Tag Archives: white nationalism

Localism, Federalism, Globalism

Almost all the problems we face as a society can be traced to the “lag time” between the accelerating pace of significant–even monumental– change, and the alterations to existing social and political institutions that are needed to deal with new “facts on the ground.”

Another way of saying that is that we are trying to manage 21st century realities with tools created for the problems of the (early) twentieth century.

The recent mass murder in New Zealand provided an example. As the Washington Post recently put it,

The United States and its closest allies have spent nearly two decades building an elaborate system to share intelligence about international terrorist groups, and it has become a key pillar of a global effort to thwart attacks.

But there’s no comparable arrangement for sharing intelligence about domestic terrorist organizations, including right-wing extremists like the one suspected in the killing of 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to current and former national security officials and counterterrorism experts.

Governments have considered domestic extremists a domestic problem. In the U.S., such tracking as is done largely falls within the jurisdiction of the FBI. Thanks to the Internet, however, white nationalism is an international threat.

But increasingly, nationalist groups in different countries are drawing inspiration from each other, uniting in common cause via social media, experts said. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspected gunman in Christchurch, posted a manifesto full of rage on Twitter in which he cited other right-wing extremists as his inspiration, among them Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

It isn’t just the globalization of terrorist networks that requires rethinking where responsibilities should lie. Communication and transportation technologies have made a large number of institutional assumptions and arrangements obsolete.

Take federalism, America’s division of jurisdiction among local, state and federal levels of government. The division may still be useful (state and federal governments really have no reason to assume responsibility for handing out zoning permits or policing domestic violence disputes, for example), but many of the current assignments of responsibility no longer make much sense. State-level management of elections, for example, was necessary in the age of snail-mail registration and index cards identifying voters; in the computer age, it’s an invitation to misconduct.

In a number of areas, there are awkward pretenses of state “sovereignty” where none really exists. Think of federal highway dollars that are conditioned on state compliance with federally mandated speed limits. Or the myriad other “strings” attached to federal funding that remind state-level agencies who’s really in charge.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are an increasing number of issues, including but certainly not limited to the threat posed by white nationalism, that must be addressed globally. Climate change is the most obvious.

We humans are creatures of habit: we become accustomed to the world we have grown up with, and assume that the structures of whatever society we inhabit are just “the way it is.” A great example were the people who argued against same-sex marriage by insisting that marriage “has always been between one man and one woman.” That’s demonstrably false. Even if you ignore biblical history, more than half of the world still recognizes plural marriage. But it was true within the confines of their (limited) experience.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone defend a practice by saying “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way it needs to be done–and ultimately, those who don’t adapt to the realities of their brave new world become extinct.

I worry that we’re on the way…

 

Thanks For The Clarity

I found it incomprehensible that people could vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

However, although subsequent research found a very high correlation between “racial anxiety” (i.e., bigotry) and a vote for Trump, I did recognize that not every Trump voter was a racist; lifelong Republicans voted their party, people who hated Hillary Clinton held their noses and pulled the Trump lever, and there were some voters who wanted to “shake things up” and assumed that, if elected, Trump would “pivot” into something vaguely resembling a President.

Two years later, we owe him a debt of gratitude for clarifying who he is, and making it impossible to miss what is at stake in Tuesday’s election.

As the midterm election has neared, Trump has ramped up his White Nationalist street “cred.” No American who is remotely honest–or sentient, for that matter–can miss the message: a vote for any Republican is a vote for Donald Trump’s relentless war on blacks, Jews, gays, Muslims and any and all brown people who may be among those “huddled masses yearning to breath free.”

Trump’s racism has always been obvious, from his early refusal to rent apartments to blacks, to his vendetta against the (innocent) boys accused of raping a Central Park jogger, to his shameful birtherism and his insistence that “many fine people” are self-proclaimed Nazis. He has made unremitting attacks on Muslims. In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, a number of news outlets have published lists of his anti-Semitic remarks and tweets.

