On Political Discourse…

Recently, I engaged in a discussion (one might say, argument) with a friend about the current state of popular discourse (Hey! That’s the name of this site!). Due to its obvious relationship to the title of this blog and because the discussion was interesting enough to be blog worthy, I decided to reproduce it in a post. The exchange has been lightly edited for clarity and whatnot.

So, my friend starts out by lamenting a perceived decline in and opposition to public political discussion that he alleges is taking place, and aims to explain what caused the phenomenon. He writes:

“The criticism against, and waning tendency of, writing (substantive) political Facebook statuses is a compelling example of the strength of Arendt’s thesis with regards to the idea of modern man as principally a “laboring animal.”

Particularly among college kids at elite institutions, there is a pathological insistence that their daily lives and social projects being necessarily productive. (Which is to say, having some kind of *use-value: college resumé, academic performance, campus credibility). So as a consequence, then, we’ve seen a movement against engaging in substantive political discourse on social media Indeed, most online debates are quite unproductive (in that they don’t ~produce~ some kind of good other than genuine human contact and the use of our logos).

Thus, we, as strong aspirants of the meritocracy, think that our intellectual faculties and capacity for language ought to be dedicated to more pragmatic ends: writing cover letters, sending out large swaths of emails to every conceivable PE group, think tank, and opportunity factory in the world.

In a truly political sphere, the use of language (and discourse) is an End in and of itself because it helps us engage with each other. At the point where that principle is no longer operative, at the point where we can’t just write Facebook statuses because they interest us as such, sharing our viewpoint, how can we actually do politics again?”

It’s particularly interesting to note the allusion to  “use-value”, which is a central component of Marx’s critique of political economy, and indeed, it appears that my friend was advancing a sort of Western-Marxist critique of modern society. As he later writes:

I think Lefebvre has a lot to say about the collision between market economy and ordinary social relationships. And how capitalism has to justify itself even in the parts of our lives that, until modernity, has avoided the problem of labor.

It’s, in many ways, a classic leftist critique of modernity.  Instead of engaging in political discussion as a natural function of human behavior, the “demands of modern and, importantly, capitalist society (evidenced by the allusion to use value) pushes us to do “productive” tasks like academic performance and resumé writing in lieu of unproductive tasks like political discussion for its own sake. These “productive” tasks either crowd out unproductive tasks or the general ideology of capitalist instrumentalism discourages participation in ‘unproductive activities.’ (I likely butchered the theory, but the general argument is summarized there.)

However, I think this argument is wrong on numerous grounds.

Firstly, I don’t think there ever was a point in time where there was widespread discussion of politics for the sake of politics to the degree alluded to. I do not believe there has never been a time where the populace at large engaged in intellectual political discussion for the sake of that discussion. We can romanticize a pursuit for politics for its own sake, but insofar as it has been realized in a robust manner, it is hard to turn this into a criticism of capitalism qua ideology. Even at the height of Enlightenment salon culture, discussion only occurred between intellectual and cultural elite. During the era of Athenian/Macedonian hegemony, the romanticized description of  political discussion of the Greeks strikes me as ahistorical, and, in actuality, reserved to the elite in society.

However, amongst college students and those interested in intellectual inquiry there is constant discussion of politics, as is wont to occur in collegiate settings. So let us consider this argument in the context of this very specific subset of individuals. Has political discussion truly declined amongst our generation? I would first note that I’ve never seen more interest in politics and political discussion until now. Additionally, I challenge that interest in political discussion has meaningfully declined. Though anecdotal, I’ve never seen a point in time in which public discourse about politics (measured in Facebook posts and general remarks) has been so widespread. During the healthcare debate, everyone added their 2 cents, and Trump’s presidency has provoked more political discussions than I could count.

But I am sympathetic to the related claim that people are beginning to tire of political discussion, or that, at the very least, politician discussion could be less robust than it could have been in the counterfactual.

As a side note: I don’t think that this shift away from political discussion for the sake of political discussion is caused by a focus on “productive activities” qua economic production. The two are not mutually exclusive, really, and the vast majority of individuals that I know, aren’t spending the time that could be spent in the noble employ of discourse (as you describe it) on these “productive activities.” I would instead suggest that they are spending their time in dramatically unproductive ways. And it is undeniable that procrastination is rampant.

Regardless, to return to the idea that people are tiring of political discourse. If the cause is not the pursuit of productive activities that in turn crowds out opportunities for discussion, it could be the second causal mechanism: that since we’ve deemed these activities unproductive, we eschew them. But I think that’s wrong as well. You specify how “unproductive” discussion deters people from discussion. Political discussion does not change hears and minds and is not instrumental in reaching some sort of consensus on “the truth”, so we reject it. Yet, my friend conflates “productivity” in this case with use-value. If the argument is that discourse has declined because people do not find it productive, and you mistake what people mean by productivity in this regard. It is not that individuals lament that discussion does not produce some economic value but that it is generally unfulfilling and toxic. Perhaps though, one might point out that it is disappointing that we *must* justify discourse as producing some good, economic or otherwise. An argument might be that a cultural obsession with justifying everything according to some “rational” or consequentialist standard devalues activities like discourse which should instead be seen as a natural human activity. In later comments, my friend advances that engaging with eachother through political discussion should be an inherently-fulfilling enterprise. Yet, in the status quo, political discussion is seen as productive even if it does not prove instrumental towards acquiring some specific ends unrelated to engagement for the sake of engagement. Hostile discussion of emotionally loaded issues is psychologically draining and exhausting; instead of helping us to engage with each-other better and understand each-other, we engage with eachother worse. Instead of bridging social divisions , discourse worsens them. Instead of broadening our own horizons and making our thinking more rich, they are deleterious to our political thought prompting us to label potentially legitimate alternative views as antagonistic.

Lastly, as a general note of discussion, I think Richard Rorty and Alistair McIntyre are much more useful in talking about than Lefebvre or the Marxist tradition he represents for that matter. I don’t generally buy that we engage in an instrumentalist analysis (explicitly or implicitly) of political discussion, or even one that privileges economic goods above all else. Its inconsistent with the way I experience thinking about discussion and the behavior of others. While we often might put off discussion if we have a lot of work to do, with the remark, “I can’t, I have to do x, y, or z,” discussion is not consciously entered into amongst participants after reasoned analysis, it usually arises through exogenous provocation, a reaction to the days affairs provoked by a preexisting desire to talk about the topic at hand. Rather, I think Rorty and McIntyre’s related accounts of what has gone wrong with political discussion provides a better perspective. As I understand, they claim that as creatures/products of the enlightenment, we have been trained to accept that there are right answers to all of our political questions, and that political debate can be resolved one way or another. When we are unable to do so, we enter this deeply unsatisfying emotivist world in which we simply address arguments to each other that express our subjective beliefs, rather than making claims as to an objective truth applicable to all. This leads to a nihilistic outlook and general meaninglessness. While I won’t go as far to endorse their explanation of why this occurs (they believe that settling these debates satisfactorily is impossible because foundationalism is impossible). It is true, I believe, that we have certain expectations about arguments and discussion in society (most importantly, that disagreement will and can be resolved), and when those expectations are not fulfilled (for any reason, for example due to cognitive bias), it makes us deeply unsatisfied. Nevertheless, I think this only goes so far in explaining why we have political discussion. As noted previously, I believe discussion can be meaningful to us even if we don’t reach some sort of “truth” or consensus, so this is only part of the story, at most.

