From Paul Krugman’s newsletter:
From Paul Krugman’s newsletter:
Political scientist Larry Bartels has a paper with lots of statistics. It’s called “Ethnic Antagonism Erodes Republicans’ Commitment to Democracy”. It falls under the category “careful statistical confirmation of something we already knew”. But in case there’s any doubt, here are a few excerpts:
Political developments in the United States and around the world have drawn attention to the question of “how democracies die”. While the role of ordinary citizens in democratic backsliding is by no means settled, concerns about “democratic deconsolidation” and “democratic erosion” have prompted renewed attention to public attitudes regarding democracy and democratic norms.
. . . I find that substantial numbers of Republicans endorse statements contemplating violations of key democratic norms, including respect for the law and for the outcomes of elections and eschewing the use of force in pursuit of political ends. The strongest predictor by far of these antidemocratic attitudes is ethnic antagonism—especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos. The strong tendency of ethnocentric Republicans to countenance violence and lawlessness, even prospectively and hypothetically, underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics.
Most Republicans in a January 2020 survey agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40% agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” (In both cases, most of the rest said they were unsure; only one in four or five disagreed.) I use 127 survey items to measure six potential bases of these and other antidemocratic sentiments: partisan affect, enthusiasm for President Txxxx, political cynicism, economic conservatism, cultural conservatism, and ethnic antagonism. . . .
The support expressed by many Republicans for violations of a variety of crucial democratic norms is primarily attributable not to partisan affect, enthusiasm for President Txxxx, political cynicism, economic conservatism, or general cultural conservatism, but to what I have termed ethnic antagonism. The single survey item with the highest average correlation with antidemocratic sentiments is . . . an item inviting respondents to agree that “discrimination against whites is as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” Not far behind are items positing that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country,” that immigrants get more than their fair share of government resources, that people on welfare often have it better than those who work for a living, that speaking English is “essential for being a true American,” and that African-Americans “need to stop using racism as an excuse”. . .
The powerful effects of ethnic antagonism on Republicans’ antidemocratic attitudes underscore the extent to which this particular threat to democratic values is concentrated in the contemporary Republican Party. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents in the 2020 survey had ethnic antagonism scores below the fifth percentile of the Republican distribution, while 98% had scores below the Republican average. . . . In this respect, among others, the attitudes of Republicans and Democrats are sharply polarized. . . .
One of the most politically salient features of the contemporary United States is the looming demographic transition from a majority-White to a “majority-minority” country. Several years ago, reminding White Americans of that prospect significantly altered their political attitudes. Now, President Txxxx and Fox News remind them, implicitly or explicitly, on an almost-daily basis. For those who view demographic change as a significant threat to “the traditional American way of life,” the political stakes could hardly be higher.
For those who view the Republican Party as a significant threat to “the traditional American way of life”, the political stakes could hardly be higher as well. I bet Prof. Bartels, after studying the matter, would recommend voting for every Democrat up and down the ballot.
My vacation from the national news is now nine days old. It’s boring at times, but not too bad. The only bit of “news” that’s slipped through is that (1) the president said something especially bad (which wasn’t news at all) and (2) what he said may have been that his supporters should break the law by trying to vote more than once (he thinks that voting two or three times is much easier to do than it is).
What follows isn’t really news, therefore. It’s news analysis that I found interesting. From Varun Gauri at Three Quarks Daily:
The style and rhetoric of the Txxxx era appears to be historically unique, the result of the narrow and unexpected electoral victory of a man who honed his skills performing as a reality TV idiot savant. But I believe that the rhetorical style of Txxxxism — nonsense, incoherence, giving truth the middle finger— will outlast Txxxx.
When people say that Txxxxism will outlive Txxxx, they usually refer to the political economy. Typically, they mean [for example] that rising levels of immigration and the coming emergence of America as a majority-minority nation evoke nostalgia and a politics of resentment . . . But I think that it is not only the structural forces that are likely to endure, but also the trappings of Txxxxism, what we think of as its ephemera — the circus atmosphere, the sensation that up is down, the experience of having fallen through the looking glass.
To understand the appeal of rhetorical Txxxxism, first consider a few stylized facts. First, as Ezra Klein has argued, Txxxx’s poll numbers are amazingly stable. Despite the loss of more than 180,000 Americans to Covid-19, an unemployment rate over 8%, and rising racial tensions, Txxxx’s approval rating hardly moved, from 41% in late to 2019 to 42% today. His support is only loosely tied to facts on the ground. . . .
