From the category archives:

US Politics

Transactional Trumpism

by John Quiggin on April 21, 2019

The idea that Trump voters were former Democrats driven by economic anxiety, seems finally to have died. As was clear immediately after the election, most Trump voters had previously voted for Romney, and most of the rest were classic swinging voters who had voted for Republicans as well as Democrats in the past. The remnant of the remnant reflected the drift from Democrats to Republicans of less educated whites that long predated Trump (though it may have helped him win the Republican nomination).

Solving that puzzle, though raises another one. Why were so few traditional Republicans repelled by Trump to the extent that they would vote for Clinton, or else abstain. And why does Trump continue to attract such strong Republican support.

One answer is what might be called “transactional Trumpism“. This is the idea that a large group of Republicans dislike Trump’s racism and misogyny, but support him because of his success in delivering a traditional Republican agenda. The problem I have with this explanation is: what success?

The standard items on the list are: Supreme Court appointments, tax cuts and deregulation. But
(1) these things are the absolute minimum that would be expected from any Republican president
(2) Trump has made a mess of all them
[click to continue…]

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The transformation of left neoliberalism

by Henry on March 5, 2019

I haven’t been blogging at Crooked Timber as much as I used to. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active – the last two years have probably been the most productive two years of my life (it turns out that my way of dealing with political stress is to write. and write. and write – more on that as the stuff I have been up to comes out). But it’s hard to resist noting Brad DeLong’s very good interview, and Mike Konczal’s response to it. Brad:

Until something non-rubble-ish is built in the Republican center, what might be good incremental policies just cannot be successfully implemented in an America as we know it today. We need Medicare-for-all, funded by a carbon tax, with a whole bunch of UBI rebates for the poor and public investment in green technologies. That’s the best policy given the political-economic context. If the political-economic context were different — well, I’m fundamentally a neoliberal shill. It is very nice to use market means to social democratic ends when they are more effective, and they often are. If you can properly tweak market prices, you then don’t just have one smart guy trying to design a policy that advances an objective — you have 30 million people all over the country, all incentivized to design a policy. That’s a wonderful thing to have.

Mike:

Delong focuses on the political aspect of this shift, noting that there is nothing on the conservative Right that meets left-leaning neoliberals halfway to try and negotiate market-based policies. “Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy,” and yet conservatives give him zero credit, call him a socialist, and actually attack each of these ideas just as much as they would more ultra-left policies. … I’ve also carried a rifle in this battle, trying to move the party Left—and it is happening. But this movement is happening largely because the story that left neoliberals tell us all about the economy itself, not just the politics of it, has fallen apart. … This is a matter of ideas: ideas having failed, and us needing new ones. … The positive effects of more inequality never happened. … we are seeing a revival of structural arguments that wages are increasingly determined by institutional structures rather than individual measures. … Relaxation of antitrust enforcement would lead to more competition and innovation, as was told. Unions would no longer get in the way of businesses. [but] …  firm dynamism has fallen dramatically. The rate of business startups has fallen. … high markups and profits, low interest rates, weak investment—point to a significant market power problem that impacts the macroeconomy.

Mike is building on the old Internet argument about ‘left neoliberalism’ (a term that I semi-accidentally popularized; but the best and most succinct account was Cosma’s). It’s notable that the people like Brad, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein who got grief in that debate have moved significantly to the left in the interim: Brad’s interview is a formal acknowledgment of a shift that has been taking place for a long time. Which is not to say that they are going to join the DSA, but that just as there’s a significant distinction between social democrats and democratic socialists, they have plausibly changed from being left neoliberals to neoliberal leftists. It isn’t just that they want neoliberal tools to deliver left-leaning results; they have always wanted that. It is that they tacitly or explicitly realize that preferred neoliberal means of policy delivery need to be embedded in a framework that is being built up by a broader social movement.

Two questions follow (for me, anyway). One is for the neoliberal leftists, as a part of a broader left coalition. When and to what extent will their preferred approach to delivering policy clash with, or undermine, the necessary conditions for achieving collective action and making the policy sustainable? If they are pushing for market means towards social democratic ends, that is fine and good – markets can indeed sometimes be the best way to deliver those ends, and few of us would want to be completely without them (including Marxists like Sam Gindin. But one key lesson of the last couple of decades is that market provision of benefits makes it harder to build and sustain coalitions – private gain and public solidarity are at best uncomfortable bedfellows. Figuring out the political tradeoffs – when market means are worthwhile even when they make collective action tougher, or where non-market means might be better for sustainability reasons, even when markets are more efficient – is going to be hard, and we need to start building shared language and concepts to make it easier to resolve the inevitable disputes.

