Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
- Winston Churchill (1947)
No Sift on November 14. The next new articles will appear November 21.
This week's featured posts are "I don't know why we're having this conversation" and "Election Night 2016: an hour-by-hour returns-watching guide".
This week everybody was talking about the end of the campaign
Facing a need to sum up at the end of the campaign, I was surprised by my own reaction. For weeks I've been wishing Clinton would close on a more positive note, forgetting Trump and making a case for infrastructure, health care, equal pay, combating climate change, ending mass incarceration, a higher minimum wage, and all the other stuff she should start working on as soon as she's sworn in.
But when it came time for me to write my closing words on the election, I didn't do that either. Talking policy seemed to miss the point; I would just be contributing to the illusion that Trump is a normal candidate, and justifying people who vote for him because they disagree with Clinton's ideas.
But disliking ObamaCare or having an expansive interpretation of 2nd-Amendment rights is no excuse for voting for Trump. His open courting of bigots, his justification of violence, his refusal to admit that any process that defeats him could be legitimate, his lack of respect for truth or fair play -- these are fundamental threats to democracy, no matter what you think about taxes or government spending. If you're conservative, I'm sorry the Republican Party didn't give you a candidate that you can vote for in good conscience. But it didn't. I wish you better luck in 2020, but right now I need your help to save the American Republic.
For nearly a year, I've been wavering over whether fascist is the right word for Trump. (There are similarities and differences.) But forget the semantics and look at what we can see: Trump's political style is based on dominance and intimidation, on appealing to a racial/cultural "us" who have to stay on top of a threatening "them" at any cost, on fanning a sense of racial/cultural grievance that justifies any response as just doing back to them what they do to us. Call it fascist or don't, but it's not democratic and it's not republican.
Look at this closing ad Trump put out:
When Trump made the speech these remarks come from, he was criticized for evoking Elders-of-Zion-like themes of an international conspiracy of bankers and media elites. This ad doubles down on that, illustrating his remarks with close-ups of Jews like George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein.
Al Franken, who is a Jew, labeled this kind of dog whistle "a German shepherd whistle".
I think it's an appeal to some of the worst elements in our country as a closing argument. And I think people who aren't sensitive to that, or don't know that history, may not see that in that, but that's what I immediately saw.
Don't think American neo-Nazis aren't seeing the same thing Franken is.
Ezra Klein lists several admiring statements Trump has made about dictators, and draws this conclusion:
It’s not just that Trump admires authoritarians; it’s that the thing he admires about them is their authoritarianism — their ability to dispense with niceties like a free press, due process, and political opposition.
In other words, it's not that they make the trains run on time, but that they make the trains run on time. Klein also quotes this pithy statement from political scientist Julia Azari:
The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.
So the Party elite couldn't stop Trump from getting nominated, and then they almost had to line up behind him. Trump ran against the Republican establishment, but now he's supported by the vast majority of Republicans.
I think there's a pretty good case for calling Putin's regime in Russia fascist, and he certainly sees something in Trump. Here Samantha Bee goes to Russia to find out where the disinformation she sees on Facebook is coming from.
Jon Stewart describes his Twitter battle with Trump.
and the FBI
The big news of yesterday was that FBI Director Comey sent another letter to Congress, which basically said "Oh, never mind."
Since my letter [of October 28], the FBI investigative team reviewed all of the communications that were to or from Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with regard to Secretary Clinton.
Skeptics have wondered how it was possible to review tens of thousands of emails in a week or so, but that should be obvious: Computers threw out the ones that weren't to or from Clinton, as well as the duplicates of emails the FBI had already evaluated. Apparently that left a manageable number for human agents to read.
If the FBI had functioned correctly, this whole process would have begun and ended weeks ago, and would not have merited public comment.
While I'm glad Comey got this done before the election, his massive intervention in the election is still a big deal, and his never-mind letter doesn't undo the damage he did and continues to do. Two days before the election, no politician wants the headline to be that she's not a criminal, even if the alternative would be worse.
Protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline continues, and is being met with arrests and police tactics like pepper spray. The effort is led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, but includes representatives from many other tribes, as well as environmental activists of all sorts.
