Getting it wrong on the future of democracy?

by John Quiggin on December 21, 2021

As I indicated in my previous post about self-driving vehicles, I’m trying to think more about where I’ve gone wrong in my analysis of current issues and trends, hoping to improve. I got some useful comments on that issue, though nothing directly applicable to my bigger predictive failures

The most important such failure has concerned the future of democracy, where my views were characterized by clearly unjustifiable optimism (see here and here). I’ve now shifted to extreme pessimism, but I would love to be convinced I’ve overcorrected, as I have done in the past.

Starting with the optimism, it was a mixture of wishful thinking and excessive faith in rationality. Democracy seemed to be advancing nearly everywhere, and this could be explained by the fact that democratic governments generally did a better job than military juntas, one-party states and charismatic dictators or demagogues.

Looking to the future, I’d still have some optimism if it weren’t for the situation in the US. Far-right parties have mostly stayed marginal in Europe, and those that have managed to gain power in Hungary and Poland are looking shaky. Putin and Xi look secure in power, but both have made big mistakes. Elsewhere, the demagogues and would-be dictators (Bolsonaro, Duterte, Erdogan, Modi) have generally shown themselves to be incompetents.

But all of this relatively good news is cancelled out by what’s happening in the US. As President, Trump handled the pandemic worse than any leader except perhaps Bolsonaro, but still came close to re-election. And he has paid no political price for attempting to overturn the result.

The Republican Party is now openly committed to overturning US democracy, and retains the support of close to half of voters. With a rickety and politicised electoral system and a partisan Supreme Court that’s sufficient to ensure control of the outcomes.

As far as I can see, Trump is virtually certain to be the next President, (whether by winning under the current Electoral College rules or by overturning the results in key states) and, once he is in, certain to establish some kind of dynastic rule. Even if Trump is somehow removed from the picture, the Republican party he has created has already committed itself to seizing and holding power by whatever means necessary. That includes violent insurrection, as we have seen, but it seems unlikely that anything so drastic will be necessary.

Republican state governments can entrench themselves forever, and guarantee that their electoral votes and the overwhelming majority of their congressional delegations will be Republican, whatever the voters (and disenfranchised non-voters) might think about it. That’s more than enough to entrench national Republican rule for the indefinite future.

In view of my past errors, I recognise that I sometimes over-correct and then argue too strongly for my new position. I’d love to be wrong in the analysis above, so if anyone can point out where I’ve gone wrong, I’d be most grateful.

{ 69 comments }

1

Chetan Murthy 12.21.21 at 3:23 am

John, everywhere we look in the USA, we see well-respected political scientists, former politicians of all stripes, generals, etc all saying that the worst is yet to come, that Jan 6 was nothing as to what is coming down the pike. Everywhere, people are ringing alarm bells. So ….. it would take some pretty strong evidence to contradict all those warnings, yes?

2

Ronald 12.21.21 at 3:27 am

There is a lot of ruin in a nation and I’m hoping the United States isn’t ruined enough for democracy to end in three years time. The United States is doing well economically with rising wages, so I am hoping the anti-democracy party will lose ground in the midterms and will be so far behind in the Presidential election that the not yet ruined nation will won’t collapse and become a nuclear armed banana non-republic.

But, who knows? I could be an idiot.

3

LFC 12.21.21 at 3:28 am

JQ,
Yes, I think you’ve overcorrected.

Unfortunately, I just spent a good deal of time writing a longish comment on the abortion thread, and I when I tried to post it I got a “sorry, comments on this item are closed” message. So comments must have closed between the time I started composing the comment and the time I finished it.

Having spent that time on that comment, I don’t have the time or energy now to explain why I think you’ve overcorrected, except to say that the U.S. political system has survived a lot in the past without devolving into outright dictatorship or dynastic succession, and I see no compelling reason to think this time will be all that different. I’m not suggesting that complacency is in order, not at all, but I do think that there will be some kind of mass national uprising if Republican state legislatures or election administrators in 2024 decide to ignore the popular vote outcomes in their states and pick or certify contrary slates of electors. Ditto if large numbers of people feel that they were disenfranchised, in any of a number of ways.

That said, journalists who focus on this issue (like B. Gellman and others) are doing necessary work, even if at the moment they seem to be mostly preaching to the converted.

4

alex watt 12.21.21 at 3:35 am

I agree that the train lines seem to head straight back towards Autocracy in the US by 2024. The midterm results will be a prelude to this, assuming the GOP regain control of the Senate. But there will then be a 2 year period when everyone who still supports democracy in the US will see the crisis for what it is and yet having lost the power of congress, will also see that it can only be saved ‘by other means’. I don’t know what those ‘other means’ could possibly be. Perhaps a fractured union, if that’s even conceivable.

5

Alan White 12.21.21 at 3:47 am

I’m a pretty careful follower of what’s going on here in the US–particularly in Wisconsin, where the US mood and political alignment is carefully reflected in the state with a red legislature, a blue governor, and gerrymandering that will not go away due in part to a state supreme court that almost exactly represents the alignment in the federal Supreme Court. It’s almost a given we will turn to being a red state in 2022.

Here’s one small place for hope. People are being disenfranchised and women and people of color in particular are being marginalized. Whether they will wake up in sufficient numbers to the fact that white males are driving all this despite being a shrinking minority is not in any way a given. But maybe–and maybe a stolen Trump victory in 2024 will energize a real democratic movement. The wild card is violence, particularly if Trump loses by something like 2020 margins in crucial states. Quite frankly I have never felt so hopeless about the future, so small places for hope is all I have now, but realistically I share your bleak vision.

6

Peter 12.21.21 at 3:54 am

I’m wondering why the focus on the US, and does that imply that you’re optimistic about e.g. Australian democracy.
The crisis facing liberal democracies isn’t just from right wing populists, demagogues and outright fascists. It would probably be a stretch to call Morrison any of these, and yet our democracy is captured by big business, poorly reported by barely functioning 4th estate, is authoritarian, increasingly secretive and corrupt, and many people feel that they have no way to vote that will represent their interests. Our parliament appears as a series of empty rituals, and can hardly be bothered to agree to sit. Our governments have argeky failed to deal with the pandemic never mind the advancing climate catastrophe. You are right to be pessimistic, but needn’t look overseas for evidence.

7

John Quiggin 12.21.21 at 4:05 am

Peter @6 I am very depressed about Australian politics, but I don’t see the problems as existential in themselves. It seems likely that Morrison will lose, and will leave office as would be expected. The government that replaces him won’t be much better, but might do a bit to reduce corruption (at least until it’s been in long enough to build up its own networks). Climate action will be weak but nothing like the deliberate sabotage that can be expected from a Trump Administration.

The big danger to Australia and other democracies is the external threat posed by a world in which all the major powers are autocracies. I have no idea how that will turn out.

8

Cheez Whiz 12.21.21 at 5:01 am

The archaic design of the Presidential election makes it possible for the Republican Party to alter the outcome in a perfectly “legal” manner, so it should be assumed they will try, given that they (as in the past) have been completely transparent in their planning, along with longstanding efforts to limit voting by unfavorable parts of the electorate. It should also be expected that they will expand the claims of “vote fraud” to attempt to throw out legitimate votes for non-Republican candidates at the state level. This will be a much heavier lift, but with well-chosen Secretaries of State and state election commission officials, it’s a possibility.

There are 2 problems with this plan: the current Republican Party has little interest in governing (it’s an old conservative trope that the government that governs least governs best, despite the fact that this is no longer the 19th century), let alone the latest generation of social media Republicans that have no idea what governing might be. This means that the next crisis, whether economic, weather, geopolitical, or health related, will not go well.

