Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Detox

We are travelling, away from easy WiFi and ignoring the hourly ebb and flow of the news cycle.

It's been blissful. 

I plugged in to Twitter for a bit at dinner and immediately regreted it.

I think this is telling me something.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Economically Anxious

For all those middle income, WWC voters who are gullible enough to believe that Trump "cares about me," I give you the latest immoral giveaway to the very rich.

But that's OK, Trump knows how to exploit their racism trigger the libtards, so it's all good.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Must Read

Ezra Klein summarizes the scholarship that shows that white racial panic is the most powerful political force in the country today.

I hate to say it, but I think the road for Democrats to take back the White House in a 2020 wave is a white guy.

Historical Illiteracy

One of the bloodsports on Twitter is watching Kevin Kruse dismantle Dinesh D'Souza.  D'Souza continues to make the ahistorical argument that because Democrats were the party of segregation and the white South, they are still the party of segregation and the white South.  Usually this argument ends some time around the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the early Sixties.  Similarly, we have E.J. Dionne fighting back against the idea that the GOP and Putin couldn't possibly be aligned, because Reagan won the Cold War all by himself, or some such twaddle.

D'Souza is simply a troll, but his argument seems to have some currency on the Right.  This completely ignores the nature of political parties in the New Deal Era (1933-1965).  They were broad based coalitions crossing ethnic, idelogical and racial lines. What happened when Truman embraced civil rights - however tepidly - was the fracturing of the party in 1948.  Kennedy lost electoral votes in the South because he was Catholic and percieved to be soft on segregation (which he was until King forced his hand).  After LBJ rewrote the Civil Rights legislation, the election of 1968 saw both the rise of George Wallace and the beginning of Nixon's Southern Strategy.  That strategy appealed to white Southerners on the basis of "law and order" which fundamentally meant keeping blacks in their place.  After 1968, the only Democrats to win the White House were a pair of Southern governors elected under unusual circumstances (Watergate/Ross Perot), because the South was largely lost to the Democratic party.

So D'Souza's argument is just fundamentally stupid and historically illiterate.

Similarly, the idea that Putin is somehow a Leftist because he is Russian is complete nonsense.  Putin is a revanchist nationalist who supports white supremacy throughout the US and Europe.  He hopes to create fissures in the West along the lines of bigotry towards minorities - Muslims in Europe and the US, African Americans in the US.  He's staunchly anti-LGBT and he reflects the fondness towards authoritarianism that has seemed to infect the American Right.

The GOP not only harkens back to an imagined past, their arguments are from that time as well.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Get Well Soon

The first vote I ever cast was for John Lewis for Congress (followed by Walter Mondale...that went less well).  Hope he returns to health soon.  He's a national treasure and a reminder that there is always a point to fighting for what is right, even if it doesn't pay off immediately.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Nothing Matters Anymore

Charlie Pierce points out that if Michael Cohen is believable, that he has evidence that Trump knew about the Russian meeting ahead of time...well, that should be ballgame.

However, that's just not true, given the dynamics of the modern Republican party.  A party that has shown more energy in wanting to impeach Rod Rosenstein than in holding the Swamp Thing accountable.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Where Do YOU Live?

The Times has a nice interactive map where you can see what sort of people you live next to.  It burrows down to the precinct level, so you can really see some interesting aspects of voter turnout.  Every precinct should theoretically be the same size, yet certain precincts seemed to have fewer voters.  Also, we were chagrined a bit to see that our precinct was more heavily Trump than the small Georgia town that my mom lives in.  Four additional Clinton votes would have flipped Elberton, GA blue, whereas my town went to Trump by 1,000 votes.

Two things.  First, the map certainly drives home the idea that we have a country polity and a city polity. The cities are these densely populated islands of dark blue surrounded by swaths of pinks and reds.  Secondly, the one exception to this is the "Black Belt" of the South.

So, as a friend of mine says, "Vote like a Black Woman."  Or a city slicker.

The Family Values Party

The person mostly likely (apparently) to become Speaker of the House should Republicans hold on to the Speaker's gavel is a man credibly accused of ignoring the sexual abuse of students under his care.

In a party that supports Roy Moore, Donald Trump and the men of Fox News, this should hardly be a surprise.

However, white men are dicks.  And so it looks like women will have to save us this November.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Make America Corrupt Again

The paramount era of corruption in American history is the Gilded Age.  Corruption took on many different forms.  There was the outright taking of bribes and gifts by governmental officials, but there was also something that history textbooks call "patronage."  What "patronage" is was really "clientelism."  Patronage is simply personal relations where someone higher up the food chain nurtures and supports people below him or her and the underlings return that with loyalty.  Patronage can be corrupt, but it isn't corrupt per se.

