Liberal politics and the contingency of history

by Emrys Westacott

UnknownIt is hard at present to think about anything other than the recent election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. This is a cataclysmic and potentially catastrophic event for both America and the world. Severe narcissism and immense power are a volatile combination that usually ends badly. And with the Republicans controlling all branches of government, the hard right are in an unprecedentedly strong position to implement much of their agenda, from scrapping efforts to combat climate change to passing massive tax cuts for the wealthy

Already, much ink has been spilled on what Hilary Clinton, the Democrats, the liberal elite, the media, the intelligentsia, and anyone else who opposed Trump, got wrong. But the first lesson to be drawn from the election is that history is radically contingent.

Reading post mortems on the election reminded me of listening to soccer pundits explaining the result of a close game. In the game itself, the losing team may have hit the post twice, had a goal disallowed for an incorrect offside call, and been denied a clear penalty; the winning team perhaps scored once following an untypical defensive slip. Yet the pundits will explain the result as due to the losing team's inability to cope with their opponent's midfield diamond, along with their failure to spread the play wide. Their explanations are invariably blamings. In truth, though, the result could easily have been, and four times out of five would have been, different; in which case the talk would have been all about the ineffectiveness of the midfield diamond….etc.

Exactly the same sort of thing can be seen in political punditry. The contest between Clinton and Trump was extremely close. Clinton won the popular vote–with counting still going on she has a lead of close to 1.5 million votes–but Trump won the electoral college: which means, given the peculiar and outmoded system, that Trump won. Explanations are legion. Clinton was a hopelessly flawed candidate. The Democrats took their base for granted. The Democrats ignored the plight of the working class. The coastal elites are out of touch with the heartland….etc.

But as Nate Silver and many others have pointed out, a small shift—one vote in a hundred or less—in three of the swing states and Clinton would have won. In that case, the hot political topic today would be the crisis in the Republican party, the gulf between its established leadership and the Trumpistas, the impossibility of a Republican winning the white house so long as the party continues to alienate minorities and millennials…. etc.

Given the dire outcome of the election for the Democrats and for liberal causes generally, it is natural and sensible for liberals to ask what went wrong. But it is important in doing so, to not exaggerate problematic factors, and to keep hold of what was right.

Three areas are especially subject to scrutiny: the candidate; the platform; and the strategy.

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Personality or Ideology: Which matters most in a political leader?

by Emrys Westacott

In evaluating candidates for political office there are two main things to consider:

a) their ideology–that is, their political views and general philosophy

b) their personal qualities

With respect to ideology, the most important questions one should ask are these:

· Are their beliefs true? (Do they hold correct beliefs on, say, climate change, or on whether a particular policy will increase or reduce poverty, crime, unemployment, pollution, or the likelihood of war?)

· Do I share their values and ideals? (E.g. Are they willing to sacrifice economic growth for the sake of environmental protection (or vice versa)? Where do they stand on issues like gun control, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, foreign aid, gay rights, or economic inequality?)

· Whose interests do they represent? (Do they generally favor policies that benefit the rich, the middle class, the poor, employers or workers, corporations or consumers, cities or rural communities?)

Regarding personal qualities, the ones that matter most are:

· knowledge – Are they decently informed about the world and the issues they will be dealing with

· intelligence – Are they able to understand and think through complex problems

· wisdom – Are they reasonable? Do they exercise good judgment?

· effectiveness – Do they have the practical skills to realize their goals?

· integrity – Are they truthful? Is what they do consistent with what they say? Are they motivated by a concern for the public good rather than by self-interest?

These personal qualities obviously cannot be possessed absolutely but only to a greater or lesser degree. And they may often conflict. Most politicians who are effective sometimes have to compromise their integrity, and the first compromise is invariably made before they hold office. As the historian George Hopkins (emeritus professor at Western Illinois university) has observed, “all presidents lie for the simple reason that if they didn't, we wouldn't elect them.” A candidate who was perfectly truthful would be ineffective because they would probably never get the chance to implement any of their ideas.

Effective governance may also require leaders to lie, mislead, hide the truth, and break promises. Franklin Roosevelt was by any account a highly effective president; but in the two years prior to Pearl Harbor, he consistently told the American public that he was fully committed to keeping the US out of any foreign wars while simultaneously, and secretly, preparing the country for war against Japan and Germany. The political leaders we are most inclined to venerate are those like Lincoln or Mandela who, in addition to possessing the other qualities listed above, somehow mange to be practically effective with minimum loss of integrity.

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Compared To The F-up Presidents That Reagan, Clinton And George W. Bush Were, Donald Trump Will Be A Brilliant President

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

UnknownRonald Reagan cut the top marginal income tax rate from 50% to 28%, made war on labor unions, and saddled us with massive income inequality.

Bill Clinton exported our manufacturing jobs with NAFTA, and signed the two bills that repealed Glass-Steagall and removed derivatives from all oversight — to bequeath us the crash of 2008 and the Great Recession.

George W. Bush lied America into committing a war crime by invading Iraq and causing the deaths of over 4,000 of our young men, and giving countless more soldiers brain damage, loss of limbs, PTSD, and driving many to suicide, and killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi women and children.

There's no way that Donald Trump can be that bad as our president.

He's not that dumb, for a start.

In fact, he's smarter than the entire GOP (not that this says much).

What people forget is that Trump is basically bullshitting his way to the nomination. After Eric Cantor lost to Dave Brat, who played the immigration card hard and accused Cantor of being in favor of “amnesty,” Trump stuck his finger in the wind and realized he could get somewhere as a presidential candidate if he got hard-assed about immigration.

He was right.

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Family Feud

by Akim Reinhardt

Elvis Presley in Kissin CousinsLess than an hour apart, similar in size and population, and connected by I-95 and a tangled overgrowth of suburbs, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are very much alike. The mid-Atlantic's kissin' cousins share everything from beautiful row home architecture to a painful history of Jim Crow segregation.

But the wealthier parts of D.C. have grown uppity of late, and you can blame Uncle Sam.

Whereas Charm City has suffered from de-industrialization, depopulation, and growing poverty over the last half-century, Washington's economy has grown dramatically with the federal government's rapacious expansion since World War II.

Once upon a time, Baltimore was a major American city driven by heavy manufacturing and voluminous harbor traffic, while Washington was a dusty, lackluster town, the population noticeably undulating with the political season. But after moving in opposite directions for decades, D.C. was poised to surpass Baltimore economically by the 1990s.

The rich cousin is now the poor cousin and vice versa, trading seats at all the family functions. But one thing has not changed: Neither member of America's urban clan ever has or likely ever will come anywhere close to competing for the title of Patriarch. We're not talking about big boy national powerhouses like New York or Los Angeles, or even avuncular, regional monsters like Chicago and Houston.

Nope. It's just D.C. and Baltimore

If Baltimore is the southeastern most notch on the rust belt, the rough, homemade punch hole that allows the nation to let out the its sagging waistline, then Washington is the two-bit company town in the heady throes of a contrived boom. Each town has seen their fortunes headed in different directions of late, but nobody is ever going to confuse either of these old branches on the family tree for anyone's rich uncle. Baltimore's heyday is in the past, while D.C.'s rising glory is transparently artificial.

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