Category Archives: Politics

The Death of Truth rings true

real enemy tweet

Michiko Kakutani’s book, The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, is the second-best Trump book I’ve read, second to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, more trenchant than Jonathan Weisman’s (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in the Age of Trump, and infinitely less completely wrong than Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy (review essay). Those are the only ones I’ve read (open to suggestions).

Kakutani is a great writer, and this little book of 11 chapters in 170 small pages flies by. Since she left the New York Times, where she was book critic for many years, her Twitter feed has been a chronology of political crisis and social decay under Trump; reading it all together induces anxiety at the pace and scale of the descent, but also, surprisingly, some optimism that the situation remains decipherable with the tools of intellectual incision that Kakutani wields so well. With lots of good reviews out there, I’ll just briefly point out some things I appreciated.

Kakutani does the disturbing relevant history without histrionics. So there’s Hannah Arendt and Margaret Atwood, Adolf Hitler and Richard Hofstadter, George Orwell and Aldus Huxley, but not with facile linkages and great leaps. Also, she delves into postmodernism and its influences, but doesn’t simplistically blame postmodernism for creating the “post-truth” world (which rightfully concerns Andrew Perrin); rather she acknowledges the cynical uses to which its language may be put, including among some of its proponents, without the casual lumping of Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida, and “multiculturalism” or “relativism,” etc., that you see so often. (One thing you know about Kakutani is that she reads a lot.) Although leftist anti-science attitudes play a role in her story (along with anti-institutionalism generally, anti-vaxxers, and so on), she has no interest in the false equivalency that, for example, blames all kinds of identity politics for injecting subjectivism into politics (the way Goldberg does so absurdly), or puts campus no-platforming on the same plane as the Iraq war.

This is an early first pass at a history of the moment, and Kakutani’s wide reading of relevant history connects tightly with the today’s news from Putin’s Russia to Wikileaks, fake news and Cambridge Analytica, to the “culture wars” debates, the “me generation” and today’s information silos, to political polarization, and the siege of journalism. You may as well read it in one sitting.

One good example: In my essay on Goldberg (now updated) I noted that he falsely described Lee Atwater’s maxim, “perception is reality” as “a cliché of the left.” I was glad to see Kakutani bring that up, in the proper context, because it is a moment that still matters. The contrast between their descriptions is telling, so I’ll lay it down here.

Goldberg writes:

“It is a cliché of the left to say that, ‘perception is reality.’ Well, the perceived reality for millions of white, Christian Americans is that their institutional shelters, personal and national, are being razed one by one. They do not like the alternatives they are being offered. Some fraction may indeed be racists, homophobes, or Islamaphobes, but most simply don’t like what they are being offered because they do not know it or because they do know it but prefer what they perceive to be theirs. And yet people like Sanders insist that resistance to their program is not just wrong but evil. The grave danger, already materializing, is that whites and Christians respond to this bigotry and create their own tribal identity politics.”

Goldberg falsely attributes the “perception is reality” approach to the left, then blames the left for making whites into racists. (With anti-Trumpists like these progressives don’t need enemies.) An accurate reading of that history in its proper context links today’s “perceived reality” to Atwater and the GOP itself, to decades of racist propaganda which the GOP generated and then gleefully weaponized. Here’s Kakutani:

“When the Republican strategist Lee Atwater observed in the 1980s that ‘perception is reality,’ he was bluntly articulating an insight about human psychology that Homer well knew when he immortalized Odysseus as a wily trickster, adept at deception and disguise. But Atwater’s cold-blooded use of that precept in using wedge issues to advance the GOP’s southern strategy – and to create the infamous Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign – injected mainstream American politics with an alarming strain of win-at-all-costs Machiavellianism using mass media as a delivery system.” (p. 79)

My historical quibble is in the brief handling of China, where Kakutani includes Mao along with Hitler in the Orwell section on the co-optation of language. The Hitler material is excellent, and ties in well with Putin and then Trump’s big lies. But Mao’s “plan of linguistic engineering” does not fit that pattern. China was mostly illiterate, there was no mass media, and the state that was so forcefully imposing fixed terms and meanings, with simple slogans, was also expanding basic education to hundreds of millions of people, and literally reformed the language to make it more accessible, a change that still pays dividends. No need to spare China the criticism, but the early socialist years doesn’t belong in the category as advanced capitalist countries using the tools of fascism against their own democracies.

