Quick hits (part I)

1) David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht on how Trump appears to have politically energized girls:

While it is too early to tell, we may be witnessing an emerging generation who are primed for political engagement. Just like baby boomers who came of age during the protests of the 1960s and then remained engaged over their lifetimes, today’s Democratic girls may be launched on a lifelong trajectory of political activism.

In short, one lasting consequence of the Trump era may be a cohort of politically active women — not just in Congress but in our communities — whose entree into politics can be attributed not only to inspiration but also to indignation.

2) Great piece from Jon Bernstein, “Talented Democrats Are All Running for President. It’s a Problem.: Beto O’Rourke’s run for the White House could cost Democrats a Senate seat. That wouldn’t happen in other democracies.”

New polls are showing that Democrats might have a real shot at defeating Texas Senator John Cornyn’s reelection bid next year. The problem? They basically have two appealing candidates for the seat – former Representative Beto O’Rourke and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro – and they’re both running for president…

Both Castro and O’Rourke may have calculated that (good polling notwithstanding) they actually have a better shot at the White House than the Senate. After all, the last time a Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican senator in Texas was never. Meanwhile, there’s no powerhouse in the presidential race so far, and both Castro and O’Rourke have plausible cases for the nomination. So while the party would be better off if one of them switched to the Senate race, individually the incentives differ.

More broadly, though, this situation shows what U.S. political parties are up against. It wouldn’t happen in most other democracies. In parliamentary systems, running for the legislature is a precondition to running for prime minister, not an alternative to it. And in most countries, having a talented politician stuck in the wrong constituency isn’t a thing. In legislatures with proportional representation, the best politicians can be placed at the top of the party list and would get seated as long as the party isn’t shut out (it’s a bit more complicated, but that’s the general idea). In some first-past-the-post systems, there’s a much weaker link between residency and constituency (or no link at all). Under British rules and customs, O’Rourke could just run for the far more Democrat-friendly Colorado Senate seat instead of being stuck in his Republican-leaning home state.

3) My daughter’s overly-dramatic best friend (2nd grade) told me all about how scary this Momo thing is.  Scary, that is, to parents who freak out over viral nothingness.

4) Brendan Nyhan: “A Weak President Can Still Be a Dangerous One”

As he has shown, weak presidents can still inflict damage on democracy while in office. In fact, the slow erosion of democratic norms and institutions — not coups or revolutions — is the most common threat to democratic stability in recent decades. (Think of the recent slide toward authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, or Hungary, not the fascism of mid-20th century Europe.) While our institutions have limited the damage Trump has been able to inflict so far, there is strong expert consensus that U.S. democracy has degraded since he took office.

For instance, Trump’s weakness may frustrate his ambitions in the legislative sphere, but he can still erode protections against executive overreach in his use of national emergency powers to try to fund a border wall or undermine government efforts to punish and prevent foreign influence in elections. The powers of the presidency are potentially expansive even in the hands of a weak president, as Daniel Drezner emphasized in the Washington Post.

Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric can still be dangerous even if his worst impulses are checked on policy. Trump has endorsed a long list of authoritarian actions ranging from law enforcement investigations of his political opponents to criminal assault against a journalist. He echoes Stalinist rhetoric in calling the media the “enemy of the people” and spoke favorably of white nationalist protesters. These statements risk normalizing hatred and violence and undermining democratic norms, particularly within Trump’s party, where his influence is greatest. Robin suggests that critics of the authoritarian threat have reversed themselves on the power of presidential words, but as political scientist Emily Thorson points out, the articles he cites actually focus on how Trump could change Republican politics — a threat even if his words fail to produce immediate anti-democratic actions.

5) This NYT science article is really, really interesting, “Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think: From butterflies to chickens to lobsters, mixed male-female bodies offer clues as to why certain diseases strike one sex more often than the other.”

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Scientists say these instances of split-sex animals and insects could offer clues to why some human diseases strike one sex more than the other.

Researchers thought they had figured out the genetics of birds and bees, but gynandromorphs suggest that there is more to learn

6) I find the analytical difficulty in drafting NFL quarterbacks a fascinating subject.  Do does 538, “The NFL Is Drafting Quarterbacks All Wrong.”

7) I like Drum’s “super-abridged Green New Deal”

Outside of war, I can’t think of an example in all of human history where a large polity—let alone the entire world—willingly made significant sacrifices in service of a fuzzy, uncertain hazard that’s decades away. We are overclocked hairless apes who are simply not designed to think that way. Why would anyone deny this?

This, then, circles back to what I was saying a couple of days ago: A climate plan that requires significant sacrifice might work on planet Vulcan, but not on planet Earth. Assuming otherwise is nonserious. We need a plan that will work with only homo sapiens to carry it out, and that means a plan that takes into account human selfishness and shortsightedness. It means a plan that will appeal to China and India and Brazil and the rest of the world. It means a plan that will somehow reduce atmospheric carbon a lot even while most of us sit around fat, dumb, and happy.

The only such plan I can think of is one that increases global R&D spending on climate mitigation by, oh, 10x or so. Maybe 20x if it’s feasible. This money would be spent on developing new sources of clean energy and energy storage; reducing the price of current sources of clean energy; figuring out ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere; and pretty much anything else that seems remotely useful. The fruits of this research would be turned over to the private sector for free, and they would then compete to sell it all over the globe. This would harness human selfishness instead of fighting it. It’s not guaranteed to work, but unlike the GND and similar manifestos, at least it’s not guaranteed to fail.

8) Long-time Democratic politicians could learn a lot from AOC when it comes to how to question a witness at a Congressional hearing.

9) Watched “A Quiet Place” this week.  Really, really enjoyed it.

10) A nice review of the political science on the role of sexism in elections:

How much sexism ultimately influences votes is a matter of debate. In general elections, partisanship beats everything else, said Kathleen Dolan, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, whose research shows that most voters stick with their party’s candidate regardless of gender.

But there has been little comparable research on primaries, where partisanship isn’t in the equation. And the Democrats will have a wide-open presidential primary in 2020 with multiple leading female candidates.

What is not a matter of debate is the array of ways that sexism can manifest on the campaign trail, affecting not only how voters perceive candidates but how candidates present themselves to voters…

One of the most amorphous qualities candidates are judged on, likability is also deeply influenced by gender bias, researchers say. Voters look for it in men, too — consider the “who would you rather have a beer with” question in campaigns — but only in women, research shows, do they consider it nonnegotiable.

“We know that voters will not support a woman that they do not like, even if they believe that she is qualified,” Ms. Hunter said. “But they will vote for a man that they do not like if they believe he is qualified.”

In 2016, for instance, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump had poor favorability ratings; among voters who said they viewed both candidates negatively, Mr. Trump won by roughly 20 percentage points.

Women also tend to be viewed as unlikable based on their ambition. Harvard researchers found in 2010 that voters regarded “power-seeking” women with contempt and anger, but saw power-seeking men as stronger and more competent. There is often some implication of unscrupulousness in descriptions of female candidates as “ambitious” — an adjective that could apply to any person running for president but is rarely used to disparage men. Within 24 hours of Ms. Harris’s campaign kickoff, some critics were bringing up her onetime relationship with a powerful California politician, Willie Brown — a common tactic faced by women that sexualizes them and reduces their successes to a relationship with a man.

And if a narrative of unlikability takes hold, it can influence voters without their even realizing it.

11) Loved this NYT Magazine feature on Michael J. Fox and how he is coping with the increasing challenges of his Parkinson’s.  I had never really thought about before just how young he was when first stricken by the disease.

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