This leads to the second problem: how with The Average American react? The public is roughly divided by voting into thirds, 1/3 Democratic, 1/3 Republican, and 1/3 who can’t be bothered. That apathetic Third assumes that America was, is, and always will be, and will be in for a rude awakening. What they decide to do when they wake up will decide the future of the United States.

Basically, if Republicans get what they think they want (which is far from guaranteed, still) they will inevitability preside over one or more historic disasters, whether Trump or some other figurehead is immaterial. The combination of laissez-faire economics and neo-Victorian enforced morality guarantees an unstable economy and society.

9

Wil 12.21.21 at 5:32 am

Prof, I’ve heard your prediction several times now, and in part it rings frighteningly true. However, firstly we may be saved by the fact that Trump’s laziness or poor health rule him out of actually running in 2024. He seems highly motivated by spite and ego, so we can only hope. But secondly I don’t get the jump to an hereditary autocracy. He doesn’t seem to particularly like his children, and none of them have his populist appeal sufficient to carry it off. So in 2028, assuming he hasn’t died of a heart attack while in office, the Republican Party would have to fall in behind a successor, which I think would be difficult. He isn’t going to anoint one, he’s not that strategic.

10

nastywoman 12.21.21 at 5:52 am

@
‘I’d love to be wrong in the analysis above, so if anyone can point out where I’ve gone wrong, I’d be most grateful’

O-kay –
Nr.1:
‘Trump is virtually certain to be the next President’,

Nah! -(and don’t forget that I always have been right in my predictions)
as –
yes –
‘Trump handled the pandemic worse than any leader except perhaps Bolsonaro, but still came close to re-election. And he has paid no political price for attempting to overturn the result’.

BE-cause a lot of my fellow Americans have a lot of other… and especially right now – ‘priorities’ than ‘politics’ as ‘the Republican Party now openly committed to overturning US democracy’ is so… so ‘revolutionary’ –
and ‘anti-mainstream’ –
and ‘anti-government’ –
in the mind of so many Americans –
that they LOVE to play that game –
UNTIL
it finally becomes too real – by disturbing shopping – and that’s why Trump NEVER will be Prezeldent again – as who in the world would make the worlds worst Right-Wing Racist Science Denying Idiot two times President?

11

nastywoman 12.21.21 at 6:02 am

AS the Virus rules the world-

from the NYT.

‘Harsh new lockdown measures are unlikely anywhere in the country, especially since the Omicron variant may be milder than its predecessors. But between the new infection wave and the demise of BBB, the economy could soon look a lot like this past weekend’s Saturday Night Live episode: cobbled together with a skeleton crew and not very good. The one-two punch sent markets into a free fall on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding more than 650 points before recovering a bit, in one of the worst days since news of Omicron first spooked markets on Black Friday. It’s a stark turnaround from the state of play last week, when BBB seemed weakened but passable and the finance sector viewed Omicron as a positive development that ultimately could herald the end of the pandemic era.

That narrative seemed less popular on Wall Street after the weekend. In New York City, more than 11,000 people received a positive diagnosis on Saturday, the largest daily number since the pandemic began, and almost certainly a significant undercount. The new variant is now spreading rapidly across vast swaths of the country, and the footage of long lines at testing sites and record numbers of infected have made the threat far less abstract than it had seemed. Omicron, one Wall Street trader told me, is “not as bad as the initial strain in terms of people getting sick, but if you multiply the numbers by four, five, and you do the math around who’s not vaccinated, that puts the health-care system under stress.” (Why this wasn’t clear to traders last week, when many epidemiologists were making exactly that point, is unclear.)

Take a look at how our economy is structured, and the problems Omicron presents become obvious. About 128 million people work in jobs that require human interaction, as bank tellers, baristas, cashiers, and the like. That makes the service industry by far the largest sector of the economy. “In the larger scheme of things, it’s the inability of the services economy to pick up the pace in a situation where the infection rates are rising. That’s a bigger risk to the first quarter,” said Madhavi Bokil, a senior vice-president at Moody’s Investors Services. The country was already dealing with a persistently high level of cases per day, but a huge spike — even without a correlating rise in hospitalizations and deaths — could depress some portion of the service industry, which was just finding its footing again.

Manchin’s “no” throws up another obstacle to economic growth. The Build Back Better plan would have essentially worked as a stimulus bill, pumping in money to the economy and easing the way back to relative normalcy. Instead, people will find it harder to access money as stimulus and welfare payments dry up, borrowing costs surge, and student-loan payments return — all of which will be harder to withstand without a fiscal cushion. Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius published a research report Sunday forecasting that smaller piecemeal legislation is unlikely to pass, which shrunk the firm’s economic-growth expectations by hundreds of billions of dollars over the course of this year. That’s partly because the Child Tax Credit, which delivers as much as $6,000 a year to some parents, is set to expire on December 31. The money from the program tends to go directly back into the economy, as parents spend it quickly on their children. “Where it really would have supported immediate growth is the extended Child Tax Credit aspect of the bill,” Bokil said. Over the long term, it would increase growth by funding training and education for workers and supporting fast-growing industries like electric vehicles and sustainable energy’.

12

J-D 12.21.21 at 6:22 am

One tiny indicator is that so far no Republican-controlled State has legislated to replace the system of voters choosing Presidential electors with a system of the Stage legislature choosing Presidential electors. Why not? It wouldn’t be against the Federal Constitution or Federal law; I don’t know whether State constitutions present any barrier, but I would hazard a guess that there are at least some States where either the State constitution would allow this change or the legislature could amend the State constitution to allow it. In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century several States used a system where the State legislature chose the Presidential electors and one (no prizes for guessing which one) retained it until the Civil War. There’s been a good deal of talk about changing State laws to allow State legislatures to override the voters’ choice of Presidential electors and substitute their own slates, but so far I’ve encounterd none about the legally less elaborate method of simply taking the choice away from voters altogether. The only explanation I can think of is that Republican are giving at least a little thought to the possibility of backlash and are at least a little concerned about the possibility.

It’s by no means a guarantee of any degree of Republican restraint; as I began, it’s only a tiny indicator. But it seems worth pointing out; partly, I should add, because it means that if discussion of the option I’ve mentioned does grow, it will be a bad sign.

13

J-D 12.21.21 at 6:27 am

Globally, the big question that keeps coming back to my mind is this: if democracy in the US is much more seriously eroded than it already has been, what will be the reactions of politicians and populations in other countries? I don’t mean only how it will affect the ways other countries deal with the US; I mean to what extent it will prompt people in other countries to react with approval ‘We should try to do something like that here’ and to what extent it will prompt people in other countries to react with disapproval ‘We must try to forestall anything like that from happening here’.

14

Brett 12.21.21 at 7:22 am

You could argue that the failure mode of American democracy – unrepresentative elections, with legislatures that don’t meaningfully represent their overall populations – was the norm for much of American history, and especially the First Gilded Age. The US South was a one-party state for over 100 years where competition outside of the Democratic Party’s primaries was heavily circumscribed by history and extralegal violence, and the US Midwestern and Western states were grossly unrepresentative in their state legislative districts akin to the “rotten boroughs” of pre-19th century England (before the Baker v. Carr in the 1960s, the state of Tennessee hadn’t redrawn its electoral districts in 61 years).

Given that we seem to be heading into a Second Gilded Age in the US, it’s fitting that those are returning. I can’t but help shake the feeling, though, that it feels somehow . . . fragile in its domination. This new conservative push for power depends so thoroughly on abuse of the courts and legal rules of power, but they have a minimal actual power base if they ever faced a real existential threat to power outside of the courts and elections.

