Saturday, October 22, 2016

Populism and authoritarianism

Donald Trump's victory in the Republican primaries against more established figures like JEB! Bush and Marco Rubio, along with the phenomenon of a Jewish socialist giving Hillary Clinton a serious challenge in the Democratic primaries, has set a lot of people to talking about "populism" as more than a throwaway term.

Some of this chatter has been considerably more substantial than others, of course. Before 2016, the operative definition of populists for most pundits seemed to be something along the lines of "a politician saying something that you wouldn't expect an investment banker to say in polite company."

Michael Kazin, who definitely does not take such a simplistic view, wrote in The Populist Persuasion: An American History (1998) of George Wallace's populist style, that Wallace displayed a:

... canny regard for the particulars of wage-earning, small-property-holding white society. No fatuous abstractions about "labor" or "workers" or "the middle class" for him; Wallace, unlike most mainstream politicians, fondly named the specific kinds of (white) Americans for whom he claimed to speak, thereby dignifying their occupations and honoring their anonymous lives: "the bus driver, the truck driver, the beautician, the fireman, the policeman, and the steelworker, the plumber, and the communications worker, and the oil worker and the little businessman .... " It was a tactic [that labor leader] Sam Gompers, who never doubted the link between one's craft and one's politics, might have appreciated.
But the standard pundit attitude that there's something distasteful about seeing politicians have to talk to people in any terms other than those commonly used in Beltway insider gossip doesn't prevent those same pundits for claiming to speak for those salt-of-the-earth white folks. The corporate media figures are forever exhorting themselves to pay more attention to the needs of those people, who the pundits say fell forgotten and ignored and so appreciate someone like Donald Trump paying attention to them.

Because the concerns of white guys just aren't adequately addressed by the media. Or something.

Now it's true that the mainstream media is out of touch with the real conditions of the majority of the American people, white and otherwise. But their recurring hand-wringing over ignoring the Real Americans to whom Sarah Palin and Donald Trump are so appealing never seems to get much further than confidently delivering pronouncements of supposed worldly wisdom like suggesting that enforcement of anti-discrimination laws might not be deferential enough to white men, or complaining that women's-rights advocates should look for common ground with antiabortion fanatics for whom the only common ground is banning all abortions no matter matter what. Pay equity? Thinking white cops shouldn't shoot unarmed black men to death for no good reason? Well, the pundits tell themselves, we must remember the delicate feelings of white guys who think p***y-grabbing is their natural right and that black people should be gunned down just to remind them who the Real Americans are.

This is the media background against which discussions of populism take place.

The political junkie's gossip site Politico offers a piece by Yascha Mounk warning that Yes, American Democracy Could Break Down 10/22/2016.

He sets up the article with this reassuring consideration, "As much as [Trump's] critics wring their hands, however, a consensus has emerged that even if Trump were elected, the American system would survive it. We have the rule of law. We have checks and balances. If Trump overshot the bounds of his authority, the system would constrain his actions in much the way it has on occasion done to past Presidents from John Adams to Barack Obama."

Presumably he expects his readers to wonder just as you're doing right now: Say what? A Republican Congress would exercise checks and balances against a Republican President?! You're joking, right?

Yes, he's kind of joking. He follows up directly with, "But would it? The uncomfortable truth is: We can’t be so sure. For the past three years, I’ve been studying the way in which populists use democratic elections to undermine liberal protections like the rule of law — and what I’ve found is that modern democracies, including America’s, are far more vulnerable to hostile takeover than you might think."

He proceeds to warn, "there’s now no question that a future populist of [Trump's] ilk, with more discipline and less personal baggage, could take an even more serious run at the White House. And what Trump is exposing is just how fragile our system might be if that happens."

Here is the point I start to look for an identification of populism with anti-democratic, rightwing populism. Such an identification is what the supporters of neoliberal economics in the EU employ to discredit any kind of criticism of the neoliberal conventional wisdom that forms a widespread policy consensus among economic and political elites. In that polemical approach, populism=rightwing populism=demagoguery=hostility to democracy.

But Mounk's argument here isn't specifically about populism. It's about the potential for a dictatorial-minded President to abuse the authority of the office to stifle democratic processes and the rule of law. And how with sufficient collusion and indifference across the board, from the various actors in the institutions constituting the balance and separation of powers to the people themselves, it's certainly possible.

As he puts it in his conclusion, "In the end, it therefore seems likely that America’s remarkable stability has depended on both an ingenious institutional set-up and a deep commitment to democratic norms."

This is true. And if we had something like a press corps that practiced journalism as their main profession, it would be widely understood as a banal point.

And speaking of the press, that's a huge omission in Mounk's presentation here. The continuing and worsening tendency of the corporate press to act as cheerleaders of power, and more specifically of power in the form of conducting wars and promoting measures to increase the comfort of the most comfortable, represents a failure of a key non-governmental set of institutions, the press companies themselves. The press has a key role in the functioning of a democracy. And the more that role is twisted to the service of the already wealthy and powerful, the more it magnifies the democratic deficits of American government.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Capuchin monkey tools

One of many arguments for the uniqueness of homo sapiens among the animals is that we use tools. But that claim has long since gone by the wayside.

Now we hear that Brazilian capuchin monkeys haven taken using tools to "the next level," as management consultants like to say. Kate Wong reports in The artifacts bear a striking resemblance to objects produced by our ancestors Scientific American Online 10/21/2016:

The monkey is a wild capuchin in northeastern Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park, where these animals have long been known to use rocks for a wide range of activities, from cracking open nuts and digging for roots to catching the attention of potential mates. Other nonhuman primates, including West African chimpanzees, also use rocks as tools in the wild. But the Serra da Capivara capuchins are the only ones that scientists have seen banging rocks together to break them — an activity previously thought to be exclusive to members of the human family. Humans do it to create sharp-edged tools for cutting things. The capuchins, in contrast, never use the flakes they make. Exactly why the monkeys want to break the rocks is unclear, but they often pause from smashing to lick the surface of the embedded stone, perhaps in pursuit of mineral dust generated by the impact.

Yes, you silly humans, we can make tools, too!

But she tells us that we humans are still Exceptional when it comes to chipped stone:

Although the capuchin discovery demonstrates that nonhuman species can accidentally produce fragments of rock that look just like human-crafted cutting tools, that does not mean the human-made tools are not special, Harmand cautions. Even if human ancestors started creating flakes by mistake like the capuchins do, there was something that made them realize they could put them to use and even make new tools to suit their purposes. Moreover, human technology evolved from the comparatively simple tools seen at Lomekwi and at Oldowan sites to handaxes with carefully shaped cutting edges a million years later, and eventually to the elaborate machinery we have today. Why didn’t technology evolve to the same degree in chimps and monkeys, Harmand asks. Why did humans alone take it to such an extreme?
Yes, there was a moment in human evolution when "banging rocks together to break them" was high-tech innovation.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Donald, Hillary, Syria and the Russians

Donald was obnoxious. Hillary was impressive.

And it was impressive that she took progressive stands on most issues throughout. She defended abortion rights emphatically and straightforwardly. She talked about how she wanted to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would defend "families" against the power and giant corporations. She said she wanted Citizens United overturned. She got in a brief reference to climate change, the huge issue that's largely been missing in action in the Presidential general election.

She even used the questions about debt and "entitlements" to focus on the unfairness of the maldistribution of wealth in the US and to say she wanted to increase Social Security benefits. She was actually defending Keynesian stimulus policies. And she sounded almost convincing about opposing TPP.

I'm thinking of what she says now setting the stage for her Presidency. I was particularly concerned that she might use the debt segment to signal her intent to pivot to neoliberal orthodoxy. But she didn't. She sounded more Sanderista than what we'd come to expect as Clintonian.

It's on foreign policy that I have the most immediate and obvious concerns about the new Clinton Presidency. From the Transcript of the Third Debate New York Times 140/20/2016:

WALLACE: Hold on, folks. This doesn’t do any good for anyone. Let’s please continue the debate, and let’s move on to the subject of foreign hot spots.

The Iraqi offensive to take back Mosul has begun. If they are successful in pushing ISIS out of that city and out of all of Iraq, the question then becomes, what happens the day after? And that’s something that whichever of you ends up — whoever of you ends up as president is going to have to confront.

Will you put U.S. troops into that vacuum to make sure that ISIS doesn’t come back or isn’t replaced by something even worse? Secretary Clinton, you go first in this segment. ...

