Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s photos of the week:

A short rain shower just before sunset produced a beautiful rainbow stretching across the River Thames and the City of London

A short rain shower just before sunset produced a beautiful rainbow stretching across the River Thames and the City of LondonPicture: Paul Brown/REX Shutterstock



Sympathizing with the terrorists

Okay, so this is just pathetic, a UNC professor teaching a class on “Literature of 9/11” dares to include writings or radical Islamists that blame America.  Obviously, the professor endorses those views and hates America.  Obviously, that is, if you are an intellectually-stunted Fox News conservative.  And you know what else?  Anonymous on-line reviews of the professor say that he only wants to hear his own views parroted back and you better not disagree with him.  (Interestingly, in my experience such angry on-line reviews never consider that low grades stem not from a lack of ideological agreement, but a lack of intellectual performance).  Clearly, this professor is a Jihadi-loving, America-hating threat to our nation’s impressionable college youth.  Oh, and the UNC student who started the whole imbroglio is basing all this simply by looking at the syllabus and not spending a minute reading the material or listening to the professor.  That’s surely highly accurate.  How dare the professor think that students could possibly learn anything by being challenged by the perspective of those who carried out the 9/11 attacks.  Shouldn’t he know that college is simply there to allow students to reinforce their pre-conceived notions of how the world works?

Donald Trump and the Green Lantern presidency

Brendan Nyhan wrote a nice Upshot on this, but I actually prefer Seth Masket’s summary of it in a piece mostly devoted to criticizing Lawrence Lessig:

Americans tend to have a pretty distorted view of the powers of the presidency. And who can blame them? They hear constantly from pundits and candidates who describe a nearly omnipotent president who can pass laws, intimidate countries, and boost the economy by sheer will.

This distortion is really being pushed this year. As Brendan Nyhan recently noted, Donald Trump is currently the embodiment of the “Green Lantern” philosophy of the presidency, the idea that the president has superhuman powers and is limited only by his or her own willpower. By simply being a tough negotiator and being unencumbered by political correctness, Trump argues, he’ll be able to “bring back our jobs from China, from Mexico, from Japan, from so many places.” He’ll negotiate tougher deals with Iran, obliterate ISIS, and re-locate our oil that somehow wound up under Middle Eastern sands. He’ll make America great again not through any particular policies or appointments or military strategies, but simply through the force of his personality.

And, just so we’re clear, no matter how much it may excite Trump’s supporters, the presidency does not actually operate this way.  If only more Americans understood how American government actually worked.  Hopefully nobody who’s had my PS 201 falls for this.

What even smart people don’t get about politics

I’ve really been enjoying David Roberts’ work at Vox.  He’s got a really nice piece looking at how even otherwise really smart people who understand a lot of things (i.e., brilliant Silicon Valley tech nerds) have some key misunderstanding about how American politics actually works.  Of course, they are far from alone in these misunderstands (one of the fun parts of teaching American government is redressing so many), but Roberts finds it interesting and notable that some really smart people get it so wrong.  For my purposes, the best part is where Roberts nicely summarizes just what it is they, and so many Americans, do get wrong.  I love this part because, like any good Vox writer, Roberts respects the Political Science (I assume we have editor-in-chief Ezra Klein to thanks for that).  Anyway, here’s some of the good stuff:

I think that these two narratives — disdain toward politics, and the parties as mirror images with rational thinking in the center — are connected. That vision of the political spectrum implies that one is partisan precisely in proportion to one’s distance from rational thinking. It defines partisanship as irrationality, as blind, lemming-like behavior, the opposite of approaching things “from a standpoint of rationality and what I think makes sense.” The independent thinker takes a bit from this party, a bit from that one, as rational thinking dictates…

Let’s start with a few findings in political science that have not yet sunk into common knowledge.

First, independents are not independent. In fact, “independent” may be the second mostmyth-encrusted, poorly understood phenomenon in US politics (the first is coming up). The key thing to understand about independents is that they generally vote like partisans

Second, the most myth-encrusted phenomenon in US politics is the “moderate.” The popular conception of moderates is that they gravitate toward the political center, splitting the difference between the mainstream positions of the two parties.