Second, nor is Txxxx’s appeal about his policy goals. It’s not as as if the administration has set out a series of appealing policy initiatives, only to be frustrated by checks and balances or federalism. There are barely any policy goals to speak of. . . . Apart from appointing conservative Supreme Court Justices skeptical of abortion rights, there are hardly any policies even on the agenda that carried Txxxx in 2016, including comprehensive immigration reform, the opioid crisis, and urban violence. Instead, what we see is theater for xenophobes . . .
Third, Republican partisans appear to support an idealized version of the man. Despite Txxxx’s notorious cable TV watching habits and frequent golf trips, 66% of Republicans believe him to be a “harder worker” than any president in history. Despite the barrage of lies and millions in federal tax dollars directed to his own business interests, 72% believe him to be “honest and trustworthy.” Despite not appearing to know how World War 1 ended or who Frederick Douglass was, and advocating bleach and other quack cures for covid, 77% believe he understands “complex issues.”
It’s as if support for Txxxx is the coat of arms for his coalition. Republican partisans support each other supporting Txxxx, whatever they think of Txxxx himself. They recognize each other and constitute a group through their Txxxx support. They support the idea of Txxxx. He’s the flag around which they rally.
How does this work? Larry Bartel’s recent survey of Republican partisans is revealing. It finds that anti-democratic attitudes among Republicans (e.g., using force to save a traditional way of life) are strongly correlated with ethnic antagonism; they are much more weakly correlated with political cynicism, partisanship, cultural conservatism, and even affection for Txxxx himself. In other words, support for the norm busting of Txxxxism is less about the man himself and more about the ethnic advancement, and the identity, of the group supportive of norm busting.
Like support for a military coup, the rhetorical style of Txxxxism, whose salient aspects are a flaunting disregard for facts and truth, even the exhilaration of incoherence, is a form of norm busting. It is an attack on standard forms of discourse. It is also an implicit attack on the function of key institutions, including the scientific establishment (which identifies facts), the media (which filters facts), and the political parties (which translate facts into policies).
The pleasures of this kind of norm busting, provocative incoherence, are the pleasures of trolling. Incoherent provocation leads supporters of traditional norms to become indignant, and squander energy trying to make sense of contradictory and truth-free statements. It’s delicious to see defenders of key institutions (like me) get their knickers in a twist. It’s fun, a minor form of sadism, to “own the libs”. . . .
The rhetorical style of Txxxxism shows that the coordinating focal points for the Republican coalition can even be devoid of semantic content. Txxxxian Republicans recognize each other, and constitute themselves as a group, when they troll the outsiders by flaunting incoherence. Those actions are also a power play — the demonstration that coordination is laughably easy; coherence and language and messaging are superfluous.
It has long been understood that there is a psychic payoff to coordination without discourse; the use of symbolic rituals, as Durkheim described, can create collective effervescence and a sense of group belonging. But what is happening here is not only coordination without discourse but coordination against discourse. Republican partisans are demonstrating that power does not arise from discussion; it arises merely from will and mutual recognition. Political power is that easy for us, the trolls seems to say. We know ourselves, even without words. . . .
The Republican coalition has long struggled to overcome elements of incoherence in its ideology, though perhaps no more than the average large-scale political coalition — the support for small government sits uneasily with a massive military as well as with the religious regulation of private life. But what we are witnessing now is qualitatively different. Although there may be continuities with the history of anti-scientific positions in the party, current events have the quality of a self-conscious political discovery. That is why I believe the exhilaration of incoherence will remain significant in Republican discourse.
Txxxxism has shown that a largely homogenous group in the United States can coordinate, and recognize itself as a political actor, by flaunting incoherence. Txxxx’s successor may or may not be performer, a reality TV personality more interested in showmanship than policy. But because this approach is relatively inexpensive (a leader doesn’t need to invest in learning policy or persuading people about their positions), democratic (anyone can troll), and pleasurable for supporters, the next Republican leader will be tempted to use the rhetorical style of Txxxxism, or face challengers who do. Flaunting incoherence is fun, fast, and cheap . . .
I don’t understand the psychology of people who openly deny reality, flaunting incoherence but also flaunting their ignorance and their willingness to lie. Coherence, knowledge and honesty tend to make a person look better. Putting that aside, the author may be right about future Republican candidates trying to copy Txxxx, but they’ll never find anyone as good at self-serving incoherence as he is. The guy has a remarkable talent/pathology. It will be extremely hard to match.
I have various reasons for doing this blog. I enjoy writing. I like to express my opinions. Writing helps clarify what I think. And there’s always a chance that my words may interest or benefit somebody who reads them (it can happen).
