Tag Archives: marco rubio

Super Tuesday II: everything’s coming up Trump

As promised, here’s the most important map in the US right now:

2016-03-16_1020(Counties sorted by winner: Trump in dark blue, Cruz in yellow, and Kasich in bright green. Candidates who have withdrawn or suspended their campaigns with a win include Carson in pale green and Rubio in red. Ties are in dark gray, counties that will hold contests later in the year are in light gray, and territories that elect strictly unbound delegates are in black.)

In a nutshell, it’s good news for Trump. Here’s a quick overview of what we can all learn from last night beyond that.

Region matters, but it’s only part of the story

A lot of commentary has focused on regional distinctions, in which Cruz is painted as successful in the West while Trump dominates the East and especially the South. That misses some nuances about where and how either of them dominate in various regions.

In the South, urban centers largely light up in contrast to the cold sea of largely rural, blue-coded, Trump-won counties. A large percentage of that were counties carried by Rubio, but Cruz’s showing in North Carolina maps surprisingly well to the more densely populated parts of the state too. Those voters in particularly may very well have been anyone-but-Trump votes, cast by somewhat more moderate and typically urban Southern Republicans. If North Carolina had voted earlier (like South Carolina), they may have gone with Rubio or a more moderate choice than Cruz, but this late in the process they were voting extremely strategically.

Missouri, hotly contested as a southern state, seems to have had a similar dynamic play out last night. Cruz won Jefferson City, Kansas City, Springfield, and Cape Girardeau, while Trump dominated the rural areas between each of those cities. Those who insist that Missouri has a distinctly un-southern feel to it might be right, as the second largest city, St. Louis, was narrowly carried by Trump. Bordering Illinois, those counties saw a dynamic more like those seen further north in the country.

Outside of the South, this urban-rural split is not only less dependable but also shockingly reverses, with Trump carrying Las Vegas, Detroit, Boston, and yesterday Chicago. As noted before, that oddity of him tending to win urban and suburban centers in blue states particularly speaks to his unique appeal to conservatives who feel “under siege” or similarly vulnerable. Where comparatively less populated parts of Illinois flip from Trump to Cruz might serve as an indicator of where a more southern cultural identity ends within the state. Trumps electoral success in Chicago – even though it’s with a small part of the total population there – was key in him pulling off that win.

Kasich wins, yet barely

If anyone pulled off a major victory in the Republican primaries last night outside of Trump, it was Kasich. While no one, Florida senator Rubio least of all, failed to step up and oppose Trump more or less steamrolling his way to victory in Florida, Ohio governor Kasich gave a surprisingly strong showing in Ohio. Cruz failed to capitalize on his appeal in certain rural parts of Kentucky bordering Ohio, but Trump’s wins along that border (and up along the boundary with Pennsylvania) were overshadowed by Kasich’s decisive if lean wins in virtually every other rural, suburban, or urban part of the state.

His win really was a bare minimum, however. Kasich, armed with electability, experience, and likability, only managed to win a plurality of Republican primary voters. To make matters worse he also had some pretty substantial conservative bona fides and benefited from a semi-organized campaign among Ohio democrats to crossover and vote for him. Even with all that, Trump trailed behind him only 9.1 percent – a meaningful loss, but not very much of one when Ted Cruz won 13.1 percent in the race in Ohio. The viability of Kasich outside of Ohio is dubious at best, and these fairly anemic returns under best case conditions may have a secured a key victory there but they mostly serve as a reminder of how limited his appeal has been.

The missing caucuses

Most coverage has sadly overlooked this, but the Northern Mariana Islands held their caucuses yesterday as well. Trump won decisively, with Cruz in a distant second. This is a bit of an upset of historical norms, actually, as they had previously cast their support even more overwhelmingly to Mitt Romney in 2012. In both cases, however, the territory saw wildly unrepresentative caucuses with fewer than scarcely a thousand participants representing its more than fifty thousand residents.

What next?

Within the immediate race, eyes will soon turn to Arizona, Utah, and American Samoa, which will all hold primary contests next Tuesday. That’s another 107 delegates – 58 of which will be awarded as a set by Arizonan primary voters. If Trump wins that primary, he would be more than halfway to a clear majority of delegates, suggesting that the Republican convention this summer will either be his to enjoy or a protracted mess of last minute deals to deny him the nomination.

Considering those exact possibilities, more than few Republicans are probably busily taking notes on this Bloomberg article which explores exactly how a brokered convention might be engineered. The key issue, particularly if Trump manages to win Arizona or similarly gain control over the majority of delegates is whether he can keep them completely loyal at a potentially rowdy convention. It’s unclear if this was tabulated with the aim to help Trump retain his delegates, Cruz target them for conversion, or for other reasons, but one list of who will appear at the convention as an unbound delegate (meaning, they can change their votes) has already popped up.

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The devil you know or the devil who understands

Tomorrow, Republican presidential primaries will be held in Ohio, and Florida. As states with large populations whose local Republican leaders have decided to hold winner-take all primaries, these blocs of delegates might secure current front runner Donald Trump a near guarantee on the nomination. Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina will also hold primaries, and the Northern Mariana Islands will have their caucuses. Regardless of how well Trump monopolizes the delegates in tomorrow’s primaries and caucuses, the version of this map we will have Wednesday morning will be one of the most important images in the United States:

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Counties won by Donald Trump in dark blue, won by Marco Rubio in red, won by Ted Cruz in yellow, won by John Kasich in green, won by Ben Carson in pale green.

