Historically, liberals and the Left have underestimated the Right. Today, they overestimate it.

by Corey Robin on March 22, 2016

I’m going to float a series of vast and off-the-cuff historical generalizations in order to try and get at something that is distinctive about the current moment in US politics.

Beginning in Europe in the 19th century, liberalism has been engaged in a two-front war—on-again, off-again—against the right and the left. Against the right’s revanchism and the left’s radicalism, liberalism has held itself up as the original Third Way. It is the reasonable and moderate alternative to the extremes, offering men and women the promise and payout of a capitalist, vaguely democratic, modernity but without its revolutionary perils or reactionary pitfalls.

Though it has on occasion entered into a more productive, albeit tension-filled, front with the left, liberalism has always been uneasy about the left. For a variety of reasons, among them a doubt about the left’s commitments to the rule of law, civil liberties, the norms and procedures of parliamentary democracy, and the institutions of the capitalist market. (Which is ironic since it was the left, at least in Western Europe and the US, that fought hardest for civil liberties and the right to vote, but I digress.) Liberalism and the left thus have been either uneasy partners or outright antagonists.

While liberalism has often loathed the right, it hasn’t always been sufficiently attuned to the shape-shifting power of the right. Its attentions have too often been focused in the other direction, so fraught has been its relationship to the left. Till it was too late.

The left has not been entirely blameless in this. It, too, has been engaged in a two-front war: against liberalism and the right. On the ground, and in the streets, the left has understood the power of the right, but up in the chambers of political theory, intellectual debate, and elite party argument, the left has sometimes, and catastrophically, construed liberalism (or its positional surrogate on the ideological spectrum) to be its greatest and only enemy. Even at a moment like the present in the United States—when liberalism, at least as it has been historically understood in the United States, has been in abeyance, or at best, has played second fiddle—the left has tended to focus on the power and betrayals of liberalism.

What liberalism and the left have in common, in other words, is an insufficient appreciation of the right. What made that lack of appreciation understandable, historically, was that the left—whether in the form of socialist parties, communist internationals, militant trade unions, social movements, and the like—had some real power and traction on the ground. It was understandable for liberals to be more focused upon—and fearful of—the left, which often seemed ready to march right over the liberals. So was it understandable for leftists to be more focused upon—and pissed off at—liberals, who often seemed ready to betray the left.

But that is not the situation we are in right now. In fact, we haven’t been in that situation for some time.

Since the 1970s, virtually all the political momentum has been on the right. Three elections—of Richard Nixon in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1980, and George W. Bush in 2000—mark the right’s long march to ascendance, with the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq War signifying its arrival at the peak.

As I have argued, both in my book and in various articles, that peak of power is a perilous position for the right (indeed, for any movement) to be in. From their apex of power, movements can only go in one direction. The only question is: What can they take with them, how much damage can they do, on their way down?

Think of it this way: The landslide election of Lyndon B. Johnson marked the peak of Democratic Party liberalism. It was a moment when the Democrats were able to deliver on their most basic commitments (to the extent that they could): Medicare, civil rights, the War on Poverty. But it was also the moment, we now know, that liberalism and the Democrats began their plummet from power. Likewise, on the other side, the election of George W. Bush. (Johnson and Bush, incidentally, are classic examples of what Steve Skowronek calls articulation presidents: they radically extend the existing regime’s commitments, but in the course of doing so, set the stage for shattering that regime.)

None of this means that Republicans or conservatives can’t get elected today or in the future. The standing and fate of a regime transcends any one election. Jimmy Carter, after all, got elected in 1976. His presidency signaled not a resurgence of liberalism but its end. Not merely because the Reagan realignment came right after him, shattering the New Deal regime. But also because Carter’s presidency presaged, in so many ways, the realignment to come: his deregulation was an early warning signal of the morphing of Democratic liberalism into Reaganite neoliberalism; his funding of the Salvadoran regime, buildup of the MX Missile, and support for the mujahideen, were the first act of Reagan’s Second Cold War. So will there be elections in the coming years—perhaps one, maybe more—of Republicans and conservatives that signal not a resurgence of conservatism and the GOP but their end.

Donald Trump, I believe, is a symptom of that Republican free-fall. Should he be the nominee of the Republican Party—and I have every reason to believe that he will be—he will occupy the role, as I have argued, of George McGovern in the 1972 election.

And that is why I think all the concern—particularly among centrist liberals and some leftists—over the anti-Trump protests is so misplaced.

Labor leftist—and all-around good guy—David Moberg recently gave these concerns a particular historical spin:

Any greatly disruptive protests at the Cleveland Republican Convention would only feed into Trump’s plans. It is worth remembering the protests at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago (where both Katz and I were participants) ended up losing popular support for both the Democratic party and for the protesters. It was a turning point in the eventual unraveling of the New Left.

A repeat of Chicago 1968 outside the Cleveland Republican convention could simply reinforce Trump’s image as the strong man needed to control chaos at home and abroad.

Ultimately, Trump will win or lose through elections. (No putsch seems in the wings.) When people act in the streets they must conceive those actions in terms of how that will hurt him at the polls.

As I said, liberals and leftists have often failed to appreciate the power of the right. The converse of that failure, in the current moment, is that they don’t appreciate the weaknesses and limitations of the right. (Which is ironic, given that Moberg is writing in a publication called “In These Times.”)

That’s an occupational hazard among liberals and leftists of a certain generation—those, like Moberg, who may have participated in the protests at the 1968 DNC Convention or who watched them from afar. Either in support, which they’ve since come to reconsider, or in horror. These are men and women who remember, perhaps too well, the fratricide on the left and the conflicts between liberals and the left, and who now fear that they’re seeing a repeat performance, with irresponsible ultra-radicals in the streets antagonizing the virtuous silent majority in the suburbs who will simply run headlong into the arms of the right.

But what these liberals and leftists forget is that the right has been in the driver’s seat for the last four decades. No one—save some on the left—is under the illusion that the left has much if any real power. When there is violence or disruption at a Trump rally, it is not a referendum on a fraying postwar liberal consensus. It is instead a judgment on the Reagan regime: a regime that is on the ropes, and whose warriors now seem to be the ones who are pushing for violence, who are embracing lawlessness, who seem so disorderly. As Seth Ackerman pointed out to me in an email, onlookers may not like the protesters, but it’s very likely that they’ll blame Trump for them. In the same way that many people didn’t like what the Chicago police did in 1968 but nonetheless blamed the protesters.

Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination certainly seem to understand this; they blame Trump. Would that liberals and the left did as well. But the reason Trump’s rivals get it is because they’ve not given the left much thought in recent years. They don’t see us as a threat, and rightly so. One day they will. But we’re not there yet.

So if something violent or disruptive should happen at the Republican Party convention in Cleveland this summer, it will not be a replay of the Democratic Party convention of 1968—that moment when liberalism, at its greatest point of power, fractured so wildly and perilously. It will be a replay in reverse: as that moment when conservatism, at its greatest point of power, fractures so wildly and perilously. Again, this is something that conservatives of all stripes understand. And why they are so fearful about the coming months—and are mooting ever more desperate fantasies of escape.

When I tried to make some of these points on Facebook over the weekend, a reader thought I was insane. He pointed out that Republicans are today in control of 31 governorships and 30 state legislatures; have total control (the “trifecta” of the governorship and both houses of the legislature) of 22 state governments (to the Democrats’ 7); and control both branches of Congress (54-44 in the Senate—it’s really 54-46 because the two independent caucus with the Democrats—and 247-188 in the House). How could I possibly think conservatism or the GOP is not a wildly popular banner under which Trump will march into the White House?

For this simple reason: In 1972*, the Democrats were in control of 31 governorships and 23 state legislatures (to the GOP’s 16; the rest were split); had total control of 17 state governments (to the GOP’s 9); and controlled both branches of Congress (54-44 in the Senate, 255-180 in the House). Not entirely dissimilar from today, only in the opposite direction.

And what happened? The largest landslide in American electoral history. In favor of the Republican candidate.

* Much thanks to Phil Klinkner for access to the data and Seth Ackerman for the calculations (turns out, I have a hard time counting).



AcademicLurker 03.22.16 at 4:34 pm

Am I missing something? It seems like comparison to ’68 is off base. The cautions we’re hearing now are against left/liberal protesters showing up and trying to disrupt the GOP convention. The thinking here is “Never interrupt your enemies when they’re in the middle of making a terrible mistake.”

’68 was leftist and liberal Democrats fighting each other, not Democrats fighting Republican saboteurs.


Sebastian H 03.22.16 at 4:48 pm

I agree with Academic Lurker, the danger is in the left seeing the anarchy, deciding to get in on the ‘fun’ and then getting blamed for it.


Plume 03.22.16 at 4:52 pm

Excellent article, Corey.


bianca steele 03.22.16 at 4:52 pm

I thought this piece was really good (I read it on your blog), so you might want to rethink it.


Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 4:52 pm

CR: “So if something violent or disruptive should happen at the Republican Party convention in Cleveland this summer, it will not be a replay of the Democratic Party convention of 1968”

I was wondering when someone was going to bring up Chicago 1968 in all of these discussions of (paraphrased) “never before in America have we seen political leaders support violence like this.”

CR: “What liberalism and the left have in common, in other words, is an insufficient appreciation of the right. ”

I think that leaves out in important factor. What liberalism and the left have in common is a commitment to a certain form of ideas and talking about ideas. It’s not so much that people don’t appreciate the right (I think) as that there is no there there, in terms of articulated ideas that one can argue against.

So in the sphere of political arguments, especially among intellectuals, you see quite a bit between liberals and the left, but when liberals try to argue against the right, you get the archetypical John Holbo post. Which, as I’ve said ad nauseum, is completely one-sided, in that JH has to first create a coherent position that he can then argue against and show is incoherent. The people on the right couldn’t care less and in any case what they do and what motivates them usually bears little relation to the liberal interpretations / recreations.


Adam Hammond 03.22.16 at 5:01 pm

Protests should be of peaceful intent, but with the protesters draped in the patriotic imagery that the right has tried so hard to appropriate as their own. Stand in stars and stripes with a poster of the constitution while waving a sign that says America IS Great, Trump is NOT. Stick an eagle in there somewhere … add a ‘Semper Fi.’

This will lead to Trumpist violence almost as surely as African Americans peacefully practicing their right to “open carry” an assault weapon in a white suburb.


js. 03.22.16 at 5:05 pm

This is brilliant—and a welcome reminder of why I still come to CT. Much appreciated, and thank you.


Martin Bento 03.22.16 at 5:43 pm

Trump predicted riots if the Republican elite tried to take the nom from him. That’s Repub vs. Repub, although any such riots will not necessarily be confined to the convention, and who knows where they go out in the wild. There is a real potential for bloodshed if the Repubs try to do what many of them clearly want to do for very understandable reasons. Still, though, the left should definitely stay out of it, and let the Trumpistas take on the Repub establishment. As long as they are fighting only each other, they can only hurt each other. Give them a leftist enemy and that changes.


kent 03.22.16 at 5:52 pm

Man I hope you’re right. But I am wary of this because it is much too clean.

X happened, and then Y, and then Z. Now we’re seeing Reverse-X, and maybe the first hints of a Reverse-Y, and that’s going to lead to a Reverse-Z … I don’t buy it. History doesn’t work that way. Reality is messy and complicated. Predictions are hard. The future is only very rarely, and only if you squint really hard, a mirror of the past.


Lee A. Arnold 03.22.16 at 6:43 pm

Corey, nice. As you are no doubt tired of me writing by now, I have been arguing for 8 years in Crooked Timber comments (and elsewhere, especially at Brad DeLong & Mark Thoma blogs) that the Right was failing historically, and Thatcher-Reaganism’s disconnection from reality would become increasingly obvious & contentious until it tore the US Republican Party in two. I am glad to see that everybody else is starting to agree with me!

The two things that will come next, are simple to digest. (1) Clinton-Blairism is on tap for the immediate future, but it isn’t going to work either. (2) The left has no replacement of its own at the ready, and it doesn’t matter.

To elaborate:

The popular understanding of political economics is being forced into an overhaul. On the academic side, political science leads us back to the left-right split in the 18th Century, while from the economics depts., professors are driving gov’t policy ever less and less, and the subject of economics will be adjusting its tenets, too.

Part of this was foreordained, starting with the 19th Century’s understanding that the perfect market system could drive itself out of business, by working according to its own logic. Marx was not the only one who thought this.

Some time ago in the US it was clear that the GOP was headed toward a fracture. Voodoo economics, Thatcher-Reaganism, would finally lead to conditions and prescriptions which most of its base voters really don’t want. Although they still barely perceive the underlying causes and mechanics.

It was clear to me, anyhow! I have been writing versions of that previous paragraph for the last 8 years, here and elsewhere. I also wrote voluminously on the ways for the Democrats to drive the wedges into the Republicans, deep. One wedge between the DC leadership and the Teas, and the other wedge between the whole Republican Party and its base voters.

I also imagined, long ago, that therefore the Republicans would divide, and maybe half of them might vote Democratic. For at least one time, in a crisis election.

But the older, larger system-crisis is also entailed, as follows. It would therefore become a matter of public understanding that a different way is needed. (As opposed to being a matter of discussion solely among some intellectuals and some heterodox economists.)

The first “new” way would likely be Clinton-Blairism, because it is already waiting in the wings. It was a “softening” of Thatcher-Reaganism as a political counterposition, for the opposite parties to be elected to power.

Thus, after Thatcher-Reaganism had become obsolete, we would be forced immediately to start defeating Clinton-Blairism!

However, this would be less difficult than defeating Thatcher-Reaganism. The interior contradictions of Clinton-Blairism are closer to the surface. And, as a rule, its proponents are open to rational discussion and policy change.

It would be also be easier because Clinton-Blairism’s logic is to use the market system. But the market system is still putting itself out-of-business, underneath it all.

This now appears to be accelerating. Technological innovation and international trade, which can be very good things, are alike in reducing the overall percentage of available high-income jobs, in every country. The attempt to patch it over with private debt buildup led to a crash. First the blue collar jobs started to disappear, and now the white collar jobs are starting to disappear. Even the most sensible economists are out of clear answers.

And so we come to discontents and Trumpism.

We could dignify “Trumpism” as a definable (if faulty) intellectual position on the Right, such as by calling it “protectionism”. However, the leading Trumpian intellect appears to understand general reality as little as he understands the marketing of steaks. (Indeed Corey we may be underestimating the explanatory possibilities of BSE, here.)

Trumpism is more like: “Calling all cowboys, to circle the wagons, and shoot at them Injuns!” The most fitting image is the portrayal of General George Custer at Little Bighorn in the motion picture, Little Big Man (a true work of art now woefully unknown to the movie-renting public).

Getting back to the popular political-economics understanding: Note first, that Trump has led us into the current, remarkable spate of biopsies of the GOP from all sides, as the historic nature of this disaster has finally become clear, even to the dimmest bulb. (And it is likely to reinvigorate the book-publishing industry for at least the next decade, with an avalanche of historical and political analyses.)

Next, note the nature of these biopsies. Here is a brief, incomplete survey from the pundits over the last few weeks, to save you lots and lots of time. (i) The GOP hypocrisies: GOP’s policy divorce from their own voters has finally caught up with them. GOP’s lying, disregard for facts, & lack of accountability have caught up with them. GOP’s rhetorical negativism, extremism, & hatred of Obama have caught up with them. GOP’s racism has caught up with them. GOP’s tolerance of wacko candidates & grifters has caught up with them. (ii) The character of Trump & debates: Trump has no real positions and can’t be pinned down. Trump destroys the debate with vulgarity and insults. Trump was difficult to attack on stage because there were too many candidates to coordinate the attack. (iii) The media & reporters: Mainstream media reporters rationalized the GOP’s evil for years. Current reporters are ignorant. Current destruction of mainstream media has invalidated the effectiveness of new messaging. The internet changed media format and delivery, and it has become a distracting, free-for-all cacophony.

These biopsies are all true — but also superficial. Note what they do not mention, the underlying disease: The GOP candidates (in particular) are all intellectual disaster-areas, hardly prepared to hold a position against Trumpism. And the root of their intellectual stumbling is that Thatcher-Reaganism is in contradiction to reality — increasingly, and now obviously. The continuous attempts to square the circle have destroyed their intellectual coherence.

So, to understand this whole phenomenon, we need to separate two things here, (1) all the superficial biopsies and (2) the underlying problem.

You can see the lack of separation in the analyses carried on blogs written by the serious pundits and economists. It’s still all about the surface features, which were first given substantive voice in the 2012 Mann & Ornstein book.

As for our economic problems at the root of it all, their unspoken premise remains that Clinton-Blairism can can fix it. (And of course many of them are far worse, and think that the GOP’s economic error is that they have strayed from pure Thatcher-Reaganism.)

For the rest of us, note what else is changing. The internet has allowed us all to get into the conversation. Economists no longer determine the outlines of economic doctrine. There is no easy way for economists to continue to inculcate market economics. So a resurgence of Clinton-Blairism is likely to come, but to unravel quickly.

The question is, what comes next. The left is unprepared. It has always tended to start from the presumption that labor will always be required as a main part of society, and to fight against the owners in its defense. But things are moving quickly beyond this. It is turning into a battle of everybody vs. the pure structure of assets.


Martin Bento 03.22.16 at 7:21 pm

Lee, interesting analysis. Not sure I sign on to all of it, but the last paragraph is dead on.


marku52 03.22.16 at 7:25 pm

Lee, thanks for that. Thought provoking. What I see is the D party sneering down its nose at the Trumparians because they are ignorant un-degreed xenophobic racists, and as such are deserving of no attention paid to their concerns. This attitude litters the comments of places like Drum’s.

But it ignores real concerns. Trade has been a big loser, and not for such a small part of the workforce. Automation is coming stronger, and self driving trucks are going to put huge numbers of truck drivers out out work. The link between productivity and pay has been broken for decades.

Certainly, Clinton-Blairism has no answers to this except more of the same (TPP!), and I’d argue that with Obama, it has already been tried. And failed.

But given the sneering lack of respect of the Ds for any concerns of the other side, I am not so sanguine that the right actually loses this battle. It could be that the new Trump version of the right “succeeds” (electorally at least) where the institutional GOP right would fail.


Dwight Cramer 03.22.16 at 7:46 pm

Interesting riff and a good reminder that history doesn’t repeat, but it sure can rhyme. And your whole argument has more than a whiff of political Kondratiev cycle about it.

What I’d really like to see is an analysis that is not linear. Everything I read posits a spectrum from left to right and that linearity is the bones on which this argument hangs. What about a two dimensional approach–i.e., that recognizes that the polity has not merely a left and a right, it also has a top and a bottom. No way, I’m guessing. And as long as socioeconomic class/status remains that of which we must not speak lest we be accused of fomenting class warfare, we can soldier on in comfortable opacity.


Omega Centauri 03.22.16 at 9:37 pm

What marku52 was hinting at. Increasing automation/AI is going to change the whole system whereby only work determines the worth the economy assigns its indivual actors. (Actually we’ve always had capital as a substitute for some). But, if AI and its related bretheren do what many expect, soon there won’t be enough of the sort of work that a capitalist can make a profit from hosting to go around. So we have to reinvent the whole social-economic structure. Few recognize that this is fast approaching, let alone have coherent ideas about how to handle the transition.

I really don’t think trade is the fundamental issue here, although it is a favorite whipping boy. The real issue is that the decoupling of human labor and production of economic goods is accelerating, and those who are being made redundant don’t yet have an acceptable alternative.


