A Relatively Sane Election, But Likely Insanity Ahead

It looks like women and voters under 30 saved the day. Pro-insurrection Republicans mostly lost. Forced birth was rejected in several states. Democrats have added two governors so far.

Depending on results still to come in Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, the Democrats will end up with 49 senators (giving control to the Republicans), 50 (keeping the relative control Democrats have now) or 51 (meaning Manchin and Sinema won’t be as important, since they’ll have to vote together in order to make trouble).

As predicted, Republicans will apparently take control of the House of Representatives. But it appears they’ll have a tiny majority. That means trouble ahead. Author Brynn Tannehill explains:

[The Republicans are] probably going to end up with between 218 and 220 seats in the House. This means only a 1, 3, or 5-seat advantage… Whoever the Speaker of the House is, they’re going to have a pretty unmanageable situation. The right wing of House [Republicans] is detached from reality, intransigent, incapable of compromise, will make insane demands, and is large enough to derail EVERYTHING.

There will be crazies in key positions on all the plum committees. Wall to wall nutso hearings on Fauci putting 5G in vaccines and other nonsense, actual legislation won’t happen. Which is a problem. Because you still have to pass budgets and raise the debt ceiling.

So, whoever is Speaker is going to face a dilemma: (a) Cut deals with Democrats to get critical bills through or (b) go with the crazy and accept government shut downs [and] debt default….

Given how the crazies ran off [the previous Republican Speakers of the House] John Boehner and Paul Ryan, … the Speaker will more or less hand over the agenda to [the crazies] because it’s the path of least resistance….

But wait, it gets even more unstable… On average, in any given Congress about 3 members die. Others retire for whatever reason (such as getting caught with a sex worker), or go to the pokey for white collar crime. All of which result in special elections. Given the age, hypocrisy, and lack of real morals on the part of Republican politicians, they’re disproportionately likely to be the ones who leave office and cause a special election. Which means control of the House may be up for a vote several times in the next two years….

A [Republican] House is going to propose a lot of legislation that’s going nowhere [and make sure Democratic legislation goes nowhere too]. 

[We can expect] the next two years to be unpredictable, chaotic, radical and illogical as the House goes far to the right in order to keep the crazies placated, and the government gets shut down for long periods.

While they still control the agenda in Congress, Democrats need to do something about the debt limit. Republicans are already threatening to vote against honoring the government’s debts as a bargaining chip. A federal government default would lead to a global financial panic. It would be a good idea, therefore, to contact your representatives in the House and Senate, as well as President Biden, and demand that they address this problem before it’s too late, meaning before the end of the year. (Last year’s explanations still apply since nothing has been done since then.)

As we wait for further developments, it’s worth noting that pre-election coverage in this country is practically worthless. From Judd Legum of Popular Info:

Political media is broken Major outlets spent weeks PREDICTING there would be a “red wave” and EXPLAINING its causes It was all based on polls, which are unreliable This kind of coverage is not just pointless, it’s harmful.

“Democrats’ Feared Red October Has Arrived” — @nytimes, 10/19/22

“Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House” — @nytimes, 10/25/22

Red tsunami watch” — @axios, 10/24/22

“Why the midterms are going to be great for Dxxxx Txxxx” — @CNN, 10/26/22

All of these forecasts, and many similar predictions published in other outlets, turned out to be wrong. But even if media predictions were correct, they represent a style of political reporting that is dysfunctional. Prediction-based coverage comes at a high cost because it crowds out the coverage that voters actually need. To make an informed decision, voters need to know the practical impact of voting for each candidate.

While outlets ran story after story about the [Republican] red wave, [their] pledge to use the threat of a global economic collapse to try to force benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare went virtually ignored.

The political media has substituted polling analysis, which is something only people managing campaigns really need, for substantive analysis of the positions of the candidates, something that voters need.

You and I don’t control what the “experts” say about upcoming elections, but we can try to ignore the polls and speculation next time.

The End of Democracy: A Reading List

Articles calling attention to the perilous state of America’s politics have proliferated this week in light of Tuesday’s election. The New York Times has a list of books to read in order to understand the disheartening big picture. The article contains brief summaries and links to review of the books. This is its beginning and end, along with the list:

Autocratic demagogues. The erosion of the rule of law. Growing inequality. The upending of elections. Normalization of violence. These are all symptoms of what the scholar Larry Diamond has called “democratic recession” — and we are seeing them not just in America, but around the world. Over the last 16 years, according to Freedom House, a nonprofit that researches and promotes global democracy, more nations have moved away from democratic principles than strengthened their embrace of them. The list includes the United States. What’s new is that this trend is happening in modern, prosperous, liberal democracies.

