The Republican phase transition

by John Quiggin on July 20, 2020

I’ve been reading the latest (excellent as usual) book from Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality . The opening paras read

This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy – government of, by, and for the rich

This passage reflects the conflict between two propositions that I (and lots of others, I think) have been grappling with
(1) The rise of Donald Trump represents a radical transformation of the Republican party and American conservatism
(2) Everything Trump has done is a continuation of long-established Republican policy and practices.

Here at CT, Corey has argued for a long time that (2) is correct, and that conservatives or, more properly, reactionaries have always been about preserving hierarchy and power. I find Corey’s argument convincing, but not enough to persuade me that (1) is wrong. Hacker and Pierson also broadly endorse (2). But much of their book is a comparison of the trajectory of the Republican Party with that of the German nationalists in the dying days of the Weimar Republic. The fact that such a comparison, until recently regarded as an automatic disqualification from serious argument (Godwin’s law) now seems entirely plausible, suggests that something really has changed.

In trying to find a way to understand this, I was struck by the idea that the concept of a phase transition (such as from liquid to gas, or dissolved solid to crystal) in physics and chemistry might be a useful metaphor. I didn’t get past high-school in science, so I may well use the metaphor inaccurately – I’m sure commenters will feel free to set me straight.

To develop the metaphor, think of the Eisenhower-era Republican party as a complicated mixture of many dissolved ingredients, in which the dominant element was the business establishment, and the Trump era party, as described by Hacker and Pierson as a crystallised mass of plutocratic economics, racism and all-round craziness. The development over the 60 years between the two has consisted of keeping the mixture simmering, while adding more and more appeals to racial animus and magical thinking (supply-side economics, climate denial, the Iraq war and so on). In this process various elements of the original mix have boiled off or precipitated out and discarded as dregs. Stretching the metaphor a bit, I’m thinking of boiling off as the process by which various groups (Blacks and Northeastern liberal Republicans in C20, liberaltarians more recently) have left the Republican coalition in response to its racism and know-nothingism. The dregs that have precipitated out are ideas that were supposed to be important to Republicans (free trade, scientific truth, classical liberalism, moral character and so on) that turned out not to matter at all.

Trump’s arrival is the catalyst seed crystal that produces the phase change. The final product of the reaction emerges in its crystallised form, and the remaining elements of the mixture are discarded.

{ 128 comments }

1

CHETAN R MURTHY 07.20.20 at 2:54 am

John, that’s a lovely (heh) distillation. It simplifies and clarifies what we mean when we talk about how Phallus Boletus said the quiet parts out loud, if you see what I mean. The base was more and more yearning to hear those quiet parts out loud, but the pols weren’t delivering. The base was still loyal to those pols, but …. well, they really wanted what they wanted. And then along came Phallus Boletus, and they got what they’d been yearning for. And they crystallized into the Deplorables we all have seen.

2

Just an Australian 07.20.20 at 3:05 am

in an Age of Extreme Inequality

as compared to when? going by the data, we’re more unequal than a few decades ago in a purely economic sense, but still very equal compared to any earlier time. And in other non-economic respects, more equal than ever. So what’s the extreme inequality?

3

Pseudonym 07.20.20 at 3:31 am

It’s not a catalyst, it’s a seed crystal.

4

John Quiggin 07.20.20 at 3:37 am

@2 If by a few decades, you mean “any time in the last century”, I guess you’re right. Also, the pandemic is a minor outbreak compared to the 1920 influenza (or the Black Death for that matter).

@3 Thanks. I was going to write that, then got worried about some aspect of the crystallisation process. I’ve put it back.

5

Pseudonym 07.20.20 at 3:45 am

I only have a wikipedia-level understanding of crystallization, but I think the key to the metaphor is that Trump isn’t particularly an active agent catalyzing change but a tiny center around which the formerly supersaturated latent racism etc. of the GOP has crystallized. He won the 2016 Republican primary by providing a structure for the anti-immigrant, xenophobic nationalism to orient itself, but it wouldn’t stop at this point even if Trump were removed.

6

Alan White 07.20.20 at 4:17 am

Hi John–more probable ignorance to follow.

I don’t think your (1) and (2) are at all in conflict at all, as your apt metaphor attempts to explain. But I’d add in that the seed crystal is emotion–as I’ve argued here on several occasions–Trump unwittingly (is he witting about anything?) tapped emotions among a large group of disenfranchised/minimally informed/rascist-friendly/under-economized white folks to sway them to a non-rational devotion that is immune to any form of rational deconstruction. In a way the pandemic is a direct dilution of the super-solution of ideas and movements that you see as Trump seeding: the power of emotion can only be so effective in the face of brutal facts of illness and death that no emotional evocation can turn aside. Trump is seeing that now in his poll numbers, but thank god he is too stupid to change his emotional gut-based strategy. Biden is no sainted savior–but he is at least enough a rational occupant of the third planet from the sun to not do it more irreparable harm as the fool Trump and his more plutocratically saavy and deadly alliances have done.

7

bad Jim 07.20.20 at 6:02 am

First, the obligatory joke: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.

Now the quibble: which is it? “The final product of the reaction emerges in its crystallised form”. Okay, the precipitate. The dregs. The jetsam, that which drifts to the bottom, or accumulates on either of the electrodes. But “The dregs that have precipitated out are ideas that were supposed to be important to Republicans” … wait, what?

The ideas and ideals we find most repugnant are most of the mix in the fetid stew of right-wing opinion, the charred shreds of liberty and community baked to the bottom of the pot.

8

bad Jim 07.20.20 at 6:32 am

Perhaps distillation is a better metaphor. It does involve a phase change, and its product is strikingly different than its source. Even better might be the alchemy involved in converting cocaine into free base, or crack, but I can’t discourse with any authority on the subject.

It may seem that the right is being crazier than usual with its fantasies about Qanon and Antifa, but fever dreams about demonic baby killers and violent subversives go back nearly to the beginning of writing. They’ve always been popular stories.

Those who object to mandates to wear masks accuse health authorities, and those of us who want to stay healthy, of being Nazis for insisting they take this simple precaution. Why can’t they get this straight? We’re not Nazis. We’re communists.

9

Hidari 07.20.20 at 8:12 am

I don’t know whether this helps answer your question, but it’s a data point (or at least a point of view).

‘Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of the four-decade-long era of the free market ushered in by Ronald Reagan?…

It wouldn’t be the first time a crisis has altered the trajectory of the country. The Republican Party of today is defined by its commitment to tax cuts, deregulation, and cuts in social spending. But prior to the Reagan administration, the Republicans were actually the party seen as most likely to increase taxes, because their main commitment throughout the post-war period had been to avoid deficits. …

It was the economic crisis of the 1970s that led Republican politicians to offer proposals that radically rethought the economic order, and it was the economic crisis that led citizens to vote for some of those proposals. One of the most consequential was the party’s coalescing around the issue of tax cuts. A faction led by Congressman Jack Kemp began to argue that tax cuts could be popular, and could offer a Republican alternative to what they saw as the Democrats’ strategy of offering welfare programs for electoral purposes. In Kemp’s words: “Let the Democrats be the party of deficit spending. We are the party of lower taxes. Let the Democrats be the party of quick-fixes and more government jobs. We are the party of private enterprise jobs. Let the Democrats be the party of inflation. We are the party of a sound dollar.”…

A better explanation for why Republicans are so committed to free market policies is hidden in the Gallup Poll. For several decades, Gallup has been asking Americans this question: “Looking ahead for the next few years, which political party do you think will do a better job of keeping the country prosperous—the Republican Party or the Democratic Party?” Examining responses to this question over decades reveals an interesting pattern: since 1980, the version of this question asked in fall of the election year has correctly predicted the president in almost all cases, and the only exception, the election of 2000, adds rather than takes away from its utility as a barometer. Because of the stagflation of the 1970s, and then because of the wage stagnation and economic instability of the following decades, Americans have been increasingly likely to respond that the state of the economy matters to them and influences their vote choice. These changing priorities coincided with an astonishing change in party perceptions: in the 1960s, Democrats were considered more likely to handle the economy well than were Republicans, with an advantage of nearly 40 percentage points, but they lost that advantage in 1980, and have traded places with the Republicans for it ever since….

In other words, Republicans gained tremendously in the perception among the public that they are able to handle the economy well, at precisely the moment when Americans started to say they cared about the economy. One reason for this was the Republicans’ policy of tax cuts and of free market policies in general, which gave the party a story of how they would bring about economic growth. In the time of Kemp and Reagan, inflation was pushing Americans into higher tax brackets, and the Republicans were right that tax cuts would be popular. Ever since, these policies have allowed Republicans to construct a coherent narrative around the premise that they are the party that cares about business, and to paint the Democrats as the party that only wants to spend money…

The recent problem for the party is that the tax cut strategy has diminishing returns, because Republicans have been so effective at cutting people’s taxes that Americans are no longer as upset about paying them. This is one reason for the party’s sudden lurch to xenophobia, as there are not many other issues a party that rejects welfare policies can use to attract a large coalition of voters. .

One strategy for predicting whether the Republican Party of tomorrow will look like the Republican Party of yesterday is to watch that Gallup number like a dial when it comes out later this year. We may be moving into a different era, when cultural factors and appeals to racism mean the perception of which party better handles the economy is no longer as influential on the vote. If so, free market policies will no longer be so prominent on the Republican agenda. But there is another possibility: if voters still care about which party better handles the economy, and if the current president’s handling of the economy reflects on his party, one of the pillars for the Republican Party’s post-Watergate renaissance will start to crumble. In either case, as the crisis of stagflation began the era of Reagan, the coronavirus crisis could end it.’

My own personal feeling is that voters do still care about the economy, and, that when the Gallup polls comes out, and it shows that The Democrats are now seen as being ‘better for the economy’, then Trump is probably toast, but I could be wrong. *

https://phenomenalworld.org/analysis/the-crisis-and-the-free-market

*I read some of those vox-pops by Trump voters and not a few voters mentioned that they thought that Trump as a ‘successful’ businessman, would run the country like a business and therefore guarantee growth and jobs etc.

10

MisterMr 07.20.20 at 8:20 am

My two cents:

What changed is the left. The left became neoliberalism around 1990, because many “statist” precepts of the left were put into question.

Today neoliberal is an insult, but at the time the neoliberal left was hugely popular.

The right had to become “populist” because the neoliberal left stole the center from it.

Also Bush II was a right wing populist too, even if the term wasn’t in use at the time (same with Berlusconi and perhaps Putin, although Russia has a very different history than the west so I don’t know).

11

Basilisc 07.20.20 at 8:30 am

A key distinction that’s not made enough is between Big Business and Plutocracy. Eisenhower Republicanism was all about big, listed companies – GM and the like. They were focused on low taxes, loose regulation, free trade. But beyond that they were indifferent to, or even supportive of, other kinds of social progress: civil rights, environmentalism, education. Think of GHW Bush and the ADA, or Henry Paulson and the Nature Conservancy. Or all the corporations making a nod to LGBT rights or BLM. There was, and to an extent still is, a concept of “corporate citizenship”, constraining actions by entities employing thousands of people across dozens of national markets..

But Big Business Republicanism has been steadily eclipsed in Republican circles by Plutocracy: rich guys (almost all men) who are acting for themselves rather than for their corporate structures. Think of (unlisted) Koch Industries, or the Mercer family, or Sheldon Adelson. Free trade might matter for the specific markets they’re active in, but otherwise not a big deal. Low taxes, yes, but also weak tax enforcement. No regulation, ever, least of all environmental. Corporate citizenship, a joke. And if racist dog whistor airhorns expand and energize the coalition and keep them in power, bring ‘em on please.

I think this is a big part of the shift you mention.

12

John Quiggin 07.20.20 at 11:12 am

@11 I agree. Insufficient attention to this distinction is my main criticism of Hacker and Pierson.

13

Mike Huben 07.20.20 at 12:40 pm

I don’t think we need such a complicated metaphor to explain Trump.

(1) The transformation of the Republican party and American conservatism has been the process of training them to believe convincing liars, with the lies constructed by plutocratic-funded think tanks. Swallow the lies in exchange for support for racism and dominionism. Along comes Donald Trump, a more bold and convincing liar than the other Republican candidates (think of the pussyfooting of Rubio and Romney, for example.) The base quickly identified him as bolder, more direct, and more convincing.

(2) Everything Trump has done is a continuation of long-established Republican policy and practices simply because he is one stupid man without any plans of his own: all the Republicans (and plutocrats) have to do is serve him a menu of their projects. For example, the Federalist Society handed him lists of candidates for Supreme Court and other judgeships.

14

Phil Koop 07.20.20 at 12:56 pm

There are many examples of continuous physical processes which result in large discontinuities of observable states, but I think that your example of a seed crystal triggering recrystallization from a supersaturated solution is maybe the best metaphor here. Anyway, I like it.

much of their book is a comparison of the trajectory of the Republican Party with that of the German nationalists in the dying days of the Weimar Republic

Yeah, about that … https://twitter.com/Alex_J_Thiele/status/1285111412407373825?s=20

15

Hidari 07.20.20 at 1:06 pm

@11 and 12

This is surely correct, and true worldwide.

I’ve quoted from this before, but vis a vis Brexit:

‘The deregulation associated with (Thatcherism)
has facilitated freedom of capital on a global basis. This, in turn, has
dramatically altered the balance of social and political forces in the UK,
undermining the power of large-scale industry and of organized labour but
enhancing the power of the City of London. In particular this period has seen
the rapid growth of private equity funds and hedge funds. Hedge funds make
their profits through a series of bets on trends in the financial market, aiming
to ‘hedge’ themselves against losses by ‘shorting’ assets. This involves
borrowing assets such as shares or currencies, for example, which are
expected to lose value and then selling them to investors who pay for them at
the current market price, before it falls. When the fall does occur, the fund will re-purchase the assets at the lower price, with the difference between what it
sold them for and what it bought them for constituting its profit. The bulk of
the world’s hedge funds (some $2.6 trillion) are managed in the USA but the
UK is, albeit by some distance, the second most popular choice, with firms in
the City of London responsible for hedge funds worth $500 billion (equivalent
to almost 20 per cent of the nation’s GDP). The sheer size of these funds 18
gives finance a power and influence in the British State it has not enjoyed since
1914.
Hedge funds like the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, whose bid for
leadership of the Conservative Party is known to have received backing from
hedge fund managers such as David Lilley of RK Capital, Jon Wood of SRM
Global, and Johan Christofferson of Christofferson, Robb and Co…
Johnson’s campaign to become Tory leader
received much City backing. Both he and Cameron are old Etonians, as are
some of the leading proponents of Brexit in the Conservative Party, such as
Jacob Rees-Mogg (co-founder and co-owner of the hedge fund, Somerset
Capital Management) and Kwasi Kwarteng. This group has used Brexit to
stage a political and economic coup, as a result of which Britain will (so the
perpetrators hope) shake off the remains of industrial capitalism and embrace
a future supplying ‘business, technology and financial services to emerging
markets such as China and India and as the financial manager of the world.’
If they are successful, only sufficient manufacturing capacity to build and
service a military machine capable of protecting the new politico-economic
configuration would be retained.’

https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/free/lobster78/lob78-angloarabia.pdf

This change from, ‘traditional’ capitalism (making things and selling them in shops and thereby producing profits) to the ‘airless’ ‘frictionless’ method of making mo*ney via the stock market: ‘financial’ capitalism is incredibly important in terms of working out reasons for the rise of Trump etc. As Branko Milanovic points out, in a world without borders (at least if you ‘are’ money) then it’s easier and quicker to just squirrel your money away in tax havens rather than actually build products that people want to buy. Or as the Panama Papers showed (as Ian Hislop once put it), Google, Facebook etc. are not media companies which happen to engage in tax-dodging, they are tax-dodging companies which happen to engage in media. Therefore the traditional working class are simply superfluous either as workers are (and this is new) as consumers. And Trump is above all paid for by big oil, yes, and big coal, yes, but also finance capital (more so than the Democrats: the Democrats are more the party of Big Tech, and also academia, conceptualised as part of the ‘knowledge economy’).

Look at the Coronavirus. In terms of the American people, the results have been a total disaster, and the same goes for ‘traditional’ capitalism. But in terms of financial capitalism, the whole thing has been a triumphant success: look at the genuinely astonishing orgy of corporate looting that has led to the current boom in the stock market (even as the so-called ‘real’ economy tanks). CF also Trump’s tax cuts, the first thing he did.

https://newleftreview.org/issues/II123/articles/robert-brenner-escalating-plunder

Another thing, and another reason why attempts to link Trump and his mates back to previous right wing formations is futile, is the fact that Trump and Trumpism could only have arisen in the 21st century. Trump is a product of reality TV, of the internet, of Twitter (as is his putative opposition, #theresistance). And the collapse in journalist standards that has happened over the last 20 years that has led to the rise of the populists can’t be separated from the damage that the internet has done to ‘traditional’ print media, and what print media has had to do in order to survive (the rise in ‘clickbait’, ‘fake news’, social media as the key source of information, and, more generally, the ‘dematerialisation’ of ordinary life as we all live more and more on the net, a tendency that is being facilitated and accelerated by Covid-19).

16

ph 07.20.20 at 1:21 pm

Hi John. First, I hope the book is an entertaining read. Second, I spent last night listening to right-wing crank making a different but similar -we’re on the cusp of something big moment.

Re: Republicans/Democrats. I totally reject any distinction between the two establishments. Here’s the current score of billionaires for Biden vs. Trump, Biden is at 106 and Trump at 93. Any analogy that involved Weimar Germany should be rejected for just one reason – the circumstances of post-Kaiser-Wilhelm Germany are historically unique. To have any workable comparison, you’d need galloping inflation, historic unemployment, punitive economic restrictions and demands upon the populace and an active communist left comprised of former soldiers and workers. That’s just the base line.