The other is for the left including both its neoliberal and non-neoliberal variants. It is clear why Brad and others are jumping ship – apart from the intellectual problems that Mike describes, there isn’t a politically viable there there to their right. But  I am not as sure as I would like to be about the there there to their left either. The left is enjoying a resurgence in the US (not so much elsewhere). There are coalitions being formed, plans being conceived. But there are enormous obstacles to be overcome. First in the US (where the system seems almost deliberately designed to prevent the radical action required e.g. to tackle global warming, and where billionaires can credibly threaten to pull down the election if the Democratic candidate is not to their liking). Second, at the global level, where the soi-disant liberal order is in decay, and it is not clear that there is very much that is going to replace it. There may be no plausible choice in American politics other than the left right now. That doesn’t mean that the left has a very good chance of doing the things that it needs to do.

Politics and Forgiveness – a Proposal

by John Holbo on February 9, 2019

Governor Ralph Northam is fighting to stay, so he says, because the alternative is being unfairly tarred for life as a racist. (Sorry, I can’t find the quote. Correct me if I’m wrong. But somewhere in this blizzard of articles on the controversy he has said something to that effect. He is obviously thinking it.) This is so backwards. The correct solution is he should leave and, on the way out the door, he gets sympathy for his political misfortune and … yes, forgiveness and absolution. Go, and sin no more. But go.

He needs to leave, not because of what is or isn’t in his heart – or was or wasn’t in his heart – but because his continued presence makes it impossible for Democrats to take a strong, consistent, stand against racism. If any Democrat knows that, by staying in office, they hinder – rather than helping – he or she should step back for the good of the party, on behalf of the values it stands for. That said, there is no reason on earth to doubt that Northam is a different man from the one in that picture. Morally. It’s common sense – not just common courtesy – to believe he’s changed and would not do that today because he knows better. (That guy in the picture was a Gillespie voter, for sure.) [click to continue…]

Belief In Hell As The Basis For Faith

by John Holbo on January 26, 2019

Our Corey is in The New Yorker! I was going to boost it for him but he got to it first.

But I’ll do it anyway.

The political convert was the poster child of the Cold War. The leading ideologues of the struggle against Communism weren’t ancient mariners of the right or liberal mandarins of the center. They were fugitives from the left. Max Eastman, Arthur Koestler, Whittaker Chambers, Sidney Hook, James Burnham, and Ignazio Silone—all these individuals, and others, too, had once been members or fellow-travellers of the Communist Party. Eventually, they changed course. More than gifted writers or tools of Western power, they understood what Edmund Burke understood when he launched his struggle against the French Revolution. “To destroy that enemy,” Burke wrote of the Jacobins, “the force opposed to it should be made to bear some analogy and resemblance to the force and spirit which that system exerts.”

Corey’s puzzle, per the subtitle: “defectors from the left have often given the right a spark and depth. Why doesn’t it work the other way around?”

We’ll get to that. But first I would like to report a coincidence. I’ve just been brushing up on Max Eastman myself. (Here’s a good Dissent piece, in case you need a refresher or introduction.) That’s because I’ve been reading about a different forgotten figure — the great cartoonist Art Young! Young is the subject of a new Fantagraphics books that is absolutely tops, and if you are the sort of person who might be remotely interested in anything of the sort, you should get it. It is To Laugh That We May Not Weep: The Life and Art of Art Young [publisher]. The Kindle version is cheap on Amazon [amazon associates link]. I don’t know how long that happy condition will last. If you don’t wanna pay, this site is pretty ok, too. The thing is: the new book contains lots of high quality reproductions of the original art, rather than just scans of the poorly printed originally published versions. The original art, properly reproduced, just pops to an incredible degree. The crosshatching. I’m in awe. Tomorrow or the next day I’m going to try to work up an appreciation of Young’s art. He was a pen and ink master. Just look at this nice stuff!


But politics. First, politics. [click to continue…]

Hack Gaps and Noble Lies

by John Holbo on December 9, 2018

These days we are healthily cynical about the omnipresence of motivated reasoning in cognition and communication. Everyone is working to fool everyone, starting with themselves. (It used to be you had to read Nietzsche to learn this stuff. Ah, those were the days.) [click to continue…]

Abusive Legalism

by John Holbo on December 2, 2018

‘Norm erosion’ has been a debated thing for a while. Good norms have been undermined by Trump. But does it make sense to push back against that by defending norms, rather than, say, the good?

It’s useful to narrow it down. This President, in this era of hyper-partisanship, is a peculiarly unconstrained beast, legally. (Not just in the old, familiar imperial presidency sense.) There isn’t much Trump could do to get Republicans to impeach him. So impeachment is off the table as a check on Presidential abuse of power. In a narrow, legal sense, the immunity of a sitting President from prosecution, plus arguable exemption from conflict of interest laws, plus theoretically unconstrained pardon power, means on paper, a lot of ‘get out of jail free’ cards. No one would have aimed for this result. It’s obviously bad to have no check on Presidential corruption. (Maybe the emoluments clause is going to save us. We’ll see.)