Saving the world is definitely a long shot, but the world needs all the help it can get. The post from earlier this month with the email addresses for the Postal Service’s Board of Governors was viewed more than 3,000 times (I hope they got some emails). That puts it in second place between Apple Core! Baltimore! (4,500 views) and The Fendertones Take Us Back To 1965 (1,700) (there’s a message here).
I mention all this because I’m wondering how to continue. Not whether to continue, but how.
We have an election in two months. It’s hard to believe it will be close. Millions of voters who gave the maniac the benefit of the doubt four years ago or couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a woman don’t have the same excuse this time. This is a president who has never had a positive approval rating. The reasons not to give him four more years are overwhelming. But Republicans don’t need a majority to win. They have the Electoral College on their side.
What this means is that some observers are warning Democrats not to be too optimistic. They’re writing articles with headlines like these:
In some cases, the people expressing these opinions want to come across as hard-headed realists. If, god forbid and against all reason, the maniac wins, they can say they got it right. Nobody will remember if they got it wrong.
Thus, Michael Moore, who warned us what would happen in 2016, is back:
Although the same publication has this as well:
I don’t think I can handle this for another two months: the “watch out, it’s gonna be bad” stories, even when they’re counter-balanced by a few “good times ahead”.
Something else I don’t want to take until November is all the lying.
Fortunately, I’m not one of those people whose job requires them to pay attention to the maniac’s pronouncements or those of other Republican politicians. Being exposed to one ridiculous lie after another is stressful. I imagine a White House reporter dreaming of grabbing Txxxx’s press secretary by the throat, screaming at her to just shut her damn lying mouth. Consider the poor (but highly-paid) reporters who had to keep the sound on during every minute of the Republican convention.
From Margaret Sullivan:
So, so much was simply wrong. Claims about the border wall, about drug prices, about unemployment, about his response to the pandemic, about rival Joe Biden’s supposed desire to defund the police (which Biden has said he opposes).
Believe it or not, Republicans lie more than Democrats. One big reason is that they have an unpopular agenda. They want to cut taxes as much as possible for the rich, so they have to say they’re doing it for the middle class. They want to stop Democrats from voting, so they say they’re doing it to fight voter fraud. They’re in court trying to kill the Affordable Care Act’s protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions, while claiming to be the ones who will protect us from the insurance companies. The president has no interest in providing health insurance to the uninsured, but keeps promising to announce a wonderful healthcare plan two weeks from now. It’s always two weeks from now. Republicans want to privatize Social Security and Medicare, but claim to be those programs’ biggest supporters. The list goes on.
In fact, way back in 2003, Al Franken published a book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The next edition will come as a five-volume set. (That’s a lie, but not a bad one.)
Being lied to is stressful. It’s even worse when you can’t confront the liar. I want to avoid some of that stress for the next two months.
These two considerations, the pessimistic warnings and the constant lies, have convinced me to take a news vacation. I want to back away from the daily news cycle. Since politics has been this blog’s biggest topic, that will probably mean fewer posts or less pressing subject matter. But breaking the internet news addiction until after the election is worth a try. I already know who to vote for. So should you. Besides, the world will still be here to save after November 3rd.
If all you care about, and I mean “all”, is making rich people richer, or you’re a “single-issue voter” who only cares about something like abortion or guns, or you’re a stone-cold racist, he’s your candidate. Thomas Edsall of The New York Times, with the assistance of several studies, explains the seemingly unfathomable behavior of millions of others:
The center-right political coalition in America — the Republican Party as it stands today — can be described as holding two overarching goals: First, deregulation and reductions in corporate and other tax liabilities — each clearly stated on the White House website — and second, but packing a bigger punch, the preservation of the status quo by stemming the erosion of the privileged status of white Christian America. . . .
Last week, I argued that for Democrats the importance of ethnicity and race has grown, not diminished, since the mid-1960s. The same thing is true for Republicans — and many of the least obvious, or least comprehensible, aspects of Republican political strategy have to do with the party’s desire to cloak or veil the frank racism of the contemporary Republican agenda.
America’s still segregated modern life is marked by three realities: First, geographic segregation has meant that — although places like Ferguson and Baltimore may seem like extreme examples — most white Americans continue to live in locales that insulate them from the obstacles facing many majority-black communities. Second, this legacy, compounded by social self-segregation, has led to a stark result: the overwhelming majority of white Americans don’t have a single close relationship with a person who isn’t white. Third, there are virtually no American institutions positioned to resolve these problems. Social segregation persists in virtually all major American institutions.