So, just how does a nation a century 250 years old, which has never been invaded, much less defeated, and has a vibrant economy and the world’s most powerful military compare with a ‘nation’ which hadn’t had fifty years of stable democratic government, didn’t have an effective military in 1923, and had been stripped of its colonial possessions by rival empires. It’s absurd, frankly.

The schism is not new and it’s between America first populists, who can be found in all constituencies and demographics, versus those farther up the economic ladder who do very well, thank you very much, in the world as it was pre-Brexit, and pre-Trump. The people working hardest to remove Trump are Republicans keen to profit from outsourced jobs and unfettered trade with China once again. It’s a fight to the death, and in that respect you’re quite right – both sides will survive November no matter what the outcome.

You’ve had a very good run. Cheers.

17

ph 07.20.20 at 1:22 pm

18

Ebenezer Scrooge 07.20.20 at 1:25 pm

Chetan Murthy @1: It’s not Phallus Boletus; it’s Donny Pilzkopf.

As a former physical chemist born in the same year as Angela Merkel, I’d call it a nonequilibrium transition from a supersaturated solution. “Phase transition” is more of an equilibrium property. A distinction, however, without a real difference–I like the metaphor, especially the way it distinguishes the people who boiled off from the ideas that remained in the supernatant after crystallization.

19

Jerry Vinokurov 07.20.20 at 1:41 pm

I feel… extremely seen by this post.

Ok, let me pick up this analogy and try to formulate it in a slightly more accurate way. I promise there’s a payoff here.

There is a concept in the theory of phase transitions called the order parameter. This is some quantity of the system which, as the name might suggest, represents a measurement of the order of a system within a given phase. What is order? Well, consider for a moment a gas of spins, magnetic moments at some finite temperature such that the thermal energy associated with the temperature is much higher than that associated with any spontaneous coupling between the spins (you probably didn’t expect to read that sentence on CT). There’s not much order in this system: all the different spins are pointing in different directions, and while some of them might be locally coupled to their neighbors (i.e. pointing in the same direction), there’s no long-range order present. The order parameter (in this case, the net magnetization) is zero on the disordered side and increases continuously from zero on the ordered side.

Now let’s vary some parameter of the system. Perhaps we’ll change the temperature and make things very cold, or maybe we’ll apply a magnetic field. What we will find is that at exactly at the point where the system transitions to e.g. a ferromagnet in which all the spins are aligned, it will exhibit “critical” behavior, that is to say, the fluctuations within the system will suddenly correlate over arbitrary length scales, and we will pass from a disordered state to a state in which long-range order dominates. What’s more, various quantities of interest will behave in a power-law fashion around this critical point, though far away from it they may have entirely different behaviors.

All right, so, who cares?

Well, the (imperfect!) analogy I would like to draw here is to the state of American politics after the stabilization of the New Deal/postwar consensus. This was a politics with a high degree of “disorder” in the sense that many of the constitutive elements of the two parties had very loose correlations with each other. Or to put it in terms that everyone is familiar with, for entirely contingent reasons, liberal Republicans and Dixiecrats found themselves on opposite sides of the aisle from liberal Democrats and big business Republicans, respectively. There was a good amount of local correlation (i.e. nearest-neighbor coupling, if you will) but relatively little (by modern standards) long-range order.

Over time, the parties have undergone a sorting process which I don’t think I need to discuss in detail. You can think of this process as being “driven” in some sense by a temperature-like phenomenon, by which I mean largely racism and other culture-war issues. Of course this isn’t a perfect analogy because the racism is not externally imposed, but I hope the phenomenological parallel is clear even if the exact mechanics are different. Anyway, under the driving force of this “applied field,” as it were, the political landscape has entered a critical regime: not only is long-range order across the political spectrum now more or less the norm, but various quantities of interest (inequality, polarization, etc.) are now experiencing power law scaling within the critical window.

What implication does this have for points 1 and 2 in the OP? I think it invites a synthesis of the two positions. The long-term continuity of point 2, accompanied by the appropriate drivers, have created a critical moment in which the acceleration of various phenomena has given us the appearance of point 1, i.e. that Trump represents a fundamental shift. But all that’s really happened is that a lot of the attitudes that were previously “disordered” (in the sense used above) have now aligned, and fluctuations at all scales have given us the combination of long-range order across the political landscape together with critical behavior. That’s why it looks to us like something fundamentally different is happening, when all that’s happening is the stuff that was happening before, but only more so.

Do you need a graduate physics degree to understand this? I would say no. But at the same time I’d like to thank John for giving me the opportunity to work out this metaphor.

20

steven t johnson 07.20.20 at 3:36 pm

“This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy – government of, by, and for the rich…”

Thus Hacker and Pierson. I’m afraid I agree that what the rich are doing is the story. There are of course many, many precedents to Trump. One too overlooked is his inane belief that his unilateral trade wars will actually mold the world to his liking matches Jefferson’s ludicrous faith in the Embargo Act. Jackson and Truman’s Duterte style tough talk foreshadowed Trump. Of course, these are not Republicans. The best Republican pioneer of anti-democratic Trumpery was of course Richard Nixon. And the difference between then and now is largely, the rich people don’t support democracy against Trump.

But the discussion here is almost entirely about the filthy masses who elected Trump (even though they didn’t, the Electoral College did.) The perspective seems to be they wanted this kind of nastiness and pushed for it and pushed for it and drove the Republican Party backwards. This seems to have it backward. It is the rich investing in things like Fox News, to build up the kind of audience they wanted that drove Fox News etc. The customers of the mass media are the people who buy advertising, not the audiences. The audiences are what’s being sold, and sold out.

As for the Hidari idea that a true free market in finance, one with anti-trust legislation presumably, I suggest this is driven as much by the decline in profitability of industrial production as by bank conspiracy. (I confess I wasn’t patient enough to read all Brenner and Newton.) In fact, Prasad’s notion the US commitment to the free market is a Republican thing since Reagan is kind of nuts. The free market was absolutely central to the white propaganda of the great anti-Communist crusade of Truman and McCarthy. Indeed, the whole story of rich politics since the New Deal is…dismantling the New Deal. Popular Front politics failed then, and they’re not coming back, I’m afriad.

ph is not even correct in a stopped clock sense about how the German nationalist parties of the twenties and thirties cannot parallel today’s nationalist politics. It is commonly hidden that fascism is about goold old fashioned conquest. The countries which historically were called fascist were either defeated in war, or attempting to build their first empires. And US nationalist politics is completely dominated by efforts to maintain the informal US empire. The differences ph notes are why the US version of fascist mobilization for conquest won’t look like Germany in 1933. But who should ever have expected that it would?

But you might talk of a phase transition in the commitment of the rich to bourgeois democracy as previously practiced for quite long. Some of them found it desirable to end Jim Crow. I don’t think there are very many who really feel such levels of commitment, especially since ostensible left politics have dwindled into ultimately meaningless performative symbols.

21

Michael Feltes 07.20.20 at 3:38 pm

I’ve not read the book so I won’t opine further, but Jerry’s extension of the analogy in @19 seems to be along the same lines as Ezra Klein’s thesis in Why We’re Polarized.

22

Hidari 07.20.20 at 3:42 pm

@11 Just one more point before I shut up: looking back I don’t think I was clear enough about the point. The point I was making is that (like Brexit) what matters is: what sector of Capital supports which candidate? In the case of Trump, the examples you gave: Sheldon Adelson a casino operative, the Mercer family, hedge funds, the Kochotopus, big oil. In other words, finance capital and big oil. And of course, Trump simply is Mr Wall Street, and made his money in real estate (in other words rentier capitalism). So, it’s financial capital and big oil.

The point about big oil is simple enough, and Trump has indeed gutted the EPA for them. But financial capital is ‘dematerialised’ capitalism, not about making things any more but about taking (dematerialised, electronic) money to make more (dematerialised, electronic) money and then using big shot lawyers to squirrel that money away in tax havens and avoid paying tax.

‘There was, and to an extent still is, a concept of “corporate citizenship”, constraining actions by entities employing thousands of people across dozens of national markets..’

This is precisely what the new financial capitalists (hedge fund managers et al) don’t have. They don’t really see themselves as being Americans or anything: they are the Masters of the Universe, and owe no loyalty to anyone except the markets. Trump gave some vague talk about infrastructure and manufacturing in his election campaign, but it went nowhere. Since then it’s been deregulation and financialisation all the way. As I say his two ‘signature’ achievements, rhetoric aside, are his tax cuts, and the orgy of corporate looting that the Covid-19 crisis resulted in. He has also attempted to stack the benches to ensure that the new oligarchical legal structure can’t be changed.

(You would think that big tech would love Trump and of course some of them do (Thiel, although he has apparently cooled on Trump lately) but they don’t because they need foreign STEM graduates for their business model (https://onezero.medium.com/techs-increasing-dependence-on-foreign-students-in-six-charts-5a9ffc997519), and Trump’s ‘nativist’ immigration policies hurt that).

23

bianca steele 07.20.20 at 4:53 pm

“This is one reason for the party’s sudden lurch to xenophobia, as there are not many other issues a party that rejects welfare policies can use to attract a large coalition of voters.”

Arguably, a lurch to xenophobia was always in the cards, not despite but because of this argument. A culture can set itself up by exclusion from people who can’t meet its expectations, it can set itself up by embracing everybody who can’t meet the expectations of “elites” by some definition, and it can set itself up by giving people who can’t meet those expectations a way to feel they’re on the side of some “elite” for some other reason. Expressing hostility to outsiders lower on the totem pole is one way to do this last thing. The ridiculous emphasis on respectability that followed in the wake of 9/11 was always going to increase the cost of feeling on the outside when everyone else is signaling that they’re on the side of law and order, and drive out other approaches.

24

bianca steele 07.20.20 at 5:07 pm

“The development over the 60 years between the two has consisted of keeping the mixture simmering, while adding more and more appeals to racial animus and magical thinking (supply-side economics, climate denial, the Iraq war and so on).”

I think there’s an argument that this is in fact close to what happened in Germany. A whole range of approaches to politics and economics were ruled illegitimate out of hand and identified with specific groups of people (liberals = English or Jews or whoever). Every time an issue was identified that was manifestly best approached by an ideologically excluded methodology, magical thinking was the only thing left.

25

Hidari 07.20.20 at 5:48 pm

@20 ‘ The countries which historically were called fascist were either defeated in war, or attempting to build their first empires. And US nationalist politics is completely dominated by efforts to maintain the informal US empire.’

This gets it exactly backwards. First it’s not US ‘nationalist’ politics, it’s US politics, all of it. Since the early 1980s no American politician whose hands have been permitted to go anywhere near the levers of power has been opposed to the American Empire or American imperialism, and, with the defeat of Bernie Sanders, it is vanishingly improbable that any American politician’s ever will.

Secondly the issue faced by the countries which went fascist were totally different, indeed, the opposite, of the US’ current issues.

Italy and Germany didn’t have empires, but wanted them.

The US already has an empire and wants to keep hold of it, permanently (hence the inevitable conflict with China: the US cannot tolerate imperial competitors).

So the comparison, overstretched though that is, is much more similar to the Roman Republic (Empire abroad, quasi-democratic oligarchy at home).

26

Andres 07.20.20 at 7:28 pm

Ok, I have to add comments here even though I’m fully aware I’ll arouse the ire of the CT Aquarium as in the last long thread on U.S. politics (ironically, intended to discuss the post-COVID19 economic outlook). First start with the conflict within the U.S. ruling class that pits two broad policy positions against each other.

The first is what I call conservative social democracy. That is, the commitment to provide a minimal safety net and to preserve it against Republican attacks. Second, the subduing, though not the elimination, of racial conflict, given that racial inequality cannot be ended without a drastic economic transformation that conservative social democracy is against. In fact, the Democratic party leadership is dead set against such a transformation; no party that has had Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Jack Lew as its last four Treasury secretaries could possibly claim to be opposed to Wall Street interests.

The second is hard core neoliberalism, which is not free-market policies (though these are used as rhetorical window-dressing) but rather the use of the state by corporations in order to loot the environment, steal from employees, and maintain monopoly rents through intellectual property and other legal measures, and of course prevent redistribution through taxes. Neoliberalism is in fact more of a 20th-21st century version of mercantilism than it is free market policies.

Though there are minority tendencies, in the last five decades the Republican Party has become the party of neoliberalism while the Democrats are the party of conservative social democracy.

The problem for both parties is that their real economic agendas are highly unpopular, though the Republicans are even more so. Both parties have to engage in conning their electorates, the Democrats by pretending to be progressive. The Republicans, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, are in even more of a bind as their economic agenda is wildly unpopular, so their electoral strategy has to be even more of a con game. i.e., appeals against the “educated left” and for “law and order” and against “foreigners who take our jobs”. That is, the Republican strategy is a variant of the “socialism of fools” anti-semitism that was the main electoral strategy of right-wing German parties in the years up to and including WWI and the rise of the Nazis.

The problem I see is that the Republican strategy has overreached itself. If your electoral base is obtained through a con game, it should come as no surprise first that the highest elected office in the land ends up being held by a professional con man who may himself be conned by Fox News, and second that a growing number of people who advance up the political hierarchy are believers/victims of the con game rather than perpetrators.

And of course, fascism and Trump-style fake populism are what happens when the neoliberal establishment loses full control of the policy-making process to those who have been taken in by the con game. The neoliberals can still hope to manipulate the True Believers, as happened with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but power still starts to slip from their grasp. This is why ph points out that a larger number of billionaires now support the Democrats. But this support is unlikely to result in a permanent change in the economic strategies of both parties, even if Trump loses in November.

Me, I’ll take the Democrats any day, though I keep enraging Chetan and tm by pointing out that I have as much agency in this choice as a person with a gun pointed to their head, and that the current Democratic party would likely dwindle away to nothing if there were any sort of ranked choice voting permitted; the Republicans might do so as well. The struggle to either transform the Democratic party into something genuinely progressive and socialist or to replace it entirely is an aspect of conflict between the ruling classes and the ruled, which is an entirely different subject altogether.

27

steven t johnson 07.20.20 at 7:32 pm

Hidari@25 lets the commitment to the free market over monstrous Communism lead to hasty remarks. Decolonization and/or democratization policy was very much a part of US politics until Truman had time to reverse course, especially after Wallace was defeated in 1948. The regimes installed in Germany and Japan after WWI simply are not the kind of regimes installed in Iraq, a confessional-canto ragbag of corruption that makes a mockery of any genuine notion of democracy. League of Nations/UN internationalism simply isn’t nationalist politics in any meaningful sense of demanding reactionary politics at home. Playing policeman of the world implies a politics of pretending justice in the US, a pose which culminated with the dismantling of Jim Crow in my opinion. You may count “international” tribunals trying enemies of the US for war crimes/crimes against humanity, mostly Africans, if you want. I don’t.

But conceding for the sake of argument, that now US politics is all nationalist, that didn’t happen in the eighties. It happened in the forties, with the defeat of Henry Wallace a key milestone. It’s nonsense to try to blame only the Republicans, not even Reagan. There isn’t the slightest indication Sanders was ever anti-imperialist or internationalist, either. Trying to somehow acquit a Democrat is more nonsense.

Most of all, it is hard to see how a country that lost its empire, like Germany did, is so very different from a country that’s losing its empire, like the US is. (By the way, Italy had Libya, Ethiopia, Albania and at the last gasp, Greece in its empire.) It was the struggle over the spoils of empire that destabilized the Roman Republic. By the way, there was nothing quasi-democratic about the Roman oligarchy. The whole point of a Republic (NOT A DEMOCRACY) is that elections don’t challenge class power. But this is true of all bourgeois democracies. It’s why so many people, especially here, repudiate the very concept of democracy as majority rule, as witness the horror at Venezuela, the home of tyranny.

The exigencies of maintaining a crumbling empire take their toll on US politics too. Trump has unilaterally launched trade wars and nobody dares even dream of taking that (dubiously constitutional, in my opinion,) away from him. The purge of the left by Truman/McCarthy/et al. was motivated by the desire to remake a world safe for democracy, which every one else here identifies with the free market. (The discovery that neo-liberalism has poisoned that well of life is paralleled by the discovery that trusts or banks are the ones who ruined it all.)

Trump made a speech at the UN where he spouted Roy Cohn nonsense about socialism. And Trump has openly usurped local powers to send assorted national police forces to attack the people of Portland, citing the revolutionary threat of the left. Does anyone truly believe this is true? Trump isn’t going to organize street paramilitaries because he’s got so much command over official state forces. But like fascist street fighters, the battles he wants to fight are a part of a campaign for empire. Again, the difference between struggling to keep an empire and to conquer one are not so different. Ask Caetano in your next seance?

There is no Chinese wall between foreign and domestic policy. Struggle for empire abroad means policing people at home, whether its CBP and ICE and the US Marshals etc., or the Kempeitai or whoever, wherever. People who apparently are sincere in thinking they are left will support a fascist regime in Ukraine while supporting economic warfare against a democracy in Venezuela. They will support the most predatory capitalists in China in hopes it will tear China apart in a civil war while they are appalled at “tankies” menacing society with internet posts.

28

LFC 07.20.20 at 8:01 pm

@25 re Germany and empire. Germany had a small number of African colonies from the C19th. So it already had an overseas empire, albeit not a large one, when Hitler came to power in 1933. As far as territorial acquisition is concerned, Hitler’s main aim was of course conquest and expansion in Europe, especially, though not only, to the east.

