Issue LXXXII: The Future Calling from California?

18 Aug

A couple of months ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom told HBO that California today is what the future of America looks like.  A typical line from a California governor, but he ended the interview saying that the Republican party of California has reached “third party status” and the national Republican Party “doesn’t even know what’s about to hit them.”  He felt sorry for them.

Is this bluster or is there something real to be said about this?  What does this say or predict about Texas in the future if indeed Texas is in transition as California was between 1980 and 1992?  When more than 20% of all Americans live in Texas or California, what does it say about America?

The Republican State that Once Was

California entered the national stage as a Union state supporting the party of Lincoln.  It produced three Republican presidents: Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.  In fact, Southern California brought us the modern Republican Party of suburbs and automobiles.  Orange County epitomized sunny selfishness and right-wing lunacy.  Ronald Reagan described it as Republican heaven.  The John Birch Society, Focus on the Family, Pentecostalism, and Hollywood all started or flourished in the warm Pacific sun of SoCal.  Its referendum process even brought us anti-tax politics (Prop 13) in 1978 and anti-immigrant politics (Prop 187) in 1994.

While Confederacy-supporting Texas was part of the Solid Democratic South, it elected only two Republican governors in the 20th century.  California was the opposite with only four Democratic governors in the 20th century; two of them were father and son (Edmund and Pat Brown).  Texas became solidly Republican between 1978-1998 while California became solidly Democratic between 1992-2010.  I showed how the former happened last year; now I demonstrate how California flipped.  I began my analysis in the 1950s when the modern two-party system began in California with Pat Brown’s election as governor.


Presidential Peaks

At the presidential level, California voted for the Republican every single election between 1952 and 1988 except one.  The Democrats usually batted around 3.2 – 3.7 million votes in the same period.  Their candidates for governor never surpassed 4 million until 1998 and sometimes did not even make 3 million.  But both parties were growing their vote for president; the Republicans just grew faster.

The Republican vote grew from 3 million in 1950s to 5 million in the 1980s.  Their favorite sons Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both won 49 state landslides for president in 1972 and 1984 respectively.  But the beginning of the end started between those two spectacular triumphs.  Between the 1972 and 1984 landslides, the Democrat/liberal vote began to grow from 3.475 million in 1972 to 3.742 million in 1976 to 3.823 million in 1980 (including liberal independent John Anderson’s votes) to 3.922 million in 1984.  California’s population was around the same size as Texas today.

California also began to have an exodus in the 1980s of conservative whites to other Mountain West states who brought their politics with them.  Focus on the Family relocated to Colorado Springs.  Two million whites left the state over the decades.  Los Angeles transformed from the backbone of the Republican Party into a growing Democratic stronghold.  No Republican would win LA County after 1984 for president.

Getting to 5 million

I noticed a pattern when looking for the tipping point in California elections.  I kept coming across the number 5 million.  Once the Democrats reached 5 million votes for Senate, President, or Governor, the Republicans never won another election in that category.  Michael Dukakis moved the needle to 4.7 million in 1988 and won Los Angeles despite losing California.

But Bill Clinton in 1992 took over 5 million votes and the state never voted for a Republican again for president.  That same day, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein got elected to the Senate with more than 5 million votes.  No Republican has come close to winning those seats again.  And the Democratic presidential vote has continued to grow since 1992 to 2016 by 3.6 million votes.  California traditionally is a low turnout state, but with the state now promoting voting, there seems to be no apparent ceiling to the Democratic presidential vote.

The last traditional Republican politician to win the governor’s mansion was Pete Wilson in 1994 with 4.7 million.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victories in the 2000s never had more than 4.8 million votes.  Once the Democrats hit 5 million votes in 2010, the gubernatorial races became increasingly comical.   First, Republicans faced a Democratic Party that kept growing and growing.  Then they had a bigger problem.  They began to shrink.


What Decline looks like and the falling ceiling

Between 1960 and 2004, a landslide presidential win for either party was a margin of 1.2 to 1.5 million.  In fact, George W. Bush received more votes for president than any Republican in the history of California in 2004 with 5.5 million votes; that was just a smidge more than Ronald Reagan’s 5.46 million in 1984 when California had 9 million fewer people.  After 2004, it spirals downwards.