CLINTON: Well, I am encouraged that there is an effort led by the Iraqi army, supported by Kurdish forces, and also given the help and advice from the number of special forces and other Americans on the ground. But I will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force. I don’t think that is in our interest, and I don’t think that would be smart to do. In fact, Chris, I think that would be a big red flag waving for ISIS to reconstitute itself.

The goal here is to take back Mosul. It’s going to be a hard fight. I’ve got no illusions about that. And then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.

I am hopeful that the hard work that American military advisers have done will pay off and that we will see a real — a really successful military operation. But we know we’ve got lots of work to do. Syria will remain a hotbed of terrorism as long as the civil war, aided and abetted by the Iranians and the Russians, continue.

So I have said, look, we need to keep our eye on ISIS. That’s why I want to have an intelligence surge that protects us here at home, why we have to go after them from the air, on the ground, online, why we have to make sure here at home we don’t let terrorists buy weapons. If you’re too dangerous to fly, you’re too dangerous to buy a gun.

And I’m going to continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria not only to help protect the Syrians and prevent the constant outflow of refugees, but to, frankly, gain some leverage on both the Syrian government and the Russians so that perhaps we can have the kind of serious negotiation necessary to bring the conflict to an end and go forward on a political track. [my emphasis]
No-fly zones and "safe havens" inside Syria protected and enforced by the United States are significant escalations of direct US participation in the Syrian civil war. Talking about such things as though they are charitable humanitarian missions is war-propaganda euphemism.

FOX News' Chris Wallace actually followed up with a decent question:

WALLACE: Secretary Clinton, you have talked about — and in the last debate and again today — that you would impose a no-fly zone to try to protect the people of Aleppo and to stop the killing there. President Obama has refused to do that because he fears it’s going to draw us closer or deeper into the conflict.

And General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says you impose a no-fly zone, chances are you’re going to get into a war — his words — with Syria and Russia. So the question I have is, if you impose a no-fly zone — first of all, how do you respond to their concerns? Secondly, if you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that, does President Clinton shoot that plane down?

CLINTON: Well, Chris, first of all, I think a no-fly zone could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict. I’m well aware of the really legitimate concerns that you have expressed from both the president and the general.

This would not be done just on the first day. This would take a lot of negotiation. And it would also take making it clear to the Russians and the Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground.

We’ve had millions of people leave Syria and those millions of people inside Syria who have been dislocated. So I think we could strike a deal and make it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria, it would help us with our fight against ISIS.

But I want to respond to what Donald said about refugees. He’s made these claims repeatedly. I am not going to let anyone into this country who is not vetted, who we do not have confidence in. But I am not going to slam the door on women and children. That picture of that little 4-year-old boy in Aleppo, with the blood coming down his face while he sat in an ambulance, is haunting. And so we are going to do very careful, thorough vetting. That does not solve our internal challenges with ISIS and our need to stop radicalization, to work with American Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks. In fact, the killer of the dozens of people at the nightclub in Orlando, the Pulse nightclub, was born in Queens, the same place Donald was born. So let’s be clear about what the threat is and how we are best going to be able to meet it.

And, yes, some of that threat emanates from over in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve got to keep fighting, and I will defeat ISIS, and some of it is we have to up our game and be much smarter here at home. [my emphasis]
It's notable that she realized she has to be prepared to explain why attempting such a thing would not be a reckless, risky actions whose benefits could be a long time coming.

And it can be tough to keep limited participation in a conflict limited. As Sen. Ed Markey is currently warning about US involvement in Yemen. (Chris Villani, Sen. Markey: U.S. risks becoming mired in 'proxy war' in Yemen Boston Herald 10/14/2016)

Hillary baited Donald into giving bad answers when she challenged him about the Russia hacks. But anti-Russian talk is fast becoming a staple of US war posturing in the Middle East. And an excuse for pressing NATO and EU membership closer and closer to the border in Russia. Hillary all but accused Trump of being a Russian plant in the Presidential race.

Progressives need to be able to walk and talk at the same time. Including about Russia. We can recognize that Russia and Putin can be bad actors in some cases without allowing the mention of Russia to shut down debate over whether risky US policies in the Middle East and Europe are good, bad or otherwise. The trend of trying to brand critics as dupes of the Kremlin not only has unpleasant Cold War echoes but is becoming too uncritically employed by the progressive left. Check out Gershom Gorenberg's The Strange Sympathy of the Far Left for Putin The American Prospect 10/14/2016. The website has shown that article at the top of its Most Popular list for at least the last three days.

Also, I want to call attention to Gene Lyons' column When Trump Throws Post-Election Dung, How Will His Fans Respond? National Memo 10/19/2016, in which he suggests dialing back some of the fainting-couch rhetoric over the fact that Trump is not saying he'll concede if he loses. (Why, ah nevuh huhd such a thing ...) Yes, it's obnoxious and irresponsible on his part. But I think the continuities are stronger here than the novelty. The Republicans have been on a ratcheting-up process since at least 1994 of being more and more obstructionist to Democratic Presidents. And it was often noted, at least by people like Gene Lyons and Joe Conason who were paying attention, that the Republicans never seemed to accept Bill Clinton as a legitimate President. And a similar but more intense attitude applied to Barack Obama, even though he won in 2008 and 2012 by clear margins.

Yes, Donald's the-election-is-rigged hysteria is likely to encourage some of his admirers to political violence. But even there, the continuities are stronger than the novelty. Far-right splinter groups, some of them including people at least nominally intent on terrorist-style violence, have been blossoming under the Obama Administration. That process will likely continue. Though a more focused political and law-enforcement approach being used against them could reverse that trend.

And it's also worth asking, so what if he doesn't concede? Absent a mess like Florida in 2000, where Republican electoral shenanigans were key in setting up the Roberts Court to be able to issue its Bush v. Gore ruling, it's hard to see what he could do to actually prevent Clinton from taking office as President. The Republicans could put together an impeachment process to pull off a "soft coup." But to have any chance of success, it would have to focus on some pseudoscandal rather than on the conduct of the 2016 election. A qualifier of the kind Trump fans don't make: we won't know exactly what particular questions may arise after the election until the election itself is completed.

Speaking of Joe Conason, he also points to the strong continuities (Why Trump Terrifies The Republicans Who Created Him And His Movement National Memo 10/20/2016):

The hard truth, as my friend @LOLGOP and other writers have previously explained, is that the Republicans only have themselves to blame for Trump. For year they have mundanely exploited the same racial divisions, fake issues, and intellectual dishonesty that he transformed into political performance art to take over their party.

The Republicans must also look inward to find the roots of the insurrectionary attitude now adopted by Trump’s supporters, and stoked by his comments about the election. Dating back to the militia movement during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and especially with the rise of the Tea Party in reaction to Barack Obama, too many Republicans have eagerly stirred up fanatics for their own partisan benefit. They colluded with the gun lobby and other extremist groups to foment conspiracy theories and dark rumors of government oppression, while promoting fantasies of armed rebellion.

Now that Trump has stepped forward to embody those apocalyptic ideas in his failing candidacy, the Republicans are suddenly frightened of their own creation. They will try to escape responsibility for whatever havoc he may wreak, although they hatched this movement long ago. The billionaire bully and his angry mob are their own shrieking chickens, finally coming home to roost.
Although Conason is also stressing the potential harm Trump's refusing to recognize the results of the election could cause. And he even uses the Trump-is-helping-the-Russians argument!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pre-Debate misellany

The Peter Peterson Foundation mainly exists to lobby for privatizing the Mississippi River of cash flows, aka, Social Security. They have Seven Questions on Debt for the Final Presidential Debate 10/17/2016. The first one starts out like this: Our debt is already at historically high levels, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that it will soar to 141 percent of GDP in 30 years ..." Even leaving aside the quality of the particular analysis cited, this is meaningless. Countries issuing debt in their own currency are not going to go bankrupt. The debt hype from the Peterson Foundation is all about saying, spending is too high! We're turning into Greece! We have to cut Social Security benefits now now NOW!! It's reactionary nonsense.

David Sirota and Avi Asher-Schapiro report on a corporate Democrat's scheme to start the privatization of Social Security in Hillary Clinton And Wall Street: Financial Industry May Control Retirement Savings In A Clinton Administration International Business Times 10/19/16. It's a longish article. But what it comes down to is major Clinton donor Tony James, who is president of the Blackstone Group, wants to raise the payroll tax. But not to increase benefits on Social Security or Medicare. Instead, he wants to see it put into what he's selling as a 401(k) type plan that would be run as a national program, unlike individual 401(k) plans in which the employee can select the investments. And the idea is to loosen the rules on such investments to that hedge funds and investments bankers can collect fees from selling risky investments of the kind pension funds are starting to reduce their presence in their portfolios:

The James-Ghilarducci plan in fact offers substantial potential benefits for companies like Blackstone. It would provide Wall Street with a new, government-guaranteed revenue stream, and would also help the industry circumvent legal and market obstacles to reach a wider swath of the retirement savings business.

