precisely the same point wrt anti-abortion activists. just yesterday https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a21931194/sarah-huckabee-sanders-red-hen-civility/

2

ccc 06.26.18 at 7:21 pm

3

Raven Onthill 06.26.18 at 7:27 pm

The Democratic Party has for a long time existed as a coalition between liberal and conservative wings. See my 2010 piece on the Democratic Party’s internal coalition.

The Democratic Party is still trying to serve both Mammon and the people. It has been “civil” partly to appease its major donors, who are fairly conservative and don’t want a fuss. Also, its leaders are stunningly well-insulated from political reality and still do not seem to grasp an existential threat to both the party and the Republic. They don’t realize that if they keep on appeasing, they will have nothing.

At this point I figure the Republic is over for a generation. Maybe something will eventually be reconstituted from the ashes.

4

Cervantes 06.26.18 at 7:41 pm

I would say that people have a right to be treated civilly only so long as they behave civilly themselves. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt as long as there is doubt, but I don’t have to be civil to Nazis or racists or people who kidnap children, or pathological liars and malignant narcissists who continually insult and bully everybody who even mildly annoys them. I’ll uphold a norm of civility but you know, we have a norm that we don’t deprive people of their freedom and property, until, that is, they are convicted of a crime.

Donald Trump and Sarah Sanders are unworthy of civility because it is not a norm that they honor themselves.

5

Jim Harrison 06.26.18 at 7:56 pm

The last time we fought fascism, we ended up bombing the crap out of Germany. Dealing with the contemporary Republican party is going to take a lot more than the violation of norms of civility.

6

Lord 06.26.18 at 8:42 pm

I think they are more pragmatic realists. They may hope some may cross the aisle when they return to power and will try to make it easier for them to do so, but aren’t relying on it. Civility is simply more important when you are powerless, or will be when returned to power, after all, they are already united in opposition. Incivility is for the desperate and despairing, which Reps still are even with it. Civility is for the cunning.

7

Whirrlaway 06.26.18 at 10:04 pm

It isn’t a question of whether to play ball, it is or should be by this time the realization that the R’s are not going to play ball with non-R’s, and not so much with each other. Without norms you don’t have a ball game, you have a riot. Without governmental norms, we’ve got some time left while the political/administrative infrastructure unravels but we won’t have a government for long. Personally hoping for something softish in a landing and the growth of some new norms from the bottom up, or from China, hope not. Against slavery this time.

8

bt 06.26.18 at 10:28 pm

The biggest imbalance is that the GOP’s goals are served well when things are shitty.

They have a politics that when they do things that screw things up, their supporters see affirmation that government sucks and then they vote for more Republicans. Breakdown serves the GOP. And it’s just so much easier to break things than to build them.

So they say appalling things and create grid-lock and deficits and demo the health care system, and then GOP voters decry those things and then they vote for more Republicans who keep doing those things. All the GOP seems to need to do to win those GOP voters is to blame the Gays and Negroes and Mexicans for getting all the things so that there is nothing left for “Deserving Americans”.

I keep thinking the GOP can’t keep fooling these people, but it keeps happening.

9

Moz of Yarramulla 06.26.18 at 10:29 pm

I draw your attention to Occupy Wall St as a recent example of “not playing by the rules” activism on the left*.

Most political parties have internal tension(s) between liberals and radicals of various sorts. You allude to that when talking about the “Republican” anti-abortion radicals, sovereign citizens and tea party types who have largely taken over the party from the right wing (remember when there were centrists in the Republican party?).

The Democratic Central Committee really need move away from their coalition between authoritarians and business… much as the whole of US politics does. The only reason people don’t call them fascists is that their opponents in the Republic party have taken that label for themselves. Put those values into Aoteraoa or Iceland and people would be asking where the brownshirts are.

* bearing in mind that a lot of activists on both sides are only left/right because there are no other frames permitted. You have extreme authoritarian centrists who are “left” because they’re merely not fascist, for example.

10

Moz of Yarramulla 06.26.18 at 10:44 pm

Cervantes@4:

I would say that people have a right to be treated civilly only so long as they behave civilly themselves

No, 10x 10x 10x no (to quote to authors of Ich Bin Ein Auslander, a song from the past that’s all to relevant today).

Treating people in a civil manner is a political value. Throwing it away is not something I’d do lightly. Unless someone is actually threatening people and there’s no other option, civil treatment should be treasured. Trump is a good counterpoint here, someone who doesn’t believe in civil discourse at all, knowing only obsequious and overpowering.

I do draw a distinction there between being disruptive in a polite way, defending people from attack, and being “civil” in the statist sense. Authoritarians of all stripes like to conflate the disruptions of Daesh and Irgun with even the mildest of civil disobedience. That’s nonsense, as those same people are keen to point out when Ergodan or Putin bring out the military to restore order during protests (MLK is a useful source of examples in the US, being either a terrorist or a saint depending on whether he’s alive or dead).

11

bob mcmanus 06.26.18 at 11:47 pm

That’s probably not going to work out too great for them.

Huh???

Pelosi and Schumer, Obama and Clinton, and their heirs and grandchildren, will be just fine. If they lose, they keep the millions, get some cushy corporate job or a cabinet position. If the country goes full Fourth Reich, it will be easier for the Fuehrer to let them take some millions and emigrate to Dubai or Singapore.

They have two jobs while in office. 1) To make sure they are just fine out of office, and 2) to keep the wrong kind of Democrat from gaining power and making things not fine. That’s why they stick so long. Republicans certainly won’t get in the way of these goals.

The problem is not Republicans, it’s Democrats.
The problem is not the Democratic leadership, but the rank and file.
The problem is that the rank and file want to serve the leadership, to help them be all just fine.

12

Sergio Lopez-Luna 06.26.18 at 11:59 pm

The Democratic party has conservatives and liberals in it. The best outcome is that the Republican Party becomes a fringe party, or better yet disappear, and the two sides of the Democratic party divide to form two parties which will compete for power leaving the fringe right to whither, as it was in the 60’s

13

linnen 06.27.18 at 12:07 am

Pack the Supreme Court? Yeah, no. Aside from the low probability (don’t know, maybe 1 in 20) of a group of young buck lobbyist from the Federalist Soc, or AEI preparing a proposal saying ‘Beat the Xmas rush, nominate additional SC judges *now*!’, the same tactics used to give us Goursch instead of Garland will be used even if the Democratic party manages to get it done in the first place.

Norms? The GOP have been doing everything they can to break norms while they are in power and scream for the return to norms when they are not. I cannot find the link but I remember GOP Congress members saying ‘Not My President’ during the Clinton Presidency, way before the Dixie Chicks. See also Senator Helms publicly stating that US soldiers would shoot President Clinton if he ever visited the state Helms represented.

14

John Quiggin 06.27.18 at 12:41 am

I’ve long supported the idea of expanding the Supreme Court, but I’m rethinking a bit.

To do it, the Dems need control of the Presidency and Congress. With that, and willingness to override the filibuster if necessary they can pass legislation that would make the Court largely irrelevant. The most relevant examples are a new Voting Rights Act that would criminalize voter suppression (and keep the Repubs out of office for a long time) and a Privacy Act that would enshrine Roe v Wade in legislation rather than constitutional interpretation.

Then it’s a matter of daring the Court to overturn the laws, with the precedent of FDR in mind.

The lower courts would probably need expansion, but that’s much less of a hot button issue.

15

Sebastian H 06.27.18 at 12:57 am

Yes the whole court packing thing is just a rehash of the preoccupation with the court rather than getting things done in Congress. If you control Congress and the Presidency, the right thing to do is pass a bunch of laws.

16

bob mcmanus 06.27.18 at 2:49 am

Ocasio-Cortez!!!!!!!!!

Cynical Democratic Party Identity Politics

“Despite all that, virtually the entire Democratic establishment has united behind the white male incumbent, and virtually none is supporting the woman of color who is challenging him. Yesterday, the very same Gillibrand who has a PAC to support female candidates and who endorsed Cuomo over Nixon announced that she was supporting Crowley over Ocasio-Cortez*”

*DSA candidate. Money Democrats delenda est.

