Thursday, July 19, 2018

Common Sense for the Left

Theda Skocpol is one of the most astute analysts of the American left. She has an excellent interview with Tom Jacobs on the Pacific Standard website. Here is some of the advice she offers to those on left in the era of Trump:
On the Kavanaugh nomination:
"I...think Democrats shouldn't engage in extraordinary delaying tactics. The closer [the confirmation fight] gets to the election, the more time it eats up. The Democrats need to move to a broader set of arguments that speak to people's lives. Their task is to win a majority in the House of Representatives and hold onto as many Senate seats as they can."
On the Democratic base and the call to abolish ICE:
"At this point, the danger for Democrats is their most vocal supporters are concentrated on the coasts. But piling up votes in New York, Massachusetts, and California is not going to do it. Voters in those states need to recognize that they should not be waving around silly slogans like "Abolish ICE" that make it harder for Democrats in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to get their message across. It makes it harder to win those crucial seats.
If they keep their eye on the ball—such as emphasizing health care, which is a broad, cross-cutting concern—I think the Democrats have a good chance of taking the House of Representatives and holding their own in the Senate. But that's just the beginning. They need to take the presidency in 2020, and hold their own in 2022. Only then will the country's politics begin to shift."
On how to handle a conservative Supreme Court:
"[L]iberals in the past 50 years have been heavily invested in the presidency and the courts. That produces a style of politics that emphasizes expertise, professionally run advocacy organizations, and spending money on court cases. That has come at the expense of organizing in the states and localities. You have to have the ability to win elections.
That is the silver lining I see in this. I believe that has already begun to turn around. It's highly likely the Supreme Court is going to be in very conservative hands for the next 20 years. Well, maybe it's time for another round of tax-and-spend liberalism. Democrats need to make the case to the public that we need to spend more through the public sector to ensure opportunity and security for everybody. They can use both state legislatures and Congress to change the tax structure, and expand Social Security and Medicare.
If the Supreme Court eviscerates the Affordable Care Act's regulatory structure, the obvious next step is to let people buy into Medicare. That would be very popular, and there's no way the Supreme Court could overturn it. There are a whole series of things that could be done that would have a transformative impact. But you have to have legislative majorities to do that."
On grassroots anti-Trump groups:
"I think these are the key to revitalizing the Democratic Party outside of the most liberal areas of the country. It's not being led by Bernie Sanders people. These are middle-class women's networks, with some men in them. They turned around public opinion on the Affordable Care Act. They were behind Conor Lamb's victory, along with the unions. They're everywhere, and they have made a real difference. They're likely to be the key to congressional victories, if they happen....
A lot of them are progressive, but they're also pragmatic. They don't insist on the leftmost candidate. They'll get behind any reasonable Democrat. In many cases, they are revitalizing local Democratic parties. A lot are involved in voter-registration and voter-outreach efforts. They're certainly running new people for office."
On the limits of Millennial activism:
"There's a danger that young people on the left believe participating in a demonstration, or tweeting, is politics. It is, but it sure isn't going to make a difference. The only thing that will make a difference is people going to the polls this fall."
Stern words but basically correct. Eyes on the prize, people!
About this article
Harvard University political scientist Theda Skocpol argues the conservative takeover of the federal government has a silver lining for liberals: It is inspiring more activism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

