Friday, September 15, 2017


There were always three possible scenarios in a Trump presidency. The first was that Trump and his Republican majorities in Congress and the Supreme Court would swiftly pass a slate of regressive laws dismantling Obama era programs and undermining the Great Society. Naturally, this was the outcome liberals feared most, and with good reason. Republicans enjoyed a significant majority in the House and the advantage of an experienced parliamentary leader in the Senate. Trump didn't have to be an effective political leader in this scenario; he just had to sign the bills in between rounds of golf and then take credit for making America great again. How bright did the future look to Paul Ryan? He told the Republican caucus at their January retreat they would repeal the ACA, cut taxes, and fund the wall by August.

The second scenario, far less likely than the first but still conceivable considering Trump's past as a New York Democrat and the Conservative apostasy in his campaign, was that Trump would cut centrist deals and govern as a moderate. He might, for instance, win some tax cuts and regulatory reform, but he would trade away the Ryan-McConnell ambition to end government healthcare. This was the scenario conservatives feared most and sometimes it still haunts them.

The third scenario (the one that's actually come to pass), is that Trump is so colossally incompetent, unfocused, racist, and stupid that his administration has not been able to successfully guide any legislation of consequence through Congress. More surprising still, Ryan and McConnell have proven unequal to the task of wrangling the Republican majorities into passing legislation either.

Scenario 1 would have been awful and 2 was probably a pipe dream, but that we are living through 3 sets a new problem into relief. What does it mean that a Republican Party can control such majorities and the White House and still not produce? Put another way, what is the purpose of the Republican Party?

David Potter, in his remarkable posthumous work The Impending Crisis, said this about the Whigs and Democrats in the late 1840s:
Relatively unencumbered by ideological mission, the two parties did not have enough intellectual focus to offer voters clear-cut alternatives. Thus they failed in one of the classic functions theoretically ascribed to political parties. But if they defaulted in this way, they performed admirably another equally important if less orthodox function: they promoted consensus rather than divisiveness. By encouraging men to seek a broad basis of popular support, they nourished cohesiveness within the community and avoided sharpening the cutting edge of disagreement to dangerous keenness.
In that case it didn't last much longer. Eventually slavery drove a wedge between the Northern and Southern wings of both parties, destroying any hope for national popular support. The Whigs fell apart by 1852. The Democrats split in 1860 and barely survived the war intact.

The current Republican Party proved they could win a national election, but only by merging contemporary conservativism to right-wing populism. (And even then, they still lost the popular vote.) In making such a bargain with Trump, they sacrificed whatever ideological coherence they had previously held on to. Nor does their appeal consist of "promoting consensus," to use Potter's words. Extraordinarily, the Republican Party, in firm control of the government, does not seem to be doing any good for any constituency. It is suffering an existential crisis in the midst of its electoral triumph. If things continue as they have, the party could fracture.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

January 21, 2017

Day 1 of the Trump presidency. 1460 to go.

For an update on how the nation has responded, please see the title of this blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Read on Trump

William Saletan at Slate has, I think, the best analysis of the sort of man Trump is. He's not a cold-blooded fascist, he's an emotionally stunted narcissist. That presents great dangers, but as Saletan argues there are ways to deal with him.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Snyder's Twenty Lessons

MM sent this link along: Professor Timothy Snyder at Yale University offers "Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century," to fight back against growing authoritarianism. It is a good reminder that history itself is one of our greatest resources in defending a free society.

All twenty are important, but for the holiday season #14 is timely:
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
And for the year ahead, harder and more essential tasks like this:
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Herronvolk Rising

As the certainty of Union victory hit home in the Confederacy in the spring of 1865, a small but sizable number of Confederates contemplated emigration to other nations in the Western Hemisphere where slavery as a legal institution still existed. Mexico and Cuba were attractive options, but Brazil topped the list of desired destinations. It had a tropical climate and fertile soil, a promise of paradise to these Southerners intent on building anew a slave-holding plantation society. The Old South may have been a smoldering ruin, but they believed they could resurrect it, even perfect it, in Brazil. It was the 1865 equivalent of "Make America Great Again," but on foreign soil.