Alternative investment firms have tried to break into the $4 trillion 401(k) market for years, but their products, such as real estate and long-term private equity investments, are less easily transferable to cash, making them a difficult fit for 401(k)s. On top of that, 401(k)s are regulated by federal rules that discourage illiquid, high-risk investments — and make 401(k) overseers vulnerable to lawsuits if they move workers money into such investments. A new federal rule could further complicate alternative investment firms’ efforts to access the retail market because it “suggests that there are certain investments that are so costly, complex, or opaque that they cannot be recommended to retirement investors,” said Barbara Roper of the Consumer Federation of America.

The James-Ghilarducci plan would effectively circumvent many of those obstacles, allowing alternative investment firms to access billions of retail customer dollars that have been out of reach. ...

Some major institutional investors appear to be responding to the warnings. Just this month, officials at the California State Teachers Retirement System — one of the largest pensions in the world — announced that high fees had convinced them to follow other major pension systems and pull $20 billion out of its investments with private money managers. [internal links omitted]
As long as there are investment banks and hedge funds, they will always be coming up with new schemes to plunder Social Security.

Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel point to a questionable practice by some journalists in Journalists shower Hillary Clinton with campaign cash Center for Public Integrity 10/17/2016.

Javier Solana and Strobe Talbot provide a sadly conventional defense of neoliberal globalism in The Decline of the West, and How to Stop It New York Times 10/19/2016.

So does Thomas Friedman, aka, Little Tommy Friedman Age 6, in WikiHillary for President New York Times 10/19/2016. Charlie Pierce skewers him for it memorably in No, Hillary Clinton Should Not Go Business Class When She Gets into Office Esquire Politics Blog 10/19/2016.

Little Tommy says this:

Do we need to make adjustments so the minority of the U.S. population that is hurt by freer trade and movements of labor is compensated and better protected? You bet we do. That’s called fixing a problem — not throwing out a whole system that we know from a long historical record contributes on balance to economic growth, competitiveness and more open societies.
Pierce's retort to that: "Well, that's mighty oligarchical of you, son. In the long run…etc." The latter being a reference to John Maynard Keynes' famous saying, "In the long run we are all dead." Keynes was referring to economists who couldn't come up with meaningful policy proposals to counter recessions and depressions but instead just reassured everyone that everything will get better eventually.

Solana and Talbot offer their own version of this stale bromide:

These handicaps make it even more important for Western governments to address their citizens’ legitimate concerns about the impact of globalization. They must work to cement a new political consensus that will restore public support for free and fair international trade. ... There will have to be remedial action at home. Vulnerable workers in developed nations deserve better safety nets, as well as ambitious and effective retraining opportunities in growing sectors of economy.
And the same people who have been promoting this line of thought for decades are generally also lend a sympathetic ear to the Pete Petersons of the world who want to abolish the existing public social safety net by changing it into a privatized version on which billionaires can make more billions.

This kind of bland promise reminds me of a saying that was used in Argentine politics during the neoliberal governments of Carlos Menem: the promise harsh winters that always come, to be followed by beautiful springs that never arrive.

And, oh yeah, there's an Iraqi offensive under way to retake Mosul from the Islamic State:

A new Clinton Administration and the near future of the Sanders left and Bipartisanship

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their final debate tonight, 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.

With Hillary highly likely to be the next President, I'll be paying particular attention to how she frames her economic priorities and how she handles the subject of "entitlements" (Social Security and Medicare). "The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced that the topics of their final face off will be debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign hot spots, and fitness to be president." (5 Things to Watch for at the Final Presidential Debate Yahoo! News/Variety 10/18/2016)

And, in general, it will be worth noticing whether she uses the debate to build a mandate around issues framed in a Demodratic way. Or whether instead she tries to strike a "bipartisan" posture. If she does the latter, that will be a very bad sign for people who support progressive positions and who have, with few exception, backed her over Trump.

Ed Kilgore, who was once policy director for the now-defunct Democratic centrist mother ship, the Democratic Leadership Council, writes with an almost audible sigh about how obvious it is that the Republican Party is thoroughly committed to radical opposition to Democratic government, mandates be damned (John McCain Announced the Dawn of a New Winner-Take-All Era in Washington New York 10/18/2016):

When Senator John McCain publicly promised that Senate Republicans would extend their blockade of Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominations through Hillary Clinton’s presidency, the significance of this ominous step was largely obscured by the generally toxic partisan atmosphere of this presidential election cycle, including the fact that Donald Trump is already accusing Democrats of stealing an election that won’t happen for three weeks. ...

You see where this is all headed. We are on the brink of a new era in which bipartisanship is functionally dead and divided partisan control of the federal government keeps anything significant from happening. That is significant not for the reasons we so often hear — the demise of those wonderful days when the good old boys of both parties got together over drinks and cut deals without regard to party or ideology — but because divided government is the rule more often than it is the exception in our system. Indeed, since Ronald Reagan became president, periods of “trifecta” control of the executive and legislative branches have been limited to the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, four years in the middle of George W. Bush’s presidency (plus a brief period in 2001 before Jim Jeffords switched parties and gave control of the Senate to Democrats), and the first two years of the Obama presidency.

That’s why it is a very bad sign for a functioning federal government when a supposedly “centrist” Republican who used to take pride in co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation on subjects ranging from campaign-finance reform to greenhouse-gas emissions is announcing in advance as a matter of principle that a Democratic president can forget about what used to be a routine political process. [my emphasis]
El Kilgore may be may favorite recovering-centrist writer.

Harold Meyerson assesses the current potential of the progressive left under a Clinton Administration in Progressive Politics After Bernie The American Prospect 09/29/2016:

By winning 45 percent of the vote in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders both exercised and won power. As a direct consequence of his campaign, Clinton and the Democratic Party platform now call for an expansion, not a reduction, to Social Security, for free tuition at public colleges and universities, for a new version of Glass-Steagall, and for a rejection (or, in the case of the platform, a rejection of the key provisions) of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

To experienced political activists, these were clear victories. To many political novices, they were compromises that, taken alongside Sanders’s endorsement of Clinton, signaled a betrayal of the revolution. And Sanders’s army was comprised disproportionately of novices — not just because so many young people responded to his attacks on the plutocratization of American life, but also because so many progressive groups, assuming the nomination was hers for the asking, backed Clinton, thus leaving experienced progressives largely missing from the Sanders campaign, and from his delegations to the party’s national convention.

If the Sanders revolution is to realize its transformative potential, its adherents will have to recognize that its radical program can advance only if it wins the backing of the broader progressive universe — not just the Sanders-faithful arrayed in the rearview mirror. Its ability to move forward depends on its own strategic decisions and on the political space that a Clinton victory would create for the left, or, conversely, that a Trump victory would close off. “We can’t win the political revolution from a bunker,” says [George] Goehl of People’s Action, “and that’s where we’ll be if Trump wins. We can be engaged in both defeating Trump and building a movement at the same time. We have to be.” [my emphasis]

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Has the Democratic Party just blanked out everything that happened before 1865? Or even 1878? Or 9/11?

President Obama went after Donald Trump again today over his demagoguery about the Presidential election being rigged. (Tierney Sneed, Obama: Trump Should 'Stop Whining' About Rigged Election 10/18/2016)

And it's great that he's doing that.

But is it really necessary to do it in a history-begins-today mode?

"There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even -- you could even rig America's elections," Obama said at a press conference at the Rose Garden Tuesday, while pointing out how decentralized U.S. elections are and the lack of evidence of fraud in the past.

He also suggested that Trump's "unprecedented" attempt to "discredit" an elections process before it has even taken place shows the he does not have "leadership and toughness that you'd want out of a president."

"You start whining before the game's even over? If whenever things are going badly for you and you lose you start blaming somebody else, then you don't have what it takes to be in this job," Obama said.

Trump has in recent weeks gone beyond his usual claims of a political system vaguely biased against him, to suggest that there would be voter fraud at the precinct level, a claim that has troubled observers and lawmakers across the political spectrum.

Obama on Monday said that one of the "greatest" things about U.S. democracy is bipartisan tradition surrounding the transfer of presidential power.

