Monday, November 28, 2016

America Was

America was, until this past generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation. It is our inheritance. And it belongs to us.

- Richard Spencer, "Long Live the Emperor!" (11-21-2016)

This week's featured post is "Should I Have White Pride?"

This week everybody was talking about more cabinet picks

This batch was discouraging in a new way. Last week's appointments were all from the Trump campaign's inner circle, suggesting that he was looking for loyalty rather than competence. They were also all white men. This week's appointments -- Nikki Haley as United Nations ambassador, Ben Carson at HUD (apparently; there's been no formal announcement yet), and Betsy DeVos as Education secretary -- included women and non-whites, but also suggested that knowledge and experience were not high values.

Not to dis Nikki Haley; she's the up-and-coming Republican governor of South Carolina who (like Reince Preibus) might have shown up somewhere in a Bush or Rubio administration. But not at the UN, because her complete lack of experience in foreign policy or diplomacy would have mattered to Jeb or Marco. I wouldn't have wanted Ben Carson as, say, Surgeon General, but at least it would have made some kind of sense, given that he's a doctor. But when Fox News' Neil Cavuto asked about his qualifications to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department, Carson could come up with nothing better than "I grew up in the inner city." (So did Kanye West; why wasn't he considered?)

To me, this process looks more like casting a TV show than staffing an administration: Let's put the black guy in charge of HUD and send the Indian woman to the UN. According to the NYT, Mitt Romney may benefit from the same factor:

Transition officials say the meeting with Mr. Romney, a moderate Republican who was the party’s nominee for president in 2012, may not have been simply for show. They say that Mr. Trump believes that Mr. Romney, with his patrician bearing, looks the part of a top diplomat right out of “central casting” — the same phrase Mr. Trump used to describe Mike Pence before choosing him as his running mate.

DeVos (the sister of Blackwater founder and major Trump donor Erik Prince) similarly has no experience in the educational system, either as a teacher or an administrator. Her degree is in business administration. She and her husband founded Windquest Group, which describes itself as "a Michigan-based, privately held enterprise and investment management firm". She has chaired the Michigan Republican Party.

But at least DeVos has shown an interest in education: She has been the leader of the political movement in Michigan to shift public funding of education away from public schools and towards vouchers that could be used in private schools. To imagine a comparable pick from the left, picture President Bernie Sanders naming the head of a disarmament group (who had never been in the military in any capacity, but clearly had studied military issues) as Defense Secretary.

DeVos is a fan of vouchers even for religious schools, which challenges the separation of church and state. Many Christians like religious-school vouchers, because they picture only Christian schools getting the money. The way to shut this down is to start Muslim schools, pagan schools, and so on. The fundamentalists are fine with tax dollars paying to promote Jesus, but paying to promote Allah or Buddha or Gaia is an abomination.

I predicted last week that Mitt Romney "won’t be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first." The argument among Trump's inner circle about whether to make him Secretary of State seems to be coming down to exactly how much groveling that is.

Trump staffers have been floating word for days that Trump will require Romney to publicly apologize if he wants to be Secretary of State - almost literally a ritual humiliation to enter the Trump inner circle.

If Mitt submits to this, he will have only himself to blame for all future humiliations.

My prediction last week that the Trump administration would not prosecute Hillary Clinton also panned out. Josh Marshall objects to the way Trump makes this sound like a personal favor he's doing the Clintons. "This is how dictators talk."

In truth, he never had the goods on Clinton, and his threat to prosecute was always just something he said for effect. He doesn't need that effect any more, so he can say something else instead.

Democrats got excited this week about a claim that the election might have been rigged, and that an audit in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania might still reverse the outcome. I'm skeptical, for the same reasons as Nate Silver. I think the close states Clinton lost show the same trends as the close states Clinton won: Virginia, for example. On Election Night, I knew we were in trouble when Virginia was so close. Losing Wisconsin didn't then seem like the kind of shock that requires an extraordinary explanation.

