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July 30, 2019

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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Not long ago I shared on FB some stories from my spouse’s experience at her work listening to and speaking with colleagues that coincided with some of my (past) experiences in work settings. These involved generalizations so there are of course exceptions (I mentioned these in the FB post). One conclusion we drew from these stories, to be sure, as anecdotal evidence, is that there are quite a few people who are massively and surprisingly politically ignorant and yet (formally speaking) well educated, having graduated from college, for example, and sometimes involved in further job –related education or training of one kind or another. In other words, in spite of their obvious intelligence and capabilities, they are stunningly ill-informed about what is happening in the world, be it on the domestic front or abroad, a fact one might (and I think to a large extent should) account for by assuming the ubiquitous and relentless operation of typically deleterious psychological mechanisms of one kind or another: willful ignorance, denial, wishful thinking and day-dreaming, self-deception, what have you. In psychoanalytic terms, the “pleasure principle” has smothered or trumped the “reality principle.” It is very disconcerting. I strongly suspect the stories we share represent a larger and more pervasive phenomenon among more than a few people in our society who are myopically (and not just in a morally or ethically troubling sense) focused on their everyday private lives (which may include a narrow circle of family members and friends). Of course it is understandable that in the socially Malthusian and Darwinian capitalist world we inhabit (I have argued in a brief essay that we have abundant reason to find Fromm’s locution, ‘the pathology of normalcy,’ more apt today than when he first used it) individuals will be preoccupied with “making a living” and then, in their discretionary time, indulge in conspicuous consumption, various forms of “escape” from their (unconscious and conscious) mental anguish, anxieties, and unhappiness or suffering: daydream fantasies, excessive intoxication and illicit drug use, preoccupation (inordinate time spent) with video games, social media or smartphones, fascination with or bewitchment by the crassest forms of entertainment (from comic book ‘super hero’ films to ‘theatrical’ wrestling and ‘Reality TV’ and so forth and so on). It’s no coincidence that we have a President who, in addition to being a serial liar, racist, sexist (not unrelated to the many allegations of sexual misconduct), plutocrat, kleptocrat, in general, a would-be authoritarian, in other words, a person utterly bereft of a moral compass, is at the same time, “entertainer-in-chief,” an anti-democratic populist buffoon who plays his supporters like a seasoned Reality star marionette.

In conjunction with the above more or less social-psychological phenomena, we find explicit attempts to restrict non-Republican voter turnout (gerrymandering, all manner of voter requirements designed to inhibit rather than enhance voter participation), social and political anomie and alienation among a considerable portion of the electorate, powers-that-be adept at exploiting “bread and circuses,” alongside other more conventional if not long-standing electoral variables, including the chronic inability of a significant portion of the working and managerial classes to properly perceive and act upon their true (hence best) self-interests (which frequently involves an ideologically motivated and ensconced inability to understand larger economic forces and trends, including basic cause and effect mechanisms in the economy). Finally, we are witnessing on a daily basis a Republican Party that has quickly morphed into a group of sycophantic lackeys and boot-lickers utterly bereft of core conservative principles (the exceptions being those few individuals who have decided to retire or leave the Party) as those were identified and held by more than a few conservative intellectuals and politicians of yesteryear. While not an exhaustive inventory, these factors, alas, I would count among those that will increase the possibility if not probability that Trump will be re-elected. Please, please, please ... persuade me I am wrong!

Tamara Piety

Well, publishing a lot more observations like this might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. These are all accurate observations; but of how much use are they went the present moment seems so unlike past ones. If the past was any indicator (gender aside) about how the 2016 election would turn out, the comically unqualified Trump would have been defeated in a blowout. Indeed, he never would have been nominated. Of course, there were all sorts of ways in which 2016 can be described as both sui generis and consistent. However, given the havoc Trump is wreaking on our society, on our legal and political system, the ever-present danger he represents for catastrophic economic or diplomatic failures, I am not sure we should be looking so hard at the Democratic candidates' plans as observing that people who care about the country should vote for a crash test dummy over Trump. Treating this as a normal election seems dangerous.