On the Disutility of Identity Politics

The stakes are too high at this point to ignore the obvious: Identity politics--at least as it's currently practiced by many on the left--is just not effective for what the left needs to do above all: win. This argument is cogently made in a recent article in the UK Guardian by political scientist (and longtime student of left history) Sheri Berman. She notes:
"One common view is that Trump’s victory was a consequence of pervasive racism in American society.
Studies make clear, however, that racism has been decreasing over time, among Republicans and Democrats. (Views of immigration have also grown more favorable.) Moreover, since racism is deep-seated and longstanding, reference to it alone makes it difficult to understand the election of Barack Obama and Trump, the differences between Trump and the two previous Republican nominees on race and immigration, and the dramatic breakdown of social norms and civility following the elections. (Social scientists call this the “constant can’t explain a variable” problem.)
This does not mean racism is irrelevant; it matters, but social science suggests it does in more complicated ways than much commentary suggests."
After reviewing this research and the complexities it suggests, Berman underscores some critical points:
"What does all this mean for those who oppose Trump and want to fight the dangerous trends his presidency has unleashed?
The short-term goal must be winning elections, and this means not helping Trump rile up his base by activating their sense of “threat” and inflaming the grievances and anger that lead them to rally around him. This will require avoiding the type of “identity politics” that stresses differences and creates a sense of “zero-sum” competition between groups and instead emphasizing common values and interests.
[Karen] Stenner, for example, notes that “all the available evidence indicates that exposure to difference, talking about difference, and applauding difference … are the surest ways to aggravate [the] intolerant, and to guarantee the increased expression of their predispositions in manifestly intolerant attitudes and behaviors. Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness … Nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions and processes.”
Relatedly, research suggests that calling people racist when they do not see themselves that way is counterproductive. As noted above, while there surely are true bigots, studies show that not all those who exhibit intolerant behavior harbor extreme racial animus. Moreover, as Stanford psychologist Alana Conner notes, if the goal is to diminish intolerance “telling people they’re racist, sexist and xenophobic is going to get you exactly nowhere. It’s such a threatening message. One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.”
Berman concludes:
"As politics is a fight between clearly bounded identity groups, appeals and threats to group identity will benefit Republicans more than Democrats, which is presumably why Steve Bannon infamously remarked that he couldn’t “get enough” of the left’s “race-identity politics”. “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em ... I want them to talk about race and identity … every day.”
Don't believe Berman? How about the most successful left politician of the last 20 years, Barack Obama? Obama, though many left identitarians assiduously avoid the fact, was and is an opponent of identity politics. He was something that's currently unfashionable on the left but deserves revival: a transracial humanist. From Obama's speech for the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture:
"Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multiracial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe. And I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.
The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens....
[Mandela said] “Political division based on color is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one color group by another.” That’s Nelson Mandela speaking in 1964, when I was three years old.
What was true then remains true today. Basic truths do not change. It is a truth that can be embraced by the English, and by the Indian, and by the Mexican and by the Bantu and by the Luo and by the American. It is a truth that lies at the heart of every world religion — that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. That we see ourselves in other people. That we can recognize common hopes and common dreams. And it is a truth that is incompatible with any form of discrimination based on race or religion or gender or sexual orientation. And it is a truth that, by the way, when embraced, actually delivers practical benefits, since it ensures that a society can draw upon the talents and energy and skill of all its people. And if you doubt that, just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup. Because not all of those folks — not all of those folks look like Gauls to me. But they’re French. They’re French.
Embracing our common humanity does not mean that we have to abandon our unique ethnic and national and religious identities. Madiba [Mandela] never stopped being proud of his tribal heritage. He didn’t stop being proud of being a black man and being a South African. But he believed, as I believe, that you can be proud of your heritage without denigrating those of a different heritage. In fact, you dishonor your heritage. It would make me think that you’re a little insecure about your heritage if you’ve got to put somebody else’s heritage down. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t you get a sense sometimes — again, I’m ad-libbing here — that these people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of.
Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some. Madiba understood that we can’t say we’ve got a just society simply because we replaced the color of the person on top of an unjust system, so the person looks like us even though they’re doing the same stuff, and somehow now we’ve got justice. That doesn’t work.
It’s not justice if now you’re on top, so I’m going to do the same thing that those folks were doing to me and now I’m going to do it to you. That’s not justice. “I detest racialism,” he said, “whether it comes from a black man or a white man.”
And finally, Obama has this to say about one of the more intolerant aspects of today's identity politics:
"Most of us prefer to surround ourselves with opinions that validate what we already believe. You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you. Funny how that works. But democracy demands that we’re able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view. Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they’ll change ours. And you can’t do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start. And you can’t do it if you insist that those who aren’t like you — because they’re white, or because they’re male — that somehow there’s no way they can understand what I’m feeling, that somehow they lack standing to speak on certain matters."
Obama is not only right in what he says, but as Berman says, it's the only way to win. Identity politics, on the other hand....well, as another Democratic ex-President might put it: "That dog won't hunt".
About this article
The left needs to help citizens see what unites them, instead of focusing on their differences writes Sheri Berman, professor of political science at Barnard College

