Lessons from Turkey

Turkey just had a not-very-free election to keep it’s authoritarian leader in power.  Yasha Mounk with lessons for the US:

This is a great tragedy for Turkey, which once looked like the Muslim-majority country most likely to build a stable democracy. But it is also a serious warning for other countries.

There are, of course, many differences between Turkey and most of the other countries in which liberal democracy is now under threat. The fact that Erdogan was able to destroy the political system in a country that had never been fully democratic and had never quite resolved the tension between its deeply religious population and its militantly secular institutions does not mean that populists will be able to pull off the same feat in Italy or the United States. And yet, the similarities are substantial enough that it would be folly to dismiss them out of hand.

The Turkish case shows that authoritarian populists can, in the long run, prove surprisingly effective in delegitimizing anybody who disagrees with them by denigrating the opposition and telling lies about critical journalists. It shows that, even if about half of the country deeply hates them, populists can stay in power by mobilizing a fervent base. And it also shows that political and intellectual elites, both inside the country and around the world, persistently underestimate the threat that these kinds of leaders pose to the survival of democratic institutions.

It is a set of lessons we would do well to take to heart in the United States. [emphasis mine]

Democracy vs. Civility

Well, my twitter is all alight today with ongoing discussion of Sarah Sanders and the Red Hen restaurant.  My initial response was support for the restaurant for their decision to deny service to a specific evil person for who she is as an individual, rather than on a basis that she cannot control.  After reading lots of good stuff on-line today, I’m quite happy with my initial response.

Brian Beutler on the power of shame:

At the end of the Bush administration, a contingent of liberals advocated, similarly, that certain officials should essentially be shunned. These officials dragged the country into a war that cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqis their lives on false pretenses, and instituted an illegal torture regime at CIA black sites around the globe. If they were simply reabsorbed into elite life, the argument when, the next cadre of potential torturers would feel undeterred. Making them anathema wouldn’t merely serve retributive purposes, wouldn’t be uncivil behavior for incivility’s sake, but would create an important incentive for future unscrupulous leaders to avoid inhumane temptations.

The establishment did not abide this argument. Today, architects of the torture regime include the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifetime appointee on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. One of its implementers is the director of the CIA. And the new president of the United States is a torture apologist who fawns over authoritarians who torture dissidents.

Wittingly or not, the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA took a stand for the view that this history shouldn’t be allowed to repeat itself. It is abundantly clear that influential elements within civil society are uncomfortable upsetting the elite balance in this way. Some people who would stand squarely behind the girl selling water on the street in San Francisco don’t want Sanders to be made to feel uncomfortable, because they dine with her, or with her political allies. Institutions that typically uphold decent values don’t want to be seen censuring representatives of one political party, because they prize the appearance of partisan neutrality over whatever small deterrent effect they might have. Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski lied to the public programmatically, and were rewarded with fellowships at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

There are only so many official channels for enforcing moral standards in American public life. One is elections, which happen pretty rarely, and, thanks to gerrymanders and the electoral college, frequently reward popular vote losers. Another is the law, where courts are increasingly stacked against the majority. Under those circumstances, shame is a potent weapon, and it’s little surprise that people invested in the status quo want those who can wield it to unilaterally disarm…

Not just because turnabout is sometimes satisfying, but because other Republicans are watching, and if they understand that advancing Trumpist values comes with a cost, it might arrest the right’s slide into illiberalism. That’s something even reluctant factions of the political establishment should awaken to and embrace because all of us are along for the ride together.

Paul Waldman:

In a large portion of Trump’s base today, there is no higher goal in public debate than “owning the libs”—not making a insightful argument or compelling case for a particular course of action, but pissing off the people you hate. It has become a movement devoted to trolling as a central goal and an end in itself. All over America, people report that angry bigots are feeling unleashed to let everyone know how they feel about them, whether it’s in organized neo-Nazi rallies or one-on-one interactions.