At the same time — and, of course, because of it — there has been a miniboom in books about the decline of democracy. These range from works that diagnose the causes of democratic unraveling or seek to put it in historical context to those that forecast the grim consequences. Despite different points of view, these books all have a few core ideas in common: that democracies are fragile; that democratic norms are necessary but crumbling; that authoritarianism is seductive; that while America is one of the world’s oldest surviving democracies, it is not immune to the forces that have abraded our form of government elsewhere….

It has become cliché in publishing that no matter how pessimistic your book title, you have to add a clause to the subtitle along the lines of: “and what we can do about it.” The problem in this case is that what we can do about democratic decline is not very clear; the diagnosis has been much more extensively analyzed than the potential cures. All the books on this list call for less inequality, more fairness, less social media, more facts. Easier said than done.

But the potential end of our democracy is an urgent matter. Remember, modern democracies vote themselves out of existence, and the midterms are around the corner. Though the authors of these books have different views of our current political situation, they would probably agree on this: If you have one party in a two-party democracy that does not accept election results, you don’t really have a democracy anymore. The question is no longer: Can it happen here? (The answer to that is yes.) The question is now: Will it happen here?

I’ll add a highly relevant book the Times didn’t mention:

Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government, Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels (2017)

From the publisher:

Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels deploy a wealth of social-scientific evidence … to show that the familiar ideal of thoughtful citizens steering the ship of state from the voting booth is fundamentally misguided. They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random….

Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters…. Democracy for Realists provides a powerful challenge to conventional thinking, pointing the way toward a fundamentally different understanding of the realities and potential of democratic government.

Let’s wish ourselves and the American experiment luck this Tuesday and the days thereafter.

Columnists Are Deeply Concerned About the Election

I’m still avoiding “news” about Tuesday’s election, but many people who write for a living are expressing these two points:

  • Republican politicians no longer even pretend to care about morality.
  • The election will be a choice between democracy and autocracy.

They don’t need to mention that democracy may lose.

From “The New Nihilists” by Sarah Longwell for Persuasion:

These midterms are proving how deep the GOP rot runs.

The crop of Republican candidates running in the midterms has taken immorality to a whole new level. [She then cites scandalous behavior by three of their Senate candidates, Lake, Oz and Walker.]

What was the response from GOP leaders and media figures? In essence: “LOL, nothing matters”. 

It’s a baffling turn for those of us who grew up in an era where the Republican Party built its public brand around morality and character….Until a few years ago, the GOP still defended virtue rhetorically, even when it fell short and engaged in double standards….

In 2022, by contrast, the GOP ignores or perverts virtue altogether. [Their leader] has spawned hundreds of GOP candidates who ape his lies about the 2020 election, his corruption, and his combative style. Candidates of low character—like Lake, Oz, and Walker—are the rule in the GOP, rather than the exception. According to the old saying, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue—and Republicans have resolved their hypocrisy in favor of vice.   

From “Well, America, You Were a Good Idea While You Lasted” by Charles Pierce for Esquire:

The GOP have finally abandoned the last shreds of common decency, the rule of law and other American ideals.

It was this weekend that I finally gave up. I have watched the steady descent of American conservatism—and its primary public vehicle, the Republican Party—into the terminal depths of the prion disease it acquired when Ronald Reagan, Richard Viguerie and Jerry Falwell first fed it the monkey-brains back in the late 1970s….

I mocked it and inveighed against it. Better people than I … have spent four decades warning us what was coming unless the prion disease was kept in check….

The public episodes are now too numerous to mention…. They are beyond anyone’s reach. They are beyond logic and reason. They left democratic norms and customs far behind decades ago. They are beyond political compromise. They are beyond checks and balances, and they have drifted off into the void of a space far beyond the Constitution.

From “We Need to Be Clear About Who Pushed Us to the Breaking Point” by Jamelle Bouie for The New York Times:

The Democratic Party is, at this moment, the only viable political party with a serious commitment to free and fair elections. And in a country where power alternates between two major parties, this means American democracy is in real trouble….

It is simply the truth of the matter. If you oppose the effort to nullify Democratic election victories and create systems of minority rule (the Republican running for governor of Wisconsin said, for example, that “Republicans will never lose another election in Wisconsin after I’m elected governor”), then there’s only one real choice on the ballot….

