Friday, June 17, 2016

On Demonization, "Elites", and Jo Cox



Two days ago, Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen was murdered at a constituency surgery. Unlike in the United States, where politicians above state legislators are usually unapproachable outside of scripted appearances surrounded by staff, British politicians hold weekly sessions when any member of the public in their constituency can approach them. This greater engagement with the electorate has not prevented a perception that British politics is inherently more "elitist" than the American variant, with both parties accused of being dominated by small cliques of socially homogeneous individuals no representative of the demographics or views of the majority. To an extent, this charge is justified insofar as it relates to the party leaderships, which given the nature of the British system matter more. Private school students are overepresented in the current cabinet, and when one excludes graduates of state grammar schools, individuals who attended state comprehensives make up a minuscule portion of the elite while encompassing more than four fifths of the population.

There are real concerns about inclusion here. But there has been a tendency in British politics to take such concerns and to reduce them into political slogans. Eton College, where I have had the honor of coaching student debating has been a particular victim of this. Eton, which both the Prime Minister David Cameron, and the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has attended has long been a particular target for the left, with "Etonian" used as short-hand for elitist. This has reached absurd levels, whereby the Chancellor George Osborne and Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, have both been refereed to as "Etonians" despite never having attended the school. This sort of liberalism with the truth might be amusing if the nature of the charges were not so vicious. A byword for "privileged elitist" in a world where in political discourse "privileged elitist" has taken on the same meaning "Jew" held a century ago - wealthy, parasitical, a financier in service to a globalist financial elite with no loyalty to their country or people - the word is used to suggest that those implementing government policies on health, education, or welfare are not merely wrong but malicious traitors. It has been impossible to attend a left-wing protest over the last few years that has not included signs which at their most mellow carry phrases such as "Go Back to Eton", and at their worst are unmentionable. That the targets of these signs, genuine Etonians, are boys aged 13 to 17, tends to escape those expressing the slogans, much as the idea that Jews were individuals. Ironically, even if someone brings this to the attention of the perpetrators they would likely respond with a defense of the accuracy of the stereotype pointing to the actual prevalence of wealthy teenagers at the school. But just as the existence of Rothschilds did not mean all Jews were bankers, to the line assigns a political responsibility regardless of individuality.

I bring this up because Jo Cox was murdered in the midst of a political campaign where the ground sowed by both sides of the political spectrum, the left against "economic elitists" - bankers, Etonians, public schoolers generally, and the right against "cultural elitists" - the suggestion that the left looks down and shows contempt to ordinary people, not to mention hopes to replace them through mass immigration - united against the government. Much has been made of how the referendum campaign revealed that the voters trusted no politicians. But the opposite was in fact the case. The electorate responded as it had been taught to to do for more than a decade by believing all of them. Voters accepted that they faced treachery by both "economic" and "cultural" elitists, and unlike in a general election where they had no choice but to chose the lesser evil between the two, in the referendum they had the option to reject both of them. It is true that much support for the Leave side on the Right comes from concerns over immigration which have been fostered by Conservatives for years. But it is equally true that the supporters of Brexit on the Left, 38% of 2015 Labour voters according to one recent poll, are equally motivated by the conviction that the "economic elite" - bankers, economists, business leaders, politicians - are all loyal to a global conspiracy rather than to Britain and that their warnings against Brexit are self-serving. It is no wonder then that having demonized bankers and business leaders for years, Labour MPs have found it impossible to make their supports care about what those figures think in a matter of weeks.

The result has been an effective peasants revolt, with the decision to hold a referendum in the first place the equivalent on David Cameron's part of Louis XVI's decision to summon the Estates General in 1789. Having concluded that the public were merely a tool to be used every five years and then discarded, the attitude of all governments of the last 30 years who take crushing losses in local elections as a given, the government summoned them once more, albeit this time without a clear agenda or script for how they were to behave. And the result was that given a choice to develop an agenda absent control of the politicians, that agenda would be to behead the politicians can hardly be a surprise.

Yes it is true that there are politicians too leading the Leave side. Nigel Farage is hardly a picture of populism as much as he would love to be, and Boris Johnson's embrace appears opportunistic. But the mistake the media has made, as well as the entire political elite itself has been to assume that the Leave campaign ever actually mattered. Everything done regarding the referendum, right down to the requirement that there be an "official" campaign showed both a determination that this referendum look like any other election, with two groups of politicians sniping at one another with the public forced to chose the lesser evil, and the delusion that the campaign could be controlled in that manner. The reality has been different. Leave's real campaign has been a grassroots uprising against the whole process including the campaign. Remain has charged that Boris Johnson's embrace of the leadership of the Leave campaign was opportunistic, and Leave voters have accepted that by separating Johnson's arguments, actions, and foibles from the cause and ignoring the official campaign in favor of their own deep-seated resentments. As a consequence, the campaign has gone off the rails for Remain. Attacks on Leave's political leaders do not work, because most voters assume that Johnson secretly supports Remain anyway, while that very suspicion means that attacks on politicians, all politicians are fatal to Remain which is seen as being the side of both the "cultural" and "economic" elites. Attacks on Remain help Leave, and attacks on Leave have also helped Leave.

Jo Cox died in the midst of this campaign against politicians generally. It does not look like she was a particular victim of one side or the other in the sense that her killer was linked to American Neo-Nazi groups, but the very climate that has developed is one in which anyone who wants to kill a politicians is encouraged in the belief that actually doing so might be popular. Cox herself managed to reinforce the negative stereotypes herself by taking part in the buffoonish "Battle of the Thames" where Remain supporters clashed with boats of Leave ones including fisherman protesting the impact of EU policies on their industry. Already the events, amusing to Remain supporters, had developed into a bloody shirt for Leave, proof that the "elites" viewed the concerns of Leave supporters as a joke, and the whole issue as a humorous exercise worthy of mockery. Had Cox lived, it is likely she would have faced personal political attacks which would have singled her out as a Cambridge-educated politician who took to the seas to mock the working class. The bullets of an assassin cut that Leave line short before it could take off.

Instead Cox is a loving wife, a devoted local MP, and the mother of two now orphaned young children. Her death is viewed as a tragedy by all. As a cause of fear and anger, but also as a cause for guilt by those who had already begun to run attacks targeting her role on the Thames. That guilt is certainly justified, but it also should not be isolated. Cox is not unique, not some sort of young, eager, and honest exception to a rule of self-centered, caricatured contempt and corruption among MPs. Most MPs try to combine a family life and a dedication to public service with their national role. If there are problems with the UK elite, they are almost certainly ones of drift, whereby the political class is too weak rather than too strong, and as a result sheer inertia carries all before it. And the EU, in fairness, has always been the master of inertia par excellence.