I've been searching online for a blue "Are We Great Again Yet?" hat. Still haven't found one. #AWGAY

German intelligence officials are worried that Russia plans to interfere in their elections the same way it did in America's.

and the media's inadequacy to the occasion

One of the most important articles about Trump -- and I'm going to keep linking to it until it's message catches on -- was written in September by Vox' David Roberts: "The question of what Donald Trump "really believes" has no answer".

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, "views" that reflect his assessment of the facts, "positions" that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

When he utters words, his primary intent is not to say something, to describe a set of facts in the world; his primary intent is to do something, i.e., to position himself in a social hierarchy. This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind.

The media just doesn't know how to cover a man who uses language this way. We saw another example this week after Trump met with The New York Times staff on Tuesday. Asked about the Paris Climate Change agreement that Obama signed and Trump repeated promised to reject, he said "I have an open mind" about it. This pleased people in the room and committed him to nothing. But it got covered as if it marked a real policy change, or at least the possibility of one.

Meanwhile, a top Trump advisor on the subject referred to NASA's climate-change research as "highly politicized" and indicated that it will be discontinued. No substantive step Trump has taken should give any hope to environmentalists, but he got some nice headlines out of suggesting that he might be reasonable.

Similarly, when pressed by the NYT people about the Nazis who celebrated his victory with "Hail Trump!" (more about them in the featured post), he said: "I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group."

But Steve Bannon, who they look on as an ally, is still his chief strategist. Next week, Trump might be using the alt-Right's coded language again, or retweeting something from WhiteGenocideTM or some similar online source. Vox explains what the alt-Right wants from the Trump administration, and why they're not upset by his toothless disavowal.

Now Trump is claiming that he really won the popular vote -- which in the real world Clinton won by more than 2.2 million votes -- "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally". He offers no evidence to back this claim, which is widely being reported as "false" rather than just a he-said/she-said claim.

Again, the factual content is not the point. He is not trying to say something, he's trying to do something. This requires a whole new kind of journalism. James Fallows outlines some small steps in that direction.

and corruption

Last week I listed "profiteering" as one of the things I'd be watching for in the new Trump administration. I had no idea how fast examples would start mounting up. The New York Times listed half a dozen countries where Trump's business interests now compete with the national interest for his attention.

In Turkey, for example

officials including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a religiously conservative Muslim, demanded that Mr. Trump’s name be removed from Trump Towers in Istanbul after he called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. More recently, after Mr. Trump came to the defense of Mr. Erdogan — suggesting that he had the right to crack down harshly on dissidents after a failed coup — the calls for action against Trump Towers have stopped, fueling worries that Mr. Trump’s policies toward Turkey might be shaped by his commercial interests.

A Trump business partner in Manila has become the Philippines' special envoy to the United States. In a post-election meeting with United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged UKIP to fight against wind farms like the one that he feels blights the neighborhood of his golf course in Scotland. In China, Trump just won a trademark dispute that had been raging for years -- not for the country, for himself. In several countries, Trump construction projects have seen regulatory barriers come down since his election. Is that the normal pace of bureaucracy, or an attempt to curry favor? How would we know?

Paul Krugman makes an astute observation: To the extent that such deals become outright bribery, they will tilt American foreign policy in favor of dictatorships:

What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.

Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

That policy tilt will be far more important than the money Trump will manage to rake off while president.

E. J. Dionne attempts to shame Republicans in Congress by reminding them of their objections to the much less serious conflicts of interest involved in the Clinton Foundation. This is a test of my theory that Republicans are shameless.

In Scotland, Trump made a bunch of promises in exchange for local approval to build a golf course. Most of them haven't been fulfilled.

The question of whether Republican senators will get in line behind the Trump administration is one of the most interesting things we'll find out in the next few months. Nate Silver whipped up a model to predict who was most likely to give Trump trouble, and came up with Susan Collins, John McCain, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, and Lisa Murkowski.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska wrote an article that appeared to protest against his low-likelihood-of-rebellion score, claiming that

Silver’s analysis starts with three basic factors that “will presumably correlate with support for [the President-Elect’s] agenda”: issue alignment, personal support, and electoral incentive. All three of these are about policy and politics. None of them are about the primary job of Senators — upholding an oath of office to defend our Constitutional system of limited government.

