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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nobody Panic

Here's a quick dose of blog-tonic in case you read about polling numbers that came out today showing a tightening race for the Presidency and proceeded to freak out. The most alarming was a Quinnipiac swing state poll showing a tie between Clinton and Trump in Ohio and small Trump leads in Florida and Pennsylvania. A few observations:
  1. The race is tightening in some states (notably Florida) and nationally as well. Anyone with half a brain wants a Clinton victory and would love a blowout, so obviously that's bad news. But it's not terribly surprising either. Lockstep partisan voting habits seem to have earned Trump the polling loyalty of the Republican base. That would bring him to the high 30s or low 40s in the polls, but to win he'd have to break into different demographics.
  2. Speaking of earning votes from different demographics, Trump earned 0% of black votes in the latest NBC/WSJ polls of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Not a typo. 0%. That does not spell good things for him in November, whatever polls indicate about the overall race now.
  3. Clinton has sustained her national lead despite Trump's consolidation of support. It may become closer still in the next two weeks and Trump might even pull ahead for a bit. Why? Odds are that this stretch will be the nadir of her general election campaign because of the email scandal, the Trump veep speculation, and the GOP convention. Her numbers will go back up again after her own convention. (Take lots of deep breaths these next few weeks.) That doesn't mean Trump can't overtake her, but it helps explain the current closeness of the race.
  4. Betting markets still have Democratic victory in November in the low 70th percentile, exactly where it has been since mid-March.
  5. The Princeton Election Consortium has a Clinton victory at 80%, down from 85% because of the new polls but a psychologically reassuring number during these Trump-ety news cycles.
Hold steady... there's a long way to go yet.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The 2016 Stakes

As we all know the circus comes to Cleveland in just one week and Donald Trump will officially be named, despite wishful thinking to the contrary, Republican nominee for President. It is hard to comment on the state of the Republican Party at this moment. The shock has probably worn off of most GOP leaders, but some mixture of anger, denial, bemusement, despair, and delusion remains. The unsettling truth for them is that the most likely outcome of the election, regardless of who wins, is that the Republican Party will be dramatically changed.

Plenty of pundits have made this point, but it's actually worth considerable rumination. This is a Party, after all, historically populated with folks who usually find change disagreeable by nature if not downright threatening. Is it any wonder the Party is freaking out? Consider the official national platform they are debating and voting on at this very moment. It's barking mad, a series of throwback social positions indicative of a party that has no idea what it actually stands for anymore.

For all that, Trump still has a chance of winning that is not insignificant. Reader ER asked me the other day whether I was scared about the election. My answer was not too scared, but scared enough. The election fundamentals and consistent polling point to a Clinton victory, but it's not close to a lock. (Incidentally ER, a fiercely intelligent observer, is quite scared.) Sam Wang explains the current math and, as he sees it, it's all about the undecideds:
If Trump does not bring enough Republican voters home, there could be unexpected wins for Clinton. If all states within 5% went Democratic, the electoral total would be Clinton 381 EV, Trump 157 EV. This is the downside risk for Republicans. On the flip side, Clinton’s biggest major weakness is Pennsylvania, where she leads by a median of only 1%. If all states within 5% went Republican, the electoral total would be Trump 318 EV, Clinton 220 EV. So it is not crazy to imagine a Trump victory…if he could somehow become a candidate that did not repel members of his own party.
People express fear all the time when it comes to elections—"If George W. Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada," and all that. But it's always been a testament to the often maligned two-party system and the rigorous-if-flawed primary process that two candidates emerge both capable of stewarding the republic (or, to be more cynical, candidates just wise enough to keep from doing critical damage to the nation and the world). Even Bush 43, as reckless and dishonest as his administration was about Iraq after September 11, did not represent an existential threat. In retrospect, he was too good-hearted for that. (The most common counter-factual when it comes to that decade is to imagine Gore as President, but it is equally interesting to imagine Bush without Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice whispering Neo-Conservative poison to him, but instead counseled by Powell and like-minded realists.) Or Romney... even as the modern progressive movement would have been frustrated on numerous fronts, do we doubt the republic would have been in relatively safe hands had he won in 2012?

With Trump in 2016, the fear is real. There are two great threats to humanity that, to be safely answered, require steady, strong leadership from the American executive. The first is nuclear war; the second is climate change. Since 1945, American presidents have avoided nuclear war with patience, measured diplomacy, and good counsel. Trump is impetuous, puerile, and megalomaniacal, three qualities least desirable in someone with the power to launch nuclear weapons. He's also a climate change denier. This doesn't distinguish him from many in the elite Republican establishment, but his election would end US involvement in the Paris climate accord and any chance of implementing Obama's Clean Power Plan. Paris was a monumental achievement and Democratic presidential leadership is required for at least the next four years to push the US along the path to meeting its obligations.

Were another candidate the 2016 GOP nominee—a mythical Mitt Romney who believed in fighting climate change or the 2008 McCain, who (we often forget) ran on a cap-and-trade program—there would actually be a decent liberal argument for not worrying about the election. Much would be at stake, not least the Supreme Court, so of course liberals would want a Democrat to win. But in this scenario, a Republican victory that did not endanger Paris or the CPP, would give Democrats an opportunity over four years to take back state legislatures, rebuild their bench of national candidates, and fight to take back the White House and Congress in 2020. They would avoid the burden of holding the White House four terms consecutively and would be better positioned to win the year a new census will be taken that could determine control of the House of Representatives for the next decade.

But such a GOP candidate does not exist. Instead we must deal with the likes of Trump.