15

Chris Bertram 12.21.21 at 8:00 am

Things that may yet save the day:

  1. Through death or other causes, Trump is unavailable to run.
  2. Possibly as a result of 1., the Republican party splits, nationally or locally, so as to nullify their advantages.
  3. Possibly as a result of 2., some of the conservative SC justices are unwilling to go the whole hog.
16

Vijay 12.21.21 at 8:24 am

I am not a fan of him, but Modi in India is not a would be dictator. He has won power in two successive elections through the same non-partisan electoral process that India has followed for 70 years.

His party is a broad right wing coalition that also includes far right, analogous to Republican party in the US. To my knowledge, his party has never questioned electoral democracy, even when they were losing for many decades before 2015.

17

Kien 12.21.21 at 8:55 am

We ought to critically scrutinise our pre-existing ideas about democracy. In the West, democracy has come to be associated with a particular set of institutions centred around elected representative. But democracy hasn’t always been so narrowly construed.

I like Amartya Sen’s much broader definition of democracy which simply entails having a broadly equal say over how we are governed. If we take that broader (outcome based vs procedural based) idea of democracy, it’s easy to see that Western democratic institutions have not historically given everyone broadly equal say on how they are governed. It has tended to give capitalist elites a disproportionate say, along with non-capitalist elites like journalists, the defence-security establishment, …)

The other issue is that “democracy” is seen as essentialist terms. So the US, UK, Canada, Australia are categorised as “democracies” no matter how undemocratic some of their institutions are in practice (e.g., in privileging the voice of capitalists and NYT columnists); whereas a country like Singapore is deemed “authoritarian” no matter how much the Singapore government consults its people in decision-making. So “democracy” has become an “in-group identity”, to exclude other countries no matter how much actual say their populations have in how they are governed.

Democracy is a much broader concept that Western style institutions. We should be interested in how other countries practice democracy, including those that we unreflectively label as “authoritarian”.

18

Chris Bertram 12.21.21 at 9:11 am

@Vijay, using nationality laws to exclude large numbers of people from the electorate (in Assam, for example) doesn’t strike me as an example of “not questioning electoral democracy”.

19

tm 12.21.21 at 10:20 am

“Looking to the future, I’d still have some optimism if it weren’t for the situation in the US.”

Indeed. Since about the 2020 US election, there been presidential elections in Bolivia, Equador, Honduras and Chile (among others). All of these are countries with a recent history of coups and authoritarian / dictatorial rule. (The Chilean right wing candidate Jose Kast openly endorsed Pinochet during the campaign). In Bolivia, Honduras and Chile, left wing candidates won, in Equador the right wing candidate. In each instance, the losing party quickly accepted the outcome and conceded defeat. I think on the same day or the day after the election. (Peru, where the left wing candidate also won, was an exception. Here, the election was extremely close, and the right wing candidate alleged election fraud.)

It is remarkable that the US GOP cannot be counted on these days to have even as much commitment to democracy than right wing authoritarians in countries like Honduras.

20

CDT 12.21.21 at 4:04 pm

Your pessimism about the U.S. is correct. Our future is some cross between Hungary and Russia, with government dominated by the corrupt and bigoted. Hopefully other nations can fare better.

21

Barry 12.21.21 at 4:06 pm

Ronal: “… The United States is doing well economically with rising wages, so I am hoping the anti-democracy party will lose ground in the midterms and will be so far behind in the Presidential election that the not yet ruined nation will won’t collapse and become a nuclear armed banana non-republic.”

1) The strong norm is for the non-presidential party to pick up seats. IIRC, the current GOP gerrymandering is supposed to guarantee them 11 more seats, if all else was equal.

2) As has been pointed out, the GOP is conducting an all-out push to make sure that they can gerrymander, suppress votes and in the end simply ignore votes against them.

22

reason 12.21.21 at 4:14 pm

It seems to me that the US has peculiar problems because of it’s peculiar constitution. The Senate in particular is an abomination giving the same representation to Wyoming as it gives to California, and tending to invite corruption because of the extent of power given to the Senate in the constitution and the narrow margins, which means that it can essentially easily be used to stop the government from acting legislatively. This has caused the government to try to get around this by finding ways to enhance presidential power or using the Supreme Court (which as a consequence has been hopelessly politicised). The break lines are along the lines of the 1860 Civil War now that the parties have realigned. I can’t think of too many countries that have maintained long term civility after a civil war, particularly with a two party system mirroring the dividing line in the civil war. I think that US may have to break up so it can get a new constitution – it is hard to see another solution.

The Australian constitution also decided on a Senate with equal representation for the States. In some ways it has been saved by two things:
1. Proportional representation (so the Senate is not a two party system)
2. Very high Urbanisation levels (so there is not a very powerful rural conservative faction)

23

Barry 12.21.21 at 4:17 pm

(sorry for misspelling your name, Ronald)

Cheez Whiz: ” There are 2 problems with this plan: the current Republican Party has little interest in governing (it’s an old conservative trope that the government that governs least governs best, despite the fact that this is no longer the 19th century), let alone the latest generation of social media Republicans that have no idea what governing might be. This means that the next crisis, whether economic, weather, geopolitical, or health related, will not go well.”

Note that this has so far not hurt the GOP, so far as we can tell. Trump botched the pandemic, and came within a hair’s breath of winning, IMHO a margin easily achievable by state legislatures throwing out a few districts’ votes.

We are seeing poor approval figures for Biden (albeit better than Trump’s) even as the economy takes off. This is due to both the GOP base being 100% against him, no matter what, but also due to the ‘liberal’ MSM happily going back to a ‘both sides’ normality.

24

Jerry Vinokurov 12.21.21 at 5:19 pm

One tiny indicator is that so far no Republican-controlled State has legislated to replace the system of voters choosing Presidential electors with a system of the Stage legislature choosing Presidential electors.

It would be a mistake to view this as any sort of moderation. They’re not doing it because acting like this in the open until you know for a fact that the result is a fait accompli will, as you say, invite backlash. What they are doing, as in e.g. Georgia, is removing the responsibility for administering the elections from reasonably nonpartisan local boards and granting it to explicitly partisan state-level bodies. In other places (Michigan and Wisconsin for example), they are quite explicitly gearing up for the possibility of a legislature simply submitting its own slate regardless of the actual outcome of the vote, something that they do not need to actually pass any laws to do. The efforts at election subversion happening at the state level right now are quite various and the point is to try and figure out what might stick rather than trying to legislate the outcome in advance.

25

Scott P. 12.21.21 at 5:22 pm

I like Amartya Sen’s much broader definition of democracy which simply entails having a broadly equal say over how we are governed. If we take that broader (outcome based vs procedural based) idea of democracy, it’s easy to see that Western democratic institutions have not historically given everyone broadly equal say on how they are governed. It has tended to give capitalist elites a disproportionate say, along with non-capitalist elites like journalists, the defence-security establishment, …)

No-True-Scotsmanning away all historical examples of democracy doesn’t solve the problem so much as attempt to sweep it under the carpet. We still need a term to distinguish rule of the demos from oligarchy or monarchy.

26

Tohubohu 12.21.21 at 6:12 pm

I don’t quite share the OP’s pessimism, although I’m pessimistic.