"Historically, regardless of party, the person who loses the election congratulates the winner, reaffirms or democracy and we move forward," Obama said. "That's how democracy survives, because we recognize that there's something more important than any individual campaign, and that is making sure that the integrity and trust in our institutions sustains itself, because democracy by definition works by consent. Not by force." [my emphasis]
I won't rehash the points I made yesterday. And I haven't seen the full text of Obama's appearance from which he's quoted. So I can't even say that he missed an opportunity to use the issue to highlight the Republican Party's continuous segregationist misdeeds in voter suppression.

Also for reasons I discussed yesterday, including the Republicans' voter suppression program, I'm not so comfortable seeing the Democratic President simply brush off even the possibility of a Presidential election being "rigged." For one thing: Grand Theft Florida 2000.

Digby Parton takes up the issue today in It’s the Republicans who rig elections, Donald: The GOP history of voter suppression goes way back Salon 10/1//2016:

Some Republican leaders have tried to reassure voters that the election will not be stolen, but it’s too little, too late. After all, Republicans have been trying to manipulate elections for decades going all the way back to Operation Eagle Eye during the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign when future Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was a young lawyer intimidating black and Latino voters in Arizona. Then, as now, this was done in the name of preventing unauthorized people from voting.

In the 1980s, there were consent decrees in place all over the country as various local arms of the GOP got caught violating federal election laws by trying to suppress minority votes. In the wake of Jesse Jackson’s highly successful voter registration drives, Republicans instigated a campaign to purge voter rolls in African-American communities throughout the South and urban areas. They professionalized and nationalized their operation by recruiting lawyers and training them in the election laws of different jurisdictions so they could more efficiently challenge Democratic votes.

By the 2000 election they had hundreds of trained election lawyers at the ready and they all swooped in on Florida when Al Gore asked for a recount. (The state party under Jeb Bush had already taken care of the purge of African-Americans from the voter rolls, which helped make it so close.) Ironically, the chief justice of the Supreme Court was William Rehnquist and naturally he cast the deciding vote to stop the recount and hand the election to George W. Bush.

Immediately upon taking office, Republicans began to work on their next big vote suppression project.
The President is right insofar as the idea of successfully "rigging" a Presidential election via the kind of in-person voter fraud he's warning against - and which has been the non-problem at the center of the "voter fraud" campaign - is virtually impossible with our current election laws and practices. Trump is also saying that media coverage he doesn't like is also "rigging" the election, which is just silly. Whether Trump was helped or hurt overall by the mainstream media coverage he got is another question. So is the question of the general quality of media coverage of politics these days. But bad press is not the same as "rigging" an election, at least not in any normal usage of "rigging."

But I wince inside when I see Obama or others calling this "unprecedented." Aside from Grand Theft Florida 2000, a disputed Florida vote also played a role in the 1876 Presidential election. Rutherford B. Hayes is now remembered for his singular first name. And for the drama around his selection as President. From the Britannica Online entry for him, on the 1876 election:

An economic depression ... and Northern disenchantment with Reconstruction policies in the South combined to give Hayes’s Democratic opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, a popular majority, and early returns indicated a Democratic victory in the electoral college as well. Hayes’s campaign managers challenged the validity of the returns from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, and as a result two sets of ballots were submitted from the three states. The ensuing electoral dispute became known as the Tilden-Hayes affair. Eventually a bipartisan majority of Congress created a special Electoral Commission to decide which votes should be counted. As originally conceived, the commission was to comprise seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent, the Supreme Court justice David Davis. Davis refused to serve, however, and the Republican Joseph P. Bradley was named in his place. While the commission was deliberating, Republican allies of Hayes engaged in secret negotiations with moderate Southern Democrats aimed at securing acquiescence to Hayes’s election. On March 2, 1877, the commission voted along strict party lines to award all the contested electoral votes to Hayes, who was thus elected with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. The result was greeted with outrage and bitterness by some Northern Democrats, who thereafter referred to Hayes as “His Fraudulency.”
Before that, there was at least some serious talk among High Federalists after the 1800 election about forcibly preventing Thomas Jefferson from taking power as the elected President.

And after the election of 1860, it's safe to say that the opposition among Southern slaveowners was not a model of a peaceful or graceful transfer of power. And the 1864 election took place during the Civil War started by the Slave Power after the 1860 elections.

I'm not sure whether I would include 1824 in the list, though Andrew Jackson's partisans did say forever afterward that the outcome was the result of a "Corrupt Bargain" between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.

We know America is Exceptional and all. The guy who was state chairman of the Florida Republican Party in 2000 said yesterday on the PBS Newshour, "America is a beacon of light for people all throughout the world who want their democracies to work our way." This may come to a bit of a surprise to people living in parliamentary democracies who find the American two-party system baffling. The way the 2000 Presidential election was decided didn't exactly impress everyone outside the US, either. Still, what he and the other person being interviewed say about how the US election system actually works is pretty good. Including why stealing a Presidential election via in-person voter fraud is effectively impossible.

Why Trump’s ‘rigged election’ claims are wrong and dangerous​ 11/17/2016:

President Hillary Clinton: progressives prepare to "trust but verify"

"Trust but verify" is my favorite quote from St. Reagan. And the only one I use with approval. It was his argument for arms control deals with the Soviet Union, an argument directed against the opponents of such a deal.

For progressives who are serious about pressing the incoming President Clinton to stick to her more progressive promises and to back away from her more war-oriented policies, something like "trust but verify" will have to be the position in practice. The theoretical/ideological formulations may vary.

Charlie Pierce reminds us that the political context of 2016 is more favorable to progressive policies than when the first President Clinton took office in 2003, and even more favorable than that for Obama in 2009 (Esquire Politics Blog 11/17/2016):

... this is not 1992, and she's likely going to be elected with a majority of the popular vote, and not with a plurality, which put her husband's presidency in a defensive crouch almost from Inauguration Day, a majority that he even failed to achieve in 1996, when he was running against Bob Dole, who was the closest thing to an Honorary Nominee as we've ever had. Not alienating moderates and conservatives ought not to be an exclusive priority. She will have more of a popular mandate than he did, so her priorities should be different. Not alienating the progressive wing of her party should be at the top of the list as well.

It's no secret that HRC is not my first choice to be the next president. My opinion of the first Clinton presidency has changed enough in the intervening 20 years to make me dubious of a second. (This also is why I didn't vote for her in 2008.) Even absent the hacked e-mails in which her presidential campaign has been exposed as a presidential campaign—Breaking!—she still impresses me as too quick on the trigger as regards war and peace, too cozy by half with discredited centers of political and financial power, and a half-step too slick on issues like trade and environmental protection. ...

There is now an active, powerful progressive counterweight both within the Congress in Washington and within the party in the country. Triangulation on certain issues will not be possible. If HRC wins, she will have won on more of a platform than the [Omaha] World-Herald thinks she has. She will not win simply because the Republicans have nominated a maniac, although there will be spinning to that effect almost immediately after the race has been called.

She will have won because people like Elizabeth Warren, and Sherrod Brown and, most of all, Bernie Sanders, worked for several years to create a force that broke up the coronation and pushed her off easy positions and in the direction that HRC's most earnest admirers insist she wanted to go all along. (Remember that, all during the first Clinton presidency, it was something of an article of faith that HRC was a leading liberal voice within the administration.) Should she renege on TPP, for example, or the Keystone XL pipeline, there will be hell to pay in and out of Congress, and there will be a political price to pay that her husband never had to consider. If there isn't, then that's on the people who should force her to pay it, not on her as president. [my emphasis]
It's obvious than in order to achieve that, the left inside and outside the Democratic Party will have to actually fight the new President Clinton if she proposes bad policies. We can't afford to reflexively cheer for everything she proposes or pretend that when she defends bad policies that's it nevertheless the proverbial best of all possible worlds.

Micah Uetricht writes in Jacobin (In the Bag 10/17/2016) that's since it's now a near certainty that Hillary will be elected, there now reason for progressives to refrain from criticizing her shortcomings on the grounds that doing so may help elect Trump. This is "an opportunity to those whose support of Clinton was always qualified," he writes:

They can stop focusing on how terrifying a potential Trump presidency would be and begin to focus more honestly on how terrible Clinton’s track record has been and likely will continue to be at home and around the world. Every liberal and progressive who has held back on criticizing Clinton’s close ties to Wall Street, or the disturbing revelations of the content of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, or her incredibly destructive foreign policy past from Libya to Honduras and her all-but-assured hawkish foreign policy future, or her role in pushing welfare reform, or her palling around with ghoulish war criminals like Henry Kissinger, and her pride at winning the endorsements of neoconservatives whose hands are dripping with blood like John Negroponte.
Tomorrow's third and final Clinton-Trump debate si supposed to focus on economic issues. This will be one to watch to see if Hillary sticks to the progressive positions she's defended during the campaign, or instead winks and nods to neoliberal market-fundamentalist orthodoxy.