There are greater lessons here. A political discourse of contempt will inevitably produce  precisely that. And as much as the Right must undergo some soul-searching regarding immigration, especially how hostility to refugees and poorer EU migrants has manifested in economically and culturally self-destructive policies against non-EU migrants, including Americans, Canadians, and Australians which the Leave campaign claims it wants more of, the Left also needs to reflect on why no one cares when they warn their voters that 89% of bankers and CEOs think leaving the EU would be a disaster. Much less why they should listen to the Bank of England.

Because ultimately when you tell voters to listen to no one, they listen to their gut instinct. And when they do that, you end up with the manifestation of the ID of the first thought to pop into the heads of any voters. Namely someone like Donald Trump. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Reflections on Orlando: A Turning Point in LGBT Politics in America?

There is tendency to use any tragedy for political advantage, especially in the midst of elections. To make matters worse, both the country I am currently in(the US), and the one where I am normally resident(the UK) are undergoing fierce electoral campaigns. Nonetheless, when you have a still marginalized(if far less so every year) LGBT community that has been the victim of the deadliest attack in its history, the speed with which politicians rush to use the incident as a political football is horrifying. That is even more the case when a club which is often the center of communal life is the target.

And when I say spinning for political advantage, I am not talking merely about those talking only about Terrorism. The decision to bring gun control into the debate is a blatant effort at political spin by those terrified of the consequences of the alternative narrative regarding terrorism, Islam or immigration. Some may genuinely fear for the safety of members of those communities. Others rather may fear for the safety of their candidates or referendum side. But in either case the implication is clear. The dangers of having an open discussion on some issues are so dangerous that the lives of 50(and it may be 100 by the time this is over) LGBT people do not compare.

This is not to say that gun control is not a discussion worth having. There is a real argument that guns, especially high-powered ones, are too easy for bad people to access. But the availability of guns does not make people bad, or make bad people do bad things. Someone is not walking down the aisles of Wal-Mart when they see a gun and say to themselves "Well, I have no plans Saturday night, why don't I go shoot-up that gay club down the street?". If there is a clear political and religious motive it needs to be discussed. If that motive is not individual, but shared by others, then to the extent we can chose whether or not to allow them to enter the country, Americans, especially LGBT Americans, have a right to participate in that debate regarding whether their lives should be put at risk for abstract feelings of guilt and moral duty.

Even if one rejects those positions, self-interest dictates considering them. Ultimately the importance of these issues is transparent, so much so, that efforts to talk solely about gun control will come off as patronizing and offensive, taking one's audience for fools. Every person who insists that the perpetrators motives were incidental, that his background was incidental, and that the identity of his victims was incidental, is in fact insisting that the events were entirely random, could not have been prevented, and is therefore prepared to throw up their hands and abandon any pretense of preventing such things in the future.

If I have mostly lashed out at the rush to talk about gun control on the left, that is because it has been the most delusionally blatent effort at spin, not least because the right has the media and public doing its work for it. But the Republican party has an opportunity here and a danger. They have a chance to move beyond the fights over Same-Sex Marriage and to respond to this attack on the LGBT community as an attack on Americans. Accepting that Gay men are Americans, even when seeking to hookup at a club, and that the Republican party has a moral duty to protect their interests equal to everyone else would be an extraordinary gesture in context. It would also allow the party to transform the debate and partisan lines on the issue at a moment when its base might allow such a move.

But of course there are also dangers. One is that there remain those in the party who share the sympathies of the Islamic radicals they attack on this issue, even if they would never contemplate the methods. Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, very nearly did more to damage the GOP on this issue than anyone since Rick Santorum. Even beyond the need to resolve the future of the party and of social conservatives within it, there is the danger that Republicans will respond almost gleefully to confirmation of their views regarding Islam. Donald Trump, after initially responding wisely in a reserved manner, jumped head first into declaring himself vindicated. That reduces the lives of the victims as much as denying this had to do with anything other than gun laws, and to make matters worse, adds insult to injury given the expressed views of other Republicans regarding LGBT issues.

Ultimately this tragedy is a test of resolve for everyone. And it may well mark a turning point in America, provided those with the opportunity can restrain themselves enough to grasp it. The alternative, where political advantage on gun control or immigration is solely sought means the LGBT community being forgotten. That does not mean neither issue can be discussed. There are good reasons to consider the implications of both issues. But in assessing the impacts, the effects on the LGBT community should not be forgotten.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Violence may not help Trump directly, but it does force everything else off the news

The outbreak of violence at Donald Trump's recent rally in San Jose is neither unprecedented nor unexpected. Heightened tempers have been dogging politics over the last year, while with many Universities out for the summer, there is a large group of politically engaged young people with time on their hands. Its worth noting that the most talked about incident of violence involved young people on both sides. A Trump supporter who appeared to be in his late teens, and a crowd that appeared to mostly be in its 20s at the latest.


It is also worth noting the time of year and location. It is summer, and summer in southern California is hot, very hot. It is not a coincidence that historically violence has a propensity to break out in summer. The concentration of unemployed young people and heat tends to ensure that.

Much of the discussion of the events in San Jose has focused on who was at fault/who the violence will help or hurt/whether this sort of thing is a sign of increasingly polarized politics? Those answers are specifically unknowable, though it is worth observing that both sides will likely get what they wanted from the clashes. Trump supporters will have martyrs, and a reinforcement of the narrative that Trump represents a rebellion against political correctness gone mad which in its final degeneration now amounts to outright thuggery. For Trump critics on the left, it is a confirmation that Trump represents something out of the 1930s. Commentary would not be complete without references to the 1930s. Even political analysts on both sides are apt to see what they want to see. Democrats will see confirmation that Trump is so racially polarizing he cannot win, that demographics will doom him not only to a loss but to a landslide defeat. For Republicans, it moves the ground from the iconoclastic causes Trump has championed, with which far too many are uncomfortable, to the much more familiar ground of law and order.