One of the most pernicious myths in American History is that the cause of Southern secession was rooted in republican ideals, that an overreaching, tyrannical federal government had trampled the rights of Southern states. This explanation, along with all the other "slavery-did-not-cause-secession" theories (tariffs!), has been widely discredited by historians. The South seceded to protect their enormous economic and cultural investment in racial slavery. When Confederates believed republicanism protected white supremacy, they invoked republicanism. When they believed authoritarianism protected white supremacy, they extolled autocrats. They were racists first and foremost and they dressed this up in whatever political science was fashionable.

So when emigration advocate Frank McMullin, scouted locales in Brazil and reported back to a readership of potential Confederate emigres, here's how he described the Brazilian government, ruled by Emperor Pedro II:
We have the best system of government known to man; while it combines all the elements of strength requisite to insure its stability against every emergency, it guarantees practical equality to all its citizens, and administers justice with a firm and willing hand. We have a monarchy (thank God!) in name, and a true Republic in practice; and under the wise administration of our good Emperor, our destiny must be onward and upward to a degree of prosperity unknown to other countries.
For Southerners who had celebrated secession as the Second American Revolution, extolling imperial monarchy might seem like an extraordinary evolution, but McMullin knew what his audience of aggrieved white Confederates wanted to hear. Brazil was a land where an authoritarian leader would ensure that no radical administration could take power and deprive white men of their slaves.

Most of the emigres returned to the United States, if they did not perish in the Brazilian wilderness. (They were terrible colonizers. Their nostalgia-driven plans were utter fantasy.) As it turns out, they eventually found in the redeemed American South precisely what they had sought abroad, a land where a racial hierarchy with whites in control was reasserted by any means necessary. The postwar United States may not have recognized legal slavery after the passage of the 13th Amendment, but its transformation into a herronvolk democracy was swift. Whites maintained power ruthlessly through legal and extra-legal mechanisms.

Jamelle Bouie of Slate made this argument right after the election, observing the many moments in the nation's past when progress towards a pluralistic, open democracy was thwarted by white tribalism. Surely, Trump's election after 8 years of President Obama is another. In that sense, perhaps we should be less surprised at what happened November 8. Authoritarianism is nothing new in American history.

We ought to acknowledge the results of the 2016 election with apprehension and resolve. Yes, the shift towards fascistic politics is deeply disturbing. Dismay at Trump's ascendency is fully justifiable. But we can also draw renewed strength from the long traditions of resistance that have challenged the herronvolk and steadily eroded the foundations of white supremacy. If the Union chooses to march again—and we will—Trump and Trumpism will not be able to stop it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Convention Watch

As the GOP Convention gets underway, it will be interesting to see how any Trump bounce in the polls manifests. First, a positive bounce would require a convention that actually functions without catastrophe, crisis, or embarrassment for the Republicans or for Trump. That's not in the bag. Romney's campaign was well organized and well funded and, still, it suffered this at their convention.

Second, if the convention works more or less as it's traditionally supposed to, can Trump break the polling ceiling that to this point he's been trapped beneath and do so with any staying power? Have a look at Huffington Post's polling tracker, which does a good job a averaging polls from multiple outfits. The graph to this point is clear. The recent tightening of the race has been almost exclusively a result of Clinton's numbers dropping after Comey's statement about the email investigation. Trump's numbers have not improved significantly. Even in May when Trump had locked in his primary victory and Clinton and Sanders were still slugging at one another, Trump's poll numbers never got much higher than 42%. Clinton's have never dropped below 43%. If her floor continues to remain above his ceiling, it's a very good indicator of how the race will play out. If the convention can't raise the ceiling, few other events between now and November will either.