How bad is it? If Brave New World was warning us about capitalism, and 1984 was warning us about Soviet communism, as Kakutani has it, then it’s ironic that we’re now speeding toward a 1984 scenario even as the capitalist Russian kleptocracy literally parades around the White House (details on Putin’s upcoming visit to be determined). So, it’s bad. (Her conclusion, that only journalism and education can save us, is mercifully brief.) Every week is a crazy unprecedented crisis. Kakutani’s ability to get it down to an organized, linear narrative, with carefully chosen, relevant facts, makes The Death of Truth bracing and clarifying, and well worth a read.

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Against Trump’s family separation policy

fearhatredracism

The policy of separating parents from their children when they enter the country without permission has generated a spike of outrage and shock that’s actually noticeable over the background level of outrage and shock.

At the Council on Contemporary Families we don’t take formal policy positions or make partisan appeals, but the board (on which I sit) decided to organize a statement of opposition for individual family researchers and experts to sign. We passed a hundred signatories after the first few hours. You can sign it here, or view the list of signatories here. Here’s the text, and then I have a few comments.

Family Scholars and Experts Statement of Opposition to Policy of Separating Immigrant Families

We write as family scholars and experts to express our opposition to the Trump Administration policy of separating immigrant parents and children at the border as they enter the United States to seek refuge. This practice is an inhumane mistreatment of those seeking refuge from danger or persecution, and goes against international law. As scholars and experts devoted to identifying and sharing information relevant to policies to improve individual and family wellbeing, we deplore the Administration’s callous disregard of the overwhelming scientific information demonstrating the harm of separating children from their parents. This practice is known to be extremely traumatic for dependent children who stand a strong likelihood of experiencing lasting negative consequences from the sudden and inexplicable loss of their caregiver. Government should only separate children from their parents as a last resort when children are in danger of imminent harm. We urge the Administration to reconsider and reverse this policy. Although the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) as an organization does not take partisan positions or advocate for policy, the CCF Board has decided to circulate this statement so that individual like-minded scholars and experts may join together to express their views publicly.

Comment

The policy has been a vivid showcase of human cruelty, racist political manipulation, hypocrisy, and misdirection.

The human cruelty is most important. The people working for the U.S. government that carry out this policy seem to be no more or less evil than rank-and-file Nazi concentration camp guards. They rip children from the arms of their parents — parents risking life and limb to give their children a chance at safety, or a better life — sometimes under false pretenses, and rationalize their actions as somehow in the service of social order, or the law, or the will of their superiors. Human-tip: quit your job before you follow such orders.

The racist political manipulation comes from the top, where Trump and his legions of lying liars repeat lies about illegal immigrants overrunning our borders, bringing violence and mayhem and taking American jobs and welfare. These lies find fertile ground in the consciousness of people who already don’t consider Latino immigrants to deserving of basic human rights and protections because they don’t see their humanity. Things I’ve heard on Twitter from supporters of the policy include:

The hypocrisy is well represented by the invocation of the Bible to justify these atrocities, a literal chapter and verse repetition of the godless defenses of slavery, Nazism, and apartheid perpetrated by Trumpism’s (recent) ancestors. In the typical up-is-down-wrong-is-right formulation of Trumpism, Elizabeth Bruenig writes, “[Jeff] Sessions and [Sarah] Sanders radically depart from the Christian religion, inventing a faith that makes order itself the highest good and authorizes secular governments to achieve it.”