It all sounds very idealistic, but I'll believe it when I see it.

and the Dakota pipeline protest

The LA Times lists the competing claims of demonstrators and the police. I wish they would try to adjudicate who is telling the truth.

and you might also be interested in ...

James Fallows is reporting that China has become much more repressive in the last few years. This seems like a very important trend, and points to another way our media culture dis-serves us: Something that happens gradually over a period of years might not be "news" on any particular day.

Fidel Castro is dead.

Here's your annual dose of humility: The NYT's 100 Notable Books of 2016. I read four this year: Steven King's End of Watch and three non-fiction books. Two of them I read for a book review: Nancy Isenberg's White Trash and J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy. The final book, Arlie Russell Hochschild's Strangers in Their Own Land, was buyer's remorse for writing my book review before it came out. The other 96, I know nothing about.

The annual War on Christmas is about to flare up again.

Whenever I feel tempted to believe the claims that Christians face discrimination in America, I look into the details of a case and that cures me. Here's one: A New York science teacher covered her classroom walls with posters featuring Bible verses, and sued after the administration made her take them down.

Friendly Atheist makes the same comment I often make about the Christians who see religious discrimination in such cases: They "would go batshit crazy if a non-Christian teacher ever did anything remotely similar to what Silver did."

The abortion rate per woman in the 15-44 age group has dropped to half of its 1980 level, and is lower than at any time since Roe v Wade made abortion legal nationwide in 1973. Next year, expect this stat to get much more attention, and Trump to take credit for it. Just one more way America is becoming great again.

The world chess championship has come down to one game, without me even noticing until just now. We've come a long way from Fischer-Spassky.

Tim O'Reily of geek publishing house O'Reily Media has some good observations on how to spot fake news: mismatch between headline and content, lack of sources, mismatch between article text and the referenced source, unreliable sources, no independent accounts of the same events, misuse of data.

In general, I continue to be surprised by the number of people I think of as relatively intelligent who post fake news articles on Facebook. Still, we liberals seem to have higher standards than the other side. NPR tracked down a fake-news creator, who has learned to focus on fake-news that appeals to conservatives.

We've tried to do similar things to liberals. It just has never worked, it never takes off. You'll get debunked within the first two comments and then the whole thing just kind of fizzles out.

and let's close with something awe-inspiring

massive flock of starlings, filmed by Jan van Ijken and presented by National Geographic.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Interesting Times

May you live in interesting times.

- reputed to be a Chinese curse

This week's featured post is "The Trump Administration: What I'm watching for". Last week there was no weekly summary and I hadn't expected to post at all, but "How did my hometown become Trumpland?" just leaped out. In the meantime, I was giving a talk at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois about the longer-term problem in our democracy that the Trump campaign is just a symptom of.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump administration

Nothing we've seen so far is reassuring. During the campaign I often heard Trump supporters claim that his inexperience in government and his lack of depth on the issues didn't really matter, because he would surround himself with the best people. So far, there's no indication that's happening.

Reince Priebus as chief of staff is, I suppose, the least worrying of the announcements. (If you want a mental picture of what a chief of staff does, that was Leo's job in The West Wing.) He is a standard Republican who might have gotten a lesser position in a Romney administration.

But Steve Bannon in the newly-invented position of chief strategist is deeply troubling. He turned Breitbart into the go-to news source for white nationalists. You can argue about whether he himself is a white nationalist or an anti-Semite -- some people who know him personally say no -- but he panders to those who are, so I'm not sure that what's in his heart matters. Someone like Bannon would have been beyond the pale in any previous Republican administration.

General Michael Flynn as national security adviser ... here's something from The Economist:

In a book published earlier this year, General Flynn writes: “We’re in a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people, most of them inspired by totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam. But we are not permitted to write those two words, which is potentially fatal to our culture.” In another passage, he declares that there is “no escape from this war” and asks: “Do you want to be ruled by men who eagerly drink the blood of their dying enemies...there’s no doubt that they [Islamic State] are dead set on taking us over and drinking our blood.”

