Category Archives: Politics

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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Racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic jokes in Trump land

This post contains racist language.

Updated: See comment note and data caution at the end.

This is purely observational, not causal. People Google for racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic jokes more in states that are more favorable toward Trump in the presidential election.

The point of the exercise, as suggested by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in a 2012 paper published here and discuss here, was to look for population traits that might skew votes in ways the polls did not predict. If people were racist, maybe they would not admit they opposed Obama, but they would still Google “nigger jokes” in their spare time. We don’t yet know whether the polls will accurately capture the vote outcome this year, but I’m interested in the underlying patterns anyway.

I use state data from Google Trends, which coughed up relative search frequencies for the past fives years by state. Each search term is scaled from 100 in the state with the highest search frequency of the term to zero for the lowest (except they don’t go down to zero). For example, West Virginia scores 100 on searches for “nigger jokes” and Oregon scores 17 (the lowest score). Trends does not report the actual number of searches, and some small states are not reported for some jokes, presumably because the data are too sparse.

So here I compare search frequencies for three offensive kinds of jokes, “blonde jokes” (N=48), “nigger jokes” (N=38), and “holocaust jokes” (N=29), with controls for two kinds of innocuous jokes “puns” (favored by Clinton supporting-states) and “knock knock jokes” (favored in Trump states). This might capture the general tendency to Google for jokes. I compared these relative search frequencies to the state polling summary from FiveThirtyEight, which has the Clinton lead from +32.8 in Hawaii to -30.4 in Wyoming (DC is not included here).

The bivariate correlations with the Clinton lead are -.67 for “blonde jokes,” -.61 for “nigger jokes,” and -.48 for “holocaust jokes.” Here are the scatters (click to enlarge):

Again, nothing causal claimed here. Just accounting for other joke telling (which is interesting in itself, here are the multivariate results:

jokes-clinton-ols

Blonde provides the best fit but they all are still pretty good with the innocuous jokes controlled.

Incidentally, “puns” has no bivariate correlation with Clinton lead, but with “knock knock” controlled it’s very strong. Go figure!

OK, there you have it. Deplorable joke behavior is strongly correlated with Trump support. Nothing causal claimed here.


I put the data and Stata code, including code for the figures, on the Open Science Framework here.

For other relevant posts follow the Google tag and the Trump tag.


Update

Thanks to the efforts of University of Wisconsin graduate student Nathan Seltzer (see the comment below), it’s come to my attention that the “past five years”data is unstable. Looking just at the “holocaust jokes” data, s/he found non-trivial noise comparing the downloads just a few hours apart. To check this, I just went and repeated the search: “holocaust jokes” for “past five years,” and this is that I got:

holocaust-change-table

Yuck. Thanks for the free data, Google! I’m thankful for Nathan pointing this out. Good lesson in the benefits of sharing data so we can find problems like this — and the trouble with counting on non-open, private data providers like Google. When they’re good, they’re good, but they’re non-transparent and unaccountable when they’re not. It would be great if Google figured out what’s going on and fixed their public access tool. If anyone else can explain this I would be interested to hear.

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Don’t think economic anxiety is rational and racial anxiety is not

3614416523_b55bf6685c_o

Photo by Patrick Feller (and check out his essay about it: https://flic.kr/p/6voQ7g)

Here’s a very quick thought, over which I’m happy to hear objections.

You know how people say “inner city” or “urban” or “low-income” instead of Black because they don’t want to seem racist by mentioning race? This debate over whether Trump supporters are motivated by economic anxiety or racism reminds me of that.*

The debate seems to divide class leftists from race leftists. Some class leftists want to emphasize the economic anxieties of racist Whites (with which they are sympathetic), and the race leftists want to emphasize the racism of economically anxious Whites (which they want to expose). In the regular liberal media, at the same time, there is the common tendency to treat class anxiety as rational and material while any racial motivations are by definition irrational and emotional (which makes “I don’t see race” a moral high ground.)

But Whites losing their race privilege is a real, material concern. And losing class privilege motivates ugly hatred and animosity too. What if “China” threatens your jobs, and your emotional response is to support a dictator who opposes imports and immigration (which will do nothing for you economically)? What if a Black president and anti-discrimination laws threaten your privileged access to relatively high status social recognition, and your rational response is to support school segregation and oppose affirmative action (which might actually protect your privileged status)?

Of course, defense of both class or race privilege can be emotional and ugly and vitriolic, and they always are coming from the mouths of Trump supporters. And you could reasonably argue that all people would be better off embracing a more open and inclusive politics even if it cost them some ill-gotten gain. But those defenses can also be rational and material, and the privileges they protect may need to be forcefully degraded rather than just reasoned away.