This issue deserves more attention than election-obsessed people like me have been giving it. But I'll make some simple points that are sometimes lost in the press coverage, such as it is.
It's being billed as a Native-American-rights issue, and it is one, but that's just one piece of the puzzle. The point of opposing pipelines in general is that any money spent on fossil-fuel infrastructure increases the sunk costs of fossil fuel use, and insures that we'll be using fossil fuels that much longer. A lot of the issues I discussed three years ago in regard to the Keystone XL Pipeline apply here: Eventually, we're going to have to decide to leave some fossil fuels in the ground. The more infrastructure we build, the harder that decision will be.
Entangling environmental issues with indigenous-people's rights is an intentional strategy. Typically, indigenous peoples have rights on paper, but lack the political power to enforce them. Conversely, environmentalists know how to apply political pressure, but often can't prevail legally because of private property rights. A strategy that appears in Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything (I don't know if it's original to her or she's just popularizing it) is to combine the two: Environmentalists need to find points where the fossil fuel industry wants to run over indigenous rights, and make common cause with the tribes.
and you might also be interested in
The Bridgegate defendants are guilty on all counts. Bridgegate should serve as a reminder of what a real scandal looks like and how it should be dealt with: People are accused of specific actions that break specific laws, and evidence is assembled to show that they really did those actions.
Contrast this to the long list of Hillary pseudo-scandals, which get more and more vague the longer they stay in the headlines. This week I saw an anti-Clinton bumpersticker saying "Benghazi: We will never forget". I've been reading about Benghazi investigations for more than four years, and I still can't tell you exactly what Clinton is supposed to have done wrong.
Jonathan Chait is pessimistic about the post-Trump Republican Party, saying that it has entered an "age of authoritarianism".
the version of the party that survives the likely wreckage of November will be a rage machine no less angry or united than the one that sustained eight years of unrelenting opposition to Obama. That rage will again shake the creaky scaffolding of the Madisonian system of government. Trumpism is the long historical denouement of a party that has come to see American democracy as rigged. And what one does to a rigged system is destroy it.
Jay Rosen describes how journalists confuse objectivity with even-handedness. This problem has come to a head in this election, because of Trump:
By openly trashing the norms of American politics, by flooding the campaign with wave after wave of provable falsehood, by convincing his supporters to despise and mistrust the press, by encouraging them to believe in a rigged election — rigged in part by the people who are bringing them the news — Trump has made it a certainty that when honest journalism is done about him it also works against him.
So if your coverage is even-handed, it's pro-Trump. Even if it looks pro-Clinton to your Trump-supporting readers.
there's really nothing so surprising about the Melania story. Trump doesn't like immigrants who change the American cultural and ethnic mix in a way he finds threatening and neither do his fans. Europeans like Melania (or before her, Ivana) are fine. I get it, David Duke gets it, the frog meme people get it, everyone gets it.
But it does raise the question of why mainstream press coverage has spent so much time pretending not to get it. Why have we been treated to so many lectures about the "populist appeal" of a man running on regressive tax cuts and financial deregulation and the "economic anxiety" of his fans?
If we all knew what this was about from the beginning — and I think we pretty clearly did — why has there been so much reluctance to say it clearly?
and let's close with something artful
From beyond the grave, Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Caffeine".
Update. I almost forgot about something I promised (in the returns-watching guide) to explain: Nate Silver's argument with the other prediction gurus.
Nate's estimate of Clinton's odds of victory is 68.5%, and has been around 64% much of the week. The NYT has Clinton at 84%, and the Princeton Election Consortium says 99%. It's a little more complicated than this, but Nate's view differs from the more optimistic (for Clinton) assessments in two ways. First, he believes polling is just a more uncertain business than other people do. There might well be some systemic way that we're doing polling wrong, and nobody will know until the returns come in.
Second, he believes the state polls are more correlated than the other prognosticators. For example, if Clinton had a 50% chance of winning Florida and 50% of winning North Carolina, and either state would put her over the top, you might think that gives her a 75% chance of victory. But what if whatever tips Florida to Trump is the exact same thing that will tip North Carolina? Then you believe the two will fall together, and so Clinton's odds of winning either or both is only 50%.
I've wanted to believe the other guys, but in my heart I believe Nate is right about this.