Clientelism is something different.  I'm currently reading volume 2 of Francis Fukayama's book on political order and politial decay.  He is analyzing why some countries have good government and others don't.  In the Gilded Age, America did not have good government.  His theory is that America always had a weak state - it's part of our political culture to distrust governmental power.  Since America pioneered mass democracy, we developed electoral institutions before we developed a professional civil service.  This allowed for the creation of the "spoils system," whereby victors in elections staffed the civil service with their political supporters, who in return kicked back money and political support to the men at the top of the ticket.  The political machines in various cities were the most efficient and corrupt of these clientelist networks.

The advantage of clientelism is that it allows you to reward your political followers, and it encourges their loyalty to you.  You aren't just voting for your party, you're voting for your job.  You also do it at no "cost" to the party, since you are looting the government rather than your own pockets - what is called "rent seeking."  In the end, you are left with high levels of party loyalty and a terrible, inefficient and corrupt civil service.

The Progressive reforms very often revolved around improving the quality of governance in America.  Even Prohibition was an attempt to kill the central role the "saloon" played in nurturing the machines and their client networks.  Over time, especially after the New Deal, America evolved a professional civil service somewhat similar to those in similarly advanced European states.  (Fukayama notes that the profound dysfunction in Southern Italy and Greece is because they modernized their government without modernizing their social structures, keeping those clientelist networks in place.  The result is inefficent and corrupt governance, which is why tax avoidance is so high in those areas.)

The idea of enriching your supporters with government funds comes to mind when we read of the mind-boggling payment of $12 billion to American farmers potentially hurt by Trump's self-destructive tariff wars.  Trump is looting a program designed to ameliorate droughts or floods to compensate for his terrible, regressive and retrograde tariff policy.  Because rural areas are central to Republican electoral chances, unhappy farmers is not a winning strategy for November.  Therefore, Trump will simply pay off his Corn Belt supporters.  In return, presumably, they will vote for Republicans. 

This is the Gilded Age clientelism grafted onto a modern welfare state.  Trump has managed to embrace a 19th century economic policy - tariffs - and 19th century political corruption - clientelism - with 20th century federal power - New Deal economic stabilizers.  Again, this is not the way these things should happen.  Again, in any other administration, this would be scandalous.  Again, Trump simply washes one scandal away by starting another.

Having just read a massive book on the Gilded Age, it is tough to fully appreciate how awful things were for average Americans in that time period.  Enviromental catastrophes, urban poverty of a kind you can't imagine, racial demagoguery, wholesale corruption, terrible policy making, ethnic cleansing...the Gilded Age was a wretched time, even if it did produce remarkable economic growth. 

The modern Republican party is endeavoring to return us to the Gilded Age.  They began this clientelist corruption with their massive tax cuts for the wealthy, their deregulation of the economy and their revanchist positions on race.  Trump, once again, is simply saying the bad parts out loud.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Immoral

Stand Your Ground laws are immoral abominations.  They license citizens to murder one another.

Battleground

Ed Burmila, who I respect in a lot of ways, makes the case repeatedly on social media that can be boiled down to "Fuck Trump voters.  They suck and will never vote for Democrats." 

This is only somewhat true.  Trump voters represent a large and varied group of people.  Some were anti-Hillary voters or traditional Republican professionals.  That group includes people, presumably, like George Will or Max Boot who voted for Trump or Johnson.  There are people - mostly women - who are outraged by Trump, who might be "soft Republican" voters. 

Martin Longman offers the following: The midterms (especially in the Senate) will be fought on Trump's turf.  The battleground districts will be the suburbs.  In order to win back the gavels in the House and Senate, Democrats will have to win in districts that Republicans currently hold.  That's...obvious.  Yet, when Burmila suggests that we should just write off anyone who is Republican or leans Republican and try and mobilize the base, that neglects that there isn't "enough base" in those districts that Democrats have to win.

Some of this reminds me (hopefully) of the 1992-1994 electoral cycle.  For 150 years, Democrats held the South.  They did so, even as the national party moved left on economic issues and governmental power, because FDR and the Southern committee chairs brought the bacon back to the South. From 1933 through today, federal dollars flow south to promote economic growth.  But once the Democratic party really endorsed civil rights under LBJ, that deal began to fray.  However, the true "culture wars" really came about under Reagan.  Southerners were content to continue to elect Democrats to Congress, while supporting Republicans in national elections. 

Bill Clinton's election stripped that away.  Those Southern voters decided that they no longer wanted conserative or moderate Democrats, they wanted conservative Republicans. Clinton's social liberalism (gays in the military, abortion, health care) created a breaking point and they flipped their Congressional votes. 

Donald Trump has the potential to do that with suburban moderate Republican leaners, again, especially women.  He will never lose his Deplorables.  He could very well lose those women who are fuming at the constant chaos and cruelty on display in this White House.  Flipping them in November will have to occur in New Jersey, Long Island, the Pennsylvania suburbs, Virginia, California and even Texas.  This is the only work-around for the GOP natural and artificial gerrymanders.

If it doesn't happen, if Democrats can't gain control of at least one House, then we have a crisis of legitimacy in American democracy.  Despite a few brawls by Antifa, the left-of-center coalition has largely refrained from anything more than intemperate language.  Some of this is that the current left tends to eschew violence in general.  (Far right extremists tend to reach for violence more easily.  See Oklahoma City and various mass shooters.) 