Declining Republican Presidential Vote

Year Democrat Republican Margin
2000 5,861,203 4,567,429 1,293,774
2004 6,745,485 5,509,826 1,235,659
2008 8,274,473 5,011,781 3,262,692
2012 7,854,285 4,839,958 3,014,327
2016 8,753,788 4,483,810 4,269,978


Republican presidential nominees now routinely lose the nation’s largest state by 3 million votes.  The maximum number of votes a Republican can get for governor, president, or senator seems to be around 4.7 million.  The last year a Republican cracked 5 million for president, senator, and governor are respectively 2008, 1988, and never.  The presidential vote is down a million since Ronald Reagan’s 49 state landslide of 1984.

GOP Meltdown Continues

What about Newsom’s quip about the Republicans becoming a third party?  Can they lose even worse?  Yes, the wipeout only gets worse after 2016.

The reversal in the OC has been swift, rapid, and complete.  First, Hillary Clinton won Orange County, the first Democrat to do so since the Great Depression.  Then Gavin Newsom wins every coastal county from Mexico to Oregon in a 3 million vote landslide for governor.  When all the mail in votes are counted, every single Republican in Congress lost in Orange County in 2018.  Finally, after a few months, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Orange County.

In Sacramento, California’s Republican legislators used to wield power because the budget and new taxes required a two-thirds vote from the Legislature.  Now the State Assembly has gone from a 54%-46% Democratic majority to a 77%-23% Democratic majority in 20 years.  Republicans can’t even block a budget anymore with the Democratic supermajority.

Republicans even failed to make the Senate election in November 2016 and 2018 under California’s new top two system.  How long before their gubernatorial candidate fails to make the November ballot?  Could we get a Green Party or DSA candidate against a Democrat if the Republicans become a non-entity in the future?

The consequences for the Electoral College are even more disastrous.  The larger and larger margins in California make it potentially impossible for the Republicans to win the popular vote.  Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by 2.86 million votes.  Without California, she would have lost the popular vote by 1.4 million.  If Donald Trump had lost California by the typical 1.2 million votes as Republicans used to before Obama, Donald Trump would have won the national popular vote by 100,000.  As wins in Texas become closer and closer, California becomes a bigger shaper of the national popular vote.  This is a profound problem for democratic legitimacy of any Republican president in the future.


Issue LXXI: Texas, Turnout and the Presidency

14 Aug

A recent poll from the Dallas Morning News showed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden (D-DE) and Senator Bernard Sanders leading by 2% in a presidential election in Texas against President Donald J. Trump.  Granted, this was within the margin of error, but it tantalized political observers locally and nationally.  It is consistent with a UT poll showing a state split down the middle on re-electing the president but with 60% of independents likely voting against him.  Is Trump losing Texas a Democratic pipe dream or something worth investigating?

This led me to re-analyze the final numbers in last year’s Bhatany Report on the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Texas between Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz and Congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke.  The short story is Texas is a young, diverse, urban, and immigrant state which has very low voter turnout.  Typically, 50th of the 50 states.  The few who vote (especially in gubernatorial years) are older and disproportionately white because cities and the Texas-Mexico border have appalling few voters.  For a state with 28.7 million residents with 18 million eligible voters and 15.8 million registered voters, there are not many voters.

How few?  Presidential elections this century have all had less than 9 million votes while midterm elections have been around 5 million or less until last year’s Senate race jumped up to 8.375 million votes.  The interesting number I keep finding is no Republican has gotten more than 4.68 million votes.  Remember, there are 15.8 million registered voters in the state.


Stagnation and Growth Reversed

The Republican Party of Texas used to be the party of growth.  Between 1976 and 2000, the Republican presidential vote doubled.  Now it seems to have run out of gas.

Presidential Vote

Year Republican Democrat Margin
2000 3,799,639 2,433,746 1,365,893
2004 4,526,917 2,832,704 1,694,213
2008 4,479,328 3,528,663 950,665
2012 4,569,843 3,308,124 1,261,713
2016 4,685,047 3,877,868 807,179


The most successful Republican candidates keep getting about the same number of votes since 2004 despite the state adding more than 6 million residents.  There is not much variation between Donald Trump (4.68 million), Gregg Abbott (4.64 million in 2018), Mitt Romney (4.57 million), John McCain (4.48 million), and George W. Bush (4.52 million in 2004).  Before 2018, the typical Republican candidate for governor only got 2.7 million votes.

