Saturday, March 05, 2016

What a Dumb Way To End It All

Democracy means your side loses. Which stinks, when you like your side and dislike the other. But that's the way the cookie crumbles. You can't piss and moan about how the system is irrevocably broken everytime you don't win an election. And so while I think Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be awful, awful presidents who would do disastrous things to this country -- well, that's what happens with voting sometimes. Tough cookies.

Donald Trump is potentially different. With him you really do see the potential for non-hyperbolic apocalypse. Shooting off nuclear weapons at random countries, refusing to respect the rule of law ... he is the first serious presidential candidate in my lifetime who genuinely threatens the fabric of American democracy (and, in its way, global stability, since a destabilized American democracy would also be a global catastrophe).

And if that is the case -- what a stupid way to go! All great powers eventually decline, but one would at least hope that America's would be a little dignified. But the history books about Trump's ascendancy would have to conclude that the greatest, most powerful country in the history of the planet unraveled because it couldn't tolerate someone from the wrong ethnic group being president and decided to throw a collective temper tantrum by electing in the most absurd overt demagogue possible.

Most Democrats continue to think Donald Trump is unelectable come November. I'm inclined to agree -- the case of candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell in the otherwise-GOP-wave year of 2010 indicates that enthusiastic Republican fury manifesting in the nomination of crazy turns off most American voters even in environment's broadly favorable to the GOP -- but who knows? It's all fun and games until somebody gets elected.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Claim of Anti-Semitism is an Argument, not a "Smear"

My (first ever!) column for Ha'aretz is online, titled "The anti-Semitism Problem of pro-Palestinian Progressive" (I would have picked the title I used for this post instead -- hey, nobody ever said I knew how to sell copy). It is directly a response to Mira Sucharov's "Crying Wolf on Campus Anti-Semitism" editorial, but more broadly it provides a public exposition of the argument I explore in "Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims of the Charge of Bad Faith".

Readers of the blog know the drill. Responding to claims of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, etc., with the presumption that they're "made in bad faith" or are the product of hypersensitivity or parahoia, is a response built on prejudicial foundations. It is the key move in the right-wing playbook regarding race ("You're just playing the race card!"), and it is migrated without a hitch over to many on the left regarding anti-Semitism (The Livingstone Formulation). In neither case is it fair play. Anti-Semitism claims are arguments; they may be right or wrong, but they should be addressed on their merits, not swept aside as part of a supposed pattern of Jewish perfidy and dishonesty.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Will the Neo-Cons Return to the Democratic Party?

Neo-conservatives were liberals, once (much as Saruman described orcs: "They were elves, once"). Might they become Democrats again? With Donald Trump presaging a potential outright crackup in the Republican Party, I think it's a very realistic prospect. Trump is, to say the least, not the neo-conservative candidate of choice, but the threat he poses to neoconservatives runs deeper than most. To see why, it's worth digging into exactly how the neo-conservatives originally switched sides.

The origin story of modern neo-conservativism is that some liberals, in the 1970s, grew frustrated with what they took as their cohorts indulging in new age argle-bargle that made them soft in pursuing their own values. Internationally, they perceived concerns about "imperialism" or military overreach as preventing America from being a force for good in the world. They were hawks, but hawks justified by the justness of the American cause. Domestically, they had often supported the civil rights movement in the 1960s but saw little difference between the "old" Jim Crow racial politics and "new" left identity politics of groups like the Black Panthers. They styled themselves as hard-headed social scientists who believed in equality but measured it via data. There's a reason neo-conservatives view themselves as their side's intellectual wing (There are excellent reasons to contest these self-assessments, I'm just going with how the neo-cons viewed themselves).

From this vantage, Trump is conservatism out of the neo-cons' worst nightmare. Domestically, he primarily plays on the social fears of the white base in ways that do not even allow the facade of egalitarianism . His foreign policy is not internationalist in orientation at all and seems entirely uninterested in even pretending to project American goodness abroad. He's openly racist, openly anti-intellectual, and openly fear-mongering.

And against him will almost certainly be ... Hillary Clinton. Someone who absolutely seems to have hawkish tendencies. Someone who seems to surround herself with smart people with good intellectual pedigrees. Someone whose New Democrat husband at least gained the respect, if not the support, of neo-cons in the 90s (they were never among the true rabid Clinton-haters). Someone whose social liberalism is hardly a deal-breaker (neo-conservatives tended to be far more socially moderate than the rest of the GOP).