Already before those votes are held, however, this map confirms a few suspicions many have had about this race – namely that Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s support comes from a tightly limited demographic, of the few upwardly mobile suburban parts of the country (what people often describe as the base for the Republican “Establishment”). Many analysts quickly bind together in contrast with that the vast rest of Republicans, divided up between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump supporters, as “anti-Establishment” or “the Base.” The map we have today subtly hints at the flaws in that though.

There is a lot of noise in who wins what counties in presidential primaries, but a curious pattern emerges in the disparate parts of the country Donald Trump wins pluralities within. He loses Topeka and Tulsa, but wins Detroit and Las Vegas. He wins the suburbs of Corpus Cristi and smattering of counties along the Texas-Mexico border but loses Houston from its exurbs to city center. He wins every county in New Hampshire but only one in Maine. This isn’t some trivial matter, as others have quietly pointed out time and again, he’s winning large numbers of his delegates from disproportionately weighted parts of the country where the Republican Party stands virtually no chance in the general. Ted Cruz tends to win where the base is the population, but Trump generally wins where it isn’t as dominant.

This cuts to the very core of a lot of the statistical studies that have been conducted in this primary – that Trump’s supporters are more characterized by an authoritarian response to perceived threats and that they are more likely to agree with statements of White racial resentment. Ted Cruz’s supporters, compared to the general population, probably have more in common with Trump supporters than the mean, but Trump leads with people who perceive the world as not just filled with inferiors opposed to them, but who have somehow gained the upper hand politically, socially, and economically.

One of the few comparisons of authoritarian and anti-elite tendencies among their supporters suggests exactly that distinction – Ted Cruz’s supporters may come across as more authoritarian than Donald Trump’s in part because they trust those in power more, while Donald Trump’s supporters second-place authoritarianism has been tempered by a fear that that wrong people are in power.

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(From here.)

That’s why he so frequently works in references to the onerous burden of political correctness – he’s targeting the part of the Republican base that most frequently encounters people outside of it and suddenly finds itself on the defensive. It’s the faction of it that’s tired of not being able to dictate social expectations, and instead being expected to negotiate, or worse, listen. The type of Republicans who have those experiences, as opposed to living in more isolation from than conflict with other worldviews, tend to reside in more ethnically diverse parts of the country – in Detroit, in Las Vegas, along the Texas-Mexico border, and other places the Democrats tend to actually win.

Trump’s campaign has tapped into the fears of a specific part of the Republican base, which can deliver more people to the polls than the “Establishment” and often in places where their delegates carry the biggest impact. That is one of the stories on the 2016 election – how Donald Trump saw a winning electoral strategy distinct from the “Establishment” track or the typical approach of those rallying the “Base”, and then rode it into victory. The most important question tomorrow is whether Floridans and Ohioans will vote for Rubio’s and Kasich’s familiar faces or with what are likely common experiences they have in those purple states. In most of Texas, Cruz prevailed in the way they hope to, but he’s also not seen as aligned with the “Establishment” unlike either of them.

Illinois voters who are undoubtedly familiar with that same dynamic of living outside of the Red States. In addition, there’s no home town politician in the race to deflect attention from Trump. What little polling has been done in Illinois suggests that combined together that’s to Trump’s advantage. Wednesday morning we’ll have our answer about whether this dynamic of Trump wins among stealthier conservatives has continued, and whether it was a durable trend even in Rubio’s and Kasich’s backyards.

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Digesting the caucuses

It’s rather easy to get overwhelmed in terms of what exactly happened yesterday. The process itself is arcane and at times mind-boggling. Across the state of Iowa, thousands of party activists met at appointed locations and selected their choice of major party nominee for president in 2016. For Democrats, they basically shouted their way to dominance in those various schools, churches, and other public locations, with contingents remaining at the end of the process being proportionately awarded delegates. For Republicans, they for all intents and purposes held a primary vote, which selected delegates bound to vote proportionately for the candidates the average citizens voted for.

It’s hard to match last year’s wild ride in which the vote counts in eight precincts in the Republican caucuses simply went missing, but the story of a precinct decided one unclaimed delegate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton by a coin toss shows that dysfunction remains the true winner of every Iowa caucus. In the midst of all that chaos, it’s difficult to determine that, well, much of anything of meaning happened, let alone what it would be. Here’s a short list of what the tea leaves suggest to me though.

Clinton has to work for it… for now

What was initially announced on Monday as a statistical tie between Clinton and Sanders has largely been reinterpreted as an extremely narrow victory for Clinton. That suggests a tight race heading into New Hampshire, where Sanders rightly expects to have something like a home court advantage. A combination of racial demographics, an intensifying class consciousness in the electorate, and local familiarity are going to make this a particularly close and contestable competition in these two states.

Before the Sanders campaign gets too excited, however, that’s not how things are likely to continue after those two states. He’s made some particularly cavalier statements that are likely to alienate voters politically aware of racial inequality or immigration policies. In late February, Nevada will hold a closed caucus, and following that the map of Democratic primaries and caucuses moves to the South, which for Democrats means a decidedly less White voting electorate. If Clinton can effectively articulate the discomfort some people of color have with the racial dimensions of Sanders’ policies and rhetoric, the race won’t stay quite as up in the air.