 

 

Bridging the Fundamental Moral Divide on Health Care

Health Care Mayhem

The name of this blog is Popular Discourse, so perhaps it is appropriate to talk about the current state of public discourse around healthcare. Unless you have been living under a rock, you would know that following the resuscitation of the American Health Care Act (The GOP’s Obamacare replacement bill) and its subsequent passage in the House of Representatives, the Senate crafted (in much secrecy) its own bill. One that has been met with much outrage and a vociferous debate over the future of healthcare in this country.What is truly interesting about this public conservation is how, unlike many other political issues, where disagreement in driven primarily by difference in policy (how to accomplish certain goals, how to infer political priorities from broader shared values and how to weight those priorities), the health care debate is dominated by a profound disagreement on values. Nothing better showcases this phenomenon than the ideological clash between those who believe that healthcare is a right and those that believe healthcare is a privilege. The debate is characterized by participants angrily announcing their views at each other, asserting their respective claims. Both parties believe strongly in the indisputable rightness of their central claim, and in the incoherence of the other’s beliefs. So, what we’ve seen is a shouting match masquerading as a discussion: It’s conducted under the pretense of argument, it follows the communicative rituals and rules we use aiming to convince others, and we argue about health care as if there was an answer to this crucial political question that would appeal to the premises of both ideological factions. Though, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t actually expect that those who disagree with us will ever concede. We fail to recognize the central fact that, what makes this disagreement so fundamental, is that both sides are operating on completely different value systems.

A Theory of Fundamental Political Disagreements

It is this dynamic which prompted an incredibly poignant Huffington Post piece, aptly titled, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People.” The article’s subtitle further captures the contours of our current healthcare debate, “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society.” This is a stunning but accurate observation, one with which I agree strongly.

We each have been raised in different environments, and within different institutions. Moreover, we each have had certain values and moral attitudes instilled in us. We have internalized them and have invested these moral concepts with inherent emotional worth. They, in turn, shape the moral emotions we feel and our behavior towards others. When the author laments how she “doesn’t know to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy,” she’s implicitly addressing how our internalized moral beliefs shape the literal contours of our world, the emotional phenomena we experience. However, simply because our account of moral emotions is subjectivist, does not mean we have to resign ourselves to an emotivist world of moral relativism. On the contrary, only by exploring the basis and structure of this philosophical disagreement can we actually have a serious conversation about what system of health care is desirable.  

To many, the idea that emotions are mutable and (somewhat) non-universal is alien. So it is probably worth it to flesh out this idea further, as it is central to my claim that our culture shapes our political values. As NPR’s Rebecca Hersher puts it, “emotions, the classic thinking goes, are innate, basic parts of our humanity. We are born with them, and when things happen to us, our emotions wash over us.” However, this view is flawed. We experience emotions as exogenous, we feel like  we have no control over. Sometimes we think of them as fixed reaction to a certain stimuli, yet as Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett puts it, in the same article, “But the problem with [the common wisdom] is that the data don’t support [it]. There’s a lot of evidence which challenges this view from every domain of science that’s ever studied it.” NPR’s phenomenal Invisibilia podcast expands upon this idea further, explaining that for every one of the complex emotions we’ve come to take as fixed in the West, there is a culture around the world which simply does not experience it. Additionally, there are emotions in other cultures which do not have Western equivalents. Parts of emotion are very clearly universal, but it is important to acknowledge how culturally and socially dependent they are. Man is both species and species-being.

This socially constructed character of emotion, and especially moral emotion, helps to articulate a theory of how fundamental political difference arise. Institutional and cultural differences lead to different moral emotions, attitudes, and behaviors and thus different philosophical views. This theory finds further support in the research of quasi-philosopher and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. According to Haidt’s social intuitionism, moral emotions precede moral judgements, meaning that moral judgements are primarily intuitive and reasoning is often (and completely unconsciously) a retroactive rationalization of those intuitions. To quote his seminal article,  “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail:A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.”:

“The cognitive revolution had opened up  new  ways  of  thinking  about  morality  and moral development, and it was surely an advance to  think  about  moral  judgment  as  a  form  of information processing. But times have changed. Now  we  know  (again)  that  most  of  cognition occurs automatically and outside of consciousness (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999) and that people  cannot  tell  us  how  they  really  reached  a judgment  (Nisbett  &  Wilson,  1977)…The time may be right, therefore, to take another look at Hume’s perverse thesis: that moral emotions and intuitions drive moral reasoning.”

Out of this moral theory, grew the Moral Foundations Theory, which aimed to, among other things, describe how social values and cultural differences drive political differences. In the Vox article, “Donald Trump supporters think about morality differently than other voters. Here’s how,” Haidt draws upon social psychology to explain how differences in regional culture determined support for different political candidates in the 2016 election. The results are illuminating and demonstrate how our particular cultures have a  direct bearing on our politics. This idea is supported by long-standing political science.  To quote one of my Comparative Political Systems textbooks, Thomas F Remington’s Politics in Russia, which puts it far better than I ever could:

“The patterns of behavior that influence how government operates are established through…channels of association…outside the government sphere…Citizens are less likely to cooperate in political cultures that harbor mistrust since they believe that combining for the common good is a sucker’s game…where people discount the common interest in favor of private benefit, government is likelier to be both more oppressive and more corrupt. Therefore in studying politics, we need to look both at people’s beliefs about government and at their expectations about social life more generally.”

I would claim that our moral beliefs about how to treat each other within our communities have a direct bearing on how we approach and think about political issues. It has special bearing on what teleological scheme we adopt (read: what goals we pursue). This, as many people will recognize, is pretty obvious. If you’ve been taught that it is good to help groups and individuals who have been marginalized, your politics will reflect it (you will feel bad when marginalized groups are mistreated). This is to suggest that the division we make between our mundane social interactions and politics, when we categorize them as different, is false.

This has a direct bearing on the specific issue of health care. Liberals and progressives believe that being a good person and member of society means having empathy for one another, caring for the disadvantaged, and striving for justice as fairness. While, on the other hand, conservatives (at least with regards to health care) privilege individual responsibility and autonomy, and thus believe that only negative rights deserve to be considered proper rights (à la Isaiah Berlin). As a consequence, liberals believe that it is prima facie unjust for someone to suffer because they could not afford health care. While, generally, conservative believe that health care ought to be treated like car insurance, that providing healthcare to the poor will engender lethargy and that the notion that health care is a right in anathema to the idea of ‘rights’ properly considered in the negative sense. These views are direct consequences of different starting positions.