Steve L.

Tamara Piety: I agree that the 2020 election is crucial. One reason for the Democrats' loss in 2016 was underestimating Trump, especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

One purpose of these posts -- in addition to general historical interest -- is to warn of the historical headwinds. President Trump enters the election season with great advantages, and Democrats have little hope if they don't recognize the situation for what it is.

anon

Funny, the self righteous who post here about how "everything is doomed and failing" -- when most of the time the same or worse conditions existed under the past president -- never seem to pause to consider the REASONS for the historical record that Lubet discusses.

It all just washes by them unrecognized and unnoticed, as they vent their faux rage over exaggerated (and sometimes bizarre) reactions to everything the president says on social media.

Because it seems, reading these pages, that extreme Leftists are uninterested in truth and self reflection and other people, but only in power, it is probably necessary to spell out the question always ignored: What has the Left done to make itself so unpalatable that even this president was able to defeat it? Was it just the personality of the candidate? Was it the myriad of excuses the Left has concocted, e.g, brainwashing by "Russians"?

Mary Ellen Maatman

You forgot Bush I. Not that another one-termer in recent history necessarily changes your argument.

anon

BTW, a case in point. After Marianne Williamson made a very compelling case for the holistic approach to lifting people out of poverty and desperation on Face the Nation, all the moderator could think to ask, in substance: but, how can we do this in jurisdictions controlled by Republicans?

The Left can't look at Illinois and Chicago, for example, and not blame Republicans for the violence that persists there, despite loads of money thrown at the problem. As corruption rages in City and State governments, the Left can't face itself: EVER.

Anyone reading these pages knows this is the truth. There is only one point of view expressed in the posts, and anyone who disagrees (almost always anonymously, given the viciousness of partisans on the Left) is labeled a coward, stupid, etc., i.e., deplorable and irredeemable.

It is clear. The LEft doesn't care about the people living in horrible conditions generally "overseen" by their partisans, because the vote of these persons is assured.

They also don't care about the fate of the immigrants they encourage to come to this country: mostly, to toil in poverty picking fruit and vegetables, gardening their lawns, washing their cars, caring for their children, cleaning their luxurious homes, making the beds in their fancy hotels, etc. They just want their votes, i.e., power.

"Fun fact": According to reputable reports, Baltimore is more dangerous than many of the cities in the countries from which those seeking asylum in this country flee.

Feel good about this? All of this the fault of Republicans?

Steve: Look into how the people feel about the leadership provided by hyper partisan politicians of the Left you so unquestioningly support. Perhaps you would gain some insight into posts like the one above.

Again, do the partisans of the Left care about people, or about power? Are they more interested in the real issues, or about demonizing their political opponents and winning elections at any cost?

Want to prove all this wrong? Post something that explains the poor record of the Left in presidential elections that you describe above. Explain how the LEft can/should/will change to address the views of the electorate it purports to represent, rather than impose the power of supposedly superior intellects on all the little people who don't know what's good for them.

Steve L.

Mary Ellen Maatman: Bush 41 followed Reagan, and was thus the GOP's third consecutive term in the White House. My point is that incumbent parties (not individuals) have almost always held on for at least one more term, as was the case with Reagan-Reagan-Bush.

Bernie_meets_Corbyn, realises_he's_not_a_socialist

'The Left can't look at Illinois and Chicago, for example, and not blame Republicans for the violence that persists there, despite loads of money thrown at the problem. As corruption rages in City and State governments, the Left can't face itself: EVER'.

Greetings from Blighty, anon. It would, I think, be a mistake to conflate the Left (even the American Left) with the American Democrat Party and its policies. Even so, I would suggest to you that, at least part of the reason why Democrats cannot do so is because (a) they really don't understand what they've done and (b) they tune out as soon as someone on the political right criticizes them; you lack any epistemic authority, basically by definition in their eyes. (Please note that this is not necessarily true of the Left in other countries). By contrast, simply by virtue of being from one of the wealthier Western European countries provides one with a lot of up-front authority with American Dems. (Should I 'check my privilege'? Methinks not). Perhaps, then, the following can help them.