In the last month, his horrific, untrue characterizations of the desperate people in the caravan fleeing Honduras, his despicable “Willie Horton” ad, and his ignorant attacks on the 14th Amendment’s grant of birthright citizenship have all been transparent efforts to remind American bigots that he is on their side, and to mobilize them to vote Republican.

A couple of days ago, the New York Daily News reported on a speech by former KKK member Derek Black. 

“The government itself is carrying through a lot of the beliefs (white nationalist groups) have and a lot of the goals — things like limiting immigration, and as of today, the goal of ending birthright citizenship. That has been a goal of white nationalists for decades, like explicit: this is what they want to do,” Black told The News.

“They have a person in the White House that is advocating the exact white nationalist goal that is one of the cornerstones of their belief system,” he added.

Black said he has firsthand knowledge of leaders within the white nationalist movement who are convinced the country’s commander-in-chief is going to fulfill all their wishes.

“They’re very open within their groups that it is better if they do not advocate this openly,” he said, “because it might actually hurt some of the efforts in the federal government itself.”

Black said Trump — who last week proudly identified as a “nationalist” at a rally for Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — is bolstering the confidence of white supremacist groups whether he realizes it or not.

He realizes it. And so do those who agree with him.

It’s no longer possible for Trump supporters to claim they don’t see his bigotry, or to pretend that their votes for what the GOP has become are based on anything other than their rejection of civic equality for people whose skin is a different color, or people who love or worship differently.

On Tuesday, we will find out just how many of our fellow Americans endorse Trump’s enthusiastic public attacks on everything America stands for.

Automation, Anxiety And Anger

The devil, as the saying goes, is always in the details.

It’s easy to point to social change as a reason for the increased anxiety and tribalism of American voters, just as it is easy to insist that we must “resist”/”do something.” It’s a lot harder to specify the nature and consequences of those social changes, or the form that resistance should take.

A lawyer with whom I used to work was fond of saying that there is only one legal question: what should we do? That adage also works pretty well for political action.

One of the drivers of social change is technology–not just the rapid evolution of communication devices and the like, but the truly incredible advances in automation. Robots are assembling cars and refrigerators; three-dimensional printers are beginning to look a lot like Star Trek replicators.

While labor advocates are still fighting the last war–international trade–automation poses a far greater threat to manufacturing jobs. Thomas Edsall recently compared our current dislocations to the Industrial Revolution, and that sounds about right.

We may never stop arguing about which historic currents swept President Trump into the White House.

Klaus Schwab, chairman of the World Economic Forum, is unlikely to have had Trump in mind when he described the fourth industrial revolutionin Davos in January 2016:

We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

Compared with previous industrial revolutions, Schwab continued,

the fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.

Edsall connects the dots between seemingly unrelated phenomena and this fourth industrial revolution. For example, he points out the ways in which technology has facilitated immigration, both legal and illegal. Immigrants fly into the U.S. and overstay their visas, rather than trudging across borders. Innovations in transportation, communication, together with the globalization of politics and culture, have made the international movement of people “cheaper, quicker, and easier.”“

The IT revolution that has occurred in my adult lifetime has improved living standards and consumer convenience; but at substantial social cost. The substitution of machines for human labor is accelerating, and that reality has significant political and social consequences.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, “By regions, the average robot density per 10,000 employees in Europe is 99 units, in the Americas 84 and in Asia 63 units.”

In a March 2018 paper, “We Were The Robots: Automation in Manufacturing and Voting Behavior in Western Europe,” Massimo Anelli, Italo Colantone and Piero Stanig, of Bocconi University in Milan, found that “robot shock increases support for nationalist and radical right parties.”

The authors note that “both technology and trade seem to drive structural changes which are consequential for voting behavior.”

Some scholars even attribute Trump’s victory in the Electoral College to automation.