Not All Values are Created Equal

Thus far I’ve advanced a theory of deep political disagreement: differences in culture and in upbringing result in differences in internalized moral emotions and attitudes. Which, in turn, have a direct bearing on the political values, we place a premium on. However, this definitely does not mean that we must surrender to the hopeless ennui of moral relativism. Certain cultural practices and social environments are better than others. For example, (and quite obviously) certain cultural norms have historically legitimized practices, which would be considered inhumane and horrendous by modern standards. Furthermore, I genuinely believe that we are best served by a society in which we have empathy for one another and community members strive for the common good. Not only does such an environment promote social trust and help facilitate collective action (and all the rewards we reap from that), insofar as we are embedded in dense social networks already, cultural practices which encourage social cooperation benefit all members of society; indeed, our welfare depends on both ourselves and on the structure of society as a whole.

Regardless of my personal views, we need to have this conversation over values, whether in the terms employed above or on different philosophical grounds. Simply acknowledging that we are divided as a nation, as a society, as an imagined community, does not help to fix that gap, one which grows every day. As detailed by Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, an incredible treatise on inequality among other topics, we have a tendency to to divide ourselves up socially and geographically into ideological tribes. As David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, puts it, “America is a country in which privileged people suffer from their own characteristic forms of self-indulgence: the tendency to self-segregate.” We are becoming a less coherent nation, and to our detriment. But, perhaps acknowledging the deep roots of our philosophical polarization will help us resolve it, and help us have an honest conversation about what values we want our society to cherish and promote.

Disorganization in Trumplandia and Revisionist History with Professor Perry


BY SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || JUNE 27TH, 2017

Apparently, it is “Energy Week” at the White House. Another one of several themed weeks that have been instituted, despite their little substantive content.  Didn’t you know it was “Tech Week” last week, “Workforce Development Week” the week before, and “Infrastructure Week”, the one before that? Me neither.

The initiative, a misguided attempt to create order out of the chaos that perpetually emanates from the communications catastrophe that is the woefully disorganized Trump administration, has failed hilariously. So much so, that Politico dedicated an entire article to it. Unsurprisingly, the onus falls considerably on the President himself:

“White House officials acknowledge privately that their policy messages haven’t been able to compete with the flood of news about the Russia investigation — in part, because it’s nearly impossible to keep the president himself on message. Trump has continued to blast out missives about the Russia “witch hunt” and his myriad frustrations, including ongoing challenges to his travel ban, distracting from other events at the White House. The president talks about the Russia investigation more than any other topic, White House aides and advisers said.

Asked about potential themes for upcoming weeks, one senior Trump aide laughed and said, “Whatever he tweets.”

An ineffectual and disorderly communications process is representative of a broader trend at a White House overwhelmed by the demands of governance. For example, the early days of this administration have been defined by a phenomenally poor inter-agency coordination process (see this just today on the Syrian deterrence statement, and more criticisms here). An especially concerning phenomenon given that, while Trump flaunts his concern for foreign policy and justifies his radical policy agenda on specious national security grounds, coordination between disparate federal agencies and cabinet departments is central to U.S foreign policy process.

Furthermore, during the campaign, Trump leveraged his dubious business credentials to promise voters that he would replace an effete liberal elite drowning in bureaucracy and strangled by red tape, with business leadership from a businessman. Yet, the President has struggled to complete the first and most essential task of any administration: hiring the individuals who will actually form it.

According to a joint-project between the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service, of the 560 key executive branch positions that the President must fill, only 46 have gone through the final step of being confirmed by the Senate. Sure, staffing the administrative state is a difficult endeavor fraught with petty political squabbling, but Obama had already confirmed nearly four times that number by a similar point in his presidency. And before you blame partisan obstruction, note that while the average confirmation time per nominee has been higher for Trump’s picks, it is only slightly so (43 days per nominee compared to 34 days for Obama’s nominees). Moreover, Trump’s nominees have been genuinely terrible (Ahem! Betsy DeVos, Andrew Puzder) and have, as a result, accumulated the most “no” votes of any nominees of any President since America’s founding. Most importantly, however, the Senate cannot be blamed for the nominees that the President has yet to select. Trump has not, to this date, nominated nearly 400 (396, to be exact) of those 560 posts. With 70% of key posts (and 85% of top science posts) without even as much as a nominee, the responsibility lies unequivocally and entirely with the White House.

It is among this environment of chaos and disorganization, that “Energy Week” emerged early this week. Its Master of Ceremonies (or at the very least, it’s spokesperson) was none other than erstwhile presidential candidate and head-of-the-agency-he-once-forgot-he-wanted-to-eliminate Energy Secretary Rick Perry. During a White House press briefing and in statements to the press earlier this week, Perry alleged and advanced all sorts of bizarre claims regarding clean energy and the “America First” energy plan. But, the most strange was his suggestion that the Obama administration had repeatedly claimed that the American people would have to sacrifice American jobs and economic vitality to protect  the environment.

As the Washington Examiner reported:

“This week will also reaffirm our commitment to clean energy,” Perry said. “The binary choice between being pro-economy and pro-environment that was perpetuated by the Obama administration, it set up a false argument,” he said. “We can do good for both, and we will.”

What was most remarkable is how central Perry makes this claim to his argument and messaging. (Especially, given how how radical the administration’s plan is. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that.)

However, when Perry claims that his plan recognizes that environmental protection and economic development are not mutually exclusive and specifically contrasts it to the Obama administration’s approach, I’m shocked. Not only because its mendacious with regards to the plan’s policy substance but also because the idea that ‘economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive’, was the central message of the very same Obama-era approach to energy policy which Perry decries.

Don’t take it from me, take it from our 44th President himself.

From a speech to the United Nations in 2009:

For these are the nations that are already living with the unfolding effects of a warming planet – famine and drought; disappearing coastal villages and the conflict that arises from scarce resources. Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both. It will do little good to alleviate poverty if you can no longer harvest your crops or find drinkable water.

In a speech to Georgetown in 2013:

The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies — we’ve used science; we’ve used research and development and discovery to make the old rules obsolete.

[later on in the speech]

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution.  Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices.  Invest.  Divest.  (Applause.)  Remind folks there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth.  And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote.

Again, in a speech in front of the UN in 2014:

So, all told, these advances have helped create jobs, grow our economy, and drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly two decades — proving that there does not have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth.

Once more, in a statement on the Paris Climate Agreement and the conclusion of the COP21 negotiations:

Now, skeptics said these [climate] actions would kill jobs.  Instead, we’ve seen the longest streak of private-sector job creation in our history.  We’ve driven our economic output to all-time highs while driving our carbon pollution down to its lowest level in nearly two decades.  And then, with our historic joint announcement with China last year, we showed it was possible to bridge the old divides between developed and developing nations that had stymied global progress for so long.