In the meantime, the bigger political impact is getting lost in the shuffle. What matters is less the fact that this sort of violence can dominate the news as the fact that it can do so whenever it occurs, squeezing out all other stories. Especially when Trump can stir it up on demand merely by heading to a heavily Democratic city. Witness then what is currently off the news. Hillary Clinton's otherwise well-received foreign policy speech has all but vanished from discourse, as, to a lesser degree, have the details of the Trump University case, replaced with a debate over whether Trump is showing sufficient deference to the federal judiciary. Neither may be wins for Trump, but the stories they have supplanted were clear losses.

Trump's great success so far this campaign has been his ability to define the narrative such that any actual qualitative comparison between himself and his opponents is rapidly turned into a much more vague descriptive one. By this, I mean that if a story implies, as the Trump University one, or recent disputes over Veterans donations may, that Trump is corrupt, Trump is very good at then shifting the narrative into one in which it is dreadful that the election is likely to be between two corrupt candidates. Implication being they are equally corrupt. The same approach was used to devastating effect during the primaries, where the outlines of Trump's policies, especially regarding International Affairs, where most people just knew he opposed greater US involvement and opposed the Iraq War, were contrasted favorably with those of his opponents in an isolationist/neoconservative dichotomy. The result was that Marco Rubio was never able to get much if any millage out of his media-proclaimed touch-down regarding Trump's inability to explain the Nuclear Tripod, because the debate never long remained on that level. Trump has so thoroughly managed to frame the election as a choice between evils, that the major difference between them increasingly becomes meta - whether one wants change or the status quo in Washington - or cultural, what a win or loss for him would represent emotionally for voters. On both of those questions Trump is competitive if not stronger than Hillary, which is one reason he has managed to close the polling gap.

Some of that tightening has been blamed on the refusal of Bernie Sanders to withdraw from the election. That is without a doubt true, and it is worth noting that the losing primary candidate always begins polling absurdly well in general election matchups towards the end of the primary process, as Hillary herself showed in 2008. But a wider impact of Sanders has not been to cause his supporters to hold off on supporting Hillary directly, but rather to contribute to reinforcing the Trump narrative that there is little to chose between the candidates except insofar as Clinton represents the status quo and Trump change. In this sense, the media campaign for the last month has been two against one, despite Sanders non-viability, and it is amusing to think of what would be happening had Trump followed through on a decision to debate Sanders. Without a doubt it would have reinforced the other major cause of this media cycle, namely the fact that not only is the Clinton campaign outnumbered two to one currently, but it is also by far the weakest of the three message-wise. Trump is constantly interesting, generating coverage, while Sanders own increasing breakdown, combined with that of his supporters, lends a human interest angle that feeds off the tightening polls. Clinton by contrast, declared the primary campaign over weeks ago, but then, rather than following through and pivoting to the general, with a few exceptions she has done nothing. Instead she has seemed to wait for Sanders to agree with her regarding the state of the race before pivoting to the general, giving him not only a veto on the progress of any Democratic campaign, but also rendering her a bystander in her own election. Trump has a clear opponent in Hillary Clinton, while Sanders, no matter how delusionally, continues to act as if he is determined to win the remaining Democratic primaries. Yet Hillary, having declared the Democratic process over, cannot bring herself to grant Sanders' efforts the legitimization they would receive if she contested the campaign against him, but nevertheless cannot focus on Trump either. As a result, her messaging has been incoherent on a day-to-day basis. Increasingly desperate pleas for Sanders to withdraw mixed with often well-managed attacks on Trump which are never followed up such that they vanish from the news within hours.

The Clinton campaign assumes this phase will end next Tuesday. And it might. But there is a very real prospect that Sanders wins California. It would not make his nomination anymore plausible, but it would make dropping out on the night he sweeps all before him seem out of place, and pressure he do so from party elites offensive. Clinton may not need to win California to win the nomination, but she very much needs it to avoid a much more difficult general election. And in the last few days before the California primary, it is clashes between Trump and Sanders supporters which dominate the discussion.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Minorities, the Politics of Proximity and Seccession

This weekend the New York Times carried a story about the increasing spread of Islamic Fundamentalism in Kosovo. For those of you trapped on the wrong  side of the paywall, it seeks to describe how “Extremist clerics and secretive associations funded by Saudis and others have transformed a once-tolerant Muslim society into a font of extremism.” Similar stories have appeared in recent years regarding Bosnia.

The term, “history is written by the winners” is often used today as a tool of identity politics, especially when pushing the almost gnostic interpretations that are common in fields such as Gender, African American, Chicano, or regional studies. But it could just as well be applied to anyone who did was not listened to at the time. Political positions rarely get second hearings once they have been condemned, and it is even rarer for them to receive such hearings when they have already been condemned as immoral or genocidal.

The narrative of the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s, the topic of my dissertation, is one in which the Bosnian Muslims are clearly the victims, even if the narrative of Serb aggression has occasionally received slightly more ambiguous handling. The Bosnian Muslims, so the interpretation went, were fighting for a democratic, multiethnic Bosnia, in the American mould, where Muslims, who made up 44% of the population, would have equal rights with Serbs, who made up 33%, and Croats, who made up 20%. By contrast, Serbian and Croatian forces, under the control of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb, and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, sought to parcel out Bosnia between them.


Both at the time, and in virtually all histories since, Croatian and Serbian fears of an Islamic state were dismissed. Bosnian Muslims were secular, and European, Muslims in name only, with no desire to impose Sharia law, or to forge relations with the Islamic world. Then American Ambassador Warren Zimmerman expressed this view his memoirs, as illustrated by the following segment excerpted from my dissertation where he discusses Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic's views.

Zimmerman was aware of Izetbegovic’s religion, noting that “he was a devout Muslim, unlike many Bosnians who chose Muslim nationality when Tito gave them that option.” “But,” Zimmerman continued, “I never saw any signs of extremism or coercion in his manner.” As for Izetbegovic’s work which had seen him jailed, Zimmerman was aware of it, but gave the distinct impression he had not read it very thoroughly. “Contrary to the Satanization to which it has been subjected, it was an abstract appeal for a return to nonationalistic Islamic values; it stoke no fires of the Libyan or Iranian sort. In fact it called for protection of the rights of non-Muslim minorities in countries with non-Muslim majorities.”

As such, claims from the Croatians and Serbs regarding Islamic Fundamentalism tended to be either seen as signs of racial hostility, or  as self-serving pretexts for a land grab. As a result, the actual fears of Serbian and Croatian Bosnians that they would become minorities in a Muslim state, tended to be ignored simply because Western officials rejected the idea that the Bosnians had any desire to create one. President Izetbegovic, in his 1970 “Islamic Declaration” stated that “There can be neither peace nor coexistence between the Islamic religion and non-Islamic social institutions.”[1] And his foreign visit after his election was to Iran. 

