Thursday, October 22, 2020

2020 Predictions Post!

It's time to put my money where my mouth is! How do I think election 2020 will turn out? I'm going to list my state-level predictions for both the presidential and (competitive) Senate seats. How will I do? We'll find out election day -- or more likely, several weeks after election day!

Presidential (Biden 335 - Trump 203)

Biden: Arizona, Florida, Maine-02, Michigan, Nebraska-02, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.

Trump: Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, Texas

Senate (Democrats net five seats)

Alabama: Tuberville (R) over Jones (D-inc) [R flip]

Alaska: Sullivan (R-inc) over Gross (D) [R hold]

Arizona: Kelly (D) over McSally (R-inc) [D flip]

Colorado: Hickenlooper (D) over Gardner (R-inc) [D flip]

Georgia-A: Perdue (R-inc) over Ossoff (D) [R hold]

Georgia-B: Warnock (D) over Loeffler (R-inc) in a run-off [D flip]

Iowa: Greenfield (D) over Ernst (R-inc) [D flip]

Kansas: Marshall (R) over Bollier (D) [R hold]

Kentucky: McConnell (R-inc) over McGrath (D) [R hold]

Maine: Gideon (D) over Collins (R-inc) [D flip]

Michigan: Peters (D-inc) over James (R) [D hold]

Minnesota: Smith (D-inc) over Lewis (R) [D hold]

Mississippi: Hyde-Smith (R) over Espy (D) [R hold]

Montana: Daines (R-inc) over Bullock (D) [R hold]

North Carolina: Cunningham (D) over Tillis (R-inc) [D flip]

South Carolina: Graham (R-inc) over Harrison (D) [R hold]

Texas: Cornyn (R-inc) over Hegar (D) [R hold]

Friday, October 16, 2020

Kicking and Screaming: Trump's Path on White Supremacy

Some Republicans, including Donald Trump, are exasperated that people say Donald Trump doesn't condemn White Supremacy. He has, they say, several times. But the crux of the problem was well on display in Trump's latest town hall, where he was asked whether he condemns White Supremacists and QAnon. On the former, he curtly intoned "I denounce White Supremacy" before proceeding to whine that the media isn't asking Joe Biden about antifa. On the latter, by contrast, he was more evasive:

“I hate to say that I know nothing about it,” Trump said. “I do know they are very much against pedophilia.”

Guthrie pressed Trump, describing the group’s delusions. Trump would not accept her description.

“What I do hear about it, is they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that,” Trump said.

Here we have a classic Trump maneuver. Asked about his various extreme-right supporters, he'll initially refuse to condemn them based on a supposed lack of knowledge, often paired with at least a tacit nod of approval (the only thing he's heard about QAnon is good). If people keeping harping on the issue, eventually he can be dragged -- kicking and screaming -- into a grudging denunciation; but then he simply repeats the game with his next collection of fascist and/or neo-Nazi hangers-on. This is what happened with David Duke ("I just don’t know anything about him", followed by "David Duke endorsed me? OK. Alright. I disavow. OK."), with the Proud Boys ("Stand back and stand by," followed by "I don’t know who the Proud Boys are", and then finally "I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that."), and now, one suspects, we're beginning a new cycle with QAnon.

This is why the "repeated denunciations" don't shut the door on these questions about Trump's White Supremacist supporters, nor should they. The amount of energy that has to be expended to drag out one of these denunciations, and the sulky tone once he finally does it, are themselves indicative. It's Corbyn-esque, in a way -- Jeremy Corbyn surely "repeatedly denounced" antisemitism, but the reason he had to do it "repeatedly" is because before, during, and in between the repetitions he made it beyond obvious that he'd rather do anything but denounce antisemitism. The sort of person for whom extracting these denunciations is like pulling teeth is the sort of person whose sincerity in making the denunciations is going to come under question.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Man Who Presided over the Fall of the Supreme Court

When John Roberts was first starting as Chief Justice, I remember a lot of commentators describing him as an "institutionalist", someone who was deeply committed to preserving the Supreme Court as a respected, non-partisan fixture in American life.

So I wonder what he's thinking now.  John Roberts is on the cusp of being the man who presides over a Supreme Court whose basic public legitimacy has become so compromised that court packing -- long an obvious non-starter in American politics -- now feels close to inevitable upon a Democratic victory (indeed, in a different sense, has already begun under a Republican presidency).