The misdirection runs beneath all Trumpism’s atrocities, in this case simply inventing a story that the current policy is the result of Democrats’ “horrible and cruel legislative agenda.” This is part of the demagoguery playbook, which predictably cycles from it’s-not-true to it’s-no-big-deal to Obama-was-worse to nothing matters. (When I tweeted a link to the statement above, a Trump supporter asked, “They do realize they’re here illegally?” and then, “So why the hard push now except to smear the President?”) “We are following the law,” said federal prosecutor Ryan Patrick, before possibly accidentally confirming, “Well, it is a policy choice by the president and by the attorney general.”

No

Patrick’s interview is a nauseating testament to how this authoritarianism is corrupting human integrity, as he describes the policy as an attempt to restore fairness to law enforcement:

“I’ve heard the attorney general say – it is not – in his estimation, it is not equitable or fair to simply, like I said, wave a wand over an entire population of crossers just because they come in in a family unit or they have a child with them and we simply ignore them on the criminal prosecution. They’re still crossing the border illegally.”

And what about the documented atrocities?

“I think some of these stories are outliers. This is not the norm. I don’t think this is a standard operating procedure on how all of the agents conduct their business. There’s going to be some situations that are going to be regrettable or that break your heart or – and it is unfortunate.”

OK, so not everyone experiences the very worst abuses. And what about the legal protections of the accused and their separated children?

“So when apprehended, if they’re a family unit, they’re given a card in English and in Spanish that has different 1-800 numbers for them to be able to contact. And there’s also a text line. There’s an email address, if they have access to those in their different holding facilities, where they can track not only their own case but also the location of their child.”

OK, so, Kafka. And about that due process for children?

“And then, when it comes to the juveniles who are in HHS custody, there are some space limitations with attorneys. At any time in the process, they can hire their own attorney.”

And finally, putting it all together: it’s not so bad, but really it’s their fault, and law and order, so.

So, obviously, there are still family units being broken up. But the average stay of those children in those facilities is less than 20 days. It would be – it would be incredibly difficult, if I was a parent, to see my child one of the situations. But at the same time, it also is difficult to wrap my mind around – and I’m not in their situation – but they’re also taking incredible risk to their own life and safety on crossing the border illegally in the way that they do, with their children, and putting them in danger.

This policy is the bad turning the blind against the innocent. It’s vile and inhumane. No one has to tolerate this system of atrocities, and that includes all of us.

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The failure of the success sequence

This essay was originally published as part of a forum on the success sequence sponsored by the Cato Institute, featuring Michael Tanner, Isabel Sawhill, and Brad Wilcox.

The success sequence is often (mistakenly) attributed to the 2009 book Creating an Opportunity Society by the Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill. “First comes education,” they wrote. “Then comes a stable job that pays a decent wage, made decent by the addition of wage supplements and work supports if necessary. Finally comes marriage, followed by children.” They called for “marketing campaigns and educational programs to change social norms: to bring back the success sequence as the expected path for young Americans.”

The only issue here is marriage, as the rest is obvious to everyone. And in that regard this model of social change is wholly unproven and without precedent. Seat belt laws and anti-smoking campaigns, always cited by success sequence advocates, are not comparable. Those are daily habits easily addressed by legal regulations and tax policy (seat belts are required by law; with taxes, the price of cigarettes has more than tripled since 1980). The decline in marriage is a massive global trend driven by economic development and cultural adaptation. And the decline in teen pregnancy, to which success sequencers also point as a precedent for public information campaigns, flows with rather than against that underlying trend. As I detail in my new book, Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible, the drop in teen birth was part of the general increase in the age at which women have children, driven by the expansion of their educational and professional opportunities.

That idea of using public information campaigns to preach “marriage culture” echoed the futile proclamations of a previous generation. In a Hoover Institution symposium in 1996, former vice president Dan Quayle wrote that, “when it comes to strengthening families … we also desperately need help from nongovernment institutions like the media and the entertainment community.” Taking up the call with even more zeal, in 2001 Heritage Foundation fellow Patrick Fagan declared it was time to add three W’s to the common three R’s of schooling. “We need to stress something just as fundamental [as reading, writing, and arithmetic],” he wrote. “Call it the three W’s: work, wedlock and worship. … Put all three in the lives of parents and children, and they thrive.”* Five years later, another Heritage fellow said of the three W’s, “According to the social science data, if these three fundamentals are in place, government social policy is virtually unnecessary.” In 2012, the National Marriage Project, under director W. Bradford Wilcox, was again calling for “community-based and focused public service announcements” and a Hollywood “conversation” to promote marriage.

