Tag Archives: republican primary

Boulversement

The news this week has seen a couple of stunning reversals, where tides turned or sometimes even more shockingly refused to.

google protest

A collaboration of almost every major name in left-leaning political action protested in front of Google’s headquarters yesterday morning. Credo, UltraViolet, Bend the Arc, ColorOfChange, and Daily Kos all sent representatives with a clear message – that Google, or more specifically Google-owned YouTube, shouldn’t provide streaming services for the Republican National Convention this year, at least as long as Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee.

In this day and age, conventions are less of a formal process and generally more of a three-day long political advertisement describing the Party’s and particularly the Party’s presidential nominee’s vision for the country. In that light, even with Trump facing more scrutiny than typical at the convention, it still would be more of a platform for him than vehicle for voters to become informed about his policies. In light of that, this protest followed in the footsteps of similar calls for him to not be a guest on various news programs and for several companies to divest from his businesses and television shows.

google protest 2.jpg

Unfortunately, not long after the protest Google announced that YouTube would indeed be the streaming service available for this year’s Republican convention.

Big Money oozes down ticket

While sponsors and service-providers might not have been so skittish over the prospect of a presumably Trump-nominating convention, many high profile donors have been as noted in an article on Wednesday on Reclaim the American Dream. Terrified of Trump’s potential to alienate voters from the party as a whole, a huge rush of donations has already gone in conservative circles to state-level races, and sometimes even more locally.

Author Hedrick Smith points out that the funds involved are already reaching extremely high numbers more typically associated with national campaigns:

Conservative donors have contributed nearly 70 percent of the $707 million in SuperPAC money raised to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In the hot senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, SuperPacs, Candidates and parties on both sides have raised war chest that already total from $23 million to $32 million in each state.

Many of these states will in all likelihood still see extensive advertising from presidential campaigns, but the level of wall-to-wall saturation associated with those types of candidates is already promising to become more common with senatorial races, and maybe even more local ones as well.

Distorting democracy

In this jaded age, it’s easy to look at that rush to support Tea Party freshmen senators with unprecedented donations and simply see it as a reflection of the problems in our post-Citizens United electoral system. Unfortunately, these sorts of structural flaws have long been with us and for many years now have been redirecting electoral outcomes away from their expected course, as detailed in a Demos report on Chicagoan politics released yesterday.

Some of the findings in the report catalog what’s long been said about local races with a lot of money put into them: that much of it comes from outside of the communities holding the elections, and that it biases candidates towards business and upper class interests. Interestingly, it also showed that among the large donations that are still made in-community, at least within Chicago they overwhelmingly come not only from White residents, but from White residents living in wildly disproportionately White parts of the city.

Against a telling gender gap as well, what this report showed is how systemically disruptive these large donations tend to be. It not only is an opportunity for outsiders to sway local decisions to their favor, but just another vehicle for uniquely powerful local voices to assert their narrow vision of how their city is and what their city could be. That’s how the city that rioted against Trump’s appearance can also have a leadership that pursues racially-charged policies that sound quite akin to his.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Forcing a Trump vote

The question everyone should be asking right now is whether Donald Trump can force the Republican Party to support him in spite of itself. The party convention process is a surprisingly undemocratic and frankly byzantine mixture of different systems, so they very well might have an opportunity to do so. Whether its wise to alienate the bulk of their primary voters is another question, the frantic whispers from leaders in the party show that they intend to do that. Of course, the problem they have to overcome is whether delegates awarded to Trump can even vote against him – many will be bound delegates, obligated to vote for him on at least the first ballot call at the convention.

Looking exclusively at Trump’s bound delegates alone changes the delegate math for him. Here’s what he has won before tonight’s results come in if we only count those delegates:

State or Territory Bound At-Large Delegates Bound Congressional District Delegates Cumulative
Iowa 7  7
New Hampshire 11  18
South Carolina 21 29  68
Nevada 14  82
Alaska 11  93
Alabama 0* 0*  93
Arkansas 10 6  109
Georgia 17 26  152
Massachusetts 22  174
Minnesota 8  182
Oklahoma 8 5  195
Tennessee 15 18  228
Texas 17 31  276
Virginia 17  293
Vermont 8  301
Kansas 6 3  310
Kentucky 17  327
Louisiana 12 6  345
Maine 9  354
Hawaii 7 4  365
Idaho 12  377
Michigan 25  402
Mississippi 16 9  427
Virgin Islands 1  428
Wyoming 1  429
Florida 99  528
Illinois 39  567
Missouri 12 25  604
Northern Mariana Islands 9  613
North Carolina 30  643

*Alabama’s general and congressional district delegates are technically bound, but there is a provision allowing them to unbind themselves which party leaders will undoubtedly encourage – as a result, for all intents and purposes they’re unbound.