I am wondering how it will fit with the exhilaration some readers of The Dawn of Everything describe. I know JQ isn’t among them yet, but I’m curious, because I don’t think the threads are unrelated. I suppose I might experience intellectual exhilaration while in state of such well-grounded pessimism, but if the subject were political imagination, wouldn’t I be whistling past the graveyard? The trouble is that politics isn’t thought–it’s action. Personally I can’t take any joy from that book given what’s actually going on–and what has always gone on. If we are always or often self-conscious, imaginative political actors and this is what we come to, god help us. Yes, the salient question is, how did we get “stuck”? But–sorry if I seem to be beating a dead horse–we DIDN’T get where we are by rational choice and we’re not going to get out of it that way either.

I do appreciate everyone trying their damnedest though. I’m trying, too.

27

Glen Tomkins 12.21.21 at 6:29 pm

Democratic government in the US failed decades ago, dying of its internal contradictions, of the unwillingness of democratically elected representatives to govern. If an administration or legislative majority were to actually do anything that required exercise of govt power, that would have to alienate some group of voters or another, thus endangering their ability to win the next election. The exercise of govt power, and the source of that power in a democracy, have been allowed to get into an unacknowledged opposition so deep that it can’t be resolved under our current party system.

For all of those decades since govt in the US failed we could tell ourselves until quite recently that, since democracy was still operational, since free and fair elections had become more of a norm than at any previous time in our history, well, then, democratic govt was healthier than ever. We avoided the logical connection these two things: 1) the decline of the political machines that had for most of our history in most places in the US kept honest popular elections from choosing govt officials, and 2) the increasingly non-existent stakes to election results. If govt officials no longer exercised substantial govt power, well, of course the power hungry lost interest in exercising power to distort and suppress free elections, and that left the field free for disinterested good govt types to clean up our elections. Yay for democracy! But that victory was made possible by the fact that our shiny new democratically elected govts no longer much governed.

The events of 1/6 have finally ripped the mask off that contradiction. The foundational responsibility of govt is to preserve its monopoly on violence, at the very least to keep any private actors or combinations from using violence to get into public office and the govt power that office confers. If 1/6 is to be taken seriously as an insurrection aiming at giving the presidency to the loser of the election, then any govt so threatened has to treat the ideology that motivated the insurrection as sedition. The current identifying ideology of the Republican Party is this and only this, that Trump Really Won. Belief that Trump Really Won both justifies and requires the overthrow of the current govt by any means necessary that happen to be expedient at the moment. This belief has already produced one act of violence, 1/6, that had a non-trivial chance of succeeding at overthrowing democracy in the US. This belief is still publicly and fervently espoused by one of our tow major political parties.

Public espousal of the identifying credo of the Republican Party, Trump Really Won, is sedition, and the basic responsibility of governance requires at least that party’s public office-holders to be charged with sedition. That step would require suspension of habeas corpus and the creation of special tribunals because the current law enforcement apparatus of the US is lousy with R seditionists, and any juries chosen under ordinary rules could not exclude seditionist Republicans.

The current D administration and legislative majority has to choose between actually being a govt and outlawing the R party, ending the illusion of democratic governance, or of going Micawber on us and letting things take their ungoverned course. Lord knows that doing nothing, refraining from the course of ending democracy by outlawing the Rs for at least as long as it takes to end the R threat to democracy, could end up producing the best outcome. History famously is supposed to repeat tragedy as farce, and so maybe the Trump Really Won movement will collapse any day now underneath the weight of its own internal contradictions and absurdities. Maybe the current administration doing its duty and rounding up the Rs is actually the only way the Rs succeed. That action would be obviously undemocratic, and the US has for so long lived without govt exercising power that the need to outlaw the Rs is not something that will be understood by enough people to hold back the reaction, by the general public or just by the people in the military, to outlawing the Republican Party, and so we would end up with the Ds all in prison or worse.

At any rate, there seems little prospect on the Ds agreeing among themselves to take any dramatic course of action, so it’s not as if we have to worry much that they will start another US civil war. The Ds will predictably do nothing and let events take their course. Maybe there is some act more overt than 1/6 that will get Ds to a consensus on the need to outlaw the Rs, but God knows what that would have to be, and that overt act not be too late for us to react effectively.

Democratic governance is inherently contradictory in its basic structure, only long and continuous public acknowledgement of that contradiction can keep it functional, and the one outstanding characteristic of political culture in the US for decades now has been a refusal to publicly acknowledge much of anything, least of all anything at all difficult and contradictory.

28

John Quiggin 12.21.21 at 7:14 pm

Glen T: I’ve allowed this comment through moderation, but I’m not interested in further discussion along these lines, and will delete any further comments of this kind. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining democracy to include the system of government prevailing in the US before Trump, and asking whether it will be replaced by something that clearly isn’t democracy.

29

SamChevre 12.21.21 at 9:40 pm

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining democracy to include the system of government prevailing in the US before Trump, and asking whether it will be replaced by something that clearly isn’t democracy.

I’ll just go with “no, it won’t be replaced with anything that is clearly less based on voters controlling policy on key issues.”

Democracy is a bit overloaded: it might mean “rule by voters”, but in typical American usage it includes some amount of “getting the acceptable answers” and some measure of “rule of law”. But I do believe it is unlikely on the “rule by voters” definition to become less democratic: proposition 187 and proposition 8 were democratic, and I see no prospect of them being implemented.

30

Robert Weston 12.21.21 at 10:55 pm

J-D@13:

“https://crookedtimber.org/2021/12/21/getting-it-wrong-on-the-future-of-democracy/#comment-815680”>Globally, the big question that keeps coming back to my mind is this: if democracy in the US is much more seriously eroded than it already has been, what will be the reactions of politicians and populations in other countries?

I’d expect Western countries to either make the best of a bad situation, or to embrace the Trump restoration. Start with the assumption that the priority of NATO member states is to preserve the comfortable suzerain-vassal relationship the alliance offers, as well as access to the U.S. market for their products: Canada is a sparsely populated neighbor and can’t afford to offend the Americans; France is the hotbed of EU reactionary politics, as its entire political class stigmatizes Black and Muslim minorities in ways that could open avenues for dialogue once the Republicans are back in the White House; the German foreign policy community fits on a spectrum that ranges from pragmatic accommodation with the White House of the Day, to openly anti-Russian and anti-Chinese sentiment (the Green Party, which now controls the foreign ministry, has been especially bad in that regard); I can’t remember the last time the UK went against Washington on a major international issue. And then, there’s Poland, the Czech Republic, and Israel.

Also: The U.S. foreign policy community despises Trump because he appeared not to care about preserving and extending U.S. global hegemony during his 2016 campaign. Eventually, though, there’s a good chance the establishment will ditch the Beltway Bipartisanship narrative and make its peace with permanent Republican rule, especially if Trump jettisons his anti-NATO rhetoric and lets things run as they have.

31

aw 12.21.21 at 11:11 pm

Remember that the modus operandi of Trumpets is chaos, so all our thoughtful work will be out the window as soon as they start up again, as we leap from crisis to crisis trying to keep up as they destroy everything.

32

Donald 12.22.21 at 5:24 am

Please, no disputes over comments policy – JQ

A link to a thread arguing that people overstate the danger of civil war in the US. That of course would still leave plenty of room for democracy to collapse.

https://twitter.com/zeitzoff/status/1473441456874565636

33

John Quiggin 12.22.21 at 11:40 am

Donald @32 “That of course would still leave plenty of room for democracy to collapse.”

The authors position is actually stronger, saying, with reference to the threat posed by the Jan 6 insurrection

“Scary stories about the future are redundant when the task of dealing with the present is so urgent.”

