Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Cycle of Republican Acquiescence To Authoritarianism

If, in 2014, you had told the average Republican they'd endorse what their party was doing from 2016 to 2020, they'd have been appalled. More than appalled -- they'd accuse you of suffering from a sort of derangement syndrome, of viewing the opposing party in such an implausibly demonic light that it rendered you unable to ascribe even a modicum of decency or principle to one's ideological opponents. From nominating a birther for president to the Muslim ban to trying to nullify legally cast ballots, the story of the past four years has been Republicans acceding to racist authoritarianism in cases where -- had it been pitched as a hypothetical prediction -- they'd have sworn up and down "of course we'd never do that!"

What is going on? The answer is straightforward, and it really does trace back to Donald Trump. Once Trump and his campaign endorses one of these illiberal and extreme actions, two things happen for Republicans deciding whether to endorse or oppose them:

  1. They're put in a position where opposing the action means standing up to Trump;
  2. They're on notice that some significant sector of political elite actors will endorse the decision -- it is no longer the province of the fringe or kooks.
The first factor matters because if there's one thing the last four years have made clear, it's that Republican politicians cannot and will not stand up to Donald Trump. You can find stronger moral backbones in a Bill Cosby Jell-O commercial than in the Republican political class these days. And the second factor matters because it suggests that the action in question may well succeed. It's easy to proudly disavow the thought of stealing an election when you know you won't get away with it. But once it actually becomes a live option, well, then it's a bit more tempting to jump onboard. And even if it doesn't ultimately succeed, the endorsement by a significant segment of mainstream political elites* provides moral cover after the fact -- it becomes the stuff of ordinary partisan dispute rather than an extremist power grab.

And of course, all of this dovetails with the GOP's personal partisan advantage. Put it together, and you have a recipe for Republican acquiescence, one we've seen over and over again for the past four years.

Will we see it once more if Donald Trump tries to steal the election? It's true that just because we've only seen grey ducks so far, that doesn't mean the next duck won't be white. But boy would I not count on the GOP breaking the cycle.

* One of the most frustrating things about how Trumpism has been covered is the refusal of many commentators to identify it as existing as part of elite (in the sense of highly-placed) mainstream (in the sense of carrying considerable public support) politics. When people try to criticize Trumpism, the response often is to act as if his views are "fringe" or "not respectable" or "out there", such that it's a form of nutpicking to even pay attention to them. But they're not fringe! They occupy the Oval Office! They're the dominant force in one of the two major political parties! Trumpism at the moment has far more power in both elite political institutions and mainstream political organizations than does, say, Colin Kaepernick. If you're looking to criticize views that have considerable public influence and purchase, Trumpism should rank far, far higher than whatever example of "performative wokeness" you're currently writing up your forty-fifth column on, and this would be obvious to anyone who remembers that places outside of Brooklyn exist.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Conservatives Think Trans Rights Are Their Wedge To Peel Off Democratic Voters

I made the mistake of donating money to a few campaigns this cycle, and now I'm bombarded daily with emails and texts which virtually all are variants on the theme "we're LOSING and it's your fault for not donating even more money." It is a bit interesting to see how they're varied to try and get you to click open the email though.

Anyway, 99% of these messages are from Democratic campaigns and operations, which makes sense given that I have to imagine everything in every database available to political operatives confirms I'm a liberal. But the other day I did start getting texts from someone who claimed to be a "Democrat working for APP PAC" claiming that Joe Biden is a monster. It gives a bit of a window into what message conservatives think will be most effective at convincing liberal-leaning voters to vote for Trump (or at least not vote for Biden). 

And the answer is: trans rights. All of the texts I've received from this outfit have been on transgender issues (perhaps needless to say, the claims in the messages are lies).

I think I'm going to write back and thank them profusely for sending me this message, claiming I was undecided before but now am firmly convinced to vote for Biden, and hoping that they take pride in knowing that at least one more vote is going to Joe Biden's camp.

Probably stupid of me to even engage, but I need something to pass the time.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Packing Preparation

I continue to think that adding more states is more likely to occur during the next Democratic administration compared to adding more Supreme Court Justices. But it will be controversial, and, following Machiavelli, anything especially controversial should be done at the very outset of one's tenure as a ruler.* What that means is we want any new state admissions to be part of H.R. 1 (which most people already expect to be a voting rights bill). And in particular, we want the new states set to be added to be ready to go on inauguration day.

This is especially important if we want to extend statehood beyond the most obvious candidate, D.C.. Puerto Rico is a complicated case because statehood has been actively debated there and remains controversial. But there seems to be relatively little discussion of statehood for other American territories, such as Guam or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Yet if those territories also were ready to announce, on day one of a Biden administration, that they were applying for statehood, it would be much easier to roll them into a larger bill than trying to mobilize them on the fly.

*  Machiavelli also suggests delegating the task to an underling and then, once it's complete, executing him in a high-profile fashion. Not all of his advice is applicable to the modern day.