Monday, November 12, 2018

Gloating More: Reflections on a Blue Wave

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cover-story/cover-story-2018-11-19


Yes! The Democrats took the House and credibly defended a difficult map in the Senate. I hope there will now be more checks on Trump and the fascist Republican Party.
There is something in this victory to please multiple Democratic factions: women, people of color, and social democrats. Personally, I am pleased that part of my essay Turning Out the Left has been vindicated. I am also pleased that young people, feminists, people of color, and social democrats seem to be forming a coalition; after infighting of the 2016 election I was wondering if that was even possible.
On the other hand, I expect a horrible lame duck session; I expect the Republican Congressional delegation to take all advantage possible of their remaining weeks in power.
Once the new Congress is seated, both parties will be choosing new leadership in the House. The newly-elected social democrats will come into conflict with the Wall Street Democrats. I do hope the House Democrats will use their subpoena power to investigate the Trump administration’s corruption and crimes against humanity.
Given that the Senate and the Presidency are both in Republican hands, and a right-wing Supreme Court majority, I am not hopeful for much Democratic legislation until 2020, and the Court may do much damage. Still, skillful Democratic legislators may be able to at least get some decent deals through. At least, I hope, they will protect the social insurance programs.
So, a lot to hope for, but not immediately. We must keep our hopes up and take heart from our success at the polls and in investigations.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review: Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise

(Crossposted to Goodreads.)

“And for what purpose? Why are we encouraging the spread of this lunacy? I mean we here, in North America. I don't mean […] the richest people in the world battening on the poorest. That's just greed, which is a comparatively clean kind of vice. I'm talking about perversion, horrible, disgusting, systematic, deliberate perversion of the power of reason to destroy people without killing them, to strip them of their initiative, their joy in life, their hope, […], their last ultimate irreducible human resource, hope. Out of sheer desperation millions of people are abandoning the use of reason, bankrupting themselves to buy [new age junk], in a last puerile attempt to outdo the bastards who've made "reason" a dirty word.
“They've done it, you know—it's the dirtiest word in any human vocabulary right now. And it's been brought about in my own lifetime, almost entirely. Cold rational decisions, every step leading to them perfectly logical, underlay the wars in Asia […] and at every step we lost. Not just the wars, but bits ourselves. Compassion. Empathy. Love. Pity. We systematically chopped ourselves down to the measure of a machine.
– Fictional psychologist Xavier Conroy, from John Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit

I decided to go and read Nichols The Death of Expertise, since he is a prominent never-Trump figure whose public persona I rather like.
Oh. My. God.
This is a book of excuses by, I think, an enormously guilty man. Somewhere in the back of his mind he probably knows that it is conservatism that mounted the huge attack on knowledge and expertise that began in the last quarter of the 20th century. Somewhere in the back of his mind he probably knows that this was done to defend the policies which his political faction supported: the relaxation of financial law, widespread war, ecological destruction as a way to gain wealth. There’s some good material here on the genuine disrespect for knowledge and the problem of the value of intellectual authority when the basics of many subjects are widely and quickly available. (Anyone who has tried a home repair based on YouTube videos has something to say about this matter.) I read this just after Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and the books have something to say to each other.
But this is an arsonist fighting the fire he helped feed. The vast amount of distortion that has been introduced into public discourse and is maintained by huge spending on propaganda is almost entirely from Nichols’s own political faction. It was “conservative” experts who rationalized the policies that killed millions through pointless war. It was “conservative” experts who rationalized the lawless financial and economic policies that destroyed the savings of the American middle class. And it is “conservative” experts who are still attacking the knowledge of scientists to defend the continuing destruction of the earth’s planetary environment.
Congratulations, Dr. Nichols. Your side won. And now you are surprised and angry that your victory has turned to ashes? This is a start. I am glad that at least you at least are willing to acknowledge that it is ashes. But it is time to look back at your intellectual sources, to, as economist Brad Delong says, mark your beliefs to market.

