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?

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:

 

 

 

 

In Preparation for November 8th


By ETHAN GELFER || November 6. 2016

 

It’s finally almost over. Over two years of campaigning, grandstanding, arguing, scandalizing, and hating will finally resolve itself at thousands of polling places around the United States. For the sake of some semblance of sanity I’ll assume that the inevitable loser(s) of this presidential contest will concede when a winner becomes clear. As long as that holds, America will wake up on November 9th to a new president-elect. And no matter who it is, over half of the country at least will be disheartened at the result. A new cycle of partisanship and punditry and grandstanding and hating will begin.

That’s for next time. Let’s for now reserve the politicking for the transition team, the 45th President, and the 115th Congress. The reality is that what we do in the United States on a quadrennial basis is a special thing. Our system of government, for better or for worse, is pretty much unique around the world. And remarkably it works, over and over again. Our social system is preserved through the goodness, doggedness, and determination of hundreds of millions of people before us, contemporary to us, and after us.

In solemn fidelity to the rule of law and our civic democratic religion, despite our differences, despite the shouting and the hating, in spite of inevitable despair, time and time again we accept that politics is an activity that fundamentally is always our own. Our representatives in government reflect who we are, the direction we want to take, the world we want to live in, the image we present to the rest of the world.


This election is no different. In spite of our radically different views, in spite of our polarization and banal playground insult-driven campaign, even through the madness and race to the bottom politics we still live in a country that is our own. There is no procedure save that which we lay out for ourselves. Our binding, founding document may drive us but the decisions we make are fundamentally our own. Every American knows that, even if that idea may be suppressed. America is great because despite the fighting and opposition when the sun sets and the day is over we all come back in service of our nation, in dogged remembrance that our country is fundamentally an idea, a beacon that has lit the world for centuries. A project that none of us are exempt from, one that, whether for better or for worse, is an example for all to follow and measure up to.

So let us not be an example of what not to do, of whom not to follow. The election is over in just a little more than 48 hours. Until the final set of polls close, until the results are tabulated, I and the Popular Discourse board stand with Secretary Clinton. We believe she is easily the best choice for President. Our support for her and the ideas and ideals she represents will not end on Tuesday.

Yet as soon as we have a result, as soon as the day ends, we will stand behind the decision made by the American people. Because all we have left when all is said and done is each other; we have a President of all of us, not of some of us. We have a government that represents all of us, not some of us. And disagreement is certainly good, and we think that there is no world in which that disagreement will end. That disagreement, however, functions in the service of making our country better. We will not disparage the new President-Elect, we will not hate the Americans who did not see eye-to-eye with us.

For we are ruled by the same binding principles, and we are all Americans today, tomorrow, and always. This election has been grueling, exhausting, and demoralizing. It has touched people’s lives in ways we didn’t think were possible before setting out on this campaign. For me personally, this campaign has been as much of a crash course in my personal philosophy and the principles I hold fundamental as anything else. 2016 is truly a seminal year in American politics, and this ranks among the most important elections in American history. November 8th is the day the dissonance ends. On November 9th we hope that all of America can stand together to congratulate the 45th President of the United States on his or her election, and re-focus ourselves on the transition, new agendas, and preparation for the Oath of Office in three months. It is all we can do. On the eve of the election, let’s say a prayer for our country and our people, and dedicate ourselves to continued pursuit of something better, together.


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse and a student in the College at the University of Chicago.

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.

please please accept the results, Donald.

Here at Popular Discourse, we aren’t big fans of brevity. But events over the past few weeks have called for at least some kind of response. So even though it’s Fourth Week at the University of Chicago and midterms are afoot, here comes yet another article. 


By ETHAN GELFER || October 21, 2016

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win.”

Those were actual words that exited an actual presidential nominee’s mouth in the day following a debate that self-destructed inside half an hour. We’ve documented Donald’s scandals in what we believe is its entirety here, but in reality its not even the obscenely inhuman force of offense and criminality (see: unconstitutional Muslim bans, sexual assault, etc), but rather the threat to institution that Donald Trump and his candidacy represents that scares me the most.

Much like every other nation, and to the consternation of many, the United States government and Constitution is not infallible. The republic is a socially constructed phenomenon that relies on continuous social agreement and cohesion to function. Authority, the rule of law, and power of the state are all derived from reification as a result of such socializations. In essence, we only have a government because we say we have a government.