Furthermore, the evidence from history is that multiethnic and multinational states tend to be stable in proportion to their isolation. Italians and Germans were able to integrate in the United States, Brazil and Argentina because Italy and Germany remained far away rendering such identities irrelevant in political, economic, or social terms. Yet when minorities are trapped on the wrong sides of borders, the opposite has tended to be true even in Western Europe, where a German community in democratic Italy, located in Tyrol, has remained a distinct political and social group for nearly a century. There is a good reason for this. Italians and Germans in the United States were fish in a wider sea. Any access to Italian or German-language newspapers or media was limited to what they could produce themselves, and access to jobs and other opportunities depended on assimilation. But if one's countrymen lie just over an artificial border, then none of those factors apply. For Tyrol Germans in Italy, Vienna is closer than Rome, and German newspapers and media are regularly available.  The right to educate in German, a concession to minority rights, creates a situation where German-speaking Italian citizens can grow up to find they have greater job opportunities in Austria, Switzerland or Germany than in Italy.

This then was the analogy at stake with Bosnia. With an independent Croatia and Serbia next door and connected by a transportation system built when Yugoslavia was one country, there would be ready access to Serbian and Croatian media, products, and job opportunities, and there would be no reason for Bosnian Serbs or Croats to ever interact with their Muslims neighbors or to form a Bosnian identity. This in turn would have a knock-on effect. The only true group with an interest in a Bosnian national identity would be the Bosnian Muslims, and a secular, multiethnic state is a vague and weak identity even if others are interested; if they are not, it is hard not to see a Muslim one developing, especially when Muslims in Serbia and Croatia would have felt the same pull Bosnian Croats and Serbs did. The end result likely would have been a migration of Croats and Serbs out of Bosnia and Muslims from other parts of the former Yugoslavia into it, with the result that very soon 44% of the population would have become 50%.  And the remaining Bosnian Croats and Serbs would find themselves a minority in a Muslim Yugoslav homeland, and as second-class Croatian and Serbian citizens compared to the actual residents of those nations. 

The bottom line is this; whatever the intentions are behind internationally imposed peace agreements, power-sharing accords, or interventions in ethnic or religious civil wars, the end result will be some sort of self-sorting. No matter how extensive promises to respect minority rights are, the best defense is not to be a minority in the first place. In turn, a plurality or majority that sees minority rights as an acceptable price to maintain control of an "empire", ie. peoples and territories that would otherwise not be part of the nation, will consider even voluntary moves in favor of departure as freeing them from such commitments. Iraq may well be willing to pay the Kurds almost any political price for a share of Kirkuk's oil; it is unlikely the Shiite parties will see why they should continue to protect the rights of Kurds in Baghdad if Kurdistan were to secede and take its oil with it. Hence those proposals that are floated for a tripartite partition of Iraq and a separate Sunni state would almost certainly doom the remaining Sunni population of Baghdad to discrimination and gradual expulsion, and the Shiite rump Iraq to a drift towards Shia theocracy. After all, if the Sunnis are entitled to their own Sunni state, shouldn't the Shia be entitled to the same.

This brings us back to Bosnia and Kosovo. I do not think these were problems with a magical solution that could please everyone short of taking a stronger stand against Slovene efforts to secede in 1989 along with Milosevic's efforts to gut Kosovo's autonomy. But that was ostensibly the American policy and it failed. What can and should be done though is to recognize reality. An independent Bosnia, if it somehow survived as a unitary state, was always going to result in a demotion in status for the Croats and Serbs who made up a majority of the population and that meant it was unlikely to be viable absent coerce force unless the borders were redrawn to create a majority that actually wanted a Bosnian state. And that would have meant a majority Muslim state, that eventually, due to reactive and proactive forces, would have begun to identify with the wider Islamic world after the Iraq war. As for Kosovo, which was 90% Albanian, it was never going to be possible for the Serbs to remain their as anything other than a minority dependent on international protection. Perhaps the rights of the 90% dictated that stability could only be maintained by sacrificing the 10%, but the efforts of international relations scholars, officials, and media figures such as current UN Ambassador Samantha Power to deny that any such balance of harms existed was absurd. Not to mention responsible for a whole lot of the problems in terms of nation building which followed.

While the current situation in Eastern Ukraine makes it impossible to accurately determine the actual balance of opinion in the region, it should also lead Western leaders to question whether a Russian speaking population lying on Russia's borders, and thereby exposed to Russian language media, can ever be assimilated into a Ukrainian national state where they will always be second class citizens. It may well be that the region will be a permanent fifth column for any potentially Pro-Western Ukrainian government. 

All in all, however, nationalism and identity are not dead. Self-examination of what is happening even in the West on University campuses should indicate it, but the last 20 years have shown beyond any doubt that language and religion remain the key organizing principles of politics. And rather than deluding ourselves and pushing absurd non-solutions such as a bi-national state in Israel or made up governments of national unity in Libya or Syria perhaps we would be better off accepting that and working within it.

[1]              The Islamic Declaration: A Programme for the Islamization of Muslims and Muslim Peoples, Sarejvo, English 1990 Accessed 3 September 2015
                http://profkaminskisreadings.yolasite.com/resources/Alija%20Izetbegovic-%20The%20Islamic-Declaration%20(1990).pdf


 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Trump, Clinton, Sanders, and the failure to learn anything so far this year


Two major developments have occurred this week in American politics. The first has been the rapid narrowing of margins in general election polls between presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The second has been the descent of the Democratic primary into bitter and brutal identity politics, albeit along ideological lines. To some degree the two are linked, but I want to deal with the first of these right now because I think there has been a tendency to blame the Democratic primary for the narrowing in the polls, which involves dangerously ignoring the context of what else has been happening over the last few weeks. This narrowing, which began with a PPP poll showing Trump trailing Clinton only by 6, culminated in two polls from Fox News and Rasmussen Reports respectively showing Trump actually leading by 3 and 5 points respectively. The reputation of the latter two pollsters reinforced the skepticism of many Democrats, and regarding Rasmussen those feelings may well be justified. Not only does Rasmussen have a questionable record, but the general election poll explicitly offered respondents the opportunity to express support for “some other candidate”, which may have contributed to only 79% indicating support for Trump and Clinton combined. But the totality of polling, which in recent cycles has been more right than not, almost certainly shows closing. This week we have had general election polls with Clinton leads of 6,6,4,2,-3, and -5, whichproduces an average of 1.33%, probably too low, and a median of a Clinton lead around 3%, which likely is about where the race is. 