Obama: Still an Optimistic Leftist in the Age of Trump!

Sometimes I feel a bit alone is my status as an optimistic leftist. Not many seem to share my sense that, in the medium-to-long term, the world is in fact likely to get considerably better and align increasingly with the values and priorities of the left. That's my reading of past and current trends, notwithstanding the rise of the Trump and all the short-term evil that has entailed.
I was happy to note that none other than our esteemed ex-President Barack Obama shares my optimism. Here's some of what he had to say in the major speech he recently delivered as the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture:
"One hundred years ago....[w]hites were happy to exploit other whites when they could. And by the way, blacks were often willing to exploit other blacks. And around the globe, the majority of people lived at subsistence levels, without a say in the politics or economic forces that determined their lives. Often they were subject to the whims and cruelties of distant leaders. The average person saw no possibility of advancing from the circumstances of their birth. Women were almost uniformly subordinate to men. Privilege and status was rigidly bound by caste and color and ethnicity and religion. And even in my own country, even in democracies like the United States, founded on a declaration that all men are created equal, racial segregation and systemic discrimination was the law in almost half the country and the norm throughout the rest of the country.
That was the world just 100 years ago. There are people alive today who were alive in that world. It is hard, then, to overstate the remarkable transformations that have taken place since that time. A second World War, even more terrible than the first, along with a cascade of liberation movements from Africa to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, would finally bring an end to colonial rule. More and more peoples, having witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism, the repeated mass slaughters of the 20th century, began to embrace a new vision for humanity, a new idea, one based not only on the principle of national self-determination, but also on the principles of democracy and rule of law and civil rights and the inherent dignity of every single individual.
In those nations with market-based economies, suddenly union movements developed; and health and safety and commercial regulations were instituted; and access to public education was expanded; and social welfare systems emerged, all with the aim of constraining the excesses of capitalism and enhancing its ability to provide opportunity not just to some but to all people. And the result was unmatched economic growth and a growth of the middle class. And in my own country, the moral force of the civil rights movement not only overthrew Jim Crow laws but it opened up the floodgates for women and historically marginalized groups to reimagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship....
Yes, there were still tragedies — bloody civil wars from the Balkans to the Congo. Despite the fact that ethnic and sectarian strife still flared up with heartbreaking regularity, despite all that as a consequence of the continuation of nuclear d├ętente, and a peaceful and prosperous Japan, and a unified Europe anchored in NATO, and the entry of China into the world’s system of trade — all that greatly reduced the prospect of war between the world’s great powers.
And from Europe to Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, dictatorships began to give way to democracies. The march was on. A respect for human rights and the rule of law, enumerated in a declaration by the United Nations, became the guiding norm for the majority of nations, even in places where the reality fell far short of the ideal. Even when those human rights were violated, those who violated human rights were on the defensive.
And with these geopolitical changes came sweeping economic changes. The introduction of market-based principles, in which previously closed economies along with the forces of global integration powered by new technologies, suddenly unleashed entrepreneurial talents to those that once had been relegated to the periphery of the world economy, who hadn’t counted. Suddenly they counted. They had some power; they had the possibilities of doing business.
And then came scientific breakthroughs and new infrastructure and the reduction of armed conflicts. And suddenly a billion people were lifted out of poverty, and once-starving nations were able to feed themselves, and infant mortality rates plummeted. And meanwhile, the spread of the internet made it possible for people to connect across oceans, and cultures and continents instantly were brought together, and potentially, all the world’s knowledge could be in the hands of a small child in even the most remote village.
That’s what happened just over the course of a few decades. And all that progress is real. It has been broad, and it has been deep, and it all happened in what — by the standards of human history — was nothing more than a blink of an eye. And now an entire generation has grown up in a world that by most measures has gotten steadily freer and healthier and wealthier and less violent and more tolerant during the course of their lifetimes....
For almost all countries, progress is going to depend on an inclusive market-based system — one that offers education for every child; that protects collective bargaining and secures the rights of every worker — that breaks up monopolies to encourage competition in small and medium-sized businesses; and has laws that root out corruption and ensures fair dealing in business; that maintains some form of progressive taxation so that rich people are still rich but they’re giving a little bit back to make sure that everybody else has something to pay for universal health care and retirement security, and invests in infrastructure and scientific research that builds platforms for innovation."
What he said! Note that Obama does not ignore the many things that are still wrong and unjust and need correction. But it is clear which way he still sees the arc of history bending. Read the whole speech; it's really excellent. Perhaps it'll nudge you into the optimistic leftist camp. Barack and I say: Come in on, the water's fine!
About this article
The former president spoke in Johannesburg on Tuesday. Here is the full transcript.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Blue Arizona?