17

faustusnotes 06.27.18 at 3:13 am

Sebastian H’s comment at 15 on the “preoccupation with the court” and his recommendation that you “pass a bunch of laws” is either very naive or (more likely) a cynical rehashing of a very dubious republican talking point. The republicans have used the Supreme Court to steal one election, to gut the single most important law (Obamacare) that the Dems passed, and to defend gerrymandering. They consider the supreme court to be so important that they stopped the democrats from filling a space on the court for a year, in flagrant contravention of the constitution. It is literally impossible for the Democrats to just “pass a bunch of laws” while the GOP insists on using the court to destroy everything they do. Once the Dems have control of the presidency and the Senate they should stack the court with a good bunch of young and left wing judges – I would recommend at least 4! – and tell the GOP to go fuck themselves. Then they can do some hard and fast work on reversing gerrymandering, and tell the GOP to just “pass a bunch of laws” – if they ever manage to get elected again.

Pretending that the US system works best when people don’t use the supreme court to second guess laws is naive at best and a cynical attempt to undermine the power of democratic congresses, at worst. In the US system you need to control the courts in order to pass laws. This is obviously a terrible situation but it’s the reality, and pretending that the Democrats or the left are the architects of this situation is both dishonest and nasty.

18

Chip Daniels 06.27.18 at 3:40 am

The difference is in the consequences of surrender.
The conservatives talk as if this is an existential crisis for them, what with their Flight 93 essay and the Cultural Genocide stuff.

But it isn’t, not really. The worst case scenario possible, of a total takeover by the leftist wing of the Democratic PArty would result in what, for them?
They might have to tolerate a mosque in their city? Drive past an abortion clinic? Work for a minority?

Remember, they used the same existentialist rhetoric about gay rights, about civil rights, about Medicare, Social Security, women’s sufferage.
And each and every time, they lost, then grumbled and sucked it up and went on with life.

But on the other side, what might be the consequences for liberals? Given the horrors that have been visited on ethnic minorities in the past, its hard to imagine anything too hyperbolic. It is safe to say that for many people, this battle really is existential.

In this kind of battle, compromise itself isn’t much better than abject surrender.

19

Name (required) 06.27.18 at 4:17 am

The civility wing of the Democratic party is like a baseball team quietly waiting for the umpires to intervene when the opposing team brings several armored vehicles to the field and plots to win the game by gunning down their opponents. The defensive strategy at play is a category error in the face of an enemy that is set on extermination.

For nearly three decades the GOP has been building the infrastructure for a defacto one party state while the Democrats have been twiddling their thumbs pretending that nothing is wrong. Abandoning the traditional ‘civilized politics’ norms of the Democratic party is a necessary, but by this point most likely not sufficient, condition for any clawback of illegitimate Republican victories. Do nothing and the situation will degenerate further. However, if the Democrats choose to stack the supreme court one way and it will be stacked the other way at the next Republican opportunity. If the Democratic party passes anti-Republican laws during one Congress, they will be overturned by the next Republican congress or struck down by the Republican court.

The rot of Republican dominance is so deeply entrenched that no probable corrective action is likely to be successful for decades to come. The selfish generation–the boomers–created the monster that is the GOP and they will not abandon their quest to asset strip America until the electoral majority of the boomers are in their own graves.

In the distant future, when power passes from the selfish generation perhaps the first objective, once (if) the immediate crises are restrained, ought to be construction of new rules and norms that take lessons from the democratic catastrophes of this decade–both Trump and Brexit–to ensure that such mistakes are not as easily repeated. Permanently stripping from power the kind of sociopolitical parasites–the elderly and those who live in rural areas–that facilitated said democratic catastrophes would be appropriate. Until that happens, however, nothing will improve.

20

b9n10nt 06.27.18 at 4:58 am

Experientially, a slight to a privileged person’s dignity is an attenuated trigger of fight/flight/freeze. Loss of status alert! It gets our attention and we feel threatened-afraid-angry-anxious in a split second. So the subtle quality of a high-status patron not being served at a restaurant is of the same experiential quality as being called the cops on while being human in corporate America.

Also: If perspective (wisdom) is won through suffering, then people conditioned for privilege will have less perspective on these painful psychological episodes that afflict all socially conscious peoples. They will blow their own all-too-real pain out of proportion.

Thirdly, the more privileged will more likely have access to shaping public discourse, through various channels, thus amplifiying their pain in relations to others in social discourse.

So we are to expect then that, in their socio-political import, slights to privilege are equivalent to more serious threats to survival among the non-privileged: 1) the quality of the experience is fundamentally identical 2) a lack of perspective/familiarity/self-regulation is predicted of privileged populations 3) the slights are socially amplified through dominant religious/political institutions.

21

J-D 06.27.18 at 6:39 am

bob mcmanus

The problem is not Republicans, it’s Democrats.
The problem is not the Democratic leadership, but the rank and file.
The problem is that the rank and file want to serve the leadership, to help them be all just fine.

So where you live there’s only one singular problem?

Plus, your computers can connect to our Internet across dimensional barriers!

You lucky lucky so-and-sos.

Our computers can’t do that. Plus, here where we live there’s more than just one problem. In fact, there are loads of them.

22

Neville Morley 06.27.18 at 7:45 am

Thucydides Was Right, Part 437: it’s the dynamic of the Corcyrean stasis, in which one side has not yet fully abandoned the idea of a political community that can contain differences, and so has not yet completely subordinated reason and truth to partisan advantage. Logic of the situation says that they will, because any other approach is more damaging – as Thucydides noted, the reasonable moderates were more likely to get killed.

In terms of online debates: the vast majority of leftists, let alone liberals, have not the slightest wish to bring back Stalinism, but still react defensively to such accusations, launch into arguments that socialism doesn’t lead inexorably to the gulag etc.; the majority of the right don’t want literally to recreate Nazism (just the good bits…), but they’ve already discounted such accusations and don’t bother to respond.

23

bob mcmanus 06.27.18 at 8:02 am

I am too excited to have much to say. Maybe tomorrow.

Ben Jealous won, and Emily Sirota, David’s better half, beat an incumbent. Maybe that’s the best tonight.

When Sanders overwhelmingly won young women of color, and the Clintonites showered them with contempt, the writing was on the wall. This old boomer knows the kids are alright.

2018 will be too much of a wash to change the country, and the next few years can be spent destroying the dollar dems.

24

Zdenek 06.27.18 at 8:08 am

Is the situation really that catastrophic? Incivility and the call for it seems to be rooted in this huge moral panic ( ‘those kinds of people- i.e. wrong kind- have political power…’) which in turn has something to do with relatively naive view of morality and the role it should play in politics.

It says something like this: a) moral truths are simple and absolute ( some sort of moral realism ), b) without behaving according to these moral absolutes one becomes stigmatizable ‘other’ and also importantly c) we on the left have a privileged view ( the correct view) of these moral truths …

Call this the background moral metaphysics of much of left political discourse today.

Once you are attached to this way of thinking about politics its easy to feel moral outrage ‘because wrong/immoral people have power’ and civility becomes slowly impossible virtue to cultivate. On this view civility a type of weakness and so on.

25

J-D 06.27.18 at 9:44 am

Zdenek

… relatively naive view of morality and the role it should play in politics

Your comment might have more substantive merit if you could give a coherent account of your own view of morality and the role it should play in politics. Otherwise it seems as if you just enjoy sneering.

26

engels 06.27.18 at 10:07 am

It says something like this: a) moral truths are simple and absolute ( some sort of moral realism ), b) without behaving according to these moral absolutes one becomes stigmatizable ‘other’ and also importantly c) we on the left have a privileged view ( the correct view) of these moral truths …

Call this the background moral metaphysics of much of left political discourse today.

I preferred the old Zdenek:

henry- the criticism is not that you or say Chris B hold explicitly postmodernist views but rather that you give pass to them. So you indirectly promote them when your responces to commenters who are moral or epistemological relativists dont register where you stand. One of the commonest views thrown around CT is that there is no difference between western democracies and totalitarian regimes ; that Iran or nazi Germany occupies same moral space as US and so on . What is your reaction to such views ? You approve of them because you never criticise them .

What has this to do with PM ? One of the core doctrines of PM is perspectivism and moral relativism ( see Chris Bertrams post on cartoon dispute which defends moral relativism )and this is what underwrites most debates on CT ( see for instance the recent discusion of conspiracy thinking on the left ). Again tacit approval because only lazy discussion of what is wrong with conspiracy theories .

So what ? Well at minimum you have a problem with consistency : if you are concerned with maintaining intellectual standards why give pass to bullshit in your daily dealings with it ? But more important is the worry others have voiced : if you adopt Rortyan attitute to truth and see it as a type of supperstition how can you carry out the traditional left program viz. redusing inequality and reducing exploitation ? After all effort like that presuposes that we can distinguish right and wrong , no ?

http://crookedtimber.org/2006/03/22/white-smoke-at-the-_economist_/

27

Faustusnotes 06.27.18 at 11:21 am

At 11 McManus was complaining that the problem is the democrat base. By 20 he’s sure the kids are alright on the basis of one primary result . I don’t think this is how good political analysis works.