This is what worries me: If top American officials go around talking about a world war with Islam, they can make that prediction come true. I've often said on this blog that the crucial battlefield in the war on terror lies inside the minds of 15-year-old Muslims. Do they see a future for themselves in the current world order, or not? If they live in the United States, do they see Muslim-American as a viable identity, or not? Trump's election tilts that decision in a bad direction; Flynn as his top security adviser tilts it further.

So does the selection of Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Pompeo is an advocate of torture and of expanding the prison at Guantanamo. In Congress, he was one of the most partisan members of the Benghazi Committee.

Jeff Sessions as Attorney General means that the federal government is getting out of the business of defending civil rights. (Actually that's not true, his Civil Rights Division is likely to be quite busy: Sessions takes seriously the myth that Christians are persecuted, so he'll defend their right to discriminate against gays or women who want birth control. Also expect to see more reverse-discrimination cases against affirmative action programs.) I expect deep-Confederacy states like Mississippi or Alabama to pass laws blatantly suppressing the black vote, and Sessions' Justice Department to do nothing. (That's why it's suddenly much more important to support private groups like the ACLU or NAACP.)

He is also an opponent of privacy rights. Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez says:

When it comes to surveillance powers, he’s more catholic than the Pope. He wants to grant more authorities with fewer limitations than even the law enforcement or intelligence communities are asking for.

But beyond the problems with any particular choice, the pattern is disturbing: So far, Trump is valuing loyalty over expertise. Bannon was his campaign CEO. Priebus brought the RNC to heel after Trump's nomination. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. Flynn was a campaign adviser.

Trump-critic Eliot Cohen initially urged his fellow conservatives to put aside their differences and go work for the new administration, but then changed his mind after hearing reports from inside the transition process.

Cohen, who last week had urged career officials to serve in Trump’s administration, said in an interview that a longtime friend and senior transition team official had asked him to submit names of possible national security appointees. After he suggested several people, Cohen said, his friend emailed him back in terms he described as “very weird, very disturbing.”

“It was accusations that ‘you guys are trying to insinuate yourselves into the administration…all of YOU LOST.’…it became clear to me that they view jobs as lollipops, things you give out to good boys and girls,” said Cohen, who would not identify his friend.

Compare this to the team-of-rivals Obama assembled. His chief Democratic rival became secretary of state, he kept on a Republican defense secretary, and he also nominated Republicans to head the departments of transportation and commerce.

Trump critics like Ted Cruz and Mitt Romney have been called to Trump Tower and had their names floated for posts, but I'll believe that when I see it. I think their attendance signifies nothing more than their submission. They won't be appointed to anything without some serious public grovelling first.

The flap over Hamilton revealed another disturbing tendency in the new administration. In case you missed it, Vice President-elect Pence went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton Friday night. During the curtain call, one of the actors read a statement written by the show's author, Lin-Manuel Miranda:

You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening. Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out but I hope you hear just a few more moments. There's nothing to boo, ladies and gentlemen. There's nothing to boo. We're all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir, we hope that you will hear us out.

And I encourage everybody to pull out your phones and tweet and post because this message needs to be spread far and wide. Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you and we truly thank you for joining us here at Hamilton: An American Musical. We really do.

We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.

Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds, and orientations.

As you can see, the statement was respectful and not an attack of any kind. I would summarize it as a request for reassurance.

It would have been easy for Trump to either ignore this or respond to it gracefully, with something like: "Of course we'll protect all Americans and defend American values." If he wanted to score some political points, he could have blamed the hostile media for inspiring such baseless fears of his administration.

He didn't do that. Instead, he launched a series of tweets Saturday and Sunday, calling Hamilton "overrated" and demanding that the cast "apologize" for their "terrible behavior".

Here's how I read the incident: Trump wants people to be afraid of him. Why else do you slap down people who come to you asking for reassurance?

and how on Earth Trump got elected

The first thing I should acknowledge is that my returns-watching guide didn't foresee the Trump victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I hope it was useful anyway, in the sense that as reality diverged from my predictions, you saw how the night was going. Some of my early warning signs of a bad night -- the Indiana senate race getting called for the Republicans right away, Virginia taking a long time to come in -- were indeed early warnings.