There were actually a few important places in 2016 where Democrats did better than they did in 2012. Arizona was one such place. Obama lost the state by 9 points, Hillary Clinton by only 3.5 points. Democrats improved their margins among Latinos, Asians/others, white noncollege voters and especially white college graduates (the latter group split almost evenly between Trump and Clinton).
Could these trends continue and, combined with the ongoing shift toward a more Latino electorate, finally tip Arizona into blue territory? It is certainly possible. If so, we may the first manifestations of this shift in 2018 election results. Politico magazine has a lengthy article out about this year's races in Arizona, accompanied by a revealing poll of the state's voters.
"President Donald Trump’s unpopularity, coupled with an electorate that has...grown more Latino....has put two crucial races in play. One is the governor’s contest, where incumbent Republican Doug Ducey faces a likely challenge from David Garcia, a Hispanic-American professor and education expert at Arizona State University. A number of House seats are up for grabs in the state. Then there’s the race to fill Flake’s seat that pits Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema against, depending on how the primary shakes out, establishment-backed Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally. The last time a Democrat won that seat was in 1982.
A new POLITICO/AARP poll shows Democrats ahead by 7 points in generic ballots in both the governor’s and Senate races. But to actually win statewide elections in this highly ethnically polarized state, Democrats will need to juice turnout among younger and especially older Latinos, who have tended to vote at lower rates than other voters in their age group — who also are trending ever more Republican....
The new POLITICO/AARP poll shows that among Arizona Hispanics only 26 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the job the president is doing; 72 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” disapprove. The congressional and gubernatorial polls tell a similar tale, with only 22 percent of Latinos supporting the generic Republican candidate for Congress and the same percentage backing Ducey’s reelection bid."
Disapproval of Trump is nearly as strong among young voters in general who disapprove of Trump by at 65-30 margin. These same young voters massively back Democrats in the elections for governor and Senator.
Get these voters to the polls and a blue dawn could break over Arizona in 2018.
About this article
Democrats have been expecting Barry Goldwater’s home state to flip for years now. Powered by a Latino electorate fired up by Donald Trump, they just might do it — as long as they can actually get them to the polls.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Limits of Populism