28

linnen 06.27.18 at 11:59 am

me @ 0007
It looks like I misread ‘packing’ earlier. I was thinking of FDR’s court packing idea that would have expanded the Supreme Court and then added Justices.

I am all for replacing conservative judges with liberal, or at least less conservative, judges.

Expanding the Supreme Court in order to add progressive judges is not going to benefit anybody except the GOP

29

ph 06.27.18 at 1:00 pm

Civility is relative. We’ll get a better sense of what incivility actually looks like when the the puppet-master lands in Britain. I read (a bit of) Sullivan silliness. The fact that Henry is reading him and Goldberg in the NYT pretty much sets up the parameters of ‘realism’ – a witty clown with a mean streak and a less witty clown. Confidence in media ‘sources’ continues to sink. 90 percent of the stories about the administration continue to be negative underling two facts.

The first is the semi-permanent state of hypocrisy of the agitated left (many of whom spend 2008 -2016 steadfastly ignoring kill lists, splitting families at the border, and sundry other ‘non-scandals.’) No need to dwell on that unhappy theme.

The second and more important involves the steadily improving economic conditions of significant sub-sections of the ‘Democratic coalition’ – namely white working-class males, hispanics, and african-americans. The white working-class is already out the door and my guess is that the more conservative members of the other two groups aren’t remotely interested in following the lead of Maxine Waters on any issue. By economic conditions I’m including the generally and too often ignored cultural capital improvements. One might get hooted at for wearing a MAGA hat in a ‘chic’ DC eatery, but in many other parts of America, the MAGA hat is a celebratory – in-your-face elites, whether or not the hat is actually made in China.

Being rude to civil servants in public places isn’t protest, it’s an affirmation of political powerlessness, ignorance, and even indifference. Trump voters aren’t ‘scared’ of Maxine Waters et al. Quite the contrary. The devastation wrought upon the Democratic party was not designed by the Koch brothers, or the gerrymandering GOP. The rot began with the dollar dems and their stooges – the Clintons. Obama was all the Dems had and he’s gone. The bench is empty, as is the idea bank. Sullivan is calling for Dems to build the wall because even he can see that Dems have backed themselves right into an ‘open-borders’ corner. As numerous rightwing critics have pointed out Japan, Canada, and Australia all have immigration policies considerably more restrictive than any Trump is seriously proposing which renders the Trump supporters are nazis argument problematic to say the very least. Which wouldn’t be so bad if Dems weren’t betting farm – as usual – on identity politics. America as an emerging fascist state under Trump is either a cynical fiction, or delusion, to any neutral observer, especially those with some experience with totalitarian regimes. Most of us can remember the immense traction (ahem) the ‘Bush-Hitler’ memes garnered and how effective the name-calling was in preventing the invasion of Iraq and the screwing of the masses.

Most Americans want strong borders and a bright future for their children. Many would like a resolution for the undocumented workers and their kids. Rather than ‘give Trump a win’ on these issues, ‘hard-core’ resistance types such as multi-millionaire Bill Mahr are calling for an increase in homelessness and sundry other miseries which will undoubtably hit the poorest hardest as an acceptable necessity in removing Trump. That’s the state of the discourse.

Henry is bright and careful in limiting his remarks to simple observations, perhaps because he understands there’s no way to put lip-stick on that pig. Two-years wasted on piss-gate, daily hysteria, and now rudeness as the way forward.

Sounds like a plan – and one certain to bring delight to the MAGA crowd.

30

ph 06.27.18 at 1:17 pm

Hitting yourself in the face with a hammer might seem like the right thing to do – ‘given the state of affairs.’

As a strategy to win the mid-terms, and 2020, I’m not seeing it. The reason we avoid being rude to others in public ‘even when they deserve it’ is that the breech in decorum is what registers – that and the aplomb which Huckabee-Sanders displayed. Practically nobody supports insulting civil servants in public spaces out of spite and frustration. As critics from the right point out, had Hillary won, the 2014 policy of separating families at the border would have continued apace with nobody noticing. The idea of the agitated left insulting an Obama appointee in a public space over kill lists, etc is unthinkable.

Piss-gate, daily hysteria, and now rudeness as a path to victory. Sad.

31

bob mcmanus 06.27.18 at 1:22 pm

27: Our base is apparently learning after the Obama years, Clinton campaign, and their cashouts that the establishment Dems sees them as only a money-making machine. Color me surprised, but I don’t hate the base, I just want them to take charge and demand that their candidates have the same stake in elections that the voters do.

32

Sebastian H 06.27.18 at 2:51 pm

“Pretending that the US system works best when people don’t use the supreme court to second guess laws is naive at best and a cynical attempt to undermine the power of democratic congresses”

I literally cannot understand this sentence. my whole point is that the democratic process would function lots better if we played up the power of Congress instead of always running to the much less democratic court system.

Our response to the Court getting too much power shouldn’t be “ohhh let’s break things EVEN MORE than Republicans have”. It should be, Congress is taking these questions back under democratic control. And in any situation where you could ram through some sort of Court packing (total control of Congress and the Presidency) you could be passing amazing laws instead of breaking things even worse.

Yes the Supreme Court is an important institution. Yes you should nominate judges that are complementary to your governmental style.

It’s like gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is an anti democratic evil. I guess you have to do it out of practical reality if you control a state or two. But if you control the country, and are rewriting districting laws, it isn’t justice to entrench yourself by making gerrymandering even more powerful. All of the “no unilateral disarmament” arguments are already weakish, but they are terrible if you’re in a strong enough position to rewrite all the laws. If you’re in that position you should be changing the institutions to make them better, not just better for your party.

33

Glen Tomkins 06.27.18 at 4:26 pm

I don’t know.

The analysis presented looks at the two US parties as rational actors, as if their actions were directed by some individual or group in charge of them, as they contend and bargain with one another over public policy. That’s an obviously valid frame of analysis in the abstract, but I think that you might almost define the ditch US politics has run itself into lately by the fact that these terms in which a political system would have to make sense if it were functioning at all, just don’t correspond at all well with reality anymore.

There are two ways of approaching that idea that no one is in charge of either party to be its rational actor, structural and functional, how the parties are constituted, and what we have observed them doing.

Structurally, no one person, or group of deal makers, has been able to maintain even temporary control of either US party for two generations. The last time they were capable of direction was back when they were coalitions of state and municipal political machines. But it’s been decades since either party could get through a brokered convention. No brokers left. They understand that a brokered convention could not be brokered, would end up like the D convention of 1860. Both parties now have to conduct nominating campaigns that act as tryouts determining which contender is going to do best at messaging warfare against the other party in the general election.

Everyone understands that the party absolutely must reach a consensus on that question of who its nominee will be before the convention opens, or the convention will never close. Therefore the contenders cannot run against each other on actual public policy issues. That would fracture the needed consensus, and there are no longer machine bosses to reach deals with one another and force a consensus nominee across any ideological divides at all.

In a better world than the one we actually live in, perhaps this would be a great and good thing. The two parties would run candidates who stood for their party’s consensus against that of the other party. No machine bosses! No smoke-filled backrooms in which candidates are foisted on the people! The party that wins elections that are contests between two competing programs, implements its program of public policy, we have 2-4 years to see how that works, and the electorate renders its judgment on that question at the next election.

Now, considering the question functionally, in terms of what the US parties do when in power, there is the complication in US politics that obscures the question, that the divided legislative authority in the US system means that a party has to get the trifecta to implement its program freely. Failing that, they are limited by the other party’s veto, and only such public policy as has bipartisan consensus could be implemented.

Set that complication aside for the moment, to look at the behavior of the parties when they are not hampered by the need to negotiate anything with other party. It’s been generations since either party did that with the US political trifecta, implemented a program. Take immigration, the obvious critical public policy question of today, and for the past two generations during which the number of the undocumented has grown to 11 million. The Ds most recently had the trifecta in the first two years of the Obama administration, yet did nothing to resolve this critical problem, despite the fact that the obvious solution the Ds should be for, immediate citizenship for the 11 million (so they can vote in the next election!) and immigration on demand, lay in their power. The Rs have held the trifecta for even longer periods recently, yet have failed to implement their obviously preferred program of either deporting the 11 million, or, failing that, getting some permanent second-class citizenship arranged for them. Hey, maybe they’re finally going for that, but if anyone was actually in charge over there, they wouldn’t have waited until a dementia sufferer was their titular leader to go forward with it.