Hidari 03.22.16 at 9:57 pm

Highly interesting article and who knows it might be right.

But there’s one big differerence between now and then, it seems to me.

Since the Mont Pelerin society (begun in 1947) the Right had been fighting an extremely long term battle against the New Deal (and, in Britain, against the achievements of the ’45 Labour Governmnet). To that aim, they began to try to change the intellectual waters in which most people swam. In the 1960s and 1970s that movement gathered pace. ‘Friendly’ journalists. ‘Think tanks’. Books. Academic papers. All with the aim of creating anintellectual counter-revolution. And whatever one might think of men like Hayek, Popper, Friedman etc. they were not stupid. Their words carried weight. And so when the post-war consensus began to break down they were ready to move in and seize the intellectual high ground. The Goldwater attempt at power was prescient, but simply a decade too early. By the time of Nixon (and, still more, Reagan) they were ready, and we live with the consequences today.

On the Left, on the other hand, it’s been a long time (indeed, not since the 1960s) that the radical left has had any sort of presence on the intellectual landscape. In the 1970s and 1980s the Left were stunned by the right wing onslaught, and in the 1990s all the intellectual energy was provided by the ‘achievements’ of Blair and Clinton.

So while it might be true now that the Right is starting to crumble and collapse, there does not seem to be a unified, motivated, intellectually coherent ‘counter-movement’ on the Left ready to take power (as there certainly was on the Right by the 1970s, and still more by the 1980s.). The collapse of the Right is likely to take down the Clintonites and the Blairites with it.

On the contrary, in Europe at least, with a few exceptions (Corbyn is one, although he hasn’t won power yet, Podemos and Syriza as well, although both of these are now frantically backtracking from their left wing origins) the intellectual and political energy seems to be with the far Right, not the Left. Same in the United States: it’s true the GOP as we know it might collapse, but it might be replaced with a far more radical right wing alternative, under Trump or (far scarier) Cruz.


RNB 03.22.16 at 10:20 pm

Economic situation unknown. Serious downturn and right forces could strengthen. Trump could also win if there are serious attacks of the kind that he wished upon the Vatican. The right mobilizes in terms of nationalism here in Japan. Once Trump is nominee not at all impossible he wins as I have been saying for months if external events conspire for him. Agreed highly unlikely like defaults on uncirrelated mortgages in an MBS! Meaning consider the risk more seriously than OP says


Anarcissie 03.23.16 at 12:15 am

I don’t know if the radical Left (by whom I guess you all mean socialists, anarchists, and communists) have much to say to liberals that liberals can use. Liberals think the Bismarckian Welfare state is ‘left’ even though its purpose is to support established authority and capitalism. They simply can’t metabolize and use concepts like ‘ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ or ‘no war but class war’. They believe in equality, but it’s a kind of abstract equality that never touches the ground anywhere.


LFC 03.23.16 at 12:54 am

In a somewhat long comment on this post when it appeared at Corey’s blog, I made roughly the same point as academic lurker @1. Because I’ve had my say over there, I won’t repeat myself here.


Layman 03.23.16 at 12:56 am

“But, so far the ‘Trump related’ violence we’ve seen hasn’t been Republican on Republican. It’s been leftist agitators trying to “shut it down”.”

Only in that strange universe where shouting is ‘violence’, and beating the shouter is ‘not violence’.


Val 03.23.16 at 1:19 am

What I still don’t understand in this – either from the OP or the comments – is, what is the position of the Right? What is it, or what do you understand it to be? Either question.

I think I can summarise the position of liberals – probably over-simplified and unfair, but reasonable: human beings are rational people seeking their own best interests and in that sense we are all equal and all have equal rights, and thus seeking our own best interests includes caring about others, so the system must ensure the ability of society to care for the ‘naturally’ vulnerable such as children and the elderly, and also the fact that the ‘naturally’ independent can become sick or experience bad luck, so we need a social welfare ‘safety net’.

Against this of course the left argues that power is not equally distributed, there are structural and institutional factors that affect people’s lives, such as capitalism, private ownership, patriarchy and racism/colonialism, and that these need to removed or overthrown, so that we can achieve true equality.

But what do right wingers actually think? Do they think that inequality is natural and that hierarchy and unequal power structures are not only necessary but a good thing? Because according to Amartya Sen, saying that is no longer acceptable in our political discourse – everyone has to subscribe to the notion of equality in some way, even if it is just a supposedly equal opportunity to reach the top of the hierarchy and become a millionaire, etc. It seems to me possible that the right thus has an incoherent discourse in which they apparently subscribe to notions of equality in this sense – everyone can get to be a millionaire – but actually send out a coded message, by denigrating or making jokes about women and minorities, that there actually are natural and desirable hierarchies and that some kinds of people deserve to be at the top while others don’t.

If you accept Sen’s theory then, people like Trump are actually asserting ‘natural’ hierarchies based on race, gender and being ‘an American’ (possibly including that ‘true Americans’ are white men?) but can’t actually say this directly because to promote this form of structural inequality is not acceptable in mainstream discourse?


Val 03.23.16 at 1:26 am

should have said ‘billionaire’ rather than ‘millionaire’ in my comment above – showing my age


Layman 03.23.16 at 1:39 am

“Shouting down a speaker, at his own event, where people have spent good money and their precious time to hear him, is more than a little bit violence-like. ”

It’s violence-y.


js. 03.23.16 at 1:40 am

I’m sympathetic to LFC’s comment, but I think the liberal-left-protestors-change-everything is overstated. For one thing, I thought Corey addressed quite clearly what the analogy is supposed to be: in ’68 people didn’t like what police actions but blamed the protestors, this time they may equally not like protestors’ actions but they’re likely to blame Trump. I’m don’t see how it being liberal or left-wing protestors this around (perhaps) addresses this point. And especially as against the kind of thing Moberg is saying, this seems exactly right to me.

(There’re other relavant points of disanalogy in LFC’s comment. Still.)


js. 03.23.16 at 1:42 am

Jesus, the typos! For what it’s worth, I do know how to spell “relevant”.


Val 03.23.16 at 1:43 am

Brett @ 23
Highways occupied by people who drive cars are constructed by society and express power relations in that society (even though in quite a complex way). They are not a natural phenomenon.

Also there was a whole debate earlier about whether presidential nomination rallies are public events (which got a bit derailed over the question of who owns the venue etc). Ultimately though, the President has to govern for the whole country so everyone in that country is entitled to have a say at some point. Your only point could be that the protestors are not entitled to have a say at that particular point because they are not Republicans.

Or alternatively you could be saying that capitalism and private ownership now have the status of organised religion in America and people aren’t allowed to criticise them, I suppose – in the sense that because Trump paid for that rally, he is allowed to decide who speaks and what they can say, regardless of the fact that it is meant to be a rally about electing a President in a democracy.

perhaps you could clarify?


Plume 03.23.16 at 1:45 am

Brett @23,

Lone protesters can’t possibly “shut it down,” and until Chicago, it was single protesters, maybe two or three tops, in a sea of Trump’s fascist supporters, obeying Trump’s fascist desire to beat the hell out of them. Trump shut his own speeches down to play strong man and punk his followers. Those protesters didn’t have the ability to shut him down — if only.

We always hear this Opposite Day nonsense from the right whenever Americans dissent against racism, homophobia, xenophobia and bigotry in general, which the right has long owned.

No single person at a Trump rally, without electronic amplification, can “shut down” that rally, and if that person is just ignored, Trump can easily go on with his fact-free Mussolini shtick. He has the mic. He has the security forces. He has the brutal thug supporters straight out of Nazi central casting. Not that single BLM protester or the two or three leftists in the crowd. They can’t shut down anything.

I know you’ll never get this, but Trump wants those protesters to be there. He wants them to scream out, barely audible over his own bluster, because it gives him a chance to play the “strong man” again, Il Duce, which drives his fanboys wild. It gives him a direct chance to whip up hysteria that there is some internal enemy “real Americans” must fight, and it appears you’ve fallen for that bullshit too.

In short, Brett, you’ll never get that he’s punked you, and everyone else, and it’s never been “leftist agitators” in America “shutting it down.” They’ve never had the power. It’s always been right-wingers, taking advantages of the powerless, with the help and support of the Establishment, which is right-wing too.


JRLRC 03.23.16 at 1:57 am

Very interesting and useful article, Corey.


gbh 03.23.16 at 2:03 am

I am sure Brett was all the time against Tea Party protests and immigration protests, some that may have violated access in public spheres. I should probably search the archives.



Plume 03.23.16 at 2:17 am


“The left” is far too disorganized, too weak, too disparate to be the bogeyman you envision. I think you’ve been listening to Glenn Beck too much. Or perhaps Alex Jones.

Again, until Chicago, those protesters almost always went to Trump rallies alone, which is incredibly brave. Something you’d never admit, no doubt. And in Chicago, there is zero evidence that it was organized by any left-wing bogeymen. And the vast majority of we leftists have always used non-violent protest tactics, unlike right-wingers, who love to bring guns to their protests. We believe in non-violent protest, and our antiwar, anti-apartheid, anti-capitalist movements have always practiced the Gandhian approach.

Arson? Naww. That’s more like Trump’s thing. He’s the arsonist who wants to run the fire station.


js. 03.23.16 at 2:56 am

There’s this thing, everyone should watch it. Because it’s brilliant.

At one point, Darryl Pinckney says something like (paraphrasing because I haven’t watched it in over a year), “We’ve been on the defensive for so long that we don’t even realize it when we’re winning.” He’s talking about Black Lives Matter, but you know, generalize according to taste.


LFC 03.23.16 at 3:21 am

js. @25
People might blame Trump for whatever occurs at or around the convention, yes. OTOH there is a risk of diverting attention from the Repubs’ own problems, which is mainly what I emphasized in that comment. How one balances these two considerations I don’t know — I think it could go either way, depending on one’s hunch, and I don’t claim any special predictive powers here.

I also don’t think Trump, assuming he loses, is going to lose in a landslide (a la ’72). That cd also turn out to be a wrong hunch.

Corey’s post has a historical thesis, namely that “the Reagan regime” is coming to an end and that Trump’s rise is a symptom (Corey’s word) of that end. Violence at a Trump rally, CR says, is “a judgment on the Reagan regime,” which “is on the ropes.” I’m not sure I agree that “the Reagan regime” is in its last phase, but even if one does agree with this, the prescription — go ahead and stage mass protests at the Cleveland convention — doesn’t necessarily follow. It doesn’t necessarily follow because, regardless of one’s macrohistorical analysis, what matters immediately is what will happen in and around the convention hall, how it will be portrayed by the media, and what effect it will have on the electorate, and none of that really can be answered by the historical/predictive analysis in the post.

The bottom line is that if Trump wins, it will be cold comfort to be told: “don’t worry, his administration marks the end of the Reagan regime, just as Jimmy Carter marked the end of the New Deal Dem. regime. So four years of Trump don’t matter in the big picture.” If one could pick the Trump policies that sound reasonably sane (e.g., make allies pay more for collective security) and discard the insane (e.g., wall off the entire US/Mexico border, 35 percent tariffs that wd prob just end up sparking a trade war), that wd be one thing. But one can’t pick and choose in that way and it’s impossible to know whether Trump in office will emphasize his saner proposals or his crazy ones. Given that, I’d rather not risk 4 years of Trump (not that I am a *huge* fan of Clinton or anything, but she is better on balance). And if we get 4 years of Trump, I don’t care that much that it may mark the end of the Reagan regime. It’s still 4 years of Trump.


LFC 03.23.16 at 3:41 am

Dwight Cramer @13:
The OP’s “whole argument has more than a whiff of political Kondratiev cycle about it.”

Not at all sure this is a good analogy. If you believe in Kondratieff cycles and you see the world economy as being in the A-phase (50-year upswing) of a Kondratieff cycle, you know that a B-phase (50-yr downswing) is going to follow, either in your lifetime or not (depending on where in the A-phase one is). The OP does not lay out anything like a 50-year regular alternation of political ‘regimes’. The OP says conservatism is at its peak and has nowhere to go but down, but it doesn’t say that conservatism’s down phase will last the same length as its up phase. The downswing and the upswing of Kondratieff cycles are basically the same length; there’s nothing like that in the OP. On the other hand there may well be a kind of cyclical flavor in the OP and in that v. broad sense I guess there may be some similarity.


js. 03.23.16 at 3:46 am

LFC — I should perhaps be less sanguine about the prospects of Trump in the general. I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that I’d be at all OK with 4 years of Trump.


LFC 03.23.16 at 3:54 am

I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that I’d be at all OK with 4 years of Trump.

I did not take you to be suggesting that. My concern is that, given the surprises that have already occurred this year, even though the numbers people and the election analysts (I guess psephologists is the fancy word for them) say he can’t win, I think there is a non-trivial possibility he can win. From which comes my desire not to do anything that might increase the likelihood of that non-trivial possibility. Again these are judgments/hunches on which reasonable people may disagree, of course.


bad Jim 03.23.16 at 8:39 am

It turns out there was a difference between Humphrey and Nixon: millions of Asian lives. There was also a difference between Gore and Bush: millions of Middle Eastern lives. Some of the voices on the left are nearly indistinguishable from the establishment’s compulsive centrism: both sides do it. The perspectives may differ, but the tune is the same.


TM 03.23.16 at 9:06 am

I have been saying for a long time now that US liberals are delusional about how dangerous the extreme right is (and no, they are not “conservatives”). We can only hope that Trump has woken them up, before it’s too late to do much about it.


Val 03.23.16 at 9:15 am

Still haven’t got anyone who will venture a definition of the right. What is their position ? What do they stand for?

I realise people may be hesitant to set themselves up as authorities and venture definitions on CT, but I’d really like to know how you understand the right in America.


rwschnetler 03.23.16 at 9:51 am

@39 bad Jim: Can you expand on ..there was a difference between Humphrey and Nixon: millions of Asian lives..


RNB 03.23.16 at 10:34 am

Always can underestimate the actual probability of things that seem unlikely only within the closed networks in which we are caught. Homophily effect.


Lenoxus 03.23.16 at 10:43 am

Val: I’m an American liberal/leftist. I agree with your summation of progressivism — it can usually be boiled down to a notion that in various situations, some people (or animals!) will be at risk of , and our society should work to end such inequalities entirely (leftism) or at least ameliorate their effects (liberalism).

I’d say the American right, if defined positively, clusters around at least the following major priorities: free-market capitalism (especially a support of employers/entrepreneurs as more properly capitalist than labor), personal/national security (with a “best defense is a good offense” approach, thus a belief in strong military, police, and prosecution unhindered by bleeding-heart ideas), and social traditionalism (which is nebulous, but generally means nuclear families practicing Catholic sexual morality, and a preference for Christianity in the public sphere rather than an “interfaith” approach, or God forbid, an atheistic one). These are what some have labeled the Money, Guns, and Jesus wings of the Republican party.

Trump is very hard to fit into any of them — he’s Money in the sense of being rich, but doesn’t sing the praises of the free market and supports protectionism. He’s Gunnish when it comes to immigration and law enforcement, and probably on gun-ownership (I dunno what he’s had to say on the subject, he’s probably reversed himself from left to right). He kinda-maybe opposes military interventionism, but for reasons specific to how it’s been practiced in recent years, rather than any problem with war itself: “I love war, in a certain way, but only when we win”.

Trump is also not very Jesusy at all… but I would file the identitarian, anti-political-correctness part of conservatism (Trump’s animating force) under “social traditionalism”. In a way, birtherism is Jesus by proxy. (That’s also where I put anti-abortionism — although a purely secular pro-life position can be formulated, in practice it amounts to the notion that God desires pregnancy as a consequence for having sex. Hence they’re also against contraception, and none of them have called for a medical battle to end miscarriage.)

The conservative positions on race, sex, etc are the trickiest to define or discuss precisely because the left-wing take on racial and sexual issues has generally won (as you say Amartya Sen said). It’s hard to pretend that “women should be homemakers rather than breadwinners” isn’t fundamentally a more conservative rather than liberal position — yet you’re much likelier to hear actual conservatives define their attitudes there almost entirely in the negative, they don’t like the PC thought police and that’s it.

This is what the last several years of pre-Obergefell anti-same-sex-marriage rhetoric consisted almost entirely of: “Well, I’m still entitled to believe marriage should be straight-only” rather than “Marriage should be straight-only and here’s why; once I’m done explaining it then even hippie Massachusetts will see the error of its ways.” (There are echoes of when 1960s states-rights language took the place of explicit justifications for white supremacy as an objective universal good.)

And as an extension: “I’m tired of liberals painting us (conservatives) as racist”. Of course, this frustration can’t be logically translated into a belief that, say, Travyon Martin brought his death upon himself — whether or not some drug-smoking ivory-tower professor thinks Southerners are bigots should have no bearing on the question. But in practice the support for George Zimmerman is an extension of the identitarian part of “social traditionalism”. Conservatives would probably rather connect it to their tough-on-crime stance. That doesn’t help, since one can very easily consider the actual killer (who wasn’t even law enforcement) to be the criminal in the situation.

So yeah, although conservatism can be concretely defined, Trumpism is a more difficult creature.


Daragh 03.23.16 at 11:54 am

I’m curious about the reference to ‘Reagan’s Second Cold War.’ I seem to recall Soviet intervention sub-Saharan Africa, deployment of MIRVed SS-18 and SS-20 throughout Europe, and invading Afghanistan had something to do with the end of detente…


Peter T 03.23.16 at 12:29 pm


Regan explicitly decided to back South Africa in its invasions of Angola, backing for Savimbi, and hard line against SWAPO. The Soviet (actually mostly Cuban) intervention was in response. Afghanistan is also complicated – the initial coup was home-grown. I understand there are openings for apologists for the Contras available, although the pay is modest.


Trader Joe 03.23.16 at 12:48 pm

LFC @35
” It doesn’t necessarily follow because, regardless of one’s macrohistorical analysis, what matters immediately is what will happen in and around the convention hall, how it will be portrayed by the media, and what effect it will have on the electorate, and none of that really can be answered by the historical/predictive analysis in the post.”

I think this is spot on.

The OP is interesting and thoughtful, it may even be proved 100% correct in the eyes of those who think of such things and think of things in these sort of sweeping historical arc kinds of ways.

Its very unlikely however that what plays on Fox/CNN et al on the night(s) of the convention is a repudiation of Reaganism…The 1% of the audience that idea resonates with are not watching Fox/CNN, they are post on blogs like CT.

The portion that are watching are the box for their news/analysis are going to be interested in the blame game and finding ‘fault’ for what happened, not searching for seeds planted +30 years ago about why it happened. Initially perception will be reality. Over time, facts will bear out. A Trump convention win followed by getting trounced in the general will be viewed differently in a historical context than if he takes the White House, even though the impetus to cause the change may be exactly the same.


Daragh 03.23.16 at 1:19 pm

@ Peter T,

That’s a good run-down of goonish things the Reagan administration did (and FWIW, I think Reagan’s pre-Gorbachev policy towards the USSR was woeful and dangerous).

What I was trying to point out, perhaps somewhat inelegantly, is that detente was in the process of breaking down since 1973 at least, and that the Soviets played a pretty big role in that breakdown. Corey’s swipe at Carter’s support for the MX program is a good example here – the program didn’t happen in a vacuum. The Soviets were actively seeking to develop robust counterforce capabilities in Europe within the context of a military doctrine that emphasised that a nuclear war – while catastrophically damaging – was nevertheless a real possibility, and that therefore the Red Army should be prepared to fight one and win. NATO doctrine at the time was very much tilted towards a presumption that an escalation to nuclear strike would result in the effective total annihilation of both sides. As to Afghanistan, there’s little complicated about it. It was an extension of the Brezhnev doctrine (if one that the Politburo wasn’t entirely comfortable with).

