An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, November 15, 2020
Table of contents:
Not really a proper introduction, but I want to reiterate one point made below. It occurs to me that a lot of the anomalies of the election make sense as artifacts of the exceptionally high turnout. As I recall, back in 2010 it seemed like most of the Democratic vote drop could be traced to low voter turnout compared to 2008. The lesson there seemed to be that Democrats do better when more people vote, and that made a certain amount of sense because non-voters tend to be younger and less stable economically -- i.e., people who would vote Democratic if they had reason to bother. That ignored the fact that 2010 voter turnout was about the same as in 2006, when Democrats swept both houses of Congress. Obviously, different people chose not to vote in those elections -- mostly ones who lost faith in their party's handling of power. But the high turnout in 2020 suggests a different dynamic. As participation increases, the main thing that increases is the share of uninformed or misinformed voters, and they tend to be all over the map, voting R or D based on half-baked notions about what parties mean and do. And let us not forget the other major facts of 2020: the natural rhythm of campaigning was disrupted by the pandemic, which seems especially to have hurt Democrats (due to their greater wariness of the virus); incredible sums of money was spent, mostly on misleading television advertisements (where the Republicans were total frauds, and Democrats struggled to present a coherent message that matters to most people); the media continued to cover Trump as an eccentric celebrity, while ignoring most of the real things done by his administration and party. I think it's likely that the main reason the polls were off was that their qualifications for "likely voters" were off. A lot of unlikely voters wound up voting, and more of them than one might rationally expect ignorantly pulled the lever for Republicans. I say "ignorantly" because if you ask them why, it's extremely unlikely they'll offer an explanation that could pass even a rudimentary fact check. I think the signature here is to be found in Trump's much-touted improved share of Black and Latin votes. Clearly, he did nothing to earn those votes honestly, so the fact that he got them suggests confusion.
In other news, the big stories are tragedy and farce: the Covid-19 surge, and Trump's continuing charade to deny his election loss. Needless to say, the farce only adds to the tragedy. I can only hope that other Americans are as thoroughly disgusted with Trump as I am.
I'd like to get rid of the Table of Contents breakdown, but there's even more of it this week. Also a bit arbitrary to sort the post-election pieces out, so many wound up slotted under Biden or Trump. We're starting to see some pieces on what the Biden administration will (or could) look like. I haven't linked to many -- at this point it's mostly speculation and/or plotting -- as I'm not privy to any inside info, and I'm not likely to be consulted or referred to. I will say the following:
Parting advice: let Biden be the centrist he wants to be, but challenge him on issues, and bring forth real and substantive plans. Biden is more or less the center of the party. Move him and you move the party.
PS: I was going to link to several articles from The American Prospect (e.g., Robert Kuttner, David Dayen), but balked when they refused to show me a second without registering. Probably harmless to do so, but my skepticism is what keeps the Internet safe for me. But this also rubs a bugbear of mine. The only way to get better informed voters is to make information free. I'm not unsympathetic to the notion that progressives need to make a living, and I certainly know that writing is work, but I get tired of getting hit up for money all the time, especially when I'm trying to do the world a favor.
James Arkin: Health care vs. 'radical leftists': Parties re-running 2020 playbooks in Georgia runoffs. Also on Georgia:
David Atkins: Biden won big, but his approach may have cost Democrats downballot. I think it did, at least to the point that Biden didn't stress the message that he needs a Democratic Congress to deliver on his issues. Given his opponent, Biden was able to hold back, spouting nebulous notions (like "soul of the nation") instead of campaigning on issues, which Democrats had in spades thanks less to the fickleness of Trump than to the sociopathy of Republicans. It was, after all, Democrats who led on the CARES Act that got the country through the lockdown. It's Democrats who want a livable minimum wage, and who want every American to have health care. Those are winning issues, but only if you run on them.
Katelyn Burns: Biden plans on swiftly rolling back some Trump policies with executive orders.
Jonathan Chait: Trump's election challenges keep getting laughed out of court.
Nancy LeTourneau: Reefer madness: On the curious effect of the Marijuana Now Party candidates in Minnesota congressional races, which seem to have helped Republicans (and in at least one case were recruited by Republicans).
Eric Levitz: David Shor's postmortem of the 2020 election. Interview with the Democratic pollster. Also refers to his "other interview," with Dylan Matthews: One pollster's explanation for why the polls got it wrong. Shor argues that Trump voters aren't "shy" so much as they are cynical and distrust pollsters, which makes them reluctant to answer prying phone calls. Conversely, anti-Trump voters were more interested in voicing their displeasure with Trump, partly because they are more invested in democratic processes. This suggests a systemic bias in polling that's going to be hard to factor out.