Since 2000, the Democratic vote is growing after decades of stagnation.  Jimmy Carter won Texas in 1976 with 2 million votes which is not much different from Al Gore’s 2.4 million in 2000.  Since 2000, we have John Kerry (2.83 million), Barack Obama (3.3 million to 3.5 million), and Hillary Clinton (3.88 million) slowly gaining on Republican presidential candidate’s 4.5 – 4.6 million votes.  The Democratic gubernatorial candidate typically crashes out with 1.8 – 2 million votes until 2018 when Sheriff Lupe Valdez somehow scored more votes than Barack Obama in 2008 despite running an awful campaign against a strong incumbent.  Regardless of the quality of the Democratic presidential candidate, the Democratic presidential candidate is gaining 90,257 votes per year since the year 2000 which is 361,030 vote per presidential election.

4.5 million votes or Bust

That makes it safe to say that the Democratic nominee for president in 2020, regardless of quality, should get 4.2 million votes in Texas.  That’s not bad since no Democrat reached the 4 million vote mark until Congressman O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign.  But it is not enough to win the presidency.

President Trump could lose votes in Texas compared to 2016, but I doubt he falls below 4.5 million votes.  Due to the unusually high Libertarian vote in 2016, it is hard to predict how much he could lose or gain from 2016.  He could get 4.9 million at most and 4.5 million at the least.  My gut feeling says that he would perform around Gov. Gregg Abbott’s 2018 re-election number of 4.64 million.

Is it hopeless for Democrats?  Below the presidential election are many elections that likely would be winnable with 4.2 million votes such as John Cornyn’s U.S. Senate race in 2020.  A vote that high could lead to 1-2 Republican congressmen losing office and perhaps a lower level statewide office or the Texas House of Representatives.  There are always many reasons to vote besides the national media’s White House obsession.  If trends continue for 6 more years, Texas will definitely be a swing state in 2024.

Issue LXX: Age Polarization and 2020

2 Aug

Did you watch the debate on CNN?  Likely not, as people tune out of the sickening spectacle of two dozen candidates pulling each other down like crabs climbing out of a bucket

Talk of “moderates” and centrists versus “progressives” and socialists and likely turns the audience off no matter how much they may hate the current incumbent in the White House.  But unspoken on cable TV is a concerning trend I have noticed which may affect electoral decision-making far more than the pseudoscientific political babble masquerading as political analysis.  Here’s a dirty secret that has kept popping up when I review election results.

The biggest political divide in the United States is age.


Arizona is now America

This was first noted in Arizona which in many ways prefigures the politics of today.  In 2010, they passed the first anti-immigration legislation at the state level, SB 1070.  Unmentioned of course was the role of the private prison industry.  Private prisons proposed the law to rural politicians as a jobs program.  Undocumented immigrants would be a new population to fill the for-profit prisons.  The prisons would increase jobs but also prop up the population count in the Census to prevent rural areas from losing representation.

As a retirement state and Southwestern state, Arizona has a huge difference between the racial and income profiles of the youth and the elderly.  The youth are poorer and more diverse and overall progressive while elderly (often from out of state) are more Republican, very conservative, and fairly racist and anti-immigrant.  The defining politician of Arizona is this era is not John McCain (R-AZ) but Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Massachusetts-born Italian-American known for breaking civil rights laws and placing prisoners in tents in the desert.  The politics of older and richer white voters wanting to arrest younger and poorer Hispanics makes more sense now.  It just happens to be national now.

Nationally, the age polarization for the youth can be explained by the increased diversity of the under 45 population which has a higher educational attainment, less religiosity, and increased social liberalism. Many in this population are children of immigrants being born after immigration laws were changed after the Civil Rights Movement by the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965.  This polarization also seems to extend to Generation X (born 1965-1980) which is now more liberal than it used to be.

Recent Elections and Guide for the Future

This was not always the case.  As recently as 2000, Democrats banked on older voters for wins in Florida.  But that generation who grew up during the Depression and Franklin Roosevelt has mostly died off.  Older people represent Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) who while fairly conservative have become even more so.  This affects how people should think about the “moderate-centrist” versus “progressive-socialist” debate on CNN.