The point of all this, and to relate it to the OP, is that for many of us liberals the reluctance towards working with what (I think) Corey regards as ‘the left’ is that it includes a lot of people who tend to blame the ills of the world on the perfidy of Western capitalist states, without acknowledging that there are plenty of worse actors out there perfectly capable of having a malignant influence both locally and globally. To be clear – I do not think that this description fits the entirety of ‘the left’. The Sanders campaign has been happily immune from these fallacies for example. But it does characterise a significant portion of it, from Corbyn’s team to Die Linke and Sinn Fein.

The TL:DR – As a liberal, I’d be far more comfortable working with ‘the left’ if, broadly speaking, it could disassociate itself from people who think the wrong side won the Cold War.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 03.23.16 at 2:03 pm

I know this discussion is not about political entities per se, but what we have seen in the Republican Party over the last 8 years would be the equivalent of the “New Left” having taken over the Democratic Party and purged the liberal Democrats between 1968 and 1976. We know that opposite happened and that the “New Left” was discredited and became splintered.
We may be seeing some of the seismic faults in the right wing coalition starting to fracture.


bianca steele 03.23.16 at 2:47 pm


Not disagreeing with your last paragraph, but as a liberal, I’d be far more comfortable with self-declared centrists like the one linked to in the OP if they would disassociate themselves from people who think Solidarity is important because it started the rollback of the New Deal. Framing the U.S. as equivalent to “the right” suits the interests of both those groups, though not mine.


Daragh 03.23.16 at 3:13 pm


“people who think Solidarity is important because it started the rollback of the New Deal.”

I’m not sure exactly who this refers to, but I’m in general agreement with the rest of the post. I am also generally suspicious of people who label themselves ‘centrist’ particularly in the US context – equidistance between the Democrats and the Republicans is not a sign of fair mindedness, it is a sign of an unwillingness to think critically about policy, IMHO. That said, Linker it seems to me that Linker is generally correct in his assessment above, given the emerging body of evidence that the anti-Trump protests are a net positive for him, in the primaries at least.


bianca steele 03.23.16 at 3:23 pm


It wasn’t meant to refer to to you (and I was myself impressed by the way the Chicago protests pushed the emerging scandal of Trump people assaulting reporters off the front page). I just happened to be browsing “centrist” articles and such, and had run across a one such argument. Those who affiliate with “centrism” (as opposed to other adjectives describing the more-or-less center) seem less equidistant from both sides than insistent on making the left half of the spectrum more apologetic toward the right for even daring to exist, much less show its head above the parapet. So I might go even farther than you in criticizing them.


Daragh 03.23.16 at 3:43 pm


I don’t see much to disagree with there!


James Wimberley 03.23.16 at 3:43 pm

“… [Reagan] shattering the New Deal regime ..” How? Were Social Security and Medicare repealed? Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and welfare have all been weakened, but not destroyed. Similar very modest gains in rolling back the welfare state were achieved by Thstcher and her Tory successors. For a hard-right conservative, it all looks like a betrayal of the programme.


mds 03.23.16 at 4:38 pm

Hidari @15:

Since the Mont Pelerin society (begun in 1947) the Right had been fighting an extremely long term battle against the New Deal (and, in Britain, against the achievements of the ’45 Labour Governmnet).

Indeed. In the UK, the battle appears to be going fairly well. The New Deal has proven surprisingly resilient, but the drumbeat to, e.g., slash Social Security now so that we don’t have to slash it years from now continues.

Meanwhile, Professor Robin’s thesis about the American Right entering its decline seems to focus, as so much American political analysis does, on who can win the presidency. And yet the point of

Republicans are today in control of 31 governorships and 30 state legislatures; have total control (the “trifecta” of the governorship and both houses of the legislature) of 22 state governments (to the Democrats’ 7); and control both branches of Congress (54-44 in the Senate—it’s really 54-46 because the two independent caucus with the Democrats—and 247-188 in the House)

is not that therefore Trump will ride triumphantly to victory, but that the Right will be able to continue wrecking the general welfare at multiple levels for years to come. We’re looking at a best-case scenario where President Clanders would have a hostile House and a narrowly-Democratic Senate that is likely to flip back to Republican in 2018. Beyond appointments and executive orders, those who voted in a Democratic administration will get virtually nothing of what they expressed their electoral preference for. And this state of affairs will continue until January 2023 at the very earliest, which assumes liberals and the voting Left will finally figure out how to get people to the polls in off-year elections, especially at the state level. So President Clanders might be able to push a legislative agenda in the last two years of a highly hypothetical second term. Huzzah. And all the time, the Right will continue to burn down everything, be it at the level of Kansas or Louisiana, or by playing more nihilistic games of chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States. And voters will continue to internalize the “government doesn’t work” mantra that the Right keeps using all its powers to make a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Congressional Republicans have just recently blamed the EPA for not being sufficiently jackbooted to states’ rights, which means the lead poisoning in Flint was basically the federal government’s fault. “You screwed up… you trusted us!” Poor, poor irony’s corpse.)


Suzanne 03.23.16 at 6:04 pm

Political calculations aside, the left might look bad if there are protests against Trump at the convention and something goes wrong, but you could argue the whole country would look bad if the Republicans are permitted to hold a televised hatefest unmolested. I like the ideas suggested at #6, with peaceful protesters draping themselves in patriotic emblems. The protesters may not be greatly loved, but Trump has a lot to lose, particularly if his supporters fly off the handle, as they seem prone to do.


Richard Cottrell 03.23.16 at 7:03 pm

‘In the UK the battle seems to be going reasonably well.’

Depends what is meant, but Dumb Brit needs a translation. What’s happening to the wreck of the N-H-S, ministers going down like skittles, back to the poor house and the treadmills for the disabled, government on the rocks, doesn’t exactly seem like the Old Deal (dating from 1945) is hale and hearty.


Sebastian H 03.23.16 at 7:29 pm

“It doesn’t necessarily follow because, regardless of one’s macrohistorical analysis, what matters immediately is what will happen in and around the convention hall, how it will be portrayed by the media, and what effect it will have on the electorate, and none of that really can be answered by the historical/predictive analysis in the post.”

Exactly. At the moment the leftists are losing in the the narrative regarding shutting down Trump. They win with their friends (Important to them!) and lose with other people because they overestimate how numerous their friends are. They have no apparent strategy for making sure (or even increasing the chances) that they can regain the narrative.

It probably won’t be enough to make a difference, hopefully enough Americans see through Trump that the small amount who will be turned off by it won’t make a difference, but I don’t see the slightest evidence of upside and all sorts of potential for downside.


TM 03.23.16 at 7:45 pm

SH, this “shutting down Trump” strawman is getting tedious. What is really going to happen is that the police will be shutting down the whole center city to any kind of political protest (with a 100 square foot cage set aside as a “Trump (TM) Free Speech Zone”), as they have many times in the past. Where will you be then, defending freedom of speech or bashing hippies?


bob mcmanus 03.23.16 at 8:31 pm

58: Thanks for that link. I try to avoid getting trapped in the usual distracting drivel*, but I think I still need a slap in the face everyday to bring me back to reality.

*that lacks artistic merit. Nothing wrong with distraction, but it shouldn’t be confused with moral seriousness or political relevance.


js. 03.23.16 at 9:10 pm

On the plus side, about 0% of people inclined to protest at the convention are going to come looking to CT threads for advice.

(I kid, I kid.)


Corey Robin 03.23.16 at 10:12 pm

Sebastian H: “They win with their friends (Important to them!) and lose with other people.”

Do you have any polls, any data at all, showing that outside of Republican Party voters — the smallest part of the entire American electorate — these protests are having the effect you claim they are having?


Sebastian H 03.23.16 at 10:13 pm

“What is really going to happen is that the police will be shutting down the whole center city to any kind of political protest (with a 100 square foot cage set aside as a “Trump (TM) Free Speech Zone”), as they have many times in the past.”

First, “really going to happen” isn’t as important as “what the media portrays as happening”. We don’t have to speculate how this will play out, it is already playing out. Currently your scenario isn’t happening. Currently protestors are being perceived as shutting things down and Trump is convincingly playing it up as him being victimized. Don’t complain to me about what is happening, change it or stop it.


Hidari 03.23.16 at 10:46 pm

@56 Another difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ is that the Left solidified their ideological hold when (for example) the immediately post-war American Republican administrations, and (in Britain), the immediate post-war Conservative Governments, did not rescind or revoke the New Deal or (in the UK) the nationalisations of coal, the NHS, ‘welfare’ etc. Therefore the New Deal and the British ‘socialist’ (really social democratic) consensus became cross- party.

In the same way, the Right demonstrated its new ideology (and that it would become ubiquitous) when the Callaghan Government in the UK abandoned Keynesianism (in 1976), and when Carter appointed Paul Volcker (in 1979). Since then, no UK or US Government has abandoned the ruling right wing ‘neoliberal’ ideology, although the Democrats and Labour have tinkered round the edges.

In other words, to really mark a ‘sea change’ in Western politics, not only would a Democrat (or, in the UK, the Labour Party) have to gain power, and then radically and fundamentally challenge the basic tenets of neo-liberalism (which it is unclear even Corbyn wants to do), but the Republicans would then have to accept the new ‘lay of the land’ and abandon their own support for neo-liberalism.

It’s just barely possible to see this happening (if there is a presidential battle between Trump and Sanders, for example), but it still seems highly unlikely at the moment.

But the key point is that to become hegemonical, in a multi-party system, a new ideology must become cross-party.


TM 03.23.16 at 11:20 pm

SH, you have to decide whether your argument is about facts or perceptions. Perceptions notoriously depend on who’s doing the perceiving, as well as how the media present the facts. Suppose the protesters are really perceived as the bad guys without actually doing anything bad, whose fault would that be, and what could be done to change that? You seem to suggest that anybody who doesn’t like Trump has the duty to shut up or otherwise Trump supporters can’t be blamed for reacting with thuggish violence. There’s the libertarian theory of free speech in a nutshell.

In the realm of facts, protest-related violence was overwhelmingly initiated by Trump supporters. Your claim that “protesters are being perceived as shutting things down and Trump is convincingly playing it up as him being victimized” is far-fetched. Trump is being perceived as a wannabe Mussolini who encourages violence against dissidents and who has offered to pay the legal expenses of a supporter who was arrested for assault and battery after attacking a protester.

The scenario that I confronted you with s by no means speculative. You know as well as all of us that in Cleveland this summer, protest against Fuhrer Trump will be suppressed and criminalized. And you like it that way and I don’t care about that but spare us your sanctimoniousness about how intolerant we liberals are.


TM 03.23.16 at 11:40 pm

66: An interesting question to ask is, did anybody foresee there was political regime change in the air in the late 1970s, and more importantly did they foresee which direction things were going? I suspect the answer is no (for example, the socialist left was still a force and a turn to the left seemed possible to many). Likewise, btw, for the early 1930s when the US and Europe responded antithetically to similar circumstances and there was no shortage of clever people who thought Hitler was just an inconsequential interlude. If it is true that the Reagan regime is “on the ropes”, that observation doesn’t help us predict what will follow, and history doesn’t allow us to be optimistic.


Sebastian H 03.23.16 at 11:57 pm

“Do you have any polls, any data at all, showing that outside of Republican Party voters — the smallest part of the entire American electorate — these protests are having the effect you claim they are having?”

Are you trolling your own blog? Are you seriously asking for polling on a freeway blockage from 4 days ago? Do you watch television news? Get news from something other than left-wing print media? Come on. Try harder. Trump is winning the media initiative on the anti-Trump protests because TV news trumps print media. That is an observation from watching how it is being covered. There are legitimate interpretation possibilities, but if you’ve been watching the TV coverage of the anti-Trump protests you can’t possibly think they are coming off well unless you seriously self deluded.

This isn’t a defense of Trump at all. I want him to go down. This is a critique of tactics. This particular tactic has a high risk of looking bad, and at the moment is in fact looking bad. You can talk about how to make it look better, how unfair of the media it is that it looks bad, how different spin might make it look better, whatever. But if you were watching the news over the last week and thinking “hmmm, those anti-Trump protesters are probably looking pretty appealing to middle of the road people right now” you are being seriously self deceptive and that isn’t going to help us make sure Trump doesn’t make it to the White House.


Cranky Observer 03.24.16 at 12:22 am

= = = “Blocking the only route to a major hospital” = = =

Wow – what if someone had a broken orbital bone requiring immediate treatment?!?


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 12:38 am

Sebastian H: In other words, you don’t.


Layman 03.24.16 at 12:48 am

“Blocking the only route to a major hospital”

So, they’re Chris-Christie-level-bad, then?


Layman 03.24.16 at 1:08 am

“But, seriously, that’s your defense, that somebody you righteously despise was almost as bad?”

No, I was just mocking your selective outrage. I should have been more clear.


Layman 03.24.16 at 1:17 am

Here some very early anti-Trump protestors block an interstate highway. They wore cowboy hats though, so that makes it okay, right?



Layman 03.24.16 at 1:22 am

About which, one Brett Bellmore wrote:

“Bundy, having neither of these, but justice on his side, is fighting on the level of legitimacy.”


LFC 03.24.16 at 1:23 am

Suzanne @57 (mentioning Adam Hammond’s comment @6):

I rather like the idea of peaceful protest at the convention along the lines suggested @6. To date however the protests vs Trump have not remained peaceful, partly or largely b.c the Trump people have gotten physical first, but still the upshot of convention protests cd be a general melee sort of atmosphere that might (I emphasize might) redound to Trump’s benefit. (I generally don’t watch TV and thus don’t know firsthand how TV has been covering the protests to date.)

As js. says @63, the people inclined to protest at the convention are not going to read CT threads for advice. Doubtless protesters will show up, some inclined to be peaceful and some perhaps not, and despite heavy policing and restrictions on mvt and ‘free-speech zones’ etc., a circus will probably ensue. And we’ll see how it plays out.


faustusnotes 03.24.16 at 1:37 am

Is there any evidence anti-Trump protesters blocked an ambulance? I see lots of right-wing news sites with that info, but nothing on mainstream news. The Guardian reports that some protesters had to be taken out by ambulance because they got hurt. Could it be the ambulance being “blocked” on teh right-wing news sites is actually an ambulance taking away a protester injured by one of Trump’s supporters?

Feel free to clarify Brett, as soon as you’ve explained the difference between the Bundy’s and the anti-trumpers


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 2:03 am

Hidari @ 66: the key point is that to become hegemonical, in a multi-party system, a new ideology must become cross-party

Whatever facts and interests are put on the ground by a policy success shape the partisan division that comes after. You don’t have to win the argument, if you have already won the policy decision. Building institutions changes interests and views.

The partisan division of the Parties into an ideological left and right isn’t some Manichean division into the forces of light and darkness. Nor are they contending over the cycle of sunrise and sunset. One Party wins an institution-building or destroying policy decision, and puts facts on the ground. The other Party does not have to agree; they just have to make the best of it in the new situation. You win be creating new institutions and controlling fictions.

Whenever one tries to make sense of the grand, sweeping political cycle, it becomes a challenge to separate agency from circumstance. It’s a good thing, because if you are stuck in thinking that partisan and ideological divisions are a random walk along a near equilibrium path from a linear projection of the present back to the past and ahead into the future, you’ve missed a lot about what makes the past another country and the future a short stroll to the singularity (or cliff-face, ymmv).

Thatcher had a huge advantage in that coal and steel were done as sources of employment and income surplus. Labour was stuck with the thankless task of defending species of dinosaurs already condemned to extinction. Electorally, Labour is still identified with the geography of coal and steel, even though coal and steel are no longer there. Purely contemporary argument today is going to accuse the Tories of plotting a gerrymander and they won’t be wrong, but the circumstances have deeper roots.

FDR had the huge advantage that Hoover had gone down with the ship of Republican adherence to the gold standard and laissez faire. And, later, he would be able to co-opt Republicans into supporting New Deal initiatives wrapped in the flag of the war effort.

Nixon’s opportunities were mostly New Deal institutions that had run out of steam, fulfilled their purposes and were ripe for reform, often because they were obsolescent to the point of critical failure. Bretton Woods. The scheme of agricultural price supports. The oil crisis was built into the trajectory of American and world oil production and the post-war expansion. M. King Hubbert’s theory explains a lot with peak oil. Big Auto and Big Steel and Big Unions arrived at their peak, too.

Reagan didn’t overturn Social Security and Medicare. When he participated in their reform, conservatives did manage to move the narrative. And, the programs were made financial secure with a hugely regressive tax shift. But, he succeeded spectacularly in undermining the economic basis for and political legitimacy of major labor unions, accelerating their decline. And, he broke the savings and loans, which accelerated the unraveling of the financial repression. And, he was able to take apart the Cold War, because the Cold War had run out of steam, too.

I think the international order, economic and political, put in place during and after WWII has run out of steam. It passed an inflection point in Reagan’s era, but now it is done. The link offered by a commenter upthread about a world war in the offing seems to me to be right on — not because I want to prophesy a world war, but because the international order is past its sell-by date and so few have any grasp of the need to create a new order, deliberately. I worry a lot more about China than Russia in the immediate future, and a lot lot more about the U.S. than either of them. The next President is going to face a world falling apart and probably will be blamed for making it worse — and given the probable choice of candidates, he or she will almost certainly deserve the blame.


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 2:06 am

faustusnotes @ 79

They got you talking about ambulances instead of Trump; they’ve won the narrative wars.


Sebastian H 03.24.16 at 4:07 am

“Sebastian H: In other words, you don’t.”

Do you have three polls suggesting that protesting by shutting down freeways is helping? You aren’t asking for the kind of evidence that would be reasonably be available. And you know it, so you’re being an asshole.


Sebastian H 03.24.16 at 4:10 am

And more, I’m providing exactly the kind of evidence that one would expect to find. While you most pointedly are not.


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 5:21 am

Sebastian H: Don’t call me an asshole or any other name. If you do, you’ll be banned from any comment thread on my posts.


kidneystones 03.24.16 at 7:48 am

Kasich beats Clinton. Here’s a poll that sheds light on the Trump protester question:


Lee A. Arnold 03.24.16 at 11:02 am

Brett Bellmore #86: “Protests are rather less effective at just getting people to listen to you.”

No, they rather GUARANTEE that other people will listen to your cause and your arguments, before either agreeing and joining you, or, disagreeing and opposing you. People love to do this. It’s part of what makes us tick.

The inclusion of civil disobedience can help toward that end, because it is a bigger news item.

Throughout recorded history, disobedience has been a way to make rulers respond, although not always in the way that the protestors or lawbreakers had hoped.

In the US, civil disobedience has a fine pedigree that extends back before the founding.

Around 40 years ago, protests were a major factor to the end of the Vietnam War. Indeed the question of whether the violence might rend the country in half, was a major spur to the politicians, & a major problem for Nixon, leading to his resignation.

If the US protests against the Iraq War had included a little civil disobedience, you can BET that — instead of the brief coverage the protests received — the pictures of hundreds of thousands of protestors would NOT have been kept off the front pages of the major newspapers. In fact the pictures would have been seen on the front pages for days on end.