That’s what makes Donald’s casual affronts to the pillars of democracy so dangerous. Traditions and customs affirm our commitment to the continued social reification of abstract institutions. Why do we refer to our chief executive solely as Mr. (and soon Madam) President? Why is it that when the President stands, no one sits? I submit that these aren’t random exertions of power that have become accepted, but rather these and other small traditions are vital to the perpetuation of our social fabric.

Unfortunately, Donald drags the Republican guard down with him as he goes. John McCain has suggested that the new Congress will still refuse to consider any Supreme Court nominees. Donald suggests that his supporters could seek Second Amendment remedies if Secretary Clinton were elected. He supports and encourages foreign intervention in the American election system. He suggests that subverting federal law makes him smart. He threatens to throw his political opponent in jail. And to top everything off, he suggests that he may not concede the election if he loses.

Trump apologians have already begun spinning the story by claiming that Al Gore, a Democrat, also refused to concede an election. Yet that situation is monumentally incomparable. To entertain the subject for a minute- Gore actually had a reason to contest the result, given that he won the popular vote  (Donald has as good a chance as not to lose by double digits in the popular vote), and the margin of victory in Florida amounted to .009% of the vote in the state. Yes, there was a constitutional crisis in 2000. But when it became clear that the mechanisms of our government had not worked in his favor, Gore said the following:

“Other disputes have dragged on for weeks before reaching resolution. And each time, both the victor and the vanquished have accepted the result peacefully and in the spirit of reconciliation. So let it be with us. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. And I say to our fellow members of the world community: Let no one see this contest as a sign of American weakness. The strength of American democracy is shown most clearly through the difficulties it can overcome.

Al Gore was gracious even in the face of heartbreaking, unfair defeat. He signaled faith in our political process. Donald Trump is preparing to present himself as the polar opposite. I’m reminded of a quotation from The West Wing, a show that might as well now be considered fantasy; “This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity.”

Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s monumental disrespect for ethnic, racial and gender groups. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s inflammation of violence and violent rhetoric. Yes, we can, and we should complain and protest Donald’s utter lack of experience, understanding, or demonstration of education on anything remotely representing governing. But in my mind if there is one issue to protest, if there is one truly disqualifying factor for this candidate, it is this flagrant disrespect for the guardrails of democracy. Our country only exists because we agree that it will. By suggesting that it doesn’t have to be that way, it won’t.

Donald, I hope I saw a human side of you at the Al Smith dinner yesterday. I hope you were as uncomfortable and embarrassed of yourself as I was of you. I hope you understand what you are doing to this country. I hope you understand that you are quite literally the greatest threat to the structure of the world’s oldest democracy at present. Because if you understand that, there’s still time to salvage some of your dignity and some of this country. Please, for the sake of our country and our future, stop challenging these pillars of our existence.

Note: normally I try to refer to people I’m writing about by their proper titles. I hope to signal the rift I pointed to once again by referring to Mr. Trump in this article solely by his first name. I firmly believe in the need to reinforce and continually reify our social structure. Mr. Trump operates outside that social structure and thus I refuse to refer to him in the manner that operates in a world he seeks to destroy. 


Ethan Gelfer is the Managing Editor of Popular Discourse. He is a first-year student at the University of Chicago. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Global Growth Trends, Right-Wing Backlash, and Political Economy: Shouting into the Ether


BY SPENCER SLAGOWITZ || SEPTEMBER 19TH, 2016

Nils Gilman, a historian at UC Berkeley, wrote a medium length piece last Monday on the ‘Economic roots of populist rage’, in the America Interest that suggested that the ‘technoglobalist’ consensus of the elites failed repeatedly failed the same segment of society, most poignantly demonstrated by the populist rage of this election cycle, thus necessitating a new socio-economic compact. What follows is my response to that argument, my proverbial rant into the ether.

I am easily in agreement with the premise of this piece—an economic system (or more accurately a whole regime of economic policies that comprise such a ‘system’) that repeatedly leaves the same sector of the population behind is not a socially optimal economic system. Yet, Gilman’s piece is more historical/political analysis than policy proposal—and it is Gilman’s analysis, not his conclusions nor his premise, that ultimately proves faulty.