Those over 45 have voted Republican in many elections now regardless of the Democrat or the Republican.  In 2008 and 2012, they voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney not Barack Obama.  Looking at recent national exit polls for U.S. House we see them voting for Republicans 54% in 2014 and 2016.  In last year’s midterm election, the over 45 voted 50%-49% for a Republican for Congress while the youth voted 61% – 36% for the Democrats.  Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the House not due to her age group but to the voters half her age and younger.

When you add up all the votes, people over 45 typically represent 60-65% of all voters depending on the state.  The vote of the youth ranges from around 30-35% depending on the state.  This produces some fascinating results that have little to do with ideology of the candidate.  More moderate or “pragmatic” Senate candidates lost the over 45 vote no matter what with numbers that are all pretty similar; North Dakota 44%-56%, Missouri 43%-56%, Indiana 43%-55%, Arizona 46%-53%, Florida 45%-54%, Montana 45%-52%, and Tennessee 36%-62% in 2018.  Meanwhile, the exceptions were significantly to the left of center in 2018.   Sherrod Brown won the over 45 vote 52%-48% in Ohio and Tammy Duckworth 53%-47% in Wisconsin.  That feat was not repeated by the local candidates for governor.

In contrast, the under-45 vote almost uniformly voted Democratic even in uncompetitive races like the Texas governor’s race.   Interestingly, ruby-red Tennessee’s Senate election had former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen win the under-45 vote at a rate higher (61%-38%) than the youthful Beto O’Rourke in Texas (59%-40%).  But what made O’Rourke almost make it to the finish line against Ted Cruz while Bredesen ate a 10-point loss?   Beto O’Rourke drove the share of the 18-44 vote up to 39% of all voters while Bredesen only had 31% of all voters under the age of 45.  He also did slightly better with the over 45 set.  Stacy Abrams came even closer to winning than O’Rourke with 40% of all voters under 45 for a less than 2% loss (notwithstanding some electoral shenanigans).

What is the lesson for all of this?  Regardless of region or ideology, any reasonably competitive election shows that older voters are going to vote Republican no matter how liberal or conservative the Democrat is.  The trick is to more or less forget about winning this age group and focus on building the biggest turnout possible with Generation X, Millennials, and the upcoming Generation Z while reducing the loss amongst the older voters to 8-10 points at best.  The drop in the share of the under 45 vote from 47% of voters in 2008 to 46% of voters in 2012 to 44% of voters in 2016 may have made the difference.

The candidate that will motivate the youth and speak to their issues and problems and the problems of the planet will be best positioned to do win if we desire the removal of President Donald Trump in 2020.

Issue LXIX: Congressional Liberalism (Part 2)

17 Jul

Trump’s tweets to the rescue

President Donald J. Trump just gave a great exit for Nancy Pelosi’s feud with the mediagenic “Squad” of four progressive congresswomen.  When things are not going well, distract from the failures of Sunday’s deportation raids, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, immigration detention camps, and a looming war with Iran.   Making controversial statements has been a Trump Organization tactic since at least the 1980s (see: Netflix’s Trump American Dream) long before Twitter and cable news.  Like the credible fools they are, the media and political classes swallowed the mincemeat whole.

After the president’s outrageous comments that Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley should “go back” to the countries they are from, Speaker Nancy Pelosi swooped in to make a House resolution.  In a party-line vote, the House of Representatives has called these statements racist with only a few Republican votes (ignoring House rules that forbid condemning anyone as a racist).  Commonly mistaken as actual action, resolutions mean nothing and do absolutely nothing.  I call it a congressional tweet with a roll-call vote.

Speaker Pelosi can thank President Trump for papering over differences within the party to create fake Democratic unity.  This contrasts to the controversy over the funding for the immigration detention camps which led her to rely on Republicans to pass the bill while a hundred Democrats voted against it.  Are we a big single Democratic family now?

Actually, no.  This unity will not and should not last.

Next Steps

In my last post, I wrote that the controversy has nothing to do with the “Squad” being women of color, and if anything, that bought them a few months of relief before the DNC establishment went on the offensive. Any man would have been labeled sexist to oppose Pelosi at the start.  The Squad’s sin is to open up the congressional process to the public with social media, work hard at congressional duties, and avoid the fundraising circuit using small donors.  Others may have been doing similar things for longer, but somehow these four deservedly or undeservedly got all the credit and attention.