Dean Baker warns that the framing of of the debate itself is already a neoliberal one (The Old Debt and Entitlement Charade Truthout 10/17/2016):

The establishment is trying to pull a big one over on the public yet again. One of the designated topics for the last presidential debate goes under the heading, "debt and entitlements." This should have people upset for several reasons.

The first is simply the use of the term "entitlements." While this has a clear meaning to policy wonks, it is likely that most viewers won't immediately know that "entitlements" means the Social Security and Medicare their parents receive. It's a lot easier for politicians to talk about cutting wasteful "entitlements" than taking away seniors' Social Security and Medicare.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Republican hysteria about an upcoming "stolen" election

The Republicans, and the Trump campaign in particular, are making a big hoopla right now about the possibility that the November Presidential election will be stolen by the Democrats.

For Democrats, this is pretty befuddling in its content. One, because most Democrats wouldn't want to do such a thing. And two, because most Democrats can't imagine the national party leadership having the gumption to consider such a thing. Such a thing is, after all, illegal, un-Constitutional and anti-democratic.

Laurel Raymond has a roundup for Think Progress of some of the latest outbreaks of this fearmongering from Republicans in Sheriff openly calls for riots as Trump says election is ‘rigged’ 10/15/2016.

The Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence used the accusation in a somewhat mealy-mouthed way on Meet the Press yesterday with Chuck Todd (Meet the Press - October 16, 2016):


Will you accept the results of the election?


We will absolutely accept the results of the election. Look, the American people will speak in an election that will culminate on November the 8th. But the American people are tired of the obvious bias in the national media. That's where the sense of a rigged election goes here, Chuck.


The more you say--


--the media comes in with an avalanche of continuous negative attacks against my running mate instead of focusing on the real, hard evidence coming--


Do you--


--out about corruption and pay to play--


--are you at all--


--in the Clinton Foundation years. It's why people are frustrated. But look, we'll--


--the more you say rigged election--


--find a way to get through to November the 8th. And we'll accept the will of the American people. You bet.


Governor, you keep saying rigged election. Are you concerned that the more you say it, the more you actually undermine our democracy unintentionally?


Look, one of the great traditions of America is the peaceful transfer of power. And elections, Chuck, you know, you're a student of history, elections always get pretty rough. I expect they're going to stay just as rough as they are right now going into November the 8th. The stakes are so high in this election.

But as Donald Trump said in that first debate, I'll say to you again today, we're going to accept the will of the American people. But between now and election day we're going to work our hearts out against all odds, against most of you in the national media. We're going to go lay out a story for a stronger more prosperous America.
The Pod Pundit Panel proceeded to address the issue in an unsurprisingly feckless way. Kristen Walker:

Well, my takeaway was the end of your interview with Mike Pence, when you asked him if he would accept the election results, he said yes, of course we'll accept the results. Donald Trump is sending out the complete opposite message. And he's trying to lay the groundwork for this idea that the election is rigged. And yesterday you had the Clinton campaign and Paul Ryan coming out in very strong terms, saying we will respect the results of this election. And the republicans are increasingly concerned that they need to be louder about that so that whatever happens on election day is respected. [my emphasis]
This kind of knee-jerk conservative reaction is partially self-defense of the media, whose worst problem is not so much Establishment bias - which they certainly have - but bad reporting. And, no, Pence was not saying the "complete opposite" of Trump. He brought up the theme of media bias rigging the election but took the stock position that they will accept the results of the November election because Trump will win the November election. Joy-Ann Reid at least seems to have noticed that Pence was sticking to the campaign's position:

But I think you also see the sort of struggle within Mike Pence. Because he's trying to yield to what are clearly the candidate's talking points the candidate wants, which is that the election is rigged. Because he's said that you. And then he said of course we'll accept it. But he still has to sell this idea. Look, Jeff Sessions is also selling this idea. I think for the Republican Party, just as an institution, there has to be a righting of the ship because the integrity of the United States election I think is bigger than any candidate. [my emphasis]
Chris Cillizza offered this syntax-challenged comment:

And I think it's so hard for me to imagine that what he [presumably Trump] says and tweets over this last week, somehow three weeks from now, he says and I just want to say I've announced that I've placed a call to Hillary Clinton to congratulate her. Like, I can't. I literally struggle to wrap my mind around him doing that. I think it's in all of his business interests, conservative media network, a Rump faction of the Republican party. So all of those suggest that he not concede. And this idea that like Reince Priebus and Paul Ryan say that we concede.
I'll pause here to make a few observations that aren't restricted to the talking points of the week.

  • The 2000 Presidential election was contested with Republicans and Democrats fighting over the Florida vote count. The world didn't collapse. Neither did the Constitutional system.
  • Voter suppression implemented by our old friend Kathleen Harris in Florida in the form of disproportionately purging African-American voters from the registration lists played an essential role in the Florida vote being close enough for the Supreme Court to hand the Presidency to Shrub Bush and Dick Cheney.
  • The media consortium that did their own recount of the Florida vote in 2001 found strong evidence (to put it mildly!) that Gore actually won the statewide vote in Florida. One could make a good case that the Democrats did contest the results long and hard enough.
  • The outcome of the Florida fiasco of 2000 may not have ended the Constitution. But the upshot did some real damage to it. I took the image below from a Democratic fundraising letter several years ago signed by Al Gore:

  • Whether we call it "rigging" or "stealing" or whatever, one of the most serious dangers to democratic governance in the US today is the long-standing, Segregation 2.0 drive of the Republicans to suppress the votes of black and Latino citizens by the same sorts of tricks, subterfuges and bad laws the Southern segregationists used to keep the federal gubment and democratic voting out of the Deep South from the mid-1870s to the mid-1960s.
  • Republican accusations of "voter fraud" are not new. On the contrary, they are a central claim in the Republicans voter-suppression efforts.
  • Honest and fair elections are extremely, extremely important. Poll watchers are a necessary and entirely legitimate tool to keep them honest.
  • Intimidating voters at the polling places with threats or weapons is not legitimate poll watching. It's not legitimate at all. In fact, it's the kind of Ku Klux Klan actions that were a key element in disenfranching African-American citizens in the South in the 1870s going forward.
  • The Clinton campaign with active help from the Obama Administration is promoting the dubious idea that Russian hackers favoring Trump could commit election fraud on Trump's behalf via hacking voting machines.
  • Democrats have been complaining for years, and with very good reason, that voting machines need to be adequately maintained and audited. And that harcopy backups are needed in case their are substantial questions about the accuracy of the machines' recording of voters.

As in every other aspects of politics, the Democrats need to be able to walk and talk at the same time. Rejecting phony Republican complaints about voter fraud and election-stealing is necessary. So is fighting back against false claims used by Republicans to justify segregationist voter-suppression laws and practices. Insisting on honest elections is something the Democrats should be doing whether the Republicans join them in the effort or not.

Digby Parton focuses on how the Republicans long-standing voter-suppression rhetoric feeds directly into the Republicans' current peremptory warning about a stolen Presidential election in Where did the GOP think this would lead? Hullabaloo 11/15/2016:

... Trump didn't invent this theme and the GOP leaders who are now expressing alarm that their voters believe the election is being stolen have only themselves to blame. All over he country they've been pimping the thinly veiled racist voter fraud meme for years, passing laws to suppress the vote and otherwise try to rig elections! They've admitted it dozens of times. ...

They [the Republicans] are trying to "rig" the vote and they admit it. And the way they do it by accusing the Democrats of rigging the vote.

Now the GOP leaders are upset that this sociopathic demagogue is fomenting violence by running with this theme they've been subtly pushing for decades. Look in the mirrors boys. You built the road he's careening down at a a hundred miles an hour.
Allegra Chapman describes the state of the legal fight against Republican voter suppression in Voting Rights: Will Court Protections Deliver? The American Prospect 09/26/2016.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rigging the system - some more "rigged" than others

Donald Trump has been invoking Bernie Sanders campaign's primary-season complaints about "rigged" caucuses and the Democratic delegate system in support of Trump's reckless encouragement of post-election resistance by his followers to Hillary Clinton's election.