I'm seeing a lot of finger-pointing among Democrats: Democrats who didn't vote for Clinton are to blame; the Party is to blame for nominating Clinton in the first place; Clinton should have known the upper Midwest was vulnerable; Bernie should never have validated those bogus Republican trustworthiness issues by raising them in the primaries; black turnout should have been higher; and so on.

To me, none of this seems like a good use of our time and energy. If your psychology is wired in such a way that you need to blame somebody, I offer these five candidates:

  • The Founders and their bleeping Electoral College. Anybody who goes on a rant about what a bad candidate Clinton was and how unpopular she is needs to be reminded of the fact that she got something like 1.7 million more votes than Trump did. The Electoral College never worked according to the hare-brained scheme the Founders had in mind, and it should have been junked in 1801 after the Aaron Burr fiasco. The net effect of the College in recent elections has been to disenfranchise Californians. Clinton lost because her million-vote plurality included a more-than-two-million-vote margin in California. Similarly in 2000, Al Gore had the misfortune of locating 1.3 million of his 500,000-vote plurality in California and 1.7 million in New York. Unfortunately, since Republicans owe two of their last three victories to the College, it has become a partisan advantage, so we'll never get rid of it now.
  • The Russians. Without the constant drip-drip of pseudo-scandalous headlines from Democratic emails hacked by the Russians and published by WikiLeaks, the Clinton campaign could have done a much better job of controlling its message in the final month of the campaign. The biggest scandal of the 2016 campaign is that the winning candidate owes his victory to the meddling of a foreign power, and that Republicans seem not at all bothered by this.
  • The FBI. James Comey violated the Justice Department rules about not interfering in elections, derailing the momentum that Clinton seemed to have going into the home stretch of the campaign. Similarly, lower-level sources inside the FBI kept on feeding the right-wing media leaks about ongoing investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which I suspect we will never hear about again now that these "investigations" have served their partisan purposes.
  • The media. The fact that low-information voters -- and a lot of people who pay more attention -- got the idea that Clinton and Trump were equally flawed candidates is due to a gross distortion of election coverage.
  • Voter suppression. Vox makes a good case that Republican moves to suppress minority turnout didn't make the difference by itself. But it was definitely a factor in Wisconsin and possibly elsewhere.

I continue to believe that Clinton would have been a good president, but Trump won and the Republic is in real danger now.

There's a legitimate argument to be had within the Democratic Party about whether to put forward a sweeping agenda for radical change, or to stand for the reasonable center against the radical Trump administration. But both messages will be out there in the next few months, and they will either gain traction with the public or they won't. Arguing over how 2016 was lost isn't a worthwhile use of our energy.

and you might also be interested in

A comment on the NYT Facebook page:

Huyên Phương Lê I am considering many grad schools in the US for my master course next fall. Before the election, I only looked at the ranking, the alumni's feedback, the requirements and the fee and campus life. Now, I really have to think about the safety. As an Asian woman, I don't expect anyone to stop me in the street and tell me to get back to China (which I am not from). So now, although I was so sure about some schools in Texas and Wisconsin, I have to sit down once again, and closely look at the cities, and hope that they are not too red. This election changed my mind about America.

Does this surprise anyone? Now that the election is over, Donald I-never-settle Trump is paying $25 million to settle the Trump University lawsuits. Part of the agreement is that he admits no wrong-doing, but who pays $25 million to people they haven't wronged? Especially if it's a "phony lawsuit" and an "easy win", as he claimed earlier this year.

Donald Trump committed fraud against thousands of ordinary Americans. That isn't some partisan fantasy, like the charges against the Clinton Foundation. It's a fact.

An amusing bit of satire: Andrea Grimes isn't ready yet to deal with all the Trump supporters who want to talk to her so that they can understand why their candidate lost the popular vote.