That creates a count of 625 delegates who, unless Donald Trump dies or releases them in an official withdrawal from the race, will have to vote for him in the first vote at the Republican convention. That is still a large number of delegates, but a noticeable bit shorter than the delegate count that’s typically noted as being his.

Many of the upcoming primaries will similarly bind delegates in states where Trump is likely to win at large delegates and many congressional district delegates – along the west coast and in the “Acela Corridor” which both might see the sort of Republican in blue states voting patterns that Trump has succeeded under elsewhere. The bound delegates from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and California, combined with the bound ones from Indiana and Arizona who many expect Trump to likely win together represent a bloc of 558 delegates. Combined with his current winnings that comes just sort of the necessary delegate count to win on the first ballot call – but it’s dangerously close to it at 1183 bound delegates. As an absolute floor on Trump’s delegates, that leaves him room to poach unbound delegates and otherwise amass enough support to potentially become the nominee.

The results tonight will help refine the math of what we’re be looking at for the Republican convention, namely in terms of whether Cruz locks up all of Utah’s bound delegates with a decisive statewide win (in which case they are all allocated together), or if he misses the mark and has to shave off a few to Trump and Kasich. Likewise, an upset in Arizona is also possible. Tomorrow morning we’ll know how tightly Trump will have to win a number of the upcoming primary contests and caucuses.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

2016-03-13_1452.png
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.

2016-03-13_1450
(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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

2016-02-03_1017
(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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_3.jpg
(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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of chemical weapons

Trigger warning: Syrian civil war, war crimes

The Republican Presidential Primary has now seen five debates. Since the second one, at which former CEO Carly Fiorina made her national debut, there’s been few changes in the rhetoric and claims made by candidates in appearance after appearance.

One of the most interesting consistencies is Senator Rand Paul’s fierce insistence on a mildly pro-Assad stance. Part of the strangeness of this is that this puts him outside of the Assad-critical consensus which includes everyone from his competitors in the primary to President Obama. These aren’t just rare politics, however, but ones that speak to an intriguing contradiction at the heart of American libertarianism.

The still technically reigning president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, essentially inherited his position from his father after his brother, initially favored, died unexpectedly in a car accident. He has held a prominent national position since the mid-1990s, with only dubious democratic checks on his rule. Ignited by the international Arab Spring in 2012 and fueled by local droughts and famines, much of Syria has been engaged in open revolt against his regime for several years now. The remnants of al-Assad’s government have resorted to widespread use of chemical weapons, prompting the current US administration to categorically reject any involvement in Syria designed to shore up his rule.

The son of a charismatic leader thrust into protracted and toxic battles to retain territory, perhaps al-Assad reminds Senator Paul of himself. Whatever personal readings he has of the man, his libertarian ethos seems to take a backseat to a curiously pro-Assad policy plank without question. Paul stands with, intriguingly enough, a large chunk of the US and broader world in insisting that we can’t back Daesh and other islamist groups in the prolonged Syrian conflict. As he put it last night:

We had people coming to our Foreign Relations Committee and saying, ‘Oh, we need to arm the allies of Al Qaida.’ They are still saying this. It is a crazy notion. This is the biggest debate we should be having tonight is is regime change a good idea; has it been a good idea.

This uncontroversial carefulness when picking people to support in Syria (and the broader Islamic world), based on more than simply opposition to dictatorships, is woven into his larger, stranger political view of the Middle East, however. As he also explained in that debate:

“I think that by arming the allies of ISIS, the Islamic rebels against Assad, that we created a safe space or made that space bigger for ISIS to grow.”