Politics is politics, and procedural issues are hard to make into ideological benchmarks. But the superdelegate system was set up to make it difficult for political insurgent challengers like Bernie to win the nomination over an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton.

The Sanders'campaign's complaints about voting being "rigged" had to do with the superdelegates in particular and some of the politics-is-politics maneuvers around the party caucuses. Some of which are anything but models of democratic transparency. However shocking Bernie's proposals on, say, breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks may have been to some Hillary partisans and financial supporters, the Sanders campaign held up democratic elections as a solution to the ways in which business elites actually do unethically and illegally manipulate the economic and political system, the current poster-boy for such being the no-longer-CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf.

No doubt, Stumpf considers it terribly gauche to call what he did rigging the system. But I'm more stunned than any of our star reporters seem to be about what he did. Having bank employees create fake bank accounts? And doing so with collusion and coercion of management.

They were stealing money out of individuals' bank accounts. If that's not rigging the system, then we may need to retire "to rig" from the American English vocabulary!

What Trump is doing with his current rhetoric is to encourage violence against Democrats in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular, after she wins the vote in November. Sanders never did anything remotely like that.

The most disturbing moment for me in the primary campaign was when the payday-loan industry's BFF Debbie Wasserman Schultz issued her anathema on behalf of the national party over the violence and death threats that the Clinton campaign alleged to have occurred around the Las Vegas State Convention. Not only did Sanders explicitly denounce any such actions. But if even a single act of violence there by a Sanders delegate, or a single one of the digital death threats was even linked to anyone remotely connected to the Sanders campaign - for that matter if *anyone* was ever charged for that serious federal felony in that instance - I've yet to come across it. (Which actually surprises me, since no campaign is ever totally free of fools or impulsive people.)

There's just no comparison between Trump's present encouragement of civil violence and what Bernie advocated and is still advocating, now on Hillary's behalf.

Speaking of the Vegas accusations, Megan Messerly made a further report referencing them in Some Sanders supporters still not sold on Hillary Clinton going into Democratic National Convention Las Vegas Sun 07/23/2016:

Clinton won Nevada’s caucuses in February by about 5 percentage points, but an ensuing tug-of-war over delegates at the Clark County and state conventions protracted the hard-fought battle.

Sanders supporters alleged the state convention had been rigged to favor Clinton. Sanders said that Democratic leadership “used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.”

The state party repeatedly pushed back on those assertions showing why it hadn’t. At the same time, state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange received numerous death threats and misogynistic messages via text and voicemail from those unhappy with her role as the convention’s chair.

In one of the leaked emails, Wasserman Schultz used choice words to talk about Sanders campaign Chairman Jeff Weaver after he made a television appearance defending the actions of Sanders supporters at the convention.

“Damn liar. Particularly scummy that he barely acknowledges the violent and threatening behavior that occurred,” Wasserman Schultz wrote.

In response to the email leak, Lange said the state party has moved forward from the events of the state Democratic convention.
Journalist David Cay Johnston addresses Trump version of the "rigged" accusation in Getting to Grips with the Trump Phenomenon New Economic Thinking 10/04/2016:

Rob Johnson, Interviewer: I agree with you that he has no prescription. But the attraction comes from a diagnosis. And it's in one phrase and everything else is a variation on that: "The system is rigged."

David Cay Johnston: Yes. And he's right about that. I mean, That's the subtitle of one of my previous best-sellers, The System Is Rigged. And he's right. And you know what? Donald Trump is one of the people who rigged it. And he brags about that.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bigotry and economic grievances, the unending discussion

Understanding the ideological churn of current politics always overlaps with the ongoing political battles and continuing ideological churn. Not least because the various actors in the process have their own preferences for how they would prefer things to be interpreted in support of their own perspectives. (The present writer does not pretend to be entirely immune from such temptations.)

One thing we've seen is the latest round of the perennial left and left-center hand-wringing and contention over the role of so-called identity politics in comparison to bread-and-butter issues. There are a couple of perspectives that weigh especially heavily on the discussion.

One is the perspective adopted by prominent reporters and pundits in the 1960s in response to the popularity of George Wallace and the populist edge of the Southern Strategy as embodied by Spiro Agnew. Digby Parton did an excellent brief roundup The truth about Donald Trump’s angry white men: Inside the media narrative that the media doesn’t understand Salon 05/28/2016. She quotes quotes star columnist Joseph Kraft in 1968, accommodating himself to the accusations from rightwing politicians like Wallace that the Democrats were arrogant elitists, out of touch with average Americans, i.e., conservative white people, an attitude reflected by the liberal press:

Are we merely neutral observers, seekers after truth in the public interest? Or do we, as the supporters of Mayor Daley and his Chicago police have charged, have a prejudice of our own?

The answer, I think is that Mayor Daley and his supporters have a point. Most of us in what is called the communications field are not rooted in the great mass of ordinary Americans–in Middle America. And the results show up not merely in occasional episodes such as the Chicago violence but more importantly in the systematic bias toward young people, minority groups, and the of presidential candidates who appeal to them.

To get a feel of this bias it is first necessary to understand the antagonism that divides the middle class of this country. On the one hand there are highly educated upper-income whites sure of and brimming with ideas for doing things differently. On the other hand, there is Middle America, the large majority of low-income whites, traditional in their values and on the defensive against innovation.

The most important organs of and television [sic in the Salon version] are, beyond much doubt, dominated by the outlook of the upper-income whites.

In these circumstances, it seems to me that those of us in the media need to make a special effort to understand Middle America. Equally it seems wise to exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public.
This is become a persistent, even chronic, pose taken by our star pundits, who themselves are far more highly compensated in absolute and relative terms than they were in the 1960s. In the well-established posture, pundits earning One-Percenter-level salaries claim to understand and speak for Sarah Palin's Real Americans, who they take to be someone crude on issues of racial equality and women's rights but who have fundamental values and policy preferences that mirror the Republican economic perspective: deregulation, budget balancing, cutting social services including Social Security and Medicare, private schools and private prisons, hostility to civilian government, endless wars, a sturdy and healthy patriotism, even the latter regrettably spills over into xenophobia and bigotry.

Examples of this tendency among our star pundits came be found every Sunday morning on the network political talk shows.

The second perspective is a somewhat lazy left outlook, especially associated at the moment with advocates for third parties, even though those are generally hard to be found. By "lazy" I mean taking a superficial and unreflective position, in this case arguing at a relatively abstract level that economic troubles in general lead to frustration, discontent and alienation that makes someone like Trump attractive just because he's an oppositional figure who can therefore appeal to people who don't share his extreme racial and xenophobic and misogynist views.

Digby describes the evolution of the press perspective of themselves as the true friends of the Real Americans:

This began the decades-long self-flagellation by the media (and the cynical exploitation of it by the Republicans) wherein it was assumed that the most misunderstood and underserved people in the whole country were salt-of-the-earth white folks nobody ever thinks about. Except that it’s anything but the truth. Every single election cycle since 1968 the press has been obsessed with this mythical Real American who is always angry, always frustrated, always railing against the so-called elites because they allegedly only care about the racial minorities or the women or somebody other than them. Then we end up with a mass soul search in which we all come to understand that the key to the election is to address these people’s grievances.

In those early days it was referred to as “The Silent Majority” of Richard Nixon, which Donald Trump has unoriginally revived. Since then, pollsters have come up with slogans to target certain demographics (NASCAR Dads and Waitress Moms are two examples), which the press then uses as symbols of this Real America, representing the breathing heart and soul of the country.

1976 featured media obsessing over the everyman outsider Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian from the South who spoke to Real Americans who just wanted a president who wouldn’t lie to them. It wasn’t long before they discovered that he didn’t really fit the bill. The Real Americans, it turned out, were more conservative than Carter and really wanted the Gipper to Make America Great Again. And thus the most Real Americans in the whole country were discovered: the Reagan Democrat ...

These are people we now refer to as “Republicans” but the myth of these alleged swing voters has persisted even to this day, as reporters commonly wonder if Trump is going to be able to nab those Reagan Democrats, who no longer exist.
What she's doing there is challenging one of the more obvious and consequential features of the dysfunctional nature of our corporate media in its affect on democratic politics in the US.

Both she and Charlie Pierce are writers whose mockery of the notion that hardcore white supremacist or woman-hating voters should be viewed as the simple expression of economic discontent strike me as being directly against both the pretentious Pod Pundit posture and the superficial leftie version. And they are right to do so. Dylan Matthews provides some contemporary examples of this press phenomenon in Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying Vox 10/15/2016.