Interesting story in the NYT about the widespread falsehood that the protests against Trump were fake, with paid protestors bused in. A guy with 40 Twitter followers saw some buses in Austin at about the same time protests were happening, jumped to a conclusion, and tweeted a picture. That fake "news" filled a psychological need, so it got shared hundreds of thousands of times before anyone checked it out.

The one encouraging thing in Trump's proposals was supposed to be his infrastructure plan. Obama has been proposing infrastructure programs for years, hoping to create jobs by doing stuff that needs to get done anyway, but Republicans in Congress have blocked him.

So is this something Democrats should get behind for the good of the country, rejecting the kind of if-he's-for-it-I'm-against-it obstruction that Republicans directed at Obama? Well, they should take a good hard look at the details first. Ron Klein writes:

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. ... Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring. Investors may simply shift capital from unsubsidized projects to subsidized ones and pocket the tax breaks on projects they would have funded anyway. Contractors have no obligation to hire new workers, or expand workers’ hours, to collect their $85 billion.

And Paul Krugman gets more specific:

For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 billion while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

... why do it this way? Why not just have the government do the spending, the way it did when, for example, we built the Interstate Highway System? It’s not as if the feds are having trouble borrowing. And while involving private investors may create less upfront government debt than a more straightforward scheme, the eventual burden on taxpayers will be every bit as high if not higher.

What was talked about during the campaign may not be exactly what gets proposed. But whatever gets proposed needs to be closely examined.

Here's a graph of the area covered by sea ice, world-wide, with the (red) 2016 falling well below previous years. There's some debate about what it means, because it lumps together Arctic and Antarctic ice, which are two very different situations. But it can't be good.

but here are some previews of coming attractions

One of the weird consequences of the election for me personally (after a couple days of depression) was the energizing thought: There is so much that needs to be written now. For example, up until now I've taken it for granted that certain kinds of white racism didn't really need to be addressed, because they were already taboo for serious conversation. That's not true any more, so sometime soon I'll be writing about the difference between my own sense of pride in where I come from and "white pride", as well as addressing the question of why there's no White History Month. As I say, that didn't used to be necessary, but it is now. We used to be able to just scoff at this stuff, but now we need an articulate response.

In general, there's a lot about race that is well understood academically, but hasn't been sufficiently popularized. Posts on that theme will come out fairly often, I expect.

Another thing I'll write about at some point is a basic difference in moral viewpoints between Trumpists and liberals like myself. That sounds like an esoteric topic, but it turns out to be very illuminating. Several people have already written about the difference between a universal view of morality and an us/them view, but I think the topic needs a more popular touch. (In the meantime, check out this presentation.)

An ongoing theme of the coming months is likely to be the typical progress of authoritarian/fascist governments, and whether or not we're seeing that in the Trump administration. One important article in this regard is Jason Stanley's "Beyond Lying: Trump's authoritarian reality".

The goal of totalitarian propaganda is to sketch out a consistent system that is simple to grasp, one that both constructs and simultaneously provides an explanation for grievances against various out-groups. It is openly intended to distort reality, partly as an expression of the leader’s power. Its open distortion of reality is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness.

Donald Trump is trying to define a simple reality as a means to express his power. The goal is to define a reality that justifies his value system, thereby changing the value systems of his audience.

In other words, if Trump says 2+2 is 5, that's not necessarily a mistake. He might be demonstrating that he can say this and get away with it. If he can get his previous enemies to repeat "2+2 is 5", that shows his followers just how irresistible his power is. (There's a lot to unpack here, so more later.)

and let's close with something musical

I think I'm going to listen to this a lot in the next four years: "Your Racist Friend" by They Might Be Giants. We might all be having conversations like this soon.

Monday, November 7, 2016

With Some Exceptions

Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

- Winston Churchill (1947)

No Sift on November 14. The next new articles will appear November 21.

This week's featured posts are "I don't know why we're having this conversation" and "Election Night 2016: an hour-by-hour returns-watching guide".