It's not entirely the Chief's fault. But it's certainly more than one-ninth his fault. Under his stewardship, the conservative faction of the Supreme Court has grown increasingly emboldened in acting as essentially an arm of the political right, with a particular eye towards undermining voting rights in a nation where the GOP has lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Shelby County is the most egregious example, but the Court has hardly covered itself in glory in adjudicating elections controversies during this administration. At this stage in the game, Democrats are well-justified in worrying that the Supreme Court as its currently constituted (particularly with the soon-to-be rubber-stamped confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett) will not allow small-d or large-D democratic governance -- not because of anything in the Constitution, but because they've committed themselves to protecting perpetual minority rule.

The thing is, I do believe that -- in some non-trivial sense -- Chief Justice Roberts is an "institutionalist" in the way these commentators described, and that the loss of the Court's legitimacy is something he feels as a loss. It's not an act. But all that means is that he is a man who could not rise to the moment history placed him in.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Paper By Ariel Univ. Scholar Rejected Over Whether Ariel is in Israel

This is a very interesting story that pulls me in several different directions.

The thrust of it is as follows: an academic at Ariel University, an Israeli institution in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, had a paper set to be published in the chemistry journal Molecules. As part of the publication, she needed to provide an address for correspondence, and she listed Ariel as being in Israel. The journal asked her to delete "Israel", the author refused, and the journal pulled the paper.

So a few things:

  • Obviously, there's something off-putting about papers on chemistry being (not) published not on the basis of chemistry, but based on geopolitical debates over the proper assignment of sovereign authority in the West Bank.
  • This does not appear to be a "boycott" of Ariel University or its scholars. The journal was willing to publish the article by the professor, with the notation that she taught at Ariel University, so long as it didn't claim that Ariel was in Israel.
  • The article indicates that some activists wanted the journal to go further and require that the address be formatted as "Ariel University, illegal Israeli settlement of Ariel, Occupied Palestinian Territory." But it doesn't look like the journal was going to demand that formulation.
  • Ariel simply isn't in Israel. That isn't me wearing my anti-occupation hat -- Israel has not annexed Ariel (unlike, say, East Jerusalem). So to some extent, the journal is simply enforcing a rule that statements in its journal have to be accurate. It's undoubtedly rare that this comes up with respect to correspondence addresses -- but this is one of those rare cases. The same rule should apply if a far-left writer in Israel proper tried to render her address as "Acre, Palestine". It would simply be inaccurate.
  • In some ways, the journal's proposal was similar to the long-standing American rule that persons born in Jerusalem have "Jerusalem" (rather than "Jerusalem, Israel") listed as their birthplace on their passport. This was famously litigated in the Zivotofsky case. One could argue it's more contentious there because Israel has annexed East Jerusalem (and has relatively uncontested sovereign jurisdiction over West Jerusalem). Ultimately, I'm not convinced that this solution was unreasonable under the circumstances.
  • How does one mail a letter to Ariel University? Must one put "Israel" in the address for the letter to arrive? Can one put "West Bank" or "Palestine" or leave that portion of the address blank?
  • I wonder if there was any explicit or implicit pressure on the author from her university (or the Israeli government) to refuse to accept the deletion of "Israel" from the address. Certainly, the Israeli government has been more than willing to punish academics whom it sees as insufficiently resistant to, or cooperative with, BDS.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Nobody Expects the Muslim Trump Supporter!

There's a fascinating tidbit in a newly released poll about various religious groups' political opinions: Muslims and Jews hold very similar views about the presidency of Donald Trump. Specifically, for both groups his approvals are in the low 30s (30% for Muslims, 34% for Jews).

The poll is a bit dated -- it was apparently conducted in March just before the coronavirus lockdown, so certainly politics have ... evolved since then -- but it still raises a fascinating question: why does one never hear about Muslim Trump supporters? Compared to Jewish Trump supporters, who seemingly have an outsized presence in the media and in the public eye, one virtually never sees Muslim Trump supporters interviewed in the press, or internal debates within the Muslim community about Trump vs. not-Trump aired. (And it's worth noting that, unlike Jews, Muslims have historically been a lean-conservative voting bloc -- it was only after 9/11 and the immense wave of Islamophobia that poured out of the GOP that they shifted to the Democratic camp).