34

Cathy 12.22.21 at 12:53 pm

No one has yet mentioned the terrifying escalation of Repub violence/ advocation of violence. Even if the Dems squeak out a victory in a state despite voter restrictions, intimidations, etc, the Repubs are weaponized to stop that result.
I see a brown-shirt America

35

Tim H. 12.22.21 at 1:26 pm

A contributing factor may be the difficulty in crafting policy that serves everyone more or less well enough, given the existence of a monied minority* with no reticence in making their case for policy that grants them favorable treatment. As policy is diverted to serving the squeaky wheel, the majority increasingly question the legitimacy of their government** . Ideally, the monied minority would work to maximize the overlap of their interests with those of the majority, as a customer base with spending money is in their long term interest. Some of them already understand this, more need to.

*Politicians having difficulty discerning “Vox populi” are offered the “Vox pecunia” as an easy alternative.
**Offering more leverage for clever dissemblers.

36

anon/portly 12.22.21 at 9:24 pm

I’d love to be wrong in the analysis above, so if anyone can point out where I’ve gone wrong, I’d be most grateful.

Do any of the nine sentences that follow “what’s happening in the US” constitute something that can be aptly described as “analysis?” I grant that many (not all) contain a kernel of truth….

Some examples.

And he has paid no political price for attempting to overturn the result.

Is there any actual evidence for this? The following may not be sufficiently valid evidence against it, but it’s certainly not evidence for it:

https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/trackers/donald-trump-favorability

November 6th: 44.7%. January 1st: 43.0%. December 17: 40.7%.

The Republican Party is now openly committed to overturning US democracy, and retains the support of close to half of voters.

I’m skeptical, again. Are they “openly committed” to effectively “overturning US democracy” or are they openly committed to a course of action that has little chance of accomplishing this? From another CT contributor:

….five states—completely controlled by GOP governors and state legislatures—and one state with a GOP controlled legislature introduced bills allowing officials to fuck with election results and none of them passed.

https://twitter.com/CoreyRobin/status/1472002472034148357

With a rickety and politicised electoral system and a partisan Supreme Court that’s sufficient to ensure control of the outcomes.

And in 2020 these institutions helped him, at all?

Note that in particular, the courts – often, most zealously, the R-appointed federal judges – was of zero help to Trump. (Reference: 100’s if not 1000’s of Akiva Cohen and Mike Dunford twitter posts between Nov 3 and Jan 6).

As far as I can see, Trump is virtually certain to be the next President, (whether by winning under the current Electoral College rules or by overturning the results in key states) and, once he is in, certain to establish some kind of dynastic rule.

This rather convoluted formulation seems to suggest (maybe my reading of it is in error) that “dynastic rule” is “virtually certain.”

If “dynastic rule arrives in US 2028” was at 50-1 in his local betting shop, would JQ rush down to make his free fortune? (Or even Don Jr. at 200 – 1). I’m skeptical. I mean yeah a kernel of truth. (Don Jr. at 2000 – 1 would get even me interested).

The real scary thing is that Donald Trump appears to a chance of winning, completely legitimately, in 2024. What gives him this chance? The obvious answer (in conjunction with Trump’s EC magic), since Trump is obviously ridiculously unpopular himself, for a politician, is that the D’s might well be sufficiently unpopular themselves.

37

J-D 12.23.21 at 12:49 am

We ought to critically scrutinise our pre-existing ideas about democracy. In the West, democracy has come to be associated with a particular set of institutions centred around elected representative. But democracy hasn’t always been so narrowly construed.

I like Amartya Sen’s much broader definition of democracy which simply entails having a broadly equal say over how we are governed. If we take that broader (outcome based vs procedural based) idea of democracy, it’s easy to see that Western democratic institutions have not historically given everyone broadly equal say on how they are governed. It has tended to give capitalist elites a disproportionate say, along with non-capitalist elites like journalists, the defence-security establishment, …)

The other issue is that “democracy” is seen as essentialist terms. So the US, UK, Canada, Australia are categorised as “democracies” no matter how undemocratic some of their institutions are in practice (e.g., in privileging the voice of capitalists and NYT columnists); whereas a country like Singapore is deemed “authoritarian” no matter how much the Singapore government consults its people in decision-making. So “democracy” has become an “in-group identity”, to exclude other countries no matter how much actual say their populations have in how they are governed.

Democracy is a much broader concept that Western style institutions. We should be interested in how other countries practice democracy, including those that we unreflectively label as “authoritarian”.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining democracy to include the system of government prevailing in the US before Trump, and asking whether it will be replaced by something that clearly isn’t democracy.

I’ll just go with “no, it won’t be replaced with anything that is clearly less based on voters controlling policy on key issues.”

Democracy is a bit overloaded: it might mean “rule by voters”, but in typical American usage it includes some amount of “getting the acceptable answers” and some measure of “rule of law”. But I do believe it is unlikely on the “rule by voters” definition to become less democratic: proposition 187 and proposition 8 were democratic, and I see no prospect of them being implemented.

In the contemporary world, there’s a rough distinction between countries where it is possible for a popular election to bring about a change of government and countries where this is not possible. To illustrate with a small number of examples: in Spain and in New Zealand it is possible; in Vietnam and in Swaziland it is not possible. There may be a few cases where there’s room for dispute about which category the country falls into, but the distinction is still worth making. For the past two centuries, the United States has been one of the countries where it is possible for a popular election to bring about a change of government; it may continue to be so, or then again it may not.

Within both categories, there is significant variation in how much influence the people at large have over political decisions. In a country where a popular election can’t change the government, the people at large may have significant influence over political decisions, or then again they may not. Countries where popular elections can change the government also vary in how much influence the people at large have over political decisions. These variations within each category are also important; popular influence on political decisions may increase or decrease in the United States (just as in any other country) without its necessarily changing from one of the two categories mentioned to the other; but to me it still seems worth recognising the distinction between those two categories even though there is significant variation within each of them.

It’s possible (indeed, it’s common) to have popular elections without the possibility of a resulting change of government; it’s possible to retain popular elections and other formal structures of a system with alternation in government while removing the practical possibility of alternation in government. Even if the United States changes to a system where it’s no longer possible for popular elections to produce a change of government, I would expect existing formal structures to be retained and I would further expect supporters of the entrenched government to insist that the US system had been retained, not replaced by a different one.

38

Doctor Memory 12.23.21 at 2:25 am

At this moment, I think we should be a little less worried about Trump slithering back into office based on dirty tricks and electoral college shenanigans, and a lot more worried about him marching in triumphantly on the back of a Reagan-in-1984 landslide. Another wave of school closures in major cities in the US this winter will put states in play that would previously have seemed unimaginable.

39

Jim Harrison 12.23.21 at 5:16 am

My contribution to the general pessimism. Two factors make the decline of democracy especially dangerous just now. First, a long struggle with the effects of climate change lies ahead, which means that all governments are going to have to take difficult steps that will infringe on people’s rights and routines. Political absolutism arose during a previous climate crisis, and I expect authoritarian regimes to gradually become totalitarian in the absence of mechanisms of willing cooperation. Second, undemocratic regimes have a perpetual legitimacy problem. The bog standard way for shaky despots to safeguard their power is foreign war—Putin’s current round of saber rattling surely has something to do with rumblings of domestic discontent. I’ve thought for quite a while that the second era of fascism might be rather motor peaceful than the first because the political dinosaurs are operating in a world where nuclear weapons make big power collisions suicidal. These days I’ve come to wonder if I’m whistling in the dark.

40

Glen Tomkins 12.23.21 at 5:42 pm

Nothing more from you on my threads, please. I’m too busy and tired to deal with thread derailment – JQ

41

John Quiggin 12.24.21 at 1:50 am

Doc Memory @38 As I see it, it doesn’t matter how Trump wins in 2024, the outcome will be the same. As soon as cheating is needed, it will happen, and it will succeed.