Rubio wins… the consolation prize

Marco Rubio was widely hailed as the “winner” of the Republican caucuses, considering that Donald Trump underperformed the expectations that he might eclipse Ted Cruz and that Ted Cruz was the favorite to win in any case. Rubio nearly reaching the same levels as Trump indicates that at least in some contexts the largely “tuned out” voters Trump has attracted to the caucuses can end up being about equal to the “establishment” minded voters. The real surprise here, assuming this dynamic holds in later states, is that the conflict within the Republican Party between those factions is not about a wealthy minority and the mass of voters, but about equally-sized blocks of people who show up at the polls.

The real win that Rubio has pulled off is that he bested Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and other similar candidates at representing the “establishment”. There are structural advantages in the primary to appealing to that part of the Republican electorate, but it’s not clear that that will be enough to rocket Rubio’s support out of third place.

Not establishment, not grassroots, not insurgent… so what exactly is Cruz?

With Rubio and Trump each pulling in just over a fifth of the vote, that leaves Cruz with a lion’s share that’s contrasted with both an establishment-aligned bloc and a disaffected and mad as hell insurgency. Ted Cruz’s muddled place between those two camps has probably been the least acknowledged strength in the Republican primary campaign.

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(Weighted Iowa Republican Caucus returns: Ted Cruz in yellow has support throughout the state, Donald Trump in purple dominates in the more conservative southwestern corner of the state, and Marco Rubio in green dominated in outlying suburbs of the largest cities. From here.)

He has the bona fides, visibility, and authority of the typical establishment candidate like Rubio – he’s not going to make Trump-style blunders about the nuclear triad or commit to unfeasible revenge fantasies as policy proposals. He also has the ability to talk about policies and politics in the language average people attracted to extremism want to hear – something that Rubio at times struggles with.

If anyone can keep the fragile union of social conservatives and imperialist libertarians together in the Republican Party, it’s him. That’s a daunting task for anyone, however, especially one whose birth location is in conflict with some of the most extremist rhetoric at the heart of the anti-Obama politics that have come to define the Republican Party.

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Who’s on third?

I’ve touched on this topic before, that what Trump is appealing to is something that fundamentally succeeds under a democratic system better than what most of his competitors in the Republican primary are offering. At least, within the Republican Party itself, it’s more durable. With Trump leading in the polls, that might sound like basic commonsense, but it also says something far more meaningful and darker about the future of the Republican Party.

What they’ve carefully crafted over the past several decades, with Southern Strategies and Moral Majorities, are ultimately brokered deals. Those are between an electoral bloc motivated by causes artfully directed away from economic populism and a smaller set who call the shots on anything with economic relevance. This was the playbook up through the recent Bush administration – which was headed by something of a cultural representative. His accent was pretty unconvincing to many, but just trying to use one aligned him with one cultural element in the country, which remains a large electoral bloc if not plurality of voters.

His upper class background spoke to the demarcations within that Republican arrangement – if not one of he was from and familiar with the few powerful donors and representatives who held key positions and dictated economic policy. That description of his administration might sound odd, and it is incomplete in how it leaves out the inescapable and protracted debates on marriage equality and abortion. The presence of two distinctive, at times radically so, policy conversations has been the Republican modus operandi for decades. Trump has disrupted that clear boundary between the two and the larger system that created that.

spirit justice.jpgRemember when all national discussion stalled to talk about the Spirit of Justice statue and her exposed breasts? Image from here.

Most clearly, his economic policies, like most of his politics, are taken as much as possible from the reactionary cultural groups tapped into by Republicans for years. Even on “social” issues, he’s touched the live wires that few other Republicans would – ones like immigration which while often talked about in terms of language and identity are impossible to have a substantive policy on without huge economic ramifications, many of which are unfavorable to major Republican donors.

In a nutshell, what I’ve said about that before is that, electorally, what he’s doing works. The prior Republican set-up requires constantly shifting public discussion from issue to issue, with each one manufacturing new ways of understanding the issue that must be bleached of any economic impact. It relies unsustainably on an ability to simultaneously engage and distract the same set of voters and supporters. Trump is just adjusting the Party, making it into something that doesn’t depend on both democratic support and undemocratic leadership at the same time.

One of the conclusions of that, however, is that he isn’t an interloper “robbing” Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Chris Christie or anyone else of their rightful nomination within “their” Party. He’s adapting the Party from within, alienating some who don’t understand or admit the weaknesses inherent in its prior structure, but ultimately expressing the same politics in a more internally cogent way. Trump is Republican and a plurality of Republicans for months now have supported him in national polling.

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(Credit to Gage Skidmore.)

Earlier this week, I saw the first major news headline to recognize what that means:

It’s the Republican “establishment” which would be running as the third party. Trump is the apparent Republican nominee. He is the seeming representation of Republican political philosophy. One of the responding tweets described the bluff being called in other terms

Hopefully this is a realization that a number of people – who had the personal freedom to tune out of the “cuture wars” and write it off as a distraction – will have. Whoever in politics is still operating with that theatrical use of social issues, which always was done in a way dangerous to some, they’re no longer a major party.

The most prominent voices still using those terms aren’t just promising the moon like before, but meaningfully articulating what they want done nationally. The Republican Party’s paper tiger form wasn’t working, and Trump and others have decided to opt in favor of an actual tiger instead.

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The F Word: Revisited

Before taking the risk of making what isn’t just about Trump sound like it’s just about Trump, let me quickly remind you of some facts. There are anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican elements in American popular culture, which Trump and others have tapped into to gain political support. The Republican Party’s leadership and Trump’s competitors as a result haven’t actually condemned him for his past or recent comments. In fact, their failure to chime in with Trump in agreement has come under fire within certain parts of the conservative media.