This reduction down of the Syrian conflict into a binary choice between locally quite bloodthirsty secular dictatorship and theocracy with aspirations of terrorizing the globe seems politically useful, if you want people outside of Syria to ultimately accept al-Assad and his regime as a “lesser of two evils”. Unfortunately, it presumes a lot of not necessarily true facts: that someone has to be supported in the Syrian conflict, and that no alternatives to al-Assad’s government and Daesh exist (the Kurdish separatists, among others, are apparently not worth mentioning).

syria conflict map
Syrian military blocs’ holdings, as of his summer, from here.

What’s truly shocking, however, is to hear this acceptance of systemic violence and despotism as inherently how Syria and perhaps the broader Islamic world simply have to be coming out of the mouth of libertarian widely criticized for his idealism. The idealist rhetoric which permeates Senator Paul’s worldview, or at least political perspective within the US’s borders, melts away, leaving behind an undemocratic and even imperialistic skeleton.

An interesting implication of this is that all of the language favored by libertarians, or at least the ones who agree with Senator Paul, obscures something. It’s not possible that all human beings have inalienable rights to life and liberty, if Syrian’s lives and liberties can so coolly be considered and bartered away on the other side of the world.

It suggests that only some people are truly included in the loftiest defenses of all “human beings” or that “life and liberty” are so incoherently defined in practice that dictatorships like al-Assad’s can quite easily still fit into the definition of a government which provides them. Maybe it’s both – that liberty in (at least some forms of) libertarianism is a privilege reserved for a select few and one defined in a broken way designed to excuse and permit quite literal autocracy.

Something no one seems to be asking is for Senator Paul to explain himself on his, how someone who claims to center a universal human right to liberty in his politics can also be one of the leading figures calling for us to tacitly or even directly support one of the most violent regimes on the planet. I hope he we can hear his answer to gain some clarity on what’s happening here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

trump-announce

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The resurrection of anti-LGBT politics

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

The coming 2016 elections have struck many as a retread of the same issues that dominated the past couple presidential elections. Already, much of the national discussion has centered on the morality of restricting and ability to limit the social and economic options available to women and people of color. Most immediately, there has been a steady focus on the right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare, refugee status, and freedom from police violence, all familiar subjects particularly in 2012.

It’s interesting to see the ways that similar discussions around LGBT rights have been a less remarked on element. Rachel Maddow’s post-2012 recap, which highlighted issues like marriage equality and anti-LGBT hate crimes, almost sounds like a dispatch from another country.

Part of why the conversation has shifted so much is the huge shift on marriage – there aren’t fun maps about varying legal recognitions to circulate anymore – but also, that the anti-LGBT rhetoric has taken on a different tone. Republican movers and shakers have stayed more on course with the plan of avoiding this type of conversation about marginalized groups. It’s still a key topic in the primary, but one that’s less boldly discussed.

In the past couple of days, there’s been some indications that the comparative quiet within the GOP on LGBT rights may not last much longer. On Monday, the Heritage Foundation released a report throwing every argument in their arsenal at anti-discrimination laws. From tradition to the free market to a perceived insult to race-focused anti-discrimination measures, they pulled almost everything out.

Heritage is no longer the huge player that they once were in social conservative politics, but this still speaks loudly about the continuing anti-LGBT animus within the conservative movement. Spurred on by the defeat of the Houston area’s anti-discrimination measure and the Family Research Council’s recent libertarian-friendly arguments against anti-discrimination laws, it’s a pretty telling indication of how conservatives are mobilizing against LGBT rights. The FRC has been making noises during the past few weeks about federal work towards broader anti-discrimination laws.

kevin-swanson-x750_2.jpg
Kevin Swanson, from here.

So far, much of the Republican presidential field has competed to appeal to the conservative political base on the issues of abortion, counter-terrorism, and immigration. Ted Cruz’s brief but recurring interactions with anti-LGBT figures like Kevin Swanson hint that more uniquely LGBT-related issues might make a return. If the FRC, Heritage Foundation, and other major policy groups within the conservative movement continue to push for action against LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination laws, it’s likely that this could again resurface as a defining issue in the race, both in primaries and in the general election.