Populism is a powerful force but it seems unlikely to supersede traditional left-right distinctions. A new Pew report provides data across 8 Western European countries that makes this point. The data are useful and illuminating but they do have their limitations: the operationalizations of populist and mainstream are narrow; there is no voting preference data, only party favorability; and many parties of interest are not covered including left socialist parties (e.g., the Left Party in Germany) and all green parties.
Still, the data are well worth a careful look, whatever one's priors on European politics or populism in general. Above all, they indicate that the struggle between left and right remains of huge relevance in the Age of Populism.
"In Western Europe, populist parties and movements have disrupted the region’s political landscape by making significant gains at the ballot box – from the Brexit referendum to national elections in Italy. The anti-establishment sentiments helping to fuel the populist wave can be found on the left, center and right of the ideological spectrum, as a Pew Research Center survey highlights. People who hold these populist views are more frustrated with traditional institutions, such as their national parliament and the European Union, than are their mainstream counterparts. They are also more concerned about the economy and anxious about the impact of immigrants on their society.
This dissatisfaction may in part be why they are more favorable toward populist parties; still, regardless of populist sentiments, people tend to favor parties that reflect their own ideological orientation. With regard to policy, too, ideology continues to matter. Left-right differences carry more weight than populist sympathies when it comes to how people view the government’s involvement in the economy, as well as the rights of gays and lesbians and women’s role in society."
Regardless of populist sentiments, anti-establishment frustration and the rise of populism in Western Europe, people tend to favor parties that reflect their own ideological orientation.

Friday, July 13, 2018

100 Things to Know about Economics, Society and Politics!

Sociologist Lane Kenworthy has helpfully provided a list of 100 things you should know about the sociopolitical world around you. And for each item he provides facts and charts--not pretty charts mind you but enough for you to get the idea. Trust me, this is great stuff; Kenworthy really does his homework--it gets the coveted RT seal of approval! And yes, there will be a quiz.
Here is the list of items. Follow the link below to get to the content on every item on Kenworthy's site. Note that Kenworthy has a new book coming out next year, Social Democratic Capitalism, that will feature all this info and more plus detailed analysis. But you can get in on the ground floor right here!
1. Economic growth | 2. Government social programs | 3. Democracy | 4. Affluence and universalistic humanism | 5. Affluence and personal freedom | 6. Incomes of the poor | 7. Extreme poverty | 8. Equality of opportunity | 9. Education and earnings | 10. College completion | 11. Parents’ income and college completion | 12. Employment among women | 13. Employment among men | 14. Manufacturing employment | 15. Marriage | 16. Divorce | 17. Out-of-wedlock births | 18. Children living with two parents | 19. The class difference in family trends | 20. Health insurance coverage | 21. Health care spending and health outcomes | 22. Deaths among middle-aged whites | 23. Deaths from prescription opioid overdose and heroin overdose | 24. Obesity | 25. Household income stability | 26. Middle-class income growth | 27. Middle-class income growth between cohorts and within cohorts | 28. Subjective class position | 29. Government transfers to households with low income | 30. Retirement income for the elderly | 31. Social Security | 32. Affluence and religiosity | 33. Religiosity | 34. Tolerance toward homosexuals | 35. LGBT persons’ perceptions of social acceptance | 36. Hate crimes | 37. Participation in voluntary organizations | 38. Labor unions | 39. Income and happiness | 40. Happiness | 41. Loneliness among adults | 42. Loneliness among teenagers | 43. Social support | 44. Suicides | 45. Trust | 46. Homicides | 47. Violent crime | 48. War deaths | 49. Terrorism killings | 50. Incarceration | 51. Peaceful transfer of political power | 52. Americans haven’t moved away from the center in their political views | 53. Americans’ political representatives have moved away from the center | 54. Voter participation | 55. Election-year economic performance and presidential election outcomes | 56. The unrepresentative US Senate | 57. Income and political influence | 58. Political gridlock | 59. Income inequality | 60. Wealth inequality | 61. Many Americans don’t like the idea of big government | 62. Most Americans like the things government actually does | 63. Government revenues | 64. Tax progressivity | 65. Taxation of the rich | 66. Government size and government debt | 67. Government size and innovation | 68. Government size and economic growth | 69. Government size and personal liberty | 70. Inflation | 71. Migration | 72. Immigration | 73. Views about immigration | 74. Trade | 75. Imports | 76. Military spending | 77. Views on military intervention | 78. College completion among women and men | 79. The gender pay gap | 80. Pay among women and men | 81. Housework and child care by women and men | 82. Women in politics | 83. Rape | 84. Racial-ethnic diversity | 85. Life expectancy among African Americans and whites | 86. College completion among African Americans and whites | 87. Wealth among African Americans and whites | 88. Incarceration among African Americans and whites | 89. Police killings of unarmed African Americans and whites | 90. Whites’ embrace of African Americans | 91. Abortions | 92. Views on abortion policy | 93. Marijuana policy | 94. Views on marijuana policy | 95. State gun policy and gun deaths | 96. Views on gun policy | 97. Leisure time | 98. Carbon dioxide emissions | 99. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere | 100. Earth’s average temperature
Lane Kenworthy July 2018 Here are a hundred things worth knowing about our world and about the United States in historical and comparative perspective. Because a picture is worth quite a few words …