These political ideas, about who can enter or live within the US, knit together a worryingly familiar set of policies. They are the path to success within the Republican Party’s presidential primary and a means to an amount of popularity in broader US politics as well. Even as we recognize the larger context, it seems necessary to note exactly what the political appeal that Trump is. I was one of the earliest to note there is a word commonly used to describe those politics. It is fascism.

During the Bush years, anti-fascist activist David Neiwert penned a series of essays which today read like a careful examination of the different political movements at that time which have ultimately evolved into Donald Trump’s base. One of them attempted to wrestle with one of the most common features in looks at fascism – the various competing lists of fascist political goals, attributes, and policies. There’s not much of a consensus on what a fascist looks, talks, and thinks like.

I think his choice of the ultimately best one, which is also one of the most specific, might be of use when looking over Trump’s rhetoric and plans and doing as Rachel Maddow asked earlier this week – deciding if we can use the word fascism to describe them (spoilers: you can). Neiwert recommended we listen to Oxford professor Roger Griffin in times like these. Griffin’s definition is a full paragraph that we can properly sink our teeth into:

Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.

We can easily break that apart into a few different elements: a call for the regeneration of the country, the basis of that being a policing of who can be assimilated or otherwise included in the nation, which necessitates certain forms of repression and disruption to democratic norms. As Neiwert summarizes it, “palingenetic [phoenix-like in rebirth] ultranationalist populism.”

Here’s how The Donald, his followers, and his competitors stack up against that worldview:

Make America Great Again

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From here.

His slogan, borrowed from Reagan, is now purchasable on hats, on t-shirts, and bumper stickers. As its origins make clear, almost everyone runs for office with improvements in mind, potentially restorative ones even, but the centrality his campaign gives this phrase does mirror the fascist appeal towards national rebirth.

What little policy specifics Trump has currently doled out hit the exact same note as well – calling for an overhaul of US policy towards China (currently “a typical example of how politicians in Washington have failed our country”), the administrative pile-up at the Veterans’ Administration (“when Donald J. Trump is president, it will be fixed – fast”), and on immigration (present policies “must change”). On taxes, he showcases his plan as a restoration of competitiveness:

“Politicians in Washington have let America fall from the best corporate tax rate in the industrialized world in the 1980’s (thanks to Ronald Reagan) to the worst rate in the industrialized world. That is unacceptable. Under the Trump plan, America will compete with the world and win by cutting the corporate tax rate to 15%, taking our rate from one of the worst to one of the best.”

Gun policy is just about the only issue he doesn’t quite sound this way on, but even there he’s suggested reworking the background check system, instituting a national right to carry, and encouraging concealed weapons in military facilities. After all, when making “America great again, we need a strong military” meaning”we need to allow them to defend themselves” which entails conceal-carry apparently. The resurrection of the nation makes a guest appearance in the end.

Woven into almost everything he does are familiar tropes to almost every major Republican candidacy these days – a witnessing of others feeling stung by being cheated by a broken system, appeals to a better time this country could see again, and so on. None of that is particularly unique to Trump, or unique to fascists, but it’s just one key rhetorical and ideological aspect of their politics that he has similarly centered.

Morning in America: for whom?

So all of the major candidates, especially in the Republican primary, have made their case for how to rework this country into something more efficient, more fair, and just generally better. What Trump has done, at a unique decibel level, is make it incredibly clear that his better world has reserved seating. He literally launched his campaign while making that clear:

Part of what’s made some of the shock over his recent comments seem silly is that he’s been saying this sort of thing all along. He entered the arena blaring this message: that the improvements he promises to work for will come at a price and that’s millions displaced. An emerging plurality in the Republican primary appear to have answered him that that’s not a cost at all as far as they’re concerned.

His more recent statements on Muslims just expand the scope of who, in his theoretical presidency, would be drawn on the other side of a line of acceptance. This cuts straight to the ultranationalist core of fascism. The line demarcating the inside and the outside has to be strictly applied in most historical forms of fascism, and it tends to create elaborate metrics to allow a tight boundary indeed.

The omnipresent role that that issue plays in his campaign is unique within the Republican field. The degree to which he departs from his fellow candidates, however, is not very large. Questions of which broad swathes of the world’s population are beyond the pale are just answered a little more narrowly by the rest of the field.

Marco Rubio is certainly encouraging people to think of essentially all Muslims in that way as well, but not as interested in a Trump-like heavy handed set of immigration and entry policies. Jeb Bush has gone on record in favor of restrictions on Muslim refugees and said quite a few things about “anchor babies.” Arguably, Trump’s successful jump to the top of the polls while fixating on this type of discussion has paved the way for them and others to speak similarly.

Fie the constitution

Trump’s most recent comments of that caliber advocate a set of policies that are pretty unambiguously not legal. While his prior policy proposals have largely stayed within legal lines, he has been curiously cavalier with how he talks about basic constitutional freedoms.

There are the regular conventions – a disdain for the media, which is an essential check within our democratic system – but also a troubling recurrence of intimidation and assault on protesters by his supporters, which Trump has pretty much encouraged. It’s even led to a near death.

Just as there’s been a race to match Trump on immigration and related policies, at least one competitor has tried to match him on illegal demands. Ben Carson all but argued for a religious test for someone to become president – a flagrant violation of the First Amendment’s ban on religious tests for political office.

