The Season of Savagery and Hope

by Ali Minai

April 2018: ‘Tis the Season of Giddiness in Democratlandia. Republicans are saddled with a widely despised President and riven by internal dissension. The Republican leadership in Congress is lurching from fiasco to fiasco – interrupted briefly by one great “success” on tax cuts. The zombie candidates of the Tea Party are still stalking establishment Republicans across the land. And, somewhere in his formidable fastness, the Great Dragon Mueller is winding up for the fiery breath that will consume the world of Trumpism like a paper lantern. And a Blue Wave – nay, a Tsunami – is headed towards the Republicans in Congress, looking to engulf them in November.

Time passes, and it is October. Anguish is all around. After snatching children from their parents and imprisoning them in cages, after giving a wet kiss to Kim Jong Un and worse to Putin, after having his former campaign manager convicted of crimes and his fixer plead guilty, after a virtual torrent of lies, after reports of a still devastated Puerto Rico and newly devastated Carolinas and Florida – after all this and more, Trump is more popular than ever in his presidency, Brett Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, and the Blue Wave is beginning to look more like an eddy. To be sure, Trump is still spectacularly unpopular compared to past presidents, with disapproval numbers at 50% of higher, but he seems to be rising. Rising! The very word is like a knell of doom. As Trump himself might say, “What the hell is going on?”

First of all, probably an over-reaction. A large part of US electoral outcomes can be ascribed to structural factors, such as the fact that 26 of the 50 states have conservative majority populations. Yes, these 26 states may add up to only 47% of the US population, but they elect 54% of the US Senate, and that cannot change. The number of reliably liberal states is much smaller – only 16 – and, though they account for 42% of the population, they only elect 32% of the Senate. The remaining 8 states – comprising 11% of the population – swing with the season, but supply 16% of the Senate. Thus, Democrats start off with a huge disadvantage in the Senate even in the best of times. Demographic forces will gradually change this situation, but slowly. Meanwhile, Democrats, as the liberal party, will always be facing the bitter choice of either accepting conservative senators in their own ranks or remaining a permanent minority in the Senate. Four decades of asymmetric political warfare has also left Republicans in control of most state houses, which they have used to gerrymander districts and pass laws to disenfranchise Democratic voters. That too is hard to change because these factors are custom-designed to perpetuate Republican majorities. But all is not lost for Democrats here. Read more »

The Dangerous Discounting of Donald Trump

by Ali Minai

DJT_Headshot_V2By this point in US Election 2016, everyone acknowledges that the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is one of the most transformative phenomena to arise in American society in a long time – possibly since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, of which it is, in some ways, a perverted mirror image. However, it's ludicrous and perverse aspects should not blind anyone – including its adherents – to its corrosive but real power. Those who had until recently discounted Trump are gradually beginning to realize this, and mockery is being replaced with a mixture of fear and perplexity.

Foremost among the perplexed are the American elites and the chattering classes, who have tended to treat the candidacy of Donald Trump for President as a running farce. His frequently offensive and ignorant statements – usually via twitter – have become a staple of late-night comedy, and the cause for general derision in the news media. A surge in the polls after the Republican convention triggered a temporary bout of concern that he might actually win, but that concern receded as a very successful Democratic convention and Trump's disparaging of the Khan family boosted Hillary Clinton to a double digit national lead. A narrative settled in that Trump was finished, even as Clinton's lead has gradually declined, and now stands in the 2-4 percent range. While this has triggered a new round of anguish among Democrats, it has not yet completely changed the overall notion that, surely, the American people will not vote for someone as patently unqualified and irresponsible as Trump. The American people themselves have bolstered this assumption, with poll after poll showing that large majorities of voters consider Clinton more qualified and temperamentally suited to be President. A recent survey showed that nearly half of voters – including 22% of Trump supporters! – believe that he will use a nuclear weapon. Yet, what is often left unexplained is why the same polls typically show the head-to-head race between Trump and Clinton as very close. The implicit belief seems to be that voters will eventually come to their senses. In fact, this discrepancy should indicate exactly the opposite: That a certain chunk of voters have looked at both candidates, realized that Trump is unqualified to be President, but are nevertheless willing to vote for him. These voters have apparently considered and rejected rational arguments against Trump, suggesting that no further rational argument is likely to sway them. The same is true for the issues of bigotry and racism that are clearly relevant with regard to Trump. Most Clinton-supporters and the elite media have assumed that, once Trump's long history of bigotry against minorities and women became well-known, it would be impossible for him to win. The initial response to the Khan controversy reinforced this view. However, recent polling data suggests that this notion is not altogether justified either. As with competence, there is a segment of voters who know about Trump's bigotry, do not agree with it, but are still willing to overlook it. This segment is not necessarily identical with the one willing to overlook his incompetence, but there is probably considerable overlap. In any case, it appears that counting on the good sense of American voters to protect the world from Trump may be too optimistic.