The point is, no one is in charge of either party. No individual, no cabal in some smoke-filled backroom, nobody. The parties do not exist to implement public policy. Did they ever? Perhaps not systematically, but in living memory, LBJ was able to get the Ds to abandon the segregationist franchise and hand it over to the Rs. That was an obvious, large, short to medium term detriment to the party’s electoral fortunes, but it was done, it could be done by a small group of Ds, because the party had an identity and a purpose back then, and it had to be done, no matter that doing the right thing meant handing over millions of voters and a dozen states to the Rs.

By 2009, the D coalition couldn’t be jawboned into giving itself 11 million new voters despite that being the only thing to do to head off their ethnic cleansing. This is not a political party, not this 2009 or 2018 D party, it just has the same nameplate as something that used to be a political party.

The US political parties today are best understood as actors in a strange and increasingly dysfunctional psychodrama. They feel most comfortable acting out their roles when neither holds the trifecta, because having the trifecta means that maybe some naïve people will expect them to enact some program. Yikes!

The Rs are our Daddy Party, an alcoholic abusive father who beats the wife and kids from time to time. The Ds are the Mommy Party, a long-suffering abuse victim who puts up with it for the sake of the kids, because they would be in even worse shape if she walked out and left them entirely in the power of the drunkard abuser.

Any talk of the norms of civility built up in the many years in which both of these “parties” have split the trifecta, is just our side’s rationalization for avoiding a final split with the abuser. We have to pretend that things are normal for the kids, that Daddy is just having a spell, but will be shocked back to normal behavior by his conscience, those long-lost moderate Rs who have been about to take over their party since at least Nixon’s administration, but never quite get there. Or maybe, if his conscience fails, onlookers, the swing voters, will be so shocked by the abuser’s behavior, that he’ll be carted off for treatment or jail (after losing the trifecta) for a while. But waiting for the abuser to overreach is the outer limit of this abuse victim’s agency. The Ds will adopt no strategy for winning an election, put forward no program for a permanent resolution of this dysfunctional relationship it has with the Rs. The Ds rely on the swing voters’ eventual disgust and horror at the latest atrocity the drunk abuser commits to put them in charge, but then so carefully avoid any actual lasting change in the relationship, so the swing voters tire of a party in power that refuses to govern and eventually lets the Rs out of jail or the psych ward. They at least have some apparent plan they are willing to stand for, even if it all goes horribly wrong eventually because of the stupidity and cruelty of that plan. But the cycle continues because none of the actors know how to break it.

It’s not going on like this forever. The cycles are manifesting in ever more extreme behavior. One or both parties is going to wind up on a slab at the morgue. Let’s hope they don’t take too many of us with them.

34

Cian 06.27.18 at 4:57 pm

These bouts of ‘incivility’ that fainting centrists are worried about have been used for years by activists. Used well it’s pretty effective.

The chorus of disapproval seems to fit into one of two categories:
+ Elite types who really don’t know how to do politics/campaigning.
+ Elite types who are afraid that they may suddenly be forced to engage with the hoi polloi.

35

William Timberman 06.27.18 at 5:06 pm

Let Bob be Bob! If he’s happy, even for a moment, I’m happy for him. In the broader scheme of things, who’s hurt by an old leftist’s brief enjoyment of the fruits of his labors? The political fate of Dubček or Allende will lap around the ankles of his current source of elation soon enough.

36

Cian 06.27.18 at 5:06 pm

Faustusnotes: At 11 McManus was complaining that the problem is the democrat base. By 20 he’s sure the kids are alright on the basis of one primary result . I don’t think this is how good political analysis works.

One possible interpretation might be:
1) The problem is the existing democrat base of existing voters.
2) Oh look at all these new democratic voters who managed to defeat the incumbent base in these primaries.

Of course such an interpretation would require you to actually engage with what people say, rather than just assume that anyone who doesn’t share your Manichean view of US politics is deeply stupid.

37

stephen 06.27.18 at 7:47 pm

name (required) @19:
“Permanently stripping from power the kind of sociopolitical parasites–the elderly and those who live in rural areas–that facilitated said democratic catastrophes would be appropriate.”

I do sincerely hope that this is parody. If it’s meant seriously – disenfranchise the old and the rural areas because you don’t agree with them – theft’s the sort of thing that gets right-wingers claiming to be worried about left-wing reeducation camps.

Or if you’re really deeply serious, actually being worried.

Incidentally, what do you want to do about urban people, or younger people, who are so wicked as to disagree with you?

38

anon 06.27.18 at 8:04 pm

Volunteer to support your candidate(s).
Donate in support of your candidates.
Vote for your candidates.

Wringing your hands and debating whether or not it is past time to be civil will NOT get the job done. Voting, and making sure others vote, is the only path to ensure the country moves forward and not in reverse.

Sanders supporters who didn’t bother to vote in Wisconsin and Michigan and Pennsylvania back in 2016 didn’t do anyone any good.

39

mpowell 06.27.18 at 8:39 pm

I think it’s a mistake to confuse civility arguments and norms. Norms related to things like court packing. Civility relates to issues like how Sanders is treated outside the political sphere. I might agree with you on some imbalanced civility complaints while disagreeing with your take on norms.

I think you are missing a pretty important argument in favor of norms, which is also a pretty significant part of their support among liberals. Namely that not all political values are measured on a single-dimensional policy axis, but also include procedural concerns. I don’t just want Democrats to win public office and pass Democratic policy priorities. I also want the country to be a representative democracy with a rule of law, not men and constitutional protection of basic rights. Norms are not just a means to my preferred policy ends, they are also the ends themselves – the way we achieve a rule of law and peaceful transitions of power.

40

Sebastian H 06.27.18 at 10:57 pm

I think analyzing court packing as tit for tat or as a norm retaliation attack isn’t helpful. We should talk through the actual scenarios. (Court packing may be a specialty term that non-US political types don’t understand. It doesn’t mean replacing judges with ideologically similar-to-you judges as they normally come up. It means adding additional judges to a court until you can get a majority–i.e. if you are losing 6-3 in the nine member Supreme Court you add an additional 4 members to the Court so you can now win 7-6 in the new thirteen member Supreme Court.

Scenario 1: Democrats control both houses and the Presidency for a few terms. You don’t need to pack the courts, you can pass a bunch of good laws. You pass a voters rights law, you pass a new civil rights law, you pass a strong health care bill, you pass strong union bills.

Scenario 1a: the Supreme Court does annoying things on the edges, but for the most part let’s Congress do it’s thing. You got your way AND didn’t break the system even more.

Scenario 1b: the conservative Court obstructs even things clearly in Congressional power. Now you can Court pack because you are being forced into it. People will see that you aren’t just breaking things worse or out of some sort of spite. (Unless you are terrible at explaining things, in which case you are going to get hurt with court packing under all scenarios.

Scenario 2: Democrats don’t control both Houses and the Presidency. Well they can’t court pack anyway.

Scenario 3: Democrats control both Houses and the Senate and the Presidency by such thin margins that they don’t think they will have it long.

Scenario 3a: Democrats spend their political energy getting 3 or 4 major bills passed (see above). They have now made people’s lives better in a concrete way that Republicans will have to run against.

Scenario 3b: Democrats spend their political energy deliberately breaking the Supreme Court even more, while knowing they are on a knife edge of just handing the tactic over to Republicans. Instead of concretely passing bills that helped people’s lives, you are gambling on the right kind of cases getting through to let your vision move forward. This is a much more speculative approach then defending direct improvements.

If you’re in scenario 1 you don’t need to break things even more than the Republicans did until you know that you’re in 1b, and you have time to see which one you’re in.
If you’re in scenario 3 you’d be a fool to spend the short time you have power introducing new brokenness into the system rather than passing some good serious policy advances.

If you aren’t sure whether you are in scenario 1 or scenario 3, moving straight to court packing is almost all downside.

41

Alan White 06.27.18 at 11:09 pm

With Kennedy’s retirement today and the Dems unable to pull a McConnell before the fall elections, here’s the reality in the US for the next quarter-century as far as SCOTUS is concerned: Roe vs Wade–dead; LGBT rights–dead; unions–deader than dead; “rights” of corporations–oh yeah!; “religious liberty”-style oppression–you bet your brown shirt; etc. etc. I am so deeply angry, mostly about feeling completely helpless and hopeless in the last quarter of my life that things in the US will ever favor anyone but the rich and privileged white folks.