In their October 2017 paper, “Political Machinery: Did Robots Swing the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election?” the authors demonstrate that

Support for Donald Trump was significantly higher in local labor markets more exposed to the adoption of robots. Other things equal, a counterfactual analysis shows that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would have swung in favor of the Hillary Clinton if robot adoption had been two percent lower over the investigated period, leaving the Democrats with a majority in the Electoral College.

An economist at Brookings has estimated that full adoption of driverless vehicles would put two-and-a-half million drivers out of work. Others estimate that the anticipated addition of 105,000 robots to American factories will result in 210,000 fewer assembler and fabricator jobs in 2024 than otherwise would have been the case.

Edsall quotes a number of economists who explain how IT has increased inequality and reduced labor force participation, and will continue to do so. The dislocations of this fourth industrial revolution are a breeding ground for what social scientists call populism–and what most of us call White Nationalism.

The question “What should we do” is getting pretty urgent.

 

Trump’s GOP

Ever since the 2016 election, liberal publications have been bending over backwards to include more diversity of opinion, a project that isn’t going so well. As we saw with the Atlantic‘s recent effort, there is considerable conflict over what sorts of “conservative” opinions should be given a respectful hearing–which opinions deserve to be part of a reasoned and civil argument–and which are so beyond the pale that including them would simply legitimize abhorrent positions.

Vox weighed in on that issue awhile back.

The article considered–and criticized–recent efforts by the New York Times to broaden the perspectives represented by its columnists.

The newspaper’s defense, articulated repeatedly by Bennet, news editor Dean Baquet, and onetime ombudsman Liz Spayd, is that the paper is pursuing diversity of opinion, attempting to challenge its readers. “Didn’t we learn from this past election that our goal should be to understand different views?” asked Baquet.

That defense doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. As I said in a column on Stephens last year, “it takes a particular sort of insularity to hire a pro-war, anti-Trump white guy as a contribution to diversity on the NYT editorial page.”

As the article acknowledged, Donald Trump’s victory was seen by a number of  people in “elite political circles” as evidence that they had been living in a bubble of their own–that they had utterly failed to understand a supposed “heartland” filled with Trump voters, and that they needed to understand the perspectives of those voters. (I have yet to run across Trump voters who want to understand the perspective of the “elitists” who were unwilling to hand the nuclear codes to a four-times-bankrupt reality star with no government experience.)

David Roberts, who wrote the Vox column, is particularly critical of the conservatives who write for the Times.

Consider, oh, David Brooks. His conservatism, of Sam’s Club affectation, fiscal conservatism, tepid social liberalism, and genial trolling of center-leftists at Davos — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Brooks?

Or Ross Douthat. He is sporadically interesting, often infuriating, but above all, pretty idiosyncratic. His socially conservative “reformicon” thing — whom does it speak for in today’s politics, beyond Douthat?

Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss are a familiar type of glib contrarian. Their opposition to Trump has given them undue credibility among Washington lefties, whom they relentlessly (and boringly) troll. But whom are they speaking for? What has the Never Trump movement amounted to?

Roberts argues that, although these writers might serve the purpose of challenging liberal thinking, they don’t expose Times readers to the people who voted for Trump–the people from whom they are allegedly alienated.

The signal feature of the 2016 election is that it settled the question of whether US conservatism — the actual movement, I mean, not the people in Washington think tanks who claim to be its spokespeople — is animated by a set of shared ideals and policies. It is not.

For many years, many people have convinced themselves otherwise. A lot of people believe to this day that the Tea Party uprising and the subsequent eight years of hysterical, unremitting, norm-violating opposition to Barack Obama was about small-government philosophy and a devotion to low taxes and less regulation, and had nothing to do with social backlash against a black, cosmopolitan, urban law professor and his diverse, rising coalition.

And therein lies the dilemma. An effort to understand conservative philosophy is irrelevant to the reality of today’s GOP. Whatever one thinks of Paul Ryan, he represents the  “small government, low taxes, anti-social welfare” conservatism with which well-meaning (albeit naive) liberals want to engage. Whatever else his departure may mean, it is a signal that the GOP is now the party of White Nationalism, not conservatism, and it has no coherent or remotely respectable philosophy with which to engage.