For those who are not apt to dismiss these results outright two explanations have become popular. The first is that this tightening is natural, the result of a nomination “bounce” for Trump. I tend to agree with this explanation as far as it goes, though I would point out it is has occurred over a period during which the last two Republican Presidents, and the last two Republican Nominees refused to support Trump, and the sitting speaker of the US house remained neutral. It also occurred after Trump’s “taco bowel” social media eruption, and goes to show something I have long suspected. Namely that Trump’s opponents have consistently misread the efficacy of attacks on his candidacy, especially ones focused on his supposedly unacceptable views. 

Rather than serving to disqualify him as a potential President and to make even diehard Republicans think twice about supporting him, the Clinton campaigns initialsalvos featuring attacks by senior Republicans seems to have only served to reinforce Trump’s outsider credentials by painting an image of Washington elites rallying to Hillary rather than men(and women) of goodwill rallying to save the republic from Trump. In effect, rather than suggesting to voters that Trump is so bad even George W. Bush cannot support him, the actual result has been the reverse, to tie Hillary Clinton to a still unpopular President Bush by implying that the author of the Iraq war and the budget deficit now supports her. Similarly, I also suspected that the general tenor of social media attacks on Trump, which have mostly come in the form of sneering contempt, mockery, and general shock that someone could express or hold such views have mostly backfired on those launching them. Anyone who is apt to consider Trump an unredeemable racist, or to see that as a reason never to support him likely long ago made their choice. At the point at which Trump’s appeal has been framed in the context of “I don’t agree with everything he says, but for the first time in decades someone is actually saying things” suggestions that his words or social media engagement are unacceptably offensive are likely to cross that most dangerous of all political lines; endeavoring to tell voters what they must do rather than trying to persuade them as to what they should. And juxtapositioning violent clashes with left-wing protesters at campaign rallies  is probably the last thing the Clinton campaign should be promoting after the events in Nevada last weekend.

Furthermore, the last two weeks have demonstrated something that should be more disturbing, namely Trump's ability to deflect from negative stories by inserting new ones into the discourse. This ability, much mocked, was utilized during the primary campaign when Trump publicly mused about whether Ted Cruz's father was involved in JFK's assassination. At the time the story was mocked, but its major impact was that it swallowed up every other item that was happening that day. Instead of framing Indiana as the last chance to stop Trump, the media spent the day making jokes about Ted Cruz, and voters entered the polling booths considering Cruz a figure of ridicule. This week we saw an even more impressive variant. Over the weekend, Trump appeared to finally be taking on water over a strange Washington Post story about how he impersonated various fictional "Trump spokesman" in order to talk about himself in third person. Weird, and calling Trump's sanity into question, it was the sort of story that might actually hurt Trump by making voters stop admiring his outspokenness in favor of contemplating the wisdom of placing nuclear weapons into his hands. Coupled with an interview in which his long-time butler called for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to be executed and for Detroit to be nuked, the weekend presented two stories of the sort that would have doomed any Senate candidate in a previous year, and inflicted "47%"-esque damage on a nominee. 

Not so for Trump. By Tuesday no one was discussing either of them. Instead, Trump had managed to draw London's new Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan into a public spat, one that also managed to drag-in British Prime Minister David Cameron. Far more interesting than fake voices or a crazed butler who had by now been moved to an undisclosed location, the media jumped on the new story which dominated coverage until the horse race, and implosion of the Democratic primary could fill in the gap.

This brings us to the Democrats. Beyond blaming a consolidation of Republican support behind Trump, many Democrats have also blamed the divisiveness of the Democratic primary for the close polls. They suggest that Sanders supporters, evincing increasing hostility to Clinton which may have reached violent proportions this past weekend in Nevada, were refusing to support Hillary in the polls. There is almost certainly some truth to this, but I would posit that the interrelationship between the Trump-Clinton and Trump-Sanders races works both ways. Clinton is not only in more trouble against Trump because she is in more trouble against Sanders. She is also in more trouble against Sanders because she is in more trouble against Trump.

Remember how I brought up why I thought the Clinton assaults on Trump which utilized senior members of the Republican old guard? The major pattern during the Republican primaries in every case where a rival attacked Trump was two-fold. Not only did the attacks fail to significantly dent Trump's own numbers; they almost invariably backfired and destroyed the image of the one launching the attacks. Marco Rubio got out just as he was becoming a figure of mockery. Ted Cruz became one. In the case of Clinton's attacks, not only did she fail to damage Trump by highlighting the hostility of a professional political establishment, but she damaged herself by identifying her own campaign with it. It is bad enough Hillary has to defend Obama's record against attacks from the left. In the last two weeks she has implicitly become the chosen candidate of the entire DC elite. Of not just the Bushs, but of Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, and John McCain as well. 

The effect of this has been to polarize the Democratic race even more on insider and outsider lines. As Clinton presented herself as the defender of existing order(and civilization) against the Trumpian barbarian hordes, so too did she enrage all those on the left who also resented that establishment. And the shift to an insider/outside axis rather than a left/center-left one in the Democratic contest left no middle ground. In an ideological contest, Clinton choosing a left-winger like Elizabeth Warren for VP would be a peace offering. In the new world, the acceptance of such an offer would make Warren a traitor to the cause.

This is no small issue. A willingness by Sanders to continue the campaign to the convention creates an endless set of problems, the first being what Clinton does after the primaries are over. The Sanders campaign has already made clear it will refuse to accept a Clinton declaration of victory, and therefore any move to a general footing would be fraught with danger. Does Clinton appoint a VP? If she does, that VP might well become the focus of resentment from Sanders supporters and constant demonization such that not only do they not provide a bounce, but they become a genuine liability by August.

At the same time, as Democrats have been wise to note, there will be a feedback into general election polling. But that feedback may not vanish with the end of the primaries. The major shift over the last two weeks, one which has been triggered as much by Clinton's own positioning against Trump as by any actions on the part of Trump or Sanders, has been to a narrative of insiders v. outsiders. That is dangerous. After both conventions, Trump, despite apostasies on trade will still the right-wing choice for the overwhelming majority of voters, and Clinton the left-wing one. But it is equally true that no matter what happens, Clinton is going to be the insider candidate for President in November and Trump the outsider. If the final ten weeks of the Democratic contest, along with what aspects of the general election take place concurrently, are spent framing the conflict along such lines, then it is much easier to see voters motivated by hostility towards the political establishment in all forms voting on that basis. And Clinton's own attacks, perhaps driven by Obama advisers who believe it is 2012 and Clinton veterans who think it is 2000, are reinforcing that message.