Or maybe in this speech in Hawaii last year:

So there’s no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.  And that’s why I’ve committed, along with Canada and Mexico, to get 50 percent of U.S. electricity from clean sources by 2025.  And with many of our biggest businesses switching to clean energy, I’m absolutely confident that we can meet that goal.

Or finally in this January 2017 Science article, written post-presidency:

ECONOMIES GROW, EMISSIONS FALL

The United States is showing that GHG mitigation need not conflict with economic growth. Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation.

Since 2008, the United States has experienced the first sustained period of rapid GHG emissions reductions and simultaneous economic growth on record. Specifically, CO2emissions from the energy sector fell by 9.5% from 2008 to 2015, while the economy grew by more than 10%. In this same period, the amount of energy consumed per dollar of real gross domestic product (GDP) fell by almost 11%, the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of energy consumed declined by 8%, and CO2 emitted per dollar of GDP declined by 18% (2).

The importance of this trend cannot be understated. This “decoupling” of energy sector emissions and economic growth should put to rest the argument that combatting climate change requires accepting lower growth or a lower standard of living.

I rest my case.

However, while this bizarre case of revisionist history perplexes and stuns, in the context of a disorganized and ineffectual communications process, it makes sense as a gaffe. Think of all the unfourtunate mistakes Spicer racked up during his press briefings earlier this year. And with Spicer still pulling double duty as Press Secretary and Acting Communications Director, following the departure of Mike Dubke, and with a communications staff populated by the likes of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it’s perfectly reasonable to interpret this as a messaging failure. In many ways, it’s really silly messaging. It is a statement that is easily refutable and discarded. Insofar as you make it the crux of how you frame your clean energy plan, opponents quite literally can A) Agree with you B) Tout the statements Obama said above as well as the decoupling argument C) Turn your argument on yourself.

But ultimately, when the only two explanations for such a statement is ineptitude and untruthfulness (ok, granted this is politics), it truly reveals how disastrous the first few months of the Trump presidency have been. One would think that communications would be the strong suit of this President, one who does not really rely on policy expertise or a robust substantive agenda to win political points. So if the Trump administration cannot slap together a decent communications operation, what does that say about the administrates ability to make policy, to govern, or to fulfill the responsibility of the executive branch?

Thoughts on rural decline, wage stagnation, white working class backlash, etc.


By Spencer Slagowitz || April 10th, 2017


We at Popular Discourse have not posted in a while, due to the demands of college and work, so to our one reader, we apologize (sorry mom!). Instead of the long formal articles we usually write, I decided to write down some of my current thinking vis a vis rural economic decline, its causes, and its consequences.


  1. Economic activity has shifted from rural america to urban population centers. (Urban population centers have higher productivity rates, urban Americans are beneficiaries of numerous external economies of scale and network externalities as a result of population density (attracts economic opportunity away from rural areas) cities were able to maintain steady growth during recession while rural areas floundered, economic activity of rural towns were centered around participation in a single industry—often those which the US either no longer has a comparative advantage in or those which have become heavily automized.
  2. However, labor mobility (especially amongst aging rural populations) is lower than expected. Migration is an automatic fiscal stabilizer, labor moves to adjust to asymmetric (regional) shocks. But instead of moving when times got rough, inhabitants of rural areas have seen economic activity slowly drown.
  3. Leading to the persistent wage stagnation we see in these areas and (speculatively) the symptoms such a decline in economic activity has produced.
    1. Opioid Abuse
    2. High-rates of suicide (See: Case-Deaton)
    3. Populist/demographic backlash
    4. Lack of dignity
    5. Feelings of being “left behind”
  4. Also see these books/resources as evidence of the symptomatic expression of rural decline…
    1. https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Matter-Kansas-Conservatives-America/dp/080507774X
    2. https://www.amazon.com/Strangers-Their-Own-Land-Mourning/dp/1620972255
    3. https://www.amazon.com/White-Trash-400-Year-History-America/dp/0670785970
    4. https://www.amazon.com/2-00-Day-Living-Nothing-America/dp/054481195X
    5. https://www.amazon.com/Evicted-Poverty-Profit-American-City/dp/0553447432
    6. https://www.amazon.com/Dreamland-True-Americas-Opiate-Epidemic-ebook/dp/B00U19DTS0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
  5. It is not controversial to assert that we and our government bears some sort of moral obligation towards our fellow Americans. Nor is it controversial to suggest that when our nation’s economy leaves behind or ignores rural America, leaving growth to stagnate in those regions and devastating communities for reasons exogenous or out of the control of those very same communities, that there is an imperative to address this arrangement.
  6. Moreover (or perhaps, necessarily), the economic imperative to bring back economic activity to rural areas or to aid rural Americans to move to cities or other areas of high economic activity is incredibly powerful. The health of the macroeconomy as a whole would be improved by higher average wage rates for all americans, by increased aggregate demand, by increased productivity, by linking up rural workers with few opportunities with an increased variety of job and work opportunities. I don’t think this point needs further justification, moreover I think it is quite intuitive that increased economic growth in rural areas or increased economic growth generated by interregional migration helps the United States as a whole.
  7. This discussion has, in the news media and the pundit class, mostly focused on economic decline in rural areas and it’s consequences for the region and for the United States as a whole. But arguably, this same sort of decline and economic stagnation has been experienced by African-American communities in America for decades and to a much higher degree as a consequence of racism, the persistent poverty & mass-incarceration that has resulted from it, and the complex and pernicious interaction between economic and sociological factors that has trapped these communities in a vicious and repugnant cycle. The same moral and economic imperatives, that, according to the commentators and public intellectuals, compel us to address rural economic decline must also compel us towards addressing the persistent poverty and economic decline that has been driven by racism.

Delete Über? No, please.


BY SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || JANUARY 30TH, 2017

If you have been on the internet at all the last three days, you will be undoubtedly aware of the grassroots campaign (of sorts) to boycott the transportation network service, Über. Since Saturday, calls to #deleteÜber have grown in number and in fervor following the company’s ‘decision’ to not strike with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance  and a tweet sent by the company which was taken by many to be an effort to break the strike. If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, read these good overviews here and here. For those who support the boycott, “deleting Über” is a foregone conclusion, but the reality is invariably much more nuanced.

As I understand, people are angry with Über for four reasons:

  1. They believe that Über intended to break the strike or undermine the efforts of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
  2. Following this belief, many individuals believe that Über or at least CEO Travis Kalanick—who is on President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum (an advisory body for business matters) along with Elon Musk—was collaborating with the Trump administration.
  3. Furthermore, activists allege that at minimum Über intended to immorally profit off the strike.
  4. Finally, people believe that Über ought to have protested with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, regardless of whether they intended to break the strike or take advantage of it to make money.

We’ll address each of these in turn, but ultimately I do not believe they hold up under close scrutiny.

Did Über intend to purposefully counteract strike through social media?