While Trump and Carson stumble on some rather large and obvious questions of legality, there’s a more casual disregard for democratic convention that’s permeated the Republican primary. A small amount of bucking trends and tradition is probably healthy, but the party establishment and Trump have painted themselves both into a corner. Trump continues to not so subtly hint he might break with the party’s process and make an independent run. The party, meanwhile, has tried to keep hold on him and other candidates all the more tightly in response.

In US politics, our parties are more of a pragmatic organization solution than strictly part of our democracy or constitutionally recognized, let alone mandated. That said, disrupting their normal process could, arguably, have an undemocratic effect, in terms of upending expectations that primary and general voters can have about candidates. In that light, Trump’s fight with party leadership and their own interest in changing around party rules and standards to either accommodate or challenge him both represent a casual departure from democratic norms.

That’s the same “just do what needs to be done” mentality that when applied to constitutional and human rights can lead to dark places, particularly when imbued with the zeal of someone saving their country from an Other which fills them with rage, disgust, and terror.

Popularity contests

Speaking of other candidates playing catch-up with Trump, there’s one element of the definition that Neiwert’s three word summary catches and Griffin’s paragraph misses: populism.

Here’s where Trump and the rest of the Republican field most dramatically part ways. While he has promised not to threaten Social Security and other key entitlement programs, almost everyone one of his competitors has suggested something similar. Their tax plans vary a little less neatly, but Trump’s has the distinction of most overtly appealing to the working and middle classes, to a degree that few others really do.

Before someone starts calling Trump a Democrat plant, realize he’s still to the right of Democrats on those and other economic issues. Particularly the Warren wing of the Democrats stands in sharp contrast with him on questions of international corporate tax policy, but their party as a whole is generally fixated on growing and increasing entitlement and pension programs (although, often, not by much). Amid expansion-minded Democrats and restriction-minded Republicans, Trump sticks out oddly, seemingly wanting to keep things as they are more or less.

Within the American political landscape, there’s arguably a large chunk of the electorate who could be described as populists, more than liberals or conservatives. They’re often explained as those who tend to skew towards tradition and other conservative points on social issues, but favor economic redistribution and other liberal policies economically. It’s often bemoaned that members in that group who vote Republican aren’t voting in their own self interest. It’s seldom asked why they’re doing that.

Arguably, part of what Trump has done is very careful tilt his policies in that groups direction. He’s not asking them to give up their benefits to Republican cuts, and his racially-charged campaign is arguably encouraging fears in that group that the Democrats will ask them to give their benefits over to someone scary and different.

One of the recurring questions in this campaign has been the dumbfounded demand of how Trump catapulted himself to the lead in the Republican primary, later replaced with asking how he’s stayed there. Here’s an answer: he’s better replicating this fascist checklist, primarily in terms of a few economic populist policies (available to those on the right side of the nation’s social, cultural, economic, and political boundaries). There’s a ghoulish impulse that taps into, of thinking that if there’s fewer mouths to feed, there’s more for me.

Pairing that with ultra-nationalist rhetoric allows him to maintain significant support among conservatives, but while also being uniquely appealing to many populists sometimes turned off by conservative economic policy prescriptions. They have to be populists who don’t mind extremist rhetoric, or, ones vulnerable to being whipped into fear or anger in the midst of ultra-nationalist fervor.

The language used, particularly when paired with disdainful talk for “political correctness” also helps pick up a scattered group of extremist conservatives, and potentially even some populists, who aren’t scared off by conservative economics but want more intense conservative social policies. In short, it spreads the support thin, but it also picks up support in demographics boilerplate Republicans were potentially overlooking.

The fact that fully stitching together this fascist policy plank helps someone leap to front-runner status within the Republican primary should give you and hopefully everyone in this country pause. Donald Trump isn’t just arguing for fascism on the campaign trail and, unrelatedly, leading in the primary. His articulation of an essentially fascist collection of policy proposals and rhetorical tricks created his lead. He’s giving the kind of people who vote in the Republican primary what they want, and what they want, looks to be fascism.

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Bigger than Trump

Trigger warning: islamophobia, war, mass surveillance

Donald Trump has returned to dominate lists of trending tags with an astounding call to bar all Muslims – only days later clarifying citizens would probably be exempt – from entering the United States. His campaign underscored exactly what he was talking about when asked to clarify. He really means everyone, from immigrants to refugees to tourists, with a complete and total ban on admission into the United States for any amount of time.

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Cordoba House supporters protesting in New York City in 2010, from here.

With that, the Republican front-runner has managed to do the unthinkable, and draw criticism from not only outside of his party but also some of the most militant voices in the Republican establishment for being too vocally or categorically or extremely anti-Muslim. Dick Cheney, Carly Fiorina, and Lindsey Graham have spoken out, in Graham’s case with a request for a Party-wide rebuke of Trump.

That speaks to an odd, scapegoating dynamic. Trump isn’t the source of anti-Muslim attitudes in the US, he’s simply ridden them (and related prejudices) to the top of the polls in the Republican primary. The establishment or establishment-approved voices now calling for a rejection of Trump and his politics have all dabbled in the building blocks of his call for an anti-Muslim travel ban. Previously a number of other candidates had called for a smaller scale version of the precise same thing, with a complete ban on Muslim refugees, including establishment-favorite Jeb Bush.

I’ve touched on this before, but the anti-Muslim elements that Trump has put out in full display have long been woven into the national politics in the US. The language not only Republicans or conservatives but almost everyone in political discussion uses to describe militancy or oppression – jihad, Taliban, Mecca- is studded with words borrowed from various Islamic contexts. Their use draws on that negative image of Muslims, and repurposes some of that. That speaks to the way that islamophobia has become a public resource, tapped into to find ways of characterizing others you disagree with.