The theory of the “civil” uses of civil disobedience is curiously little understood.

There is no law of “civil disobedience” that exists, to break. Organized civil disobedience chooses, beforehand, to break ANOTHER law (such as trespassing on private property, disturbing the peace, blocking public access, etc.) and chooses beforehand to plan to be hauled into court, pay fines, do jail time. You want to break a law where there is not a lot of jail time!

I once did two days in jail with lots of other people. The county had to rent a facility to hold us all. We had a big party. This has the added benefit of annoying the taxpayers.

You need to plan carefully, so as to try prevent violence. In the old days, we notified the police beforehand, to make it easier on them, and to prevent violence. These days, the cops show up in such force, so as to prevent the civil disobedience from occurring. Therefore a different plan is needed, and this will depend upon your own locale.

In the case of Trump, who coyly advocates violence & dismisses peacefulness, and then retracts his statements a day or two later, making your protest while avoiding violence becomes more problematic.

Note that the protests against Trump appear to have gained their intended effect. I imagine that very few people supposed that his supporters would change their opinions, due to the protests. If the intent was to alarm the rest of the country, there is now no doubt about it.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the other Republicans sent agent provocateurs in with the crowd, to make sure the point was made. This, too, is a pretty old campaign tactic.


Brett Dunbar 03.24.16 at 1:18 pm

The decline of the UK coal industry actually slowed under Thatcher.


In 1979 output was 55% of 1968 output. (45% decline in 11 years).
In 1990 output was 67% of 1979 output. (33% decline in 11 years).
In 2001 output was 28% of 1990 output. (72% decline in 11 years).
In 2008 output was 36% of 1997 output. (64% decline in 11 years).

The rate of decline in employment was similar.


Rich Puchalsky 03.24.16 at 1:48 pm

js: “This is brilliant—and a welcome reminder of why I still come to CT. ”

Probably too late for this reply, but if this post is brilliant, and if you agree with it, then you really should reconsider some of your past comments.

Let’s set it up as a false dichotomy: is Trump a reality TV show bully or an upcoming fascist leader? If the first, then protests at his rallies are all to the good: he will back down and look weak, and people will blame his supporters for the disruption. If the second, then protests at his rallies are decidedly bad: clashes with left protesters will energize his followers and drive the middle to support him in classic fascist fashion.

There are actually more than two possibilities, of course. Maybe Trump is inconsequential but his followers could form a fascist movement under the leadership of someone else. Maybe he’s an electable reality TV show bully but the protests will help him anyways because of America’s love for authoritarianism. But if you want people to seriously think that Trump is so bad that you can’t possibly think he’s better than anyone else, I would think that you also have to think of these protests as a bad idea.


Retaliated Donor 03.24.16 at 1:59 pm

What is the world coming to when I find myself mostly agreeing with Brett Belmore’s analysis?


Layman 03.24.16 at 1:59 pm

“There are actually more than two possibilities, of course”

Including the ‘and’ possibility. Trump could be a floor wax AND a desert topping.


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 2:39 pm

Brett Dunbar @ 88: The decline of the UK coal industry actually slowed under Thatcher.

The statistical summary of rates of output decline misses the political and economic trajectory entirely.


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 3:04 pm

Rich Pulchasky @89

You can think “Trump is so bad that [sensible people] can’t possibly think he’s better than anyone else” and that the protests signify that in a way that will usefully remind sensible people to be sensible. In other words, there is no there, there with Trump, which is alarming in itself, but the protests supply a there — a narrative demonstration of Trump as dangerous racist fascist and liberals (aforesaid sensible people in this analysis) know how they are supposed to feel about that particular there. Or, more precisely, the protests demonstrate who is at a Trump rally as fans and supporters, and why they are there.


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 3:07 pm

Whether it is wise to define Trump’s supporters and their motivations as those of fascists remains a question.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 03.24.16 at 3:16 pm

Plus, BB implies by omission that Thatcher’s policies actually had that effect. One can speculate either way, but a counterfactual is not even a hypothesis. Data without context is a common argument of those without a case.


Brett Dunbar 03.24.16 at 3:22 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 92

I’m really not sure what that even means. It sounds like “I know what I know, don’t confuse me with facts”. The point is that the Thatcher didn’t destroy the coal industry in Britain. The cause of the decline was economic and geological, the political drama doesn’t seem to have mattered. The popular perception that Thatcher was taking revenge for the fall of the Heath government to the 1973 miner’s strike doesn’t seem to be supported by the evidence.


Sebastian H 03.24.16 at 3:46 pm

The funny thing about this whole discussion is how hard it is to listen to good advice. I can’t even do it myself! In my case calling Corey an asshole, even if it were objectively warranted, isn’t going to help anything. The position of power on the website is too stark, it isn’t going to convince anyone who didn’t already agree with me, it debases the serious points of my discussion, and it distracts attention from the serious points of my discussion.

Why do we do these stupid things? Because we get a thrill from acting self-righteous even if it is counter-productive to our aims.

I’m not saying that all forms of protest are just counter-productive self-righteous performances, but these “shut Trump down” ones definitely have played out to be.

The comments paired with the original post suffer from a serious echo chamber problem.

“off-the-cuff historical generalizations in order to try and get at something that is distinctive about the current moment in US politics” GREAT!

“observations with how actually existing particular forms of the shut Trump down protests are playing in actually existing media forms watched by actually existing non-lefty voters” WHERE ARE YOUR POLLS ON THIS EVENT THAT HAPPENED FOUR DAYS AGO. Oh, no polls, then STFU.

This is a bog classic example of letting bias warp analysis. Stuff that makes me feel good only requires freeform observations. Stuff that challenges me requires extensive polling data and please pay attention that specific observations in non-polling form don’t count.

It is my hope that enough people are on to Trump that blatantly counter productive activity like this doesn’t change the tide. It is my fear that people aren’t understanding what is going on with Trump well enough to realize when they are helping his cause. Willful blindness definitely isn’t helping.


Ralph H. 03.24.16 at 4:30 pm

Thanks, Omega Centauri: “The real issue is that the decoupling of human labor and production of economic goods is accelerating, and those who are being made redundant don’t yet have an acceptable alternative.” On target, for sure. I only wonder if the emerging replacements — service industry jobs & niche market employment — will ever amount to anything in the grand socioeconomic scheme of things.


Scott P. 03.24.16 at 4:43 pm

“In other words, to really mark a ‘sea change’ in Western politics, not only would a Democrat (or, in the UK, the Labour Party) have to gain power, and then radically and fundamentally challenge the basic tenets of neo-liberalism (which it is unclear even Corbyn wants to do), but the Republicans would then have to accept the new ‘lay of the land’ and abandon their own support for neo-liberalism. ”

Doesn’t there need to be an alternative to neo-liberalism for this to work?


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 5:30 pm

Sebastian H at 97: Now that we got that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

First, it hasn’t been just four days since these protests began. They’ve been going for some time, but the more controversial aspects of them — the shutting down of Trump’s rallies, as it were — are now almost two weeks old. They began in Chicago, two Fridays ago. Hardly an insignificant amount of time.

Second, we know it’s not an insignificant amount of time precisely because there has been polling on this issue and how it has affected the voters.

The first one was in Florida — a Monmouth poll — and it was only of likely Republican voters. The overwhelming number said the protests had no effect on their support for Trump. 11% said it made them less likely to vote for him, 22% said it made them more likely to vote for him.

My thoughts on this were twofold: First, b/c we’re dealing with likely Republican voters, it’s neither here nor there (my assumption for some time has been that Trump has the nomination); the real question is how they affect the general electorate. Second, I was actually surprised that 77% of the respondents — again, all likely Republican voters — said it either had no effect on their choices or a negative anti-Trump effect. I would have thought there would have been a higher contingent among the GOP electorate that would have viewed him more favorably as a result. Turns out, it’s a very small minority.

The second poll was referred to upthread. A Quinnipiac poll. It unfortunately didn’t ask the question of how the protests might affect people’s votes, but it did ask who was to blame: Trump, Trump’s supporters, or the protesters. It also focused on violence, rather than protest as such. The results were very interesting:

88% of Democrats and 70% of Independents — remember, these are the two largest political constituencies in the American electorate — hold Trump to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.

88% of Democrats and 64% of Independents hold Trump’s supporters to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.

65% of Democrats and 83% of Independents hold the protesters to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.

How that works out in terms of actual votes, no one knows. But it suggests that Democrats — the largest part of the US electorate today — are more likely to hold Trump and his supporters (rather than the protesters) responsible, and that while Independents are more split on the question, a very large number — roughly two-thirds — seem to hold both sides equally responsible. Since one of those sides (Trump/Trump supporters) is either the candidate or his supporters, while the other side is not identified with any candidate, or even a party, this split seems like it could well tip against Trump.

All of this is further supported by the fact that since these protests began, matchup polls between Clinton and Trump show Clinton’s lead over Trump increasing. Now there are many factors that explain that of course, and her lead over Trump has been expanding since March 1, but what does seem pretty clear is that the protests aren’t really hurting her and are certainly not helping him.


So much for that.

Third, in terms of what we base our arguments on (that I opt for freeform speculation when an argument suits me, and demand hard evidence when it doesn’t). My OP was based on years of research about conservatism and its dynamics, as well as a pretty important and influential body of literature on the presidency and party regimes. Though I didn’t mention the polls in my OP, I was certainly aware of the Monmouth poll as soon as it came out and have been following the tracking polls pretty carefully since the Chicago protests.

And you? What did you base your argument on? A lot of TV.


Ronan(rf) 03.24.16 at 5:37 pm

Somewhat related to Lee Arnold’s no.10, but also not really, more an excuse to go off on a tangent….In Lane Kenworthy’s new book ‘Social Democratic America’ he makes the argument that the US is actually evolving towards being a meaningful social democracy. Not necessarily to the same extent as the gold standard in Scandinavia, but within its own political and cultural context it is developing towards a welfare state that provides extensive ‘social insurance’. (healthcare, unemployment, low wage top up etc) He claims although the average American is ideologically conservative, they are also “programmatically progressive”. That although some of these policies need expanding, when they are developed they mostly remain secure due to a mixture of policy path dependence and strong public support. Therefore the goal should be to expand these aspects of the state, rather than the usual left critique (stronger unions, higher minimum wage, more job protections etc), or the usual right critique (stronger families) which, while useful in their own right, don’t have the potential to have such a broad positives effect.

I cant really speak to the US, but this seems plausible by some cases I know more about ( he says the claim can be generalised)


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 5:51 pm

Brett Dunbar @ 96: It sounds like “I know what I know, don’t confuse me with facts”.

Thanks for that generous reading. Love you, too.

The cause of the decline was economic and geological, the political drama doesn’t seem to have mattered.

I would not put it exactly that way, but that captures at least some of the gist of what I intended as my original point.

The decline of coal — and by decline I mean something more complex socially and economically than can be conveyed in a series of output measures — had political implications, because it had implications for political and economic institutions and practices premised on coal being economically important, vital even in the life of the nation. The Labour Party itself was built on the vital importance of coal and steel. That is, at a time of mass employment in production of coal and steel, when production of coal was critical to generating economic surplus, rents and growth, organizing the mass of employees was a political opportunity to gain leverage in bargaining over the shape of society and distribution of risk and income.

By Thatcher’s time, coal and steel were huge economic sinks, draining surplus. Thatcher did not make them into drains on the British economy, but she took advantage of the political opportunity. Counterfactually, I suppose, the Labour Party might have come up with a creative response, not to Thatcher per se, but to the problems of the inevitable and predictable decline of coal and steel, the foundation stones of their own historical institutional creation. And, eventually, the Blairites did reinvent the Labour Party, or at least they papered it over with a successful electoral strategy tied to the new economy and reaction against Thatcher.

The political drama isn’t completely irrelevant, because it is always creating institutional realities. It is not as if economic development and evolution occur independently of politics. But, we get attribution wrong, because we tend to be short-sighted.


bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 5:53 pm

Ronan(rf) @ 101

Does the rise of neoliberalism in Scandinavia matter?


Ronan(rf) 03.24.16 at 5:59 pm

Bruce, it seems to Depend how you define social democracy and neoliberalism afaict


Rich Puchalsky 03.24.16 at 6:08 pm

CR:”88% of Democrats and 70% of Independents — remember, these are the two largest political constituencies in the American electorate — hold Trump to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.
65% of Democrats and 83% of Independents hold the protesters to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.”

It’s only one poll, who knows whether the numbers really mean much in detail, etc. etc., but I don’t think that these numbers support your position. I would expect Democrats to be noticeably against Trump and for the protestors simply because of Democratic counter-tribalism to GOP tribalism. I think that it’s noteworthy that more independents hold the protestors to be responsible than hold Trump to be responsible.

In short, America has the can-do spirit to always return to racism and authoritarianism in times of stress. It’s the closest thing we have to a historical universal, and the only apparent exceptions come when we can divide the country and have half of it associate those qualities with the other half, which they then reject largely for the previously mentioned tribal reasons. But that won’t hold against middle-class fear. I think that we’re going to see more and more sentiments like Retaliated Donor’s at #90.


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 6:21 pm

Rich at 105: Oh, I very much agree about the Dems. I only mentioned them b/c they’re the largest part of the electorate. On the Independents, I’m not so sure. I can’t quite figure out from the poll how that 13-point spread from 70 to 83% works out in terms of blame and then votes. Conversely, on the GOP side you do have 38% blaming Trump and 49% blaming his supporters, so that might counterbalance things.

I think the real question is whether that middle-class fear you mention will be mobilized on behalf of Trump or against him. I could just as easily imagine that people will think that with him around we’ll have four more years of this rather than an end to it. He’s not really a candidate who communicates solidity or constancy or reliability; he seems as mercurial and volatile as the protests these people you’re talking about imagine themselves to be running away from. The background context of partisan regimes here is also important. Or so I’ve been arguing.


kidneystones 03.24.16 at 6:29 pm

I don’t think people really appreciate how bad the range of ‘choices’ is this year. In short, there’s only one good candidate and Sanders, as it happens, isn’t just good compared to the others, he’s historically good by any measure. From what I can see it’s a very long drop down towards Kasich, who at least sounds reasonable and cheerful. But there’s plenty not to like about him, too.

Unlike many here, I’m unlikely to ever trust anyone who voted for the Iraq debacle. At least one friendship blew apart this year because I finally lost my patience and fessed to the truth – if you’ve supported the Iraq invasion, you proven you’re demonstrably incapable of behaving responsibly. I’m not listening.

I didn’t always feel this way. Indeed, I was quite willing to give HRC the benefit of the doubt, assigning her support of the war as a necessary condition of proving to the boys and girls that she’s got a pair.

What changed my mind was: Libya. Because Libya is such a shit show and a wholly owned project of HRC and O, along with Cameron and Sarkozy, it became clear that HRC lacks a fucking clue. She was right there throughout the worst of the 2003-9 mess and what did she learn from her error? Not a fucking thing. Bombing brown people cause she could along with O even as western Iraq was morphing into a no-go zone.

Here’s a little factoid that one intelligence analyst noted was just one of the ugly consequences of deposing Gaddafi. Gaddafi was closely monitoring all the Libyan radicals who went to Iraq to practice their skills against American troops. The Libyans shared this intelligence with Bush as a condition of staying in power. As the analyst put it: now that Gaddafi’s gone Iraq went dark. Which led to Syria.

No more of this, thanks.


LFC 03.24.16 at 6:48 pm

Here’s a little factoid that one intelligence analyst noted was just one of the ugly consequences of deposing Gaddafi. Gaddafi was closely monitoring all the Libyan radicals who went to Iraq to practice their skills against American troops. The Libyans shared this intelligence with Bush as a condition of staying in power. As the analyst put it: now that Gaddafi’s gone Iraq went dark. Which led to Syria.

So if Gaddafi had remained in power there would have been no civil war in Syria, no rise of ISIS? No, I don’t think that makes sense. There are grounds on which to criticize the Libyan intervention without overreaching in this way.


LFC 03.24.16 at 6:52 pm

Kasich, who at least sounds reasonable

Kasich has said that he wants to set up a new govt agency to spread Western values, or some such thing. Sound reasonable?


LFC 03.24.16 at 6:54 pm

correction: Kasich has proposed a new govt agency that wd be devoted to spreading “Judeo-Christian values” around the world.


Retaliated Donor 03.24.16 at 6:59 pm

Rich at #105 — To be clear, I don’t agree with Brett’s “Great, they had it coming” (in reference to protestors’ getting beaten by Trump crowds).

I do find plausible the idea that many who might otherwise sit this one out, or even be persuaded to vote for Clinders, will be motivated to vote for Trump just to spite the dirty hippies.


Patrick 03.24.16 at 7:27 pm

I’m a bit disappointed by people who keep trying to reframe objections to protests that disrupt or obstruct Trump’s campaigns ability to hold rallies with the publicly stated objective of shutting his rallies down as objections to the entire concept of holding protests at all of any kind. I’d like to think we could do better than that.


Lee A. Arnold 03.24.16 at 7:29 pm

Motivating people to vote for Trump in the primaries almost certainly guarantees a Democratic White House and Democratic Senate, so there is an upside to the protests.


Retaliated Donor 03.24.16 at 7:34 pm

Lee A. Arnold at 113 — True. But it’s the “almost” that’s worrisome.


Rich Puchalsky 03.24.16 at 7:36 pm

Retaliated Donor, this is the second time in recent threads that I’ve seen someone write that they mostly agree with Brett B or that Brett B is making sense. But really, he’s not. If someone comes to the same conclusion that you do but their reasoning is manifestly bad, you don’t have to agree with them. If they come to a different conclusion then you do but it always seems to be the right conclusion — like the bitter joke about the hippies always being right, but right for the wrong reasons, so it doesn’t count — then you should reexamine your ideas. But it’s possible to arrive at the same conclusion through a whole lot of different paths, and some of them are pretty bad paths.

Brett B, for instance, has a whole theory about civil disobedience. Now, in the U.S., it’s pretty much untenable to be against the Civil Rights Movement. It labels you as a racist. So instead the contemporary tactic is to enshrine the CRM in amber and create an imaginary rule book that they are supposed to have followed but did not in fact actually follow. In this way any contemporary protest can be blamed for not following the imaginary rulebook of the CRM. That’s all that Brett B. is doing.

In reality, as I wrote on another thread just recently, heckling / protesting (the choice of words is itself part of the spin, of course) is an accepted tactic within a field of tactics and counter-tactics. The immediate response is either to disarm the protester(s) with a witty remark, or have security remove them, or ideally first one then the other. The following response to any moderately successful protest is to claim afterwards that the protestors are violent bullies. It’s just like playing out a chess gambit (although chess isn’t quite right as a metaphor, since it has no element of chance), and the objections are conditional, as in, will it work in this case or will it not, not categorical. No one involved in this dispute can claim to make a categorical moral objection with a straight face.

And again as I’ve written too many times, sometimes you don’t get a choice of whether to play the gambit or not. There is no central organizing committee for these protests. So there is no element of choice, for one side, about whether they occur. They are pretty much going to occur, and the question is how to respond to them occurring.


marku52 03.24.16 at 7:43 pm

New polling data. It seems that voters are blaming the protestors for the violence.
“And by at least one measure, the media’s attempts to link Trump to violence have failed. Only 14 percent of poll respondents — Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike — think Trump was to blame for his supporter’s attack on a protester; about the same, 16 percent, actually thought it was the protester’s fault. ”

Teflon Trump seems to win again.