29

J-D 07.21.20 at 12:16 am

Germany had a small number of African colonies from the C19th. So it already had an overseas empire, albeit not a large one, when Hitler came to power in 1933.

Germany lost all its colonies as part of the settlement after the First World War; none remaind German possessions in 1933.

30

J-D 07.21.20 at 12:18 am

This is why ph points out that a larger number of billionaires now support the Democrats.

The statement ‘more billionaires now support the Democrats’ may be true or it may be false, but the value as evidence of affirmation of that statement by ph is nil.

31

Andres 07.21.20 at 1:46 am

LFC: Germany’s overseas colonies consisted of modern Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, Tanzania, the port of Tsingtao in China (hence the beer) and the Bismarck Archipelago in the Pacific (ironic name, given that the Iron Chancellor was opposed to colonial entanglements). Germany lost all of these in WWI, a full 15 years before Hitler came to power, and restoring Imperial Germany’s overseas possessions was not on his list of priorities as far as I know.

In fact, we can be thankful that Kaiser Willy was obsessed with creating an overseas colonial empire, as then he would never have built up his navy, would not have gone to war with Britain and likely the U.S., and Germany would probably have defeated France and Russia alone.

Imperial ambitions are often the road to destruction, which is why Britain abandoned its empire in the 1940’s-50’s before thousands of Brit soldiers could die in Africa and India, with the survivors bringing revolutionary or fascist pandemics back home (France wasn’t as smart and nearly died from one). With the possible exception of the Philippines, the U.S. was smart enough not to have a formal empire and to maintain actual economic control through multinational corporations rather than viceroys.

32

J-D 07.21.20 at 6:42 am

In fact, we can be thankful that Kaiser Willy was obsessed with creating an overseas colonial empire, as then he would never have built up his navy, would not have gone to war with Britain and likely the U.S., and Germany would probably have defeated France and Russia alone.

There’s no reason to suppose that the absence of a (large) German navy and overseas colonial ambitions would by itself have resulted in any change to Germany’s plans for the eventuality of a land war in Europe: a German attack on France would probably still have gone through Belgium. It’s possible that the absence of a (large) German navy would have altered the calculations made by the UK government and tipped the balance to not declaring war even after the German invasion of Belgium, but it’s not obviously certain.

33

Hidari 07.21.20 at 7:37 am

Attempting to get the conversation back on topic: like the OP I have two flatly contradictory opinions on Trump: one, that he is a completely normal Republican President, and two, that there is something different about him, though I find it difficult to put my finger on precisely what.

Doubtless there is the simple and obvious fact that Trump is not a politician. The American political system is a system of indoctrination (not just for the voters, that’s obvious enough, but for the politicians themselves) a system of behaviour modification, and a system of thought (or at least speech) control. In other words American politicians over the years/decades (most American politician are now very old, at least the ones in power) learn ‘what can be done’ and ‘what can be said’. There are very strict (albeit informal, and non-codified) rules about ‘how can should behave’ as an American politician, and Trump knows none of them. So, obviously, he breaks them, relentlessly. Nor does he show any willingness to learn. Why should he? ‘Breaking the rules’ has brought him to where he is now. So it’s almost true by definition that Trump does not behave ‘like a normal President’.

Another thing is that Trump is inconceivable without social media and, specifically, Twitter. Richard Seymour’s ‘The Twittering Machine’ didn’t get too much ‘play’ in the media, perhaps because it’s too close to the bone, but Seymour views Twitter in particular as a highly addictive medium and its key addictive quality is the way it provokes primal emotions, on a regular basis, especially, of course, anger and outrage. It’s been said that Trump produces racism, and of course he does, but it’s much more accurate, I think, to say that Trump, more than anything else, consistently produces outrage.

The cycle is always the same. Trump says something ‘outrageous’ on Twitter . ‘Liberal’ media respond with outrage. Conservative media responds with outrage to the outrage. Then we have commentary in dead tree media on the ‘controversy’. Nothing is sorted out, nothing is solved, nothing is resolved, and as the ‘controversy’ fades, Trump or one of his minions, tweets or says something else ‘outrageous’ and so the cycle repeats. What you have is people perpetually on Twitter (or other forms of social media) perpetually angry, perpetually outraged, perpetually shouting at each other. Hence the endless breaches of Godwin’s law. If you want to create anger the easiest way to do it is to accuse your opponent of being a Nazi, and in these ‘debates’ it’s simply a matter of time before the ‘left’ are accusing Trump of being a Nazi, Trump’s fans are accusing the left of being anti-semites (i.e. Nazis) or Communists, or both, and so on and so forth and etc. even unto the end of time.

This is also related to the de-materialisation idea I was talking about earlier. Capitalism has dematerialised but so has the media. We all live, increasingly, on the internet nowadays, and the internet is now run by giant corporations whose major ‘product’ is spite, malice, aggression and outrage. Or to be precise, encouraging their ‘users’ (actually the corporations use the users…one of the key fictions of social media is that it restores autonomy to an alienated and divided populace) to feel spite, hatred, outrage. And we do, all the time.

I think this is another reason why the Trump presidency’ feels’ different from previous presidencies, and why it is likely, in many ways, to be a pathway to the future, not an atavistic throwback to an imagined past.

34

hix 07.21.20 at 8:25 am

All the talk about empire is a healthy reminder that wasting money on toy soldiers to build ones empire is a consensus delusion shared by a vast majority of both parties.
How ever more toy soldiers and toy gadget can be more of threat than a single nuclear submarine still escapes my immagination.
It is an empire in peoples heads – unfortuantely that includes many powerfull people in the client states which makes it sort of real. Our luck outside the US is, the price the client states pay for that shared delusion is much lower. Still going to do a huge dance of joy once Trump makes his “threat” real and moves his damn bases out of my homecountry. Enough dreams for today – that one is fiercly opposed in particular within his own party.

35

nastywoman 07.21.20 at 9:29 am

@
”like the OP I have two flatly contradictory opinions on Trump: one, that he is a completely normal Republican President, and two, that there is something different about him, though I find it difficult to put my finger on precisely what”.

”though I find it difficult to put my finger on precisely what”.

What’s about that Trump cheats at golfing?

As see – the first Republican US President I met in my life was this incredible nice old men, who gave me a cookie when I was a little girl – and then my (Republican) grandfather told me that this was ”our President” and that he never cheated in playing golf – but we all know – that Trump cheats – so that’s for sure different about Trump – and you even could put ”precisely” you fingers on it.

36

nastywoman 07.21.20 at 9:37 am

@
”though I find it difficult to put my finger on precisely what”.

and perhaps I should have explained that figuring ”golfing” shouldn’t be taken ”literally” – but more as some kind of a ”metaphor” about what is so different between Trump and any other Republican US Presidents – and because there are so many things which are completely different between Trump and any other Republican President – and it would take about 19748 posts to list them all – and there is for sure no space on CT for so many differences – why don’t we just take ”golfing” as a ”representative example”?

37

ph 07.21.20 at 10:39 am

@31 Thanks for correcting the record re: German colonies. Hitler evidently did want Germany’s overseas colonies returned: https://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1937020500

Colonial expansion generally seems to have been a response to what could by taken and at what cost. The English into Ireland seems a logical move in hindsight, but began with the expropriation of church properties and occurred incrementally over a century.

Reading a bit on German colonial policy we read of the desire (rather than need) for raw materials, cheap labor, and a captive export market for German goods, similar to the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese empires. I doubt, however, Britain would have surrendered India voluntarily and dismantled the Empire by choice. That rickety edifice cracked and fell under the pressures of 20th century warfare, in much the same way the uncontested power of China collapsed when the gunboats of the British East India Company and the RN steamed through the Chinese navy a century earlier.

Returning to the twin topics: Are the Republicans really the only party of the rich, and is America a pre-fascist state. The first is barely open to debate, and the second ludicrous by any objective standard.

Only a regular CT commenter, or some similar figure, could squint hard enough to find similarities between two such patently different nations: the one a two-hundred year-old republic with a constitution and bill of rights, and with the crippled shell of an Empire crushed in its infancy by political change and bad luck. (Easy to forget but the German Empire very nearly won. How different would the world be now, had that been that outcome?)

I hope the book at least contains a robust counter-argument (s) to it’s fundamental premise.

38

MisterMr 07.21.20 at 11:26 am

@Hidari 33
“Doubtless there is the simple and obvious fact that Trump is not a politician.”

Berlusconi also made a big thing of not being a professional politician (I see Berlusconi as an early right wing populist, athough the term wasn’t in use at the time).

There are many reasons for disliking professional politicians, and in Italy Berlusconi took power after a huge corruption scandal that brought down the main center-right party that governed Italy continuously since the end of WW2 up to the nineties.

However most of the outrage against politicians is, IMHO, due to the long term hate of the right against the new deal governments, that necessarily rely on “big government” bureaucracies, so in some sense this “antipolitics” rage is something quite old.

Re: colonial empires
All the axis powers had imperial ambitions, and also WW1 was caused by imperial ambitions, but then the allies already had their empires.
So there is a question: were colonial empires really necessarious to early 20th century capitalist countries? or was it just an ideological thingie? Is the role of the USA as the big world boss advantageous to the USA or is it just a waste of taxpayer money for the USA?
My memories of Trump’s campaign say that Trump concluded that USA is just a wast of USA taxpayer money, nobly spent to help ungrateful foreigners. This is very different from the traditional leftish idea that the USA is an imperialist neocolonial nation that oppresses all the others, even if the two theories both say that the USA should stop its oversea policies (but for different and almost opposed reasons).
So is the USA blowing money in the military just out of selfless generosity to the outer world? Or just beccause of the political clout of the military-financial complex? Or is it actually exploiting its role in some way? Inquiring minds want to know.

39

MisterMr 07.21.20 at 12:00 pm

Another early example of rightwing populist party was the italian postwar “Common Man’s Front”:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Man%27s_Front

I think that there are many ideological similarities with trumpism. After the Christian Democratic party (DC) proved to be anticommunist enough, the Common Man’s Front essentially disappeared and merged with the MSI (that was essentially the postwar rebranding of the fascist party). PS: the MSI entered government with Berlusconi after more than 40 years, its current name is Fratelli d’Italia (brothers of Italy).

Abbasso tutti!

40

Procopius 07.21.20 at 12:27 pm

Probably I should stay silent. I’m not sure if my point is even relevant to the topic, but Alan White @6 described Trump’s base in a way I think is wrong and has been imposed on the narrative by neoliberal centrist Democratic Party elites. I normally am skeptical of Washington Post articles, but in 2017 they published an analysis of Trump voters that tried to focus on reality. It’s time to bust the myth: Most Trump voters were not working class points out that only one third of Trump voters had incomes lower than the median, which would be mostly what I think of as working class. Two thirds of Trump voters made more than the median family income, and one third made $100,000 or more a year. The media have reported massively on their Cletus Safaris, but have resolutely ignored the affluent voters who went for Trump. I tend to veer off into what might be conspiracy theories when considering why this is the case. Trumps base is not people suffering economic insecurity, it is not people who cling to their guns and religion. It’s well-to-do people who thought he would be good for them, and our future depends on whether they still think that or not. I’m sure racism is important to some (many?) of them, but I think their vote in 2020 will be on whether Trump can convince them that Bident will be really, really bad for them, as in rolling back the 2017 tax bill.

41

LFC 07.21.20 at 1:26 pm

Andres @31
Yes, I was wrong on that point (a weird mistake, or at least I shd have known better). The Treaty of Versailles (as I was reminded by a glance at Wiki) turned what had been the German colonies in Africa into League mandates (at least formally; the mandates were administered by one or other of the WW1 victors, meaning here mainly Britain or France). But obviously my grasp of colonial history is not what it shd be. (Btw I keep telling myself to make time to read S. Pedersen’s fairly recent book on the League of Nations, but I haven’t.)

42

RobinM 07.21.20 at 4:34 pm

It seems Hacker & Pierson are going to be interviewed on KQED San Francisco this morning–21 July 2 10 a.m.

I don’t know whether this will prove to be useful information since I access these programmes via radio. But maybe something will come up at

https://www.kqed.org/

43

nastywoman 07.21.20 at 6:06 pm

and what I always wanted to ask you guys:
What is the purpose of all this… ”musing” if Trump is just this ”continuation of long-established Republican policy and practices” or ”represents a radical transformation of the Republican party and American conservatism”?

Is it to teach Americans – who had/have a very difficult time to see any difference in their ”Politicians” – as so many Americans seem to believe that – ”all Politicians are the same BAD” – to differentiate?
And learn them – that indeed – there are a lot of differences between different politicians and different political believes and programs in general?

OR is it – in Trumps case – just an effort to ”elevate” a ”complete and total Idiot” to some level of ”serious discussion worthiness”?
(and please excuse – like always – my playful ”wordsmithing”)
BUT this questions – really always ”bugged” me – ever since so many of my fellow American voted for the Racist Science Denying Clownstick because they thought he was some kind of ”anti-mainstream-straight-talker” just like Bernie…

So –
YEAH! –
Whassup (old?) guys?

44

Hidari 07.21.20 at 7:53 pm

@38
Yes absolutely. I don’t see much point in comparisons of Trump with people from the last millenium (Trump is a completely 21st century figure, who could only have come to power, and who only makes sense, in a 21st century context), but if you have to look for a precursor, the Berlusconi would be the obvious one. A business man, and, more specifically, someone who made his fortune in the media. Trump made his ‘fortune’ such as it is, in real estate, but he was ‘made’ by the media, specifically reality TV. His world is that of reality TV (and social media, especially, of course, Twitter), the endless lying, the fact that reality simply does not matter except as a way to get viewers (now, ‘clicks’), the cruelty (‘you’re fired!’), the worship of strength, the hatred of weakness, these are all the ‘values’ of reality TV, especially the vicious bearpit that is The Apprentice. Add, the outrage machine of Twitter and you have Trump (I know that because the British Apprentice has, as its host, Sir Alan Sugar, whose own political opinions are more or less identical to Trump’s. Boris Johnson + Alan Sugar = Trump).

@40 Yes, the core demographic of Trump is the same as the core demographic of Romney, as psephology has consistently shown, although Trump’s protectionist rhetoric won over a small but significant section of working class voters in the Rust Belt which won him victory in the electoral college (he lost the popular vote of course). Therefore the support for Trump is no mystery: people voted for Trump because it was in their economic interests to do so, and, due to Trump’s mismanagement of Covid-19, it currently looks like they are not going to vote for him, now that Biden looks like being better for the economy.

What’s very strange is that this point keeps on getting made in CT comments threads, frequently by people who then go onto make comments (about Trump supporters being ‘brainwashed’ about Trumpism being a ‘cult’ about them being ‘fanatics’) that only really make sense unless you infer that Trump supporters are mainly uneducated white workers which is not, of course, true.

Strange, that.

45

steven t johnson 07.21.20 at 8:26 pm

Procopius@40 wrote “Trump’s base is not people suffering economic insecurity, it is not people who cling to their guns and religion. It’s well-to-do people who thought he would be good for them, and our future depends on whether they still think that or not.” Despite much good sense in the rest of the comment, it seems to me Procopius is still buying into the error of the OP in dwelling on the “base” as if mass pressure were pushing events. This still seems to me more like a prejudice against the mob than a reasoned position, which is inconsistent with the main thrust of the comment in my opinion.

This higher SES segment of the population is not the people who have been investing in audience manipulation by Fox and Clearwater and so on. And they are not the people who have given Trump billions of free publicity (and hid the unsavory details of his previous life from widespread knowledge.) The core of Trump’s support is still rich people.

Also, the fact that relatively higher income people, who are apt to have stock market investments or real property doesn’t mean they can’t feel insecure about whether they can lose position. You might sensibly argue that it’s the ones who have something to lose but are low enough on the scale to feel the most insecure about the future. Indeed they might not be able to afford the best lawyers to legally avoid income taxes and actually pay some (as well as sales and property taxes, though these are usually omitted as taxes, a la Mitt Romney.)

Quotes from Trotsky I’ve read tend to center on enraged petty bourgeois who are losing their social position. (Curiously I’ve not his collection about fascism in Germany.) That sort of thing sounds plausible to me.

Referring back to the OP in general, it seems desirable to repeat: The continuity in Trump is not, not with the Republican Party so much as all predecessors who scoffed at the law or pursued mad policies aimed at war abroad and regimentation at home. There are precedents like Jackson monekying with the national banking system or appeasing slavers by censoring the US mails. Or with Polk falsifying reports to Congress to engineer a war. Or Truman starting a war without troubling to go to Congress for a declaration of war and demanding a purge via loyalty oaths of the entire federal government. Obama even thought it would be favorable publicity to let it be known he drew up drone murder lists, even to kill US citizens.

Part of the problem in trying to determine how Trump is continuous with the Republic (not a democracy!) Party is that so many of his offenses are also continuous with the Democratic Party. There just is no way to make pot/kettle arguments convincing to uncommitted ears.

And the second issue, how Trump is different? King Andrew (as some coevals fondly dubbed him) was infamous for law-breaking. Were I able to write, I would venture into an alternate history SF novel, called El Presidente, which would be the life of Andrew Jackson transposed into a world where el Norte was a colony escaped from imperial Spain. Jackson as an early caudillo? Seems right to me. At any rate, Jackson is largely impervious to the modified limited hangout critiques popular in discreetly quite academic circles.

Possibly the more pertinent predecessor is Richard Nixon, even more directly part of the Great Purge of the Left than Trump (who is a mere acolyte of Roy Cohn.) Despite the incredible push to assimilate Trump to Jimmy Carter, Nixon is the spiritual predecessor. If I recall correctly Nixon was reported to have said that after he got done, they’d never be able to go back. As in, the old democracy would be gone. I think that is a part of Trump’s personal vision, which is why trashing government isn’t weakness but strategy. What’s truly different about Trump is that neither the Democratic Party isn’t getting the kind of support from the rich people to fight in the media and Congress. Not even Bezos, a personal rival, is pursuing all avenues. Compare the Washington Post then, and now.