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Elites and the Rise of Anti-Immigrant Attitudes

Do elites bear at least some responsibility for the rise of anti-immigrant attitudes? Law professor Joan Williams, author of an excellent recent book on the white working class, thinks so. She argues in a commentary published in the Wall Street Journal:
"Global elites pride themselves on their cosmopolitanism. Some younger elites reject the notion of national borders entirely. Many blue-collar whites interpret this as a shocking lack of social solidarity. They are proud to be American because it’s one of the few high-status identities they can claim. Elites, on the other hand, seek social honor by presenting themselves as citizens of the world. And many are, with membership in global networks dating to their college years or earlier. But blue-collar Americans tend to stay close to home because they rely on a small circle of family and friends for jobs, child care and help patching that hole in the roof. These are problems elites solve with money.....
[U]nwritten rules govern who deserves sympathy and who doesn’t. Elites’...rules mandate empathy for immigrants, viewed as vulnerable people separated from their families or fleeing persecution, gangs or conflict. This empathetic human-rights lens contrasts sharply with the neoliberal lens elites use for blue-collar Americans, who are often viewed as dimwitted and fat. Homer Simpson is emblematic.
All this has created a toxic environment in both the U.S. and Europe. Three steps can help turn things around. The first is to recognize that the nation-state matters greatly for nonelites in developed countries. “You can’t put a Danish flag on a birthday cake without being called racist,” someone recently commented to me at a book talk in Denmark. Dismissing national pride as nothing more than racism is a recipe for class conflict and more racism. Better by far to embrace national pride, balance it with concern for those outside the nation, and refuse to allow racism to pose as national pride.
The second step is to highlight the ways President Trump’s immigration and trade policies are hurting red-state constituencies that voted for him. Critics can point to farmers unable to find farmworkers, small-business owners unable to find dishwashers, and construction workers hit hard by steel tariffs.
The third step is to fight the scapegoating of immigrants by ensuring that hardworking Americans without college degrees can find good jobs. Economist Branko Milanovic has found that people in the bottom half of rich, developed countries’ income distributions have seen “an absence of real income growth” since 1988. What’s happening, Mr. Milanovic argues, is the “greatest reshuffle of individual incomes since the Industrial Revolution.” The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that average wages fell last year for nonsupervisory workers in the U.S.
There’s no inherent reason why native-born blue-collar workers should be anti-immigrant. They often hold similar attitudes toward hard work and family values. Elites who sympathize with immigrants do themselves no favors by dismissing the working class as too bigoted or too stupid to recognize the economic benefits of immigration. Instead they should actually try to make the case and address the causes of anti-immigrant scapegoating."
These steps all sound sensible to me. More sensible, and far more likely to be politically effective, than calling for the abolition of ICE, which is not likely to go down well with the working class voters Williams alludes to.
About this article
As proud citizens of the world, they show little solidarity with working-class countrymen.