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On the Future of American Politics

by Ali Minai

072815_baierIt is only the fall of 2015, and the United States is already in the grip of the Presidential campaign for an election that is still more than a year away. Since the emergence of 24-hour news, and especially with the explosive growth in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, each successive American election cycle has become increasingly like a reality TV spectacle rather than a serious political event, culminating in the current ascendancy of an actual reality TV figure – Donald Trump – as the leading candidate from the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Millions are now watching Presidential debates purely for their entertainment value, and the American political system appears to have become a joke. But, of course, appearances are deceptive in this case. Anyone who pays attention to events around the globe understands that electing the leadership of the world's only superpower is extremely serious business with global consequences. And this is arguably more true today than at any time in history – even during the World Wars and the Cold War – because, while those challenges were dire and existential, the problems the world faces today are no less serious but even more complex. These problems – climate change, demographic and socioeconomic imbalances, the rise of jihadist militancy, mass migrations, etc. – all are, to a large extent, products of our hyperconnected, supercharged, always-on brave new world powered by the relentless march of technology towards ever higher activity, productivity, and connectivity. All of them, without exception, can be addressed only with global strategies, and not through piecemeal policy-making by national governments. But, at precisely this delicate moment, the world finds itself paralyzed with petty rivalries and feckless indecision. A lot of this is simply the inescapable product of history, but it is impossible to deny that increasing political dysfunction in the United States is a major risk factor for the many potential catastrophes staring us in the face. Anyone concerned about these dangers should care deeply about the political system of the United States and its prospects of recovery from its current funk.

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Is it Time for a Libertarian-Green Alliance?

by Akim Reinhardt

Third_PartiesIn the recent Virginia gubernatorial election, Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis received over 6% the vote. If he had not run, much of his support would likely have gone to Republican Ken Cuccinelli rather than Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who won by a narrow 2.5% margin. Last year's U.S. Senate race in Montana also saw a Libertarian candidate siphon off 6.5% of the vote, which was well above Democrat Jon Tester's margin of victory. And of course many Democrats are still apoplectic about Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader raking in nearly 5% of the national vote in 2000, most of which would probably have otherwise gone to Democrat Al Gore. As is, Nader's candidacy created an opening for Republican George W. Bush to win . . . the controversial Supreme Court case that in turn awarded him Florida, and with it the White House.

For many Democrats and Republicans, Green and Libertarian candidates respectively are far more than a thorn in the side. They are both a source and target of intense rage.

How dare these minor party candidates, who have no actual chance of winning the election, muck things up by “stealing” votes that would have otherwise gone to us!

Indeed, there is no hatred quite so fierce like that which is reserved for apostates or kissin’ cousins.

But for committed Greens and Libertarians, the response is simple. Our votes are our own. You don’t own them. If you want them, you have to earn them instead of taking them for granted. And if you want to get self-righteously angry at someone because the other major party won the election, then go talk to the people who actually voted for the other major party. After all, they’re the ones who put that person in office, not us. Instead of looking for an easy scapegoat, go tell the people who voted for the candidate you hate why they’re so wrong. That is, if you’ve got the courage to actually engage someone from “the other” party. It’s really not that hard. As Greens and Libertarians, we have civil conversations with people from other parties pretty much everyday of our lives. You should try it some time.

But aside from the presumptuousness, arrogance, and cowardice framing the attacks typically launched at us by supporters of the major parties, what really galls Libertarians and Greens about the above statement is not the false claim we “stole” your election. It's that we “have no actual chance of winning the election.”

And just why is that?

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Is There Such A Thing As A Sane Republican? No.

by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash

Goposaur_upsidedownYou can't understand what a Republican is about until you zone in on his core belief:

“I don't want the government to take my money and give it to poor people. Especially poor black people.”

Republicans are children who never learned to share. Selfish. What's mine is mine.

Children is the right word, because Republicans get childishly bratty and emotional about their beliefs (consider the recent Republican government shutdown temper tantrum, for example). It's a visceral thing for them. They feel.

What do they feel the most? Threatened. They feel threatened by the Other, the Different, the New. They're paranoid. They see so many threats: poor people, blacks, Mexicans, gays, even women. Modernity itself gives them the jitters. They want to move backwards, to some white Christian paradise of the South, when men were men, and women and blacks were slaves.

They want the world to be like them. Reality scares them. They suffer from arrested development. In fact, Republicans are not fully developed human beings.

Their appeal is to childish emotion, not to adult reason. That's why they find it so difficult to compromise.

Democrats are very different. They're about doing the sensible, practical thing. They don't have an ideology, like Republicans do. They don't try to bend the world to some fundamentalist worldview. They try to fix things, not shape the world to some pre-ordained edenic vision.

So, today's question: can we rely on the Republicans to keep screwing up to the point that they lose the House in 2014?

Yes.

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The Birth, Decline, and Re-Emergence of the Solid South: A Short History

by Akim Reinhardt

Slave saleSince the Civil War, the American South has mostly been a one-party region. However, by the turn of the 21st century, its political affiliation had actually swung from the Democrats to the Republicans. Here’s how it happened.

It is not an oversimplification to say that slavery was the single most important issue leading to the Civil War. For not only was slavery the most important on its own merits, but none of the other relevant issues, such as expansion into the western territories or states’ rights, would have mattered much at all if not for their indelible connection to slavery.

Initially, Northerners rallied around the issue of Free Soil: opposition to slavery on economic grounds. Small farmers and new industrial workers did not want to compete with large slave plantations and unpaid slave labor. This was the philosophy that bound together the new Republican Party.

No friends of African Americans, most Free Soilers were openly racist, as were the vast majority of white Americans at the time. Abolitionists, who were fired by religion and opposed human bondage on moral grounds, were actually a small minority of the population However, as the bloody war raged on, Northerners began to seek moral assurance in their cause. For more and more people, the mere political goal of saving the union did not seem to justify the unholy slaughter of men by the tens of thousand. Though preserving the union was always Abraham Lincoln’s primary goal, he astutely played to this concern by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and establishing abolition as the war’s moral compass. It worked. The North persisted, won the war, abolished slavery, and forced the South to return.

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