46

nastywoman 07.21.20 at 8:44 pm

OR as the famous German writer Wilhelm Hauff ended his ”review” of the Republican Party with the following note:

“MY DEAR AMERICAN FRIENDS: —
When you read this I shall be far away from your town, and you will have discovered of what rank and country my dear President is. Take this joke, which I have allowed myself to indulge in at your expense, as a lesson not to seek the society of a stranger who prefers to live quietly by himself. I felt above sharing in your eternal clack, in your miserable customs, and your ridiculous manners. Therefore, I educated a young orang-outang, which, as my deputy, won such a warm place in your affections. Farewell; make the best use of this lesson.”

The people of America were not a little ashamed at the position they were in before the whole country. They had hoped that all this could be shown to have some connection with supernatural things. But the young people experienced the deepest sense of shame, because they had copied the bad customs and manners of the ape. They ceased to prop their elbows on the table; they no longer tilted back their chairs; they were silent until spoken to; they laid aside their spectacles, and were good and obedient; and if any one of them chanced to slip back into the old ways, the American people would say, “It is an ape!” But the ape, that had so long played the role of a gentleman, was surrendered to the learned man who possessed a cabinet of natural curiosities. He allowed the ape to have the run of his yard, fed it well, let him golf, and showed it as a curiosity to strangers, where it can be seen to this day…

47

Alex SL 07.21.20 at 10:20 pm

I am not a historian, but it seems to me as if for anything that people point to at the moment and say “this is unusually bad, unusually corrupt, or unusually threatening to our freedom of speech or democracy” you can go back a few decades and find something comparable or worse. In the USA, the gilded age, Jim Crow, lynchings, McCarthy, Vietnam, etc., immediately spring to mind even for this foreigner. Similar observations can be made for the countries I am citizen of.

Humans today don’t really fundamentally differ from humans forty, eighty, or one thousand years ago, and we see throughout similar patterns of behaviour and cycles of reckless and corrupt politicians, then the next, more serious generation that has seen where that leads, and then the next one that has forgotten it again. I do indeed perceive certain parallels between the contemporary politics of the anglosphere and Weimar, in particular between Murdoch’s TV empire, the British right-wing press, and Hugenberg‘s newspapers.

So is there anything that is really new? Perhaps the impact of social media. They might be something that individuals and society as a whole still have to accommodate themselves with, similar to the impact that the rise of the printing press had when it came to Europe.

48

J-D 07.21.20 at 11:03 pm

Is the role of the USA as the big world boss advantageous to the USA or is it just a waste of taxpayer money for the USA?

It’s advantageous to some people in the USA, and a waste, or worse, for some people in the USA. Possibly your analytical tools need sharpening.

49

Hidari 07.22.20 at 6:59 am

@48
Given the current state of the American economy, and, even more important, what is likely to be the state of the American economy in 6 months time, if the United States had a functioning opposition party (it doesn’t, obviously), Senators and Congressmen for this hypothetical opposition party would now be asking hard questions about whether this whole ‘American Empire’ thing was really working out, and, if so, for whom.

50

Zamfir 07.22.20 at 9:59 am

Minister says: ”My memories of Trump’s campaign say that Trump concluded that USA is just a wast of USA taxpayer money, […] both say that the USA should stop its oversea policies (but for different and almost opposed reasons).”

Trump’s rhetoric leaves two paths open: one option is to reduce the overseas policies to save money, the other is to get higher returns on the investment. Or at least, more tangible returns. In Trump-speak: “I still can’t believe we left Iraq without the oil”.

As a non-USAsian, that second option scares me. That in the coming years and decades, the US public will demand more visible loot from the empire.

51

Jim Buck 07.22.20 at 11:03 am

“So is there anything that is really new? Perhaps the impact of social media. They might be something that individuals and society as a whole still have to accommodate themselves with, similar to the impact that the rise of the printing press had when it came to Europe.“

Embedded in the German TV series Heimat was a scene that caught a foreshadowing of the social contagions (both benign and malign) spread via new media.

https://gerryco23.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/heimat-unreliable-memories-and-living-in-spite-of-everything/

52

nastywoman 07.22.20 at 11:18 am

”asking hard questions about whether this whole ‘American Empire’ thing was really working out, and, if so, for whom”.
as currently – according to the definition of ”Empire” as:
”An extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state” – there is only ONE Empire = THE EU –
OR
WAIT?
not even THE EU? –
as THE EU isn’t ruled by ”a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state” –
even if it is ”An extensive group of states or countries”… but what did I want to say?

OH?
YES!
Guys – y’all can’t call some ”Isolated Island” nobody can travel FROM – or TO –
an ”Empire” anymore – so let’s just settle for the time being for ”Trumpland” –
and after the Clownstick is back to golfing it will take a looooong time before THE EU will get a rival again in my homeland the US.

53

hix 07.22.20 at 2:35 pm

If only brainwashed cult folowing would be limited to the low educated and poor. That would be nice.

54

Anarcissie 07.22.20 at 6:18 pm

@49 —
At one time, several imperial states of Western Europe (UK, France, Netherlands) had apparently functioning opposition parties. yet I don’t recall any of them proposing to get rid of their empires voluntarily. Certainly the French and the British hung on to the bitter end. The poor little old American anti-war movement is making the point of waste in a time of crisis at present, and it doesn’t seem to carry much weight with the rest of the public, and certainly not with any functioning politicians. There’s something about this in Yes, Comrade Bwana but I have a feeling I’m only scratching the surface. Probably when it comes to flog-the-wog-and-wag-the-flag, there was and is no opposition at home. Although I’d love to find out something different.

55

PatinIowa 07.22.20 at 7:12 pm

It seems to me that Hidari is onto something at 33:

Doubtless there is the simple and obvious fact that Trump is not a politician…. In other words American politicians over the years/decades (most American politician are now very old, at least the ones in power) learn ‘what can be done’ and ‘what can be said’.

I used to wind my National Review reading father up by saying, “I’m not one of those socialists who thinks President Reagan is stupid. After all, he’s possibly the most accomplished politician of my lifetime. He’s very skilled and very smart.” I think Americans in general, and the right in particular, have invested in believing that there are spaces where politics don’t intrude, and people who are above politics are the best people to solve our problems.

If my dad were still alive, I’d wind him up by asking, “How does the world Trump wants differ from that Reagan wanted?”

I suspect, though, that Trump realized that fifty odd years after Goldwater that “what you can say,” has changed. It’s not that he doesn’t know the rules and flouts them through ignorance. It’s that what he says is now permitted by enough people that he can accumulate and exercise power. He may be operating from ignorance, but he’s following the current rules that obtain in his neighborhood.

56

Jon M 07.22.20 at 8:01 pm

Per your comment in passing that “moral character” is one of the elements that was boiled/drained off, I can at least offer some anecdotal commentary. My own mother is devoutly evangelical (Southern Baptist) and also intellectually inclined–as in, one of her primary pasttimes is reading history, although of a decidedly pop lit style focused on founding fathers and assorted other conservative-interest topics (e.g., hagiographies of famous rich people). She used to lead Bible studies that were heavily textual, and taught herself some Greek to be able to get in a little deeper. She raised us strictly with a heavy emphasis on morality and character. All of her children now range from progressive to radical leftist.

She held her nose when she voted for Trump, and said that she is–as she has supposedly been for a while–a single-issue voter: on abortion. She calls it being a “moral voter.” Well, judiciary-wise he has delivered the only thing that she was hoping for, the prospect of a theocratic federal bench. Of course she has opened herself up to obvious critique, given the amorality/anti-morality of Trump himself and the absurdity of single-issue morality.

Because we her children have subjected her to endless interrogation about the morality question, she has stopped consuming the news (not like that was ever a strong interest of hers). I think her position is probably somewhat representative of regular people who are religious and who feel disconnected from/uninterested in elite politics. Namely, I think she dislikes the electoral choices available to her, doesn’t relish the thought of spending as much energy/brainspace on politics as younger people do, and sheepishly, semi-cynically and semi-fearfully (in a maybe Kierkegaardian fear-and-trembling kind of sense) resigns herself to just maintaining her old voting preferences and trying to ignore whether that has consequences or not.

We once had a conversation about anti-deportation work I was doing and she said, “but those people are illegal.” We talked for an hour about that claim, and she very meekly admitted “I guess I could stand to consider other people a little more.” Well, parents brains reset at midnight. Ever since she has carefully fled in the other direction anytime there’s a whiff of politics in the conversation. It’s too threatening to think that the narrow way you’ve defined morality for your entire adult life is a sham.

57

LFC 07.22.20 at 10:06 pm

@54/49

There was a range of opinion among British and French political parties and publics about how to deal w their formal empires as the “winds of change” (Harold Macmillan’s phrase) swept through the colonial world in the 1950s and into the early 60s, though there was generally more of a wide cross-ideological consensus in France about the importance of hanging onto the empire. Which helps explain why France fought long wars in Indochina and Algeria[*], whereas Britain, despite some very brutal practices e.g. in E. Africa (Kenya) and bitter “counterinsurgency” campaigns (Malaya), let go of its colonies on the whole less violently and (to use one scholar’s word) less “histrionically.”

[*France officially considered Algeria not a colony but an integral part of France; can look up the details on what this meant.]

That said, I wd not really go along w Hidari @49’s phrasing. He’s right that there’s not a whole lot of opposition to the current U.S. global footprint in the Dem Party (though there is specific disagreement w some of Trump’s policies, e.g. T’s identification w Netanyahu to take just one example). But this doesn’t mean the Dems aren’t an opposition party, it just means that their status as such is more obvious when it comes to issues of domestic policy and that not a lot of Dem politicians are making connections between “empire” and domestic policy.

On some of Mr. Mister’s questions (rhetorical or actual), I’d say that US “empire” is a product of several factors: (1) inertia (the global base network and the alliance structure have been around for a long time); (2) political clout of mil/ind complex and defense “establishment”; (3) a more minor but not totally insignificant factor is the sincerely held conviction of some/many in the US f.p. establishment (and elsewhere) that U.S. hegemony is generally “benign” and benefits others not just the US. There are several think tanks and policy institutes that oppose “empire” and they even occasionally break through to get a hearing in US “mainstream” media but so far have not managed to move the needle a whole lot, I wd say.

58

Alex SL 07.22.20 at 10:09 pm

Jim Buck,

Yes, something at the level of the use of the radio by the Nazis is exactly the kind of transformation I was thinking of. But by now the allure of the radio has worn off, and so will, I am sure, that of social media in due course, as people recalibrate their critical thinking to the new medium and society collectively finds ways of dealing with it.

On the way there it can, of course, cause enormous damage.

59

J-D 07.22.20 at 11:07 pm

I think Americans in general, and the right in particular, have invested in believing that there are spaces where politics don’t intrude, and people who are above politics are the best people to solve our problems.

Politics necessarily includes the possibility of power being wielded by those who do not currently hold it; therefore, to form the concept of ‘politics’ is a left-wing step. Conversely, an apolitical solution to any problem must mean that power remains with those who currently wield it and is therefore an inherently right-wing conception.

60

ph 07.23.20 at 1:43 am

One amendment to may last – that should be ignorance in ‘public discourse.’

@56 I thoroughly your account of ‘endlessly interrogating’ the woman literally brought you into this world, wonderfully uplifting! I’m sure she’s very grateful.

@57 Portugal and Spain are better examples of intransigence – see Angola and the Spanish Sahara. Britain didn’t have a choice, lacking any money or will to do much more than run counter-insurgency campaigns. The Suez did for the Brits and the creation of Israel was a tacit admission of the limits of British power. Mind you, if one factors in the million deaths from the India-Pakistan partition, there’s plenty of blood on British hands.

As for violence per capita, the land of windmills and tulips presents perhaps the most instructive example of post-WWII colonial entitlement – liberated from the German yoke by the allies (and some staunch resistance), the Dutch promptly set about re-colonizing Indonesia. Four years of war 1945-1949 cost 300,00 Indonesian lives and 6,000. The French, as you note, waged similarly violent and destructive wars.

“The Indonesian War of Independence of 1945-1949 ended with the signing of an internationally mediated independence agreement requiring Indonesia to take over the Dutch East India government’s debt, effectively paying the Netherlands 4.3 billion guilders for its independence. Payments continued until 2002.”

https://theconversation.com/dutch-memorial-day-erasing-people-after-death-97236

61

J-D 07.23.20 at 2:57 am

We once had a conversation about anti-deportation work I was doing and she said, “but those people are illegal.”

I’ve never been a Christian myself, but what did she think Jesus had to say about that?

62

MisterMr 07.23.20 at 2:02 pm

@J-D 48 & LFC 57

I’ll be more specific.
I know of 3 theories that explain European colonialism:

1) need for captive markets for mainland products;
2) need for cheap non-industrial resources;
3) according to for example Hobson (who was an underconsumptionist) the military was a great thing to blow money on for a capitalist country (increases demand but doesn’t compete against private business) but once you are spending a lot on the military you have to use it now or then.

These 3 explanations are not mutually exclusive.

If we compare these 3 explanations to the USA:

(1) was actually a big part of the policies of the USA, but only towards some satellite states (European countries, Japan, South Korea).
It seems to me things changed after the 80s when the USA became a net importer; but then why did the USA become a net importer? I have my opinions but I’ll leave it at that. USA policies towards China IMHO up to recently followed this logic.

(2) At the time of the USSR it made sense for the USA to secure oil fields for the west, but now? At best some people in the USA want to own the oil fields but this is not the same thing.

(3) Are people really that stupid? Seriously?

My wild guess is that the USA have an advantage from their position, and it comes as having no country enacting an explicitly anti-USA policy.
But people don’t see this because everyone takes this for granted, nobody for example expects the EU to take a seriously anti-USA on anything.
So I fear that when/if this changes, and the USA loses it position, a lot of stuff will happen that people in the USA didn’t expect will happen, and to said people will look like an horrible betrayal, and this might become horrible politically.

63

Robert Weston 07.23.20 at 4:18 pm

LFC @ 57:

“[A] more minor but not totally insignificant factor is the sincerely held conviction of some/many in the US f.p. establishment (and elsewhere) that U.S. hegemony is generally “benign” and benefits others not just the US. There are several think tanks and policy institutes that oppose “empire” and they even occasionally break through to get a hearing in US “mainstream” media but so far have not managed to move the needle a whole lot, I wd say.”

That’s a crucial point. The idea of US hegemony still enjoys ironclad support in Washington, and near-unanimous, sometimes deeply emotional buy-in in many allied countries. Read some German international affairs commentators, for instance, and you’ll get the sense they’re more royalist than the king. That’s why I think you’re both underestimating support for, and overestimating criticism of, US imperialism among foreign policy communities.

That’s also why it’s hard to foresee any reversal of US foreign policy orthodoxy until a new generation that has been educated to question the idea of benevolent American hegemony takes over. Even that assumes the next Republican administration follows policies at least as awful as those of the current one. And even then, between those presidencies, we may well have Biden and a return to comfortable suzerainty, grounded in stated multilateralism and adherence to the UN charter. What Europeans – and probably Oz and NZ – are praying for, in other words.

Another problem is that it’s very hard to imagine what life without US hegemony would look like, assuming our leaders were remotely ready to consider that option. No other country in our lifetimes has exercised global power on such scale, and certainly none has any experience in dismantling a global empire. Maybe post-World War II UK bears loose comparison, if that, but no one with any institutional memory of that process is around to advise current rulers. Do you bring the troops home? Do you end the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency? If so, how? Do you hand the reins to Russia and China – doubtful – or do you move towards a multilateral world order? What does that even look like? Operationally, ending the empire might prove very difficult to conceptualize, let alone to bring about.

64

CHETAN R MURTHY 07.23.20 at 9:18 pm

J-D @ 61: something something something “Santa Claus is white; he just -is-“.

65

hix 07.24.20 at 11:03 am

“I’ve never been a Christian myself, but what did she think Jesus had to say about that?”
That Jesus only said you shall love your next, and the foreign other is not my next. He is instead a big sinner, breaking the rules and shall be punished, possibly by death.

My rich evangelical cousin thinks Mathew 20,1-16 (labourers get the same wage no matter how long they work) means that everyone who is jealous of him being filthy rich for no obvious bigger effort than others is a big sinner. When i carefully suggested to him one could also interpret this one as to each according to his needs, favouring equality, he genuinly sounded like he never heard that interpretation even so he obviously discussed that story ad nauseum at his evangelical upper class bible circle.
The real absurd part is: My cousin is German like me, he got no connection to the US besides that stupid church. That alone was sufficient for him to believe every single typical US conspiracy theory, from covid to global warming, to all government statistics are made up (but for profits are trustworthy) that have hardly any direct connection to evangelical teaching.

66

LFC 07.24.20 at 2:04 pm

Robert Weston @63

Your points/questions are well taken. I think there has been some work in recent years on what a genuinely “multilateral world order” would look like but I’m not familiar enough with it to discuss it in a v. informed way. One problem here is that some analysts seem to equate U.S. hegemony with what they call a “liberal” or “rules-based” international order and they assume, implicitly or explicitly, that you can’t have the latter without (some version of) the former. I suspect this is the case, for example, with Nexon and Cooley’s Exit from Hegemony (Oxford Univ. Press, 2020), though I haven’t read it.

P.s. A long time ago, Stanley Hoffmann in Primacy or World Order (1978) framed a lot of the pertinent questions, although his answers, probably not specific (or radical) enough to begin with, would need, at the very least, updating.