Why should Trump supporters motivated by economic anxiety be any more deserving of respect than those motivated by racial anxiety? That’s the politics of our time; don’t treat it as fixed or essential.

Now, you wouldn’t excuse rich bankers supporting a dictator because they had anxiety about their economic position, even though they might really have a lot of economic anxiety. So Why would you excuse White working-class people from supporting a dictator because of their economic anxieties? Is it because they’re actually poor or economically insecure? Well, they’re poorer and more economically insecure than the people having this conversation, but not compared with actual poor people in this country or — shudder — in most of the world that disgusts them.

It is an empirical question whether the anxieties around race are more or less rational than the anxieties around economics for White working-class Americans. Losing your race privilege might mean getting worse service from schools and emergency services and police, and not seeing your people in high status and visible cultural positions, and not hearing your music all the time, and so on and on. These are all the things minorities want. Of course I don’t feel sorry for people losing them like I do for people who never had them, but the issues are the same. You can’t say minorities are rational for demanding these things and then say Whites are irrational for trying to hold onto them. You could (and should) argue it’s not a zero-sum game, of course, but that’s an empirical question and a matter to be worked out through politics and cultural change.

People who support Trump definitely are anxious about losing things of value as the world changes, and their response is deplorable and must be opposed — regardless of the relative mix of economic and racial components in their minds.


* Not doing a full lit review, but to get a sense of it, read and follow the links in pieces by Dylan Matthews, Mike Konczal, Derek Thompson, or Michael Tesler, Brian Beutler, and there must be some other White men I’m missing. Feel free to recommend readings you prefer in the comments.

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Not-too-racist Whites of America: Do you want to be that person?

Everyone is at least a little racist. But hardly any Whites really actively want to hate Blacks and people from other racial-ethnic minority groups. And I bet that includes a lot of people who are thinking of voting for Trump. So this is for people who don’t want to be haters, or even seen as haters.

Think about it this way: Voting is pretty symbolic. Your individual vote is really not going to make the difference. But it says something about who you are, to yourself at least, and to anyone else who knows.

So look at these polling results for African Americans in five key states. Between 2 and 5 out of every 100 Black voters says they support Trump:

blacktrumpsupport

If you vote for Trump, because you’re angry about politicians who never get anything done, or you don’t trust Hillary, or you think it’s time for a change in Washington, think about this: do you want to spend the next four or eight years knowing that you voted against virtually every Black person who you will know or meet during that time?

Maybe they’re wrong. But I think, if you’re not the hating kind, it might gnaw at you, and you might feel better if you didn’t take that stand against them. I’m not trying to change your political views in a short blog post, but I do think we’ll get along better – and you will too – if you don’t vote for Trump.


Sources:

NYT/Siena: North Carolina, 9/16-9/19

Detroit Free Press: Michigan, 9/10-9/13

NYT/Siena: Florida, 9/10-/14

Monmouth: Georgia, 9/15-9/18

UMW: Virginia, 9/6-9/12

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Polarization written on the body Google

These are polarizing times in America. And what better to understand that then a highly polarized  measure?

I took the forecast margin of victory for each state for Clinton and Trump, as of today, on Five Thirty Eight. The scores range roughly from -28 to +28, and I reverse them to get the positive score for each candidate (I excluded DC). Then I asked Google Correlate what searches were most correlated with each list of state scores. All the searches here are correlated with the candidate margins at .83 or higher.

Here’s the map as of today:

538map

The Clinton list is dominated by vegetarianism and yoga, Top Chef, and the kind of annoying movies that liberals just love (Before Sunset).

The Trump list is racist anti-Obama stuff, patriotism, and, mostly, the kind of guns you don’t use for hunting. Google gives 100 for each list; I deleted those that weren’t easily categorized. (You can see the full lists here and here.) Here are the highlights:

clinton-margin-searches

trump-margin-searches

Really, you people are so predictable.

But what of the Before Sunset-lover working in the Obama Jokes town? The Biggest Gun husband and the Vegetarian Sushi wife with their Ayurvedic Massage therapist next door? Of course, this method will never show the nuances of social life, the moments when people reach out from their silos and grasp, however fleetingly, the hands of those whom the winds of fortune and arbitrary social divisions have attempted to sweep away from them forever. And it won’t show the big, messy middle, the people who do use guns for hunting, eat tofu but aren’t vegetarian, listen to Tom Tom Club and also learn country guitar. I’d be happy to see something about them out there today.

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