The Squad has to move to institutionalize their role in the party.  They can create a sort of left-wing Freedom Caucus, the way that the Tea Party did in Congress.  Call it the Justice Democrats or the Working Families Caucus for example.  It cannot be the Progressive Caucus because it already exists and has rolled over many, many times when centrist Democratic leadership told it to shut up.  The caucus needs inclusion and exclusion criteria to join: no corporate money, no SuperPACs, transparent and accessible voting records online, commitment to Medicare for All, and commitment to reform and democratize the Democratic Party and its institutions.  I would even suggest a refusal take campaign money from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee to show their complete independence from the party structure and its corrupt fundraising.  A parallel fundraising and campaigning apparatus has to be developed with grassroots money.  New insurgent candidates have no support currently as the Democratic Party has resolved to cut contracts to any election consulting firm that supports a primary challenger (to prevent any new Ocasio-Cortez from being elected).  Members of Congress who join the caucus who do not follow the rules should be able to be expelled to promote loyalty to the cause and not just branding.

This caucus can be used to develop a coherent worldview that will allow voters to vote for the kind of policies they want.  This caucus will form a party within a party much like the Tea Party label did for the Republicans.  Unlike the Republicans, this caucus will eventually become the embryo for a new progressive, working class party.  Eventually, the right of the party will either expel the progressives or leave the party just the way the Right left the British Labour Party in 1981 and again in 2019.

Why should the Squad go on the offense?  Because even before Trump’s tweets, the knives were out. Justice Democrats, which recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wants to target conservative or corporate Democrats in safe seats.   AOC’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti was part of this and is being smeared for wearing a shirt of Indian independence hero Subash Chandra Bose (a smear so transparently idiotic I will not even dignify repeating it).  Further proving my point that claims of racism and sexism may only be made by the Democratic elites against the left and right, the House Democrats official Twitter account attacked Chakrabarti for criticizing moderate Sharice Davids (D-KS) for funding immigration camps without human rights protections.  Per usual, he was labeled sexist for criticizing this Native American woman.

Identity politics does not and will not work, and the Squad better avoid it. The next time they call Nancy Pelosi sexist or racist, she will roll out the corporate-funded Congressional Black Caucus and its lobbyists to defend her.  If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar want to survive, they have to double down and institutionalize their challenge.




Issues LXIX: Congressional Liberalism

13 Jul

When Nancy Pelosi Attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) attacked four congresswomen in the New York Times over the weekend for opposing a recent bill on the immigrant detention camps on the Mexican border. The self-described progressive “Squad” of Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have their “public whatever and their Twitter world [b]ut they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

This is not the first attack she has had on the gang. In April, she also denigrated the progressive wing of the party as “five people” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The leader of the Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) pointed out that she can attend committee hearings all day long (you know, her job) because she does not have to dial for dollars and waste time with fundraisers like the other congressmen who leave early. She is funded by small dollar donors. She now complains that the singling out of newly elected women of color was “outright disrespectful.”

Identity politics certainly will not protect AOC and the Squad; it does not matter that they are minority women. Their sin is to be progressive and ambitious, and they plan to democratize the public debate to a clear left-wing point of view. As women, they may have avoided attacks for a little longer for pushing against Nancy Pelosi (the media class would have labeled any male opposition to Pelosi as sexist), but their get out of jail card was bound to expire.  Just ask white, straight, and male Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) who received plenty of minority and female political endorsements against a lesbian actress primary challenger from the left in 2018.  Identity politics is a tool only wielded by the center-right political and media establishment against the left and right.  No one from below is allowed to use the tactic in the class war.

This leads to my exhortation to avoid using identity-based attacks and critiques from progressives to the establishment and to instead use deeper theoretical and historical analyses to understand what is happening.  Speaker Pelosi can always deny being sexist or racist or have women and minority politicians deny it for her.  Plausible deniability always limits these tactics, and we need firmer grounds than this.  Hence my translation of the following quote from the late Professor Ralph Miliband from British English and politics to American English and politics.