Firm allegiance to the conservative agenda has become crucial to the ability of Txxxx and the Republican Party to sustain the loyalty of an overwhelmingly white coalition that experiences itself as besieged and under the threat of losing power. The time when a major political party could articulate a nakedly racist agenda is long past, although Txxxx comes as close as possible.
“Txxxx goes all-in on race,” declared the headline on a story in Politico just after the close of the first night of the Republican convention on Monday.
While some speakers portrayed Txxxx as a friend of Black America, “others took a harder-edged tack that undercut the message of inclusion,” according to Politico. . . .
In a series of studies published from 2014 to 2018, Maureen A. Craig and Jennifer A. Richeson, professors of psychology at N.Y.U. and Yale, demonstrate how whites, faced with the prospect of becoming a minority, have embraced the Republican Party for institutional protection of their imperiled status.
In their 2014 paper, “On the Precipice of a ‘Majority-Minority’ America: Perceived Status Threat From the Racial Demographic Shift Affects White Americans’ Political Ideology,” Craig and Richeson took a national sample of whites who said they were unaffiliated with either political party and broke them into two groups.
One group was asked “if they had heard that California had become a majority-minority state,” thus making the issue of white minority status salient, and the other was asked “if they had heard that Hispanics had become roughly equal in number to Blacks nationally,” with no reference to the status of whites.
At the end of the survey, participants were asked whether they leaned toward either party. Those who had been informed about the minority status of whites in California said they leaned to the Republican Party by a margin of 45-35. Those who had not been informed of whites’ minority status leaned to the Democratic Party 40.5 to 24.3.
In a subsequent 2018 paper, “Racial and Political Dynamics of an Approaching ‘Majority-Minority’ United States,” Craig and Richeson . . . reported that “whites for whom the impending racial demographic changes of the nation are salient” endorsed more conservative positions on a variety of policy issues and reported “greater support for Republican presidential candidate Dxxxx Txxxx.”
According to Joshua Greene, a professor of psychology at Harvard and the author of “Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them,” Txxxx is expert at sending “signals that are music to the ears of his base,” signals that ineradicably affirm his membership in the populist right wing of the Republican Party.
Greene argued in an email that when
Txxxx says that a judge of Mexican ancestry can’t do his job, or attacks women for their physical appearance, or makes fun of a disabled reporter, or says that there are good people on both sides of a violent neo-Nazi rally, or that Haiti is a “shithole,” or that the “Second Amendment People” can maybe do something about Hillary Clinton, Txxxx is very deliberately and publicly excommunicating himself from the company of liberals, even moderate ones.
In Greene’s view, Txxxx offers a case study in the deployment of “costly signals.”
How does it work? Greene writes:
Making oneself irredeemably unacceptable to the other tribe is equivalent to permanently binding oneself to one’s own. These comments are like gang tattoos. And in Txxxx’s case, it’s tattoos all over his neck and face.
At the same time, Txxxx’s “costly signals” make his reliability as a protector of white privilege clear.
John Tooby, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Santa Barbara, described the signaling phenomenon in a 2017 Edge talk as an outgrowth of what he calls a “coalitional instinct.”
“To earn membership in a group,” Tooby says, “you must send signals that clearly indicate that you differentially support it, compared to rival groups.”
This, Tooby notes, encourages extremism: “Practical and functional truths are generally useless as differential signals, because any honest person might say them regardless of coalitional loyalty.” Far more effective are “unusual, exaggerated beliefs,” including “alarmism, conspiracies or hyperbolic comparisons.”
The success of Txxxx’s strategy will have long term consequences for the Republican Party, in Greene’s view:
Txxxx won over the base by publicly sacrificing his broader respectability. Back in 2016, the other Republican primary candidates looked ahead at the general election and thought this was a losing strategy. But Txxxx pulled it off, perhaps because he didn’t really care about winning. But now he owns the party. No Republican can get elected without the Republican base, and the Republican base trusts Txxxx and only Txxxx, thanks to his costly signals.
. . . The Republican Party is now the home of white evangelical Christians and the residents of rural, small town America who see their privilege — what they experience as their values and culture — under assault from a rising coalition of minorities, feminists, well-educated liberals and veterans of the sexual revolution.
“In the context of increased social diversity,” Alexandra Filindra, a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Chicago, writes in a 2018 paper, “portions of the public are willing to support calls for an exclusionary moral community of virtue at the expense of norms and institutions of democracy.”