Many took a tweet posted by the company that stated “Surge pricing has been turned off at #JFK Airport. This may result in longer wait times. Please be patient.” to, according to Vox, “suggest that  Über was trying to break up or counteract the strike and acting in support of…[the Muslim Ban].” By this interpretation, the announcement of Über’s availability, publicly undermined the strike and thereby attempted to break it. However, the tweet was posted at 7:36pm, more than a half an hour after the strike (which lasted from 6pm to 7pm) ended. The tweet could not have been attempting to break the strike because it had already ceased. Moreover, Über immediately backtracked, explaining that the post was not meant to undermine the protest (which had, again, already ended)—though its natural to be skeptical of the company.

Is Über and Kalanick in cahoots with the Trump Administration?

Let’s first preface this part by stating unequivocally that there is no conclusive evidence whatsoever to suggest that Kalanick and/or Über coordinated with the Trump Administration to break the strike (which, for the third time, HAD ALREADY ENDED). There are only circumstantial conjectures, which many have overstated. These conjectures rest on a single shaky foundation: Kalanick is on President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Thus, detractors allege, that means he was colluding with Trump. However, the Strategic and Policy Forum works with the Administration on business matters purely on advisory grounds. Other members of the board included Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi and Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk. To imply that a business leader’s membership on a business advisory board with many other business leaders means that his company is coordinating with Trump is unfounded. One does not presuppose the other.

Not only is there no good reason to believe that Über coordinated with Trump to break the strike and support the ‘Muslim Ban,’ but there are also many reasons that contradict allegations of crony-esque coordination and support the null hypothesis in this case. Über and Kalanick, in both word and deed, oppose the Muslim Ban and have made a considerable to effort to help workers affected by it.

Conceivably, detractors could respond by suggesting that Uber and Kalanick do not actually oppose the ban, but are only doing so predicated on business interests.

Well, Kalanick sent the following letter to his employees on Saturday at 1:20 PM—4 hours and 40 minutes before the New York Taxi Workers Alliance strike and 6 hours before they posted the tweet that thrust them into a gauntlet of criticism and outrage. It is a letter that reflects the company’s unvarnished point of view before the scandal. So what does it say? Does it reveal Über’s nefarious support of the muslim ban? Does it expose Kalanick’s coordination with the Trump administration or words of praise for the decision? Not in the slightest.

sub-buzz-32084-1485717730-1-1

In the email Kalanick promises:

  1. Assistance for those impacted by the ban through immigration@uber.com
  2. To compensate, pro-bono, Über drivers who are unable to return to the U.S to get back to work.
  3. To bring up the issue of the Muslim ban and pressure the administration using the access granted to him through membership on Trump’s economic advisory group.

Moreover, Kalanick’s focus on the ethical implications the ban has on, indeed, thousands of innocent lives suggests his opposition is based on humanitarian concerns. This is reinforced by this statement released in the blog post on Sunday which detailed exactly what Über is doing and castigated the muslim ban as unjust.

screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-25-25-pm

Clearly in both word (public and private statements, that is) and deed (making a considerable effort to address those impacted by the ban even before the #deleteÜber craze, as well as promising to lobby the administration to revoke the ban), Über demonstrated a clear opposition to the ban and the Trump administration’s actions which preclude coordination and cast doubt on allegations of cronyism.

Did Über intend to profit off the strike?

If anything Über’s decision to suspend surge pricing demonstrates a willingness to avoid the appearance that they were taking advantage of the strike to make money. Under the conditions of a strike, the reduced availability of taxi cabs would boost demand for Übers and automatically set off the surge function. In this state of scarcity, Über can charge more because people are more willing to pay to travel. If Über truly meant to profit off the both the lack of taxi cabs and the influx of protestors and lawyers, it would have allowed the surge pricing function to operate as it is programmed. But Über has been continuously and rightfully criticized on this sort of practice in the past, especially in the cases of natural disasters. However, Über purposefully did not raise prices and at 7:36pm, let protesters and travelers alike know that they could travel back without having to pay exorbitant fees.

Should Über have participated in the strike in the first place? Was it a good idea?

Some might suggest that it doesn’t matter whether Über intended to take advantage of the strike, the important point is that they refused to join in the strike. So it begs the question, did Über bear a moral obligation to participate in the strike? Was the strike a good idea at all? Examining the protest critically, it appears that while incredibly well intentioned, it cannot be portrayed as a bold moral stand that Über should be punished for refusing to take part in, because it was ineffective, and ultimately counterproductive.

Firstly, striking in this manner does not put any pressure on the Trump administration or local authorities in any sort of capacity. Strikes are effective when they are leveraged against those who are impacted by them on the negotiating table. But how does a 1 hour strike disadvantage the Trump administration in the slightest?

Secondly, protest is an incredibly useful tool for its optics. Mass demonstration mobilizes the populace against the object of protest and encourages others to join in on the activism. It also continuously casts in doubt popular support for a policy and prevents a leader from claiming a popular mandate to support a policy like the muslim ban. However, the brevity of a one hour strike undermines its own symbolic value. Given the massive protests at JFK, the regional cab union strike would have been likely drowned out in the news cycle if not for the #deleteÜber scandal. Even if you believe there is a kantian moral imperative to strike in these cases: it is rule worship to follow the rule where the end is not served, like in this case.

Thirdly, this form of protest disadvantages innocent third parties completely unrelated to the “Muslim Ban”. The people who suffer as a result are those who are just trying to get home to their families after a long travel day, not the Trump administration, nor any of the parties involved or who are culpable. One cannot simply ignore the “double effect” produced by decision to strike. Given that JFK’s AirTrain shuttle had been closed by the Port Authority (until Governor Cuomo reversed the decision), if Über had joined in on the strike, travelers would have had little other option.

Lastly, most importantly, the strike is counterproductive insofar as it inconveniences those who went to the rally and makes it harder for them to find transport back home. Moreover, it disadvantages the lawyers who rushed to JFK to draft legal briefs, who ultimately were able to acquire a court order granting a stay on the ‘muslim ban’ by denying them transport too.

Ultimately, the era of Donald Trump demands disciplined and directed protest. We can no longer afford to waste protest capital on issues that do not materialize into results. Moreover, we ought not encourage protests that are both counterproductive, ineffective, and inconvenience innocent third parties. This era of progressive wilderness-wandering does not give us license to abandon our core commitments to the truth and evidence-based decision making. Über never intended to break the strike (or counteract it on social media), did not collaborate with the administration, and purposefully took measures to not profit from the strike. The #deleteÜber movement demonstrates that we cannot surrender our individual judgement to that of the crowd.

I say these things not because I am some corporate apologist nor because I am trying to equate trivial suffering of Über with the thousands of people and families who will be adversely affected by the ban—I say these things because in the age of Trump we must resist the urge to submit to the knee-jerk reaction of backlash when we have only little information on hand. Because, in the era of fake news and anti-intellectualism, we must prize evidence-driven policy making and truth, above all.