Parliament, Party and Society

Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system… the leaders of the Labour Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system.

Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband at the London School of Economics

This applies precisely to the United States in the following translation.

Of parties claiming liberalism to be their aim, the Democratic Party has always been dogmatic – not about liberalism, but about the Congress… the leaders of the Democratic Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as strikes and protests for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the Congress and its committee and fundraising system.

Congressional Liberalism (imaginary translated book)

The problems that Congresswomen Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley will find within the halls of Congress are increasingly going to be the vicious reaction of the Democratic congressional leadership.  With their large cohort of member-donors, the Squad can claim that they represent a concrete base of the electorate.  Even though they can self-finance with online donations and can spend more time with legislative and constituent responsibilities, they represent a headache for the party leadership.  Party leadership wants donations from the corporate class and would rather continue fancy $2000 a plate dinners even though it wastes time and energy.  Relying on a well-defined party membership that pays regular dues will net tens of millions easily, but the members will want a say in policy.  If only 10 million of the 65 million Americans that voted for Hillary Clinton donated $10 a month to the Democratic Party, the party would have $1.2 billion to spend on elections, candidate recruitment, and organizers for grassroots mobilization for the year.

This is normal.  In a normal country, a group of people get together (farmers, workers, language groups, businessmen) to create a political party to represent their interests with party politicians.  The policies are set by the members in a convention and the leadership ultimately answers to the members who pay dues.  The members make policy and choose the politicians.  In the United States, it is the opposite.  The politicians choose the voters and the policy.

The British Labour Party was founded over a hundred years ago to represent newly enfranchised workers in the United Kingdom.  Members either joined the party directly or indirectly by being union members.  The Democratic and Republican Parties have no such things.  Despite the clear union origins of the party, over time the Labour members of Parliament began to see themselves as parliamentarians first and foremost and not members of a broad, progressive working class movement.  They viewed the officeholders in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as superior to the millions of members and unionists.  Instead of a mass movement which elects politicians, it became politicians controlling a mass movement; that means using non-parliamentary tactics like mass strikes, or protests to achieve goals is a nonstarter.  Hence Miliband’s quip that this parliamentary socialist party was more into parliament than socialism.

In the Democratic Party of Congressional Liberalism, we have a party that refuses to see beyond the halls of Congress.  They too see power and policy to be exclusively in the hands of elected officials (or their fancy fundraisers).  Opening up the political-legislative process up to the masses via social media is not acceptable.  Challenging current incumbents in primaries (called “re-selection” in Britain) is nuclear war.  There is no role for protests or strikes to actually swing votes and demonstrate public sentiment (“public whatever” according to Pelosi).  Thousands or millions of progressive donor-members are derided as “just four votes” by Speaker Pelosi.  The same would never be said about the center-right Blue Dogs or the new Problem Solvers Caucus (who prevented human rights regulations on the immigration detention camps in the recent budget vote on the border).

This royal prerogative claimed by the congressional leadership brings a modern twist to King Louis XIV’s quote (“L’é’tat, c’est moi”).  What is the party and the state?  It’s us, in Congress, not you. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters want to survive the coming storm, they better improve their understanding of theory and history.  Because we cannot treat until we diagnose.  Conceiving of politics as being more than the decisions and votes of 535 members of Congress and the White House is a complete threat to the entire political establishment, and they will not go down without a fight.

Issue LXVIII: The Paranoid Style and the Mueller Report

27 Mar

Somewhere out there Richard Hofstadter is laughing.

The Columbia University historian gave a lecture at Oxford University one day before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The title?  “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  Professor Hofstadter developed concern with the looming takeover of the Republican Party from the moderate Eisenhower wing by right-wing followers of Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ).  As he reflected on the situation more deeply, he realized that this minority of people has a style of mind with a long history in the United States.  In Harper’s he wrote:

I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mindthe feeling of persecution is central, and it is indeed systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy…

[T]he spokesman of the paranoid style finds [a hostile and conspiratorial world] directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others.

He then cites many groups and movements in U.S. history which contained the paranoid style which had risen and fallen over the years.  Cranks who opposed the fluoridation of water, Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts of Communists, the anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” Party, and New England preachers worried about the European Illuminati all contributed to the rich tapestry of American insanity.  No region is exempt from this paranoia.