Democrats did not make democracy a partisan issue. Republicans did. They did when they stood with Donald Trump in the wake of Jan. 6; they did when they embraced “Stop the steal” and election-denying candidates; they did when they made light of the threats against Nancy Pelosi and the assault on her husband.

There is nothing stopping Republican candidates and Republican voters and Republican leaders from pursuing their partisan and ideological goals while keeping their commitment to free and fair elections. There is nothing stopping them from rejecting antidemocracy extremists in their midst and affirming the vital principles of popular sovereignty, rule of law and political equality. There is nothing stopping them, in other words, from making a different set of choices about the kind of political party they wish to be part of.

It’s not Democrats who left the voting public with only one choice if they want to protect democracy as they know it….

Bouie adds that this kind of politics appeals to some:

When politicians and other political leaders … drop the pretense of virtue and embrace a politics of cruelty and malice, in which nothing matters but the will to power — voters act accordingly. Some may recoil, but just as many will embrace the chance to live vicariously through leaders who celebrate vice and hold virtue in contempt.

Others have other things on their mind (by Michael de Adder for The Washington Post):

Untitled

Ethics as a Serious Game Again

Monday’s offerings at Three Quarks Daily included “Is Moral Equality a Christian Ideal?” by Tim Sommers. Mr. Sommers concluded that equality has a widespread, longstanding status as an ethical ideal not reserved to Christianity. Here’s part of his conclusion:

Moral equality is not based on the obviously false claim that we are all alike – or equal in every way. Nor is it based on the claim that all humans possess some ineffable, transcendent something that we got from God. It’s based on the idea that there is at least one morally relevant way in which we are alike that qualifies us for equal treatment (or treatment as equals) in certain ways.

…. Here’s why I think this is worth writing about. I think people, even smart people (maybe, especially smart people), give in to an easy cynicism about moral notions in general, and equality in particular. For example, I received an otherwise smart and insightful comment on a prior article that began, “Rights are clearly imagined.” Well, I don’t think that’s clear. I don’t believe that the hard-headed, realistic thing to think is that moral concepts are imaginary or wishful thinking or a hangover from religion that we are still recovering from. I think cynicism about right and wrong and equality is the last thing we need right now. So, keep in mind, that morality and moral equality are not somehow less realistic concerns simply because they are more abstract and complicated. Maybe, it will help to recall that Hobbes says that the basis of human equality is our ability to murder each other in our sleep. That seems like a realistic concern.

Reading this made me think about what I wrote a few days ago: “Ethics as a Very Serious Game”. Here’s a much shorter (and possibly clearer) version of what I wrote, now in response to Mr. Sommers:

Would it be helpful to think of morality as a set of rules, so that instead of saying things like “breaking a promise is wrong” we’d say “don’t break a promise”? The question whether moral rules are imaginary or wishful thinking wouldn’t arise. We don’t worry about the rules of chess or baseball being imaginary or wishful thinking. They’re the rules. The origin of the moral rules would still be an interesting question (religion was certainly involved), as would whether the rules should be changed. Since morality isn’t as organized as chess or baseball — there’s no official rule book — we could still argue about what the rules are and whether we should obey them.

The metaethical question whether moral judgments are true or false would kind of fade away. The statement “three strikes and you’re out” is true in baseball. The statement “breaking a promise is wrong” isn’t true simpliciter. It is, however, true in morality.

He responded to what I wrote, mainly wondering why we should be moral if what I wrote is true. All I’ll say about that now is that whatever reasons we have for paying attention to morality can’t themselves be moral reasons. Giving a moral reason for paying attention to morality would be going around in circles. Some other justification would be needed, like “God wants us to behave that way”, “society benefits from people being ethical”, “you’ll be a happier person” or “it’s just obvious that we should be ethical”. The answer might also be the one Ring Lardner once expressed: “Shut up, he explained”.

A Note to Readers

When I make a serious mistake in something I’ve written here — which happens often — and I notice it — which happens less often — I try to fix the post. But that doesn’t generate a new email for those who get posts that way. So if you see something badly wrong in an emailed post it’s may be corrected on the blog (although, as in most things, there’s no guarantee).

Thus, today, this went out:

Maybe [Biden] actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the 5% or so who actually respect democracy and the rule of law.

It now says:

Maybe he actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the average ones who are lukewarm on democracy and the rule of law.

Please pardon this interruption in your daily affairs.