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 7:54 pm

marku52: Thanks for that. Hadn’t seen it. Don’t have time to go through the poll itself right now (and I now see that you can’t even link the poll results or cross tabs without some sort of password), but there are two other pull quotes from the piece that are worth noting:

“To that end, the electorate is pretty evenly split on the question of whether Trump should bear any blame for violence occurring at his rallies: 30 percent say they pin “a lot” of blame on him, while roughly the same number, 29 percent, say they don’t blame him at all. The split is almost entirely due to differing views among Democrats and Republicans.

“So while most people don’t initially blame Trump for inciting the violence at his rallies, it’s clear they feel differently when they see him saying things that suggest he’s encouraging it.”

In general, the article’s pretty confusing and without the hard data and cross tabs, it’s pretty hard to figure out what means what since it seems to have some information that’s in tension with itself.


js. 03.24.16 at 7:58 pm

if this post is brilliant, and if you agree with it, then you really should reconsider some of your past comments.

No, I really needn’t.


LFC 03.24.16 at 8:18 pm

@Ze K
Haven’t been following this, so the link is interesting. Would have to be a topic for another thread. I don’t know what the answer to France’s ec. (specifically unemployment) situation is, but it’s interesting that student groups are so involved in the protests, according to that DW report. (I wonder where the 3.5 million unemployed in France stand on the issue. Not w/ one voice, no doubt.)


Matt 03.24.16 at 8:40 pm

Hmm. Not exactly Scandinavia, but what about this little thing, today?

Of course it’s only a meager half-million-strong labor protest in France, not a super-exciting 50,000 US-financed freak-show of unhinged Russian liberals, so the western media don’t really need to care…

Security forces attacked students with tear gas on Thursday after students threw bottles at riot police in Paris. In the western city of Nantes, students hurled bottles at security forces who used tear gas and truncheons against the students and made nine arrests, police said.

“Young and insurgent, the world is ours” read one banner as hundreds gathered at Place d’Italie in the south of the French capital, where riot police used tear gas.

Look at these plotters preparing to depose the elected government with their call to insurgency, street violence, and failure to disperse! Sickening. I hope that French riot police are better at smothering this incipient coup d’état than their Ukrainian counterparts were.


Ronan(rf) 03.24.16 at 8:50 pm

@119, I agree that a lot depends as well on how you define Scandinavia .


Sebastian H 03.24.16 at 9:29 pm

Your polling analysis is very odd. You appear to be interpreting

“65% of Democrats and 83% of Independents hold the protesters to be very responsible or somewhat responsible.” as demonstrative that I’m wrong about who is getting blamed more.

Ummm, that is 65% of Democrats! That is 83% of Independents! The question was who was responsible. Holy crap, if you had asked me to guess I wouldn’t have put that number anywhere above 30%. 20% of Democrats said the protesters were “very responsible” for the violence. I wouldn’t have guessed that would be above the general 10% of people say any crazy old thing.

You think this is good news? This is horrible news.

Again, I certainly hope that the people of America wake up to Trump enough to make sure he gets no where near the Presidency. I certainly hope that this kind of stupid tactic doesn’t hurt the anti-Trump cause enough to actively work in Trump’s favor. But you’re using those polls as support for the idea that the protests can’t be hurting the cause?

“And you? What did you base your argument on? A lot of TV.”

Sure, if you are seriously offering a poll showing that 65% of Democrats and 83% of Independents blamed the protesters (even before the highway incident) as support you’re absolutely right that I can’t convince you that you are wrong.

I just hope your analysis methods aren’t shared by many other people on the anti-Trump side.


kidneystones 03.24.16 at 9:35 pm

@ 108 I don’t actually recall writing ‘there would be no civil war in Syria, or that ISIS would not have risen’ so, I assume you’re complaining about claims that others have made, or that exist only in your head.’ You’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so I’ll spell it out for you.

‘… now that Gaddafi’s gone Iraq went dark. Which led to Syria.’ I agree. Iraq and Syria were a mess before Obama, Hillary, Cameron, and Sarkozy decided to take a page out of the Bush playbook and depose Gaddafi. Iraq was a mess for a great many reasons, only the most recent of which can directly be laid at Obama’s door.

The great error of invading Iraq (see HRC, Biden, Bush, Blair, Yglesias, Sullivan, et al 2003) was that collapsing a regional powerhouse left a —- you know – vacuum. This was the infamous Phase IV that nobody bothered to think through, except opponents of the war and virtually everybody who’d live through the first US invasion of Iraq by Bush I. Bush I understood that much, as did Stormin’ Norman and virtually the entire western foreign policy ‘elite’.

Bush at least understood that leaving early was worse than staying and defied the US public to send more troops and cash into Iraq in the infamous ‘Surge.’ Having killed lots of brown people Americans grew bored of Iraq and all those troubling stories about Abu Ghuraib and other assorted unpleasant war stuff. Bush and McCain said ‘sorry’, can’t leave. McCain’s 50 year solution sounded like a great big shit-sandwich to just about everyone. O gets elected, decides he’s going to do it right. Withdraws the troops and sends a lot more to Afghanistan to — get Bin Laden. Bush at least understood that catching that asshole was a low-priority item. But ‘Mission Accomplished’ allowed O to claim victory and withdraw from Afghanistan, too.

The result? Thousands of US lives lost, tens to hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans killed, millions of Syrians and Iraqis transformed into refugees and a series of hot wars from Mosul to Syria, not to mention an incredibly unpleasant collection of gangs ripping up Africa. Forgive me for longing for the good old days when the west simply tried to minimize the damage, rather than ‘improve’ all these nations.

If the numbers are correct – Bush, Hillary, Biden et al have cost the US 2 trillion and made an extremely unpleasant part of the world considerably worse. If O and HRC have improved upon Bush, I’m not seeing it. HRC and O were not expected to do anything more than avoid making exactly the same mistakes made in 2003. Instead, HRC and O made exactly the same mistakes made in 2003. Neither has a defense for their inexcusably irresponsible actions.

Had O a pair, he could have informed the American public that there was no easy solution to Iraq. That having sent an extremely large portion of US land forces halfway around the world and disbanding the power structure in Iraq, that getting the troops out early would cost far more in the long run than bringing them home asap. The US would have been forced to train people to ‘gasp’ speak Arabic, learn about Muslim cultures, and generally do everything possible to rebuild the country they kicked apart on a whim. I’ve said before I’d draft every writer and journalist and academic who supported the asshole invasion to spend ten years in Iraq helping out the people they helped screw.

Instead, we got O and HRC walking away from the mess, surrendering half the country to Iran and the other half to ISIS, and as a bonus – deposing a dictator whose sole utility was to provide intelligence that might have prevented the worst mistakes in Syria.

Do I sound impressed? I hope not. Cause I’m not. As for Kasich – reasonable is a relative term. He is compared with the other two clowns in that particular race.


Layman 03.24.16 at 9:37 pm

“Your polling analysis is very odd. You appear to be interpreting”

Charity requires me to assume this is a failure of reading comprehension.


Corey Robin 03.24.16 at 9:44 pm

Layman at 126: Now you know why he watches so much TV.


LFC 03.24.16 at 9:59 pm

you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer

You know, I need a new subheading for my blog. I think I may adopt this, w/ attribution.


kidneystones 03.24.16 at 10:03 pm

@ 128… Well, you’ve clearly got a healthy sense of humor and that’s ranks very high on my own list of attributes. Cheers.


Rich Puchalsky 03.24.16 at 10:50 pm

Brett B: “You think these things are legitimate to do, you’ve raised up a generation of barbarians on the college campuses you controlled who share that opinion […]”

Since “you” equals “the Civil Rights Movement”, then sure. It’s pretty much part of American history at this point.


jake the antisoshul soshulist 03.24.16 at 10:55 pm

I suppose we should give credit for thinking that something other than government can be a threat to “liberty”. Though apparently the Bundy bunch were justified in occupying a public facility and causing the state of Oregon the waste thousand of dollars.
Of course, as is typical of conservatarians, liberty always boils down to be a synonym for his own privilege.


Sebastian H 03.24.16 at 11:08 pm

Realistic liberals read the same numbers as Trump Protesters Don’t Have Much Public Support

In theory you can think there is a difference of opinion, but hey you can make fun of me raising television news coverage as if it were important instead. I guess when you don’t have the facts you have to go after the person.


Layman 03.24.16 at 11:16 pm

@ Sebastian, you’re unlikely to mitigate your reading comprehension problem by quoting someone else who has a reading comprehension problem.


Collin Street 03.24.16 at 11:39 pm

Charity requires me to assume this is a failure of reading comprehension.



Collin Street 03.24.16 at 11:45 pm

Of course, as is typical of conservatarians, liberty always boils down to be a synonym for his own privilege.

That’s because the point of conservatism is to avoid having to think about what people who aren’t you want. “No accountability” is a pathway to that, same with “privilege”… but even public acknowledgement that people might want different things is a bridge too far, and that’s not any threat to a person’s autonomy, is it? So autonomy isn’t the motivation.


Collin Street 03.25.16 at 12:21 am

Black-and-white thinking is another issue associated with the two I’ve mentioned in previous posts.


Corey Robin 03.25.16 at 12:39 am

Sebastian at 133: “I guess when you don’t have the facts you have to go after the person.” Says the person who launched this whole round by calling me an asshole.


Lenoxus 03.25.16 at 1:06 am


Is there any evidence anti-Trump protesters blocked an ambulance? I see lots of right-wing news sites with that info, but nothing on mainstream news.

Here’s the video of the incident in question. It seems cut-and-dry that some protestors were indeed deliberately blocking the ambulance, and giving it the middle finger as well.

Whether the ambulance was there on behalf of Trump supporters or protestors, I have no idea. Evidence for the the latter: protestors beating a supporter to the point of needing emergency care would presumably have gained traction as part of the story. Evidence for the former: Why block an ambulance for a fellow protestor?

It’s sad all around.

But I have to say this: There’s a lot of valid concern about protests making bad optics, yet Trump himself has explicitly encouraged violence against protestors, repeatedly… so what should we make of it all? By what process does do these protests cause an undecided voter to be more drawn to the actually-pro-violence candidate?

Is this kind of like how all Sarah Palin had to do to “win” a debate was string three coherent sentences together and thus defy expectations? “You can’t expect The Donald to not be an asshole… but you lefties are supposed to be peaceniks, so if any one of you commits harm against Trump supporters, you are all tarred with hypocrisy forevermore.”

Can you imagine if 2008 Obama had uttered any Trump-style anti-protestor-violence justification? As with “bitterly clinging to guns and religion” , we would absolutely still be hearing about it from the right wing to day, probably coupled with an ironic reference to his Nobel Peace Prize — and with good reason, because it would be just as horrific from his mouth as from Trump’s.


Anarcissie 03.25.16 at 1:20 am

No one was prevented from using Zuccotti Park during the time of Occupy Wall Street. One could easily walk through it or sit in it, as I did many times during that period. Neither the police nor the occupiers interfered with anyone’s entry or exit. It is (or was) not actually a park but a kind of sidewalk, almost entirely paved, and surrounded on all four sides by city streets, which remained fully open for both pedestrians and vehicular traffic. It exists because of building density regulations. This was one of the reasons the occupiers could not be immediately thrown out; it is legally and administratively harder to close a sidewalk than a park. Far from repelling or hindering people, it became a tourist destination. Those who complained usually complained about the kind of people who were participating, because they thought such people should not exist or at least should be kept out of sight, but they weren’t actually prevented from using the area except by their own ideological or aesthetic distaste.


Layman 03.25.16 at 1:23 am

A good many of the incidents reported throughout the campaign have involved protestors being ejected (or assaulted) absent any real evidence they were being disruptive. People are ejected (or assaulted) for the signs they hold or the slogans the reveal on their clothing, or just for what they wear. Sometimes the sign, etc, leads to an altercation, which then counts as a disruption, which then justifies ejection. Sometimes Trump simply claims the protestors were disruptive or violent, when there’s no evidence to that effect. By and large, Trump supporters believe one version while opponents believe the other, and the media straddles its ‘both sides do it’ fence.

The point of this is to say that those who oppose disruptive protests, on the grounds that they strengthen Trump, are in effect opposing any protests at all. Non-violent protests will provoke violence, or they will provoke claims that they were violent. Those who seek to protest quietly, with signs, etc, will be engaged by Trump supporters – as he has repeatedly told them to do – with the result that, again, the discussion will be about the disruptive protestors. This is in fact what has happened. So, no protests at all? Is that your answer?


Collin Street 03.25.16 at 2:38 am

A good many of the incidents reported throughout the campaign have involved protestors being ejected (or assaulted) absent any real evidence they were being disruptive.

See, the whole point of these rallies is that they’re supposed to be a rejection of the idea that people who aren’t angry straight white males have perspectives worth listening. Merely by being present and a visible sign of disagreement a protestor is disrupting that.

They’re hashing the vibe, man.


Patrick 03.25.16 at 2:45 am

The reasoning of the people arguing that non violent protests will be called violent or offensive anyways so there’s no reason not to be intentionally offensive to popular moral norms is fremdschämen level bad.

People try to characterize non violent protesters as having broken popular social norms precisely because those social norms exist and have convincing power. The solution to dealing with them is to conspicuously NOT be offensive, and then highlight your opponent’s overreaction to your behavior, making them look like they’re the ones violating popular social norms.

This really isn’t difficult. If or when Trump supporters and protesters clash, the Trump supporters are going to claim that the protesters were violent, offensive people who came into their territory and made asses of themselves so much so that its only natural that at least some percentage of the massive crowd they were harassing might scream insults or throw things. And the protesters, in a functional protest, are going to claim that they were doing things they had a right to do, and then the Trump supporters flipped out and started getting violent.

Both of these claims are going to be made no matter what happens.

But which of these claims becomes compelling depends an awful lot on WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. So you try to engineer a situation where what happens is what you want to happen- what you want people to see on TV.

And we’ve established that Trump’s supporters, and indeed his campaigners, and even Trump himself will react really offensively even if all you do is stand there quietly.

Which means that by all rights this should be a slam dunk for the protesters. But it isn’t, because they’re trying to throw the game. While a bunch of people cheer them on from behind, because the cathartic release of stuffing it in Trump’s face is more important to them than effective political protest.


Layman 03.25.16 at 2:54 am

“The reasoning of the people arguing that non violent protests will be called violent or offensive anyways so there’s no reason not to be intentionally offensive to popular moral norms is fremdschämen level bad.”

If you find any of those people, go ahead and beat the crap out of them. Me, I haven’t heard anyone make that argument. I certainly haven’t made it. Maybe you should start over?


Sebastian H 03.25.16 at 4:50 am

Corey, you launched this round with the character of your responses. You are on record with your analysis of the polls and it speaks for itself at this point. You believe that 65% of Democrats and 83% of Independents hold the protesters to be very responsible or somewhat responsible is somehow a good thing for the protests. You believe that more than 10 percentage points more of Independents blaming the protesters than Trump is a good thing.

I can’t really argue with that level of logic. I can only ask, what would bad look like?


Ogden Wernstrom 03.25.16 at 8:16 am

I apologize in advance for feeding the Bellmore, but:

Of course, there was a big difference. Occupy chose places that would inconvenience as many people as possible, the Bundys chose a remote building that was closed for the season, and had to issue a press release for people to even know they’d occupied it.

Closed for the season? Who fabricated that claim? Tell the employees who were shut out by the Ammon-Bundy-led occupiers. Those employees work at the site year-round.

But, yes, the location is remote. Malheur County’s population of 30,479 may be inconvenienced due to the lack of budget remaining to keep their sheriff’s deputies working the remainder of this year – but that’s a small enough number of people to be inconvenienced.

Maybe Occupy Wall Street should emulate right-wing protestors: carry guns, bulldoze archaeological sites, and forget parks – take over buildings. And shit in them.


kidneystones 03.25.16 at 8:51 am

@142 The point of this is to say that those who oppose disruptive protests, on the grounds that they strengthen Trump, are in effect opposing any protests at all. Non-violent protests will provoke violence, or they will provoke claims that they were violent. Those who seek to protest quietly, with signs, etc, will be engaged by Trump supporters – as he has repeatedly told them to do – with the result that, again, the discussion will be about the disruptive protestors. This is in fact what has happened. So, no protests at all? Is that your answer?

You’ve added a lot to the discussion, imnsho, by reminding us that the laws in question are trespass laws, not law affecting the first amendment. So, as far as protests inside Trump rented private venues are concerned you are correct. You ignore, however, the very large number of peaceful protesters who gather outside Trump venues, or who walked along the highway in Arizona, rather than blocking access to the Trump event. You’re conflating peaceful legal protest outside Trump events (the majority) with the ‘shut it down’ minority, and protesters inside the Trump events who defy instructions to peacefully leave after making their statements.

I watched a number of interviews with Trump supporters and with Trump campaign staffers. The Trump supporters interviewed as they were sitting in their cars waiting for the roads to clear supported the protesters rights, even in some cases to block traffic. What you and Corey fail to recognize is that the Trump and Sanders candidacies really are protest insurgencies by the rule followers. This is what so few understand about the Tea Party and the Trump supporters, in particular. It’s why I supported the Tea Party in 2010.

Mrs. kidneystones and I have lost and made considerable sums investing, primarily in real estate. We didn’t beg others to bail us out when a property we hoped to profit from turned a loss. The notion that others, including the banks, were going to subsidized by tax-payers for their bad decision making and greed is/was simply too much. Hence the ‘blue-hair’ revolutionaries who rallied and then left the rally places cleaner than when they left by picking up all the trash, not just their own. The O folks understood this and successfully derailed grassroots tea party groups simply by insisting local activists fill out mountains of forms for the IRS, which when completed simply generated more forms and more requests. O imposed an imaginative and effective suppression of political freedom. The appeals court adjudicating tea party class actions pretty much confirms all this.

So, its important (for me) to understand that Trump supporters are not authoritarian and not racists (for the most part). They are people who play by the rules and expect the government and others to do so, too. That’s exactly what Mrs. Trump pointed out when challenged about her feelings as an immigrant about Teh Donald’s inflammatory comments regarding illegal/suspect immigrants. She noted that she worked and lived in nations other than her place of birth by following the rules.

You are right about the spin – facts don’t actually matter to many. You’ve corrected me before, and for that I’m sincerely grateful. As nutty as it sounds, my current fantasy is that Cruz derails Trump, Bernie gets to the Convention, and Trump supporters cross over to make Bernie the next president. That’s unlikely too happen, but not because Trump supporters are all racists or authoritarians, or because they oppose protest.


Lee A. Arnold 03.25.16 at 10:34 am

Blame on the protestors doesn’t necessarily cause increased support for Trump.

The movements in the favorability/unfavorability ratings suggests disproof of the linkage, if anything.


Collin Street 03.25.16 at 11:07 am

So, its important (for me) to understand that Trump supporters are not authoritarian and not racists (for the most part).

You must understand, self-assessment is useless for those sorts of questions.

Everyone thinks they’re reasonable, and everyone thinks that their conclusions are reasonable. But some people are not reasonable, even though they think they are. You can’t check your own answers, it’s pointless, “is my answer my answer”: you need an external reference point.


Metatone 03.25.16 at 11:57 am

Coming in late, but the stats in that BBC article are odd.

Why choose those 11 year periods? Thatcher was PM for 11 years, but the Conservative party remained in power beyond that.