67

LFC 07.24.20 at 2:25 pm

Further to the comments at 62/63:

Charles Kupchan’s The End of the American Era (2003), which I did read, argued that the EU was on the verge of emerging as an independent center of power to challenge U.S. leadership, but the years since show that the argument didn’t really pan out. Then more recently Kupchan’s view seems to be that no one is in charge (No One’s World, 2013).

68

Jon M 07.24.20 at 9:32 pm

Another problem is that it’s very hard to imagine what life without US hegemony would look like, assuming our leaders were remotely ready to consider that option.

I recently read Perry Anderson’s American Foreign Policy and its Thinkers and found his synthesis intriguing. He spends the first part of the book recounting the best revisionist history of American foreign policy to date and the second part presenting a playbook of the disarray that currently pervades American foreign policy elites. Of course, among them there remains a near-unanimous belief in US primacy, although the different inflections of that concept are worth noting. Much discussion of radically different versions of multilateral global governance, including the embarrassing but believable “League of Democracies” (read: league of useful allies, whom we will flatter with the term democracy) as a sort of “NATO for the world” against Russia and China.

A worthy read, highly recommended.

69

J-D 07.24.20 at 11:11 pm

“I’ve never been a Christian myself, but what did she think Jesus had to say about that?”
That Jesus only said you shall love your next, and the foreign other is not my next. He is instead a big sinner, breaking the rules and shall be punished, possibly by death.

I don’t want to make you feel as if you’re being cross-examined, but I’m genuinely fascinated, even if only temporarily.

It’s not news to me that people interpret scriptural texts differently (just as they do with other texts). For example, when you describe the different interpretations offered by yourself and your cousin of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, I can figure out for myself, at least roughly, how each of you arrived at each particular interpretation (even though my own interpretation of the text would be different from both).

It’s also not news to me that some people believe that the foreigner is not a neighbour but a sinner deserving of punishment, and I can figure out for myself, at least roughly, some of the ways in which people might arrive at this conclusion (even though I disagree profoundly).

What I can’t figure out–and what intrigues and baffles me–is this: which is the scriptural text that your mother interprets as meaning ‘the foreigner is not a neighbour but a sinner deserving of punishment’? Although, as I mentioned, I’ve never been a Christian, I could easily find the texts which I would interpret as meaning the opposite, but my purpose here is not to prove that your mother is no true Christian (I regard that as a meaningless argument) but just to arrive at a better understanding of her point of view. As I observed at the beginning, at least for the moment it fascinates me.

70

J-D 07.25.20 at 1:36 am

Are people really that stupid? Seriously?

Maybe.

Why not?

71

nastywoman 07.25.20 at 3:48 am

@
”Then more recently Kupchan’s view seems to be that no one is in charge (No One’s World, 2013)”

BUT as now the Virus is in charge –
”BIGLY” – as Trump would say –
and there is no US ”Empire” anymore –
”Sadly” – as Trump would say –
and we – so many of the once proud Empire – couldn’t even meet this summer in CA -(because some… some ”Virus” rules) –
AND we couldn’t meet in our favourite ”Empire where no one is in charge” -(London) BE-cause that’s where the Virus rules too – so for the time being the Virus is ”the Empire” – and thanks god ”that Empire” doesn’t rule Italy anymore and we can drive to the Isola Pescatore on Sunday…

72

MisterMr 07.25.20 at 1:09 pm

@J-D 69
Sigh. I don’t want to believe it!

@J-D 68
“which is the scriptural text that your mother interprets as meaning ‘the foreigner is not a neighbour but a sinner deserving of punishment’?”

I can’t speak for other peoples, however any moral code automatically creates a distinction between good guys and bad guys, for example if I say that racism is bad I imply that racist people are bad.
But, what does “bad” mean exactly? In my opinion, if I can put in some amateurish evo-psych, first we have an istinctive distinction between enemy and friend (aka ingroup and outgroup), and later through changes in culture (due to increasing complexity of the social structure) we change this in a distinction between good guys (friends) and bad guys (enemies).
But since instinctive distiction starts from the in/out group thingie, we will often uncounsciously do the opposite, and simply assume that the outgroups are bad, instead than defining bad people as the outgroup.

73

Hidari 07.25.20 at 1:33 pm

‘there is no US ”Empire” anymore –’

Ha! Yes the Americans would very much like you to believe that.

Getting back to the topic, the ever excellent Branko Milanovic has a blog post that clarifies some thoughts of my own about what is ‘different’ about Trump.

‘Until Trump came to power the invasion of the political space by economic rules of behavior was concealed. There was a pretense that politicians treated people as citizens. The bubble was burst by Trump who, unschooled in the subtleties of democratic dialectics, could not see how anything could be wrong with the application of business rules to politics. Coming from the private sector, and from its most piracy-oriented segment dealing with the real estate, gambling and Miss Universe, he rightly thought—supported by the neoliberal ideology—that the political space is merely an extension of economics.

Many accuse Trump of ignorance. But this is I think a wrong way to look at things. He may not be interested in the US constitution and complex rules that regulate politics in a democratic society because he, whether consciously or intuitively, thinks that they should not matter or even exist. The rules with which he is familiar are the rules of companies: “You are fired!”: a purely hierarchical decision, based on power consecrated by wealth, and unchecked by any other consideration….

People complain that Trump, in this crisis, is lacking the most elementary human compassion. But while they are right in diagnosis, they are wrong in understanding the origin of the lack of compassion. Like any rich owner he does not see that his role is to show compassion to his hired hands, but to decide what they should do, and even when the occasion presents itself, to squeeze them out of their pay, make them work harder or dismiss them without a benefit. In doing so to his putative countrymen he is just applying to an area called “politics” the principles that he has learned and used for many years in business.

Trump is the best student of neoliberalism because he applies its principles without concealment.’

I think this is accurate and shows why Trump may not be the best American President but he is definitely the most representative American President. He is American-ness boiled down to its absolute essence: the purpose of human existence is to accumulate money and commodities: everything else is meaningless and valueless, everyone is for hire, everyone is for sale, truth, beauty, philosophy and religion are for sale to the highest bidder. And of course this is the essence of capitalism, boiled down to its essence, denuded of its social democratic ‘veneer’ that was only necessary when there were other options, other socio-political arrangements either of the extreme right or extreme left that one could choose from. But now fascism and socialism and, finally social democracy (even in its watered down Blairite/Clintonite form) have been annihilated, and there is only Trumpism from now on. Blairism has been Pasokified, the radical left will always be destroyed by the right with the compliance of the liberals, and fascism is simply a voodoo doll to be brought out of the closet to scare the liberals into voting Democrat (or whatever is the local equivalent…outside of the United States with its bizarre electoral system, this is unlikely to work for much longer: cf Macron).

So that’s it, that’s your future. It won’t go on forever of course. Everything has an end, and we all have a fairly clear idea of how this particular game will play out.

https://glineq.blogspot.com/2020/04/trump-as-ultimate-triumph-of.html?spref=tw

74

LFC 07.25.20 at 1:54 pm

@Jon M.

I agree the P. Anderson work you mention is worth reading. (Was originally an entire issue of New Left Review before the book form.) There was a roundtable on it several years ago at another blog. (I contributed to the roundtable though I mainly used the Anderson as an excuse or jumping-off point to say somewhat unrelated things. Would probably write my essay a little differently if I were doing it over.)

@nastywoman
Point taken, I guess.

75

nastywoman 07.25.20 at 5:05 pm

@72
”But now fascism and socialism and, finally social democracy (even in its watered down Blairite/Clintonite form) have been annihilated, and there is only Trumpism from now on”.

What? –
as I just posted that WE are celebrating the (”social-democratic”) Triumph of Science over some Right-Wing STUPID at the Isola Pescatore in Italy?

AND!
Sorry – there CAN’T be an ”American Empire” anymore – as long as the ”Virus Empire” DOMINATES the American Empire and our FBA’s (full bloodied) American friends can’t even join US!
As how often does it have to be said:
”In order to be an ”Empire” you HAVE to be ”an extensive group of states” AND not some ”Isolated Island of STUPID”.

76

nastywoman 07.25.20 at 5:15 pm

”In order to be an ”Empire” you HAVE to be ”an extensive group of states” AND not some ”Isolated Island of STUPID”.

and I really wonder?
There were all these articles -(even in the US Press) about – who -(what countries”) did best in fighting the Empire of the Virus AND nearly ALL of them agreed about the total and absolute defeat of the (EX)US Empire.

Do I really have to quote them?

77

nastywoman 07.25.20 at 5:24 pm

AND about ”the Science Denying Dude” who destroyed the US Empire –
STOP writing about him as if he wouldn’t be ”FIRST” in being STUPID.

78

hix 07.25.20 at 6:34 pm

“What I can’t figure out–and what intrigues and baffles me–is this: which is the scriptural text that your mother interprets as meaning ‘the foreigner is not a neighbour but a sinner deserving of punishment’? ”
Different person! That was me putting over the top words in someone elses´ mothers mouth in an effort to make a joke, problem solved. The actual mother in all likelyhood has at least a more complicated version. The line of reasoning albeit is not entirely made up unfotunately. I´m an atheist and don´t do serious bible interpreting. My cousin is an odball in our family both in religious and financial terms. Everyone else is catholic with different degrees of seriousness. Even the very serious ones are just serious about believing in god and going to church. They do not read the bible and they just ignore all the more insane things about gays or contraception a priest might occasionaly tell them.

79

steven t johnson 07.26.20 at 3:07 pm

MisterMr@62 listed theories for European colonialism: “1) need for captive markets for mainland products;
2) need for cheap non-industrial resources;
3) according to for example Hobson (who was an underconsumptionist) the military was a great thing to blow money on for a capitalist country (increases demand but doesn’t compete against private business) but once you are spending a lot on the military you have to use it now or then.”

Strictly speaking, these are rationales. “Rationale” means justification, an effort to show the nation as a whole benefits from the expense and peril of empire. “Rationale” also means a scheme to select and proportion means to ends, that the goals may be more effectively achieved.

I suggest that a tremendous amount of effort is usually expended by the rulers to convince the people at large they are being threatened somehow and empire is not aggression but defense, and that they are nobly sacrificing for the Good and the Right in a crusade to help fellow good people. This is inconsistent but a fraudulent sales campaign is not about logic, but rhetoric.

By and large, I suggest, empires are for vested interests (to use an old phrase.) And, every effort to prove the mass of people somehow profit tend to be shaky because they don’t profit, not in the sense implied. The idea that a public school teacher in the US (tacitly assumed to be white, so far as I can tell,) is the primary exploiter of the oppressed peoples of the world (tacitly assumed to be POC) because they are sucking at the teat of the empire seems to me to be much more about moral condemnation of the masses.

This kind of thing, where the psychological rewards of villainy are supposed to lure the rabble into creating empires is I think not just a diversion into vain moralizing, away from effective politics. But it is an active endorsement of folly, the absurd notion that ideas, in the sense of autonomous thoughts freely chosen by individuals, rule the world. This may be regarded as philosophy of science, but if so, it is a deeply reactionary philosophy of science, the Mont Pelerin kind of von Hayek and Popper.

If instead of looking at rationales, you look at history, the slow creation of “European” colonialism seems to lie elsewhere.

The colonies are machinery of conquest where the goal is to rob the inhabitants. The Spanish colonies were about the seizure of gold and silver and the colonial apparatus was about making that happen to the benefit of the Spanish rulers. Other early colonies were about stealing land, as in Ireland. And though in one sense many of the settlers who came in to work those lands may be viewed as thieves in their own right, the simple truth is there is a fundamental ambiguity: Most of those people were also subordinate, even to the point where their very presence was involuntary.

Whenever private parties can rob, such as pirates, they do. But as in so many things, if you really want to get the job done, private initiative and wealth and free markets really don’t work the way economists pretend. Colonies can even be perceived as an orderly division of the loot, at least in some cases. Columbus pretended it was India to preserve his legal rights. (In my opinion, though for some reason lots of people seem to assume it was merely stupidity.) His patents from the Spanish crown were about property rights, and so were colonies.

Colonies were very rarely about markets, historically speaking, as it generally does not take an elaborate government administration to sell things to people who want to buy them. One of the most important examples of colonization, India, seems to show that destroying competition, especially in textiles, was a key factor. Distorting local economy by force and menaces, as when driving Bengal farmers to produce opium rather than food, created the Great Bengal Famine or the depredations of Leopold in pursuit of rubber in the Congo, was also exceedingly important. The economic benefits from this sort of thing did not redound to the nation, even if John Stuart Mill was fond of the contributions to a rather specific class of colonial administrators.
The replacement of the East India Company (both English and Dutch,) I think is a fine example of how risks to the people who truly profited were pushed off onto the home government. Colonies were a socialization of costs to the handful who personally benefited, as in the white highlands of Kenya.

And though Hobson may have thought armies had to be used occasionally, just because, I would simply point out, that once great armies exist, they pose a risk to others. The commonest proximate cause of war is the belief in easy victory. (The second is that the rulers are losing the peace and have no way to win but by arms.) If you think of diplomacy as an elaborate system to prevent destructive wars, then you should realize all complex systems will eventually break down.

Once you admit the threat of competition from other empires, colonies are very much about preempting enemies. The notorious Scramble for Africa is a particular convincing example of this, indicating how strong a motive it is.

The current US system of military bases that chain that larger part of the planet is not nearly as burdensome as colonies, which usually had to gesture at services and investments in the colonized lands. But the notion it is paying off for the US people is as dubious as the notion the conquest of Ireland paid off for the English people, rather than some English lords. Trumpery of course, is about pretending the US crusades should pay off. The logical conclusion is to quit, not get more ruthless, which is what a ph stands for, despite pretenses.

It seems to me we should think of the imperialism as a class thing. The state in a single country carries out fundamental activities in defense of property (which includes enforcing a system of land and labor policies, as well as merely policing the streets.) The states in the world economy also protect property, not least from other states. Their actions are about ensuring the value of the currency, the safety of property, the continuation of the current system. Like these activities within domestic realms, the activities abroad mean that the normal operations of capitalist development concentrate and centralize capital, generate financial powers that ever more shape all operations and remorselessly, ceaselessly support the repression of the working classes above all else.

I think this is not a digression from Trump’s uniqueness. I think Trump is resorting to cruder exploitation of so-called allies like the EU and pursuing aggressive economic warfare (which means risking military warfare of course,) because the capitalist system on a world scale is not doing well. Desperate times call for desperate measure, for capitalists too. Individual capitalists cut out the luxury of quality control when profits drop. And en masse they are cutting out the luxury of the old forms of bourgeois democracy. Hence Trump.

80

johne 07.26.20 at 4:18 pm

@58, “… the level of the use of the radio by the Nazis is exactly the kind of transformation I was thinking of. But by now the allure of the radio has worn off…”

Not exactly: the Sinclair Group, with nearly two hundred stations covering 40% of American households, provides programming and “news” — with a reactionary slant. That is supplemented by the commentary of arch-reactionary Rush Limbaugh and his imitators to ensure that, especially in rural areas, it is difficult to find any progressive content on the Am radio that most Americans listen to.

TV obviously has its place, and social media are finding theirs, but in any job involving habitual tasks — in the workshop, driving, shopping, housework — radio relieves the boredom, yet can be mentally blocked out when the listener’s attention is needed closer at hand. At the Nuremberg Trials, Albert Speer said, “Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought.” Something akin to that might be said of much of America’s 330 million.

81

Andres 07.26.20 at 6:39 pm

Nastydude-ess:

“AND about ”the Science Denying Dude” who destroyed the US Empire –
STOP writing about him as if he wouldn’t be ”FIRST” in being STUPID.”

There is an undefined, blurry VENN-MATHGUY DIAGRAM overlap between SELF-SERVING and MALEVOLENT and (relatively?) STUPID. Clownstick may be at the three-set overlap center, but too much of the political class (though not just the CLOWNSTICK PARTY) is on their surfboards weaving zig-zags between the three.

82

Hidari 07.26.20 at 7:57 pm

A lot of people talking about imperialism. Another thing that doesn’t get talked about enough (and I know we, as do we all) is the delayed impact of the Iraq war on the rise of populism (and Brexit). This totally blew people’s faith in the ‘liberal’ elite. We knew these people were evil and kinda stupid, but we all thought that they more or less lived in the real world. It was only Afghanistan, and, then, Iraq, that showed the world that as well as being evil and stupid they were also batshit crazy. This was new.

It’s all very well sniggering at the plebs and their lack of faith in ‘experts’ but people aren’t stupid: when Tony Blair, for example, told people that ‘we’ were all better off in the EU, people could remember that he believed (or said he did) that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Same with all the scaremongering about Trump, often (not always but often) led by people who said much the same thing about Saddam Hussein. People aren’t stupid, and they have long memories. It’s not entirely true, but frequently true, that the people who were most aggressively against Trump (in the ‘he is the New Hitler’ way) were saying much the same about Saddam Hussein back in the day, and the people who were most fanatically devoted to the EU (the Remainiacs) had been, only a few years previously, in favour of regime change in Iraq. There are of course good people against Trump and Brexit making good arguments, but that’s not who I am talking about here.

@80
I wouldn’t put too much faith in what the self-regarding charlatan Speer had to say about anything. He was very keen to put forward the idea that it was the ghastly proles who were responsible for Hitler and not, say, him and his rich mates, a thesis the documentary record would seem to give rather more support to.

“Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought.”

To which the only response is, given that apparently he ‘saw through’ the propaganda, ‘so what was your excuse then, you Nazi prick?’