Clinton is almost certainly not behind right now. She remains the favorite for both the general election and the Democratic nomination. But if the last two weeks are anything to go by, she may have a much tougher road in November than anyone has suspected, and Democratic dreams of a landslide are likely to appear delusional. Democrats appear not to have learned a single thing from the Republican contest and are just as determined as the Rubio, Walker, and Jeb Bush teams to fight the last election rather than the 2016 one. And they appear remarkably tone-deaf regarding messaging, and how important elites actually are.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Even if Britain Votes to Stay in the EU, Cameron will be the Loser of the Referendum

In one of his more profound moments, Enoch Powell observed that all political careers end in failure. While not necessarily true of the United States, where term limits may very well have saved several Presidents from catastrophic third terms(Reagan, Clinton), it is definitely the case in British politics. Prime Ministers rarely leave when they are popular. The type of individual who would not enjoy the role rarely enters politics in the first place, and even more rarely excels at it, and without even a ceremonial presidency to which one can retire, leaders tend to depart when they are pushed. As for senior ministers, to paraphrase Douglas McArthur, they do not die but fade away, with cabinet and shadow cabinet posts of ever decreasing importance mirroring their earlier rise.

I bring this up, because it has enormous bearing on leadership contests, such as the one currently ongoing within the Conservative party which everyone insists is not actually taking place. Almost since the beginning of his tenure, David Cameron made his preference for Chancellor George Osborne as his successor clear, and if there was any ambiguity, it was obliterated over the last few months. This has been a mixed blessing for Osborne. While there are many advantages of the favor of a Prime Minister, preference to one’s supporters in cabinet reshuffles, a chilling effect on open opposition, the dynamics described by Powell tend to make those advantages hard to realize in practice. A Prime Minister’s chosen successor, for good or ill, tends to be associated with the success or failure of their tenure, since it is assumed a decision to back them is a decision to continue the current order. Hence if a Prime Minister or leader is popular, it is likely that their successor will be as well.

The problem of course is that Prime Ministers rarely retire before they are forced, and hence leadership contests almost invariably occur in circumstances in which the existing order is unpopular, and when the sentiment for change is, if not overwhelming, very strong. Furthermore, it encourages those who wish to also succeed to take up a position of almost open hostility to the present leadership. Cameron has been Osborne’s shield, but by taking up that role, he has also made himself into a human one.

One has to look no further than to the venom with which the EU referendum has been fought within the conservative party. Undoubtedly there are strong feelings within the party, and equally undoubtedly, there would be a strong grassroots sentiment to leave. But it is hard to imagine that the dual would have become anywhere near as brutal between Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister if the referendum had not also become a proxy battle for the succession. As such, it is worth examining how the dynamics of the referendum debate developed the way they did.

Of course, the first major development was the way in which the referendum campaign, ostensibly designed to take the European issue out of the Tory leadership battle, became part of it. That was ensured the moment one or more of the potential contenders broke ranks and took a position adverse to that of the Prime Minister, and by implication, the rest of the field. It is within that context that one must view the anger with which Number 10 viewed the decision first of Michael Gove and then Boris Johnson to break ranks and back leaving the EU. The accusations of betrayal are likely aimed less at the substance of the position the two of them have adopted, than of the consequences of them adopting it. The moment they did so, they not only gained the ability to attack the Prime Minister without explicitly breaking party discipline, but they also provided cover for other dissidents to do so. As such, the referendum was typical of many of David Cameron's internal maneuvers. Intricate, potentially well-conceived, but fatally dependent on his opponents obligingly falling into an obvious trap. Absent such a willingness to behave as intended, the policy was always prone to backfire if senior figures merely refused to behave as intended.

While certainly self-seeking, and potentially damaging to the party, the decision to come for Brexit was an obvious choice for Johnson, and makes the surprise evinced at his position somewhat curious. Not only is the majority sentiment within the Conservative party against the EU, but Johnson, by publicly embracing that cause,  not only succeeded in identifying himself with it, but in forcing Cameron, and by implication Osborne, to identify himself even more closely with the remain effort. For all the discussion of how “gaffe-prone” Johnson’s campaigning has been, what has been missed is that whatever damage Johnson may or may not have inflicted on himself, it is dwarfed by the damage Cameron has suffered by becoming not just the spokesman of the remain side, but the attack dog. When Cameron attacks the arguments of those supporting Brexit, he is not attacking Johnson, but a majority of the party. In fact, the dynamics have been arranged such that any time Cameron attacks Johnson he is attacking grassroots Conservatives, while any time Johnson attacks Juncker, Merkel, the EU, or migrants, he is implicitly attacking Cameron without the need of doing so explicitly. By no means is this limited only to Johnson. It has allowed other Tories the same opportunity. This extended even to those discontented with issues apart from EU membership in particular, provided they used the referendum as a cover.

To make matters worse for the Prime Minister, the increasing association of Cameron with the Remain campaign has allowed Tory Brexiters to revive a charge from earlier in the year when the party was considering consolidating constituency associations, namely that Number 10 is using governmental resources to campaign for Osborne. At the time the charge referred to a move that would dis-empower local constituencies, a game of insider baseball of interest to few outside of the party. Now the charges relate to the perceived politicization of the Bank of England, of the BBC and ITV, and of the use of Obama as a campaign tool.  Obama’s intervention was always going to be two-sided; on the one hand his message would be powerful, but at the same time the fact that it would be uttered out loud was sure to cause resentment. Now, however, Obama has implicitly taken a side in an internal Tory power struggle, which seems even less appropriate. That Johnson, rather than Cameron, provoked that intervention with his own criticism of the American President is beside the point. By making himself the issue rather than the referendum, and forcing Obama to take Cameron’s side against his personally, Johnson dragged him in, and at the same time enabled Cameron to be accused of doing so. Without a doubt, Johnson took a beating over 48 hours for his remarks regarding the President's Kenyan ancestry. But in return, the impression was reinforced ten-fold that the Prime Minister was using the resources of his office and the government for the Remain side. In fact, the idea that Cameron has somehow broken his word and that the referendum is somehow a "sham" is increasingly an article of faith on the right.