And without pretending that this circle can be squared easily, I still insist that we need to be able to walk and talk at the same time on this matter. Joe Stiglitz in Project Syndicate reminds us that economic conditions in the United States really are troubling, and widespread economic distress is very real:

But several underlying factors also appear to have contributed to the closeness of the race. For starters, many Americans are economically worse off than they were a quarter-century ago. The median income of full-time male employees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for those with limited education to get a full-time job that pays decent wages.

Indeed, real (inflation-adjusted) wages at the bottom of the income distribution are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it is no surprise that Trump finds a large, receptive audience when he says the state of the economy is rotten. But Trump is wrong both about the diagnosis and the prescription. The US economy as a whole has done well for the last six decades: GDP has increased nearly six-fold. But the fruits of that growth have gone to a relatively few at the top – people like Trump, owing partly to massive tax cuts that he would extend and deepen.

At the same time, reforms that political leaders promised would ensure prosperity for all – such as trade and financial liberalization – have not delivered. Far from it. And those whose standard of living has stagnated or declined have reached a simple conclusion: America’s political leaders either didn’t know what they were talking about or were lying (or both).
And this definitely affects the political climate and people's understandings of how the political system is working.

It's just that the relationship is complicated and interwoven with other factors, including psychological and culture factors, including things as obvious of habitual party loyalty.

It's also critical to recognize that chronically low election turnout means that there is big difference demographically between eligible voters and actual voters. The latter group being considerably whiter and more affluent than the former.

My concern is that this is not an either-or matter of either bigotry or real economic concerns. Both are real. Both matter a lot. And easy simplifications on either can lead political analysts and journalists astray. From whatever part of the political spectrum they may be coming. The Dylan Matthews piece linked above points out some of the relevant complications.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Looking through the windows opened by Trump's Thursday conspiracy speech

People are understandably weighing in on Trump's the-Clintons-are-leading-the-worldwide-Jewish-conspiracy-against-me speech.

Digby Parton holds up Trump's speech against Michele Obama's yesterday, using them as paradigmatic speeches for the political-cultural divide so vividly on display in this Presidential election: Two speeches that defined a campaign: Donald Trump’s conspiratorial ranting and Michelle Obama’s inspiring call for decency Salon 10/14/2016.

Here is Michelle's speech Digby references, First Lady Michelle Obama complete speech in Manchester, NH C-Span 10/13/2016:

Molly Ball, who usually delivers informative but conventional evaluations of such things gave it a shot: Trump Goes to War Atlantic Politics 10/14/2016. The war metaphor isn't just in the title:

So the meteor barrels toward the earth. It's common to refer to a campaign in freefall as an "implosion," but really, this is an explosion, throwing shrapnel in all directions, immolating innocent bystanders. Trump has cast off the shackles of the bosses who tried to rein him in. He is determined to consume the ungrateful party that, having nominated him, now is having second thoughts. As an advertisement paid for by the campaign recently put it: "IT'S US AGAINST THE WORLD."
But the significance of the paranoid conspiracy passages seems to have sailed right by her.

Charlie Pierce gives his own distinctive view of the Trump speech in Michelle Obama vs. Donald Trump Esquire Politics Blog 10/14/2016: "In our major political parties, there are two people running for president now, but there is only one presidential campaign. There is one presidential campaign and one rampage."

And in more detail in yesterday's Have Faith: Society Will Survive What Trump Hath Wrought:

What comes next is the only real question. It is now assumed that disillusioned Trumpaloompas will go on some sort of rampage on Election Day and thereafter. But the real peril to the country lies in the possibility that, in the scramble to distance themselves from the stench of its 2016 nominee, the Republican Party will decide that the easiest way to reorganize itself would be to plot the destruction of yet another Clinton presidency. I certainly don't believe that the party will gather itself and abandon the essential political forces and ideas that worked for four decades to make the Trump campaign inevitable. I think that would shatter the party's fragile little mind.

The hunt for the Hildebeast is the fast, easy way to get The Base back howling in harmony and to raise money for the 2018 midterms, which will be here before we know it, God help us all.
Reuters reports basically on just the parts of Trump's speech that had to do with sex, or rather sexual abuse: Steve Holland, 'Absolutely false,' Trump says defiantly after women's groping allegations 10/13/2016.

Chauncey Devega says of Trump's speech (Frankenstein’s monster Salon 10/14/2016):

Trump’s speech is the paranoid style that has been common to movement conservatism since the 1950s, amplified by the rumor mongering and conspiracy theories that are presented as truth throughout the right-wing news media entertainment echo chamber. Trump’s speech at West Palm Beach, Florida, is also virulently anti-Semitic. His allusions to conspiracies and international banks are evocative of “Mein Kampf.” Given how he is championed by white supremacists and white nationalists, this should not be a surprise. In all, it would have been much more efficient if Trump simply yelled, “It’s the Jews; damn it!”
And he uses that speech as a starting point to point out that the Republican Party has been sticking with Trump through a variety of obscene demagogic moments. This conclusion seems immanently reasonable:

It appears that Donald Trump’s bigotry and racism against people of color and Muslims could be explained away by Republican leaders as a “gaffe” or the words of someone who is not a “professional politician” or he is an “outsider.” By comparison, when Trump was caught on video bragging about sexually harassing white women, an informal rule regarding propriety and behavior among conservatives had been breached. The Republican Party and its leaders care about the votes of white women; it does not care about how black and brown people are treated.
This is also an important observation recognizing the various but connected manifestations of political authoritarianism:

There are many lessons to be learned from Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and hopefully, his defeat on Election Day in November. The most important of these is that racism, sexism, nativism, and bigotry are not usually separate and discrete things. A person like Donald Trump — and the basket of human deplorables who have rallied around him — usually possess most of those character defects and not just one or a few.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Trump's brand of populism

Donald Trump gave a speech Thursday that involved defending himself against the latest accusations of sexual assault. But he did so by ramping up his conspiratorial talk. Watch: Trump responds to new harassment allegations, attacks Clinton PBS Newshour 10/13/2016:

Josh Marshall describes his latest conspiracy-minded outbursts, and the obvious anti-Semitic edge to them in Wacky Far-Right Theory For Trump Tape Leak Gets Mainstream Play TPM 10/13/2016 and The Hate Comes Home To Roost TPM 10/13/2016.

That speech could be used as a model piece for rightwing populism. He casts himself as the leader of the People against the Elite. But he does so in classic rightwing fashion, defining the Elite as the Clintons as the head of a vast conspiracy of the "political elite." he works in an economic elite, too. But does so with tropes familiar from anti-Semitic propaganda. Simon Maloy provides a helpful summary of Thursday's rant in Donald Trump has gone nuts: In speech meant to defend sex assault allegations, he goes full Breitbart Salon 11/13/2016:

Speaking to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, Trump opened up his remarks by claiming that a global cabal of shadowy “special interests” had looted the American economy and destroyed local manufacturing. “The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure,” Trump said.

“We’ve seen this first hand in the WikiLeaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special-interest friends and her donors,” he added.

Rhetoric like that is sometimes described as “New World Order” conspiracy theories, which posit that there is a coordinated, hiding-in-plain-sight effort underway by “them” — bankers, secret societies, Jews, socialists, whoever — to eliminate national boundaries and rule over a totalitarian global state. This sort of nonsense is the meat of much of Alex Jones’ lunatic commentary. Trump, representing the Republican Party and finding himself backed into a corner, is now committed to boxing with these shadows. [my emphasis]
It's important to recognize the individual elements of the rightwing populist indictment are not necessarily distinctive in themselves. Many conservative politicians criticize immigrants and do so in demagogic ways without constructing the distinctive populist dichotomy of the People versus the Elite. And liberal politicians can also criticize policies and practices of corporations national and international without combining framing them as part of an Elite hostile to the People.

In the Thursday speech starting at just after 2:00, Trump gives this framing for his message in a passage I'm guessing he was reading from a teleprompter because of its syntactic coherence:

Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt - and when I say corrupt, I'm talking about totally corrupt - political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people. There is nothing the political establishment will not do, no lie that they won't tell, to hold their prestige and power at your expense. And that's what's been happening.

The Washington establishment, and the financial and media corporations that fund them, exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself. The Establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election. As an example, just one single trade deal they'd like to pass involves trillions of dollars, controlled by many countries, corporations and lobbyists. For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and the global special interests, they partner with these people that don't have your good in mind.

Our campaign represents a true, existential threat like they haven't seen before. This is not simply another four-year election. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government. The political establishment is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.