German Lopez: America's war on drugs has failed. Oregon is showing a way out. For more:
Madeline Marshall: Weed was the real winner of the 2020 election: "Americans are turning against the war on drugs."
Matt Naham: Lawyers litigating for Trump suddenly remember their licenses are on the line if they lie to a judge.
Ella Nilsen: House Democrats will keep their majority for two more years.
Aaron Rupar: The 2000 election doesn't justify Trump's refusal to concede to Biden. Here's why.
Alex Shephard: The media finally figured out Trump. Now do the GOP.
David Siders: 'A grand scheme': Trump's election defiance consumers GOP.
Nate Silver: The polls weren't great. But that's pretty normal. Also at FiveThirtyEight:
Jacob Silverman: Postelection misinformation and massacre threats on conservatives' favorite new social media app: "Ted Cruz and Dinesh D'Souza have huge followings on Parler, a right-wing Twitter clone that has exploded in popularity since the election."
Matt Stieb: Incoming GOP senator apparently doesn't know basics of World War II. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) missed the fact that the US fought against Nazi Germany in WWII.
Benjamin Wittes: How hard is it to overturn an American election?
Matthew Yglesias: The problem with exit poll takes, explained.
Li Zhou/Ella Nilsen: How North Carolina and Maine dashed Senate Democrats' hopes of a "blue wave". The loss to Susan Collins shows that Democrats still aren't ready to put partisan interests above personal quirks. North Carolina shows that Republicans do just that. The asymmetry has repeated killed independent Democratic candidates, especially in Senate races. Which makes it all the harder to prevail in the Senate, given the built-in anti-Democratic bias.
Sam Adler-Bell: The brewing Democratic fight over Biden's cabinet.
Albena Azmanova/Marshall Auerback: 2020 was the 'precarity election'. I know quite a few words, but had to look up "precarity": "the state of being precarious or uncertain"; also more specifically: "a state of persistent insecurity with regard to employment or income." Subhed: "Democrats' failure to address the issue of economic precarity undermines their claim to be the party of the working class." We need to find a better way to express that idea.
Andrew Bacevich: After Trump, throw out the old foreign policy establishment, too.
Allison Crimmins: Why the Biden administration should establish a Department of Climate.
Melissa Gira Grant/Nick Martin/Katie McDonough/JC Pan: The election is over. Here's a vision from the left for the next four years. A collection of pieces from activists, mostly good ideas, few anywhere near fruition given present limits.
Ryan Grim: What went wrong in the House? "In answering that question, don't ignore the Democratic consultant class."
Naomi Klein: Now we have to fight Trump's tin-pot coup -- and Biden's worst instincts. I don't doubt the latter, but also don't see much value in anticipating them. Trump has made clear his intent to make the transition period as difficult as possible, leaving Biden so much to remedy that it's hard to see much point in squabbling over details. Later on, sure, the left needs to defend its principles, but not to weaponize them against against Biden, who for various reasons is in a very precarious situation.
Sonali Kolhatkar: America -- and the Democrats -- won't have a future if Joe Biden adopts a centrist agenda.
Eli Lehrer: What Joe Biden could learn from Harry Truman about hiring Republicans: I'm skeptical, but don't doubt that there are places where an occasional Republican might help rather than harm. However, understand that any Republican who works for (or even consorts with) the Biden administration will be branded a traitor by the party faithful, and will bring in damn little support. The point on soft vs. hard positions is well taken, and would be a good way to bring left Democrats into the administration without surrendering much power. But what makes it work is that left Democrats have ideas that actually help, unlike wandering Republicans.
Nick Martin: The agenda is still survival: "The Democratic Party can't be mired in intraparty fights about what's 'too far left.' Life as we know it is at stake."
Sara Morrison: How Biden's FCC could fix America's internet: "The FCC can bring back net neutrality and help Americans stay connected during the pandemic." Could, but note that Biden got a lot of money from Silicon Valley, and that Obama had a pretty shoddy record of appointing industry flacks to the FCC. Net neutrality is an easier call because there are industry interests on both sides of the issue, but there's still a big gap between what the less obnoxious parts of the industry wants and what people could actually benefit from.
Ella Nilsen: Democrats are already at odds over how to win in 2022.