Even as close polls have not dispelled a general impression that Leave cannot possibly win, there has been a sense within the media that if Leave is not winning, Cameron is politically losing the campaign. This has prompted comparisons with the Scottish Referendum on Independence, where the Labour party won the battle, but at the cost of destroying themselves. That is an imperfect comparison. Labour was already on a downward trend in Scotland due to the SNP’s move to the left. The referendum accelerated that by consolidating pro-independence support for the SNP, but did not explain why Labour could barely get 20% when the Union had received 55%. The main problem for Labour was not that they were on the unpopular side, but that as independence support came to correlate with income, they were on the wrong side of the issue from the rest of their voters.
Cameron has found himself in a similar position. While there is a substantial base of support for remain, and at the elite level, that support probably extends to a majority of Tory donors in the City of London, most of those voters who passionately support remaining in the EU not only are not Tories, but would never consider voting for the party. At the same time, he suffers from the fact that Johnson is not the only figure to have cleverly played the issue. Corbyn too has showed a level of political sublety, perhaps unintentional, that defies stereotypes of ideological extremism and political incompetence. Cameron cannot earn credit from millennial left-wingers for his opposition to Brexit, even as he shoulders the blame that Corbyn has managed to shrug off by implying his public opposition to Brexit hides private sympathies. At the same, Cameron, not Corbyn is the face of the Remain campaign, meaning the hostility of the 40%, 45%, or 50% who will vote that way is focused on him.

It also means there may not be a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. Cameron, it is rumored, hopes that a major Remain victory to the tune of 60%-40% would vindicate him within his party and kill the issue for a generation. Leaving aside whether that margin seems hopelessly optimistic at this point, there are in reality only two scenarios. One in which Cameron is rejected by a majority of the country and will struggle to carry on as leader with that lack of confidence, and one in which Cameron is rejected by an overwhelming majority of his party’s supporters and potential supporters. In the former, Cameron would find it almost impossible to carry on without the confidence of the country. In the latter, Cameron will nevertheless find it difficult to carry on as Tory leader without the confidence of its membership. The idea that he would have legitimacy to impose a successor on the party would be farcical.

Can Cameron recover?. Perhaps. Politics is always short-term. And Cameron has been written off before. When UKIP was topping 20% in opinion polls back in 2013, the media was filled with rumblings of an internal challenge, while in the runup to the Scottish referendum, his political obituary was being prepared. In both cases Cameron confounded critics. One reason is that ultimately ousting the leader of a party in office is hard. But an important reason for that was the lack of an obvious successor. Osborne, as Cameron's confident and protege, could never have taken part in a challenge, or have been a plausible successor to those who would. Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, was outside the cabinet. Precisely because he could not run for office, Johnson's supporters had every incentive to block a challenge that if successful might have led to the election of someone who was eligible to serve as leader such as Theresa May. Hence divisions among the major party players undermined every challenge as no one had a common interest.

One of the things that has complicated the 2016 climate is that those circumstances are no longer the case. Johnson is now an MP, while he along with May and any other potential challengers to Osborne have an incentive to cooperate to at least prevent Cameron from being able to tilt the scales in favor of the Chancellor. Furthermore, the wider environment is more favorable. Despite some strong polling numbers, UKIP peaked in 2015 with a single seat and is no longer on the march while Labour appears crippled. As such there is both an opportunity, and reason to believe it will be of short length.

The very prospect of a Cameron recovery will create a motivation for his foes, and Osborne's rivals to strike while the iron is hot rather than to give him 18 months to potentially recover. Hence why it is likely Cameron will face serious efforts to bring forward the leadership election this summer, when he is likely to be perceived as most vulnerable. A wise would be to schedule a departure date in advance, perhaps for 2018. Ideally that should have been done before the referendum date was set so as to de-politicize it, but at least setting it would make coup plots harder to justify, not least by forcing his opponents into the open. 

More Thoughts on Education, the Changing Millennial Job Market, and the GOP

I outlined in a previous post why I thought the US economy is undergoing a transformation right now that has particularly impacted millennials. Or more accurately, the transformation that has been going on for quite some time has finally reached a critical mass that it has caused the American higher education system, always something of a bubble, to pop, rendering an educational and economic model a generation of young Americans invested savings that many did not have, worthless.
Two major trends have dominated economic change since the 1980s. 

The first is the decrease in demand for labor as automatization and productivity increases have rendered excess manpower superfluous. In fact, virtually all of the GDP growth in the developed world over the last 25 years has been from increases in productivity. Much of the focus in this respect has been on the disappearance of blue collar jobs in the manufacturing sector, but the reality is that this process has been occurring at all levels. Programming jobs have been either outsourced or eliminated just as manufacturing ones have been, and computerization has eliminated a vast swath of clerical positions in the legal sector. The effects at the higher end of the economic ladder, however, have been obscured by the boom in information technology which has created so many new companies and jobs, that the shrinkage of manpower needs at each individual employer has been more than counteracted. That is, until recently.

What happened over the 1990s then was that faced with the decline of the blue-collar sector, Western nations, but especially the United States invested in education, hoping to build a white collar work-force. This manifested in a large increase in the portion of the population going to university, which in the United States was met with costs. This in turn distorted the market by flooding it with graduates, many who had to start work at inflated wages in order to make ends meet. That might have worked fine had expansion been exponential, and functionally it did work well during short periods, 1997-2000, 2004-2007, when bubbles created that impression. But when those bubbles popped, as in 2009, new graduates not just found themselves without jobs, but competing with let-off workers who had greater experience.

The solution to this problem should have been to reduce supply. But the US educational system has long since been detached from any sort of relationship with the wider job market. An entire branch of higher education, “Liberal Arts Colleges”, prided themselves on that distinction, though less loudly in recent years. The market that higher education served was not prospective employers for their students, but rather prospective students. To cut supply, would have meant admitting their product was less valuable. Hence when the economy got worse, the initial reaction was to increase the focus on degrees.

There is no better illustration of this than the process which overtook the legal sector. During the 2000s, Law promised humanities students the ability to make six figure salaries in the same way their compatriots who went into banking could. As a consequences, millions chose to enter law school not so much because they wanted to be lawyers, but because Law School allowed them to excel in what they were used to, namely getting good grades in an academic environment, with the promise of a job at the end. When the financial crisis hit, rather than being discouraged by a poor job market and reduced resources from paying inflated fees for JDs, the number of applicants actually increased as many saw it as a way to “wait out” the recession. Even had the legal sector recovered to pre-crash levels this would have produced a glut in the market, and difficulty securing employment for graduates outside either top institutions or the top of their respective classes. But in fact it never quite did, with the downsizing of mega-firms in many cases being permanent.