Marrying the visceral anti-LGBT language that remains common in some of those circles to the more libertarian-friendly and business-minded language the FRC and Heritage Foundation have been developing is an interesting strategy. The Supreme Court’s rulings against  anti-LGBT laws on personal conduct and marriage recognition have depended on the support of Justice Kennedy, a libertarian-ish Republican, not particularly moved by traditional, socially conservative arguments. Using this type of language to justify discriminatory practices might be an attempt to drum up support among economic conservatives, containing their periodic defections – whether in court or in the ballot box – on this issue.

That’s admittedly just one of the many arguments advanced against the various anti-discrimination policies. Only time will tell if Republican candidates pick it up with the hope of recreating the anti-LGBT lurch towards their party that many credit with their only win in the presidential popular vote in over two decades.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

With us or against us

Barton Swaim, a former Republican speechwriter, wrote what he believes is the “perfect Republican Stump Speech” – a distillation of the talking points supposedly winning out in the Republican presidential primary presented to maximum gain and minimal risk. Over at 538, they have an annotated presentation of it, which details why specific words and phrases are key. One of the elements to it that leaped out at me was the regionalism.

For anyone who’s read What’s the Matter with Kansas? this bit from the speech might not be too shocking:

In fact, this election boils down to a few very simple principles. To understand these principles, you don’t need an advanced degree in the latest trendy subject from an Ivy League school. You don’t need to get your opinions from the New York Times. You don’t need to be some policy wonk in Washington, and you don’t need to be a member of the intelligentsia [Annotation: Consider amending to “Northeast and West Coast intelligentsia” for locations not in the Northeast or on the West Coast.] .

You really just need two things to understand what this election is about: You need your God-given intelligence, and you need a deep and abiding love for this country.

The disparagement for “elitists” that is ubiquitous within broader conservative politics is on full display here, and it nakedly gives away one of the easiest ways for it to find expression: the writing off of a large swathe of the country as apparently too good to vote for Republicans. The risk that alienating a huge part of the electorate poses to any Republican fundamentally isn’t a concern, apparently.

The anti-intellectual elements to this only broaden the risks. Academics and intellectuals, some of whom tend to vote Republican, can be found in every state – why throw away their votes? Beyond their presence throughout the country, there are vibrant academic cultures in places outside of the Northeast and West Coast, in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Hawaii. In all of those states, the growing anti-intellectualism of the Republican Party has helped push them into consistent Democratic wins in the presidential race and often at the state and local levels as well. Doubling down on that rhetoric only reinforces that loss of competitiveness.

With that in mind, it’s a surprisingly large chunk of the electoral college that this pushes out, further away, or even out of reach of Republican candidates.

2015-11-23_1843

The implication of writing off, to varying degrees, all of those electoral college blocs is that you have to win almost every other one.

That means that Republicans have to not just dominate the southwest, but reverse the rising Democratic support in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico. It means that the Upper Midwest has to be largely reclaiming as Republican territory – the parts not terribly vulnerable to Republican wins like Michigan and Wisconsin (neither has been won in the electoral college by Republicans since 1988), the parts a bit easier for Republicans to win like Ohio (still won twice by Obama), and Republican strongholds like Indiana (still won once by Obama). It means counting on Virginia to still be a part of the Solid South. It means North Carolina (and Georgia too maybe down the road) being impossible for Democrats to take (like they did North Carolina in 2008). It means winning perpetually too-close-to-call Florida.

In short, completely writing off that set of states means spreading Republican resources thin almost everywhere. It basically hopes to reinvent the 2004 Presidential race’s returns, by will alone.

In that race, the Republicans won, in spite of losing all but two of the states the above map has shaded in. In Iowa and Virginia that year, resentful talk about an educated elite (particularly in the northeast or west coast) sounded to most voters as if it was about someone else, and didn’t potentially include them. That gave Republicans a little breathing room that they can’t necessarily count on in 2016.

The only two states not shaded in above which the Republicans lost that year were Wisconsin and Michigan – in which Democrats maintained some of their smallest margins, 0.38 percent and 3.42 percent respectively. Talking dismissively about the northeast and west coast hypothetically could help wring out those few additional votes needed to turn them red, but that’s with the assumption that those races will be just as close now as then.