Why the disparity? Here are some hypotheses, which are just spitballs at this point:

  • Republicans are less likely to highlight Muslim support than Jewish support, which lowers the salience of their Muslim backing.
  • Despite their historically (and consistent) progressive voting patterns, there is a strong narrative that Jews are a politically conservative group (wealthy, White, entrenched and invested in preserving the existing order) which makes people assume that Jews are more conservative than they are.
  • The high-profile nature of Donald Trump's anti-Muslim actions (most notably the travel ban) makes it really hard for the media to imagine "Muslims for Trump" as a live phenomenon, whereas the high-profile nature of his (nominally, at least) "pro-Jewish" measures (e.g., the embassy move) makes it seem plausible that he'd garner a non-trivial proportion of Jewish support.
  • The major Muslim political organizations are decisively anti-Trump in a way that the major Jewish political organizations are not. Jewish Trump supporters have far more prominent positions within the institutional Jewish community than do their Muslim counterparts.
  • The media has less experience delving into the weeds of intra-Muslim communal splits, and so is less likely to pick up on smaller (but still extant) political factions.
Fortunately, I wrote a whole article on the distinctive political status of dissident minorities such as Muslim Trump backers (though I didn't address that example specifically). I'm not saying that it's good that such persons are completely ignored -- I'm curious as to what makes them tick! -- but I do think it's a good thing that our public dialogue does not treat them as if they're equally representative of the Muslim community when they're clearly not.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Is Trump the Republican Jimmy Carter?

I had this strange thought the other night that Donald Trump might be the Republican equivalent of the Carter administration. That is, a failed presidency whose somewhat fluke-ish victory was a blip in an otherwise sustained period of other-party dominance.

The failed presidency part certainly checks out. There's a decent chance that Democrats, if they can win a 2020 trifecta, can sustain power for a long period thereafter (especially if they're smart enough to admit some new states). The demographic trends that made people (too) confident about 2016 still are in force, after all, and it's at least arguable that Trump was the last hail mary gasp of unadulterated conservative White male resentment as a driving electoral force.

The biggest difference is that while Carter was a wonderful ex-President, Trump undoubtedly will be every bit as wretched after being turned out as he was in office.

All that said, I can't help but be pessimistic about what can accomplished in a (knock on wood) Biden administration. That's not a knock on Biden. It's rather a reflection of the sober reality that it will take an inordinate and disproportionate amount of energy and resources by a Democratic administration simply to repair and remediate the mess Donald Trump has created, leaving little time focus on any genuine positive change. Just getting back to square one would be a massive accomplishment, let alone advancing the ball.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

What's the Point of Holocaust Education?

I'm generally averse to comparing things to the Holocaust or Nazism.

There are a variety of reasons for my reluctance, but one major component is that these comparisons often serve as a soft form of Holocaust denial -- minimizing the scope of the tragedy by analogizing it to events that, although perhaps also wrong, pale in comparison to systematic mass murder.

Yet a recent debate over a Jewish Democrats ad which explicitly draws a comparison between Trumpist America and 1930s Germany -- not, it must be said, the actual Final Solution -- has gotten me to thinking (JTA's headline suggests that this ad represents a turning point in the acceptability of Holocaust comparisons -- previously viewed as "off limits". But of course, right-wing Jews have been cavalierly tossing out Nazi comparisons for years now -- if anything has changed, it's that some liberal groups are playing too).

The ad was condemned by several prominent Jewish organizations, such as the ADL and AJC. But it also had some high-profile defenders, including ex-ADL chief Abe Foxman and prominent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt. The latter often drew an important distinction between comparing what Trump is doing to Nazi extermination, on the one hand, versus the earlier stages of European fascism (anti-minority propaganda, railing against the lugenpresse, ripping down internal checks within the government, and so on). Certainly, the case for the legitimacy of the advertisement was significantly buttressed when President Trump instructed a violent far-right hate group to "stand back and stand by" -- raising the specter of his own group of stormtroopers standing at the ready to overturn the will of the electorate.

The thing is, the Jewish community has invested a lot of time, money, and resources into Holocaust education (both for Jews and non-Jews alike). One would think that the point of this education is to give us the tools to nip incipient fascism in the bud; not to more effectively bemoan a genocide after it has occurred. After all, much of our Holocaust education focuses on what occurred in the run-up to the Holocaust, that is, before the machinery of mass death began to move in earnest. What's the point of it all if those who have been taught aren't allowed to apply their insights?

Of course, even most cases of incipient fascism do not end up reaching the point of Auschwitz. But it is plenty bad to even travel part way down the path. My strong gut instincts cut against using Holocaust comparisons even in these cases -- there are other metaphors at our disposal. But I do want to know exactly what the ADL and AJC and like groups think the purpose of Holocaust education is, if not to use it in moments like this.