Meanwhile, slightly more liberal think tank denizens had discretely replaced “worship” with education, but they stuck to the basic idea that the problem with poor people is that they’re doing life wrong—and the “three somethings” formula. In a 2006 report for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Marline Pearson wrote that it was time to “teach teens the rules of the success sequence,” which they defined as, “Finish high school, or better still, get a college degree; wait until your twenties to marry; and have children after you marry.” (Three things is a favorite formula of Chinese social engineers we well, as with Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” and Hu Jintao’s “Three Supremes”—but China combines such slogans with centralized education and state repression to increase their salience.)

Today, more than two decades after Quayle’s plea, 17 years after the three W’s, 12 years after the first “success sequence” proclamation, and one president after the National Marriage Project pitched its “President’s Marriage Agenda,” movement leaders are still calling for “Public and private social marketing campaigns on behalf of marriage and the ‘success sequence’,” to quote Wilcox and Wendy Wang’s latest report. Neither the policy nor the campaign to promote the policy have changed appreciably over the years, although the definition of the success sequence has varied from author to author. And in all this time, I could not find one academic study, outside of those published by think tanks, that seriously evaluates the claims of the success sequence.

What Could Go Wrong?

Today’s success sequence movement is puzzling in part because it fails to recognize—or admit—the extent to which its adherents already won. After the landmark 1996 welfare reform act, the federal government pumped more than $1 billion into national marriage promotion programs (the Healthy Marriage and the Responsible Fatherhood initiatives). This was cause for great celebration in the movement, as it should have been. In 2004, a Heritage Foundation report gushed, “The President’s Healthy Marriage Initiative is a future-oriented, preventive policy. It will foster better life-planning skills—encouraging couples to develop loving, committed marriages before bringing children into the world.”

It didn’t. The previous decade’s marriage promotion programs sent the same message the “success sequence” promoters do today. But where is the recognition that they failed? Rigorous evaluations of the marriage promotion efforts showed unequivocally that they produced no increase in marriage, not even among the people coerced into sitting for hours in relationship skills courses required to qualify for welfare benefits. As most readers probably know, in the years after welfare reform, marriage rates have continued to fall, and they have fallen fastest for those with less than a college education, the very population the programs were supposed to help. Even though pro-marriage billboards dotted the highways and FedEx delivered thousands of new-daddy care packages to hospitals. In fact, the only people more likely to marry after all these years of conservative activism are gays and lesbians. (This history is also reviewed in my book.)

Does this mean it’s bad advice to get an education, get a job, and find a permanent partner before having children? Of course not. But the success sequence is bad public policy, which is not the same thing at all. For public policy the question is, what will we accomplish with this money, compared with other things we could spend it on (or nothing at all)? Will the proposed campaigns have any positive effect on family outcomes? And if so, would they be better than some other way of spending money, like giving it to poor people, which is what most rich countries do, along with jobs, paid family leave, health care, and preschool education? Specifically, the rationale for spending money on these campaigns assumes that there are people who are on the fence about the success sequence, whose minds might be changed by the campaign, and that those altered decisions would lead to better outcomes in the future for those specific people. There is simply no evidence to support anything like that chain of events. Despite the ad nauseam repetition of the obvious fact that educated, employed, and (much less importantly) married people are less likely to be poor, there is no evidence at all that convincing people who are not one of those things of their importance will cause a reduction in poverty rates.