American Democrats style themselves as the knowledgeable, 'woke', socially just, 'progressive', cosmopolitan, and forward-looking of your body politic. Increasingly, we in the rest of the West, and indeed the rest of the world, can no longer believe this of them. At all. Surely, though, blame cannot fairly be laid at the Dems' feet exclusively. 'Conservatives' and others approve of what Trump does (or claims to be doing), not what Republican congressmen do (who despise Trump, if not the masses too). If only the 'conservative' voters had even the slightest wherewithal, or brainpower, to recognise that...

The American middle class is shrinking, its poor are getting poorer, there is a growing gap between rich and poor, industrial jobs continue to disappear overseas and be replaced by lower paying ones, and the lower-middle class and working class' childrens' prospects of university matriculation are grim.

What is the American Democrat Party's solution?

For one thing, continue to bring in millions more poor uneducated people; categorise any opposition thereto as racist and per se invalid. (Do Dems believe anyone in Canada would be convinced that Justin Trudeau is a white nationalist for closing the door on your illegals? Sorry, they have public healthcare systems and social insurance schemes they'd rather not crash). Promise cogent improvements to the US federal tax code, but in order to spend it on exorbitant, unsustainable programmes - especially when compared to analogous programmes in other Western countries.

For another, plow the world with Democrat 'alternative facts' (and pretend it is only Republicans who do so): the 'cages' were the Donald's doing, not Obama's; 'no one is illegal'; the illegals aren't a net cost to the system; etc.

Defend neo-liberal free trade agreements the Left railed against a generation ago and decry tariffs as foolhardy. Betray everything the Left ever fought for in terms of minimum wage laws, health & safety laws, etc., IN BLUE CITIES, in BLUE STATES vis-a-vis 'undocumented workers'.

Further, Baltimore is in fact a shithole, rampant with corruption. Importantly, it is situated in a state long controlled by Democrats who have zero interest in actually helping the city out. Somalia too is a shithole, one which barely has the rule of law - if it indeed does. Race is a social constructed pesudo-biological category. Neither of these statements about particular locations with local norms, however, invokes that category. However, the Dems better ensure that every red-blooded American believes that they are! (They're codes! They're dog whistles!) Those who simply deny this, let alone repeat such views, are to be boycotted, shunned, removed from employment in the academy and elsewhere, etc. Calls for 'dialogue' and 'diversity of thought' have become platitudinous; instead, it is my way or the highway in terms of conceptions of social justice, preferred lexicography, and what counts as appropriate subjects of civilised and academic enquiries - right out of Robespierre's playbook. Indeed, one must often pledge allegiance to the Dems' articles of faith in terms of 'diversity statements' if one aims for uni positions in the Land of the Free these days. In other words, far from being liberal, the Dems have become totalitarians. (I do not use this label lightly).

'How DARE you judge a whole culture!' Dems may nonetheless say. 'You racist!'. Please Yanks: we all know you hate the middle-American, pro-life, creationist, Jesus people. You basically despise their whole culture. You are progress (or so you insist), whilst they are dinosaurs. Does that make YOU racists?

Do you think, moreover, that Western Europeans actually hold Blue Staters' culture in esteem? Do you think they believe their countries would be improved by mass emigration from Blue states to them? Imagine asking that of almost any French person.

A generation or so ago, American Dems (and Britain's Labour party) abandoned the political left and the fight for socio-economic improvement for much of America's poor. It's rather obvious why: again, most of them are white people that the urban, wealthy, educated Dems despise. Instead, Dems have championed identity politics as the political holy grail (a bourgeoise, urban ideology). Then, they are shocked when American 'whites' utilise the narrative. (What did you expect them to do? Remain silent whilst every other group/pseudo-biological camp was encouraged to laud its own purported virtues and stress the importance of its own perpetuation and flourishing - even quite a few of the groups are arbitrary social constructions?).