Friday, November 2, 2018

2016: The Black Working Class Vote

Been thinking. Dangerous thing, a raven thinking.
The Democratic Party was wrong, in adopting its studied neutrality in matters of economics at the national level. Intersectionality made this into a racist policy. Both banks and the general public were left to their own devices, and so the banks with their extensive financial resources did well, while the general public, its savings drained by years of unsupportive economic policy, did poorly. This led to the economic abandonment of people of color, who were hammered in the crash of 2008. This abandonment, in turn, led to people of color in the north midwest abandoning the Democratic Party after 2008. As Shah and Wichowsky observed in “Foreclosure’s Fallout,” in Milwaukee County in 2012, foreclosure decreased turnout in the heavily (27.2%) African-American county.
Ordinarily unemployment around the time of an election increases turnout (see, for instance, Levin et al, “Participationin the Wake of Adversity: Blame Attribution and Policy-Oriented Evaluations” but this is one of a long series of articles to this point); there is an urge to make one’s voice heard.
But there has to be the expectation that someone is listening! In 2018 Malaika Jabali wrote “The Color of Economic Anxiety” about African-American voters in Milwaukee. She quotes Fred Royal, the president of the Milwaukee NAACP chapter, about the Clinton campaign: “African Americans, especially African Americans in this city with [high rates of] poverty, 50 percent black male unemployment for […] years. That shows you the systemic racism that isn’t being addressed. And if you’re not going to speak to that, why would I be engaged?” What did reach those voters? The pro-union message of Bernie Sanders; the old black union men and the young black voters of Milwaukee supported Sanders in the primary. They also remembered William Clinton in Arkansas, the racist bipartisan anti-crime agenda of the 1990s, the anti-union, pro-business agenda of his faction of the Democratic Party. Milwaukee African-American union leader Wendell Harris commented, “I didn’t like him. He was the architect of the New Democrats, and in essence they were supposed to be as close to the Republicans as possible to still be considered a Democrat.”
Hillary Clinton’s campaign was wrong. Clinton’s “other basket” never contained many white men, not even a majority of white women. They could not be brought to vote for her. Bernard Sanders was wrong. White working-class voters hadn’t turned to racism because of hard times; they were racist to begin with.
On the one hand we had the racist and sexist vote, energized by years of attacks on Hillary Clinton and Trump’s promises to the white working class. On the other hand, we had the African-American working class, worn down by years of bipartisan anti-union policies and the crash of 2008, the foreclosures and the years out of work. There was the extensive Russian propaganda to aggravate the conflict; to support the bigots and discourage the African-Americans. In northern states like Wisconsin, the white working class turned out for Trump and the black working class stayed home.
The Democratic Party lost 2016 because of racism: they paid more attention to white voters they couldn’t reach and not enough to working-class people of color they could have reached. The conservative economic policies of the Democratic Party in the 1990s led to short-term success and long-term failure.
To succeed, the Democratic Party must court women and people of color. Policies must address both economic issues as well as racism and sexism. Democratic politicians must be seen to support people of moderate means of all races.
It is going to be a close election. I do not know if enough has been done for the Democrats to win, or if there is enough revulsion at the fascism the Republicans have descended to bring the Democrats to power in at least one of the houses of Congress. Whether or not the Democrats win, they must change. To continue as they have is to cede the field to the fascists.

References

Enten, Harry. “Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election.” FiveThirtyEight (blog), January 5, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/registered-voters-who-stayed-home-probably-cost-clinton-the-election/.
Jabali, Malaika. “The Color of Economic Anxiety | Current Affairs.” Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/the-color-of-economic-anxiety.
Levin, Ines, J. Andrew Sinclair, and R. Michael Alvarez. “Participation in the Wake of Adversity: Blame Attribution and Policy-Oriented Evaluations.” Political Behavior 38, no. 1 (March 2016): 203–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-015-9316-6.
Shah, Paru, and Amber Wichowsky. “Foreclosure’s Fallout: Economic Adversity and Voter Turnout.” Political Behavior, October 19, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9509-x.
“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.” Accessed November 1, 2018. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/milwaukeecountywisconsin/PST045217.