Quite logically, Law Schools adjusted their intake to respond to demand for Law School places, not to actual demand for lawyers, and therefore ignored these trends. The result, when the increase of JDs triggered by a lack of opportunities elsewhere after 2008 hit, was to cause a market glut, a collapse in employment, and an implosion of the sector. At a time when the 35th ranked school has an 18% employment rate compared to Harvard’s 90%, but costs the exact same $40,000 a year, clearly the market is not functioning properly.

To an extent, the crash that occurred in terms of Law School applications after 2013 was the market functioning correctly. There was no need for the number of JDs being produced, and arguably, the sub 20% employment rates their graduates were achieving was evidence there was no need for Law Schools outside the top 14 or so except on a regional basis. But that was cold comfort to those who had invested in it.

At the time this was seen as a lesson about the Law School sector, and given the difficulty of securing academic jobs, one about the postgraduate sector as a whole. But if anyone had bothered to think for a moment, they would have noticed that the exact same factors also applied to undergraduate education, especially in the “Humanities” which is heavily oversupplied given the shrinking number of entry level spots. But it is one thing to forgo Law School because you do not get into Georgetown. It is another to forgo University because you failed to get into Tufts. Mentally, when high school students applied to 20+ schools, it is because they intended to go to one of them. The idea that seven or eight of them were likely not worth the tuition would place them in the position of coming up with alternatives.

What is now happening is that the crash which hit the Law School market several years ago is now hitting colleges and universities as a whole. The 50th ranked Liberal Arts school charges the exact same $50,000 a year that the #1 ranked does, and in practice given scholarships, less than Harvard does. Yet in terms of employability, the market has shifted such that degrees below the top tier no longer have much influence on hiring. Increasingly hiring happens in two distinct ways,. The first is through graduate recruitment, and the key prerequisite to even getting on the internship programs which lead to top employers like McKinsey or Goldman is being at a top educational institution. For those who do not have that advantage, they are likely going to find themselves forced to work either an unpaid internship, or if they are very lucky, an entry level position which is only nominally BA-level, and would not have been two decades ago. At that point further advancement is solely down to their performance in that role, rendering their academic credentials irrelevant within months of graduation.

To tell someone they spent four years of their life on a degree that is irrelevant may be frustrating. But many if not most spent upwards of $200,000 on such degrees. A majority are in debt. It goes without saying why they would feel that they have not gotten their money’s worth, or even why they would feel defrauded. Because in practice they have. Just as Law Schools massively inflated in the median earnings of graduates, many colleges are only now beginning to offer career services which provide a realistic image of the challenges of employment.

That is unfortunate, because not only are those graduates starting out behind, but they are also increasingly working against the clock. The above narrative, while representing the experience of a majority of a generation, has largely been ignored by the media in favor of the small glamorous elite that has made millions if not billions off the start-up economy. The increasing focus on Silicon Valley and NYC, has meant that the narrative for the millennial generation is one of a generation in a hurry. Recruitment reflects that. Most firm recruitment is done on campus such that many companies do not seriously run non-mid-career hiring at all for entry level roles. Internships at many firms are in fact often closed to graduates altogether. If you didn’t use your sophomore or junior year well, your ability to ever catch up basically will come down to networking and nepotism, since the merit-based recruitment processes are increasingly not an option any longer.

The impact of this change is bad enough on those younger millennials who are forced to work quickly and proactively. But the political impact comes from those who fail to do so, or fail in doing so. To arrive at graduation without a job offer at 22 tends to leave a choice of returning home and looking for either entry level temp work, unpaid internships, or graduate study, or alternatively moving to a major city and securing an apartment with no promise of employment or income and seeking the same. In practice, the latter is open to those whose parents can subsidize, creating a situation in which the recruitment processes for employers have developed in a way that forces parents to pay the transaction costs.

Politically, it creates a generation who not only are unhappy with where they are, but have no realistic reason to believe things will ever improve. What has historically prevented class politics from defining American parties is the belief of an unusually large portion of the population that while they are not wealthy today, they will be in the future. One of the major reasons why “Socialism” is appealing to the current generation is that they are the first generation who not only believe they have been left behind, but that they have no ways to catch up. It is the latter, more than the former, which is politically dangerous.

Sanders captured some of this frustration and anger. He did so not least because Obama, always seemingly comfortable with celebrities, identified himself too strongly with the social elite. His administration made use of celebrities, tech stars, and the children of the rich. Ronan Farrow was their youth ambassador. But the reaction against that is not inherently left-wing. Or it does not have to be. It is anti-elite, and to the extent big banks and firms represent that elite it is anti-corporate. But it is anti-Goldman as much because Goldman runs exactly the sort of hiring system that screws millennials as because they have read Marx or Engels.

There is therefore something more Jacobin than Marxist about that movement. It has enemies and it wants their heads on spikes. It wants their heads on spikes because the world is unfair. That matches up with left-wing sentiment, but is also the line being used far more effectively by the far right in Europe. And the far right can always outbid the left in terms of offering to help them particularly.
That said, the far right has a harder path in the United States, not least because America is a two-party system, and a highly polarized one at that. And within that two party system, the center-right party is so closely linked with the economic interests of older Americans, and with an almost social Darwinist message about makers and takers that it is very hard to be taken seriously even when a candidate tries to make the case. Trump is an unusually bad candidate to try and do so in any case for millennials for whom he comes off as a figure of ridicule. It would be easy to say Trump’s message with a better candidate might have potential, but Trump is the only person who could have sold his message in the Republican primary this year. It remains to be seen if it is adopted by the party as a whole going forward. Sanders too is an imperfect messenger. The nature of the Republican contest has obscured the extent to which he too is not a particularly plausible president. In both cases though, the party orthodoxy has been given an expiration notice. Which party follows that message in 2020 will likely determine the future of American politics.


If so, then politics may become interesting. In the meantime, however, there is little about the shining city on the hill elitism of the Obama/Clinton message, or the current GOP economic one which seems to even acknowledge these problems exist or even are problems, much less to fix them. And there is no reason to think a Clinton Presidency would be anything other than an interregnum.

About Me

London, United Kingdom
Degrees in History, Politics and Iranian Studies. Wrote in the past for http://Fivethirtyeight.com. https://twitter.com/DanielBerman2