What to do, though? Ought the Dems see the error of their ways and return to the policies of the party of FDR? It seems quite reasonable to believe that, since the party's immigration policies and economic dogmas are completely irreconcilable, the Dems will give the American working poor (and nouveau poor) ample reason to believe that they in fact aim to replace them (as the neo-nazis in Charlottesville insisted). What's going to happen if a critical mass of them come to believe/recognise that? Do you think a Dem takeover of the Congress or the Presidency is going to put any of it to rest, or will it be a flash point?

Butsi

The fact is Democrats have won the majority of the popular vote in every presidential election but one for the last 30 years. It was not the democrats’ overconfidence last time so much as the media’s and James Comey’s - assuming Trump would lose so they went harder on Clinton.

anon

"The fact is Democrats have won the majority of the popular vote in every presidential election but one for the last 30 years. It was not the democrats’ overconfidence last time so much as the media’s and James Comey’s - assuming Trump would lose so they went harder on Clinton."\

Take California out of the last election and T won the popular vote. He really didn't campaign in California, which is a one party state. If the electoral college is changed, he (and presumably any other "red" candidate) will. Whether that could possibly change the vote totals in California is debatable. But, don't brag on winning California. As Nancy Pelosi so aptly put it, in such districts a glass of water that gets the nomination can win.

As for the media going hard on Clinton, you really can't be serious, especially when compared with T. In fact, as you will recall, the big issue was whether T would "accept the results of the election." How ironic, in light of the continuing, as demonstrated by your comment, refusal by the Dems to accept the results of the election.

PaulB

This is a classic example of trying to define the question so as to get the result desired. Republican losses (by small amounts) in 1960 and 1976 occurred following a mild recession in 1960 and a sharp recession in 1974-75. Bush doesn't count under Lubet's careful slicing and dicing the data. Reading Professor Lubet's analysis, you'd never know that the Democratic candidate won the presidency five times in a row from 1932 to 1948. There is no reason to believe that there has been a trend toward Republican victories in the 116 years since 1900.

Given all the fire and brimstone in most of the posts above, you'd have to doubt the ability of academia to provide disinterested intellectual consideration of social and political data when it conflicts with the writers' strongly held personal preferences.

anon

PaulB

"Reading Professor Lubet's analysis, you'd never know that the Democratic candidate won the presidency five times in a row from 1932 to 1948."

I think we all knew what Lubet meant when he wrote: "FDR won during the Depression." I would add that the "Don't change horses" theory helped when WWII got underway. Truman was a dismal failure and still holds the Gallup record, last time I checked, for the lowest approval ratings ever recorded.

To your point, you are reframing the question, in order to get the answer you prefer.

Lubet asked: "Since 1896, how many non-incumbent Democrats have won presidential elections other than during severe economic downturns?" His answer: JFK, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. We might quibble with Lubet about the JFK election.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research the recession lasted for 10 months, beginning in April 1960 and ending in February 1961. During this recession, the GDP of the United States fell 1.6 percent. Though the recession ended in November 1960, the unemployment rate did not peak for several more months. In May 1961, the rate reached its height for the cycle of 7.1 percent.

Not sure what your point is about Bush. HW was Reagan's third term (and an incumbent of sorts when elected); W was elected in 2000. Incidentally, "the burst of a bubble, known as the dot-com crash, lasted from March 11, 2000, to October 9, 2004" albeit Lubet limited his statement to Democrats.

Your preferred question is: "Has there has been a trend toward Republican victories in the 116 years since 1900?"

If my math is correct, since 1900, Republicans have held the White House for 60 years. SO, the answer to your question is likely "no" .. though, you should probably factor in recent trends in Congress, Governorships, State Houses, etc. Especially during the term of the last president, the Democrats lost significant ground in every one of these categories and that definitely constitutes a "trend."

Of course, you end your post with the obligatory insults, so,
it is noted that your point, though, is very different from Lubet's and, in this context, irrelevant and pure projection.

Amateur Nate Silver

This post goes to show that if you take a small sample size retroactively, and excuse away any contrary data in the sample as not counting because of circumstances (there are always circumstances), you can prove pretty much any point you want.

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