So you get what Matthew Yglesias calls ‘abusive legalism‘, which is a bit narrower than ‘norm erosion’.

Andrew McCarthy is a good example. In his latest piece he objects to Mueller’s investigation – as he always does – on the grounds that there is no clear, overarching, blackletter ‘collusion’ crime in the prosecutor’s cross-hairs.

Note that word: crime. There are many wrongs that are not crimes, activities that are immoral, mendacious, unseemly. If we are talking about cosmic justice, all these wrongs should be made right. But prosecutors do not operate in a cosmic-justice system. They are in the criminal-justice system. The only wrongs they are authorized to address — the only wrongs it is appropriate for them to address — are crimes.

Note the attractive, exculpatory impersonalism of ‘cosmic injustice’. If awful stuff comes to light in l’affaire Russe, but it can be made out that there wasn’t a technical law against it; or if there is some law, but still some last ‘get out of jail free’ pardon card to be played – then Trump isn’t guilty – nor can Republicans be said to be at fault for turning a blind-eye. It’s the universe. Ergo, anyone who is upset about corruption is just some kooky, wild-eyed cosmic justice warrior.

The position is self-undermining within the scope of the piece itself. McCarthy is indignant that Mueller is violating prosecutorial norms – not breaking laws. But McCarthy doesn’t, therefore, chalk Mueller’s wrongdoing up to the cosmos’ injustice tab and shrug it off. But there’s an attractive pseudo-purity to such legalism. Adhering to the letter of the law is a good thing. ‘There’s no norms, dude’ is not the winning way to spin bad behavior. ‘We ONLY uphold the rule of law’ is how to spin norm erosion positively.

I think probably the most effective tack, rhetorically, is to force the likes of McCarthy to own the apparent perversity of the allegedly principled result. Namely, the right thing to do is to not expose serious Presidential corruption, since, weirdly enough, it isn’t illegal.

Trolls

by John Quiggin on November 18, 2018

I’ve decided that life is too short for me to deal with any more trolls. From now on, I’m following the same zero[1] tolerance policy regarding blog comments as I do on other social media. Snarky trolling comments will lead to an immediate and permanent ban from my comment threads.

More generally, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to look at the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ and what remains of the Republican intellectual class is the light of my experience as a blogger.
Put simply. the IDW and others are trolls. Their object is not to put forward ideas, or even to mount a critique, but to annoy and disrupt their targets (us). As Nikki Haley observed, a few months before announcing her resignation as UN Ambassador, it’s all about “owning the libs
Once you look at them as trolls, it’s easy to see how most of the right fit into familiar categories. They include

  • Victim trolls: Their main aim is to push just far enough to get banned, or piled-on, while maintaining enough of an appearance of reasonableness to claim unfair treatment: Christina Hoff Sommers pioneered the genre
  • Concern trolls: Jonathan Haidt is the leading example. Keep trying to explain how the extreme lunacy of the far right is really the fault of the left for pointing out the lunacy of the mainstream right.
  • Quasi-ironic trolls: Putting out racist or otherwise objectionable ideas, then, when they are called out, pretending it’s just a joke. The alt-right was more or less entirely devoted to this kind of trolling until Trump made it acceptable for them to drop the irony and come out as open racists.
  • Snarky trolls: Delight in finding (or inventing) and circulating examples of alleged liberal absurdity, without any regard for intellectual consistency on their own part. Glenn Reynolds is the archetype in the US, though the genre was pioneered in UK print media by the Daily Mail’s long running obsession with ‘political correctness gone mad’
  • False flag trolls: Push a standard rightwing line, but demand special consideration because they are allegedly liberals. Alan Dershowitz has taken this kind of trolling beyond parody
    From what I can see, the latest hero of the Dark Web, Jordan Peterson, manages to encompass nearly all of these categories. But I haven’t looked hard because, as I said, life is too short.

fn1. Not quite zero. Commenters with a track record of serious discussion will be given a warning. But, anyone who wastes my time will be given short shrift

There. Fixed it.

by John Holbo on November 8, 2018

“All that talk about winning x percent of the “national House vote” or the “national Senate vote” — neither of which, you know, exists — is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not like how our governments are organized” (Link.)

All this talk about how neither the national House vote or the national Senate vote – both of which, you know, exist – exist, is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not know why how our governments are organized should be liked.

(On the other hand, if Kevin D. Williamson really denies you can add 50 numbers – well, we’d all love to see the plans.)

In comments, you can make fun of Williamson. Or you could discuss the election.

Time to join the generation game? Definitely

by John Quiggin on November 7, 2018

A little while ago, I partially recanted my long-standing rejection of the idea that “generations” are a useful way of thinking about such issues as political attitudes. The UK elections showed a very strong age effect, reflecting the way that the politics of nostalgia, represented by Brexit, appeal to the old and appal the young.