Firstly, Gilman suggests that economic anxiety is the prime motivator for the current quasi-populist, anti-globalist backlash, in order to argue that failed economic policies have engendered serious ‘political economy’ concerns. This argument seems to suggest that through economic ends may we seek to quell the backlash of the so-called ‘Trumpenproletariat”. Gilman asserts:

In other words, the populist class-based anger we see has a basis in economic reality, and what it means politically is that the United States (and, indeed, almost all the advanced Western countries) needs a new social-political compact

Yet, 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.” 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, as the previous examples show, a lot of recent evidence suggests a plausible disconnect between economic anxiety or loss from trade and support for Trump. This is additionally reinforced by looking to Scandinavian societies, who have enjoyed robust and equitable growth, but still experienced a similar right-wing populist backlash.

Secondarily, at the heart of Gilman’s argument is his presentation of the “empirical economic basis for populist economic-based anger” and his explanation of the roots of current economic trends.To answer the second principle, Gilman poses two questions: “First, why are the gains of the economy so poorly distributed? Second, why has productivity growth slowed so much over the past ten years?” In an effort to answer the first question, Gilman appears to rely on the second’s answer—he asserts:

There actually is a well-known (though not uncontroversial) historical explanation for why we should not be surprised that the past few years have been a period of slowing productivity growth in the old industrial core of the North Atlantic…we have entered the declining-growth stages of the current phase of global capitalism…the theory that capitalism at the technology frontier operates in higher- and lower-growth cycles was originally developed nearly a century ago by the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev.

Gilman proceeds to use Kondratiev’s theory of “K Waves” to justify his indictment of ‘turbocaptialism.” But to answer easily what is one of the most contentious and important questions of modern macroeconomics— what has caused current growth patterns & stagnating wages/productivity?— the article compels the reader accept the “K-Waves” hypothesis based on authority alone. This is quite troublesome given its centrality to Gilman’s analysis and the total dearth of supporting economic evidence found in the piece; indeed, instead of providing an economic argument, a large part of the article is simply an historical analysis that, instead of justifying the theory and its applicability in this case, explain how it has played throughout the preceding few decades. An interesting and dare I say, captivating intellectual exercise, but one that is far from compelling.

Thirdly, the article does not respond to or address any of the other predominant theories that concern the roots of current global growth patterns. Given how contentious the debate is and how diverse the promulgated arguments are—the failure to rebut any other theory that could possibly invalidate Gilman’s central thesis raises serious question. From Kenneth Rogoff’s argument about debt overhang, or Larry Summer’s secular stagnation theory—alternate expressions remain wholly ignored, save one exception; in an effort to respond to the most compelling counter-argument to the K-Wave hypothesis, Robert Gordon’s theory of current technological development slowdown, Gilman effectively shrugs and dismisses it as “premature.” Even after conceding that economically significant developments need to be platform technologies, (and, mind you, Gordon suggests that those sorts of technologies simply aren’t being developed), Gilman could have at least fulfilled the necessary burden of proving that the technologies he identifies—additive manufacturing, CRISPR-enabled biotechnology and precision medicine— in order to respond to Gordon, are indeed platform technologies.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fascination exploration of an important topic and brings very interesting historical context—and I’ll eagerly second the final conclusion of the article that we cannot simply separate the disciplines of political economy and economics—the two are not only intertwined but directly impact each other. In isn’t enough to say that they are simply related, it is more so that they look at different sides and aspects of related phenomenon—that phenomenon being governance and society. To loosely paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith, one cannot separate the discipline of economics, political economy/political science, sociology/anthropology, philosophy and psychology. But, while the article is fascinating, articulate, and poignant—as an argument, it leaves much to be desired. It gives readers a faulty impression of the relationship between U.S economic policy and the current sociopolitical trends of right-wing backlash, it misidentifies the causes of current global growth, and as a consequence, concludes by giving faulty policy prescriptions

Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States of America


By THE EDITORIAL BOARD || September 13, 2016

2016 has been a paradigm-shifting campaign season. Decades of growing partisanship and polarization have culminated in starkly different choices for the presidency. Nominally, Americans are presented with a choice of two candidates from the two major parties, one advanced by Democratic primary voters and the D.N.C and the other by Republicans and the R.N.C. Yet the true choice American voters will make in November has very little to do with the party the candidates are affiliated with. Instead, American politics seems to have split along new lines, between the establishment and the grass-roots, between anti-intellectualism and an acceptance of facts, between truth and post-truth politics. Soaring unfavorables for both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump indicate vast displeasure with either candidacy. Both are widely seen as unfit for the presidency. The spoiler effect has returned to American politics, with almost a fifth of the electorate indicating at least nominal support for a third party candidate, either Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party or Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party. Even within their respective parties, both Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump face the potential of revolt have overwhelmingly characterized the election can easily dominate the choice for whom to vote for. However, there are also policy disagreements that are worth examining.