Given the well-documented desire of most young adults to finish high school, get a job, and get married—if the opportunity to follow that course presents itself—there is no reason to think the people reached by the proposed campaigns would not either already plan to follow the sequence or rightly suspect that it is not feasible for them. The decision to delay childbearing in hopes of marrying first rests on assumptions about the future—education, economics, relationships, health, stability—that the target population simply cannot makeabout their own destinies in today’s economic and social context. Improve the basic equation, the material expectations of young adults, and you won’t need a campaign to change behavior.

When women have more to lose, they delay parenthood. The college students in my classes, overwhelmingly women (I teach sociology of the family), almost all want to get married and then have children after they finish college. They understand that their marriage prospects will improve after college, and they don’t want children to interfere with their education or career launch. So, why shouldn’t we tell all women, especially those with poorer education and career prospects, to follow this course as well? Success sequencers believe it’s hypocritical to hoard this advice and only dispense it to the children of privilege. But you can’t wish away education, career, and marriage uncertainty or impose order on instability by force of will. If we’re not prepared to guarantee all women the same opportunities as those in my classes have, it’s not reasonable to demand the same attachment to the success sequence that those opportunities make feasible. In the absence of that guarantee, you’re simply asking, or requiring, poor people to delay (until “they’re ready,” in Sawhill’s terms, meaning not poor) or forego having children, one of the great joys of life, and something we should consider a human right.

In addition, what signals will a federal “success sequence” program send? What message will these campaigns send to people who are currently materially underserved by the welfare state, and people who don’t have the option to pursue the sequence because stable partners, education, or jobs aren’t available to them? What message will it send to the majority of Americans who are in a position to look down upon, and act against, those who become, in Sawhill’s chilling phrase, “norm breakers”?

And here race becomes especially salient. Black women have low marriage rates and black single mothers have high poverty rates. They face marriage markets with drastic shortages of eligible men, as Michael Tanner noted in the essay that opened this discussion. Not coincidentally, the history of welfare politics in the United States is intricately bound up with the history of racism against black women, who have been labeled pathological and congenitally dependent. The idea that delaying parenthood until marriage is a choice one makes is highly salient and prized by the white middle class, and the fact that black women often don’t have that choice makes them the objects of scorn for their perceived lax morals. The framing of the success sequence plays into this dynamic. For example, Ron Haskins has argued that welfare reform was needed to “[change] the values and the approach to life of people on welfare that they have to do their part.” The image of the poor welfare “taker” has a race and a gender in America.

In their book, Haskins and Sawhill proudly acknowledge that their cause was out of step with contemporary society. “To those who argue that this goal is old-fashioned or inconsistent with modern culture,” they wrote, “we argue that modern culture is inconsistent with the needs of children.” That may by a reasonable ideological position, but it’s no way to make public policy. The success sequence is a political meme repeated in highly similar form over more than a generation of public policy debates, without yet having any discernible impact for the better. The third “step” or “norm” in particular—marriage—has already been promoted with massive federal subsidies for almost two decades. The first two, education and jobs, are terrific ideas, obvious for good reasons, and not in need of much normative boosting, and we should turn our attention to improving the opportunity for more people to attain them.

* Thanks to Shawn Fremstad for this nugget.

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Hitting for the cycle in Trump land

While cautious about the risks the normalizing Trump, I have nevertheless attempt to engage a little with his followers on Twitter, which is the only place I usually meet people who are willing to support him openly. One exchange yesterday struck me as iconic so I thought I’d share it.

Maybe if I’d studied conversation or text analysis more I would be less amazed at how individuals acting alone manage to travel the same discursive paths with such regularity. In this case a Trump supporter appears to spontaneously recover this very common path over a short handful of tweets:

  1. I don’t believe your facts
  2. If they are true it’s no big deal
  3. Obama was worse
  4. Nothing matters everyone is corrupt

The replies got jumbled up so I use screenshots as well as links (you can start here if you want to try to follow it on Twitter).