So spare us the lectures on politeness from people who work for a man who makes up mocking names for anyone who angers him, who bragged about his ability to sexually assault women with impunity, who warns against immigrants who will “pour in and infest our Country,” who vomits out an unending stream of lies, who encourages his supporters to be as cruel and hateful as he is, and who regularly demonstrates his loathing for all the institutions and procedures that separate democracy from dictatorship. As I write this, the most-read article on the website of my other employer, The Washington Post, is “The owner of the Red Hen explains why she asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave.” The second-most-read article is, “Trump advocates depriving undocumented immigrants of due-process rights.” Who’s being uncivil here? …

In all the endless media examinations of every thought that might drift through the mind of a Trump loyalist tucking into the omelette special at Grady’s Diner on Main Street in a sturdy but struggling town in the heartland, we often lose sight of just how many Americans have been scarred by this presidency already. Even apart from those who have been hurt in direct and tangible ways, there are millions who have been told that their they aren’t true Americans, that they don’t deserve civil rights, that the machinery of the state can be mobilized against them based on the whims of an impulsive man-child and the party that enthusiastically supports him.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when some of those people decide, in a moment of anger or calm reflection, to push back just a little on the people who are most enthusiastically turning Donald Trump’s will into action. Those administration staffers made a choice to work for him, knowing full well who he is.

They should spend the rest of their lives in the ignominy they deserve, but the truth is that they won’t. They’ll move to lavishly remunerated positions with corporations and think tanks and lobbying firms, and the Republican “establishment” that expressed so much terror at the prospect of a Trump presidency will work hard to rationalize all their misdeeds. They’ll be just fine.

So in the meantime, count me as not particularly upset to hear that Sarah Sanders or Kirstjen Nielsen got confronted by some Americans disgusted at the things they do. If someone started an organized effort to make sure no Trump staffer could eat a meal or fill up their gas tank without being yelled at, I’d say that there are more effective ways to accomplish one’s political goals. But if they have to move through the world being reminded of how contemptible most of us find them, that’s at least some tiny measure of justice and accountability.

Zack Beuchamp brings in the Rawls!

But this isn’t simply a matter of a poorly chosen example. It points to the basic problem with the entire “civility” argument. American politics are uncivil — and have been long before Sanders sat down for dinner this weekend. And at the moment, this incivility is mainly coming from the White House. The Trump administration has flouted the norms of political discourse far more often than any of its opponents.

Sanders is uniquely complicit in this. Her job requires providing cover for the president’s most egregious lies, undermining a vital part of public discourse — the very idea of fair and open public discourse about the truth. If refusing service to Sanders puts the spotlight on this feature, it might not harm America’s political civility; in fact, it might even improve it.

Incivility in the Trump era isn’t about rude tweets. It’s about lies.  [emphases mine]

To understand what Sanders’s defenders are getting wrong about the dinner incident, let’s get straight on the difference between “incivility” in politics and simple rudeness. Our guide here will be John Rawls, by all accounts the greatest American political philosopher of the 20th century.

A major topic of Rawls’s work was the problem of political disagreement: How is it possible to have a democracy, a government allegedly for and by the people, when people disagree so much among themselves? Rawls attempted to answer this question in one of his major works, an extremely long tome titled Political Liberalism.

The core of his answer, to simplify it dramatically, is that democracy depends on a certain set of principles that almost everyone agrees with. These are principles that only “reasonable” people (not Nazis, for example) can accept — ideas like “all citizens deserve to be treated equally” and “it’s wrong to imprison people on the basis of faith.”

For this system to work, Rawls argued, public debate must be free and open for people to clearly explain how their policy convictions can be justified according to the shared beliefs at the heart of a democratic society. Rawls called the obligation to adhere to these rules of discourse “the duty of civility”: If citizens in general, and politicians especially, hide and obfuscate their arguments, then people’s ability to give their informed consent to the administration disappears…

Rawls never really engaged with the possibility that a democratic government might make dishonesty one of its core political principles. But as my colleague Matt Yglesias has argued at length, that is what President Donald Trump has done — using a complete disregard for the truth as a tactic for advancing his agenda and keeping his base loyal…

Sarah Sanders’s job as White House press secretary makes her especially complicit in this agenda.

Because the president lies constantly, a major part of her job is defending those lies — either covering for them, deflecting them, or lying herself to cover for them. Merely doing her job makes Sanders (because of her boss’s uniquely hostile approach to the truth) uncivil according to Rawls’s terms.

The Trump administration is attacking the very heart of a democratic political system. And Sanders, by aggressively repeating and defending Trump’s lies, is a vital part of this machine…

Wilkinson acted to punish a political official for a specific set of severe wrongs, not to harm an average customer whose political views she happened to disagree with. A slippery slope to politically segregated dining, this is not.

Instead of the first shot in a cold civil war, Wilkinson’s actions are best seen as a form of holding political elites accountable, forcing them to answer for their actions — something citizens rarely have the opportunity to do. Given that the next elections are months away and the presidential contest isn’t until 2020, Wilkinson doesn’t have much of an opportunity to punish the White House for its egregious behavior occurring right now.