More unique to the American rightwing, however, has been the development of an entire industry devoted to weaponizing that. The research cited by Trump’s campaign to justify their proposed policy has come under scrutiny for its lack of rigor. The study, however, speaks to the vast web of connections within anti-Muslim conservative politics, in which the head of the group conducting the study was active in stirring up a whole series of panics over the past few years.

In 2011, Frank Gaffney Jr. of the Center for Security Policy inspired multiple Republican congressional representatives and several Republican-controlled state governments to look into the possibility of efforts to enshrine Sharia law within the US. From there, his organization’s periodicals and pamphlets shifted to trying to root out a first Iranian, later Wahhabi conspiracy within the White House. In each of those cases, Gaffney explicitly sought out “a new and improved counterpart to the Cold War-era’s HUAC” and Republicans at both the national and state level attempted to deliver.

While extremist figures in the Republican Party tilted at those windmills, like representative Peter King and former representative Michele Bachmann, Gaffney’s description of a US at existential risk appears to have circulated in other, more establishment-aligned Republican circles. Presidential contender Marco Rubio is widely considered the moderate Republican alternative to the imploding Jeb Bush, and his campaign seems to be making “civilizational struggle,” a tweaked version of Gaffney’s “civilizational jihad,” their main refrain.

The policy prescriptions within these discussions are quite predictable – bans on immigration or even visitation, more militarization at US borders, more US military presence and operations in Muslim-majority countries. It’s at its core the state-centered politics that a number of conservatives spent 2009 declaring their abject opposition to, only to call for all that and quite literally a reboot of the House Un-American Activities Committee. As has been said before, it’s a smaller government… for some. For others, namely Muslims, it’s a sprawling global system of mass surveillance and warfare.

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Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat” by Dennis Malone Carter in 1804, a depiction of the first conflict in which the US flag was planted in military triumph – in a majority Muslim territory’s soil. From here.

The Republican efforts to win at the state or local level often with these investigations and policy ideas speaks to which side ultimately wins between the establishment and the base.

The national party has a campaign war chest and their share of candidates. Still, their money has lost handily to Trump going national with what’s worked for them at the state level. In the meantime, establishment-friendly candidates like Bush and Rubio have been presenting policies and making claims cut from the same anti-Muslim cloth.

Trump is just one person, saying more obviously and at the national level what’s been said throughout the Republican Party and more broadly even for years. It’s worked in more local elections, and so far in this primary the same sort of thing has only helped him amass support. National polls haven’t yet documented whether Trump’s support has eroded after his recent comments, but initial signs show his appeal only growing within the primary.

Just like the steady drift towards a more heavy-handed solution in conversations among self-described libertarians, he’s simply following a Republican playbook to its logical conclusion. Doesn’t that say more about the playbook than about him?

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Dark, darker, darkest

Trigger warning: racism, islamophobia, mass surveillance

Black Friday – it’s a kind of cartoonishly negative image of Christmas. All the (supposed) piety and charity in the traditional holiday is darkly countered in today’s crass materialism and determined search to maximize savings. It’s a day when the darker side of human nature comes out more than we might realize. Here’s a quick look at that in the news from today and earlier this week.

The New York Mag’s Jonathan Chait put together a somber examination of the dangerous rhetoric that’s become common stock in conservative politics. In the wake of the Paris attacks, one of his interesting observations is how President Obama’s ruling out of a full-scale invasion of Syria or Iraq has mutated the post-attack paranoia into a more inwardly-focused xenophobia. What I’d argue is the most haunting part of his piece, however, is this:

“[Trump’s] talent for manipulating the darkest emotions of the conservative id, while minimizing specific policy commitments, has been on full display. In every public appearance, he emitted new, authoritarian-sounding warnings. ‘We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,’ he vowed. ‘We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.’ Every new sound bite set off a profitable fervor of media speculation, forcing other candidates to raise the bidding or be left behind. ‘It’s not about closing down mosques,’ insisted Rubio, placing himself rhetorically to Trump’s right, ‘it’s about closing down anyplace — whether it’s a café, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.'”

While the fear of the Other blazes in the background – America conventionally goes to its big box stores today. Economics journalists are sounding the alarm that the loss-leading sales that define the holiday aren’t as business-savvy as they might seem. Black Friday has managed to attract a deal-conscious fan base, not motivated by brand loyalty but by getting the best offer. In short, stores have to offer discounts that don’t actually make them money (or far less than usual) – but that’s acceptable since the point is to outcompete everyone else, not to turn a profit.

8211477498_34b6ee9b0a_o2012 Black Friday crowds in New York City, from here.

Faced with that type of market failure, where the fight is over who loses the least, there’s one basic solution: expand. Black Friday deals have begun coming to the UK – another corporate import from their former colony. If crowds can be turned out over there like those that created the deal-driven celebrations in the US, then maybe international companies can sell at a loss here and recreate their historical sales profits over there. That could keep them in the black, at least until a similar customer base for the holiday develops in the UK. Then, they go shopping for another set of buyers – maybe Australia next?

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The rightwing reacts: more war, more detentions

Trigger warning: islamophobia, racism, colonialism, indefinite detention

It’s been sadly quite obvious for a while but conservative circles in much of the Western world are quite trigger-happy when it comes to Muslims. Genocidal levels of mass killings have been quite openly and regularly discussed for years now, fueled by a sentiment that what’s being expressed is a call for a righteous strike back. The recent attacks in Paris have been a perfect tinder for those ideas to erupt even more blatantly into public view. From France to the US, almost every major name in those politics has come forward with calls to use extensive force fairly indiscriminately against Muslims.