83

MisterMr 07.26.20 at 8:03 pm

@steven t johnson 79

“The idea that a public school teacher in the US (tacitly assumed to be white, so far as I can tell,) is the primary exploiter of the oppressed peoples of the world (tacitly assumed to be POC)”
I’m totally not tacitally assuming colors, in fact I think that USA imperialism to the degree it is advantageous to the USA it is advantageous against other industrialized countries, that often are quite withish.

“This kind of thing, where the psychological rewards of villainy are supposed to lure the rabble into creating empires”
The point is not luring the rabble, the problem is avoiding a crisis of the capitalist system, that in the immediate is certainly damaging to workers too. By the way, this is Lenin’s idea of a worker’s aristocracy.

“Colonies were very rarely about markets, historically speaking, as it generally does not take an elaborate government administration to sell things to people who want to buy them.”
It does if you want to prevent them from buying from others, but this is something you agree with later.

“But the notion it is paying off for the US people is as dubious as the notion the conquest of Ireland paid off for the English people, rather than some English lords.”
My understanding is that income in Britain in the 19th century was still higer than income in Ireland, though.

“I think this is not a digression from Trump’s uniqueness. I think Trump is resorting to cruder exploitation of so-called allies like the EU and pursuing aggressive economic warfare (which means risking military warfare of course,)”
Trump is attempting this sort of economic warfare, but I doubt that he can win thias war: for example I think that if he actually managed to put on substantial tariffs the USA would lose out more than others, which is sort of my point (unless you assume that the USA is completely stupid, one would assume that since the current world system was built by the USA it at least in part advantages the USA, whereas Trumpers believe thy are being taken advantage of).

84

William S Berry 07.26.20 at 9:27 pm

“Nastydude-ess”

Maybe you meant well (i.e., just jokin’ around), but that really comes across as patronizing and sexist .

You usually do better.

85

ph 07.27.20 at 12:10 am

What comes after November looks increasingly like more of the same only worse – a Trump victory and a general decline in civic goodwill, at least in the short term.

The conflict between those who can profit off America first and those who want to return to globalism will intensify. Democratic voters in larger cities will question more intensely the efficacy of their political leaders and the Great Society policies of the past – both from the left and from the right. The white moderate Democratic urban voter is likely this election’s ‘secret Trump voter.’

This constituency will not be moved to vote for a leader from the last century, and especially not if ‘the real candidate’s’ is selected only/primarily on a combination of ethnicity and gender. Every night cities burn, police retreat, violence increases – and the media response is mute. All roads lead to Putin is not going to get Dems over. AOC dropping the F-bomb on the floor of Congress impresses few.

Bogus stands against ‘federal troops invading’ Detroit and Portland read as flip political posturing, even as minority-owned businesses are torched by out-of-control ‘anarchists’ travelling in from secure suburban enclaves. The leader from the last century death-rattles ‘first racist president’ – another gaffe certain to disappoint even his most cynical handlers and supporters. Apparatchiks from the failed Sanders campaign and the DNC work fervently to re-fashion their globalist candidate as a leftist populist leader. Mine workers shiver watching the DNC embrace the ‘job-creating’ green new deal. 2020 more and more resembles 2016. The Dem holds commanding leading in the polls and among the pundits while the enthusiasm gap between the two candidates points to another ‘surprise’ Trump victory.

The current response against the sitting president seems tired and feeble by 2015-6 standards. Celebrity-millionaires rail on Twitter and are re-tweeted a billionty times by the like-minded just as they have lo these many years. The followers of these keyboard commandos will not vote, or do so in Dem dominated enclaves, or are simply too young. Years ago, Henry sagely noted the difference between activists who knock on doors and those who embrace politics to improve a social media profile.

Now, we can all finally meet the ‘primary source’ of the infamous pee- dossier here: https://www.realclearinvestigations.com/articles/2020/07/24/meet_steele_dossiers_primary_subsource_fabulist_russian_at_us_think_tank_whose_boozy_past_the_fbi_ignored_124601.html

Criminal investigations into the hoax, like the violence in America’s cities, has been muted by the media, or dismissed as politically-motivated. Had the NYT and old media covered the last four years with some energy, none of this would come as a surprise. The irony is that four years of covering for Obama’s FBI, Justice and CIA bad apples isn’t enough to save their jobs. The new guard have little need for Putin puppet narratives. The DNC is as much the enemy as Trump.

A vocal supporter of the president was executed in broad daylight on the streets of Wisconsin two days ago.

Out of answers, and out of candidates, leaves unhappy voters with few choices. George Will, a media figure from the last century, announced he will vote for the candidate from the last century. It’s like that.

The gap between the candidates will close as COVID becomes the new normal. Those who wish to blame the president for COVID and everything else will do so. The president’s base is unified, defiant, and (I’d say) growing.

Nobody but the very boldest, would ever in their right minds publicly admit to supporting the president. The toxicity of Trump hate, the vitriol and venom directed against his supporters, makes current polls almost meaningless.

Regarding the American empire, as some call it; this empire is not in retreat. Space is the new frontier. The desire/need for new resources and trade and territory – the impetus for empire, rather than mere colonies, is ever present. Corporations form to profit from the new terrains, online and otherwise.

Where will voters and ordinary folks figure in the post 2020 universe. Where do you think? The same place we’ve always been – squarely at the bottom.

86

Andres 07.27.20 at 1:59 am

William. Yes, I was joking around. If someone finds it sexist and patronizing, that’s my bad. That’s the price of commenting.

87

Hidari 07.27.20 at 5:24 am

@83 ‘What comes after November looks increasingly like more of the same only worse – a Trump victory and a general decline in civic goodwill, at least in the short term.’

Of course you may be right, but it certainly doesn’t look like a Trump victory right now.

88

ph 07.27.20 at 7:29 am

@87 As I noted on Henry’s excellent thread, in my experience differences usually result from examining different data sets, weighting, and rubrics.

I’ve arrived at a point where I believe Trump will win. I’m employing the same metrics I employed in 2016: 1/ enthusiasm for the candidate; 2/ media skills; 3/ voter priorities.

I’ll be brief – the essentials are base enthusiasm across categories, on camera agility and atmospherics, track record and ability to convince voters the candidate is better than the other guy, the desire and ability to go for the throat, and the ability to fool voters.

All questions can be answered by this example of the D candidate just days ago working with the Dem base.

https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2020/07/23/biden_ive_had_nurses_breathe_in_my_nostrils_to_make_me_move.html

89

ph 07.27.20 at 7:42 am

And to follow-up on the OP, I expect Trump to effectively retire the day after inauguration. He seems sick to death of the job. Pence takes over, and Donald plays a lot of golf.

90

Hidari 07.27.20 at 2:43 pm

@ 88 .Ignoring your post at @89, which is absurd, I think it’s increasingly likely that Trump will be, as Corey Robin has consistently insisted, a 1 term President, like Jimmy Carter, who he most strongly resembles (as Corey has continually pointed out). *

People vote with their wallets, as I have continually pointed out, and, according to Gallup, ‘Trump started 2020 with the highest economic approval rating in an election year of any president seeking reelection since Gallup began measuring economic approval in the current approve/disapprove format during Reagan’s presidency.’

Which is why he was self-evidently and clearly going to win in January, as I have frequently pointed out, and if Covid-19 hadn’t happened, he would have won. People vote with their wallets.

But his approval levels have consistently dropped since January (i.e. in terms of this issue). Moreover, his handling of the Covid-19 crisis, which has shown him to be weak and indecisive (he has flip flopped all over the place about this) . His approval levels vis a vis the economy are not as low, yet, as George Bush Snrs (another obvious predecessor) but they could well head there, especially if the Republicans decide to commit suicide by holding back on public spending as the economy tanks for the sake of some incoherent nonsense about balancing the books, or some such drivel.

Moreover, the Covid-19 debacle (and I’m not feeling sorry for Trump but he has been extraordinarily unlucky: if the election had been held in February he would now be firmly ensconced for a second term) has really vitiated his ability to rile up his base. The end of the ‘mass rallies’ where Trump excels and the probably cancellation of the Conventions, maybe even the ‘head to heads’ means he can’t use his trademarks sarcasm etc. to destroy Biden. Moreover, Biden only has two flaws: everything he does and everything he says. Covid’s making everyone stay indoors, has enabled Biden’s staff to keep him from within 100 metres of a camera or mic, a very wise idea. So, he becomes a sort of void, onto which people can project images of what they want him to be and avoid looking at his actual record.

But none of this would matter if the economy got better. If the economy improves, Trump wins, if it doesn’t, Biden wins.

People vote with their wallets.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/313070/trump-economic-ratings-no-longer-best-class.aspx

*Although Dukakis was 13 points ahead at this point in his campaign! So still all to play for. ‘Events, dear boy, events’.

91

nastywoman 07.27.20 at 3:13 pm

@
”I expect Trump to effectively retire the day after inauguration – He seems sick to death of the job”.

and I always like ph jokes the best – with the exception when he jokes about ”the people” – the ”voters and ordinary folks” who in the post 2020 universe. -(after Trump) – will find themselves in such a worst place – than they’ve always been – BIGLY – HUUUGLY at the bottom.
And it will take the US Dems a lot – to stop the –
”general decline in civic goodwill, at least in the short term”.

And as ph writes himself:
Nobody but the very boldest, would ever in their right minds publicly admit to supporting the president. The toxicity of (rightful) Trump hate, the vitriol and venom directed against his stupid supporters, make the current response against the sitting president so much more effective by 2015-6 standards.

Even his Celebrity-millionaires buddies rail on Twitter and are re-tweeted a billionty times by the like-minded and the followers of these keyboard commandos will vote,
like George Will, a media figure from the last century, announced he will vote NOT FOR TRUMP It’s like that.

The gap between the candidates will never close as COVID never will NOT become ”the new normal” in the next months. Those who wish to blame the president for COVID and everything else will do so in order to reduce the president’s crumbing base.

Regarding the American empire, as some call it; this empire is in retreat – as Space is NOT ”the new frontier” in comparison to the desire/need for flying to Europe – and the profit from ”new terrains” -(like vacations in Utah) can’t make up for looking at the Italian Lake I’m looking at –

Right now!
-(and especially after this awesome lunch at the Belvedere)

AND so what comes after November looks increasingly better and better – with Biden or any D-Candidate and especially with AOC dropping the F-bomb on the floor of Congress so impressively.

And the stands against ‘federal troops invading’ Detroit and Portland and the ‘first racist president’ – will be forgotten fast as ”another gaffe of some US Idiots” – and –
Trump will have a really difficult time… golfing – again – as he had ruined his handicap for life –

AND NO PROBLEM calling me ”dudess” – even if I prefer ”dudett”
AND I will repost this comment again – after the election of the New -(NotTrump) President – in order that WE ALL can have a good laugh with our comedian –
ph.

92

LFC 07.28.20 at 3:39 am

Hidari:
Covid’s making everyone stay indoors, has enabled Biden’s staff to keep him from within 100 metres of a camera or mic, a very wise idea

But Biden has been making some speeches, mainly virtual (I’m pretty sure), and “appearances”(via one means or another). So it’s not as if he has disappeared, just that the circumstances make him somewhat less visible than he would be during an ordinary campaign. It looks like the Democratic convention will be entirely virtual and the Republican one probably mostly so.

93

nastywoman 07.28.20 at 5:43 am

and by the way –
as Trump has just complained – that there is far too much ”trending” – and I told you guys that you just need to look at ”trending” if y’all want to know how anything will turn out –
Let’s try to beat the ph joke about ”golfing” with:

”If you live by the Tweet – you die by the Tweet”!

94

ph 07.28.20 at 10:17 am

@90 I have no objection to the ‘people vote with their wallets’ argument, or the premise that if the economy improves Trump wins.

However, I’m not convinced Trump loses if the economy doesn’t improve much more than it has. Moreover, I’m not convinced Trump loses if the economy remains flat, or dips, especially when the candidate he’s running against an individual who wouldn’t be hired as a greeter at Walmart.

After Trump, anything’s possible of course.

As for appeals to authority – whatever authority academics claim to possess, the vast majority failed to read the writing on the wall in 2016.

Brexit pointed sharply to rejection of the globalist status quo. Look at Sanders’s support in California and the rustbelt. That was the concrete evidence of Dem discontent with a third Obama term. But almost all academics instead relied on ‘polls’ and paid the facts before their face no more mind than did the Clintons.

Donors noticed, however, especially when in early 2016, HRC was outspending Trump 40 to 1 to remain tied https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/07/14/gallagher_team_clinton_has_outspent_trump_40-1_in_swing_states_and_is_only_tied.html

I pointed to that fact at the time, and to the fact that Dem donors were shitting bricks over the lack of interest in the Democratic candidate’s coronation. Facts are stubborn things.
Wallets mattered then, too, except nobody was paying attention to flatlining income in Dem states until voters in the rustbelt kicked Democrats where it counts.

So, you’re right.

I am, btw, looking right now at a clip from the Dem Deputy Campaign manager openly floating the idea of a VP as a kind of co-president ‘a partner in progress’ just as B was to O. I wonder whether that has to do with internal polling on voter excitement for ‘breathe into my nostrils’ as commander-in-chief and the man to restart a moribund economy.

My guess is yes.

95

Hidari 07.28.20 at 3:19 pm

I was going to post something else here, my own inconsequential thoughts, but Samuel Moyn puts it far better than I could.

https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/05/19/the-trouble-with-comparisons/

96

Hidari 07.29.20 at 12:08 pm

@94
Your basic points are correct. BUT…there’s a number of rather gigantic differences between now and 2016.

First, Biden, flawed though he is, doesn’t provoke the same kind of visceral hatred as Clinton did (and this is particularly true amongst white pensioners, Trump’s core base. Lots of Trump voters voted not for Trump, but against Clinton. Will they make the effort to vote this time? Maybe. Maybe not).

Second. whereas there is still a huge amount of rage at the gross inequities of the United States, last time Trump could clearly blame it on Obama. This time, he is clearly partly to blame, and as it was partly his mishandling of the Covid-19 thing that is to blame, it’s going to be much harder to blame it all on the Democrats.

Third: (and most important). Last time Trump was running as the outside, rebel, non-conformist, ‘outsider’ candidate. This time, he’s the goddamn President. He is the establishment.

Fourth: what is Trump…actually going to do in his 2nd term? We all know what he was promising in term 1…the wall, the Muslim ban, tariffs (to be fair, he has made some attempt to do something about all these things, though none of them have fundamentally changed anything).

Assuming that Trump loses (and he might not!) I would say that the crucial time his campaign really ran into trouble was when he was asked what he was going to do in his second term…and he had no idea.

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/03/politics/donald-trump-2nd-term-2020/index.html

This does not mean Trump will lose for sure: as I said, Dukakis was far further ahead than Biden is at an equivalent point in the campaign. But Trump’s campaign now has serious problems that it simply did not have the last time, and if the economy continues to get worse and worse and worse….this is also not good for the Trump campaign.

97

steven t johnson 07.29.20 at 2:57 pm

ph assuming Trump won the election yet again fits CT though my response to MisterMr doesn’t? Nonetheless, I must demur to Hidari@95, sort of. Moyn is wrong, because Moyn is dismissing the intimate relationship between imperialism, colonialism, war, even death camps. The first essays in death camps were the US jails where black men were worked to death. (Ava Duvernay apologized for them as mere slave labor, an expose of Lincoln’s supreme villainy in saving the slavery we have today.) Like everyone else at CT, when it comes down to it, the millions dead in the great crusade against communism, were, as Madeleine Albright put it, a price worth paying.

But even though Trump was an open pupil of Roy Cohn, tracing his political lineage to the Cold War is still astonishingly incomprehensible. I would quote Upton Sinclair, but he was an optimist: It’s hard to get someone to simply shut up when they hear someone else make a point that shows them to be wrong, or worse, irrelevant.

98

LFC 07.29.20 at 3:08 pm

ph’s characterization of Biden as someone who wouldn’t be hired as a greeter at Walmart says nothing about Biden but quite a lot about ph’s boundless asininity. We already know what ph’s political opinions are, so his finding new and ever more hyperbolic ways of expressing them really doesn’t add much to the thread.

99

J-D 07.30.20 at 12:11 am

ph’s characterization of Biden as someone who wouldn’t be hired as a greeter at Walmart says nothing about Biden but quite a lot about ph’s boundless asininity. We already know what ph’s political opinions are, so his finding new and ever more hyperbolic ways of expressing them really doesn’t add much to the thread.

I’m a Foreignanian who’s never even been in a Walmart, so I don’t know what’s expected of Walmart greeters; still, I can’t think of any good reason why somebody who was drawing up a list of desiderata for a US President should include ‘would be a good choice for employment as a Walmart greeter’. Did Abraham Lincoln have the qualities that would make somebody a good choice for employment as a Walmart greeter? Did Franklin D Roosevelt? Did [insert here the name of somebody you think was or would have been a good choice for US President]?

Still, if that’s the test we’re applying, would Donald Trump be hired as a greeter at Walmart? I have only the sketchiest idea of what a greeter does, but if I were ever to walk into a Walmart I think I’d prefer being greeted by somebody like Joe Biden to being greeted by somebody like Donald Trump. I think Joe Biden, whatever his limitations in the role, would probably still be the better choice of the two for the role of Walmart greeter, as well as being obviously the better choice for the role of US President.

100

bruce wilder 07.30.20 at 1:05 am

I think ph @94 made some good points, including the Wallmart greeter snark.

It is true, Biden though objectively hateable on grounds of policy history and corruption, is not the object of resentment that H Clinton was. Still, those sympathetic to his candidacy seem deaf and blind to his negatives, including especially his obvious incapacity. That both candidates should present themselves as personally incapable of exercising the powers of the office, in a time of accelerating national crisis, is an odd state of affairs.