The same appears to be true of “Make America Great Again”, at least according to the exit polls. In every racial group, there’s a clear cohort effect, with the younger cohorts favouring the Democrats.

The Republicans had majority support only among whites over 45.

[click to continue…]

‘Extremely Possible’?

by John Holbo on November 5, 2018

‘Extremely possible’ was probably not the phrase for it. (It seems to have sent Taleb round the twist.)

Silver’s point is to emphasize 85 isn’t 100. But it’s striking how hard it is to say that without sounding like you are saying 85 is 50.

A sort of extremism kicks in that doesn’t seem to manifest in other areas of probabilistic reasoning. 50/50 or 100/0. Look at the polls; see which of those the polls are close to; that’s your answer. Elections: toss-up or lock.

Not black swan blindness, in Taleb’s familiar sense. Nor does anyone make quite this style of mistake when thinking about dice or cards, do they? You might make a baseline rate mistake in interpreting a potentially false positive regarding a medical diagnosis. But if the doc tells you you have a 15% chance of having the flu, no one thinks: oh, from that it follows that I’m 100% healthy. [click to continue…]

Please support Equal Citizens

by Eszter Hargittai on October 22, 2018

Last year, I asked you to help support science. This year, I am asking you to pitch in to help end the corruption of U.S. democracy through a donation to Equal Citizens. Equal Citizens is pursuing several important projects such as fixing the Electoral College, ending SuperPACs, and ending voter suppression. There is tons of information concerning the specifics of how they are doing this on equalcitizens.us.

Equal Citizens does not bombard one’s mailbox with constant requests for donations like some other organizations. Indeed, they haven’t done this kind of a campaign in a year. To help support them, I am hosting a fundraiser through Facebook where I have committed to matching up to $500 of donations. Won’t you add your support as well? You can do so through my Facebook fundraising page or directly through the Equal Citizens site. Thank you!

Normativity Erosion – #Make Norms Normative Again

by John Holbo on October 11, 2018

That time a ‘Constitution in Exile’ borderline anarchist libertarian and a Catholic integralist wandered into a Twitter thread to discuss political legitimacy, and it crossed neither of their minds it might be a normative notion (rather than a descriptive synonym for power, give or take.) [click to continue…]

Attention conservation notice: TOO LONG. But I wanted to rewrite my last post to my own satisfaction. So I did it different, but same.

People of the internet, I have long been openly opposed to loose dispensing of the blue pill.

“You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”

No, the story doesn’t end there. That’s tomorrow-never-comes thinking. Read the warning label! You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want? What a way to run the railroad. Morpheus is giving this stuff out like candy to any slacker bro who looks the least bit likely. Is he out of his mind?

Because, seriously: what is it you are sure to want to believe? You will want to believe you took the red pill – and we are off to the races! You will believe, falsely, you’re Neo. Past which point you will be no good to yourself or others. At best.

Most folks will be too tempted by the lazy beguilements of blue pill lifestyle, so we are soon up to our collective armpits in mass fantasies of red pill-popping pop-paranoid philosophy of politics. Gets so you can’t throw a rock without hitting ‘the One’ in some Spartacus line-up of ‘Ones’. (#METOO, but for Ones.)

Virgil poetized of the gates of horn and ivory. Even he never conceived of a gate of pizza. And now Kavanaugh (although he isn’t a gate yet, though I can’t imagine why not.) It is never going to end until someone figures out a way to stop Morpheus, a.k.a. Dr. Feelgood.

So I thought to myself: what will be the sign that BK has busted us through the basement, driving the right crazier? I designated a canary: if Dreher takes the blue pill, in a Kavanaugh-related manner, that will mean the right has found a way to delve deeper into crazy. That is, if Rod Dreher says he takes the red pill, that will be a sign he’s taken the blue pill. That will mean things are worse. And sure enough.

Why Rod Dreher, as my dead canary designate down a conservative coal mine? [click to continue…]

What Are The Odds?

by John Holbo on September 26, 2018

Kavanaugh. Suppose – just suppose – we wanted to estimate the likelihood that BK was guilty of sexual assault in his bad old “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep” days. Given that Ford (and Ramirez) have accused him, what is the likelihood he is guilty? [click to continue…]

So How Serious Is This?

by John Holbo on August 22, 2018

Manafort and, especially, Cohen.

I honestly can’t tell. Ever since Lester Holt and ‘nothing matters anymore’ I really can’t tell what matters anymore. I mean: obviously any other President would be toast. But Trump? I’m reading Lawfare. But it seems to me the question is: can Congress ignore it? Signs point to: yes. At least until January. Obviously if Congress can ignore, they will.

In the meantime, I would just like to remind you that Jesus colluded with the sinners.