Perhaps the most subtle version of this was trotted about by Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio who released this video after the attacks-

The thrust of Rubio’s point is a rehashing of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory. A deeply historied and deeply troubling framework, Huntington’s ideas have cropped up in various forms in neo-conservative circles for years. The Project for a New American Century, whose name his campaign slogan appears to knowingly reference, were among the architects of the Iraq War and otherwise entangled in the last Bush Administration’s foreign policy. These are the champions of policies that have led to thousands of deaths in Muslim-majority countries over the past couple of decades.

That comes with a familiar plot. The story goes that a perceptively monolithic culturally Christian West (excised of African, Latin American, and Asian Christian groups for never adequately explained reasons) will existentially come into conflict with a supposedly monolithic Islam-dominated North Africa, Middle East, and Central Asia.

Among the problems with this claim is that its a much newer explanation than it wants to admit. Even into the early Bush years, the civilization-level conflict was framed in a more Cold War reminiscent dichotomy between “West” and “East” – meaning Protestant and to some extent Catholic Europeans (and their settler colonies) and predominantly Orthodox and Muslim parts of Europe and the Middle East (namely the former USSR and former Yugoslavia). This isn’t a political description, but a narrative, updated to reflect shifting definitions of a cultural other, who is described as irreconcilable until the story gets updated.

Other conservative voices were even less veiled in the violence-encouraging politics they spouted. Fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz called for restricting asylum for Syrian refugees to Christians. That sentiment was echoed by many other candidates as well as media magnate Rupert Murdoch who specified that those allowed in should be “proven Christians“.

Republican governors led the way on that issue, declaring that their states would not accept any Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their statements are functionally toothless, since it’s the federal government that makes meaningful decisions about accepting asylum seekers. That said, like in the debate on closing Guantanamo, those statements can effectively stall attempts to release detained or trapped people, whether in Cuba or European port areas.

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Not only were many calling for security and stability to reserved privileges for non-Muslim refugees with fears of their broader dispersal, but many dredged up the anti-mosque politics of 2010. Donald Trump predictably led the charge with a statement that he would consider closing mosques – as if that’s not interference with religious freedom.

The European right wing went even further. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arguing in favor of a massive sweep of thousands of predominantly Muslim people into detention camps. Throughout Germany and France, far right parties have combined the existing anti-immigrant animus with the high tensions post-attacks. There are very real calls for, essentially, European countries to ethnically and religiously cleanse themselves, by violence if necessary.

In short, all of the worst things expected to be said have been said. It’s common for people to say that anti-Muslim sentiments are an exaggerated boogeyman within leftist circles. Sadly, one of the outcomes of what happened in Paris is a quiet confirmation that half of our political landscape is just as inclined towards war, deprivation, and detentions as you might worry.

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The featured image is Domnic McGill’s The Clash of Civilizations, from here.

 

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Puzzles of the Orient: a random note on the Republican Debate

Last night’s debate didn’t strike me as something worth liveblogging on twitter or even commenting about as I posted in the middle of it. That anything much is going to be said that’s new or original is hopefully something no one came into the debate expecting. In passing, still, one strange entanglement of talking points caught my attention and seems to speak to something rather horrifying about the politics of not only the Republican Party, but the United States and even the broader world.

In the midst of the debate, Senator Marco Rubio argued that the supportive relationship between the US and Israel in contrast to the combative and hostile relationship the US has with almost every other country in the region made sense, saying:

“For goodness sake, there is only one pro-American free enterprise democracy in the Middle East. It is the state of Israel. And we have a president that treats the prime minister of Israel with less respect than what he gives the Ayatollah in Iran. And so our allies in the region don’t trust us. […] all those radical terrorist groups that, by the way, are not just in Syria and in Iraq, ISIS is now in Libya. They are a significant presence in Libya, and in Afghanistan, and a growing presence in Pakistan.

Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia. They are coming to us. They recruit Americans using social media. And they don’t hate us simply because we support Israel. They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own.”

While his criticism of Arab or Islamic communities highlighted the sexism he perceived, the point seems deeply interconnected to other ideas about how societies should work. Not only should women be able to drive cars, they should be able to vote. It’s hard to imagine that kind of plea for “modern” women’s rights without accompanying ideas about “modern” political rights and other expectations (in Rubio’s mind that goes hand in hand with free enterprise, notably).

Mere minutes later, Ohio Governor John Kasich in his own words gave the audience “a little trip around the world”. He transitioned from describing a military strategy towards Russia to one in the Middle East, which in turn led him to saying this about the political culture of the region: “Saudi Arabia, cut off the funding for the radical clerics, the ones that preach against us. But they’re fundamentally our friends. Jordan, we want the king to reign for 1,000 years. Egypt, they have been our ally and a moderating force in the Middle East throughout their history.”

The limitations on free speech in Saudi Arabia are, of course, far more extreme than the limiting of funding for radical clerics. The regular and increasing use of the death penalty by the government there is primarily used on clerics critical of the Kingdom, especially those critical because of sectarian disagreements. Overwhelmingly, it’s the Shia minority clerics targeted with that and other state controls designed to limit their communities’ voices and shutdown opposition. They are also famously one of the governments in the region which most systemic restricts women’s rights – to drive, to go out in public, and to control their bodies and appearance. Those, in Kasich’s words, are “our friends” because of how they restrict their people and simultaneously, in Rubio’s view, someone we are locked in an existential struggle with… because of how they restrict their people.