This week everybody was talking about the end of the campaign

Facing a need to sum up at the end of the campaign, I was surprised by my own reaction. For weeks I've been wishing Clinton would close on a more positive note, forgetting Trump and making a case for infrastructure, health care, equal pay, combating climate change, ending mass incarceration, a higher minimum wage, and all the other stuff she should start working on as soon as she's sworn in.

But when it came time for me to write my closing words on the election, I didn't do that either. Talking policy seemed to miss the point; I would just be contributing to the illusion that Trump is a normal candidate, and justifying people who vote for him because they disagree with Clinton's ideas.

But disliking ObamaCare or having an expansive interpretation of 2nd-Amendment rights is no excuse for voting for Trump. His open courting of bigots, his justification of violence, his refusal to admit that any process that defeats him could be legitimate, his lack of respect for truth or fair play -- these are fundamental threats to democracy, no matter what you think about taxes or government spending. If you're conservative, I'm sorry the Republican Party didn't give you a candidate that you can vote for in good conscience. But it didn't. I wish you better luck in 2020, but right now I need your help to save the American Republic.

For nearly a year, I've been wavering over whether fascist is the right word for Trump. (There are similarities and differences.) But forget the semantics and look at what we can see: Trump's political style is based on dominance and intimidation, on appealing to a racial/cultural "us" who have to stay on top of a threatening "them" at any cost, on fanning a sense of racial/cultural grievance that justifies any response as just doing back to them what they do to us. Call it fascist or don't, but it's not democratic and it's not republican.

Look at this closing ad Trump put out:

When Trump made the speech these remarks come from, he was criticized for evoking Elders-of-Zion-like themes of an international conspiracy of bankers and media elites. This ad doubles down on that, illustrating his remarks with close-ups of Jews like George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein.

Al Franken, who is a Jew, labeled this kind of dog whistle "a German shepherd whistle".

I think it's an appeal to some of the worst elements in our country as a closing argument. And I think people who aren't sensitive to that, or don't know that history, may not see that in that, but that's what I immediately saw.

Don't think American neo-Nazis aren't seeing the same thing Franken is.

Ezra Klein lists several admiring statements Trump has made about dictators, and draws this conclusion:

It’s not just that Trump admires authoritarians; it’s that the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.

In other words, it's not that they make the trains run on time, but that they make the trains run on time. Klein also quotes this pithy statement from political scientist Julia Azari:

The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.

So the Party elite couldn't stop Trump from getting nominated, and then they almost had to line up behind him. Trump ran against the Republican establishment, but now he's supported by the vast majority of Republicans.

I think there's a pretty good case for calling Putin's regime in Russia fascist, and he certainly sees something in Trump. Here Samantha Bee goes to Russia to find out where the disinformation she sees on Facebook is coming from.

Jon Stewart describes his Twitter battle with Trump.

and the FBI

The big news of yesterday was that FBI Director Comey sent another letter to Congress, which basically said "Oh, never mind."

Since my letter [of October 28], the FBI investigative team reviewed all of the communications that were to or from Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with regard to Secretary Clinton.

Skeptics have wondered how it was possible to review tens of thousands of emails in a week or so, but that should be obvious: Computers threw out the ones that weren't to or from Clinton, as well as the duplicates of emails the FBI had already evaluated. Apparently that left a  manageable number for human agents to read.

If the FBI had functioned correctly, this whole process would have begun and ended weeks ago, and would not have merited public comment.

While I'm glad Comey got this done before the election, his massive intervention in the election is still a big deal, and his never-mind letter doesn't undo the damage he did and continues to do. Two days before the election, no politician wants the headline to be that she's not a criminal, even if the alternative would be worse.

and DAPL

Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline continues, and is being met with arrests and police tactics like pepper spray. The effort is led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but includes representatives from many other tribes, as well as environmental activists of all sorts.

This issue deserves more attention than election-obsessed people like me have been giving it. But I'll make some simple points that are sometimes lost in the press coverage, such as it is.