42

Wonks Anonymous 12.24.21 at 4:55 am

Chetan Murphy:
I agree with Matt Yglesias that this is a situation where it would be better to bet than to argue via citing experts.
https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1474120478147194886
And I’m willing to bet that the next time Republicans get the presidency, their run will not last longer than Reagan through George HW Bush (which is something that could happen without democracy ending, as FDR won four terms and then Truman was re-elected). That could take quite a while to resolve, but I believe there are betting markets that can hold funds in escrow for a long time.

43

J-D 12.24.21 at 7:24 am

Was Joe Biden a virtual certainty at the end of 2017, or George W Bush at the end of 1997, or Ronald Reagan at the end of 1977, or John F Kennedy at the end of 1957? Each was an obvious prospect, but none of them was a virtual certainty. Which President was, this far in advance? James Madison, at the end of 1805?

If somebody wanted to bet against Donald Trump being President again in 2025, what odds would you be prepared to offer?

44

Cranky Observer 12.24.21 at 8:07 pm

The flaw with these “let’s convert you analysis/prediction into a bet” challenges is the same as when Enrico Fermi managed to place $5 bets with a dozen of the world’s smartest men that the atomic bomb test article whose timer was ticking would not set the Earth’s atmosphere on fire.

(I find the whole genre of “the entirety of human interaction can be converted to a sport book” to be not even wrong, but this is an egregious example)

45

Chetan Murthy 12.24.21 at 8:39 pm

Wonks Anonymous: uh, you cite Big Media Matt? The man alternates between quasi-reasonable accepted wisdom takes, and series of scorching hot takes. He’s not an expert in any of these things, and at this point, I ignore all his words (such as they are).

Why is he this way? Some think it’s lack of editors on his substack; others think he’s doing it because that’s how the click economy works: you need to elicit outrage to get clicks. I don’t really care.

BTW, it’s not just about L’il Donnie: it’s about the further entrenching of permanent GrOPer rule, the destruction of democratic governance. Lord Littledick was just a symptom, even as he showed his party the way forward.

46

anon/portly 12.25.21 at 5:51 pm

As I see it, it doesn’t matter how Trump wins in 2024, the outcome will be the same. As soon as cheating is needed, it will happen, and it will succeed.

I can’t tell if this is saying “the outcome is the same” because even if he wins without cheating in 2024, he would have successfully cheated if he had needed to; or because even if he wins without cheating in 2024, he will inevitably cheat successfully at some point later on.

47

John Quiggin 12.25.21 at 7:42 pm

” because even if he wins without cheating in 2024, he will inevitably cheat successfully at some point later on.” This is what I meant, with the minor qualification: he, or his Republican successor.

48

Sebastian H 12.25.21 at 9:05 pm

I agree with being pessimistic, though I’m not AS pessimistic. The main reason to be pessimistic is that the Democratic Party seems split on how close to the precipice we are, with about half of it weirdly saying that it is a crisis and then immediately wanting to engage in culture war games instead of trying to focus on as much broad appeal as possible. If it is a crisis, now is the time for allying with people you don’t normally get along with.

Trump hacks politics (I think mostly by accident) a number of different ways. The main way is that non political-junkies don’t think something is important until they hear about it three or four times in a row. That takes a few months. Trump does so much awful stuff that the opposition essentially can never focus on tying any one bad thing to him for a few months in a row. So what that does is it makes non political-junkies feel like the opposition is just throwing stuff against the wall and changing stories every time they hear anything.

(The impression is that it is routine political whining, because if it were actually something important the opposition would stick to the one or two really important things for months at a time).

Please understand, that isn’t a defense of Trump. Or even a defense of the non political-junkies for not paying attention now that it is important. I’m just trying to describe what I see because we can’t address problems that we don’t accurately see.

The political problem this causes is that the opposition has to maintain very high levels of message discipline that the Democratic Party does not seem remotely up to handling.

This happens for a number of reasons, some unavoidable, but some not. The probably unavoidable one is that the Democratic coalition is pretty broad, so there are lots of potential messages/voices. One of the avoidable ones plays into the political junkie thing–at the moment, for reasons I’m not totally sure I understand, the activist/journalist/advising side of the Democratic Party seems to skew VERY young, VERY college aged, and VERY social media plugged in. This lends to getting caught culture war fads that don’t really play with non political-junkies who need to hear things a bunch of times before they get through. So the activists/journalists/advisors get caught up in things that have essentially zero political upside, but relatively large potential for political downside if they caught looking stupid. (The “parents shouldn’t be involved in school decisions” gaffe being an excellent example of it, as was the idiotic Abolish the Police silliness, as is the ‘latinx’ stuff).

And on some level that might always be a low level problem, and Democrats could work around it. But if you believe that Trump is a big problem you really have to work against the impulse to play stupid culture war games and potentially lose a percent or two, and as far as I can tell most of the Democratic operatives don’t think it is a problem at all. (A few do, Shor and Carville, and interestingly Obama). I find Shor fascinating because politically he is an actual socialist, but he is super attuned to the fact that socialism isn’t selling. He’s very realistic about what he can get, and he works for it.

The other accidental hack that Trump has with the non-political-junkies is that they expect faster payoffs and Trump’s entire life has been about abusing the judicial system to delay the day of reckoning. This plays into the fact that non-political junkies expect to hear the same thing repeatedly. But the court system doesn’t really make that possible the way that Trump abuses it. In a good world Congress would have had his tax records immediately after the Supreme Court ruled against him. But in the actual world, it goes on and on for another few years and by the time Congress gets the records (if they ever have…I think they still have not) all the non-political junkies have no idea what it was all about because they’ve lost the thread.

Relatedly, Congressional subpoenas can’t be treated just like a routine boring Court matter that can afford to take 2-5 years to resolve. Judges at every level are used to allowing almost infinite delays, and they really shouldn’t. If it takes 3 months to resolve a Congressional subpoena, that’s annoying to me, but fine. Letting it take multiple years is definitely not ok with things like the 1/6 Captiol coup attempt on the line.

Anyway, now I’m not sure why I was less pessimistic.

49

LFC 12.26.21 at 4:27 am

Recent events suggest that the need to modify or eliminate the Senate filibuster is urgent. This bears on the thread bc it bears on Dems’ future electoral prospects. Absurd that everything shd be revolving now around a single Senator from WVa. Have nothing vs WVa (I lived there briefly a long time ago) but this is ridiculous.

50

Wonks Anonymous 12.26.21 at 1:22 pm

Cranky Observer:
It would be impossible to pay out a bet if the atmosphere did ignite, but not if Republicans got more than 3 terms in a row in the White House. As I noted, that already happened for the Democrats in the 20th century without ending democracy.

Chetan Murthy:
I did not cite Matt as an “expert”. But the political opinions of “experts” which are not backed up by bets are “cheap talk”. They will not face negative consequences for being wrong. People who are actually confident in a belief about the future can make a bet, which serves as a (potentially) costly and thus honest signal of their confidence. And my proposed bet was NOT worded to be specific to Trump (who’s rather old), but instead any Republican, whoever the next one is to take office, and requires them to keep the White House past the point of a presidential term limit (thus necessitating a successor, if not a Constitutional amendment).

51

J-D 12.27.21 at 12:54 am

So the activists/journalists/advisors get caught up in things that have essentially zero political upside, but relatively large potential for political downside if they caught looking stupid. (The “parents shouldn’t be involved in school decisions” gaffe being an excellent example of it, as was the idiotic Abolish the Police silliness, as is the ‘latinx’ stuff).