Linking your domestic opponent with the foreign has rich roots.  Pure, “real” Americans have been hoodwinked by rapacious foreigners.  Texas newspapers complained that Catholics were paid off by the Vatican to spread their un-American religion while the president of Yale likened Thomas Jefferson’s supporters to the Antichrist filled with foreign French revolutionary ideas.  Today, Muslims are the foreign religion under the pay of a foreign power and the “secular humanism” of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation seeds the nation with future radical Jeffersonians.  Which brings us to this month’s Mueller Report.

A conspiracy so vast

How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government area concerting to deliver us to disaster?  This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.  A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men…

Rachel Maddow could have closed her show with this paragraph last week on MSNBC about President Donald J. Trump.  Glenn Beck’s opening monologue about Barack Obama on FOX News in 2013 could have sounded like this.  But instead this is from June 1951 from Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) describing a conspiracy of Communists in the federal government.

Little has changed.  It won’t do to disagree with Barack Obama’s ideas, policies, tax rates, judicial nominees, or public priorities.  Or that he did not end our never-ending wars.  No, it’s that he was born in Kenya (41% of Republicans), or he is the Antichrist (13% of Americans).

Is it not enough to accept that President Donald J. Trump is a tax cheat abusing nonprofit laws and creating phony educational institutions like Trump University?  He has ripped off contractors and hired mafia lawyer Roy Cohn to bully his opponents.  The Trump Cabinet of billionaires and generals has pursued unwise tax cuts and environmentally destructive policy in public!

Why can he not be a corrupt billionaire at the intersection of broken D.C. politics and New York real estate shenanigans?  Why does he need to a traitor?  The paranoid style afflicting Democratic liberals since 2016 shows symptoms of the deep American past.  A secular liberal evangelical thinking, wishing for superheroes to save us (Robert Mueller) and reveal the shocking crime of conspiracy against our innocent nation.

Donald Trump cannot be us.  He cannot be America. 

Well, he is.  He is us as much as Barack Obama is us and is America.

If you cannot fathom that the nation that produced Obama is the nation that produced Trump, you do not understand how much those two Americas need each other and reinforce our squalid present.  The need to externalize our faults is at work.

MSNBC and CNN will demand the full Mueller report be released.  It will come out and should.  But according to the direct quote from the report from Attorney General Barr, there was no evidence of Americans in the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia’s election activities in 2016.  This has been hinted at for weeks if not months before it was completed.  Shifting the topic to obstruction of justice (where there is more evidence but not enough) dodges the issue that this whole campaign of Russian collusion was led by people with less than pure motivations (intelligence agencies and incompetent Clinton campaign staff) using the bizarre Steele dossier.  Trump is not a Russian agent and did not collude, and that was what this was all about.  The only real question is why did a counterintelligence investigation begin on a presidential candidate during an election year?

Maybe I am wrong, and some paragraphs in the full report will reveal some grand treachery.  But I feel skeptical.  The fantasy of a ripping away the veil of some great crime displays magical thinking.  There are no saintly heroes, and there are no devils.  A corrupt system produces corrupt politicians.  Fight the system and you might have a chance.  Fight fantasy and you collide with reality.

Professor Hofstadter would shake his head as he saw mainstream liberals following the well-trod path of Puritans, anti-Masonic quacks, McCarythites, and the Tea Party towards the paranoid style of American politics.

Recommended Reading

Andersen, Kurt.  Fantasyland: How America went Haywire, A 500-year History.

Hofstadter, Richard.  “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”  Harpers: November 1964.




Issue LXVII: Frozen in Time- A Theory of National Stagnation

24 Feb

A Polish nurse told me outside of Cleveland that she does not involve herself with the Polish-American community in Ohio.  “They do all this polka music that no one does in Warsaw.  It’s very old fashioned,” she said.

It is not the first time someone commented to me about how America is full of ethnic communities that are more conservative or old-fashioned or antiquated than in their nation of origins.  Cubans in Miami dream of pre-1959 Cuba while Indian-American parents raise their children in the India of the 1970s while Tony Soprano shouts at his daughter, “It’s the 1990s out there, but it is 1954 in here.”

