Our last chance

Whether or not Hillary Clinton would have been as bad a president as Donald Trump is the topic of a counterfactual, a line of reasoning so invalid I regard it as fallacious.

Counterfactuals are fun to think about. What would have happened had John F. Kennedy not been shot? Or Richard M. Nixon not forced to resign? Or, going back further, Abraham Lincoln had permitted the South to secede? Read more

The post-truth society

I’m pretty sure it was in my Master’s program, probably in my first quarter in that program, that I was in a class with Anne Pym, a professor who offered me both endless fascination and endless frustration for reasons I won’t go into here.

We were reviewing the problem of evaluating sources, a problem in any literature review, which is basic to situating one’s research, or inquiry, in scholarship. Somehow I was asking about being able to trust truthfulness and Pym responded that she would hope so. Read more

The binary empire strikes back

In Donald Trump’s latest fiasco, in which, to virtually unanimous condemnation, he preferred Vladimir Putin’s claim that the Russians had not interfered in the 2016 U.S. election over claims from U.S. intelligence services that they in fact had[1] (he partly, but not really, recanted on his return to the White House[2]), I wish to address myself to a small portion of the Left that sympathizes with Trump’s decision, despite nearly all considered opinion, to carry on with the meeting with Trump in Helsinki even after Robert Mueller indicted Russian nationals for hacking into Democratic National Committee computer systems.[3] Read more

  1. [1]Rebecca Ballhaus, “Trump Questions Finding of Russia’s 2016 Meddling as He Appears With Putin,” Wall Street Journal, July 16, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-blames-u-s-for-poor-relations-with-moscow-1531732220; Dan Balz, “The moment called for Trump to stand up for America. He chose to bow,” Washington Post, July 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/after-a-jaw-dropping-news-conference-what-does-america-first-really-mean/2018/07/16/2b728b12-892e-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html; Rod Dreher, “Trump Capitulates To Putin,” American Conservative, July 16, 2018, http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/trump-capitulates-to-putin/; David M. Herszenhorn, “Putin preens while Trump settles old scores,” Politico, July 17, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/17/putin-trump-agenda-summit-725964; Michael Scherer, “Trump’s defense of Putin finds few supporters in Congress,” Washington Post, July 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-defense-of-putin-finds-few-supporters-in-congress/2018/07/16/2610b3a2-8914-11e8-8aea-86e88ae760d8_story.html; David Smith, “Trump ‘treasonous’ after siding with Putin on election meddling,” Guardian, July 16, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/16/trump-finds-putin-denial-of-election-meddling-powerful; Felicia Sonmez, “Trump’s defense of Russia prompts outrage from some Republicans,” Washington Post, July 16, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-defense-of-russia-prompts-outrage-from-some-republicans/2018/07/16/adc9c52c-8914-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html
  2. [2]Associated Press, “Trump says he misspoke on Russia meddling,” Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-essential-washington-updates-trump-says-he-misspoke-on-russia-1531853292-htmlstory.html; Jordan Fabian, “Trump says he accepts US intel on Russia — then adds it ‘could be other people also,’” Hill, July 17, 2018, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/397481-trump-says-he-accepts-us-intel-on-russia-then-adds-it-could-be-other; Vivian Salama, “Trump Reverses Course, Says Russia Meddled in 2016 Election,” Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-stands-by-his-positive-read-of-putin-summit-amid-criticism-1531847452; John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez, “Trump says he accepts U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in 2016 election but denies collusion,” Washington Post, July 17, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/growing-number-in-gop-call-for-trump-to-fix-the-damage-from-helsinki-news-conference/2018/07/17/7ea15178-8902-11e8-8aea-86e88ae760d8_story.html
  3. [3]Autumn Brewington et al., “The Russia Connection,” Lawfare, July 13, 2018, https://www.lawfareblog.com/russia-indictment-20-what-make-muellers-hacking-indictment; Michael Crowley and Annie Karni, “Why Trump won’t cancel the Putin summit,” Politico, July 15, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/07/15/trump-putin-russia-summit-helsinki-722255