If that’s a moderate, then America doesn’t have many of those either. In fact, the relative prevalence of moderates in popular polling is almost certainly a statistical artifact. A voter with one extreme conservative opinion (round up and expel all illegal immigrants immediately) and one extreme liberal opinion (institute a 100 percent tax on wealth over a million dollars) will be marked, for the purposes of polling, as a moderate. What’s really being measured is heterogeneity of opinion, not centrism. In fact, most moderates have at least one opinion that is well outside the mainstream of either party.

Moderates also tend to be more disengaged from politics. More engaged voters will tend to follow the lead and adopt the positions of party leaders. People who know little about the landscape of politics or the mechanisms of policy will tend to support positions outside the mainstream, often positions that more experienced political observers will find ludicrous (for good or ill). A voter with deeply informed, mildly center-left positions will code as “more partisan” than a moderate who has ill-informed positions that are all over the map, but that doesn’t mean the moderate is more centrist or more rational…

Third, in practical coalitional politics, the “center” will tend to be shaped not by rational thinking but by money and power. If there is any space left for bipartisanship in US politics, it is around measures that benefit corporate elites.

The right-wing base has a coherent position on climate change: It’s a hoax, so we shouldn’t do anything about it. The left-wing base has a coherent position: It’s happening, so we should do something about it. The “centrist” position, shared by conservative Democrats and the few remaining moderate Republicans, is that it’s happening but we shouldn’t do anything about it. That’s not centrist in any meaningful ideological sense; instead, like most areas of overlap between the parties, it is corporatist.

The previous three points show that the American political spectrum is not composed of two irrational extremes with calm, independent-thinking moderates in the center. But there’s a deeper problem, which is that the spectrum isn’t composed of two mirror-image sides at all. It turns out the sides are quite different. [emphasis mine]

I’ve written enough about the asymmetry that I’ll spare you an even longer excerpt.  Suffice it to say, that under the guise of a piece about Silicon Valley and politics, this is actually one of the best explanations of how American politics really works that I’ve read in a long time.  So, if that’s something you feel like you could stand to learn something on (and if you read this blog, that damn well better be you), please do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Photo of the day

For my surfing friends… surfing from back in the day from National Geographic Found:

Surfers overpopulate the waves off of Bondi Beach in Australia, 1963. Photograph by Robert B. Goodman, National Geographic Creative

Surfers overpopulate the waves off of Bondi Beach in Australia, 1963.PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT B. GOODMAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

The lost war on guns

A friend shared this post on FB.  It was so good I decided to see who this Greg Howard is.  Damn good job for a guy who is a sports writer.  Anyway, here’s my favorite parts:

Because of the way bullets and human initiative work, there is little basis to the argument that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward are instructive in that regard. Ward was approached from behind; just before Parker was shot to death, she screamed and attempted to run away, but she didn’t make it. If a hypothetical Good Gunman were in the area, this hypothetical Good Gunman would have either been killed by Vester Lee Flanagan, or killed Flanagan too late to keep him from killing Parker and Ward, or accidentally killed Parker or Ward or Gardner in the act of trying to save them. Alternately, if Flanagan attacked the trio with a sword, or a knife, or a baseball bat, or a pipe, or his hands, at least one of them would likely have escaped with their lives. Very possibly all three…

That’s because guns are tools conceived, built, and used for the primary purpose of killing living things very quickly and with very little effort. They are perfect, and whether men and women and children and babies use them correctly or incorrectly, people get maimed or killed. For this reason, it should be illegal, as it is in most of the world, for most citizens to own guns. [emphasis mine]

This is apparent to many people, even and especially to many people who sell guns. But it is even more apparent that nothing anyone says or writes about how it is an absolute f**king [modification mine] farce that it is legal for most citizens to own guns matters. Episodes like Roanoke, and Sandy Hook, and Aurora, and Blacksburg, and Charleston affirm that the fight is already lost.

American gun culture is unique, taking hundreds of years to grow and harden into the current disaster as it exists. It started with hazy national myths of the frontier and the horrors it housed; it was inscribed in our DNA when Americans were occupied by English forces; it was solidified, much more recently, following a concerted effort by capitalists to misread the Bill of Rights in service of selling people on fear of a future in which they become a hunted minority…

In its current form, this is a legacy of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, who didn’t just pander to a grievance-stricken right wing but in many ways created it, taking advantage of mass suburbanization and white flight to stoke fears of the Other that underwrite our politics today. One of those fears is that sometime soon, someone is going to storm over the border or out of the cities, kick doors in, and steal the America way, and that when that happens, you have to be ready to shoot those someones dead…

These synthetic, reactionary politics are so tied up in people’s notions of their own identity, so ingrained in what it means to be American, that guns can’t be cut out from our culture, and any radical plan to change our culture can only be spoken in certain circles, scarcely above a whisper. We can only play at saving lives through what amount to quarter-measures…

Alright, that was a lot of cut and paste (just read the whole thing), but damn was that good.