The GOP that Trump has built has no real space for neoconservatives. But they could easily find a home as the moderate wing of a Clinton-led Democratic Party. If there is any faction within the GOP that I predict to defect not just en masse, but permanently, over to the Democrats following a Trump nomination, it's them.*

* Disclaimer: This post in no way should be read as suggesting that Democrats should alter their position to be more amenable to neo-conservative views. It is pure prognostication; no normative or prescriptive suggestions should be inferred.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

There's No Liberal Obligation To Prevent Trump from Being Nominated

Donald Trump would be an embarrassment, a disaster, and an outright danger if elected President of the United States. This creates a joint obligation shared by all Americans to try and stop him from being elected. For Republicans, that's easily satisfied in the primaries (vote for another Republican) but very painful to do so in November. For liberals, there is an equally strong obligation to stop him from becoming President in November.

There is, however, no liberal obligation to stop him from being nominated. I have no intention of crossing over and voting in the GOP primary (even assuming the race is still undecided by the time my state rolls around).

Now don't get me wrong: I hope beyond hope that the Republican Party does not select Donald Trump as their nominee, though that hope is becoming increasingly dim. I hope that because even if it is true that Trump would be "easier to beat" than Rubio or Cruz, I still prefer that the forces of unhinged xenophobic racism be weaker rather than stronger, and a Trump nomination would indicate they are far stronger than previously anticipated. So I certainly prefer that Trump loses.

But the Republican nominee should be the person who reflects the preferences of Republican voters. One important function of democracy is aggregative -- it gives a rough sense of people's raw preferences. And it is valuable information to know that open racism, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, and thuggery have significant appeal across the base of a major political party. Again, I hope that it turns out that their appeal is not strong enough to carry a nomination. But already the persistent appeal of Trump has been forcing Republican intellectuals to grapple with facts about their rank-and-file that they've long been in denial about. Democratic cross-over voting would only serve to blur the truth and stall the day of reckoning.

Donald Trump has already forced Americans of all stripes to seriously reckon with a revived and rejuvenated racist movement in the United States. That effect would be magnified if he were the nominee, and it would accentuate the threat that this movement represents. But it still only a difference in degree, rather than kind, from what he's already accomplished. As President he could do far worse, and that is a terrifying prospect that should unite everyone. But the call to prevent Trump's nomination, as opposed to his election, seems to be justified based on little more than saving the Republican Party from additional embarrassment. And that isn't any duty Democrats are obliged to take upon themselves

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Army Veteran Muslim Rights Activist Voting for Trump Because Zionism

If you wanted to find the antithesis of every bit of conventional wisdom/stereotyping out there, you'd do worse than to point to Farhaj Hassan. He's a devout Muslim U.S. Army reservist suing the city of New York for its police surveillance program of Muslims who is supporting Donald Trump for President because it stands opposed to "Hillary Clinton’s classically Zionist-run foreign policy." My head hurts

In conclusion, because we've found a Muslim who supports Trump, any claims of Islamophobia against the Trump campaign are now null and void (this argument brought to you by Jewish Voice for Peace). Indeed, a January CAIR poll finds that 7% of American Muslims support Trump -- more than all other Republican candidates combined (Hillary Clinton pulls 52% and Bernie Sanders takes 22%).

North Carolina's Prison Minyan Requirement

Eugene Volokh points to an interesting case, Ben-Levi v. Brown, which challenged North Carolina prison regulations governing religious study. North Carolina generally allows group religious study by its inmates, but for Jews it requires either a minyan (ten adult male Jews) or the presence of a Rabbi. As one can imagine, either can be difficult to obtain in North Carolina penitentiaries, and Ben-Levi sued complaining of a First Amendment violation.

Like Professor Volokh (and Justice Alito), it seems to me that this is a clear Free Exercise violation. The state of North Carolina has no business telling Jews how they can and cannot practice Judaism. No doubt for many Jews the minyan requirement is a prerequisite to observing certain religious rites. But it is up to the Jew in question, not the state, to determine whether and how that rule applies to their individual circumstances. That's the essence of church/state separation: the state has no business interjecting itself into questions of theology. A general policy restricting group religious study (North Carolina mentioned a concern about it becoming a cloak for gang meetings) might present a tougher case, but there is no valid argument I can see for creating a specially restrictive rule for Jews -- even (especially) one based on North Carolina's interpretation of Jewish religious doctrine.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case (over a dissent by Justice Alito). Note that such a decision, while upholding the lower court rejection of Ben-Levi's claim, does not itself establish any precedent. Far more cases are appealed to the Supreme Court than it elects to hear, so one should be very cautious about reading too much into it. But a legitimate tsk-tsk can go out to the District Court and Fourth Circuit, who seem to have gotten it badly wrong here.