42

Faustusnotes 06.28.18 at 12:56 am

Sebastian, can you not understand how much you are wrong about your scenario 1? The democrats had scenario 1 and used it to pass a strong healthcare law. Which the GOP gutted in the supreme Court. And how did they do this gutting? The heritage foundation scoured the country for a couple of patsies willing to take the role of people with standing, precisely so they could destroy the law in a court the GOP had stacked. Then, seeing the risk of Obama undoing their control of the court, they refused to allow him his judge. This is why Dems are preoccupied with the supreme Court – because the GOP uses it to make sure they can’t have scenario 1.

And yet here you are, in the face of this obvious political fact, lecturing the left that they should aim for scenario 1.

43

Helen 06.28.18 at 1:25 am

As critics from the right point out, had Hillary won, the 2014 policy of separating families at the border would have continued apace with nobody noticing.

https://www.factcheck.org/2018/06/did-the-obama-administration-separate-families/

44

LFC 06.28.18 at 1:26 am

@Alan White

Yes, but look at things in somewhat longer perspective. In 1944, the Sup Ct invalidated a law mandating that only whites could vote in a Texas primary. Twenty-one years later, the Voting Rights Act, and subsequent litigation, finally forced states, esp in the South where the issue had been most pressing, to allow their black residents to vote. As Robert Mickey (Paths Out of Dixie) observes, in terms of the franchise the US has been a formally democratic polity only since the late 60s or early 70s. Republicans have passed voter ID and other suppression measures in some places and the Roberts Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act, but even taking this into account the right to vote is considerably more secure and more extensive in the US now than it was 60 years ago. The social changes over that same period are sufficiently well known not to need enumeration. Even in an economically inegalitarian period such as the present, it’s still better to be black, hispanic, female etc in the US now than 60 years ago.

A SCOTUS swinging even harder to the right can be bypassed in some cases by progressive legislative majorities, if/when they come into being. The basic demographic trends do not favor a long continuation of Republican hegemony. By 2050 or so, perhaps earlier, the US will no longer be a majority-white country. Trump and Trumpism may be the beginning of the end for Republicans, the first of a series of paroxysmal reactions that will eventually culminate in the end of the Republican Party in its present configuration as a functioning political formation. It’s not going to happen soon, but if/when it does happen the composition of the SCOTUS will become less important than it is now.

So while bob mcmanus and some other commenters focus on how allegedly horrible and self-serving and self-enriching the Democratic leaders are, how unwilling to challenge the Republicans etc., those of us with a slightly longer view can anticipate a time when it will no longer be so necessary to rail against Democratic leaders’ supposed impulse to compromise with Republicans, because Republicans as a functioning, coherent political category will have ceased, for all intents and purposes, to exist.

45

bob mcmanus 06.28.18 at 2:34 am

Republicans as a functioning, coherent political category will have ceased, for all intents and purposes, to exist.

First remember hearing that in 1964. Then 1975 or so. Then 2008.

So a Democratic Party that can barely dream of 51 Senate seats is talking about packing the court. FDR had a 74-17 majority when he tried it.

Is this still the Reality-Based Community?

By 2050 or so, perhaps earlier, the US will no longer be a majority-white country.

By 2050 the US will be a burning desert

46

LFC 06.28.18 at 2:34 am

@ph
The Dem bench is not empty, nor is the idea bank. Both claims are exaggerated.

And btw the Obama admin did not criminally prosecute misdemeanor illegal crossings of the border. So your effort to suggest that Obama and Trump border policies are the same collapses.

47

Sebastian H 06.28.18 at 2:41 am

“The democrats had scenario 1 and used it to pass a strong healthcare law. Which the GOP gutted in the supreme Court. And how did they do this gutting?”

First, gutted is way overplaying it. Obamacare is still helping tens of millions of people and is swiftly getting to the untouchable stage (as more and more of the original opt out states opt in). And your solution would have been to not pass a strong health care law and focus on Court packing instead? Do you really think both at the same time would have worked?

Second, the had the most tenuous majority possible, so they were already in scenario 3, not scenario 1.

Third, under your preferred scenario, it sounds to me like you would be seriously be putting Obama’s second term in peril if you just did court packing and almost certainly sink it if you somehow pull off court packing plus healthcare. So then you’re in a position like now, except with totally legitimized court packing. So the Supreme Court is even more permanently wrecked than now, you got 4 fewer years of Obama, and you get health care wrecked before it can reach untouchable status.

48

Alan White 06.28.18 at 3:32 am

Thank you LFC for helping me avoid another panic attack. I mean that literally.

49

Name (required) 06.28.18 at 3:38 am

@Stephen #37:

The lesson to be taken from the global rise of illiberal democracy in the past decade is that liberalism is increasingly incompatible with democratic governance. In many countries, the voting majority, as embodied largely by elderly and rural voters, does not support civil rights or the freedom of individuals not to be exploited by economic predators. Nominally liberal societies face a stark choice: either disenfranchise the illiberal demographics within their midst–again, the rural and elderly–or suffer the fate of being transformed into illiberal societies where such things as concentration camps become the new normal.

There is no virtue in choosing to uphold democracy in exchange for abandoning even the most basic of civil rights.

50

Kurt Schuler 06.28.18 at 3:43 am

So, Henry’s solution to the increased politicization of Supreme Court appointments is to make them more political and hope the politics tilts leftward. As with Obama’s pen and phone, you may get what you want for a couple of years, only to see it reversed.

My solution is to reduce the stakes of Supreme Court appointments through regular turnover. It would take an amendment to the Constitution, but the idea might find bipartisan support. Fix the number of justices at nine (currently the number is set by statute law, not by the Constitution) and have them serve single staggered terms of 18 years, so that ordinarily a new appointment occurs every two years and two justices are appointed per presidential term. There would no longer be an incentive to find the most qualified teenagers available and nominate them, as Grover Norquist jokingly suggested doing, nor would old justices sit on the bench indefinitely as their mental faculties deteriorated. If you want to reduce the stakes further still, require approval of two-thirds of the Senate rather than a simple majority for confirmation.

This proposal depends, of course, on a willingness to accept that as long as the United States does not slide into Venezuelan-style dictatorship, which it shows no signs of doing, the Constitution and laws and elections have value and legitimacy even when they lead to results one does not like — something the American Left has been loath to accept since November 8, 2016.

51

Name (required) 06.28.18 at 3:54 am

@LFC #44:

The basic demographic trends do not favor a long continuation of Republican hegemony.

The demographic trends of South Africa did not favor the National Party, and yet it remained in power for over four decades. Republican commitment to democracy extends only to the extent that the Republican party remains in power. The Republican party has been constructing the foundations of a one-party state for decades; if faced with the prospect of political oblivion it is far more likely that the Party will stop conducting free elections than accept the results of the ballot box.

52

Sebastian H 06.28.18 at 3:54 am

“Nominally liberal societies face a stark choice: either disenfranchise the illiberal demographics within their midst–again, the rural and elderly–or suffer the fate of being transformed into illiberal societies where such things as concentration camps become the new normal.

There is no virtue in choosing to uphold democracy in exchange for abandoning even the most basic of civil rights.”

You realize this is EXACTLY the argument made by European anti-immigration parties to suggest that people not be allowed to immigrate from Muslim countries?

53

Bill Murray 06.28.18 at 3:58 am

Second, the had the most tenuous majority possible, so they were already in scenario 3, not scenario 1.

How is 60 Senators a tenuous majority?

54

J-D 06.28.18 at 5:21 am

Name (required)

In many countries, the voting majority, as embodied largely by elderly and rural voters, does not support civil rights or the freedom of individuals not to be exploited by economic predators.

That’s a provocative assertion, but you don’t seem to have produced even a fraction of the evidence that would be needed to establish its accuracy.

Just to examine one factual detail: doing a quick search online, I find it estimated that the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time in 2008, so that’s ten years now that the rural population has been in the minority; the figures I found gave the urban proportion as 54% in 2014, and still rising. Indeed, I found a 2014 projection that starting in about 2020 the rural population of the world will be declining not only in relative terms but in absolute terms.

I’m not sure how reliable those figures are, and I understand that even if they were all absolutely accurate they wouldn’t be enough to establish conclusively that your assertion is wrong; but it’s more evidence against your assertion than you have so far produced in favour of it.

55

Sebastian H 06.28.18 at 5:45 am

Bill Murray, it was 55, in the Senate so thin but not razor thin. The switching shenanigans weren’t until the next year, but the Senate electoral map was such that they knew the Democratic majority was very likely to be in trouble (which indeed it was). So I would say that they were closer to a situation 3 than 1. And in neither case, even in retrospect, would court packing at that point have seemed like a good idea. (If you knew in advance that Republicans were about to win both Houses, is attempted court packing a good idea?)