Everything is riding on those suburban voters in November.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Meanwhile...

The GOP has two things to show for hanging their fortunes onto Donald Trump: Neil Gorsuch and a massive, regressive, deficit-busting tax cut.  Presumably, they will get another justice.

Let's take a look at the tax cut.  In a move that surprises no one who wasn't suckled on Ayn Rand's venomous teat, corporations have pocketed their massive tax cuts, turned them into dividends and stock buybacks.  Wages - unbelievably in an economy with "full employment" - are actually falling.  This is remarkable.  Trump's brewing trade wars - designed around a 19th century mercantile "understanding" of macroeconomics - will also cost jobs and wages.

Republicans have been running on one single fucking idea since 1980: Cut taxes for the rich and everyone (that they care about) benefits.  This has never been true.  The boom of the '80s was a post-recessionary, monetary policy boom.  Giving rich people more money is not a good idea.  It is never  a good idea, unless you are a rich person (or one of their lickspittle lackeys in the GOP caucus). 

In any rational world, the failure of the tax cut to do anything but line the pockets of corporations and Wall Street would be the end of the Trump coalition and the GOP.  All those "economically anxious" Trump voters who want the "swamp drained" would rebel against the lies they were told.  The already pissed off suburban moderates (who fretted over "her emails" until they talked themselves into voting for Trump) are already leaving the Trump Train.  That would leave the Deplorables, that we can reasonably be sure make up 27% of the population.

Meanwhile, on the Supreme Court front, the impact of Republican theocrats being able to possibly overturn Roe has led to it becoming more popular than ever

This is the part where every dedicated Democratic voter looks wearily at the mushy, non-voting populace who thought that Hillary was more corrupt than Trump and growls softly into their soy latte.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Evangelism

Reading this expose of a Baptist cogregation in a small Alabama town, it's hard to know exactly where to draw a line between the ignorance and bigotry stated by the congregants and their devotion to a literal intepretation of the Bible.  It's a fundamental way of seeing the world in a starkly literal way.  Their descriptions of heaven and hell and essentially childish and simplistic, lacking any theological dimension beyond, "I'm saved and whatever problems I have, everything will be as I want them to be once I die in the blood of the Lamb."

Once you've committed to one type of blind faith, why not another?  Why not believe that Donald Trump is an agent sent from God, like Saul/Paul?  Why not believe that he honestly does care about you, when all available evidence points in the opposite direction?

The GOP is essentially these theocratic fundamentalists.  Their reach extends to some small government libertarian types, but most of them are the people in this story, who have embraced a completely immoral narcissist, because he validates their own prejudices, especially about Islam, Mexicans and Blacks.

America was founded by Christians who were mostly unconcerned with questioning religious dogma.  Franklin, Washington and Jefferson all had somewhat complicated relations to faith.  But they were also - and more importantly - men of the Enlightenment, what Max Weber called the disenchantment of the world.  We have millions of Americans who remain stuck in the enchanted world of biblical literalism, married to situational morality.

I don't know how you reach them, and maybe you don't.  Most likely, you can't.

ADDED: I just picked up Francis Fukuyama's book, Political Order and Political Decay.  In it, he describes the challenges that Greece and Southern Italy pose to the Eurozone and the general idea of "good governance."  Good governance usually results when the state seems itself as an impartial judge of all citizens, what we call the rule of law.  It has to overcome natural human tendencies to rely on kinship and communcal loyalties.  We naturally gravitate towards those we know and trust, but the state must not preference one group over another.  If you actively distrust the broader institutions of a state, you are simply not going to embrace modern governance and modernity as a whole. 

That seems to sum up the Evangelicals who fall back into their very local, very kin-based relationships in these small towns.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Stupid Watergate

The revelations that Michael Cohen recorded conversations with Donald Trump about squashing the story about Karen McDougal are simply the latest in a cascading incidents of monumental stupidity.  Donald Trump was never a bright man, and there is compelling evidence that he is suffering from precipitate cognitive decline.  What is striking is the incredible stupidity of those he surrounds himself with.  Some of this is his fragile ego that can't stand to be around someone who reminds him of his own striking limitations, and some of it is simply that he is a horrible human being, and intelligent people don't want to be around horrible human beings.

From what we can gather, Trump and Cohen were trying to reimburse the National Enquirer - owned by a Trump friend - for buying McDougal's story and then sitting on it.  While I'm not a campaign finance lawyer, that's beyond "shady" and reeks of outright criminality.

But, as always, the frustrating thing is that seemingly no matter what new information drops, it makes no difference to the MAGAts who refuse to admit that they elected a dimwitted vulgarian with the morality of Caligula and the acumen of Caligula's horse.   Therefore, the GOP majority in Congress will, once again, furrow their brows and ignore more evidence of rampant criminality in their own party.  However, one has to think that the constant barrage of bad news is having an effect.

As I've been saying for months: It's the corruption, stupid.