Governor Johnson of the Libertarian Party presents a stunning lack of knowledge of foreign policy and even a disdain for current events, recently characterized by his failure to recognize the identity or importance of the city of Aleppo in Syria, the epicenter of the Syrian Civil War. While his apology and acknowledgement of a lack of knowledge is commendable—whereas a Donald Trump would have deflected from the issue or later deny that the episode ever occurred— the fact that the governor appears to be uninterested in the role of the United States around the world is a troubling characteristic in a president. Even giving the governor the benefit of the doubt—indeed, we all make mistakes—the episode then brings up several questions about his advisers and campaign. We expect that presidents and presidential candidates have extensive political and policy advisors that ensure not only that candidates are prepared for such issues and anticipate such questions, but also brief presidential candidates quite often on issues of relevant policy, foreign and domestic. The very fact that Johnson’s advisers and campaign failed in those two responsibilities raises important questions about the types of individuals that would be in a Johnson/Weld White House or Cabinet.  In domestic policy, the governor advocates for a staunchly libertarian view of the role of government, which characterizes everything from drug schedules to motor vehicle licenses as federal overreach. While the role and scope of government is grounds for legitimate debate, the radical approach that the governor takes is unacceptable for domestic policy and would lead to serious negative consequences.

Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is more knowledgeable on foreign policy, and a plank in her platform is to advocate for the idea of no more foreign intervention and complete isolationism. Such a position on American foreign policy is simply untenable in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. It is certainly legitimate to question the extent to which the U.S should be involved in other countries militarily or diplomatically, and to question the benefits of globalization. But to retreat entirely is not a policy that is sustainable, either in the long or short term, and would lead to serious negative consequences both at home and abroad. The reality remains that the United States commands the largest armed forces in the world as well as the largest foreign presence, and while there is room to scale back, a complete retreat is unadvisable. But Dr. Stein’s platform is more troubling on the domestic policy side. She displays a lack of economic knowledge in calling for a quantitative easing program for student debt. She buys into hard-left conspiracy theories about genetically modified foods, microwaves, Wi-Fi signals, and vaccinations, among other scientifically proven technologies. It would be a mistake to vote for someone who believes, or at minimum legitimates the belief, that the F.D.A is part of a conspiracy to contaminate the public with poor vaccines.

Voting for a third party candidate or refusing to vote at all, carries with it unacceptable risk. As Spencer Slagowitz has pointed out, ‘the consequences of voting for a third party candidate in our current political climate are undeniable. Inaction or voting for a third candidate, empowers those who do act and certainly weakens the candidate whom you could have voted for. It is equally difficult to contend, as some have, that a Trump presidency would strengthen the progressive movement. Sacrificing the well-being of American citizens for the spurious chance of a later progressive victory, that itself would have an even more questionable potential of reversing the full impact of a Trump presidency is an unconvincing option, to say the least.’