56

Stephen 06.28.18 at 9:34 am

name (required) @49:

“either disenfranchise the illiberal demographics within their midst–again, the rural and elderly–or suffer the fate of being transformed into illiberal societies where such things as concentration camps become the new normal.”

But how on earth do you disenfranchise the rather large number of people with whose opinions you disagree, without using precisely the illiberal policies you claim to want to avoid?

If you really believe you can impose bans on voting, standing for election, saying things you don’t like, and do all that without violent suppression, mass imprisonment and so forth – and I think you’d have to abolish trial by jury too – then I fear you are seriously deluded. Alternatively, you may actually want to send your enemies to re-education camps, but I hope you don’t.

57

Faustusnotes 06.28.18 at 10:21 am

This is nonsense Sebastian. There is no relationship between the Dems electoral majority and the supreme Court . They can’t pass legislation because it will be ratfucked in the supreme Court, so their only option is to regain control of the supreme Court. The GOP ratfucking of Obamacare is the final proof of that. For decent – not even progressive, just even rational – legislation to exist in the USA the Dems need to pack the court. This isn’t just about passing new legislation either – the supreme Court is slowly grinding away the voting rights Act and also acts to support Republican goals on campaign financing and union busting. If the Dems win in 2020 and pack the court with four young left judges, then the repubs win in 2024 and do the same thing back, the Dems will at least have had four years to reverse the damage. If they follow your prescription they get nothing, existing rights get eroded more, and in 2024 the repubs have Congress and the court.

There is no way for the Dems to win by respecting norms and standards. They need to destroy the Republican party. And need I remind you, the whole world is depending on this. Your country’s bullshit parochial politics and racism will bring us all to ruin. So pack the court and use the time it buys you to destroy the GOP. It’s the only choice.

58

ph 06.28.18 at 12:02 pm

Hi Henry. Sorry about the double post above.

So, I was reflecting on where the democrats go from here. I think many Americans have an an appetite for a little more socialism than many accept, and I I’d be delighted to see steps in that direction.

What I don’t see is any evidence that Democrats ‘like’ many of the people they’re theoretically, or sincerely, trying to assist. That’s not a small problem.

@46 The Democratic party is in the worst shape ever in modern history. That’s not an hyperbole. The vaunted blue wave has all but disappeared and media calls for public shaming and abuse of civil servants is certain to ensure a steady stream of inflammatory images firming up support for Trump. His disapproval gap has tightened to six points, which is pretty much what Scott Adams predicted. He’s getting another scotus pick. The supreme court ok’d the travel ban, a subject that is worth revisiting.

One of the more fatal fictions Trump opponents have internalized is that the geriatric tea-totaller makes decisions erratically. He might, but not on the big stuff. When Trump issued the ‘ban Muslims’ declaration post-Paris attacks, he observed that he and his crew were planning to launch that missile sometime during the campaign and the shock of the attack made then the right time. Ditto his latest, troubling assertion that folks should be denied current due process. Once again, that’s his negotiating position, and one designed particularly to goad Democrats and their cash-click-hungry media pals to amp up the outrage.

Dems will get more traction with younger voters with more socialism. They’ll lose voters with incivility. Trump is cruising to a second term even as the deficit soars. His own party still wants to dump him. Dems would be far wiser to do what they should have been doing – working hard at the local level to recruit candidates who actually respect and like the folks who voted for Donald Trump, only a fraction of whom count as truly deplorable.

Britain’s Labour party is in better shape than the Dems – who need to shut up and clean up their own act. Demonstrable hard work, improving the lives of others, and probity will go much farther than playing recordings of crying children.

I read Corey’s piece and a few others. The OPs continue to impress, the comments not so much. I’m very much hoping for some improvements, but not holding my breath.

Double-down on the outrage why don’t you? America is Nazi Germany. Run with that.

59

bob mcmanus 06.28.18 at 12:35 pm

So pack the court and use the time it buys you to destroy the GOP. It’s the only choice.

In 2020? It isn’t a choice at all, it is an extraordinary delusion.

2020 Senate Election Map Very Red, very mid-country, lots of Republicans but I doubt they are vulnerable, especially is the court-packing plan is made public.

You want an idea, one that each individual might accomplish without our compromised leadership?

Internal migration to real sanctuary areas, probably the coasts, some form of secession or nullification, civil wars in those areas, expulsion of internal Republicans, truce.

The Democratic Party chose to not rule or govern the low-population central states something like a decade ago, and the Dems have no path to such rule that I can see.

How do we start it? Make the Republicans feel very unwelcome in Blue States, so unwelcome that fight or flight, or armed repression by Trump accelerating division, and protection against Trump inescapable, becomes the only option.

This is absurdly difficult, and as we have seen from Pelosi and Schumer, will need to be done against the leadership. But not as delusional as looking at the near-term Senate and imagining 51 radical Democratic votes for court-packing. With a lifetime majority on the bench, the Republicans have no incentive to permit it.

60

Cian 06.28.18 at 1:03 pm

I’m sort of on Sebastian’s side, though I draw a different conclusion. The left is strong when they focus on democratic movements, and weak when use legalism. The law and the supreme court are undemocratic. How could they be anything else? The legal system is operated entirely by members of the elite. Yes the Republicans have made the US courts far more right wing than they were (the rot extends far beyond the supreme court people), and yes something needs to be done about this. But any system that is staffed by people who have spent years in expensive higher education, then used personal contacts to climb institutional ladders, will always represent the interests and beliefs of the professional elites.

The solution to the supreme court problem is to reform it. There needs to be an end to life time appointments (10 years max), appointments need to be something that just happens every year, with no real ability to block it by the minority party. And the court should have more judges, with the judges for a particular case chosen randomly.

Oddly the Republicans, and the court, may have made this easier. In it’s current form the old myths about the sanctity of the court, US democracy, etc – are so clearly bullshit, that it’s possible to reexamine it and push for change.

I have to admit though I do like the idea of a Supreme Court packing war, with every administration adding more judges of a particular ideological bent until the court becomes completely unworkable – the court unable to fit all the judges into the court room. I could get behind that vision too.

61

Cian 06.28.18 at 1:19 pm

Faustusnotes: Sebastian and I don’t agree on much, but I’d never describe him as cynical. He’s always struck me as someone who thinks quite carefully about his opinions. He seems to be that rare thing – a thoughtful conservative. You on the other hand have a history of rehashing Democratic Party talking points.

One of the reasons that Obamacare was so vulnerable to the court was because it was a complicated Heath Robinson affair (which is characteristic of any legislation that tries to use markets). And Republican lawyers (correctly) identified all the ‘clever’ little hacks as weaknesses. Maybe the solution is to stop trying to be so damn clever, and instead to focus on passing simpler legislation, that people understand. Preferably legislation that doesn’t try to sneak in complicated taxes, or force people to buy stuff.

Once the Dems have control of the presidency and the Senate they should stack the court with a good bunch of young and left wing judges – I would recommend at least 4! – and tell the GOP to go fuck themselves. Then they can do some hard and fast work on reversing gerrymandering, and tell the GOP to just “pass a bunch of laws” – if they ever manage to get elected again.

Given that your plan requires the Democrats to win the senate and presidency we’re clearly in the realm of fantasy, but let’s say the miracle happens:
1) The current Democratic party is going to appoint corporate centrists – we saw that with Obama.
2) So what happens when the Republicans get in and decided to stack the court with a good bunch of young and right wing judges?

Also what about all the lower courts that the Republicans have also over a period of about 40 years stacked with their guys?

62

Cian 06.28.18 at 1:28 pm

The demographic trends of South Africa did not favor the National Party, and yet it remained in power for over four decades.

I don’t know that you even need to go that far. In terms of equality the US now resembles a Latin American country. For the most part ‘electoral’ politics in those countries has consisted of a choice between a far right elite party, and a center right elite party. With both parties committed to oligarch economic policies. The US elite also has an advantage over Latin America – third party politics are essentially legislated out of existence in most states due to ridiculous ballot laws. A working class third party would face so many legal barriers that it would be very difficult to create one that could be electorally successful.

Something the left need to face up to is the US is not a very democratic country, and to think about ways to change that.

63

casmilus 06.28.18 at 2:04 pm

@14

“The most relevant examples are a new Voting Rights Act that would criminalize voter suppression (and keep the Repubs out of office for a long time) and a Privacy Act that would enshrine Roe v Wade in legislation rather than constitutional interpretation.”

But legislation can be repealed or hobbled by the next intake of Congressmen. Cf. Affordable Care.