But it isn’t just exiles singing “Guantanamera” on Calle Ocho lost in the world of today, Walt Disney modeled Main Street USA in Disneyland on his Missouri hometown of Marceline…. forever frozen in the year 1905.  Stefan Zweig, an Austrian author, mourned the destruction of Hapsburg-era Vienna after fleeing from Europe during World War II.  An American would not have written a memoir but had Vienna rebuilt it as a theme park of the mythic past.

Walt Disney was on to something though.  Perhaps Disney’s world is indeed our world; the United States is frozen not in 1905 but in the patterns and habits of 1600s England.


Why We Can’t Get Along…. or Evolve

Glance at a map of the 1860 presidential election and a map of the 2004 election.  How can so much have changed in 150 years (trains, plains, automobiles, Internet, highways), but we still have the same two archaic parties?  The Republicans morphed into the party of the South and Mountain West and the Democrats replaced them as the party of New England, the Great Lakes States, and the West Coast.

Mapping elections onto a map of tribal cultural boundaries (and not artificial state borders) excavates the political nostalgia to its roots.  Roughly, the Puritan culture of New England which spread west to the northern cities of the Great Lakes to the northern parts of the West Coast allies with the Quaker culture of Pennsylvania which spreads west through the central portions of the Great Lakes states.  The Puritan and Quaker regions approximated the Republicans and now vote Democratic.  The Cavalier culture of Virginia spread across the deep South and typically allies with the Borderlands culture of Appalachia and the upper South; once Democratic it has been electing Republicans federally for years.

The continuation of the Civil War via the two-party system has led to paralysis of any initiative at the federal level.  And I argue, it has led to a paralysis at the social level in our diverse American regional cultures; encased in amber in the 1600s as seeds from Albion.  In the absence of a positive national agenda, we mostly vote against the regions we dislike and babble about freedom, a word that has completely different meanings for each community.  We have federal elections talking who we are when we aren’t really one thing

What would evolution look like?

If American cultural regions had been split up into different nations or under a loose confederation like Canada or Switzerland, the cultures and politics could have evolved instead of just our technology and businesses.

Canadians understand they are quite different from each other and unite only for national goals of defense, foreign policy, and immigration.  Canadian Medicare is run separately by each province with some federal rules.  Correspondingly, their knowledge of their provincial governments activities is far greater than American knowledge of state government.

Regions have changed dramatically politically and socially, even in our own lifetimes.

Quebec for decades was in a conservative Catholic Dark Age until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s.  Liberal Party rule switched to the independence minded Parti Québécois which dramatically lost power in the 2010s.  Alberta, a kind of cross between Texas and Colorado, has had five fascinating shifts in party control with the most recent in 2015.

The United States above the Ohio River could have become a more normal Western nation combining lumberjack radicalism of the Northwest with the intellectual brainpower of New England with the industrial might of the Great Lakes States.  It would be a greedier or more individualistic Canada, but it would be politically liberated.  The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the North Dakota Non-Partisan League allied with New York and Milwaukee Socialists could have formed an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans.  Without having to make electoral pacts with Southern slavery and Jim Crow like Franklin Roosevelt did, there would probably be universal health care, maternity leave, and guaranteed paid vacation.  The Quaker-Puritan regions could have dropped the navel gazing and dour provincialism as a nation or sub-nation.  And you couldn’t blame the filibuster and Dixie for a lack of progress.

Southern politics wouldn’t get to blame those far away New York and Hollywood elites for all their problems.  Instead the eyes would be trained on our modernized planter class, a class as vicious and anti-democratic as it was in the antebellum era.  Untethered from northern industry, the agricultural elites would have to decide how to develop without the Yankees footing the defense budget. Perhaps the South could have modernized via caudillo style politics like Huey Long and Big Jim Folsom.  The Populist Party might have won an election separate from the Democrats… or gone into an insurgency.  Populist or popular-left nationalists like Chavez, Aristide, Lula da Silva, and Michael Manley all seem possible in a post-slavery Southern society.  Instead we have the patently ridiculous picture of Ted Cruz looking for votes in the Bronx in a Republican primary.

Instead, we live like a gerrymandered African nation that forgot about the gerrymandering or our tribe of birth.  Amnestic to ancestry, we can only hark back to World War II to find a time when all of the states did something together.  Like Benjamin Button, history moves forward but we go backwards in time.