Mourning In America: What are the roots of Trump’s populist rise?


BY SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || NOVEMBER 10TH, 2016

 

Any electoral defeat will provoke some sort of unofficial post-mortem self-reflection. With the election of the first orange neophyte as president, the soul-searching (and the soul-crushing feeling of despair) set in. It seems to be a pretty fundamental human instinct. The first thing we do is react. Then we try to find who is responsible. This second part has come in several different forms. Anger is directed at third-party voters, the politically ambivalent, the state of Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton herself, Bernie Sanders, and, obviously, Trump supporters. Insults are exchanged. Tempers flare. Issues and gripes are litigated several times over. But through the madness, the suffering, and the noise—the question persists: how did the Trump phenomenon happen? What is the root of the populist fervor that Trump seized upon?

For the hard left and very progressive this was the failure of the “neoliberal corporate-friendly” policies that enriched the elites at the expense of the poor. This election is thus the failure of the democratic party and establishment “liberal” politicians who were either too accommodating of conservatives, manipulated by corporate interests, or hopelessly wrong. The backlash towards elites and ‘globalism’, a mere expression of economic distress: the symptoms of a post-industrial rural decline wholly driven by the pro-globalization and free trade agenda promulgated by— as The Jacobin’s Luke Savage articulates—”the transactional relationship between moneyed interests, politicians, and party machines [that] produces a rigged economy that serves and enriches a tiny, insular elite at the expense of everyone else.” This positions says strongly: we cannot write this election off as a function of racism and sexism, we ought to examine the underlying economic causes and take robust, if not radical, steps to address economic inequality.

For your center-right moderate conservatives, liberals, progressives, weak-tea pro-market egalitarians, center-lefters, and so on—this was the product of racism and nationalist inclinations that Trump seized upon to make his case. This was a struggle over the changing character of America. As our country gets less white, those who see their way of life under attack (and even culture) will lash out. An election “full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing,” at least nothing when it comes to the economic roots of the Trumpenproletariat. This is not to say that this view necessarily endorses the idea that Trump supporters do not deserve your empathy or pity. This opinion is actually two. The first is more of a middle ground approach that says that we have a duty to listen to those who supported Trump and we ought to respect them while castigating the racism that accompanied his rise. It goes, “Many decent, sincere people who feel disregarded, disrespected, and left behind — in ways that I do not feel and have never felt — can disproportionately embrace political opinions that I view as bigoted or paranoid.” The second position is nearly indistinguishable from the first, accept for its vitriol and intolerance of perceived racism. The second rejects that your core Trump voters are decent or necessarily sincere people.

The reality of course, is much more complicated.

The instinct to call Trump supporters racist is incorrect, or at the very least, completely unproductive. Furthermore, the broad idea of this explanatory dichotomy between economic anxiety and racism as prime motivators for Trump isn’t academically honest in the slightest. Here’s a wonderful exchange between the influential moderate libertarian economist Tyler Cowen of the Mercatus Center and Ezra Klein of Vox (aka bae) which makes sense of a lot of the scholarship, political science and confusion surrounding this issue.

Cowen: [Robert] Putnam almost says as such, and do you think there’s currently a language in the media where you have readers who are themselves diverse, where it’s possible not to just be blaming the bigots, but to actually present the positive view, “Look, people are imperfect. A society can only handle so much diversity, and we need to learn this.” What’s your take on that?

KLEIN: I strongly agree. We do not have a language for demographic anxiety that is not a language that is about racism. And we need one. I really believe this, and I believe it’s been a problem, particularly this year. It is clear, the evidence is clear. Donald Trump is not about “economic anxiety.”

COWEN: A bit, but not mainly, I agree.

KLEIN: That said, I think that the way it’s presented is a choice between economic anxiety and racism. And one I don’t think that’s quite right, and two I don’t think that’s a productive way of having that conversation.

COWEN: Why don’t we have that language? Where did it go, or did we ever have it?

KLEIN: I don’t know if we ever had it. We probably did have it. We have properly been working very, very hard in this society to make racism socially intolerable. We have a society that continues to have a lot of racism, a lot of sexism, a lot of bigotry of different kinds. But I do think that as a by-product of that debate and that effort, there isn’t a good way to have people discuss slightly more inchoate feelings of losing power that aren’t necessarily in their view, about taking it away from other people. It’s more about losing it themselves. I think that’s a big difference in this.

KLEIN: Arlie Hochschild talks about in her book that there is this kind of deep story that she found among — she’s a sociologist who spent five years with tea party folks in Louisiana — she talks about this deep story of feeling like they’ve been waiting in line, and now other people are getting in front. It’s not so much that they don’t want those other people to get ahead, it’s that they want to get ahead themselves. They are feeling a loss in a zero-sum competition, and they may actually be correct about that.

There are probably types of advancement in society that is zero-sum, particularly when you begin really trying to open up the floodgates. So I think that’s correct, and I think that we don’t have a good language for it. I don’t know what it would mean to get one, but one thing that has annoyed me this year is I really dislike the use of political correctness as a language for it.

One, it doesn’t explain very much. But two, I think that something that has happened a lot of the time here is people have somewhat either unconsciously — or I think at times cynically — mixed up an elite debate and a non-elite debate.

I generally buy the conclusions of Klein in this case. Demographic anxiety isn’t the same thing as racism. And as a community we should broadly reject this approach that says look: my economic and political prescriptions are actually what is going to solve this trend. And the approach that uncritically accepts stated reasons for the Trump phenomenon and kinda strangely denies that it can be a complex issue, is woefully misguided.

Furthermore, there are several reasons to doubt that economic concerns are the main motivating factors behind the rise of right wing movements. A Gallup study conducted in early July by Jonathan Rothwell concluded that, “Trump’s popularity cannot be neatly linked to economic hardship. Those who do not view Trump favorably appear to have been just as exposed as others, if not more so, to competition with immigrants and foreign workers, and yet are no more likely to say they have a favorable opinion of Trump than others.” Over at 538, Nate Silver brings more analytical weight to bear on this question:

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. In South Carolina, for example, the median Trump supporter had a household income of $72,000, while the median for Clinton supporters was $39,000.

These findings are echoed by political scientist Philip Klinker’s Vox analysis of an ANES (American National Election Studies) pilot survey which observed that, “Attitudes about race, religion, and immigration trump (pun intended) economics.” In any case, a lot of recent evidence suggests a plausible disconnect between economic anxiety or loss from trade and support for Trump. The exit polls tell us that 52% of voters cited the economy as the most important issue. But as the Washington Post exit-poll analysis demonstrated, “Among those economy voters, Clinton beat Trump by 10 points.” This trend is additionally reinforced by looking to Scandinavian societies, who have enjoyed robust and equitable growth, but still experienced a similar right-wing populist backlash.