Mitigating the democratic deficit in the United States

I tend to blame the presidency of Donald Trump on the Democratic Party’s nomination of Hillary Clinton. She was, according to some polls, the weaker candidate,[1] and Bernie Sanders better appealed to an electorate sick and tired of the neoconservative and neoliberal hegemony in U.S. politics that Clinton exemplified.[2] But some folks blame the electoral college, whose vote overrode the popular vote.[3] Read more

  1. [1]H. A. Goodman, “Almost Every Major Poll Shows Bernie Sanders Challenging or Defeating Clinton and Republicans. Here’s Why,” Huffington Post, August 5, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/h-a-goodman/almost-every-major-poll-shows-bernie-sanders_b_7937906.html; Zaid Jilani, “Latest National Poll Shows Bernie Sanders Beating Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush,” Alternet, July 27, 2015, http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/latest-national-poll-shows-bernie-sanders-beating-scott-walker-donald-trump-jeb-bush
  2. [2]Patrick Healy, “Bernie Sanders, Confronting Concerns, Makes Case for Electability,” New York Times, November 19, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/11/19/bernie-sanders-defends-democratic-socialism-calling-it-route-to-economic-fairness/
  3. [3]David G. Savage, “For the fourth time in American history, the president-elect lost the popular vote. Credit the electoral college,” Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-electoral-college-20161110-story.html

How Donald Trump captured the Republican Party

Update, July 12, 2018: A study of public opinion (I have not chased down the survey response rate in the original surveys[1]) concludes that much of Trump’s support derives from white fears of displacement, consistent with Hunter S. Thompson’s thesis as reviewed by Susan McWilliams.[2] The author of this study, Diana C. Mutz, denies that personal hardship is a factor even as she notes that “Americans increasingly feel that they are not getting their fair share” of jobs in a globalized economy and that status threat “is borne of a sense that the outgroup is doing too well and thus, is a viable threat to one’s own dominant group status.” Mutz also does not (and cannot, given her research design) control for voters who earlier voted for Barack Obama and subsequently for Donald Trump—a portion of the electorate she considers unimportant[3] but which would presumably be less racist and thus less likely to fear social displacement but which might well remain susceptible to fears of economic displacement.

Early last month (on June 6, 2018), I wrote that

I have thought that by August of this year, Republicans would be so alarmed by their prospects in the midterm elections that they would find a way to get Trump out. But a couple months ago, Eric Levitz pointed out, first, that Trump seems less restrained than ever and, second, that events have been moving in the opposite direction from my forecast as a Republican-controlled Congress shows little inclination to assert those checks and balances and as he replaces “adults in the room” with ideologues.[4] Jennifer Rubin, who has been fairly consistent in criticizing this same Congress for its negligence, repeated her condemnation just the other day.[5][6]

Read more

  1. [1]See my skepticism about this type of research in David Benfell, “On a nine percent response rate,” May 28, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/05/28/nine-percent-response-rate
  2. [2]Susan McWilliams, “This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson,” review of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, by Hunter S. Thompson, Nation, December 15, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/this-political-theorist-predicted-the-rise-of-trumpism-his-name-was-hunter-s-thompson/
  3. [3]Diana C. Mutz, “Status threat, not economic hardship, explains the 2016 presidential vote,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 23, 2018, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1718155115
  4. [4]Eric Levitz, “Donald Trump Has Never Been More Dangerous Than He Is Now,” New York, March 21, 2018, http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/03/donald-trump-has-never-been-more-dangerous-than-he-is-now.html
  5. [5]Jennifer Rubin, “What GOP cowering has gotten us: Talk of self-pardon and absolute power,” Washington Post, June 4, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2018/06/04/what-gop-cowering-has-gotten-us-talk-of-self-pardon-and-absolute-power/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “I, Donald,” Not Housebroken, June 9, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/06/06/i-donald/