The only two other states they lost with comparably low margins were Pennsylvania and New Hampshire – two of the states in the northeast with some of the largest populations outside of the Boston-Washington corridor, and hence potentially most likely to think a contempt for “the northeast” meant someone else. Not far behind those two were Oregon and Minnesota – a similarly exceptional case on the west coast and another part of the Midwest hypothetically excited by hearing negative comments about other parts of the country.

In short, from a Republican perspective focused on recreating 2004, this type of rhetoric is potentially a crowd winner in almost all of the states they already carry, a useful way of appealing in some of the states Democrats just barely won, and largely alienating only to voters in states they had little to no chance of winning.

Of course, that was now over a decade ago – the electoral map has changed. 2004’s returns haven’t appeared to be a lasting condition, so much as a snapshot of where the country was at that moment. The greater continuities in voting patterns – easily observed through the 1990s and into the Obama years – suggests a greater uphill battle for Republicans in the Midwest than 2004 alone might imply. What’s more, in New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, the developmental growth from the Boston-Washington corridor (now, the Acela Corridor) has made them more likely to see disparagement of the northeast as including them. A regionalist tone today might win some voters over in Midwestern states, but it’s risking even more for a less certain gain.

Beyond that changing calculation of risk, it fails to recognize the emergence of new voting patterns in states that Republicans won in 2004 (and would count on winning under a regionalist strategy). Throughout the southwest and in Florida, Latin@s have emerged as a key constituency, and in Florida and Colorado particularly, new voting dynamics have cropped up among White voters as well. Negative talk about other parts of the country might change some of those voters minds, but policies on immigration and economics are attracting them to the Democrats over Republicans in a way that talk about coastal eggheads is unlikely to challenge.

Jesus-land-1

Remember these maps? Obama won seven of those red states in both elections. Not exactly lasting.

A core part of the argument laid out in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and several other looks at the increasing regionalism and anti-elitism in conservative politics is how they collapse those two issues. In that book and others, what’s presented is a bait-and-switch. Kansans (and others) who are angry for the systemic poverty they either can’t escape or live in perpetual fear of, are told it’s the fault of some “coastal elites” or “effete cultural elitists.”

Misdirected, Kansans and others from “the heartland” end up putting at least some of their energy into fighting symbolic cultural issues, burning off their populist anger doing something that doesn’t directly address their problems. It also propels Republicans into office with popular support in spite of them holding what are typically deeply unpopular economic policies.

What that often overlooks is that what one of the effects of that strategy is that it sets neglected and impoverished people from some parts of the country (Kansas, far from anything like a coastal elite, is the quintessence of that) at odds with the millions of other people in poverty, who often fight to keep the Democratic Party’s agenda focused squarely on feasible economic redistribution.

Ultimately, dividing the country against itself is incredibly effective at preventing collective action to address economic inequalities (as well as their various social dimensions). But being elected is, itself, a collective action. Doing everything possible to tear up a notion of shared goals if not outright community between the “Kansans” and others motivated by their lack of economic security isn’t a strategy that seeks to maintain a cohesive national politics. Among other things, that means that there are no more national elections – there’s and election in one US and an election in another – and it’s increasingly difficult to win both. Are Republicans really sure they want to set that challenge for themselves?

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Stuff Happens

Trigger warning: gun violence, war, terrorism, islamophobia

By now, Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign has seemingly hit a stumbling block that while not necessarily disqualifying in the Republican Primary, is likely to capsize him in the general 2016 election if he becomes the Republican nominee. If you’re unaware, when asked for his thoughts on the recent shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, he shrugged off the loss of life, saying, “Stuff happens.

At the risk of sounding as oblivious to the recent pain as him, he is technically right. Miseries happen. Tragedies happen. Violent events happen. The issue here though isn’t that though, it’s what he meant by saying that. “Stuff happens” is what people say not to recognize pain and problems but to dismiss them. His implicit argument is that nothing can be done about these types of mass shooting incidents, which happen in this country at nearly a rate of once a day. His calculated political decision not to care about this specific form of violence is disguised by the powerlessness that “stuff happens” implies. He’s making a choice not to care, and presenting it as all he can do.

That’s not how he himself has spoken in the Republican Primary on all forms of violence.

“I don’t know if you remember, Donald- Do you remember the rubble?”