It is only logical to think the Democratic V-P candidate will figure as a stand-in, to appeal to voters who might imagine that energetic leadership is needed. I predict the Dems, with no sense of irony, will choose an authoritarian. Not the blustery ineffectual Trump sort of demagogue, but an actually vicious, cruel person who nevertheless presents as well-spoken and well-groomed. In other words a perfect reflection of the core of the Dem establishment.

101

ph 07.30.20 at 2:01 am

@96 Thanks for the pushback. I’ve read each of your points twice (at least) and find myself unpersuaded. The best and most reliable indicators are the lack of confidence Dem voters and the Dem establishment have consistently demonstrated in Biden’s candidacy. He’s won nothing. The DNC changed the rules (remember?) to get Bloomberg on the debate stage because Biden was so demonstrably unable to cope. When that strategy failed, Bernie (not a Democrat) surged. The DNC elites rallied and ‘persuaded’ a number of Dem candidates to drop out, and let’s recall just how mediocre this crew is.

The DNC is going to glue Obama and George Clooney together on to the Biden shell. Might work, but my sense is that the strategy simply underscore’s Biden’s screaming weaknesses. If the DNC trusted Biden to command the stage, he’d be ripping through the crowds to public acclaim. Had he a pair and any real power, Biden’d tell the DNC to stick it and run as his own man. Biden can’t. He can’t because he radiates uncertainty, confusion and weakness. He’s being handled and he knows it.

I very strongly suspect Biden is no longer in charge of his own campaign. My bet is that a condition of Obama’s public support is that team O calls the shots. Obama isn’t likely to sit still and let his legacy get trashed twice because the ‘best’ the Dems can offer can’t get the job done.

Unconvincing as a leader couldn’t be clearer with O hogging the spotlight. The message? Don’t worry voters, O inc. is really at the helm and won’t let Joe screw up to badly.

Might work, but I very much doubt it.

As for, ad homs and adding value @… etc., have a nice day.

102

bruce wilder 07.30.20 at 2:28 am

the U.S. is skating very close to state collapse and the Presidential contest is to be between two old fools, offering to do nothing. state collapse is a symptom of a severe deficit of political power, an inability to bring together a capable coalition in favor of governance for public purposes. the established American political classes, benefiting from the play of poorly constrained private powers, actually favor this state of deficit, this hole at the center of public authority.

they say nature abhors a vacuum. we may see how that dictum applies to politics.

103

Hidari 07.30.20 at 12:25 pm

@101
It’s depressing that I have to tell a self-professed Trump supporter this, but, see all that stuff about ‘values’ and ‘character’ and ‘personal morality’ that the NYT and other pearl-clutching liberals are always going on about? If 2016 teaches us anything it’s that no one gives a shit. Absolutely no one cares. Everything negative about Biden can also be said if Trump and, ipso facto, everything negative that can be said about Trump (too old, too sexist, too white, a history of, um problematic statements about race, both been accused of rape and sexual harassment) can also be said about Biden.

No.
One.
Cares.

It’s only intellectuals who care about that ‘Shining City on the Hill’ crap. Ordinary Americans have a much more realistic grasp of what American politics is, and who American politicians are. Ordinary Americans think that almost all American politicians are cheating lying scumbags and they are not wrong.

What American voters want is a basic level of economic/socio-political competence, (demonstrated via some objective way: e.g. higher growth, lower unemployment, people feeling that they have money in their pocket) and some kind of proficiency in foreign policy, which can be demonstrated in an objective manner (i.e. not getting into any foreign wars). Trump has demonstrated the latter but, after Covid-19, not the former.

Vis a vis Covid-19, Trump….what’s the phrase? Oh yes ‘he radiates uncertainty, confusion and weakness.’ And everyone knows it.

Not that I’m calling the election for Biden, it’s still too far away and there are still too many variables, but it quite definitely does not look like a victory for Trump at the moment, and the ‘tone’ of the country is very different. As I said, at the moment, like it or not, Trump is now the mainstream, establishment candidate, and that is not a good fit for his personality.

104

steven t johnson 07.30.20 at 2:03 pm

bruce wilder@102 refers to something called the “political classes,” superficially excluding the mass of voters, who have criminally neglected to compel office holders to pursue the “public purposes.” Though I suppose it is simultaneously supposed to mean office holders have criminally neglected to combine to define said “public purposes.” But if by some chance this is supposed to mean the “political classes” are those wealthy enough to operate the political system, the big donor bases of the In Party and the Out, then yes, every indication is this version of “political classes” is tired of the old style democratic constitutional government, tired of elections interfering with policy, tired of being extorted by the Clintons and the Obamas who wave election victories around like they really mean something.

But as far as state collapse goes, we are seeing a little bit of it in Portland, where the state is collapsing onto people in the street. I’m not sure what the issue for bruce wilder is, bad “political classes” failing to do their duty, like bad kings?

105

MisterMr 07.30.20 at 2:04 pm

If it is true that both parties are putting on uneffective dudes as candidates, it might be because nobody has a clear idea of what change they want.

Often people say they want change, but what they actually mean is that they want to go back to some sort of better past normal.

Trump in my opinion is an example of this,and perhaps Biden also is. Change however will still happen anyway.

106

Tm 07.30.20 at 2:04 pm

Andres 26
“Me, I’ll take the Democrats any day, though I keep enraging Chetan and tm by pointing out that I have as much agency in this choice as a person with a gun pointed to their head, and that the current Democratic party would likely dwindle away to nothing if there were any sort of ranked choice voting permitted; the Republicans might do so as well. The struggle to either transform the Democratic party into something genuinely progressive and socialist or to replace it entirely is an aspect of conflict between the ruling classes and the ruled, which is an entirely different subject altogether.”

The observation that the American two-party-system is a function of the electoral system (perhaps the stupidest electoral system in the world, I might add) and that the party system would look very different under something approaching proportional representation is really not as original as Andres seems to be thinking. As long as the system is the way it is, any left third party experiment can only strengthen the right. That’s a fact of life, and yet I have had conversations with American friends in 2016 who seriously claimed thet “this time we will revolutionize the system, we will break up the two-party duopoly” etc. etc., completely delusional nonsense, and y’all know where it got us. You will understand that I bear a grudge against these people, not that I love the Dem party and not that I don’t share many of their views and values, but I begrudge them having done something obviously stupid and not having listened to sane advice. If my American friends would listen to me, I would advice them to work within the electoral system as it is while also working to change it. I would advice them to work to get progressive Democrats elected while also holding their noses and vote for Democrats who aren’t as progressive as we might wish but are still orders of magnitude better than their Republican counterparts. And to hold them to account once they have been elected. While the system is fundamentally rotten, there are still many options for successful progressive activism. Just voting third party is not one of them.

If we could dream and have proportional representation in the US, the dominant parties wouldn’t go away, they wouldn’t be “transformed” or “replaced” at the snap of a finger as Andres would have it. The Dem party would probably play a role akin to the Christian Democrats in Germany, while there would certainly be one or several left parties competing with them. Germany, to wit, has a strictly proportional system with currently a Left, a Green, a Social Democratic, a Christian Democratic (centrist), a Liberal (pro business right wing) and a racist hard right party. Notice that the three left-ish parties together haven’t won an electoral majority in decades (*) . In the US too, the chance of a left coalition actually winning a majority would be slim. Unless Andres really deludes himself into thinking that the US electorate (“the ruled”) would love to vote for socialism if only they had the chance….

(*) To be precise, the Federal Republic has had left-of-centre governments for only 20 of its 71 years of existence, not that actual leftists would have much praise for these.

107

Tm 07.30.20 at 3:05 pm

Hidari 44:
“What’s very strange is that this point keeps on getting made in CT comments threads, frequently by people who then go onto make comments (about Trump supporters being ‘brainwashed’ about Trumpism being a ‘cult’ about them being ‘fanatics’) that only really make sense unless you infer that Trump supporters are mainly uneducated white workers which is not, of course, true.”

Hidari is here repeating a talking point he’s made frequently (see https://crookedtimber.org/2020/06/29/trumpism-after-trump/#comment-802166), claiming that CTers wrongly think Trump’s base is mainly the working class. Whether that is a fair rebuttal of Alan White (who in 6 referred to “large group of disenfranchised/minimally informed/rascist-friendly/under-economized white folks”) I leave to others to judge. Myself, I have always rejected the “working class” claim (which has been advanced by analysts both left and right) because it marginalizes all those workers who are not white and male and mostly rural. To put it differently, many white male workers have indeed voted for Trump but must workers are not white and male. And it angers me when “working class” is turned from an economic category into a racialized and genderized one.

With regard to Hidari’s quote above, there is an interesting claim implicit which deserves attention, namely Hidari suggests that only uneducated workers could be “brainwashed” or fanatical”, while wealthier or more educated people apparently are believed to behave rationally. I have encountered this rather condescending view of the “lower” classes many times here on CT and elsewhere. I remember when racist incidents surged after the German unification, there was always a discourse handy about “uneducated”, “underprivileged”, “left-behind” “youths”. But racism isn’t an invention of the poor and underprivileged, although they may act it out in somewhat different ways than the rich and powerful. Hitler (*) was supported by university professors no less fervently than by uneducated proletarians, and the financiers and capitalists who supported his rise weren’t acting purely out of rational economic interest. In fact, in purely economic terms, they made a spectacularly bad bet, as they would soon discover. Although it is true that many capitalists survived the Nazis and did well, in hindsight their economic interest would probably have been better served by helping to stabilize the Republic, rather than destabilizing it. The idea that capitalists are somehow above mere ideology and only act on hard economic data is itself an idealization of capitalism. Marx rightly pointed out that the mechanisms of capitalism are not a result of individual malice. Nevertheless economic actors often do have different choices (within the system) and those choices can matter. Otherwise it would be hard to explain why different capitalist societies have followed radically different pathways (including fascism and social democracy), while still being recognizably capitalist.

(*) Stop crying “Godwin’s law”! Godwin never said that one should never mention Hitler. I refer to Hitler not because I think he is a good historical model for Trump’s rise – there are vague parallels -, but because Hitler is an important edge case. One can learn from history at least this much: what happened in the past can happen again.

[Could you please discard the first post – sorry for that]

108

Tm 07.30.20 at 3:32 pm

Anarcissie 54: “At one time, several imperial states of Western Europe (UK, France, Netherlands) had apparently functioning opposition parties. yet I don’t recall any of them proposing to get rid of their empires voluntarily. Certainly the French and the British hung on to the bitter end.”

Simone de Beauvour’s memoirs (the third volume, La force des choses, Force of circumstance) are enlightening. She describes the despair and marginalization that the French Left felt during the period of decolonization, which turned out extremely bloody and, in her view, brought the country to the brink of fascism. One can also point out that the French colonial empire probably wasn’t all that profitable; neither was the Italian. Algeria was at least in the last decades of colonialism much more of ideological than economic relevance to France.

Btw the Front National is still making political hay from the Algerian defeat, which is a common theme for fascist movements, to keep alive and exploit collective sentiments of imperial nostalgia, lost glory and victimization. Similar sentiments are apparent in Hungary (https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/06/03/viktor-orbans-masterplan-to-make-hungary-greater-again/), Russia, Turkey, in the Arab world, really in many places (in Germany not any more, except for a small fringe of “Reichsbürger”. Germans have learned that you can get better rich without an empire).

109

Tm 07.30.20 at 3:39 pm

Jon 56: I don’t think your mum is representative, starting from the fact that she has actually seriously read the Bible (which most “Christian conservatices” don’t; I do wonder though what her reading has really gotten her if all she distills out of it is a “single issue”!). In any case, there is ample evidence that a majority of white evangelicals are supporting Trump not with disgust and holding their noses but full of enthusiasm. You might want to read this book: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/7/9/21291493/donald-trump-evangelical-christians-kristin-kobes-du-mez

110

Hidari 07.30.20 at 7:52 pm

‘With regard to Hidari’s quote above, there is an interesting claim implicit which deserves attention, namely Hidari suggests that only uneducated workers could be “brainwashed” or fanatical”, while wealthier or more educated people apparently are believed to behave rationally. ‘

ROFLMAO!!!!

Yes, that’s a totally fair and impartial way of describing my point. Especially when people can, y’know, just scroll up and read what I actually wrote, which was literally the opposite.

But you’ve got balls, I’ll give you that.

111

ph 07.30.20 at 10:05 pm

@103 In the alternate universe you’re now writing from you inform us that it’s depressing to have to tell me about “character, values, and personal morality.’.

@101
It’s depressing that I have to tell a self-professed Trump supporter this, but, see all that stuff about ‘values’ and ‘character’ and ‘personal morality’ that the NYT and other pearl-clutching liberals are always going on about? If 2016 teaches us anything it’s that no one gives a shit. Absolutely no one cares.”

You can do as you, please, but I’d ask that you Command F the word “character, etc” on this page before flatly attributing to me words such as “character” I would never employ when discussing voters, or the criminals, con-artists, and hucksters commonly referred to as ‘politicians.’ As you rightly note, voters don’t much care, and those who do are among those easily fooled.

Pretty much everything else you write is either (forgive me, please) provably false, or a re-hash of your the ‘voter’s vote with their wallets’ argument. As I noted earlier, they do, but the determination of how their wallets will be protected rests heavily, I suggest (see my 88)

I’ve arrived at a point where I believe Trump will win. I’m employing the same metrics I employed in 2016: 1/ enthusiasm for the candidate; 2/ media skills; 3/ voter priorities.

I’ll be brief – the essentials are base enthusiasm across categories, on camera agility and atmospherics, track record and ability to convince voters the candidate is better than the other guy, the desire and ability to go for the throat, and the ability to fool voters.

Obama is among America’s finest, still, by these metrics, none of which have anything to do with ‘character and values’ -( see ‘the ability to fool voters.) As is Trump. Are you reading me clearly, now?

Biden today is an empty shell, a shadow of the slick liar who radiated authority and self-confidence (attributes which actually do matter), a fact underscored every time the two men appear on the same stage.

So, no, you’re dead wrong EVERY thing that can be said of Biden cannot be said of Trump. I have relatives in their nineties blessed with the genes to remain cogent and clear-headed.

What happened to Biden is physiology, nothing more.

Propelling a man who clearly needs care onto the stage is an act of supreme cynicism. A fact not likely to be lost on voters. Ditto the shoehorning of a DNC selected candidate into the VP slot to ‘take over’ January, 2021.

Putting this senior citizen onto the stage with one of the most talented and vicious debaters of the modern age is far beyond cynical, a man who “will tear him to bits” observed Sanders, who knows a thing or two about the cut and thrust. Hat-tip to BW for reminding us of just the Dem elites are.

What happens if Biden breaks down on stage before a national audience during one of the debates? That’s a real possibility. Is that the ‘plan’ – a ‘risk’ worth taking? Trigger a collapse during the debates, and hope enough Trump voters turn on him for publicly destroying a ‘much-loved’ liar and war criminal? Who knows.

Finally here’s Ted Rall, no fan of Trump, calling for Biden to withdraw in March because of his dementia.

“…I spent the last few years watching my mother’s decline due to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. She had been brilliant. Years before her death, however, she was having a tough time keeping it together. I would have voted for her as president in 2012 but not 2016. It would have been wrong.

No one who has been close to someone deteriorating from that disease could fail to see the same signs in Biden. In online discussions Biden apologists sometimes say that a senile Biden is better than an evil Trump. Is this really where we are?…”

Seems so.

https://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/political_commentary/commentary_by_ted_rall/joe_biden_obviously_has_dementia_and_should_withdraw

112

bruce wilder 07.31.20 at 12:04 am

@ steven t johnson

i can see that in trying to be brief, i used abstraction to become cryptic.

in a politics dominated by giant corporate business monopolies and mega-wealthy families, there are principals — very few — and agents, surprisingly many.

the principals are largely invisible to ordinary observers, a few prominent individual oligarchs and companies and business interest groups notwithstanding. Even when salient they obscure their own motives, intentions and planning in a fog of plausible deniability and neoliberal rationales. politics as an activity is staffed with agents: an army of managers, administrators, technicians and professionals, occupying positions of trust and technical authority also exercise considerable discretion regarding from where they draw their resources and how they wield their authority to arbitrate conflict, even conflict among corporations and oligarchs. These “agents” (who can choose to some extent for whom they act as agents) i am calling the “political classes” to emphasize that their number encompass many, many people who are not politicians running for office. they populate the chattering class, manipulate the larger population thru narrative, and generally live comfortable lives of parasitic vacuity. like it or not the rest of us depend upon how well they run the society and the body politic, which often comes down to how sensible they (as a class) are to the necessity of constraining the capitalist principals aforementioned.

113

Andres 07.31.20 at 2:16 am

Tm @106: You do have a point that it takes more than a change in the electoral rules to completely transform a country’s political map. In addition to getting rid of first-past-the-post voting, I should also have mentioned privatized campaign financing and a corporate-controlled news media that either manufactures consent (CNN, NYT, WSJ, etc.) or is an active neo-fascist propaganda tool (Fox, etc.). Plus an education system that should teach a diversified perspective on U.S. history (i.e. one that also spotlights the litany of crimes committed by various U.S. governments since 1776) rather than the Lost Cause-laced fairy tale of democracy we had when I was in high school. I was assuming that most readers including you are aware of these other aspects so that I could use a change in the electoral system as a shorthand for a radical turnover of the political system.

But it is your exhortation that progressives should work within the electoral system’s parameters while also working (?) to change it that seems to be on the pie-in-the-sky deluded side. For starters, the Democratic Party leadership will never voluntarily change unless it is pressured, and this will be true as long as the financial system controls the party’s purse strings. It is a serious exaggeration to say that the Dems are the party of Wall Street while the Rs are the party of Big Oil and Murdoch, but it has much more than a grain of truth.