64

Cian 06.28.18 at 2:32 pm

Kurt Schuler: This proposal depends, of course, on a willingness to accept that as long as the United States does not slide into Venezuelan-style dictatorship

Dude, Venezuela is not a dictatorship. It’s more democratic than the US. The anti-democratic forces in Venezuela are the opposition who use violence, murder and attempted coups in order to get their way.

None of this is to necessarily endorse the currently Venezuelan government, but it’s no dictatorship.

Now if you want to discuss subversion of democracy in South America there’s a long list ranging from Mexico (fixed elections, assassination), Brazil (the constitutional coup by the hard right), Columbia (a recent election that looked pretty fixed), Honduras (military coup). Paraguay (constitutional coup in 2012). Nicaragua (various attempts at the moment to subvert the democratically elected and popular government).

65

Collin Street 06.28.18 at 2:54 pm

Alternatively, you may actually want to send your enemies to re-education camps, but I hope you don’t.

What do you suggest we do?

Currently we have a significant problem in the US with people who think that being told “you should rip that baby from its mother’s arms” is a good and sufficient reason to rip the baby from its mothers arms. I mean, actual genuine problem, thousands affected. It’s not something we can just put up with; we kind of need it to stop happening.

As I see it, there are three approaches. Approach one is to kill them; this will stop them ripping babies from mothers, but on the downside they’ll be dead and deaths diminish us. Approach two is to hold them in controlled environments, where they won’t be exposed to mothers-and-children or people telling them to rip the two apart, or at least not at the same time. A “prison”, of sorts, a warehouse in which they’ll be held until they’re dead; this will be quite expensive in terms of labour and involves pretty much the same destruction of human potential as just killing them outright.

Option three is to alter the way they think, by the use of trained mental-health professionals, so that they no longer desire to follow instructions involving ripping parent-and-baby apart. To rehabilitate or, yes, reeducate them. In camps, probably, although we could do it outpatient if you prefer. The label doesn’t change the thing, after all; it remains what it is, for good or ill.

Which of these do you prefer? Perhaps you prefer approach four, where we don’t do anything about mothers and babies being ripped apart because we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings.

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bob mcmanus 06.28.18 at 3:26 pm

The demographics at current trends are not going to save us, because America is not about population and cities, it is about land and territory. We should have learned this since we have had two recent popular wins and electoral college losses.

If all your new Texas immigrants are concentrated in the 5 cities, it will be very hard to redistrict the state in a way that makes them politically dominant, because every near-empty Texas county will get at least one representative and Senator. You, in your dreams, can try to pull a California, but California had a Democratic supermajority to do it, and Texas Republicans will be expecting it.

Like so many nice things, ending the electoral college, proportional voting, whatever, you are going to need a supermajority to get it past Republican resistance, and I have heard nothing from Democrats on how to get back to 60-65 Senators. Not even mentioning that Heitkamp, Donnelly, Manchin new bluedogs and conservadems in your own party will be obstructionist to this kind of program.

Find me one Senator that will come out publicly for court-packing, then find me five. Find me a small-pop-state Senator who will support EC elimination.

If demographics favor us so much, we should be seeing trends. Yes, Texas is now majority-minority, and Republicans are very smartly responding, as they are in say Wisconsin and Ohio. I have yet to see anything near an adequate response from democrats.

History of Party Representation, US House scroll down, as Texas has become more minority, it has also become more Republican. Sure they’re cheating or whatever, so what? Tell me how to make them stop without the statehouse votes to do it, and the Supreme Court to back it up.

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TM 06.28.18 at 4:49 pm

“Permanently stripping from power the kind of sociopolitical parasites–the elderly and those who live in rural areas–that facilitated said democratic catastrophes would be appropriate.”

This is wrong on many counts: Violates the principle of equality, counterproductive because oppressing a minority always leads to radicalization and undermines the legitimacy of the oppressor.

The elderly and the rural do not form a majority. What is true in many countries, and especially in the US, is that these groups yield disproportionate power. The elderly because the young are less likely to vote. The young could remedy this if they cared enough. The rural voters however have an unfair and undemocratic advantage, most obviously in the US Senate but due to gerrymandering also in many states where rural minorities voting for reactionary extremists are effectively ruling over the cities. Ending this disproportionate grip on power would be a huge improvement for US democracy.

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John Quiggin 06.28.18 at 8:58 pm

“But legislation can be repealed or hobbled by the next intake of Congressmen. Cf. Affordable Care.”

The same applies to an expansion of the Supreme Court – if the Dems add two, the next Repub majority can add four. The point is that if you can sustain the majority needed the pack the court, you can pass the legislation that achieves your goals. If you don’t have the majority, you can’t pack the court and keep it packed.

The exception is cases like Janus where the SC can rule legislation unconstitutional. Should we get to the point of Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency, and should the SC overturn lots of legislation on 1st and 2nd Amendment grounds, that’s the time to think about expansion.

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LFC 06.28.18 at 9:46 pm

b. mcmanus @66

You make, for the most part, coherent points about demographics vs. territory. I was perhaps a bit too sanguine on the subject in my earlier comment. In defense of my original point, though, I’d say that the trends of importance are long-term ones and I’m not sure the current adjustments Repubs are making will work so well in the long run. But I agree that, in Texas at any rate and some other places, they seem to have met the demographic challenge for now.

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Faustusnotes 06.29.18 at 12:07 am

Cian, a small correction. The supreme Court didnt attack the clever “hacks” in the ACA – it actually kept them intact. It repealed the Medicaid expansion, which was the simplest and most understandable and most popular part of the law that affected the most people. The centrist free marketers on the court supported the expansion, contra your assertion that they will always support business. Being “less clever” won’t help because the supreme Court will attack the most left wing and beneficial thing you do. For example, single payer will be beseiged ruthlessly in this supreme Court.

I agree with reforming the court as you say but first pack it. Note also the returns of packing diminish as it happens more. If the Dems put six young judges there and replace Sotomayor they have a five judge majority so then the repubs need to add six to get a one judge majority. If the system of random subsets of judges had been introduced then this slim majority becomes less and less effective with every packing.

Also packing ensures that every 8 years the court gets an influx of young people who might be vaguely in step with modern values. Routine packing and random five judge courts and age limits would actually make the court far more representative.

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John Quiggin 06.29.18 at 12:20 am

@70 And yet, Medicaid expansion is still happening. The SC just slowed it down.

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Faustusnotes 06.29.18 at 12:20 am

So Cian I’m interested in your idea that the left is strong when it focuses on democratic movements and weak on legalism. The left in the us has no significant movement and never did, and in the uk and Oz the left has been very effective through legalism, generally enacted through the work of unions in collaboration with their political party. I think the existence – and remarkable success and longevity- of labour parties in much of the rich world suggests that the left is very successful when it uses legalism. Perhaps the problem for the us is that your “conservative” party are radical traitors and economic wreckers, and so legalism won’t work anymore? In any case your statement doesn’t seem historically true, so it needs at least some qualification.

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Kurt Schuler 06.29.18 at 2:06 am

Cian @64: I will assume that you are serious; if you are trying to be humorous, you have failed miserably. Venezuela assuredly is a dictatorship. The president rules by decree. He has ejected the duly elected legislature from its constitutional role. He has imprisoned opposition political figures for peaceful criticism of the government. Government security squads have killed many innocent people. The press cannot report freely. The government has expropriated private property without compensation. It has introduced food ration cards, which did not exist before Bolivarian socialism, and has made access to food dependent on supporting the government. Now it is even restricting access to water.

The situation is so egregious that the Organization of American States, which has frequently given dictatorships a pass, has issued a number of scathing reports on Venezuela. The fourth report of the OAS Secretary General on Venezuela, dated September 25, 2017, “shows that democracy there was completely eliminated on July 30, 2107, following the establishment of an illegitimate Constituent Assembly.” An OAS report by an international panel of independent experts, dated May 29, 2018, identifies 8,292 extrajudicial executions since 2015; more than 12,000 Venezuelans arbitrarily detained since the 2013 presidential elections; and identifies more than 1,300 political prisoners.

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Name (required) 06.29.18 at 4:24 am

@J-D #54:

Every illiberal (right wing populist) electoral victory in recent years has been driven by non-urban, mostly older, populations. This has been the pattern with Trump, Brexit, the Italian “center-right” coalition, the Polish PiS, Fidesz in Hungary, and (at an extreme) Erdogan’s Turkey. Exit poll crosstabs with demographics aren’t necessarily available on the open Internet (although Wikipedia has a crosstab for the last Italian election) but media reporting following electoral victories has covered where these movements have found their support demographically–among the old and rural.