Ivanka Trump tweeted something about how she was going to India. Since I’m blocked by Donald but not Ivanka, if it’s convenient I sometimes do my part by making a quick response to her tweets. I said, “Your representation of the US in India epitomizes the corruption and incompetence of this administration.”

iv1

The responses by @armandolbstd and @dreadGodshand are very typical, demanding “proof” about things that are obvious to basically informed people. I made the typical mistake of thinking we could talk about common facts, using the word “literally” a lot:

iv2

OK, so then I got sucked in with what I thought was the most obvious example of corruption, leading @dreadGodshand into the whole cycle:

iv3

Interesting how the “ok, maybe it’s true but so what” thing we hear constantly strikes him as suddenly a new question. And from there on through no-big-deal to Obama-was-worse to nothing-matters:

iv4iv5

And he concluded, “I’m not hating obama for it. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s designed that way to help their parties. Who really cares?”

This reminds me of the remarkable shift in attitudes toward immoral conduct among White evangelicals, who used to think it was a very big deal if elected officials (Obama) did immoral things in private but now (Trump) shrug:

iv6

People do change. But I don’t put that much stock in changing people, and contrary to popular belief I don’t think that’s how you have to win elections. In the end defeating Trumpism politically means outvoting people who think like this, which will be the result of a combination of things: increasing turnout (one way or the other) among people who oppose him, decreasing turnout among people who support him, and changing the number of people in those two categories.

You might think this example just shows the futility of conversations like this, but maybe I’m missing some opportunity to get through. And it’s also possible that this kind of thing is demoralizing to Trump supporters, which could be good, too. So, live and learn.

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How I choose sides like it’s 1934

The best way to be sure that 2017 is not 1934 is to act as though it were. —Adam Gopnik

nyt-8-20-1934

New York Times, August 20, 1934.

Jeremy Freese observed back in November:

These are both true. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, suppression of dissent, these are not new. But Trump and Trumpism also represent a turn toward all that plus an assault on constitutional democracy. It’s the resurgence of the bad side of America plus a new authoritarianism that makes it harder to resist the normal bad. I don’t need to detail this here, but I’ll quote a little more from Gopnik:

Assaults on free speech; the imprisoning of critics and dissidents; attempts, on the Russian model, likely to begin soon, to intimidate critics of the regime with fake charges and conjured-up allegations; the intimidation and intolerance of even mild dissidence (that “Apologize!” tweet directed at members of the “Hamilton” cast who dared to politely petition Mike Pence); not to mention mass deportations or attempts at discrimination by religion—all things that the Trump and his cohorts have openly contemplated or even promised—are not part of the normal oscillations of power and policy. They are unprecedented and, history tells us, likely to be almost impossible to reverse.

So, what does that mean? I think it means we take Gopnik’s advice and act like this is 1934. And John Lewis is right. If that turns out to be wrong — a false-positive read on the catastrophicness of the situation — that’s a better mistake to make than the false-negative mistake of not taking it seriously enough until it’s too late.

It means we need new strategic principles. For me, that means drawing a new line through the political landscape: for versus against Trumpism.

Which side are you on

If you are against Trump, you are on my side. Not on my side in every way or every issue, but where it counts most right now. If you’re against abortion rights, against welfare, against environmental protection, I disagree with you on all those things, and I’ll say that when we get a chance to talk. But to the extent that you march against Trump, vote against Trump’s agenda, speak out against Trumpism, or give money to organizations that do those things, you’re on my side.

I want to focus on opposing repression of dissent, corruption (and Putin), police or military abuse, and assaults on democratic norms, especially with regard to freedoms and protection for racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants. If you accidentally say something racist or sexist while you’re speaking out against Trump, we can discuss it on the side. If you support policies I hate on other issues, but you are willing to vote against Trump’s nominees or his agenda, or candidates who back him, I will speak up for you. We will argue about the rest later. And if you’re only weakly against Trump, thank you. I encourage you to stick with it and try to bring someone else along with you.