Virtually no one – from Politico to the Seattle Globalist – pretends that the current government in Egypt is democratic. Politico’s coverage touches on a particularly interesting point, that sitting president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is a product of the military exchange programs run by and within the United States. In short, he was more than a little groomed for his current strongman role, with his wife beside him, notably in a hijab not in the more veiling niqab. When it comes to other women, however, his defense of the use of “virignity tests” to assess rape and harassment claims by women participating in the street democracy movements in Egypt speaks for itself. Much like Saudi Arabia, the same despotism that is woven into the fabric of how we decide that part of the world is categorically deserving of criticism, and yet oddly also, its saving grace.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain the irony in a debate where most of the Middle East is criticized as undemocratic where another person calls for the Hashimite dynasty in Jordan to rule for a thousand years. It’s worth noting that’s not just simply a millennium of rule, it’s another millennium.

It’s worth noting that even if Kasich and Rubio understood each other as disagreeing, they both continue to address the realities of political life in the Middle East with a common assumption. If you look at the autocratic and patriarchal aspects of life in that part of the world and judge it as exotic and foreign and Other to a US-backed alternative, at least one of the mistakes you’re making is overlooking the ways in which the US has encouraged these undemocratic and restrictive politics. If you look at the dictatorships and call them our friends, you’re insisting that popular rule in the region would inherently be incompatible with US interests and those are more important. Rubio looks at the region shaped by US and other foreign meddling and wonders how it got that way, while Kasich simply shrugs and notes we have to keep them in line. In either case, there’s a denial of the violence inherent in US policy, stretching back decades.

Whether you view this as a cultural war or a strategic conflict, the Republican debate last night offered only variations on viewing the average person in the Middle East as lesser, with no alternative to that.

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The consensus on immigration still sucks

TW: dehumanizing nativism, class inequality

The build-up to the State of the Union address last night is pretty easy to define by a single feature – conflict. There mere fact that the president is a multiracial man has already led to nearly five years of racist screeds like this one, and his speech on Tuesday was a very explicit reminder to Republicans that they hadn’t been able to remove him, even with every dog whistle in their arsenal. What’s more, Obama’s speech was responded to not by a unified Republican party, but officially by Senator Marco Rubio and unofficially by Senator Rand Paul. The situation isn’t just filled racially-tinged partisan tensions, but also infused with a battle between different stylistic branches of the Republican party.

Something remarkable happened last night though – all three speeches talked about immigration in much the same way. The  national discussion, regardless of whoever of those three is doing the talking, is still fixed on immigrants being politically sorted based on perceived “usefulness” to the United States. It’s probably not terribly surprising that Senator Paul said that Republicans “must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities” but it is rather shocking to realize that seeing immigrants as subhuman investments is something lauded as pro-immigrant. That tells you something about both how accustomed we’ve become as a country to immigrants being commodified and how little it takes to be seen as praising immigrants.

But even from those we’ve been trained to expect policies that protect and empower immigrant communities, that sort of dehumanizing attitude crept into the open last night. Marco Rubio, whose grandparents left Cuba prior to the revolution, only briefly spoke about immigration policies, even if he extensively referenced his family history. He explained his position, saying,

We can also help our economy grow if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest. We need a responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.

While he does say that there should be some resolution of the undocumented status of many millions of people, he’s decided vague on what that should be. Likewise, he’s quite clear that he expects extensive security, but not terribly specific about what inadequacies have presented themselves during Obama’s presidency. Where he finally provides a clear and singular goal of policy is that our legal immigration system should allow us to attract those deemed useful to us on the basis of their skills and intelligence. It’s hard not to read this statement as implying a two-tiered system of easy access and immigration for those we deem worthy and a much more rigorous and arduous process if one at all for everyone else. It’s a bit strange to find such statements in an indictment that Obama is placing too much power in the hands of the government.

In any case, Obama is not much better, even after having made the Dream Act law by executive order, allowing thousands of undocumented immigrant children to naturalize as US citizens, provided they attend college or join the army. Again, on the margins, there’s a clear message that immigrants must be deemed useful to be granted privileges, like a legal right to live in what’s effectively their home country. His speech unfortunately was not much of a departure from that perspective.

In fact, Obama explained that he would continue his policy of all but militarizing the US-Mexico border and that naturalization for undocumented immigrants would only be possible as part of a larger plan that “includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.” His message was primarily about how little he would reform immigration to ease access to citizenship for those who wanted it, excepting that “real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods [and] reduce bureaucracy” in order to “attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.” There’s a bit of stunning classism buried in that statement, in that it ignores the millions of undocumented immigrants to do other work, from agricultural labor to cleaning homes and businesses to even building our infrastructure, that quite literally allows much of the United States function.


(Undocumented workers on a farm in central California, from here.)

Is the purpose of immigration reform really to only help immigrants who are “entrepreneurs and engineers”? Don’t the undocumented deserve dignity independent of their occupation? And doesn’t that entail listening to their needs, even if we think we don’t need them at all?

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State of the Union live-blogging

As usual, I’ll be live-blogging the State of the Union address on Tuesday, as well as Senator Marco Rubio’s Republican response (and Senator Rand Paul’s TeaParty response if I can find it). This will all start at 9 Eastern or 6 Pacific time. I’ll be putting up my thoughts on my twitter, as per usual.

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