It’s not clear whether you’re suggesting that people shouldn’t say these things. If you are, it seems worth pointing out that it is not within the power of the Democratic Party to arrange affairs so that people don’t say these things, and even if it were it would not be a good thing.

If that’s not what you mean, then it’s not clear how what you mean is different from that. It’s true that political activists sometimes say things which are potentially damaging to their own political causes, but this is true of political activitists of all political stripes and it’s not clear why it would be worth pointing out in this discussion.

52

reason 12.27.21 at 1:02 pm

One analogy I’ve tried to push in discussions over the institutions of the United States (which in my view make it especially vulnerable to being a non-democracy – which it has been arguably for much of it’s history), is one related to rules in sports. Why do sports keep changing their rules? The answer is that teams work out how to gain an advantage with tactics that are within the rules as specified but not within the spirit of the game. So the rules have to be adapted as tactics evolve. The same is true of political rules. But sports competition involve many different competitors, whereas in a two party system their are only two – and this is a major problem, because the cheaters can block any changes to the rules. By this logic, the real problem in the US is the two party system – because it blocks any chance of sensible constitutional change.

53

anon/portly 12.27.21 at 8:48 pm

As I see it, it doesn’t matter how Trump wins in 2024, the outcome will be the same. As soon as cheating is needed, it will happen, and it will succeed.

Okay, 47 clarifies that this means cheating is certain to be needed, and therefore occur, at some point.

But it seems to me there’s an obvious follow-up question, which is whether it’s better for the opposition (or D’s) to win in 2024 (thus Trump cheats then) or whether it doesn’t really matter. Is the “outcome” the same in all senses? Or more generally, is there an optimal response or strategy to the inevitability of Trump’s abrogation of democracy, or not?

54

Chetan Murthy 12.27.21 at 9:53 pm

Wonks Anonymous @ 50: re: betting in order to honestly express your beliefs

There’s an old story (I was told it comes from Liar’s Poker). The game Liar’s Poker is apparently kind of like poker, but played with dollar bills, and you’re betting on whether somebody is lying or not, about the last digit of the serial number on the bills in their hand. Apparently this bond trader Meriwether was quite good at it, routinely winning over his colleagues. We’re talking small bets that they wouldn’t miss. The story goes that the boss, Gutfreund, comes down to the floor and offers to play, naming the stakes as some very large sum — very large for Meriwether, small for Gutfreund.

Betting is how children and other unreflective people decide grave issues about the world. Scientists and learned people do it with investigation, evidence, impartial assessment, and consensus.

55

Chetan Murthy 12.27.21 at 9:55 pm

I should have added: In case it’s not obvious, the point of Gutfreund’s bet, was to make the stakes asymmetric, and hence deter Meriwether. This idea that betting “reveals truths” is almost-always bafflegab.

56

Chetan Murthy 12.27.21 at 10:02 pm

Sebastian H @ 48; I don’t know if realize it, but you’ve driven those nails into the coffin of American democracy just a little bit deeper. Or maybe I should say, you’ve taken the photos that show those nails driven even-deeper.

You discuss all sorts of message-discipline problems, tactical problems of all sorts, that affect the Dems. But the truth is far simpler: nearly a year ago, TFG attempted a coup, and if it hadn’t been for valiant policemen, he could very well have pulled it off. An. Attempted. Coup. And in response, the American electorate says “ho hum, whaddayagonnadoooo?” In Virginia they put his feculent follower in office, and in New Jersey, came close. And it sure looks like TFG’s feculent horde will win in 2022.

I think all this cogitating and frenzied alarmism over Dem tactics, is a symptom of a deeper syndrome. People are looking for The One Weird Trick ™ that will resuscitate American democracy, and the truth is, America’s She’s Just Not That Into You Democracy ™.

57

John Quiggin 12.28.21 at 2:14 am

anon/portly @53 Better for the D’s to win (on the old Electoral College rules) in 2024, so that the cheating required to overturn the result is more blatant, and Trump never has any legitimacy. But there’s still no obvious path back to democracy. I’m still keen for suggestions.

58

JimV 12.28.21 at 3:21 am

Not that it matters, but both liar’s poker (the game) and the point of the story in the book have been incorrectly described. A little googling should clarify things. (Or read the book, it’s not bad.) I guess either the truth or the fiction supports the general point that gambling for the sake of gambling is not productive to society since it involves winners and losers with no net benefit.

Our governmental/political system tried to work–Trump was impeached–and failed. We need a new system with a better constitution. I can think of a lot of improvements, as can everybody here. Or we could split the country into different factions with different systems, and people could migrate to where their preferred system was. Those are the best solutions I can think of, but they are not practical–yet.

Perhaps the fact is that the human species contains too large a percentage of sociopaths for any system to work well for long.

59

J-D 12.28.21 at 6:07 am

But there’s still no obvious path back to democracy. I’m still keen for suggestions.

It’s unlikely there’s anything you or I can do, here on the other side of the world; but the obvious first priority for people in the US is to strive to turn out as many people as possible to vote Democratic, for all positions at all levels, in 2022. It may not be enough by itself (and I hope people can come up with other ideas as well), but it would be a huge mistake to give up on it.

60

nastywoman 12.28.21 at 7:21 am

@53
‘I’m still keen for suggestions’.
@56
‘People are looking for The One Weird Trick â„¢ that will resuscitate American democracy, and the truth is, America’s She’s Just Not That Into You Democracy â„¢’

BUT they think they are –
and they are in the utmost possible confused way –
as you guys need to read
‘Gina. Rosanne. Guy. What do you do the day after you storm the Capitol?
By Kerry Howley’
It explains it all –
AND if that is/was ‘democracy’ we just need better… ‘messaging’?

61

nastywoman 12.28.21 at 7:30 am

the unhappy end:

‘Albert Watkins represents the rioter who has come to be called the QAnon Shaman, and when Talking Points Memo asked him about motive, he had this to say: A lot of these defendants — they’re all fucking short-bus people. These are people with brain damage. They’re fucking retarded. They’re on the goddamn spectrum.

Regardless of how we may receive this assessment, which Watkins himself deemed perhaps disrespectful, a country that protects the right to spin fantasy necessarily risks the well-being of those who easily lose themselves to it. Freedom isn’t free is a true thing the right used to say, and the costs of freedom of speech are real costs, borne, in part, by those unskilled at sifting fact from fantasy: the people who join MLMs, who become Scientologists, who lie awake in bed at night worrying over small children drained of adrenochrome. To spear the fact in the sea of grift is not an act of intelligence, exactly, but a kind of sensibility, a certain instinct for grasping the structure of the social world. We like to think of conspiracy theories as outside the realm of intelligent consideration, but the idea of children trafficked via a discount-furniture retailer is not more strange than a network of cages, built to maintain a centuries-old racial hierarchy and kept so cold that Saran Wrap socks register as an act of resistance, in which white rioters who deny the existence of systemic racism now find themselves.

The four-year period in which Guy Reffitt became consumed by various falsehoods was a time when it was normal for people of some education to refer to the leader of the free world as intellectually stunted, and yet it was clear that he possessed the inverse of fact-blindness — a kind of genius for discerning social structure and delegitimizing authority, a man with deep and true intuitions about the rules and how far they would bend, for walking right up to the line and letting others cross it. You’ll never take back our country with weakness. If Watkins’s argument is that one should not imprison people who were incited by a sitting president, some to their own acts of incitement (You’re not going to take away our Trumpy-bear!; We need weapons!), the judge did not find this convincing. A defendant credulous enough to believe he was following Trump’s orders shows an inability (or refusal) to exercise his independent judgment and conform his behavior to the law.