Filindra argues that . . . most citizens are
prone to understand democracy through the lens of group memberships. When the social position of cherished groups is perceived as threatened, and when trusted in-group elites use narratives of group threat and out-group dehumanization to justify anti-democratic actions, group members become more vulnerable to authoritarian leaders and parties that promise protection or restoration of the group’s status but at the cost of institutional democracy.
Political polarization plays a crucial role here.
As Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer, political scientists at Georgia State and Koç University, write in their 2019 paper, “Toward a Theory of Pernicious Polarization and How It Harms Democracies”:
Growing affective polarization and negative partisanship contribute to a growing perception among citizens that the opposing party and its policies pose a threat to the nation or an individual’s way of life. Most dangerously for democracy, these perceptions of threat open the door to undemocratic behavior by an incumbent and his/her supporters to stay in power, or by opponents to remove the incumbent from power.
The cumulative effect, McCoy and Somer continue, “is a deterioration in the quality of democracy, leading to backsliding, illiberalism, and in some cases reversion to autocracy.”
. . . Matthew Graham [and Milan W. Svolik, politicial scientists at Yale] published a study this year showing that when voters are forced to make a choice between partisan loyalty and standing on principle, only small percentages of either party’s electorates stood on principle. The vast majority chose partisan loyalty, with little or no difference between Republicans and Democrats.
In an email, Svolik raised the next logical question: “If supporters of both parties oppose/tolerate authoritarianism at similar levels, how come it is the Republican Party that is primarily associated with authoritarian tendencies today?” In reply to his own question,” Svolik writes, “The quick answer is Txxxx.” But
The deeper answer is that the opportunities to subvert the democratic process for partisan gain have become asymmetrical. Because of the biases inherent in political geography and demographic partisan patterns, the two most easily implementable means of gaining an unfair electoral advantage — gerrymandering and voter identification laws — only offer opportunities for unfair play to Republicans.
Txxxx, in Svolik’s view, has presented
his supporters with a stark choice between his conservative accomplishments (immigration, judicial appointments, tax cuts) while portraying the Democrats as the extreme left (something he did successfully with Hillary Clinton, and why I believe he often brings up Portland, AOC, and Sanders). By doing so, Txxxx is effectively raising the price his supporters must pay for putting democratic principles above their partisan interests.
Other political scientists and psychologists argue that there are differences between Republicans and Democrats that are deeper.
Hyun Hannah Nam, a political scientist at Stony Brook University argues in an email that “there is some evidence that Republicans and Democrats respond differently to information that violates their political beliefs or allegiances — that is, cognitive dissonance in the political domain.”
A 2013 paper, ‘‘ ‘Not for All the Tea in China!’ Political Ideology and the Avoidance of Dissonance-Arousing Situations,” which Nam wrote with John Jost and Jay Van Bavel, both professors of psychology at N.Y.U., provided data from an experiment in which
supporters of Republican presidents and supporters of Democratic presidents were either asked or instructed to argue that a president from the opposing party was a better president than a president from their own party.
Nam and her colleagues
found that 28 percent of Obama supporters willingly engaged with the task of writing an essay favoring Bush over Obama, whereas no Bush supporters were willing to argue that Obama was a better president than Bush.
This suggests, Nam continued in her email,
that there may be something special about Republicans when it comes to an unwillingness to criticize their own leaders or to praise the opposition’s leaders. Although this research preceded the Txxxx era, it could be that Txxxx supporters may now similarly double down on their expressed loyalty to Txxxx, in spite of various moral and ideological violations exhibited by Txxxx — or even because of them through processes of rationalization.
In her email, Nam added,
It appears that a neural structure that guides our perception of salient threats and understanding of social group hierarchy also underlies political preferences and behaviors to keep society as it is. If voter suppression efforts are perceived as helping to maintain the existing power structures, then it is possible that our neurobiological predispositions support the legitimation of such endeavors to protect the status quo.
The emergence of a right-populist, authoritarian-inclined Republican Party coincides with the advent of a bifurcated Democratic Party led, in large part, by a well-educated, urban, globally engaged multicultural elite allied with a growing minority electorate.
Structurally, the Democratic Party has become the ideal adversary for a Republican Party attempting to define political competition as a contest between “us the people” against “them, the others” — the enemy. The short- and medium-term prognosis for productive political competition [or cooperation] is not good.
Joshua Greene, the Harvard psychologist, closed his email with an addendum: “P.S. I think that Biden will probably win and will probably be the next president. But the fact that I can’t say more than ‘probably’ is terrifying to me. . . .”