Wilkinson’s actions aren’t those of a culture warrior looking to divide members of the US population against one another. In fact, there’s no evidence she wanted this incident to go public or inspire copycats; an employee of hers posted about it on Facebook, and it was Sanders who brought this matter wider attention by tweeting about it.

Absent those postings, no one would’ve known. It would have been a modest act by a private citizen to hold a public official accountable — a way of registering dissent with the way the government conducts itself, in keeping with the Rawlsian view of civility.

And a few great twitter threads on this, too:



Republican Party > Jesus

For anybody who’s ever read any of the New Testament it’s hard to imagine a better test case for choosing Christian faith over Trump than family separations at the border.  Of course, for anybody who pays attention to right-wing Christian Evangelicals in America, it’s no surprise what they’ll choose.  Trump, of course.  This 538 article is titled, “Why Rank-And-File Evangelicals Aren’t Likely To Turn On Trump Over Family Separation,” and without even reading it the answer really is pretty simple.  The vast majority of these people, no matter what they say, are Republicans first, Christians second.  And, as a result, in supporting policies like family separation show their “Christianity” to be almost totally divorced from the actual message of Jesus.

Now I’m famous for real

Okay, not exactly, but, as you can imagine, for someone like me, it is sooooo cool to have my research described and then be quoted extensively in an article in the New York Times.  Even if I were not in here, I would surely recommend Emily Badger and Claire Cain Miller’s excellent Upshot piece on how our family policies fall far short of our political rhetoric about families.  Obviously, you have to read the whole thing for sure, this time.  But, that said:

But this past week was a reminder of a deep contradiction about the family in American politics: Families make powerful symbols, valuable to politicians and revered by voters. But American policies are inconsistent and weak, relative to many countries, in supporting them.

The focus of recent days was on the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. The contradiction is also clear in many other realms, say critics on both the right and left: criminal justice, child welfare, family leave, child care, health care and education.

“There’s a basic inconsistency in saying we support families, we have family-friendly policies, when in fact we have the worst family policies of any developed high-income democracy,” said Dorothy Roberts, a professor of law and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. “We don’t have family-friendly policies at all.” …

Before the 1970s, politicians seldom preached about families, according to research by the political scientists Steven Greene and Laurel Elder, who have analyzed the language used in political speeches. By 1992, conservatives were using “family values” as a motto and weapon of critique. Families became more politicized, Mr. Greene and Ms. Elder argue, as the American family itself went through major changes — with more mothers working, more single and same-sex parents, and the rise of more intensive parenting.

Over this time, the family has come to sit at the center of a core philosophical divide between the left and the right, even as both claim to care about families the most. As the left sees it, government plays an essential role protecting and supporting families, through programs like Medicaid or a higher minimum wage. To the right, it seems government too often burdens families, who need lower taxes and less regulation…

“Family and parenting is just such a potent political symbol,” said Mr. Greene, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. “Politicians have learned that whatever the policy is, wrapping it in the language of family and children — both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of policy — is really effective.”

By this thinking, even President Trump’s family separation policy at the border could be argued as pro-family. “If the immigrants are coming to take away your job, then this policy is pro-family,” Mr. Greene said.

He worries that the politicization of the family is bad for policymaking. As the family becomes a culturally loaded symbol, evocative of everything and used to justify anything, it becomes harder to devise real policies that address real needs, he said.

A few additional thoughts…

1) It was so great to get to talk with Emily Badger.  I’ve been following her work since her Wonkblog days and it was so much fun to bounce around ideas on these issues for over half an hour with such a smart and knowledgeable political journalist.  And, though, I didn’t talk to Miller, I love great the Upshot work she has been doing on gender and politics.  So pleased to be a part of this article.

2) For me, this really speaks to the value of political scientists (and all academics) making a real effort to get their research out to a broader audience.  Badger was never going to happen across The Politics of Parenthood or the various PS journal articles Laurel and I have written on the matter.  But when researching this article, she most definitely did come across our 2012 Washington Post essay, summarizing our research, which led to the research and our interview being part of the article.

3)  felt a little funny that I was the one interviewed and not Laurel.  I’m well aware that male academics get interviewed too much and female academics not enough.  As much as I want to be in the NYT, I was planning on deferring to Laurel– who almost surely explains our research better than I do– but as circumstance would have it, she was actually travelling all day when Badger was hoping for the interview.

4) I knew that this was going to be an Upshot piece, but it was so cool to just go to NYT.com yesterday morning, as I do every morning, scan through the headlines I want to read, and say, “hey, wait a minute, that’s the one with me!”

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