At this point, though many people on all sides still refuse to acknowledge it, the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture.

It’s Trump’s party now.

 

Voting One’s Interests

Fareed Zakaria is a savvy observer of both domestic governance and international relations, and he makes a very good point in a recent Washington Post column.

It has become a (tiresome) truism that many Americans “vote against their own interests.” This assertion has always annoyed me, because it embodies a couple of arrogant assumptions: first, that the speaker/writer knows better than those voters where their “true” interests lie; and second, that voters’ interests are limited to economic issues.

Zakaria uses the negative financial consequences of the GOP’s tax “reform” bill for Trump voters to make his point:

Congress’s own think tanks — the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office — calculate that in 10 years, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 (around the median income in the United States) would effectively pay a whopping $4 billion more in taxes, while people making $1 million or more would pay $5.8 billion less under the Senate bill. And that doesn’t take into account the massive cuts in services, health care and other benefits that would likely result. Martin Wolf, the sober and fact-based chief economics commentator for the Financial Times, concludes, “This is a determined effort to shift resources from the bottom, middle and even upper middle of the U.S. income distribution toward the very top, combined with big increases in economic insecurity for the great majority.”

The puzzle, Wolf says, is why this is a politically successful strategy. The Republican Party is pursuing an economic agenda for the 0.1 percent, but it needs to win the votes of the majority.

Cue the chorus: why would the people in Trump’s base continue to support him, when his actions (in concert with his party’s) are inimical to their interests? Wouldn’t they desert him if they realized that he is pursuing an agenda that privileges large corporations, wealthy families, and well-positioned rent-seekers? When will they come to their senses and see that Trump and the Congressional GOP are putting in place budgetary policies that will be devastating to the predominantly rural people who voted for him?

Is it that the Republican Party is cleverly and successfully hoodwinking its supporters, promising them populism and enacting plutocratic capitalism instead? This view has been a staple of liberal analysis for years, most prominently in Thomas Frank’s book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank argued that Republicans have been able to work this magic trick by dangling social issues in front of working-class voters, who fall for the bait and lose sight of the fact that they are voting against their own interests. Both Wolf and Pierson believe that this trickery will prove dangerous for Republicans. “The plutocrats are riding on a hungry tiger,” writes Wolf.

I fully agree with Zakaria’s rebuttal to that analysis.

But what if people are not being fooled at all? What if people are actually motivated far more deeply by issues surrounding religion, race and culture than they are by economics? There is increasing evidence that Trump’s base supports him because they feel a deep emotional, cultural and class affinity for him. And while the tax bill is analyzed by economists, Trump picks fights with black athletes, retweets misleading anti-Muslim videos and promises not to yield on immigration. Perhaps he knows his base better than we do. In fact, Trump’s populism might not be as unique as it’s made out to be. Polling from Europe suggests that the core issues motivating people to support Brexit or the far-right parties in France and Germany, and even the populist parties of Eastern Europe, are cultural and social.

This is a much more tactful way to explain what the data shows, and what I have repeatedly argued: the majority of Trump’s supporters are White Nationalists (aka bigots), for whom the indignity of Obama’s eight years as President was simply a bridge too far. The real “interests” of these voters aren’t economic; they’re tribal. They are desperately clinging to the white privilege that is diminishing in a rapidly diversifying society. That desperation overpowers any other “interest.”

As Zakaria writes,

 What if, in the eyes of a large group of Americans, these other issues are the ones for which they will stand up, protest, support politicians and even pay an economic price? What if, for many people, in America and around the world, these are their true interests?

So long as they see Trump normalizing and justifying racism and misogyny, these voters aren’t going anywhere. Polls suggest that they represent around 30% of Americans voters, a depressingly high number.

Getting that other 70% to the polls has never been more important.