So we are left with this alternative approach that both embraces the economic rationale minimally (while rejecting that is a consequence of the perceived flaws of the center-left economic consensus) and the demographic change rationale far more broadly, which both accepts that the two are related. Michael Tesler, over at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, is a invaluable resource in this regard, suggesting:

One reason is that perceptions of the economy are often not objective and depend on people’s political leaning. A large body of research shows that party identification strongly colors people’s beliefs about how the economy is doing. Democrats and Republicans both think that the economy is performing better when one of their own is in the White House.

Partisan identities aren’t the only thing that matters. In my book, Post-Racial or Most-Racial?, I show that racial attitudes have increasingly structured public opinion about a wide array of positions connected to Barack Obama, including subjective perceptions of objective economic conditions

He continues later on, expanding upon his original concerns:

The results below show that this is precisely what happened.  Racial resentment was not related to whites’ perceptions of the economy in December 2007 after accounting for partisanship and ideology. When these same people were re-interviewed in July 2012, racial resentment was a powerful predictor of economic perceptions. Again, the greater someone’s level of racial resentment, the worse they believed the economy was doing.

In fact, multiple studies, using several different surveys, have shown that overall levels of racial resentment were virtually unchanged by the economic crash of 2008. Some data even suggests that racial prejudice slightly declined during the height of economic collapse in the fall of 2008. The evidence is pretty clear, then, that economic concerns are not driving racial resentment in the Obama Era.

The causality, seems to be primarily one way. It is not economic nor material issues that are necessarily driving anxiety over demographic change, but the former and latter both play a role in engendering the feeling of neglect and being left-behind that Trump seems to have seized upon. And while demographic change appears to be a more powerful factor, its important we do not overlook those who have disproportionately lost from trade or the symptoms of post-industrial decline even if they are unrelated to the populist phenomenon that is, was, and will unfortunately continue to be, Donald Trump.

Some phenomenal sources and further reading on this question:

 

 

 

 

Unoriginal Campaign Hot Take #25

It is perhaps axiomatic that often, a group of individuals rationally pursuing their immediate self-interest undermine the interests of the group as a whole. That is to say, the actions of those individuals, while rational, produce sub-optimal results for society as a whole. I do not mean to posit that this is a universal truth or to naively extrapolate from this position to construct an un-nuanced worldview—I present it merely as a common trend, one that we see poignantly when it comes to the issue of voting. “My vote doesn’t matter,” is the common refrain of the politically ambivalent or disenfranchised. It is an opinion that is hard to alter, since for the most part it is 100% accurate. One’s vote does not, indeed, matter. Political science and economics both tell us that voting is not necessarily a rational act. Public choice theory, popularized by economic God-emperor Kenneth Arrow and Anthony Downs among others,  gives us the concept of rational ignorance which refers to the perfectly rational tendency of individuals to refrain from voting (or specifically educating themselves about political issues) given the cost of acquiring such information. It goes without saying that this produces undesirable outcomes for society in subverting the ability of society to make decisions concerning governance and policy. 

So, to those who refuse to vote, who self-righteously cling to their rationality and good judgement as moral justification: just because you’re right, does not mean you are not part of the problem. I have never disguised my political affiliations or my opinions—so those who know me will not be surprised when I posit that this election presents a…remarkable choice. So surrender yourself to the unabashed romanticism of the democratic process—“Let your voice be heard”, “exercise your civic duty,” and so on and so forth. This election cycle, don’t let your rationality get in the way of positive democratic outcomes.

Glimpse Talks Trends: a (handwoven) Cornucopia of Deplorables

I sat down two weeks ago with Luke Philips at Glimpse From The Globe to talk about liberal internationalism, charges of globalism, international trade and the TTP, climate change and collective action problems, the proliferation of far right populist movements, and the motivating factors behind Trump’s rise and support.

Please find the podcast here:

I hope you enjoy!

-Spencer Slagowitz

Scandal: Donald Trump makes the case against a Trump presidency.

We here at Popular Discourse have furiously penned self-righteous polemics and thinly veiled academic invectives at Donald Trump and the particularly noxious strain of far-right authoritarian populism that he champions. As election day approaches swiftly, we had another idea. We realized that the compelling argument against Donald Trump, comes from Donald Trump himself. Surely Donald Trump’s policies are vague, ill-defined, or non-existent (ISIL strategy, how he would revamp trade deals, foreign policy?) and those he has outlined are outright laughable (tax plan, the wall, etc.) or plainly unconstitutional. Indeed, for us, it is taken prima facie that Donald Trump is woefully unprepared for the office of the Presidency of the United States in nearly every capacity. Yet, leveling criticisms of Donald J. Trump’s policies and grasp of policy issues is rendered moot insofar as Trump fails to meet the most basic of thresholds: fundamental fitness. Please don’t take it from us, take it from the Donald’s ever-pursed lips. The following list is a non-exhaustive accounting of nearly every major scandal (the list comprises 47) that the Republican nominee for President has been implicated in, since he announced his candidacy. I would only offer this one caution to our readers: it may cause you to long for the sweet old days of Romney’s ‘binders full of women’.

 

Conspiracy Theory Mongering (The Greatest Hits!)

  1. Birtherism: Obama wasn’t a U.S citizen
  2. Claiming that thousands of muslins cheered in New Jersey after 9/11
  3. Ted Cruz’s father was involved in Kennedy Assassination
  4. Vince Foster: suggested several times that the Clintons were involved in his death
  5. President Obama “Complicit in Orlando Attacks”
    1. “People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
  6. Obama and Clinton were “founders of ISIL”
    1. There is a legitimate claim of facetiousness on the part of Mr. Trump, however his history of conspiracy mongering casts serious doubt on that position.
  7. Scalia Was Assassinated
    1. According to Trump, “They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
  8. Vaccines Cause Autism
    1. “The child, the beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever. Got very, very sick. Now is autistic,”
  9. Climate Change is a hoax (created by the Chinese)
    1. Has since walked statements back, but asserted in numerous times fairly recently
  10. The Unemployment Rate is a “phony number” and “one of the biggest hoaxes in American modern politics”
  11. The Fed is political and Janet Yellen is keeping interest rates low to help Democrats
  12. Hillary part of an international banking cabal
    1. “Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”

 

Sexism, Sexual Assault, and The Donald’s View of Women

  1. Bragging about sexual assault: “Grab them by the P***y”
  2. Corroborating cases and accusations of attempted sexual assault
    1. Great rundown by Vox: here
  3. Sexist remarks toward Megyn Kelly “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her, wherever.”
  4. Comment to Philip Johnson “Women, you have to treat ‘em like shit.”
  5. Punishment for women who get abortions

 

Encouraging Violence and Undermining Democratic Institutions

  1. Has suggested repeatedly that the election will be rigged
  2. Assertion that the Media is dishonest, in the pocket of the Clinton’s, and rigged against him
  3. Threatened violent riots if he had lost the primary
  4. Repeatedly encouraged violence against protestors at rallies
  5. Implication that his supporters should use violence against her if Clinton appoints judges…
    1. “If she gets to pick her judges — nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know.”