How something is done matters as well. Slow closures with good support for communities is a very different thing to large scale closures done very quickly with little support for those put out of work. (Not to mention the question of how the timing of closures relates to the overall health of the job market.)

Finally of course, we come to the issue of tipping points. There is a of course a point where something changes from important to not important. It may or may not have been Thatcher’s intention to push the coal industry across that point in the 80s. But to pretend that the smoothness of the graphs means we can ignore the issue of a tipping point is very odd.


Lee A. Arnold 03.25.16 at 12:26 pm

Kidneystones #148: “The O folks understood this and successfully derailed grassroots tea party groups simply by insisting local activists fill out mountains of forms for the IRS, which when completed simply generated more forms and more requests.”

Objective proof for any of this, please.

The Wikipedia article “IRS targeting controversy” contains 174 footnote links, and also “Further reading” where we find the PDF of the Inspector General for Tax Administration. This finds (pp. 5-6) that the IRS wrongly assumed that the title or policy positions of an organization that applied for tax-exempt status, might be an indication that the group was trying to break the tax-exempt law, whether wittingly or not. The pie chart on p. 7 shows that “Tea Party”, “Patriots”, or “9/12 Project” composed about 1/3 of the suspected applicants for tax-exemption. Indeed supposedly these are included in the names of some political-contribution organizations. “Progressive” wasn’t targeted as much because this has been used for many non-political purposes historically. Such as the Business Roundtable for the Progressive Improvement of Cheese Biscuits, or somesuch. But it was the wrong processing criteria, and so they went back-and-forth administratively until they sorted it out (p. 6).

The rest of this long story reads like yet another tawdry House GOP / Fox News propaganda operation to derail President Obama. One of several. This is the same thing that has whooped-up the uncertainty about Hillary’s judgment and honesty about Benghazi and foreign policy in general. And thus is dutifully repeated by less-discerning commenters everywhere. But, hey well, you know, like, ANYTHING could be true…

Note the underlying premise! We are asked to believe that a president was able to inveigle the IRS, the Treasury, the FBI, and the Justice Dept. in a Grand Conspiracy (in his first year in office, no less), all in order to —- What? Prevent peaceful knuckleheads from organizing? While risking discovery of this conspiracy, via a faulty move by one of the several dozens* of people who must have been involved? Which then would immediately threaten his Presidency? And all for peanuts??

This is unrealistic. Ergo fatuous, ergo unbelievable. But, hey well, you know, like, ANYTHING could happen.

Thus, while it is true that all’s fair in love and war, producing this accusation in a comment here is misleading, without labeling it as “likely to be complete and utter garbage”.

* Perhaps you would need to swear hundreds of people to secrecy. See the organization chart of the offices involved — and only in the IRS, mind you! — on p. 29 of the Inspector General’s report.


Lee A. Arnold 03.25.16 at 2:07 pm

Brett Bellmore #153: “[1] A remarkably convenient assertion for a progressive whose political foes were targeted by the IRS to make. [2] Actually, we have a fair amount of evidence that political animus was present. [3] …you’d never believe that if the tables were turned.”

Wrong on all three counts.

1. Progressives were targeted, only not as many, for the reason stated. See a news report on a follow-up letter from the Inspector General on just this topic, for example here:

2. What is the evidence that a “political animus” was not present, and where?

3. I would believe the same innocence of a Republican president — and I have done so on several occasions!

Why, in this case? Because I am not a fantasist.

You would have to believe that a large conspiracy was employed in expectation of no tangible or lasting results: What would they think could be gained? An annoyance to the other side? And further, did they not think the Teas would compare notes, see they were being targeted, and run to the Republicans in the House (as happened)?

In other words, you have to be (and certainly you are) bananas.


kidneystones 03.25.16 at 3:40 pm

@ 152 If you’re idea of objective proof is to go to Wiki, we’re really not on the same page. It will be some time until something like a thorough airing of the case occurs, because so many of the records disappeared, were erased and later found, or still remain missing. The Justice department just got smacked by the court of appeals for refusing to provide documents in a timely manner. But evidence of targeting from the top (people visiting the WH) are clear. I’m not going to dig them up for you because you’ve made it clear that if it isn’t reported by Media Matters, or the NYT, it didn’t happen.

Somehow, the end result was that a great many tea party local groups found themselves endlessly answering questionnaires because they discussed the constitution, or had tea party in their names. You’re welcome to believe that the entire mess is one big misunderstanding/fantasy. But if you happened to be on the receiving end of these IRS investigations I sincerely doubt you’d be sanguine about it. Specially, say, if it’s a Trump or Cruz Justice dept. overstepping their bounds along political lines.

Enjoy bubble-land.


Plume 03.25.16 at 3:46 pm

It was always absurd to think the IRS was targeting conservatives in order to help the Dems in elections. How could it? How would it be the slightest help to them? Even if successful, all it would mean is that these groups would pay taxes, instead of garnering 501C tax exempt status. This, obviously, couldn’t prevent them from organizing and carrying on with their political activities. They’d just have to pay taxes like everyone else. If the lack of tax exempt status crippled political action, we’d have very little of it in America, because the vast majority don’t get that status.

It was always a bogus, manufactured “scandal,” which no one does more of than Republicans.

There is, of course, a “scandal” involved, but it’s not the one conservatives rant about. The law as written wouldn’t allow any of these groups to get that tax exempt status, because it says they must be “exclusively” engaged in social welfare activities, and these groups don’t do any. The IRS ended up giving this exemption to every conservative group that applied, and denied it to just one “progressive” group. But the vast majority of those who sought this status received it, though none qualified — left, right or center.


Layman 03.25.16 at 3:51 pm

“If you’re idea of objective proof is to go to Wiki, we’re really not on the same page.”

This is pretty weak sauce, kidneystones. I suppose Wiki’s link to the IG report could be a link to a false IG report, one ginned up as part of the conspiracy, but that seems unlikely to me. Unless you think that’s the case, why not address the substance of the report itself, rather than whine about how one linked to the report?


Plume 03.25.16 at 3:53 pm

Now, if Obama really wanted to help his Democratic peers win elections, he would do what Republicans do in the states they control. Target likely Dem voters — obviously, in this case, it would be Republicans — and make it as difficult as possible for them to vote. Make it next to impossible to have voter drives; take away key voting days for them, like Sundays; make them wait in select districts long enough for most to give up and go home; feed them incorrect information about voting days, hours, locations, etc..; slash the number of days for voting; play silly games with college IDs, with small-print rule changes that prevent college kids from voting, etc. etc.

Again, obviously, if Obama were to cheat like a Republican, all of this would have to be targeting in ways to hurt Republicans. Given that Dems do better when voter turnout for everyone is maxed out, they’d have to go in a different direction. Voter suppression doesn’t help the Dems, typically, unless they could find a way to make it really tough on older white guys who love shouting “Get off my lawn!!”


Anarcissie 03.25.16 at 4:35 pm

According to the Christian Science Monitor, at least six Administrations used the IRS against their opponents, including FDR, Kennedy, and, of course, Nixon. It seems to be a regular thing.


Plume 03.25.16 at 5:04 pm

Anarcissie @160,

I have no doubt that the proverbial “both sides do it” is in play. But the particular form it’s taken in the right-wing imagination just makes zero sense. As is all too usual with their Armageddon or Bust belief system, their constant hair’s on fire complaints, the idea that any of this could alter election results in absurd. Tax exempt status — its presence or absence — just can’t have that kind of impact. They’ve wildly inflated the possible effects, and conveniently left out the fact that the IRS flagged suspicious groups, left, right and center.

Another “scandal,” of course, is the endless Republican hearings process, and the way its leaders sought only those occasions where “conservative” groups were targeted, ignoring all others. Forcing its witnesses to ignore all others, etc.


Anarcissie 03.25.16 at 6:41 pm

Plume 03.25.16 at 5:04 pm @ 161:
‘… just makes zero sense.’

Neither does spitballing, but people do it. Then they huff up, put on a tie, and pretend to be rational.


kidneystones 03.25.16 at 6:43 pm

@ 158 Fair point. The issue for me is the power of the government, any government, to obstruct government investigations into government corruption. The IG report is, at best, incomplete. I realize that ‘I don’t have time to be bothered looking’ is at best a pretty poor response, but this happens to be the case at the moment – especially for what I consider to be a largely biased audience.

But, you’re worth it. Here’s how the US Sixth Court of Appeals regards another Justice department ruse to keep documents out of the hands of citizens: “Among the most serious allegations a federal court can address are that an executive agency has targeted citizens for mistreatment based on their political views. No citizen—Republican or Democrat, socialist or libertarian —should be targeted or even have to fear being targeted on those grounds. Yet those are the grounds on which the plaintiffs allege they were mistreated by the IRS here. The allegations are substantial: most are drawn from findings made by the Treasury Department’s own Inspector General for Tax Administration. Those findings include that the IRS used political criteria to round up applications for tax-exempt status filed by so called tea-party groups; that the IRS often took four times as longto process tea-party applications as other applications; and that the IRS served tea-party applicants with crushing demands for what the Inspector General called “unnecessary information.” (my italics)

Yet in this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it. The plaintiffs seek damages on behalf of themselves and other groups whose applications the IRS treated in the manner described by the Inspector General. The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs’ requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court. At issue here are IRS “Be On the Lookout” lists of organizations allegedly targeted for unfavorable treatment because of their political beliefs. Those organizations in turn make up the plaintiff class. The district court ordered production of those lists, and did so again over an IRS motion to reconsider. Yet, almost a year later, the IRS still has not complied with the court’s orders. Instead the IRS now seeks from this court a writ of mandamus, an extraordinary remedy reserved to correct only the clearest abuses of power by a district court. We deny the petition.” (via WP)

So, there’s that.

Go look if you’re interested in, you know, learning more. As noted, I’d skip Wiki.


Plume 03.25.16 at 9:34 pm

kidneystones @163,

The IG was directed by the Republican committee chair to ignore all cases in which “progressive” groups were flagged and scrutinized. He did his job like a good Bush appointee.

It’s interesting that you think the Dems were playing politics here, but not the Republicans. That you can’t see the Republicans playing politics through the hearing process itself, trying to make the IRS look partisan. Ironically and hypocritically, the only way it does look partisan is through the prism of selective “evidence” pushed by the GOP, which ignored everything that countered its claims.

Beyond all that, the answer is to end the tax exempt status for all political groups, left, right or center. They never deserved free rides in the first place.


Lee A. Arnold 03.25.16 at 9:59 pm

Kidneystones #163: “‘the plaintiffs…allegations…drawn from findings made by the Treasury Department’s own Inspector General… include that the IRS used political criteria to round up applications for tax-exempt status filed by so called tea-party groups; that the IRS often took four times as long to process tea-party applications as other applications; and that the IRS served tea-party applicants with crushing demands for what the Inspector General called ‘unnecessary information.'” … Go look if you’re interested in, you know, learning more. As noted, I’d skip Wiki.”

You would do better to read all of these things including Wiki, and skip reading Red State.

By all means, read the appellate decision. You will find, of course, that it is NOT a decision on the “plaintiffs allegations”. That is a description of the plaintiffs’ originating brief in the lower court, as yet undecided.

And by all means, read the Inspector General’s report. You will find that the plaintiff’s allegations are a selective reading. The IRS targeted more groups than the ones with the word “Tea Party”. The time lengths were due to lack of resources in the “Exempt Organizations” office. The “unnecessary” requests were deemed to be unnecessary by the IRS itself, after groups complained, and were dealt with by stopping issuance of requests, sending out revised requests to some groups with those questions omitted, and more time extensions to the groups. In no place does the Inspector General use the phrase “crushing demand”.

I’m not about to defend the IRS against the charges of confusing regulations and lack of resources. And I accept the appellate court’s decision that the IRS’s reasoning for withholding the information from the plaintiffs in this instance is not good enough.

So by all means let’s see the names on the IRS’s criteria list. I’m all for it. Then we can find out if the Inspector General (who was a George W. Bush appointee) lied to a Senate subcommittee.

But, from everything you have brought up so far, the assertion that “the O folks…successfully derailed grassroots tea party groups simply by insisting local activists fill out mountains of forms for the IRS, which when completed simply generated more forms and more requests” is still likely to be complete and utter garbage. And now it is clear that you are not reading this stuff carefully and thoroughly.


Brett Dunbar 03.25.16 at 10:16 pm

I think the point the article was trying to make is the Thatcher, despite popular perception, didn’t destroy the coal industry. The graph shows that the eleven years she was in power didn’t see a sudden decline of the coal industry compared to the previous eleven years, the eleven years after her and eleven years of new labour, the duration of each is equal making a crude comparison easier. The latter two having an overlap. The article also had a chart showing output 1948-2008 output seems to have declined since 1954 with the fastest decline in the 1960s. A brief hiatus 1979-1981 a resumption at a lower rate in the 1980s and a sudden sharp drop in the 1990s after Thatcher’s fall.

Coal production availability and output stats 1853-2014 published by the Department of Energy & Climate Change are at


Lee A. Arnold 03.26.16 at 10:39 am

Brett Bellmore: “but don’t find multiple hard drives crashing just when it becomes clear they’re going to be wanted in a legal inquiry, and the backups being erased even though they were under a preservation order, at all suspect?”

According to sworn testimony, some of the hard drive crashes happened before the questions even arose.

What I find suspect is that you and the Republican campaign operatives don’t link the last 20 years of MULTIPLE stories about IRS computer crashes and system-wide failures, to the systematic underfunding of the IRS by the US Congress, most vociferously by the Republicans. In all the GOP’s present carrying-on about this, none of you has broached the question of the IRS’s underfunding.

It remains quite suspect in your comments here that you have not come up with a reasonable motive for why dozens of long-term employees in the IRS do the illegal bidding of a Republican in the Oval Office, and then do the illegal bidding of a Democrat in the Oval Office, without ever thinking that it’s illegal and they might face jail time. Or at least be forced to find another job, which they of all people know is an increasingly difficult thing to do.

And it is still very, very suspect that you have not come up with a reasonable motive for the President in this case. Think like Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. Why would a President put his own Administration at risk for so little to be gained in the best possible outcome?


Anarcissie 03.26.16 at 1:44 pm

Lee A. Arnold 03.26.16 at 10:39 am @ 168 —
On the other hand there is that list from the Christian Science Monitor (cited @160). In mystery stories, villains often have elaborate, rational structures of motivation and action, but in real life, a lot of people do stupid things in stupid ways out of impulse or because they have become a habit. I don’t see why the use of IRS as a political tool could not be included. In any case, the Big Man does not have to give explicit orders if he has surrounded himself with the right kind of people.


Layman 03.26.16 at 1:54 pm

@ Anarcissie, that CSM story delivers a lot less than it advertises.


Lee A. Arnold 03.26.16 at 2:02 pm

On the other hand there is the Christian Science Monitor list? Let’s read that, too: Some of them sound true. Some of them sound political. Some of them sound like they are in search of criminal wrongdoing. Some of them sound alleged. Some of them sound highly unlikely.

So now, it is concluded that Obama must have ordered this, and IRS and Treasury people must have perjured themselves in front of Congress. This is proved by conscripting a very selective subset of facts to support the predilection for a narrative structure of habituation and evil minions.


Metatone 03.26.16 at 2:18 pm

@Brett Dunbar – unfortunately, the point you are making is incorrect, bolstered by a misuse of statistics.

You are correct that Thatcher presided over an entirely on trend decline in coal production.

However, the coal _industry_ was definitely torpedoed by Thatcher.

She authorised the open importation of South African coal, which at the time was massively cheaper due to apartheid labour, cutting away the economics of British coal production and (because it was all done in super quick time in the cause of breaking the union) leaving the industry no time to adjust it’s market positioning.

Further (although this is not your point) along the way she actively supported policies that destroyed the communities supported by the coal industry.


Brett Dunbar 03.26.16 at 7:50 pm

The point is none of that seems to be true. It is a coherent narrative it just isn’t really consistent with the facts. The rate of decline of the coal industry was lower during her tenure. If Thatcher had actually had some kind of vendetta against coal then you would expect that her tenure would see an unusually rapid decline but that isn’t the fact we have to explain. Coal happened to be one of a number of old uncompetitive heavy industries that were in severe decline at the time.


kidneystones 03.26.16 at 8:36 pm

@ 171 Lee, you’re bone-ignorant. It pains me slightly to make this judgement because you’re clearly bright and better-informed than a lot of people on this site.

First, the big picture: Dems are not the party of insurgents fighting on behalf of the disenfranchised. Got it? The Dems are on the two parties of the permanent establishment. Thus, when Media Matters Matt, Josh ‘Yellow Journalism is our stock in trade’ Marshall, and Ezra Wanna-be-a-Wonk start spinning, they are doing so, probably unwittingly in the case of Ez and Matt, on behalf of the permanent security state and against the interest of ordinary citizens. Now and forever. Whatever illusions you might have harbored about the ‘morality’ of Dem politicians prior to 2008, none should have survived the affirmation and expansion of the Bush-Cheney security state under the Dems over the last 8 years.

Obama is the current manager of this war-industry conglomerate and also serves a particular set of special interests. He’ll be replaced by another manager of the war-industry complex who may or may not serve the same set of special interests.

The permanent security state couples with the war-industry conglomerate and tolerates no interference from it’s top-down management of the status quo – not from Sanders’ supporting Dems and most definitely not from tea party activists keen to force government, big banks, and Wall Street financiers to abide by the same set of rules as the little people. Is any of this ringing a bell.

And because the individuals in question happened to believe that right-wing activists represented a real security threat to the Dem management of the United States, it is extremely unlikely Lerner and co. viewed their excessive screening of the tea party groups as illegal or wrong, whatever a strict reading of any laws might imply.

The actual illegality of the actions of this subset of managers of the permanent security state is very much open to question. The legality/illegality is precisely what the Sixth Circuit Court is trying to establish. Rather than comply with lawful demands by the court, the IRS is defying the court’s year-old demand to produce the documents that will allow the legality of the actions to be determined. Can you grasp that much?

The fact that Republicans will do the same, or worse, of have in the past is not at this point an issue. What counts now is whether or not the IRS recognizes the authority of the courts. Meanwhile, a significant set of political activists have had the IRS up their asses for far too long. Surely you can’t think that’s ok.

Or, perhaps you do.


bruce wilder 03.26.16 at 10:53 pm

Brett Dunbar @ 173

Coal output is not a sufficient statistic or an adequate indicator. Thatcher was not at war with coal, she was at war with the trade unions representing coal miners. Efforts to increase productivity may well have slowed the secular decline in output; many think the government deliberately allowed coal stocks to grow in anticipation of a confrontation with the unions in the 1984-85 Miner’s Strike.


Lee A. Arnold 03.26.16 at 10:57 pm

Kidneystones #174: “Dems are not the party of insurgents fighting on behalf of the disenfranchised. Got it?”

So you KNOW that, “the O folks…successfully derailed grassroots tea party groups simply by insisting local activists fill out mountains of forms for the IRS,” because you argue by marshalling selected facts and impressions to fit your emotional narrative.

Got it.


mclaren 03.27.16 at 7:16 am

Lee’s comment @10 strikes me as superb. It does illustrate though how completely bereft of practical economic solutions any of the candidates are in 2016.
Sanders proposes massive infrastructure investment + tax increases mostly on the rich. Good as far as it goes, if Kaldor’s stylized facts of 1957 were still true. But they aren’t.