On the other hand. If you’re poor and your community is being left behind by global capitalism, with rising mortality and drug addiction, disappearing jobs and crumbling infrastructure, but you support Trump and his movement — you are not on my side. I would love to support policies to help people in your situation, and work with members of those communities that oppose Trumpism. But if you’re marching or voting for Trump, or supporting candidates or organizations that do, or fighting against immigrants or democratic institutions, I’m against you. We can work on your problems later.

It’s really bad that it’s come to this, because it means less progress, and real regression, on important issues and policies. But it’s where we are, and the sooner we get out of here, alive, the better. I could be wrong, and I’m willing to hear why I am. I don’t think you can convince me that this is really business as usual, but I’d love to be wrong on that.

But I don’t want anti-Trumpism to be just another partisan talking point. I’m not calling him a “fascist” just because I don’t like him, or even because I really don’t like him, or because he’s going to sign a repeal of Obamacare. Sure, some Democratic Party partisans are just taking advantage of the panic over Trump to wrangle leverage over the usual issues. Glenn Greenwald is right that some are too credulous about the intelligence dirt on Trump, too trusting of the CIA. But this false equivalency from him shows that he doesn’t take Trumpism as an out-of-bounds threat:

…all of this [Democrats embracing the CIA stuff] illustrates that while the Trump presidency poses grave dangers, so, too, do those who are increasingly unhinged in their flailing, slapdash, and destructive attempts to undermine it.

That’s like saying, “Trump’s Muslim registry poses grave dangers, but so, too, do liberals who think wearing a safety pin makes them awesome anti-racist allies.” That’s out of whack. There has never been a political or electoral majority in America without racists; we’re going to need to be on the same side with a lot of racists to beat Trump and Trumpism. (In the end, though, winning against this might give us a good push in the right direction.)

I know we will see a lot from Republican-controlled government that looks normal-bad, things I would be complaining about if Jeb Bush had won, too. But Gopnik is right to sound the alarm at the collapse of resistance to Trump among “respectable” Republicans. The political alliance between regular Republicans and Trumpist authoritarianism makes for a more powerful rush away from normal awful American politics and toward something that’s hard or impossible to come back from. These are not “the normal oscillations of power and policy.”

In normal times, it can be good strategy to pick fights within the more progressive party in a two-party system, because the majority coalition is all blandness and weak principles, and there’s a lot of room for debate within that. But now, like it’s 1934, we need as big a majority as we can get. That’s what it means to refuse to normalize Trump.

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Electoral representation by demographic group

I’m told that one point of our electoral system is to ensure representation of small states. That’s why small states get two senators even if they have tiny populations, and why each state gets at least three electors in the electoral college (equal to the size of their Congressional delegation). You could make a case for finding ways to make sure small groups are represented, even over-represented, because otherwise they would be ignored. So you discount California voters to make sure Wyoming voters get to be part of the process.

Regardless of the history, which suggests the electoral college was created to protect the interests of slave owners, it’s now the case that Whites have more power in the electoral college, because they dominate the small states. As Lara Merling and Dean Baker show, Blacks have 5% less representation, Latinos have 9% less, and Asian Americans have 7% less representation than Whites.

So it is unfair in its results by the contemporary race/ethnic distribution, but that’s not a fixed quality of the system (it’s merely very durable). Underlying the premise, though, is the idea that the identities to be represented are geographic in nature. There are some issues that have geographic boundaries, like land use or climate-related questions, but the point of an analysis like Merling and Baker’s — like much of Civil Rights law — is that identities also adhere in demographic groups, by gender, race/ethnicity, and age. So the geographic system creates inequities according the demographic system. I don’t see why we should prioritize the geographic in our electoral system, now that geography is so much less of a defining feature in our communication systems and popular culture.

What if we redid the electoral system by the demographic categories of gender, race/ethnicity and age, and then let geographic groups complain if they end up underrepresented, instead of the other way around? Before you write to the governor (again) and demand that I be fired: This does not even rise to the level of a suggestion, it’s literally just a thought.