Jeb Bush is entirely capable of caring about the loss of life and the experience of violence – and not just in a standard Republican tone in a hypocritical call for new restrictions on abortion. He can see events of extreme, pseudo-militaristic violence, and say this is unacceptable and demands an organized, society-wide response. What he does is chooses which tragedies speak to him in that way, an indirect way of selecting the type of society he thinks we should live in.

A tragedy that justifies invasions and colonialism-echoing occupations in majority Muslim countries calls for remembering, for recognizing, for sacralizing to achieve those ends. A tragedy like a shooting by an able-bodied, able-minded, straight, cisgender, White man within the US has no parallel usefulness to Jeb Bush within the Republican Primary. If anything, it’s a liability in a worldview that depends on finding the origins of violence (and hence, reasons to strike back) as coming from other groups and striking with different means. What “stuff happens” underscores is not just a callousness to those affected by this most recent incident of gun violence or one of the scores of similar tragedies in these recent years, but a dehumanizing way of approaching any such loss of life, whether disregarded as yet another lamentable thing in the world or hallowed.

“Stuff happens” out of the mouth of Jeb Bush or anyone else who has spoken about 9/11 and other tragedies in such mournful terms makes clear that the speaker asks themselves a question after every catastrophe: what can I gain from this? Their sorrow is not a fully authentic emotional response, but a carefully chosen one, selected because of what it could bring about in the world.

Credit to the featured image goes to here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nixon’s legacy

Trigger Warning: anti-Black racism, segregation, imperialism

While there are growing signs that Donald Trump’s front-runner status in the Republican Presidential Primary is vulnerable, he remains a formidable contender for the time being. The specific language he has turned to in the past few weeks has increasingly hinted at the archetypal modern Republican politics he has tapped into in order to catapult himself to the front of the pack in a crowded primary. Although powerful, for many what he said might sound like an innocuous phrase – “silent majority”.

Specifically, he has repeatedly stated that his popularity within the primary is a reaction on the part of that “silent majority” which is using him in part of a broader effort at “taking our country back.” He tweeted using that specific wording before heading to an event in New Hampshire, but there was a recurrent focus on that language and the concept of a “silent majority” in the midst of some sort of return when he appeared in Alabama and in South Carolina. There’s a uniquely Southern political reading of this buried deep within, but the true political legacy Trump has remixed is a non-regional one. The interplay between the particular Southern appeal but also a more general sense of loud reaction bursting out of a “silent majority” recalls one particular Republican candidate from long before the more typical models of Reagan and the Bushes.

nixon rockwellNorman Rockwell’s portrait of Richard Nixon, from here.

If Nixon seems particularly odd and out of place in modern Republican politics, it’s for good reason. This forgets that Reagan and other major conservative icons were in many important ways the heirs of a Republican-centered political movement. There’s the familiar appeals to Goldwater’s brash rejection of the New Deal and fear of the Grand Society, but what’s forgotten is how Nixon took those comparatively extreme, election-losing perspectives and repackaged them. Part of that was of course the Southern Strategy – the deliberate appealing to White voters motivated by anti-poverty programs but also racist sentiments – but it was also picking at the threads of moderate and centrist political discomfort with a changing political landscape in which many new voices were increasingly audible. Nixon himself didn’t even the phrase “silent majority” – but he plucked it from a labor organizer’s mouth, and both made it popular and augmented his popularity with it. In many ways, the “silent majority” is a concept used to validate those breaking their ties with progressive and left-populist coalitions in favor of a more conservative, less radical alternative.

Of course, for the people who lived that history or have studied it, it’s clear what politics were actually advanced by Nixon and his successfully supportive “silent majority”. His administration organized coups in countries that democratically elected socialists, sold arms in a way that sowed the seeds for the horrifyingly overmilitarized Middle East of modern day, and carved out the modern and geographically-rooted face of racial segregation in the US. The political promise that held together his cobbled political support base was to give them what they secretly, desperately, silently wanted. The political toxicity that continues to hang over his name shows how untrue that ultimately was. Still, in many ways that has remained the Republican national coalition – a number of groups united in feeling under siege by a specific process of changing standards of what’s acceptable. Trump is reinventing himself to better fit the part (if by nothing else, recasting himself as a deeply devout Christian), but from the costume he’s slipping into and the stage he’s acting on, there’s a political heritage that he’s manipulating here.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,