We’re talking about an economy in which human white-collar jobs are rapidly falling to computers. Self-driving cars, robotic surgery, the recent Go rout of the best human player by a computer program…in case no one has paid attention, in the last month we’ve seen news items about driverless cars, hotels without human workers, fast-food restaurants with no humans, a working coffee bar where people order by smartphone and robotic arms dispense the drinks. That’s a lot of jobs going away.

Add in little tidbits like the headline “All seafood will run out by 2050, say scientists,” and you’re looking at the breakdown of traditional economics. In a zero-growth economy, how does capitalism work? When all the jobs are taken by robots, how does the IS/LM model work? What kind of Invisible Hand do you get when electronic circuits and graphical magazine layouts and buildings and new cars get designed by genetic algorithms that do it faster and cheaper and better than humans?

Brad DeLong has floated the old idea of social capital, while others have talked about a guaranteed minimum income. Whatever the solution is, it doesn’t look anything like capitalism as we know it — and it probably means rethinking the entire concept of “having a job” in any traditional sense.

I don’t hear any of the candidates talking about this. Even Sanders seems to be assuming that the application of Norwegian-style socialism will fix things, when it clearly won’t. If America turned into Norway tomorrow, we’d still be stuck in the middle of a crisis because capitalism has bumped up against the limits of the global biosphere, and because computers are replacing so many jobs formerly thought to require human intelligence, that the whole capitalist system is breaking down.

Maybe we’ll all go back to becoming hunter-gatherers supported by robots. But neither the economists nor any politicians are talking about it, because whatever is going to happen after capitalism breaks is so radically different from anything anyone can imagine that we’re all standing around like the hominids at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey staring at the black monolith.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 8:12 am

While we certainly have our segregated communities and occasional rioting here in Sweden, Russia Today seems to be confused, and is reporting news from January as if it happened yesterday.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 9:56 am

That is one of a growing number of xenophobic news sites, and it wouldn’t surprise me if their primary source is RT. Of course this might be something that the mainstream media is not reporting for some reason – that is certainly the explanation Nyheter Idag would give, but I wouldn’t bet on it.


casmilus 03.27.16 at 10:23 am

Just read “I Can’t Happen Here”. A theme running through the whole book is that the flabby liberals can’t really offer anything inspiring by way of a reform agenda for Depression-hit capitalism, so they can’t respond to the attractions of fascism; at the same time they won’t form a common front with the commies, even thought the latter are the only ones with a serious resistance movement.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 10:24 am

Well, these sites create their own version of reality. My personal opinion is that there is an objective reality out there that is significantly different from theirs, but at the moment all I can do is appeal to authority. None of the news sources I trust or somewhat trust are reporting anything like this.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 10:37 am

You’re right. There is a police report of two burnt cars in Alby this Friday. But that is all. Not a riot and not really considered newsworthy. Basically business as usual in a rough neighborhood, I’m afraid.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 10:46 am


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 11:16 am

My impression is that the Swedish mainstream media is trying pretty hard lately to counter accusations of pro-immigrant bias. These days they are if anything too eager to state the nationality of any suspect and to report every minor incident at refugee centers.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 11:53 am

As far as I can tell, it is the same incident. Initial reports of four burning cars, later turns out it is actually just two.


Petter Sjölund 03.27.16 at 12:26 pm

Yes, you’re right. Sorry about that.

Apparently it is a popular pastime to set cars on fire in Botkyrka. Almost a car on fire every third day since 2010, according to this (mainstream media) report from last year:



Anarcissie 03.27.16 at 1:36 pm

mclaren 03.27.16 at 7:16 am @ 177 —
Politicians are trying to win elections, not propose actual solutions to actual problems, which, if rational, would not serve the purpose. In any event, we don’t know what the economic problems of the future are going to be. War, plague, and environmental catastrophe, none of which are all that improbable, could bring about a huge demand for labor.


Lee A. Arnold 03.27.16 at 2:13 pm

mclaren @177, Thanks for your nice compliment.

You may be interested in a new book, Humans Need Not Apply, by Jerry Kaplan (2015).

The first several chapters present an incomparable overview of how “synthetic intellects” (i.e. artificial intelligence) are already changing the economy and parts of science. It combines the general trend with real extended examples that are very thought-provoking. Most people will be surprised to find out what is already happening. Indeed, they will be surprised at the advanced details of what is already happening behind their consumer purchases. His illustrations of the causes of the resulting inequality are new and mind-bending. It’s essential reading.

But Kaplan then presents some policy ideas on how to encourage all workers to stay in the game, and these are less useful. Worse, along the way, he reveals misunderstandings of government debt and US Social Security. So, the first part of the book is far better than anything else I’ve found on this subject, but unfortunately, some of the later ideas about economics will mislead general readers.

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos (2015) is a good prose overview of the pure science of the different methods of AI, and the different kinds of results they produce, and the reasons why it is still difficult to combine them into one machine that can do it all. As with Kaplan’s book, this book is unique. The bibliographies in both are exceptional.

If anybody has found good books or blogs on this subject, let’s hear of them. I apologize because it is even further off-topic from Corey’s post, but this could be the most important development in our time — and it may soon affect his topic too. There ought to be a short list of required reading.

I have never recommended an addition to the Crooked Timber contributors before, but an academic who has begun to study the intersection of artificial intelligence, economics and society may be a useful addition at this time. Also such posts would round-up the comments like these, which are bound to increase in frequency.

We are careening into a new era when artificial intellect + robot labor are growing exponentially, to do every kind of “productive” activity, and thus to end the scarcity of goods and services. We are not there quite yet; there is still work to do, and there may always be new problems to solve.

But a big problem in current thinking is that the market-system solutions for this new era are based upon maintaining an artificial scarcity (of course they do; this is how markets work): fictionally maintaining the need for money, in order to keep people working, to follow a psychology which is presumed to be a human eternal, to “spur” them into personal growth.

I am not so sure this truly is a human eternal, as opposed to a vestigial appendage of the mind, which had evolved to deal in the millennia when there was real scarcity.

The new era brings into serious question the ages-old relationship of human effort to social reward, and how and why money should still be required for a full-time life of pure human meditation, creativity, artistry and scientific exploration.


bruce wilder 03.27.16 at 2:23 pm

The prospect of robots and automation taking away jobs are to some people’s imaginations like headlights in the night are to deer: they cause the poor creatures to freeze in the middle of the highway, staring unmoving and uncomprehending at on-coming traffic.

Is the deer alarmed in the moments before it is run over? And if so, is the deer alarmed by the on-coming headlights or its own paralysis? Are we alarmed about global warming? Overpopulation? Increasing inequality of wealth and income? A burgeoning security state? A military that can neither win nor end a war? A government intimidated by corrupt big banks and giant corporate business? The prospect of a ritual choice between the narcissistic bigot cum billionaire buffoon who cannot be bothered with facts and the terminally corrupt and blood-thirsty liar?

We cannot know the future. We can reasonably predict that a plurality if not a solid majority will try to make it worse.


Lee A. Arnold 03.27.16 at 2:29 pm

Are you asking why the deer is alarmed and we are not, or why the deer is paralyzed and we are too? Because I think neither — most people are alarmed but not paralyzed. “Swamped” might be the better word.


Brett Dunbar 03.27.16 at 3:39 pm

The political drama surrounding coal seems to have made no real difference. The government had anticipated that the NUM might strike when the next set of closures was announced. However the closures were due to economic and geological factors making the mines loss making under any likely economic conditions. It was part of the long running decline of UK coal production

What the NUM was actually demanding wasn’t attainable.


b9n10nt 03.27.16 at 4:06 pm

Someone write this book! Part 1:

1. Overview: another word for suffering is stress, another word for happiness is relaxation. Neither stress nor relaxation is merely an individual phenomenon. The ideology of individuality blinds most of us the the socially-conditioned nature of our experience. Political-cultural choices can be made to reduce stress and increase relaxation
2. The current dilemma: the citizen-as-warlord model of happiness was always false but is particularly out of place in a post-material-scarcity world. There’s a near equivalence of stress caused by absolute vs. relative wealth and status, thus it becomes socially counter-productive to pursue economic systems that create hierarchies of status when an incentive to produce isn’t required. The robots are coming, thus labor competition for warlord primacy will be an unworkable model.
3. The science of stress and happiness: The evolutionary perspective: we irrationally undervalue time, we irrationally are loss averse, we are irrationally in pursuit of status. Thus we are strongly pre-determined to suffer needlessly in attempting to become millions of little warlords. The psychology & spiritual practice perspective: cognitive behavioral & other therapies, mindfulness and contemplation practices, distinguishing vs intrinsic pursuits: all point to methods that override our vestigial biases toward stress. The sociological perspective: (overview of research on stress and happiness as a social phenomenon).
4. The need for politics: we are not and never have been isolated individuals pursuing genuinely isolated goals. Stress and relaxation are to a large extent a social phenomenon. Thus we see the need for a social-utopian vision of thriving that is worth pursuing even if we inevitably don’t achieve some final goal. Thus we wish to combine the slow, intimate pace of rural living with the material and cultural plenty unique to urban centers. Let’s pursue policies that bring the country to the city.


b9n10nt 03.27.16 at 4:08 pm

Someone write this book!: part 2

5. The way forward 1: Resources: housing policy and urban development. Transportation policy. Energy policy. Agricultural policy. In each of these areas, we can envision policies that instrumentally use markets and/or public monopolies to rationalize resource use away from warlordism and toward a social basis for individual thriving.
6. The way forward 2: People: education, health, public service (employment). We must take on the fact that most of us “hate our jobs”: they are loci of hierarchy, extrinsic motivation, and loss aversion in our lives. The way forward consists in pursuing radical equality of educational and training opportunities, radical equality of health care (focusing on proactive vs. reactive) and radically pursuing employee rights and entitlements (vacation time and family leave, 4 day week, etc…
7. The way forward 3: culture. All advertisement should be opt-in, prior consent. There’s absolutely no reason to socially condition ourselves toward warlordism and dissatisfaction. Publicly support amateur sports, music, theatre, arts, media, analytical gaming (maths, comp sci), writing.
8. The way forward 4: the state. Elections should be made public and egalitarian (present various schemes) and must balance accountability and representation. Fiscal and monetary policy can both support production, innovation, and equality. It must no longer support an oligarchy of the few and a warlordism for the rest of us.


b9n10nt 03.27.16 at 4:12 pm

Someone write this book!: part 3

9. Wrapping up: the goal is individual happiness which can be supported socially. In an age of plenty, the pre-determined psychic roots of suffering (status-seeking, loss aversion, irrational fears and desires) are exposed and confront us. In innumerable ways, current public policy needlessly exacerbates rather than alleviates these stressors.
10. Epilogue: how to be a utopian: accept political failures as inevitable, trust that the gradual steps toward pursuing utopian goals will themselves promote individual thriving and reveal further steps to be taken. By no means can we wish to fall back into a private warlordism wherein we seek our own happiness to the neglect of a bigger picture. We can see that right-wing conservatism is merely the heavily-conditioned state of being a warlord and then consciously pursuing the persistence of this mind set. We will do better to see that our enemies need non-coercive healing and will be some of the prime beneficiaries of our victories. Finally, it is obvious that non-reactionaries of all stripes are already pursuing these various goals. One point of this book is to show each other that we are, dispite our internal bickering, pursuing a unified future wherein we consciously create the social conditions for the greatest individual thriving.


Rich Puchalsky 03.27.16 at 4:31 pm

I previously summed up the three contemporary challenges for left theory as revolving around 1) the environment, 2) the state, 3) work. People here seem to pretty much get the environmental / resource limitation part of this, and the “what are we going to do when fewer and fewer people need to work” part of it. I don’t think that people generally get the state part of it. I don’t think that contemporary states can really survive the end of scarcity (of a certain type: we are likely to suffer from a scarcity of biodiversity) any better than the contemporary workplace can.


bruce wilder 03.27.16 at 4:39 pm

Brett Dunbar @ 200: . . . the closures were due to economic and geological factors making the mines loss making under any likely economic conditions. It was part of the long running decline of UK coal production

What the NUM was actually demanding wasn’t attainable.


The institutional structures and habits we build up in one era don’t last forever into the future, however much some interested parties may wish to preserve and extend them.


engels 03.27.16 at 4:39 pm

another word for suffering is stress, another word for happiness is relaxation

Umm – that’s rather obviously not true (I didn’t read the rest). See eg.


b9n10nt 03.27.16 at 5:08 pm

@ engles 206 thanks for the link. Yes, some stress is healthy (and “relaxation” is a profound acheivement and doesn’t exclude episodes of physical and mental exertion). My words are short cuts for more words.

Still, if you were trying to answer “why bother to promote social change?” in an opening chapter that basically tried to demonstrate a non-trivial unity to left wing utopian politics…


engels 03.27.16 at 5:18 pm

Okay. I think there’s at least some overlap between the book you want written and Richard Layard’s Happiness


b9n10nt 03.27.16 at 5:29 pm

More than a little overlap! It’s on the wish list, thanks


bruce wilder 03.27.16 at 6:11 pm

Rich Puchalsky @ 204

The feudal monarchical state mostly did not survive — we have only vestiges, a somewhat surprising (to me) lot of vestigial remainder, but there you have it. We’ve been inventing and re-inventing the state since the Merovingians ruled the Franks and an Heptarchy divided England.

The only really remarkable thing is how few ideas we, collectively, seem to have at the moment about how the state might be usefully reformed. Maybe, that’s just an aging curmudgeon’s misimpression, but I do wonder about screeds like the book Lee recommends above: Humans Need Not Apply, by Jerry Kaplan — hyper-technophilia combined with pseudo-libertarian nonsense about the joys of debt peonage (a “job mortgage” is one of his bright ideas) and the like.

In theories of the American political cycle such as the one referenced in the OP by Corey Robin, some analysts have chosen to focus on how the basic institutions of money and finance get re-invented over the course of the cycle. In the first 72-year cycle, the Hamiltonian idea of national central bank was a core controversy; Jackson destroyed the Second Bank, rather famously. The new-born Republican Party seemed fully reconciled to the Jacksonian consensus, but under the financial pressures of war, invented a national currency (there wasn’t one previously, only coins) and a system of national banks. A gold standard and protective tariff marked the establishment of the Republican presumptive majority that prevailed from 1894 to 1930, with re-establishment of a central bank at the beginning of the one anomalous Democratic interlude of that period. FDR took the U.S. off the gold standard and began to move toward setting up a free trade system internationally, underwritten by the dollar as a reserve currency. Halfway thru that 72 year cycle, Nixon brought the Bretton Woods system of gold exchange to an end and initiated the Republican pattern of deficit spending to undermine the liberal state and transfer wealth and income upward.

I mention these events because they were a big deal to contemporaries and salient enough historically to get mentioned in the history books. In such periodic reforms, the modern state was built. In our era, similar radical changes are underway as a result of deregulation and the creation of giant, universal banks combined with advances in computing and communication tech. At the grocery store, I am exceptional in that I usually pay with cash rather than a debit card; the evolution of an electronic payments system. Student loans. The elimination from federal bankruptcy of mortgage cramdown on first homes; the substitution of private electronic mortgage recordkeeping for the public system of deed registry. The changes in our own time have been profound, as profound as any in the past, and yet (my perception is that) they have little popular political salience — there aren’t good, popular theories of the kind Marx or Henry George or Herbert Spencer or John Stuart Mills or Proudhon propagated. Not that you can’t find some on Amazon — you can find anything on Amazon — but they don’t become part of the popular consciousness. The internet popularity of MMT is as close as anything comes.

One of the other threads concerns the Easter Rising that triggered the crisis that led to the partition and independence of Ireland. The Easter Rising caused the Irish Parliamentary Party, near the peak of its power and influence, to collapse completely. The IPP had pursued Home Rule throughout its life with limited result, but its other project — land reform — had had some step-by-step success. There was a theory — well, several theories I suppose you could say — that traced the problems of Ireland to the system of land tenure which placed a feudal class of landlords, many of them absentees, into a position of unchallenged power to dominate. The ruling class in this system, popularly called the Protestant Ascendancy, was levered out of its land ownership and control of local government over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century by a series of reforms that bought them out and established elective local government. It was the success of that reform program that made a politically independent Ireland possible, both by enabling a politically active population and reducing the English interest in colonial domination. I see no analogue for reform programs based on that kind of far-sighted vision yet in the 21st century. (Again allowances for a curmudgeon’s tendency to want his lawn undisturbed.)


Igor Belanov 03.27.16 at 6:42 pm

“The political drama surrounding coal seems to have made no real difference. The government had anticipated that the NUM might strike when the next set of closures was announced. However the closures were due to economic and geological factors making the mines loss making under any likely economic conditions. It was part of the long running decline of UK coal production

What the NUM was actually demanding wasn’t attainable.”

That is absolutely half-witted. It is now an established fact that the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike was politically provoked in order to crush the strongest section of organised labour, which had played havoc with Heath’s Tory Government between 1972 and 1974. The Thatcher regime had plotted its action before it even came to power in the form of the Ridley Report, and it involved a preliminary ‘experiment’ in terms of the defeat of the weaker Steelworkers’ Union, then the deliberate stockpiling of coal in the year leading up to the announcement of widespread mine closures that was intended to trigger the strike. The plans for pit closures were not focused on the mines that were the most economically and geologically vulnerable, a sure sign that this was not the real motive.

Nobody argued that coal mining should not be scaled down in response to economic trends and geological necessity. What they had hoped is that the coal mining industry should be euthanized gently rather than cold-bloodedly murdered.


Rich Puchalsky 03.27.16 at 7:07 pm

BW: “Not that you can’t find some on Amazon — you can find anything on Amazon — but they don’t become part of the popular consciousness.”

Another way of saying this is that when you have too many visionaries, they all become cranks. I don’t doubt that someone has written a book tying most of this together. I have no idea how you’re supposed to distinguish it from 1000 surrounding books. But in a sense it doesn’t matter which is the ultimately correct book: what matters is that enough of the public coalesces around some theory (perhaps any reasonable theory) so that they can collectively act. I see no real sign that this is happening.

What are the main reasons that I see for this failure to coalesce? (Let’s call it the deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon after the above.)

1. lack of a useable past. Marxist theory is about man conquering nature, workers as the class that will make the future, and the most pro forma afterthought limitations on the state imaginable, which is why they were so easy to jettison in actually existing Marxism. Left-liberalism somewhat better mainly because it’s newer, but nowhere near what we’d need.

2. buy-in of a large part of society. Workers taught to scorn nonworkers, workers taught to scorn nature, workers implicitly taught that a boss does the annoying things that they don’t want to do. That’s even before the usual social status classifications, which the people in the upper-middle to lower-middle need to have preserved as a matter of hedges against risk, not merely as measures towards greater control.

3. the right. I agree with the recent posts talking about the basic classification of most contemporary nations into the left, liberalism, and the right, although the boundaries I’d set would differ in detail. The recalcitrance of the right to any and all of this is a profound disincentive to work on these things.


bob mcmanus 03.27.16 at 7:16 pm

204: I don’t think that people generally get the state part of it.

I don’t know if anybody “gets it,” whatever there is to get, but there are people working on it, and I read a few of them. Shorter: The future will be distributed. The state will still be around for a while, it is useful, if only as a bank.

Current reading: Janine Wedel Shadow Elite

It’s about the cosmopolitans, often young, who speak a couple languages and who work with, for, usually short-term: a university, an NGO, several corporations, a think tank, various media, and a couple government programs/projects sometimes officially, often as a contractor, sometimes more than one government.