Here’s how it would look, if we divided 435 seats across 40 demographic identity states, using data from the 2015 American Community from IPUMS.org*:

newhor

Compared with the 114 Congress (the one finishing now), this one is more diverse, with 224 instead of 108 women, 56 versus 38 Latinos, 24 versus 13 Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 8 versus 2 American Indians. Only Blacks fare a little worse, dropping form 47 to 44. This also gives us a great improvement in age diversity, as the current average age in the House is 57 and this distribution implies an average age of something like 47.

For comparison, here is the Electoral College we would get under this system, which simply adds two electors to each of these House of Representatives districts, representing their Senate delegations:

newec

Now instead of fighting over New Hampshire or Wyoming, presidential candidates would campaign for swing-groups such as middle-aged American Indians, or young Latinos.

This system would also have a built in version of term limits feature, as people who aged out of their districts presumably would have to run in the next age group up. People who changed gender or race/ethnic identity could also switch districts.

Someone could take some voter or opinion data and figure out how our elections would turn out with this (if someone already has done this, please add it in the comments).


* Because they rounded to zero, I added one House seat to old American Indian men and women, and took one away from middle-aged White women, the largest group. Note also that we might have to redistrict this when the race categories change, as they are expected to in 2020, to add Middle Eastern / North Africans (MENAs).

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Don’t flatter yourself, Trump’s America

So Hillary Clinton apparently said,

My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.

What’s the big deal? Anyone who doesn’t occasionally dream of open borders either hasn’t dreamed much or doesn’t have very high ambitions for the unity of the human race. (She says now it was really just about energy policy, but come on.)

Of course, in the context of speaking to a bunch of .01% bankers, that’s not really the point: it’s a signal that she leans in their direction on “free” trade and movement of labor, so it’s probably not quite the unicorn-style dream I have in mind (I already criticized her currently-expressed vision on this, which reflects her adaptation to the political moment, and might last the rest of her career.)

Anyway, my point is about Trump’s reaction (video).

…frankly when you’re working for Hillary, she wants to let people just pour in. You could have 650 million people pour in and we do nothing about it. Think of it, that’s what could happen. You triple the size of our country in one week.

Two points. First is this is idiotic. I can only guess that whoever gave him that number was adding together the entire populations of North and South America, minus the U.S., which is actually almost exactly 650 million. So, in a week, if allowed, every single person in our hemisphere would move into the US.

Now, those of us in the dream-of-open-borders community do dream of these things. I wrote this once, after imagining combining the populations of the US and Central American countries, as well as Israel and with occupied territories:

This simplistic analysis yields a straightforward hypothesis: violence and military force at national borders rises as the income disparity across the border increases. … The demographic solution is obvious: open the borders, release the pressure, and devote resources to improving quality of life and social harmony instead of enforcing inequality. You’re welcome!

I wasn’t really talking about people moving, but rather about borders moving, or being taken down. How many people would actually move is an interesting question, one which I hope will be important one day.

For perspective, you might compare Trump’s fear-mongering in scale to the largest ever migration of people, the movement into the cities of China, during which something like 340 million people moved in about 20 years. It wasn’t pretty! It also wasn’t an “open borders” situation, as most of them weren’t really allowed to move, resulting in a bad situation of second-class citizenship for many of the migrants and their children. Thankfully, it also didn’t take place in a week — although just the annual new year travel in China (which largely results from the separations their great migration has caused) generates some of the most spectacular traffic images ever:

pay-traffic-jam-on-beijinghong-kongmacau-expressway

Second, it’s insulting. Like Trump’s description of African Americans living in “hell,” where they have nothing to lose, “your schools are no good, you have no jobs,” etc.:

Many people have made the point that Trump’s sympathy regarding Black hardship is drowned out by his grotesque stereotyping and dehumanizing dismissal. I haven’t heard the same said about his 650-million-migrants claim, but it’s really the same thing.

I’m sure a lot of people would move to the US if the borders were opened. But I bet at least a few people somewhere between Canada and Chile would find a reason to stay in their homes. And not just because that would keep them away from us.


Related: Must-know demographic facts (it couldn’t hurt!)

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