Hadas Thier: Biden and the Dems should have buried Trumpism. But they provided no alternative. That's pretty unfair. Anyone who made the slightest effort should realize that Biden offers a clear and major contrast to Trump: He offered a return to the conventional pieties of American politics, to the conventions of unity that Trump flagrantly trashed. Admittedly, he's not nearly as articulate as Barack Obama, and his campaign came off as slack and cliché-ridden. He failed to make the point that Trump and Republicans down ballot are equally dangerous, and he didn't unify Democrats in anything beyond their disgust with Trump. On the latter score, his distancing from policies of the party's left-wing lent credence to Republicans' blanket attacks on all Democrats as radical socialists. It would have been better had he emphasized common principles: rather than attack Medicare-for-all, he could have emphasized his commitment to health care as a universal right; rather than trash Green New Deal, he could have stressed the need for infrastructure development, to limit climate change and to make the economy run more efficiently. In short, he could have gone far toward unifying Democrats on principles rather than dividing them on policies. But then, well, he wasn't a very articulate candidate. Related:
Robert Wright/Connor Echols: Grading Biden's foreign policy team: Tony Blinken. This will likely be a series. The authors previously wrote Introducing the progressive realism report card, and Wright wrote Grading criteria for progressive realism report cards.
Matthew Yglesias: Joe Biden needs to avoid a return to "eat your peas" budgeting.
The Covid-19 Pandemic Surge
The latest covid numbers are: 11+ million cases (14-day change +80%), 245,777 deaths (+38%), hospitalizations 69,455 (+43%). The first and second "peaks" on the chart look like mere speed bumps now. Sedgwick County, KS is regularly setting new records, and all the ICU beds in Wichita are full. Cases are up in virtually every state (Kansas is number 11). Trump carried 10 of the top 13 states.
Half or more of the following articles could have been filed in the more explicitly political sections, but have slopped over here. Not least because pandemic response has become so very political.
Julia Belluz: Why the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is a cause for optimism -- and skepticism.
Jerusalem Demsas: 80 percent of those who died of Covid-19 in Texas county jails were never convicted of a crime.
Igor Derysh: To truly recover, US needs 400% more coronavirus relief than McConnell is offering, economists say. Since McConnell got reelected, why not flood Georgia with ads pointing out that votes for Senate Republicans are nothing more than votes for McConnell's plan to strangle states, cripple small businesses, and starve the unemployed? McConnell makes a much more convincing bogeyman than Chuck Shumer or Nancy Pelosi -- the stars of virtually every Republican scare ad over the last year.
Dan Goldberg/Alice Miranda Ollstein: Pandemic on course to overwhelm US health system before Biden takes office.
Eric Levitz: A nightmare COVID winter could force a GOP awakening on stimulus. Only if the stock market tanks again. Nothing else seems to phase them, and if they think they can blame the stock market on Biden, maybe not even that.
German Lopez: America's third Covid-19 surge, explained.
Nick Martin: Republican malice has turned the pandemic into a deadly loop: "The GOP blocks the stimulus. Nonessential businesses reopen and people go back to work because they need money. Cases surge. People die."
Eleanor Mueller: Health officials sound alarm over impact of Trump's transition blockade.
Benjamin Rosenberg: The second White House coronavirus outbreak: Mark Meadows, the Secret Service, and more.
Dylan Scott: Trump's final two months in office might be the worst Covid-19 months yet.
Michael Tomasky: There's a word for why we wear masks, and liberals should say it: "It's high time Democrats played some philosophical offense on the concept of 'freedom.'" Last week it was David Harvey instructing the left on the importance of embracing the concept of freedom -- for different reasons, to different ends. "Freedom" is a versatile word, and the right's use of it rests on a peculiar ratiocination. So why not? Just don't think it's an elixir. It's as likely to muddle as to inform.
Zeynep Tufecki: It's time to hunker down: "A devastating surge is here. Unless Americans act aggressively, it will get much larger, very quickly."
David Wallace-Wells: Un-normalizing America's third wave. Notes that the number of US deaths due to Covid-19 now exceeds "the number of people who died in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Still More on Donald Trump
Zeeshan Aleem: Violence followed the "Million MAGA March" in Washington, DC: Of course it did. Otherwise, evidently very little to report on. Curiously little on turnout. Here's what I found:
John Cassidy: The long-term damage of Trump's antidemocratic lies.
Nancy Cook/Gabby Orr: Trump aides privately plot a flurry of moves in their final 10 weeks: "The White House is eyeing executive orders and regulations on immigration, trade, health care, China and school choice."