As for these movements’ hostility to civil rights, the Hungarian and Polish illiberals have been sanctioned by the EU for dismantling judicial independence; an Italian illiberal minister was recently quoted as expressing regret that he would be unable to deport Italian-citizen Roma from the country; Trump put children in concentration camps; and Erdogan hopefully needs no explanation.

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faustusntoes 06.29.18 at 4:51 am

Yes John, the Medicaid expansion continues to happen – contingent upon democratic electoral victories at the state level, which means a large number of people will not see it, and it will never happen for those millions. Texas, for example, will not get the Medicaid expansion until hell freezes over. That’s 2.5 million people who won’t get covered by Medicaid, and 750,000 people who have no meaningful alternative to Medicaid. For them, basic left wing welfare policies won’t “continue to happen”.

But my point here isn’t to suggest that this is some remarkable data point in opposition to your theory, I just want to correct Cian’s wrong idea that it’s the “clever” parts of policy that get attacked, the “hacks” as he put it, and that the solution is simple basic policies. The Supreme Court attacks the fundamentals of left wing policy, and the only way to pass policy is to get complete political control permanently at every level. This isn’t how democracies are supposed to work. This is part of the reason that left wing attempts to make decent welfare policy in the USA have to be so market oriented – because they have to fly under the radar, or be agreeable to the reactionary forces who can dismantle them even when they don’t hold political power.

I don’t think you would be so sanguine about the march of progressive ideals if some far right organization in Australia managed to use the High Court to shut down medicare. I think you would suddenly start seeing basic left wing ideals as being under threat from an undemocratic and dangerous power elite. I don’t think you would feel there was no reason to worry because South Australia had managed to keep Medicare, and one day in the future Western Australia will have a labour government and they, too will return to Medicare. No, I think you would see that as a quite major crisis for basic left wing politics in Australia, and would be concerned at the collapse of the welfare state.

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stephen 06.29.18 at 10:06 am

bob mcmanus@59

Your solution to the USA’s political problems? Secession and civil war.

What could possibly go wrong?

Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

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Orange Watch 06.29.18 at 1:45 pm

CS@65:

The toxic danger of your modest proposals becomes clear as soon as we remember that someone on the right could take your comment, change nothing but replacing “ripped from their mother’s arms” to “ripped from their mother’s womb”, and have something many on the right would agree with.

bob@66:

It’s hard to get away from the “territory vs. people” perspective, but to a certain degree it would be possible to use it against its current advocates for the rights of empty space. The Constitution grants powers and privileges to states, and when we have a single state constituting 20% of the nation’s population, it would make a great deal of sense to partition that state into a number of smaller states. If densely-packed CA became 6 smaller states, a lot of dynamics change. If DC and Puerto Rico become states, things change more. There’s no reason the union should be limited to 50 states. It may be difficult to convince subnational interests to divide their power and influence, but given the structure of the US system there’s a rather compelling argument to be made that it’s the right thing to do as far as promoting individual citizens’ democratic influence and rights. I’d rather go the opposite direction, but if that’s not feasible… for the system we have right now, more states would help.

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bob mcmanus 06.29.18 at 9:17 pm

Your solution to the USA’s political problems? Secession and civil war.

I have felt a sense of urgency since 9/11, AUMF and the Patriot Act (and “The Big Sort”), not even so much for the sake of the US and its citizens, but even more for those overseas. I won’t bother to forecast future perhaps nearly imminent nightmares, our imaginations seem to be operational enough.

One problem I have with patient procedural liberals is the escape from the “in the meantime,” the casualties occurring daily that they manage to escape responsibility for, while casualties possibly happening because of direct attributable action are viewed with prohibiting horror.

The elites as a class or classes, having lifeboat seats, will always wait too long. It is up to …individuals within self-critical groups…to decide when radical extra-legal direct action is required, understanding that even as conditions degrade into chaos, OUR leadership will resist losing power unto siccing storm troopers upon Democrats, or hide impotently while its done.

Don’t assume you know all of what I mean by “extra-legal radical direct action.” Uprooting ones life, moving to California, and while in San Diego yelling at someone in a restaurant qualify. And I believe this is happening already, and will accelerate under Trumpism, though this can be determined empirically. The rest of the program is mostly about self-defense, because we will have chosen not to rule the whole country, or discovered that it is no longer possible.

I have a Sartrean faith in humanity. We are free to do anything and die trying. We just need permission, internal and external. Part of radical existence is accepting an almost total responsibility for all that is happening around us, including casualties. It is not their fault. It is our fault, because we are alive and free.

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bob mcmanus 06.29.18 at 9:39 pm

Perhaps a note on what I mean by “ruling” recognizing that polysci folk will laugh at me. I am a small-d democrat.

There are for simplicity two levels of governance, elites and people. Most of what is seen as governance is done by elites for elites, in argument and opposition to each other. C0llins doesn’t care what you think of her SCOTUS vote, unless you go to the same cocktail parties. Of course, there is a dialectic with the next level, but neither level rules the other.

The people govern and rule each other, at the neighborhood, town, near town, city council and school board level. This is down in everyday life in conversation and social interaction. Examples of resistance accepted are the protection of fugitive slaves and draft resistors, helping each other get abortion and contraception, etc. Those next door might not approve but look the other way.

Of course all parties look above and below for support, sanction, justification.

Calling it “civil disobedience” is taking the elite perspective, the authoritarian perspective. The everyday has no laws, only behavior and morality.

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Collin Street 06.29.18 at 11:43 pm

The toxic danger of your modest proposals becomes clear as soon as we remember that someone on the right could take your comment, change nothing but replacing “ripped from their mother’s arms” to “ripped from their mother’s womb”, and have something many on the right would agree with.

Sure. We have incompatible values. I have demonstrably better values by any metric that doesn’t have human suffering as a positive — pareto improvement in outcomes — but de gustibus non est disputandum.

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Sebastian H 06.30.18 at 7:29 am

Breaking up California may be a good idea for all sorts of other justice reasons so far as governing the US is concerned, but for consolidating Democratic power it’s a horrible idea. California has very conservative pockets. Almost any way you broke it into six states would involve making four Republican states. Maybe if you cut LA and the Bay Area in half, you might be able to temporarily pull it off, but anything that works with the city geography or natural geography isn’t going to make things better for Democrats. You shouldn’t think that just because California should have 12 senators, that if you broke it up you’d get 12 Democratic senators.

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TM 06.30.18 at 4:20 pm

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J-D 07.01.18 at 6:54 am

Name (required)

Exit poll crosstabs with demographics aren’t necessarily available on the open Internet (although Wikipedia has a crosstab for the last Italian election)

Since you mention it, yes it does have a crosstab, and that crosstab shows the highest rate of voting for the centre-left in the oldest age group. Once again, not conclusive evidence that your analysis is wrong, but more evidence against it (from the source you nominated!) than you have so far produced in favour of it.

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J-D 07.01.18 at 7:12 am

Orange Watch

The toxic danger of your modest proposals becomes clear as soon as we remember that someone on the right could take your comment, change nothing but replacing “ripped from their mother’s arms” to “ripped from their mother’s womb”, and have something many on the right would agree with.

Well, here are the exact words from Collin Street’s comment:

Currently we have a significant problem in the US with people who think that being told “you should rip that baby from its mother’s arms” is a good and sufficient reason to rip the baby from its mothers arms. I mean, actual genuine problem, thousands affected. It’s not something we can just put up with; we kind of need it to stop happening.

Now, making no change but your nominated replacement of words gives the following:

Currently we have a significant problem in the US with people who think that being told “you should rip that baby from its mother’s womb” is a good and sufficient reason to rip the baby from its mothers womb. I mean, actual genuine problem, thousands affected. It’s not something we can just put up with; we kind of need it to stop happening.

So, what’s your point about that? Collin Street is right: there really is a problem in the US with people who think being told to rip a baby from its mother’s arms is good enough reason to do so. On the other hand, it is not true that there is a real problem in the US with people who think being told to rip a baby from its mother’s womb is good enough reason to do so. Where does that leave your argument? It doesn’t make sense to say ‘Don’t say that X is a problem, even though it really is, because then some other people might say that Y is a problem, even though it really isn’t’.

I don’t endorse Collin Street’s analysis of possible remedies is sound, but I don’t think your argument against it stands up.

(So perhaps you’re wondering how I would argue against Collin Street’s proposals? I would begin by observing that there are people in the US right now advocating the abolition of ICE. As a potential solution to the problem Collin Street has identified, it’s both free of the cruelty of Collin Street’s proposals and more likely to be within range of the achievable.)

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