 

Authoritarian Don’

  1. Praise for Vladimir Putin: ‘more of a leader than Obama’
  2. Proposal to censor media outlets critical of him through altering libel laws
  3. Institution of campaign blacklist for media outlets that delivered critical reporting of Trump
  4. “I alone can fix it”: Trump’s fearmongering and authoritarianism at the RNC
  5. Implication that Trump would jail his political opponents and especially Hillary
    1. Suggested that he would appoint a special prosecutor to try Clinton, “Lock Her Up”
  6. Praise for Saddam Hussein
    1. “Saddam Hussein throws a little [chemical] gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘oh he’s using gas!’”

 

Engaging with and flirting with racism

  1. Mexico is sending “rapists”, “criminals”.
  2. History of housing discrimination against African Americans
  3. Racist comments surrounding suggestions that an Indiana born ‘Mexican’ judge’s heritage would influence his decisions and is unable to impartially adjudicate the situation
  4. To minority communities, “What do you have to lose!”
  5. Muslim Ban
  6. David Duke scandal

 

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, The Military, and Veterans

  1. Insulting John McCain, and by extension POWs, for being captured.
  2. “The generals have been reduced to rubble,” “I know better than the generals”
  3. Insulted a gold star family—Khizr and Ghazala Khan scandal
  4. S should specifically target the innocent families of terrorists
  5. Repeated calls for use of torture, worse methods than waterboarding
  6. Disbanding NATO
  7. “‘Its not so bad for us if Japan [and Korea] have nuclear weapons”
  8. Asking an expert three times: “If we have [Nuclear Weapons], we can’t we use them?”
  9. Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

 

General Impropriety

  1. Mocking a disabled reporter
  2. Tax Returns
  3. Trump University Scandal
    1. Pam Bondi bribery scandal
  4. Trump Foundation Scandal—improper use of charitable money for personal reasons

 

As voters we are compelled to draw conclusions from the actions and public statements of candidates to piece together an idea of how they would perform as President of the United States. Any of these scandals, during a past election cycle, would completely render the presidential aspirations of a politician unrealizable. If any of the above 47 scandals cast doubt on Trump’s ability to meet the most basic requirements of public office, we urge that you take that into account when considering who to vote for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Fishy Fishy…

How the territorial dispute in the South China Sea is all about fish, and what that tells us about world order and American foreign policy.

           A nuclear-aspirant North Korean lobbing No Dongs into the Sea of Japan, Vladimir Putin’s Russia testing the willingness of the self-appointed custodians of the post-Cold War settlement to defend it, and the inescapable imperative to implement an international agreement that halts the progression of climate change—clearly, the United States faces a plethora of foreign policy challenges in the status quo; it is not with a single great threat with which the United States must contend but a whole slew of problems that each impel action. So one must ask—what are the nature of these problems?  Are there higher-order commonalities between them that may inform our grand strategy?

To answer these questions, we ought to look to the Pacific, most specifically to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This conflict is emblematic of the type of international issue that presents the greatest challenge to the United States. On one hand, China seeks to expands its territory, through force and, well, semi-clever island building.  It’s a zero-sum conflict between regional actors, resembling the traditional geopolitics of yore—an exercise of power in the name of self-interest at the expense of other states. In this matter, one might say it cleanly fits a neorealist model.

Yet, at the same time the South China Sea is the site of a separate but interrelated problem: overfishing, illegal fishing, and—as a result— declining fish stocks.  Fishing is a core component of the Chinese economy, accounting for 3 percent of GDP and employing ~8 million fishermen.[1] As coastal stocks have dwindled, Chinese fisherman have moved into contested water to compete with the fishing industries of several other nations. As a consequence, fishing has been conducted at an alarmingly unsustainable rate—fish stocks have declined from 95% of their 1950s levels, and might soon be exhausted due to illegal fishing. Furthermore, the decline of fish stocks has severe regional implications—the average person in China and South East Asia consumes a remarkably large amount of fish, around 24.2 kilograms of fish a year, and fishing is a massive component of regional economies.[2] It merits, then, to pose the central question of how regional governance of common pool resources can be established for the fisheries of the South China Seas? This is a question of both international and regional import given that regional food shock may have significant consequences on international food prices and contribute to regional instability. Indeed, as the example of the Syrian refugee crisis highlights, regional problems no longer have strictly regional consequences.

The example of territorial disputes in the South China Sea has two fundamental strategic dimensions: a quasi-realist imperative to balance China and protect the international order, and the neoliberal necessity of inviting China to the negotiating table as a necessary stakeholder in the fish stocks of the South China Sea. The second imperative is as important as the first— without Chinese cooperation, the US simply does not have the power, nor the mandate to prevent Chinese illegal fishing. Without a permanent resolution that all stakeholders assent to, the only potential Nash equilibrium, to borrow from game theory, that could result will be either total control on the fish stocks by one or more states to the exclusion of others or instability and infighting that leads to the depletion of the fish stocks entirely. In both cases, conflict is likely to erupt as dwindling resources provoke even more aggressive competition that, in turn, reduces fishery capacity even further.  The situation necessitates, then, the implementation of some sort of multilateral diplomatic settlement like a Regional Fisheries Management Organization (RFMO) that has proved effected elsewhere at managing fish stocks. Yet a necessary precondition for regional cooperation of this nature is the external balancing of Chinese aggression and provocation in the South China Sea.

This type of challenge—which require both an oppositional relationship in one respect but a cooperative one in another characterizes many of the international strategic challenges the US faces in the status quo. For example, the U.S vehemently opposes Russia’s territorial ambitions vis a vis Crimea and its military support of Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria. Yet, the United States must cooperate and cooperates with Russia on several other fronts: counter-terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, space exploration, counter-narcotics efforts, climate change, combating piracy, and scientific advancement—just to name a few. It would not be within the U.S’ best interest to simply abandon cooperation in these mutually beneficial areas due to Russia’s revanchist tendencies.

All this shows that a ‘flat’ word characterized by interdependence and interconnectedness ensures that regional challenges have international implications; the proliferation of global challenges that necessitate collective action demand a strategic emphasis on multilateral cooperation and international institutions. The greatest long term threats to global order all necessitate such internationally coordinated responses: climate change, global health crises, and nuclear proliferation. The international network of institutions and agreements that constitute the ‘international order’ all help to facilitate global cooperation through dialogue, reduced transaction costs, international norm creation, economies of scale, and massive efficiency gains. Thus, challenges to the international order must be met with appropriate resistance, yet the United States must cooperate with those same revisionist actors on matters of mutual interest. Truly, the greatest foreign policy challenge the United States faces is the question of structuring a grand strategy that considers these twin, perhaps antagonistic imperatives.

[1] http://thediplomat.com/2016/07/the-south-china-sea-is-really-a-fishery-dispute/

[2] http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2016/07/19/5-things-about-fishing-in-the-south-china-sea/