As for working(?) to change the electoral system, this is not going to be accomplished by merely circulating pamphlets and petitions to Congress, nor by campaigning to elect more progressive Democrats. It will only happen after non-electoral political movements such as BLM (among many others) have succeeded in bringing the economy and the political system to a standstill by systematically disobeying the rules, with demonstrations being just one small aspect of such disobedience.

I don’t think the racist policing incidents of this year and the resulting backlash come close to tipping the boat over; COVID19 might do so if Trump gets re-elected and he and his party continue to push for infection promotion until a vaccine is mass-manufactured, but that looks less likely now; a competent but still oligarchic Biden administration (i.e., one that does little to reverse the “socialism of fools” subversion of the white working class that is the Republican electoral strategy) is now the baseline forecast. But if a future Republican government starts a war with Iran or China that leads to a conflagration, or if some environmental catastrophe lays bare how lacking in egalitarianism the U.S. political system really is, then we might at last get an avalanche of people disobeying to change the electoral system rather than working(?) to change the electoral system.

114

LFC 07.31.20 at 2:39 am

Hidari @103
It’s only intellectuals who care about that ‘Shining City on the Hill’ crap. Ordinary Americans have a much more realistic grasp of what American politics is, and who American politicians are.

This is nonsense. Reagan rode the “shining city on a hill” theme for all it was worth, and his supporters were mostly not intellectuals (though he had some of them in his corner, they were a small part of his base of support, and a great many intellectuals understandably disliked or despised him). The entire notion of American exceptionalism, in one version or another, appeals to a lot of “ordinary Americans,” without some of them perhaps even consciously realizing how much it does. The unpleasant, self-aggrandizing superpatriot motifs — for example, yells of “USA, USA” at international sporting events — are not the doings of intellectuals.

ph @101
You make it sound as if Biden is getting the nomination solely because of DNC machinations. Hello? To the chagrin of those of us supporting other candidates for the nomination, Biden won the S. Carolina primary handily and that catalyzed his resurgence. He won S. Carolina largely because African Americans voters supported him by big margins. One can debate the reasons for that, but it happens to be a fact.

115

nastywoman 07.31.20 at 7:09 am

Every worker’s nightmare is the horrible boss — everyone knows at least one — who is utterly incompetent yet refuses to step aside. Such bosses have the reverse Midas touch — everything they handle turns to crud — but they’ll pull out every stop, violate every norm, to stay in that corner office. And they damage, sometimes destroy, the institutions they’re supposed to lead.

Donald Trump is, of course, one of those bosses. Unfortunately, he’s not just a bad business executive. He is, God help us, the president. And the institution he may destroy is the United States of America.

Has any previous president failed his big test as thoroughly as Trump has these past few months? He rejected the advice of health experts and pushed for a rapid economic reopening, hoping for a boom leading into the election. He ridiculed and belittled measures that would have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, turning what should have been common sense into a front in the culture war.

The result has been disaster both epidemiological and economic.

Over the past week the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 averaged more than 1,000 people a day, compared with just four — four! — per day in Germany. Vice President Mike Pence’s mid-June declaration that “There isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave’” felt like whistling in the dark even at the time; now it feels like a sick joke.
PAUL KRUGMAN’S NEWSLETTER: Get a better understanding of the economy — and an even deeper look at what’s on Paul’s mind.
Sign Up
And all those extra deaths don’t seem to have bought us anything in terms of economic performance. America’s economic contraction in the first half of 2020 was almost identical to the contraction in Germany, despite our far higher death toll. And while life in Germany has in many ways returned to normal, a variety of indicators suggest that after two months of rapid job growth, the U.S. recovery is stalling in the face of a resurgent pandemic.

Wait, it gets worse. Trump, his officials and their allies in the Senate have been totally committed to the idea that the U.S. economy will experience a stunningly rapid recovery despite the wave of new infections and deaths. They bought into that view so completely that they seem incapable of taking on board the overwhelming evidence that it isn’t happening.

Just a few days ago Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economist, insisted that a so-called V-shaped recovery was still on track and that “unemployment claims and continuing claims are falling rapidly.” In fact, both are rising.

But because the Trump team insisted that a roaring recovery was coming, and refused to notice that it wasn’t happening, we’ve now stumbled into a completely gratuitous economic crisis.
Editors’ Picks

Destroying a Way of Life to Save Louisiana
The Pandemic Could End the Age of Midpriced Dining
Why Did She Leave Me There?
Thanks to Republican inaction, millions of unemployed workers have seen their last checks from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which was meant to sustain them through a coronavirus-ravaged economy; the virus is still raging, but their life support has been cut off.

So Trump has completely botched his job, bringing unnecessary pain to millions of Americans and unnecessary death to thousands. He may not care, but voters do. So he should be trying to turn things around, if only as a matter of political and personal self-interest.

116

J-D 07.31.20 at 7:11 am

… working (?) to change … working(?) to change … working(?) to change …

Why do you put a parenthetical question mark after ‘working’? Are you doing a Yoda*, or what?

‘Do, or do not; there is no try.’

117

nastywoman 07.31.20 at 7:12 am

And about ”The Republican phase transition”
(the topic of this thread)

from Paul Krugman:

”Every worker’s nightmare is the horrible boss — everyone knows at least one — who is utterly incompetent yet refuses to step aside. Such bosses have the reverse Midas touch — everything they handle turns to crud — but they’ll pull out every stop, violate every norm, to stay in that corner office. And they damage, sometimes destroy, the institutions they’re supposed to lead.

Donald Trump is, of course, one of those bosses. Unfortunately, he’s not just a bad business executive. He is, God help us, the president. And the institution he may destroy is the United States of America.

Has any previous president failed his big test as thoroughly as Trump has these past few months? He rejected the advice of health experts and pushed for a rapid economic reopening, hoping for a boom leading into the election. He ridiculed and belittled measures that would have helped slow the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, turning what should have been common sense into a front in the culture war.

The result has been disaster both epidemiological and economic.

Over the past week the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 averaged more than 1,000 people a day, compared with just four — four! — per day in Germany. Vice President Mike Pence’s mid-June declaration that “There isn’t a coronavirus ‘second wave’” felt like whistling in the dark even at the time; now it feels like a sick joke.
PAUL KRUGMAN’S NEWSLETTER: Get a better understanding of the economy — and an even deeper look at what’s on Paul’s mind.
Sign Up
And all those extra deaths don’t seem to have bought us anything in terms of economic performance. America’s economic contraction in the first half of 2020 was almost identical to the contraction in Germany, despite our far higher death toll. And while life in Germany has in many ways returned to normal, a variety of indicators suggest that after two months of rapid job growth, the U.S. recovery is stalling in the face of a resurgent pandemic.

Wait, it gets worse. Trump, his officials and their allies in the Senate have been totally committed to the idea that the U.S. economy will experience a stunningly rapid recovery despite the wave of new infections and deaths. They bought into that view so completely that they seem incapable of taking on board the overwhelming evidence that it isn’t happening.

Just a few days ago Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economist, insisted that a so-called V-shaped recovery was still on track and that “unemployment claims and continuing claims are falling rapidly.” In fact, both are rising.

But because the Trump team insisted that a roaring recovery was coming, and refused to notice that it wasn’t happening, we’ve now stumbled into a completely gratuitous economic crisis.
Editors’ Picks

Destroying a Way of Life to Save Louisiana
The Pandemic Could End the Age of Midpriced Dining
Why Did She Leave Me There?
Thanks to Republican inaction, millions of unemployed workers have seen their last checks from the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which was meant to sustain them through a coronavirus-ravaged economy; the virus is still raging, but their life support has been cut off.

So Trump has completely botched his job, bringing unnecessary pain to millions of Americans and unnecessary death to thousands. He may not care, but voters do. So he should be trying to turn things around, if only as a matter of political and personal self-interest”.

118

Tm 07.31.20 at 10:05 am

Andres 110: It is unclear what exactly your objections to my position are. You say that “the Democratic Party leadership will never voluntarily change unless it is pressured”. But what I say is precisely that progressives should work (within and without the electoral system) to create that pressure. You say that a change of the electoral system “is not going to be accomplished by merely circulating pamphlets and petitions to Congress”. Sure, we all knew that (and nobody here pretended otherwise), now do you have anything substantial to add to the debate?

119

Tm 07.31.20 at 10:11 am

Btw Andres your last paragraph sounds a lot like that old chestnut “heightening the contradictions”. Sure, let’s hope for World War III or some really bad environmental catastrophe, that will surely get us closer to the revolution! Come on bro wake up, this is bullshit.

120

Tm 07.31.20 at 10:36 am

“if some environmental catastrophe lays bare how lacking in egalitarianism the U.S. political system really is”

There is no shortage of those. Take the Flint Water crisis. Here, a Republican gtovernment knowingly and intentionally exposed thousands of its citizens to poison in order to save a few dollars. What were the consequences? There was a scandal and a few heads rolled (and some water bottles were distributed) but no one of those politically responsible suffered the slightest setback in their careers. In the election immediately following the scandal, the Republican party lost not a single seat in the legislature and an openly racist Republican candidate for president won a plurality of votes in the state, by a razor sharp margin. The outcome suggests that rural white voters in Michigan didn’t consider a scandal as shocking as the Flint water crisis a reason to vote against the GOP. Most likely, the opposite is true since many white voters simply don’t feel any kind of solidarity with urban blacks (and that observation is an old hat too but bears repeating – as long as there is racism, there can be no working class solidarity).

To be fair, in 2018, Michigan voters turned heavily against the GOP. So things are not hopeless. But “heighten the contradictions” as a political strategy? Oh my, do you ever learn? Forgive me for pointing out the obvious: that precisely was the strategy of the KPD.

121

Andres 08.01.20 at 12:56 am

Tm @112, you have a wonderful way of putting words in people’s keyboards that they didn’t actually type out and also of knocking down straw men; the true mark of presidential material if our current president is any guide. Plus you even have down pat the basics of red-baiting as well. Are you sure you’re a progressive Democrat?

I am not advocating following a “heighten the contradictions” strategy** by any political party or movement. To do so would be not only stupid but highly immoral given the type of catastrophes that triggered left-wing revolutions in many countries over the past century and a half. That you would attribute such advocacy to me indicates that Republicans are not the only ones susceptible to the paranoid style in U.S. politics.

**Sorry to disappoint you but I am not one of Vladimir Ilych’s fanboys; I hate the bastard for having turned a true revolutionary moment into a quasi-tsarist dictatorship with a red flag—in some ways he was a hyper-efficient Donald Trump.

What I am saying is that the type of constitutional/electoral/political system the U.S. has makes it very difficult, maybe impossible, to enact the type of meaningful political reform that is needed to avoid further geopolitical disasters like Viet Nam or Iraq or the aftermath of the Arab Spring, health disasters like COVID19, and socio-environmental disasters like Hurricane Katrina (on that scale; the Flint example you cite is small potatoes in terms of the number of lives lost, and examples like it were common long before U.S. politics lurched to the right). Which means that further disasters like these are the baseline outlook whether there is anyone following a “heighten the contradictions” strategy or not.

Maybe the Democratic party can prove me wrong by electing a genuinely radical president and Congressional coalition that make the Clinton/Obama years look as deeply Republican-lite conservative as they actually were. But I would not get my hopes up; Sanders and AOC have been the much more the exception and not the rule so far. Which is also why I’m not optimistic that the U.S. will be able to avoid another Trumpism-without-Trump spell of Republican political power and its consequences.

Even if it were morally defensible (which it isn’t), it would be redundant to follow a “heighten-the-contradictions” strategy if the contradictions are already there and rising because the political-economic system is resistant to needed policy change. But one does need to be able to perceive when standard electoral politics by themselves will be insufficient to ward off catastrophe. Just like with the Civil Rights movement, it is non-electoral protest/disobedience movements that can shift the political center when elected leaders initially refuse to lead.

Ok, time to sign off on this thread. Observation/aside: CT posts that confine themselves to economics or books tend to generate more stable, civilized comment threads. But topics that relate to U.S. politics, no matter how well intentioned, tend to bring out immature comments and I have better things to do than to either type out a quick immature response or a longer-thought out mature one.

122

Tm 08.01.20 at 7:29 am

Andres 121 I reject these gratuitous and completely unfounded attacks. I’m not putting any words in your mouth, I always quote you in full before I criticize you, as opposed to yourself of course who in your latest rant resort to making all sorts of nonsensical claims without providing citations. I have to say I’m not interested in engaging you further. Life is too short for that.

123

Tm 08.01.20 at 7:39 am

I should have known of course. I wrote this two weeks ago:

„If you, Andres, are interested in a meaningful exchange, it’s up to you to come up with actual arguments. You have several times attacked my with unfounded accusations. I already challenged you in 171 to come up with rebuttals if you wish to take issue with my arguments. So far, nothing. Again, it’s up to you.“

https://crookedtimber.org/2020/07/04/the-economic-consequences-of-the-pandemic/#comment-802672

124

Hidari 08.01.20 at 7:49 am

@111

ph you have been commenting on this blog for a while, indeed, since, before 2016 (I believe). If memory serves, in the immediate run up to 2016, you were always singing the praises of Trump telling us how wonderful he was, what he was going to do, etc.

In recent months, in your comments, almost literally all you do is talk about how awful Biden is (something I’m not denying). You talk about ‘enthusiasm for the candidate’ (e.g. Trump) and then…immediately pivot to how awful Biden is.

Remember, in 2016, American voters did indeed think that Trump was awful. They just thought that Clinton was more awful.

Now, yes, people think that Biden is awful but, as I’ve pointed out, he doesn’t provoke the visceral hatred that Clinton did. Whereas, is he have learned anything since 2016, it’s that large swathes of the American public really, really, really despise Trump.

So my question is: in literally every one of your comments on this thread, despite your claims about ‘enthusiasm’ for Trump, all you can talk about is how awful Biden is.

Does this strike you as significant?

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Tm 08.01.20 at 8:14 am

LFC 114: you are of course entirely correct. The delusional thinking encountered so frequently around here is depressing.

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ph 08.02.20 at 2:22 am

@124 On the topic of predicting the outcome of 2020, I’ve been clear. Moreover, I’ve presented my metrics, the same as I employed in 2016. I’m not about to clutter the thread with the countless references to Trump voter enthusiasm vs. Biden voter enthusiasm. I’ve presented my evidence upthread.

You place words in my mouth, sorry to say. Character plays no part in my determination of outcomes. I explicitly stress that the ability to lie effectively to the voter, both about the issues and the record of the political opponent, are essential to electoral success in all cases. I’m not concerned about how many people loathe Trump on a personal level.

What’s surprising is your concern with Trump’s likability given your NOBODY CARES about anything but their wallets. Sound familiar?

You can’t keep track of your own argument, or grasp its impact on voter priorities currently at work, or what the consequences of Trump’s presidency have been to date.

Something like 20 percent who voted from him didn’t and/or didn’t feel him fit to lead. Much of the animus directed towards his 2016 opponent was a rejection of Obama’s policies. Wallets mattered in 2016, just as they do now.

The 2020 election is different from 2016 in many respects. But by presenting Trump literally as Hitler in 2015 and since, his critics set the bar for success so ridiculously low that even Biden could manage to look like a success.

Democracy in America did not end (as predicted); America has not started any new wars with anyone (as predicted); the economy until COVID, had not tanked (as predicted); economic conditions for minorities did not deteriorate. (as predicted) Pleasantly surprised, is how many Trump skeptics respond, questioned about his economic stewardship.

You’re welcome to point to the many who dislike him. I say, who cares? People who find Trump reprehensible on a personal level aren’t about to turn their 401ks over to a man many expect to drool, or dribble, on camera at any moment. The Ted Rall link is from March, and Rall hates Trump’s guts.

Most voters, I suggest, are quite capable of keeping self-interest at the fore: publicly condemning Trump, while privately pleased with the impact of Trump’s America on their income levels and job prospects, as pretty much all polls confirm prior to COVID. Pretty much all voters would like to see a return to the economic optimism of 2019.

https://www.usnews.com/news/economy/articles/2020-02-05/gallup-poll-american-optimism-about-personal-finances-hits-record-high

“Americans are also optimistic about their financial futures. Nearly three-quarters, or 74%, of Americans predict they will be better off financially in one year from now, the highest recorded since Gallup began the survey in 1977, according to the survey. (The previous high was 71% in 1998.) Only 12% believe they will be worse off.”

You have failed utterly to explain how a man incapable of managing a press conference (the first one he gave in ages was entirely scripted) is going to convince the public that he can revive the American economy. People don’t have to like Trump to vote for him.

Is that fact sinking in yet? I don’t like him, but I’ll take him in a heartbeat over the alternatives in either party.

I contend that Trump just needs to succeed in painting his opponent as an enfeebled dunce to win, an argument many Democrats have already made. Only the most cynical attempt to argue that Trump’s opponent is still firing on all cylinders.

Voters don’t care about character, or likability. Remember?

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Tm 08.02.20 at 6:49 am

Hidari: „Remember, in 2016, American voters did indeed think that Trump was awful. They just thought that Clinton was more awful.“

No they didn’t, they gave Clinton three million more votes. Engaging with Hidaris fantasy world is just as pointless as engaging with phs trolling. How about we give them a thread of their own?

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nastywoman 08.02.20 at 11:30 am

@
”Engaging with Hidaris fantasy world is just as pointless as engaging with phs trolling. How about we give them a thread of their own”?

They already have ”whole blogs” -(like Breitbart) – and there is this theory that they ”dominate” the whole Internet too –
So –
PLEASE!
NO other TrumpTeam dominated threats on CT too.

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