Tom Engelhardt: Donald Trump knew us better than we knew ourselves. Subtitle, but more evocative than "Gloom and Doom 2020" or "State of Chaos." Sure, he knew how to play half of America, mostly because he's soaked up the vitriol spewed 24-7 on Fox News, adding only enough ego to think himself the leader of his perverse world. On the other hand, he hardly knows the rest of us at all.
Michelle Goldberg: The post-presidency of a con man: "Out of office, Trump might seem a lot less formidable." Goldberg previously (10/29) wrote a piece I can certainly relate to: Four wasted years thinking about Donald Trump. Also (11/07): We are finally getting rid of him.
Doug Henwood posted a link to a 1934 article by Leon Trotsky: Hitler's National Socialism, and commented on it in Facebook:
This was written shortly after Hitler seized power, so at a time when Hitler's public support and messianic profile was roughly equal to Trump's. The difference, of course, is that Hitler was a ruthless tactician as well as a demagogue, which allowed him to consolidate power and remake Germany to embody his personal pathologies. There is little chance that Trump will be as successful and as disastrous, but it's not because his personal nature doesn't drive him to such extremes. He is hemmed in by historical constraints (and perhaps by his own ineptness), but his post-election behavior reveals him to be every bit the fascist we've long suspected him of. Secondary point: Marxists have often been exceptional journalists, starting with Karl (see, e.g., "The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte").
Ezra Klein: The crisis isn't Trump. It's the Republican Party. Interview with Anne Applebaum, who "wrote the book on why people choose to collaborate with authoritarian regimes," Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.
Michael Kruse: Trump's crazy and confoundingly successful conspiracy theory.
Timothy L O'Brien: Why Trump fears leaving the White House: "Losing the presidency leaves him vulnerable to financial and legal danger."
Nathaniel Manderson: Understanding the Trump voters: Here's why nobody is doing it right: "I've been an evangelical pastor and a teacher in an immigrant community. I'm not shocked Trump did better this time."
Nick Martin: Consider the bootlicker: "Trump's time in office was a group effort. Here's a taxonomy of the grifters, sycophants, and opportunists who made it all possible for the last four years."
Alex Pareene: A coup is a coup: "It's still an illegitimate power grab, even if Republican operatives are only doing it to protect Trump's fragile ego." After Trump's repeated abuse of "coup" to describe impeachment, you'd think we'd be more careful in our choice of words now. Pareene seems to be responding to Matt Ford: This is (probably) not a coup d'état. But the fact is we have no proper word for Trump's stance now. I imagine it's not unprecedented -- surely there have been other elected leaders who have dragged their feet after losing elections, but it's hard to recall them, probably because so few got away with it. Perhaps Trump will become comparably obscure in the future.
Katha Pollitt: The Trump-shaped stain on American life.
James Risen: "We're not a democracy": Quote comes from Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who approves, and like most Republicans wants to see further barriers erected against the democratic impulses of the American people. But it's been Donald Trump who's done more than anyone to act upon Lee's precept. Attempting to discredit the election he just lost if just one more step after many.
Nathan J Robinson: He'll be back: Starts, appropriately enough, with a New York Times headline from 1923, "Hitler virtually eliminated."
Aaron Rupar: Trump's turn against Fox News, explained: "The network sometimes engages with the reality that Biden won. For Trump, that's an unforgivable sin." More on Fox:
Maggie Severns: Where Trump's recount fundraising dollars are really going: "Money raised to pay for recounts goes to covering campaign debts, funding future political activities and boosting like-minded figures."
Nick Turse: Tantrum and theater: Trump's desperation after election loss isn't yet a coup.
Alex Ward: Why Trump is suddenly replacing Pentagon officials with loyalists. I'm reminded of how GWH Bush sent US troops into Somalia during his lame duck period, a poison pill which Clinton had to clean up later, after the whole operation went bad (remember "Black Hawk Down"?). Clinton, in turn, didn't do a very good job of cleaning it up, so 25+ years later the US is still bombing suspected "bad guys" in Somalia. The interesting twist here is that Trump's idea of a poison pill might not be starting or escalating a new war, but finally withdrawing troops from the endless war in Afghanistan -- a point of contention between Trump and DOD, one where Biden is likely to side with the generals. Americans in general, and Democrats in particular, would be pleased to leave Afghanistan, no matter what the consequences were. While continuing the status quo costs Biden little, having to decide whether to send troops back would be a lose-lose proposition. Trump might relish that.