Some are the Perles, Austan Goolbees, Bernankes, Sunsteins, Richard Feynman studying O-rings.

A lot more, a whole lot more, are the Finnish and Brazilian kids, doctors, engineers, economists, arms dealers, name it, working in dangerous or unsettled places or in your backyard. The are adaptable, mobile, have connections, know the ropes, adventurous, not completely legal or ethical. They are very far from feudalistic, having no fixed domain; but not democratic wither. Underneath, as much as above, these movers and shakers, something Wedel overlooks, are people who can use and profit from these fixers and hustlers.

They don’t really form a “state” or gov’t, although you can focus on one aspect of their work and believe they do. They do kinda “rule” although mostly without permanent rules. They are the future. Looks kinda like the internet or social media.


bob mcmanus 03.27.16 at 8:53 pm

More Huxley than Orwell.

Thinking a little, I find the concepts of nomads and nomadism more common than Wedel’s awkward “flexians”. And might mention, besides Braidotti, and maybe the others who have been working with Deleuze’s “deterritorialization” for fifty freaking years…

…Kees van der Piljs is interesting and useful, maybe especially on the Transatlantic Elite. Wedel focuses on influencers as entrepeneurs of useful information, so Hiroki Azuma’s Otakus as databases is pertinent. The usual cybertheorists.

Like Soylent Green, the State is people.


Brett Dunbar 03.27.16 at 8:57 pm

Igor Belanov @211

That is the usual narrative. The problem is that it doesn’t match what actually happened. Far from deliberately destroying coal the rate of decline slowed substantially during the 1980s.

The NUM belived that it had brought down the Heath government and was intending to use the next tranche of pit closures as the excuse to launch a strike intended to bring down the Thatcher government. The pit closures were unavoidable the announcement would be used as justification for a strike so the government prepared for it.

What doesn’t seem to have happened is closures that weren’t justified on economic grounds.


Igor Belanov 03.27.16 at 9:46 pm

@ 216

Au contraire. Many of the pit closures announced in 1984 were a major surprise to the NUM. As a result, they were caught off guard and ended up striking at the worst possible time- before summer when their efforts would make much less impact. There was only one side determined to make political capital out of the situation before the strike began.

Plus, I think others have described why ‘the rate of decline slowed’ through the period. Productivity continued to improve and the almost brand new Selby coalfield was reaching its peak at this time. It would not survive the Major closures of the early 1990s.


Scott P. 03.27.16 at 11:27 pm

“in case no one has paid attention, in the last month we’ve seen news items about driverless cars, hotels without human workers, fast-food restaurants with no humans, a working coffee bar where people order by smartphone and robotic arms dispense the drinks. That’s a lot of jobs going away. ”

That may be true (though I think we’re 50 years away from driverless cars being even 10% of those on the road, and fast-food restaurants on average are hiring even more workers), but that sort of thing has happened before. The rise of the automobile meant the death of liveries, farriers, a reduction in veterinary needs, animals needing space and forage, street cleaning, a whole range of activities. Electricity nearly eliminated both the kerosene/whale oil industry AND the gas lamp industry. The technology shifts of a century ago dwarf those today, in both scale and speed. And none of that meant that all jobs disappeared.

To get to a true post-scarcity society, we’ll need first free energy, i.e. fusion power, and truly automated factories, i.e. replicators (or their close equivalent). Touch-screens at your local McDonalds are completely irrelevant one way or the other.


bruce wilder 03.28.16 at 6:52 am

Scott P.: The technology shifts of a century ago dwarf those today, in both scale and speed.

I see this a lot. Just the opposite is true. Technological change has, if anything accelerated, and is deployed across a far richer and more populous world in a generally shorter time period.

I think what people mean is that the advances of the first half of the 20th Century seem qualitatively bigger. The very concept of a telephone is more startling than the later development of cell-phones or internet calling. But, we have gone thru several generations of mobile phones and deployed them across the globe to more people than were alive half a century ago, and all has been accomplished in less time than it took to get switched wire systems to the point where most households routinely had a phone.


Metatone 03.28.16 at 8:31 am

Thanks to Igor Belanov for adding more facts to the miner’s strike story.

That BBC article sits in a long ignoble tradition of using manipulated stats to try and rewrite the history of the coalfields. (Another great example of this is Paul Ormerod’s work on employment patterns which conveniently doesn’t take into account migrations out of the coalfields after the closures.)

The facts on the ground were about an inflection point. The stats are carefully chosen to show no inflection point. Indeed, when you read the fine print, they are even smoothed out to avoid any sign of inflection point. In many systems (as opposed to aggregate stats) inflection points matter. It’s not at all contentious to suggest that the NCB was a complex enough economic entity for the inflection points to matter.


Metatone 03.28.16 at 8:35 am

@bruce wilder

Agree with you on that. One also has to take into account that for a number of possible reasons (I tend to think it’s about particular kinds of inequality, but that’s another discussion) aggregate demand has been just anaemic for a substantial period and seems to be rooted on this lower trend line.

The phase transitions from agriculture to industry, from horse and cart to motorised transport all took place in a world where growth trended up noticeably more (despite the recessions interludes).


PGD 03.28.16 at 10:38 am

The current protest tactics strike me as wrong ethically, and thus worthy of condemnation, because they use thuggish behavior to shut down speech and thus weaken key democratic norms that allow us to solve our problems with dialogue instead of violence.

But at the same time I agree with the OP that they work politically; they muddy up Trump’s reputation even further and make it even less likely that he will be elected (although I think that is very unlikely to start with).

The protests are usually justified with a consequentialist argument that Trump is the Worst Thing Ever (Hitler II, fascism, the end of America, etc.) and therefore any tactics are reasonable. I disagree with that from multiple perspectives. Trump is unlikely to win and can be defeated through democratic means, so there is no practical need to pay the price of abandoning democratic norms. And in addition, Trump is not Hitler II or fascism; he is likely to be a very bad president but likely not worse than GW Bush, he is a right-wing populist nationalist but we already live under a destructive soft globalist authoritarianism and it is unclear that he would actually make it worse. A bipartisan soft authoritarianism that is becoming ever ‘harder’ and more destructive needs to be shaken up.

Finally, I think what people are overrestimating these days is the power of historical analogy. At best it’s highly deceptive. I would prefer to see more analysis of Trump’s own words (beyond the half-dozen carefully curated examples used to justify ‘no-platforming’ him) as these are more likely to tell what he is actually about than Hitler and Mussolini comparisons.


Petter Sjölund 03.28.16 at 11:20 am

No, Brett Bellmore 03.28.16 at 10:23 am, the people interviewed in that piece are pretty open about it being local kids that are setting fire to cars. No censorship there. Or are you disappointed that they didn’t say ‘the dark-skinned, Muslim kids are doing it. It is the nature of their race’?


Rich Puchalsky 03.28.16 at 11:26 am

PGD: “The current protest tactics strike me as wrong ethically, and thus worthy of condemnation, because they use thuggish behavior […]”

“Thuggish behavior” like… speaking? Standing?

If you pay attention to what people like e.g. Brett B. write, you’ll see that only a week or so ago he was justifying the “Brooks Brother riot” as necessary. As I wrote above, no one can really make a categorical moral condemnation with a straight face. Protests and more or less forceful intrusions into roped-off public space are used by left, right, and center within American politics. Nor are they described as thuggish except for partisan, tribal reasons.

If you want to describe these tactics as counterproductive in this instance, then fine — although I could stand to see a whole lot less second-guessing of protestors. If you want to compare them to an ideal America that doesn’t exist, maybe you should consider that it’s never going to exist and perhaps shouldn’t exist.


Brett Dunbar 03.28.16 at 12:00 pm

The strike led to a severe drop of production in 1984-5 and then it continued at the same level.

The government believed that the NUM leadership were political extremists (correctly, Scargill is now a Stalinist) intending to use a strike to bring down the government in the way they believed they had brought down Heath a decade earlier. In order to enhance their chance of winning the stocks of coal were built up before the announcement and the announcement was made in the spring. The timing was chosen for tactical reasons. The actual content was determined by the economic and geological situation.


PGD 03.28.16 at 12:36 pm

Rich @226 — you have a point, ‘thuggish’ is probably overstating it. But I am speaking from my first hand experience with ‘no-platforming’ tactics on college campuses, which involve large organized groups who try to make speaking impossible and often scream obscenities at those who have come to hear the speakers. From all accounts this is what happens at Trump rallies. It stops short of outright violence, but they are attempts to use force to make discourse impossible. It is not just ‘speech’. Invading a private event to scream over the speaker is not speech or standing.

Trump himself of course is ideologically a little thuggish, an authoritarian with some sentimental attachment to violence. Even though the violence at his events seems quite exaggerated — the police seem to have been very professional, and a few blows from a total of million or more supporters who have turned out at his events are not the new coming of the SA — he cannot stop himself from expressing sentimental nostalgia about the days that people got to beat up protestors. But in this how much does he differ from Ronald Reagan, who despite his affable demeanor actually ordered police violence against protestors as Governor of California?

From your post:

Nor are they described as thuggish except for partisan, tribal reasons.

there is also plenty of partisan, tribal stuff going on in the reaction to Trump’s supporters.

Protests and more or less forceful intrusions into roped-off public space are used by left, right, and center within American politics.

such intrusions are routinely put down forcefully by security forces at both Democratic and Republican events.


Cranky Observer 03.28.16 at 12:58 pm

Please note that “thug” is a word used by the hard Radical Right as code for ‘African-American male, usually young’. If you want to argue that Trump protesters’ behavior crosses a fine that’s your business, but I’d suggest avoiding use of the Right’s dog whistles in doing so. [dont bother Mr. Bellmore: we’re aware of your position on use of specific words and terms]


Lee A. Arnold 03.28.16 at 1:32 pm

b9n10nt #201,202,203: “Someone write this book!”

comprehensive, deeply researched, & used copies are available for peanuts:
Ignore the publisher’s description. She has been invited to speak at more NGO conferences worldwide than any other person. Economists won’t link to her because she has called them out, sometimes to their faces, for “backing into the future by looking into the rear-view mirror”. And for maintaining, “Economics is a form of brain damage.”

Her magnum opus was published in 1981, an astonishing achievement for a self-taught person:


Lee A. Arnold 03.28.16 at 1:42 pm

Bruce Wilder #219: “Just the opposite is true.”

It is kind of amazing. We only need to read the headlines at a top science & tech aggregator (like Science Daily) to see that innovations are accelerating to almost daily frequency. The total & likely impact of these things is beyond comprehension.

It seems as if the technology shifts of 50-100 years ago fixed the MATERIAL shape of culture, perhaps for a long time to come (housing amenities, electric, plumbing, refrigerators, TV’s, autos, etc. etc.)

So now, when people look to find continued changes, they look for new material changes: flying cars, commercial spaceflight, etc. Or else little is happening, they think.

Cell phones have especially changed things in underdeveloped countries among tribal cultures and in the huge impoverished squatter cities. By ten years ago they became the indispensable necessity to material transactions.

In the developed world, change is just moving into another realm, of communication, organization, factual research — and machined prompts to communication, deductive thinking and scientific & intellectual discovery. Giga-prompts, soon tera-prompts, on your smartphone.

I haven’t read Robert Gordon’s new book yet, (reviews make it sound like truly great history, plus arguable prognostication), but his “headwinds thesis” against GDP growth and productivity growth is worth considering. A revised paper may be read here:

I think something additional may be causing the numbers to slowdown, too, and this may have more impact in the future. As follows.

People engage in the external economy to gain time for certain immaterial satisfactions, beyond material needs like housing and food: time for love, time for friends, time for human connection, time for conversation, etc.

The new technologies provide so much boost to connectivity, that this basic human need is now instantly satisfied, and very inexpensively. We are even enabled to have more of it than ever before.

We don’t need to earn as much income, to create the means to satisfy this basic human need. Whereas in the old era of material growth, we were required to do a lot of work.

But, it still uses time. We only have so much time in the life. The time spent in these pursuits is better fulfillment of human need, but not productive in the economic sense.

So, at some point, economic growth could be “enough”, for most people.

At the same time, the material culture is still pricing all goods and services in relation to that which is TRULY scarce, in particular real estate — by way of that which is kept ARTIFICIALLY scarce, i.e. by legal ownership including intellectual property, etc.

Of course the protection of this private-property system is a main function of government, and the owners invest a lot of time into expanding those legal rights, (and/or, into making sure that they can circumvent the rights of others). But that doesn’t mean the nation-state is the primary problem here.

Our basic problem is to change the human values that require the necessity of ownership. This seems to require some form of new agreement (which goes back to a couple of fine comments that Rich Puchalsky has made). Since everybody unavoidably steps into the striving-and-conniving of the private property economy, the very minute they walk out the door to buy something or to make something, we need to get everybody on the same page, at the same time.

Like many new emergences, the nature of this may be unknowable, beforehand.

It may be subsequent to some big breakage, or an external disaster. (Such as a spike in Arctic warming that leads to an adjacent permafrost methane degassing, that crashes world agriculture for a year or two, and immediately threatens all of civilization.) Or perhaps an unforeseen technological development, which has sometimes driven huge changes in social organization in the past.

It could also be that the emergence is to come in little steps, while values are slowly changed. Example, by social spending in response to need, structured so that everybody pays in, without free-riding.

There aren’t many rules for novel emergence.

Anyway this goes back to Corey’s post. I agree with him that the Right may have electoral successes to come. But what they are trying to protect is increasingly vanishing.


b9n10nt 03.28.16 at 3:26 pm

Lee, thanks for the recommendations.

“Our basic problem is to change the human values that require the necessity of ownership. ”

The lowest-hanging fruit here would be social psychology /media-literacy classes for 10-16 year olds in public high school: here’s all the ways that we’re engaging in status-seeking, here’s the evidence that even the winners aren’t winning (in terms of measurable indicators of happiness and well-being), here’s the scientific rationale that we should not be surprised at these results. Reactionaries would call it indoctrination (that wouldn’t be a false charge), but we are of course already very consciously indoctrinated into status seeking beyond our natural propensities.

Still a pipe-dream given the investment that low- and middle-status citizens have in the hegemonic culture, but…


Petter Sjölund 03.28.16 at 3:40 pm

Ze, I shouldn’t have to point this out, but it might not be immediately obvious if you don’t speak Swedish. More than 90 percent of what Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider report is about immigrants causing trouble. The rest is about leftist politicians and feminists being wrong and hypocritical. These are not alternative sources that report the things that the mainstream media ignores or tries to suppress, they are mouthpieces for Sverigedemokraterna and related xenophobic organizations. You shouldn’t cite them if you want to be taken seriously, and the fact that Russia Today does certainly damages their credibility.


Rich Puchalsky 03.28.16 at 4:01 pm

“it might not be immediately obvious if you don’t speak Swedish. More than 90 percent of what Nyheter Idag and Fria Tider report is about immigrants causing trouble. The rest is about leftist politicians and feminists being wrong and hypocritical.”

Amazingly, I think that Ze already knows this. Surprising!

Relatedly, someone today directed me to breitbart dot com and the first thing I found was an anti-feminism link. What are the odds? I guess that there must be a lot of anti-feminist things going on that the mainstream media just aren’t reporting.


Igor Belanov 03.28.16 at 6:16 pm

@ Brett Dunbar

Read this:


I shouldn’t need to say more, but I would just add that if the ‘political extremists’ of the NUM were so keen to bring down the government then they would have taken greater heed of this leaked plan and made better preparation on their own side. The fact is that they reacted to events and hoped that the strike would have the same effect it had had in the 1970s. They were wrong.


Brett Dunbar 03.28.16 at 7:31 pm

Scargill is a member of the Stalin Society an organisation that promotes the ideas of Joseph Stalin and engages in genocide denialism. I think describing an actual Stalinist as a political extremist is fair.

The NUM leadership was rather extreme politically. They were also a bunch of idiots. It has been observed that Thatcher was fortunate in her enemies. It isn’t as if the Ridley plan was anything other than some fairly obvious strategic planning for the event of a strike.

In any event that is rather beside the point. Which is that the huge political drama had little apparent effect on the decline in coal. The big collapse in output occurred 1991-94 when it dropped about 50% in three years.


bruce wilder 03.28.16 at 9:02 pm

Rich Puchalsky

I may be overlooking the obvious focus on transformative thinking as political desideratum in comments by Lee and b9n10nt

Ze K: Only the bad guys are personified; the good guys are conceptualized.

Great line.

Metatone @ 221: The phase transitions from agriculture to industry, from horse and cart to motorised transport all took place in a world where growth trended up noticeably more . . .

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, these transitions conspicuously took place against the background of worldwide conquest that put vast virgin resources within the grasp of the industrializing West. Increases in human population in a fully developed world mean that congestion costs choke off “growth”. This says nothing about the character of advancing technology.

Lee A. Arnold @ 231

I usually harp on the constraint imposed by the limited assimilative capacity of the environment and related ecological concerns, but you make an excellent point about the time and attention limits built into our individual experience. Well worth contemplating further, I expect, as the fact that we each have only so many hours in the day as well as so much capacity to process our experience must bend the shape of the developing economy.


Rich Puchalsky 03.28.16 at 9:31 pm

“One is the ‘occupy wall street’ – she says for the first couple of weeks the American media was silent, nothing even from the news agencies (according to Simonyan at least; Rich can probably confirm or deny), while RT was reporting right from the beginning.”

OWS existed within a continuum of similar but not quite the same tactics and groups. For instance, there are encampments in parks that have lasted much longer: decades. There are one-day protests around similar issues that are bigger. No single person really planned out OWS: the people who started it seemed to have planned a one-day event, and anarchist organizers took over the planning and modified it.

As such, no one really knew that it was news until it was news. But “a couple of weeks” is false: the NYT and the Guardian reported on the protests on Sept. 21, and they had started on Sept 17. By Sept. 26, the video of the macing of a protester triggered widespread coverage.

I have no idea whether RT was reporting “right from the beginning” instead of 4 days later like the NYT. But, of course, any media on the lookout for stories that make the official line look bad is likely to report on these kinds of things sooner. That’s true whether they are right-wing or left-wing media. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the things that they pick up sooner are newsworthy by larger media standards: some of them turn out to be newsworthy, many fizzle out and don’t.


novakant 03.28.16 at 10:38 pm

If anyone was extreme, it was Ridley, the Selsdon Group, Thatcher – it never made any economic sense either.

Cf. e.g. Germany on how to deal with the transition from heavy industry in a more humane and dignified manner.


Brett Dunbar 03.29.16 at 1:16 am

Many of the pits were so high cost that they would operate at a loss under any realistic set of economic circumstances. Coal in the UK had been declining for a long time. The really sharp contraction happened in preparation for privatisation in 1994. The 16 pits that passed to UK Coal gradually closed. Kellingley the last deep pit in the UK closed 18 December 2015. Tower had been bought and re opened by an employee consortium closed 25 January 2008.

Fundamentally the business of deep mining coal was uneconomic as open cast has a lower cost. The entire industry was becoming obsolete.


Rich Puchalsky 03.29.16 at 5:17 pm

Ze K: “According to your timeline, that’s more than a week before the MSM.”

Sorry to have to tell you, but I think that the New York Times and the Guardian count as the MSM. They reported on Sept. 21. RT reporting on 9/18 would be three days before the MSM.

On Sep. 25, people were reporting on the macing of a protester which happened the day before. MSM coverage, driven by the video of the macing, was widespread by Sep. 26. So RT was maybe one day early. That’s fully consistent with what I wrote.

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