Finally, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, is completely and utterly unqualified for the presidency of the United States. His identity politics has become inseparable from his policy positions—between decrying ethnic and racial groups as “rapists and murderers” and suggesting a religious test and ban for immigrants entering the country, from displaying a stunning lack of knowledge of basic tenets of the American government ranging from the articles enumerated in the Constitution to basic nuclear policy, between feuding with the family of a fallen veteran of the U.S Armed Forces to mocking the disability of a New York Times reporter, from denouncing nearly everyone in the current administration including the Joint Chiefs of Staff to displaying violence and hatred towards political opponents and those who would exercise their First Amendment right to free expression. Remarkable numbers of government officials and policy experts, both Democrat and Republican, have come out against his candidacy.  The utter lack of respect and disdain in which Mr. Trump holds the office of the Presidency is astounding. And on top of the temperamental disqualifications, legislative objections abound. As Josh Zakharov has written, even if you disagree with Clinton’s policies, Donald Trump effectively has none. And the precious few policies Mr. Trump has advocated for are woefully inadequate, boneheaded, utterly contradictory, and plainly unconstitutional. They evince, per Ethan Gelfer, “ a remarkably myopic and narrow view of the multinational, multiethnic, multifaith, globalized world we live in today.”  Between building a wall and banning Muslims from entering the United States, between advocating for the deportation of 11 million residents of the United States to openly advocating for a foreign intervention in the American political process, between threatening to use nuclear weapons and indicating a willingness to turn the full faith and credit of the United States into a bargaining chip on the world stage, Mr. Trump has proven himself again and again to be a menace to the American presidency, to the democratic process, indeed, to the very idea of America that has lit the world for over two centuries. Mr. Trump’s very candidacy, and the R.N.C’s support of his candidacy, is offensive to the very fabric of our nation. Put simply, Mr. Trump cannot be President of the United States.

Despite there being three anti-establishment, resentful, angry presidential candidates in the 2016 race, there is one candidate and one party that represents a beacon of unity and progress. While a main strike against her in the eyes of many, Secretary Clinton’s membership in the “establishment” of American politics has made her into the most qualified candidate in history. Presenting a formidable resume, from being an advocate at the Children’s Defense Fund to First Lady of the United States, from Senator for the state of New York to Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton offers the experience and leadership necessary to stitch Washington together after decades of growing resentment, as well as the capability to lead our nation through the uncertain times ahead. Offering clear-eyed, level headed policy proposals that reflect a willingness to listen to and compromise with those who are willing to sit down at the negotiating table, Secretary Clinton’s Democratic Party platform is a remarkable document that reflects the best wisdom of this country’s brightest minds and strongest movements. Her candidacy brings people together, from the fifty million disabled Americans she fights for to the African Americans and Latino Americans who are given a voice, the Democratic Party embraces its value of inclusion and truly offers the best future for all those who are willing to play along. Secretary Clinton’s most valuable trait is her ability to listen, and while that makes her a poor campaigner and rhetorician, it will allow her presidency to be marked with cooperation and cross-partisanship that for too long has been missing from Capitol Hill and the White House.

Having been involved on the national stage for a quarter century, Secretary Clinton has certainly picked up some political baggage. She has a reputation for being a foreign policy hawk, for too often changing her views based on what seems to be political exploitation, she has displayed a level of impropriety with government business and communications that reveal a level of disdain to which she holds the American press, she is secluded on the campaign trail and rarely appears in an unscripted way to the American public or to the press, and she seems to have no hard and fast views. Yet she is a candidate that in today’s political climate that is the best choice to sit at the Resolute Desk on January 20, 2017.

As we’ve written in the past—“The fact that Hillary Clinton is the most recognizable name in politics of this decade is not only a testament to her resilience and intelligence, but her extensive experience as a legislator, policymaker, and stateswoman.” So let us not ignore Clinton’s leadership abilities and her experience with facilitating the administrative responsibilities of an organization—one of the most important responsibilities of the presidency. Clinton is an extraordinary administrator. Love him or hate him, Henry Kissinger asserted that “she ran the State Department in the most effective way that I’ve ever seen.” Our failure to raise questions about how a president sets priorities, how a president executes laws, and the advisors with whom presidents surround themselves is incredibly troubling in a world in which those factors have become increasingly important and one in which her opponent has assembled advisors of questionable repute and experience.

Whether one agrees with her policies or not, Secretary Clinton is simply the only candidate who has enough respect for the intellect and independence of America and its citizens to hold its highest office. We should ask for more from our candidates. We should seek to expose their flaws and hold them to a higher standard. Yes, that does mean holding Secretary Clinton to her words and chastising her for when things go wrong. That does not mean that she is not worth your vote.

If fidelity to democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely respect for that process should lead us not to cast a ballot in favor of someone who disregards and even hates that process, or someone who builds a reputation and a case for a vote based on a hatred of the system in which we conduct our political process, but to vote for the one who will best embody the American ideal. Let us preserve the sanctity of the highest office of our nation, and vote for the next President of the United States with confidence and candor, and place a leader into the Oval Office who can be trusted with steering this nation in the right direction for the years to come.