Around the World
Nahal Toosi: Pompeo expected to announce process for US to label groups anti-Semitic. The criteria is simply whether a group has been critical of Israel, including for human rights abuses. Examples given in the piece: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam. Support for non-violent BDS strategies against Israeli human rights abuses would also be deemed anti-Semitic. Also note that official US designation will be used to further chastise and restrict anyone who regards human rights for Palestinians as important. Also see:
Alex Ward: The surprising Armenia-Azerbaijan peace deal over Nagorno-Karabakh, explained.
Other Matters of Interest
Douglas Belkin: Charles Koch says his partisanship was a mistake: "At 85, the libertarian tycoon who spent decades funding conservative causes says he wants a final act building bridges across political divides." This reminds me a bit of those former Shin Bet heads who spent their entire careers crushing Palestinian opposition, then in retirement decided Israel should have been more accommodating. Charles Koch had as much (maybe more) as anyone to do with making Donald Trump's presidency possible. I don't recall the exact words, but somewhere in Samuel Beckett (Happy Days?) there's an exchange where the son asks his father why he was ever conceived. The father replies, "I didn't know it would be you." After being born with millions, and spending all of a long life strutting and preening like a feudal lord, Koch discovers he wasn't so smart after all. Meanwhile, as with those Shin Bet tyros, his work is being taken up and furthered by younger men, as callous and arrogant as he ever was.
[PS: James Thompson linked to this on Facebook. I commented: "I wrote about this piece in my Weekend Roundup. On further reflection, this is less a mea culpa than a sly take on his own selfishness: a way of saying, now that I got what I wanted from politics, you should give up on politics and stop trying to change my world."]
Sasha Frere-Jones: American history XYZ: "The chaotic quest to mythologize America's past."
Umair Irfan: It's official: 2020 is the busiest Atlantic Hurricane Season on record: "Subtropical Storm Theta is now the 29th named storm of the season." More:
Ezra Klein: The crisis isn't too much polarization. It's too little democracy: "If Republicans couldn't win so much power while losing votes, the US wouldn't be in the current crisis."
Yanna Krupnikov/John Barry Ryan: The real divide in America is between political junkies and everyone else: "Most Americans view politics as two camps bickering endlessly and fruitlessly over unimportant issues." This is false, but offers one more dimension to consider: how much people know and care about politics.
The left-right divide is still primary, as it's based not just on ideology but on ethical concerns: leftists seek greater equality in power, rights, and wealth, while right-wingers aim to preserve and enhance privileges. That divide is heightened by asymmetrical information: the right seeks to obscure its moral lapses by spreading propaganda aimed at increasing division by targeting others, while the left tries to expose the right's lies and misinformation and appeal to the people's basic sense of fairness and justice. That's the real divide, even if most people don't recognize it as such. But there isn't a sharp divide between people who people who get this much about politics and those who don't. Rather, there is a gradual attenuation of information and interest, passing down through people who have nothing to react to but isolated echoes, which makes their votes (when they bother) increasingly arbitrary. I suspect that the real explanation for Trump's gains among Black and Latin voters this year was the success of the get-out-the-vote campaigns, leading people who don't normally follow politics to vote anyway. Those people, with so little quality information to go on, simply voted more randomly than more informed voters, and that worked to Trump's advantage. Still, the solution isn't to suppress the uninformed vote. It's to do a better job of informing them -- much better than the Democrats did this year, although Georgia looks like an exception, perhaps because the registration effort was more personal there.
Robert Markley: Kim Stanley Robinson is one of our greatest socialist novelists: I haven't found time for novels, but I know people who would agree.
David Masciotra: If Democrats can't stop acting like losers when they win, America is doomed.
Corey Robin: The professor and the politician: "For Max Weber, only the most heroic figures could generate meaning in the world. Does his theory hold up today?"
Nathan J Robinson:
Jeff Sharlet: A heart is not a nation: "Confronting the age of hate in America." Review of Jean Guerrero: Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, and Seyward Darby: Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism.
Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: After/math. Since I've mentioned "soul of America" several times recently, let this bury it:
Randy Stein/Alexander Swan/Michelle Sarraf: Conservatives value personal stories more than liberals do when evaluating scientific evidence. The link to this article had a more potent title: "How conservatives process COVID data."
Given all this, Trump's quick recovery from Covid-19 could have been the worst possible outcome. Recent history seems to bear that out.