Gina Bisignano, in other words, was a problem the state had no real means to solve, a person especially vulnerable to speech in a society protective of free expression. By late February, in Grady County, she had been imprisoned in one facility or another for over a month, during which she saw the sun exactly once: on the long day when she was transferred from L.A. to Oklahoma. She had been lost in the prison system; had, she says, contracted COVID for a second time at a jail known to be a superspreader site; and had lost 20 pounds by the time a judge agreed to supervised release as she awaited trial for seven charges that would cost her a lifetime’s worth of savings. A guard handed her the Balenciaga sneakers that had been taken from her in L.A. and buzzed her through a door. Her hair was unbrushed and her expression one of fixed panic. Gina had no ID, no credit card, no way to get home, and it was not clear what she would do on the scrubby, sidewalkless Oklahoma streets onto which she was being dumped’.

62

nastywoman 12.28.21 at 7:37 am

and if the quote was too long –
how about the following as ‘the last words’:

‘a country that protects the right to spin fantasy necessarily risks the well-being of those who easily lose themselves to it. Freedom isn’t free is a true thing the right used to say, and the costs of freedom of speech are real costs, borne, in part, by those unskilled at sifting fact from fantasy’

63

nastywoman 12.28.21 at 7:42 am

or in other words:

If too many people believe somebody like ‘trump’
(the worlds new word for: ‘Utmost Right-Wing Science Denying Stupidity’)
and the democratic vote for ‘trump’ him is called ‘democracy’ –
whose fault is that?

64

Wonks Anonymous 12.28.21 at 12:54 pm

The replication crisis involves the output of “scientists and learned people” whose work has undergone peer review. That peer review fails to screen out results that not only don’t replicate, but aren’t expected to replicate if you asked scientists to bet.
https://www.overcomingbias.com/2015/11/could-gambling-save-psychology.html
I find your association of betting with “children” to be odd, since they don’t have much money to bet and aren’t normally permitted to engage in it. On the other hand, there are plenty of adults who speculate for a profession (and the number of them prevents someone like Gutfreund from trying to dominate any open market where anyone can bet against him).

65

James 12.28.21 at 2:00 pm

@Kien Singapore has no freedom of assembly and severe limits on freedom of speech. Defamation suits are pursued actively by the governing party against the political opposition and against the press and private individuals engaging in political comment. There is good reason to exclude it from the democratic ‘club’.

66

J-D 12.29.21 at 1:03 am

There’s an old story (I was told it comes from Liar’s Poker). The game Liar’s Poker is apparently kind of like poker, but played with dollar bills, and you’re betting on whether somebody is lying or not, about the last digit of the serial number on the bills in their hand. Apparently this bond trader Meriwether was quite good at it, routinely winning over his colleagues. We’re talking small bets that they wouldn’t miss. The story goes that the boss, Gutfreund, comes down to the floor and offers to play, naming the stakes as some very large sum — very large for Meriwether, small for Gutfreund.

This story is recounted by Michael Lewis in the opening chapter of his book Liar’s Poker: Rising Through The Wreckage On Wall Street. Michael Lewis actually worked at Salomon Brothers when John Gutfreund was the CEO and John Meriwether was one of its most successful traders, as well as the acknowledged best player of Liar’s Poker (the precise rules of which are beside the point here). It’s not clear that the event actually took place the way Michael describes it (he doesn’t make a definite assertion that it did); he thought it was significant that the story was told. What is clear in the story is that John G’s challenge to John M, to play one round for a huge sum of money, with an explicit stipulation in advance that the loser had to absorb the defeat without complaint, was an attempt to assert dominance, so it’s worth knowing how the story ends: John M turned the challenge back on John G, proposing a stake ten times what John G had suggested, an amount that would represent a painful loss even for the CEO of Salomon Brothers, and with this move succeeded in getting John G to back down. ‘Are you crazy?’ John G says, in the story, and Michael imagines John M thinking No. Just very, very good.

So John G’s offer to bet a large sum of money (knowing that he would probably lose it to the superior player) was a sincere expression of his own (inflated) estimation of himself, and John M’s challenge to increase the stake further was also a sincere expression of his own estimation* of his own abilities: always supposing the story to be true, that is.

*Also subsequently proved wrong by the collapse of Long Term Capital Management, of which he was the founder.

Returning to the original question of how to guard against errors in one’s own analysis of the situation, I think it is worth asking yourself this question: if I were a bookmaker, what odds would I be prepared to offer on the different possible outcomes in this situation? If you think you’re more likely than not to be right about what’s going to happen, you should be willing to offer even odds to anybody who wants to bet against you. If you’re more confident of your prediction than that, you should be willing to offer higher odds. Even as a purely hypothetical exercise, if you imagine yourself in this position and imagine the maximum odds beyond which you would not agree to the bet, whatever the figure is (two to one? ten to one? fifty to one?), then that’s some indication of your real confidence in your prediction. Would you (hypothetically) go as high as a hundred to one, or even higher? If not, then perhaps you should be careful about dismissing objections to your prediction. Perhaps they merit more consideration than you’ve given them.

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reason 12.29.21 at 1:33 pm

JimV @58
You speak for me – perfectly put. Bravo.

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Hidari 12.29.21 at 2:17 pm

@66.

I would put fifty quid on Trump not running next time (or ever). Not enough to hurt if I lost, but enough to indicate that I’m fairly sure that that will happen.

The reasons are self-evident.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-2024-presidential-run-john-kelly-b1968241.html

https://news.yahoo.com/john-bolton-predicted-trump-wont-121123675.html

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/11/trump-2024-gop-ticket/620755/

Depends of course how catastrophically badly Biden does in the mid-terms of course, and if the Biden-Harris ticket looks as if it might actually disintegrate, then he might risk it, but on a simple cost-benefit analysis, as things stand, it would not seem to be a smart move for him to run (at the moment).

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nastywoman 12.30.21 at 6:46 am

and ‘why are there so many unhappy with democracy’
form the NYT:

‘We pay too little attention to delivering effective government as a critical democratic value. We are familiar with the threats posed by democratic backsliding and the rise of illiberal forces in several democracies, including the United States. But the most pervasive and perhaps deepest challenge facing virtually all Western democracies today is the political fragmentation of democratic politics.

Political fragmentation is the dispersion of political power into so many different hands and centers of power that it becomes difficult for democratic governments to function effectively.

President Biden has recognized this historic challenge, calling the defining mission of his presidency to be winning the “battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies.”

Yet even with unified control of government, the internal divisions of the Democratic Party postponed passage of his bipartisan infrastructure bill for several months and have made it uncertain which parts, if any, of the Build Back Better proposal will be enacted.
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When democratic governments seem incapable of delivering on their promises, this failure can lead to alienation, resignation, distrust and withdrawal among many citizens. It can also trigger demands for authoritarian leaders who promise to cut through messy politics. At an even greater extreme, it can lead people to question democracy itself and become open to anti-democratic systems of government.

The struggle of the Biden administration to deliver on its policy agenda offers a good example of the political fragmentation of politics taking place throughout Western democracies. It takes different forms in the multiparty systems of Europe and the two-party system of the United States. The European democracies are experiencing the unraveling of the traditionally dominant center-left and center-right major parties and coalitions that have governed since World War II. Support for these parties has splintered into new parties of the right and left, along with others with less-easily defined ideological elements. From 2015 to 2017, over 30 new political parties entered European parliaments. Across European democracies, the percentage of people who identify strongly with a political party or are members of one has declined precipitously’.

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