The secret to Trump’s success

Okay, not “the” secret, I think there’s a lot going on and that Trump’s sui generis, unfiltered, bluster is definitely a big part of his appeal for many.  But I also think, as both Jon Chait and Reihan Salam point out, a big part of the story is the populist ideological space that Trump occupies.  Chait:

By design or (more likely) by accident, Trump has inhabited a ripe ideological niche. Both parties contain ranges of opinions within them. And both are run by elites who have more socially liberal and economically conservative views than their own voters. (There are plenty of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-same-sex-marriage Democrats not represented by their leaders.) But the tension between base and elite runs deeper in the Republican Party. Conservative leaders tend to care very little about conservative social policy, or even disagree with it altogether. Conservatives care a great deal about cutting the top tax rate, deregulating the financial industry, and, ideally, reducing spending on social insurance — proposals that have virtually no authentic following among the rank and file…

Trump has homed in on a bona fide weakness in the Republican Party structure, one that has fascinated liberal critics in particular. The Republican Party has harnessed one set of passions, and then channeled them into unrelated policy outcomes favored by the party elite. Historically, the passions they have harnessed have revolved around foreign policy — like anti-communism, or the surge in nationalism following 9/11. Some of those passions have revolved around culture — a love of guns, the Pledge of Allegiance, a disdain for politicians who look kind of French, and so on…

So the prospect of a Trump nomination justifiably terrifies Republicans. But unlike the prospect of nominating a Scott Walker — or a more extreme version, like Ted Cruz — the risk does not carry any proportionate reward. Bush, Walker, and Rubio all agree on the same basic domestic goals. If elected, they will try to enact the party’s agenda on taxes, regulation, and social spending.

Trump dissents from the field not just in his political strategy but in his overall orientation. While he shares the Republicans’ disdain for President Obama, he has not committed himself to a Republican program…

Trump poses a dire threat to the party: If elected, he could not be trusted to work for the Republican agenda. The party elite will oppose Trump with everything it has.

And similar points from Salam:

This week, pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group of current and former Trump supporters. For over two and a half hours, Luntz probed their reactions to Trump’s past support for abortion rights and stricter gun laws, among other heresies, and he found that none of them seemed to care…

In a recent interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Trump said that he was “fine with affirmative action,” having “lived with it for a long time.” Suffice it to say, conservative opponents of racial preferences were less than pleased. But have Trump’s diehard supporters been abandoning him in droves? They haven’t yet.

In that same Meet the Press interview, Trump warned against corporations that “have no loyalty to this country,” language that brought to mind John Kerry’s campaign against “Benedict Arnold CEOs.” Yes, Trump followed up by saying we ought to cut corporate taxes to keep these companies from fleeing our shores—a stance embraced by most mainstream Republicans—but it’s the vehemence with which Trump attacks CEOs that is noteworthy. It’s very hard to imagine a member of the Bush family using the same language—or a libertarian conservative like Rand Paul for that matter. And while several of Trump’s rivals for the GOP nomination have either embraced a flat tax outright or praised the idea in principle, the billionaire real estate developer offered a robust defense of progressive taxation on Fox & Friends. When asked about hedge-fund managers in particular, Trump said without hesitation that “they’re not paying enough tax.” He then implied that well-heeled hedge-funders have been shielded from higher taxes by politicians who depend on their campaign contributions. This is very much in keeping with the way Trump has ridiculed his opponents for being so dependent on wealthy donors.

Short version: there’s some pretty potent latent populism in the Republican Party and Trump has tapped in like hitting a major oil strike.

Oh, and we can’t forget good ol’ white enthocentrism (really surprised Chait didn’t bring that up).  Nice Evan Osnos article in the New Yorker (I’m halfway through in the magazine sitting next to me– you should read it before the New Yorker puts it behind the paywall) about how nutty white supremacists love Trump.  It’s almost return of the Know-Nothings.


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