It's being billed as a Native-American-rights issue, and it is one, but that's just one piece of the puzzle. The point of opposing pipelines in general is that any money spent on fossil-fuel infrastructure increases the sunk costs of fossil fuel use, and insures that we'll be using fossil fuels that much longer. A lot of the issues I discussed three years ago in regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline apply here: Eventually, we're going to have to decide to leave some fossil fuels in the ground. The more infrastructure we build, the harder that decision will be.

Entangling environmental issues with indigenous-people's rights is an intentional strategy. Typically, indigenous peoples have rights on paper, but lack the political power to enforce them. Conversely, environmentalists know how to apply political pressure, but often can't prevail legally because of private property rights. A strategy that appears in Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything (I don't know if it's original to her or she's just popularizing it) is to combine the two: Environmentalists need to find points where the fossil fuel industry wants to run over indigenous rights, and make common cause with the tribes.

and you might also be interested in

The Bridgegate defendants are guilty on all counts. Bridgegate should serve as a reminder of what a real scandal looks like and how it should be dealt with: People are accused of specific actions that break specific laws, and evidence is assembled to show that they really did those actions.

Contrast this to the long list of Hillary pseudo-scandals, which get more and more vague the longer they stay in the headlines. This week I saw an anti-Clinton bumpersticker saying "Benghazi: We will never forget". I've been reading about Benghazi investigations for more than four years, and I still can't tell you exactly what Clinton is supposed to have done wrong.

Jonathan Chait is pessimistic about the post-Trump Republican Party, saying that it has entered an "age of authoritarianism".

the version of the party that survives the likely wreckage of November will be a rage machine no less angry or united than the one that sustained eight years of unrelenting opposition to Obama. That rage will again shake the creaky scaffolding of the Madisonian system of government. Trumpism is the long historical denouement of a party that has come to see American democracy as rigged. And what one does to a rigged system is destroy it.

Jay Rosen describes how journalists confuse objectivity with even-handedness. This problem has come to a head in this election, because of Trump:

By openly trashing the norms of American politics, by flooding the campaign with wave after wave of provable falsehood, by convincing his supporters to despise and mistrust the press, by encouraging them to believe in a rigged election — rigged in part by the people who are bringing them the news — Trump has made it a certainty that when honest journalism is done about him it also works against him.

So if your coverage is even-handed, it's pro-Trump. Even if it looks pro-Clinton to your Trump-supporting readers.

AP nailed down something that ought to be scandalous: Trump's wife broke U.S. immigration laws. Matt Yglesias explains why it's no big deal to Trump's supporters: She's white.

there's really nothing so surprising about the Melania story. Trump doesn't like immigrants who change the American cultural and ethnic mix in a way he finds threatening and neither do his fans. Europeans like Melania (or before her, Ivana) are fine. I get it, David Duke gets it, the frog meme people get it, everyone gets it.

But it does raise the question of why mainstream press coverage has spent so much time pretending not to get it. Why have we been treated to so many lectures about the "populist appeal" of a man running on regressive tax cuts and financial deregulation and the "economic anxiety" of his fans?

If we all knew what this was about from the beginning — and I think we pretty clearly did — why has there been so much reluctance to say it clearly?

and let's close with something artful

From beyond the grave, Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Caffeine".

Update. I almost forgot about something I promised (in the returns-watching guide) to explain: Nate Silver's argument with the other prediction gurus.

Nate's estimate of Clinton's odds of victory is 68.5%, and has been around 64% much of the week. The NYT has Clinton at 84%, and the Princeton Election Consortium says 99%. It's a little more complicated than this, but Nate's view differs from the more optimistic (for Clinton) assessments in two ways. First, he believes polling is just a more uncertain business than other people do. There might well be some systemic way that we're doing polling wrong, and nobody will know until the returns come in.

Second, he believes the state polls are more correlated than the other prognosticators. For example, if Clinton had a 50% chance of winning Florida and 50% of winning North Carolina, and either state would put her over the top, you might think that gives her a 75% chance of victory. But what if whatever tips Florida to Trump is the exact same thing that will tip North Carolina? Then you believe the two will fall together, and so Clinton's odds of winning either or both is only 50%.

I've wanted to believe the other guys, but in my heart I believe Nate is right about this.