The political establishment has destroyed our factories, and our jobs, as they flee to Mexico, China and other countries all around the world.
To rightly judge whether a passage like that is right or left, authoritarian or democratic, demagogic or realistic, you would have to know about the political context of not only the issues being discussed but the current usages of the concepts and the nuances of the way they are combined.

For those of us following American politics relatively closely, on either a professional or "lay" basis, the anti-immigrant part of that passage is a signifier that's it's rightwing. And his rhetorical construction of the political elite there relies on a standard concept in conservative political talk in which the political elite in the form of politicians and government "bureaucrats" is made responsible for all political and economic ills, with wealthy donors to liberal causes ("the financial and media corporations that fund them") playing a malignant but supportive role. Trump is invoking the conservative image of the "elite" as being liberal politicians, the "gubment," and snooty professors.

Populism isn't inherently rightwing or left, nor is it inherently authoritarian. It has to be understood in action to characterize its political/ideological content.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Syria and Russia, in foreign policy and domestic politics

Emile Nakhleh presents a humanitarian-hawk case for escalating US-NATO intervention in the Syrian civil war in Syria: Time to Reassess American Strategic View of the Middle East 10/12/2016 in LobeLog Foreign Policy, where the contributors are are typically skeptical of US intervention in the Middle East.

It becomes harder all the time to distinguish the neocon case for intervention here, there and everywhere from the case made by neoconservatives for the same. He presents his policy recommendations in bullet-point form:

  • Bring about the end of the Assad regime and the territorial defeat of the Islamic State, which could require targeted military operations by the United States.
  • Negotiate with Turkey, Jordan, secular and Islamic anti-Assad groups, other than IS, on setting up a post-Assad provisional government that would pave the way for national elections within a practical timeframe.
  • Utilize in conjunction with the UN Secretary General, the Security Council, and the International Court of Justice the appropriate mechanisms to charge Assad and his gang with war crimes for their actions against the people of Syria.
  • These charges could extend to Russian military and civilian leaders for their participation in the destruction of Aleppo.
  • Negotiate with regional and European states on how and where to settle the massive numbers of Syrian refugees and to return many of them back to their home country.
  • Balance American national interest—economic, political, commercial, and security—with American values of good governance.
  • Engage regional autocrats on the need to hold fair and free national elections and respect for human rights.
  • Engage Saudi Arabia and other regional states on how to curb the spread of extremist religious ideology.

He wants to US to commit to regime change in Damascus and use military means both directly and through allied nations and groups to achieve it. At the same time, the US should commit to the military defeat of one of the main opposition groups ISIS/Islamic State, itself a product of the ambitious US regime-change operation in Iraq during the Cheney-Bush Administration. And pursue international war crimes trials against Syrian and Russian officials. Solve the massive refugee problems created by the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War and the Libyan intervention through some kind of magic diplomatic conjuration. We will also "balance" and "engage" to bring about Jeffersonian democracy and "good governance" throughout the Middle East.

Nakhleh even works in the favorite US piece of anti-Russian propaganda of the moment. "The recent aggressive Russian hacking of American government institutions, including the electoral system and the Democratic National Committee communications, is only the tip of the iceberg," of the cyber-security threat which he also sees as a significant threat from the Mideast.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are committed to escalating US participation in the Syrian civil war. And the corporate media is cheerfully playing along, having in practice learned very little from the Iraq War fiasco, it seems.

This is pretty far from anything resembling foreign policy realism. Juan Cole talks about some of the rapidly evolving complication in Russia and Turkey Make up: What implications for Syria, Kurds? Infomrmed Comment 10/11/2016:

Putin and [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan are said to have agreed that civilian humanitarian aid should be allowed to reach the rebel-held East Aleppo pocket. Reuters says that Erdogan said, “We discussed … how we can cooperate on this matter, especially on humanitarian aid to Aleppo, what strategy can we implement so people in Aleppo can find peace ...” In fact, the Syrian government is besieging and bombing the 250,000 civilians in East Aleppo, and Russia is helping. If Putin’s pledge to Erdogan really is implemented, that is huge.

Russian sources suggested (and I would take this with a grain of salt) that Erdogan and Putin had made a secret deal with one another whereby Russia has taken a neutral stance on Turkey’s incursions into Iraq to strike at the separatist PKK Kurdish guerrillas based there, who come over the border to hit Turkish security forces and sometimes to engage in terrorism. In return, Erdogan has ceased regularly demanding that Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad immediately leave office.

If this report has any truth to it, then Turkey may have begun acquiescing in the survival of the Syrian government, which would be huge for the Syrian crisis.
The Obama Administration has shown more restraint than hawks of either the liberal or neocon variety would prefer to have seen in Syria. But their recent initiative to get up war crimes charges against both Syrian and Russian officials plays to both anti-Russian and anti-Assad positions.

The neo-Cold War approach to relations with Russia promises to cause a lot of unnecessary trouble. Fred Kaplan cautions about the hyperventilating over the election-relating hacking that the Administration and the Clinton campaign are blaming on Russia (How Does Obama Respond to Russia’s Cyberattacks? Slate 10/11/2016):

Nobody knows much about “cyberdeterrence” — what it means, what it requires. At this moment, a panel of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board is writing a report on cyberdeterrence, the first official report on the subject, even though cyberweapons have been in existence for decades. We might be witnessing an attempt at forming a cyberdeterrence policy in the midst of an actual international confrontation. Whether it succeeds (if that, in fact, is what it is) may be determined by what happens, or doesn’t happen, on Nov. 8.

Hillary's partisans need to dial it back a bit on trying to tie Trump's imploding campaign to Russian espionage and subversion. Yesterday, even-the-progressive Ceny Uygur did this credulous report, Trump Caught Quoting Russian Propaganda The Young Turks 10/11/2016:

Josh Marshall explains more soberly that Trump's white supremacist base pays attention to rightwing Russian propaganda and has been for a while (The Russia Channel TPM 10/11/2016):

News from Russian propaganda sources are pervasive in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. As a secondary matter we know from Adrian Chen's work that there are a decent number of faux 'pro-Trump' accounts on Twitter that are actually run from troll farms operated by Russian intelligence services. By whichever path, Russian propaganda is ubiquitous on the alt-right/racist web - particularly on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan and similar sites.

It happens that we know the Trump world is awash in the alt-right/neo-Nazi web. After all, that's where all the retweeting of #WhiteGenocide accounts and the like comes from. So anything is possible. Perhaps there's a more complex explanation. But the simplest one is that it's organic. Russian propaganda stories from outlets like RT, Sputniknews and other similar sites spread freely on the alt-right/white supremacist web. And that's where the Trump camp lives. So it's entirely plausible that that's why material that appears only on these Russian propaganda sites shows up so frequently in Trump's speeches.

In other words, don't worry. The Trump campaign isn't infiltrated by Russian intelligence (probably). They're just awash in neo-Nazi and white supremacist propaganda.
And he links to an earlier post of his that looked the same issue, Mapping the Trump Hate Bubble TPM 08/17/2016:

How can it possibly make sense to Trump and his top staffers to turn their campaign over to the head of the junk-right gonzo site Breitbart News? Do they think this is going to make winning more likely as opposed to striking a nail into whatever chance they have to turnaround a terrible trend? Who knows? A perfectly plausible answer that Trump is a committed white nationalist who simply wants to run this kind of campaign. To some extent it's definitely true. But again, there's speculation and then there are looser judgments that are nonetheless very edifying. And these little hints picked up by Ollstein and Brown are views into this world. A major party candidates, the nominee of the Republican party just in advance of the Fall campaign awash in the world of racist white nationalism, anti-American Russian propaganda and more. It's quite a spectacle to behold.
Josh also sketched the current positioning of Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik News in Into the Alt-Left, Alt-Right Russian Alt-Universe TPM 08/16/2016:

Most of us know about RT. What I wasn't aware of was something new called Sputnik News. I'm definitely not the first to write about it. Many others have since it launched in 2014. I just wasn't familiar with it myself until I started seeing it referenced by various alt-left folks on Twitter. At first I thought it was some US outfit with just an arch name. But no, like RT, it's produced by the Russian government for foreign audiences. As Foreign Policy put it two years ago, if RT is a Russian mix of Deutsche Welle and VOA [Voice of America], Sputnik News is their propaganda Buzzfeed or maybe more like some combination of Free Beacon and the supermarket weekly world news. It's punchy, conversant or maybe more more like sorta conversant in all the new-fangled Internetn memes. At least in its American incarnation it's basically Russian propaganda for millennials.